Saturday, 30 January 2010

Overtime boredom post...

Doing overtime for day job which means I'm in work on a Saturday. Have got a script meeting this afternoon so had to come in at 9am to make it worthwhile coming in at all. This would be fine (as fine as being up at 9am on a Saturday can ever be) if I hadn't been out at a late-night screening of An American Werewolf in London last night. Which was awesome.

I forget sometimes how much seeing a great film on a big screen makes a difference. I've seen that film so many times before I wasn't even sure I really wanted to go. Am now really glad I did because it works so well in the cinema and made me realise again what a fantastic film it is. An interesting one for structure though as it kind of conforms to the standards but in a really odd way and deals with a problem quite well - for the majority of the film the main character doesn't have a goal and is really just waiting for something that he doesn't even believe will actually happen anyway. The actual transformation doesn't occur until the third act which seems odd out of context but works fine in the film, mostly because of the love story behind it which keeps it moving. And in keeping with my recent posts on the Elm Street series I'm loving old-school practical effects at the moment and American Werewolf still has some of the best ever on show.

While I'm here, if you have a minute I recommend you check out Amanda Palmer's behind the scenes glimpse into the bizarre world of the Golden Globes which you can read here. My favourite moment from the Globes though is Christoph Waltz's press interview which kind of highlights the oddness of the whole thing anyway - do the journalists at these things ever actually watch any of the films? I'm guessing not.

Friday, 29 January 2010

More Elm Street...

I wasn't intending to turn my blog into an ongoing review of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but I watched the 2nd film last night and I think there are some interesting points to be raised from a writing point of view.

One of the things the first film got right was being clear on its rules. Freddy comes after you in your dreams, anything he does to you in your dreams happens to you in real life, if you're holding onto anything when you wake up you bring it out into the real world and so on. This involves a little suspension of disbelief but the parameters are there and they make it work by not trying too hard to explain it.

Here be spoilers.

In the second film Freddy is taking over the body of the main character Jesse. This is not handled particularly effectively (would've been nice to see elements of the Freddy persona gradually coming out in his waking life) but again it works fine as long as you don't question it.

So as the film progresses we reach the point where Jesse is killing for Freddy - he has a kind of transformation and then he kills people with Freddy's claw. The problem starts when it's not always clear whether the characters in the film are seeing Jesse with the claw, or seeing Jesse as Freddy - the film tries to play it both ways.

The problems get worse because as well as taking over bodies and causing havoc in dreams Freddy also seems to be able to make weird stuff happen in the real world - like making birds explode and affecting the temperature and making objects move and stuff. The issue here is if he can have so much power over the real world, why does he need to take over Jesse's body in the first place? And come to think of it, what was the problem with killing people in dreams to begin with? Did he just get bored? Yes, you could argue that he's lost his power over dreams because of what Nancy did to him in the first film and he was just waiting for someone as susceptible as Jesse to come along so he could take over his body, but none of that is in the script.

This also leads to a larger, more problematic question - what does Freddy want? It's never established at any point what he wants other than just being evil for the sake of being evil. The subtitle to the film is 'Freddy's Revenge' but it's not enough to set up character motivations through the subtitle. You could argue that in the first film he didn't really have any larger goals either, but in the first film he was less of a person and more of a malevolent force, like Michael Myers or the shark in Jaws - he didn't need motivation because he was in a way elemental rather than sentient. In this film he makes it clear from the beginning that he wants something - he wants to take over Jesse's body. But for what?

The question cripples the film when Freddy eventually gets what he wants and gets out into the real world. He runs around killing kids at a pool party, but it all seems a bit pointless. Is this it? Surely he could have done it just as easily from dreams and had a lot more fun in the process. It makes for a good scene, but there's nothing really behind it. One line would've sorted it out, something in Nancy's diary about Freddy wanting to kill a certain number of people, or wanting to return to the real world to cause chaos or whatever - just something to set it up. As it is, the whole thing falls a bit flat.

That said, it is an enjoyable film and moves a long fairly quickly towards a satisfying conclusion. And the effects are awesome.

And I worryingly remembered absolutely nothing from the time I watched it while drunk.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Revisiting Elm Street....

So one of my birthday presents was the Nightmare on Elm Street box set which I'd been meaning to get for ages even though I've never been a huge fan of the series. They were always a bit too daft for me - I liked horror films that took themselves seriously like The Haunting, Hellraiser, or Halloween (or The Wicker Man for the sake of adding one that doesn't begin with H). Texas Chainsaw Massacre is perhaps the best example - it's bleak, loud, visceral and unpleasant which must surely be a closer representation of being in one of these films than you get from watching them. For some reason not everyone likes their films to be bleak and unpleasant!

