Friday, December 31, 2010

Who's Supporting Who?

I admit, there are a lot of things I don't understand about the Academy Awards - how Roberto Benigni won a Best Actor gong, for example, is right up there with the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century.

Another is how the acting awards are split into 'lead' and 'supporting' and who is slotted into what category. I mention this because I have just seen The King's Speech which is a well made movie clearly with Oscar in mind. Prestige subject matter - check; Character afflicted with disability - check (if somewhat mildly); Period piece - check; presence of Geoffrey Rush - check.

And there's the rub - Colin Firth is widely being discussed as presumptive favourite for Best Actor while Geoffrey Rush is somehow relegated to the category of supporting actor. How is this possible? Surely the two leads in this film are Rush and Firth with Helena Bonham-Carter and Guy Pearce the most notable of the supporting cast.

The film works best when Rush and Firth are on screen and theirs is the critical relationship in the movie. But alas, our Geoffrey, who is excellent, gets reduced to a 'support player' when awards season comes around.

I suspect it's because there's an old fashioned notion that a movie should have a male lead and a female lead. Or maybe it's because studios try and maximise their chances by spreading the talent around the categories - Rush and Firth, head to head, would take votes off each other?

Perhaps Oscar should get with the programme, expand the number of nominations in Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and remove the gender distinction. All I know is Colin Firth is good, but it's Rush who makes the movie work.

Speaking of categories, is the screenplay for The Social Network an original one or an adaptation? It's based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich which was being written concurrently with the screenplay. Probably doesn't matter as the script will win whatever category it is in.

Finally, my own awards on the last day of 2010...

Best Film - This proved to be very hard to decide - The Social Network left me a little cold, Inception left me underwhelmed, The King's Speech was good but not spectacular, Toy Story 3 was excellent but, at times, I felt the strings being pulled too overtly... which leads me to:

Animal Kingdom. Without meaning to come off as parochial, this was totally absorbing fare and the best Australian film I've seen in a long time. Good to see it found international recognition as well.

Worst Film - This was an easy decision. The Expendables was the biggest load of old tosh I have seen in a long long time.

Most Over-rated Film - It has to be Inception. I wasn't convinced it was the masterpiece many were saying the first time around and on a second viewing it diminished even more.

Best Performance - Again, going the Aussie route here with Ben Mendelsohn from Animal Kingdom who supplies the menace that kicks that film up a notch.

Worst Performance - anybody who was in The Expendables though Mickey Rourke probably gets the nod for his ridiculous monologue that was flat out awful.

So there it is, 2010 done and dusted. Have a great New Year's and here's to a creative and prosperous 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Red Bride Update

Since Feature Navigator back in mid-October where we received expert feedback from a range of consultants, I have been working on a page one rewrite of my feature script The Red Bride. That was delivered to my producers and director on 17 December. Today was time for feedback and notes at a marathon 8 hour script session.

Oh okay, there was a little break for a barbecue luncheon but other than that it was a full on, scene by scene examination of the draft.

I co-opted my parents' place down in Cottesloe with its lovely courtyard for said proceedings and we were royally spoilt for food and drink on a perfect Perth day.

The draft is in pretty good shape but copious notes were taken, certain scenes haggled over, arguments won and lost, characters assassinated and revived as these things often go.

Right now I am mentally exhausted but it was a great day and I'd like to thank my TRB colleagues Chris Richards-Scully, Jocelyn Quioc and David Revill (... with a surprise cameo performance from Wayne Nicholson) for the rigorous discourse. Special thanks to Mum and Dad for the hospitality.

Next stage, filtering through all the feedback and doing another pass. Deadline for final submission, 17 January.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Western Australian Web Series Needs Your Support

Normally I wouldn't shill for other projects on this blog, but there are two talented Perth film-makers who are one of 15 finalists in a competition sponsored by Movie Extra. First prize - $50,000 to produce a web series.

I did many a workshop (PAC1-2) with Henry starting in 2005 and met Aaron probably the following year. They write, direct and act with an impressive track record of short films and awards between them.

So check out their one minute entry here and vote accordingly. Don't delay - the winner is announced on 12 January.

While you're at it, have a look at the freshly uploaded Christmas Special which is funny, audacious and kind of disturbing in equal measure. Surely a Henry and Aaron signature!

Good luck lads and hope to see the full series in 2011...

Climate Change - A Movie Review

Remember the movie Independence Day where Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved us from marauding aliens who consume the natural resources of a planet then move onto the next? Well it is my contention we are the aliens - we just haven't figured how to get to the next planet yet.

Yes, one key characteristic of the human race is this - we consume things at a prodigious rate. We are no more capable of adapting than the dinosaurs were, the last dominant species on the planet. Is man made activity a contributor to global warming? - probably; is the globe warming at an unnatural rate? - perhaps. One thing I do know is this - for all the debate, conferences and politics, there is little we can do about it. We don't change. We consume. That's who we are.

