Monday, October 30, 2006

Getting into the swing again

Not been posting much recently; life has been taken up with preparing for Nanowrimo which begins at midnight tomorrow. Also been working on finishing a radio play and a couple of short stories. And I started a new job this morning, although I'm still carrying on with the old one as well. So, been a bit busy - but it's all good, especially the writing, which seems to be coming back, or at least the desire does, after having disappeared a bit recently. That's also a reason for minimal blogging - sometimes I wonder whether blogging takes the place of other writing. So if the "real" stuff takes over, then although I'm sad to be missing out on the blogosphere, I'm happy to be writing again.

Meanwhile, there have been a few cultural activities - went to see "The Last Kiss" which made me want to slap everyone in it apart from Tom Wilkinson's character. The message seemed to be that all men are pretty useless and can't grow up, while all women are fairly crap too, and governed by their hormones. One of those films that makes me glad I have an Unlimited card because that way I didn't lay out money specifically for this film. Also went to see Caryl Churchill's "A Number" at The Studio theatre in Sheffield. The play, about the relationship between fathers and sons, was undoubtedly made more poignant by being played by real life father and son, and it's an evening of superb acting by Samuel and Timothy West. However, although I thought the performances were top rate, I didn't think the play really did enough to address the many issues it throws up. And whereas I often feel that plays need a good going over with a filletting knife, in this case I left feeling dissatisfied that it didn't go further. They're getting great reviews, which is fab for Sam in his second season as Artistic Director in Sheffield.

I also did a day-long workshop on short film-making run by Peter Kershaw of Duchy Parade Films, which is probably the best film workshop I've ever done. Plenty of practical advice, insight from a film-maker, lots of short films and clips to look at and discuss - well worth going to.

And now back to my Nano-plan.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Plays, trailers, and automobiles

I went to see "The History Boys" the other day; the film, that is, not the play. I saw the play three times - the first time for a fiver, standing up at the back of the circle in the Lyttleton Theatre; by the end my knee had siezed up and on my way downstairs afterwards I nearly fell on Stephen Campbell-Moore, the "nearly" meaning I sadly missed the opportunity to say "hey I've been writing a screenplay with you in mind as the lead male". But I laughed so much, I thought "I have to see this again in more comfortable circumstances", so in due course V and I got seats in the stalls - and it was just as funny. You could tell where the teachers were sitting and more especially where the northerners were sitting, by the size of the laughs. It was a very funny play that had important things to say about the way we educate children these days - to think, or to get through exams? And so I saw it a third time, this time with A who was then 16, on tour, different cast, edited script, not nearly as good. We enjoyed it but the magic had gone.

So, I was hoping that the magic would be back for the film, given that it was the original cast. It's a good film, and I enjoyed it, but it isn't the same as the play. What worked on stage, and got laughs, falls flat on screen. The comedy isn't as broad as on stage. And yet the intimacy on screen is much more intense. Stephen Campbell Moore's Irwin is a much more endearing character on film - instead of a withdrawn cold fish on stage, on film we see a man terrified of acknowledging his very raw feelings, and struggling to come to terms with who he is.

Yet still, it's a good film. Dominic Cooper and Samuel Barnett have had much of the limelight, and rightly so as their performances have been stellar, but my particular favourite all along has been Scripps, played by Jamie Parker. He observes, he comments, he is witty and dry and knowing. He's overlooked, and he's great.

But one of the notable and unusual things about The History Boys was that of the trailers screened, I wanted to see all of the films. "A Good Year", despite Russell Crowe's dodgy English accent; "The Holiday", a romcom with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslett, with the romantic interests being Jack Black (yeah, it caused a few laughs in the cinema too) and Jude Law; "The Last Kiss" which I would see just for Tom Wilkinson who is a fabulous Brit actor at last getting the plaudits he has long deserved; "Starter for Ten", a sweet Britflick starring James McAvoy that I enjoyed in Cannes; and "Casino Royale" - oh those doubters should just take one look at Daniel Craig emerging from the sea in his trunks and apologise - this man is so Bond. He's fit, cool, sexy - at last we seem to have a Bond who exudes that same kind of wicked charm that Sean Connery had. I love Bond movies and I am so looking forward to Casino Royale.

But the other thing that interests me about going to the pictures is who they think is watching the films, as determined by the ads. Usually they think you want to buy at least 5 cars - I can't decide which car ad I hate the most, the one where they pretend the car is a dog (family should be locked up as a bunch of morons) or the one where the car surfs to a song about railways (ad agency should be locked up as a bunch of morons).
People who went to see Devil Wears Prada are shallow idiots only interested in straight hair and crap magazines, as opposed to caring about their fellow humans or their children, according to the advertisers; the other advert I hate at the moment is the Virgin/Red Indian one. Generally, an ad functions to tell me what to avoid - I hate the ad, I avoid the product.

BTW just saw the new Sony Bravia ad - the multi-coloured flats one - one of our Echoes crew knows a guy who worked on it - apparently it took nine full film crews to make that "colour changing block of flats" shot. And for an ad I like - the Bravia one with bouncing coloured balls, I absolutely loved. Didn't buy a new TV, but I did buy the Jose Gonzalez CD with the song on it.

So I guess we are all media tarts one way or another.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Name that tune

Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday dear mee-eeee,
Happy birthday to me.

Now I'm going to finish painting my bedroom, then I'm going to drink a glass of fizz, eat fishy risotto, and watch Spooks and maybe a film - perfect!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Nano, nano, nano

I am in danger of being seduced again by the whole NaNoWriMo phenomenon. I did it successfully in 2004 - successful meaning a 50,000 word novel in a month - and failed last year by grinding to a halt after a few thousand words because I didn't know where I was going with the story. I think the trick is to have a good plan, a reasonable structure, and then write to that plan. This year, I have an idea which is turning into a plan, but whether I have enough basic stuff in place to be able to pull off 50,000 words is questionable. Is anyone else going for it?

A and I went to see "The Devil Wears Prada" tonight - I think she summed it up quite well when she told her Dad on the phone "we've spent two hours being vacuous". The problem I had with the film was that it was essentially a shallow film about shallow, often fairly nasty, people. It wants to have its cake and eat it "the world of fashion is shallow and superficial .... yeah but its so lovely I want to do it too!!" Until we get to the utterly predictable denoument. It didn't make me care enough about any of the characters, and I would probably have left before the end if I had been on my own - not least because of the selfish thoughtless teenage morons in front of us who talked most of the way through the film.

Also saw "Children of Men" last week - really wanted to enjoy this, but I just failed to suspend my disbelief most of the way through. Most of the political points made themselves felt with the force of a large hammer smacking the side of your head going "hey! look! important political point here!" and despite Cuaron's clever imagining of the nasty messiness of a future Britain, I just didn't quite get into it.

Meanwhile, if you could see my hands, you would know the colour scheme I have chosen for my almost-completely-redecorated bedroom - I am a notoriously messy painter, and I've spent much of the last week painting. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be done, and be able to move out of the office (where I've been sleeping on my futon, v comfortable) and back into my bedroom and my brand new bed. Then my office will be an office again and I might actually get round to writing something up from the scribbly note pile.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


That's the sound of another week disappearing. The weekend went by pretty quickly too, but then I didn't really stay still long enough to have the chance of getting bored.

Went to London on Friday for a theatrical overload weekend - Friday night saw "The Alchemist" by Ben Jonson, directed by Nicholas Hytner, at the National Theatre - very funny play and well worth seeing. Simon Russell Beale, an actor I've long admired, was as excellent as ever as Face; Alex Jennings, an actor I've only ever seen in serious roles, was a revelation as Subtle, and Lesley Manville as Doll made a perfect foil to the pair of them. I found the language a bit hard at first as the play begins at a pretty fast pace, and you need to concentrate, but once you get into the rhythm of it, you just get carried along by the misadventures of the three tricksters and their increasingly complex troubles.

On Saturday I went to the New Producers Alliance "9 Point Producer Training" workshop - on the basis that if I'm going to be one, I'd better have an idea of how to do it. The workshop was good, if anything a bit of an information overload. It would have been useful to have more detailed notes to take away, rather than a one page handout and lots of "scribbling while listening" type notes. But I know much more about setting up a company now than I did before, and hopefully will be able to get to most of the other monthly workshops (and not only because it gives me an excuse to go to London and "ooh while I'm here I might as well see some plays").

Saturday afternoon, went to the matinee of Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten", directed by Howard Davies at the Old Vic. Wow. Kevin Spacey, another actor I've liked for a long time, and Eve Best were simply breath-taking, giving the sort of performances that leave you wondering how they manage to produce work of such intensity. Colm Meaney was great too, but Spacey and Best just knock your socks off. The play itself is much funnier than I expected, as well as being awfully sad - one of those experiences where you have to go for a bit of a walk and a quiet think afterwards to let it all sink in. Highly recommended.

Last night, another bunch of Irish drinkers in Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer" (back to the National - hoorah, another excuse for another amble through my favourite theatrical bookshop - restricted myself to two books though). Again, a very funny play but with an undercurrent of deep sadness, although ultimately a very touching story. It's McPherson so you get men, drink, and religion, this time stuck together in a house on Christmas Eve as their chickens come home to roost over a game of cards. Great acting from all the cast, especially Jim Norton as Richard, blind after falling drunk into a skip on Hallowe'en, and now dependent on but tormenting his attempting-to-be-teetotal brother Sharkey (Karl Johnson) and friend Ivan (Conleth Hill).

So, a top class weekend with not a dud play in sight, nicely rounded off by meeting Optimistic Reader for lunch and a really good natter today. It was good to chat about scriptwriting and reading, and get some sound advice about some things that have been niggling me for a while.

And I am definitely going to carry on producing. Not only did Robert Downey Jr meet his wife, Susan Levin, when she was a producer on "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", but apparently now James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, is dating a producer. Oh, and apparently, George Clooney thinks he should go on a date with a different person every night for three months in order to confuse the paps. Well, if he really wants to confuse them, he needs to be seen with a "mystery woman" every now and then. George, I'm willing to step into the breach.