Thursday, 22 December 2011

"He could BE one of those THINGS!"

Note to Thing: Trim nails in future.
John Carpenter's "The Thing" is one of my all-time favourite films. It was the film that made me want a career in special effects (Okay, that dazzling career never quite happened, but it was enough to really inspire me). To this day, the effects hold up and have yet to be bettered. That might seem like a rose-tinted opinion, but to me, it's true. The sheer imagination on show is dazzling. But in some cases, it's also very subtle (Blair vs. Garry, for example). Carpenter's direction has never been better, and the cast is exceptional. As for Morricone's theme music... classic.

Adam and Kate: Winners of 'Most fanciable scientists 2011'.
Palmer, Fuchs and Norris: Ladies, please...

So here's a belated opinion on the 'prequel' to John Carpenter's "The Thing".


Deep breath.
Kate: Watching the skies...
Garry: Bennings was his friend.

Here we go:

Right. If we forget JC's version existed, this new version is very entertaining. It's got a great cast - some very talented actors on show, just a pity they don't get enough screen time. It's a 'respectful' attempt i.e. the film makers actually bothered to tie-in the prequel with JC's Thing. I left the cinema thinking 'That could have been a WHOLE lot worse'. See, this is a film that I used to dream of seeing, one day. Ever since I saw JC's version, I wanted more. I know, I know, be careful what you wish for...

The problem with the 2011 version is: The trailer.

Oh, so THAT guy's a thing...
Yep. Definitely a thing.

As any good fanboy does these days, I dissected the trailer. I simply could not wait to see this film. But it's fair to say, the trailer made no attempt to disguise who the thing was. So we see clear images of characters 'thinging out'. The whole point of these movies are - You don't know who the thing is.

Jonas: Give the man a hand...
It harks back to my post a few months ago about how films are marketed. The element of surprise was ruined. There was no mystery to any of it. The trailer simply gave too much away.

That said, the film makes little attempt to play 'guess who' with its cast of characters. Some characters are so thin, you don't even know who has just been killed because you never had time to get to know them. Even Bennings had a couple of scenes that set him up as a bit of a moaner, at least injecting him with some character traits. Simple enough to do without going off-course. Even Fuchs had a tragic element to his character.

Where for art thou, Juliette? Nevermind, I can see you're busy...
The MacReady/Childs relationship had a spark of antagonism. Carter and Jameson are a pale imitation in the prequel. In fact, the way Jameson meets his fate is so... so what, it's like 'was this the best way to kill a character? His death felt like a re-shoot; as if he was meant to do more, but someone changed their mind, too late into the process.

You never get the sense that Mary Elizabeth Winstead could possibly be a 'thing'. With Mac, you were never sure how far JC was going to push it. The story set Mac up as a big, red herring; with suspicion always on him.
This year's Mac.
Mac. Hair almost as nice as Kate's.

One vital ingredient which really beefed up JC's version was the sound effects. The noises emitting from Windows as he burns... the feeble, almost child-like wails added so much to the 'What the HECK is that thing?'... Windows vs. Palmer was a true vision of hell. As JC said in the commentary, if he himself witnessed this scene, he would admit defeat. Game over. The closest the new version comes to this scene is Adam's merging with Edvard-Thing. Other than that, there was no suspense and no surprises.

Adam: Takes good care of his teeth.
Edvard-Thing seeks close friend to join heads with...

Above all, the pacing makes the 2011 version a different beast. 20 mins in, the first thing is revealed. The beast itself never looks 'there'. The CG is good, but as with most CG, looks fake. It 'behaves' differently to JC's monster. But in fairness, the fact that the beast is all-too ready to reveal itself actually expands on JC's Thing-monster. 

The Thing is JC's film now plays like it has learned lessons from its first encounter with mankind; now it plans to takes things a bit slow and steady in order to win the day, rather than the somewhat just-woke-up and a bit pissed off 2011 monster.

Mac blasts Palmer, cos, like, he's a thing.
Bennings-Bar-B is a success.

Having read interviews with the writer, it seems some good ideas were cut. Lars was meant to be set-up as a butterfingered klutz, which in turn explains how he manages to drop a grenade in JC's version. That's actually a very funny and cool idea. Why it wasn't used, I've no idea.

Norris opens up for Doc; Defines 'Special' effects.
The sad thing is, there was so much potential with the 2011 incarnation. A great cast, a competent director... but in comparison, it's a fun joyride rather than a slow-burning classic. The abrupt, shocking, blunt violence is replace by cg tentacles, which is a shame. Having said all that, this is no AvP: Requiem.
Ruddy hell, it's Norris-Thing! 
Sander-Thing. Hmmm... Na. You're alright.

If you haven't seen it, know that it's not going to be anywhere near as good as JC's version, but it is well-worth watching for the performances alone. There are a lot of great character actors on show who deserve to be seen in a lot more bigger roles. And know this much:  JC himself was planning his own sequel a few years ago, still using Mac and Childs. How would he explain their somewhat severe ageing overnight? 'Extreme cold'. Now that would have been a terrible, terrible film... And that's coming from the man who made the classic.
Mac. Nuff said.
Kate. Wishing she had a beard like Mac
for those long winter nights.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Highlights of 2011

"What a year!", to use a cliched expression to summarise a year full of stuff.

