Tuesday 25 June 2013

AARON SORKIN And THE NEWSROOM: Reflecting On Season One

I love this show. I've had no free time yet somehow managed to re-watch the entire season in the past three days. I got up today at 5.40am, I thought because of sleep issues but I think I just wanted to watch the final episode that badly. 

I'm passionate about films and TV, yet I dislike so much of it. Maybe dislike is the wrong word-- it's just that most of it doesn't resonate with me. Bit like how 'The Newsroom' got such a backlash; people saying Sorkin was repeating himself, or that it was liberal nonsense, or that he writes women badly. If you think that, fair enough, but why are you watching? 

If I watch a show and it sucks, I stop at most within a full episode although more often within a full three minutes. But 'The Newsroom' kills me, in all the right ways. Sure, the women are insane and fumble over their words, but so do the men! This is a show about lonely workaholics who don't know how to function outside of the newsroom. Sure, that's almost exactly how it was in 'The West Wing' and 'Studio 60', but that's a good thing. 

When you look at the career of Woody Allen, you can see a lot of wildly different movies -- but also you can see how they're almost all exactly the same. As human beings, we fixate on a very narrow spectrum of things, and we're normally stuck on them for most of our lives. Aaron Sorkin persistently writes about single-minded, sleepless overachievers, but that's what I love about him. 

'The West Wing' makes me care about politics. 'Studio 60' makes me want to be a better writer and 'The Newsroom' makes me want to speak truth to bullshit. And 'The Social Network' makes me want to focus on  my work and not stop until I'm at the top of my game. 

The criticism of the women in this show, I don't get it. People moan that Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) is too girly, but then you have Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) who is so career minded that relationships and love barely register in her brain. She's fascinating! I can't remember the last time I saw a character that captured how inept women can be at dealing with their human relationships. But also, it's not exclusively a gender thing, because I relate to Sloan MYSELF.

And yes, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) occasionally drops her phone or emails the whole office by mistake, but why do people fixate on that as an example of how Sorkin writes women unfairly? How about the fact that she almost single-handedly changes the way a whole TV network shapes the news? How about the fact that she has brought together an incredible team, full of journalistic genius and incredible loyalty? The women are amazing on this show. 

What I love most is how incredibly personal it is. These are characters desperate to do some good in the world; to be that rare thing: a news broadcast that actually means something. That puts truth as the number one priority. 

When the show first came on air, I got caught up in the hype. A little bit of my own hype but mostly the hype of the media frenzy that surrounded the show. I found myself talking about the women on the show, Sorkin's pretentiousness and all those other things that the entire world seemed to focus on. I'd allowed my views to be influenced by the crap that surrounded me all over the internet. 

But hey, that's exactly what this show is trying to talk about. 

Now, a year later, I have a much clearer head. I am absolutely in love with the show. I don't need to give you a technical breakdown, I don't need to explain point by point why it's brilliant -- that stuff doesn't matter. What matters is that I was engrossed, I was inspired; I laughed and when 'Baba O'Riley' did its thing in the final episode, I was beyond riveted. 

Stepping away from the internet, away from the opinions and the criticism, I was able to see a beautifully crafted, inspiring TV show. That's rare. I can't wait for Season Two. 

Care to share?

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Why INSIGHT Is The Key Ingredient In Creative Work

Insight is everything. When you love a movie, you love it because you related to it. It helped you understand yourself a little more.

But you can't have genuine insight every moment of every day; not everything you create will have the magic bullet. That's why you have to live. My most insightful creative works have been inspired by the most exciting times in my life and also the darkest.

That's also why you need to read a lot, and see films as often as you can.  It's inspiring to not only get insight from others, but to see how they capture and present it. 

Often, I'll be at some tiny film festival, watching mostly BAD films, yet they often have the seeds of great insight. That's the difficult thing, it's not enough to have insight, you need the skill and experience to contain it and get it onto the page, into your performances, and on to the screen. 

