Filmmaking Trends Of 2014

Originally published by Raindance.

At the beginning of this year, Raindance took to the crystal ball and presciently published their filmmaking insights for 2014. So as the Christmas countdown begins and the yearly round-ups start to appear, here’s a retrospective on the trends that took flight and those that are delayed…

1. Mini Content Marketing

the_lego_fb-blog-full

Sitting comfortably at third position in the list of highest grossing movies of the year, is Warner Bros. The Lego Movie. A candidate arguably made for mini-content marketing, given that it stars, well, mini people; this is but one example wherein our prediction came true. With a budget of $60million, it made $9million profit on opening weekend in the US alone and did so with a content marketing campaign that has been labelled a triumph; remaining relevant and appealing to both children and adults.

The Lego Movie built a solid and engaged Twitter campaign, keeping a constant eye on its feeds and remaining personal to its audience. They also launched a ‘Fan of the Week’ competition across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine platforms, encouraging followers to upload photos and involve themselves in a dialogue with other fans, as well as continuing to upload their own animated content. By utilising short-form content and immersing themselves in the digital world, Lego brought themselves up-to-date and a larger audience along with it. Whilst the content itself may be quicker than a flash, this trend is certainly not a flash in the pan. Consumers and audiences have become accustomed to advertising that revels in immediacy, brevity and interaction and with a success story such as The Lego Movie’s, other brands would be foolish not to follow suit.

2. The Death Of Film

You don’t need powers of premonition to predict that celluloid, like the dodo before it, is on its last legs. Since 2010/11, the industry has recognised and acted upon, the benefits of digital filming. There are some filmmakers still clinging onto celluloid, meaning that a handful of future releases will still hark back to the golden age of cinema. Director Quentin Tarantino for instance, spoke at Cannes 2014 reiterating his disdain for digital projection and his intentions to continue shooting on 35mm film. But certainly, most cinema releases this year and undoubtedly in the years to come, are being filmed on high-tech and rapidly improving digital technology. Start practicing your ‘Funeral March’, because come 2015, celluloid could well and truly have kicked the bucket.

nexusae0_unnamed163. International Reach of VOD

Like the evil villain of the entertainment universe, one can envision the CEO of Netflix sitting in a black leather chair, stroking its pet cat and dreaming of world domination. Whether or not such lofty visions are realised remains to be seen, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Netflix is a game-changer in the way films are released and distributed.

 Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos has claimed that “the current distribution model for movies in the US particularly, but also round the world, is pretty antiquated relative to the on-demand generation that [Netflix] are trying to serve.”

Our voracious appetite for instant entertainment has seen growth in the online streaming and VOD markets soar. Gradually evolving from a distribution, to an acquisition and production platform, Netflix is now worth more than some of the Hollywood studios that license movies to it and thus we predicted the supersession of the studio, rendered irrelevant to the process of getting content to consumers. However, Netflix has also made a sly business move that gives it an edge over streaming competitors in that it partners with established production studios to create it’s content. Therefore accruing the production know-how and efficiency of professionals, and distributing the finished product to subscribers whilst their rivals struggle to start the process from scratch. This signals that the middleman isn’t so much removed, as merged into the production process.

In Netflix’s aggressive pursuit of increased original content, however, there may be unprecedented pressure on studios, streaming services and broadcasters to acquire high-quality and innovative entertainment to differentiate themselves. Certainly, Netflix’s rise to power signals the dawn of a very different cinematic landscape. As a recent article on Forbes predicted, this changing landscape could result in “independent films [being] financed by pre-sales to Netflix, not the local distributors. Netflix may be a vibrant, important source of new financing that disrupts the studio system and bypasses standard distribution channels”.

4. Collapsing Windows

In keeping with the disruption of the studio system, Raindance predicted that the waiting time between the theatrical and home release of a film would disintegrate significantly. Whilst we have yet to see such drastic shrinkage between this gap, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg predicted earlier this year that theatrical windows would diminish to approximately three weeks in the next 10 years, indicating the industry’s awareness that they need to catch up with the demands of the internet age. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has also recognised that “the movie-going experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement”. People dragging their heels might argue that same-day release for on-demand and theatrical viewings would impede box-office totals. Hushing this puppy however, are two films acquired and distributed by Roadside: Margin Call and Arbitrage, as well as the more recent Bachelorette. They all used a multi-platform release strategy, which saw simultaneous availability in theatres and online, and which didn’t damage profits. VOD is more than the runt of the distribution litter, and whilst it may take a while for studios to come around, on-demand could begin to coincide with on-screen more and more.