ETS, Carbon Tax, CPRS, wind power (et al), direct action, Copenhagen, Cancun... pretty much none of it will make any difference. First World countries are too used to the luxuries of modern life; Third World countries covet those luxuries and argue, not unreasonably, that they too should be able to obtain them.

As for pricing carbon - do we really want economists to be the architects of a system to 'save the planet'? To put our fate in the same hands as those people who caused the Global Financial Crisis by buying and selling things that literally don't exist? A small number of people will make a lot of money with little or no impact on the climate - the human race is also pretty good at ensuring a small 'elite' make money at the expense of others (also known as the vast majority).

While climate change is trumpeted as the greatest moral and ethical challenge of our time, politicians know that if they were to really get serious about implementing measures to limit emissions they would soon be out of power. "By all means, save the planet as long as it doesn't effect me" appears to be the rallying cry.

Therefore an elaborate charade is being played out - people want something done... as long as it doesn't impinge on their lifestyle (higher electricity bills - no thank you; more expensive petrol - I don't think so; stop driving my SUV - hell no; nuclear power plant next to my suburb - are you crazy?); while politicians have to be seen to be doing something while actually doing very little other than use words like 'consensus' and argue about meaningless percentages. This is why we will never actually change our essential nature.

As for 'saving the planet', this is typical of the human ego. What people mean to say is, 'make sure it is still inhabitable by humans'. The best thing that could happen to the planet is that sea levels rise, the world is covered by water and a couple of million years later the next dominant species evolves after the Earth 'heals' itself.

Who knows, it might be giant cockroaches who can shoot plasma out their arse and reason with Doogie Howser like precision. Starship Troopers may yet prove to be a more prophetic piece of film-making than An Inconvenient Truth!

You may think this is a very fatalistic point of view - and you would be right. Watching the world's politicians and our local version spin, obfuscate and stall over this matter at every opportunity is a true indicator of human nature and self-interest. It's who we are...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Character as Prop

I was watching the penultimate episode of the Australian television series Rake last week which apparently is well liked by those who, well, like that sort of thing. Putting aside the absence of an 'A' story (or any story really) and whether it was a comedy or a drama, there were two scenes that reminded me of an observation a local writer made about a scene in the much lauded Underbelly 1. Which was this:

There was a scene set in an old suburban sporting grandstand where 5-6 thugs were meeting to discuss things that underworld figures discuss in grandstands. The writer's observation was this - not one of them was drinking a choc milk or reading the paper or doing anything normal people would be doing sitting in a suburban grandstand (talking about abnormal things). It was if they had been arranged for a photo shoot - which indeed they had been. It was an astute observation.

Onto Rake, which stars Richard Roxburgh as a larrikin lawyer who... I'm not quite sure what the end of that sentence is... but anyway.

The two scenes that reminded me of the 'character as prop' observation were these:

Rake goes into a Chemist with a raging headache and asks for suitable relief. The Chemist, apparently baffled by this complex request, vacates the scene to go out the back. Why? Because two robbers are about to enter, one of whom will clout our hero over the scone then cause the comical demise of his mate. That business resolved, the Chemist returns. He was not a character, merely a prop to be moved about by the writer as required. It totally jarred and was more than faintly ridiculous.

Which leads us to the next scene where Rake is getting stitches by, I presume, a nurse. They have a conversation then another man enters who harangues Rake about something or other. Not once did the 'nurse' even look at the interloper, ask who he was, politely state, "you're not allowed back here, Sir" or "who are you?" or "do you mind?" until he takes offence at something Rake says and we get her reaction shot. He hurriedly explains, "he slept with my wife" or such like. Again, that actor was there to recite her lines on cue and react when required. It was if a vase of flowers was stitching up our hero for all the life that character had.

Maybe they're small grievances - and sure, I'm probably as guilty as the next writer of doing such things - but it can really jar and take you straight out of the scene. Once that suspension of disbelief is destroyed it's so hard to win back.

So make sure your secondary characters have a damn good reason to be in the scene other than being a prop for the main character. Make sure they react to the given circumstances of the scene otherwise they look like they're just waiting to hit a mark or recite a line which is death for compelling drama...

If indeed that's what Rake is supposed to be...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Year in Rear View

2010 - what a year you have been! From being made redundant; to the suicide in the unit next door; to participating in Feature Navigator; to flaming out in screenwriting competitions; to a misdiagnosed heart scare; to having potentially three feature scripts in play for next year; it has been a rollercoaster year.

What have I learnt?

Don't send a script out too early!
I had some positive feedback on one script, and while it was shortlisted in the Bill Warnock Award, it tanked in a couple of US screenwriting competitions and an AWGIE category. That sort of rejection can be a little soul destroying! Simply, it wasn't ready.

