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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tarantino missed the best stuff!

Do you know Russ Meyer? You should. The jury is out - auteur or dirty old man?

For those unaware of the late Russ' work it is hard to quantify. He wrote, shot, directed and edited his own films. They feature odd experimental techniques, adventurous angles and non-linear narratives. Importantly, they all share a style that is instantly recognisable as his. This description would seem to put him in league with Kubrick, Goddard and Beat Takashi. However - his films also centre on the adventures on numerous busty girls running around and are shot on 16mm with limited sync sound.

Is Russ a genius?
Is he a perv?
Did he manage to turn his low-tech resources into a positive?
Did his small crew help more than hinder?
Could we learn from him and try to place daring shots above technical flashiness?

Russ came to mind when my colleague 'The Uncle' described to me the ending of Russ' film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. In the last 2 minutes we see images of every character in the film (however small their part) and hear from the narrator about what that character learnt. What a way to end! It's massively effective, fresh and costs nothing. Tarantino et al are always ripping off films from that era - the 70s. But I think they've been looking in the wrong place and at the wrong things.

Couldn't find the exact scene anywhere. But check out this trailer. This trailer is so direct its amazing. I wish I'd seen it before we shot this one for Circumference.

It's all here; love, rape, murder, dope, grass, abortion, suicide - something for everybody! If you've been waiting for something new, waiting for a film to shake you into a freaked out, mind blowing scene of 'right now' then come and see it man!

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Short film favour

Added bit: You can now download my scripts and adapt them for free under a creative commons license - from here.

I got this email from Adam Neale. I like the way he's written it and he isn't asking for any favours. I believe that humility is currently the way that marketing and communications are going. Anyway...

I’ve got a short film in a competition called ‘60 Seconds of Fame’ and am through to the finals of the Southern region and if I win I this round I get to go to the BAFTA awards!

Could you have a look at my film which is called ‘85’ and if you think it’s a deserved winner could you place a vote for it?

It can be found at in the Southern region. It’s one vote per computer so if you really like it and can find more than one computer then don’t let me stop you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

People who love Circumference - episode 1

The great thing about working on an 'open' project like Circumference is all the cool people who want to join in.

Today, check out Sparky Quano an electric one-man band from Japan who produces all his sounds from his guitar using no pre-recorded material, just looping.

He is in London later in the year.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reader Question

Film maker Steven Lake writes in with this question...

Hey Tim,

Ok so im throwing together some short scripts etc etc while being given all kinds of lectures on script/ drama/ creating a narrative, and what I seem to be hearing a lot is that without an antagonist or something to block the “desire” of the protagonist then the film won’t grab an audience. Do you agree with this? (snip)


My answer to Steve

I understand your question and will challenge you to think about this angle and see if it helps...

The antagonist can be the protagonist's own ignorance, prejudice, shame, fear etc. Can our hero overcome his fear of the outside world to win the girl etc etc. The antagonist can also be society or a group or an opinion or a world view.

Viewed this way more stories make sense and fit the model.

HOWEVER - the antagonist / protagonist theory applies to drama and story. A lot of shorts are actually jokes / sketches. Jokes do not generally follow this rule.

In conclusion: Antagonist / protagonist theory is useful if you feel your story isn't going anywhere. It does help with story. It also helps you to focus on the goals of ALL your characters (not just the hero) and the relationships between them. But it doesn't fit 100% - especially in shorts. But that's because shorts are not always about the story. If you plan to grab the audience's attention and make them interested in another way then go for it. Because that's the only true rule in film making - make sure the audience listens.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pitching Yourself part 2 - asking for the work

In Pitching Yourself we have asking for the work.

Guess what that is about? Yep. Easy one this - make sure you ask for the work. Easy to know, but hard to do. Hard, as it takes a little bit of balls. But a simple line to drop in is 'Have you got any current projects that you need help with?' or even 'What have you guys got on at the moment?'

Just make sure you do it - everytime.

New to this diagram?
What is it? - How do I get a copy? - Read from the beginning on the blog.

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram is by Tim Clague from a joint venture by Projector Films, South West Screen & MartonHouse.
The diagram can be used by anyone and is under a Creative Commons License.
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Berlinale Talent Campus

Next month I'm off to the Berlinale Talent Campus with 350 other film people from across Europe. If you're going to be there then let me know.

