Tuesday, 28 December 2010

My favourite film of 2010 is....


Because I understood it. Not in a "oh, so that's why the bad guy has world domination in his sights" way, but in that I got the characters and I could see things from their POV.

I've never stolen/implanted thoughts and memories from/into businessmen's minds, I've never created a world-wide networking phenomenon, I've never appeared in a burlesque show (that I know of!), and I've certainly never tumbled down a rabbit hole (anyone care to explain that Golden Globe nomination?!).

But I have been a teenage boy at school dreaming of becoming a superhero. I even got close every now and then. I never bought a dorky snazzy costume battlesuit, but I sure as hell designed one.

So it wasn't just about the incredibly fun fight scenes (which were miles better than anything else I've seen this year), or the witty, boundary-pushing dialogue. It was about the characters.

And it was brilliantly written. The most emotional and tense scene I've seen all year is when Hit Girl is trying to save Big Daddy and Kick-Ass after sending the room into darkness and slapping on some night-vision goggles. If you've seen it, you really know what I'm talking about - great stuff!

So, yep - Kick-Ass is my favourite film of 2010.

Worst film - a tossup between The Last Airbender and that Resident Evil film (I can't even remember the name!) They're both full of plot holes, terrible acting, and characters you have a) seen a million times before, and b) couldn't care less about. In the end, it all comes down to this question:

Which is worse:
a) Characters locked in prison (zombies outside). Finally let loose "sinister bloke" who "knows a way out". His way is to simply open a door to a large hanger (no-one has thought of looking in here before?!) to reveal a tank-like vehicle. Which they can't use because the engine has been taken out. So they go out another way.


b) A civilisation of people who can control water. Literally, they can lift it up and make it fly about. They live on an island surrounded by water. The Fire Nation arrive to declare war. Yes, FIRE! They come by boat. The Water dudes don't think of sinking the fecking ships!!!!

So, if I can decide which is worse, I have my least favourite movie of 2010. It's a tricky one. The Last Airbender had slightly better action sequences. But Resident Evil had more women in tight tops running around. And a woman in water. Hmm....

Anyway Kick-Ass is my favourite. Yay!!!

Have a shiny new year everyone!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Johnny Got His Gun

Have you heard of that film? Probably not. I came across Johnny Got His Gun when I was about 13 and it scared the hell out of me. It came out in 1971, an adaptation of Dalton Trumbo's novel of the same name. Trumbo also wrote and directed the film.
"I'm just like a piece of meat that keeps on living."
Joe, a young American soldier, is hit by a mortar shell on the last day of World War I. He lies in a hospital bed in a fate worse than death - a quadruple amputee who has lost his arms, legs, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. He remains conscious and able to think, thereby reliving his life through strange dreams and memories, unable to distinguish whether he is awake or dreaming.
The film haunted me for ages. Joe's story is told through flashbacks from his living hell of a hospital bed. At the time, I didn't quite understand everything that was going on. Joe is visited (during his flashbacks/dreams) by Jesus. I got that it was Jesus, but a lot of the film's religious imagery went over my head. I watched it a again about a year ago and got a better grip on the meaning.

The scene below is particularly disturbing - Jesus telling Joe that there is hope. But as the scene progresses, God is forced to admit that there are some people even he can't help. For a religious person, that must be rather terrifying.

It's not the best film in the world. It's not amazing or fantastic. There's quite a bit of over-writing and the acting is sometimes painful. But the idea, the simple premise, is undeniably effective. I haven't told anyone about the film and not seen a disturbed face looking back at me.

So I've only seen the film twice and that's more than enough for me, thanks. Obviously it stuck a chord with James Hetfield, because Metallica bought the rights for the movie and released One back in 1988.

What say you? Anyone else out there seen this movie and were you as disturbed as I was? Any other films had that effect on you?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Songs that tell stories

I've said before that music is a huge influence when I'm writing. The playlist is a powerful weapon for getting you in the mood for what you're writing. But songs also tell stories that can directly influence - and sometimes create - a story. Here are a few:

Pearl Jam - Betterman

Metallica - One
NB: this song was entirely influenced by Johnny Got His Gun (the movie featured in this video)

The Who - Behind Blue Eyes

Metallica - Low Man's Lyric

Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms

Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues

The Rolling Stones - Angie

Bob Dylan - Going Going Gone

Kim Richey - A Place Called Home

Pearl Jam - Deep

Feel free to share your own story-telling songs in the comments.

Monday, 13 December 2010

3 hours and 2 pages later.....

.....I finished the latest rewrite of my hour-long drama.