 5. Cameo

20131009-1447251

Cameo is an app that aims to do more than just let you shoot bite-sized video clips on your iPhone — its cloud video editing platform lets you turn those clips into two-minute long short films.Cameo sets itself apart from the competition by offering features like HD recording and collaborative editing, as well as the ability to record and share videos that are longer than what’s available to Vine or Instagram users and purports to be rooted in a storytelling experience that could be appealing to filmmakers. It has yet to take-off in the way Instagram saturates our lives, with just over 2,500 likes on its Facebook page, compared to Instagram’s 25,680,837. But there’s potential for growth, and 2015 could be the year it makes more than a cameo appearance.

6. Online Video

Raindance predicted that online video platforms such as YouTube would continue to grow has unsurprisingly been proved correct. Since it’s inception in 2005, YouTube has consistently undergone exponential growth in both uploads and views. In 2014, YouTube reported statistics that they received 100 hours of content per minute, and more than 1 billion unique users visits the site each month. Whilst the channels with the most subscribers are predominantly categorised under ‘film’ and ‘entertainment’, thus suggesting that this could be a primary and potentially, widespread platform for filmmakers to distribute their product.

However, it’s not necessarily a lucrative path to go down. Most people release their films via VOD platforms until sales begin to trickle and then move to the free/subscription platforms such as YouTube. To acquire advertisements and subscribers, you need people to return to your channel and uploading one film isn’t necessarily going to generate that level of interest, especially in a landscape in which the filmmaking process has been democratised and more films are available to audiences. One way to build up a fan base prior to the release of your film could be to share the filmmaking experience or tips learnt along the way in regularly updated snippets, like DVD extras but as a marketing technique, so viewers are invested the ‘making of’ before it’s been made.

YouTube requires dedication and consistency to make it a viable film distribution platform. You can’t hit upload and expect people to come flocking to your film, like they would a studio blockbuster on opening weekend. That being said, it remains a cheap and interactive way to garner feedback and a loyal fan base, as well as being a portfolio that could lead to something bigger – like a distribution deal. The launch of the YouTube Film Festival also signifies that this is a platform that could over time proliferate and it remains an underrated, and perhaps undervalued means of getting movies to the masses.

7. Crowd-funding

2228832-2203520_kickstarter_badge_funded

Kickstarter is increasingly used by film-makers to raise finance for movies. In 2013, producers of the Veronica Mars TV show secured a staggering £3.70m to revive the detective series as a feature film. Whilst, the Charlie Kaufman-scripted stop-motion film Anomalisa raised a then-record £250,600. In 2014, Zach Braff’s crowd-funded film Wish I Was Here released to relative acclaim. Gap-financing was used, but it relied on Kickstarter for a good portion of its budget and rewarded donors with special screening, after-parties and the opportunity to participate in production.

Whilst I can’t see crowd-funding becoming mainstream, for independent films it provides another means by which to raise money and to have their voices heard. Ultimately, it gives fans and audiences greater control over their entertainment – as evidenced when the axed Veronica Mars got a new lease of life; as well as enabling filmmakers to push creative boundaries in ways that traditional funding or studio interference might curtail. As filmmakers are forced to become even more entrepreneurial, crowd-funding is a viable solution to the money problem.

8. Lytro

This August, Lytro released their Illium camera, marketed under the banner that this was the future of photography. With a lens that allows you to shoot from several perspectives, to focus pictures later or to view in 3D, as well as offering cleaner, brighter, higher-quality images, it promises technical wizardry like no other camera out there. But technically, it’s still got a way to go before being able to compete with the DSLR, and is currently hindered by its inability to shoot video. There are impracticalities and impossibilities in terms of its design, software and capabilities that it needs to iron out before it can even consider catching on. Sure, it’s a glimpse of the future, but one that’s not upon us just yet.

9. Customised Ratings

It was suggested that films might begin to include ratings according to its result in the Bechdel Test, i.e. a level of feminism rating, which could then snowball to encompass various other causes. However, film ratings more tailored to audience niches is something that has yet to really take flight. Arguably institutions such as the BBFC have worked for decades to give audiences an idea of the levels of violence, nudity, sexuality and profanity they can expect from a film and changing this system would take a lot of hard-graft. Nevertheless, the BBFC is increasingly active in the online realm, collaborating with the home entertainment industry, to offer guidance in a way that complies with public demand, so perhaps this a development to keep any eye one. 

