Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Possession is kind of a hard film to describe. I suppose it's an art house relationship drama that takes place inside a horror film. With a suitably gooey monster. And explosions. I absolutely loved it.
I have no idea how it got made to the standard it did. There's no way to pitch it as a commercial film. I suppose you can describe it as a straightforward horror film like they do on the DVD blurb - man thinks wife is having an affair, turns out she's having an affair with a tentacled Lovecraftian monster. But anyone investing money into the project had to have read the script, which I can only imagine is just as crazy as the film. In my limited experience every time I've ever added a line or a moment to a script that's a little offbeat or a tiny bit avant-garde I've had to fight for it, and nine times out of ten those moments will get cut. This is a genre film that ticks all the boxes a good horror film should yet still manages to be incredibly strange and challenging.
At the same time I can't imagine art house investors getting behind the unapologetic splatter and horror movie iconography either. But somehow it got made and I only wish I knew how to get films like this funded.
Horror films and genre films in general are so tied to their formulas now it's really refreshing to see something that really turns the genre on its head and does something interesting with it. In one of the DVD extras director Andrzej Zulawski described using genre as a mask to present one kind of story as another. Most of the filmmakers whose work I really respect do some kind of variation of the same thing - Miike Takashi did it with Audition, as did Lars von Trier with Antichrist. I'm not saying all horror films should have an art house streak, but I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the idea that some films are for thinking about and some are just for fun. There's a place in the middle where interesting things happen. Things like this...
Monday, 20 December 2010
- For the latter half of December I have mostly been working on Manor Hunt Ball.
I've been a bit reluctant to talk about this project as I'm a bit superstitious when it comes to announcing things too early, but actually it seems more appropriate to mention it in passing like this than making some big premature announcement. I'm also not sure what I'm allowed to say at this stage. What I can say is this - I've been working on it for a year and a half. In that time it's gone from being the best thing I've worked on to the most frustrating and back again several times over. I have tales to tell, I have rants to get off my chest, I have people to thank, I have wisdom to share, I have mistakes to confess but all that will have to wait until we're a bit further down the line. Unlike the script, the story of the film hasn't finished yet and I really need to know how it ends before I go into any more detail.
For now I'm just glad to have finished what is hopefully the final draft (although while typing this I realise I've tempted fate and have committed myself to another twenty drafts). If you are interested in finding out more, what details are currently available can be found on the imdb page.
- On my way back from visiting parents in Stoke I got stranded in London due to snow! I was going to write a whole blog post about this, emphasising the drama, the fear, the confusion of a perilous journey through frozen Britain. But my friend Joel came to my rescue and put me up for the night so it was actually quite a pleasant evening in the end. In return, I've posted the first episode of 8 Bit Pwny Club which he wrote. If you like games it is awesome. If you don't, it may be a little confusing, but you should still be able to appreciate the awesomeness:
-I've also been working on another script which I really can't talk about at this stage as I don't think I'm even officially attached yet. I have written a draft which is technically a rewrite of someone else's script, but aside from the character names and a couple of background plot points I pretty much rewrote the whole thing from scratch. I'm really happy with it. It's a proper genre film, with monsters and action and stuff. If it goes any further, and I really hope it does, I'll write about it here.
- A few weeks ago there was the last ever Son of Moviebar. It was a fantastic evening and a great send-off for Luther and Terry who have been doing a fantastic job of running the event for the last two years. In preparation for taking over the event next year I did a few introductions and quizzed a couple of the filmmakers which made me realise two things 1) it's harder than it looks 2) I probably need to drink less if I'm going to make this run with any kind of coherence. I'm a bit apprehensive as it's going to be a hard act to follow, but I've assembled a good team to help me out and I'm looking forward to making the night our own.
I'll post a proper announcement once I get organised (which will hopefully be in the next few days!), but there are a few things I may as well mention here while I'm on the subject.
The only major change is that I'm moving it from the first Tuesday of the month to the first Monday of the month, so the first event of 2011 will take place on Monday 7th February.
If you want to submit a short film for us to screen you can still e-mail email@example.com for now as I'll be using that e-mail address until I get a new one set up.
I have set up a blog to post news and links to films but it's empty at the moment. I mean really empty. Still, it's here if you want to bookmark it for future reference.
Also, if you came to Son of Moviebar at any point over the last two years and have any feedback or suggestions for things to improve or things that worked really well please let me know. For the most part the format will remain the same but we will be moving things around a bit so now is the time to let me know if you have any awesome ideas for me to steal.
- Speaking of short films, I am still working on Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw, although I may have to give up on the weekly diary. I did have a meeting with the composer a couple of weeks ago so I have made some progress. It's the sound elements that I'm not sure about as I don't currently have an estimated finish date for all that. I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't manage to get it finished before the end of the year, but as I think I've mentioned before I wasn't quite prepared for how little control I'd have over the process at this stage. I'm really happy with how it's turned out and really can't wait to be able to show it to people, but I've also come to accept that it may be a little while longer before it's properly finished. As always I will continue to post new developments as they occur.
- Went to see Weird Al Yankovic at the beginning of the month which was amazing. Although I wasn't quite prepared for quite how popular he is. I've been to the Forum in Kentish Town a fair few times over the last couple of years and I've never seen it quite this busy -
- You need to read both November entries on my dad's Poundland website (in which he has been chronicling his adventures in various Poundlands). His shed demolition saga and the critique of cult classic Killer Shrews are among the funniest and most entertaining things I've ever read online.
- Simon Messingham who was a guest on this blog back here has been blogging about his recent theatrical adventures. Which is kind of like my short film diary only about putting on a play instead. Check it out here.
