Monday, 22 December 2014

"We are from the planet Duplo, and we're here to destroy you!"

One way to get rid of 2014.
2014, we hardly knew ye... Now don't let the doorknob hit ya where the dog shoulda bit ya! Scram! Beat it, ya bum! Yep, it's the end of year round-up!

On a personal note, the juggling act of life 'n writing proved to be challenging, and as ever there was always that feeling of "I must do more!" (but does that ever go away?). I kicked off 2014 in a somewhat 'prolific' style by writing a drama pilot called "Private/Public" (a comedy/drama about the challenges facing the NHS) and a comedy pilot called "Hollywood Wax" (man watches movies with famous thesps who are badly imitated figments from his imagination: A sort of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000"-meets-"Stella Street".).

I pitched my "life-hacking" rom-com "Fuzzy Logic" somewhat 'accidentally', which led to me writing the thing - an idea originally from somewhere in the late 1990's - which turned out funny AND fun, if an absolute pig to write: Lesson learned. This was followed by an attempt to write a book -to be continued - as interest in my 'other worlds' sci-fi thriller "Lumen" demanded my full attention.

Except in 'Lumen', the butterfly tries to eliminate the caterpillar.
I'll be perfectly honest - this year was very, very difficult as a writer. It was a year of learning some hard lessons, and realising what I want to do - and what I don't want to do.

I'm very aware that 2015 will bring reduced hours for writing, so I'm concentrating on two projects for my own personal pleasure - namely 70's set Am-Dram murder-mystery/comedy "Backstabbers" and another big, bulging action/fantasy installment of the epic "Border World". I'm also adapting some completed screenplays into novels - get them out there, get them read.

We lost some formidable talent in 2014 - 
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Peña, Robin Williams, Richard Attenborough, James Garner,Harold Ramis, Bob Hoskins, Richard Kiel, Maximilian Schell, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Warren Clarke, Ralph Waite, Glen A. Larson, H.R. Giger, Stephen Lee, and pan-global phenomenon THE Rik Mayall. RIP all; all greatly missed.
Gone too soon.

BEST FILMS of 2014 *
*(Year of DVD release; some released cinematically in 2013)

Whilst the superhero movies continued their downhill journey into boredom (Captain America 2, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Thor 2), there were a couple that bucked the trend. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" proved that you CAN erase history (S'long, miserable memory of X-Men 3! Is that Famke Janssen and James Marsden I hear cheering?). A seriously brilliant plot twist which made me laugh as the film makers had their cake and ate it. Gleefully. "Guardians of the Galaxy" also proved that comic book movies didn't have to be po-faced Nolan-fests: Dancing Groot, anyone?

Believe it or not, this is the second-best moment from Guardians of the Galaxy.
There were also some hidden gems like "Grand Piano", "Labor Day", "Enough Said", and the delightful "Mr. Peabody and Sherman", and some unexpectedly great films like the awfully-titled "Edge of Tomorrow", AKA "Live Die Repeat", and the unfathomably meh'd "Muppets: Most Wanted", which in my opinion not only had better tunes than the previous Oscar-winning installment, but was also a far better film - focusing on hilarious cameos and the 'zany' humour (which, to me, is what the Muppets are all about), rather than Jason Segal and Walter the completely made-up new Muppet. (Feeling the passion about Muppets, yeah? Good.)
Jemaine? - Priznt. Tina Fey? - Priznt. Ray Liotta? - Priznt. Danny Trejo? - Priznt...
My three favourite films of the year were "The Lego Movie", which was the perfect family film - funny, frantic, witty and nicely plotted to a T; "Under the Skin" was an admirable-yet-difficult watch, but one that lingered in the memory like no other - visually never seen a film like it, eerily scary soundtrack with a brilliant central performance; "American Hustle" was all gloss, bad hair-do's and fantastic music - a little more transparent upon a second viewing, but that second viewing came STRAIGHT AFTER I'd just finished watching it!
What the...
Recommended movies:
Maleficent (Wee bit 'rape-analogy' for a kids film, but Jolie rocks it)
American Movie (released 1999, finally saw it - LOVED IT. The Spinal Tap of movie-making!)
The Zero Theorem (Gilliam's closest to 12 Monkeys and Brazil)
The Wolf of Wall Street
The  Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Bad Grandpa
Grand Piano (Just about gets away with its somewhat mad premise)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Homefront (Surprisingly fun, undemanding actioner)
Gravity (Film making at its technically boundary-busting-best...)
What Maisie Knew (Coogan and Moore play total a-holes brilliantly)
Enough Said (Didn't expect much. Got a lot. Thank you Gandolfini)

The Not-So-Great of 2014:
Godzilla (Juliette Binoche - yay! Oh......)
The Anomaly
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (The worst use of green screen in recent memory)
Cuban Fury
Jersey Boys (I love The Four Seasons. Yet somehow did not love this.)
Robocop (For a moment I almost fell for it... but no. Pointless.)
Grudge Match (Tired film-making at its best)
Last Vegas (Four famous actors on a poster.)
RIPD (High concept doesn't always mean 'good film')
Walking with Dinosaurs (Who asked for all the farting?)
The Counsellor (Eh? Bonus point for the Brad Pitt ending)
Stand Up Guys
Star Trek into Darkness
Red Dawn
The Amazing Spiderman 2 (The Batman and Robin of the Spiderman franchise.)
The comb-over was the most convincing bit.

