Thursday, 28 April 2011

Placeholder blog...

At the moment there are loads of thing I want to blog about but don't really have time. I should really blog about why Jenny Ringo is taking so long, but am kind of hoping it will be finished before I have to. I have a couple of overdue bad scriptwriting experiences to get off my chest that I hope I can write in an amusing way (rather than coming off extremely bitter like I usually do). I have a note-book full of stuff about Italy. I would really like to blog about games more, particularly about why Vito Scaletta is one of the best video game characters ever created from a narrative perspective. I don't really have time for any of that right now, so instead this is a kind of 'I'm still here' plus 'Here are a couple of things I would mention at the end of a blog about something else' post.

It's MovieBar on Monday and Brother Pete has written about what we'll be showing here. Please come along if you're in Brighton and interested in seeing some awesome shorts and meeting cool filmmaking-type people - I could do with getting a good crowd for the next couple of events. Then there will be big changes and announcements and stuff. Also, if you're not Brighton-based but are interested in short films you should check out the website anyway as Rich Badley has been posting the details of past events along with the actual films themselves where available.

Also, Ross Boyask has started a blog about Warrioress, the fantasy/action film he has been working on for the last few years (which I did a bit of writing on). Check out the blog here - I imagine there will be some pretty interesting stories on the way!

I am spending the weekend writing about dead ninjas. If I get that finished then maybe I'll blog about some of that other stuff next week...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The best thing to do on a sunny day... sit in a darkened room with a beer and a bunch of horror fans watching a classic horror double-bill.

This was the screening of Night of the Demon and Vampire Circus arranged by Scare Sarah and Cyberschizoid as part of their Classic Horror Campaign. It was an awesome event at an excellent venue full of fantastic people and I hope they do more of them. Check out their trailer:

So in my last post I was raving about how good Night of the Demon is, when I actually hadn't seen it for a few years. It was even better than I remembered. I think next to The Haunting it's one of the few examples of a near perfect horror film. Every scene has moments of pure genius, including the seance scene which I'd completely forgotten about - it's a perfect mix of humour and scares and sums up everything the film is about. Here's the scene I'm talking about (if you skip to about 1.30 that's where the awesomeness kicks off):

It also struck me that despite the appearance of a gigantic demon, the film can still be read as a study on the power of belief as well as a supernatural horror film. There's nothing to say the supernatural events in the film are actually happening outside what the subject has been made to believe is happening and the film walks this thin line between reality and the paranormal rather well.

My only criticism is that Peggy Cummins doesn't have enough to do, but for me she'll always be Annie Laurie Starr so I can never quite see her as the damsel in distress. 

Vampire Circus is a quirky and odd vampire film with some of the most innovative vampire-killing techniques I've ever seen on film:

There is lots of awesome hair, a bizarre dance routine and a dwarf clown who rips his own face off. 

On a side note I met some very cool people at the screening including horror author A.M Esmonde who has also talked about the event on his blog. Check out the trailer for Terminus, a short film he produced based on characters from his books:

And on a non-horror note, I also got chatting to his brother Wayne who plays guitar with Welsh rock band V0id. I've since been listening to their latest album Zer0 and it's pretty awesome - they're kind of like Feeder but a bit rockier.

In other news I've been having various Jenny Ringo meetings/conversations/drinking sessions recently and will post a full update soon. It's looking like we're getting very close to being finished, although there may still be quite a bit of work to do on the sound.

Now I'm spending the rest of the bank holiday weekend finishing the other rewrite I was supposed to do in March and not playing Bioshock. And if I get time I'll start writing up the epic blog about my trip to Italy a couple of weeks ago...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Classic Horror Campaign...

Fellow bloggers Cyberschizoid and Scare Sarah have been running a campaign to build awareness of classic horror films with the aim of bringing those films back into favour. Specifically they hope to convince BBC to restore their late-night classic-horror double bill. To help promote their cause they have arranged a screening of their own double bill of classic horror films - Night of the Demon and Vampire Circus. The screening takes place at the Roxy Bar And Screen, 128-132 Borough High Street, London at 3pm on Friday 22nd and costs a very reasonable £5. You can find more details here.

Night of the Demon is without doubt one of the greatest horror films ever made. It's creepy, it deals with black magic in a way that's effective and believable, the cast are awesome (including Peggy Cummins from my favourite film of all time Gun Crazy) and it's based on a MR James story. If you haven't seen it you should definitely come to the screening, because then you also get to see it with a group of like-minded horror fans which is always fun.