- Newer readers of this blog may already be aware that my blog was mentioned in Total Film's weekly e-mail newsletter, as seen here:
I had no idea about this and when my hits went up at the beginning of that week I seriously thought I'd inherited some kind of virus, until a friend told me about it and forwarded me the e-mail. The correct reaction would be to not mention this at all, pretend I wasn't in the slightest bit excited and certainly not mention that I forwarded the e-mail round to everyone I know with the subject heading 'LOOK HOW AWESOME I AM!!!'. But I am super-excited and just a bit gutted that it happened at a point when I was having a bit of a break from blogging. So I hope any new readers are still with me - I promise more regular updates will follow in the new year!
- Last thing, I should mention the Warrioress wrap party. Ross screened the first few minutes of the film which looked awesome, I chatted to various film people and enjoyed catching up with Ten Dead Men actors Ben Shockley, Keith Eyles and John Rackham, and I did manage a bit of networking which I am getting slightly better at. But the real star of the night was the club itself - an odd, underground place with massively over-priced drinks and an overly aggressive barman. And then there were the toilets...
Yes I am going to leave you with a photo of a bizarre toilet. Hope you all had an excellent Christmas and in case I don't get to post anything before the end of the week, Happy New Year!
Friday, 17 December 2010
Monday, 13 December 2010
The Hard Way is a straight-forward men-on-a-mission film in which Miles O'Keeffe leads an army of three to take on Henry Silva's endless supply of enemy troops. It's stripped down to the point where there are barely five lines of dialogue in the whole thing (and that's not an exaggeration), although the few lines that are there include such gems as 'Let me tell you something. I like killing people.' There are a couple of standout moments, such as a unique method of destroying a helicopter without the use of weapons and O'Keeffe surviving a house collapsing on top of him, but otherwise it's scene after scene of twenty or so bad guys running into a field then being gunned down by O'Keeffe and his pals. For about 90 minutes. Which is obviously awesome.
Here's some man vs. helicopter action:
Death Force is a martial arts/blaxploitation thriller in which James Iglehart is double-crossed by his gang and dumped in the ocean.
Washed up on a nearby island, he is nursed back to health by two exiled Japanese soldiers who agree to train him to be a Samurai. Meanwhile his former colleagues are back in the US and using their newfound fortune to build a criminal empire.
None of this is particularly well handled and there are some bizarre moments including a musical interlude and a taxi driver character who ends up hanging out in Iglehart's bedroom despite only having met him in the previous scene. But it gets points for a coherent narrative and decent structure, plus there were some good fights thus proving that films with Death in the title are usually a good bet.
You can watch the whole film here:
In between the above we occasionally caught moments of Once Upon a Time in the West on TV, reminding us of what proper films look like.
Gor is a fantasy adventure film based on the first of John Norman's infamously misogynist series of novels. It had everything you'd want from an un-PC 80s fantasy film including clumsy sword fights, midgets, awesome headgear and Arnold Vosloo in a pink jeep (every film needs Arnold Vosloo in a pink jeep). Other than that it was fairly slow-moving but was saved from being completely dull by Oliver Reed's awesome performance as a hedonistic bi-sexual warlord. Reed was clearly enjoying every minute and wore a variety of stupid hats which I'd really like to believe he was still wearing in the pub after each shoot.
We spent most of the film looking for Jack Palance who featured quite prominently in the credits but didn't seem to be present in the actual film. In the end we convinced ourselves that either a) Palance was playing a man with a beard and was therefore unrecognisable b) either a very young Palance or perhaps his son was playing a young soldier who looked vaguely like him or c) there is more than one actor called Jack Palance. Then 5 minutes from the end Palance turns up, beaming at the camera like he's been there all along. Turns out this was all set-up for a sequel Outlaw of Gor which I now obviously need to see.
Here's a trailer, complete with awesome hats:
The Evil is a typical haunted house film in which Richard Crenna and Joanna Pettet buy a huge house in the middle of nowhere and recruit a bunch of young students to help them fix it up. Only the house has other ideas.
This was actually pretty good, and even pretty scary in places. The actors were good, the effects were awesome (and I mean genuinely awesome) and it managed to sustain a pretty creepy atmosphere throughout. There was some amusement to be found (especially with one character called Dwight who appeared to have wandered on set from a western) and there were some odd plot points, but otherwise it was pretty engaging. There was also an awesome cameo from Victor Buono as the Devil and a really chilling scene in which all the characters bar one are possessed and about to do something rather disturbing with a corpse.
Here's a trailer:
Afterwards we all agreed we had watched a good film by mistake. That was about to change.
Number One with a Bullet is a buddy-cop action film which pairs a womanising, trumpe- playing, starfighting Billy Dee Williams with a wise-cracking Robert Carradine who has family problems, plays guitar and eats raw steak straight from the pack. This is a good example of the kinds of dangers you face when attempting a film marathon like this one.
The ideal film is one that is so bad it's funny. Sometimes one may choose a good film by mistake (like The Evil). This is okay, it just means exchanging 90 minutes of amusement for some cinematic enlightenment. Sometimes one may choose a film that's so bad it's not funny. This too is okay, and usually means everyone makes up their own plots instead. But the worst type of film to watch is one that is average. Number One with a Bullet was definitely average (okay, by most peoples' standards it would be below average, but making a weekend like this work requires a uniform lowering of standards and a deliberate disregard for the usual signs of quality). Never bad enough to be funny, too slow-moving and derivative to be any good, by the end of its 97 minute running time (another rule broken - never watch anything over 90 minutes long) the explosions and extreme body count of The Hard Way seemed like a distant memory.
For a minute it seemed like we may give up hope and watch some TV instead. The point of the whole exercise was called into question. What were we doing? What was the point of all this?
Luckily we remembered why in the first few minutes of the next film.