Chris Jones featured heavily, or at least events organised by the man himself and his lovely team. My first introduction was 'American Independent's Day', back in April; a day spent listening to the wisdom of film producers Ted Hope and Christine Vachon.

Then in June, I attended the Guerrilla Film Maker's Masterclass weekend, which was an intense baptism of knowledge, which definitely helped me to see where I've been going wrong a lot of the time. Utterly recommend it - the next one is coming up in March, so if you seriously want to make films, be there. No excuses.

In October came the cherry on the cake - the London Screenwriter's Festival. Four days (inc. a pitching workshop day, run by Charles Harris) which included seminars with Edgar Wright, David Reynolds, Joe Cornish, and Stuart Hazeldine, as well as speed pitching to producers and hanging out with 300+ film makers. A fantastic experience; one that I can't wait to do again.

Elsewhere, trips to the cinema increased! Woooo!

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (Best installment yet)
Thor (Loved it, though it lost some of its impact on DVD)
Scream 4 (Better than part 3, but still a missed opportunity. Good haircuts, though.)
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Too many 'of the's in the title. Didn't see any 'planet of apes'. They just took over a bridge. "Bridge Of The Apes.")
Super 8 (Spielberg wannabe, great emotional core, slightly rubbish Cloverfield monster's kid brother)
Tintin (Great old school rollicking adventure)
Arthur Christmas (Lovely kids film. Took my daughter, her first trip to the cinema. Aaaah.)
The Thing (A good attempt, respectful of Carpenter's version, not as good, easy to see why... an in-depth review will follow)

On the DVD front, here's a list of recommended viewing which scored at least 3.5 and above (out of 5!).

The Way
The Messenger
X-Men: First Class
The A-Team
Animal Kingdom
Rabbit Hole
True Grit
127 Hours
Gulliver's Travels
The King's Speech
Chico And Rita
Another Year
The Social Network
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Toy Story 3

And finally, notable offenders of 2011 (or DVD's released this year): Films which scored 1 out of 5 (or less!)
Larry Crowne
Bad Teacher
Attack The Block
Sucker Punch
Norwegian Wood
Miracle At St. Anna
I Am Number 4
Age Of Heroes
Arthur & The Invisibles 2
The Green Hornet
Easy A
I'm Still Here
Bonded By Blood
Jonah Hex
Knight And Day
The Last Airbender

Here's to next year: May it be full of great films, success and financial blessings (to pay for the house extension). Chin-chin!

Monday, 31 October 2011

"Whatever you're gonna do, do it fast!"

Its as simple as that. Five minutes with a producer, agent or consultant, in which your one and only goal is HOOK. THEM. IN.

Normally, a pitch wouldn't be in a room full of other people doing the same thing, shouting over the top of each other - or would it? You could be in a pub, or at an event - You see Mr. Big-shot producer, and decide to go for it. 

BIG-SHOT: "What's it about?"
YOU: "Er...."

Ten minutes later (if Mr. big-shot hasn't run away screaming), you find yourself saying 'and then this happens, and then that happens...' Not the way to do it. So what does speed pitching teach you? 

Keep it simple. Seriously, don't over complicate it. Sure, have a decent hook, a character flaw, a challenge and a dash of irony, but that's it. If there's one thing I took away from all of this is, "If they want to know more, they will ask."

1st Pitch: Went brilliantly. My project suited them, and they want to know more. Fantastic! On top of this, I actually ENJOYED the conversation! A really warm and friendly producer.

2nd Pitch: I pitched more as a flavour of what I write, as I was pitching tv to a film producer, somewhat unfortunately. Yes, I could have pitched a film, but as I'm looking for a producer to create a new project with, I chanced my pitch. The Pitchee was lovely, but not interested, but tried to be helpful which was nice.

3rd Pitch: Same deal as my 2nd i.e. Film not TV, but he asked me to send some sci-fi pitches to him, which is great! Lovely guy, too.

I found it scary but great - in fact the hardest part for me was the buzz and noise in the room, and trying to remain focused above all that. But good fun, and I'd definitely do it again!

What it has taught me as a screenwriter is to write the pitch first. Then write the one-page pitch. Get all that stuff down first. And again, above all - KEEP IT SIMPLE. 

The biggest success that I had was pitching an idea that even I can readily admit isn't the most original. Certainly, the script content is, but the premise? Not really. But it made for a good pitch, most likely for this very reason. I added the dash of this-and dash of that once the pitch had ended (to pepper it up), playing off the producer's responses and questions, but it did work.

So when you're writing your script, always know the logline. It will keep you on track with your project, and save you having to figure it all out long after the first or tenth draft.

And remember: Its just a conversation.

The stuff that dreams are made of...

