Friday, 28 March 2008

Opportunity Knocks, Part 6

This just in from those lovely people over at Inktip...
London Pictures Ltd. - Concept-Driven Sci-Fi

We are looking for completed feature-length concept-driven sci-fi scripts. We are especially interested in the sort of stories that are based around scientific concepts and which can be produced with relatively few SFX, as opposed to alien or space-driven stories – which is to say we are essentially looking for a script that could have been written and produced as a sci-fi stageplay.

Please do not submit something that has already been submitted to us in the past.

WGA and non-WGA writers may submit. Budget will start at around $200K.

Our credits include: “Burning Light” (2006) and “Blinded” (2004).

To submit to this lead, please go to:

Enter your email address.

Copy/Paste this code: tbq6hje173

NOTE: Please only submit your work if it fits what the lead is looking for exactly. If you aren’t sure if your script fits, please ask InkTip first.

When Adaptations Go Bad - Cutter's Way

Contains spoilers for Cutter and Bone and Cutter’s Way

From a purely financial standpoint, I can see the pull that adapting a successful novel would have for any good-to-go (and suitably flush) production company. When you’re in the realms of a big time unit shifter such as Harry Potter, these properties come ready supplied with their own fan base, so not turning a profit from any film adaptation should be unheard of (unless that adaptation is directed by Chris Weitz, of course). Even if you love the books but don’t consider yourself a huge cinema fan, you’d probably want to check the film out anyway, just out of curiosity – which is the mistake I recently made with Cutter’s Way.

Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg is a superb book – a downbeat seventies hangover that twists and turns all the way to the final sentence (just don’t expect anything that Thornburg wrote afterwards to be even half as good). Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) spots a man dumping a body in a trashcan, and sets out – with his disabled and violently bitter Vietnam veteran buddy, Alex Cutter – to blackmail the man they think is responsible. The conclusion is literally gobsmacking, purely because the two broken losers we have spent the entirety of the narrative following are actually proved to be right, which seems almost as shocking as the fate that befalls both Cutter and Bone.

So, the one part of the book you would expect the film to remain faithful to is the ending. Big problem: it isn’t. Cutter (John Heard) and Bone waltz into a glitzy reception being thrown by their quarry (thereby cutting out the immense and melancholic road trip they make across the US in the book) where Bone gets roughed up by a couple of security guards and Cutter takes off round the property for no good reason on a stolen horse (for a one-armed, one-legged veteran, he sure gets about pretty well). Disappointingly, the ending is a complete reversal of the book: justice is seen to be done (even if it does seem a little hollow). The book does exactly the opposite: money, power and influence win out, and Bone realises - too late - that neither he, his buddy Cutter or Cutter's wife - stood a cat in hell's chance. What made the book so powerful is watered down in the film to such an extent that all you can do is throw your hands in the air and stomp off like a spoilt eight year old.

All of which begs the question: why bother adapting a book for the screen when what made the book so memorable and powerful is discarded?

Apart from the disappointment of the ending, there’s nothing wrong with the film adaptation as such – it’s just a bit, well, dull. The seventies hangover that the book portrays so well merely comes across in Cutter’s Way as ennui, which means that it isn’t exactly very exciting to watch. John Heard chews up the scenery as Alex Cutter as you would expect any actor to in this role, but even this isn’t enough to redeem the film.

Turns out that Thornburg wasn’t too enamoured of the movie either, according to this:

There's one thing about Cutter and Bone, Newton Thornburg's 1976 masterpiece, that irritates its author. "People know it mainly through the movie", he says, "there's this great book and they haven't read it - but this mediocre movie and everybody's seen it."

Read an extract of Cutter and Bone here.

Monday, 24 March 2008

More Product Placement...