Revenge (which has a few other titles including Street Law and Vigilante II) is a 70s Italian thriller with Franco Nero as a wimpier version of Charles Bronson in Deathwish. The film opens with a montage of violent robberies, culminating with thieves setting fire to Nero's house. Unluckily for him, he is then involved in a bank robbery in which he is taken hostage and beaten up before being left for the police. When the police don't look like they're going to be doing anything about this anytime soon he takes the law into his own hands. Sort of.
The problem here is that while Bronson went straight for the guns, Nero decides instead to befriend a criminal then use him to incriminate the others in an elaborate frame. Only when this fails (and we're now halfway into the film) and he is kidnapped, beaten up and thrown off a cliff (in a rather excellent stunt) does he take things to the next level. Even then, Nero's character never quite becomes an all-out action hero and remains nervous, hesitant and often terrified throughout. He spends most of the final shootout cowering behind cover as his friend is shot repeatedly a few feet away. Which would be fine, only I couldn't help thinking 'What would Django do?'
There is something interesting about this character who really wants to take revenge but physically isn't really able to do so. I imagine that should any of us attempt anything like this in real life we would all be more Franco Nero than Charles Bronson. Unfortunately this gets a bit lost in the ludicrous plot and over the top action sequences, so what remains is a film that really should be a lot more fun than it actually is.
Also, why is Franco Nero dubbed with an Italian accent when everyone else is dubbed American? I'll probably never know...
Here's a trailer, with awesome music:
Final Terror is a slasher film in which a group of forest rangers and their teen proteges head out into the woods to build a dam only to be hunted down by an unseen lunatic.
First impressions were that the film was due to have a bodycount that would surely rival The Hard Way. There were a lot of characters (some with familiar faces including Darryl Hannah and Joe Pantoliano) which in a slasher film usually means an abundance of victims.
The film follows typical slasher structure for the first half hour - crazy person in the woods, characters going missing, a couple murdered while having sex - but then something interesting happens. The large group of survivors get organised. There are a few stupid moments, including one character deciding that being stalked by a killer is the perfect time to get high on mushrooms, but there is a distinct lack of 'I'm just going over here to this really dark part of the woods on my own and no I don't need help I'll be right back' moments. Rather than wandering aimlessly for hours being picked off one by one they form an actual plan. And the plan works.
Ultimately this fails in the same way Revenge fails - there's a reason we have so many genre conventions and that's primarily because they help make the film entertaining. It's boring when all but a couple of people survive a slasher film. But at the same time it is refreshing to see something a little bit different.
Again, the whole thing is online if you're interested:
Bronson Lee, Champion is a typical seventies martial arts film starring Tadashi Yamashita as...Bronson Lee, champion.
Bronson Lee is awesome, but when his cowboy hat doesn't appear to convey this appropriately he decides to prove it to the world by winning an international karate tournament. Unfortunately he's left things a bit late and all the countries already have representatives. That's no problem for Bronson Lee, who decides the simplest solution would be to provoke the current Japanese contestant into fighting him for the right to take part in the tournament. This is how he does it:
Unfortunately the Japanese contestant has gangland connections who don't take too kindly to this and it turns out that the tournament is the least of Bronson Lee's troubles. I am describing the plot in great detail because I'm not sure what else to say other than it was a good film to watch at 2 in the morning.
Jungle Heat is a Vietnam film with Sam 'Flash Gordon' Jones (helpfully playing a character named Gordon in case we forget that he's Sam 'Flash Gordon' Jones) training a group of recruits for a rescue mission. I think that's what was happening anyway.
After the initial and rather cliched training sequence in which the recruits are trained to disarm landmines and race jeeps against Flash Gordon the story became a bit more erratic. Jones disappears for most of it, as do the recruits and instead we follow another group of soldiers battling a group of sadistic rebels. It was all fun and games until someone set fire to a live rat.
This was obviously quite disturbing and completely unexpected, but worse than that it called into question whether what followed was actually fake or not - some of it looked very real indeed (although part of that was the poor quality of the footage). There was the prisoner who had metal shackles driven through the palms of his hands but managed to escape by basically ripping his hands apart. There was the final battle in which a man was literally sawn in half and another was decapitated. And then this happened (WARNING: this really is quite disturbing!):
Proof that you never quite know what you're letting yourself in for with trash cinema.
So what have we learnt from all this?
Okay, nothing, but it was a good laugh and there were definitely a few surprises. If you want an alternative opinion keep an eye on Dave Brook's blog as he's planning on doing his own write-up soon.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Not really. I'm just padding this out because in truth, nothing has happened. The script has been downloaded 3 times, but I've not received any reviews as yet. The only thing I have received is a message from someone telling me how awesome their project is and that if I read their script they will totally read mine. I haven't read their script. It's only been two weeks, but I can't see this situation changing anytime soon. I don't think there will really be anything to report until the first contest winner is announced next year.
But I think I have at least figured out the true purpose of this website. I have read on a couple of screenwriting forums that a lot of other writers seem to be doing the same as me - dusting off an old script to submit just in case, but not sacrificing a new one. For my part I feel like my script is off the list of ongoing projects in my head now. It's unavailable. I can't think 'oh I should definitely polish up that old horror script one day' or 'I wonder if anyone would be interested in that one now'. It belongs to them. I've buried it among the 1500 or so other dead projects on there.
Amazon Studios is where we send our old scripts to die.
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
Luther and Terry have done a really excellent job of running the event over the last two years. They've managed to keep it very organised but without sacrificing the friendly atmosphere and they've maintained a consistently high standard every month. More than a bunch of filmmakers watching some shorts in a pub, it's become a kind of monthly miniature film festival, and is actually a lot more established and accomplished than some actual film festivals I've attended in the past. I've made it along to pretty much every night, have met some awesome people, seen some excellent films and would recommend it to anyone interested in film-making or just looking for an interesting night out.
