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STORYBOARDING & BBC FINALIST

After spending a wonderful couple of hours in the library storyboarding the first page of my script (16 shots), I came home to an email from the BBC telling me my script Freer is  in the final six for a BBC Writers Room Rapid response brief. Details of the brief are here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/blogwritersroom/posts/Bread-Roses-Centennial-Rapid-Response?filter=none

and the judging process here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/about/bread-and-roses-terms-and-conditions

I got very excited when I read the email and went screaming out to my flatmate/colleague who I’m not really close to at all but I just had to share. I wish I could remain all mysterious and hug the news to myself until the final results are announced. Then I’d be able to either tell the world that I’m a winner or not say anything at all and nobody would know I’m a loser. My way means I get everyone really hyped up and hopeful  and then I let them down and it’s all a bit shit.

But for now I’m on cloud nine and the Creative Director of New Writing at the BBC will read my script. Which is a bit of a win even if it doesn’t go though. 

Back to the Storyboard.

What an amazing process. I have the film fully visualised in my head and I was actually able to turn my mind into a DVD player and pause, rewind, zoom to see what shots I would use. Hard work, but it’s all in there and I think my hours (years really) of watching films and reading books on film means that I have absorbed and understand film language.

The above pic is a particularly useful exercise from my Dramatic Structure module in the first term. We chose a Ladybird book to read and then had to storyboard it for 20 minutes and this taught us what the major beats and strong moments of the story were. Really useful for scene building and cutting out the padding.

I’m currently reading this AWESOME book:  

It literally gives you every shot and a story board and commentary from the directors who include Roman Polanski, whose first short Two Men And A Wardrobe is just brilliant visual storytelling, not one word of dialogue, and Jim Jarmusch, whose Coffee & Cigarettes is all chat. Both wonderful. I can’t recommend the book enough for film students and makers.

I’ve also watched all the shorts on CINEMA 16’s European Shorts & British Shorts which inspired and taught me so much. In particular Christopher Nolan’s first short Doodlebug just blew me away and what’s interesting is how much it foreshadows Inception

Here’s a link to a well received British short featuring an outstanding performance by Andrew Scott who recently played Moriarty in the BBC’s fantastic Sherlock Holmes. The site in general is a useful resource for shorts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/filmnetwork/films/p00kmy38

And here is a link to a multi-award winning short and it’s screenplay. Read the script first, make a note of your thoughts and then watch the film. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

http://www.livingspiritgroup.com/podcasts/vodcasts/stephen-follows-on-sign-language/

Write, I must now do some academic work so that I actually have a 2nd draft feature script to submit next Friday…

Thanks for dropping by.

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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Back To Uni

 

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MY FIRST SHORT FILM

Girl With Yo-Yo by Brazilian artist Morandini

I’m in pre-production for my first short film! I’m so excited! I don’t know how I’m going to find the time to actually shoot and edit it; I don’t even know who is writing this actual Blog because the 40 year old student is beavering away on her masses of course work.Our Course Director was extolling the virtues of having a short film as a calling card for a writer and pointed out that now is the time for us to be making one as all the equipment is available for free on campus alongside eager students as crew and actors.I decided she was right and thought I’d bumble through a first one and then make another and maybe by the third I’d have something decent as a calling card.

So I signed up for a camera course and an editing course, two hours each with a fabulous tutor called Leila who also gave me the names of two first year students who are reliable and technically proficient with the cameras which are Sony PD175 or Z1.

I was hit by inspiration in our amazing library and quickly wrote a three page horror script with no dialogue, although I’m not sure if it’s horror as there’s no gore. There is a ghost in the vein of Asian horror and the story is about bullying and mental health/suicide. The message isn’t beautiful though it’s about getting even by getting possessed.

I met with the lady who says ‘yes’ to filming in the library and was informed that filming can only be done during opening hours and must not interfere with anyone using it. Damn, I thought, it needs to be empty for the creepiness. The library lady was extremely helpful and I can get the eerie emptiness but only if I’m prepared to film at 8am for about an hour before students start arriving. I am.

Will the students be?

I think the cast will. I contacted the head of Performing Arts today and he sent out an email to all three years. Here’s what went out:

Ellen – playing age 16-20. Must be able convey growing fear and sustained terror.

Ghost – female, any age. Must have long dark hair – going for Asian horror ghost look. May have to wear effects contact lenses although I’m waiting to hear back about creating the eyes with special effects.

3 bullies – playing age 16-20. three girls who can look glam and mean. One must be able to use a yo-yo properly.

Size, shape and ethnicity are not important.

That was about 3pm. I’ve had seven replies already. They all look great too and I’m dying to start the auditioning process. The little snag so far is that I’ve not yet heard back from the recommended camera guys. I think I’ll have to put a call out for that as well. I’m excited to start story-boarding and I kind of wanted my camera-person in place so I could brainstorm with them.