My top 10 Movies of 2014: 
10) A 1000 Times Goodnight / Gravity
9) Labor Day
8) Rush
7) Guardians of the Galaxy
6) Muppets: Most Wanted
5) X-Men: Days of Future Past
4) Mr. Peabody and Sherman
3) Under the Skin
2) American Hustle
1) The Lego Movie
Best movie of the year? AWESOME!

The greats of TV continued their run - "Game of Thrones" was business as usual, with "The Walking Dead" improving once again. Both shows are walking a thin line on being known for 'Who will die this week?' shows, so hopefully they can focus more on story and less on shock-killings (although I doubt this will happen!).

"Damages" came to an end - and what an end it was. This sadly overlooked series just got better and better, with two brilliant characters/performances at the heart of the story. If you've never watched it, give it a go and stick with it - it's excellent.

The Australian political thriller "The Code"was well-cast, and got off to a cracking start. The ending ran out of steam a little, but it was a refreshing show to watch. "The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies" was over-long, but had a fantastic central performance from Jason Watkins, and worked better as a character study than a 'police investigation show', and "The Driver" was another great showcase for David Morrissey.
"Toast of London" series 2 was an improvement on the first series, but it still suffers from not really knowing what it is. Some episodes were great, one was a stone-cold classic (Toast ruins the secret of a West End play). Matt Berry is brilliant as the pompous Toast, and the words "Hello Steven, it's Clem Fandango. Can you hear me?" always make me laugh. ALWAYS.

BBC 2's "The Life of Rock with Brian Pern" was also another comedy highlight - with wall to wall cameos. "W1A" was fun if somewhat self-pleased. Vic 'n Bob's "House of Fools" was a welcome return to form, in the same anarchic, who-cares-about-the-plot vein as 'The Young Ones'. "The Trip to Italy" was another treat, although Rob Brydon's 'development' felt out of place. The brilliant "Black Mirror" was also back, with its Twilight Zone view of the world of tomorrow. Finally got round to watching 'A Touch of Cloth', which was hilariously brilliant: "Any prints?" "Only Purple Rain and Lovesexy." SEE?

I'm probably the only person who didn't watch 'Happy Valley', 'House of Cards', 'The Leftovers', 'Arrow', 'Hannibal' or 'Orange is the New Black' - will get round to it, promise. Yes 'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men', I know I've not watched you... yet... (extreme aversion to hyped TV.)
"Fargo" started strong, with some great performances from Billy Bob Thornton and Adam Goldberg. The story didn't follow the film exactly, which was fine, as it stole enough from the source material to remind you of it. But riding on the shirt-tails of a true classic meant the material felt a little stretched at times, and a turning point around half-way didn't ring true at all. "Gotham" was another series which came from a fine pedigree, but simply didn't know what to do with it. Too violent and sexualised for kids, but too corny and cartoony for adults - it was a weird match that didn't work. "Treme" season 3 was sadly disappointing - the balance of fun and music was crushed by the political statements. Season 1 still remains a classic bit of television, though!
Finn: "A dinosaur roaring at the monkeys as they ride past on bicycles. With iPads."

The year's big pleasant surprise was C4's pulse-thumping "Babylon". A multi-strand, acidic dramedy variation of "The Wire", detailing the many levels of policing, from the foot soldiers to the top brass, to the media-manipulating PR. Some brilliant characters and performances, in particular the perpetually-chewing, Machiavellian 'Finn' (Bertie Carvel: Favourite performance of the year) and Banjo (Andrew Brook), an "eggy-farting" hard-man who probably shouldn't be armed with a machine gun.

So many great performances, excellent direction and above all - the writing is phenomenal, with so many "I wish I'd written that!" lines. Cannot wait for this to return.

Backing the right horse: Not as easy as it sounds.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

"Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!"


So here's a handy check-list of yuletide viewing, just in case wall-to-wall Christmas TV isn't enough for you.


10)  The Random Non-Christmas Movie!

Somehow, every Christmas ends up looking like THIS.
"What on EARTH are you blathering on about?", I hear you mutter. Well, for me, there are some movies which have absolutely ZERO Christmas content. They're not about Christmas, they have no tinsel - in fact, they're not even set remotely close to winter. BUT: Somehow they evoke Christmasses of past, or just 'feel' Christmassy. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Lost Boys. Back to the Future. Jurassic Park. Robocop.  The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe (Alright, Santa does crop up in this one). Batman Returns (okay, there is snow in this one. And is set at Christmas time. I think.).