Over the past four days, I have been on what can only be described (in Chris Vogler terms) 'A Hero's Journey'.
Mr. Joe Cornish talking hoodies and Tintin
1.) The hero is introduced in his/her ORDINARY WORLD
Me, sat in my office, in my own little bubble, writing scripts.

Lots of e-mails since last January from Chris Jones.

3.) The hero is reluctant at first. (REFUSAL OF THE CALL.)
"I'm a poor, struggling writer! I can't spend 3 days at a screenwriting festival!"

4.) The hero is encouraged by the Wise Old Man or Woman. (MEET WITH THE MENTOR.)
AKA more e-mails from a very encouraging Chris.

5.)  The hero passes the first threshold.  (CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.)
I arrive at Regent's College, London.

6.) The hero encounters tests and helpers. (TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES.)
Meeting lots of new characters and wizened mentors like David Reynolds and Stuart Hazeldine. Plenty of pitching test-runs. Enemies in the form of tiredness and the voice in your head that says 'You will FAIL!'

7.)  The hero reaches the innermost cave.  (APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE.)
Sitting in the speed pitching waiting room, listening to 'Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me" from The Rocky Horror soundtrack, chanting to myself 'Its just a conversation, its just a conversation...'

8.) The hero endures the supreme ORDEAL.
Speed pitching!

9.) The hero seizes the sword. (SEIZING THE SWORD, REWARD)
Leaving the pitching room with a result - producers want to see scripts.

Surviving London Underground.

A small mountain of work to battle through for all the agents, producers, directors etc...

Back to the ordinary world a changed person.

The four days I spent at the London Screenwriter's festival was almost like being in a movie itself - Being introduced to so many different people from all walks of life. Following their journey and hearing their stories and experiences of the festival was fantastic - all this whilst I was experiencing my own unique journey; listening to talks from David 'Nemo Mother Killer' Reynolds (Finding Nemo), Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead), Joe Cornish (Attack The Block), the heads of drama for the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, Ashley Pharaoh (Life Of Mars), Stuart Hazeldine (The Day The Earth Stood Still)... And that's just the speakers I saw! Talk about spoiled for choice.

On top of this, I had 50 minutes with a script doctor, which was an absolute blast - not to mention a pre-festival day of workshopping our pitches (an extra £15 for the day but a complete BARGAIN!)

So why weren't you there? Okay, fair enough if you've no interest in having a career as a screenwriter, producer or director, but if you do want this - WHY WEREN'T YOU THERE? Money? Next year, sign up sometime in January (probably) and pay about £24 per month until October. Consider it sacrificing a couple of nights out per month. Time? If you haven't got time for opportunity, then ask yourself why. No babysitter? Fair enough, but my wife had to take two days holiday to cover my absence, as I'm a stay-at-home-dad.

The last four days did have a cost for me financially. It took its toll on my wife (our daughter suddenly stopped sleeping at night two weeks leading up to the festival, and was pretty much in a constant state of tiredness, being sick and stressing out my wife completely). I was tired (hardly any sleep leading up to the festival, long days, averaging about 5-6 hours sleep at night) and I missed my family. All hard stuff.

But it was worth it. In fact, its an experience I honestly can't put a monetary value on. The friendships, insight, connections, possibilities, empowerment... Simply put, its a game-changer. Again, if you're serious about what it is that you want to do, you cannot afford to miss this event next year.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they aint after you...

Plagiarism: Its the scurge of the creative realm, according to some paranoid folk.

But are they paranoid?

Lucy V Hay believes that no one is stealing your idea . So in a bid to prove her wrong, I'm stealing her idea for a blog post about this very subject - see, plagiarism in action!

Alright, alright... Generally, on the whole, 99.999999999% of ideas are NOT ripped off. Just because you came up with this great idea, it doesn't mean somebody else isn't thinking exactly the same thought right at this very minute.

Many a time have I experienced that pang of 'THAT'S MY RUDDY IDEA!!!!!! THIEF!' whilst watching movies. So far, I can lay claim to being the original creator of such concepts as 'The Usual Suspects',  'In Time' and parts of 'Natural Born Killers'. I can lay claim, but I would be wrong-diddly-wrong. I hit on an idea - so did somebody else.

Avatar: Not Dances With Wolves.
Dances With Wolves: Not Avatar. 

I recently entered the LSF's "Four Nights In August" competition. Whilst my script was heavily critical and political, the ultimate execution of the story (at least, the ending) was apparently similar to a few other submissions. Whilst I did feel a pang of 'I'm utterly unoriginal!', I actually read a couple of the entries with similar endings. Yes, we had a similar 'twist', but the scripts themselves were completely different in tone, style, voice, and commentary.

So how do we stop ourselves from being 'ripped off'? Do we just write for ourselves and refrain from showing the fruits of our labour? Of course not. A wise person once said to me (whilst stealing a quote from Freddie Mercury, I believe), 'Its no good being the greatest piano player if nobody hears you play.'

I do believe that producers, script readers and such like may read a script which subconsciously remains in their memory, only to be 'discovered' at a later point and turned into their own creation. But its in the execution where it really counts. There are plenty of films out there with GREAT ideas, but translated incredibly poorly or in an unsatisfying style.