14039080406_cf494dec35_z10. Enhanced Cinema Experience

 Rather than enhanced, I would contend that the cinema experience has become specialised, or spectacular-ised. One example from this year was the Secret Cinema screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which boasted a clandestine, and theatrical experience centred around the showing of Wes Anderson’s latest film. The event required guests to dress-up in 1930s style attire, to bring an alpine postcard or pink flowers, and for those going the extra mile, to learn how to waltz. The themed night brought an air of opulence and occasion to an already impressively stylish film. Tickets are steep, at around £50, but certainly it creates something more memorable than your standard cinema-going trip and the buzz surrounding the event indicates that this trend of immersive, exclusive cinema treats is likely to continue. Equally, outdoor summer screenings are more popular than ever, with more and more venues setting up a series throughout July and August. It seems entertainment venues are cottoning on to the notion they have to provide more than just popcorn and a movie to satiate audience’s growing expectations. Cheap dates we are not.

It’s clear to see that the cinematic landscape is one undergoing constant evolution. Changes and improvements might be incremental, but they are altering the way we make, watch and think about films that will have a dramatic impact for decades to come.

Advertisements

What To Do Once The Screenplay Is Written

Originally published by Raindance.

I’m currently going through the experience of writing a screenplay myself, and aside from the required self-motivation, self-discipline and self-criticism, it can hard to know where to go with it once you’ve actually written the damn thing. The completion of the said screenplay may initially feel like the hardest past – there have certainly been days when I wished it would just write itself – but now it seems as if getting it out to the world, and to the right people in it, might actually prove more tricky. So here are some tips I’ve learnt and stumbled across along the way, accompanied by pictures of cute cats to make it all seem that bit easier…

1. Pat Yourself On The Back.June-06-2012-19-16-42-fghgfh

Have a nap. Brew yourself a cup of tea. Put your feet up. Now is the time to bask in your productive glory. You’ve persevered through procrastination and writer’s block to complete something that resembles a film. Arguably, the hardest graft is yet to come, but the first and most necessary hurdle is behind you.

2. Polish That Baby Up.

3823309753_dd9381b662_bYou want your script to shine amongst the pile of others that sit atop every producer’s desk? Polish it until you can see your reflection. Keep tweaking, retouching and refining. One read through and rewrite isn’t enough. Every time you come back to it, you’re bound to have a fresh perspective and with each revisit you’ll cut out the flab, train your ear for authentic dialogue and perfect the pacing. Eventually you’ll have a script that is tight, trim and lean. Basically, everything you’re not post-Christmas.

3. Phone A Friend.

411659669_446efd2781If you don’t trust your perspective that much, pass the script onto to a friend. Or even better a foe. You want someone that won’t be afraid to give you constructive criticism. Sure, it’s nice to hear from your closest friend that this is the best script they’ve ever read. But unless your friend is Martin Scorsese, it might not be wholly accurate. If you know any fellow writers, exchanging scripts is a good way to break free from tunnel vision. Additionally, spotting errors and issues in someone else’s script can be a helpful in training your eye to do the same for yours. Then, take on board that feedback. And go back to step no.2. This is lather, rinse, and repeat kind of process.

CAT_03_RK1145_07_P4. Host A Party. 

And by party, I mean read-through. Collect a group of Oscar-winning wannabes or theatrical types together and exploit their talents for your own benefit. Having a group of actors lend emotional weight, nuance and intonation to your script could be vital to seeing if it works off the page. If it doesn’t sound right coming out of their mouths, the likelihood is you haven’t written convincing dialogue. Your characters will come alive in front of your eyes and this could be a great opportunity to see if they’re all individual, distinct and really necessary. Then, based on their performances and feedback – you know the drill – go back to Step 2.

5. Be Patient.

Passion can be poison to one’s career. Don’t be hasty when the script is written. It can be exciting to feel that your script is moving along nicely, but sending it off prematurely could be the death-knell to its progress. The conditions for sending a script to the BBC Writers Room explicitly states “We do not accept resubmissions of work that has already been assessed, even following a rewrite – so make sure it is as good as you can make it before sending it in”.

Equally, producers or agents are unlikely to sift through something they’ve already cast an eye over and didn’t think was especially good. It’s a cutthroat industry and you have one chance to impress. Make it the best it possibly can be before investing in all those stamps and getting outbox happy.

tumblr_inline_mm8xgx2OiA1qz4rgp6. Pitch Perfect:

By now you should have a script that is looking pretty ship shape. If you still want a professional opinion, there are script-reading services that can give you the objectivity and authority you may have hitherto been lacking. Either way, now’s the time to start summarising your film and getting ready to sell it.

