Thursday 18 October 2012

Ramblings About My Brain, Creativity and Inner-Critics

How's it going?

I'm tired. It's the good kind of tired, where you feel like you deserve sleep come the end of the day. And recently, I've been sleeping okay. It's mostly because of music; I set myself a playlist, which helps me drift off into random thoughts; which in turn sends me to sleep.

I've been much better with the crazy-brain stuff recently. I've found ways to shut off, to relax, to play an xBox game without feeling guilty. I recommend it. Sure, I still feel the pressure to write a masterful screenplay anytime in the next nine minutes, but I've got better at saying, "hey, it doesn't actually have to be tonight."

The pressure in your own brain can be such a creativity killer. I think that when I put pressure on myself, it makes me PRODUCTIVE, but it doesn't make me CREATIVE.


I don't know how or when you're the most creative, but for me, it's when I'm relaxed. Those rare moments where I actually allow myself to notice that the sun is shining, or when I engage in a conversation to the point where I forget I need to check my Twitter account. In those rare moments, I can find the silliness and interestingness in all the things around me. Like when I saw Paranormal Activity 4 yesterday; I spent the whole time laughing to myself because I had a new film idea circling in my mind. It happens when I let myself off the hook.

But the obsessive pressure soon comes back, and it needs to; because it helps me get projects finished. A lot of people have ideas -- plenty of them -- but the days turn into months and into years and into coffins because they just don't have the energy or willpower to do anything. And sure, there are often legitimate excuses; but even so; you can always do your creative work after the lights are out, or in your lunch break, or when the prison guard is napping. I think in many ways, I am lucky and privileged to have an inner-nutcase who keeps me productive, because many people don't have it. They sleep better, but they complete less projects.

What is creativity? Who knows, there are so many definitions. For me personally,  it's a feeling, a moment; when my sensibilities are shaken or inspired by something I've seen or experienced, or something I am feeling inside of me. When my curiosity is sparked --- and what that leads to, is a new insight, a new way of looking at something. And then the hope is that my talent and skill; which gets sharper each time it's used; is able to pick up on the insight and turn it into something artistic that resonates with the reader/audience.

My inner-critic just said to me, sarcastically, "great job trying to explain creativity in one paragraph on a film blog!"

What is the point of the inner-critic? He's a fascinating fellow, don't you think? I wrote a post a few days ago about 10 People To Avoid In Creative Industries. But honestly; all those people that you'll meet externally, also exist inside of yourself. Your inner-critic can be ruthless! Egotism is an inner-critic under threat, and The Drama Queen is an inner-critic needing attention. At its worst; the inner-critic makes you a perfectionist who is never happy---- at its best, you can teach your critic to be more nurturing, to speak in more useful and less harsh tones. It's not easy to be kind to yourself, but it'll make you a better artist. 

An article was published a few days ago about how Creativity Is A Mental Illness. I call bullshit. A mental illness is a mental illness, creativity is creativity. And sure, creatives have, for centuries, driven themselves crazy because of the ideas and disturbances in their heads--- but so have people who photocopy paper for a living. To think of the artist's calling as special or anymore important than anyone elses is, to me, a thought of pure egotism. And I argue with other artists about this all the time. Usually actors; I'm not sure why, but they often think they're doing Gods work. I think they're just acting. 

And I'm just writing. And you're just reading. Nothing I do or an actor does is more important than the small but great things anybody is capable of doing on any given day. To quote Woody Allen, "Whatever works."

Care to share?

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Abnormal PARANORMAL ACTIVITY Experiences

I never actually mean to watch the 'Paranormal Activity' movies. In fact; I completely avoided seeing the second one. The third one I saw, last year, when I was in Barcelona with absolutely nothing to do.

Of course, there's always something to do in Barcelona. But, I was alone -- and there's only so much walking around I can do. I came across a cinema just down by where the boats hang out and I thought "movies, yes!" People often say to me, "how can you go to another country and waste your time in a cinema?" But for me, that's one of the big joys of other countries, experiencing their cinemas.