Be persistent!
While that script didn't do anything - and I was told by one writer to drop it altogether - I took on board the feedback and did a rewrite that streamlined and simplified the story. That draft was selected for Feature Navigator where it had a very positive reception. Two months on, there has been a page one rewrite and it's only getting better.

Confidence is everything!
The reason I put that script out is I finally found a voice in the local funding body that supports my writing. That has lead me to other allies - a script consultant in the US - who I hopefully will work with again next year - and other experts from overseas. Along with my key collaborators, this sort of positive reinforcement is invaluable when you're slogging through rewrites.

Take the meeting!
An email query from a director new to Perth with an interesting CV and slate of projects came with the seal of approval from a person whose opinion I respect. So I took the meeting. Out of that unexpected encounter we are now working on one of my older scripts (that I used as a writing sample) and likely to work on a brand new idea in 2011.

Never toss anything!
The above is one script from the bottom drawer. Another has found favour with my TRB director when he finally read it - after like two years - and liked it. We will discuss further in the new year but he already has asked to send it to a local producer and an actor maybe on the cusp of big things in the US. Rewrites beckon but nothing should ever go to waste. All it takes is one person who loves it who wants to fight for it to get made.

Rewriting is mandatory!
This is the hardest but most rewarding part. Scripts evolve and mutate, grow and slowly take shape. In Hollywood they spend dollars, time and writers developing scripts. Here, things can tend to be rushed into production before they're ready. It can be a slog, no doubt. But getting the script right is critical.

Do the damn notes!
I've always hated writer's notes for funding submissions - "tell me everything you forgot to do in the last draft that if you had remembered (or known) you would have done". Luckily, I sat on a couple of panels during the year and saw the level of detail some writers provide to support their script. The light bulb finally went on - it's so competitive that the supporting documents are critical. Take the time to do them right.

On the personal front, I never thought I would be made redundant from my 'day job'. It stings the ego and the way it was done really jarred. You realise you're just a number not a valued employee, even after 21 years. I haven't been looking for a 'real job' so the acid is on to make a fist of the writing. Kind of scary and liberating at the same time. It means I have time to work on scripts and meet deadlines. I don't ever want to go back to an office if I can avoid it.

As for the health scare and the suicide, those things showed me there are more important things than petty grievances and whinges, gossip and controversy - of which there has been plenty in the local Perth film-making scene of late. I try and stay away from all that and do my own thing with the people I want to collaborate with who I trust and respect. It's taken a long while but I am happy with the circle of creative people around me.

I look back at 2010 as a year where the foundation for 2011 and beyond was erected - renewed confidence in my ability, new contacts and collaborators, old scripts resurrected with current ones born anew.

So here's to a safe and happy festive season and a creative new year!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Update or It's about time there was a new blog post!

Since my last post:

Prince William is getting married... but Australia is not getting hitched to the pork barrel buffet known as the FIFA World Cup;

Victoria has a new government by bucking the trend of being well hung... while the Federal government hangs the new paradigm out to dry to the tune of $50 billion dollars and counting (surely the most expensive doodle on a coaster in Australian aviation history aka the National Broadband Network);

North Korea is menacing the south... while Sarah Palin continues to menace the English language, commonsense and possibly bears;

Americans are up in arms about arms being up places they shouldn't be at airport check-ins... while Qantas just hopes bits don't fall off the damn plane.

In other words, a fair bit has happened! Except for blogging... (insert: shameful expression).

On the personal front, this being made redundant lark agrees with me! I can now keep hours more suited to a writer, namely never having to get up before 9am. I have, however, become quite the denizen of cafes and pubs, a kind of surreal limbo that I imagine equates to Hell's waiting room. Not that the mindless babble of my fellow patrons isn't interes-- oh, who am I kidding? There are times I have been tempted to drive a fork into my skull... but they tell me you must suffer for your art.

The rewrite for The Red Bride is going well... though a little different to my usual practice. I always write chronologically but this time, to move forward, the Third Act had to work much more coherently. I'm finally clear on the mechanics of the climax and the rewritten version plays far better. Next was a rethink of the set-up in the First Act given where we now end up and that's taking shape nicely. Which leaves the treacherous wastelands of the Second Act to navigate. A place where some screenwriters wander off track only to die a slow painful dea-- okay, enough with the melodrama!

Meanwhile, an older script has been dusted off and found favour with a director I've recently met courtesy of some 'match-making' by the local funding agency. A development round looms and while I don't have time to do a rewrite, detailed notes on the direction of the next draft are being prepared. Options and deals are being discussed so this one's back on the front burner.

Throw in some de facto script editing on a short and a feature I have high hopes for and it's been a pretty busy time.

Hence the reason for my tardiness in blogging. Though I note I am much better than one of my producers (who shall remain nameless), the one who always kills off my female supporting characters! But that's another story...