9) Scrooged
It's as schmaltzy as they come - especially the meltdown of an ending which turns into some 4th wall-breaking emotional wreck, but isn't that what Christmas is about? Shouting emotionally?

"Feed meh, Seymour! Feed me!"

8) Lethal Weapon
Shane Black loves Christmas, and what better way to start an ultra-violent (for its time) thriller than 'Jingle Bell Rock'... as a drugged-up young woman nosedives off the 25th floor. Again, sod all to do with Christmas, other than a few decorations and Gibson's Riggs struggling to deal with the memory of his dead wifey, but it has that rosy glow missing from yer usual cop bloodbath.
The only way you would get me to buy a Christmas tree from B&Q.

7) The Polar Express
A chocolate box of a movie, complete with dead-eyed animated kids - but it delivers on the emotional punch. The little kid who sits on his own in the end carriage? The bell that still rings? Call the shrink. NOW.
Too bloody right, Hanksy.

6) Home Alone
Or the end of 'Skyfall', for kids. Macauley Crawley violently attacks two grown men and we all laugh. Guilt-free.

The money shot.
5) Gremlins
Christmas is a time for mean-spirited violence... oh, wait. No, that's Easter. What Christmas is all about is scaly monsters getting all up in yer grill (and yer Christmas tree), so it's good to be reminded of your loved ones... and to save them from being flung out of a window at speed. The scene with the two cops having a meltdown because "It's supposed to be Christmas" whilst the Gremlins wreck everything says it all. Bad things are not meant to happen at Christmas. Are they?
Gizmo gets hammered on the ol' mulled wine.

4) Trading Places
"Merry New Year!". One of those movies packed with so many quotable lines, with Dan Aykroyd's rich git swapping places with Eddie Murphy's hustling con artist all in the name of a bet. 'Die Hard's' Dwayne T. Robinson/Paul Gleason added another brilliant performance to his repertoire as the psychotically uptight Beaks. One of those 'be thankful for what you have 'movies.

This is how I always remember Father Christmas.

3) Santa Claus: The Movie
Say what you like about this dated, somewhat naff (even at the time of its release) movie, as it takes great care to point out - It's a ruddy Christmas stick of rock stuffed up the proverbial christmassy-sweatered turkey's bottom. The Big Lebowski gives the ultimate performance as Santa (Sorry all you Miracle on 34th Streeters.). Lithgow rightfully hams like he's in a panto, and Dudley Moore, well, makes you miss Dudley Moore.
Santa goes for a 'Joe-Ride'...

2) The Muppets Christmas Carol
Saw this at the cinema in 2013 (the first movie I took my son to see!), and whilst the story has been done to death, this is somehow the definitive version. (And I'm a fan of the George C. Scott movie). Yeah, Caine can't sing, but so what - his performance delivers emotion across the board.
They're Marley and Marley. WOOOOOOAH!

1) Die Hard
The big-daddy of Christmas movies. It doesn't crow-bar Christmas into the story for no reason (ahem, Lethal Weapon). It's McClane's wife's Christmas party - and guess who's not on the guest list. A bunch of ruddy terrorist thieves, that's who. Pour yourself a large port and let the mayhem begin!
Where can I get one of those jumpers?

5) The Bear
What's funnier than a polar bear, in your house, pooing on the stairs, eh? This somewhat overlooked short film has some beautiful animation, fantastic music and Raymond Briggs as the man in the moon.

4) Blackadder's Christmas Carol
An absolute cracker of a Christmas special, with a nice reversal on the 'Christmas Carol' story, in which kindly Ebeneezer Blackadder learns, through a series of Robbie Coltraned flashbacks, that being good will only lead to him wearing Baldrick's posing pouch...
Nibble Pibbleys: Vanquished.

3) Smith & Jones' Home-made Xmas Video
A little-seen, much-forgotten (sadly) Christmas treat which can be found on the extras of the "At Last Smith & Jones Vol 1" DVD, this gem perfectly captures exactly what a bloomin' great stresser Christmas can be. Loved it when it first aired in '87 (?), love it now. WATCH IT HERE.

2) Stella Street
This overlooked, genius piece of cult comedy deserves much more recognition: Seeing Michael Caine throw an anniversary party for 'Zulu' in which John Hurt drinks 'a nice, warming bowl of wine' from a goldfish bowl, Jimmy Hill snorting icing sugar and a losing Joe Pesci arguing with a winning David Bowie over a game of Monopoly "It's just the way things are, Joe!".... Need I go on?

Al Pacino and Jimmy Hill play Monopoly. HOO-HA!

1) The Snowman
Not only my all-time Christmas favourite, but one of my all-time favourite films. Perfection.
Oh... Oh Lord WHY? WHYYYYYYY???!!!!!!

