Saturday, 8 February 2014

50 Kisses and the art of Compilation #50Kisses

 

A couple of years ago an initiative by the London Screenwriters' Festival brought a bunch of writers together to submit short screenplays containing a kiss, there were a few other criteria but the idea was that fifty of the submitted works would be selected and then put out to be made by the filmmaking community and then the best among the restulting productions combined into a feature length film showcasing the work of the writers, directors, actors and crew who had worked under the umbrella of this kissing theme to produce something unique. A multi-genre film featuring a compilation of takes on a very core expression of humanity since as far back as there has been humanity. Kisses.

Touching one's lips to another. It's this kind of weird thing we humans do and to me, the main interest of the project as I've followed it has been how exactly writers and directors would approach showcasing something as simple as a kiss within the complexity of a film that showed multiple similar expressions in multiple situations and genres and still make their own voice and vision clear within that whole. I've followed the project, it's been a long road. Two years of patchwork quilting a bunch of differing content into a one fabric that is warm and pleasing and serves a purpose isn't an easy task for anyone, but with the LSF team behind it, the shape of that fabric has begun to take on it's own design, that of a community that's built outwards from the writers.

I'm a great fan of shorts, the first films ever made were short films and they are an art form all their own, no less valuable in filmic terms because they are small. I love feature films too, they bring depth to ideas and emotions, exploring arcs and curves over a period of time that is long enough to delve into a topic and yet short enough to encapsulate it succinctly creating impact and resolution without requiring the much longer commitment of serial drama.


Features that are compilations of shorts are traditionally a little more of a hard sell, both in terms of attracting and holding audience attention, because they tend to be less character consistent, we don't identify with one person who we stick with from beginning to end. But they are often a great showcase of particular themes of work be it from the same or different sources and as creative endeavours hold a lot of art in the multiple explorations they offer. For instance, my short films don't seem to have very much in common at face value but lumped together three of the four I've shot so far, plus a number of my other unmade screenplays, would show varying perspectives on why we love the people we love, one of a number of recurring themes in my own writing since I began to pen words. Similarly when we look at compilations of short film from differing sources we see not the unifying idea so much as the vaster exploration of it, like for instance a friend of mine worked with Bertolluci on Ten Minutes Older: The Cello and in that compilation there is a uniting theme of time explored by some of our times great directors though their own interpretation and art. In such compliations we see not only an exploration of theme from different angles but revealed through differing minds, allowing us to think, to challenge our own views with multiple others. Compilation films (outside of the porn industry) may be a rare, less popular and therefore less commercial prospect but they do have value within film creation, because in many ways it's easy to make a work that stands alone, but if you can make a work that stands proud amid a crowd of others of the same ilk, then you've truly proved the value of your work as writer, director, actor, crew etc. and to me, that seems like a very worthy thing to spring from an organisation like the London Screenwriters' Festival.

50 Kisses has had a long energetic journey (as most films do) to a world premiere on 13/02/2014 and I'll be attending to see the result, meet some of the thousands of people who contributed to the project, those who ran and oversaw it, and those who are just, like me, observers and see how it all fits together and to establish what and who resonates and what doesn't and maybe identify some people I would like to work with in future and who's future or other works I will want to explore. How it will be in terms of a fantastic success I cannot tell, except I know from experience that there will be a lot of fun to be had on the night and a feel good factor around an event that is not the culmination of a journey but the beginning of one as the work connects for the first time with an audience. As ever I'll be on Twitter @momentsoffilm sharing my experience. Do join me in person or online and see what you think of something that is neither a shorts or feature screening but that rarer, more elusive beast of compliation that brings new aspects to those forms of film we already love so well. And I can promise you this.. there will be kisses.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

American Hustle #Oscar

 

I want to call David O'Russell's latest adventure, American Hustle, a crime caper but in truth it's more of an anti-crime caper as an ambitious fed traps ambitious criminals into trapping mobsters and corrupt politicians in an escallating farce of 'how to make friends, get ahead and trick everyone while still being seventies cool.'