That said, I had fond memories of seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about twelve or thirteen. Prior to seeing the film my only real recollection was a very basic PC game my friend owned where you'd run around a house until Freddy killed you, then you swapped to a different character until the same thing happened. I think those old games have an existential quality - they were always impossible to win so they'd just be about staying alive as long as possible before the monster got you. In this case it heightened my idea of how terrifying the film must be.

Later I remember talking to kids at school about the fact that it was on TV one night and it being a big deal. But it was on really late so I watched it on my small black-and-white TV with the sound down when I was supposed to be in bed - the best way to watch horror films when you're a kid. I don't remember it being scary though, not like the time I saw Friday 13th Part 3 at a similar age and it gave me nightmares.

Since then I've met a few hardcore fans of the series and though never truly sold on its merits I did once enjoy an evening being shown 2 & 3 back to back, but having had too much to drink that night they kind of bled into each other and I now only remember them as one film.

My scariest Freddy experience was the Elm Street maze at Universal Studios a couple of years ago where I learned that if a monster ever did come after me in real life I would either use my future wife as a human shield, or run away and abandon her. She was not impressed.

Anyway, I watched the first film again for the first time in ages and I thought it might be worthwhile writing down my thoughts before this happens:

It was a lot more fun than I remember. I think maybe when I was younger I had the problem that a lot of people seem to be having with Paranormal Activity now - I wanted it to scare me and it didn't, so I was disappointed. With that possibility removed I found myself really enjoying it. Most of the effects still hold up today and look all the better for being practical which adds a certain charm. Fred Krueger is not yet the clown he would later become (or so I understand - I can't speak from authority) and though I don't find him as threatening as maybe I should there is a subtle creepiness that Englund brings to the role behind the bigger performance aspect. The script is tight and moves along at a tremendous pace with barely a lull in the story at all.

I was particularly impressed with the lead character, Nancy. In the days since Carol Clover the final girl has become a tainted with the idea that she is really a man in disguise and Nancy does fall into the stereotype of being sexually unavailable throughout the film. But it's a stereotype that Craven helped create (then deconstructed with the help of Kevin Williamson in Scream) and it's only when the same stereotype turns up in contemporary films that it shows a lack of awareness on the part of the filmmaker - here it still seems interesting. And beyond that, Nancy is a refreshingly resourceful and proactive character. She figures out what needs to be done and she does it, and while she may try to convince others of what is happening their disbelief rarely hinders her determination. Male or female, that's a good trait for the main character and it's the reason the story never loses its pace.

So on recent viewing I find my perceptions of the film have changed considerably - I now agree that it is a classic of its genre and can see the appeal that others have tried to convince me is there over the years. But I am also keen to see the remake as I think there's room for a creepier, more disturbing interpretation of the story, much like Alexandre Aja managed with The Hills Have Eyes. Like the 13-year-old me who badly wanted to be scared by Freddy Krueger I'm probably setting myself up for a massive disappointment.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


Had a readthrough of my latest project (the one I was rewriting all over Christmas) on Monday which was awesome. Can't say too much about it at this stage, but a few of us went up to London, gathered some actors and read through the script a couple of times. I've never done this before so it was pretty interesting and very useful. There are a couple of issues that may be of interest to anyone looking to do the same thing.

The first was to do with last minute revisions. Following a script meeting last Thursday I'd spent the whole of Saturday quickly working in some quick changes to the latest draft. On Sunday evening we had another meeting where it was decided that these changes were substantial and important enough to include in the readthrough. The problem was that the scripts for the readthrough had already been printed and without access to an all-night stationery shop and unlimited time we could only really print off the amended pages and hope these could be implemented on the day.

This led to some confusion in the first read. I was stopping people every five minutes to tell them when a revised scene was required which then led to the actors flipping through loose papers until they found the right scene. On the second read we changed tactics and I announced each scene before it started rather than everyone racing through the whole script. This was much more effective and meant that we took a lot more time over the script as a whole which was better. Ideally everyone would have had an up to date version of the script but under the circumstances this couldn't be helped.

The only problem with me reading out the scene headings (and summarising the actions) was that I couldn't pay as much attention to the read as I did the first time, but I think I got what I needed from it anyway. I was expecting that hearing the dialogue acted out would mostly highlight clunky lines of dialogue and occasionally it did, but more useful were the gaps in the scenes revealed by the process. It was really obvious when a character was in a scene but hadn't spoken for a while and most of the notes I wrote down were about adding lines for characters rather than cutting lines that didn't work.

Overall it went really well - people laughed in the right places, no one got confused about what was going on or what the lines meant and for the most part the story seemed to work just fine. I am now in the process of writing another draft and I'm not sure it will be the very last, but it does feel a bit closer to being finished now.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Ghost bus...

So Brother Pete and I headed out to our respective works early this morning presuming there would be no buses on account of the incredibly icy roads. But a bus turned up anyway.