Friday, 10 October 2014

"Don't go out there! There's something in the mist!"

"Welcome to Sesame Street, kids. Today's word is 'expiation'."

If John Carpenter's 1982 classic "The Thing" is about trust (and distrust), then Frank Darabont's 2007 under-appreciated gem "The Mist" is about FEAR - and BELIEF.

Much like a lot of 1970's paranoid thriller/horror movies (Invasion of the Body Snatchers in particular), 'The Mist' could be taken as a film about monsters in the mist. Or, if you watch the black and white version, it could be seen as some sort of pastiche/homage to 1950's creature features.

After some poking around on t'net, I read that Darabont's intention was to make a commentary on the post 9/11 America.

In 'The Mist', Tom Jane's Dave is yer normal, ordinary movie-poster artist-type: Intelligent, creative, free-thinking. A solid sort. When the mist arrives, bringing all sorts of alien interlopers with it, Dave finds himself trapped in a supermarket with a cross-section of society: A couple of blue-collar less-intelligent types, the bible-stomping Mrs. Carmody, and his grumpy, litigious next door neighbour, Brent..

"It appears we may have a problem of some magnitude."
The eighty-or-so shoppers eventually break into their own groups of mindsets: The religious, God-fearing judgement day crazies; the sensible non-believers who don't believe anything they are seeing, and the 'normal' people who don't necessarily believe in God but believe in monsters.

What the film eventually boils down to is a study of fear and belief - and how they affect our attitudes towards each other. The head-strong, no fear types come a cropper very quickly. Those controlled by fear become monsters themselves. Those who would be considered as heroic and fearless die (seemingly) cowardly deaths.

SPOILER ALERT! (But seriously, if you've not seen 'The Mist', go and watch it now.)

By the end of the film, the small, central 'heroes' have fought man and monster to survive, but ultimately fall prey to their lack of belief. They give up.Stop believing that all will be okay - which is understandable as everything around them is a vision of hell. The ending is an ironic, sad one - but one that got me thinking.

"As a species we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, 
we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. 
Why do you think we invented politics and religion?"

As a writer, you often hear advice along the lines of 'It's not about the destination - It's about enjoying the journey' i.e. Nobody ever 'makes' it. You sell a script. You get paid. Then you're on to the next project, trying to sell the next thing. Very rarely do the legendary big pay days arrive for the normal screenwriter.

Yes, we live in hope. We want to keep working, keep earning a living - be able to survive on what we earn and provide for our families. Nobody should choose the career of a screenwriter for the money! Not to get too over-sincere, but you write because you have to write. I once knew a guy who quit his job to become a screenwriter. After four years of not making any money, he remarked "If I knew it was going to take this long, I wouldn't have quit my job."

The second big piece of advice is probably 'DO NOT GIVE UP. KEEP GOING.'

When you're repeatedly trying, sometimes getting further down the line than other attempts, but you still hit a brick wall - how do you keep going? How many times do you dust yourself off and start again? And what about when those around you lose faith (if they had any!) in you and your ambitions? Over the years, I've had countless things said to me and behind my back, almost always out of spite from family, 'friends', even people that I didn't know too well (and they certainly didn't know me well enough). All these little 'sound-bites' have a way of coming back to remind you - especially when you've just received another rejection letter.

"You can't convince some people there's a fire even when their hair is burning.
Denial is a powerful thing."
Is belief partly denial? Choosing not to focus on the 'What if's' and concentrating on what could be?

It's right that we should be checking in with ourselves regularly; trying to assess and understand why things aren't working out instead of burying our heads in the sand and hoping it'll all work out somehow. Are we doing things for the right reasons? Are we trying our best? Taking positive action?

We've all seen bad movies and awful tv, and the little voice in your head says "Ha! I could do better...". If these movies and shows are so terrible, how do they get made? (If you find yourself saying this out loud a lot, read THIS blog post! "CRAP PLUS ONE" by "Pirates" writer Terry Rossio) 

Is it simply down to a mental block or lack of? (Man, this is a lot of questions...). Do we fear success - not to sound too Tony Robbins.When the opportunity arises, do we believe we're good enough or "deserve/have earned it"?

So - back to 'The Mist': The realists, the pessimists, the lunatics and the believers: None of them come out on top. Apart from one character who leaves the store very early on. Everyone thinks they're crazy to go outside. They are dead for certain. Never gonna work. They all refuse to help this person.

Against all odds, we see this character again at the end of the film.

However difficult your job is, whatever tough, impossible situation you're going through in life - losing hope due to frustration, angst, fear, or desperation is something most people can relate to. We all feel like giving up sometimes. In despair, salvation can feel light years away or just out of reach. To keep going when things appear futile can seem like lunacy to some. Somewhere in the mist, the realists have a point. The lunatics and pessimists fear the situation. The believers keep going.