At the heart of this movie's success is a fantastic cast playing some pretty unbelievable characters in a pretty unbelieveable story, all of course loosely based on something that actually happened and brought down multiple corrupt politicians in a glorious political scandal way back when. Focusing less on the political story and way more on the players that brought their corruption into the open there's a real personal side to this film. Though alike in some ways it's by no means a 'Goodfellas' movie where the persona is king and the crime is glamour filled. No, this is a film that shines in the mundane moneymaking, the self-doubt moments, the fallible people behind the players. It's no co-incidence that the film begins with Christian Bale as the balding fat Irving applying glue, thatch and an exquisitely ellaborate combover to his bonce. It's a metaphor for the entire movie. What people are and what they fix themselves to look like to others is the con we all play upon the world and the people we meet in it. And so of course, we resonate toward the truth behind the fictions these characters give the world and each other in this film and are perhaps enriched because of them by the time the story is over.


The cast handles it with aplomb. Bale is transformed physically in this role, but the core versetile actor in there is a familiar and welcome sight to me after the more brusque Bale we saw in the Batman years. Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper reach deep into their considerable talents too and Lawrence and Renner are delightful as larger than life magnetic bundles of chaos as indeed are an ensemble of supporting cast including a wonderful cameo by De Niro where you know shit just got serious because the big player is in town. There's a fab escalation of pathos filled scenes with Fed boss Louis CK who's character never quite gets to reign in his agent with the end of his ice fishing story. It's a beautiful character revealing addition to the screenplay that is delightfully unresolved. There are many little touches through the film, getting us under the skin of these people within the work and it's all brought to our eyes with some wildly rich art design, costume and make up that is truly reflective of the seventies to the point that I firmly remember my dad in tight perm curlers and that faux wood cladding that adorned office walls everywhere when I was a kid. While this film might not have the story pizzaz of some movies of it's ilk, it's very hard not to like it's exaggerated reality, honest graft and to respect the refinement of work that produces such pragmatic style. Hats off David O'Russell and team.


Tied up and delivered with a wonderful musical bow it's impossible to get to the end of American Hustle and not want to just play it again, perhaps with a campari and a curly up-do, while you sniff your nail polish, wistful for a better life and scheme how to make it possible. Enjoy the dream. The reality, gets wonderfully messy!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Twelve Years a Slave #Oscar


Twelve Years a Slave is not only a remarkable film, but a remarkable historical account of the American slave trade given through someone who personally experienced vastly differing perspectives of living as a black American during the mid eighteenhundreds. It's worth talking about the incredibly unique literary importance of the story itself to understand why this film adaptation is such a very vital piece of modern cinema.

The film is in fact, an adaptation of a bestselling 1853 slave narrative given by it's subject Solomon Northop. The book gives his account of his free life in New York, abduction and illegal sale into slavery in Washington and Louisiana where he was then held for twelve years to work sugar and cotton plantations before eventually regaining his legal freedom and return to his family. The book's journey has it's own story of being an 1853 bestseller that along with Solomon Northop's own anti-slavery work helped to fuel a great deal of the political slavery debate leading up to the American Civil War, and then fell into obscurity for over 100 years until being re-discovered and re-published in the 1960's, ironically after being found preserved in a former plantation house. Remaining in constant print since then, this recent and high profile second film adaptation once again brings an important history to the forefront of our minds and the racial equality debate for today's age is once again fuelled by this very human tale. That it's come to be told again during the time of a black presidency, led by a black director and containing the best work an exceptional group of artists from all racial backgrounds, is something I personally think would give Solomon Northup much pleasure.


Steve McQueen is on top directional form here, adding a wordless observational style to the narrative. We observe Solomon as he observes slavery, each observer coming from a perspective of freedom to understand the hopelessness of human ownership. The film quite brilliantly touches on the evil this does to the owners as much as the owned and in a strange way, we observe the more minor difficulties of the plantation masters and their white workers, their fear of being isolated among slaves who vastly outnumbered them, and the mixed feelings that arise from close living proximity between owner and owned. And we observe to some degree America itself being built upon the backs of these enslaved men and women working great swathes of land that could not have been held without their labour. A refreshing depth of perspective after the somewhat obscure Shame, I feel I can embrace McQueen as an incredible director once again. Here he gives a sense of all humans being symbiotic to one another even within this horrifically unequal period. Not an easy film to direct and get that result to be honest and McQueen's art background plays a huge part in his choices to convey the unsaid things.