I saw 'Paranormal Activity 3' entirely in Spanish. I enjoyed it. The Spanish people in the audience found it scary, and I did too-- but for different reasons, and crucially, at different moments. The Spaniards had the luxury of understanding the dialogue, so they at least got some kind of hints that danger was lurking. I only had the music and images to lead me.

That should be enough, you'd think. But to be fair to the 'Paranormal Activity' movies, they're great at delaying the scare, hiding it away; keeping it until the one tiny millisecond when you let your guard down.

The reason the third movie made me jump, was because I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

I didn't really know what was going on today, either; as I watched 'Paranormal Activity 4' in London (and in English). It's fair to say that this is the weakest of the franchise so far. Okay, it's not fair to say that at all considering I never saw the second one. And to be honest, I think absolutely no-one knew there was a second one. I swear, hundreds of people have said to me, "Paranormal Activity 3? When was there a 2?"

Okay, it wasn't hundreds of people that said that to me, so I shouldn't swear by it. Maybe it was three people.

I finished a meeting early today, and found myself in town with nothing to do for a few hours. I was going to see 'Looper', or check out 'The Perks of Being A Wallflower' again, but the timings didn't work out, so I opted for PA4.

There were 10 people in the cinema. All of them were about 48, male, and bald. Apart from me. I am not 48 and I am not bald. At least not for the moment. But why were they all there? A few of them had notepads, so I was assuming they were journalists; but hasn't this movie been reviewed already? Maybe it was just a bald people outing, a day trip. But then, they didn't seem to know each other, so maybe not.

I was in hysterics throughout the film. Not because it was awful -- although, it kind of was-- but I was laughing madly because I was in the process of vividly coming up with a hilarious screenplay idea. I could barely pay attention to the movie because my brain was flying off into creative madness.

When I left the cinema, I completely forgot my screenplay idea. It probably wasn't very good. I should have written it down. Maybe that's why all the bald people had notepads. If I was 48 and bald; would I currently have a brand new genius screenplay idea in my hands?

I saw the first Paranormal Activity on 31st October 2009. I remember it very specifically, because it was Halloween and I was alone in New York City. Everyone I knew had plans, and I didn't know what the hell I was doing. It was my first Halloween in America; and I was in awe of it. Families filled the streets; everyone joyous, passing candy to each other, laughing and joking--- it was perfect, wonderful. Except that, I had no place to go and nothing to do.

I ended up in Chelsea, because I wanted to check out the Chelsea Hotel. It's a thing I do when I'm lonely; I feel a gravitational pull towards my idols, towards the ghosts that don't quite exist in the way you want them to. I was thinking of all the great writers and artists who'd stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. It was famous for it.

It was a let down, of course. I saw the hotel, but then what? I still had nothing to do. Everyone around me was full of life and happiness, and I was full of loneliness.

I headed further down West 23rd Street, and came across the Chelsea Clearview Cinema. And they were showing 'Paranormal Activity'. I had no place to go on Halloween, so I figured my destiny was to see this movie.

And I loved it! The screening was packed, and the audience was ALIVE! It made me realise why hype works in America. In the UK; when movies are hyped; we look at them and say, "uh, that was shit?" - but in America, people turn bad movies into great movies out of pure enthusiasm. A packed screening can make a movie great just through its energy and commitment to having a good time.

And the sold out screening of 'Paranormal Activity' managed, at least for 90 minutes, to make me forget how alone I was.

I kind of weirdly and quietly look forward to 'Paranormal Activity 5', because I don't know where I'll be -- but I'll probably end up seeing it, and I'll probably be alone.

Care to share?

Charlie Chaplin's THE KID (1921)

For me, Charlie Chaplin's 'THE KID' is one of the very first truly watchable films. I know-I know, there were great films before it, BUT --- 'The Kid' is the one that I would show to anybody, knowing that, with a bit of concentration and attention -- they could have a hugely enjoyable time.

52 minutes of joy, hilarity, and heartbreak. Chaplin could tell more of a story in one image than most filmmakers can tell today in five sequels.