Moviebar will continue next year and I'll probably be talking a lot more about it here as I'm going to be running it (along with a group of friends I've conned into helping out). More on that later...
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
If you are in need of behind-the-scenes short film making insights in the meantime I suggest you check out Luther Bhogal-Jones' latest blog entry here. You may recognise some of the names and faces from my production diary...
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
As you can see from the bar at the top there have been 1069 projects uploaded, making mine lucky number 1068.
I think this experiment may be rather short-lived.
I had a brief flick through the other pages of projects until I got bored. None of the scripts uploaded over the last few days have been downloaded yet. And why would they be? Why would anyone want to download mine? Obviously I don't intend to review any other scripts because I have better things to do and better scripts to read from actual people I know in real life. So this is where it falls down. Where's the incentive for anyone to read my script?
Trigger Street worked because in order to get people to read your scripts you had to read other peoples' scripts. That made sense. If you weren't going to make the effort, why should anyone else? I never really did make the effort and only got a handful of reviews in the end, but I knew that in order to get more reviews I'd have to read more scripts. Here the only things that could possibly entice potential readers are my logline and the lazy cover art.
The cover art is meaningless. I could work up a superb photo-shopped dream poster for my film but it wouldn't mean anything. All it can really do is help set a mood and a tone, but generally you would never see an image on the cover of a real-life screenplay so I don't see why you need them here.
The logline is pretty useful and maybe this is a good test of loglines - perhaps it would be worth checking out the loglines that got more downloads. In fact, let's do that - here's a screen print of the three most popular scripts at this present time:
I'm not going to pick on any of them. They all sound fine. None of them sound particularly interesting or exciting. I'm not compelled to read any of them. So why do they have so many hits? My first guess was because they were uploaded first, but that turned out to not be true. They were all uploaded on the 17th, a few days after the site went live on the 13th. I don't see anything particularly special about the writers' profiles - I don't mean that in a cruel way, it just scraps my theory that maybe they already have some kind of fan base.
So I wonder if people have started to get organised. There is a test movie (I haven't even gone into the test movie idea, but seriously - who's got that much time on their hands?) on there called Little White Lies that was uploaded on the 17th and has already been played 98 times. From those 98 plays it has garnered a number of 5-star reviews. 112 to be exact. 98 plays, 112 reviews. Something's wrong there.
This throws up a problem. If the development team is the whole of the internet, then surely there's nothing stopping me gathering a proportion of that team, say all my Facebook friends for example, and getting them to write 5-star reviews. All they have to do is download the script and write 'Awesome, 5 stars' or something to that effect. Don't worry, I'm not going to actually do this. But the implications are clear - this is a popularity contest. The person with the most friends could get the prize money, and could even get their movie made.
What I'm also getting from this is a stark picture of the depressing reality of the wannabe film business. There are too many of us and there are too many scripts! Some of us need to stop! You first.
But let's look at this objectively for a moment. Amazon Studios just optioned my script! Awesome! Yes, they didn't pay me anything, but it's an option from an actual studio/production company/development company. The problem is they optioned over a thousand other scripts at the same time and show no sign of slowing down. Okay, fine, I'll make the best out of this. I'll go and work for them as part of their development team (which also has over a thousand people working for it). I'll read some of these scripts they've optioned and maybe do some rewriting. Then maybe one of the thousands of scripts will get made and however many of us worked on that draft will get some money/recognition!
This scenario is actually not at all dissimilar to the way I got involved with the production company I'm currently working with. They optioned my script and they have a handful of others in development, some of which I'm now working on. I'm doing a lot of work for free on the basis that one of these projects will get off the ground and I'll a) get paid and b) get a credit. It's not an ideal situation, but the odds are certainly a lot better than they are with my Amazon Studios script.
Obviously the money is there so at some point I'm guessing one of these scripts will be produced. I'm guessing it will be the person who had the best online campaign to get as many people to vote for his script as possible. I also predict that the final script will have thousands of rewrites. I mean, say my script gets some buzz around it, I get 112 5-star reviews from my Facebook campaign or whatever. Anyone could pick up that script, tweak a few lines and say 'Look, I totally made it better. It's now 17% more awesome.' If they were convincing enough, that draft will be the newest version, and then someone else could come along and rewrite that. By the time the super-popular script that was already going to get produced actually gets produced there could be a hundred writers working on it. Maybe more. This cannot be a good thing.
So we'll see. I've planted the seed, the script is on there, it's going to be there for 18 months. I'll check in every now and again to see what happens and post updates here. I don't think they will be very regular updates. I can see it staying at zero downloads for a very long time.
Then again, maybe I'm being too cynical. Maybe there are 112 genuine and very positive reviewers working their way through every script on the site and one day they'll get to mine...
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
It's been an odd couple of months. I feel like time has slipped away from me since we finished the ADR and there were moments where I seriously wondered whether we would ever reach this stage. Now we have it seems ridiculous that I got so worried about it, although I know if we hadn't finished last night I'd still have concerns about finishing at all. I've started to appreciate what a massive undertaking something like this is, and that the ambitiousness of the shoot has a proportionate effect on the edit. I've also been rather busy with other writing projects and real life stuff like moving flats, which hasn't helped. But this film has always been my priority; has always sat there at the back of my mind nagging me to get it finished.
Here's a recap of what we've done and what there is still left to do:
So after we finished the rough cut we decided that there was no way to fine tune the edit with the sound recorded in camera. My sound editor then edited the ADR dialogue along with some of the cleaner location dialogue to produce a rough sound edit that meant we could polish the picture edit and make sure the pacing worked. This was particularly relevant with the opening of the film which is mostly voice-over - there's a scene in the kitchen narrated by one of the characters that turned out to be about three times too long once we put the actual voice-over on top. There were also a couple scenes that were flagged up as not really working when we got feedback on the rough cut, particularly the theatre scene. This has been completely re-edited and runs a lot smoother now. Then it was just a matter of tweaking the rest of it. I think in the end we probably only cut about a minute out of the film, but it's definitely made a difference.