Direction alone doesn't do it all of course, John Ridley's very well paced, dramatically balanced screenplay is made vivid by a tremendous cast all giving great performances including a few delightful supporting cameos by some of my favourite faces such as Michael K Williams, Chris Chalk and Scoot McNairy. The stars glitter with fine multifasceted performances, Fasbender brings conflictedness to his plantation owner while Cumberbatch brings yellowbelliedness to his. Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano frankly made me want to bathe but I was saved from that by the wholesome modern Canadian brought by Brad Pitt. Brave performances by Lupita Lyongy'o and Sarah Paulson and a cameo by Alfre Woodard add strong female dynamic to an otherwise male dominant story. Much in the end rests on Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance which is truly accomplished, and although I've liked his previous work including the wonderful Endgame there's a maturation in his work here. Tender, I'd call it.


The film has a warmth to it, the cinematography adds rich sweltering hues to wysteria draped, swampy farmland, there's a hopeful brightness within the musical score that sometimes grates beautifully against the dull humiliation and violence we witness in the images and thick Louisiana atmosphere permeates the ear. The the costume with it's soft earthy fabrics against sweaty black blood whipped skins and rich stiff fabrics button up parched white ones. Sweet teas, slowly wafted fans, slave songs, the practicality of women sits beside the volitile brute force of men and nature throughout the entire set design. That idea of nature, human and geographic, held in a tight repressive grip permeates the film in juxtaposed layers, nature wins in a rich, rich sound design that never quite switches off the sound of the wider world breaking over the attempts at imposed order. The art, comes through though in lingering camera shots where we do nothing but witness. At one particular point as Solomon looks directly toward camera, one human being to another, eye to eye we connect with this character and what he senses in this moment. I felt like something had a hold of me and I couldn't look away. Powerful stuff.


If there was one thing I didn't fully feel during the film it was the passage of time. The twelve years feeling at best like one or two and the monunentally torturous passage of over more than a decade without the means or opportunity to even make contact with anyone who might help him or even let his family know what had happend to him just didn't land for me as anything more than an assumption, and that's a shame because Solomon Northup & his original book editor clearly titled his story to involk the full weight of those years, and I'm sure he felt them intensely for the rest of his life. However one small fault with an otherwise very well put together film is a small flaw.

This film is far from the most enjoyable, touching or meaningful film I've seen in the past year, it is in fact a difficult (though much less so than I'd anticipated) watch but it is perhaps the most cinematically significant I belive I've seen and important in terms of it's social and literary legacy and certainly in terms of how cinema matters in our world as something more than what is tangible from an image, sound or line of dialogue but because of how so many art forms join in film to convey something unsayable in any other way. My feeling is that this story of Solomon Northup's seems to turn up periodically and impact in a way that becomes great. He was a decent man who had a very unique insight into racial prejudice I recommend you watch his story, whether you want to or not. This film incarnation of it has a lot of cinematic import to give you and I don't think you'll be sorry for viewing it at least once. It has more than earned every Oscar it will win.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Gravity & Aningaaq #Oscar

 


One of the Best Picture noms this year, Gravity, I'm afraid for me was a little short of the thrill everyone else I know claimed it to be. This possibly says more about me than it does about the film, which is well put together, but from the trailer I could tell that this movie wasn't really my cup of tea. I like my space films with aliens and excitement, perhaps an evil overlord or two, and the thought of someone alone battling against the vastness of the cosmos didn't appeal. I mean, yes, it's space travel, it's pretty full of stuff and rather empty of life and anyone going up there knows that! Also, anyone watching anyone going up there knows that. Outer space is terrifying mainly because of the ever expanding propensity for bordom it contains.