I love its simplicity. And I see the film's influence in nearly everything that has come since. Remember that scene in 'Annie Hall' with the lobsters? Or the scene in 'Kramer Vs Kramer' when Dustin and the kid are cooking French Toast? Those scenes are Grandchildren of the scenes in Chaplin's film. At the beginning, The Tramp is struggling to look after the little boy--- making his food, keeping him fed. Then twenty minutes later in the movie; the boy is making pancakes as The Tramp sits in bed -- it's a wonderful role reversal, and it tells us so much about the characters.

The connection between Charlie's 'The Tramp' and the kid; has anything in cinema ever been more beautifully life-affirming?

The film was such a personal one for Chaplin. Set in the Poverty-filled world he grew up in, it's a film about the human spirit; about the people that shape us as children. The film is about the same thing all of Chaplin's films were about, love. But this film wasn't about him chasing a pretty girl; it was about being a Father. Being responsible for someone else.

The sadness of when the kid gets taken away by the social services, is still one of the most emotional moments in the history of cinema. When the boy is on the back of the vehicle, screaming out for Charlie -- it's still painful to watch.

But let's not forget, this is one of the funniest films ever! It's approaching a hundred years old, yet still it's one of the most innovative films I've ever seen. And I mean that based on watching it again now. The jokes are still fresh! Chaplin's work was so ahead of its time, so unique, and so perfectly crafted that it's utterly inimitable. Like when he keeps dumping the baby but the police repeatedly show up, or how he turns his bed sheets into clothing, or when he's hiding the kid from the guard at the shelter --- genius.

This film is so poignant.

If you haven't seen it already, please do. I'm not one to demand everyone go and watch every classic film ever made. As important as 'Citizen Kane' might be, for so many, it's a snorefest. But 'The Kid' is, I genuinely believe, one of the most watchable and entertaining films of all time. And you can see the whole movie now on YouTube. It's only 52 minutes.

Charlie Chaplin is, above everyone else in the history of cinema; my absolute hero.

You can watch the whole movie below:

Today I am running a blogathon; where I have asked numerous bloggers to share their thoughts on 'The Kid'. I will be sharing their posts throughout the day on the Facebook Page and on Twitter

Care to share?

Tuesday 16 October 2012

10 People To Avoid In Creative Industries

If you want to succeed, if you want to be happy, if you want to get work done, then you need to ditch these people. The seeds of creativity are just that, seeds. If you're in the wrong environment, with the wrong people, they'll never blossom. These are ten people who will do their utmost best to kill your spark.

1. The Drama Queen. 

Everything is a huge drama! They had to wait fifty minutes for an audition, so will spend four hours that night telling you about it. And moaning about how hard done by the are. And they'll build big and elaborate stories around the dullest of things.

2. The Delusional. 

They were at a networking party and met a guy called Bob who said he was a producer. And he said, "I think you have a quality." So, your friend calls you up all excited because he/she thinks he/she has a 'quality', and will now be getting Oscars. And they ramble on and ramble on. And the delusionals; they keep trying to skip the hard work. Keep trying to bypass the struggle. They think they have a golden ticket.

3. The Stressy. 

At the beginning of a day on set; maybe their hair looked weird. Or maybe someone gave them the wrong kind of sandwich. And they turn it into a big bag of stress. And they don't get over it. And they think the wrong kind of sandwich has caused a catastrophic nightmare, of which your project may never get over.

4. The Jealous.

At some point, you're gonna say, "they hired me". And you need to be around people who can support it. If you hang around jealous types, you may never get the "they hired me" call, because The Jealous are too busy chopping you down when opportunities arise.

5. The Perfectionists.

You may think perfectionists are a good thing. You may see yourself as one. But a perfectionist, more often than not, is someone with a huge inner critic. And the critic never lets them complete a project, never thinks it's good enough. And The Perfectionist will meddle in your work -- keep nibbling away until you're smacked down on the canvas and unable to stand up. They think the problem is you -- but never look deeply inside themselves. You have to get away from these people because they will hold you down for years.

6. The Egotistical. 

You went to a party last night with Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein invited you onto his yacht, really? Wow. And you don't have the decency to acknowledge the production assistant who just brought you coffee? Yeah; we don't want you on this film set anymore.

