Sunday 30 October 2011

Flavours of the Month: October 2011...


Boardwalk Empire Season 2 - the return of HBO's critically and commercially successful period drama is most welcome.

An Idiot Abroad 2 - Karl Pilkington's jetting off around the world again, this time moaning his way through a bucket list. At times cringe-inducing, at others utterly hilarious.

Family Guy and American Dad on BBC Three - repeats galore, but I've often found myself switching over after eleven to catch back-to-back double bills.

The Big Bang Theory on E4 - now that Friends has moved to Comedy Central, E4 have been pushing new shows, as well as existing ones on their roster. It seems that The Big Bang Theory is their new big name, and I've found myself routinely catching the re-run double bills after midnight. I've been watching the show for a few years now, but this is the first time I'm going back over old episodes of this excellent sitcom.

The Walking Dead Season 2 - months of waiting, filled with fanboy speculation and fevered forum banter, have all led up to this point; the return of AMC's superior undead drama. Friday nights on FXUK - it's all about Rick Grimes leading his not-so-merry band of survivors through the undead apocalypse. Recently renewed for a third season, I'm very glad indeed to have this masterful show back on their air (despite a few behind-the-scenes troubles along the way).


Phoenix "Love Like A Sunset Part 1 & 2" - as heard on the soundtrack for Sophia Coppola's sparse film Somewhere.

Rob Zombie - numerous albums and remixes.

Tool - Ænima, Lateralus, and 10,000 Days.

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl Soundtrack - ideal atmospheric moods for finishing off my latest script.

M83 "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" - the highly anticipated return of the 1980s-inspired nostalgia and love-tinged moods of the French shoegazer.

David Lynch - "Ghost of Love", "Polish Poem" & "Real Love" (with Chrysta Bell), and "Dark Night of the Soul" (with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse)

Wye Oak "Civilian" - as heard during the trailer for season two of The Walking Dead.


Unusually warm weather - the month got off to a somewhat curious start which found me washing my car in bright sunshine and shorts. We're back on track though - the winter socks, long-sleeved shirts, and winter duvet have come out of hiding.

"Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th" by Peter M. Bracke - I finished off this excellent book. If you're a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, then I highly recommend you treat yourself to this.

Allen Bridge - this month saw me complete my drama/mystery script (as detailed in numerous blog posts over the months), which I'm currently submitting to some companies for consideration. Hopefully this challenging and rewarding creative venture bears fruit.

Friday 28 October 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #30...

The script is complete (Draft 2.2 - 115 pages in length) and has been submitted to the BBC Writersroom this week. Furthermore, I'm sending out synopses/treatments to some production companies who are open to screenwriters like me - namely those who are unrepresented and don't have the help of industry contacts to fall back on.

Hopefully Allen Bridge - a challenging and rewarding creative venture - will bear fruit.

Finally, in drawing this series of blog posts to a close, below is a picture of all the notes and research (as well as the first draft) that went into creating Allen Bridge. Countless pages and countless hours - but I'm very proud indeed of the final product. It was most definitely worth it.

Oh and by-the-way, this is blog post #700.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Double Bill Mini Musings: Creepy kids, and long distances...

Wake Wood:
Seemingly from the company that owns Hammer, but not directly from the famous studio themselves, this UK chiller comes from the tradition of such 'creepy folk in a creepy rural town' films as The Wicker Man. In a somewhat rushed intro, we find a young couple have moved to the titular town after the death of their daughter - however, one night they discover that all is not as it seems in Wake Wood. A ceremony in which the dead can be brought temporarily back to life is overseen by the townsfolk - and rather readily accepted by the couple.

Wake Wood is a decent chiller, however the main problem with it is that the protagonists are all-too-ready to accept quite a far-fetched ritual as actually possible. There's no "you're a nutter, what are you on about?" period of disbelief or even mockery - in fact they hop on-board with ease. Indeed the general pace of the film feels too rushed - we don't have enough time to really get to know the central couple, nor their circumstances in life, nor the town of Wake Wood itself. A creeping sense of realisation - a build up to a shocking discovery - is sorely missing.