If it were easy, everybody would be doing it, right?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

"When I am through with you..."

I finally got round to watching the last series of "Damages" - the massively under-rated and over-looked tv show that is more than yer average legal drama. In fact, it's not about court-rooms and Judges bellowing "over-ruled!". It's a complicated, intriguing, who-dunnit/who will be alive at the end of it-crime thriller.

"Damages" is one of the best television dramas. Ever. The writing and the characters have been fantastic since the first series, with each series improving on the last. I'll be honest, I found the first series hard to get a grip on, with it's flash forwards and drip-drip-drip of information. The show's creators were as controlling and revelling in the mind-games as much as it's main character, Patty Hewes. 'Damages' draws the viewer into the game - you're always looking for the angle on the character's motives.

Pretty much says it all.
What really fascinated and gripped me with this series is the way practically every scene had a really juicy under-current of sub-text and double-meaning (and not in a jarring, nod-nod-wink-wink kind of way, either.). As a viewer you were never quite certain what was true or false, which I guess was the whole point of the entire series.

The series was also peppered throughout with some brilliant casting - Glenn Close was simply perfect as Patty, probably one of the coldest, emotionally complex characters ever written.But Close adds that extra, pure drop of basest evil known to man with just her eyes (I'm sure she's lovely in real life, but in this show she always looks like she's about to eat you alive. Whole.). Rose Byrne also does a fantastic job with Ellen, a role that could easily be portrayed as simpering and naive. She's so morally correct that you're just waiting for her to derail and transform into a younger version of Patty.
Not yer normal, zany Martin Short...
The rest of the casting was genius - Ted Danson, Martin Short, and John Goodman all played brilliantly against type, while Dylan Baker in Series 4 had the role of his career so far. William Sadler, Lily Tomlin, Tom Noonan, Tate Donovan, William Hurt, Zeljko Ivanek... to name a few; all playing complicated characters.
Just another day in court...
So if you've never seen it or only watched the first series, WATCH. ALL. OF. IT. 


Monday, 21 July 2014

"Charlie says 'always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere'..."

Last weekend, I visited the London Film and Comic Convention (2014) for the first time. Excessive heat and crowds aside, it was great to finally meet the likes of Bernard Cribbins. I'm a fan from his Wombling days and Jackanory; my five year old daughter loves him for his CBeebies show "Old Jack' s Boat". In fact, Bernard personally invited us along to see his CBeebies show at The Proms next weekend - hurrah!
Bernard even kindly dotted his 'i' in his own belly button.
 Also present were Stan Lee (on his last Euro tour - he's 91!), Games of Thrones stars Lena Headey and Kirstian Nairn, Star Wars veterans Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Dave Prowse; Starship Troopers Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer; George Romero, Michael Madsen, Paul McGann, John Hurt, Jenna Coleman, and "Airplane"'s Ted Stryker himself, Robert Hays. (To name a few)
The legend that is Robert Hays.
Whilst trying to escape Earl's Court, I saw a rather unique bit of Cosplay, which struck a chord with me. Literally on the previous day, I have read a blog talking about an 'internet-created urban ghost story' about a character called 'Slenderman'. Yes, I now know it's been around for a few years now - I'm knocking on forty so technically I'm an old git, so ex-cuuuuuuuuse me.

My immediate reaction to seeing 'Slenderman' was: "It's that freaky suited guy from 'Sapphire and Steel'!". The episode in question - Assignment 4: The Man Without a Face did exactly what it said on the tin - it featured an ominous figure who, lo and behold, didn't have a face.

Spot the difference... Oh MY GAWD...
This character became so ingrained in my psyche - scarred, if you will - as a 6 year old watching a show which probably shouldn't have been airing at the time it did. But then again, that was the early 80's. The stuff of nightmares. BBC kid's drama "The Enchanted Castle" came complete with people with paper-plate faces. PAPER PLATE FACES.

The age of 'Armchair Thriller' (which, according to my research, was repeated at 1.30pm weekdays: WHAT?!), whose opening credits were bad enough in itself - but then had some creepy, faceless Nun hiding in the loft. (What was it back then with faceless entities?!) But that seemed to be par for the course in those days: The end credits of 'Star Trek', and to a lesser extent Scooby Doo... kids love to be scared, right?

Oh my Gawd...
Whilst on one of my first trips on the underground (departing from Fairlop), I recall standing beside the poster for 'The Shining', which ol' sweaty-faced madman Jacky Boy gurning through a splintered door. To a six year old, the poster for 'An American Werewolf in London', which was a simply, classic profile-ish pose of a ruddy great toothy, snarling werewolf was horrendous to behold. Speaking of which, there used to be a film review show (ITV, I think, possibly presented by Nicky Horne?), which was on at lunchtime. They showed a clip from 'American Werewolf' (the Tottenham Ct. Rd tube station bit). Lunchtime. Werewolf. Didn't expect to see THAT.

