Tuesday 26 February 2013

Be Supportive To Fledgling Artists

It is SO EASY to be dismissive and condescending. It's the easiest thing in the world to be a critic, an angry tweeter, an armchair blogger.

But those people who create art; be it good or bad, you have no idea how hard it is, to put yourself out there.

It's why most people create nothing. The fear of ridicule and rejection is too high.

And guess what, when you create your script or film or whatever it is, you will be criticised, heavily. In obvious ways, "you suck", and in clever condescending ways "aww your little project is really nice, it's so good you are dabbling in film".

Being the critical type, the belittler, the one-who-thinks-they-know-why-it's-bad, it's the easiest thing in the world. I think it's part of human nature, to try keep people down. To jump to the negative first.

I've been that critic myself, despite how much I hate it. I think we all have at some point. We're always battling jealousy, insecurity, I-know-bestness. We've all been that guy because of how easy it is. You watch someone's work and your brain is given a ton of easy answers - but so many of them are negative. 

And I get what your excuse is, that people need to be criticised so that they'll learn and improve. I get that.

But criticism comes from all corners, every day. Being the one who says "hey, I really like what you're doing" makes you a rare kind. And that stuff makes people feel good, it makes them believe in themselves.

Artists want to connect. They want to inspire, they want to be loved through their work. It's important to know that; how deeply personal it is. It's life and death for the artist.

I'm not saying you need to feed egos or prop up the talentless.

I'm just saying maybe you could occasionally focus on the good dialogue rather than the bad lighting. Comment on the great bit of acting in the first scene rather than the fuck up in the sixth scene.

Every great writer, director, actor; they have a story of someone who supported them, believed in them, understood the context of their mistakes.

Nobody in the industry has more than a handful of these people, because everyone is too busy being the judgemental friend, the cynical co-worker, the sarcastic blogger.

People are capable of SO MUCH when they're believed in. When they're praised. When they're not pressured to immediately justify their right to be artists.

Go tell someone what they're doing right. I guarantee they need to hear it. 

Care to share?

Saturday 23 February 2013

RAINDANCE Courses - Are They Worth It?

Full Disclosure: A few months back Raindance offered me the chance to sit in on some courses, for free, in the hope that I'd write about them. And now, that's exactly what I'm going to do. I tell you this to be honest, because I'm not into writing puff pieces. Although, if Olivia Munn got in touch and said she wanted me to write a favourable review of one of her movies I probably would. But Elliot Grove, the founder of Raindance, is grey-haired and a lot older than Olivia Munn, so I'm not going to go out of my way to say nice things. 

But honestly, I do have a lot of nice things to say about Elliot Grove and the organisation he founded. Where else can you pay thirty quid to spend an evening learning the basics of lighting, or the ins and outs of contracts with an entertainment lawyer. Where else can you go for a weekend and come out the other side determined to make a feature film. And not just determined, but CONVINCED you can do it. 

Most Raindance course start in exactly the same way. You awkwardly shuffle into a room full of twenty or so other people. There's the film-geek-guy with his Coppola t-shirt, there's the pretty girl who used to act but now wants to produce, there's the guy in a suit and baseball cap, and there's the quiet but intelligent looking guy in the middle row. And then there's you, finding a harmless place in the corner where you can sip on your still-too-hot Starbucks cup. 

And then Elliot, or a Raindance intern, stands up and says something so painstakingly obvious that you feel immediately stupid. "The film industry is about who you know. Turn to the person next to you and say hello."

You fill up with fear. But five minutes later you're chatting to someone with the same dreams as you. The same passions. You're not sitting next to someone who will say "when will you get a real job?" or "but what are you really going to do with your life?" You're sitting next to someone who takes sick days just so they can catch up on DVD watching. You're sitting next to someone who reads the same autobiographies as you. You're sitting next to a potential collaborator, employer, and even best friend. 

So to begin with, Raindance scores points simply for being a place where creative people can exist. To feel understood. To meet like-minded people. And I know that's hard for those of you that are writers -- we're all too good at hiding away with our laptops, but you need to get out there and meet the people who are going to turn your projects into a reality. 

