Saturday 4 January 2014

Alexandria in the Front Row

I think Alexandria's comment on my article '2014 - Don't Rush' has reminded me of what it is to be a Kid In The Front Row.

She's 16 and has a level of passion and self-awareness that most can only dream of. And even from the way she responds to a blog post, you can see that she's a talented writer.

Alex, and keep making movies. The world needs people like you.

"I'm 16 and I love movies and moviemaking and screenwriting. I guess since I'm on your blog, you get that. I've only wrote three scripts and made two shorts. Yes, they're absolute shit.

I need to learn perseverance through the years - through college, through young adulthood (and trying to make the repeated decision of taking a day job or finding a film-related meal ticket), through marriage, through life. I feel this need to rush, to make it soon, others are flying past me, while I'm out here trying to enjoy life and write too. It's difficult, yes. But is it worth it?

I don't know. In terms of my filmmaking career, if "making it" is the Olympics, I'm still stretching in 6th grade Gym class. But when I watch my favorite movies - "The Hunt", "Prisoners", "Fish Tank" - I'm filled with such an intoxicating, opportune something - I just can't give it up. But I need this fervor when I'm broke and alone, when I meet the man I want to marry, when my 53rd script is shitty and I don't know how to fix it, when I just.can't.get.this.scene.right...I need this passion, this focus, and I need to maintain it now.

I guess, all I'm saying really, is thank you. Thank you for this post, thank you for this blog, and thank you dedicating so much time in being the buoy in the ocean for all the artists who are swimming this choppy, dangerous waters called life and creativity.

Have an amazing 2014.

- Alexandria"

Care to share?

Wednesday 1 January 2014

2014 - Don't Rush

Filmmaking is one long apprenticeship.

We all rush to sound like experts. It's like when you're at a short film screening and some 19 year old tells you how she was inspired by Godard and Tarantino, and how she wanted the camera angles to signify a metaphor about contemporary culture's relationship to technology. But then you see the film and it's terrible.

Not terrible in a 'not for me' sense but in that it's a pile of shit not meant for humans to see.

But we've all been there. In fact we still are there. Just look at most Hollywood movies.

The point is, we're still learning. We think we know it all but there's so much to it.

You need technical expertise.
You need to know what an audience wants.
You need to know how to inspire them.
You need to know marketing.
You need to know how to fix problems.

You need so many things.

Most people quit within a year of starting.
Those that carry on are more dedicated, until they fall in love and make babies.
The few that remain are in it for the long haul.

If you're in it for the long haul I'm writing this for you.

You need self awareness. You need to know that your talent needs nurturing. Artistic maturity doesn't happen right away. Most actors and directors don't do anything until their forties. And those that do it younger began when they were three.

And sure you can be a smartass and name someone who struck gold at age 22 the first time they tried acting, but I bet that person isn't your favourite actor or even close.


This blog was pretty popular for a while, it was clever on my part because I sounded like an expert. Then I stopped blogging because I realised: my work didn't live up to my words. (side note: I also stopped blogging because I was tired of giving opinions. Opinions are so boring, and are now much better due to being mostly condensed to 140 characters).

You can know lots about films but being able to nail it on a project is a completely different thing. And can you connect with an audience? And if you can, can you do it again and again?

My message this year is: don't rush. Don't think you need to "make it" this year. You're just an apprentice, learning the ropes. And this isn't just for newbies, it's for those who have established their careers. We're all learning how to do it better. 

Your life, or your wife, or your impatience; they may think this must be the year to be a runaway success but that's not what being an artist is.

A lot of things in your life need to click in order for everything to come together.

Don't tweet about how unfair the industry is. Read a book instead.

Don't moan about how no-one will buy your scripts. Write a better one.

When you learn about your art (reading, helping out, practising), you get SO MUCH more wisdom. Expertise is when you can stop being flummoxed by stupid things. When you don't stress about a camera breaking because you've had cameras break before and know exactly how to deal with it. It's when your acting is ruined because you're depressed about a break-up and the fact your kid is sick, but you can still put in a performance even though the director's being an egotistical asshole, too. 

You can't do these things without experience. Without the knowledge.

Don't rush ahead. Just stay patient, disciplined, and keep learning. Very few people are actually doing this.

Tweet less, practice more.
Moan less, listen more.
Spend less, buy the right books.

We've been sold this idea of instant success. People think being a writer or director or actor is like being on X Factor, they think it's about being picked. How many times has someone asked you, "has Spielberg called you yet?" This is how people think it works. That you have a bit of talent and then Spielberg picks you.

