Archive for January, 2009

Right back in the jungle

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Well, you never know… you just never know. You just go along figuring some things don’t change ever, like being able to drive on a public highway without someone trying to murder you. And then one stupid thing happens. Twenty, twenty-five minutes out of your whole life, and all the ropes that kept you hanging in there get cut loose, and it’s like, there you are, right back in the jungle again.

I got in last night (actually a week or two ago now that I’m ready to post) feeling like I wanted to watch a classic, something showing the art of a great film-maker learning to stretch his talent – and his budget – as far as possible.

Every now and then the stream of sewage that is broadcast television spews out something worthwhile, like a dirty dank coal-mine yielding a 20-carat diamond. On this occasion ITV4 blessed me with exactly the gem I was hoping for.

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It’s pretty much Spielberg’s debut feature.  And, without wishing to understate the film-makers’ craft, the logistics of shooting the movie must have been pretty damn simple.  They would have run something along the lines of…

1) Get hold of a car. A cheap, red, American car.

2) Stick an everyman behind the wheel. A cheap, red-faced, American everyman.  (In case anybody has registered that he represents the travelling salesman within all of us, call him David Mann.)

3) Stick a camera behind the everyman (and in front of him, and either side of him).

4) Get hold of a rig. A cheap, rusty, really beat-up rig.

5) Film the rig marauding the car at high speed, snaking along hundreds of kilometres of long empty roads through the heartless heartland of America.

6) Drive the car and the rig into a ravine, filming it from about thirty different positions.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Every now and then Mann stops, and gets out of the car, and – through his total inability to engage with the inhabitants of the dried-up backwaters he’s washed up in – says very little.  We see how isolated and insecure he has become, expressed through this conspicuous lack of dialogue.

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On the rare occasions that Mann speaks, he does so in fits and spurts. He scoffs at the gas station attendant’s transparent attempt to sell him a new radiator hose, or stumbles through the process of ordering a glass of water and a cheese sandwich. At the peak of his performance, he confronts a fellow diner with a string of incoherent demands and misguided accusations, all of which turn out to be totally unwarranted.

The real narrative momentum of DUEL is delivered through Mann’s interior monologue, as he explores each avenue of action open to him, and discovers each to be a dead-end. The film becomes a backdrop against which each of us is left to wonder how we would respond in the face of such a brutally malevolent force, one that will not relent, one that cannot be reasoned with.

Immediately after DUEL ITV4 screened an hour-long interview with Spielberg in which he discussed his work on several of his better-known films. With regard to DUEL, he revealed that he had undertaken the project on the strength of his first great realisation in film-making – that, armed with a good script, and his own assorted faculties, he could make a watchable movie.

So what is it that makes it such a good script?

Well, there’s the fact that it cuts brilliantly to an essential vulnerability at the heart of the human condition. That it holds us at the precipice, and forces us to gaze downward into the depths of our own potential powerlessness and ineffectuality. There is that.

Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s written to be so overtly realisable. Given one capable actor, two beat-up vehicles, three or four scenes with any significant dialogue, and a decent stint in an audio suite recording voiceover, Spielberg crafts a debut feature worthy of Hitchcock. And, by Spielberg’s own admission, if DUEL owes anything to Hitchcock, it was there in the script before he even picked it up.

I think I came home wanting more than to just watch a movie.  I wanted to learn something.  What did DUEL teach me?  That a good script doesn’t just deliver on elevated ideas and stylised insight into the human condition.  It’s set in a single location, or a wide open space – somewhere cheap to film.  It emphasizes a few central performances, and a concentration of focus and narrative tension.  Think the rich and concentrated mix of talent stranded in the remoteness of space, in Ridley Scott’s ALIEN.  Think the patchwork of talent isolated in the polar wilderness, in John Carpenter’s THE THING.

Look at the common ingredients, in pure story-telling terms, as they start to emerge:

  1. We find ourselves at an environmental extremity, some lonely and isolated colonial outpost characterised by it’s actual and ideological displacement from the ‘civilised’ world.
  2. We discover a tormenting force, at first hidden from view, whose motives and modus operandi become gradually clearer as the story unfolds.
  3. We turn to our central protagonist – the character with whom our greatest sympathies lie. Though abrasive in manner, perhaps even mildly sociopathic, he or she is also essentially rational and reasonable, and ready to come to life in the face of adversity.
  4. Our protagonists prevail, but never triumph.  These movies gain a great deal from showing an awareness of the difference between one and the other.