The best acting performances are full of great insight. Ever been watching a film, totally invested, when you are certain the character should be angry, and then in the next scene he's calm and controlled? Suddenly you think "Ouch, yes! That's how it feels. I so GET that!" The perception of a moment, delivered by a writer or director or actor, is capable of astonishing you because it totally surprises you, by finding the key to a moment or feeling that you wouldn't have got to yourself. And once it gets there, you think, "that was so obvious, why didn't I think of it!?". When that happens, you were trumped my insightfulness. 

Two of my favourite acting performances: the parole board scene in Shawshank, and Forrest Gump finding out he has a kid.

Ouch! Wow. What scenes. Hanks and Freeman are SO subtle.

But its not just 'good acting', it's not just their training and its not just that they were 'in the moment'. It's that they gave us new information that we couldn't have had ourselves.

Red's resignation, Gump's fears, there's wisdom and subtlety in the performances that are incredibly INSIGHTFUL. It's the rarest thing, to find true insight, but its what we're really after.

I'm talking about the films we really connect to, not the big-explosion-fodder. Having said that, you usually find that the people chosen to write and direct the big franchises are often screenwriters and directors who initially surprised us with more subtle and engaging films. Michael Arndt wrote 'Toy Story 3' and he's currently writing the new 'Star Wars', but he began with 'Little Miss Sunshine', the freshest comedy film in years.  Jon Favreau directed two 'Iron Man' movies and was the writer of average comedies like 'Couples Retreat', but he began with 'Swingers', which spoke to an entire male generation. 

As certain as I am that insight is the gold ticket to great creative works, my own attempts rarely reach those heights. Why? Lack of insight! Too much Facebook and Twitter and listening to other people's opinions.

I've re-dedicated myself recently to living more, reading more, listening more. Because life is where the insight comes. As an artist, you're only ever going to be unique and interesting if you engage with the world, open yourself up to its complicated craziness and then set it down in your own inimitable way.

That's HARD, but its what works. You need to be unmercifully personal and open and honest in your work. People will respond!

I mean, they won't always respond, because sometimes being personal is self-indulgent and uninteresting. But I'll leave it to you, fellow artists, to know when you've really had an insight worthy enough of taking up the time of the general public.

Care to share?

Wednesday 12 June 2013

THE LEGACY PLAYERS - There Are Great Actors, But Not Always Great Films

'Grudge Match' is a film currently in post-production that stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone; as two ex-boxers who return to the ring for one last fight, 50 years after their last contest. Some people are excited at the thought of Rocky Vs Raging Bull, others groan as they wonder what De Niro is doing to his legacy. 

But what about his legacy? As fans, we want to see our heroes do great film after great film, but it's impossible. 

The top actors all have their moment. Take Tom Hanks, who barely put a foot wrong in the 90's. That's because, whenever a really great script turned up, it went straight to him because he was the best (and most bankable) around. But times move on, movies stars get older, and someone else becomes the go-to movie star. 

But Tom Hanks still wants to work, and so does De Niro and so does Al Pacino.

You can be the greatest actor in Hollywood, but you still need the material. And even if you have the material - you need a movie studio who will bankroll it. 

It's like when people slam Eddie Murphy for the shitty movies of recent years. Do you think he made a decision to stop doing great films, to focus on the bad ones? Of course not. The reality of being an actor is that you need to be offered the roles. And there's only a handful of actors who get offered the very best stuff. 

Al Pacino is, undoubtedly, one of the best there is. But things are different now, it's harder for him to find the great characters. And I'll watch him in virtually anything. There's nothing I like more than Pacino playing a cop -- but how many working cops look as old as he does? 

Did you see 'Stand Up Guys'? Awful. The premise was:

A bunch of old guys get back together to do a thing they used to do. 

That's exactly what 'Grudge Match' is. And 'The Expendables (1, 2 & 3)'. 

That's the best Hollywood has come up with, it's how they think to utilize some of the greatest screen actors of all time. 