As for the campaign in general, I think anything we can do to raise awareness of classic cinema is important. When I was a student it felt like classic films were everywhere. Half of my degree was studying film so it was always there and always important. When I was being a proper student i.e. sitting on the sofa during all day smoking and drinking too much in an effort to cure my hangover from the night before there would always be some classic or other on TV to help take my mind off numerous existential crises. But at the moment I'm long out of university and don't have a TV aerial and while my Lovefilm list is dotted with films I feel I should've seen but never have those classic movies just don't seem as big a part of the world at large anymore. What I mean is, I rarely get into conversations at work or even with my filmmaking peers about old cinema. Sometimes someone might mention something from the 70s but generally that's about as far back as people go.

And then occasionally I meet a real connoisseur of classic cinema and am made to realise how few of the great films I've actually seen. Or I see something like Rififi (a recent example I saw for the first time recently) or Roman Holiday (which I watched again yesterday and always forget just how good it is) and I rave about them to everyone I meet like they're the hot new films that only came out last week. I'm going off topic here a bit, but my point is there are great treasures in the history of cinema and anything that celebrates that, like the Classic Horror Campaign, deserves to be supported. Which you can do by signing their petition and going along to their screening next week.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


So I'm at the end of a ridiculously busy month. Except I'm not, I'm at the beginning of the month after the ridiculously busy month by which time everything was supposed to be finished. It isn't. I've still got a couple of script polishes to finish. And I need to finish (well, really I need to properly start) the other rewrite I was supposed to be doing last month.

The biggest reason things didn't go to plan was that the script I got paid to rewrite turned out to be THE MOST DIFFICULT SCRIPT I HAVE EVER WORKED ON. Here's what happened. I was approached to fix the dialogue as English isn't the first language of the director who wrote the original script. It was written in English, just the grammar and sentence structure was off in places. Fine, that should be easy. Only when I read the script I noticed a few problems. Well, I'll be honest - I found the script a real struggle to get through. The first Act was okay, but after that it just kind of meandered towards the end. It was just a bunch of scenes. At one point when I got into rewriting it I was really struggling to work out the plot so I wrote a breakdown of the scenes in the original draft and wrote down exactly how the plot moved forward in each scene. It hardly moved at all. It almost seemed to be going backwards. By the 3rd Act everyone was the same as they were at the beginning and nothing had really changed. So I suggested some fixes.

What started as just fixing the dialogue turned into an epic rewrite. The first Act was deceptively easy. I could use a lot of the original material and it was just a case of reordering some scenes, adding a few new ones and rewriting the dialogue. But the second Act needed a complete overhaul, and the more I changed the more original material I had to write. By the third Act the original script became irrelevant - all my characters were in different places now. I was writing a completely new 25-30 pages. It was slow progress, and I spent at least a week going back over what I'd already written and trying to figure out where to go. The issue was I hadn't planned anything. Usually I'd have the whole script and structure outlined, but I'd been relying on the original script to do that for me. Which it couldn't do because I'd changed everything. So I went back to the drawing board, planned it all out, went back and changed bits earlier on to make my newly planned 3rd Act work.

I finished it at around 2am Friday morning - the second time last week I'd been up that late writing on a school night, which might explain why my driving lesson after work mostly involved me driving onto the pavement. Now I'm concerned that what I've produced is a completely difference script and not at all what I was asked to do. I know it's 100 times better and I hope that will be obvious, but given the director had trouble seeing the problems with the original draft I think convincing everyone else this is the better version may take some perseverance But I'll worry about that next week.

MovieBar was last Monday and Rich Badley has done a full write-up with links to all the films here

This was the third one I've run and a bit of an odd one this time. On the one hand it was fantastic - we showed some great films and had brilliant guests. I got to catch up with some old friends and met Jobbing Scriptwriter himself Phill Barron who wrote some very nice things about the event on his blog. At the same time we were sharing the pub with some very loud groups of people who refused to keep quiet which made it a little frustrating. I think it may be time we found another venue, which seems like rather a lot of effort but if anyone knows of anywhere in Brighton that might be suitable please let me know. It needs to be a pub, otherwise it will stop being MovieBar and just becomes Movie, which was the name of a surreal detective game on the Spectrum with bouncing dogs:

Ideally we need somewhere that either has a separate screening room or is somewhere we can take over completely. I have a meeting with one place next week but I could do with a few options.

On a random note, Brother Pete has written a very well thought-out  review of universally hated film Sucker Punch here. I haven't seen it so can't comment, but I'm all in favour of positve reviews and especially those that rally against the general opinion of the entire internet.

