Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Surreal Vortex of Sevenoaks

One of my favourite films is After Hours – not just because it’s one of the best things that director Martin Scorsese has ever done, but because I have the smallest of sneaking suspicions that most people’s lives are but a hair’s breadth away from the uncomfortable, nightmarish ‘comedy’ world that the (generally unsympathetic) Paul Hackett spends the vast majority of the movie attempting to escape from.

Oh. OK. Just mine then.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a series of meetings in London. Of course, the first step is to get there. When it comes to travel, I’m pretty well organised – I always allow myself far more time than I actually need, especially if the place I’m going to is unfamiliar. I take everything I think I might want: notebook, pen, wallet, phone, iPod, book, novelty Bender statuette. Lastly I make sure that my shoes are on the right feet and that I haven’t put my jacket on back to front. Right. Off we go.

That’s when everything starts going a bit After Hours.

Take Brighton station: to park in the car park there, you don’t need coins. You simply pick your ticket up at the automatic barrier and pay by credit card in a handy machine when you arrive back some hours later. Nothing could be easier. So, having to catch a train from somewhere other than Brighton, I automatically assume that all station car parks are like this. They’re not. Sevenoaks station is a case in point: pay and display? Jesus: I thought we were living in the twenty first century. OK, no problem, just whip out the old credit card and... Oh. The machine is cash only. Cash? Uh, OK, how much? £4.90? I haven’t got £4.90. Bugger.

Right: find a cashpoint. There’s a petrol station, they’re bound to have one, right? Wrong. "Nearest cashpoint is at the station, mate." Aware that I have about ten minutes before the Charing Cross train arrives, I traipse to the station (quite a trek as it turns out), find a cashpoint and take out a tenner. Back to the car park. Try to find somewhere in the devil’s parking machine to slot a ten pound note, only to discover that it doesn’t take notes: coins only. Bugger - again. Train leaving in five minutes. Hang on – the machine does take credit cards after all, but only for a weekly ticket, which is £23! Arse.

By now, I am out of time, so don’t have any option but to pay for a weekly ticket and leg it to the station – I make the train with about thirty seconds to spare (on the train someone tries to sell me pre-packed meat out of a Tesco carrier bag: “You want any meat, mate?” “Uh, no thanks: I’m good.”)

I wouldn’t mind so much if an event like this was a one-off. Problem is, it isn’t.

Next time round, I stock up on coins. Pull into Sevenoaks station right in front of a parking machine. Get out, pump £4.90 in change into the machine. Nothing happens. The instructions on the machine appear to be some sort of entry test for The Krypton Factor. After nearly ten minutes of pointlessly re-feeding coins into the parking machine, I decide that it’s broken. Off to find another machine: this one works. Hoopla! I make the train with thirty seconds to spare (on the train I sit opposite a twelve year old Downs Syndrome kid who is with her carer. “Hello”, she says. “Hello”, I say back. “What’s your name?” she asks. Before I have a chance to answer, she says, “Is it Elizabeth?”)

Next time round, I’m fully expecting to be hunted down by a baying posse of crazies in an ice-cream van. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Off on a Tangent, part 18 – Top 10 Basslines

In January/February’s edition of Bass Guitar Magazine (the mag of choice for supra bass nerds everywhere), there was a highly subjective countdown of the ‘40 Best Basslines Ever’. Just to give you a flavour, the most recent entry in the top 10 dated from 1980 (Queen: Another One Bites the Dust – not really my cup of sake, madam). So, to redress the balance, here’s my top 10 (which is also my attempt to win a Trace Elliot 715 combo - hmm, tasty. Send your top 10 to and you too could win, but first you got beat this lot – and to be honest, I don’t envy you that job):

Stars and Sons, Broken Social Scene (Charles Spearin) – the first rule of an addictive bassline: ensure that it’s an absolute joy to play. And this is.

Silentland, Material (Bill Laswell) – it’s amazing how little you can make a song out of. Silentland is all clattering, random percussion, a thin, reedy vocal and a busy, harmonic driven bassline that dominates over all else.