I need to take a moment to thank Darren Berry who edited the film. He was also Director of Photography. He will also be grading the film and doing the effects shots. That's one person doing the work of several departments. He's put a lot of hours into this project and despite having to stop a few times to work for people who actually pay him he has never given up on it. Asking him to edit the film was not part of the original plan, but based on the fact that he physically had the footage, he didn't live too far away and the first few shots of the film he had edited together looked awesome it was a logical decision. Darren still maintains he's not really an editor, but that's not true anymore. He edited my film and he edited it very well.
So now we've got a picture edit I can pass this onto the sound editor and composer to work on while the picture is graded and effects are added. All of this is a lot of work and depending on the availability of the people working on it this could still take a long time to get through, but we are at least on the last stretch and I can see the end in sight. For now I'm not going to worry about it. The film I started in April that a lot of people gave up their summer weekends to work on is now sitting on my computer. It has no music, no sound effects and the dialogue is out of sync in places, but it at least looks like a film now and I'm really happy with it.
Monday, 22 November 2010
They're also a production company/film studio - they will not only 'award' you with the prize money, they will also make your film. This is a bit dubious but okay, we'll go along with it - a lot of production companies do seem to be sourcing projects through competitions these days.
The problems arise with their third role. They are also working as a development company. So you submit a script into their contest and they develop it until it's better and then make it into a film! Great, except they have employed the whole of the internet to do this for them. Anyone can read your script and leave feedback. Fine, Trigger Street did that and it kind of worked, although I never had time to read enough other peoples' scripts making it a bit redundant. The difference is anyone can also rewrite it. I could upload a script right now, tomorrow you could rewrite it, the day after that someone else could rewrite the whole thing again. Should that script get further into the process, the reward money and credit would get split between the three of us, along with anyone else who happened to rewrite it along the way.
Oh, and the other issue is that once you upload a script they automatically option it for free - they basically own it. So let's say I don't care about winning the prize money, I just want to get some independent feedback on my script. And say I get that feedback and rewrite the script to send elsewhere. Technically I wouldn't be able to, because it would still belong to Amazon Studios. There are no other screenwriting contests that claim the rights to your script from the moment you enter. Considering the odds of actually winning, it doesn't really seem worth the risk.
The implications of this have been discussed much more thoughtfully and from more informed points of view by John August, David Lemon, Robin Kelly, Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton and James Moran among others.
I was going to add my thoughts on the bigger picture - how they're exploiting the fact that there are too many of us and we all think we're awesome, and how this is further proof that no one really knows how the internet is going to change films and filmmaking yet but they'll try all kinds of crazy ideas just in case. And I probably would've pondered over who actually has the time and inclination to rewrite a stranger's script with no guarantee they'll get anything from it. In the end I would probably come to the same conclusion as everyone else - that Amazon Studios is fine for beginners and enthusiastic amateurs, but anyone serious about screenwriting should steer clear.
Except most of that has already been said, and it's worse coming from me because I can't even really be bothered to study the website in detail and have based all my conclusions on what other people have been saying.
So I thought I'd try something different. I thought I'd give it a go.
This is going to involve a bit of time travel. I don't want to sacrifice any of my recent scripts (and I do see this as a sacrifice), and even some of the older ones use characters that I either want to hold onto or have used again in subsequent scripts (and yes, Amazon Studios will apparently own your characters too). So I've chosen a really old script, one I wrote when I was 18. It's a bit like going back in time to the moment where I was a beginner and could have benefited from something like this. Because that's the point really. I'm not doing this to make a success out of an old script, I genuinely want to find out whether it would be worthwhile for 18-year-old me to take part. Will 18-year-old me get some awesome feedback that will really help the script, or will it be the equivalent of those generally awful Amazon.com user reviews? I'm also genuinely interested to see if anyone will take the time to rewrite someone else's work.
I suspect this will come to nothing. I predict 18-year-old me will be disappointed. But that's okay - I've seen his future and things actually start to work out pretty well once he gives up on this particular script.
So I've signed up for an account, now I just need to find the actual script I want to upload. I'm sure it's on my hard drive somewhere...
Friday, 19 November 2010
'Finished your first draft? Now comes the hard part'
'Writing is all about rewriting'
These are things I read again and again from other writers on blogs and in interviews and just about anywhere they let writers talk about writing and stuff. I'll be honest, I'm sick of hearing it. I'm not taking issue with the sentiment, but it's the kind of advice that's not particularly helpful when you're actually writing a first draft.
I'm writing a first draft at the moment. It's a tricky one - lots of characters, lots of exposition, lots of things that need to happen by certain points in the narrative. I've been doing a lot of editing as I go along, particularly on the first 30 pages which I must've gone back over and rewritten five or six times now. I've spent the last few evenings working on it pretty solidly, but my progress in terms of page count has been minimal - I think I was on 39 pages on Friday and by the end of last night I was on 42. It's been tough, but it feels like I'm making good progress and saving myself a lot of hassle further down the line. The last thing I want to hear right now is that the first draft is rubbish.
I'm going to try to put this in perspective. The fact is that script you're working on right now probably won't get made into a film. Even if the work is through a production company, even if it seems almost guaranteed, it's not guaranteed until you get on the set and even then...I'm sure you've heard all this before. The point is it probably won't happen. But you can't think that when you're writing. You have to be able to see it as a film and you have to believe it's going to be a film one day otherwise there's just no reason to do it. I've worked on things that I really haven't believed were going to be films and those jobs have always ended up going horribly wrong (ironically one of those is now in production, which shows what I know). And maybe this is something that only really relates to those of us writing unpaid in our spare time, because the sacrifice is greater. If I'm going to give up my free time outside the day job to sit at a computer then I have to believe it's worthwhile.