The relationship between popular drama and advertising has always been an interesting one (the term soap opera is derived from a time where soap manufacturers such as Procter and Gamble and Lever would sponsor daytime radio dramas). In the new Tesco advert featuring Martin Clunes and Fay Ripley, product placement is taken to its logical conclusion as the unfolding ‘drama’ is peppered with a massive and painfully obvious list of product placements – as this is an advertisement, we can laugh all knowingly. However, when advertisers start paying for product placements within established programmes, then something different starts to happen:

From Adbusters 76 (volume 16, number 2):

Advertisers spent almost $1 billion in 2005 in getting their goods displayed in television shows. That figure is expected to quadruple by 2010. In the first half of 2007 alone, an astonishing 110,296 products turned up in cable television’s top 20 shows according to Nielsen Media Research.

In a world where it’s becoming increasingly easier for viewers to block out TV adverts, advertisers have obviously got to find a way of getting their products in front of us difficult to please consumers – and what better way to do it than to pay for a series of product placements within your favourite programme?

A problem arises when the advertiser starts dictating the content of the programme that he wants that product placement in – witness the fetid old guff that was Perfect Stranger. That said, when something like the below comes along, I can forgive any advertiser just about anything...

Friday, 21 March 2008

Chip vs Subtext

The next draft of my Metlab script has just left the building – a relief really, as the temptation is always to tinker with it some more (one of my stranger ambitions with the new draft was to bring it in dead on 90 pages – I got to 94 – good enough for the moment). I’m not even going to hazard a guess as to how many times I had to re-write the first 30 pages – this ‘making it up as you go along’ lark is not good for one’s mental health. Next time out, I’m outlining all the way.

Metlab aside, I’ve been pondering recently about subtext:

Subtext is content of a book, play, musical work, film, video game or television series which is not announced explicitly by the characters (or author) but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds. Subtext can also refer to the thoughts and motives of the characters which are only covered in an aside. Subtext can also be used to imply controversial subjects without specifically alienating people from the fiction, often through use of metaphor.

That’s from Wikipedia, and is all well and good, but what happens when a subtext is so submerged it takes determined efforts and discussion from viewers to unearth it? For instance, this is from an essay by Bill Blakemore on The Shining:

The Shining is also explicitly about America's general inability to admit to the gravity of the genocide of the Indians - or, more exactly, its ability to "overlook" that genocide. Not only is the site called the Overlook Hotel with its Overlook Maze, but one of the key scenes takes place at the July 4th Ball. That date, too, has particular relevance to American Indians. That's why Kubrick made a movie in which the American audience sees signs of Indians in almost every frame, yet never really sees what the movie's about. The film's very relationship to its audience is thus part of the mirror that this movie full of mirrors holds up to the nature of its audience.

I’ve used this quote from Umberto Eco before, but it seems apt enough again here, that the novel is a machine for generating possibilities. That’s partially what I love so much about The Shining – on the surface, it’s a masterful horror film. The various subtexts, however, provide so much more – there’s even a theory (posited by David Kirkpatrick) that The Shining can be viewed within a Marshall McLuhan subtext. I’m not so sure about this as the argument is a little laboured, but even so: there’s nothing to say they’re wrong, which is part of the beauty of subtext, in that it provides an entertaining battleground for ideas.

The only problem with subtext as far as I’m concerned is that it’s incredibly difficult to submerge it adequately without it either A) sinking altogether (so that no-one notices it), or B) making a huge song and dance about it (and when that happens, it’s not really a subtext any more). Where subtext informs a theme to such an extent as it (allegedly) does in The Shining, then it can be incredibly difficult to pick apart the filmmaker’s intentions (which is always part of the fun of course). But in a script, how far do you push it? Subtext will always be submerged to a certain degree, but if it falls off a reader’s radar altogether, you could argue that you haven’t done your job. Make it too obvious, and you risk it clanking about like a gawky teenager in a suit of armour - and no-one wants that.

