Why Can’t They See Me?

I had planned to begin this blog with the popular idiom ‘the cream always rises to the top’, putting forward, in a roundabout and hopefully engaging way, the theory or belief that if your work is good enough, it will be discovered. I decided to look up the history of the phrase – research folks, just like a serious writer – and came across an interesting argument against it here.
It got me thinking, especially as the central premise of this blog is not about being talented, it is about that most dreaded of activities, one that anyone who is serious – that word again – about their craft, must engage in; networking.
What prompted this was a blog by the brilliant Lucy V. Hay (if you’re a writer and do not follow her you’re obviously not serious about it.) She points out that no writer should be without a social media presence and that this was also the perfect way to build your network. Hmm, network. Networking, not a thing that comes naturally to yours truly.
The thing is with networking is that it is sort of the equivalent of the long con. When you are networking, it is not necessarily for the now, or even for the when, it is advertising without selling anything tangible, the product being yourself, your personality. People want to and like to work with nice people, people they like. That’s not to say being nice is what gets you work or even noticed talent wise, it definitely helps though.
It is, as Lucy points out, about getting your name out there. Though many derided the work, both as a book and a film, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades Of Grey is known around the world, as is her name. As much as we might like to believe that, given the opportunity, we would only ever employ or utilise the best person for the job, if you are paying money to somebody and working closely with them, as much as the quality of their output matters, you would want to like them –  not have to tolerate –  as well.
Of course, there are those who could care less if they are liked, confidently believing their talent speaks for itself. That may well be true. One could indeed be an extraordinary writer, your gift obvious to any who should peruse your work. In years gone by, before the explosion of social media, you could, in spite of a less than warm personally, get discovered due to possessing great ability. Now, however, being popular, coupled with high competence, is what will get you noticed.
What’s that you say? It’s not fair, especially as you are so much better at writing than so many out there. No doubt you are, but think of it this way; an engaging and friendly writer has a social media following of ten thousand, you like their work but are not blown away by it. Another writer has a following of twenty-seven, writing heart-wrenching prose and captivating stories, only a smattering of followers but definitely superior written work. If both of these writers produce a book, which one do you think is going to gain the most traction? Don’t answer that.
These days especially, a social media presence is a must. If you can gain a large following, that’s even better. A writer with an audience is much more attractive to an agent, publisher or any person of influence than a bog standard brilliant writer, because not only is there less work for them to do, it also shows that the writer is prepared to work and push as well, beyond their comfort zone of just writing.
Now, a social media presence is only the beginning. You have to engage as well. Admittedly, this is where I flounder. I have quite the healthy media presence – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube – I am out there. It’s the interacting where I fall down. I read other blogs, tweets, watch short films on YouTube, I even tweet and link works of other artists regularly. What I don’t do is engage. I rarely comment I will leave a like, but that is about it. I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.

I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.
For a writer Instagram is crazy! It’s a good place to show your likes and loves – mine being film – but its link-less architecture makes it a very niche platform, better suited to visual than written content. So how do you stand out in a sea of millions of web pages – some with cat videos, which for some unfathomable reason are popular – and great content? If you have the answer, please let me know in the comments. I promise I’ll engage.

Posted in filmmaking, films and television, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love Of The Panther