However, I did get dragged along to see it and in 3D no less, and it wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be at all. In fact, Sandra Bullock is incredibly watchable as she merrilly chatters away to herself in the midst of some exceedingly unfortunate luck. In fact, as space travel goes, I can't imagine anyone being quite this monumentally unlucky and as hugely unsuited to dealing with such an extremely bad karma as this poor girl seemed to have aquired. And it's not just that she's suffering from some pretty stomach churning space vertigo and then everything goes horribly, horribly wrong and everything she does to fix it goes horribly, horribly wrong and then some other horrible things happen, but the poor love has a dreadfully unfortunate backstory and her trip to land back on Earth is no flippin' picnic either! I suppose I was supposed to engage enough to really go along with her on this dreadful ride to hell and back and somehow find the redemption of heaven along the way, but really I mostly just looked on in gobsmacked disbelief wondering what could possibly go wrong next. Although, probably George Clooney was having a worse time of it (bless him) he seemed like he'd gotten the better end of the deal and someone had clearly given him a couple of valium or a spliff or something because he was very calm about it all.

In the end, it was an interesting film, really well directed by Alfonso Cuaron, which flowed beauitifully in terms of pace and camera angle and view, gave a real feeling of circling in orbit that I've never gotten from any other film and that had some very sweet moments, some humour and some sadness. All a little saccharine for my taste but well done nevertheless and I enjoyed it. As for the 3D although I've heard it very praised I didn't see the need for it at all. I didn't feel immersed and this is perhaps because I saw it on a non-Imax screen, in fact one of the cinema's smaller screens where the 3D elements seemed to end their orbit some metres short of my seat leaving me feeling more outside the film action than submerged within it. I wanted satelite debris bouncing round my head dammit! In lieu of that 2D would have done me just fine, thanks, but I will say that the one incredibly good element of most of the film (bar the end beach scene) had superb VFX which looked very real and quite stunning direction brought it together with the actors actions, sound and lighting (both real and virtual) to meld some very believable vistas that were worth looking at.

Also worth looking at is another Oscar nom, this even more delightful accompanying short made detailing the other side of a conversation Sandra Bullock's character has with the inuit fisherman, showing that the fragility of life in the universe does not entirely vanish within the bubble of Earth's atmosphere. Whether it really stands alone as having the same meaning without seeing Gravity and knowing what the astronaut above has endured I don't know. But it's a lovely little film in any case.



Gravity in the end was really well received, Oscar nominated, everyone else in the universe that I spoke to about it, including the person I went to the cinema with, seemed to love it so what do I know, I was a little surprised it received such accolades. Clearly for the purpose of judging this movie, I'm in a less abnormally unlucky universe of my own!

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


There's very little originality left in the movies these days, and when one finds films that have they should be treasured, for the rest of the time in the cinema there is little I like more than a good format well executed and that's what Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit brings us, putting at the front and centre the title role of Tom Clancy's hero Jack Ryan, played in other guises by other actors but here in at the deep end of his origin story with the CIA.

A solid action led story is slick enough to be just a bit sexy (as all spy films should be) and holds the tension very well. It's a little bit pat for the genre, with nothing that's any big surprise but that has contemporary plausibility to it that sticks to the ribs. With a good cast led by easy on the eyes Chris Pine and Kiera Knightly who are shored up by the gravitas of Kevin Costner and Kenneth Brannagh and there's an interesting cameo or two by some good solid talent.

If the film has a fault other than being a bit typical spy/action stuff it's that there's a little too much crammed in there so that certain parts of Jack's origin seem overly played out, and there's a whole interesting set of sub-characters that end up just shoved in at the end for the purpose of rounding up the story with a bit of a twist. Will a bit more coherence of character and a little less of a timeline I think the same purpose could have been conveyed in a better way, but as the action keeps things lively it wasn't really any kind of disappointment to me. In truth, I rather like these slick action films, it had the feeling of a 'Mission Impossible' without too much high tec and sets up Chris Pine;s Jack Ryan for what I think could be a very interesting franchise. And UK based for production I wouldn't be sorry to see more of these made. I'll be there in the cinema que for the polished shootouts and car chases alone!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Ender's Game


Ender's Game is, for a sci-fi story, one of the most relatable movies I've watched with perhaps a perfect protagonist. Odd perhaps considering that a movie about a pre-pubescent boy gave me the most pause about whether I'd be interested in this film, but I followed my gut beliving that this was a film I would not only like, but that I suspected I'd be surprised by. It is by no means perfect, I felt like I only got a bite of the apple and there were a couple of deadzones in the story, but overall it did not let me down in terms of being a gripping film.

It's because the storyline features such a young child hero that it's so relatable. We've all come through those formative years and know how the decisions we make change us and the people around us, how who we are and what we can achieve are molded by our inner responses and chocies we make with regard to the outer teachings we are handed in life. Throughout this film, we follow a child who's siblings have fallen short of what humanity needs, who is pressured and judged and analysed on every nuance of his daily experience at training or rest and who is effectively put through a crucible in order to be forged into the kind of hero who can lead mankind against the enemy aliens who almost anhialated them once before. There is a lot riding on his every decision and the story remains high stakes through varying stages of progress for our protagonist, and while the film is narrow in scope, it makes up for it with a thruline that's singleminded and strong. He's brilliant, he's vulnerable, he's unpredictable both as a tactician and in terms of whether he will turn out to be a hero or anti-hero because of his choices.

With a fairly narrow assortment of characters who all have similar roles,  a good deal rested on the acting to give the film some continuing depth and diversity. London actor Asa Butterfield pulls off the lead with a tremendously professional performance, (hey, carrying a film isn't easy for a kid either) but this is not his first time in a lead and most definitely won't be his last. Covering his back are Harrison Ford and Viola Davis, as his war school guardians and who in mirror in ways the overt compassion and ruthlessness to be found in Ender's siblings played by Abigail Breslin and Jimmy 'Jax' Pinchack. With Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld and a host of talented young recruits alongside as friends and enemy soldiers through his training, characterisations come across very well overall and carry a story that doesn't have highs and lows as much as it has a continuing escallating level of the same challenge. Can Ender make the right decisions to gain victory without making an enemy more dangerous in the process.

Stellar (at times quite literally because of the zero gravity scenes) cinematography by Donald McAlpine sets a believable world despite the sci-fi nature of the images and strong VFX and animation sequences make for levels of sci-fi reality within the sci-fi reality. Similarly sound and score are well integrated to create atmosphere in an often sub-atmostpheric world. It's technically strong all round, the art design meets only conventional expectation, but still choreographed very nicely under the direction of Gavin Hood who I'd never heard of before and I suspect has more mojo to him than he's been allowed to express until now.

I wasn't just glad I went to see this film, I wasn't just glad I enjoyed it, I was overjoyed that it made me feel on quite a deep level and I felt connected to it, it made me evaluate the kind of human being I want to be. And that, my friends, is what film is all about. Give Ender's Game a go. It might just make you tingle.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World IMAX 3D


So I finally, by pure accident as I messed up my times and it was the only version showing, went to see a movie in 3D on an IMAX screen. It was my first time with IMAX and my first 3D film since Jaws 3 which I think we can all agree was a completely inferior ball game to the technology of today. Anyhoo, as I was picking up sweets in the lobby, my companion discovered my error and got us tickets for the full bells and whistles screening.



Firstly the film. It might better be called Loki: The Dark World because the terrible trickster is back with all the charming petulance that Tom Hiddleston can sum up. Which is quite a lot it seems. However, Chris Hemsworth with his sunshiny persona just manages to hammer back the glory with his lovelorn mooning, devil may care bravery and a fair amount of muscle. I guess flinging a big old hammer about all the time will do that to a fellow. But once again the true love story (and tragedy) is a tale of brothers as Loki and Thor reunite to grate and placate one another again. And it's rather fun just to see the characters interact. With two solid actors in the roles it's a delight in fact. Christopher Eccleston and Natalie Portman are incredible too and overall the cast are strong and suit their roles.



