Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Jenny Ringo 2 - Pre-production Diary 1...

At some point during the endless post-production of Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw I started to think about possibly developing it into a TV series, or at least having some idea of how that would work should I ever get that far. The issue with this was that I was all out of story ideas - I pretty much just had the one. So I asked a few friends who also worked on the film to come up with a couple of potential episode storylines. I took the best of these and collated them into a pitch document. I then submitted this to a couple of BBC schemes and never heard anything back. That would have been the end of it but the story ideas were really good and it seemed like a bit of a waste not to do anything with them at all...

A few months ago, just after the film had been properly finished, I was chatting with Darren who shot the film and we drank too much and started talking about making another one. I mentioned one of the storylines Geraint D'Arcy (who also built the tongue creature) had come up with and we decided it should be pretty straight forward. And then we made bold claims about all the things we would do different this time and how it would all work out so much easier because we are obviously brilliant at this now.

The next day I woke up with a hangover and a sense of creeping dread as I realised I had accidentally committed myself to making another short film.

Over the next few weeks I asked around to see if others from the old team were interested in working on another film. My wife Andrea agreed to produce again, Brother Pete and his girlfriend Charlotte were up for being our art department, and crucially Rosie and Lukas, our two leads from the previous film, were onboard. I think if they hadn't wanted to do it I may have abandoned the idea as the storyline for the second film had really been shaped by their performances in the first film. That, and the fact that they are brilliant and I really want to work with them again.

Then we had a really unproductive production meeting in which the answer to all questions was 'We'll have to wait for the script.' And for once this was out of my control.

I'd spoken to Geraint a few weeks prior to this meeting, told him we were thinking of using his idea for the next film, and then I asked if he wanted to write it. This may seem like an odd decision considering that I made the first film primarily to see how my writing worked without outside interference. But I'd done that now, and decided it worked very well (even if I do say so myself). If I had written this one I think it would probably have been more of the same. I also would have felt like a bit of a fraud taking what was a rather genius little idea for a story then passing it off as my own.

However, this put me in a strange and unfamiliar position. I found myself sending nonsensical e-mails with bits of ideas that could never be tied together, as well as music recommendations and links to scenes from films. In other words, lots of random and probably unhelpful stuff of the type I have often received from directors and producers over the years. Once I got the first draft I sent pages and pages of rambling notes, and then on the subsequent draft I sent pages of contradictory notes when I started to figure out what the film was about. Basically, I did everything that I hate people doing to me.

At the same time, I made sure I did three things that people quite often don't do. If you happen to be giving notes to a writer at any point in the future I seriously recommend following these 3 steps. There is a reason I've only really managed to successfully work with one director, and that's really down to him doing the following. And it mostly just comes down to courtesy.

So when someone sends you the latest draft of a script you've asked them to work on, you must:

1) Say thank you immediately!

Writing a script is a lot of work. There have been many occasions when I have been up writing well into the early hours of the morning writing a script. It is then really annoying when the person I send that script to doesn't even acknowledge that they've received it.

2) Read it as soon as possible.

As above. If someone has put the hours into working on something for you, then you can put an hour or so into reading it. The angriest I ever got with someone I was writing for was when they told me they'd read the first 30 pages of a feature script and decided it wasn't working. I'd written 90 pages based on their idea, and they couldn't be bothered to read it all. But that's a rare case. Usually people just don't respond at all for weeks. On one project I sent off a draft, heard nothing back, then a few weeks later received a heavily rewritten draft back. Which is fine, but it would've been nice to have been told.

There's nothing worse than putting days/weeks/months of work into something and then having to wait almost as long to find out whether the person you're doing it for has even read it.

3) Compliment the good stuff.

Part of this is personal preference. I'm not someone who prefers to hear only the criticism because that's the useful stuff. It's rather soul-destroying when the first response to a piece work opens with 'I don't like...' or 'What isn't working...'

Plus, it's just as helpful to know what is working. I've worked on so many projects where I've overhauled a whole script only for someone to say, 'What happened to that scene with the monkey and the clown? That was my favourite scene!' If no one tells you what is working as well as what isn't then there's a good chance you'll take out some of the good stuff by mistake.

So I made sure I stuck to those, and anyone reading this who may be in the same position should do so too.

Aside from that I learnt a bit more about collaboration. I made sure that when I asked for things to be changed it wasn't just because I would've done it differently, and kept reminding myself that it wasn't my script this time. I learnt that it's not an exact science, and that it's not just the writer who is figuring this stuff out as they go along. I learnt a lot of things I'd read in books, but you never really learn any of this stuff properly until you do it.

Most of all, I learnt that I could be genuinely excited about the thought of making someone else's script.

So we're now on draft 4 and it's very nearly finished. Now I have to work out how we're actually going to film it...

If you want to follow our progress or find out how you can see the first film, sign up to our mailing list at www.jennyringo.com for regular updates.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Another Jenny Ringo review!

The Mike of From Midnight With Love has reviewed Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw - check out the review here!

You should definitely check out the rest of his blog too as he manages to strike a good balance between unique opinions on films we all know and love as well as promoting more obscure titles - such as this rather awesome piece on one of my favourite horror films ever, Let's Scare Jessica to Death.

If you're reading this thinking 'I have a blog/website. Why can't I review Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw?'

Well the answer is you can! Just e-mail me at whatwritesatmidnight[at]googlemail.com and I'll send you a link to an online screener.

Alternatively if you just want to know when you can see the film sign up to our mailing list at www.jennyringo.com

There is sequel news on its way, I promise!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

House of the Devil...

So last night I watched Ti West's House of the Devil and I really really enjoyed it. Pretty much everyone who's into horror films raved about this one when it was released a couple of years ago so I won't go on about it too much. I'd put off watching it because people were telling me that what was so great about it was that it was like a 70s film. I assumed this meant it was part of the rather tedious grindhouse revival and would have authentic film scratches, deliberately bad edits and knowing winks to the audience to show that the filmmakers are fully aware that they are making a bad film - when will people learn that you can't set out to make a good bad film? The bad films that are funny are only awesome because the filmmakers made them with complete sincerity.

Anyway, House of the Devil isn't trying to be a 'so bad it's good' film. It's simply a very good horror film. There is something very deliberately retro about it, but it's a stylistic decision and one that really helps the film. And it tells a proper story.

I don't want to give too much away in case you haven't seen it, but it has a really interesting structure. First off, West isn't afraid to use the first 30 minutes of the film to concentrate on developing the main character, played brilliantly by Jocelin Donahue. There are no scares in this first section which is exactly how it should be. This is something that is missed by so many modern horror films, but we just won't care about the characters when they're in danger unless we get to know them first. Here, we do.

What happens next is a slow-paced, perfectly executed building of tension. The majority of the film is scenes of Donahue's character wandering around a house on her own. You wouldn't think this could keep an audience interested but every time it starts to get boring West throws in a plot point, but makes sure to only give it to the audience. By the end we know more about what's going on in the house than the main character does and that really works.

The slow build really pays off when the horror finally kicks off in the last 15 minutes. Because it's so well structured there's a huge sense of relief as the tension is released coupled with genuine fear for a character you've come to sympathise with over the course of the film.
House of the Devil is a lesson in how to pace a horror film and for that reason it should be required viewing for anyone looking to work in the genre.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Finally, a Jenny Ringo review!

So after giving away 200 copies of the film to randoms in the hope that a few of them might enjoy it enough to write a review online, our first proper review actually came from a friend I showed the film to the weekend before last. I was a bit concerned it hadn't gone down that well on the night, particularly as we started watching it at about 1 in the morning, right after we'd watched the rather awesome Kindred. Luckily it seems David rather enjoyed it! You can read the review here or here (it's about halfway down). I recommend checking out his reviews of the other films we watched that weekend as well as the Row Three and Blueprint Review websites in general. One thing I really like about David's reviews is that he always tries to say at least one positive thing about whatever he's reviewing, which is something all bloggers/critics should take note of.

Speaking of Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw, the film is screening in Brighton as part of Cine-city on December 3rd after which I'm planning on releasing it online. However, in order to find out exactly how I'll be releasing it online you'll need to sign up to our mailing list over on the right, or at www.jennyringo.com

Also, if you have a blog/website and would like to review Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw please e-mail me at whatwritesatmidnight[at]googlemail.com and I'll provide you with access to an online screener. You can be as honest as you like, I won't hate you if you write about how much you disliked the film, I promise! All feedback is good feedback at this stage as I'm currently working on the sequel.

Speaking of sequels, I will post a production diary about the new one soon, I've just been too busy actually working on it.

And speaking of short films, I helped out on Simon Messingham and Mark Tew's epic short House Trafalgar at the weekend. I don't want to say too much about it as I think the less you know in advance the better, but I do think it's going to be pretty awesome. Here's the teaser trailer:

Hopefully there will be a MovieBar screening of the finished film in the new year.

And speaking of MovieBar, last Monday we screened the rather disturbing music video for Birdeatsbaby's new single Feast of Hammers...

...which is worth mentioning becuase a) it's awesome, b) I posted a Q&A with the director over on the MovieBar website and c) the single was released yesterday, you can get it here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A collection of awesome short horror films...

Rich Badley has posted a write-up of the Halloween MovieBar event which you can see here. If you couldn't make it along on the night, or you aren't based anywhere near Brighton and have no idea what I'm going on about every month, you should definitely check out the website. Rich posts all the films we've screened that are online as well as photos of the event like this one of Tintin and Dr. Zaius...

All the films we screened on Monday were really great so I seriously recommend you head over there to check them out. And feel free to leave feedback in the comments section too - I'm sure the filmmakers would appreciate it.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The most horrifying film ever made...

I run a monthly short film night in Brighton called MovieBar. Last night was a horror-themed special in honour of Halloween. It went really well, loads of people came along, we crammed in around 15 films all of which were really good and I had a great time, as seen here...

But there was another reason for inviting a large number of Brightonians to the Caroline of Brunswick last night; an ulterior motive if you will. You see, every month I advertise online for submissions, or I'll see something I really like online and get in touch with the filmmakers. But there was one film we screened lat night that didn't come via the usual channels.

It arrived in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago, a loud THUD as it dropped through the letter-box onto the hallway floor. Being a coward when it comes to such things I sent my wife to investigate. She returned with an unmarked envelope. Sure, we could've missed it when we came in from work that day; maybe trampled over it thinking it was a bill or something for one of the other flats. But the sound had been very distinctive and had been followed by footsteps on the street outside. Or at least they sounded like footsteps at first, but soon became more like something large with many legs scuttling along the road. Sometimes out of the corner of my eye I still see the monstrous shadow I caught slipping around the corner of the street when I peered out from the bedroom window...

I opened the envelope. Inside was a DVD. Fine, I thought, someone has decided to post a submission in the early hours of the morning. Nothing odd about that. Nothing odd about that at all. I ran through the list of films I had chosen to screen, but had no idea which it could be. A new submission then. Something I hadn't seen yet.

The disc appeared unmarked at first, just a few red splotches in what I now presume to have been the blood of the last poor soul to receive the film. And when I looked closer I noticed that some of the splotches formed arcane symbols in a pattern around the circumference. In the centre three words were scrawled in the same chilling style - 'DO NOT WATCH'

Dear reader, I watched it.

It was the single-most terrifying film I have ever seen. And I couldn't even make it to the end.

I did some research online. Others had seen the film. There were rumours on horror forums and blogs. Some claimed it had been banned in every country, others went further to say that a group of activists had sought out every copy and destroyed them all for fear of what it might do to the general public if released. Some claimed to have actually seen it, but the reviews I found were rambling streams of nonsensical text raving about seemingly unrelated subjects such as which circle of Hell contains the most bananas. Curiously it was always the very last post that the blogger in question had ever written, even when that post dated back several years...

Intrigued, I watched it again. The whole thing this time. And again. And after the seven-hundredth viewing (or thereabouts) it became clear what I must do. I knew why the film had been sent to me. I had to show EVERYONE...

Jenny Ringo stills...

For anyone interested in writing about Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw here are a few stills you can use on your blog/website...