Pitching comes down to the 5 ‘C’s:

 CLARITY

The art of pitching lies in clarity. Ideally, you should be able to condense the plot of your film into one or two sentences. This is one formula floating about on the internet that can help sift out any ambiguity as to what your story is about.: “My story is a (genre) called (title) about (hero) who wants (goal) despite (obstacle).” Trim out any ‘likes’, ‘ums’ and ‘wells’ and avoid generalisations or comparisons. This film should not remind the producers of a really successfully studio film that has just been done, it should be original, specific and…

…COMPELLING

Make whomever you’re telling, and selling it too, want to pick up the script and read the 100-or so pages.

CONFLICT

And to make it compelling, you need a hook. The stakes should be high. You’re asking people to join your character on a journey and there should be an obstacle in the way – either internal or external – that makes this journey captivating.

CHARACTER

We need to care enough about this person to spend two hours of our life listening to their story. And for producers it could mean a great deal more time spent bring that story to life. The character is the medium through which we engage in the conflict. Who are they? What do they do? And why should we care?

COHERENT

Coming full circle back to clarity, select the 3 or 4 most important plot points and expand upon them in chronological order. Don’t jump through your screenplay haphazardly or include too many twists, it will only become confusing and by extension, off-putting. The story, and your pitch, needs to flow.

Black_kitten_by_Sebostian

7. Blacklist It.

Up until quite recently, I thought the blacklist was the worse possible place for a script to reside. Like a purgatorial no-mans-land, where rejected scripts went to die. Turns out, for budding screenwriters, it’s the place to be. It advocates entrepreneurial spirit and a DIY attitude. You upload your script and it goes into a pool of unproduced screenplays that are then ranked by Hollywood executives. Three out of the last five Best Picture winners were Black List scripts, as were seven of the past twelve screenwriting Oscar winners. This is a great way to increase the visibility of your screenplay and garner attention. And who knows, it could eventually make its way onto cinema screens.

CatBoxing8. Compete.

Another way to increase your chances of success is by entering competitions. Do your research to eliminate those that aren’t worth the time or the entry fee.  The BlueCat Screenplay Competition is one of the more high profile and well regarded contests out there, what’s more, included in the entry fee is a guaranteed analysis of your script by an industry professional. BlueCat Finalist Aaron Guzikowski’s wrote Prisoners, which went on to be made by Warner Bros. There are also emerging writers forums such as Rocliffe, which again provides a great platform to for your work to be read.

Even if nothing concrete comes of it, getting through a round or two could be a confidence boost and your name might start to appear in the right places.
 

9. The Social Network

144168-cats-internet_zpsaf395a59Making connections, building an audience and gaining followers is one way to get your film up on its feet. It’s especially vital if you’re looking into crowdfunding as an option to finance your film. Networking is basically pitching with alcohol involved, and could join the dots between having a screenplay in your desk drawer to having it on a important executives desk. Through social media you can also find a community of writers in a similar position to you, who might have advice, success stories and resources invaluable to your screenplay.

Having an online presence is also vital in these digital times to put yourself on the map. Whether its an IdeasTap portfolio, a Twitter account with links to writing, or a profile that shows up on Google, if you can found online, it’ll increase your credibility when the bigwigs start researching you.

Happy-cat10. Stay Positive.

Regardless of whether these steps result in a film, the fact that you’ve written a screenplay at all deserves a sense of achievement. It’s all a learning curve, and unless you’re very special and very lucky, it’s unlikely the first script your write will get made. But the more you put yourself out there and hone your talent, the more likely you’ll be to hit the jackpot one day.

Review: The Imitation Game

imitation

The Imitation Game, UK, 2014. DIR. Morten Tyldum. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong,

You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Alan Turing. Until 2013, when the Queen granted this wartime cryptanalyst and mathematician a royal pardon, he had all but been omitted from the history books.

imitation-game-2014-001-group-around-benedict-cumberbatch-on-enigma-machineThis biopic seeks to correct that. Partitioned into three segments: his time at Sherbourne School in Dorset, during which he was builled; his ground-breaking and astounding contributions to deciphering the German Enigma code during WW2 and his tragic conviction of ‘ gross indecency’ that led to chemical castration and ultimately, suicide, in 1954. Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is a belated and beloved recognition of the man that history forgot.

Demanding our attention from the get-go, Tyldum combines enthralling thriller with tasteful period drama in equal measure. Naval bombings collide with cucumber sandwiches, Nazi superiority with walks in the stunning British countryside and Soviet spies with pints in the pub. It makes for a biopic that is surprisingly amusing, and frequently heart-pounding.

imageIt’s testament to screenwriter Graham Moore and Tyldum’s slick, pacy direction that that a set-up where we ultimately know the outcome, can feel so tense and emotionally heightened. As Turing battles authorities and naysayers to build his painstakingly crafted enigma-deciphering machine Christopher, I could feel my fists clenching in the hope the cogs would eventually stop to signify a cracked code.