But it's really about picking yourself, and knowing how valuable you are. You get to the top of any industry by paying attention to detail. By constantly learning.

Go read Chris Hadfield's book about being an astronaut, or Alex Ferguson's book about being Manchester United manager, all the clues of success are right there.

You think Michael Schumacher won a couple of races and then was invited to race for the Scuderia? No. He worked his way up from go karts through formula 3 and onto F1. And the driving was only part of it, he also knew the history of the sport inside out, he knew about the drivers and he knew about the cars. 

You're no different. The friend you drink with down the pub may have convinced you that what you do is silly, but actually your acting or make-up artistry or directing is the big dream of your life.

Don't waste it by missing the book or failing to try out an idea or by not writing the script or taking the meeting.

Don't rush ahead. Read every page. That's how you'll get there quickest. 

Care to share?

Sunday 29 December 2013

11am Friday Morning, Los Angeles

I didn't even tell Matt that I was coming to LA. I got in touch with Tina, his wife, and told her to keep it a surprise.

Tina and Matt headed to Hollywood and Highland for 11am on the Friday morning, meeting point: Johnny Rockets diner.

I crept up behind them and, over-egging my English accent, said, "excuse me, could you tell me where Buckingham Palace is, I'm looking for the Queen."

Matt's what-the-fuck look quickly turned into an oh-my-god-it's-really-you look. We hugged it out -- and then I hugged Tina, the both of us happy and a bit surprised that we'd manager to pull off a cross-ocean-surprise. 

We jumped into their car and Tina sat in the back, insisting "you two need to sit in the front and catch up". But catching up was never our style, instead we just burned on forward. We created new in-jokes, new observations about life and new experiences right there in the heart of Hollywood.

The years had passed but somehow our friendship hadn't. And this time Tina was really a part of it too -- we were three people digging each other's company and all the crazy stories that went with it.

Weird what you remember and what you forget when the years pass without seeing a friend. We'd kept in touch but never in a sane way. We'd written each other constant letters over the years but they were all in character. I wrote to him saying I was the MI5 looking to recruit him for service, and also wrote him many letters in character as Alfred .M Peffle, a shy dyslexic who was afraid of letter writing, and I sent him music compilations that consisted of one Tom Petty song on repeat, backwards. He emailed me every few months with a diary of updates, but they were mostly fictional, and written in the style of a deranged, psychopathic eater of small to medium sized bagels. 

We chatted about gluten, not really quite knowing what it was, so we went to a gluten-free store and asked them, but they didn't know about gluten, only about things they were free of gluten. Then we went to Rocket Fizz in Burbank and stocked up on sugary goodness. The time whizzed by and Friday soon disappeared into a distant day, the greatest of days, the day when I got to see Matt and Tina again.

Cut to a few days later and we were screaming across town, laughing hysterically at our comedy sketch ideas, knowing we'd never make them because they were more powerful when only for us. We ate in vegan restaurants, and they were GOOD, who'd have figured!? We went for a coffee but guess what, a film crew had taken up the best seats. We were grumpy about it, about the inconsiderate nature of film crews -- knowing that it's more our style, if needing a shot in a coffee house, to sneak in with a camera and sound gear and get it in five minutes while no-ones looking.

It was while showing Matt and Tina my recent work on my battered old laptop that I realised just how in-sync we were, creatively. I'd literally watch and read ANYTHING they produce, they're humans who inspire, excite and challenge me, and THAT is what art is. We have have this great bond as friends, and it's based on WHO WE ARE, WHAT WE FEEL and even more so, WHAT ART WE MAKE. 

We chatted about the distances that we felt had grown between us and the Hollywood system, with all of us now content and happy to work on our own projects in our own time to our own audiences, regardless of how big or small they are.

Another night we met up for pizza. I waited around for about thirty minutes by the North Hollywood Subway Station. I don't think I was waiting because they were late, I think I was just crazy early. I listened to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's cover of 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' on repeat about eight times because it totally and completely captured the energy of the night.

They arrived and we went for pizza. We decided to sit outside, but then a band started playing and wow-- they were bad. Luckily it started raining so we had the excuse to disappear. We returned inside and chatted more about life.

It was that night or some other night when we went back to their place to listen to OLD RECORDS. Everyone knows that vinyl sounds better, they just down realise that it makes life A MILLION TIMES SWEETER, too. We drank tea and chatted about Billy Wilder and Stephen King and Neil Young and reptiles and then we played a game that I didn't know the name of so we called it 'Fat Erica' and laughed ourselves deep into the Hollywood night.

