A couple of scary toons

Leading on from the previous post, these two prime examples of the form are both beautifully made and deeply, wrongly disturbing.

The last shot of this one has stayed with me for a very long time. Lazy critics will call this Burtonesque, but I think it’s a lot darker-hearted than that. Burton always goes for the happy ending. There’s none of that in this.

I remember watching Harpya as part of a late night animation season on Channel Four years ago, and being so freaked out by it that it gave me bad dreams for weeks. Even now, I have no intention of watching it again. But I thought you might appreciate it, my brave Readership.


Straight 8 at Cannes

A quicky from Nick Scott, super 8 film-maker extraordinare:

This could be appallingly premature given that I haven’t actually seen the film myself (!) but tomorrow night, at the same time as the straight8 films screen in Cannes, they are also posting them on-line for a hour at 9pm UK time. I made one of them, called ‘Visions of Jack’, and this will be the first time that anyone, including the filmmakers, has seen them.

Twelve of the films that the Straight 8 judging panel consider the best of the bunch are screened in a tent on the Croisette every year. It’s the prime goal for all Straight8ers, and I’m chuffed to bits for Nick, especially as he wasn’t planning on doing a film this year!

The link, if you fancy checking out innovative low budget film-making at it’s rawest and most exciting, is HERE.

Sadly, Nick can’t be there, but I’m issuing a shout out to the Friends of X&HT who are there and waving the banner high for low-budget British film-making. Brownlie, Aitken, Coppack and Booth, go forth and spread the word!

Meanwhile, the wait continues for the other Straight8ers who haven’t heard about potential screenings yet. Nervous? Moi? I didn’t need these fingernails, anyway…

I promise success will not change me…

A sunny Friday afternoon in Cambridge. Thinking Girl’s Crumpet Clive and I are in town for the Super 8 festival, where for reasons that remain pleasingly unclear, Code Grey is in competition.

Always up for a party if nothing else, we’ve met up with Doco Domsy and set ourselves up with booze and grub. It’s the perfect afternoon for slightly beery chat about films and film-making, and the three of us indulge fully. At the back of my mind, the thought that there is a Q&A at the end of our screening that I maybe should not be head-dribblingly drunk for raises a tentative hand before getting shouted down. I’m far more eloquent after three pints or so. I’m a goddamn raconteur after five.

We wander through Cambridge, Dom taking photos for an imaginary press kit. I feel a little bit like a rock star, and a lot like a drunken twat. I can’t really give the camera love, but I do a mean growl. Which’ll do, apparently.

One last beer by the Cam, and I start to get the giggles. And I don’t feel drunk at all. Just nervous. But ready. This isn’t like a Straight 8 screening. I know exactly what’s being presented. There’s no fall back now. This is a film that’s had some hard work and a lot of heart and soul poured into it. It’s grown up now, and it’s ready to strut like a player.

I poke my head into the screening room a half-hour beforehand to announce my presence (resisting the urge to bellow “L’auteur est arrive” – alright, it was six pints by now) to be greeted by Simon, one of the organisers, who was so pleased to see me that he did a little dance. More people should do that. I might have to insist on it.

The room fills, and we settle in for the programme. Fifteen films, a strong European presence, and a fearsome sense of the quirky and surreal. Code Grey feels positively mainstream amongst the art pieces, documentaries and animation on display. We’re just a dumb little shuck and jive show with a neat little idea at it’s heart. We’re on last, and don’t quite get the reaction I was hoping for. Chuckles rather than belly laughs. That’s the problem if you make a comedy. There’s no such thing as an appreciative silence.

After the films, the Q&As. It’s a room full of directors, and they’re all erudite, amusing and interesting. I, on the other hand, have had six pints and am a twitchy mess. I gabble through my questions, pointing out Clive and trying to namecheck everyone, trying to crack a few funnies, and doing the one thing I really didn’t want to which was to out myself as a colourist. I don’t like to talk about the day job when I’m being a film-maker. Especially as I knew at least one person afterwards would make the joke about a colourist making a black and white film.