Next stop is to post on one of my forums about whether I should shoot B&W. I think I want to, I don’t want to faff with lights if my time is precious and this is only my first bash. I need to find out about laying sound down as well. I’m going to record most of it without sound. It’s bookended with girls giggling and I think I’ll need to record that in situ. Any advice, if anyone is reading, would be grand.

Oh, I’m a Twit now as well, as if you didn’t already know that but it’s been publicly confirmed by Twitter. I’m tweeting about the short’s progress, you can follow me @MJHermanny.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Short Film

 

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THE HUNGER GAMES

The Hunger Games

12A

Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray

Directed by Gary Ross

Woody Harrelson as a drunk, Lenny Kravitz in gold eyeliner, Stanley Tucci with blue hair and teenagers fighting to the death – what’s not to love? The Hunger Games is Battle Royale with character development in place of gore, The Running Man with Jennifer Lawrence instead of Arnie and I could not take my eyes from the screen for fear of missing something.

The screenplay is extremely tight indeed, all the exposition and back-story is handled visually – a propaganda film at ‘The Reaping’ where the next contestants for the games are chosen, fills in the history of how the twelve districts and the competition came about. Two children are chosen from each area and put into a huge wildlife arena where the show’s producers can manipulate what happens by causing fires or creating savage beasts in order to maintain ‘great viewing’. Only one victor can emerge and this serves as a reminder that peace reigns only because those in power have forgiven a former uprising.

Dystopia is defined as being ‘an imaginary state where society is in a repressive and controlled state often under the guise of being perfect or utopian’. This is portrayed beautifully in The Hunger Games where we begin in the poverty of District Twelve where bread is an expensive luxury and coal mining explosions a daily fear. The camera work is extremely jerky and rather annoying to start with but once Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) reach the controlling Capitol the camera movements smooth out and colour saturates everything.

The art direction is fantastic, a real visual feast with peculiar hairstyles, outrageous makeup and surreal costumes making the wealthy out to be coiffed clowns. They all look like they’ve stepped off a Vivian Westwood catwalk. With visual images alluding to concentration camps and Roman gladiators the themes are set up strongly from the beginning.

I was hooked in completely by the first ten minutes and found the plotting and story riveting and relentless. I had started to read the book but when I realised I wasn’t going to finish by the time I saw the film I put it aside. I’m very glad I did as everything was new and surprising. All the characters are flawed and dimensional, many with hidden agendas and conflicting goals, the dialogue is sharp, the stakes are life and death itself, the world is startling and intriguing and the audience is not patronised to one little bit. There is so much to take in that you’re constantly absorbing and processing information. The two-hour running time just shot by.

Jennifer Lawrence is mesmerising as Katniss, a loner who does not want to woo the sponsors for ‘survival gifts’ but who has already gained favour by volunteering in place of her younger sister. Her performance is still and measured, she infuses the character with vulnerability and a core of steel almost without moving a muscle; it is a superb performance and builds on her Winter’s Bone reputation as an exciting new talent.

Woody Harrelson is brilliantly cast as a previous victor brought in to mentor the District Twelve competitors. Now a cynical drunk he informs them that their only chance of survival is to suck up to the sponsors and make themselves as popular as possible. His character does a huge about-face when he realises he might have a winner on his hands.

Josh Hutcherson as the ‘rich’ baker’s son who once threw a burnt loaf meant for his pigs to a starving Katniss plays the love interest but instead of this being a saccharine relationship reminiscent of Twilight it is fraught with unreadable motives – are their feelings real or are they playing to the cameras for survival?

With a supporting cast consisting of Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz and Wes Bentley, even the most superficial roles are brought to life brilliantly.

Throughout I was reminded of the Western World versus the Third World and how media/celebrity is an obsession of the former. In The Hunger Games the Westerners make money and find entertainment in the televised struggle for survival of the poor.

Hunger, poverty, war, rioting, violence and media, – pretty strong themes for a kid’s film. I was rooting for Katniss throughout and am totally hooked in for the rest of the trilogy particularly as she has made a political enemy of the dictator figure Snow which means there must be more of Sutherland in the next film.

I was glued to the screen, eager and curious to know what was going to happen next, the ending felt like a foregone conclusion but there was enough going on elsewhere to keep me curious. Instead of being moved emotionally I found myself seriously thought provoked, I’m thinking about how lazy we are and how we let the government get away with so much and how the media leads us by the nose and numbs us with entertainment and escapism when so much is wrong with our world.

Intelligent and brutal without gore, I give this film a big one thumb up!