Dolores, Slab! (Bill Davies) – to slap or not to slap: that’s the question that has confronted bassists over the last three hundred years. Perhaps there’s something inherently naff about that bright, high in the mix, slappy sound that makes everything sound just too clean, too fresh (there’s no doubt that Mark King is an amazingly talented bassist, but you couldn’t pay me enough to stay in the same postcode as a Level 42 CD). Dolores by Slab! solves this problem with a twin stroke of genius – simply turn up the distortion and make it sound as dirty as you possibly can (coincidentally the criminally underrated Bill Davies is the son of Andrew Davies, the BBC’s adapter-in-chief, although trying to tie this fact into a big, dirty bass sound is probably doomed to failure; however, Slab! did star in an episode of Davis’s A Very Peculiar Practice – perhaps that counts?).

Debaser, Pixies (Kim Deal) – the thing I love about the Pixies is how uninflected their playing is – everything is played straight with no gruesome rock n’ roll flourishes and flashes of spandex so beloved of musicians who just love to show off. There’s no showing off here: four notes are all you need: fer chrissakes, this ain’t feckin’ jazz funk, y’know.

Buoy, Mick Karn (Mick Karn) – nothing screams the 1980s quite so much as the fretless bass, which probably hit its zenith with Mick Karn’s bass playing duties for Japan (when the band reformed as Rain Tree Crow in 1991, Karn’s bass was noticeable by its almost complete absence, allegedly mixed into near-silent oblivion by Sylvian himself). However, when treated with a modicum of restraint and looped backwards, it gives this song a warm, snug cadence. When Sylvian collected twenty years worth of recordings on the retrospective Everything and Nothing, this song shone out like a diamond – and it’s not even one of Dave’s.

Song 2, Blur (Alex James) – Blur’s finest two minutes, entirely driven by a big, dirty bass riff that elbows Graham Coxon’s ineffectual guitar out of its way and stomps all over this song with vicious abandon.

Pure, Siouxsie and the Banshees (Steve Severin) – Steve Severin has never been the most technically gifted of bassists, and most Top 10 lists would pass him by. But who cares? Listening to The Scream again recently, it’s scary to note just how contemporary it all sounds (incredibly, it’s 31 years old this year). Dark, stark and spiky, it’s an album of ideas, and that’s exactly where Severin sits in the scheme of things.

The Perfect Kiss, New Order (Peter Hook) – ignore Bernard Sumner’s amazingly daft lyrics (let’s face it, he’s no Ian Curtis) and concentrate on that bass: there are enough bass lines in this one song to keep a lesser band in business for at least three albums.

Tracy, Mogwai (Dominic Aitchison) – although the touchstone for this song appears to be Sonic Youth’s Providence, there’s no ear bleeding feedback and no 130dB of volume to contend with here. Tracy is essentially one long, lyrical bass line and nothing more.

Moon Over Marin, Dead Kennedys (Klaus Flouride) – you could be forgiven for thinking that most Dead Kennedy’s songs are 60 second 100 mph rants a la In God We Trust (which I love). However, they slow down and loosen up for this, the last track on Plastic Surgery Disasters – that bass sound is raw, loose and bottom heavy, and sounds great.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Opportunity Knocks(?), part 9

Opportunity or not? Only you can be the judge of that one (that said, there's nothing wrong with a bit of old fashioned flattery)...
Hi there

You're receiving this as one of the frighteningly talented few thousand who've applied to be part of 4Talent's big projects over the last year - like Radio HaHa, the Inspiration Sessions, A Pitch In Time at the Screenwriters Festival, the Mobile Games Pitch at the Golden Joysticks, and of course the 4Talent Awards.

You've had all of these amazing opportunities for free: now we'd like to run an idea past you.

As you may have read in our
festive farewell message, for all manner of reasons - not least the credit crunch - Channel 4 can no longer afford to fund what we do. But they ARE prepared to endorse a juicy, brand-new resource (working title: Not From Concentrate) that continues all this good stuff in the commercial marketplace, helping you to flex your creative muscles in response to specific industry briefs and make proper links with all the major UK broadcasters and production companies, from start-ups to super-indies.