All of which means: I love subtext, but I find it very difficult to strike the right balance. How about you?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Off on a Tangent, Part 11 - Everything is Connected

Over the next few months, this blog could turn into a smorgasbord of musical mayhem with a frenzy of gig going, reviews and rampant Question & Answer sessions sprouting out all over like so much damp cress on a warm windowsill...

First off, I wrote this back in August last year about a band called Slab! – the thinking man’s industrial noiseniks. And stone me, the band’s two prime movers – Stephen Dray and Paul Jarvis – have both left comments on the post. I’m trying to arrange a Q&A session right here for them at some point (plus some unreleased music?), so stay tuned. Slab’s MySpace page has also attracted the attentions of their last drummer, Rob Allum, who now plays with Turin Brakes as well as being a founder member of The High Llamas. To say I am excited by all these developments would be the understatement of the century.

Strangely enough, the chap who set up the Slab! MySpace page is Tim Elsenburg, who fronts up the rather awesome band Sweet Billy Pilgrim. Tim has previously played with Martin Grech, whose song Open Heart Zoo was used a few years back for a Lexus advert. My wife loved the song, so I bought her the album not really expecting much of a big deal. Like – wow – how wrong was I? Open Heart Zoo is pleasant enough, but it doesn’t really prepare you for the full-on brainstorming onslaught of Dali. I’m still trying to get to grips with Grech’s second album, Unholy, which is austere and noisily mentalist in equal measures. His third – released last year – is apparently another about face, this time into the realms of introspective folk (I suspect that’s his Kerrang audience safely alienated then!). Tim has also remixed David Sylvian, and has collaborated and toured with David’s brother Steve Jansen (I never was a huge Japan fan, but have an unfortunately neurotic tendency to buy everything that David Sylvian ever releases). Tim’s blog is awash with tour stories and details of Steve Jansen’s inexplicable (and highly amusing) fear of lifts, and is well worth a visit.

Gig-wise, I have the following to look forward to:

UK Subs, Freebutt, Brighton, May 5th – the last time I saw the Subs there were two tattooed lunatics down the front fighting anybody who had the sheer audacity to go near them – so much so that the band had to stop playing several times to wade in and sort them out. Punk rock! The fact that my brother ended up being best of buddies with these two lunatics is neither here nor there.

Battles, Astoria, May 14th (support from Liars) – Battles continue their ambitions for world dominance by moving up a league from the Koko to packing out the Astoria – and rightly so.

Feist, Albert Hall, May 23rd – the last time I saw Feist was at the Komedia, a small(ish) venue in Brighton. The gig was fantastic. And here she is a year later selling out the Albert Hall – just shows what a fantastic album, an iPod advert and some Vanity Fair coverage can do for your career.

Broken Social Scene, Shepherds Bush Empire, May 25th – similarly, the Scene have moved up a notch from the Koko to the Empire (where Crackerjack used to be recorded). The last time I was at the Empire was for a Helmet gig, which featured – rather bizarrely – a stage diving Paul King! All together now: Love, and Pride! Time to grow a mullet and spray paint those Doc Martens...

The upshot of all this is that if you play in a band and hanker after fame, riches and endless critical praise, the place to be featured is – well, obviously – Unfit for Print! Battles, Feist and the Scene have all gone onto bigger and better things since being featured in these hallowed pages (the Subs have had their turn, I reckon!), and I like to think (in my entirely delusional and brain softened state) that it’s all down to UfP! Sheesh! I should start my own record label (coincidentally, my resemblance to Rick Rubin is really quite scary). Bearing in mind the good fortune this blog bestows on all and sundry, I’ll have a go at reviewing the Sweet Billy Pilgrim album as well – it hasn’t been off my virtual turntable (better known as a CD player) for at least a fortnight and I feel the overwhelming urge to write about it.