I have mixed feelings about these kind of high-profile training events.

For: Big exposure, a sense of camaraderie, being part of a high profile international event, meeting people from elsewhere in the world.
Against: Big audience means lack of focus, no time to get to know everyone, perhaps not selective enough (?)

For all courses I wonder about the motivation. For some is it making money? For others is it to look like you're doing something but you don't worry too much about the results? When I write some training materials for a corporate clients the required results are clear. Will this training activity increase results by x? Or will this training activity mean that x more people join every year? etc etc.

How are film courses judged on their results?

All this may make me seem cynical. But I'm not. Instead it means the focus shifts over to you. What are you planning to get out of course? What results or new ideas are you looking for? Try to make sure you get it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Geeky, but great

Geeky! But when will someone write a song about your film or your characters? You need a bandwagon for others to jump on.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

A new idea for film and the audience

I like what these guys are trying to do. Its a kind of grass roots type of film making where the audience pays up front.

An unlikely manner to raise cash if your mindset is old-fashioned. "Who would pay up if they don't know about the film?" But this idea is more of a film 2.0 idea - or cinema 2.0 as they call it. This invites the audience in at every stage to the point where everyone is making the film in a co-operative way.

Consider this - when the film is made you know that there will be an audience waiting to see it.

I'll be watching this with interest.

Thanks to Adam Neale for the tip off.
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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Get your FREE copy now

If you'd like to reserve your FREE copy of Circumference, my first feature film, I've made it even easier. There is now a link in the sidebar. CSS (and other technical) problems prevented me from putting the form straight into blogger so that's the best thing.

Sign up if you haven't already.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

New ideas are new problems for actors

A great article in Screen International this week (no on-line version of the article is available). It focuses on the Canadian Actor's strike. They are concerned about future revenue from on-line distribution. An actor often gets a cut from say DVD sales or on-demand TV sales but what about download sales?

However the biggest question is still not being answered. If user-generated content grows then that means the majority of downloads won't feature professional actors at all.

Could the future be web sitcoms like this where actors take the initiative...

Original article written by Mike Gubbins at Screen International.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cheeky ask

We're looking at getting a new video camera. It will be one of these three:

The JVC 250

The Canon XL H1

The Panasonic HVX200

We've used the Panasonic before when we shot the trailer pitch for Circumference. Its great as it can record DVCProHD. But does it look the part - important in front of clients? Also is the flexibility of the other two to allow you to changes lenses more important? The JVC looks great, is flexible and has SDI out - but service wise we have had problems with JVC before.

So a few things to consider. Any readers used any of these before or got a recommendation?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pitching Yourself and your USP

Pitching is the next slice. But as you can see Pitching Yourself comes first. When most people think of pitching they think of pitching the film. But I say (and others may disagree) that pitching yourself is more important.

There are some (quite) good reasons for this.

Firstly, scripts and treatments come and go, you'll be doing many of them during your working life. But hopefully you'll be pitching them to a recurring set of professional contacts. Pitching 'yourself' is a way of saying that you are in this for the long haul, you are not a one-script pony.
Secondly, you don't know their agenda. Pitching your script is a one way conversation. "I have a script, do you want to read it?" Pitching yourself is about outlining your skills, interests and approach. "Creating great dialogue is my main skill and I've been inspired by I.A.L Diamond more so than Tarantino". That way you might pick up some re-write work.
Thirdly, people buy from people (says Archie) If they like you, they will like your script. If they don't like your script, but they still like you then they will check out your next script. If they don't remember you, because you don't pitch yourself, then you have to start all over again with the next script.

At this point I should mention that all of this assumes, of course, that your scripts are first class.

At the heart of your self-pitch has to be your USP. USP is a bit of a marketing term and means unique selling point.

What is it that you do that other people don't? What do you do better than most? Find this, and this is your self-pitch. Some ideas of what a USP might be:

  • You were in the army for 20 years so you know what its like on the front line.
  • Your stand-up work means that you know how the audience reacts to the comedy lines.
  • You spend half your time writing film and half writing computer games
  • You've written over 30 radio plays so you've become really sharp on making your dialogue count
  • Being an animator has taught you the power of writing scenes that focus on the reactions of characters, not the dialogue

...and so on.

What's yours?