This did indeed happen, and the smile I gave was indeed as thin as you’re imagining.

Two minutes or an hour and a half later, depending on where you were standing, I sat back down. I was shaking faintly. But I was assured by Clive and Dom that I had indeed been charming, witty and erudite, and that people had laughed at my jokes. However, in a headrush of unprovoked egotism I’d given myself full credit for the idea behind Code Grey, which was all Clive’s.

I took shit for that for the rest of the night, and deservedly so.

Unfortunately, there seemed little opportunity to meet with the other directors after the screening, as the other bar at the University Student Union was hosting a members-only darts night, and seemed unwilling to let us stick around. Shame, as I’d genuinely wanted to congratulate the guys that made it down to Cambridge on a job well done. I’ll try and dig out some links to my faves over the next few days.

After the screening, there was little to do but eat and drink more, and chat about films and film-making until the early hours, which we did at the very excellent Cambridge Chop House, and our digs for the night, The Portland Arms. These places are both most worthy of your patronage.

We left Cambridge the following morning, Clive to his acting classes, me to the Reading Beer Festival, which was another afternoon of beer, food, and yakking. Really, I’m going to need a diet and a vow of silence after this weekend. Twitter has documented my feelings on that one, so check the status bar off to the right.

Turns out if we’d stuck around for the final night, we would have been around to receive our award for best UK film. I had the email with that nugget of good news while starting this post. It’s a result far above and beyond what I could have expected, and proof that there is life after Straight 8. I’m sending massive hugs out to everyone involved in the making of Code Grey, and urge you if you’ve not watched the film yet to check it out.

It’s officially worth your while.

Network Updataria

It’s been a busy few weeks, so I thought I’d let yawl know how things are standing for me and my network of fellow travellers as we move into film-making season. 

This Friday sees me and thinking girl’s eye candy Clive Ashenden in Cambridge for the third Super 8 film festival. Code Grey is the final film of the Friday night competition screening. If anyone’s around, and fancies saying hello, we’d love to see you. Hopefully we’re doing a Q&A afterwards, which should be fun in a nerve-wracking kind of a way. 

Before that, I have a drive to return to Simon Aitken with the finished version of The Making of Blood + Roses on it. This has been a solid learning experience for me, and well worth the struggle. It’s pushed me a bit creatively, which is always good. That ol’ spiritual kick in the pants that’s conducive to opening up the mental sinuses.

If you’re going to mix your metaphors, you may as well do it thoroughly.  

This is another step towards the completion of Simon’s feature, which is now starting to pick up heat following good reports on MJ Simpson’s blog and Zone Horror. I’m seeing him tomorrow, where I can hopefully pick up some pre-Cannes goss. 

Also going to Cannes this year, Michael Booth and Paul ‘Cop’ Coppack of Pleased Sheep Films, who’ll be toting round a rough cut of their second feature Bar Stewards. Their first film Diary Of A Bad Lad is doing really well at the mo, and will be out on DVD soon. Well worth a look if you like a bit of pitch-black mockumentary action. Bar Stewards looks like it’s gonna be a good ‘un too – although a bit less dark in tone. 

Congrats and a Short Film Corner appearance also go to the makers of  Sertoli Sertoli Sertoli, featuring the talents of Lewis Shelborne and Kiki Kendrick – most of our crew on this year’s Straight 8, Time Out.

Speaking of the 8,  we’re in that quiet period before we find out who’s made the grade, who’s got screenings, and which of us will be among the lucky 12 that get shown in a tent at Cannes. Nick Scott, Fiona Brownlie, me and DocoDomsy and hundreds of others are quietly gnawing thier fingernails down to the elbow and wondering.  

Next week, I shall be writing again, and not thinking about Straight 8. That way, madness lies.

