Monday 30 November 2009

Version 8 - or how Final Draft isn't pissing me off anymore...

Good news everyone!

I've ditched Final Draft 7 and gone forwards to Final Draft 8, and huzah - I'm back in the script writing saddle. It feels good to finally be able to sit down without worry about that weird glitchy software problem I was having. A re-install of FD7 would have probably worked, but if it happened once, what was to stop it from happening a second time?

So therefore - Final Draft 8 - the only downside I've found to it though, is the slightly more circuitous route you have to take to save as a PDF. Rather than, as it was before, simply going File / Save As PDF ... you now have to go File / Print / then down to the bottom of that pop up window and select Include Title Page / Print to PDF ... at which point you can save it as a much-needed PDF.

Utterly bizarre, but as I can still save to PDFs - the most important thing - then I'm fine with it. Care-free script writing is what I want and I've certainly been enjoying it, as I've finally been able to sit down and power out the first pass of the new opening scene to "Zero". It's come out nicely, but I'll be looking to go back and add a couple more pages (I used five, but my limit for that scene is seven) and generally tidy it up a little bit.

Naturally I've had a few other thoughts of tiny tweaks or the odd line of dialogue I can add in, so I'll be skimming through the entire script once again to really make sure it's spiffing before sending it on to the BBC Writersroom.

Friday 27 November 2009

Anger ... rising ... or how Final Draft is pissing me off to no end lately...

Final Draft - it's an awesome piece of script writing software, ain't it?

Yes it is, and that's how I thought for two years of problem-free script writing. Now though, it's decided to act like an absolute bulbous arse, and has taken to freezing or crashing my computer within (generally) five minutes of being loaded.

Although this afternoon I left it open for a good ten minutes, then started writing for a good five or more ... and then it froze. Then I tried copying the text (all 116 pages) into a totally fresh instance of Final Draft, but that again buggered up after five minutes.

I did have a work around for a little while when this problem first started presenting itself a few months ago - copy the .fdr file from a different source (e.g. a floppy disc) and then go about merrily re-drafting the script. However, that didn't work this time (it worked twice beforehand, the two times I needed it to), so now I'm rather furious. I need to get the "Zero" script finalised before I can send it to the BBC Writersroom, but I can't do that with the software screwing me around like this.

Methinks a re-install is in order, and I just hope this solves the problem.

That said, I was farting around with the final draft of I Am Zombie Man 3 (a comparatively very modest 9 pages) for a good fifteen minutes with no problems ... but even if it's an issue of a corrupt file, how on earth would the corruption carry over by simply copying and pasting the text? That's nonsense.

Perhaps then it's an issue of length ... but then again last year I wrote The End, which was 130 pages long and that went just fine.

If memory serves I'm using Final Draft version 7 ... which, so I've just learned today, was notoriously buggy. Version 8 however, seems to be much more stable ... so perhaps an upgrade is in order if a re-install doesn't work?

Hell, perhaps an upgrade is in order anyway ... then I can stop screaming at my computer and fall in love with Final Draft again (and get Zero bloody well finalised already).

"Gaia & Genesis" and "Doing Our Bit" screening...

Last week Friday we had a screening for these two films (the former in a joined-up 63 minute cut) in one of the nearby villages. The event was a fundraiser for the Climate Justice Fund, and proved to be very successful indeed (plus it got my name in the local paper for the first time in years, which was nice).

The hall was packed out with people who came to see the screening, so much so that we had to cram in some extra chairs so everyone could get a seat. As for the films themselves, they were received with rapturous applause - something which you're obviously rather chuffed to receive, but which also makes you go all a bit "aww shucks".

A number of people even came up to personally congratulate me on the quality of the films themselves, with which they were very impressed - so that was rather nice too. It was also very interesting to hear from other people who were also involved in the project itself - by means of providing additional voice overs and so on - and it was great to see that everyone 'got' the film. They understood the intention, and they really responded to the style and construction of the film, the aim of which was to help draw the viewer in and keep them constantly interested - mission accomplished on that front, I'm pleased to report.

The event itself had a very strong community vibe to it. Lots of people chipping in to help out, lots of people making tea, a whole table of home-cooked goodies, and a variety of home-made crafts on sale, so it was great to see first hand a rural community coming together under one roof to sit down and watch films I'd put together.

Thursday 26 November 2009

"Doing Our Bit" - feedback...

I've been meaning to blog about recent feedback to this film and "Skinner" for a while now, so I'll blog about the response to the latter in due course. For now though, here's some of the responses we got to "Doing Our Bit" - the entry for the 1 Minute To Save The Earth competition.

"Nic’s film, I thought, is very good, straight to the point. So pay attention everyone!"

"Great film.. Some good tips in there. Short and to the point."

"Catchy, simple and memorable. Just what’s needed."

"Like it too. It’s not rocket science - it’s common sense and we can all take heed and do it."

"Love the soundtrack - helps get the message across - that doing our bit isnt boring! Lets cut the crap and just do it…you, me, everybody. Thats what this film says to me. Yes. Bring it on…"

"Simple and effective."

"Little things matter - times 60 million (uk population) they are no longer little - times a billion or more, (population of the west) they become enormous."

"Stand out job, Nick & Co. Looking forward to your next project!"

"Cracking video joe and nick- food for thought for all of us."


As for the competition, unfortunately we didn't make it into the short list - which was supposed to be 20 videos (15 chosen by judges, 5 chosen by votes) but inexplicably the short list, when it went up online, was 27 videos. There seems to have been some controversy from some of the entrants over which videos got picked and why, and then even more inexplicably, long after the deadline a further 5 videos were added to the short list making it a short list (that was supposed to be 20 videos) of 32.

Naturally you can only be disheartened when you don't make it, but regardless of the methodology used to pick the videos, as well as the rather strange ignorance of the short list size as set out in the Terms & Conditions, I feel we made a cracking little video with a good, solid, positive and constructive message that set itself apart from many of the videos submitted in its own way (disclaimer - that's not me dissing other people's videos).

WNWR Podcast #5...

"11/21/09 - A new show... Once again Brian joins me to bitch and moan about everything, from the use of the "C" word to the review of the check disc sample for the Deadlands 2 HD DVD. We also kick off the show talking about 2012, and you get to hear my complete thoughts and opinions on what i felt was the biggest let down in the disaster movie genre."