In fact, if your idea is similar to another film, but the content is completely different, then why not tweak it and use it? I would never suggest serving up re-heated seconds, but there are some strong ideas which will run and run. It all rides on how YOU choose to expand on the idea. If its good enough, it will find its audience. Or simply say 'Fair enough, time to move on'. Use these moments of frustration to drive your desire for originality and creativity!

So send out your scripts, keep a paper trail of your ideas and various drafts, but STOP BEING PARANOID. Got it? Good.

I'll end with a story (true) about my experience with plagiarism. In 1996, I was chummy with a small-time producers who, in turn, was friends with a couple of small-to-medium sized producers. I was invited to pitch some ideas to my producer friend, and I reeled off all I could in a desperate bid to gain employment. He loved all my ideas, and was going to chat about them to his producers friends.

Weeks past, and I received a call to come in and chat. The meeting was the complete opposite of our first upbeat, friendly, excitable meeting. I sat there whilst my producer 'friend' fed-back his friends comments about my ideas. 'Rubbish'. 'Unoriginal' (see?). 'Nobody will EVER make a tv series about zombies! (HA!).

Wondering what just happened, I went home with my tail between my legs.

About a year or so later, I met up with my producer 'friend' again, as I needed to borrow a Mini DV camera for a friend. We chatted about what projects we were involved with, and I asked him about his producer friends. He said they had just made a tv pilot, and then went on to describe the idea in full, which sounded incredibly similar to an idea I had pitched him a year ago.

Even then, I was willing to accept that it could have been a coincidence. So I said to my 'friend' "That sounds very similar to an idea I pitched you a year ago..." I wasn't accusing or criticising him or his friends; simply remarking...

But my 'friend' responded in such a way that I KNEW he had stolen my idea -

"If you even THINK about suing us I will ruin your career before its even begun! Got it?"

And he was being deadly serious. And he used more F-words and a threatening tone of voice that befits a sentence such as that. BUT: The pilot didn't sell. However they chose to adapt the concept didn't work.

So there ya go: Plagiarism doesn't exist. The moral of this story is - Choose your friends wisely, stay away from coke-heads and be certain of whom you are (possibly) working with.

Lets close with two hilarious tales about plagiarism accusations gone made. Ta-Ta!

Monday, 3 October 2011

My Entry for the London Screenwriters Festival Competition 2011

Recently I wrote a one-page script called "What's Really Happening" for a competition run by the London Screenwriters Festival, based upon the riots which took place in London (and other parts of the country) in August.
I plucked for a 'commentary' as opposed to a story with twists and turns (how many can you cram into one page, anyway? Probably loads, but that's not me!), looking at probable causes; what motivated the riots, but also the stereotypes of 'urban youth' served up by the media throughout the riots. 
It makes a few observations which represent how I feel about the riots, as well as community.
Anyway - read it here!  *Filed under 'short films*

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Paddy Considine talks (incredibly briefly) to Evermore Films!

By 'eck its that Evermore Films fella... Don't make eye contact.
Evermore Films recently took part in a webchat with the one and only Mr. Paddy Considine - read the rest of the chat HERE. Meanwhile, here's Evermore's brilliantly probing question.

evermorefilms: What's your own favourite performance and why?

Paddy: "I think Romeo Brass, because I didn't know what I was doing. It may not be the smoothest performance, but it was certainly the most fun and the purest. After that, I think I started to think about it too much."

Thursday, 15 September 2011

"Its all in the reflexes..."

Jack Burton: Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?
My Personal Top 5 Disappointments - 
PART TWO: The Legend Of Curly's Gold.

Continuing on from the incredibly well-received 'My Personal Top 5 Disappointments' (Thank you, Madenna), I thought I'd take a look at the universe. Doesn't get any bigger, does it? (well, apparently its always expanding) Anyway, here's a big question: 


Yeah, you. You there. And you. (That about covers the three people who read my blog.) I read a blog post today on Lucy V Hay's "Write Here, Write Now" ; it provoked some discussion on the office pest that is Facebook: Some believe you make you're own luck, others believe we're at the mercy of a mocking universe that loves to see nice guys finish last and lazy morons rule the world. I once discussed the struggles of this life with a fellow script writer. His brilliant, deadly serious response was "If I'd known it was going to take four years then I wouldn't have bothered becoming a writer!" Its not going to take four years to be successful. Its going to take ten. Or twenty. Or maybe never.

So what's the answer? At times like this, I turn to the wisdom of 'Big Trouble In Little China's Jack Burton.

"I'm not saying that I've been everywhere and I've done everything, but I do know it's a pretty amazing planet we live on here, and a man would have to be some kind of FOOL to think we're alone in THIS universe."

Now I don't think Ol' Jack is referring to planets aligning, good/back luck, horoscopes, 7 years bad luck for breaking a mirror or any other superstitious claptrap. Nor are we puppets at the mercy of a whimsical God or objects of misfortune for Satan to toy with. Jack doesn't have all the answers, but he's content in that knowledge.