There are some true comedic geniuses in our industry; and I'd put Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams and Steve Martin in that category. But how many films have they done in recent years that showcase that genius? 

They were all top stand up comics, and they have all been in films that are recognised as comedy classics. But why doesn't it last longer? 

Partly, perhaps, because we all run out of steam. There's only so much gas in the tank. We enjoy when Woody Allen makes good movies, but the truly great ones are over. We say 'Midnight In Paris' is a return to form but if you think it's as good as 'Annie Hall', you have issues. 

But more than running out of gas, it's that they don't get to ride in the best cars. 

I'm extremely excited about the upcoming show 'The Crazy Ones', because I see the Robin Williams that I LOVE! The comedic genius, full of nervous energy and crazy insanity. I have faith in it because it's created by David E. Kelley, one of the funniest writers in television (he created 'Ally Mcbeal' and 'Boston Legal'). It's exciting because Robin Williams with STRONG material is a powerful thing. 

When was the last time that Robin Williams made us laugh? He was great in 'One Hour Photo' and 'Insomnia', but they weren't comedy. I enjoyed him in 'Patch Adams' -- but I'm not even sure I'd call that comedy, and even if I did -- that was way back in 1998! 

It's not that Robin Williams stopped being funny, it's that the films weren't being made. There were no vehicles for his talent. You could say the same now about Jim Carrey. 

People don't mind when movies don't quite work out, like 'Righteous Kill' which starred Pacino and De Niro. You at least get the sense they tried. But when Michael Corleone turns up in 'Jack and Jill' and Travis Bickle rolls out for another 'Meet The Fockers', your heart breaks a little. 

But why is that? We don't own these actors. They're free to do what they want! I bet Robert De Niro has a blast goofing around with Ben Stiller. 

The legacies of these great actors are secure. As the years pass, we just have to be grateful that they are still with us, and still hungry to work. And sometimes, you've got to put up with 'Little Fockers' and 'New Year's Eve' to get to 'Silver Linings Playbook'. 

And on the rare occasions where something like 'The Crazy Ones' comes along; you've got to hope it will do for Robin Williams what 'The West Wing' did for Martin Sheen; it added a new layer to an already brilliant legacy. 

I sincerely hope that all of these actors still have some great projects to come. I don't see any reasons why they wouldn't. People have to just keep writing for them, and the studios need to be open to  supporting stories that feature older casts; that aren't just about older people getting together to do the things they used to do.

Care to share?

Monday 10 June 2013

The Government, Spying On Us?

"Think of what it would be like if Google knew what you'd searched for, what you'd looked at, and all the bizarre thoughts and curiosities that are inside that head of yours. Can you imagine if the government could use all your emails and Facebook messages as evidence against you? "

From my October 2012 article, "What if it was a conspiracy?".

The thing about being a paranoid conspiracist is that, at some point, eventually, you're usually proved right.

Care to share?

Tuesday 4 June 2013

80% Of Success Is Showing Up

You know what I can't stand? People who moan about a lack of opportunities, but wouldn't know an opportunity if it smacked them in the face. 

An opportunity is pretty much anything where you get to flex your creative muscles. Where you get to potentially collaborate with new people. 

It's not what you know, it's who you know. 

It's who you meet, and how reliable they think you are. And how you can deliver on your talent.

If you think you're failing, one of two things is happening. Either you're paying your dues and struggling like we all do, or you're just not putting in the effort. You're still waiting to get chosen, like when you were picked for the school play because you're pretty. 

Well, you're not in school anymore. And there are hundreds, if not thousands of actors, directors and writers who are working harder than you. And maybe it's dawning on you now that you're not as talented as you always thought you were. 

Talent is just talent. Nobody cares. It's about what you do with it, how you nurture it. If you don't turn up, don't try, don't make the effort, don't return the phone calls and emails, then you only have yourself to blame. 

The industry owes you nothing, it doesn't even care about you. And why should it? 

Care to share?