I think the same applies to the first draft. I know it will end up being rewritten. From my track record it's usually at least ten drafts before the thing is finished. Often it's more than ten. I'm not naively suggesting that this time, this one time, my first draft will be absolutely perfect. But right now, I need to believe that it is, because I can't put the hours in on something I know is ultimately going to be scrapped. And the fact is, the work you do in the first draft is some of the most important work you do. Contrary to popular belief, it's not all about rewriting. Some of it is about building a solid enough base so that when you do start to tear some of it down and rebuild your structure is still standing. That's why the first draft is important, and that's why I'm tired of people telling me it's inevitably going to be horrible.
Monday, 15 November 2010
But there are another couple of reasons, perhaps less obvious. The first is that she knew Jenny Ringo already. We got together not long after I'd started putting the character into short stories and she's been the first to read all incarnations of the character since then. She is one of two people who knows the character almost as well as I do (the other is Geraint who did my creature effects, but that's another story for another blog). Plus she understood why this character and this film were so important to me.
Mostly I asked her to it because I knew she'd be really good at it. I'd seen her stage manage plays before and she was one-half of a two-person theatre company back when we first moved to Brighton. I needed someone to organise everyone and keep them up to date with what was happening. I needed someone to arrange locations, sort out permissions, book rehearsal space. I needed someone to make sure I had everything I needed when it came to filming so I could actually concentrate on directing rather than the many other issues that come up during a shoot. She did all this and she did it very well. Because she is awesome.
Here is Andrea's experience of making the film:
Rationing the Haribo
I’d wanted a project for months when Chris said he wanted to make a film after our wedding, so I think I volunteered myself as a producer, although he said he was going to ask me if I would do it anyway. I was completely unqualified; I’ve never produced a film before, I had very little cash to invest in it, and I have very little idea what I was actually going to need to do. And to be fair, there are many ‘producer’ tasks which I didn’t do. I did, on the other hand, do the work of some of the wardrobe team, the entire catering department, most of the runner’s tasks, make-up assistant, and some other things besides.
I had so much fun and learnt so much along the way, I wasn’t sure where to start writing about it, and my experience ran parallel to Chris’s so you’ve probably heard it all before anyway. So here are my top 5 moments, and top 5 things I learned along the way...
Favourite moment 1: Reading the script.
I basically got the job on this film without having read the script, but as soon as I knew it was a Jenny Ringo story, I was on board (Chris has previously blogged about the history of Jenny which he will cleverly link to here). I’ve loved Jenny, and been a little bit jealous of her, since I first read a story about her almost ten years ago. The thought of bringing her off the page was really exciting. And then I read the script and I was utterly enchanted. I don’t always love Chris’s work indiscriminately (I think he’d sometimes prefer it if I did) but honestly, there wasn’t a word out of place. I thought I would have notes, that we might develop it a little, but we basically picked it up and shot it.
Favourite moment 2: Seeing the dance routine for the first time. Tim and the dancers did such an awesome job and it was such a lovely moment, putting that together with the actors and doing something so ambitious for a little, unfunded film. Plus we got some priceless looks from passers-by.
Favourite moment 3: Some of the special effects that involved prosthetics and slime. I don’t want to give anything away but I really enjoyed the problem solving aspect of figuring out how to do it. And getting covered in black slime.
Favourite moment 4: Filming on the seafront- most summers I don’t spend as much time outside as I’d like so it was great to be out in glorious sunshine, and with a job to do. We were so very lucky with the weather and I loved watching the residents of Hove out for their Sunday jog/bike ride/ dog walk/swim, and watching them watch us back (especially when filming the musical number). The early morning walks down there were a great time to chat with the cast and get to know people better, and during takes was an excellent time to eat all the cake.
Favourite moment 5: The final evening I met Chris, Darren and the two leads as they finished filming. It felt in some way like the essence of the film, just the five of us wrapping it up. It was probably the most relaxed part of the shoot and though I hadn’t been able to be there for the whole day’s shoot, it was really good to make it for the final hour. Going out with a bang might have been exciting, but bidding it a quiet farewell between us felt more fitting. Plus we had the wrap party a couple of weeks later for the ‘bang’ bit.
Thing I learnt 1: Have someone watching continuity! Don’t give them anything else to do but watch the monkey/giant banana/pocketwatch/sardine sandwich. You can read about what happens when you don’t here (if Chris has done his linky thing again). If you have a prop heavy piece, or even a medium heavy piece, spend some time the day before shooting going over the journey of the props – who has it when, where they put it, and get someone to drill the actors on prop handling while you set up so they are clued up and it never appears in a shot it shouldn’t. Also general continuity – which hand did you use to brush back your hair? A pair of eyes on this will save so much time when editing!
Thing I learnt 2: boys will always have ham and cheese sandwiches. You don’t need to ask, you can just make them. Put some salad in too, when they are filming for long hours their 5-a-day will go out the window.
Thing I learnt 3: The second weekend I couldn’t film on the Saturday as I was doing my day job. I came home at half six to find our two leads in a giggling heap on the floor and my husband and the crew looking somewhat frazzled. It turned out they’d cracked open the Haribo that afternoon and now our actors couldn’t look at each other without laughing. Which was a pain, because in most of the scenes they were filming they were supposed to be pissed off with each other. So from that point on I rationed the Haribo. By the last weekend, when I passed around the sweets, the actors were asking me how many they were allowed before I’d said anything. I felt really mean. And we never did quite cure them of their giggling fits.
Thing learnt 4: Keep a shot log (I think there might be a proper term for this), and write not only what scene you are doing but which line you start and finish that take with. This is one of those things you are supposed to do and we fully intended to do but it kind of went out of the window early on. If we’d have done this, I think we’d have realised sooner how few clean takes of many scene endings we have, and again it would have helped us when it came to the edit.