And while I'm mentioning random things I've been listening to Creeping Alopecia by Laura Moody a lot since I heard it a couple of weeks ago. It's a perfect mix of awesomeness and insanity and I love it:

Next week I'm going to Italy to meet a director of another project I'm working on. He wants to show me some locations. I am excited and also slightly apprehensive as it may all be a bit weird. I will keep a diary and post it here.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Film I Always Go Back To: Queen of the Damned

I got an invite to a blogathon organised by Kid In The Front Row. The subject was a film I keep going back to (i.e. a film that isn't necessarily my favourite and could even be pretty bad but that I keep watching regardless). Being about a week away from finishing one of the two rewrites I said I'd have done by the end of March I decided there was no way I'd have time to write about a film that's not very good. But then I started writing it in my head anyway so here goes. When you're done reading this one head over to Kid In The Front Row to read his post on You've got Mail and to check out the films everyone else chose - I imagine there will be quite an interesting selection!

The Film I Always Go Back To: Queen of the Damned

Queen of the Damned is not a good film. In fact it's pretty terrible. You don't have to convince me, I'm not going to argue that it's an underrated classic because it really isn't. Part of the reason I like it so much is because of how much I disliked it when I first saw it. I was at university in Norwich. Posters for Queen of the Damned were everywhere but if you had missed the posters you would know about it anyway due to the tragic death of Aaliyah who played the Queen of the title. And if you had an interest in the increasingly popular but annoyingly named nu-metal genre you would have seen the music video for Cold by Static-X a hundred times: 

Not through choice, it was just that MTV2 seemed to be playing it on a loop. I was a huge fan of the increasingly popular but annoyingly named nu-metal genre and had therefore been reading about the film and the Jonathan Davis soundtrack for months. I should also point out I was not a fan of Anne Rice, hadn't particularly enjoyed Interview with the Vampire and had no interest in reading the source material (I did eventually read Queen of the Damned out of curiosity - the film was better). Mostly I was interested because of the music. 

So I took my future wife to see the film. We hadn't been together that long and were still figuring each other out. We watched the film, sat through the credits, left the cinema in silence. Neither of us dared say what we thought in case the other really liked it. I can't remember how it started, I think there may have been some cautionary testing of opinion; statements like 'that was interesting' and 'hmm...yes...well'. I probably talked about how the music was good in an attempt to justify making her sit through it. But at some point we realised neither of us were particularly impressed and we spent the next few hours discussing every ridiculous moment and plothole. I think we talked about that film more than we've talked about anything we've seen since. We bonded over its awfulness. In a way it was the perfect date movie. But my fascination with this film didn't end there. 

Queen of the Damned became the first film I owned on DVD. My first DVD ever. It came in one of those cardboard cases they don't use anymore. I didn't even have a DVD player, but I had briefly moved in with my parents again after university so could watch it on theirs. It was bought partly as a joke because I thought the director's commentary would be funny. It wasn't particularly - just Michael Rymer talking about the differences between the film and the book. It was actually based on two books meaning a fair amount of adaptation took place resulting in a pretty boring commentary. Still, I owned it now. Not that I would ever watch it again... 

The first time I rewatched Queen of the Damned was when I was living on my own in Chelmsford. I think I had just come in from a Friday night out and decided to watch a film. At that time of night and with that much beer in me the Fukasaku box-set I was working my way through didn't quite appeal so I looked elsewhere. What would be the perfect film to watch drunk on a Friday night? Queen of the Damned, obviously. I've probably done the same thing about five or six times since then. It's become a film I'll always have time for. I don't do much repeat viewing these days - I have several shelves full of unwatched DVDs so I'll generally choose something new. But if my eye catches Queen of the Damned as I'm scanning the shelves I will always, just for a moment, consider watching it again. I could watch it right now. 

So why do I find a film that I readily admit is terrible so appealing? I think it's a few things. Partly I think it's the intention. I think the idea of a vampire rock band is awesome, but the Anne Rice mythology just complicates it and makes it messy. If it had simply been the vampire rock band story it may have worked, but the epic back story, the community of vampires and even the Queen of the Damned herself - none of that really works. But the idea was good and the filmmakers had good intentions.

I also think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it reminds me of my wife and of an unintentional milestone in our relationship. Thinking about it a lot of the times I've ended up watching it have been when she's been away. But there's another reason too, and here's where I do exactly the same thing I did on the night we first saw it and try to use the music as justification. 

As mentioned above I was a huge nu-metal fan. At the time a lot of other people were too. I got into it a bit late really - I was in my early 20s and most of the fans tended to be in their mid-to-late teens; my younger brother's generation. Those few years make all the difference at that age. And one of the reasons I eventually stopped going to nu-metal gigs was because the average age in the room started to make me feel like an old man at the age of 25. My generation was supposed to like proper metal - Metallica and Guns n Roses and Slayer. Twiddly guitar solos that went on forever. Or proper goth stuff like Type O Negative and Sisters of Mercy. This new stuff was supposed to bother me like it bothered most metal fans my age. It was silly and childish and featured a lot of angry white men jumping around and occasionally rapping. But it didn't bother me. I embraced it. I had found my punk. 