After all, Lo Pan rightfully exclaimed that Jack was not brought upon this world to 'get it'. But Jack accepts that there's a lot more going on life that is unseen to the human eye: He's never going to fully grasp it, but then again he knows he's not meant to. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs/disbeliefs,  life does require us to exercise some level of faith in what we believe, our endeavors and indeed the rest of the world. Otherwise we probably wouldn't get out of bed in the morning.

So why does success elude us? True, some people seem to have amazing opportunities land in their laps - repeatedly. Others seemingly churn out the same old garbage and are continually rewarded for it. (Depressed yet?). 

Then you've got those who went to Oxford or Cambridge or whatever. The 'Old Boys' network that seemingly guarantees success in life because its not what you know, its who... Some people tie themselves up in knots at this bitter, uncaring world where Adam Sandler is a box-office champion. But he is. People pay their hard-earned money to watch his movies time and time again, so good on Sandler for striking a chord with his audience. Like Jack Burton - "I don't get it" - but that's neither here nor there.

Luck is mere superstition - dedication, hard work, gifting, and networking is what its all about. And there are no guarantees of success at the end of it all. But learn from the experience as you go along. Certainly things can go right. Good stuff CAN land in your lap. But do you exclaim 'Its a conspiracy!!!!' when this happens? Some doors open, some close. There can be second, third, sixth chances. There are also one-shot deals.

1993: I was earning a pittance on a youth training scheme which was tantamount to teenage slavery (a full-time job, travel paid with about ten pounds left over at the end of the week... *shakes head*) at a video equipment hire company in Soho. I had been writing scripts for about five years; nothing serious, mainly jokey nonsense that only I found funny. But then I saw 'Reservoir Dogs' (seven times at the cinema, due to it being banned on video for years). I'd always been a huge movie fan, but this was the film that opened my eyes to structure, characters and dialogue - all the stuff that makes for a 'real' screenplay. 

Much like a lot of male writers of that era, I wrote MY Reservoir Dogs. In hindsight, it wasn't much more than a fanboy rip-off with a few good shoot outs and the odd funny line. But I had been inspired to up my game. And so I put more effort into broadening my horizons; reading McKee and Goldman, going to script writing courses and trying to improve.

"Are you crazy? Is that your problem?"
But what really inspired me was another film fan. I'm not about to name names or embarrass anyone, but credit where its due. I had read in 'Empire Magazine' that Quentin Tarantino was appearing at a cinema in Nottingham, introducing a season of Harvey Keitel films. Sounds great, but Nottingham was miles away. I'd never get there. Then 'film fan' said 'You should go'. Hanging on their every word and taking their encouragement, I asked my Dad to drive me to Nottingham on a complete whim (not too dissimilar to Ray Kinsella trying to convince Terrence Mann to go on a road trip with him in 'Field Of Dreams'). There was no guarantee that I would see or speak to QT. All I could do is follow Jack Burton's mantra: "What the hell."

I sat in a Nottingham cinema foyer for almost two hours. No Tarantino, and the hour was late. With some unusual forethought, I had printed out a short screenplay and a cover letter: In case I couldn't speak with QT, I could give him a brown envelope filled with creative brilliance. So I waited.... and waited.... My Dad says 'five more minutes and we're leaving'. Just then, QT steps through a door, surrounded by a small entourage. He's walking across the foyer towards the exit. This is the time to jump. 

I found my legs carrying me towards Tarantino; my brain seriously questioning what I'm doing. I follow him out to his waiting car. As I approach, Tarantino gets in the car. Door shut. I speak to his assistant, explaining who I am, why I'm here etc... His assistant abruptly, and somewhat understandably, told me to 'go away' very impolitely.

All the while, Tarantino is gesturing through his backseat window. The message gets to his assistant, who informs me that QT will be returning to the cinema in 90 minutes. But I have to go home. I didn't have 90 minutes. I had a somewhat tired and bored Dad (who had to work that night) sat in the cinema foyer. As I watched QT's car drive off, a moment of clarity and extreme bullshit crossed my mind.

I paced back into the cinema and approached an employee; brown envelope in hand. 

ME: "Can you give this to Quentin when he returns? Its very important that he gets it."
CINEMA DUDE: "Does he know what it is?"
ME: "YES. Yes he does."
And that was that. The moment was over. Months passed.

Six months, to be precise. I'm at home watching 'This Morning' (as you'll realise by now, I was a big fan of Fred the Weatherman). I'm lounging on the floor; my mum's ironing. The phone rings. I answer.

"Hi, is that Andy?"
"Hi, its Quentin Tarantino!"
*stunned silence, eventually followed by*
"Oh.... Hello."

"Oh.... Hello." Genius. My mind certainly wasn't thinking 'Oh hello'. It was more like something along the lines of 'Oh ******************'. Turns out that QT had recently moved apartment, and found my brown envelope full of greatness in one of the moving boxes. He read it, and felt compelled to call me.