Within Channel 4, the 4Talent brand will continue as an entry point to great commissioning-led schemes like 3 Minute Wonder, Comedy Lab, Coming Up and First Cut, as well as work-related-learning schemes for 14 to 19-year-olds keen to break into the media.

But we reckon that still leaves a huge gap for all you market-ready innovators and ideas people who we've had the pleasure of working with over the years. We know there are some great ideas out there; refreshing ideas that buck the re-hashing trend of so many broadcasters and publishers. We've seen what you can come up with, and we want to continue linking you to industry players to realise your creative ambitions across all possible platforms.

One question remains about this brave new world: without the 'luxury' of [minimal!] funding from Channel 4 for such a resource, we'd have to generate revenue and amongst other things we're thinking about - wait for it - user subscriptions.

For those of you still reading this, let us explain. In a nutshell, we want to build an exclusive club for genuinely talented, dedicated people who are still off the mainstream radar, NOT a free-for-all destination for reality TV wannabes and media fame-seekers. Like any business - and that's what this has to be, of course - this comes at a price, and we're considering an annual subscription charge of £49 or, put another way, less than a quid per week. For that, you'd get:

* Premium multimedia editorial packed with industry insights
* A beautiful 100-page magazine sent direct to your doorstep
* Regular, real-world creative briefs to respond to
* A space to share knowledge and connect with like-minded peers
* A destination for your unsolicited, back-of-a-fag-packet ideas
* Online mentoring and feedback to develop those ideas
* Networking events and workshops with the best in the business

But we can't do any of this without you guys on board, so please drop us a line back with your thoughts or questions, and be as frank as you like. Not abusive though - just frank will do!

Thanks peeps - hear from you soon.

James [Estill] and Nick [Carson]
Former Producer and Editor, 4Talent Networks

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

More Random Linkage (sorry...)

I was going to bore myself (and by extension, you) by wibbling on about my Red Planet rewrite. But you know something? I’m too busy writing it to write about rewriting it, if that makes any sort of sense. In the meantime, for some god-known reason the following by-line from today’s Guardian had me howling with laughter:

Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly shrunk two trouser sizes after working the muscles of his perineum.

Sorry about that. I must be overtired or something...

In other random linkage news, David Hare has gone off on one again about Play for Today here – the interview also contains some highly amusing swipes at Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian’s film critic, after a one star review of The Reader. Bradshaw has responded in his usually robust fashion here (he still thinks it’s rubbish).

And finally, I heard a superb joke the other day about a blacksmith and a donkey, but it’s far too politically incorrect to post here – so drop me a line and I’ll email it to you.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Random Sunday Linkage

See here for the new show from David Simon and Ed Burns, Generation Kill, which starts on FX on 25th January. Looks most spiffy! Alternatively, you could always try here for the Torygraph’s view of the same thing. And then there's this, which is kinda related but makes for fascinating reading anyway.

There’s a revealing interview with Peter Morgan, the writer of Frost/Nixon, here, who was also responsible for the better bits of The Last King of Scotland I suspect.

(And talking of random links, what’s this Blogger ‘Links to this Post’ thing all about? My last post on Julian Fellowes seemingly generated thirteen random links all by its lonesome, which seems to be something that Blogger has nicked from Wordpress (steal away, guys: the more random the better in my book)).

Finally, my – ahem – my nephew’s essay got a 2:1. Good, eh? (by the way, if you need 2,500 words of randomly generated fluff on Roland Barthes, drop me a line – I don’t pretend to understand any of what the great man said, but that’s half the fun)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Julian Fellowes at Lighthouse

I remember Lighthouse back in the days when they were located at Middle Street in Brighton - rather sensibly, they have now relocated to a set of super-swanky offices in Kensington Street. Thanks to a tip off from Danny Stack, the beautiful and talented Michelle Lipton (in comparison to myself: slightly stooped and illiterate) and I were present last night to hear Julian Fellowes give a whistle stop tour of his career to date.

Judging from the amount of notes Michelle took, I suspect she will be providing chapter and verse on the event at some point. That said, the only notes I took were: “Michael Winner is a key figure in all our lives” (chortle), and a bit about some of the decisions made regarding the period that Gosford Park was set in. Robert Altman didn’t want Christmas as a backdrop as he found it ‘too sentimental’; also, the general consensus was that there shouldn’t be any mention of Nazis. Hold on a minute: Christmas, with the Nazi Party? There’s a high stepping, vaudeville number if ever I heard one.