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Film Reviews

 

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THE HELP review – hyped up pie

I read the screenplay of this some time ago when Oscar was buzzing all over it and I loved it, a real page turner. All the characters sprang to life for me and the story whipped along at a cracking pace. The relationship between Minnie and Celia is the one I was most invested in and, on the page, most moved by.

Because of this, and the hype, I was excited to see the film. I like Emma Stone and have been watching her star rise with interest. Jessica Chastain shone in The Debt so I was interested to watch her Oscar nominated performance alongside other nominees Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, the latter of whom took home the little bald chap for Best Supporting Actress.

The story interweaves the relationships of two African-American maids and the southern belles they work for during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.         

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer

It is all held together by Skeeter, an aspiring author and anti-belle, who persuades the maids to provide material for what becomes an anonymous exposé and publishing sensation.

Imagine my disappointment when the film began and I couldn’t understand a word of the voice over by Viola Davis. I was tempted to grab my laptop and read along with her. I was actually quite shocked by this and it put my back up so that I was aware I was actively disliking the film.

Cicely Tyson as Constantine

I found Emma Stone as the aspiring author Skeeter to be speaking with an affected lisp of some sort that seemed to parody the speech of her ancient maid Constantine, played appallingly by Cicely Tyson – seriously one of the most hackneyed film performances I have ever seen. Dreadful.

Hilly’s child is also incomprehensible as she struggles to say ‘I am kind, I am smart, I am important.’  Even now I’m saying that in a terrible piss-take voice and it’s a key phrase and moment that shows us Aibileen’s oh-so-perfect character.

The belles are one dimensional bad guys whose actions  are so hateful and come so thick and fast at the beginning that we are left in no doubt as to how we should feel towards them. Talk about beating your audience over the head with a stupid stick. The racism was enough but then there’s child cruelty and spite and snobbery and all of this without even a hint of personality. 

The Stepford Wives pop over for pie

It seems as though The Stepford Wives have wandered over from another film  as Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Camp et al just copy each other’s vacant bitchiness. This may well have been director Tate Tyler’s intention in order to contrast with and therefore highlight the wonderful and altruistic behaviour of Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Some subtlety would have worked.

I did warm up to the film, how could I not with such an uplifting tale of courage and sacrifice? Viola Davis puts in a terrific, heart-warming performance and Chastain displays great talent with her energy and fully rounded character;     she acts the other belles off the screen and I think she was more deserving of the bald chap than Spencer but perhaps it was the infamous chocolate pie that got her the award and all that it symbolised.

Sissy Spacek steals every scene she is in and Alison Janney is underused but it is wonderful to see a film rife with female characters even if they are pretty clichéd and one dimensional.

I think a lot of the film’s weaknesses lie with the director Tate Taylor whose previous films include the feature Pretty Ugly People, 2008 (one rotten review on Rotten Tomatoes), and a short. Oh yes, he was also the childhood friend of the novel’s author, Kathryn Stockett.

He seems to get his actors to perform the same banal actions – both Stone and Davis touch their foreheads when showing great stress and clutching stomachs seems to denote ‘a moment of great emotional impact’ for several characters. He did however write the screenplay which I did like and despite slamming the film quite hard it did reel me in and I was moved at the end.

Overall I think this suffered from an inexperienced director and some weak characters which I didn’t spot in the script. Would I have liked the film better if I hadn’t read the script first? Probably. As it is I give it one thumb up and one thumb down.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Film Reviews

 

DRIVE review

Screenplay by Hossein Amini from the novel by James Sallis

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Drive opens with a masterclass in creating tension; two minutes in and we’re waiting with the getaway driver for an armed robber. The opening dialogue has told us that the driver only waits for five minutes and there are about thirty seconds left. 

The shots cut sharply back and forth between the driver’s cold eyes, the front of the building, the late robber’s partner, the radio blasting a basketball game, a police scanner and the second-hand on the driver’s watch. Then we’re off into a major car chase for another four tense minutes where helicopters and squad cars pursue them and the only dialogue comes from the two radios.

I was hooked in instantly. That ticking-clock device definitely works and Driver has shown us that he is ace at what he does, one of writing guru Truby’s three major ways of getting the audience to root for the protagonist. Plus, of course, Ryan Gosling plays Driver.

This is his film, he showed us his charisma and charm in Crazy Stupid Love but here he just oozes style and substance. You can not take your eyes off him and he creates  a  character with a mass of contradictory emotions who constantly surprises and all with very little dialogue. His eyes speak volumes. Truly impressive acting on display.

Carey Mulligan on the other hand I found to be plain old dull. Chosen because she reminded the director of his wife or so he tells us on the interesting extras interview.

Innocence was vital in casting this role, he wanted her relationship with the driver to be pure and chaste so that protecting innocence is the major motivation for Driver’s actions. Bland is what I got. I haven’t actually liked her in anything since An Education, she seems to be coasting.