New to this diagram?
What is it? - How do I get a copy? - Read from the beginning on the blog.

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram is by Tim Clague from a joint venture by Projector Films, South West Screen & MartonHouse.
The diagram can be used by anyone and is under a Creative Commons License.
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Monday, January 15, 2007

Natural Selection or God

A little while ago now Potdoll was talking about a workshop for writers that she went on. This included some brainstorming exercises to help with inventing characters that are rounded and have some backstory. All good stuff. But not what I do. I pick a theme or mood for a new film and everything else flows from that.

That got me thinking again about something that I've seen all through my writing life. The 2 methods. 1 method (the workshop method) that states that no writer should know how the script will end when they start it otherwise there is no reason to write it. The other method (my method) says that without a good plan how can you hope to get a good script - by luck?

I now have a term for these that I think sums it all up:
Natural Selection
Divine Creation

The first one says that you should throw all sorts of things into the mix. The strong elements (the best characters, the greatest lines etc) will win and you'll have a better script because of it.
The second one says that you are in charge of this world. Its your world and your story and your characters. Look after them and its your job to make sure the narrative is satisfying for all.

So which are you? Darwin or God?

**note** Yes. That's right. This whole blog entry is just an excuse to fuel my ego.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

What makes a good film?

Added bit: You can now download my scripts and adapt them for free under a creative commons license - from here.

So what does make a good film? Which film is better than another film? In a way its a stupid question. And yet it is this question that voting for the BAFTAs (or any other award for that matter) forces you to consider.

I get to vote up to the nomination stage on all the awards - and specifically for the 'best direction' award. It's my 'joker' if you like. My vote for 'best director' counts for more.

I try and vote to the best of ability. I think most members do. And as such I had to consider what my criteria for best film would be. I find this the hardest category to vote on.

In the end I came up with these guidelines.

Would this film have been difficult to get off the ground? Was it a risky venture? Did it not play it safe? Is it challenging? Did people take risks because they believed in it and wanted to share their story? Extra note: this is not the same as being 'worthy' - worthy films can be safe bets. Some comedies aren't.
My vote that didn't get through - Apocalypto

Does it linger? It's easy to get caught up in the hype and the excitement of a film. It'd better be - because companies spend serious cash making sure you do. But we aren't judging that (yet). So I tend to try and think about films that hung around in my mind, that made me think about them afterwards, that I found myself talking to people about.
My vote that didn't get through - The Fountain

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Here's the list of BAFTA nominations that did get through (as stolen from Danny Stack).

Best Film
The Queen
The Last King of Scotland
The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine

Best British Film
The Queen
Casino Royale
The Last King of Scotland
Notes on a Scandal
United 93

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Craig - Casino Royale
Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Departed
Peter O'Toole - Venus
Richard Griffiths - The History Boys

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Dame Helen Mirren - The Queen
Dame Judi Dench - Notes on a Scandal
Kate Winslet - Little Children
Penelope Cruz - Volver
Meryl Streep - The Devil Wears Prada

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine
James McAvoy - The Last King of Scotland
Jack Nicholson - The Departed
Leslie Philips - Venus
Michael Sheen - The Queen

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Emily Blunt - The Devil Wears Prada
Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine
Toni Colette - Little Miss Sunshine
Francis De La Tour - The History Boys
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls

Original Screenplay
Guillermo Arriaga - Babel
Michael Arndt - Little Miss Sunshine
Guillermo del Toro - Pan's Labryinth
Peter Morgan - The Queen
Paul Greengrass - United 93

Adapted Screenplay
Neal Purvis/Robert Wade/Paul Haggis - Casino Royale
William Monahan - The Departed
Aline Brosh McKenna - The Devil Wears Prada
Peter Morgan/Jeremy Brock - The Last King Of Scotland
Patrick Marber - Notes On A Scandal

The David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction
Martin Scorsese - The Departed
Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris - Little Miss Sunshine
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Babel
Stephen Frears - The Queen
Paul Greengrass - United 93

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why are you even here?

After a good conversation with Danny Stack I reflected that...

The world doesn't need another short film.
Every story has already been told.
TV is a declining industry.
There are already 100 times more writers than finished productions.

If that is true - why are we here?

If you were writing 60 years ago would you be turning your nose up at TV because you only wanted to work in film? If you were writing 100 years ago would you turn your nose up at cinema because you only wanted to work for the theatre?

What are you turning your nose up at now? Is it what the world wants? Is it a growth industry?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The T-Shirt test

You have a film idea? Of course you do.
Good characters? Obviously.
Cracking dialogue? You bet!
A film that people would want to tell their mates to go and see because its so funky? That must be a rhetorical question. Yes.

Try this 'on for size' then. Would people wear your t-shirt? Is it that good? What would your t-shirt say? Would it capture the moment?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

John Cassavetes says...

"If you’re worrying about how to finance and distribute your movies than you shouldn’t bother making movies.’ I asked him what he meant and he said, ‘You make movies because you need to make movies. Everything else is unimportant. If you wait to get the money to make a movie then you shouldn’t make the movie. If you need distribution in place before you have the courage to make a movie then it’s not a movie worth making. There are many other ways to make money than making movies. If you need to make money, please find some other way to do it. You make movies to lose your money. That is the purpose of making a movie—to put your life into something—not get something out of it."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ray Carney says it as it is!

Here are some extracts from the full article. Its the best read I've had in ages. Let's remind ourselves why we love film - and why we struggle to make it work.

All art is supposed to be independent. Independence is its natural, its only true state.

Let's never forget, the independent artists are not the odd ducks in the history of art; the businessmen are.

It's hard to be original. Most of the time we live up to William James' maxim that we think we're thinking creatively when we are just rearranging our prejudices.

Rather than being unique, most movies are recycling operations. I call it the Chicken McNuggets syndrome. It's really always basically the same thing as last time, but you add a different sauce or spice to make it look like a whole new meal.

I know someone who goes around teaching a three-day seminar on how to write a script. Can you imagine someone trying to tell you in three days how to score a great symphony? But people are convinced film is different. It just shows their secret contempt for the art they claim to care about.

As Marshall McLuhan said, when real revolutions come along, they don't look like breakthroughs–they look like chaos... ...My point is that it's easy to praise original, innovative film in the abstract, but the particular case can test our patience. We cry out all of our lives for masterpieces, but face to face with one, we reject it.

Great art makes things hard on us. It makes trouble for us, because it denies us our easy, familiar categories.

The best way to improve attendance at independent theaters would be to charge more for tickets. Much more–say thirty or forty dollars a seat. Star Wars is like a Happy Meal. You can mass-produce both the meal and the movie so cheaply and sell them in such quantity that you can almost give them away. Art is different.

The postmodern dream has come to pass. These directors skate across surfaces and revel in their own deliberate superficiality. That is why these films are all ultimately ironic in tone. It's the curse of postmodern culture. Where nothing is real, irony is the supreme virtue.

Shine and The English Patient are cartoons for adults–no different from Schindler's List, Forrest Gump, or Bambi. They're as simple-minded as a children's storybook. To put it more bluntly, they're a pack of lies. We go in not to be tested and grow but to have our prejudices confirmed.

While the Hollywood filmmaker knows where he or she is going every step of the way, storyboarding scenes days or weeks in advance of the shooting, and going in each day with a set of predetermined points to make in each shot, real artists set off down a road they can't see to the end of. They work in the dark, feeling their way step by step, learning new things as they go along. In our smug, know-it-all era, it is clear that artists are almost the only the real explorers left, and that they come back with the only news that really matters.

True artistic creation is solitary in its essence. It is not done by a group but an individual. It is one heart speaking to one heart. And it doesn't ultimately depend on funding or support groups or government grants.

Take that on a Monday morning!
Cheers to Suki for the link!
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

YouTube - pah - its so old

You remember when YouTube was new because you could upload your own video. That's like so 2006. Now you can add bubbles to other people's YouTube video here. Its the next step, like its so 2007 and post-modern and that!

Actually its also a great way of adding commentary or subtitles to a web video.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Presentation skills part 3 - Treatments

At the heart of all your presentations is your Treatment. Just to be clear on the definition - an extract from Wikipedia describes it as...

A film treatment (or treatment for short) is a piece of prose, typically the step between scene cards (index cards) and the first draft of a screenplay for a motion picture. It is generally longer and more detailed than an outline (or one page synopsis) and shorter and less detailed than a step outline but it may include details of directorial style that an outline omits. They read like a short story.

But that's not the full story.

Yes, writing out the film in prose form is the basic goal. So that means no pictures, no anecdotes about writing it, no CV - those are seperate things. The treatment is a pure document.

But that doesn't mean it has to be a dry document. Treatments are often looked down upon by writers. "If I'm writing a script why am I wasting time with the prose?"

In fact a good treatment can be a great way to sell the film if you follow these 3 guidelines. Treatment purists will argue that the treatment is not the place for selling the script. But I disagree. If someone is reading the treatment with a view to funding the film then it has to knock their socks off.

One: Concentrate on the exciting parts
What makes the script great in your mind. Is it the action? Is it the setting? Is it the quirks of the character? Whatever it is, don't let this get lost in the detail of explaining the plot. Whoever is reading the treatment wants to be excited. You're excited about this script. Let them know why.

Two: Ensure it is easy to read
This can take a while to get your head around. But you need to ask yourself again and again, 'is this an easy read'. Does it flow? Have I included everything that is needed for the story to make sense? Have I included things that aren't needed and are now getting in the way? Are my sentences too long? Can I read it quickly?

Three: Make it easy to navigate
A big block of text that runs for 12 pages is hard to flip through. Try splitting it up into story beats and labeling these. Use bold to highlight elements that need to be remembered by the reader / viewer. See below for an example - the start of Kiss of Judas.



Against a blood red sky we see the silhouette of a strong, well built man in heavy armour – The Knight. An enemy soldier rushes at him, but the knight raises his sword and brutally cuts him down. But he is followed by another, and then another. Wave upon wave of the enemy comes, and still the knight slashes at the horde. The bodies fall to the ground as he holds firm his position. The sun rises to reveal a bloody, surrealistic scene. The knight is no longer standing on the ground but on a pile of the dead and the dying.

New to this diagram?
What is it? - How do I get a copy? - Read from the beginning on the blog.

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram is by Tim Clague from a joint venture by Projector Films, South West Screen & MartonHouse.
The diagram can be used by anyone and is under a Creative Commons License.
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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Heroes of the week

Read about the guys who broke into Apple every night to program the Graphing Calculator after the project was officially pulled. Now that's seeing the job through!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Web 2.0 and film news

The BBC (as reported on their own news!) has decided to make some of their programming available of peer-to-peer networks. If people wanted to watch them then they are probably already on there. If people don't want to watch them then giving them away still won't work. But its good to see them doing it anyway. Is peer-to-peer releasing on your distribution strategy?

Time Magazine has decided the person of the year is 'You'. That is - it is the bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers etc. Nice of them to say so. Of course I was too busy reading blogs to actually buy the magazine of course! And the article has some great posed, studio shot photos to go with it - I'm not sure they actually understand what user-generated content is!

Both of these articles focussed my thinking on one thing. Where is the money going to come from? I had to skip an ad to get to the Time article. Is this the way forward for all media? And do we want that? Most of the web2.0 companies have yet to make a profit. And does the idea of pre-paid media that doesn't care if it upsets advertisers (eg BBC) become more important in that world?

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year recap 2

Last year, I said I wanted to do this in 2006...

Just one important change. My own time discipline. Blogs, festivals, writing, TV 2.0 ideas, getting work - these all take time and I need to be better at slicing them into work slivers and eating them (too much christmas turkey invaded that analogy I think!).

I think I have been better at that - in fact the whole Scriptwriter's Life philosophy has come out of it.

My challenge for myself in 2007 is to get back into the thinking mode and start putting forward some more new ideas. Circumference and 365 films both came out of the last 'thinking aloud' time. But I need to be thinking now for 2008!

Things achieved in 2006:
Predictions for 2007:

  • More Structure 2.0 films
  • One cinema chain will break out. They will either get some showmanship going on - or will put forward a very purist proposition (no popcorn etc). My guess is the first of those two options.
  • One of the channels will start billing their programmes in a new way - the "What do I get out of it" way.
  • A procedure movie will be a surprise hit in the Autumn.
  • Someone I don't know will use the term 'storydust'
  • Japan will become the new cool. Everything will look Japanese in style.
  • A film funded by another industry will be in the top 10
  • Porn stars will cross over into mainstream cinema
  • a company will sponsor a semi-major channel (eg. more4)

Still from Children of Men - the most realist vision of the future I've seen in a film for years.

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