With a story that's a legend returned from the dawn of time the universe is under threat from Dark Elves and their 'ether' which is a liquidy antimatter substance or some such thing (the science was a bit thin) that is their weapon against, well, the universe itself it seems. Anyway it's pretty much reminiscent of the Dredd liquidy stuff, only a bit more scary. It's a good premise, not terribly in depth but for a film that takes place on two worlds, includes a lot of action, a fair amount of 'funnies' (funny open to interpretation here) and a love story or two, the screenplay melds it all together very well. Some bits were a bit long for what they were, there's a bit too much dialogue and the sillyness while actually very funny in moments is a bit too pleased with itself the rest of the time. There's some strong characterisation though and the legend of the Dark Elves is told succinctly. What I suppose it lacks is depth, but then this is the Thor franchise we're talking about. We ain't particularly watching it for it's intellect. Well directed with a brilliant sound design and score and a satisfying conclusion there's little to complain about. There's a post credits teaser which made me groan rather as it wasn't up to the calibre of the film I'd just seen so I guess that says something about the Thor: The Dark World quality. I like this story world a lot. I like the characters and the actors who play them and I thoroughly enjoyed it.



As for the 3D IMAX.. well, IMAX is certainly big. With many of the shots being gigantic heads, I was mostly impressed with the actors' skin quality. No really, it was fab enough to make me want to get on the phone then and there to book some laser facials. There's a lot of cool things though with the 3D and although some of it makes you react and then get annoyed because you reacted to something that isn't really flying at your head, but there's also some very interesting connection because of the 3D perspective. Yes, it was a novelty for me, yes it was a bit distracting from the actual film and yes I can certainly see the draw of 3D and will be kinder to it in future. The main thing I noticed though was that it's so odd. It sort of sits you right up against the action and the characters as if you're standing in the film next to or in front of them. Which is all well and good but then you find yourself feeling like you're sitting on a car bonnet or on someone's dinner table side plate. It was very peculiar and I wondered whether all 3D films do this. I know that if acting or directing 3D I'll probably need to think of the perspectives differently. Because of some of my stagecraft that may not be as difficult for me as it sounds but it's certainly something to consider looking at differently. As for the glasses, I forgot I had them on, however during the trailers and when the end credits and extra scene were running there were side lights switched on in the auditorium, which reflect horribly. I know a lot of people are eager to get out of the cinema the minute the film ends but it somehow seems wrong for a cinema to be pressing people to leave early by putting lights on and sending staff in to hover about waiting to tidy up. I will see a film or two in 3D from now on, despite the extra expense because of the spectacle and grandeur of it, but by and large, I think it's not reached it's potential yet and I will no doubt enjoy films much more in 2D and preferably not in a cinema which I still rather loathe being forced to go to if I want to see a film when it's released. For now, I've braved half term and seen a comic book movie at ridiculous bigness and had a nice time. So I'm happy enough and if you haven't tried 3D yet I recon you should bite the bullet and give it a go.



Festival Faces Day Three and the Festival Finale! #LondonSWF


Well, another year has gone by, the fourth in the life of the London Screenwriters' Festival and every year there is so much to see and it seems to grow in community, comradeship and courage as do we, the writers who attend. So much goes into making this space for us to gather and learn from those who have long careers and great screenwriting knowledge but we learn from each other too and from the attitude of inclusion that the festival fosters. A huge, huge thank you to every single person who contributed to making the festival happen. We appreciate it so much and it means a great deal. We hope to see staff and volunteers again in 2014 which I'm sure Chris is already preparing for. As he so often likes to say. Onwards and Upwards!

 Here's a few of the other faces I saw at today's festival!


Cinematographer Samuel Pearce has shot a couple of my films. He was at the festival today helping to film seminars and as usual gave me a 'look' for taking his picture. I guess some people are just more comfortable behind the camera!



Writer/Director Deanna Dewey who'd just been at a Sci-Fi writing seminar. Three guesses what genre her next film might be?


Vanessa Mayfield, Delegate Liaison at the festival satisfied that all the delegates had what they needed before attending.


Chris Jones wearing his happy face.


Lucy V Hay has been signing coppies of her book, 'Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays' during the festival. She's certainly looking thrilled to me so I'm glad I got my copy!


Festival Stage Manager Oliver Purches and Great British Pitchfest producer Michael Clarkson.
Both happy to be in the home stretch after a busy and successful weekend.


Michelle Goode, script reader and consultant, catching up with friends and contacts in the lobby.


Gail Hackston, Marketing and PR support for the festival happy and still very busy on the last day.



And finally me. Leilani Holmes. Actor, writer and director I've been for the duration the festival tweeter and blogger.

A bit tired. Sad it's come to an end. But already looking forward to the year ahead.
I like to catch moments on Cowbird, the storytelling website that’s a library of human experience.



Writing Movies For the Supermarket Checkout.. #LondonSWF


Writer, director, producer Paul Tanter and producer Simon Phillips came along to speak about the consumer market for low budget genre features, and the sales options that become available for those independent films in the dvd market.

The guys had some experience of projects but began their independent film franchise careers with the 'Jack' franchise making a film called 'Jack Says' which had roles filled by actor Mike Reid and a cameo from Eric Cantona. Knowing nothing about distribution they sent the DVD out everywhere. Circumstances conspired that popular actor Mike Reid who had been a public favourite in the 'Eastenders' soap had died a couple of weeks before and because of the surge in interest for his body of work, plus the popluarity and well known persona of Eric Cantona there was interest in the project. The guys however were unknown and so ended up taking a split royalty deal. The film however got the support of the supermarkets who stocked DVD's and that meant the deal they took, though risky, made a profit. Tescos, Asda and Sainsbury's stocked the project with Tesco's being the key retailer in accepting their work for sale. They managed to repay their investor's money, not with as much as they might have in a booming market but they made profit during the height of the credit crunch.

With the next project they were able to get a graphic novel out ahead of the film, which engaged another level of audience and gave them a franchise with Danny Dyer who was popular on DVD. Optimum (who are now Studio Canal) got involved and put up a chunk of the budget money with the rest coming from their original investor pool who backed them a second time having made money the first. They also pushed hard with the supermarkets to secure the shelf space in store and because of that the film sold 115,ooo units. Because Optimum had taken the majority of the budget investment risk the deal on the second film 'Jack Said' was a £75K buyout. Although they did utilise UK Tax Credit they knew little about it and that really didn't come into play until the third movie, Jack Falls which got a royalty deal with Lionsgate. However because of less focus on the pulls of marketing with the DVD cover etc. and the fact that the film was in black and white, distribution outlets were put off by the viability, the supermarkets didn't support it and it underperformed. Lessons were learned from the experience such as overpaying for the draw of a known cast, three actors from Lock Stock doesn't garner you any more interest than one actor from Lock Stock for instance so money could have been saved by including lesser known actors in some of the roles. Though they'd found their feet artistically it wasn't what the market wanted. The investors were behind them however and despite the underperformance were extremely proud of the project, having been clearly warned of possible losses and the risks of investing in film projects from the outset. Overall the view of Paul Tanter on EIS isn't a particularly positive one. He ideally makes films to make money and had learned that without the backing of the supermarkets they would never sell units. Armed with that knowledge they moved on.

When the time came to create a new project they went back to basics and had conversations with the distributors up front about what would sell and where interest was pointed. After a number of responses that had larger production costs were disregarded, the idea of a football hooligans genre was floated that they realised they could work with and would not cost too much to create and they recommend this as a good thing to do when creating work for a specific market. If you hear several people saying the same thing then you know the market wants it. Put together a treatment/artwork etc. to show a distributor that they'll be able to market a project and then go and pitch it. The drama doesn't have to be prescriptive though, with a good story they wanted to tell about credit card fraud, they were able to meld that with a football hooligans theme and it worked very well. For the marketing they focused on the hooligan theme that was attractive to sales and for the story they focused on the dramatic tale they were telling within that. 'White Collar Hooligan' 1&2 followed as another very successful franchise.

These sorts of supermarket optimised films may be not movies you'd watch yourself but they're rewarding to create friendly genres with an audience base who desire them. With the back to basics approach and a solid plan to make profit their investor pool once again funded the first movie in the franchise, it was picked up by Momentum who gave them the sequel budget to make another straight after. Casting people who's names and faces ring a bell with the public is fairly key and making sure their picture features on the DVD cover and artwork. They don't have to be in the entire movie so you can budget for having them for a couple of days as a featured role. You need a commercial proposal, with artwork to back it up and show how it will appeal. Making and selling a film are different things and it's important to understand both. Paul Tanter and Simon Phillips have released some of the most successful independent films of the last 12 months and that's nothing to be sniffed at.

Transmedia Opportunities Online & Beyond #LondonSWF


Paul Irwin, Steve Ince and Tim Clague joined us to talk about Transmedia and how it's evolving the choices of writers. Firstly, says Tim, "Transmedia WTF? Right!" and it's true that a lot of people are still unsure of the differences between transmedia, crossmedia etc.. and the opportunities transmedia offers both for the creators and for the audience reached can often be overlooked. The truth is that story worlds created to be explored in different non-linear ways can reach people on a deeper level and may even be providing platforms for social change.

In a non linear session with questions being thrown in and back out between the speakers and delegates we explored some of the ways transmedia can be utilised. It's largely about interactivity with an audience and you look to reach them via every avenue of communication. While the writing is one key element having technology available to implement the delivery is another and this can come at varying levels and costs. It doesn't have to be expensive. Supportive software such as Conducttr for email management can be set up to offer different tailored responses as people interact with something that's perhaps othewise quite static, like a website. Software that makes management of a conversation that doesn't require your manual investment beyond set-up can be a very useful tool to further engage an audience for yourself and to provide a more inclusive immersion for them in your story. Software can also give you the tools to manage an audience as it grows.

Transmedia is pushing new boundaries all the time and there's an opportunity for writers to become pioneers in the field rather than waiting to get a foot in the door of established routes to delivering their work. Partnering with technical people to support a project can offer all sorts of ways to interact and you can find people who can create tailored programs especially to suit your purposes. Mobile phone apps, radio, mp3's, email, online video, web design, HTML5, games, audience submitted content, the possibilities are endless.

Paul Irwin spoke about his project TryLife, an interactive online drama aimed at the youth market. It's a filmed youth drama which at certain points can be paused to allow the viewer to make a choice in how the character reacts to a circumstance. The choices they make determine what they see next. Far from being merely educational it's an entertaining show that does not urge any particular correct choice but may be helping to reach teens in a way that current education doesn't and allowing them to learn by watching choice and consequence to the characters who's story they influence. Research studies are being carried out alongside the drama production to see if Trylife can actually affect change in teen choices within their own lives. It's an interesting concept, with each episode having multiple endings, 20 for the first episode, 30 for the second, plus multiple and being filmed in different regions of the country with characters from different cities set to overlap during the ongoing narrative.

Production of such complex story began simply with post it notes on Paul's dad's kitchen table to work out the threads and was then scripted in Word. "We're not precious about what we do." he says pointing out that you don't need fancy technology or software to begin creating. The TryLife idea was funded via different youth and media based sources, including European money for youth projects, beginning at first with a £5000 local grant and then rising to something much bigger. The Facebook page now has an audience in excess of 120,00 and growing.

What works with traditional drama, those classic storytelling tools, characters and people that interest an audience still applies to transmedia projects. Only the technology has changed and while you can only use techniques from screenwriting that actually fit the media, which sometimes relies on payer/audience choice, the tools screenwriters bring to the process are vital. It's about depth not breadth of audience investment and every media should be judged on how it's delivering the story. It's all about fitting the media.

Transmedia is genre free, comedy, sci-fi, drama, everything can work. Paul is even looking at another project for interactive theatre broadcasts. Story ideas that don't work in a linear fashion and might previously have been shelved by a writer can now be explored. Where games used to often only be played once through by players, there can be multiple branches and storyline options along the way. What writers bring to transmedia is their knowledge of what is interesting dramatically with story and character. This even applies to companies who are veering from traditional advertising into more story based outreach to their customer base.

There are various ways towards monetising projects being explored too and options for this are also growing. E-learning is earning money at the moment and there is a growing movement of 'serious games'. If you want to do a story that works in different formats you have to create a rich story world that you can spin off into, then maybe look for partners within the technical field. People who are learning how to develop apps, software etc. Differing platforms will offer differing income opportunities, but if you were about to make a £10K investment in a short film that makes no money, maybe consider investing that money instead in a project that you can sell.

One thing is for sure. Transmedia is a growing field and a growing market for writers and well worth considering knowing more about, and maybe trying out for yourself.

Variety.com - Film News