OH MY GAWD... I  can assure you this is not in the least bit amusing...
I would possibly attribute this show as to why I became interested in films. I went to the cinema a lot as a child, but it was probably that moment which sparked the "What happens next?" part of my brain, and has never really let go of that.

Next up: Disney's "The Black Hole". DIS-NEYS. Might as well have been John Carpenter's Black Hole, with Anthony Perkins being diced to bits by now legendary "cool robot" Maximillian. (As for that obscure ending depicting a vision of hell - WHAT. THE.). Speaking of John Carpenter, I recall being dragged along with my parents to visit their friends. Whilst my older brothers and their friends kids watching 'Halloween' in the front room, I had to sit out on the stairs on my own, huffing that "it's not fair, I'm bored" etc. Should've kept my mouth shut. I was eventually granted entry into the living room, with 3 minutes of the film left to go. And we all know how THAT particular movie ends. (Did I mention I was probably about five or six?)

Blatant imagery such as that, of course you're going to be scared witless. But then brain-searing imagery can come from the least expected places. Those public information adverts from the Seventies. They're supposed to be helping, right? Those were the days of short, sharp shocks so you learn your lessons quickly and don't forget. Blimey.
Oh my gawd!
"Blimey". There's a word that doesn't even come close when describing the daddy of 'em all: "Threads". Without a doubt THE MOST horrific piece of television ever created. I literally cried for months. The most realistic actualisation of a nuclear attack. A television drama that every sane political leader should be forced to watch. Having shared pub-counselling sessions with friends of a similar age, they all had their memories - The most similar being teachers playing a video of 'Threads' in the classroom, with pupils crying.

Now, you're probably thinking by now that I had a completely traumatic childhood, where were my parents, and it's a wonder why I haven't been carted off long before. I hasten to add, for balance, that it wasn't all scarring - there were obviously happier memories (scrabbles around, trying to think of them....). But, as if often the case, the one's that stick with you are the one's that affected you.

And what sticks in the brain - be it something scary you saw as a kid, or suffering a real-life trauma etc. - doesn't have to define us, but it can shape our lives. Eventually I watched 'American Werewolf', and it sparked my interest in special effects - my original career of choice (had I been any good at it!). To dissect what I  had seen and remove it from it's context, I had to understand HOW they did that - so I found out. And it's amazing, and I have nothing but admiration for the talent it takes to create these effects.

Anyway, so I'm walking (well, shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder) out of Earl's Court 2 and passing by Mr. Slenderman, there was a distinct recollection of seeing a familiar face (well, lack of). But not one I care to reconnect with.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

"Put the bunny back in the box..."

Whilst watching 'Megamind' the other day with my daughter, I realised how similar it is to another movie released in the same year - 'Despicable Me'. Both about a super-villain who learns that life is more fulfilling being good.

No soft toys were harmed during the making of this movie. Apart from this one.

Certainly, movies seem to frequently churn out the same idea at the same time

'Volcano' vs. 'Dante's Peak'.
'Armageddon' vs. 'Deep Impact'. 
'Antz' vs. ' A Bug's Life'.
'Dawn of the Dead' vs. '28 Days Later...'.
'Tuurner and Hooch' vs. 'K-9'
'Mirror Mirror' vs. 'Snow White and the Huntsman'
'Red Planet' vs. 'Mission to Mars' 
'Infamous' vs. 'Capote'
'Tombstone' vs. 'Wyatt Earp'
'The Truman Show' vs. 'Ed TV'
'The Prestige' vs. 'The Illusionist'
'Olympus Has Fallen' vs. 'White House Down'

Even low-budget 'Deepstar Six' went up against 'Leviathan' (and the grandpappy of 'Underwater Movies' The Abyss'). Patrick Bergin starred as 'Robin Hood'. Less than a year later, Kevin Costner took his turn to much more success. And not forgetting the bumper year of 1988 - otherwise known as THE YEAR OF THE BODYSWAP! *deep breath* Big, 18 Again, Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son...  Occasionally, the similarities aren't always immediately obvious. Indonesian actioner 'The Raid' and the sci-fi 'Dredd' both share a VERY similar story of a cop trapped inside a high-rise with everyone out to kill him.

Bang goes your good idea...
Most of the aforementioned could be defined as 'high concept' movies. Some reflect the culture or mood of the times, some are probably down to competing studios/producers trying to out-do a rival, and I dare say most are pure coincidence. Because, as we all know, ideas don't get ripped off. Most of the time.

In 2007, I wrote a pilot episode for a television drama series called 'Remnants' (originally labelled more pretentiously as 'Sunshine in the Gloom', which kind of captured the hazy, melancholy, sun-setting on mankind/ calm-before-the-storm nature of the story. 'Remnants' was more 'Threads'-like, I figured.). A sort of 'Twin Peaks'-meets Aussie soap 'Neighbours', so-called as it centred on people left behind. Or left over.

