Monday, 31 December 2012

Scene 40: Happy New Year 2013!

I thought, since this post would be the 40th I've written, and since we're gliding into a whole new this evening, I'd celebrate with a glance back at the previous year, and a look forward to the next.

It's been pretty amazing for Britain, with the Olympics and the Jubilee, both of which were broadcast across the nation, and I guess for me too -  I started this blog earlier this year, I worked at an Odeon, I went to two Second Light Lab events, wrote for an online magazine, entered a couple of script competitions and I got a position in an independent film company again. 

However, its now next year I am most excited about, as I have all sorts of ideas and plans for next year and some may work, some may not.

I am definitely going to shoot my short science-fiction film - so watch this space! - but I also want to start up a webseries, which is going to be a bigger challenge. I've seen the candidates for the Streamy Awards, and they are amazing! If you haven't heard of the Streamy Awards yet, they are the awards for internet based TV, and this is only their third year running.

I'd also like to improve this blog over the next year, start doing regular reviews of films and articles on the roles in the industry, give it more structure, rather than the randomness that its so far been. So, if you have any suggestions please leave a comment! 

But enough about me...

Here is a great mash-up video of, if not all, then alot of trailers from films of 2012, beautifully edited together. Enjoy!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Scene 39: The Critic, A Cartoon Review

It's fascinating where a single memory, or a thought, can take you. 

Years ago I saw a Simpsons episode a character from another animated show, outside of the Simpson's universe, crosses over into the world of Springfield. I had never seen this other animated show, or heard of it, so I don't think I paid much attention to the character at the time. 

Then a few days ago, for some reason, I remembered that character again  - he had been a fictional film critic. This intrigued me. I promptly searched the internet, and I found what wanted - the episode had been A Star is Burns, the character was Jay Sherman and the show was The Critic. 

Still intrigued I then went and watched The Critic. This wasn't particularly difficult since there were only  two series, plus a clutch of webisodes much later on in 2000-2001. 

The show is set in New York  and centres around Jay Sherman, voiced by Jon Lovitz, an overweight, balding, film critic in New York, who pans nearly all the movies he reviews. In the first series he also doesn't have much luck with women either. The supporting cast include his billionaire boss Duke, his make-up lady Doris, his parents, his sister Margo, his ex-wife, son and his Australian actor friend Jeremy. 

The episodes generally deal with Jay's relationships with his friends, family and women, and the struggle he has with his boss over the ratings for his show, Coming Attractions - Jay is not very popular with the viewers because he thinks every movie stinks, which is in fact, one of his catchphrases. 

The show was created and produced by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, with producer James L. Brooks who owns Gracie Films, in the early 90's - and yes, those names may look familiar because they have all been involved with The Simpsons, and there was fact actually some controversy over The Critic/Simpsons crossover episode, which Matt Groening apparently complained was just an advert for show, which had just moved to FOX.

Now, I have been trying not to compare to The Critic to The Simpsons, because even though it has a lot of links Springfield it is a totally different show.

However, the Simpsons is the biggest mainstream cartoon and I was introduced to The Critic through the same said cartoon, so perhaps its not to unsurprising, if I end up comparing Jay Sherman to Homer Simpson.  After all they are similar - fat, balding, attention seeking, useless at times, but also think Jay Sherman shares alot of qualities with another Simpsons character - Lisa Simpson.

Yep, Lisa. Why? Because Jay Sherman is often, like Lisa, the voice of integrity and reason in a world of stupidity. For example, in the episode Uneasy Rider where Jay quits his job rather than promote a chewing tobacco, pointing out to his boss that his audience includes children.  In other cartoons, including Family Guy and American Dad, the protagonist might have spent the whole episode realising that they should quit - Jay does in five seconds. 

Not to say that he doesn't put up with promotions for cigarettes and beer in his show in other episodes, but he does so unwilling. Much like Lisa, he can also be sensitive, considerate, insightful and sometimes unselfish. Jay generally wants to make the world better, though mainly in the film department.  

To be fair of course, the show isn't perfect. The stories, like any show, can be a bit hit and miss - and one episode even ended, annoyingly, without properly resolving a storyline. 

The fact that it was done in the early 90's does show too, from time to time - for example in a gag about Princess Diana. 

Also, if you are not American some of the cultural and political jokes may go over your head, more so than in current American cartoons - I am British, so I don't know who Milton Berle is, and whether its funny or not if he acts like a ninja. 