There's another new WNWR podcast up online (follow the link on the right hand side of my blog - in the links section) and as it's quite a foul-mouthed episode, if you're offended by constant use of the worst word in the entire universe (heh heh), then perhaps you'd better listen to something more gentile.

If you're not offended by such profanities, stroll on in.

It's a bit looser, and therefore not as focussed and not as entertaining as the previous episode, but there's still good fun to be had. Gary continues to illustrate how to-the-point and honest he is by nature, and Brian spurs the whole thing along offering a slightly different, but no less blunt take on everything from life to movies.

Speaking of movies, they have a right old bitch about 2012 (which I blogged about in the post below) and pick at a couple of nuisances with the tricky (but clearly still very, very worthwhile) Deadlands 2 HD-DVD release.

As a side-note, they make mention of the commentary I did (along with Gareth and Sean) for the work print version. Indeed, we do go off topic on a few occasions (or rather, Sean more than anyone else), but we always manage to rangle it back onto a zombie-themed track eventually.

Think of it more as a fan commentary that is rambling and wide-ranging ... kind of like a SModcast in a way (apparently the new Chasing Amy commentary, so I've read, gets way off topic constantly - otherwise known as SModcast #97, only available on the new Chasing Amy Blu-Ray).

So yeah, if you're reading this, and end up watching the work print commentary on the HD-DVD, do bear that thought in mind ... it's kind of like watching a movie with your mates, in fact that's exactly how the recording panned out, which all-said-and-done, for my very first commentary - and with me, of all people, moderating it - I think it went well.

It's certainly a damn sight better than the utterly pish Spider-Man commentary, that's for damn sure - which I maintain as the bar, in my view, for terrible audio commentaries. Fortunately, ours is nowhere near its vicinity.

Our work print commentary is rambling, frequently veers off topic, but always manages to get rangled back on track sooner or later. So, if you fancy watching a matey style, rambling commentary with three British guys you might not have heard of ever (unless you watched the DVD extra features of Deadlands: The Rising, or swung by my website or YouTube page) then by all means stick it on and have a listen. It's like watching a movie with British people in your living room!

So there you go, a new WNWR podcast is up - go and check it out.

Monday 23 November 2009

2012 ... or how to crack a walnut with an atomic sledgehammer...

Originally I hadn't wanted to see this in the cinema - I was going to wait for DVD. However, the closer it got to release, and the more times I saw the trailer, the more I wanted to check it out just for the sheer guilty pleasure of it all.

Plus, it's got John Cusack in it - and it's always worthwhile watching Cusack on screen. In fact, after getting back from the cinema I caught the last 30 minutes of High Fidelity, and it just made me love that flick even more - it gets better and better every single time I watch it, and Cusack's brilliantly in-touch performance just gets better each time.

Anyway, plot wise you know what you're going to get. If you've seen Independence Day as well as The Day After Tomorrow, then you're all set to know exactly what's going to happen, and who is going to die when (and indeed why). Disaster movies seem to have a similar moral strength (perhaps harshness) that slasher movies have, but instead of blood and guts, it's huge ass buildings falling over, exploding, and exploding while falling over.

That last part though - that's exactly why I went to see 2012. I wanted to see a bunch of shit crumble like dominoes. I wanted to see a crazy amount of money being spent on a luridly over-the-top slice of disaster pie ... hell, nevermind the slice, 2012 is the whole goddamn thing in one gulp.

Honestly, if Emmerich ever makes another disaster movie after this I'd be surprised - he's done everything he could possibly have done, and some of it is even hoisted out of other disaster movies. Then again, many slasher movies play out in the same way...

2012 has come in for some harsh criticism since its release, and I think some of it - some, I stress - is undeserved. It's been moaned about that characters 'get over deaths too easily' - well that's bullshit, because the entire movie is a non-stop rollercoaster of shit falling over, so there'd literally be no time to stop and cry about it. Then, despite a little scene at the end, none of the survivors are going to be whooping and hollering for joy or sitting around having completely forgotten their loved ones. It's just that we don't see that on screen, and quite frankly there's no need to, especially in a movie this bloated and long-winded.

It has been said that there are too many characters, and too much soap opera storytelling - and I think that's right. It still works, and you still are able to follow who is who, but it's not necessary.

Storytelling though, when it does pop its head up from under the clouds of volcanic ash, crumbling suburban streets, and tidal waves, is obviously quite blunt. Then again, 2012 - like its predecessors - is just blunt anyway, it could never be anything else. It's impossible, surely, to interweave so many characters and so much action into two and a half hours without being blunt about it.

2012 is like cracking a nut with an atomic sledge hammer, but to be fair, it still cracks the nut.

As such, the variety of "goodbye" scenes still pack some punch. You sit there and think "what if that was me?" and "what would I say and do in that situation?" and as such it does tug at the heart strings a little bit ... in a blunt and totally unsubtle manner, but this is a broad strokes kind of movie. Blockbusters rarely do subtlety - so why are some folk so surprised that 2012 is as blustery and concrete as it is?

It has also been said that it's the most expensive comedy ever made, and that some of the humour is intentional - obviously, this witty sideswipe came from a (formerly, at least) broadsheet newspaper. I think some have been taking this movie too seriously, because when I was watching it I just couldn't see any way in which those making it could ever go more than five minutes without cracking up laughing themselves. There is tons of intentional humour throughout, and it's bloody well necessary, because if this was genuinely played straight it'd be the most spectacularly depressing movie ever made.

Just think about it, you're being thrown scene after scene of families being torn apart by disaster. You're seeing mass-scale destruction - events which are killing countless hundreds of thousands of people in seconds. There are many scenes of desperate, wild-eyed people trying to escape their looming fates, to get their children to safety, and so obviously there's always the need for some humour now and then to lighten the load.

Even the big scenes of destruction have an air of intentional comedy about them, they're so ludicrously over-the-top that Emmerich couldn't have been doing anything but guffawing heartily at the sheer chaos he was inflicting upon his viewers once the film was complete.

2012 isn't a well crafted roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, it's a cheese burger bought from one of those vans towed behind a 4x4 - there's always a time for both meals, and they both hit the spot with the same force, they just go about it in different ways.

I mean just look at the film I watched prior to 2012 - Moon - a gentle, subtle, intensely thoughtful piece of filmmaking which has gone straight into my top films of 2009 list. 2012, while it won't be going into the same list, still kicked the ass of The Day After Tomorrow, and still provided the "ooh, big thing fall down!" mass appeal, blunt force populism that everybody likes now and then.

Is the writing particuarly good? Not really - it's workman-like at best. Is the whole 2012 thing anything to get fussed about? No, especially as the Mayan calender doesn't predict global cataclysm. Is it enjoyable anyway? Of course it is - it's got John Cusack in it, and it's got Woody Harrelson stealing every single one of his few scenes as another beautifully whacked-out oddballs ... plus, a ton of shit falls over and explodes.

Anyone who was surprised by anything they saw in 2012 must have been kidding themselves. You know the rules of these kind of movies, and you know exactly how the plot is going to turn out. You know that really stupid, ridiculous, never-gonna-happen-in-real-life-ever things are going to happen (repeatedly). You know that children and dogs can never be killed (although two Russian rich kid blighters in 2012 were a pair of shits ... even still, their bastard father's moment to save them still holds some of that universal charm - a father saving his children - an ideal that traverses all social classes and societal splits).

Indeed, 2012 is just that - it's a universal theme kind of movie - and it even addresses this a couple of times. Cusack's hang-dog failed writer remarks that one billion Euros per seat is disgusting, but as the Russian oligarch drawls simply, if you were a rich man, wouldn't you do the same to save your children?

There is some actual, real ideological meat to chew into with this movie - you know, beneath all the shit falling over of course. It may not be subtle, it may not be especially deep, and it's surrounded by as much lunacy and as many epic plot holes that any human can take, but it still has something simple and universal to say about the basic, deep down human instinct for survival, the want for a connection to a society, and for the want to save the ones you love - and indeed, to say what you've always wanted to say before it's too late.

I'll say again, it's far from a great film, but I've seen so many films worse than this, and an atomic sledge hammer still cracks the nut.


I had wanted to see this in the cinema, but first it never came to our local cineplex, and then when it did arrive briefly we just couldn't get an outing organised. However, I pre-ordered the DVD and I just checked it out the other day and damn - it's a good movie.

Straight into my top films of 2009 list, this flick plays like old school 1970s science fiction, the kind that happens to take place beyond our planet, but which tells a (good) story that isn't really about the setting or the technology. Films like Silent Running (an excellent 70s sci-fi flick) is where Moon situates itself, and that should justify pretty damn sharpish why it's a great little film.

Sam Rockwell gives another interesting and entertaining performance, the use of models (touched up with CGI) gives it a retro air that really works for it, the script is tight and really gets you thinking, and the direction is similarly spiffing.

A seriously quality piece of filmmaking.

Thursday 19 November 2009

"Zero" - those first ten pages...

In follow-up to my previous post, I've been away and had a think, and such is the way when I find myself cornered by a situation (in relation to filmmaking and script writing), my mind clicks and presents a solution in immediate fashion.

First one idea, then another - both brief and merely okay - then a third idea, and it struck a chord. Considering the script, as it currently stands, begins with the male lead waking up, having a dream sequence that flags up/foreshadows (somewhat) a good portion of the over all plot and introduces the five protagonists is not only exactly what I need, but makes sense anyway.

He's having a dream (which fills in character introductions and plot elements within the first 10 pages) and so naturally he has to wake up. The script begins with him being woken up by a phone call, so there we are - a perfect fit.

It will also give me the opportunity to take a key element of the dream, and really run with it in a creative way. In a way that suits a dream world, but not the waking world, and will provide an interesting kick start to the entire script.

Naturally this will add a few more pages, and as such I'll be seeking to whittle out about five pages so I can try and keep myself at 120 pages or less. I currently sit at 118, and I have at most 7 pages in which to inject this new scene, which will really help set-up the entire script to try and grab the attention of whoever is reading it - specifically the aforementioned element that I can really get creative with - trying to visualise a feeling, in a dream state.


So yeah, the creative boiler has been stoked and, as is the way it often goes for me when I find myself presented with a suggestive ultimatum (in the case of "The End" for example - a 130 page zombie epic that came about because Gary Ugarek (the Deadlands guy) said "you know what you should do with this short script?"), or a creative challenge, my brain proves its worth.

"Zero" - okay, so the re-drafting isn't quite done...

The goal for some time has been to submit this script to the BBC Writer's Room. I've just been pouring over the myriad of guidelines, requirements and FAQs on their site and I'm thinking the first 10 pages need improving.

I had worried about the first 10 pages initially anyway, but was determined to (I think wisely) re-draft the whole thing in it's own vacuum. By which I mean, re-draft the script according to what it is and how it should be. Only after that, would I complicate things further by bringing it outside requirements.

Fortunately I meet the requirements just fine, but seeing as the first step is someone deciding to keep going or return your script after 10 pages, I'd better make those 10 pages as blinding as possible.

There's also an oddness about one aspect of their submission guidelines. You aren't allowed to submit, so it seems, a plot and character outline with your script - now to me, it would make complete sense to submit such a document (only a page of text) with your script. However, that doesn't seem to be the case, so the need to make the first 10 pages blinding is ramped up further - then add in that you've got about 10,000 competitors to deal with (covering all five categories that cover comedy and drama across film, TV and radio), and these first 10 pages are going to become a mountain to climb in themselves.

So it's a case of how do I make these first 10 pages really stand out. To summarise the entire plot and characterisation of the whole damn script - in 10 pages ... never let it be said that I'm not up to this challenge, but a challenge it most certainly is, and will be for all the submitting writers.

Time to get the game face on, the competitor hat wedged on the old noggin, and to think like Rocky Balboa...

More updates on the "Zero" script as-and-when...

Monday 16 November 2009

"Zero" re-drafting complete!

Earlier today I finished a fresh batch of re-drafting on "Zero" - formally known as "Generation Procrastination". It's a comedy script that I plan to send out with the aim of getting it commissioned.

If you don't put yourself out there, you're never going to get a shot at the big time, are you?

Anyway, I'm rather chuffed with this script, and it's changed quite a bit since the draft I started with. Originally 91 pages, it now stands at 118 pages, and that's with a lot of excess dialogue and description whittled out too. So it's a net increase of 27 pages, but all told there must be 40 to 50 pages of new content, with a lot of the other stuff tweaked and polished and generally improved upon.

I'll qualify this by saying that the 91 page draft was started in 2007, and was completed in very early 2008. After that I then went on to write my most ambitious script to date - "The End" (my zombie epic), and then "From The Inside Out" (my low budget, quick and simple British horror movie tale). So those two scripts provided a lot of new script writing skills, ideas and methods that really came to the fore on this newest draft(s) of "Zero" - which is now standing as Draft 2.2 - so I'm feeling really good about this script.

I've gotten my head around the characters, I know them inside out, and it's as if I actually know them in real life. Sure, they're all based in ways and parts on elements of various people I know (in all cases the five protagonists are based on multiple elements of multiple people, and then I exaggerate or tweak or step-off-from said elements and they become their own people, albeit only in the text on screen).

Having been over the script repeatedly, I can see a movie version of it clearly in my head, and it makes me genuinely laugh. I'm not just saying that because I wrote it, but because I have actually forgotten whilst reading it that I wrote it and just began enjoying it for what it actually is - as if reading it through a fresh pair of eyes - and it made me laugh.

So hopefully those who I submit it to will see it the same way. To say I'm ready for the next step in becoming a filmmaker is an understatement, and I honestly think I've written a good, solid, tight and funny script that would make a good comedy film.

Fingers crossed.

Say Anything...

I had a bit of a John Cusack movie fest a few weeks ago, and I spoke about how I got Better Off Dead, and Say Anything mixed up. I was looking for 'the movie with the ghetto blaster above the head' moment, and got my wires crossed and saw Better Off Dead - fortunately, that was a good little flick.

Anyway, Say Anything was on Channel 4 the other night and I ended up watching the whole thing before bed on Sunday night. I had intended to just watch it in stages, but by the time I was half way through I was so invested in the characters that I just kept going.

It's a cracking film, it really is. It's well observed with detailed characters, and as you should all know by now (as I've said it a bunch of times) anything with John Cusack in it is worth seeing (it's why I'll probably end up going to see 2012 soon - well, that and simply wanting to see stuff fall over for two hours).

I found myself connected to these characters, and it made me yearn for my teenage/student years. Little moments here and there reminding me of those years gone by, all delivered spot-on by Cusack who - as usual - gave an honest and inspiring performance. It almost feels like a forerunner to High Fidelity which came along a decade later, and that's no bad thing at all of course.

I also found it quite enthralling as I've been busy re-drafting a script (which I talked about the other day), and they both skirt similar territories - so Say Anything is helping to inspire me to finish off the last tweaks and start getting that script sent out there.

Say Anything gets a big old thumbs up from me. It's a 1980s teen-com with John Cusack in it. What's not to like?

The Men Who Stare At Goats...

I've not got a lot to say about this flick, but I will say that it was good fun. It wasn't riotously funny, or exceptional, and I won't be pre-ordering the DVD (it's the kind of flick I'd, personally, pick up somewhere down the line) - but it was enjoyable throughout and it's definitely worth seeing.

It's an odd little comedy based on real life events, more of which really did happen than we'd believe - according to the opening text on screen at the beginning of the movie. It also has some real spikes on the laugh meter too, with some brilliantly dead-pan one liners hitting you from left field.

Clooney, Bridges, and McGregor are all thoroughly entertaining from the offset, and summed up, it's a good flick. So check it out. Some haven't taken kindly to it, but I don't understand why, because it's certainly worth a watch.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Modern Warfare 2 - a rant...

I've just watched the pitiful assessment of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (from now on referred to as "MW2"), relegated to the dying minutes of this week's Newsnight Review (shown on BBC2 in the UK on a Friday following the weekday politics show Newsnight).

Newsnight Review is, typically, a quite high brow affair - unfortunately this often translates into outright snobbery when it comes to "lower art forms", as they are perceived by some of the frequent reviewers, such as the miserable old scruffy bastard known as Paul Morley, who this week was looking disdainfully down on MW2.

MW2 has become the entertainment event of all in the history of all forms of entertainment. That's really quite some feat, even going so far as to utterly obliterate GTA IV's handsome sales figures. Make no mistake, this isn't some "toy" - as Morley dismissed it as in his sneering rant against the title - and videogames should rightly be respected as an equal art form to music and film.

The trouble is, there are far too many 'on the outside' who would rather sneer at them, look down upon them, and generally dismiss the culture, technology, and people that surrounds such titles as MW2. Morley was even brazen enough to criticise gamers for dismissing his sort, those who aren't "in the know".

Fortunately, another mature, scruffy looking bloke - but one who'd actually bothered to play MW2 - defended gamers and rightly slated Morley for his hypocritical and incorrect insult. It is the likes of Morley who look disdainfully upon gamers, and videogames in general, and seek to disregard them from the wider cultural mileu.

Well, as is always the way, his generation isn't the hip thing anymore. He, and those like him, have become the exact sort of person they no doubt rallied against in the 1980s who dismissed new cultural tidal waves. That said, videogames are hardly new as they've been around since the 1970s. Next year they'll be entering their fifth decade of existence. Hardly a insignificant sideshow, and certainly not insignificant with 4.7 million first day sales in the USA and UK alone, pulling in $310 million in the process.

Out of the other reviewers on the show, both women, one hadn't bothered to play it at all and wisely stayed out of the conversation. Another, sadly, didn't think to recognise her ignorance and keep her mouth firmly shut (but then again, she struck me as a mouthy chattering class sort, anyway - a type of person you often find cropping up on such review shows gazing down their noses at the viewer). The latter lady, who'd at best only bothered to watch the scruffy bloke who wasn't Paul Morley (I forget his name) play some of it, and then claimed to know exactly what the controversial "terrorist" level was all about.

This is something that has really fucked me off this week. Keith Vaz MP (Labour) was bitching about MW2 in Parliament this week, practically screaming from the rooftops "won't somebody PLEASE think of the children" - forgetting the fact that, in the UK, MW2 is not only clearly rated 18, but it is illegal to sell to children for fear of a large fine or even imprisonment. At some point, parental responsibility must make an appearance - but knowing New Labour's typical mindset, nobody should be allowed to think for themselves, let alone take any personal responsibility. Vaz's ambulance-chasing, nanny state background betrayed him clearly there, and thankfully Tom Watson MP (also Labour) has set out to gather pro-gaming folk together to illustrate reality to foamy-mouthed sorts like Vaz ... who, by the way, couldn't be bothered to remember that it was Modern Warfare TWO that was being released this week. He clearly stated just "Modern Warfare" - which was released in 2007. But such simple distinctions are of little concerns to those who rant about that which they simply don't understand.

Back to the "terrorist" level however, and surprise surprise, Fox & Friends ran a piece on the game - on which, sadly, the pro-gamer side was backed up by someone who, fair play to him anyway, just wasn't suitable for live television. Why can we not have someone who can succinctly and informatively defend MW2 and all other videogames?

You are NOT a terrorist in MW2. You take control of a US soldier who has been drafted into the CIA to go undercover with a Ultranationalist Russian terrorist group. Unfortunately - and there be spoilers ahead - your man is shot dead at the end of the level (called "No Russian", FYI) specifically to frame the Americans for the terrorist attack on a Russian airport. As a result, the Russians invade America. This mission propels the entire plot of the game, and in context it makes a hell of a lot more sense than the usual "ura terr-ist!!!1!!1!one!1!!!1!" line that we've heard more than once in the mainstream news media about MW2.

What's also never cleared up, is that you DO NOT have to shoot civilians. When I played the game I automatically did not shoot any civilians - I always, instinctually (like many), do the right thing in videogames. For example, I've been playing a lot of Fallout 3 in recent months, and I have always done the right thing, sought the most moral outcome, and always helped those in need in the game world.

Similarly, you simply don't have to shoot civilians in this level. You can even skip the level itself - a message asking you if you want to or not, more than once, when you first pop the game into your console or PC.

As I played the game (which I finished a couple of days ago now), I was constantly reminded of the prime time hit show 24. More than once we have seen atrocious acts of terrorism shown on that programme (which is one of my favourite American imports, FYI), and indeed we've seen many characters make morally ambiguous decisions - even totally immoral decisions in the name of achieving morality in the big picture. Sacrificing a few to save the many, a deep moral quandry for anyone.

Why should MW2 not include such a scene? Just because it's a videogame? That's ridiculous, and snobbish.

Paul Morley (yes, that arse again), was also rabidly opposed to MW2 simply because it was violent. So? Videogames don't make people violent, just like music and movies don't make people violent. If they did, there'd literally be countless millions of roaming psychopaths slaying all and sundry - but there isn't. Case closed, quite frankly, because any research "proving" a link is biased, poorly conducted, or has a vested interest in providing such a result for their commissioning masters.

MW2 is an adult game. It may fall under the title "entertainment" (like violent movies also do), but why does "entertainment" have to mean "enjoyable, fun, pleasant"? MW2 is routinely thrilling. It's jaw-dropping in it's scope, in it's relentless action, in it's plot twists (some of which are a bit ropey - the plot does suffer from a handful of gaping holes, and frequently gets lost amidst all the gunfire) ... it's also, entirely, fictitious and unreal.

Films and TV shows recreate violent events using real people. Videogames don't even do that (aside from motion capture, that is). The "people" are no such thing. They're coded Non Playable Characters (NPCs), they're computer generated models - ultimately a series of 1s and 0s. They are not real people, they aren't really being shot, and nobody is actually being hurt.

The slain "civilians" in the "No Russian" level don't exist, they have no family members. The attack is fictitious, taking place in a fictitious airport named after a fictitious Russian terrorist (who has been reclaimed by the writers of Russian history as a martyr and hero, incidentally).

This brings me on to "desensitisation to violence". I would agree that viewers and gamers become innured to on-screen violence ... fictional, faked violence. Violence that isn't real, which hasn't taken place, which is distanced from the viewer, and which is missing the sense of smell and touch, and actual real world immersion itself.

As someone who has watched all the Saw films (except the latest, which I'll get to later on), the gore events of Saw V mean that the gore events of Saw I no longer hold any real power. Or as much power as special make up effects (nowadays documented at length on illusion-shattering DVD extra features) could ever possess.

There is a vast, yawning chasm of difference between reality and a videogame. This has been highlighted very concisely in an episode of Top Gear - the last episode of series 7, if memory serves. Jeremy Clarkson chooses a car and a race course in a videogame (Gran Turismo 2, if memory serves, on the Playstation 2). He does a lap and sets a time. He then goes to the real racecourse and takes a real car (same one as in the game) and does the lap in real life.

Immediately everything is different. The car handles in a completely different way, and as such you can drive the car in the game in such a way that would cause you to spin-off the track in reality. The course itself is generally like the real one, but is nowhere near close enough to reality. The turns feel different, the track surface feels different, there are kinks, turns, bumps, rises and shallows that aren't in the game. As a result of all this difference between a videogame and reality, Clarkson is incapable of replicating his videogame laptime in real life.

Similarly, videogame violence is nothing at all like real life violence, and gamers - who are becoming increasingly varied in age, race, social standing etc as traditional real life society - would no doubt react like any other human being when confronted with real life violence. Fear, discomfort, disgust, horror, any traditional reaction to real life violence would also be experienced by any gamer. Videogame violence is absolutely, categorically, nothing like the real deal. Just like with movies.


This has been a bit of a rant about Modern Warfare 2, all brought on by that shockingly pish assessment of it on Newsnight Review - but thumbs up to the mature, scruffy dude that wasn't Paul Morley. He actually played the game himself, and understood what it was about. He understood the difference between his generation and that of the average gamer (who has, in the UK, an average age of 28), and that videogame violence is no more a threat than video nasties (ridiculously feared during the 1980s), horror comics (reviled by those on the outside refusing to seek understanding during the 1950s), or even boundary pushing music (name any era, frankly).


As for Modern Warfare 2 as a game, now that I've played it I would put it on equal pegging to the first Modern Warfare. The former does some things better and some things worse than MW2, which is likewise.

MW2's plot has some sizeable holes, but in a very 24 style, runs with them anyway and creates a thrilling, enthralling experience. An experience which is so relentless and frantic, that the plot unfortunately gets lost amidst the gunfire, explosions and general epic globetrotting scale of the game on several occasions. There is no real room for a breath, and the fast-paced, heart-poundingly intense action is so unrelenting simply over-cooks things.

The first Modern Warfare gave you a sensation of an unstoppable freight train - but it provided you with all the plot details (from a better written script) required, as well as a good mix of intense action and more relaxed moments frequently enough throughout that a perfect balance was struck.

Modern Warfare 2 is quite literally an unstoppable freight train. With only a few snatched moments where you can take stock of everything that's happening (in richly detailed environments you just wish you could really stop and gawp at now and then, to appreciate the hard work of the Infinity Ward art department). I enjoyed the hell out of the game - with only a couple of moments where I genuinely got fucked off by the punishingly intense pace (and a couple of tricky moments here and there which had my die a few times) - it is a thrillingly intense overdose shot of pure adrenaline that is punched, repeatedly, straight into your eyes with a military boot. It had me on the edge of my seat frequently, my veins and body pulsing with adrenaline as I felt like I was running just as fast as whichever character I was playing as. Indeed, I was rushed off my feet just keeping up with the onslaught of gun-toting bad guys.

So like I said - equal pegging to the first Modern Warfare. Hopefully for the next Modern Warfare (because there blatantly will be one), we'll get a better balance of action, plotting, and quieter moments. A tighter, more sensible script, and a casual mode that is actually fucking casual.

What is it with games designers? So many seem to forget the meaning of "casual". If I'm playing on that mode (as I always do), I don't want to be challenged. I want to enjoy the spectacle of playing the game, to enjoy the graphics, to see all the things I can do, to lap up the story and be thrilled - I want all that without being challenged. If I wanted a challenge, I'd go to a higher difficulty setting. But I don't, so I don't.

So please, Infinity Ward (and others), there is a way to make your games just as action packed on casual mode, but provide a simply entertaining - rather than gaming skill challenging - experience. For example, in MW2, fewer enemies with slightly poorer aim, and you being more impervious to bullets (and less blood all over the screen when you get shot - cool effect, but a bit too much to be honest). However, this also needs to be teamed with an all-round better balancing of action and storytelling, so that neither overpowers the other.

All said and done, I'd give Modern Warfare 2 my respect, franchise fanboy love, and many more hours of my life until the third installment crops up. Utterly jaw dropping, intense and thrilling.

Friday 13 November 2009

Wet 'n' Wild Radio Podcast #4 (November 2009)...

You can find a link to the WNWR website under my "Make with the Clicky" links list on the right side of the blog, just scroll down a bit and you'll hit upon a list of links and in there you'll find it.

It's been a couple of months since the last WNWR Show, as talked about previously on the DeadShed blog here:

So good news, there's a new episode of the podcast in town. It's another beastly entry at a sizeable, but never dull, two hours featuring Gary Ugarek - the writer/director (and about 103 other things) of the Deadlands movies - and Brian Wright, who has likewise been involved in the Deadlands movies in various capacities from producer to photographer to one of the key roles that is the music ... and indeed, he's the kind chap who has done a bunch of free music for me that I've used in various shorts I've put together (e.g. Skinner, which was talked about in WNWR#3, Signing Off, VHS-2 and so on - I've even used a couple of his tracks in the Gaia & Genesis DVD).

As before, these guys make for rambunctious listening, and Gary in particular is (as always) characteristically up-front telling it like it is. The guys wax lyrical, and honestly, about a variety of things this episode, including a whole bunch of background information on the trials and tribulations of getting Deadlands 2 out there on DVD (via Anthem Pictures, Amazon, and a bunch of other stockists - check out to find out more about the DVD and where to get your bloody paws on it.

It's also good to hear that Deadlands 2 on DVD is doing very well, and yes indeed there is a Deadlands 3 planned - matters relating to which we also get to hear about from Gary in his typically head-on style.

Another interesting topic of conversation revolves around Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. Now in a previous episode Brian remarked that he wasn't too keen on the former from what he'd seen, but I'm pleased to hear he's definitely now a fan of it. Indeed, while Gary was much more open to the film from the off, his initial thoughts weren't stellar - however, having seen it more than half a dozen times already, he's now brazenly placed it in his Top Five ahead of Shaun of the Dead ... that's right, ahead of Shaun of the Dead.

Naturally (and quite sensibly in my view), Brian is perplexed by this and the duo get into an entertaining and perhaps even thoughtful (certainly in a genre fan way) about the two films.

I have to say that, personally, Shaun wins out over Zombieland. The latter may be really entertaining, but Shaun is simply the better film in all respects. It's got shamblers, not runners ... it's written by folk who are well versed in the zombie genre (unlike Zombieland, I was a bit bummed to hear) ... it's structurally a really good script ... it's got that British sensibility (American zombie films are, like Italian zed flicks, dime-a-dozen with a handful of outstanding entries) ... as Brian says it's from the trifecta that is Pegg/Wright/Frost ... it's seriously funny throughout, and yet painfully emotional in pitch perfect scenes like when Shaun has to deal with the immediate death of his mother ... it's got a well-honed style that flows throughout the movie effortlessly ... the zombies kick ass, the situation does become really quite horrifying at times, the editing is crisp, the performances are spot-on, and the theme of moving from your 20s to your 30s and what the consequences are, are perfectly distilled through the filter of a zombie apocalypse.


Plus, Shaun of the Dead doesn't put some really stupid character decisions into the script, unlike Zombieland which does have some really, unbelievably stupid moments.

That said, as you'll know from my musings on Zombieland, I still loved it - that movie survives its flaws and becomes a kick ass slab of fun, with genuine moments of real emotion, and also the ability to (more than once) wrong-foot the audience with some perfectly executed scenes (you'll know the ones I mean, and indeed one such scene is referenced by Brian during the debate).

However, whereas Zombieland is the delicious cheese burger that really hit your spot, Shaun is like a finely cooked roast dinner prepared by your own mother ... this analogy only works if your mother is a good cook, though, but you know what I mean.

There's no contest.


So yeah, another spiffing WNWR podcast, and I'm looking forward to the next episode!

Thursday 12 November 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus...

It's always the case with a film by Terry Gilliam, that you never really know what you're going to get. You don't know what you should expect, and sometimes you barely know what you're paying to see. For the longest time I had no idea what this film was actually about, or in what time period it was set, or anything.

Much of the chatter around it, naturally, surrounded the death of Heath Ledger (who gives another great performance here, proving like The Dark Knight did, that a truly great acting talent was taken too soon). Trouble does tend to follow a Gilliam film, and such tribulations are well documented, but these actually add to the flavour and occasion of a Terry Gilliam film.

The fact that he is still making movies, even after all his filmmaking career has been through, is just really inspiring in itself.

To respond to a couple of oft-talked about things, the transition from Ledger to Depp/Law/Farrell is never jarring. It makes total sense in this world, and is never confusing. At times you'll even swear that his three replacements actually resemble Ledger.

Another thing is the Imaginarium itself. Mark Kermode spoke about how the Imaginarium itself doesn't feel weighty enough - much of it being CGI - and this is indeed the case. After a moment that, for me at least, really made an impression (the first opening of the Doctor Parnassus sideshow outside a London nightclub), a scene that really shows off the weight and sheer size of the horse-drawn show, the world of the imaginarium itself does indeed feel weightless.

It's like a more serious, but no less weird, big budget version of Gilliam's Monty Python cartoons. It's wonderfully daft and quirky and colourful and actually, quite confusing - but in a nice way. This is indeed, as has previously been talked about by others, a film that has to be seen more than once to understand what you've just been shown (and perhaps even then you won't get everything). Although, most Gilliam films are like that, so it seems.

But is the weightlessness a bad thing? Certainly, I don't see how it could have been achieved practically at all, so it wasn't a bother to me.

This all said though, I still have no idea quite what to make of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. However, the fact that it has remained in my mind, swirling around in there, is testament to it being a bloody good film. If only I could tell you exactly why...

Thursday 5 November 2009

400th Post spectacular! - Script writing & Nerdgasms...

Well here we are, four hundred posts!

To mark the occasion, I thought I'd talk a little bit about that script for "Generation Procrastination" (or "GenPro" for short), originally titled "Holiday" (during the planning stages anyway).

"GenPro" was likewise a working title, and I've always wanted a new title - preferably just one word, which suited the content - and recently I figured I'd re-name it "Zero". It was the bit in Land of the Dead, when the skater kid's "Zero" branded skateboard falls into the river. Something clicked immediately between that word, and this particular script - there was simply a click.

To cement the decision, the Smashing Pumpkins song of the same name very soon came up on my MP3 song list, and I decided it was a much more suitable title than what had come before.

I had recently been doing some work on it, what I now called "Draft 2.1", and I found myself making a lot of changes, really building on what was already there (including a net increase of 10 pages - nevermind all the fettling I did, which would no doubt mean 20 pages of totally new material throughout), and bringing the script up to my 2009 standard of script writing in the process.

Today, well technically yesterday, I began on "Draft 2.2" and it is this draft that I will be seeking to ultimately register and then submit to the BBC Writer's Room (with whom I've already established contact).


So yeah - script writing is back on the agenda once again after a few weeks away to let it breathe and for new ideas and clarifying elements to present themselves to my notepad.


Finally, as a little sign-off to this 400th post, I popped in Ghostbusters for Xbox360 today (it arrived yesterday, but I was just finished off GTA: Lost & Damned), and might I say that first impressions are very good. Even if the game isn't A+ material in the end, the sheer tidal wave of nostalgia and fan-gasms cemented this as a classic in my mind long ago. From the Columbia Pictures logo till shutting off the console after my first session, I had a smile literally from ear-to-ear.

As a kid I wanted to not only be an Architect, but a ghost buster too - and now here's my chance!

Public Enemies...

I'd wanted to see this in the cinema, but unfortunately I was far from mobile at the time (recovering from an operation), so I finally got to see it the other day. I was quite excited about it initially, being that it's the new Michael Mann movie, and it simply looked a lot better than what Miami Vice had been.

That said, I am willing to give Miami Vice another go at some point, and even though I was far from impressed by it at the time, I still found it to be a beautiful looking film with the same sense of drama, colour and love of architecture that you always find in a Mann film.

Public Enemies though, really is a lot better than Miami Vice, so that's good news to start with. Unfortunately, it's still not as convincing as the likes of Manhunter, Heat, or Collateral. There's just a little bit of something missing. We don't have the strong underlying relationship between protagonist and antagonist like those three aforementioned films all exhibited (profoundly in the case of Heat).

Dillinger's relationship with his lady is mostly perfunctory, and his cat & mouse dealings with Purvis are few and not particularly meaty. Still, Depp is always compelling to watch, and Bale's Purvis is a strong, decent protagonist - even if he is somewhat sidelined in favour of the romanticised Depression era Robin Hood-like Dillinger.

Action wise though, similar to Heat, it's all guns blazing. Deafening cacophonies of gunfire erupt frequently throughout, and even though Mann has never done a gunfight better than the street battle outside the bank in Heat, Mann on less-than-tip-top form is far better than most.

At the best part of two and a half hours long though, the lack of meat between the main characters does lead the film to drag a bit. While Heat is a long film, the characters are so dense in personality and motivation that the length is required. In Public Enemies you start feeling a bit short-changed, never really getting to know any of the key players deep enough to really, really care about them.

This said, Mann has always had a knack for spine-chillingly tense and dramatic endings. Heat's Moby-scored ("God Moving Over The Waters") airport gun-down, Collateral's urban train ride at dawn, and even Miami Vice's Mogwai-scored ("Auto Rock") all stick out, and Public Enemies has a similar flair for the dramatic with a tense build-up to the inevitable. In Mann's world crime ultimately doesn't pay, but that's no excuse not to go out memorably.

So not his finest work, but he's put out worse, and like Mark Kermode said a few months back when the film first opened, even Michael Mann on a less-than-stellar day is better than most directors on a great day.

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)...

Having never heard of the original movie, let alone seen it, it's perhaps a little odd - for me at least - to see the remake before seeing the original. Regardless, this does allow me to come to this update completely cold ... in a way.

It's an effective enough thriller, and in typical Tony Scott fashion, it's all rather skittery - although not as much as Domino for example, which was just in desperate need to an overdose of Ritalin. It's slick, it's stylish, it's efficient, and ticks various boxes to be "good".

It's not a big "wow" by any means, but it's not total pish ... yeah, that's pretty much it, so there's no point banging on about it.

One thing that has always stuck with me was the TV advert for this movie, in typical fashion it was a rushed affair, so rushed the voice over guy had no time to announce the title, and with all the bangs going on with the soundtrack, the title was truncated to "...'ham 123!"

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Flavours of the Month: October 2009...

Another month, another Flavours of the Month blogpost - this time, the haunted and autumnal month of October.

Solitary life...

During October I got the house all to myself for a couple of weeks, and so began a whole new routine and collection of 'vibes', such as microwave meals and the manky scent of those cardboard cooking wrap things that surround your panini or southern fried chicken roll or whatever.

Indeed, the microwave was very much my friend out of pure convenience for this short duration. Naturally I was well acquainted with the oven at university, but as this was a bit of a change of gear here at home I just fancied kicking back with some easy-as-pie meals.

Similarly, I rediscovered how nice a jam sandwich can be, and I even had a one-box-only flirtation for old time's sake with Pop Tarts. If only they weren't so calorific I'd have them more often, but they're full of them, so it was just a one-box-only affair with some rather lush Strawberry Pop Tarts ... another food stuff that I was well acquainted with during my time at university, I must confess.

Having the run of the place also gave me the run of the Sky+ box, and as such I was able to catch up on a few episodes of the American version of Life on Mars, which I have to say, is actually quite enjoyable. It can be quite blunt about certain things, and the CGI Mars Rovers that crop up now and then are just odd, but it's good fun. Inferior to the original - naturally - but good fun all the same.


Fallout 3, and new GTA...

Yep, it's back on the list, and it has been my game-of-choice since August for whenever I indulge in a bit of videogaming. With the main game completed, it was time to get into some of the DLC stuff, but only Broken Steel and Point Lookout which constitutes Add-On Pack #2 on disc. Broken Steel has been covered - good story centering around what happens after you clean up the water supply - but the main Brotherhood of Steel quests were pretty generic, and not as good as the side quests which opened up the altered-by-your-character's-actions Wasteland to you for further exploration.

As for Point Lookout though, I'm only part way into it, but it is noticeably better overall than Broken Steel. A fresh setting really picks things up, providing new and interesting quests (both main and side) - however - I've temporarily called time-out on Fallout 3.

It's been the only game I've spent my videogame time on since August, and it's time for a change of pace - step forward, GTA Episodes From Liberty City, which rocked up a day early (in spite of the postal strike nonsense the UK began experiencing in October). At the time of writing I'm well through Lost & Damned (not having Xbox Live I've not played that one before) ... the first few missions were, unfortunately, pretty poorly crafted. Simple 'shoot everything' missions that were poorly mapped-out, resulting in some terrible control issues and situations where you get behind the obvious cover you should take only to find people attacking you from behind that safety line.

Not only that, but other early missions that just pile on the police prescence to such a degree that it becomes infuriating - not only that, but the slowness of hi-jacking a bus full of convicts drained almost my entire life bar (and all of my bullet proof vest). Fortunately though, after a number of dull-to-outright-infuriating early missions, it's picked up.

The mission types haven't gotten much more varied, and aren't as compelling as GTA IV's - many of these new ones being alternate-angle retreads of choice cuts of side-plots from GTA IV, which is part-interesting, part-uninspiring - but even still, they're now good fun again. Add in much improved bike handling and physics, a sense of biker gang cameraderie, and the gang wars element and you've got quality GTA fun.

No doubt I'll have thoughts on The Ballad of Gay Tony come the end of November ... not to mention on Modern Warfare 2, and Ghostbusters.


An American Werewolf In London...

Having never seen it before, in October I finally got my mits on it, and it's been stuck in my head ever since - a sure sign of real quality. The film really is absolutely spiffing, and it just keeps growing on me. Not only that, but it seems like everyone is talking about the film at the moment. Everywhere I turn there's a reference to it, and in addition I've had the damn catchy (and fortunately rather good) Bad Moon Rising by CCR rolling around my head ever since. I think a re-viewing with the commentary engaged is not far off.


Doing Our Bit...

October has been an active month for filmmaking - namely, conceiving and piecing together our entry for the 1 Minute To Save The World competition (as blogged about in my last post). The response has been positive, which is always nice, and so we're just keeping our fingers crossed. At the very least, nobody can say we didn't try.

Similarly, and with the introduction of new green recycling wheelie bins in our county, I've been setting aside all kinds of things for going in that green recycling bin. Now that we're allowed to put plastic in, it's amazing to see how much recycling you can do in such a simple way - know what the rules are, then bung it all in a green bin and wheel it out front for the council to pick up.

Just as long as the stuff truly is recycled, then it's a great way to do it. That's how it has to be done - make it simple for the masses, and capable of covering a wide range of items, and you're onto a winner.


Shouting at the telly...

October has been a bit of a month for British politics on television, and as such I've been shouting angrily seemingly every other day at something or other. Not only that, but getting into wide-ranging politics-based rants with others.


David Sardy's "Estasi Dell Anima"...

This song, featured in the soundtrack to the bloody good Zombieland, is played during the big battle towards the end. If you've seen the movie, you'll know what I mean. This song just sends shivers up my spine everytime, and it's a bloody great piece of music.


Rammstein's "Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da"...

Speaking of music, this month has also seen the release of the new Rammstein album - yes, the one featuring that song which had that video to accompany it - and I've really been enjoying it.


Halloween partying...

I think the last time I was at a halloween party was when I was a child - bobbing for apples and so on, you know the score. It's a weird thing, is halloween, in the UK. Nationally it's not seen as a big deal, but the shops all try and jump on the bandwagon anyway to make money out of it (even though they're already flogging Christmas stuff).

However, I think Gen X and Gen Y have really driven it further into our culture of late. There's always been kids trick or treating, and it really depends on where you live, but with the rise in a drinking culture in the UK, halloween has become another excuse to drink ... but a really, really good excuse to drink. Hell, it's an excuse most of all to dress up however you like and have a real good time.

As such, I had my first halloween party since I was a child, and naturally it was a very different affair. One massive house party that happened to be happening right next to another massive halloween party. Lots of people, but not overcrowded, lots of great costumes (big-up to Hannibal Smith, the Ninja from next door, and elderly Elvis, of the people who I didn't know but whom were such strong showings they deserve some kudos).

Thanks though go to Matt (Bill Hicks) for having the kick arse bash in the first place and inviting us all, to Emma (Spinal Tap's drummer) for giving us a place to kip (inflatable beds too - very professional, I must say), and to Knox (Patrick Swayze) for driving my arse to and from the event.

Oh yes, and to Ben - who went as Che Guevara - for being an absolute legend.

Everyone else was awesome too though.


So there we are - another month, another flavoursome blogpost.