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.