We chatted for about 30 minutes, about life, love and the as-then unreleased Pulp Fiction. Heck, he even asked me how a date went (for some utterly unknown reason, I'd happened to mention in my letter that I was going to see 'The Last Days Of Chez Nous' with an actual real girl). I'm talking about my love life with Tarantino. Uh huh.

The conversation closed naturally, and I asked if I could send him some more of my work. He agreed, gave me an address, told me what to write on the cover letter... all the while I'm thinking "This is it, son, this is the big one!"

And that was that. Never heard from him again. 

I spent, in fantastic hindsight, a stupid amount of time chasing this. Before the days of the internet, all I could do was write to his publicist Bumble Ward. No reply. QT was in London a few years later at the NFT. I went along with the same intentions as before: Pretty much hanging out in the foyer/semi-stalking. After all, it worked before. An employee offered me a free ticket to watch QT in discussion. Great! 

Afterwards, QT was signing books - but you could only get a face to face if you bought a book from him. Fair enough, BUT: - did I want to use this opportunity to plug  my work? After all, I was a professional. There's a time and a place, and queuing up like the rest of the audience, well, that was beneath me. Me 'n QT, we're not 'fans', we're industry people, right? 

Years later, the internet came along. Suddenly I had the possibility of a direct e-mail connection with Bumble. So I emailed.... and I got a reply. And it was positive. Great! Now to follow this up... Her e-mail address stopped working. Huh? Prowling the internet, I discovered news stories about Bumble Ward's unexpected departure from showbiz. Just like that, she decided she didn't want to be a publicist on the red carpet until she was 90. Go girl! But how does that help me?!!!!

"I'm a reasonable guy. I've just experienced some very unreasonable things."
After ten years, I'd drawn a blank. Or had I? Actually, no. What I'd done is put my faith in Quentin Tarantino; a film maker who doesn't know or give two monkeys who I am, but was kind enough to phone me one day. He wasn't the answer to my career problems; my lack of success at script writing. Lots of people told me I should keep chasing, but I knew in my heart that it was a fruitless task. Regardless of his success, pinning my success on him was not the answer.

By this point, my taste in films and writing had changed substantially - whilst I love 'Jackie Brown', my style is more 'Sideways', 'Withnail And I' and 'Heathers'. But it goes beyond personal taste: The lesson for me was the ago-old 'be true to thine self': Why be QT Part 2 when I can be me, with my own take on things? Making an idol of Tarantino was not going to solve all my problems.

So what positives did I learn from this?

1. Be yourself: Write what you like, what you know, what you want to watch. And enjoy it.

2. Doors did open. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a few jobs off the back of all this. I gained my first A.D. job because my story intrigued the line producer.

(Having said all this, I also received a blunt, sarcastic rejection from Danny Cannon himself when Judge Dredd was in production. Turns out he was also at the very same Nottingham cinema and I'd name-checked the OTHER famous film director. Ooops.

Working as an A.D. motivated me to make my own films, which in turn brought about a whole new set of events... *to be continued*

3. Chances are there to be taken. The world doesn't owe you, nor is it constantly against you: So be careful when the 'inner voice' tries to convince you of this.

3. Finally, I'd like to end on a suitable quote from ol' Jack....

                        "You know what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like this? 

 When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, 
 taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, 
 and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, 
 you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember 
 what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: 

"Have ya paid your dues, Jack?"

"Yessir, the check is in the mail."

Monday, 29 August 2011

"The First Casualty of War is... Innocence..."

Even the poster cries 'nostalgia!!!!!'

... So declared the poster for Oliver Stone's 1986 masterpiece 'Platoon'.

And how true when it comes to this year's summer blockbuster 'Super 8'. Before I continue, I must state that I loved 'Super 8'. I had issues with certain aspects, but on the whole I loved it. Which says a lot in this day and age: Its an increasing rare occurrence these days when I buy a DVD of a recent release. I'm mostly buying 80's movies - possibly as its a nice, comforting, melancholy trip down memory lane; revisiting my youth etc.

But the same can be said about 'Super 8'. The best thing about it was the feeling of nostalgia. Not in the sense of, say, 'Stand By Me' (with lots of 1950's music etc.), but a nostalgia for cinema itself, and the rare sense of wonder that movies can produce. But I suspect director J.J. Abrams may have been attempting to emulate the 'magic' of Spielberg's early films - in particular 'E.T.' and 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind'.

Super 8: Still better than Mini DV.
Here's what J.J. had to say about 'Super 8's' origins:

J.J. Abrams: "‘Super 8′ came out of two separate ideas. One was an idea of doing a film about kids making super 8 movies in the late 70’s, early 80’s. And the other one was an idea of a monster movie that I’d had. One was a group of characters I had loved, but without a story that I thought would compel people to go and see it. And the other was a compelling premise but with no original characters. So I kind of combined the two and found that they serviced each other in a cool way."

For those who haven't seen 'Super 8', I won't go into spoilers - its a film best viewed with little pre-viewing information.