Thing I learnt 5: Cast early, and test out people’s commitment with rehearsals and other meetings. It felt like we had no time at all and we were just really lucky to work with five fab actors, but it could have been much harder, and we did have a hair-raising couple of weeks without a Jeff Awesome. The right people will be genuinely interested and committed despite having to give their time for free and if you have any doubts, deal with them quickly.
I learned a bunch more about the technical side of film-making, and the practical side of things, but most of you probably know them already. I also learned a lot about one of my favourite writer/directors, and I just hope he’ll think to give me a call when he starts his next project...
Andrea is currently Production Manager on Simon Messingham's play Disco which I mentioned briefly here.
So we're at the six month mark (slightly over if you take into account the odd week I didn't post a diary) and we're still not finished, the picture edit still isn't locked. I'm not sure if I've ever gone into detail about the reason for the delays but essentially it's this - if you're working with professionals and you're not paying them, then they will inevitably have to put your project on hold until they have time to do it. And this is fine and not something any reasonable person can take issue with. The part that's frustrating is the fact that on a number of occasions I've had reason to believe we were nearly there. It was September when the rough cut was finished. At the time it felt like we were no more than a week away from locking the picture. Not two months. The other frustrating element is how close we are to actually being finished. The time required is a fraction of that we spent on the actual edit, but it's time that just isn't available at the moment.
I've made some rather bold statements in previous entries about the films I've worked on or known of that have dragged on for years, to the point that everyone involved has moved on to other things and lost any enthusiasm they had for the project in the first place. I was determined not to let that happen here. But what I've come to realise is there comes a certain point where you lose control over when things get done. I've seen people attempt to retain that control by switching personnel every time there's a delay. In the end this only causes more delays and it's not something I would ever consider. I started out on this project with a team of very talented people whom I have a lot of respect for and I want that same team of people standing with me when it's finished.
So all I can do for now is keep checking in and hope that posts like this one do not become a regular occurrence.
Thursday, 11 November 2010
Jack walks to the door. He turns to Jill and says "I'm going to open this door".
I'm going to open this door.
Yes, I think you should do that.
A man walks out of the door. Jack fights the man and kills him.
This place is dangerous.
Yes, I agree that it is dangerous. Let's go through the door.
Jack looks at Jill romantically. They go through the door.
So how did it get to the point where it's with an actual production company? There are two possible reasons -
1) Money - Someone somewhere has already invested in this project for whatever reason meaning people will continue to take it seriously and it will probably get made regardless, possibly even as it is. I have seen this happen.
2) Connections. Someone was at the right party at the right time and passed it to the right person.
Should this film get made I can guarantee it will be of no value to anyone - not the people working on it (although I suppose they'll get paid so maybe they'll do okay), not the filmmakers, and certainly not the people who watch it. The script is so bad you couldn't possibly pull a decent film out of it. And yet it may still happen. This is the problem with an industry that is now funded primarily through private investment. And this makes me depressed.
These projects are being championed by directors, producers and sometimes even actors who are operating outside the system. This is fine, good on them for getting their projects made. But what sickens me time and time again (and yes this may be the worst but it's not the first time I've come across a project like this) is the constant lack of good writing. More than that, there's a lack of understanding of what good writing is and why it's important. There's this attitude of 'well money's in the bank, the script is written insomuch as it has some pages with writing on, so let's go make a film!'
No, don't go make a film. Use some of that money to pay a decent writer. That way you may just avoid wasting everybodys' time.
Monday, 8 November 2010
In hindsight it was a ridiculously ambitious thing to attempt and I think I'm lucky to have any kind of sequence there at all. It's probably not the best move for an inexperienced director to start with something this complicated, but when I think about it a lot of the problems weren't specifically to do with my lack of experience (although I'm sure that didn't help). Ultimately it was the weather, the location and the fact that we only had one camera battery that made the sequence so tough to shoot. And even if I'd known how difficult it was going to be I still would have done it. I'm working on the assumption that I may never do anything like this again, or certainly not the same way (i.e. with no money and making people work stupidly long hours for free). So it was never going to be 'I'll shoot this one with all dialogue scenes in a kitchen and build up to a musical number in the next one'. It had to be in there, and whether it works or not I'm glad I did it.
It's a huge relief not to have the musical sequence hanging over me anymore. The next stage is to tighten up the picture edit so we can finally lock picture. I am already practicing my locked picture dance for when that happens. It seems like it's been a very long time since we finished the rough cut at which point I optimistically suggested it would only be a couple of weeks until we locked picture. I suppose it's only been a month or so since then but it feels like forever, perhaps in part because I keep writing diary posts like this one.
My main concern is being able to pass the film on to the composer to whom I am forever sending optimistic e-mails along the lines of 'nearly done, should be with you next week'. But I also feel bad about not having the cast and crew screening that I promised everyone we'd do when the rough cut was finished. Due to the mixed reactions we were getting from people we did show the rough cut to I decided that it would make more sense to show the people who worked on it a more polished version. I still think that makes sense, but at the same time I made a promise to keep everyone involved with the post-production process and I haven't really managed to keep that promise. Hopefully it won't be long now.
I spent most of Friday evening figuring out which scenes need music and sound effects, then I put some temporary music on, mostly using the soundtrack from Mirrormask which kind of matches the tone I want (and was also filmed in Brighton). I also used a cd of random circus music - I believe everyone should have a cd of random circus music although this is the first time I've ever put it to good use (well, second time - I once unintentionally used it to freak out the guy who came to check the gas meter). This is again to help get the film as close to finished as possible before locking the picture. It was kind of fun too, although I rushed it a bit on purpose so as not to spend too much time on it. I like music and I have lots of it, so could easily have spent a week creating the perfect temporary soundtrack which we would never use. That said, it was cool to see scenes like the montage and the chase set to music finally as they don't really work in silence.