I don’t know about anybody else, but these make some pretty compelling building blocks for a debut feature.  They lend themselves to sprawling westerns, long range sci-fi, and the kind of smothering horror movies and psychological thrillers I grew up on.

They put the onus on the writing, confining events within the claustrophobic context of a wide open space, juxtaposing the intricacies of human nature against the an otherwise prosaic and inanimate backdrop.

This is the script I’m currently trying to write, and the idea behind the idea behind Weatherman.

All I need is the damn time to do it.

The art of the film

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

This is an example of various WATCHMEN artwork Dave Gibbons has drawn for marketing and licensing purposes, available in a book entitled The Art of the Film: WATCHMEN. They did one for “300”, and it was rather good.

Nice to see Gibbons getting behind the movie (and, as Sizemore pointed out, paying for his retirement in the process.)

Meanwhile, somewhere near Northampton, Alan Moore crouches over a bubbling cauldron, fingering the still-warm spleen of a recently departed field mouse…

Better Blue Than Red

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

We made this.

I’ve seen a lot of different responses I’d like to quote, but the one that sticks out comes from Ain’t It Cool News, where this is, and has been for several hours, the top story:

The actual movie seems almost like it’s going to be a foot note to what’s really interesting about this whole project: a blueprint on how to use all media as a way of heightening the entire experience of a film. Not just in a phony buzz ‘Blair Witch’ style. More about using other medium to flesh out the movie in the way that just can’t be done by sitting in a theater for about two hours. Very cool.

Very cool indeed.

[UPDATED 13:30 22/01/09] That’s me selling hot dogs in the first of the vox pops btw. Technically I believe was exec producer on this project, and I probably shade a co-writing credit, but I’ll always think of myself as the hot dog salesman ≠)

[UPDATED 14:11 22/01/09] We just found someone selling Better Blue Than Red tees online. We printed up one for the kid in the clip and a few for the crew,but we never really thought about mass-producing them.  Looks like we don’t need to.

We also received word that an impromptu fan-led Better Blue Than Red A.R.G. has sprung up in one of the major forums devoted to this movie, invented and rolled out by the Watchmen superfans who make it their home, and use it to pour out their hopes and fears for this movie.  They are hardcore, and I salute them (and also fear them, just a little bit).

[UPDATED 17:00 22/01/09]We’ve been working with Annie Ok as a consultant on this project.  She really opened my eyes to what powerful community ttools Youtube and Flickr are, as well as being ok places to store photographs and video clips.

She just pinged me and pointed me in the direction of this:

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It’s the top 20 most popular clips on Youtube today, in the category of News, into which we felt compelled to insert the Manhattan piece, in the name of maximum realism.  This is for the UK, but I gather the US looks much the same – a whole load of Obamas, and one Ted Philips.

At 91,000 views, with three and a half hours to go, it’s definitely looks like we’ll make six figures within the first 24 hours. If you’d offered me that this time yesterday, I’d have torn your arm off.

[UPDATE 19:15 22/01/09] Found: “New footage from the comic book movie that makes Daredevil look like a film that is somehow worse than Daredevil.”  We just hit 110,000 views, with time to spare.

Goodbye Bush

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Veet® offers you a great range of hair removal products (waxes and creams).

Fathers-4-Justice it ain’t.

Monday, January 19th, 2009

This is one of the first few images to be released through The New Frontiersman.

Here’s another:

The clock is well and truly ticking ≠)

The New Frontiersman

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

It’s been a pretty frantic first working week of 2009. Normally it can take a week or two into January before the studio is at capacity and everybody’s up to speed. This time around I think most of us already feel like we’ve worked at least a couple of weeks, and a few of us will be at our desks for most of the weekend.

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This is why. www.TheNewFrontiersman.net. It’s a site we’re producing as part of the online campaign for a certain film I might have mentioned around here once or twice before.

The New Frontiersman is a right-wing extremist publication read by the character who feels like the cold heart of Watchmen – Rorschach.

At the moment the dossier remains sealed – we’re aiming to open it up some time early next week. I’m not going to talk about the contents. I – and our client, Paramount – would much prefer to keep people guessing.

And guessing they are.

Since launching on Thursday the site has received a HUGE amount of exposure on all sorts of different movie blogs and fan sites, and is being discussed in forums all over the wilds of the web. 15,000 unique visitors in the first 24 hours isn’t bad at all from a standing start, especially for a site without any actual content.