Further along the road we passed a sign that said there were no bus services running today. We were on a bus at the time. We became convinced that it must be a ghost bus.

Later we overheard the driver calling the depot to see if they had any rock salt. Clearly he was a fan of Supernatural and knew the rock salt would protect him against ghosts.

We started to worry. The driver then announced that the bus would no longer be stopping to pick up new passengers because it was full. There were a few empty seats in front of us. Wherever this bus was going there were no more stops along the way.

Finally we arrived in the centre of Brighton, which was according to the front of the bus its final destination. It is also the place where most people coming into town on a regular day get off the bus. We made it off as did a handful of others, but the majority stayed on, staring at us with the dead eyes of lost souls as we passed them.

I am convinced it was the bus to Hell. I am now living in fear of Final Destination-esque consequences for not completing the journey. I'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Brewster's Cakes...

It's snowing. That will be relevant later.

So I work in one of those offices where people buy the whole office cakes on their birthday (which I've never understood - surely if it's your birthday people should be buying you cakes). Earlier in the week one of my co-workers came over and said it was her birthday last week when no one was in so could she give me some money so I can buy cakes from both of them. This made sense at the time so I agreed thinking she'll give me a fiver, but she hands me a tenner instead. So this means I now have to spend twenty quid on cakes, which for us poor folk is more than I've ever spent on cakes in one go in my whole life. It can also buy an awful lot of cake, depending on where you go. And it's not a very big office.

Anyway, I figured I'd just go to the shop in the morning, but as the country has been brought to a standstill by Ming the Merciless and his extreme weather machine I thought I'd better go tonight. Only the shop nearest to me is clearly just about to close early so the staff won't get stranded in Portslade (no one wants to get stranded in Portslade, believe me). So Andrea, Brother Pete and I are rushing round the shop trying to spend £20 on a variety of cakes and but there are loads of offers on and all the cakes seem really cheap so suddenly we're in this small-scale cake based version of Brewster's Millions.

Mission kind of successful - we didn't quite manage to spend £20 but I do have a lot of cake. My ideal scenario now is that it snows really badly tomorrow so I get the day off work and can sit around watching films and eating cake. Although that sounds like a bit of a monkey's paw wish with potential to go badly wrong so maybe not.

I tried to think of how I could turn this into a metaphor for turning thirty. But couldn't.

Anyway, once again on the eve of my birthday I am up late finishing off a rewrite. It's gone pretty well, perhaps still not perfect but it feels like I've put a lot of work in and that's always a good sign. Am now taking a break for a few days to do birthday stuff.

Some stuff wot happened to me in 2009...

Having a break from rewriting to finally round up 2009...

It was an odd year which I think the blog has probably reflected. I was posting fairly regularly for the first six months, mostly because I wasn't that busy but there were a lot of things happening. Then in the last six months I got really busy with writing and stopped blogging so much. There are still a few writing-related things I can't really talk about here (a couple of bad experiences but mostly good) which is part of the reason for the lack of posts. But a lot of good things have happened that I can talk about which I've listed below:

- The Ten Dead Men DVD release which I talked about a lot as it was happening, first with the US release in January and then with the UK release in May. It seems so long since I worked on the film (it was in post-production when I first started this blog in January 2008, and I'd finished my work on the script months earlier) it sometimes feels like someone else's film that I have some vague connection to despite the time I invested in it while it was in production. At the same time it has certainly opened doors and helped move my career along and I'd recommend the independent production route to any writer in the same position. It's also nice to see that all the work everyone involved put in led to something that hopefully benefited us all. It is by no means a perfect film, but it works, it moves along and we've even picked up some glowing reviews from those with the patience to look past the budgetary constraints. Overall I couldn't be happier with it and feel really lucky to have been a part of the experience. And that may be the last time I talk about it for a while, although I've broken that promise before.

- My first script option for a project that's still very much in development so I can't really say anything about it at the moment. But a lot of the things that I'm involved in right now are happening because of that script, briefly codenamed Jimmy Sci-fi, which I wrote in two weeks in the middle of 2008 (it has since gone through a few rewrites!). At the moment I'm trying to draw a line under working unpaid - it's led to a lot of wasted time this year and if faced with the same situation again (at the time I agreed to two scripts in the space of a month) I'm pretty sure I'd turn it down. But that just reaffirms what I think about unpaid work - it's 50/50 on whether it's worthwhile or not but really it's up to the individual to make that decision. Sometimes it's the wrong decision, but with this script it really worked out for the best. Hopefully I'll be able to talk a bit more about it later this year.

- Going to Cannes. My diaries were a little negative in the end, but I felt it was important to maintain some degree of honesty about the experience. That said, I don't regret going and while it may have made me question my career choices in the long term I still had an excellent time while I was there. At it's best it was an awesome holiday with some of my best friends where I also got to see lots of new films and spot celebrities. I definitely learnt a lot from going and I met loads of cool people. Would I go again? Probably not under the same circumstances, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out completely.