I don't love every Raindance course. And you probably won't either. It's important to do a bit of research and see who will be delivering the course you're doing. Many years ago, I did a foundation course on directing for film, it was a five week thing. After two weeks, I wasn't happy, I didn't think the teacher was delivering what was promised. But to be fair to Raindance, they said no problem, and let me choose another course. 

Which was the first time I took Elliot Grove's Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking course. It is similar now to how it was then, and it's still my favourite of all the things on offer at Raindance. Grove is a masterful storyteller; weaving in tales of his personal history with anecdotes from his adventures in the screen trade. Sometimes you think they're not true, sometimes you think he's boasting -- but the end result is; you come out inspired. He demystifies the industry. He explains what a producer does. He breaks down what a budget is. He tells you why films get sold and why films don't get sold. He tells you why sometimes a big actor works for millions and why sometimes they'll work for £150 a day if it means they can pick their kids up from school. 

There are some courses that I'd recommend at Raindance and some that I wouldn't. But that's more a reflection on me than anyone else. I get grumpy when someone says to me, "this is how you write," or "if you want to make a film, you need to do this". I'm more interested in people who can tell a story, who can share who they are, and inspire you to believe it's possible. That's why I'd definitely recommend the 99 minute film school. It costs less than a decent meal, and it only takes up a couple of hours of your life. You'll hear the founder of Raindance share his story, explain the ins and outs of producing a film, and you'll get to meet a heap of people who are just like you. You can find details about the Raindance 99 Minute Film School HERE.

The main thing about Raindance is that it's affordable. Sure, £200 for a weekend course might feel like money you don't have. But if you want to be a professional filmmaker, or even; a more knowledgeable amateur one, it's a small price to pay for all the information you'll be loaded with.

What has always impressed me about Raindance is their accessibility. The Raindance Film Festival is notorious for promoting and supporting independent film. Don't get me wrong, some of the films at their festival last year were shocking. Atrocious. But others I absolutely loved, like 'The Lottery of Birth' and 'Heavy Girls'. The toughest thing about building a career in the film industry is that it's easy to feel like you're on the outside. That there's a huge party and you can't get a ticket. Raindance breaks that theory down - it demystifies the process and it gives you access to industry insiders who have been there and done it. And if you're still unsure about their courses; go to one of the free networking nights. 

The point, if you haven't noticed already, is that I'm a big fan of Raindance. They've done so much to support so many independent films over the past 20 years, it's the least I can do to write a kind blog about them. In fact; many of my most popular posts in recent years have been because Raindance have shared them on Twitter. 

You can read up about Raindance and their courses by visiting their website, right here.

Care to share?

Saturday 16 February 2013

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI - Documentary - Review

I want to quote huge chunks of this documentary at you. I want to explain all the reasons why you have to see it. But to fully explain, I'd need to watch it five more times after I can find it on DVD.

If it happens to be screening at a cinema near you, go see it. This documentary knocked my socks off.

Jiro Ono owns a 10-seat-only sushi restaurant, hidden away in an underground station in Tokyo, Japan. It has the much coveted three stars from Michelin. To put it simply, Jiro's sushi is the best there is. They take bookings a month in advance due to the demand. And Jiro is still innovating, even at 85 years old. 

There's nothing fancy about his Sushi, but he's an expert. They get their rice from an expert rice dealer. This is a dealer who won't sell rice to someone if he doesn't think they'll cook it right. 

Just like when Jiro buys tuna or salmon or an octopus, he only buys the best. He's got trusted contacts who will only sell him the best stuff.

He has apprentices at the restaurant. He trains them up---- for ten years. It's just like in the movies, they learn from their master. It starts with mundane stuff and eventually, years later, they're allowed near the rice. Then if they work hard, they can touch the eggs.

In our society, we're slaves to money. Not only do we need it to survive and thrive, but we want more than everyone else. 

But Jiro just cares about making the best sushi. And if they lose profits because they keep chucking out tuna that doesn't make the grade, well that's just the way it goes.

No customer ever has a disappointing meal at his restaurant. The food is prepared individually for each visitor.

And if Jiro is away from work (which is almost never), his fifty year old son is there, and he's learned everything his father has to offer.

Jiro speaks eloquently at the beginning of the movie about how, once you've chosen a path of work, you have to dedicate everything to it. You have to constantly learn and improve your craft.