Ranting lemonade label from embittered screenwriter

Ranting lemonade label from embittered screenwriter:

I feel this guy’s pain. Spotted by a Boing Boing reader, who picked up a couple of bottles of lemonade from a stand in Malibu, only to find this on the label…


My name is Matthew and I am one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the television networks and movie studios don’t know that yet. As it stands, the decision of which films get produced are left in the hands of emotionally-immature, substance-abusing ex-lawyers who live in dread paranoia that everyone in the universe is out to get them. They spend the bulk of their time spying on their fellow executives, composing nasty counter-intelligence rumors and spreading them through their network of FA-BU-LOUS, yet cunning assistants.

Much of the actual work, like ‘reading’ is left to a gaggle of twenty-something interns who are all the product of George W. Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy. To these bimbos, nothing in the world existed before 1995, and the most reading they’ve done has been through text messages. They believe that good writing is something that fits into 160 characters, all performed with the thumbs. :)LOL!

Needless to say, I’m making my own damn movie and you just helped! All of the profits from this amazingly refreshing drink are going into my independent film. Why? Because I believe in the spirit of America – CONSUME AND DESTROY! POOR=BAD/RICH=GOOD! WAR IS PEACE! YOU-ESS-AY! YOU-ESS-AY! YEE-HAW!

Any-hoo, if you work in ‘THE INDUSTRY’ as a common below-the-line slob and would like to work on my film for less than you’re worth for no other reason but to satisfy my giant ego, send your resume to: malibu.monkey@verizon.net.

If you’re a producer with a distribution deal, somewhat sober, and capable of actually reading a screenplay by yourself, shoot an email to me as well. I’ll be happy to send a script to you along with your stupid submission release agreement boilerplate wank-rag.

If you are an actor, congratulations on making it this far. It’s a lot of words. Who’s a good boy? You! And you are very special. Plus, you serve specials at the restaurant. Special food served by special people to special people. Okay, I admit it. I’m just jealous because you are better looking than me and get all the hotties. Girls who go for me are all smart ‘n’ junk. Plus, they sag. And you’re in SAG. Isn’t that special?!

Agents, entertainment lawyers, managers and all other Pimps of The Antichrist can do us all a favor by simply killing yourselves. If you can, try to attempt a single moment of original, creative thought by finding an entertaining way to do it. Like performing seppuku with a champagne flute during the lunch rush at The Ivy. Or hang yourself from one of ‘O’s’ in the Hollywood sign with a noose made from your Kabbalah strings and rubber cancer-awareness bracelets. Either way, die bloodsucker! Die!



(Via Boing Boing.)

A Worthy Pursuit

A beautiful, sunny spring week here at X&HTowers, so of course I am dedicating it to an indoor project. More specifically, the Making Of Blood And Roses, as mentioned previously.
As with everything I do on a film-making tip, there has to be a new challenge. And here, it’s a fairly major one.
Simon, friend, fellow film-maker, has provided me with a drive full of footage gathered while he was shooting B+R back in 2007, with a remit to make something mildly diverting he could stick on the DVD as an extra no-one would watch. Keep it to 10 minutes. Simples.
Except all the footage could only be read by Final Cut Pro, the finest editing package around (Avid? Ptui! How 20th century), a package about which I know nuffink.
This leaves me in a slightly awkward position. I have had to “acquire” a working copy and serial number of FCP and then teach myself how to use it. I’ve promised Simon delivery on Friday.
Like I said, I believe every project should include a challenge.
So far, progress has been snailpace but in the right direction. There have been many sorrowful glances at my iMovie icon (a simpler package, but one I know backwards and that is perfect for these short projects), and much swearing. A lot of monosyllabular exclamations too, along the lines of “what?”, “how?”, and a particularly pitiful version of “whyyyy…” But also, as the dim light of understanding has started to filter through the canyons of my mind, “aaaahh”, and “riiight”. I’m not pretending to be any kind of expert, and I’m sure I’m working in a completely opposite way to the right one, but damned if it’s not falling into place. I can see the film now, and know what needs to be done. Who knows, if this goes well I might even be investing in my own copy of FCP. Mayyybe.

I’d have the dratted thing finished by now if I was cutting it in iMovie, mind.

8 and Out

I’m bone weary, barely able to focus. The frontal lobes of my brain are in a knot. A thunderstorm of a headache is making slow progress across my brow before settling in behind my eyes, where it will force jabs of pain out through my tear ducts.

I feel fantastic. The final push of effort has been completed, audio has been tweaked, polished, sweetened and uploaded and we are done for Straight 8 09. Dom has done some fantastic work over the last week in getting the found sound and atmos we’ve gathered into a cohesive whole. The cacophony he’s created all sounds the way I imagined it when I wrote the script for Time Out four score years and ten ago.

We’re quietly proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Now all we have to do is wait and see if we’ve made it into the screenings. And as anyone who’s made a Straight 8 will tell you, that wait is the toughest thing of all about the whole process. We’ll see.

Fist bumps and hugs to everyone that got their film into SFL on time this year. You’ve done something great, and you’re part of the hardcore. You’re film makers in the very purest sense of the word.

Be proud tonight. I am.

Considerations on the shooting of a Straight 8 film.

Wednesday. Early. Pre-sunrise. Alarms go off. Dom and I roll groaning out of bed. Hot, brief showers, tea, a snatched bowl of cereal. Low conversation. Wondering what we’ll forget, what vital thing has slipped through the net of our preparations. Clare, soft murmuring from bed. “Good luck.” I nod, and pull the first of many long, held breaths.

On the road as the sky ruddies and glows. The car is full of lights and camera equipment. Hard cases, full of potential. Soft music and quiet talk, booming down the M4 into the day, towards London. The sun is ahead of us, fiery red. A stop sign that we ignore.

The traffic starts to build as we turn into a quiet Hampstead side street. Kiki is outside, waiting. She has yet more baggage, and it’s a squeeze to get everything in. And we still need to fit one more person amongst the gear.

A half hour later. London Bridge. Dom points out a cafe that is a later location. Looks fine. We make an illegal turn into London Bridge station, ignoring angry hoots from cabbies that have the right to do what we cannot. But here’s Hayley, bright as the dawn, and somehow we find room for her.

The first location is five minutes away. A neat little one-bed flat in a quiet situation. It’s full of light, life and clutter, and perfect for what we need. We start to set up as the owner, a friend of Hayley’s, sleepily gets ready for work. We’ve been going for three hours, and it’s still not half past eight.

A little set dressing, finally a coffee. Kiki in a tartan dressing gown and leopard-skin slippers, with socks. Elsie Tanner’s hot younger sister. We load up, shoot the slate, and start to work through the shot list.

Camera troubles. Even with all three lights blazing in the kitchen, and daylight flooding through, the light meter says we’re under-exposed. Dom fiddles with the controls. We all start to sweat a bit, and it’s not just the heat from the lights.

Not sure what Dom's focussed on here...
Not sure what Dom's focussed on here...

Lewis arrives. Quiet, polite, wearing a fine choice in retro Batman attire. We set him up with another camera, which means there are now more people shooting the making of than the actual film.

Crisis. Dom thinks the camera isn’t turning over. We have between-channel radio and TV noise roaring in the kitchen, and he can’t hear the mechanism. His gut feeling is that it’s not putting film through the gate. A nervous five minutes while he reseats the battery. We have no choice but to reshoot the last two shots. We may have doubled them. There’s no way to be sure. There’s no way of knowing. With the sound on the radio and TV down, we go for the two shots again. Success. The rattle of the mechanism is a benediction.

We move on.

Two grabbed shots on a bus. I’m worried that people will take offence, but no-one even seems to notice that we’ve got a camera out. Lewis slops over Kiki. Kiki backs into a guy’s lap by accident. The look on his face says that he doesn’t mind. Ten minutes after we get on the first bus we’re on another one, heading back to the unit car. The sky is flawless Wedgewood blue. It’s warm and bright. At a quarter to twelve, we’re back in the car and driving into Soho, on the best day of the year so far.

