Monday, August 27, 2007

All ha ha hee hee

How much comedy is it possible to see in one day on the Fringe? You could probably do 8 or 10 shows, or even more, if you started early and kept going into the night, but there comes a point when you reach saturation. It's like a law of diminishing comedy returns - physically possible to see more, but you get to a limit. I think I pitched it just nicely on Saturday; beginning with Potted Potter at 11am, and ending with Dan Clark at 8:30pm, my day as bookended by my two favourites of the day, with some good stuff in between.

First up, Potted Potter, all the Harry Potter books condensed into a one hour two man show. It was pitched perfectly for the Saturday morning mix of kids and adults - enough clever one-liners for the adults with lots of story-telling for the children. Billed as a parody, its a very affectionate one - it pokes fun without ridicule, and wouldn't upset an HP devotee. There's even a game of quidditch involving the audience. The two performers, Dan and Jeff, were the usual straight man/fool pairing which worked very well. Apparently they're going on tour witht he show - worth a look.

Next, an added show from Simon Amstell because his late night slot had completely sold out. He's very funny, and very engaging - even though, as he said himself, the theatre he was in on Saturday lunchtime was huge (Pleasance Grand) and he much prefers smaller, more intimate gigs. The show is called "No Self", and is a contemplation of human identity via some (if its true) revealing and intimate stuff about his love life, as well as some really funny stuff about his family. He's as smart on stage as he is on TV, and I enjoyed this show - but I would like to see him in a smaller venue as I think some of the humour was lost in the cavernous venue.

In contrast Isy Suttie was in the Cellar at the Pleasance, a tiny, sweaty venue seating about 30, less two Icelanders who left after about 5 minutes. I don't know what she'd done to offend them - her show was a story about finding love in a supermarket (Somerfield in Matlock, a location I know well). She switches deftly between Lisa the checkout girl, Carl the shelfstacker, and the American singer-songwriter who is Lisa's rival for Carl's affections, plus several other characters. As the review I've linked to says, every review will compare her to Victoria Wood, and there are similarities - stories told through song, the random bits of life turned into key parts of the story. She's very witty and funny, and deserves a bigger audience. And I'm not just saying that because she's from Derbyshire.

Rebus McTaggart is more character-based comedy, with Richard Thomson doing a funny and very rude take on Scottish TV detectives, although in his case rather an inept cop in Ecclefechan. The front row certainly got to see rather more of him than they'd probably bargained for during his Sharon Stone impression. A good recommendation from the girl in the Pleasance box office - thanks for the tip. (Yes I did spend almost the entire day in the Pleasance Courtyard, but there was comedy, beer and food, what more could I want?)

By the time I got to see God's Pottery, I was beginning to flag a bit, although the mix of straight stand-up and musical comedy was a good balance. I would've liked to have seen some straight theatre, but by 6pm it was clear that there are limits to what one person should see in a day. God's Pottery are a spoof folk duo, here to save the world from such problems as addiction, British people, and women. They appear as a pair of sanctimonious, sandal-wearing singers with bad haircuts and permagrins, with an underlying jealously in their relationship which emerges as the show proceeds. They pick a pretty easy target to hit, and although they were good, I felt the show spread itself too thinly. They could be much more cynical and that would hit a nerve much more.

And finally, the show I'd been looking forward to most, Dan Clark in "Unfangled". I've now seen his last three shows, thanks to A's wish to see him a couple of years ago, and I really like his style of loosely focused humour. His show this year is based on the idea that we're all hooked on the internet, and communicate with huge numbers via MySpace and Facebook, but he can't get a girlfriend. He's very good at audience participation, and even when he seems to be thrown for a moment, picks it up very quickly and turns it into a laugh. The best show of the day, and a good way to end.