For those who have seen it: Upon reflection, I'm left wondering if 'Super 8' needed the 'mystery thing'-element. Was the film good enough on its own i.e. the kids making a movie. Sure, its a summer event movie, and without the 'mystery thing', it wouldn't be an action/adventure/sci-fi movie. And while it was great watching all the explosions and effects, I felt the audience was missing out on the characters: The interaction between the kids was pretty much jettisoned when the aforementioned 'thing' entered the story; to the point where the kids ran around together as this unified clump: There was precious little room for the individual.

The kid in the yellow coat is now running Hollywood...
I was also questioning if the 'magic' I was watching was actually genuine, or was it just a Spielbergian wannabe, with all its lens flare and squabbling family dinner times... My conclusion is that 'Super 8' is an homage to Spielberg, and should have been more of its own original movie. And no, the 'mystery thing', as intriguing as the build-up was, didn't deliver the goods.

So why am I saying 'Its the blockbuster film of 2011'?

Its fair to say that 2011 has not been a great year for big movies. With the exception of 'Thor', the blockbuster season has been awash with 'okay' movies - but nothing outstanding. 'Captain America' was fun yet undemanding: A superhero movie which doesn't know what to do with a hero who has nothing particularly unique about him. 'Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes': Great FX, but cardboard characters and a distinct lack of any 'Planet' of so-called Apes. (Taking over a bridge does not count.)

Without its setting, backstory and characters, 'Super 8' would have easily fallen into 'just okay'. But its the emotional core that speaks to us and sticks with us long after the FX have dated. So lets have more of that, please...
Looking on with anticipation:
Can the studio system deliver a blockbuster with FX AND heart? 

Friday, 5 August 2011

Show me the....

Attack of the Clowns...
MONEY. Never let it be the centre of your existence, but we all need it, right? And sometimes people need help raising money.

UK Film maker Graham Inman is currently running an incredibly successful IndieGoGo campaign for the Leilani Holmes-produced / Damien Cullen-directed short film 'Clowning Around'. Read all about it here.

You can contribute as little as ONE DOLLAR to assist in the creation of their project - or $10, $25, $50 and so on if you're feeling generous - each stage of giving offers you something in return, too (the more you give, the greater the return).

So why should you contribute? The team of people involved in this project are looking to create a quality, world-class production - They have the talent and the ability, and whilst they have contacts and are no doubt pulling in all the favours and help they can - these things always require money. So if you have an interest in cinema and a passion for getting involved, head over to the 'Clowning Around' site.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


Otto is not a happy bunny.
I recently read a post on Dominic Carver's blog (Its an old post, but I just discovered it! Finger on the pulse as ever.) about his disappointment at not winning the Red Planet script competition a year or so ago (Read it HERE.)

Being only too aware of his pain, it put me in a reflective mood. Whilst I would generally agree that dwelling on the past is not constructive and that its good to let rejection go and move on, there are lessons to be gleaned from such disappointment, as well as positive outcomes which may not be so evident at times of crashing disasters.

My personal Top 5 Disappointments - PART ONE:


My lasting memory of my final day at school was the look on my geography teacher's face when I answered his question "What job are you going to do after leaving school?" - "I want to work in special effects in films."

Of course.

And I gave it a good shot, being a kid who had extremely unremarkable exam results. I had always been fascinated by films (ever since witnessing a scene from 'An American Werewolf In London' - the bit where the guy at the tube station is chased. ITV chose to show this scene at lunchtime. I was about five years old. No wonder it stuck in my head...)
Not suitable for five year olds.

Anyway, to a film-obsessed teenager as I was at the time, I loved special effects in movies. To me, they were always the best parts of any movie (Rob Bottin's work in 'The Thing' being the ultimate, genius masterpiece of FX work ever). FX scenes were the classic parts that everyone talked about after the film had finished, the parts where you could let your imagination run wild (I was twelve. What did I know? Upon reflection, it was probably all to do with attention seeking...). I wanted to work in films. And FX, to me, was where it was at.

'One of these things is not like the other....'

I spent months writing to every production company and celebrity in the UK. I was young, naive, and it was 1991. I had a lot of positive replies, but not enough to secure regular employment. Reaching the end of my tether (and my parents tether, too), I had exhausted every avenue - apart from college. Having spent a large part of my early years hating school, this was not an idea I cherished.

Then my Mum mentioned that she had watched an interview on ITV-daytime staple 'This Morning'. Apparently Fred The Weather man had interviewed some guy who did effects on Star Wars. I had no idea who this person was, so I wrote to Fred The Weatherman (I don't think I actually wrote that on the envelope?), and asked for more info on this SPFX guy.

A few weeks later, the phone rings. Its Fred. He tells me that he's passed my letter on to the FX guy. Brilliant. What a dude. Fred ended the conversation with the immortal words "Better go, I need to get on my map."

Fred: A giant among (weather) men.
The FX Guy was also known as Chris Tucker. No, not the helium-voiced actor, just as Captain America does not also present the breakfast show on Radio Two. Chris Tucker did indeed provide effects for Star Wars, as well as The Company Of Wolves, Dune, The Elephant Man and a multitude of other movies. More weeks went by, until I received a call from Chris's assistant. It was a very positive chat, and I was invited down to Chris's house (which turned out to be a mansion in the woods, somewhere in Pangbourne).