LA has a way of being chilled and casual yet at the same time, a million things happen all at once. A thousand things happened in LA and only a few of them were in the company of Matt and Tina, it's just that they happened to be the most memorable.

Care to share?

Saturday 28 December 2013

The Word 'No' Makes You An Artist

No, I will not dumb this down.

No, I will not wear that.

No, I don't believe in sharing that message.

That's powerful. Are you all about taking the pay check, or do you stand for something?

In the long term, the artist's dream is to tell the stories they want to tell with the resources and expertise they need to do it properly.

While you're building towards that level, your decisions and actions, every day, shape the artist you're becoming.

Don't let success, or lack thereof, dictate whether you'll do something in this industry. Who you are and what you decide speaks volumes, and defines who you are as an artist.

Care to share?

Where are the artists?

I think it's important to make art. It's important to write when you have something to say, to paint when there's a feeling you want to express. Art is an exploration, sometimes it's great, sometimes, not so much. 

But that's art. You don't get it right every time. Nor should you. It wouldn't be art if you got it right every time. 

That's the problem with Hollywood, they are so scared of getting it wrong that they spend as much money as they can, making sure they have enough big name actors and enough explosions. They cram the films full of everything that has worked in the past, in the hopes it will work again.

And y'know what, it usually does work again. At least, in a business sense. People like those explosions and they like the predictability. 

That's been the Catch 22 that I've been trying to figure out for quite a few years now -- figuring out where I see myself in an industry that champions uninspired bullshit. 

Not that 'indepedent' or 'art' necessarily means the films will be any better. Bullshit is created in every area of the industry. 

What I realise for me is that 'the industry' is not what I'm interested in, it has never been what I'm interested in. I'm just interested in telling stories, and in seeing other people tell great stories. And if someone can do that in a great movie, I'd love to see it. But equally, if they can achieve that in a two minute YouTube video, then I'm happy watching that too. 

Historically speaking, I would say that I love the cinema. I love what cinema has given us. It gave us Chaplin's tramp, it gave us 'Jaws' and it gave us Forrest Gump. But in recent years, there's been nothing of the kind.

I have been gradually falling out of love with the movies, it's been a slow progression which probably began around the time this blog started, but has really picked up pace in the past year or so and largely accounts for why I've been so quiet here. I've not felt like a 'kid in the front row', I've felt like the cynical guy sitting by the isle, wanting to get up and leave. 

But what I really want, is to stick around. Because my point of view is a valid one. And my point of view is that nothing beats a great piece of cinema, the problem is that it's just SO RARE. What gets a film made is not a great script, or an inspired artist. What gets a film made is marketability, safety, derivative stories. 

It's hard to make art. Even when you're starting out, people say 'how will you market it?', 'how will you make money?', 'how will you attract a star?'. 

Those questions have nothing to do with art. 

Film has always had to strike a balance between art and business, but I don't think there's a balance anymore. Most young filmmakers don't want to be artists. Most actors aren't thinking about what kind of work they're going to put into the world, they just want a job, a role. 

And I get it, we all need to work. But where are the people who have higher goals? The people who are in the industry because they have something to say, and see cinema as the way of saying it? 

And by 'something to say', I don't mean necessarily mean some political statement or life-changing point of view. A romantic comedy can have something to say. The great films say something about us, as humans, about who we are and what we're going through. 

My friend Darren sent me an article from the BBC a few days ago, it's the same one that gets written every year, about how the Hollywood system is in trouble, how the blockbuster paradigm may be dead.  Am I the only one who thinks: GREAT!!!?

Don't get me wrong, I'd hate to see people out of work. All those names you see in the credits of those blockbusters, they're hard-working, unsung heroes, and they deserve to be employed and deserved to get paid what they do, if not more. 

But in terms of the ART. If the blockbusters were no more, I'd be extremely happy. They don't mean ANYTHING. A sea of vapid bullshit that dulls the mind. 

And I know I know I know, there are zillions of people who love this stuff. 

I'm not one of them. 

Films are mostly bad, these days. I know that's what people say with every passing generation, but this time I feel it may actually be true. The great writers have flocked to TV and created their own shows - and future innovators will turn to the web, because that's where they get to make ART. 

Cinema, as an art form, is in trouble. But I have to say; I'm happy about that. This trouble is what might, eventually, save it. 

Care to share?