- Hit the Big Time screened in LA which was awesome, although I can't say whether the film is awesome or not as I haven't actually seen it, but friends who went to the screening assure me it's pretty good. I hope it leads to a feature someday as the script is one of my favourites and you can never tell - every time I think the project is dead it seems to get a new burst of energy, which is exactly what happened with this screening. Hopefully I'll be able to post the full short film here eventually.

- Other writing stuff - I tried writing prose again and am clearly out of practice but it felt good to finish a fairly lengthy short story and very liberating after working within screenplay format/structure for so long. Also entered the 15 page script competition and didn't win, but came fourth in my heat which was something, plus I really enjoyed doing it. Most recently I wrote my epic Mr. Wong blog as part of the Boris Karloff Blogathon - again the kind of thing I haven't done in a long time and really enjoyed.

Other awesome stuff that happened...

- I went to Paris and got engaged!

- Went to Phantasmagoria which was as awesome as last year, but unfortunately still not as appreciated as it deserves to be. I'm pretty sure the organisers are going to attempt one more festival next year and I wish them the best of luck with it. There really is nothing else like it for such a low cost, I met some awesome people there and saw some excellent films I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. Their website is here.

- I discovered my evil twin is alive and well and has followed me to Brighton.

- Son of Moviebar was a regular highlight this year as I've mentioned pretty much every month. It's a very slick, interesting and entertaining event now and I've met some fantastic local filmmakers and seen some excellent films there over the course of the year.

- Went to some awesome gigs including Devo, Alice Cooper, Amanda Palmer, Birdeatsbaby and Bitter Ruin which leads me onto Brother Pete's music video and the launch night - another highlight of the year.

- Best films I saw in 2010...

Martyrs - Technically this was 2008, but it was released on DVD in 2009 (the same week as Ten Dead Men!). One of the best horror films I've ever seen with almost every essential element crammed in - it was creepy, gory, surprising, atmospheric and ultimately very disturbing. But the best thing about it was that it was a film about something, that it deliberately attempted to provoke thought and discussion about the darker side of faith and family and the secrets we lock up in the basement. It's a film I still find myself thinking about months later, although I am reluctant to watch it again. But enough ranting about how awesome it is - go get a copy if you're interested. If nothing else it will certainly surprise you.

Paranormal Activity - My second favourite horror film of the year. I even enjoyed the full-on cinema full of screaming teens experience - it felt like a theme park ride. A few people have criticised it for being 'not scary', which is fine, it depends on the individual. But I do think with horror films, indeed with all films, you have to go along with the experience - you have to want to be scared. Otherwise it just doesn't work. But aside from that I also thought it was perfectly executed and very cleverly constructed with a script and performances that were far superior to any of the other big cinema films last year.

Moon - Saw this really late but I thought it was fantastic. I think a lot of critics were right to say that it's a callback to the sci-fi films of the seventies, but I think all that really means is that it's a really good sci-fi film - something we haven't seen for a long long time. Sam Rockwell's performance is the best of the year and should definitely win awards.

Inglourious Basterds - I'm generally pretty open-minded and it bugs me when people go to see films with too many expectations, positive or negative, but I honestly expected to hate Inglourious Basterds. I didn't. And when I'd thought about it, I realised I actually really liked it. I don't think it was the film anyone thought it was going to be, it was certainly frustrating for screenwriters seeing someone get away with all the things we've been told we can't ever do and doing it well, but on its own merits I think it is a really different and excellent film. I think maybe it's the different part that really got me - the more I find out about the film industry, the more I'm coming to appreciate the people who do break the rules. And Tarantino certainly does that.

Midnight Meat Train - This was one of those films I was super-excited to see, an adaptation of my favourite Clive Barker short story directed by one of my favourite Japanese directors - how could it not be awesome? Then it seemed to disappear and went straight to DVD (the full story behind what happened here is detailed with appropriate venom by Barker and Kitamura on the commentary) which made me worry. But I actually think it ended up that way for being too good. It wasn't a teen slasher film, despite the fact that the premise could so easily have been squashed into one. It was a thoughful, atmospheric and disturbing horror film with a surprisingly excellent performance from Vinnie Jones (something I never thought I'd say).

If you're still with me, that's it for 2009.

Film I'm most looking forward to in 2010?

This one...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


So far in 2010 I have mostly been listening to shouty French metal:

Just bought their album Soma from iTunes and it's really really awesome. I have also been rewriting the same script non-stop for the last four weeks and may be going slightly mad.

Still, with the help of Eths and a bit of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult I finally finished the rewrite about five minutes ago giving me two evenings to polish it up before the deadline, or at least the self-imposed deadline that is my thirtieth birthday.

I seem to remember being in a very similar position last year...