Meeting Chris was a slightly different affair. He was a lovely person, very generous with his time, but as a 16 year old preparing to fall into his dream job, I was slightly stunned at his advice: "Go to college, kid - there's absolutely no work in the U.K." Chris went on to say how most of his work was with Bollywood, as our UK cinematic empire was all but dust and bones.

The disappointment was slightly lessened when Chris showed me around his FX room - I got to see Laurence Olivier's head! - but I eventually trundled home feeling none the wiser and more depressed. Around this time, I had purchased a very detailed (and expensive) FX make-up book, and had attempted sculpting (at the advice of Chris Tucker). It became very clear to me that FX people have a gift that I simply do not possess. I can draw a little, but I'm not an artist. These people were artists, and I simply wasn't in their league.

After some more weeks, I volunteered at a theatre on the reasoning that I might as well be doing something useful. Whilst working there, I met somebody who mentioned a college course they had signed up for (doing theatre sound design). I looked into the college, and discovered they also ran a video & tv course.

So I joined, and in my first few months at college, I was taught by tv writer David Hansen. It was the first time in years that I found anything education-related interesting. It also occurred to me that I had been writing short scripts and a couple of feature lengths scripts in my spare time - but only as a hobby/something for my own amusement. David was encouraging towards my very-silly-teenage-boy-scripts, and lo the germ of a notion formed into words akin to 'What if I wrote a real, proper script? With a story of some sort and characters that didn't have comedy names?'

And so I took writing seriously. I'd always loved writing and making my own books... Heck, I even won an award at school for the ingenious, imaginatively witty James Bond spoof 'Brooke Bond', which featured lots of tea/coffee-brand related character names (I was twelve at the time and should have probably known better, even at that age.). A year later, I had written my first 'real' screenplay. With a sense of achievement, I was ready to take on the world.
King of the world... for the next ten minutes.

COMING SOON: Episode Two - More Disappointment.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

"Its not your job to be as confused as Nigel!"

"No one knows who they were or what they were doing..."
Many years ago, I was asked to help out on a promotional film - You know the sort: They make an advert of the film they intend to make, then show the trailer to potential investors etc. Never a good idea in my book, as the 'fake trailer' will never be fully representative of the finished feature film. In fact, it can have a detrimental effect: If your trailer looks cheap (because you don't have a budget), then your feature's prospects do not look rosy.

So I agreed to be the sound man/boom op for the trailer - for free (it was all last-minute rush-rush, and I figured it could be interesting). I arrive on location at an abattoir, somewhere in saaaarf Laaaandon. I'm the first person there... An hour later, I'm still the first person there. Hmm. Finally, the crew roll up in dribs and drabs; vans arrive and equipment is unloaded.

I meet the producer - my point of contact - and he thanks me for coming aboard at short notice. He leads me through to the equipment: There is a mountain of flight cases, tripods, dollys, jibs, mics, camera equipment...
Like a Terminator reeling off his shopping list of Uzi 9mm's and Phased plasma rifles in the 40-watt range, the producer had plucked every bit of equipment off the shelf. So why was I working for free, again?

Termy buys up the shop; Dick Miller buys the farm.
Anyway, I grabbed a mic from a selection of FOUR (we were shooting in doors, at a single location), found an SQN mixer... but nothing to record on to. I asked the producer how they were planning on recording sound - His response was to look at me, incredulous. So I asked again. "Well, you plug the mic into the camera!"

They were shooting on 16mm film.

After I explained that 16mm doesn't record sound as well as picture, things suddenly got serious. It was a Sunday; most hire companies were shut. The producer fled in search of a DAT machine whilst the camera crew shot the sequence - minus sound. The steadi-cam shot was rehearsed; I made a note of every sound I could hear... and waited for my DAT machine.

Eight hours later, the producer returns with a DAT machine. The shoot was drawing to an end, so I quickly got set up and ready to go. I re-created the route taken by the camera operator, recording all of the sounds (machinery, doors opening etc.) - but all I could hear was voices. People going home. Flight cases loading into vans. Pizza orders being shouted out. After the fifth time of calling for quiet, I managed one decent take of sound. Desperate to go home, I handed the DAT tape to the director and scarpered.

Monday morning, I received a call from the producer - 'Where's the DAT tape?'

Me: 'I gave it to Herr Director.'

Producer: 'Oh...'

Months later, I saw the trailer online: Minus sound, with b-movie 'horror' music playing over the images. Needless to say, it lost its impact and did not sell the film at all.

"You want a Pepsi Free, Pal, you've gotta pay for it!"
So what can be salvaged from this experience?

Equipment: You do not need to spend a small fortune on equipment for your film. Do your research; understand exactly what you need and don't need. Do not get a gadget fetish.

Sound: Its crucial. Bad sound will ruin your movie. No sound will result in dodgy library music.

Crew: Treat your cast and crew with respect, especially if they are working for free.

Finally: If you can pay for equipment hire costs, you can pay cast/crew expenses at the very least.