Twelve thirty. Kiki’s office space, deep in the heart of Soho. Fourth floor, bustling with life, and glorious light pouring through a wall of windows. We’ve lugged the redheads and tripods up four flights of stairs, and we don’t need them. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Not having to rig lights means we’re done that much more quickly. Hayley and Lewis become set dressing, and Kiki corrals some of her work mates into taking one for the cause. Five shots in forty minutes, then we’re back in the car back to London Bridge.

In the car, Kiki regales us with stories from the one-woman show she’s writing. The story about the guy with curvature of the spine, and his weird take on improvisational cinema. How she refused a big offer from Coronation Street. And she frets about Natasha Richardson, critically injured in a silly little ski-ing accident that would claim her life the following day. She and Hayley talk agents, while I scribble on my shooting script, and hope to god the timings hold.

A bit of physical direction
A bit of physical direction

Two o’clock, and we’re back on the street in London Bridge. The cafe location Dom found was almost empty, so we scoot up the road a little to a smaller place where punters are queueing out of the door. Two shots, and we can only fit Kiki and Dom in there. This is where timings start to go awry. I can’t count Dom in or out, and have to take his reports on how long the trigger was going on faith. But it’s exactly what I was seeing as I was writing it, so no complaints.

We have lunch at the original cafe location, and try not to flag. Cheeky Kiki eats the sandwich she bought down the road in there, but no-one seems to mind. Or even notice.

We move on.

We piece together the buildup to the “Time Out”, a nested series of zooms and closeups, in a cut-through at the back of Guy’s hospital. It’s perfect. Quiet, but with enough passing traffic that we get some great passer-by reactions when we finally direct Kiki to go loopy. She does a brilliant job, whooping and hollering, flapping her jacket behind her like a Batman cape. The second shot, grabbed while she runs through a busy courtyard, is absolutely priceless. Kiki is breathless and blushing, but it’s good stuff and we all know it.

She's a star, I tell ya. A STAR.
She's a star, I tell ya. A STAR.

Then to the final location, for the shocking conclusion to the tale. A cut just under a railway bridge hard by London Bridge station. We devise a jittery, single-shot way of making it look like the unit car is heading for Kiki at speed. Hayley, behind the wheel, does a great job of looking scared out of her mind as she accelerates up the alleyway at twenty miles an hour. It looks scary, and I’m viewing it from a very safe position. This one is seriously rehearsed, of course. Killing the lead actress would not make a good end to the day.

One quick shock reaction (helped along by Lewis barking at Kiki at the right moment) and we’re done. There’s a question over the counter on the camera now, which could be reading anything from thirty seconds to a minute.

It’s not even that. We run four seconds of black, and Dom thinks he feels the film run out. Which could be something of an issue, as we have a shot to go. We run the camera anyway, but I don’t think we got it. Maybe a flash. Maybe a couple of frames. There’s no way to be sure. There’s no way of knowing.

And that was it. Pictures done. We quietly de-convene. There are no histrionics, which is always the way with these things. Everyone’s just a bit too tired to make much of a fuss.

Hayley strikes set, and we drop Kiki back to her dogs in Hampstead. Then a quiet beer and a debrief with Dom and Lewis in a pub near Paddington. Turns out Lewis is a major horror buff, which leads to a bit of a geek out, and an internal promise to introduce him to the Sick Puppy crowd. Then home, to Clare. Thinking I might sleep. Knowing I wouldn’t. It had been a day filled with adventure, improvisation, triumph and possible disaster but by god we’d done it. We had a film in the camera.

We have just over a week to deliver the sound, and then the painful part of the process. The long wait while we find out if we’ve made it, if it’s good enough, if it came out. We won’t know until the middle of May. So we wait. And we wonder, and we remember an amazing, inspiring day. From me, Dom, Kiki, Hayley and Lewis, it’s so long, so far.

The story continues in May…

(all pics taken by Lewis Shelbourne. Nice work, that man.)

The full Flickr set of Lewis’ photos taken on the day is up and available here. A truthful document of a crazy day.