I haven't done what most metal/goth fans do which is to denounce everything they ever liked in their younger years when they hit 30. I still remember the reasons I liked the music and have retained an appreciation of most of it. I still genuinely believe, as I have said before, that the first Slipknot album is an avant-garde masterpiece. It's an album of noise and anger. It's nonsensical and really tough to listen to. It's the best kind of art - the kind that doesn't have anything for you to hold onto, you just have to experience it and see how it makes you feel (to this day I still don't understand how Slipknot became so popular with very young kids, but I guess it was because they wore silly hats). I felt the same way about Slipknot as I did about Velvet Underground and The Residents. Other bands had a similar aesthetic - Glassjaw, System of a Down, odd Korn tracks if not whole albums. I found them impenetrable but also fascinating and inspiring.  
Queen of the Damned was a celebration of some of the things I loved about nu-metal. It didn't really work because it got a bit confused in the process. The film naturally used goth iconography and characters (done badly - I've yet to see a realistic goth character in a film, but at least here they weren't used as something to make fun of) but that didn't fit the nu-metal soundtrack, or the fact that Lestat joined a nu-metal band. The one thing that did fit was having Jonathan Davis sing the songs. I wasn't a huge Korn fan, but there is something undeniably otherworldly about Davis' vocals that perfectly suited the character. If a centuries old vampire joined a band it seemed to make sense that he would sound like Jonathan Davis. Nu-metal also seemed to form part of the characters and story of the film. The idea that Lestat had always been a musician and that his music was the result of a variety of influences from all over the world works as an analogy of the origins of nu-metal. You could even argue that the central relationship in the film between Stuart Townsend/Jonathan Davis and Aaliyah represents the amalgamation of metal and hip hop that characterised most nu-metal bands.

But there was another parallel with nu-metal too. Around the same time that the film was released the popularity of nu-metal had started to shift into the mainstream. I didn't really know anyone who shared the same passion for the music, I just tended to drag understanding friends to see bands they'd never heard of and watch from the back as I disappeared into a mosh pit. The only awareness I had of its popularity was through music magazines and the odd occasion I went to metal clubs with my brother and his friends. And the impression I was getting from the magazines was that a major backlash had been brewing from 'true' metal fans. Older metal bands were coming out of the woodwork and being celebrated for their oldschool simplicity. Kerrang printed a poster of a grave stone with nu-metal inscribed on it, predicting the death of the genre by the end of the year. New bands that sounded like old bands were becoming the 'in' thing. Even a band as ridiculous as The Darkness was taken seriously for a moment, treated as the saviour of modern metal. This was happening outside the metal world too, with bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes making popular music sound like someone had raided my dad's record collection (and I mean that in the best possible way - my dad had an awesome record collection). 

The backlash was unleashed the moment that nu-metal entered the mainstream. Two bands really brought this about - Papa Roach and Linkin Park. Both bands had top ten hits in the UK. Suddenly everyone liked nu-metal. My flatmates who had made mocking my taste in music a regular pastime were now borrowing cds. Kids were wearing Slipknot t-shirts. Obscure US bands I loved were now popular enough to play UK venues and festivals. It didn't last, and the damage it caused to the nu-metal genre was irreparable. 

The hardcore old-school metal fans sneered at the sudden rise and fall of nu-metal, like they had been proved right and nu-metal had always been manufactured throwaway pop. The music press adopted the same policy, and after a while the metal clubs followed. I bought less music, went to fewer gigs and stopped going to clubs altogether (it's worth pointing out at this stage that the nu-metal backlash was, as far as I'm aware, predomininently a British phemenonmen, which is perhaps why most of the bands are still around today). As we often do, we just simply decided one day that we were above it all. 

To bring this back on topic, I think there's a parallel between what happened to nu-metal and the narrative of Queen of the Damned. Lestat challenges the underground vampire society by coming out; revealing their existence to the world. He is attacked and publicly torn apart for his efforts. In the real world bands like Linkin Park and Papa Roach revealed the existence of nu-metal to the world at large and, in the UK anyway, were subsequently torn apart by their peers. For me, I think that's what Queen of the Damned is really about.

None of this really makes Queen of the Damned a better film, but it does go someway to explaining why I feel such a connection to it. It reminds me of a time when I was really excited by music, of bouncing around in mosh pits, of watching MTV2 for a whole afternoon because they were only playing stuff I liked, of buying music magazines every week and spending my meagre wages from part time jobs on cds instead of essential supplies. That's why Queen of the Damned is the film I keep coming back to