It's a gorgeous sunny Bank Holiday Monday here (clearly, global warming is happening, then), and since I spent a lovely sunny Edinburgh day yesterday in a series of darkened rooms, I'm going to drag myself away from the internet and go outside. Back later with some film reviews.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Macbeth on Motorbikes

Back in Edinburgh for another action-packed weekend (I hope), which began yesterday with a meeting with Douglas, who runs a company providing and managing soundtracks - very useful contact to have. I've got his showreel, and he's done the soundtrack for one of the films I'm seeing on Sunday, so I look forward to seeing his work. Then went to see Chris Cooper In Person, which was a great session. He's a very articulate, thoughtful actor who talked about his career, and how he works - his approach to acting, how he likes to work with directors, what he would like to do next. (A comedy - he's actively looking. Says he's had enough of stern fathers and FBI guys). Followed that by seeing "Breach", the story of America's most damaging spy, Robert Hanssen, played by Chris Cooper, with Ryan Phillippe as Eric O'Neil. It's an enjoyably tense film, because although you know the ending at the beginning (Hanssen was caught, and the film opens with a news clip about that), you don't know what happened to O'Neil or anyone else along the way. Both Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe were fabulous, and worked really well together. Writer/director Billy Ray stayed for a Q&A afterwards; one thing he said was that he disagreed with the "film by" credit for a director, and would never take it, partly because as a writer he found it problematic. Besides which, every director knows (he said) that film-making is a collaborative business, so to put "film by" is wrong. William Nicholson and Charlie Fletcher last week were also very anti the possessory credit.

And then for somethign completely different - an outdoor performance in the Old College Quad by Theatr Biuro Podrozy of "Macbeth". I saw their production of Carmen Funebre years ago at Galway Arts Festival, and it remains one of the most stunning, shocking, moving pieces of theatre I've ever seen, so I was looking forward to seeing something else by them. They perform very physical theatre, words cut to a minimum, and its like nothing else you'll ever see. Macbeth opens with men roaring into the arena on motorbikes, there are flame-throwing witches on stilts, bike chases through woods, and lots more flames. If you didn't know the basic story of Macbeth, I think you might be a bit confused (certainly 2 of the people next to me were clueless, and kept asking their friend what was going on), but you don't have to know the story to enjoy the spectacle. I like the way they make the audience do some work - its not all laid out on a plate, easily digestible. This is theatre that makes you think, and thrills and scares you at the same time. Fantastic.

And now I'm going to spend the day seeing as many funny things as possible - its time for a laugh.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

You heard it here first

The Edinburgh round-up in today's Times says In Search of A Midnight Kiss is "the discovery of the festival" and last Sunday's Observer called it "a beautiful lo-fi romance" - I picked it out last Friday as one to watch. Wehey, I'm ahead of the papers.

Going back up to Edinburgh tomorrow; thanks to the Delegate's Guide I have another meeting, and I'll also spend a day doing some Fringe stuff since I didn't get a chance to see anything last weekend, then its Best of the Fest on Sunday - the most popular films, running in blocks that start at 10-10:30, next block starts 12-12:30, then 2-2:30 and so on; so if you're keen and a little bit mad, you could pick a film from each block and end up seeing 5 films in a day. I'm meeting up with Becky at various between-films points of the day, not sure how many we'll see between us. Watch this space. Especially now you know I'm so on the ball ;)

Monday, August 20, 2007

See that “busy” and raise it.

On the way home, blogging from the train (never blogged on the move before). I’m sad to leave Edinburgh, especially as the Film Festival is in full swing and there are loads of things happening that I want to go to but will miss - but I have a feeling I’ll be back sooner rather than later. It’s been well worth the investment in a four-day Industry Access pass, because I’ve been able to get into screenings and talks pretty much as I’ve wished, as well as had access to the Industry Office and the Industry events programme, plus the Delegate Centre with a nice quiet café/bar, internet access and the Videotheque.

So, back to yesterday, and the most packed day so far. First up was a keynote address from Geoff Gilmore, Director of Sundance Film Festival, talking about independent film, particularly American independent film. It turned out to be a much more business-oriented talk than I had expected, but none the less interesting and insightful. His definition of independent film was one which is a creatively and personally driven vision, as opposed to studio/business driven. He said that the box office, and in particular the pressure of the opening weekend figures, was causing problems for indies because there’s no time for word of mouth any more; films disappear from cinemas after a week if the figures aren’t good, and because indies can’t usually afford big TV or newspaper ads, or to go for wide distribution they don’t have visibility to get the word of mouth that they need. Whether DVD and the internet will provide a solution remains to be seen.