WARNING: this story will be partially told through feline images.
I met with my uni tutor last week to talk over my script. All in all, good response, but some key issues with character motivation and plausibility - this is always a thing with my early drafts. One problem involved a flashback. It's a little too tricky to explain (and you probably couldn't care less on a Monday morning), but this flashback needed to do several things:

1) establish core conflict between Character A and B, 2) set up the backstory between Characters A and C, and 3) kill off Character D, whilst dumping the blame on Character A. Does that make any kind of sense?

Anyway, I gave myself two pages to do this in, since it comes very early on in the script and there's nothing worse than endless flashbacks to start a story, resulting in a delayed trigger/inciting incident.

I'd have had no problem doing this in 10 pages (60 pages would have been great!), but two pages it was. The biggest problem I had was choosing a situation. I had the final image firmly set in my head, so that wasn't a problem. What I needed was, literally, the location for the scene. I went through roughly 20 different locations and wrote the scene around that. Barely any of them worked and none of them did it in two pages.
It had taken me roughly 3 hours in the morning to rewrite the rest of the script, changing a whole bunch of stuff around. But, by this point in the afternoon, I'd been sitting in front of my laptop for two and a half hours and I hadn't written a single page. All I'd done was write, read, delete.
Then a friend* popped onto MSN messenger and I explained my dilemma as best I could. After about 10 minutes, she mentioned the character's home.

The home.
In all those 20 locations I'd written for, at no point had I used the home. I'd gone with bars, strip clubs, dingy warehouses, dark alleyways, hospitals, police stations, schools, motorway pile-ups, a magician's brothel (don't ask!). But no home. What a stupid idiot I had been!

Anyway, after three hours of sitting there, I'd finally written the scene. It was 2 pages long. And it worked. Huzzah!!! Then I looked at the dialogue. Oh dear. It's a long and arduous road ahead.

* Needless to say, I owe this friend a drink or 10.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

John Lennon.....

.....really knew how to write! Granted, he probably never tried his hands at Hollywood blockbusters, but the guy could write songs. Pretty good ones.

John Lennon
(9th October 1940 - 8th December 1980)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dealing with negative feedback

We all get negative feedback. Everyone. If you don't, you're simply not sending your work to the right people. Naturally, we all want constructive criticism, stuff we can learn from. "It's shit" doesn't really help us. But "it's shit, because your hero is entirely inactive" is brilliant criticism that helps you.

It's never fun getting bad comments about your work. We can all be way too protective at times and it affects us all in different ways. Let's say you send off a 60-page script. You've sent it off because you think it's pretty good. But the feedback you get tears it to shreds. Mercilessly! How do you feel?

I like to think I can take criticism well. I accept that it's not Shakespeare (and even he wasn't Homer!) so I'm capable of accepting that it can be made better. However, I go through three thoughts when I get bad feedback, whether it's from a director, a competition, or a fellow writer who's just read a very early draft as a favour:


These three things come and go very quickly. 

Annoyance because I was hoping for nothing short of an essay on its brilliance.

Anger because I always ask "what do you know?!" Of course, this is anger at myself, my own annoyance.

Despair because I can see how much work I still have to do.

But despite all this anger etc, I tend to take it quite well. If you're not getting angry when someone says your work is crap, then there's something wrong with you. You get angry because you care.

I have a great situation with the lovely Miss Michelle. We send each other a lot of work, usually in the very early stages. And we're merciless. We don't bother with formal niceties; that it's remotely decent is now taken for granted. What we focus on is the shit stuff, because that's what's useful. We're entirely and absolutely honest about what we think of each other's work. Of course, if I think something is working really well, I'll say so, since I don't want her to go and change it in order to fix something else. 

But if Michelle sends me something that's horrendous, I'll tell her. Likewise, she'll tell me when I'm ripping off Supernatural (seems to be happening more and more these days.....)

The key thing we do, however, is offer solutions. For example, Michelle came to me with a script that she thought lacked a bit of tension and pacing. I sent her a long long email with possible solutions. No good me saying "yes, I agree". Much better to say that, then try and help. 

Likewise, I sent Michelle a treatment of mine, my concern being that it just wasn't long enough for a 60 minute drama. But I didn't know why. Michelle pulled me up on a bunch of stuff - poor exposition, unbelievable character developments, actions, motivations etc. And through those criticisms, I was able to expand the entire thing.

So the key thing is to take something away from the criticism. Get some possible solutions to problems. And that's the other thing - possible solutions. You don't have to agree with everything that's said. I play devil's advocate when I critique stuff, throw as much criticism as I possibly can. I don't expect them to take everything I say and agree with it. Sometimes your gut is the right way to go. If you really think a piece of criticism is wrong, ignore it. Better yet, get 5 other opinions and see if it comes up again.

So don't be afraid of criticism, deal with it - it's a big part of writing (possibly the biggest). On that note, if anyone wants any criticism of their work, do contact me. I assure you - no bullshit. Just anger-inducing criticism.