We’re already feeling the attention. One tech-savvy fanboy went to the trouble of decompiling the flash movie and found a path to a test XML feed, referencing some random media on Flickr and Youtube – a touch careless on our part maybe, but I’m prepared to admit that even we have been caught slightly off-guard by the level of interest in what we’re doing.

I also came across speculation on one blog that the ink blot on the front of the dossier is intended to look like an evil fox, and is a deliberate dig at 20th Century Fox, who currently have Warner Bros in the courts over the question of who owns the rights to distribute this movie.

I’m happy to confirm that it’s nothing of the sort. Apart from anything else, Warner Bros and Fox are both valued clients of ours, and we’re not about to start picking sides. I guess ultimately we’re on the side of the movie, and our job is just to bring it to as large an audience as possible.

It’s also worth noting that our client on this project is actually Paramount, who are distributing the film outside the US, even though some bloggers seem to be assuming that it’s being driven by the Warner Bros team behind the campaign for The Dark Knight. That’s pretty high praise, especially considering we haven’t really done anything yet.

For anybody still in any doubt, you might be interested (as I was) to learn that the Rorschach test is actually a set of ten very specific inkblots, of which this is the first. Wikipedia reports that it’s commonly interpreted as a bat, a badge and a coat of arms.

If people are seeing an evil foxes, I guess that gives you a sense of where many of the fans and bloggers stand on the whole legal issue. Producer Lloyd Levin recently made an eloquent appeal for the studios to resolve the issue so that the release of the film could proceed unobstructed, but I’ve also seen some more incendiary analysis, reflecting how serious Watchmen fans are about seeing this movie.

So they should be.

Week in Inshriach™

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

February 2009 will see our inaugural visit to Inshriach House, a 200-acre highland estate (below) the ownership and management of which was recently taken over by our pal Walter.

We’ve booked it from the 16th-23rd Feb (at the eminently reasonable off-season weekly rate) so it will probably look a bit more like this.

Our current confirmed party consists of eight adults (Emma and I, my parents, and my brother and sister plus other halves) and seven children – Sam (8), Joel (6), Amelie (4), Lola (3), Charlie (2), Teddy (1.5) and Ruby (1).

Walter tells me that the place can comfortably sleep double this number of adults, with a few of the little ones creatively accommodated. As such, we’re throwing open an invitation to some of our friends – especially those with offspring, and those who don’t find other people’s offspring utterly insufferable – to come join us for this wintery week in the Cairngorms.

For anybody foolhardy enough to be considering it, here’s a look at what we have planned for our fun, frugal, family-friendly Week in Inschriach™.

The Caledonian Sleeper

This runs every night between London Euston and Fort William, stopping along the way at Aviemore, which is just a few miles from Inshriach. It has to be a better option for any parent than spending 8-10 hours in a car with one or more small children, and is probably cheaper.

There’s a page full of useful information here, including details of what you can expect with a standard class 2-berth compartment (pictured left). Booked in advance, this compartment (and, I presume, both berths) can apparently be yours from £99. I looked into buying tickets through RailEasy and was quoted £124 for a return ticket departing from Euston at 9pm on Sunday 15th (arriving in Aviemore at 7am the following morning) and returning at the corresponding times on Sunday 22nd.

Kids under five go free, but aren’t provided with a berth. There is apparently room for a Samsonite travel bubble, which looks like it would house a little one for the whole week (allowing them out for meals perhaps, and a cold bath.) Failing that, the kids can take the berths and mum and dad can take turns working through a bottle of half-decent scotch in the lounge car.

For anybody worried as to whether or not you’ll be able to transport everything you need for a week by train, there will be some cars going, and probably the option to stow a few extra items therein. (And by items, I do not mean children.)

Don’t call it a ‘rota’

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22727843@N03/2389279809/in/set-72157604908081265/

Our friend Eleanor (who might be coming) was quick to point out to me that running a kitchen can become a bit of a bone of contention in this kind of situation. While some wrestle for control of the utensils, others shrug off any and all responsibility with irksome abandon. (For the record, I am usually to be found in the second category.)

With her reservations in mind, we’re going to run things a little differently.

By my reckoning we’ll be looking at about ten sit-down meals – five lunches, and five suppers. This excludes lunch on the Monday (we’ll come pre-prepared), dinner on the Saturday (for reasons that should become clear) and both meals on Sunday (so that we can use up any scraps and leftovers as we prepare to decamp).

The current plan is to create five crack teams of 2-3 capable adults, each with roughly equivalent culinary know-how (or don’t-know-how).

Each crack team will then cater for a lunch and a dinner (on different days), using a corresponding proportion of our overall food budget.