As for the crucial question – how do you get a film into Sundance? Submit it. He said they are actively looking for films, especially international ones, and they don’t tend to source from festivals, but from individual submissions.

Next was a talk from Ginnie Atkinson, Managing Director of EIFF, mainly about how Edinburgh sources films for the festival. She said that Edinburgh has a reputation as a good place to find films and new talent, and talked about some films from past festivals, how they’d been acquired and what they’d gone on to achieve.

Then I went to an In Person talk with Samantha Morton. There was a problem with the sound which really seemed to throw Hannah McGill off her stride, not helped by Samantha Morton who didn’t seem to be as relaxed and at ease as previous interviewees. However, they warmed up eventually and it turned into an interesting retrospective of Samantha Morton’s career. She said that acting, like any form of creativity, is like a muscle and must be exercised every day, so when she wasn’t working she’d go to workshops, and keep acting even when she wasn’t getting paid. Asked what role she’d like in a classic remake, she was very anti-remakes, particularly of European non-English films remade in Hollywood, generally worse and with “the same old faces”. She was also very keen to continue working in the UK and in independent film, because that’s where she came from, and if people disappear to Hollywood then there won’t be any independent film, and then where do the next generation of actors come from? “It’s about more than ego”. A good talk that got going after initial glitches.

After that, just had time to nip to a reception organised by Screen South (not the reception I’d originally been invited to, but Cargo is a shorter walk from Cineworld than the Delegate Centre, and by last night, that was a significant consideration). It was very good, partly because there was real food there, but also because I met a producer of documentary features, and we talked over a couple of ideas and agreed to be in touch via email soon to develop one of them.

The first film of the evening was “Rocket Science”, written and directed by Geoffrey Blitz, director of “Spellbound”. It was in the mould of films like “Thumbsucker”, where a troubled teen (in this case a boy with a stammer) is hindered as much by his dysfunctional family as by his problem in his pursuit of the girl of his dreams. Funny, and sweet without being cloying, it avoids the neat ending where the hero overcomes his stammer and everything is wonderful for ever after. Good film.

And finally, “Control”, the Anton Corbijn film about Ian Curtis, with Sam Riley as Ian Curtis and Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis. It’s beautifully filmed as you would expect, and the music is fantastic. I saw it with Becky Knapp, and we agreed that we found it hard to tell whether the songs were being performed by Joy Division or by the actors, that’s how good the actors were. It’s a very moving film, not exactly “enjoyable” as such, given the subject matter, but a must-see nevertheless.

Today has been a quiet day – I went to a session run by Metlab about “script to screen” which was very disappointing, but the day picked up when I met a director who is looking for potential collaborators, mainly writers, to work on short films initially. We had a good chat over lunch, and agreed to watch each other’s films in the Videotheque, and think about whether we can work together. I watched Fiona’s film, and definitely want to follow up. And finally, a meeting with Mary Davies in the Industry Office, which was basically a career chat about where to go next and how to get there, which was very positive and reassuring.

And that’s the end of a very intense weekend. It’s been well worth the investment of both money and energy.

(Have logged onto GNER wifi to post, and this is the third attempt .... it'll probably be there three times at least when I check once I'm home ...)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Busy, busy times

Just picked up tickets for two talks and two films today, and also got invited to a reception, so it looks like today is going to be as busy as yesterday.

This year's festival is billed as "Cinema and the Written Word" so there are a number of events targetted at writers, or about screenwriting. One of the frustrations is that some of these clash, which suggests a bit of bad planning. You might assume that the people who wanted to go to "How to find the right producer" run by the NPA would also like to hear William Nicholson "in person", but both were at 12 noon; likewise, that writers would want to go to "The Working Writer" run by the Writers Guild as well as hear Christopher Hampton, but both were at 2pm. I got round the first clash by discovering that William Nicholson was also appearing at the Book Festival yesterday, at 5pm, so I went to the NPA event, saw Christopher Hampton, and missed the Writers Guild.