The excitement is already building eight whole months before the film is due for release. A who’s who of this generations black stars in their ascendancy make up the cast. Chadwick Boseman, known better on the other side of the pond for his biopic roles, playing James Brown in Get On Up and, to the soccer loving U. K. audience at least, the little known of U. S. legend that was the baseball player Jackie Robinson in Forty-Two. Michael B. Jordan, who I first saw in the great little film Chronicle, but is better known for the wonderful Creed and the infamous, much maligned, Fantastic Four.
The luminous Lupita Nyong’o, magnificent in 12 Years A Slave. Forrest Whitaker, of far too many roles to list here, though most recently seen hamming it up in Rogue One, also feature. Angela Bassett, another veteran of many roles who will always be remembered for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It? Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out fame also makes an appearance, as does Phylicia Rashad, who will forever be Claire Huxtable to a generation.
The film is, of course, Marvel’s Black Panther, king of the fictional African land, Wakanda, home to the most precious (fictitious) metal, vibranium. Directed by Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station, Creed – Marvel has gone black from top to bottom. Initial looks at the King of Wakanda are promising, with the first teaser trailer – actually a bit long for a teaser but no complaints here – landing on Friday night stateside and pushing comic book internet geeks into instant overdrive.
Created by two white, comic maestros, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, back in the mid-sixties, the writers showed the infamous lack of world geographical knowledge always levelled at Americans and invented Wakanda. Admittedly. It was over half a century ago and the internet was probably not even a thought for a then, short trousers wearing, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who would bring about the worldwide web.
With so little to cheer about on this side of the pond when it comes to blacks in the media – even in the expected fields of my youth, song and dance, the positions now dominated by white artist – Black Panther is a big event for black people. Too often black people have had to, in terms of globally recognised films, look to slavery or hip hop and street gang films. The likes of Tyler Perry, a one-man media mogul stateside, might argue that his success is global, as would Lee Daniels no doubt, but America needs to remember it is not the whole world, even if they do hold the World Series! Though Tyler’s name would be known by most U. K. blacks, I do not think Daniels name carries the same weight.
Not since….ever, has a black film represented what Black Panther does; a black film, with a black director and cast, showing a black world. Barring a Hollywood shafting of Nate Parker proportions (they let Casey Affleck’s…ahem ‘aberration’ slide) or the film is Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four terrible, Black Panther will be a worldwide hit. With the recently released, woman-centric, Wonder Woman tracking great numbers globally and garnering the best reviews of any of the DCEU films so far, it will be interesting to see how Black Panther does in the already successful Marvel universe.
For Ryan Coogler this is a big film. The thirty-one-year-old director has shown himself to be a talented auteur – loved Creed! – and I sincerely hope that he does not suffer the fate of the aforementioned Trank or my favourite writer/director Joss Whedon, both of whom alluded to an uncomfortable amount of studio interference.
There is still a long way to go before its release, but I for one, cannot wait for Black Panther to hit the screens.

Posted in filmmaking, films and television, Other little things, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding The Funny

So I’ve embarked on the writing of the second episode of my fledgeling comedy sitcom. As I am presently at a loss as to how to move forward with getting the first episode made, I thought I would retreat to the safety of writing. I say safety, I mean purgatory. Why oh why did I decide to write a comedy? Especially an episodic one. Not only do all the normal rules apply – compelling characters, an engaging narrative, a theme, an actual story – but it has to be funny as well.
That’s kind of the point of comedy, the laughing bits, otherwise, you’re just writing a soap opera. As much as soaps have humour in them, they are not comedies. There is also the comedic tone. The first episode is quite gentle, with moments of ridiculous thrown in. That means even if I think up a hilarious, gross-out comedy gem, I can’t put it in. Wrong tone.
A lot of this blather is just so much hot air. With the sitcom’s premise and the characters I already have so much scope for comedic creation. The story is in place and there are even a few peripheral characters that could be utilised. Still, the mild panic of fashioning a wholly unfunny follow-up remains. Unfunny is the fear and the fear is real.
It might be karmic, all those times I’ve watched a comedy, disdainfully sneering at its feeble attempts at mirth making. Perhaps this is the spirits of all of those mirthless labours of love returning to haunt me. After all, who am I to think I know what is funny and what is not. Obviously, the issue is most subjects are funny or can be, depending on how they are approached. I just happen to be touching on depression, a subject and situation that many can relate to even they do not find it funny.
Depression is in itself not the ripest subject for chuckles. Though Woody Allen has pretty much built a career on mental neuroses and extracting the humour from the pain of it. Misery, after a fashion, can be very funny. As long as it is not your own misery. Even though many can derive humour from the misery or discomfort of others, it is not a route I am likely to take. I was always uncomfortable with watching characters embarrass themselves in fiction, especially if they did not deserve it.
Of course, a lot of the comedy will also come down to the actors. I know what I want to see, but it is different once the action leaves your head and living, breathing people have to enact it. No matter how vivid your imagination, tonally the voices that the characters speak in your head are still variations on your own. How they look will, of course, be very different to yourself, unless you have written some awful Norbit-esque monstrosity. So, the way it sounds in your head will be different from how it will play out in reality.
Then, by my own reasoning, I shouldn’t be writing the second episode, not until I’ve cast the first episode at the very least. As I have already started writing the second episode, however, I feel somewhat committed to completing it. Having spent weeks thinking of how to continue the story, changing it, coming up with parallel storylines for other characters and beginning to write, I will be proceeding with episode two, even as I try to get the first episode made.
It is all just an elaborate procrastination of course. As is the writing of this blog – whilst I’m writing this I’m not writing the second episode or recruiting for the first – but it is a way of building, building toward a sudden need to get it all done. That is how I work; faff, faff, faff, boom! I’m in the zone. It’s coming.