Saturday was mostly spent adapting the script for the film into the pilot episode of a TV series, which I've been meaning to do for ages. A lot of people working on the film mentioned that it felt like TV pilot except for the beginning and ending, so I added a new beginning and ending, messed around with some of the dialogue and now it's a script for a TV pilot. This was a lot easier than adapting it into a feature which I'm also still trying to do but is a lot more time-consuming. I've got a few people helping me come up with ideas for other episodes and I hope that by the time the film is finished I'll have something approaching a decent pitch. Then I have to actually do something with it, but I'll worry about that later.
That's it for now, but if you happen to be anywhere near Eastbourne this Thursday or Friday you should check out What I've Done Right, a one person show written and performed by Lukas Habberton who played Gavin in my film (and is awesome). Further details here or here or you can buy tickets here.
Thursday, 4 November 2010
Pete wanted to get more involved with the film and when his girlfriend Charlotte (who has mad art skills) offered to help as well I decided to make them my Art Department. This meant all the set design, costumes and props were down to them. Anytime I had some daft idea about something else I wanted to include I'd speak to them, they'd figure it out and it would turn up on set, as if by magic. They also spent a lot of time buying strange things from ebay. Without them my flat would've still looked like my flat and the whole thing would've been pretty lifeless, plus I would've had many sleepless nights worrying about where to find monkeys, top hats and brains at short notice.
Here is Pete's account of making the film...
So there I was minding my own business when Brother Chris suddenly announced it, “I’m making a short film and I need you to do some animation.”
With nothing better to do I jumped at the chance...
...Ok so it didn’t really go exactly like this. Well actually, pretty much. This was before the exact details had all been worked out. You see it started as me filming 20 seconds of Animation, tops. Then it stretched to me becoming half of the art department. This naturally led me onto the Prop handler/wrangler and finally settling on general dogsbody, including a bit of Fake Shempery.
But I still jumped at the chance. If Chris could pull it off, this film would be mental, and prove that all short films didn’t need to be about two people arguing in the director’s living room.
Here be my experience on Jenny Ringo and the Monkey’s Paw.
I’ll split this into 3 separate sections due to the different jobs I worked on.
So my initial task was to use my animation skills to animate (obviously). There were two short sections. Now I don’t want to give too much away with any of this so I’ll be brief. I needed to animate a Monkey, which I can say, as monkeys clearly play a large part in the story. This was just a ten second clip to visualise a monkey doing stuff. (I’m good at hiding the spoilers).
For this I used my tried and tested technique:-storyboard the clip, film it to get timing right, start drawing on paper, frame by frame. I then scanned the pictures and composited the whole thing together on the PC. This sounds simple, and relatively is, but takes time. I think the drawing, scanning and compositing only took about three days max. After an evening of tweaking, the first scene was complete.
The next scene once again needed to visualise some stuff. I had a chance to elaborate a little with this though and managed to come up with a cool little scenario for a famed Russian playwright/Star ship navigator. Somehow this one didn’t take as long. Well, I say that, but when I finished this one it was the early hours of the morning. This scene ended up being about 15 seconds long.
There’s nothing too complicated with these scenes. But hopefully they help to take the film that extra level to show what can be done with low budget independent shorts.
None of this is chronological by the way. I didn’t animate until after principal photography had finished. Before that I was given the task of Art Department along with Charlotte my girlfriend, and we dived straight in. There were 4 major areas. The living room, kitchen, hallway and one bedroom.
We basically had to make Brother Chris’ flat not look like his flat but like someone else’s flat. With the living room we needed to make it look as though we hadn’t just added a load of cool looking things on the shelves but that someone actually lived there. This was fun to go round and collect what we already owned and buy a few odd looking objects to fill the spaces. Here are some of my favourites:
The Creepy Doll – Strangely I felt safer with this after I bloodied it up.
The Brain – You always need a brain.
With the Kitchen, we were tasked to mess it up. Not just mess it up, it needed to look like it had never been cleaned. As if no one had ever even thought of cleaning it. As if no one would dare clean it. The trick for this is canned goods. Beans, macaroni and cheese and the slightly worrying meal in a can. I think we chose the all day breakfast as we couldn’t find the one with the omelette in.
Messing up a kitchen is easy. Lay a few unwashed dishes around, leftovers from lunch, add more dishes for effect and cover with beans and so on. Please note this will create an unpleasant smell and a sight you hope never to witness in the real world.
Once the scene was complete we got to tidy the Kitchen up. Lucky Us.
The hallway and bedroom was simply a case of dressing doors or walls with stuff that the characters might have decorated with, whilst subtly revealing a bit of their character in the decoration. Jenny was always going to be spooky, gothy and halloweeny. Gavin was never really explored deeply. Just a slacker type so we opted for an assortment of posters torn from music magazines.
Fake Shemp and Everything Else
I also appear in the film in a couple of Fake Shemp roles. 1 looking terribly like the ghost from Carnival of Souls and another, well let’s just say I got the role because apparently I look smarter in a suit.
Further to all the above, I was generally there for most of the filming. Helping out where I could. Whether this was as a drinks wrangler, monkey wrangler, sound wrangler or safety pin wrangler; I was always happy to help out.
Yes the days were long, and there were a couple of occasions where I had to sit in a room on my own until snacks/drinks were needed; but this is all part of the fun; because at the end of the day, I was part of something truly original.
I just hope the curse never catches up with me when I cut of the monkey’s paw in the first place.
You can see more of Pete's awesome animations on his YouTube channel here and keep up to date with what he's working on next at his blog here (which you should follow to encourage him to update it more often!).