Suffice to say, the evening was brilliantly entertaining, but not massively oversubscribed – there were perhaps 25 people in the audience, which I found surprising. Either everyone in Brighton has heard Mr Fellowes speak before (doubtful), or the evening was just not well publicised enough. In any case, if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, take it: he’s fab.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Tag Teamed

The newly agented up Oli tagged me with this:

When it comes to writing, what do you know you're good at, and what aspect of writing are you worst at? (Procrastination is not permitted as either part of the answer.)

I like to think I’m good at dialogue – give me two characters in a room and I can magic up a no-holds barred argument (with a gratuitous garrotting thrown in for good measure) out of thin air. I’ve also been told I have a good visual sense, probably a result of spending far too long at art college and hanging around with talented people such as Mister Edwards, god bless 'im.

On the downside, I don’t have too many problems with plotting or story design, although I have a tendency to try and over-complicate things from the get-go – my first drafts are often so horribly complex that I’m often forced into using colour coded spreadsheets, a ream of Post-It notes and copious diagrams on fag packets to try and figure out what the hell might be going on.

I also seem to suffer from an overdeveloped sense of the absurd – let me explain:

When I was 11, part of my history homework one week was to draw the death mask of Tutankhamen (you know the one, it’s right here). I really took my time over the task and produced something that I thought was pretty darned good. I took my exercise book into school the next day, fully expecting it to be collected in and the work marked – except, it wasn’t. A week later, still nothing. By now thoroughly convinced that my meisterwerke would never get marked, I drew a pair of glasses on King Tut and gave him a rather fetching pair of cross eyes. Lo and behold, ten minutes later, the book was collected, marked and returned to me with the following comment underneath my now bespectacled drawing:

Chip can often ruin very good work by being exceedingly silly. 0/10

This is an aspect that I’ve found incredibly difficult to shake off ever since. For example, my last attempt at a straight drama veered quickly off into what a lot of people described as ‘wild implausibility’, but which I like to describe as ‘carnivalesque’ (that’s my excuse anyway). Which is probably why I feel safer writing within the boundaries of a genre. Rules, you see – rules are good.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Saturday Morning Muzak – Sweet Billy Pilgrim

...different from Friday Night Muzak inasmuch as I can’t find a decent clip of a Sweet Billy Pilgrim song anywhere on the net (there are the inevitable YouTube vids, but the quality is patchy to say the least).

However, more important than finding old video clips is the news that SBP’s second album is to be released on David Sylvian’s boutique label Samadisound later this year (2005’s We Just Did What Happened and No One Came was my favourite album of 2008, if that makes any sense). The last I heard, Tim Elsenburg (who started the ball rolling on this thing) was pitching the completed second album to interested parties; Samadhisound obviously liked what they heard, and who’s going to argue with the judgement of a certain Mr D Sylvian? Not me, madam.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Culturally Constipated

There’s a fun article here in today’s Guardian entitled “The DVR fodder you'll never watch” by Paul McInnes – essentially how we are all now filling up DVRs “with programmes that sound unmissable when they're recorded but are somehow all too avoidable when it comes to actually watching them.” I for one would not be without my beloved and strangely sexy SkyPlus, but the problem of course is finding the time to watch the myriad amount of programmes that I record on it. The last time I checked it was about 20% free, which means I’m going to have to start watching a lot of stuff pretty damn soon. Stuff like:

Hart to Hart: Two Harts in 3/4 Time: recorded for me as a joke (probably because I do a passable impression of their cigar chomping sidekick Max: (I take care of them, which ain't easy 'cause when they met, it was MOIDER!)), but for some reason I can’t bring myself to delete it.

Shooting Stars Christmas Special: I saw the hour long ‘documentary’ that preceded this and was distinctly underwhelmed, so this looks like half an hour of prime time TV horseshit that’s going to sit there forever, unwatched and unloved.

The Prisoner: Joe Pasquale: Joe somehow finds himself in a South American jail, which sounds fair enough I guess (I will never, ever watch this).