And of course I related it to filmmaking. I couldn't get over his simplicity. The sushi isn't a mystery, it's just done expertly. The most talented and experienced sushi maker, with the greatest kitchen staff, and the best rice and fish available.

And an endless dedication to getting it right.

Complacency is not an option where Jiro is concerned.

How often is the food we eat truly a labour of love? Even in the expensive restaurants, it's often just appearances, a nicer plate and a pretty looking salad.

Jiro has dedicated his life to his restaurant. To giving his ten customers an unforgettable experience.

Jiro shows us how to live, how to be a success, how to mean something. 

Care to share?

Sunday 10 February 2013

How Well Do I Know Myself? The Case of LARRY CROWNE

I remember being excited about LARRY CROWNE, a film written and directed by Tom Hanks, who also stars alongside Julia Roberts.

I saw it in the cinema, and hated it! Didn't believe the relationships, didn't believe the whole scooter bike thing. I thought Tom Hanks had totally lost his touch.

But last week I ordered it on DVD. Why?

My excuse is that I'm a Tom Hanks diehard. My passion for film began with tracking down all of his films and watching them again and again. I also ordered 'The Burbs' and 'Charlie Wilson's War' last week, two films that I don't particularly love either.

I re-watched 'Larry Crowne' and of course, I loved it.

Truth is, I still think most of it is unrealistic, but this time, that's why I liked it.

The film lives in a world where you make a new friend, and a day later they invite you to join a scooter gang. The day after that they give you a haircut and feng shui your living room.

It's a film with a lot of kindness and sweetness. A film where Tom Hanks is the Tom Hanks we love, like the 1980's Tom Hanks. The Sleepless in Seattle Tom Hanks.

'Larry Crowne' washes over you like a pleasant breeze. You need to turn your inner cynic off and go with it. It's heartwarming, but wonderfully so.

I hated this film the first time I saw it, yet for some reason I decided to buy a copy.

And now I love it.

What's at play here? Do I not know myself that well? Do I dismiss films too easily? Do I have deep buried neurons that need a Tom Hanks fix?

Who knows.

I remember at Christmas, sitting down with heaps of chocolate, laughing happily at 'Couples Retreat' on the TV, even though I disliked it in the cinema.

I guess as we watch more movies, we get more sophisticated and need more going on to satisfy us.

But deep down, maybe something simpler is at play.

For me, that something loves the broad humour of 'Couples Retreat' and the sweetness of 'Larry Crowne'. That side of me isn't always accessible, but I feel like it's an important part of me, that I hope to access more.

Have you ever experienced this? A complete turnaround on a second viewing? If so, why do you think it happened?

Care to share?

Monday 4 February 2013


Wow. I have not seen this performance from Denzel before.

Struggling, out of control, in denial, desperate.

I have always been a huge fan of Denzel Washington's work yet for some reason most of this has come from watching him on DVD.

But he's an actor you have to see in the cinema.

He's often in movies with gun fights and car chases, but he doesn't need them.

Actors, forget drama school. Forget reading books. Watch this man instead.

As his plane dives towards the ground, a shaky close-up sits on Denzel Washington's calm and collected face, and he's mesmerising.

The action happens in the first quarter of the movie. By that I mean, the stuff with the plane falling towards the ground. Don't worry, I'm not spoiling it, you've seen the name of the film and you watched the trailer.

Yet for once, the trailer for 'Flight' gives nothing away. The crash incident is just the tip of the iceberg. 

This is a film about a very personal battle that is crippling the life of Whip Whitaker (Denzel's character) and the friends, family and colleagues around him.

And only Denzel could do this role, in this way. He's truly a master of acting. Loved by most, yet often criticised for doing similar roles. This one is, without doubt, a lot different. Gone are the guns, the power, the wisdom.

Instead we have a broken man, struggling for survival. Struggling to get through the day.

This is a film about a broken man who had a heroic moment that he can't live up to. 

This is the type of performance that makes me LOVE the cinema. Sure, we want a good story. More than that, we want a human being we can relate to, and root for. Someone who reminds of the struggle of being alive, of getting through the day.

There is no-one better qualified to take you on that journey. 

Denzel Washington, thank you. 

Care to share?