7. The Lazy.

They're so good at pretending they're not lazy. But laziness is a real killer. And it's contagious. Don't be lazy about getting rid of lazy people, do it at once!

8. The Needy. 

Should I do it? Should I not do it? Would you do it for me? Do you think they might do it? Do you think if you asked them they'd do it for me? Have you done it yet? Will they like me? Do you like me? Why am I not in your film? Do you want me to come over? Why don't you want me to come over? Why were you acting all funny when I came over? I'm over it, okay? I'm taking a break from talking to you, okay? Do you love me? Does nobody love me? Does love exist? Can I have a hug? If you ask them to give me a hug will they give it to me? Have you cast it yet? When you cast it will you tell me?

9. The Negative. 

They think it can't be done. They think there's no point in finishing. No point in starting. They think it'll suck anyway. They think it would be better if it was done another way, another time. Frankly, they don't think you know what you're doing; and rather than support you to do it right, or to humbly admit they don't know what they're doing either; they'll just judge you and be certain that you can't do it and shouldn't do it.

10. The User. 

Has no idea how much work you put in. Doesn't appreciate what you did, and has no awareness of how much it took out of you. But as long as they're on their way, right?

Care to share?

Monday 15 October 2012

Miley Cyrus - What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?

Are Miley's nipples showing? Is she not wearing a bra? Has she had surgery? Is she marrying that guy? Has she dumped that guy? Is she going out for groceries? Or jogging? Did she tweet? Is she not tweeting? Has she cut her hair? Has she grown it again? Has she lost her mind?

Or maybe we could focus on her talent. Because, believe it or not, Miley Cyrus can sing.

Once upon a time, I was ten. My parents would be sitting on the sofa, watching TV. I was in the corner, with the big giant headphones on; listening to my parents records. I would listen to EVERYTHING. I got to know every inch of every song.

Mum and Dad had this 4 disc CD set (in fact, they still have it), called 'Sounds of the 70's'. Disc one, track ten, was Melanie - What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?

I'm pretty sure my parents never really liked the song.

But I would always put it on mix tapes, force it on everyone. It was so simple -- a woman sitting there saying, 'what have they done to my song? It's the only thing I could do half right, and it's turning out all wrong, Ma'. Maybe this was the first time it crossed my mind that people interfere with music, that a lot stands in the way of an artist putting out their work. Maybe that song is at least partly responsible for me being obsessed with auteurs, artists and independent film. Or maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, I've not heard the song in years. And then I came across the Miley Cyrus version. When Miley covers a great song, I listen. Although we live in different worlds, and have, I would imagine, very little in common, it wouldn't surprise me if she was also a kid with the headphones on, listening to her parent's records. After all, her Dad is Billy Ray Cyrus.

I remember hearing her cover of 'Every Rose Has It's Thorn' a few years back. And felt the same thing then, she NAILED IT. 'Every Rose...' was another of those songs that I spent countless nights listening to. That wasn't my parents doing -- by the time I was listening to Poison, I was on my own music-journey, and 'Every Rose Has It's Thorn' was one of the big players when I was a teenager.

Miley Cyrus doesn't get to be just Miley Cyrus. She has to go to the circus. Weird men follow her every move, snapping pictures. Every time she has an outburst on Twitter or shows an inch too much of her legs at a concert, it's headline news. It's not hard to see why so many stars go insane.

Luckily, when you hear her sing the way she does, you realise that her feet are still on the ground. Have you heard her beautiful version of 'You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go'? Her voice soars -- an amazing country music inflection; it's close to magic.

I love cover versions when they're done well. For Miley Cyrus to pluck 'What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?' out of nowhere, it must mean something to her. I can't stop watching and listening to this performance -- she's so into it. Isn't it the greatest thing when you witness someone truly loving a song? Especially when they're the one performing it. Wonderful.

For the briefest moment, when listening to this song. You remember she's just a young girl -- making her way in the world. And what is she? She's a singer. A singer who wants to sing.

"Look what they've done to my song, Ma. 
Look what they've done to my song.
It's the only thing I could do half right,
And it's turning out all wrong, Ma."

Care to share?