Posted in filmmaking, films and television, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Smouldering Boats

The performance coach and inspirational speaker Anthony Robbins, says that to move forward in life you have to burn your boats. The boats are, of course, metaphorical. We have not all reached Mister Robbins level of finance, we can’t all own a boat or boats. The metaphorical boats he was speaking of are the safety nets we might employ that prevents us moving forward.
The phrase is actually derived from history and a historical event. Caesar had come, a flotilla of ships in his wake, to conquer Britain. His forces were outnumbered by the British and he knew that if his command felt there was an opportunity for a retreat, they would take it. As his legions gathered on the cliffs, he had them look to where the ships were moored. All the boats were burning. There would be no retreating. With no other option than to go forward and fight, his forces advanced and defeated the British.
If you “burn your boats”, you have no option but to make a life on the island you have landed on. That is sort of where I find myself now, except I am not quite ready to fan the embers, hence the title. The thing is, my ‘boat’ has been smouldering for quite some time now. Years actually. The reasons not to let everything else go and focus on writing and filmmaking is simply fear.
I can come up with many other seemingly authentic excuses – because that is all they are – but the overriding one is fear. Fear of what though? There is fear of the obvious; failure and success. One does not want to fail, even if failure is inevitable on some level. Conversely, success is scary because it needs to be maintained, so is another route to eventual failure. Not that failure is fatal. The oft-quoted lesson of failure is that you learn more from failure than you do from success. Tell that to the practically failsafe J. J. Abrams.
There is also a strange guilt associated with wanting to ‘work’ in a creative industry, coming from a working class background, growing up around people who worked long hours for other people, so as they could pay bills. Even having felt the pressure of directing and making films, the pain of writing and rewriting, it does not feel like work or a chore. It feels like your cheating, as though you are trying to con a living.
There is the fear of disappointing people; family, friends, peers. If you don’t take a risk and stay uncomfortably miserable in your comfort zone, the only person you will definitely disappoint is yourself. Disappointing yourself is doable. You can lie to yourself, keep the reasons coming, the ‘I can’t just’ litany of excuses and stories you tell yourself. Truthfully, you know that those closest to you will support whatever it is that you want to do, especially if you are showing the necessary commitment.
What is difficult, is forging ahead with creative work when no one in your immediate circle – friends, family – has any interest in your thing. Everybody needs their circle. Even though writing is a pretty insular pursuit, having like-minded people around, those you can bounce ideas off and who understand the grind of the creative process. As much as any and every creative person, with writing or filmmaking, has a particular singular view or perspective on what their project or work should be. Still, nobody wants to be alone.
One has to get into the headspace, a selfish, singular headspace. That is where the bravery comes, the overcoming of fears, to forge forward, almost blithely believing that what you are doing is not only needed but will be appreciated and liked.

As long as the crutch of the job, other fiscal opportunities, sensible, credible excuses and the mythical peer pressure exist in the mind, the boats will always remain smouldering. It’s getting to the point where I must blow on the embers and push the boats out into the sea to be consumed and sink. It’s time to burn the boats.

Posted in filmmaking, films and television, Other little things, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Me See, Me Do.

More and more I am thinking that I am going have to write the next episode of my sitcom, even as I contemplate – see procrastinate – making the first episode. It is probably another way to avoid tackling making said episode. More procrastination.
I know I’m going to make the first episode, so I should just get on and do it. Yes. I’ll get to it. Instead of outlining the next episode or fashioning some pithy prose to persuade people to join me on my project – crew recruiting – I am having a cinema day. A female empowerment cinema day to be precise. Having just finished watching Colossal – a peculiar but highly enjoyable Anne Hathaway starrer, I have gone straight into the latest attempt by the DCEU to redeem itself in Wonder Woman, starring the luminous Gal Gadot. I realise referring to her looks is not very empowering, but the woman is distractingly attractive!
My stalling does seem to be working as I am sure I have the second episode opening worked out now. It has completely changed from what I had in mind a week ago, so score one for procrastination. Other elements of the story are coming together as well, though the main character is at a bit of a loose end at the moment. That, obviously, is a problem.
What you, dear reader, cannot know is that I write my blogs over the course of a day. Even though they are short, because I tend to write as I commute, my writing windows can be brief. Also with various goings on during any given day, the subject matter can sometimes get subverted. This being a film blog, after a fashion, and me having watched two films that bear similarities, whilst being very different, it is hard not to slip into review mode.
I am not going to review the films; Wonder Woman has already had many fulsome reviews, that I would just be reiterating and Colossal is a film that needs an in depth and researched review – I want to know who wrote it (though if you want to read a good review of it, you could do worse and go here). What I will say is what watching good films, which both are, does for me.
There is the obvious; they inspire, especially from a story point of view. That Wonder Woman is a tentpole film, but still manages to bring heart and emotion, as well as the thrills and spills you would expect, is testament to the story craft. Colossal is a different beast altogether, managing to make an incredible story, involving a monster a giant robot and disaster in Seoul, believable and engaging.
Watching good cinema, great cinema, having watched a fantastically intricate episode of American Gods the night before, one cannot help but be inspired by the talent of the writers and story makers. The visual flare of all the fare – American Gods is very cinematic in its shot selection – is breathtaking, true visual storytelling.
It makes me want to try different types of storytelling, explore less conventional methods of exposition, or in the case of American Gods, have the bravery to trust the audience to stick with the story. Of course, that takes compelling characters and a strong story arc. The detail in these projects – Colossal has a scene in which Anne Hathaway’s character, Gloria, visits Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar at his home and we the audience discover, just by the chaos of his home, that Oscar is not as together as he might seem. Wonder Woman not only has the detail you expect in a big budget film, it also, unlike so many of the rest of the DCEU fare, has amazing colour, though not quite on the level of the gorgeous Nocturnal Animals – cinematography to die for! – it still rises above the pallidness of Man Of Steel and B vs. S.
The best thing about seeing great cinema and television is the feeling of excitement to do your own thing, to try and emulate or match that which you admire. It may be procrastination, but it is the necessary kind and hopefully, it will help to make me a better storyteller and filmmaker.

Posted in filmmaking, films and television, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create To Relate

So I signed back up to shootingpeople.org a website and resource for budding writers, actors, filmmakers and all things related to film. I have not used it for a few years as it is a few years since I last made a film. Now that I am on the lookout for a producer to get my next project rolling, it seemed a good time to actually take some sort of action.
Having not been on the site for a good long while, I decided to take a little look around, especially as I’m paying for the service. I came across a pitch section that I am pretty sure was not on the site before. Basically, you pitch your project and ask for what you’re after – a producer in my case – and hopefully said person will see it on the site and get in touch.
As I have always said, film and television are collaborative, you need others to do good work. The pitching of scripts or stories, however, introduces another element of the creative process that some like to ignore or feel themselves to be above; acceptance and the need to be appreciated.
There will always be those people who proclaim that they do not care whether they are liked or accepted, they are going to do their own thing. Whilst this is, to a degree, laudable, only the exceptionally talented can really take this stance. If you are lucky enough to be considered exceptional amongst your peers, people will want to work with you, your talent allowing you to pick and choose your collaborators. Even so, the exceptional still have to display their talents – be accepted – initially before they can become choosy.
The truth is we human beings crave appreciation, some more so than others, but we all have someone in our lives, whether it be work life or personal, that we want appreciation and recognition from. The pantomime that is the annual Academy Awards, in these cynical times where everybody tries to show they are above such things, invites derision in some quarters. It is overlong, self-important, self-congratulatory and indulgent. It still matters. No matter what social media might spout; it’s sexist, it’s racist, it’s run by old farts, all of which is true, it still does not take away from its relevance.
It’s not just the Oscars. The Golden Globes, Palm D’or, Baftas, Emmys, they all matter to the content creators; writers, directors, makeup, set design, cameramen and women, special effects and every other type of job that is involved in film and television production. Though winning the awards is obviously nice, it is the acknowledgement of your peers, people who understand what you do, that gratifies.
Before all of that – or not, which is the reality for most – you have to persuade others of your vision, make them believe that you’re worth that which is most precious to them; their time. Not only must they believe that you’re worth it, they have to believe the project is worth it. Even after all of that, a good script, a good team, actors who are committed, you can still end up with a project that fails.
It takes only one believer, that one person whose opinion you value, that you respect enough to want to show them that their encouragement or attention was not unwarranted, that you have the wherewithal to push through with your project, that you can overcome the fears and get your work done.