Alongside all the calculations, computers and cryptography, this is a film dealing very much with relationships and humanity. Alex Lawther plays young Alan Turing with incredible pathos, as a boy struggling to connect with his classmates. Whilst Turing’s later interactions with his Bletchley Park colleagues provide some much needed humour amid WW2 woes.

Despite all these ingredients spelling out masterpiece, I can’t help but feel we’re two letters short of the truth. The Imitation Game skates around the periphery of the sensitive subject matter and dives headfirst into safe, saccharine territory. There are clichés in abundance and each moment of dramatic intensity is orchestrated to the point of contrivance. The moment during which a relative of one of the code-breakers is on a naval ship about to be bombed, you find Tyldum and co. hammering home this conflict just a tad too indelicately.

Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation GameThe Imitation Game is as calculating and tightly-woven as the Turing machine itself – almost to the point of robotic predictability. Economical in it’s dispatch of narrative strands and executed with the extraordinary precision seen in Tyldum’s first film, the slick Norwegian thriller ‘Headhunters’, my only wish is that the film had coloured outside of the lines just once.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t deliver when it comes to emotional climaxes or generating sympathy for this hitherto historically neglected figure, but rather it never trusts the audience to glean its emotional complexity without first spelling it out. Almost like a teacher consistently reminding you to ‘show us how you got there’ when doing Maths problems.

Screenwriter Graham Moore, believes firmly in the rule of three and forgoes nuance for a rather cumbersome repetition of the film’s central tenet: “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” Indeed, it goes through various stages of transformation and takes on different meanings, but the underlying feeling is that Moore prefers clarity as cut-glass as the British accents that feature than any possibility of ambiguity or interpretation.

Some films that err on the side of caution, as arguably this biopic does, are elevated by central performances of overwhelming conviction and magnetism. Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln is one such example. Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing is another.

To say Cumberbatch completely immerses himself in this role seems flippant. Turing’s clipped vowels, curt mannerisms and anti-social behaviours are mastered with beguiling ease. And as the stakes are raised, his intellectual capabilities, vulnerabilities and the tragic, climactic result of gross mistreatment are conveyed with the assured and poignant dexterity of a man at the height of his game. The point at which Turing tries to push poor Joan Clarke away reveals the many layers to Cumberbatch’s performance, one for which he fully deserves that much hyped Oscar nomination.

183367Keira Knightley too, elevates the film and seems at her most comfortable when playing distressed individuals in period dramas. And the character of Joan Clarke provides ample opportunity for her to demonstrate the compassion, subtlety and wit of which she is capable. Knightley’s Clarke exudes warmth, vivacity and the frustration of a woman frequently underestimated.

There is steadfast support from the likes of Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Allen Leech, as various cogs in the code-breaking machine. Though their characters are all relatively one-note caricatures, they are no-less charming for it.

The look and sound of the film are exquisitely composed. The soundtrack is delivered courtesy of the genius that is Alexandre Desplat, of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ fame. He underscores the intensity and urgency of certain situations with great style, and the rhythmic, pulsating feel of the score seems to resemble the high-wired, methodical nature of Turing’s mind. It’s far more constant and elegant than his quirky work on Wes Anderson’s latest, but in that regard it suits the film perfectly.

Meanwhile, the cinematography effervescently captures crisp, autumnal British weather and the soft-focus lighting makes it ideal for Sunday afternoon viewing. Oscar Faura has given us something utterly sumptuous and pristine to look at, and Bletchley Park has perhaps never looked so alive.

imitation-game-2Grumblings about brushing Turing’s homosexuality under the carpet have been voiced. Indeed, whilst open to his colleagues and to Joan about his sexuality, we never see him act upon or necessarily confront these desires. Instead they are given credence – and innocence – during a flashback to Turing’s childhood when a close friendship develops into something potentially more. And then sidelined somewhat to focus on the blossoming intellectual companionship between Turing and Clarke. Once again, heterosexuality is championed as being the safer, and more lucrative option.

Imitation_Game

And yet for all this potential criticism, Tyldum has delivered a thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly British and thoroughly engrossing depiction of the events at Bletchley Park that altered history. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t leave the cinema wiping away stray tears. But for a man as unique, eccentric and brilliant as Alan Turing, it all feels rather, well, tame

Verdict: A paint-by-numbers biopic, comparable to ‘a beginners guide’ to Alan Turing. Nevertheless, this is a memorable and poignant cinematic experience, featuring a career best turn from Benedict.