The NPA panel was excellent, loads of really good advice from three working producers. Much of the advice was around how to work with a producer - don't be precious or gimmicky; know what the industry standard is; if you haven't got a track record yet, you'll need a good script, not just a treatment or a first draft. There was a discussion about the importance of Chain of Title - essentially, make sure you have a paper trail of everything you've agreed to with other people, and also the importance of understanding the production process. Really well worth attending.

Then to Cineworld to see Christopher Hampton being interviewed by Hannah McGill about his career, and to see some clips of his films. He talked about the challenges of adapting novels and plays for film, and his life as a writer. His advice - if you want it to be "your" film, direct it yourself; if you want to be in control of your piece of writing, stay in theatre.

William Nicholson and Charlie Fletcher at the Book Festival also talked about life as writers, both screen (big and small) and novels. Again, very entertaining speakers who have both worked in TV in the UK and in Hollywood, and had good stories to tell from their experiences. William Nicholson's advice - learn how to deal with failure - if you can't handle failure, you can't handle the film business. Charlie Fletcher - don't edit yourself, don't worry about what "they" are buying, don't think "is this like anything else?" Tell the story from your heart because that's the story that matters.

Then, an evening of films, having had a day of talks. First, "A Mighty Heart" directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Angelina Jolie in a stunning performance. It's a heart-rending film, hard to watch in the same way as "United 93" because you know all the way through that the end is awful, but at the same time compelling, almost a thriller in style as far as the search for Daniel Pearl is concerned, and with a very immediate almost documentary feel. Fantastic film-making.

Then a very different film, "XXY" an Argentinian film about a 15 year old hermaphrodite, brought up as a girl, whose parents are faced with the decision about which way she should be as an adult - to continue to suppress her masculinity, and have surgery, or to allow her to naturally become male? It was sensitively told and beautifully shot, and well worth taking a chance on. I doubt it will get a big release, which is a shame.

And now its time to go out to Cineworld for the first of today's talks - at least its not raining today.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Big mistake

Made a major error when packing - was thinking "summer" when I should've been thinking "Scotland". As a result, am now damp and cold, wishing I had big hairy socks, a woolly pully and a proper coat.

Today has been talks day so far, all have been very good, but I'll do proper reports later tonight as I'm about to dash off to see a couple of films.

I'm doing an experiment, as a few people have had trouble commenting since the switch to google accounts from the old blogger accounts. Anonymous comments are now allowed, with word verification to hopefully cut down on any spammers. But let me know who you are anyway (especially my regular visitors in South Africa and the USA who haven't said hello yet), and I'll see how it goes.

Back later.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Greetings from Scotland

Arrived in Edinburgh yesterday, and am staying in a fabulous litle flat in Leith. In fact, I'm the first tenant! One of the good things about it is that a no. 10 bus stop is just round the corner, and that's one of the buses that goes up Lothian Road and stops outside the Filmhouse. Perfect!

Yesterday was a Book Festival day for me; starting with a "Lived Lives" session with John Lanchester and Sofka Zinovieff talking about the books they had written about their families. It was a fascinating session, in the way they talked about uncovering secrets their families had kept, to the extent in John Lanchester's case that his mother had pretended to be someone else entirely for the duration of her married life. Sofka Zinovieff's book is about her grandma, who was a White Russian princess who later became a Communist, to the horror of some of her family. It was interesting to hear how they had both negotiated the question of telling "the truth", or a truth, and the risks of offending or alienating family members who remembered a person somewhat differently.

Next was a session with Steven Hall and Jenny Turner, who have both written novels with an amnesiac central character, first novels in both cases. They were interesting but compared to the previous session, their inexperience on the festival circuit showed. Then a session called "Ballads of the Book", which is an initiative begun by Roddy Woomble of Idlewild some time ago to bring Scottish writers and musicians together to collaborate on producing songs. Again, an excellent session, with songs from Emma Pollock, and Roddy and Rod from Idlewild, and discussion of the challenges of writing words for songs, as opposed to words for stories or poems, from A L Kennedy, Ali Smith, Alan Bissett and Louise Welsh. A good way to round off the day.