And no, I didn’t screw up last week’s meeting with the producer/director. Not a lot to report back on at the moment, but more as it develops...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Time Sick

I’m always fascinated by how screenwriters choose to show the passing of time (either forwards or back), as I think this is probably one of the hardest things to do in a novel and interesting way. On the most basic of levels, you can always go down the tried and tested title card or ‘superimposition’ route, i.e., “BATTERSEA DOG’S HOME, SEVEN YEARS LATER”. Even though one of the best films ever made – The Shining – does this, it always seems like cheating to me (I think The Shining gets away with it purely because it’s related to the concertina effect of the film’s structure – and besides, Kubrick didn’t like spending money on fripperies such as title cards, and who could blame him?). I remember reading an article by David Mamet (was it in here?) where students on a screenwriting course struggled with the same problem – the answer? Another old standby – a series of dissolving clock faces that show the passing of time. Hmmm – it does the job, but it’s a bit workmanlike.

However, as far as sheer invention goes, I don’t think you can beat the technique that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger used in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The majority of the film is told in one long flashback, and the transition from present day to past (a jump backwards of some 40 years) is handled with what can only be described as a flourish of genius. The elderly Blimp (the fantastic Roger Livesey) has just wrestled a younger officer into a pool in a Turkish bath, where he proceeds to give him a well deserved slap. As the camera tracks up the length of the pool, the water momentarily calms as Blimp walks out the other end, some forty years younger and straight into the flashback. No title card, no explanatory text – nothing; and yet you are wholly aware of what has just taken place.

The periods between the various conflicts that the film centres on are also brilliantly handled: during one such transition, between the Boer and First World War, Blimp does not appear at all. However, the various animals that he shoots on his overseas treks do, all complete with an identifying plaque giving the place and date.

I could go on and on about this film all night (Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death are probably two of the greatest ‘British’[1] films ever made), as there’s so much here that demands further examination: Deborah Kerr’s multiple roles, the narrative treatment of the duel between Blimp and Kretschmar-Schuldorff – and so it goes.

For the meantime, check out some further information and archive reviews of the film here.
[1] Michael Powell on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: “a 100% British film but it's photographed by a Frenchman, it's written by a Hungarian, the musical score is by a German Jew, the director was English, the man who did the costumes was a Czech; in other words, it was the kind of film that I've always worked on with a mixed crew of every nationality, no frontiers of any kind”.

Monday, 10 March 2008

The MP3 Files, Part 1 - Feist, La Sirena

I'm feeling very pleased with myself at the moment, as I've just figured out how to stream audio from this blog. Yeah, yeah, I know, everyone and his/her dog has been at it for years, but for the technologically retarded (i.e., me), this is a huge step forward. The next step: programming the DVD-R (I suspect this may be a step too far).

So, here's the first in an occasional series - this is from Leslie Feist's difficult to find first first album, Monarch. Click on the link below and the track should play in whatever Media Player you have on your system. Yowsa!

Feist - La Sirena

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Everyone's A Critic

Lots of interesting stuff around on the net at the moment, not least Danny Stack’s take on professional critics - What are they for? What do they do?

Rightly or wrongly, I tend to rely on opinions when planning my viewing, purely for the reason that there’s nothing more disheartening than sitting through a film like Hannibal Rising and thinking that you could have spent your money more wisely elsewhere. So, on the most basic of levels, it’s pure economics. Seeing as it costs £16 for a couple of cinema tickets, I don’t want to waste my money on twaddle – I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD thanks (in fact, planning a trip to the cinema can be fraught with logistical nightmares as well: my nearest ‘arthouse’ cinema is the Duke Of York’s, which is about a five minute drive from Chipster Towers. Rock on! Problem is it’s in the middle of a densely populated residential area where parking is next to impossible. Even the local Odeon – which is closer – can be a pain to get to bearing in mind the state of Brighton traffic. I could always get the bus of course, but the buses all tend to be piloted by escaped psychopaths who love nothing more than knocking over defenceless pedestrians, so that one’s out.) Besides, I want to be warned in advance about films such as Ocean’s Twelve (smug, diabolical horse poop) so I can give them a wide berth.