Women Write Comedy: Underwire Film Festival, November 13th 2014

underwire_logo_resizedOn Friday, I battled harsh winds, torrential rain and ceaseless puddles that resembled something biblical to find comfort in the cosy surroundings and encouraging words of The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick, where the Underwire Film Festival were hosting an all-day conference on ‘Women Writing Comedy’.

Served coffee and blankets on arrival, the event’s tagline “finding confidence in the collective” felt immediately applicable, as the intimate space of the theatre buzzed with the chatter and chirping of meeting new people who share the common theme of wanting to write. Like literary speed-dating if you will.

While they remain a rare creature, female scriptwriters are being commissioned to write sitcoms, screenplays and continuing series on both sides of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, as a collective and a society we should never mistake that for the job being done. Women are inching towards media and pay equality, but it’s incremental and not at all representative of our creative capabilities.

This event provided an all-female space, where energy, aspiration, ideas and laughter were the common currency. Effectively we had a room of our own to share our doubts, our questions and our successes and hopefully come away more resolute in our desire to become writers.

As women we need to blow our own trumpets more, and put an end to self-deprecation or asking permission to speak, or be heard.

Here are the top tips from the day:

  1. Vocalise your goals. Saying what you want out loud gives you the clarity and focus required to achieve them.
  2. Set yourself a specific target every year. E.g. finish editing that short film, put together a showreel, get an agent. Regardless of whether you take steps to achieve completion of this task each day, it’s unconscious presence in your mind often helps you streamline the opportunities you grasp.
  3. Apply to competitions. Whether or not you win is irrelevant. The looming deadline often helps you galvanise ideas that have been drifting around your imagination for months, and formulate something tangible. Success in a competition then becomes a bonus. Regardless of the result, you’ve written something and built yourself a platform upon which to improve. BOOM.
  4. Having several ideas/projects on the go at once is the key. It can become easy to get disheartened if you pour all your being into one passion project that for some reason doesn’t get made. If you disburse your emotional investment and keep several things on the go at once, not only will you look like a multi-tasker to potential employers, commissioners, agents e.t.c, but that rejection will be easier to swallow. It’s like having a favourite child, but never telling their siblings that’s the case.
  5. Never bin your Baked Alaska. If a project gets rejected, don’t think it’s because you’re a worthless, talentless writer. (Though that remains a possibility). It could simply be that the producer has recently taken on-board a similar project, that your narrative isn’t in fashion right now, or you’re not sending it out to the right people. There are plenty of reasons besides being in the wrong vocation that results in rejection. Put the script away, work on something else and when the time is right, success could be putty in your hands.

sarah_brocklehurst-0791_10x8Sarah Brocklehurst, a BAFTA-nominated theatre and film producer, was also on hand to discuss the writer-producer relationship. Her production company, SBP, champions new writing, and takes a particular interest in collaborating with female artists to create stories driven by women. Indeed, she emphasised the collaborative, symbiotic nature of her production process that involves working closely with writers and directors to ensure their visions are compatible and the original ideas remains intact on the screen.

Her advice to young filmmakers: “Don’t wait around for others to give you the opportunities you seek. If you want to produce, go out and produce. If you want to direct, then get hold of a camera. Trust your ambition, learn from your mistakes, persevere and work very hard”.

Benedict Cumberbatch to Receive Variety Award at BIFAs

benedictcumberbatch

It’s a big year for Benedict Cumberbatch. To say that he currently appears to be the most in demand actor in the business seems both obvious, and an understatement. Not only is he garnering significant Oscar buzz for his role as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, but the news was just awash with his recent engagement to British theatre director Sophie Hunter (in an admirably discreet and classy submission to The Times ‘forthcoming marriages’ section).

And now a press release details that he is to be honoured at the 2014 British Independent Film Awards on 7th December. Alongside his nomination for Best Actor, he will receive The Variety Award, which historically “recognises a director, actor, writer or producer who has helped to focus the international spotlight on the UK”.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe Imitation Game has also been nominated at the British Independent Film Awards for British independent film; screenplay for Graham Moore and actress for Keira Knightley.

Considering that Cumberbatch is the UK’s most illustrious and acclaimed (or any other superlative you might care to label him with) export of late and has 7 films in production, as well as a hotly-anticipated role as Hamlet in the Barbican’s 2015 production of Shakespeare’s renowned play, this award seems well-justified.

Cumberbatch commented: “I am delighted to receive this prestigious award and would like to thank Variety and The Moët British Independent Film Awards for this incredible honour. It is made even more special by the recognition of The Imitation Game in this year’s nominations, a film I am very proud to be a part of.”

At various press conferences for The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch has played down the anticipation that he might receive an Oscar nomination and claimed that as long as it shines a light on Turing’s work, or creates greater interest in The Imitation Game, then he is happy.

The Variety Award was bestowed upon Paul Greengrass last year and has previously been awarded to Jude Law, Kenneth Branagh, Liam Neeson, Sir Michael Caine, Daniel Craig, Dame Helen Mirren and Richard Curtis to name a few.

imagesCumberbatch’s ascent to mega-stardom seemed to begin with his portrayal of the hyper-intellectual Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series, and continued with roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Parade’s End and last year’s Academy Award Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave.

So far this year, Cumberbatch has been filming Black Mass, playing Bill Bulger alongside Johnny Depp, and Shere Khan in Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book. He is also part of the voice-cast in DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins of Madagascar, which is released later this year.

He is currently shooting The Hollow Crown for the BBC and Neal Street Productions, in which he plays Richard III alongside Judi Dench. Next he will shoot Lost City of Z, directed by James Gray and based on David Grann’s novel, where he will play British explorer Percy Fawcett, who set out to discover the City of Z in the Amazon in the 1920s.

If one thing seems certain, it’s that this spotlight won’t be fading soon.

Review: The Motel Life

DIR: Alan and Gabe Polsky, Starring: Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson          US, 2012. 95mins hero_MotelLife-2013-1 Based on Willy Vlautin’s (a singer-songwriter turned author) 2006 novel of the same name, this indie road-movie concerns downbeat Americana as its most melancholic. But don’t assume it’s depressing viewing; as brothers Frank (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff) drift through odd-jobs, motels, casinos and whiskey, in the search for safety, they are a lesson in loyalty, hope and finding the beautiful in the mundane.

Their backstory is boiled down to an unfortunate accident involving Jerry Lee’s leg and a promise to their dying mother never to separate. Bad luck is never far around the corner, with their fates seemingly forever circumscribed by circumstance. When Jerry Lee is involved in a fatal hit-and-run, their only choice is to escape Reno and head towards Elko, the home of Frank’s former lover, Annie (Dakota Fanning). Smith_Seq04_MotelLife_01As the brothers traverse the economic fringes of society, through a landscape as rugged and bruised as they are, Joan Didion’s opening to her seminal essay collection ‘The White Album’ seems particularly pertinent. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live”, she wrote. In The Motel Life Frank and Jerry Lee do just that; inventing wild, wacky and downright improbable adventures to find relief from a disenfranchised existence. Frank spins stories just as fast as Jerry Lee can sketch them, providing a much-needed outlet and expression for their pent-up frustrations and on-going disappointments.

The Polsky brother’s intersperse colourful animations to depict these tales, punctuating the desolate landscapes with a poeticism and phantasmagoria.

They also remind me immensely of Annie Proulx’s collection of short stories ‘Close Range’, where gritty realism marries with surrealist imagery, exploring an America at once austere and magical. Slant Magazine contends, “in Vlautin’s book, these stories are simply weaved into the prose, beautiful in their straightforwardness and vital in depicting the characters as wayward romantics. But the Polskys struggle to integrate this animation into their film”. I would proffer that despite presenting a disturbance from narrative flow or engagement, these cartoonish interludes allow for humour (albeit dark) and whimsicality to seep into an otherwise bleak cinematic texture. They give us a sense that beyond the wintry setting and harsh reality, a version of the American Dream just might beckon in the distance.

motellife0404aImbuing the film with a much-needed dose of humanity, are two winning performances from Hirsch and Dorff. They are the heartbeat of the film, and the reason you endure this perilous journey alongside them. Hirsch’ Frank is a self-destructive alcoholic, getting over his heartbreak caused by Annie’s dabbling in a seedy underworld. Whilst Dorff’s Jerry Lee, immobilised physically and economically, simmers with sincerity, emotion and anguish. Their bromance is utterly believable, relying on each other to survive and delivering the emotional peaks and troughs with raw intensity and naturalism.

As they encounter death, gambling, amputation, prostitution, drinking, gay-bashing, attempted suicide, theft and romantic possibility, Hirsch and Dorff are consistently understated, but thoroughly captivating.

the-motel-life03Dakota Fanning’s character needs fleshing out to be more than a flash in the pan cameo, though what we do see of her is promising and gestures towards the continuation of a mature career. Kris Kristofferson meanwhile features as a ‘cruel-but-kind’ car salesman, offering Frank some sage fatherly advice and further adds to the rugged US iconography of the film.

The Motel Life doesn’t reinvent or particularly revitalise the genre, but neither does it claim to do so. Much like its two protagonists, the film appears content to just get by, doing it’s own thing. Vacillating between flashbacks, animated segways and current drama, the production design, editing and cinematography all depict a weary wasteland to potent effect – like Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ on a drug-induced comedown.

I’m anxious not to wax lyrical about its quiet potency for fear that you’ll expect a masterpiece. But go in with muted expectations and you’ll discover an assured, artistic and affecting directorial debut.

Verdict: An indelible, endearing and atmospheric portrait of impoverished America, with performances that resonate and pathos to boot.

Review: White Bird In A Blizzard

1387128126

DIR. Gregg Araki. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Thomas Jane, Angela Bassett

As the apt title suggests, this adaptation of the Laura Kasischke’s novel, deals in ephemerality, absence and the unknown.

Set in the Fall/Winter of 1988 and exploring the well-trodden road of dissatisfactory suburbia, director Gregg Araki almost drowns his audience with the mood of melancholia. Our protagonist is Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley), a gothic, waif-like figure who shares her friends desire to get out of this dead-end town and finds escape in music, booze and sex with her simple, stoner boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez).

Constantly framing isolations; a lone car in a car park against a whitewashed background; the singular figure of Kat walking down a deserted road, the film aches with detachment and misunderstanding. The colours are all but saturated and the characters uniformly plod along on a conveyer belt of misspent youth and unrealised dreams.

Kat’s father (Christopher Meloni) is a meek and easily pleased man, whilst her phantom-like mother Eve (a snarling Eva Green) drifts into alcoholism and madness, as the banality of her life becomes too much to bear. Until one day she disappears altogether.

MV5BMTEwOTY0MjY4MjBeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg4OTQ5NDIx._V1_SX214_AL_And so the mysterious element of the plot kicks in, sadly missing the vital ingredient of mystery. Kat is surprisingly calm and treats the episode as a bit of a breather from her suffocating-verging-on-stalkerish mother, whilst the detective put on the case (Thomas Jane), seems more intent on responding to Kat’s seductions than looking for Eve. Even Kat’s friends unsubtly point out they’d harboured suspicions all along, so when her dubiety kicks in they literally spout, ‘I told you that ages ago’.

Skip forward to the Spring of 1991 and Kat’s gone to college, but is still haunted by frequent and disturbing dreams of her mother. Her therapist (an underused Angela Bassett) tells her they mean nothing, but Kat’s suspicions and unanswered questions mount.

Eerie acoustics mixed with epic anthems of the 80s/90s, make for an atmospheric effect, at once nostalgic and haunting. Whilst the narrative attempts to slowly build an air of unease, like a sedate game of Cluedo, or an even longer True Detective.

The ending therefore is a disappointing mix of hasty exposition and a twist that literally comes out of nowhere. It feels almost as if the filmmakers were shooting footage alongside reading the novel, and suddenly realised they hadn’t laid any groundwork for the big finale. That’s not to say, this isn’t at times an effective and compelling film. Just that once the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, there’s a sense you bought the defective box with more than a few pieces missing.

Shailene Woodley, however, does a great job with the material she’s given and proves she’s one of the best actresses working today… Who can cry on cue. But seriously, she a very natural performer and builds on her increasingly versatile resume with her mix of angst-y adolescence and damaged soul.

Eva Green, meanwhile, whilst not entirely convincing as a suburban housewife (still exuding all the glamour that made her a perfect Vesper Lynd), does her best impression of a time bomb. As boredom mounts to desperation and increasingly oddball antics, Green sizzles with both menace and fragility. However, she predominantly appears in Kat’s surreal dreams and often feels like little more than a set piece, wheeled out for special occasions.

13885-4

Indeed, the entire film oozes with an illusory nature, as if you might be watching one long, extended dream sequence. In fact there’s something distinctly Lynchian about the texture of absurdity and surrealism that weaves together in the fabric of this story (further confirmed by a cameo from Sheryl Lee). All the while disguising itself as a coming-of-age story built around a family mystery, the ending may just confirm its true identity as a slightly bizarre black comedy. It’s just a shame the comedy element is as absent as Eve.

As Kat muses about her vacant boyfriend, “when you scratch beneath the surface, it’s just more surface”, it rings true with this adaptation. The icy indifference that bubbles under the surface of the Connors’ marriage eventually transcends off the screen and what could’ve had you shouting at the screen ‘someone must know something?!’ ends with a disappointing shrug of one’s shoulders.

Verdict: A confused, but occasionally effective thriller. Woodley is as watchable as ever, but Araki’s eleventh film will leave an impression as long as a footprint in snowfall.