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...