Nonetheless, I think it is an enjoyable cartoon which has a good mix of intelligent humour, silliness and slap-stick - and its I think its theme song by Hans Zimmer is  wonderful, especially the second series version. 

So it is rather a shame that The Critic was cancelled so early on. Though the series is on DVD now, and I hear that it has become something of a cult programme - so gone, but not forgotten at least!  To find out more about the series, check out this website: The Critic - starring Jon Lovitz.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Scene 38: Doctor Who and the Christmas Round Up

Ah, Christmas, and the annual Christmas television - the Christmas specials, the 'classic' Christmas films and the Queen's Speech, which this year  is in 3D, for some reason. 

So, here's my brief round up of some of the Christmas specials - those one-off episodes of popular television series centred around the Christmas holiday itself.

As usual the BBC has a Doctor Who Christmas special, which is - I think for the second time in the reboot's history - acting as a bridge for the series into the New Year. 

It's interesting to note that the last two specials have both been inspired by Christmassy stories - A Christmas Carol and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - and wonder if it'll turn out that the coming special gives a nod to another literary classic this year. Though so far the trailer does not seem to suggest it - though the Doctor in a top hat does remind one of the Madder Hatter somewhat. These specials can be a bit hit and miss, and I wasn't to keen on last year's. However this year looks like it might be rather good - with deliciously creepy looking snowmen and the addition of Richard E. Grant and Ian McKellan doing some voice-acting. 

There's also going to be plenty of period drama from Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and The Making of a Lady.

There's plenty for young children as well, with the sequel to The Snowman - The Snowman and The Snow Dog on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve. Whilst on Christmas Day, there is the animation Room on the Broom on the BBC, which features a whole host of voice talent that adults will enjoy recognising - including Gillian Anderson, Simon Pegg and Sally Hawkins. 

Well that's a quick look at what's on telly, for more Christmas listings and reviews, check out the Radio Times site.

Merry Christmas Everyone! 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Scene 37: A Quick Note, and a Short Film

So, this is post is a little late -  as I usually post on Sunday's - but I've been really distracted and busy the last few days, and of course Christmas is coming up!

Anyway, exciting and sad news. I sent a script into First Light Movies as part of a pilot grant with a group of filmmakers, but we sadly did not get the funding.

However, I have decided that I am going to do the film anyway. Its a short of course, in fact its short film I pitched at the Second Light Producer's Lab a few months ago, and I wrote it with the idea of making it on almost no budget.

I remember a lecturer at the Producer's Lab telling us how about a web series that was meant to be nearly no budget, had actually cost about about £1,000 pounds to make!

Now I know in real terms - when we're talking about budgets for films like The Hobbit or Cloud Atlas, or epic television shows like Battlestar Galactica and True Blood - that £1,000 is amazing cheap. However, I was still really surprised - a £1,000 is not no-budget! 

My goal, at least at the moment, is to produce stuff to a high standard on barely any budget. Which I suppose at this stage in my career, I can. Because I know people who are trying, like me, to break in and who may own better equipment or have different skills, but are happy to go in for free so they can gain a credit for their developing CV. 

Also the advent of YouTube has allowed lots of people to create lots of cheap but creative media. That's another subject I want to explore in a post, web series and online series - but that's for another day.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Scene 36: Into the Wonder of Radio

It is a truth universally acknowledged - if you don't mind me borrowing from Austen here - that one anyone interested in being in the media, is in need of a portfolio. 

So recently I have been browsing the web for screenwriting competitions, as winning a competition is going to look good on the old CV, as well as hopefully give me the opportunity to get one of my ideas made. However, I have not just been limiting myself to screenwriting competitions. I am going to enter Stones & Stories, a competition looking for ideas for a fifteen minute radio play, which ends on the 10th of December - so I am working to writing and re-writing this weekend! Which brings me to the main point of this entry, and that's radio. 

Radio, though I often overlook it, is really a wonderful medium for a writer, because it can allow you to do pretty much anything - and on a much lower budget than TV and film. Two good examples of this freedom are two of my favourite radio shows, The Goon Show and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. 

The Goon Show in particular actually benefits from the fact it is not visual. In one episode for example, Neddie describes how sees a beautiful veiled woman, who goes up to - only to discover it Eccles in disguise! This is much easier, much more surprising on the radio as the audience is unable to see veiled woman. On TV the surprise might be given away by the masculinity of the body underneath the woman's clothing. 

You can also do hundreds of things on radio that would look unrealistic or use up a lot of budget on television - such as Ford turning into a penguin in The Hitchhikers Guide, or The Goons being able to defy physics when Neddie lets Eccles stand on his shoulders, and then pulls Neddie up onto his. 

That's not to say that radio shows have not been converted to the screen. The Hitchhiker's Guide of course was, and the effects were very good - except perhaps for Zaphod's second head. 

The other thing I like about radio, and this again is apparent in my two examples, is its use of wordplay. Though that should not be surprising as dialogue is really what has to tell the story - along with some carefully chosen ambiance and sound effects of course. 

I suppose in short, what I am trying to say is, to all those writers out there - television and film isn't the only medium, and the radio gives a writer an amazing freedom in terms of budget and scope of story. You can write about any place, any time, any person dead or alive and all you needs is the sounds and the voices.  For another example of this check out Old Harry's Game, a sitcom about the Devil - it is actually a radio show, but some clever and talented person has done a stop-motion for it. 

Anyway, please tell me if you agree. Do you think radio gives you more freedom, story wise? What about animation, is that the same? 

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Scene 35: Five Scriptwriting Tips

Scriptwriting, its a tough business trying to write forty-five to ninety pages, depending on whether its film or television, of something that's good - or even brilliant.  

Then there's so much to consider - character, the whole structure, dialogue, scene structure, story arcs, the meaning behind it all!  So, I thought today I'd share a few bits of advice on scriptwriting that I think are useful. 

First though, here's a quick little re-fresher from the American Film Institute that describes what a script is and how to format it, hosted by Sean Astin from Lord of the Rings. 

1] Write it and finish it!

Whilst doing some research for this, I came across Joss Whedon's Top Ten Writing Tips and the first one on the list was - finish the script. 

Although I don't think this is technically advice it is something that's worth repeating. As sitting down  and starting, and then finishing a script can be difficult. 

2]  Write Three Pages a Day

This is a nice idea for making sure you finish that script, bit by bit, and one I have always liked - though not yet managed to stick too.

It's a simple plan - you sit down and write three pages of script a day, no matter what. The three pages don't have to great either - you can go back and revise it later - and if you can write more, that's great, but make sure you stick to the minimum. 

By doing this you should end up with thirty pages of script in ten days. So by the end of a month, you could have a first draft of a script. 

3] Show don't tell

This is a classic rule for screenwriting. It's important for two reasons. First of all television and film are visual mediums. Secondly, it also helps reduce the need for unnecessary dialogue and to much explaining. 

A great example of  this I found in a book describes  a scene between a girl about to leave home to be with her boyfriend, and her older brother who's trying to stop her. The writer wants to get across the idea that the girl is just a child really, and doesn't know what she's doing.   

So, in the first example of the scene the brother and sister argue and the brother tells her quite obviously - "You're just a kid. You're not old enough to understand." - sort of dialogue, which takes up a lot of the page. 

The second example, using the rule of showing not telling, shows the brother arguing with his sister in her bedroom - but this time the script describes the room, the soft toys on the shelves, the band posters on the wall and the old Barbie suitcase the girl packs her clothes in. All this tells us straight away that this girl is still just a kid, without her brother having to say it out loud. 

I've attempted to do this in one of my scripts. I have a character who's into history. How do I get this across? Have him reading historical novels and history books of course! 

4] Formatting, grammar and spelling 

This is really two pieces of advice I've thrown in together, but both are important if you want to make your script clear and easy to read. 

First, checking grammar and spelling is an obvious one. It can be easy to forget to do this, for example I was a few minutes from a script competition deadline, sent off the script - and then remembered I had not re-read it, so I did not know if there was any redundant words or spelling mishaps the spell check had missed. 

Second, make sure you use the right format. There are different formats of script for different types of medium - television, radio and film. To find out what they are, go to Formatting your Script at the BBC Writersroom. 

5] Read your script out loud

This is a tip from an article called Screenwriting Tips from a Screenplay Contest Judge, written by Gordy Hoffman, who runs an American screenplay competition. 

His explains that dialouge can sound fine in your head, but as soon as you hear it out loud, you may feel like jumping in front of a bus - his analogy.  So he suggests you either read your script out loud by ourself, or get your friends to read it.

I once wrote a short radio piece for a community/university station, which had a line that sounded fine in my head,  but sounded like an innuendeo when read out - as my friend kindly pointed out to me. 

So in future I intend to get my friends to read my scripts, as it sounds like good fun as well as a good re-writing exercise.