Affinity: looks excellent by the way, and another Sarah Waters adaptation, so it’s got a lot going for it. Problem is: it’s 121 minutes long! Trousers! I haven’t got time for that. However, one advantage with SkyPlus is that you can watch at slightly faster than normal speed, which means you can save yourself about 20 minutes. Result! (Incidentally, Pan’s Labyrinth is a great film, but only when played at slightly faster than normal sapeed).

Time to Leave: a French film directed by Francois Ozon, about a gay Parisian photographer diagnosed with a fatal tumour. Sheesh. I think I’ll put off watching this until my Seasonal Affective Disorder is over and done with for another year. Either that, or tag team it with Hart to Hart for counterpoint.

The Getaway: it seems incredible, but I’ve never seen this. And how can you go wrong with two monumental talents like Jim Thompson and Walter Hill? And Slim Pickens is in it! Zoiks!

Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in Johannesburg: I saw the first one (shot in Philadelphia), so it seemed sensible to record the second. However, there’s only so much of Louis asking the same inane question over and over again (“Why won’t you speak to the police?”) that I can take.

If I haven’t watched any of these by the end of the month, they’re getting deleted (with the exception of Hart to Hart (probably)). As far as New Year resolutions go, that’s about as good as I get.

Friday, 2 January 2009

2008 - Uh, What?

2008 has certainly been a weird and erratic year for me. In the vast majority of cases, it really has been one step forward and two steps back – which is to be expected of course. However, in true Chipster style, absolutely nothing has gone to plan. Just when I think the stars might be aligning in some kind of weird cosmic jam, something comes along and gives me a swift slap round the back of the legs for daring to think that things are ever going to be that simple. So, on I go. For some reason, I suspect that 2009 is going to deliver up biblical proportions of weird as well – which I enjoy in a masochistic, absurd kinda way. Like I’m fond of saying: do the exact opposite of what I do, and you won’t go far wrong.

I had scripts in for both METLAB and TAPS which both came to nothing. Even though I had a sneaky feeling that nothing much was ever going to happen METLAB-wise, the scheme got credit crunched – so, one down. Another script got shortlisted for a TAPS scheme, and I got some hugely encouraging noises from an ITV producer who sits on the TAPS selection board. However, the script didn’t make the final hurdle, so that was that.

Better news came in February when I launched upon a collaboration with a well respected producer/director. Two meetings and lots of phone calls later it’s still trundling on, but again in true Chipster style, I have absolutely no idea where it’s headed. When the thing winds up/down to its natural conclusion I’ll write about it some more, but at this rate it’s going to take a while (unless I get unceremoniously slung off it of course). So, maybe a half step forward there.

(One good thing that has come off the back of this collaboration is that a simple mention of the name of the person I am collaborating with is often enough to get my work read in any variety of places (bear in mind that I did ask if it would be OK for me to bandy this person’s name around in the first place). I’m waiting to hear back from three opportunities at the moment, all of which would be utterly brilliant to work on. However, each one is going to need a lot more hustle yet).

I had a short script that got through to the first round of the BSSC, and then promptly fell flat on its arse. My Sharps entry did precisely fup all, as did my entry for Red Planet. I don’t subscribe to the view that competitions are the only opportunities out there, but even so, perhaps I’ve been guilty of putting in too much work on competition entries at the expense of pursuing real world opportunities (having to work to a deadline is always handy though). So, the monumental decision I’ve reached with regards to the year ahead is, regardless of what they are, no more competitions (that said, in the spirit of doing exactly the opposite to whatever I do, I suggest that everyone enter every competition going next year. You’ll all win big, I guarantee it*).

Throw in some demented stuff regarding Pitof (unbelievably, that one is still trundling on as well), a BBC Writersroom event, a few meetings here and there, Marchmont Films finally throwing in the towel, and there you have it: 2008 expressed as a random series of unlinked events. I think rather than one step forward and two back, it’s been one step forward, one to the side, half a step back and then a funny little dance on the spot. At the least, it's been an entertaining year.
*Guarantee not legally enforceable. But if anyone does win, could you cut me in for 10%? ;-)