This morning, got into the Filmhouse early to pick up tickets from the delegate's desk in the Filmhouse - the advantage of having an Industry pass is that there's an allocation every day for several films and talks some of which are sold out to the public - if you want something badly enough, you just have to make sure you're there early enough. Having managed to get tickets for a talk and two films, I then headed for C Central to see "Shakespeare for Breakfast" (and got the next-to-last ticket). It's a very funny, clever, witty show, where as usual, the more Shakespeare you know, the funnier it is, but you don't need to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy it. This year's show, I felt, was a bit muddled, and didn't have as strong a story as previous years. Still worth seeing, though.

Then went to see "Tilda Swinton: In Person", an excellent session. Hannah McGill interviewed Tilda Swinton about her career to date, both as an actress and as a producer whose involvement can get films off the ground. She's very keen to use her influence to get films made when she believes in them and the person behind them, whether that's appearing in it, as she did for Mike Mills and "Thumbsucker", or just lending her name and address book! Her advice for indie film-makers - "make friends with chaos".

Next, my first film of this festival, "In Search of A Midnight Kiss", written and directed by Alex Holdridge and produced by Seth Caplan, both of whom were present for a Q&A afterwards. I really liked this film, it could well end up being one of my favourites this year. It's a romantic comedy, but a very real one, with flawed but endearing lead characters who are slightly strange but ultimately much more real than the usual romcom leads. It's set in LA, on New Year's Eve, a night of great pressure to get to a kiss, because that's what everyone else is doing and that's what you're supposed to do. The Q&A afterwards was brief but good - essentially, it's very much written from experience, and was filmed guerilla style with a tiny crew and close-knit group of friends in the cast. I chatted to Alex and Seth for a while afterwards, and Alex's view about being a writer/director is that it's basically the way to go - certainly if you want things to happen as a writer, and want to retain some sort of control over your work, write something you can direct quickly and cheaply, then get on with it. Good approach, good film - go and see it if you get the chance.

Then to a Bird's Eye View party for the launch of the "First Weekenders Club" - this is an initiative to support female directors in particular, because of the pressure on first weekend box office figures in terms of measuring a film's success. The idea is to go to the cinema on the first weekend of a female-directed film's release, and Bird's Eye will be emailing everyone on their mailing list to tell them when films directed by women are coming out. I kind of agree with the initiative, because apparently only 7% of film directors are women, in the USA and UK at least, although I think this kind of initiative could apply to independent films generally, which struggle to get distribution and enough screens whoever they're directed by.

And then, zipped out to Cineworld to the Gala premiere of "Sparkle", written and directed by Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter, who made "Lawless Heart" which is one of my favourite films. Again, another film that if simple genre labels were being applied might be called romantic comedy, because its funny and its got romance in it, but its about much more than that - how people relate in families, the effects of secrets and lies on relationships. Great performances by Shaun Evans and Amanda Ryan, as well as Bob Hoskins, Stockard Channing and Lesley Manville. Another film well worth seeing, if it gets distribution.

And now I'm going to bed. Another full day tomorrow, if my "hit the delegate desk early" plan comes to fruition.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Catching up

The location scout job finished today, in theory, although I owe a day so will be going in to the office next week to do the uploading and boarding that's still outstanding, and hopefully manage to save a few of my photos to my own datastick for a flickr folder. As far as the research job is concerned, I reached my target for number of interviewees, so "all" I have to do now is transcribe the interview tapes, get the analytical framework set up, and do the analysis. At least I have some interviews to transcribe - for a long time, this project felt like it was never going to get off the ground, so hitting the target is a huge relief.

In other news, I got something together for Spark, and await the outcome with interest. Previous experience suggests that the things I want to write about aren't the things that Screen Yorkshire is interested in seeing, so we'll see what happens this time.

As promised, a garden update. This is what the far end of the garden looked like before Handyman Steve came:

This is the Weedy Bit, which I never quite managed to get sorted out - I'd dig and clear a couple of square yards then not be able to get back out there for a few days, by which time the weeds would have returned. But now it looks like this:

No more nettles, no more weeds - unfortunately, no more Clematis Montana either, which covered the trellis in pink flowers in the spring and green foliage the rest of the time - we think it drowned in the floods. But at last, a vegetable patch. The railway sleeper and the bricks will be edges of a raised bed, in due course. I just have to dig it over and get rid of all the rubble that's in there.

There were some benefits to clearing the Weedy Bit:

4lb of blackberries, which have now been turned into:

7 jars and a couple of tastelings of bramble jelly, which I prefer to blackberry jam because it has all the taste but no pips or bugs. The jars (here seen cooling on a rather sticky wooden bread board) came from Wares Of Knutsford, a fabulous online household emporium selling everything you would need for preserving, plus all sorts of wonderfully old-fashioned kitchen stuff - bit of a nostalgia kick for me to find them, as I used to go into Knutsford when I was little, spending my summer holidays on my Grandparents' farm at Plumley.

And this was Sunday lunch:

The first of the Italin mini plum tomatoes, plus a solo Gardener's Delight, some spring onions and some basil, which swiftly turned into the topping for bruschetta, with the addition of some olive oil and black pepper. The tomatoes were still warm from the sun when I was chopping them, and they smelt amazing. Home grown food - can't beat it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Too tired to blog

Currently reading: OS Landranger maps 101, 106 and 107
Currently watching: Little Miss Sunshine
Most recently saw: Waitress

This two-job lark may be good for the bank balance (goes some way to counteract not having any jobs this time last year) but it's bloody knackering. In order to do enough hours at both jobs (53 paid hours a week, roughly), I need to work all week, including weekends. So, I did 11 days without a break, then went down to Stratford and had a wonderfully relaxing weekend last week, (we saw The Penelopiad in the Swan, none of us were particularly moved or impressed by it, Penny Downie was ace but the rest was a muddle - that'll have to do for a review for now), and have just worked six days straight and will next get a day off on Thursday (in fact another weekend off because I'm scarpering to Edinburgh).

So, some things have had to fall by the wayside - housework is one, blogging is the other. Sorry. Will get back into the swing in due course (i.e. when one of the jobs finishes).

But even though it's tiring, the location scouting is really enjoyable. I've seen more of East Yorkshire in the past couple of weeks than in the past ten years, probably; exploring Holderness (the flat bit between Hull and the coast - and it really is very very flat - my photos have lots of sea and sky in them) has been really interesting, especially along the Humber estuary and up the North Sea coast, where essentially the east coast of England is falling off into the sea. Lots of roads with signs saying "danger of erosion" and you park and walk to the end of the road to see a chunk of it has fallen onto the beach. Have also explored the villages of the Yorkshire Wolds, which are so picture postcard perfect, you'd think they'd been built just to be a cute film set, in some cases. Then today, spent the day in the Old Town in Hull. Had a speedboat ride from Victoria Pier to the North Sea Ferries terminal and back, which was fantastic, and walked all round the Marina, along the Humber to Victoria Dock Village and back, along the riverside walk up the River Hull then back down High Street, an old cobbled street which runs parallel to the river, and contains some beautiful old buildings as well as the Museums Quarter. What's good about having a focus, in this case buildings and locations, is that it has made me notice much more of what's there, and there are some really beautiful buildings as well as a huge amount of history - William Wilberforce's house, old warehouses, wharves, grand merchants' buildings, as well as really modern stuff like The Deep and the tidal barrage. If I can, I'll put a folder of photos on flickr in the next week or two - I've taken over 1,000 pictures in the last couple of weeks and they need a bit of sorting out!

As a result of running round like a blue-arsed fly (not only the two jobs, but Handyman Steve cleared the Weedy Bit at the end of the garden last week so I have a vegetable patch to get organised - a garden update and pictures will follow) I'd forgotten all about the BSSC but luckily Lucy had all the first round qualifiers on her blog - and I made it. Phew. Am particularly relieved because I feel like an ideas-free zone at the moment. The closing date for Spark is Wednesday and I haven't got a clue about what to submit.

V and I saw "Waitress" last night and both loved it. Very funny, sweet film with just enough of an edge to stop it being cloying. Very poignant too, thinking about Adrienne Shelly - what a sad loss.

Will come back and put in links and stuff soon - am a bit too zonked to focus just now.