Which brings us nicely to 'The Leftovers', A new series created by 'Lost's Damon Lindelof.

Shoe-fans count down the days 'til the rapture...
"Revolves around mysterious disappearances, world-wide, and specifically follows a group of people who are left behind in the suburban community of Mapleton. They must begin to rebuild their lives after the loss of more than 100 people." IMDB.

When I read about this a year or so ago, my initial reaction was 'Oh. POO.' (Or words to that effect). Nobody likes to spend ages working on something, only to be pipped to the post. And let's face it - I'm not exactly Damon Lindelof. But then again, the notion of 'the rapture' isn't exactly new. It's been around for an age. It's in the the bible, after all (For the benefit of the two late-comers at the back of the room.)

There have also been many books written on the subject - The 'Left Behind' series of Christian novels, which were made into not-very-good movies, and now remade again into a Nicolas Cage movie (due for release in Oct 2014).

So it's time to put my script back in the box, seal it up, and wait ten years or so. See where things are at, maybe give it another whirl at some point. The same ideas happen. Zeitgeist. Nothing can really be learned from it, only to have the belief in your own project. I've not seen 'The Leftovers', and whilst themes and possibly even scenes will be similar, I know mine will be different overall - which is, apparently, a common argument/problem with writers.

Is that a reason to hang on to the script? Should I just burn it and, like that ruddy song says, 'Let It Go'? I've only ever killed two scripts - literally threw them away (back in 1994. And yes, they were THAT BAD.). Whilst I have a lot of love and passion for 'Remnants', for now it will be my mutant monster child that lives in the loft.That, one day, will be released unto the world. In the time betwixt, I will be thinking about it...

Not exactly subtle, but good advice.
I'll leave you a brief idea of what I would have done with the idea...

'Remnants' Synopsis:

Remnants opens with a car on a long journey, meandering down country lanes, eventually arriving at a cul-de-sac in an upper-middle class suburb. It's there that the car ceases to stop, ploughing through a hedge, mowing down an old lady gardener and smashing through the front of a house. Neighbours rush to the scene, only to find no driver and an unconscious woman strapped in the back seat.

The tension cranks up as a mob of parents descend on a primary school, demanding to know where their children are. Terrified teachers inside find themselves under siege, bewildered at the sudden disappearance of every child.

Unborn babies vanish. A supermarket manager has to defend his superstore from panicked looters.
A Priest leading a bible course finds he is the only one left in his church, which also finds itself under siege from those desperate to repent. A burgeoning affair is cut short when an unmanned tractor ploughs into a car, leaving the couple stranded on foot. Motorways are crippled by numerous accidents. Planes have dropped out of the sky, devastating cities. Families are torn apart by lost loved ones.

Many theories are thrown around: Aliens. The End Times. A science experiment gone wrong. Make-shift authorities have to quash lawlessness. A curfew is implemented. Some characters begin to share the same visions and dreams of demons, whilst others are attacked by an alien presence. Deception creeps into play from all corners. The community raises a new council leader in the form of a likeable every-man, who doesn't want the job but realises that he is the most capable - if only to keep the power out of the hands of those who would abuse it.

Out of the chaos and uncertainty, new friendships and romances are born, while others seize the opportunity to level up old scores. The show centres on how life in a small community tries to get back on track when there aren't any answers to the events that have changed everybody's lives. The story focuses on the 'peace' and 'normality' that follows - the quiet before the ultimate storm, in which each person will have to choose a side.

Series one looked at how civilisation gets back on it's feet, whilst series two was set a year later, charting the downturn...

The calm before the storm...

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses..."

I recently "celebrated" my 39th birthday - what better opportunity to look back and wonder where all the time went! More to the point, it's the looming FOUR-O next year, which will no doubt bring upon all sorts of weeping and wailing on here in a year's time.

So where did all the time go? Well, after having a poke around through the many, many (Commandant Lassard style) folders containing many, many script documents, it transpires that a LOT of the 90's was spent writing. I probably write a little less now (due to, well, having a life) - But I also spend more time working on a single script. In the 90's, it was a factory - a seemingly endless conveyor belt. Couldn't churn it out quick enough. But was it any good? Erm... Well...

Miles Raymond:It tastes like the back of an L.A. school bus. 
Now they probably didn't de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, 
crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with 
this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit. 
Jack: Tastes pretty good to me.

In my defence: In the early 90's, there wasn't the internet. Now, advice is everywhere - not all of it great (or at least put across in an encouraging tone). But there is plenty of brilliant, practical advice. It is now incredibly easy to create a professionally formatted script now - which was half the battle in the 90's.

A lot of my 'early scripts' were a product of my age. I hadn't lived much, and I was incredibly influenced by whatever tv or movies I was in love with: Translation - Nyeeerrrd. For example, my first attempt at writing a screenplay was a comedy "Aliens" rip-off - replaced 'Aliens' with 'Killer carrots'. Hey. I was fourteen. Okay, even for a fourteen year old that's pushing it, I know...