Of course, it’s difficult to come across a critic whose taste segues perfectly with your own. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian hated The Prestige – I loved it. On the other hand, he slapped five stars on Kill Bill and described it as a ‘sugar rush’ – in my opinion QT would have benefitted from the services of a decent script editor with a bucket full of red ink. As for The Walker, Paul Schrader’s latest – well, the least said about that the better. Which is why I don’t take the word of the ‘professional’ critic as gospel. I’ll even take advice from the ‘blogosphere’ and elsewhere, which means that trying to figure out which film to see turns into an intuitive pasttime. When Oli slated Death Proof, it merely confirmed everything I’d read about the film, so that one was well and truly out (and jumping off the subject of film for a moment, Jon Peacey has even convinced me of the relative merits of David Bowie’s post-Scary Monsters output – no mean feat).

Even then, on the odd occasion it’s always refreshing to disregard the views of all critics and take a blind leap into the unknown. I saw Blue Velvet when it first came out, and remember walking out of the cinema feeling as if my brain had had a damn good shake – which is one of the reasons I go to the cinema in the first place. How many times can you seriously say that that has happened? And what made the experience all the more satisfying was the fact that I hadn’t read any advance critical notices at all.

Anyway, how can you not laugh when the first line of any film review starts like this:

In enjoyment terms, watching this is like wearing a helmet made of untreated sewage (Peter Bradshaw on Grounded).

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Ass and More Ass

I always enjoy a good keyword hoedown – having Statcounter on my site enables me to see what search terms bring people swinging by UFP (they’re probably expecting knitting patterns and/or pornography, but you can’t win ‘em all).

Here are a few of the most recent (and choicest) terms:

* Reader’s Digest prize draw – I have it on good authority that Mr Tom Champagne (“I assure you, Chipster, that that is my real name, it really is, it really is”) is a regular visitor to UFP. I may even try and get a Q&A with the old goon at some point on this very blog!

* www. big ass Lucy – well, really, what on earth do you think this place is? (*quickly goes to internet and looks up*)

* how much did good will hunting screenplay sell for? A little (and perhaps not very reliably informed) bird tells me that the answer to this question is fifty pounds precisely.

* big ass nature – Indeed, it could be said that mother nature is ‘big assed’, but I suspect this has something to do with being naked outdoors.

* World chip ass 2 – come on, quit it with the asses!

* I have an actor attached to my screenplay what now? Depends who the actor is, surely? I mean, wee Jimmy Krankie being attached to your existential Robbe-Grillet adaptation probably won’t do anyone any good (that said, I'd pay good money to see that).

* Prescient cough – I have no idea what this means.

* Chip Smith philistine – yeah, yeah, I think we get the idea with all this keyword nonsense now...

Six Types of Busy

Six types of busy at the moment, which is always surprising (and immensely gratifying). I suspect that by writing about things I’ll put some kind of weird gypsy jinx on them, but hey ho:

* METLAB script – this is where a lot of my energy is going at the moment – a month into the rewrite and I’m 60 pages in, which is quite an achievement considering the number of times I’ve had to rewrite the first 30 pages. I had some major issues with character motivation that had to be resolved before I could continue – bearing in mind my crap working method (i.e., outlining as I write, or, as I prefer to call it, ‘making it up as you go along’) this does not make for a mentally stable experience. On the home straight now (I think).

* A Pitch in Time – oh, go on then.

* Another pitch and synopsis for someone else. Like I might’ve mentioned before, I’ve thrown these out for other people previously – what tends to happen next is complete and utter silence – which is, you know, cool.

*Agents – Agent X is now in receipt of Script #2. It’s a long and time consuming process as the recent discussion over at Lucy Vee’s pointed out – the skinny seems to be that agents probably aren’t worth pursuing if you’re expecting them to do wonders for your fledging career, but Agent X seems interested enough to read more so I’ll try and keep that plate spinning for a little while longer.

* I have somehow wangled a meeting with a producer/director for next week. Check back here for exclusive updates on how I manage to fluff it all up by saying something stoopid and falling over in a comical fashion.

*A short script for the BSSC and SuperShorts – never tried one before so hey, why not?

And there you have it. As you were.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Off on a Tangent, Part 10 of many – Dif Juz.

What with our current culture of download-whatever-you-want-whenever-you-want-on-demand, it still comes as a huge surprise that, no matter where you look, certain commercial artefacts are just not available. Want a copy of Leslie Feist’s first album, Monarch? No can do. You can download it from a BitTorrent site, but don’t hold your breath in the expectation that a bonafide copy is going to find its way into your possession. Want a copy of Slab’s second album Sanity Allergy? No way bud, unless you trawl E-bay for rubbishy second hand copies. However, if you think these are rare, it’s nothing when compared to Dif Juz’s Who Says So? released on Red Flame Records in 1983.

Dif Juz were signed to 4AD Records, the home of the Cocteau Twins and a whole pile of homely, occasionally strange, gothic winsomeness. Every now and again, a band such as Pixies would emerge – all shouty and brilliant and raw and rock n’ roll – or Colourbox – berserk dance pioneers better known for their collaboration with AR Kane that resulted in the insanely successful Pump Up the Volume – but otherwise it was This Mortal Coil, Wolfgang Press, X-Mal Deutschland, and Red House Painters. Nothing wrong with that (I love all these bands), and you could almost make the argument that Dif Juz slotted right in alongside these more ‘generic’ 4AD bands.

Note the almost in that last sentence.

The aspects that set Dif Juz apart from their peers are all things you probably wouldn’t expect to see of a ‘generic’ 4AD band. Their sound – on the album Extractions especially – was pristine. Their musicianship was the work of real virtuosos. Listening to the records again, you start to realise how much of it must have been improvised through incessant jamming. The structures seem somehow jazz inflected as well. Add to this that almost everything they recorded was instrumental, and you start to get an idea of just how different they were – not only in comparison to their 4AD stablemates, but in comparison to just about everything else around at the time as well.

Here’s the video for No Motion from Lonely is an Eyesore, a 4AD compilation released in 1987 – probably the band’s last recorded output.

The thing I love about this video is the fact that they all look so delightfully stroppy – bear in mind that this was back when any appearance in front of a camera was considered selling out (where Top of the Pops was akin to supping with Satan himself). To give you an idea about Dif Juz’s ‘strop heritage’, bear in mind that Richard Thomas went on to drum for the arch-stropsters themselves, The Jesus and Mary Chain. It’s all change these days of course – any band signed to even a semi-serious label will no doubt receive some media training at some point (pah! Where’s the fun in that?).

Extractions may not seem hugely innovative to our modern ears, but the number of bands who have taken it as an influence are probably too many to mention. Godspeed!, Radiohead, Do Make Say Think especially, who seemed to have taken Dif Juz’s love of dub and instrumental repetition about as far as it’s possible to go.

And as for Who Says So? – the closest you’re going to get to the Dif Juz of Extractions is Roy’s Tray. Song with No Name Part 2 is all atonal saxophone bleatings and skittery beats, whereas Pass It On Charlie sounds like a Brazilian tropicalia band penning the theme tune for The Third Man – it really does sound that unique. Even the band’s obsession with dub as a genre in its own right throws up a brilliant experiment in the shape of Channel (bizarrely enough, Dif Juz recorded an album with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry that resides to this day in the 4AD vaults, unreleased). That said, The Dub Song, which ends the album, is not one of the band’s greatest moments.

Of course the natural end point for the mostly experimental music on this mini album is the brilliant Extractions, which is well worth checking out. That doesn't mean to say that Who Says So? doesn't stand up well on its own - it does; it's just a shame that hardly anyone has had the opportunity to make this judgement for themselves.