Saturday, 23 April 2011

"Do it if you have the guts!" AKA "New decade.... New Rules.... Better haircuts."

Those were the days.
What's the best way to chill out on a hot day? Go to the cinema. See something a bit edgy for extra chilliness.
So me 'n Stu met up for a few ciders before traipsing off to a not very good multiplex (Vue @ Romford - sticky, STICKY floors, blurry screen. Not a good combo). Our film of choice was Scream 4 (or Scre4m, according to the film makers. Never liked numbers in titles - a trend started by the equally daft-monikered 'Se7en'. Se-seven-en?).

Why did we see this film, even though we both knew it was going to be at least a bit rubbish? Because we felt like we owed it to the other three. I never saw the first installment at the cinema (which I absolutely love - watched it last week, and it still holds up as a fresh, funny film), but I did see 'Scream 2' (which runs on its own hype - it has energy, but also has too many characters that do precious little. And killing off Randy was never a good idea. As soon as he died, the humour went with him.) and 'Scream 3' (which overdoses on its own in-jokes and ends up playing like an episode of Scooby-Doo.)

Ghostface never misses a photo opportunity.
So, part 4.... Kicks off as per every installment, with the pre-title murders. Only this time it plays out like an over-stretched Monty Python joke. Meanwhile, I'm hoping that none of the other 5 or 6 people in the cinema are going to act out any Scream fantasies - this is why me and scary films don't mix. Anyway, so far, so 'hmmmm'. But then Hayden Panettiere shows up. Or rather her haircut does. Suddenly, the film improves. Some one-dimensional characters die in not particularly creative ways, and our trio of survivors are wheeled out once more. Sidney has written a book on her experiences, which to me doesn't fit her character - If she had any sense, she'd keep her head down. Dewey and Gale's marriage is as dry as a biscuit (Given the Arquette's recent split, it certainly adds a bizarre depth to their on-screen partnership). Dewey is now the sheriff, and Gale is a bored housewife.

Do I like scary movies? Did you not notice my haircut?                   
The only new characters with any spark are Charlie and Kirby, played by Rory Culkin and Hayden Panettiere: Both elevate their characters with edgy performances and choice haircuts. Seriously, the cheerleader from 'Heroes' is wearing that haircut. Anyway, more people die, Sidney never thinks to jump on the next plane to Marrakesh, the big reveal happens, and we discover that the only way to make Scream 4 fresh was to remake the original but with added role-reversal. As for their motive - They did it because they wanted to be famous? Wasn't that Mickey's reason for killing his friends in part 2? If not, it was flippin' close to it. Anyway, the film almost ends on a risky, daring note: ALMOST.

Do it if you have the guts. Or maybe not.
The film feels like some choice decisions WERE made, but then were RE-SHOT when test audiences didn't like seeing their favourites die. I'll admit, I went to see this film on the basis of 'Are they going to kill Dewey/Sid/Gale'? Even in the trailer, there's a clip of Gale - about to be knifed - saying 'Do it if you have the guts'. I'm pretty sure I'm right in saying this, but I don't remember seeing this moment in the film. And there's nothing that bugs me more than seeing stuff in trailers that isn't in the actual film itself. (Okay, other things DO bug me more... just sayin', like...). And I seem to recall seeing a still from the film with a body hanging from the ceiling - ALSO NOT IN THE FILM.

As not seen in Scream 4.
Scream 4 felt like a movie that was going to have balls - but the makers lost their nerve. Killing off the main three characters felt like the thing to do - and The Bitter Script Reader's blog makes some good points about why they should have gone through with it.

But to me, killing off Sid, Gale or Dewey wasn't the answer. In fact, killing off your stalwarts can sometimes have a detrimental effect to the previous entries. Think Ripley in Alien 3. Okay, ballsy, somewhat inevitable ending, but it undid a lot of good work in Alien and Aliens. When I watch those movies now, they feel a little redundant because you know in part 3, Ripley buys the farm. So offing Scream main trio would have lessened the previous entries. What, in my opinion, was required was DECENT STORYLINES.

All Dewey has to keep himself busy in Scream 4 is show up at crime scenes, or be seen driving to them at speed. Gale does even less. Their characters feel stale because they've been given nothing to do. Thats no reason to kill them off; because they've served their purpose and the writer doesn't know what to do with them. The best answer is: Don't use these characters any more - move on, get fresh blood in, so to speak. The Scream movies work best when its kids in peril whilst being smart-arses. Killing off all the new characters was not a smart move. Its always better to keep a couple of the more likable new characters alive, for sequel purposes. When the same 3 people are alive at the end of each film, it gets a little tiresome. Much like Jack Bauer in '24'. But that show wouldn't work without Jack. Scream movies CAN work without Sid, Gale and Dewey.

New Stu, New Randy, New Casey, New Tatum
By now you probably think that I hate Scream 4. I don't, actually. It was nonsense, but enjoyable, watchable  nonsense. Yes, each approaching death scene is signposted in big neon letters, but there were a few fun moments, a couple of laughs, and some great haircuts (okay, I'm stopping now). The films have always been more about mis-direction than anything else, and Scream 4 certainly offers an array of possible killers. Is it an essential addition to the series? It plays better than parts 2 and 3, but its a pity that a lot of potential went untapped. Still, it wasn't half as bad as I feared it would be. 3 out of 5.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Too much, too young...

Whilst listening to the numerous ways to create and market your movie @ AI Day, my mind drifted to a thought that's been following me around for a few months: Is there such a thing as over-saturation when it comes to promoting a movie?

I've been a film fan for as long as I can remember, and as a kid (back in the 80's), the few promotional outlets were:

Barry Norman on Film-whichever year it was.
Bus Stops
Massive billboards on the A13
The cinema foyer
Trailers before movies
Adverts in newspapers.

As my interest in films grew, I would buy Photoplay, Starburst, Time Out, before moving onto the staple diet of Empire, Neon (which lasted for about a year: Shame.), and Total Film.

"With the advent of the world wide web" (tm), access to movie news has reached the point where you can, say, download the script of 'Inglorious Basterds' (or however QT spells the bloomin' thing) BEFORE he even had the finance secured.

Which poses a question: Whatever happened to the mystery?

The first time I knew ANYTHING about 'Ghostbusters': I stood at the bus stop outside Collier Row community centre, seeing the GB logo and the words "Who Ya Gonna Call?". That was it. I had no idea what it meant, but I wanted to know more. Then came the bus stop posters for 'Highlander' and 'Extreme Prejudice'. Again, me: stood there, admiring the artwork, trying to work out what the film was about.

Going back to the start of it all when I was about 3 or 4, I can remember being at a tube station, seeing the poster for 'Moonraker'. Roger Moore in a silver space suit: SOLD! But there was also a downside to this: Seeing Jack Nicholson's sweaty, mad-eyed stare through a smashed-through door for 'The Shining', or the wolf extreme close up for 'An American Werewolf In London' was enough to give me nightmares (hey, I was 5.) Worst offender was a schlocky horror film called 'Rosemary's Killer', which had a huge cardboard cut-out display in the cinema foyer - unpleasant to see at any age. (Another subject I will cover soon) Even up to the point where stepping off a tube train to be confronted by a huuuuuuuge poster for 'The Abyss', with its endless depths of blue was simultaneously awe-striking and dread-filling.

Maybe I'm being a melancholy, sentimental old duffer (ME?) or having some kind of mid-life crisis, but I do miss the days when I felt genuine intrigue and excitement towards new releases. Yes I'm a film fan, and its part of my nature to want to know about what films are being made, but we've all seen those trailers that give away the ENTIRE plot of the film. The trailers ends, and we mutter 'Okay, don't need to see that now'. So much coverage/hype is given to these big movies (Empire, I'm looking at you), that by the time they come around, these essential, must-see movies seem stale. I'm bored of hearing about it. And on top of this, Empire gives the movie 2 stars (End of Empire bashing).

Of course movies need promotion, otherwise we (the audience) wouldn't have a clue. But as Ted Hope related on the AI Day - The trailer for 'The Shining' stuck in his mind for months, because all it showed was a steadi-cam shot of the hotel carpet, reaching those elevator doors... then the doors open and... (no spoilers). The imagery leaves you with a sense of 'What the heck was that about? And when can I find out?'

Same goes for the trailers for Alien (and Aliens - although a direct copy of its predecessor's trailer) - the close-up of the egg cracking, the mysterious light shafting outwards; the haunting, bewildering howls of SOMETHING...

So my question is: Are movies losing their mystery?


It is a couple of days since I attended the American Independent's day at Regent's College, London, and I have to say - I am still buzzing!

Christine Vachon, Ted Hope and a whole bunch of filmy people.
There were (at a guess) around 100 people, all at different places in their careers, and it made for a fun atmosphere. There were no ego's on show - just people with a common interest: Making films.

Our host Chris Jones did a splendid job organising the event - hats off to you, Chris - and the venue was a great choice.

As long a day as it was (10 am - 5 pm), it was never dull, as American indie producers Christine Vachon (Kids, Far From Heaven, Boys Don't Cry, Cracks, Mildred Pierce) and Ted Hope (Adventureland, Super, American Splendor, In The Bedroom, Happiness) bestowed their invaluable insight into their world of film making.

The main points of the day that resounded with me were -

* When pitching, state the bigger, underlying themes.

* The more specific the story elements, the more universally identifiable the theme.

* Keep pitch conversational. Don't go into pitch mode! You don't need a result now, it's a conversation that leads to something better.

* Use image books & sizzle reels. Don't do scenes as you won't have the cast. Many financiers lack vision and think your test scenes =the finished movie.

* Actors are loathe to attach themselves to unfinanced projects as their value decreases if it doesn't get made. And so does yours!

* There's no advantage for an actor to be attached to a project unless it feels inevitable.

* Both the director and producer need to protect the story - genuine collaboration required.

* One question to test if a director is crazy: Has he/she had a relationship with another living thing? A human being, goldfish, plant etc.

* Build your community, be authentic, give them context.

* You want a small, really engaged audience who will go out and take action for you rather than a large audience that goes ho-hum.

* Before the film comes out, help people appreciate and contextualise the movie to increase demand at the point of launch.

Crowd-sourcing (as a way of funding) and the various new platforms for financing/screening your movie were also covered (mainly involving downloads/on-line screenings), which certainly got me thinking. Alas, a lot of these new outlets seem to be for the U.S. only, so here's hoping things either change or similar opportunities arise in the U.K.

The day was rounded off with a pitching session, in which names were pulled from a hat, and the chosen few were given a chance to pitch their projects.

Pitching in front of 150 strangers. Yikes.

So what did I take with me, as I weaved my way home through the multiple service-disrupted railway lines?

Film makers need people like Ted and Christine, probably more than ever now.

These two people - or those with a similar passion, devotion and instinct - are the dream that all film makers and writers want.

Someone who will fight for the best of the project
Who genuinely strive for honest collaboration
Who aren't just thinking of their reward (Ha!)
Its not about ego, attitude, or dominance.
Friendly, pleasant, warm people; not in it for the glamour.

Art and creativity matters to Christine and Ted, and it showed. And if you're still uncertain, check out the films that they have made over the past ten or twenty years. Also, its important to add that the seminar wasn't an "Us & Them" deal (as can sometimes be the case) - Christine and Ted included YOU. It wasn't an exclusive club with chancers and wannabe's on the outside looking in. But nor did they unrealistically promise you the world. It was the possibilities and the positivity they conveyed that stoked the creative fires.

This post isn't intended to massage anyone's ego. But what struck me is:

I have seen that it's possible.
These types of people DO ACTUALLY EXIST.
I haven't made them up, or have had unrealistic expectations all this time.

Now if only we could clone them...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The good film round-up

Righto - here's another list of films that I've seen in the past year which have scored 3.5 stars out of 5 OR MORE!

(in no particular order)

Tamara Drewe
Another Year
The Social Network
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
Toy Story 3
How To Train Your Dragon
Date Night
The Disappearance Of Alice Creed
4 Lions
The Blind Side
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Everybody's Fine
Crazy Heart
Love The Beast
Edge Of Darkness
Up In The Air
The Road
The Cove
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father
The Baader Meinhoff Complex
Funny People
I've Loved You So Long
The Hurt Locker
Fish Tank
Coco Avec Chanel
Anvil!: The Story of Anvil
Monsters Vs. Aliens

Studying the above list, again its different, interesting stories and characters that have defined these movies - along with heart. Something to keep in mind....

This time... its WAR!

Look into my eye!
Yes, my blogs may be as infrequent as weekend trains (Oooooh, take that BR & LU!), but I'm here, aint I? So wass hap'nin', sister? Well: So far, 2011 has been an improvement because:

1. My daughter has started nursery - she's doing brilliantly, becoming a proper little person. Fantastic to see her character and knowledge growing.

2. I have slightly more time to write - yay.

3. I wrote 43 pages of an unusual sci-fi drama. Then I got stuck. Boo.

4. Fed up with being stuck, I turned my attention to an old idea that's been knocking around for a few years. I'm currently on page 112, and the end is in sight. And I LIKE IT!

5. I've been getting out of the house in the name of networking and plugging myself back in to the possibilities of making a new film.

5a) This mainly consists of signing up for the London Screenwriter's Festival, which in itself has already opened up even more fantastic weekenders of brilliant insight.

5b) The first of which was attending AMERICAN INDEPENDENT'S DAY with


Needless to say, it was brilliantly insightful, inspiring, motivating... loved it loved it loved it.

6. I wrote a lovely short film, which I'm really pleased with. Next step: Get a producer on board.

Hopefully 2012 will be more like this...
... And less like this.

So that's this year so far, with plenty more exciting events coming soon (which I'll probably tell you about in 2016.)