Then I moved into 'Die Hard'-parody: The twist being that an action-hero convention is over-run by terrorists, and it's left to our normal, every-day hero to rescue all these Steven Seagals and Schwarzeneggers. Set in a shopping mall. Hmm. Ooookay.

Then Reservoir Dogs happened - saw it seven times at the cinema ('cos we lived in an era of banned movies - the only place you could see it was at the cinema - sounding very Grampa Simpson, I know.). So I moved onto MY Reservoir Dogs.Lots of style over sense, and lots of Reservoir Dogs. (Which seemed to work okay for Tarantino and 'City On Fire', but he added his own stamp to it. "It's a fine line between stupid 'n clever:" Never a truer word, Mr. Tufnell.). This was probably the first script I ever re-wrote. And re-wrote. And re-wrote. To the point of it making no sense at all by the end of it, such was my desperation to create the next Reservoir Dogs.

Re-Writing: Not always a ton of fun.
Around this point, I started working on films as a runner/A.D., meaning I was also reading 'proper' film scripts'. Before then, it was mostly Faber and Faber reprints of famous scripts. Whilst working on these films, I began to realise the problems with the scripts - not that it was ever my place to tell the producer. (Okay, I did ONCE. Well, he did ask!). But it's very easy to poke holes in other people's work.

I was writing from a place of fear, such was the pressure to create an instant classic that would be immediately snapped up (because that's how it happens, of course...): I was living at home, desperate for money, so I just worked and worked and worked... With precious little to show for it. The work went out into the world too quickly - and whilst I did get some great feedback, an agent and a couple of good scripts out of it - there was also a torrent of rejection. Understandably. (Although youthful arrogance at the time dictated otherwise!)

So looking back through my old scripts, I counted (roughly) around 43 features (not including short scripts, or projects half-written/incomplete). Some good, some bad, a lot of middling - Some were never destined for the dizzy heights, but there was always something about them that reminded me WHY I wrote them. They had purpose and meaning for me - and therein lies the answer. I was writing for myself.
Rejection is never easy.
But there did come a turning point. A moment where I decided "I WANT to aim higher, try harder. I CAN do better." And that script was "Perfect Harmony". Several drafts later, it still isn't where it needs to be - but I know I'm getting closer. It wasn't ready in 1998, and the subsequent drafts prove that had the film been made back then, it would have been worse for it. My then-agent-nabbing sci-fi/western script 'Crouch Valley/Handshake From Hell" originally came in at 180 pages. Whilst that's just ridiculous, it showed enough potential to get me an agent who then worked with me to lop it down to 110 pages - which in turn taught me a LOT about script editing and killing your darlings. (The 'darlings' were stacked high by the end of that particular edit.And it hurt for the better.)

Miles: What about the new ending? Did you like that?
Jack: Oh, yeah. New ending vastly superior to the old ending.
Miles: There is no new ending. Page 750 on is exactly the same.
Jack:Well... maybe it just seemed new because everything leading up to it was so different?
Miles Raymond: [sarcastically] Yeah, that must be it!
Whilst personal tastes change as you mature as a writer and a human-doing, there is still one big similarity between now and then: I still write to 'please' myself. As I've recently discovered with a couple of projects, I find it very difficult to get all excited 'n creative over something which just doesn't fire me up. It's almost impossible to write something that I really don't care about. That's not to say the idea isn't great or doesn't have potential - It just isn't a great match for me. Working half-heartedly only achieves frustration because I'm seemingly unable to write anything. I've given a couple of ideas away because I know somebody else can do a better job with it - and that's fine by me.

Regarding these 43 scripts, it took me a long, long time to 'get it'. I fully admit I'm probably slow on the uptake - but not to run myself down too much, there was always something good about those 43 stories. I could see what I was trying to achieve. There were good scenes and characters, funny lines... They just needed more work. But when you're not being paid for developing spec scripts, it's very easy to get caught in a cycle of creative panic.Which is what I try to avoid these days. I now know that when I type 'the end', it's not THE END. It's end of draft one-of-many-yet-to-come.

See? Right there. Just what you just said.
That is beautiful. 'A smudge of excrement... surging out to sea.'
So as I'm dragged kicking 'n screaming towards my forties, I ask myself "Where is it all going?". Fair question. The honest answer is I have less idea now than I did back in 1993. All I know is that I'm working on projects now that fire me up more than ever. Film-World is forever changing, for good and for bad - but that's part of the adventure and the game - and I've never been more certain that this is where I want to be.

"I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today 
it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, 
because a bottle of wine is actually alive. 
And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. 
That is, until it peaks, like your '61. 
And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline."
For an inspiring read about not-aiming-for-the-middle-of-the-road, click this: