29 October, 2006

The Pitchers

Guardian Unlimited Film | The Pitchers Archive

Berger and Wyse's comic strip about screenwriters has reached its third year.

27 October, 2006

Opening Weekend

A Good Year

Comedy-drama with Russell Crowe as career change wine-maker.

Writer: Marc Klein (from Peter Mayle book)
Director: Ridley Scott

Official site


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All The King's Men

Political drama with all star cast

Writer: Steven Zaillian (from Robert Penn Warren book)
Director: Steven Zaillian

Official site

Steven Zaillian interview


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Be With Me

Three dramas from Singapore.

Writer: Eric Khoo, Wong Kim Hoh
Director: Eric Khoo

Official site

Production notes

Eric Khoo interview 1
Eric Khoo interview 2


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Container

Experimental drama

Writer: Lukas Moodysson
Director: Lukas Moodysson

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Havoc

Drama about LA's social divide. with Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips


Writer: Stephen Gaghan, Jessica Kaplan
Director: Barbara Kopple


Official site


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Red Road

UK mystery drama about a A CCTV operator

Writer: Andrea Arnold
Director: Andrea Arnold

Official site

Andrea Arnold interview
Andrea Arnold video interview
Except she asked for it to be taken off site because she thought it was for television and she doesn't do Internet interviews. I was looking forward to seeing her film but is it really possible for someone that thick to make a good film?

UPDATE
I've since found this video interview with Arnold done for Scottish television but not used. (It starts after the actors interview about half way in.) Watch it quickly before she gets it removed for promoting her film without permission on an evil media platform!


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Saw III

Horror sequel

Writer: Leigh Whannell
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman


Official site

Leigh Whannell interview 1
Leigh Whannell interview 2
Leigh Whannell interview 3

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Step Up

Romantic dance drama from the Save The Last Dance scribe.

Writer: Duane Adler, Melissa Rosenberg
Director: Anne Fletcher

Official site

Duane Adler interview


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Snuff-Movie

Horror from the writer-director of Candyman

Writer: Bernard Rose
Director: Bernard Rose


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26 October, 2006

Word of Mouth

The Last Kiss

This is an enjoyable enough drama with a great witty script by Paul Haggis. However, while dramas about truthful relationships will always work to a certain extent, the stories can be over familiar and I'm not sure you can rely too much on good dialogue to keep the audience interested.

In terms of story, Michael's central dilemma wasn't much of one at all and the conclusion held no surprises. Although the character felt real, I had no sympathy for him. Or more accurately, I didn't care whether the character got what he wanted or not.

Box Office #9

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Barnyard

I liked Barnyard - the animated coming of age tale. It's no classic by any means but I wasn't bored which is my main criteria. There are some good gags and it has moral lessons which both kids and adults can learn from but which aren't rammed down the throat too much. But it is a maybe a bit too violent for the younger kids.

It does show the power of the movies in that the lead character is a cow with udders who does extreme sports. I thought 'oh, my god, the active lead destined to be leader is female! What a twist!" Then I hear clearly it's Kevin James's voice coming from her lips making 'her' a 'he'.

As a supposed intelligent adult, although I debated it throughout the movie, I came to the conclusion that both male and female cows must have udders and there are probably male and female bulls. Well, I am a townie.

Box Office #3

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Marie Antoinette


This is a fabulous looking well-made historical biography but don't be fooled by Coppola's indie cred as this is also lightweight and pointless. The only radical thing is the nice use of new wave music (although I was enjoying the period music and the change wasn't strictly necessary).

The story of a rich Queen destined to be killed by poor peasants has its own themes built in but I was looking for more depth and more of a point of view. But I saw Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides and so I really shouldn't have been surprised.

Box Office #11

Stephen Merchant Interview

Question time | Broadcast | MediaGuardian.co.uk:

"Comedian Stephen Merchant on Ricky Gervais, his 'obscene' wealth, and teenagers shouting 'Oi, Office!' at him in the street "

Jon Plowman Interview

BBC - writersroom - Insight: "


Jon Plowman is Head of BBC Comedy and has produced countless hits for the BBC including Absolutely Fabulous, Shooting Stars, The Office, The League of Gentlemen, Gimme Gimme Gimme, Extras, Goodness Gracious Me, Comic Relief, Little Britain and The Thick of It.

In March this year he was awarded the Royal Television Society's Lifetime Achievement Award. "

24 October, 2006

Russell T Davies Interview

Independent Online Edition > Profiles:

"Russell T Davies: One of Britain's foremost television writers.

With a third series of 'Doctor Who' in production and two spin-off series about to materialise, isn't Russell T Davies tired of writing far-fetched populism? Absolutely not, he tells Cathy Pryor "

20 October, 2006

Opening Weekend

The Last Kiss

Relationship drama with Zach Braff and Rachel Bilson

Writer: Paul Haggis (based on "L'ultimo bacio" by Gabriele Muccino )
Director: Tony Goldwyn

Official site

Paul Haggis interview

Paul Haggis News


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Marie Antoinette

Biography starring Kirsten Dunst

Writer: Sofia Copolla
Director: Sofia Coppola

Official site

Sofia Copolla interview 1
Sofia Copolla interview 2
Sofia Copolla interview 3

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Barnyard

Animated animals featuring wacky cows

Writer: Steve Oedekerk
Director: Steve Oedekerk

Official site

Steve Oedekerk Interview 1

Steve Oedekerk Interview 2
Steve Oedekerk Interview 3


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The Grudge 2


Supernatural horror sequel

Writer: Takashi Shimizu, Stephen Susco
Director: Takashi Shimizu

Official site

Takashi Shimizu interview
Takashi Shimizu video interview

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Gypo

British Dogme 95 drama about a dysfunctional family and a refugee girl with Pauline McLynn and Paul McGann

Writer: Jan Dunn
Director: Jan Dunn

Official site

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The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael

British drama about state and individual violence.

Writer: Thomas Clay, Joseph Lang
Director: Thomas Clay

Official site

Thomas Clay interview


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I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed (J'Ai Vu Tuer Ben Barka)


Thriller based on a real-life French scandal.

Writer: Serge Le Péron
Director: Serge Le Péron

19 October, 2006

Word of Mouth

The History Boys

This multi-award winning successful play has transferred to film and despite the great performances and witty dialogue, I didn’t really like the themes or the story. Other people have described the relationship between the teachers and the boys as paedophilic but Alan Bennett makes it clear that isn’t the case. The teacher, Hector, likes to give each of the pupils rides home on the back of his motorbike so he can grope them as they journey along but when an under-18 pupil requests this privilege he is turned down for being too young.

So the groping of a teacher of his students is consenting and the possible relationship between a younger teacher and one of the boys would also be consenting. But to me it is still ethically dubious as the teachers are in a position of power.

But supporters would say that’s probably reading too much into it, which is fair enough. In fact you could say one of the themes of the play is how political correctness has gone mad in the possible persecution of Hector, the groping teacher. It’s set in the 1980s but everything from the language they speak to the songs they sing and the movies they re-create evokes the 1950s. Some ignorant person might very well say, ‘why not just bloody set it in the 1950s then?’ But I know there is a really good reason for that decision which I won’t bore you with now but allow you to discover for yourself.

Alan Bennett fans should rush to their movie theatre but others may want to lower their expectations and dawdle their way there. Or wait until it’s on the BBC next year.

Box Office#5

Stick It

I have seen Jessica Bendinger’s cheerleader comedy Bring It On a few times now and, before the accusations fly, each time has been with all my clothes on and my hands unoccupied. I just found it a funny, aspirational story working on more than one level with a nice structure and didn’t always feel the need to switch it off when it turned up on TV.

Sadly our Jessica hasn’t quite pulled it off this time. For cheerleading, substitute gymnastics but Stick It is not really funny enough, although there are some funny lines, and it’s working on just the one level. There’s no depth at all to the characters or story.

One solution suggested recently on this blog's comments was that writers should direct their own scripts if they want it done properly which makes sense but unfortunately our Jessica’s directorial choices ended up distancing us emotionally from the story rather than drawing us in.

With competitive cheerleading she presented us with a world we hadn’t seen before as well as a theme and characters we were interested in. Gymnastics is a new world we may be interested in, and we can certainly agree with the theme and message of the film (empowerment of young women to take control of their own lives) but we don’t really care about the characters and that makes it all a bit pointless really. The lead character is introduced in a spectacular way and she even narrates to help us understand where she’s coming from but it wasn’t really happening.

Box Office#11



Open Season


I think I have Animated Animals Returning to the Wild Fatigue. I should see my doctor about it as there’s another hundred due this year and by the time I see the last one it could have proved fatal. I can see this is a quality picture in terms of the animation, direction and screenplay but it seems a bit lacking. The kids will love this the most, and that’s who it’s aimed at after all, but there is stuff there that will appeal to the grown-ups being dragged along – just not a massive amount.

Box office#3

18 October, 2006

Subtext

Whatever you think about the range of TV drama output, the dialogue is usually passable. Even at its most perfunctory it does at least obey certain rules most of the time:

  • Not too much slang and swearing
  • No chit chat
  • Cliché avoiding
  • Motivation
  • Conflict
  • Economy
  • No obvious exposition
  • Humour
  • Psychological truth
  • Avoiding on-the-nose dialogue/lack of subtext


While it's important to master all of those, it's the on-the-nose subtext thing that stands out the most in scripts I read from new writers. What's wrong with on-the-nose dialogue? It shows clearly that it's the writer talking and not the characters. It's the writer wanting to get their plot down as fast as possible with no regard for creating believable characters first.

If I read spoken subtext in a script it’s a good sign that there’s no need to read any further as I know exactly what's going to happen next. Ciphers and stereotypes tend to be quite predictable and tedious. It's human stories and psychological truth that audiences are interested in. Even if it's an action film about elves and aliens. Most of that dialogue checklist would be solved naturally if people spent the time on creating characters in the first instance. Once you bring your characters to life then writing dialogue is more like transcribing as the characters speak to you. Although if they literally speak to you that isn’t a good sign and you should maybe get some help.

So what is 'subtext'? By subtext I mean underlying meaning; the unspoken thoughts and motives of your characters and what they really think and believe (either consciously or subconsciously). You shouldn’t have text without subtext not only because the audience is expecting to read between the lines but in reality people don't always say what they're thinking or feeling. Subtext also sells scripts and attracts actors. It is something actors look for as it gives them something to work with, it's more of a challenge and it’s more real.

You might be thinking that subtext is the actors' job and you'd be right. However, the actors role is to play the subtext not invent the subtext. The writer has to put the subtext there in the first place. When an actor reads the script the subtext should be clear.

To put it simply, it means that by not writing everything and cutting superfluous dialogue, you're giving the actor room to interpret and the audience room to think. So it's about trusting both the actors and the audience. Remember the audience aren't passive participants either, they’re active. Maybe not physically but their minds are working.

Here's a scene from Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman's Annie Hall showing how there's always something more going on than what we say:


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Annie Hall




ALVY
(pointing toward the apartment
after a short pause)
So, did you shoot the photographs
in there or what?

ANNIE
(Nodding, her hand on her hip)
Yeah, yeah, I sorta dabble around, you know.

Annie's thoughts pop on the screen as she talks: “I dabble? Listen to me -
what a jerk!”


ALVY
They're ... they're... they're wonderful,
you know. They have ... they have, uh
... a ... a quality.

As do Alvy's: “You are a great-looking girl”


ANNIE
Well, I-I-I would-I would like to take
a serious photography course soon.

Again, Annie's thoughts pop on: “He probably thinks I'm a yo-yo

ALVY
Photography's interesting, 'cause, you
know, it's-it's a new art form, and a,
uh, a set of aesthetic criteria have
not emerged yet.

And Alvy's: I wonder what she looks like naked?

ANNIE
Aesthetic criteria? You mean, whether
it's, uh, good photo or not?

"I'm not smart enough for him. Hang in there”

ALVY
The-the medium enters in as a condition
of the art form itself. That's-

”I don't know what I'm saying-she senses I'm shallow”

ANNIE
Well, well, I ... to me-I ... I mean,
it's-it's-it's all instinctive, you
know. I mean, I just try to uh, feel
it, you know? I try to get a sense of
it and not think about it so much.


”God, I hope he doesn't turn out to be a shmuck like the others”


ALVY
Still, still we- You need a set of
aesthetic guide lines to put it in
social perspective, I think.

”Christ, I sound like FM radio. Relax”


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You should trust the intelligence of your audience. You may feel that spoken subtext is needed to ensure people know what's going on but think about yourself as an audience member - do you need everything spelled out for you? Even The Tweenies gives room for the audience to think for themselves. I've read somewhere. Not that I’ve ever watched it myself.

Subtext goes to the heart of believability. The audience doesn't accept or believe on-the-nose dialogue.

Have you ever been ill or really pissed off but if someone asks "how are you", you answer "fine"? Your body language, the terse abrupt closed reply may suggest otherwise; may suggest a subtext: "I'm not fine but I don't want to burden you with my problems, you're so nice and I'm so worthless." Or "I'm not fine, thanks to what you did to me and if you haven't realised it by now, then I'm not going to tell you." Or "I'm not fine but what's it got to do with you, you nosey get."

If a subject is too difficult to understand or too painful to explain then we may beat around the bush. We can be worried about hurting other people's feelings or revealing too much of our own feelings.

One of my favourite comedies is Liar, Liar. I’d recommend renting it to see the consequences of someone being forced to tell the truth in social situations. And while you're there think about how they make you believe a, quite frankly, unbelievable thing. Get your money's worth out of the rental by watching it again to look at the structure. But I digress...

How subtext manifests itself is character specific. A shy man in love with his doctor is going to behave in a different way than an aggressive woman in love with her doctor.

What we say is dependent on the context and the subtext. So if I say 'I love you' I could mean 'I want to shag you' or 'I like you' or 'I care about you' or 'I want to control you' or 'I want to make you feel guilty' or 'I hate you'.

Of course people don't talk in subtext all the whole time. When Damian Johnson got sent off for Blues at Leeds recently I had some harsh words to say to the referee I can tell you - he knew exactly what I thought of him. Now I've calmed down, rather than ask the referee if his poor eyesight was due to excessive masturbation or the diseases his mother picked up while working as a prostitute I can see his point of view more and would now only suggest he maybe goes for an eye test.

So it's only in extreme emotion that subtext is spoken and characters say what they really mean. And then what happens? People revert back to subtext but maybe they now feel guilty or relieved or happy. But it's those moments of extreme emotion that the audience is waiting for, not necessarily consciously.

Comically, think of Daphne and Niles in Frasier. The audience was anticipating Niles' extreme emotion where he eventually confesses his love. But it's that subtexted emotion and yearning that provided so many quality comedy moments for several seasons.

It's actually subtext that makes viewers want to get to know the characters. The fact that Niles is married is interesting and his chats to Daphne might be interesting but that's all surface, that's just text. It's the subtext that he loves Daphne that intrigues an audience. It makes the fact that he's married much more interesting, it makes his chats to Daphne much more interesting. While we might not have experienced that exact situation, we can understand the psychological truth of being married but being secretly in love with someone else and being unable to tell them.

Dramatically, think of Sling Blade, where a man released from a mental hospital for murder is befriended by a young boy and his mother. The lead character doesn't say much and yet much is revealed. So much so in fact that the last act is almost unbearable to watch due to the anticipation.

We say one thing, think another, do something else. The drama arises from that conflict, the difference between what someone says and what they do. If I say, think and do the exact same thing, it's not only unrealistic it's pretty bloody boring. It's useful to have some internal conflict, some kind of paradox - but with the character remaining psychologically true.

Of course if people aren’t saying what they mean, how do you show that in a script? If a line can be interpreted in several ways then it's OK to say how it should be interpreted. Here’s a scene from a TV film:


---------------------------------

49/15 EXT. HANGER CAFE DAY 72 12:15

Lunchtime crowd.

MIRIAM STANDS ALONE WITH BABY ALICE IN A SLING. SHE'S LOOKING AROUND FOR SOMEONE. ALL HUMAN LIFE IS THERE, MILLING ABOUT. PETER HOBBLES DOWN THE DRIVE. MIRIAM WAVES TO HIM.

MIRIAM
I've been looking for you everywhere.

PETER
Yeh.

MIRIAM
Thing's are really bad at Mary's.

PETER
Look Miriam, I'm not feeling too hot....I've hurt
my leg and I want to get home.

MIRIAM
Oh... I'm sorry ... are you all right?

PETER
Yeh ... it's not much. Just need to put me feet up.

HE HOBBLES OFF. ALICE CRIES, PROMPTING HIM TO TURN. MIRIAM, UPSET, TRIES TO COMFORT HER. PETER SIGHS AND RETURNS.

PETER
(sympathetic)
You look awful.

MIRIAM
It's nothing, honest. I'm fine.

PETER
Mary's not going to chuck you out it's never
going to come to that.

MIRIAM
(SNIFFS)
I don't know what to do I really
don't.

PETER
Look if anything happens ... we'll sort
something out. You can rely on me.

MIRIAM
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for saying that.

PETER
What are mates for? (SQUEEZES HER SHOULDER)
Better now? (GOES)

MIRIAM (TO ALICE)
What d'you reckon, Alice? How
would you like a proper Dad?

---------------------------------

If it wasn’t obvious that the character Peter was sympathetic so the writer put “PETER (sympathetic)”. Peter originally walked away not wanting to talk to Miriam. Why? Does he not like her? When he comes back to talk to her is it reluctantly just out of guilt or to take the piss out of how she looks? No. Because of the note, we know it's out of genuine sympathy. Later, in a more subtle way, he puts his hand on her shoulder.

But nothing reads worse than scripts where almost every speech has direction for the actors - in the example above it's used just once. But practice and experience will let you know when it's useful to an actor (and reader) and when it's off putting. Also look at the non-verbal communication in the example as well. There's the hand on the shoulder thing, there's waving, being 'upset', sighing, sniffing. It could have all been replaced by dialogue but it's more real this way - only 7% of communication is verbal.

Hopefully I’ve given something to think about and it will become clearer once people start writing their next project.

In the meantime when you watch drama and comedy I recommend thinking specifically about that dialogue checklist, especially subtext.

16 October, 2006

Jack Dee Interview

MediaGuardian.co.uk | Media | Reflections on his Spleen:

"Jack Dee 's first sitcom - about a struggling comedian - is BBC4's biggest comedy hit to date, which is why it will soon switch to BBC2. He tells Stephen Armstrong why he wrote it and reveals his key influences "

13 October, 2006

Opening Weekend

The History Boys
Alan Bennett's play about teaching.

Writer: Alan Bennett
Director: Nicholas Hynter

Alan Bennett interview 1
National Theatre workpack (pdf)

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The Guardian
Sea rescue drama.

Writer: Ron L. Brinkerhoff
Director: Andrew Davis

Official site

_________________________________


Open Season
Animated animals comedy.

Writers: Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman
Directors: Roger Allers, Jill Culton, Anthony Stacchi

Offical site


_________________________________


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
Horror Prequel.

Writer: Sheldon Turner
Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Official site


_________________________________



Stick It
Sports comedy by Bring It On scribe

Writer: Jessica Bendinger
Director: Jessica Bendinger

Jessica Bendinger video interview

Official site


_________________________________



Idlewild
Period musical featuring Outkast

Writer: Bryan Barber
Director: Bryan Barber

Bryan Barber interview 1
Bryan Barber video interview

Official site




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New Police Story (San Ging Chaat Goo Si)

Jackie Chan action drama.

Writer: Alan Yuen
Director: Benny Chan

Official site


_________________________________


The Aryan Couple
Two servants fight for survival in WWII Hungary.

Writers: John Daly, Kendrew Lascelles
Director: John Daly

John Daly audio interview (opens Real Player)

Official site

_________________________________


Tais-Toi! (Shut Up!)
Crime caper.

Writer: Francis Veber
Director: Francis Veber


_________________________________


Frozen Land (Paha Maa)
Ensemble drama from Finland.

Writers: Aku Louhimies, Jari Rantala, Paavo Westerberg
Director: Aku Louhimies

10 October, 2006

Word of Mouth

Accepted

Half an hour into this a thought occurred to me, if I hadn’t been told this was a comedy I would have thought it was a drama.

The high concept of students rejected by colleges setting up their own college is good but it isn’t funny enough. The beginning and the end work fine in terms of story but the middle hasn’t got enough big enough comic set-pieces relating to the story and relies too much on stunts.

I know comedy is subjective but there are hardly any actual gags in the picture, funny or not. It’s not mirth-free but set-ups and characters with potential just fizzle out and fade away.

Box Office #8


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The Departed

This good cop-bad cop story is meant to be Martin Scorsese's best film in years (the film had its best opening since Cape Fear), but to save you wading through the pages and pages of critic crap trying to explain what Scorsese has done differently this time, I'll explain now more simply: it's the best script he's had to work with in years.

Anyway, I enjoyed this but I’m not sure it being made more bloated than the original was the way to go. However I didn’t mind spending the extra time with the characters too much. The characters are distinct and so the dialogue is excellent. It's clever and witty – but William Monahan does love his quotes.

A character will quote someone, then there will follow a discussion about the source of the quote. It’s not a major issue – or an issue at all maybe – and it’s part of his writer’s voice but using the technique more than once in a script seems odd.

It is recommended but be warned it does feature people who settle disputes violently and not with a friendly chat over tea and scones.

Box Office #2


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Brothers of the Head

This downbeat drama about conjoined twins joining a rock band is a very well made with a great screenplay and deservedly won a best British film award recently. I did however hate it.

That might seem a bit contradictory but objectively I can see the art and craft that went into it but I just didn’t care about the story or characters, I wasn't made to feel emotionally connected.

It’s format is mock documentary so I don’t think it’s pedantic to point out there must have been six cameras at the showcase gig but you never see a camera, even when they edited between two cameras facing each other. OK, that probably is being pedantic but I wouldn’t have had time to think of these things if there was something interesting going on to keep me awake.

The big third act revelation (and I don’t think this much of a spoiler but look away now if you intend seeing this) is that one twin wouldn’t have minded not being joined to the other. Considering every single bloody conjoined twin film has exactly the same central dilemma – except done in a more dramatically interesting way - it wasn’t the greatest surprise

Box Office #28


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The Devil Wears Prada

This boss from hell in the fashion world movie is enjoyable to watch for the great performances and some funny lines but I’m not sure they got the tone right. Or maybe they did want a predictable fairytale fantasy. I would have liked a bit more edge and less copping out.

The big question the screenwriter had to deal with was “why would Andy stay?” She's working for a fashion magazine as a PA when she wants to work for newspapers as a features writer. Her CV is obviously very good and she could get a PA job anywhere. You get some great gags and conflicts by making her such a fish out of water in the fashion world but I don’t think that question was ever satisfactorily resolved. Although they do at least try.

Although Emily is a minor character not writing her properly drags the film down. For most of the picture she was the typical limey baddie but Andy goes out of her way to help her at the end when she did nothing to deserve it. Her goal and desire was to go to Paris Fashion Week for the lots of free clothes which was such obvious nonsense only the very charitable could let that pass. You can imagine, just about, the editor in chief getting that stuff, the other editors, maybe models and agents but why give it to a secretary with no influence or power? (Not to take anything away from Emily Blunt’s superb performance).

There is also some inconsistent characterisation that annoyed me. Emily the more senior PA hates Andy for the way she dresses and for not being a fashionista. In one scene Emily warns Andy that she had better do well because it reflects on her. A little while later, Andy says “wish me luck” and Emily says “No I won’t”. That actually would have been a nice dilemma if done on purpose and followed through - Emily hates her but needs her to do well - but it wasn’t done on purpose.

Box Office #1

06 October, 2006

Opening Weekend

The Departed

Thriller. A gang has a police informer and the police have a gang informer.

Writer: William Monahan (adapted from Siu Fai Mak/Felix Chong screenplay "Wu jian dao")
Director: Martin Scorsese

________________________________________


The Devil Wears Prada

Comedy-drama. New employee comes up against the employer from hell in fashion world satire.

Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna (adapted from Lauren Weisberger's novel)
Director: David Frankel

Download Aline Brosh McKenna's Creative Screenwriting podcast interview

________________________________________


Accepted

Comedy. University reject creates his own institute of higher learning.

Writer: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Mark Perez
Director: Steve Pink

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Brothers Of The Head

Drama. Mock-documentary about conjoined-twin musicians

Writer: Tony Grisoni (adapted from Brian Aldiss'novel)
Director: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe

Brian Aldiss article on his inspiration
Tony Grisoni interview

________________________________________


The Plague

Drama. Four friends try to survive a manic weekender.

Writer: Greg Hall
Director: Greg Hall

Greg Hall interview 1
Greg Hall interview 2

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Man Push Cart

Drama. A modern day retelling of the Sisyphus myth as a bagel seller drags his cart around New York City

Writer: Ramin Bahrani
Director: Ramin Bahrani

Ramin Bahrani Interview 1
Ramin Bahrani Interview 2

05 October, 2006

Word of Mouth

World Trade Center

For about half the picture this is quite compelling. I got a sense of what it was like in those towers as they collapsed and I, rather wimpily, squirmed and jumped in my seat as debris fell down. But once that’s over the movie fails to be cinematic or very interesting. It doesn’t even count as a compelling character study really. Although it’s been called “non-political” and about human courage, it is, to all intents and purposes, a Christian Right film. That’s not a complaint as the characters are Christian or Christian Right and they have a right to tell their stories but why pretend otherwise in the publicity?

Box Office #3

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Life and Lyrics

It wasn’t a good start. In the first minute the look-out on the roof of the tower block sees a police van arriving and hurtles down several flights of stairs before eventually bursting into a flat to warn the DJ and MCs. I mean, why didn’t he just phone them? All that running’s certainly visually exciting but not so much when it’s false and the character had a more obvious simple option. You just need an equally exciting scene which is more psychologically true.

Actually, the screenwriter could have had his cake and ate it: look-out sees police van, reaches for mobile and it needs charging/has run out of credit, so he HAS NO CHOICE but to rush down the stairs.

Surprisingly, there were very few further logic flaws and the movie was enjoyable enough. It’s been called the "British 8 Mile" which gives the impression that it’s a typical inferior copy but I wasn't really reminded of 8 Mile during this and it stands on its own. The characters are well drawn although a bit too simplistically, the dialogue is good with some nice humour. The music is very good and even the lyrics are well written.

It is, however, let down considerably by the ending which is especially annoying because it needed such a minor tweak to work well - simply give a motivation for characters to do what they did. Waving guns about isn’t inherently dramatic it has to be made so through characterisation.

Box Office (outside top ten)


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Nina’s Heavenly Delights

This film was six years in the making and was said to be refused funding because of the lesbian element. So while I feel a bit guilty slagging it off I’m fairly convinced not more than six weeks of those years was spent on the script.

Andrea Gibb wrote the excellent Dear Frankie but here she collaborates on someone else’s story - the director’s - and the results aren’t quite as excellent. Part of the problem is the genre choice, the dad’s ghost appears and there’s some rather silly nonsense regarding a model of the Taj Mahal. I assumed it was the director’s decision but it was actually Andrea’s idea. It is of course a subjective decision to have that fantasy element which other people might love.

What’s less subjective is the choices regarding the story. I think the idea was to keep it light and frothy but the effect was that it was insubstantial and you were craving something more filling. There was too much emphasis on the food and not enough on the relationships.

The central relationship is meant to be the epitome of true love but it could not be more passionless. I simply didn’t believe they were in love and I didn’t believe the obstacle to their being together.

When the couple met in real life they knew each other and spent hours talking before getting it on. Here we’re meant to get the same information about their fictional counterparts from a few looks here and there. There was virtually no back-story given to those characters, no real sense of what they are like as people, no reason why their love was so important and why we should care.

Strangely some of the supporting characters were better drawn and have more interesting stories but that central relationship is semi-autobiographical which is always difficult for writers as we are reluctant to have the character who is based on us (or someone we love) to have flaws or reveal anything too personal.

Box Office (outside top ten)

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Hoodwinked

This entertaining animated feature is Little Red Riding Hood meets Rashômon stopping by Shrek and The Usual Suspects, then ending up in Charlie’s Angels country.

While the funny gags and character interaction is always amusing and occasionally laugh out loud funny, the second half of the picture becomes an action flick which, proves less interesting and provides less opportunity for gags.

It ends with the most blatant set up for a sequel I have ever seen but I actually would welcome the follow-up.

As a note to aspiring animationists the writer-director believes that, with the Pixar developed software now available for anyone to buy, more independently produced films like this will be possible.

I did have an issue with the odd-looking character/animation design but apparently this was deliberate to avoid it looking like Shrek. I’m not so sure and think it’s just cheaper doing it that way but because the script is so good you soon get used to the style. Anyway, why should only the big studios with access to budgets of billions get to tell animated stories?

Box Office #2


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Click

I guessed Click wouldn’t be great but I didn’t expect it to be so bad. The set-up is classic Christmas Carol where a man neglects the things that really matter - in this case his family – and is shown the consequences it if continues. The Ghost of Christmas Future in this case does it via the gift of a magic remote control that allows him to skip time and freeze time.

The dialogue is ordinary and the jokes are rarely amusing - never mind funny – which doesn’t help but the main problem is that the man who is neglecting his family wants to change but the Ghost of Christmas Future won’t let him until he really really really really has learnt his lesson several tedious years later in an overly sentimental way.

We can relate to the family at the beginning of the story but then who cares once they start ageing and changing and become different characters?

Box Office #1

02 October, 2006

Small is bountiful

Variety.com:

"Suddenly, everywhere you look, London is teeming with microbudget filmmakers, hell-bent on capturing the 8 million stories in the naked city with a borrowed camera and a few thousand quid from their friends and family."