The premise is a good one, and while it does occasionally stray unsuitably into gore-flick territory, and the score is at times intrusive or against the grain, it's an admirable effort. Despite being in too much of a rush, not exploring the other residents, and the town itself, to the extent that it should have, there is definitely something there to dig up for fans of The Wicker Man - and other such fare.

Going The Distance:
I wasn't all that interested in seeing this, but I caught a couple of minutes of it on Sky Movies when flicking around - and I quickly found myself chuckling. So over to Sky Anytime it was, and I gave this Drew Barrymore/Justin Long romcom a spin - and in short, I enjoyed it quite a bit. A pleasant surprise was the script - it was breezy, bright, and appealed effortlessly to both male and female demographics at different times, and in different ways, throughout. It even has a dirty mind at times - but not in a sleazy or gross way - and what's more the actors all fit together well ... indeed, Barrymore & Long's real-life relationship shines through to afford their characters a sense of truth that you don't often find in romcoms.

Although there are romcoms, and then there's this which - as I've already said - effortlessly appeals to men and women simultaneously, but also appeals to the different sides within each gender. Relationship drama, career woes, gross-out male banter, frank sex talk, and some genuinely hilarious (and well performed) moments (see the impromptu moment of passion on the dinner table) - it's all catered for. Going The Distance is surprisingly rather well crafted, and properly entertaining to boot.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Quadruple Bill Mini Musings: Cute CGI, Intriguing Cusack, Tense Clooney, and Superfluous Remake...

Despicable Me:
Animated fun that's not from Pixar, but still pretty darn good. Pixar are more capable of mining emotional depths (see the tenth minute of Up, or the entire third act of Toy Story 3), but Despicable Me proves successful at all things cute and sweet with some nice moments of comedy thrown in. An evil genius, who isn't especially successful, sets out to steal the moon but finds himself learning there's more to life than shrink rays and getting a loan from the Bank of Evil. Not as consistently hilarious as some other non-Pixar fare (such as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), but it's easily on-par with (if not a little ahead of) Monsters vs Aliens.

Pushing Tin:
As I've said before, if it's got John Cusack in it then it's worth seeing - and the rule continues unbroken. Cusack plays an air traffic controller, the best in fact, who finds himself getting into a deep battle of egos with Billy Bob Thornton's rogue hotshot, and managing to screw up his entire life in the process - not helped by Angelina Jolie's temptress. The middle portion loses some of the heat of the early part of the flick (where air traffic control scenes are paced like an action movie), but it's an intriguing light-hearted drama.

The American:
From the director of Control comes a meticulous, slow-paced tension-builder. George Clooney plays an assassin and master craftsmen (of sniper rifles) on the run from those who want him dead. Holed up in a remote Italian town, he finds himself falling for a local red-light girl - but will he manage to outrun the hounds that seek to hunt him down? The trailer made it look more like an action film, but it's not - what it actually is, is a tense waiting game. While it doesn't particularly tread any unique ground, it's an interesting effort.

Let Me In:
Remakes are dime-a-dozen at the moment (and have been since 2003's re-tread of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and if they're not remakes they're reboots, prequels, or English-language makeovers. Sometimes it's a worthwhile endeavour, but more often than not you come away with something that was at best benign, and at worst so bad that it actually spits in the face of the superior original. Let The Right One In was a fantastic little gem - and certainly helped by not being an Americanised exercise in seen-it-all-before sameness - it had a strong character all its own.

The English-language re-do however, is practically a shot-for-shot copy at times, and certainly doesn't stray at all far from the established path. I found myself watching it thinking "oh yeah, it's this bit; next it'll be that part", and while it's sensitively directed and stays true to the pacing and atmosphere of the original (thank god it wasn't all nu-metal, tween emos, product placement, and Michael Bay-style dunderheadedness), it just doesn't feel like there's much point in it existing. Why watch this when the superior original is right there, and if you've seen the original, you'll find this to be a copy with softer edges. It's faithful, but it feels scared to explore alternate territory - although the scenes of a bin-bag-headed killer hiding in the back seats of cars does make for genuinely tense and well-directed moments. If this was an original, it'd be very good indeed, but the problem is that it's not - Let The Right One In exists, and if you're going to watch a version of this story, watch the original.

The original; with it's sparse dialogue, reliance on meaningful looks, pregnant silences, and explosions of brief-but-spectacularly-memorable moments of violence, is very worthwhile seeing. This Americanised version - which admirably brought Hammer back to the scene - feels sadly pointless. Talented individuals made a good film - but an unavoidable problem looms large - in the shadow of Let The Right One In, Let Me In is simply superfluous.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #29...

As I near the end of the writing process (I'm ostensibly on the final go-through, on page 87 of 116) I thought it would be interesting to list some of the music that has provided some of the consistent backdrop to the writing process of Allen Bridge - so, without further ado:

Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch, Julee Cruise, and Blue Bob - various soundtracks and collaborations

The Black Angels "Passover" and "Directions To See A Ghost" (albums)

Daft Punk "Tron Legacy" (album)

Donovan "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (track)

Godspeed You Black Emperor "Moya" (track)

Hans Zimmer "Journey To The Line" (track)

Ingram Marshall "Fog Tropes" (track)

Krzysztof Penderecki "Symphony No.3 Passacaglia - Allegro Moderato" (track)

Max Richter "On The Nature Of Daylight" (track)

Michael Giacchino "Life And Death" (track)

MoozE/Frey Vladimir "STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl" (album)

Petri Alanko "Alan Wake" (album)

Roy Orbison "In Dreams" (track)

Rob Zombie - various, but particularly "Educated Horses", and "Hellbilly Deluxe 2" (albums)

Tool - "Æenema", "Lateralus", and "10,000 Days" (albums)

Some of these are more recent entries, while others have been frequently played for months, and naturally there will be some other albums and songs that have filled in here and there along the way. Some of the music - such as Rob Zombie or Tool - is suited to powering through the re-drafting process at times, while other stuff - such as Daft Punk's soundtrack to Tron Legacy - can fulfil that requirement, but also act as a good atmospheric inspiration ... and then there are other examples - such as the Badalamenti/Lynch/Cruise stuff, or Petri Alanko's Alan Wake soundtrack, or MoozE's soundtrack to STALKER - that are excellent inspirations for a particular mood.

I found that writing Draft 1.1 and 1.2 were more suited to the music that provided me with a particular atmosphere or mood (sometimes I would play particular tracks at particular points in the script - to write/read along to a specific track). Then when it came to Draft 2.1 and 2.2 it was more about powering through changes and tweaks, but also adding new content, and as such there was a fluid mix between atmospheric stuff and hard rock/metal.

In terms of inspiration for Allen Bridge in general, it was always - from my very first thought - more about capturing a particular type of mood, rather than anything else (well, apart from telling a good mystery that had the potential to chill as well as enthrall). Therefore, music was the perfect inspiration for the script, and while there were certain films that inspired me - it was always from the standpoint of a particular mood that it successfully protrayed, and not the content it offered - and even then all the inspiration was just to get me into a particular head space. Quite quickly I found myself never consciously thinking about any particular film, television show, book, campfire tale, or whatever you fancy.

I was fortunate to find that Allen Bridge itself ended up inspiring Allen Bridge, by which I mean, the established parts of the story (initially scenes from a half-remembered dream) would lead to a new scene, then a new character, then a new backstory, and then new scenes and characters and yet more backstories from there. It was like deciphering a film - or a dream of a film - inside my head, and down on paper, from a jumbled order so that I could discover an organised and complete entity at the end of it all.

Progress wise, as I said, it's tantalisingly close to completion - I've reached the stage where I'm feeling confident that it is ready to be submitted, the point where the story and the plot feel strong like stone ... a point where it flows satisfyingly from one scene to the next and can inspire surprise, chills, and further questions. At this stage I can so vividly see the script inside my head as a film - and even if I do say so myself - I think it'd make a good one.

Monday 17 October 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #28...

It's back to page 1 again as I make another tour through the script - this time with an eye to trimming as many unnecessary words as possible. I particularly want to trim Act I, as for a while now it's culminated on page 34 - although on the very first draft, it did so on page 44, so cutting out 10 pages worth was quite good in itself. However, Act I should end on page 30 - and right now I've got it ending part way into page 33, so it is crawling back somewhat. If I can't get it any further than page 31 or part way into page 32, so-be-it, I'm not going to cut stuff just for a page number - but it would be quite nice if I was able to manage this little feat of editing.

As for the rest of the script, particular focus will be on the newly added content, and especially the dialogue-heavy sequences found in Act II and the denouement. They might be heavy with dialogue, but they're also heavy with information and thematic imagery, it's not just empty words. However, if there are lines that aren't needed, they'll come out.

It's also interesting to go through my bullet points for this re-drafting process. The vast majority have been met, but there's the odd one that's much more obscure to include. For example, thinking of having the character of Jeanie - the owner and operator of the town's cafe - to be somewhat flirtatious with D.C.I. Ryman ... and while I've added a little detail here and there to suggest the possibility of an attraction, in this particular case it's not something you can really write in - if anything it'd be a piece of between-the-lines performance/motivation for the actors.

Furthermore, in all my notes on the script dating back to the very first ideas, little thoughts of things like Ryman having a broad vocabulary haven't quite fed in as much as I'd initially thought. He certainly speaks in a way that sits apart from other characters, but due to some of the stuff he has to talk about, Harland Mumper has become the character whose dialogue has a very individual ring to it. Ryman has become verbally more direct, while Harland has become verbally more inventive. Small things, almost infinitesimal things, can shift when it actually comes the time to put fingers-to-keyboard ... it's all a part of the evolution of the script.

Finally, after having spent so much time (when I'm not busy with other things) over so many months now, I'm really ready to see this script finished. Around this time in a project there is a sense of fatigue that you have to battle against - you don't want to say "ah screw it, that'll do", but you also don't want to needlessly and ridiculously nitpick over every single shred until it becomes a muddled mess - at some point you have to say "no, it's finished now" and release it so that it can be looked at by the necessary people.

As I often say "it'll be what it'll be" - the key is to do everything you can reasonably do, within the skill set and knowledge you possess at the time, to make it the best product you can, under the circumstances within which you're working. A dedicated approach, but also a practical one.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #27...

I've been through the script from start-to-finish, word-for-word, applying as many tweaks as possible along the way. That was Draft 2.1, so now we're onto Draft 2.2 - this is where I can hop around all over the script applying anything that I missed on the list of changes, or didn't quite nail down as required.

I can now focus on a specific issue at a time, applying all the necessary tweaks here and there as I need them - for example, it could be a single sentence of dialogue added to close a minor plot hole, or it could be adapting a piece of action or discovered information in Act II after having added some clarification (or done some more exploration of a theme) in Act III.

Right now there's a lot of effort going into the Act III denouement - there's a lot of loose ends to tie up in a way that makes enough sense to the reader (as opposed to me - who knows all of the back story and detail found in my notes, but which are not necessarily fully in the script's pages), while at the same time not just spelling every damned thing out like it's nursery school.

This is a mystery after all, and with plenty of characters (all of whom have back stories) and the expansive history of the eponymous town on offer, it's best to leave enough things open to allow numerous smaller/side mysteries to linger in the mind of the reader. The main bases have to be covered, but beyond that it's best to suggest further avenues in the story as opposed to the plot - the latter covers everything between the first and last pages of the script, while the former concerns that and everything that is off-screen before, during, and after what is written on the page.

So at the moment it's a case of layering on further levels of intricacies to the plot and the story - things get a little more detailed and sewn-together with every session of writing - and it's a satisfying thing to jump back and forth to pick out small subtleties that need a little polish, which link to other parts of the script, which then in-turn link to other thematic elements. It's like a million-piece jigsaw puzzle that's almost complete save for a patch of blue sky.

Looking forward though, I'm hoping to get Allen Bridge finished this month and sent off to the BBC Writersroom ASAP - after which I'll also see about submitting it to some of the companies that I recently discovered who accept scripts from writers such as myself.

Progress is good - it's going well - and it's tantalisingly close to completion with each passing day.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Double Bill Mini Musings: Pretentious and Exploitative?

From Sofia Coppola (who gave us the excellent Lost In Translation) comes something a bit familiar, albeit with a script that must have been as thin as a postage stamp, and lots of not much happening within a structure that has little care for the intricacies of the three acts, or inciting incidents, or what have you.

That said, if you are able to get into a sort of semi-drowsy state and just let the lack of much of anything happening wash over you, then you can kind of get into it. A directionless actor bums around at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. watching pole dancers until he falls asleep, and then his daughter turns up ... cue a series of roughly scripted scenes where suddenly this actor who lacks meaning, has a purpose in life ... then it sort of ends (in a way that could easily be seen as pretentious, rather than evocative - evocative like the how far superior Lost In Translation did with that haunting soundtrack and unheard whisper). Nothing amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but fans of sparse atmospheric filmmaking and shoegaze/indie music should be able to find something on offer here. However, many might very well find it all a bit scant and pretentious ... it's all in the eye of the beholder ultimately.

Savage Streets:
Directed by Danny Steinmann (who went on shortly after to call the shots on Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning), this lurid exploitationer concerns a girl gang who manage to piss off the wrong group of troublesome young men. Seeking revenge, the male gang rapes (and puts into a coma) the deaf/mute sister of Linda Blair's fiery high school senior (played by genre icon Linnea Quigley) ... big mistake ... that is after the flick goes a little bit off-the-boil, but once Blair straps on the leather and has a crossbow clenched in her mits, it picks up again. Stylish, sleazy (see the extensive, soapy, shower sequence early on that tosses in a soaking wet, semi-clad girl fight for good measure), and decidedly eighties (in a good way), it's actually a pretty solid revenge pic. Worth seeing for fans of such fare, or indeed followers of Linda Blair.

Saturday 8 October 2011

What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (Massimo Dallamano, 1974): DVD Review...

Find more Shameless Screen Entertainment DVD reviews here.

This early 1970s poliziotteschi-cum-giallo has a bigger bark than bite - it appears to be more lurid, judging by the cover art (in Shameless' signature gaudy yellow), than it actually is. While Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975) was as sleazy as you'd expect, Daughters takes a different route and focuses much more on the police investigation aspect - that is oftentimes overshadowed by the easier to market themes of sex and violence.

A rich school girl is discovered hanged in a loft apartment - a girl who is evidently no stranger to carnal activities - and so begins an investigation that leads to the discovery of a secretive, high-end prostitution ring that specialises for those seeking underage exploitation. There are times when the film appears to have quite serious pretensions of addressing a horrific fact of life, albeit in the vein of an occasionally gruesome murder mystery. Indeed, by the end of the film, the underlying cynicism of Ettore Sanzo and Massimo Dallamano's script really comes to the fore to point a finger at the grim realities of political corruption - how thousands of missing teenagers are simply ignored by the system.

So while it might disappoint some of those seeking more exploitative fare, it does compensate in spades with a pretty strong police procedural story (relatively speaking, at least) mixed with elements of murder mystery and even action. A notable high point in the film is an impressive chase sequence that appears to throw caution to the wind in a somewhat guerrilla filmmaking style. The police chase a leather-clad, cleaver-wielding motorcyclist at high speed through the streets and - seemingly at least - genuinely catch unaware bystanders by surprise, which only adds to the thrilling riskiness of the chase.

Compared to Strip Nude For Your Killer, the direction and photography aren't quite as tight or quite as beautiful, but nevertheless Franco Delli Colli's cinematography provides a constant stream of impressive compositions, while Dallamano keeps the spotlight shining directly on the police investigation - indeed, considering some aspects of the plot, it makes an awful lot of sense to take the higher road. One stand-out contribution above them all, however, is Stelvio Cipriani's score - particularly "La Polizia Sta A Guardare" (as heard during the climactic chase sequence in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof) - which adds a sense of propulsion that nicely compliments the procedural aspects of the plot.

Shameless Screen Entertainment's DVD makes for a solid presentation. The film looks about as good as you can hope for - this not being a 'big name giallo' like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage - yet the clean-but-still-grainy 2.35:1 print (in anamorphic widescreen) actually helps compound the grittier elements of the plot. A series of trailers for other releases, and a reversible sleeve round out the package.

For those with a penchant for 1970s giallo, this is definitely a worthy and intriguing entry in the genre. A mixture of mystery, horror, action, and thriller with a healthy dose of cynicism that makes for a strong and enjoyable viewing experience.

Thursday 6 October 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #26...

I'm ploughing through the script - now up to page 73 (of 114) - which puts me just before the triple-whammy finish of Act II. The first Act remains in need of a little trim-down, but Act II and Act III can both easily afford a few extra pages of exploration - which is nice.

The biggest change at the moment is concerning Miller's back story - a certain piece of his past and how it connects with the town itself. It's a bit of a jigsaw puzzle at the moment. You have to find the right points in which to put the right pieces of additional information.

Another thing I'm keeping an eye on throughout this re-drafting is removing/softening anything that could give away anything a bit too soon, be it a plot point, or someone's motivations. It's all a balancing act at the moment, where you are simultaneously viewing the script from afar as one 'finished' piece, and from very close up as you place small bits of this-and-that here-and-there.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

"Allen Bridge" blog #25...

Draft 2.1 is underway - but getting into gear was a tad tricky. When you've been out of the way of writing for a little while it can be hard to get into that mode again - so I decided to ease into it slowly, applying a few cursory changes throughout the entire script to 'get my hand in' again.

However, as I've said before, oftentimes it's just a case of double-clicking that icon - that simple task is surprisingly a hurdle in itself - but once you're into the software, your brain suddenly thinks "well, seeing as I'm here" ... and off you go.

I'm currently at the end of Act I in the re-drafting process and the page count for the entire script has jumped a couple of pages (mostly due to a handful of extra lines that pushed everything beyond it down a notch or two) and it's going well so far. Although I do still aim to trim down Act I as it's still a little bit on the long side - but I think that'll have to wait for Draft 2.2 for now.

There haven't been any major changes thus far, and there's unlikely to be - it's more clarifying smaller elements, enhancing certain aspects of certain back stories, tweaking dialogue, and seeking the perfect balance of how the mystery itself plays out (walking a fine line in search of a perfect balance between giving away enough to suggest various possibilities, but not so much that you allow someone to figure out something important ahead of time).

That said, some small changes can require plenty of time and thought to go into what is relatively speaking only a few lines of dialogue, or the tone of someone's action at a specific moment in a scene. One of the larger changes though is to do with part of Miller's back story, which will provide a tighter additional reason for him being in Allen Bridge in the first place and why he's so inexplicably drawn to the place. This change is really a further exploration of an element that was already present in the first draft, but one which kind of ended up in the background - but when you're piecing together an entire script with multiple characters, back stories, and histories, it's bound to happen ... that's what re-drafting is for, anyway.

So far so good, and I have to say I'm very proud of this script. Without a doubt in my mind, it's the strongest thing I've written, and is easily one of the most satisfying writing experiences I've ever had.