We’ll use lunch on Monday as an opportunity to horsetrade regarding any larger items we want to involve. And, by horsetrade, I mean horsetrade. As in trading horses. And cows. And pigs-in-jelly.

After that it’s down to Walter to get us the best deals possible from his local suppliers.

We should be able to source most of our food locally, with the opportunity to choose from a stunning selection of fresh, organic meat, fish and vegetables, not to mention all sorts of other local delicacies. Walter provides details of various local suppliers and their mouth-watering wares on the Inshriach House website.

Other things to note:

  1. There are crack teams, but this is not a competition. Try to think of it more as a government black op, like running guns into Indochina.
  2. If you’re cooking the next meal, you’re washing up the last one. Simple, effective, and a good chance to bond over a sink full of culinary smegma.
  3. Dinner means tea as well. That means an early sitting for the tiddlers and the toddlers. It’s a chance to show some real class, catering for critics who don’t mince words. Or, for that matter, use words.
  4. You have to cater for unusual dietary requirements. Cook for the veggies, basically, if there are any. And any vegans, though they be freaks of nature.
  5. Breakfast will operate on the simple principle of have what you want, when you want, and leave the kitchen as you find it.

Treehouses & treasure hunts

“Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to build treehouses.”

If you know the man, you know that when Walter talks idly on the Inshriach blog about building a treehouse, what this means is the development of a sprawling multi-tiered arboreal housing complex fit for a tribe of Roman Catholic Ewoks.

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I haven’t consulted him on the subject, but I’m hopeful that we might be able to lay some of the groundwork – nay, treework – while we have a few able-bodied men and women able to stand around drinking tea and disagreeing about what to do next.

Given the family-friendly theme of Week in Inschriach™ we’ll also be planning other activities each morning designed for children aged 1-100.

Top of the list is a treasure hunt Walter’s busy designing, using various other-worldly props (see below) salvaged from a recent 3-month BBC shoot for the children’s tv show Raven.

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I dare say if there’s snow there will be some sledging, and also some snowmen. However, in the event that the elements conspire against us, we’ll also have plenty of indoor ideas in reserve, not least plenty of paper, paints, pens and pencils, and a nature table with its own weather system.

The 1st Inshriach International Film Festival

You can read about the new Inshriach House cinema and Film Club here, including the origins of the mysterious 6’x4′ NBS Nightly News screen set to take centre-stage, and pictured here in the process of being constructed:

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As such, we’ll be staging the 1st Inshriach International Film Festival, which essentially means we’ll be showing one or two movies in the barn each day.

We’ll try and show some good kiddie fare in the afternoons/early evenings – I’m thinking everything from vintage Disney (Snow White, The Jungle Book) through to Pixar’s latest, WALL-E:

Later on we’ll put on something for the old-timers, some good independent stuff from across the years, maybe exploring a suitable Scottish theme – think Gregory’s Girl, Shallow Grave and Hallam Foe:

We should manage to watch a couple of films at least and who knows? Maybe if there’s ever a 2nd Inshriach International Film Festival we’ll be able to showcase something original that hasn’t been shot and cut within the preceding twenty-four hours.

And to round it all off…

Plans are currently afoot for a collaboration between Inshriach House and some local restauranteurs, whereby they will occasionally cater for parties staying at the estate.

Walter sent me through some details of a menu being prepared for a party in January. It features some wonderful looking food for what sounds like an insanely reasonable price.

Rather than spell out the details here, I’ll simply put it out there as a possibility that we would be catered for on the Saturday evening, after which some of us would no doubt drink our way through to the early hours of Sunday 22nd, which just happens to be my brother Barnaby’s 103rd birthday.

And just for any gourmets among you, let me tease you with one possible selection; a starter of confit duck terrine with celeriac remoulade and handmade oatcakes, Rothiemurchus venison and juniper stew, with chilli chocolate, wee rosemary roasties and honey glazed root veg for a main, finishing up with rhubarb and custard crème brulee with shortbread.

So that’s that really.

Anyone can find out much more about the estate and the house on the main Inshriach House website, you can read about the most recent developments on Walter’s blog, you can find lots of lovely pictures on the Flickr page, and can make friends with Inshriach on Facebook.

If you have any suggestions as to what we should or shouldn’t do on our Week in Inschriach™, and are coming along, or thinking about coming along, or even not remotely interested in coming along, feel free to comment below. As a rule, bloggers love it when people post comments on their posts. It’s strangely reassuring to think that people might actually read them.

Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, all the way to the end.