Of course, your belief in your own project is where it all starts. Unless you are one of those outliers who happens to write something brilliant first time out of the gate, you’ve been working on things, rejecting things, rewriting, feeling disappointment when you thought you had nailed it, only to find out that it maybe isn’t quite….right.
A creative endeavour may not be necessary for existence, like oxygen or food and shelter, but for our sanity, to feel alive, to get that perspective one may never consider, life needs the content creators, the writers, the filmmakers, the creatives to believe, to feel relevant, to create.

Posted in filmmaking, films and television, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Together Now

The making of films or television programmes is a collaborative process, that involves the input of many, many people. With television being much more immediate and in our homes, the creative process, whilst still as involved, does not attract the same sort of attention for the unseen, working minds behind the output that film does. A film’s star or director are routinely used to promote the film, especially if their previous fare has been well received. In television, it is all about the story.
The landscape is changing a little on television, more in the US than in the U.K., writers, or the showrunner – a much more prevalent role stateside – is coming to the fore in television. Names like Greg Berlanti, Shonda Rhimes, Kurt Sutter, David Benioff are now the creative forces and decision makers behind some of television’s most successful shows.
Whereas a few of these showrunners are becoming well known and rightly lauded for their media contribution, it is still in the realm of film where the auteur is truly appreciated and, to some degree expected. In television, in the U.K. at least, the show creator or writer still remains an anonymous figure.
There are a few shows here in the U.K. that have elevated the creative forces behind them to the national consciousness. Sherlock has made Mark Gatiss and to a lesser extent, Steven Moffat, household names. Julian Fellowes is similarly well known due to the success of Downton Abbey. These are shows that have one writer or a duo as opposed to the more common setup of a group of writers working on an overall arc.
In film, it is usually the director who is credited with the overall vision of the film. Unlike television, films are a complete work, so the director shapes the whole look, from story and pace to visuals and acting performances, they are usually involved from beginning to the end. With television, episodic as it is, after the initial concept or idea, the show can be developed by numerous writers and generally have a rotation of directors.

With television, episodic as it is, after the initial concept or idea, the show can be developed by numerous writers and generally have a rotation of directors.
Where television has sometimes run into problems is when someone, generally a powerful writer, is too attached to the material, not allowing other writers or directors creative input or insisting on writing every word of every script. The brilliant ‘The Newsroom’ suffered from that, with the incredibly talented Aaron Sorkin apparently so invested in the material, he insisted on writing every episode. On a multi-charactered, verbally complex and layered show, it was a big ask to maintain the quality of even the first episode over three seasons. The first season was ten episodes, the second cut marginally shorter to nine. By the third season and final season, it was down to six. Even for a talent such as Sorkin, with his dialogue-heavy writing style, taking on the burden of scripting every chatty episode was too much.
The rise of the showrunner is a good thing. The quality of television has benefited from the vision of so many of these great creatives, their vibrant ideas and story arcs light up screens worldwide. A good showrunner though is good because they surround themselves with good people. Even if they are great storytellers in their own right, they know that utilising other creative voices, even those that are different from their own, can improve the shows and ideas they want to bring to networks.
Whether the showrunner will ever come to these shores is up for debate. Cable television is slowly becoming more prevalent, but the national broadcaster, the BBC, still remains, for a lot of us who would try to get a foot in the industry, the gold standard and first port of call. Still, I believe the showrunner or more Gatiss’ and Fellowes’ are inevitable.
With so many ways to get one’s work into the public sphere now and the aforementioned rise of cable television, the path of the future showrunner is gradually coming into focus. Just remember though; it’s a collaborative business.

Posted in filmmaking, films and television, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment