Bloggus Interuptus

I have not been blogging with my usual regularity. Life has got in the way a little bit and I decided that I wanted to get some editing practice in, just as a way to keep in with the ‘I’m a filmmaker’ narrative I keep telling myself. Frameline.tv is my go to for lonesome film practice needs. Their site has great information for a would be filmmaker and they also have a load of RAW film clips to work on – editing, colour, effects – take a gander.

links to my own efforts are below.

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Stuck On Story

There are, apparently, many methods to use when coming up with a story or an idea for a story. The most common and by default, most popular, is the different perspective story. One reads or sees or is told of an incident or happening and tries to imagine it from a different point of view. There is also the method I favour of imagining what happened around the incident to cause it.
My normal approach to coming up with a story is to have one scene in my mind, it could be a short scene or even just an encounter, it may not even lend itself to a particular genre or even hint at a story, but once I have a scene played out in my mind, my brain will start building a story around it.
As tempting as it is, I will not start writing until I know how my story is going to end. I know if I start writing I will just waffle on, hoping that the story will work out. It won’t. Not that I plan the story or script out from beginning to end. Oft times I don’t even know what characters I have, introducing characters as I need them, a very first draft way to work.
There is a school of thought that says one should begin with a log-line, the story encapsulated in one sentence. This is supposed to help you stay on course whilst writing, the central premise of the work nailed in the log-line. It is not something that I have tried with any great conviction, as I have always found it difficult to come up with a log-line and anyone who pays any attention to any of the many filmmaking gurus who populate the net, will understand my anxiety at not being able to nail my story in a sentence.
According to just about every filmmaking guru ever, one should be able to tell one’s story in a sentence. If you cannot sum up your idea in a sentence, it is probably not very good. Admittedly, every classic film can be described in a sentence, but not necessarily a compelling one. Besides, what is of interest to one person is not always of interest to the masses.
The story, the script, has to come first, everything else is secondary. We have all seen beautiful films that did not quite work – “cough, cough” Avatar “cough, cough” – because the story was only written to serve the visuals or some new technological advance. Technology should help to enhance storytelling, not the other way around.
Write what you know is another popular gem that is bandied about by many a screenwriting sage. Though, on the face of it, this is good advice, what if you know very little? What if what you know isn’t particularly interesting? Some people have an encyclopaedic knowledge of stamps, but not many would want to see or write a film about that. If people only wrote what they knew about, some of the greatest and most imaginative literary and cinematic works would never have come to be.
This where the procrastination is both dangerous and a necessity. It is the fine balance between creative rumination and avoiding tackling a story or project. Sometimes one needs to take a step back from a project, let it sit awhile and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. One does not want to leave it too long because each work has its own momentum, a momentum that once broken can take a long time, months, maybe even years to get back.
Like any skill or discipline, as ethereal as fiction writing can be, the more you do it the better you become. Unless you repeat the same mistakes over and over, one cannot help but improve with consistent application. So it looks as though I’m going to have to contradict myself and launch into writing a story without an end in mind. After all, practice makes perfect.

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It’s Story Time

Ever since I have decided that I am going to write a feature film I have had a mini mental block. I have no idea for a story that I think will make a good feature length film. I do not even have a genre preference. My short films were all couples related, comedic with a twist. A five-minute film, however, is a lot different from a ninety to a hundred minutes feature.
It is not even the long form that I am worried about. My favourite type of writing or story is the serial, with the arc running the entire season. Two ideas I have tackled and written are first episodes of serial ideas. Even when I wrote a sitcom it was with a six episode arc in mind. I seem to find it difficult to think in terms of a self-contained, eighty, ninety or hundred minute film.
Even as I write the above words I know it’s silly. After all, the length of a project is entirely up to me. Obviously, some subjects lend themselves better to a more detailed – serial – approach and others work better as a short format. Still, no idea or scenario is presenting itself as something to tackle with the potential to become a feature length script.
I am thinking to just start writing, a bit like my approach to blogging sometimes, I write and something comes to me. This is not always the best approach, as even I have to admit that at times the blogs have meandered on occasion, the subject matter sometimes petering out. The reason I write a blog every day – one day film related, one-day fitness and mind related, alternating – is that waiting for inspiration to write was not working.
Sure, I would occasionally get inspired and write furiously and passionately about some subject. Unfortunately, it would sometimes be months between blogs and, practically speaking, writing so in frequently is not the best practice. I feel that my forced practice of writing everyday is more beneficial than hoping or praying for inspiration.
It is a practice that I think I may have to adopt in relation to screenwriting. Probably not on a daily basis, but thrice weekly at the bare minimum. One cannot be a screenwriter or filmmaker without producing some kind of work, whether it is writing, filming or editing, because without the doing I am just another bloke dreaming of accolades without the work.
I also believe that one’s brain adapts to the patterns and challenges you throw at it. My decision some months back to write everyday means that I am thinking about what to write or searching for a subject to write about everyday. I know that I am going to write a blog and on which blog it is going to be posted, so I am – or my brain is – always searching for something I feel I can bring my voice to or maybe write about from an unusual angle.
My thoughts are that I need to focus on storytelling. Though dialogue is my strength when script writing, people watch and enjoy films and shows for the story and the journey the story takes them on. The mechanics of story and scenes are something that can be studied extensively, with many a film guru or scholar on YouTube, blogs, Facebook and at seminars happy to tell you all the things you need to do to write the ‘perfect’ screenplay.
Three act structure, five act structure, fifteen point plot map, the twenty-two must use elements, so many possible ‘right’ methods to adopt or follow, but when all is said and done, it is still people doing stuff that they care about or cared for, that create stories that you might empathise with.
The upshot of all of this waffle is I need to start writing more fiction. Writing and wanting to write is what has ultimately driven me thus far. It is time to get even more strategic; it’s story time.

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Do The Doing

I have been editing. In an effort to be mildly proactive, as well as exercising some creative procrastination, I looked up the Framelines.tv website to see if they had been doing anymore interactive editing stuff. Turns out they have. A while back I found their site through a link and had fun editing some of the raw footage they provide specifically for that purpose.
At that time they had put up a collection of clips for a horror scene. You not only get to edit it but colour and work on sound design as well. It proved very popular, with many edits popping up on YouTube and Vimeo. My effort is here.
Having not fired up the old editing software for awhile – I use FCPX – and not having used it since the last update, some of the interfaces had changed. All the basic edit features were, thankfully, still the same. Most importantly, the keyboard shortcuts are the same, though I believe a lot of the shortcuts are common across editing software.
I found two lots of footage to play with, one a hospital scene with a doctor breaking bad news to a couple. This scene was for the student – me – to concentrate on was is called an L cut. An L cut is when one character is speaking and you switch to see the reaction of the person listening to the point of some relevant information. As the scene is about the talking and the actors’ reactions the editing should be natural and feel unobtrusive.
As I mentioned, I have not edited for awhile and found this more challenging than I would have expected. The actual cutting was not too difficult and the colour work was quite straightforward, sound, however, was hard, not the dialogue, but the mood music, which after four hours of editing was probably not done to the highest standard. You can judge my attempt for yourself here.
The second project was much more to my liking, though I must admit still not easy. An action project, it sees a woman walking into a room, shotgun at the ready. She is accosted from behind by a man, who she quickly dispatches. She turns to face a second assailant, who tries to punch her. Slipping the blow, she knees him to the body. He is followed by another assailant who swings a baton at her, which she evades and takes him down with an elbow. She then pulls out two hand guns and shoots a fourth stooge. This all happens in less than two minutes. The edit is kinetic, to say the least.
I have not even begun to work on the sound or look for music – freesound.org is my go to for all things sound – and I have only added a Sony LUT that I’ve reduced the intensity of by twenty-five percent as far as colour correction goes. All I have at the moment is a rough edit and rather than rush the work – I must admit that the excitement of editing the hospital scene, dull though the scene is, did have me rushing – I have left the edit for another day.
My meandering approach to becoming a filmmaker – though I have made films, I do not consider myself a filmmaker, even if one only has to eat one person to be considered a cannibal. I’m not sure the same holds true for filmmaking. – I am writing with regularity, though not scripts, the ideas are coming and the want to create is definitely back. I am edging toward doing.
Ultimately, it is only the doing that matters and in this regard – and the fact that I really enjoy it – getting back to editing has been a great step. I very much want, almost need, to write a feature film now. I have always leant more toward television writing as I have more of a love of television than I do of film, but from a creative standpoint – story, editing, colour, directing, production – film is where I see myself going. Just got to keep doing.

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Big Boys With All The Toys

I was speaking with a friend of mine who is in the film and television industry. He is lucky and personable enough to always be in demand for his directing talents. The last few years have been busy for him, with a long cherished project coming to completion and various television jobs. He also directed a comedic feature, whilst hawking around another biopic project. This is a man who keeps busy.
With the various platforms and streaming services available all needing content, a man such as he is, can, without too much of a herculean effort, keep themselves in demand, as he has done. As grateful and happy as he is to be a working director, the film industry still remains a source of frustration.
In years gone by, tentpole, summer movies would, as they do now, be the big hitters in the season, the viewing masses flocking to see them. Typically, they would dominate the early July weeks and everybody in the industry, the smaller players, respected that. Over the past few years, since the House of Mouse bought, well, everything, there has been a very different approach to marketing.
Disney’s omnipresence in the film business cannot be overstated. The company dominates the film world. Owning not only the Marvel Studios brand, but the Star Wars franchise and overseeing their sub-division of Pixar, Disney produce the most popular films on the planet through their various subsidiaries. It is not just that they own so many popular products, they also have the clout and experience to be able to saturate media with their output.
Films are trailed a full year in advance of release. They have standing room only Expos at the film and comic conventions, meanwhile their stars do social media, television shows and internet shows, keeping the money making machine going.
I wrote about seeing the quirky and highly enjoyable Colossal a few months back. It starred the Hollywood A lister, Anne Hathaway, famed for The Devil Wears Prada, Les Miserables and The Dark Knight Rises. Even with the kudos of Hathaway, the film took less than quarter of a million dollars in its opening weekend.
The democratisation of filmmaking has made it so that anybody can make a film, with the internet making it possible for one to get that film out into the world. Unfortunately, everybody can now get their film into the world. The sheer volume of media available to watch on every type of device and being widely accessible, means people have to be more discerning as it is not possible to watch everything. Because of the overwhelming amount of content and the fact that even for the most avid film geek, there are far too many films released annually to keep up with all of the good or even great films, the big boys have taken advantage.
Disney’s massive roster of talent takes the guesswork out of finding a good film. As I mentioned earlier, even an A list star does not guarantee any traction when it comes to box office attention. Remember, even a lot of the big stars are actors first and stars second, they still, for the most part, want to act. As much as they want to act, they also want to be in successful works, so the bravery needed to appear in quirky, independent films, evaporates for many an actor wanting to forge a career.
Though there have been a few sleeper hits, they are few and far between, with so many of the biggest studio films, outside of the Disney/Marvel/Star Wars fare, being sequels. The other thing that the internet has done, that has proved detrimental to the smaller films, is to make film watchers more savvy to the process and the goings on behind the scenes in Hollywood. Knowing the actual character of an actor or director of a film, especially if the perception is negative, can be harmful to a movies possible box office.
It is up to the smaller independent films to bring variety amongst the juggernauts juggling their tent pole offerings every year. After all, as much as we love the big films, it is the small films that inspire.

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Hating On Reality

As an aspiring film and television writer, reality television is an abomination to me. Lazy television, accommodating talentless, fame hungry people and selling it as entertainment. Here in the United Kingdom the latest reality show – it might be in its second or third season, I’ve really no idea and refuse to research it. – is Love Island, a show where a collection of beautiful, single, young people are thrown together on an island and given various task to complete.
The show has garnered a lot of press for a lot of the antics, mostly of an overtly sexual nature, that have transpired. I do not consider myself a prude and an adult is entitled to do as they please, as long as their actions harm no other, but Love Island, a show that is deliberately salacious and is so abhorrent I cannot bring myself to watch even an episode, I have been watching snippets on YouTube and it is as awful as I feared.
Musclebound jocks and dolly birds with too much face paint show off and cavort on a specially created island. At the end of each episode, the watching public gets to vote off one of the participants. The group learn of this by one of them receiving a text and reading it out loud to the rest. The programme is just painful.
Suffering three minutes of this tripe is almost too much for me, with one of the least popular bawling their eyes out, because the other least popular character decided to leave. Utter shite. There are inane conversations and way too much makeup on just about everybody. Looking beautiful – depending on one’s perspective – seems to be the only requirement for getting into the shop window that this show is.
With the modern penchant for social media being seen as viable a career option, with popularity allowing celebrities to earn substantial amounts of money, there is a never ending supply of nubile, attractive women and hunky, gym-loving, vainglorious men prepared to embarrass and exhibit themselves for a voyeuristic and haughty public.
That reality television is so popular, especially in its present, obviously scripted, format is a mystery to me. There was a time when it was the contrast in the characters involved that was what made this type of show interesting and watchable. Now everyone in these shows looks the same. All of the participants fall into the eighteen to twenty-four demographic, all are slim and conventionally attractive or buffed up and pseudo-cool.
The public, however, laps up the show, happy to adopt it as a sort of guilty pleasure that makes them feel better about themselves, not being silly enough to allow themselves to be filmed for cheap entertainment. The feeling of superiority is reinforced by the type of people they tend to choose, who even for all their good looks and fine tans are obviously from working class backgrounds.
That this show is so popular says as much about the viewership as it does the participants, the class system and perceptions of the watchers that they are somehow better than those they are watching because, like spectators at an old Roman arena, they are being entertained. Of course, I see the irony in my rant, how by deriding Love Island, I too am viewing myself as above such fair. As I began, I have never been a fan of reality television. I want to be told stories. If I want to observe real life I can go sit on a bench in my local park. If I want to hear about other people’s mundane love life’s, I can get on a bus and hear any number of less than guarded conversations, people on mobile phones never aware of the fact they are out in public.
Unfortunately, reality television shows are not only initially cheap to make – the cost goes up once any of the participants gets really popular – but they also appeal to the ever important eighteen to twenty-four demographic, the mass consumers of media. As lazy and uninspiring as reality television is, it is not going away.

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Watching Heroes

I went to see Spider-Man  Homecoming yesterday, the sixth outing of the popular comic character since its big screen debut in 2002. It is also the third rebooting of the character, marking three incarnations in fifteen years. When a failing Marvel comics sold the rights to some of their characters, before Marvel Studios became established as the connected cinematic juggernaut it is today. Bryan Singer’s X-men, released in 2000, kicked off the boon for comic book movies. The rights to the X-men were and remain owned by Twentieth Century Fox.
Sony Pictures, who had acquired the rights to the Spiderman, followed suit in 2002 with the release of Spider-Man, starring man-cum-boy, Tobey Maguire. A massive hit for Sony, two sequels were released before Marvel joined the film party with the movie that rejuvenated not only Marvel but also the career of Robert Downey Jr with the release of 2008’s Iron Man.
With Iron Man doing gross receipts of over half a billion dollars, Marvel knew they had struck gold. Superheroes were popular, unfortunately for Marvel, one of their best-known characters was still owned by Sony. Sony, no mugs themselves when it comes to films, rebooted the property, this time with Andrew Garfield taking the lead. Though hated by comic geeks and some film fans for being a lazy reboot, the film grossed three-quarters of a billion dollars.
As the Marvel juggernaut gathered pace, they had the foresight to connect all of their stories, with even some television crossover. As all comic characters, both DC and Marvel, have extensive histories and a rabid knowledgeable fanbase, faithful adaption of the characters is quite important. Along with fully rounded characters, there are the well-known story arcs and the many nemeses that are synonymous with each hero.
Anybody who knows anything about films knows that there was always going to be some artistic licence. Bryan Singer not only ignored the costumes of the comics – rightly – he also decided to change the ages and appearances and belatedly the characters of some of the protagonist/antagonist. Wrong.
Still, it would be an extravagant waste of time to recreate a moving version of a comic book story. The ego that is Zack Snyder did that with Watchmen, a near three-hour recreation of the comic. It looked good as his films generally do, but once one had read the comic was pretty pointless.
Marvel decided they wanted an overall story arc, one that would connect all of their films. They decided to go with Civil War. Now whereas Watchmen suffered from comparison with the comic because Civil War was across several titles it does not have the same problem, especially as Marvel have not recreated those stories, they have just taken the overall premise of the Civil War story and used it as the anchor for their films.
Back to Spider-Man. Spider-Man is an integral character in the Civil War story. Though in the comics he is older – in the new film he is a school boy – Marvel obviously felt it was necessary to try and bring the popular web-slinging hero into the fold.
So after Sony’s fifth effort, we have a sixth and third reboot with Tom Holland taking on the mantle of bringing Peter Parker and his alter-ego to life for the big screen. It has to be said the seamless way in which Marvel has integrated Spider-Man into their cinematic universe is a testament to their vision and forward thinking. Spider-Man Homecoming is every bit as slick as you would expect. You can check out a review here.
What I will say is it is noticeable, visually speaking, that this incarnation of Spider-Man is a Marvel one. The colour palette is definitely all MCU, with the best villain thus far of all the Marvel films, suffering from the muddy blacks that are the trademark of Marvel films. Apparently, Spider-Man is going to be the character that takes us, the audience, into phase four of the Marvel master plan. As it was with Iron Man, utilising the heads up display in Tony Stark’s futuristic combat suit, Marvel has anticipated how to fill the void left by the inevitable departure of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and given Spider-Man a hi-tech, talking suit, courtesy of Tony Stark.
The superhero genre has been strong for almost two decades now and shows no sign of slowing down. It will be interesting to see where the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes after the completion of phase four. Spider-Man Homecoming is a great start.

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