They develop their relationship with minimal dialogue, it is all created through steamy, longing looks which is what director Nicolas Winding Refn was hoping to achieve; he wanted to ‘tell a love story without ever saying a word.’ 

His aforementioned interview tells us how this was achieved and for those interested in acting technique it is illuminating.

Visually the style is very different from his previous outing Bronson (highly recommend) which is surreal and theatrical. The first half of Drive is gentle, almost soothing to look at with pretty bubblegum colours to go with the pop soundtrack. 

This all serves to lull us into a false comfort zone so that when the violence does come, and it comes thick and fast out of nowhere, the contrast is all the more visceral.

The fact that we believe the driver is capable of all this sudden splatter and gore is further testament to Gosling’s abilities and the power of symbolism – his jacket is embroidered with a scorpion and there is definitely a sting in his tail.

Now the soundtrack really got to me, this maybe because my awareness has suddenly been awakened to the emotional effect of sound in cinema, but that pop music drove me mad. Sickly sweet and all those songs about heroes while the camera lingers on Gosling’s face just made me want to throw up. I felt so condescended to.

What is interesting is that in his interview NWR put into words extremely succinctly what I have been trying to articulate:  ‘Silence is when we feel the most. Dialogue is logic and therefore cerebral. Sound is straight to the heart.’

Unfortunately his ‘sound’ made me feel like a neon pink arrow had gone through my heart, engraved the word ‘hero’ on it and sprinkled sugar into the resulting wound. Yuk.

There is also some peculiar homage to Grease going on. The satin bomber jacket and the pink writing bring to mind the Pink Ladies and Driver takes his neighbour and her son on a drive to the actual place where the legendary Thunder Road race in Grease plays out. 

Perhaps we are meant to infer from this that Driver loves that movie, or maybe it’s because of the car Danny builds from inside out as a part of the man and machine imagery – who knows, it certainly isn’t mentioned in the interview.  (Addendum: having just read the screenplay a cut scene makes sense of this as Driver mentions two movies in one breath – Terminator and Grease.) 

Bryan Cranston is great, extremely moving in his beaten down character  and Christina Hendricks is electrifying in a tiny role.

As for the screenplay by Hossein Amini, it is a must read for all aspiring screenwriters. Even though there is rather a lot of ‘tell not show’ going on in the relationships, the masterful action scenes are well worth the read.

Drive has cemented Nicolas Winding Refn as a director whose work I find exciting but I lowered my opinion of him when upon being asked how the writer felt about his screenplay being smashed up and changed so much, he answered ‘I don’t care.’

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Drive. I wish I’d seen it on the big screen as it really has got some fantastic visual storytelling moments. The soundtrack and Carey Mulligan were nauseating weak points for me but the style and Gosling’s portrayal of an original and fascinating character lift this above most films.

I give DRIVE one thumb up.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in Film Reviews

 

THE ARTIST review

THE ARTIST

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius

A charming little film about a silent film star who becomes destitute when ‘talkies’ arrive and his pride stops him participating in the new phenomenon. It’s a simple story with a great hook about whether we will hear Valentin speak, but what has singled The Artist out is the unique and nostalgic quirk that it is itself a silent black and white movie.

This is not a film that is going to change the world or move you to tears but it did  educate me about sound and visuals in cinema. For starters black and white is gorgeous on the big screen and all the lighting and depth of focus nuances can be fully appreciated.

Staircases are used beautifully to convey Hollywood as a well oiled machine with all its little cogs moving up or down depending on how bright their star is shining.

Some of the visuals were too simplistic, cinema marquee titles to convey the characters’ emotional state or role  for example, but mostly they enhanced the story and particularly the flavour of its charm.

What struck me the most was how aware I became of sound and how it was used to enhance the visual storytelling. Because there is no dialogue to distract your hearing there is so much more to be heard and the disconnect between lack of sound and what you’re seeing is really strong and creates unfamiliar sensations. 

For example, in the opening scene we watch a cinema audience clap their hearts out and yet we hear no applause, I found this new experience rather unsettling and yet it amused and entertained me.

The award-winning score is glorious, a wonderful orchestra manipulating heartstrings and creating tension; the moment where Valentin first hits rock-bottom despair had me on the edge of my seat with my heart thumping in time to the pounding and swelling music. 

One of the most powerful scenes is a dream sequence in which the music vanishes and all ordinary sounds can be heard. The audio-sensory perception is so heightened  that we emotionally connect with Valentin because it is what he is experiencing and we understand how unnerving it is.

The performances are fun, with the exception of Valentin, all the characters are light and one dimensional. Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo, is as peppy and frothy as her name suggests and she lights up the screen with her neon smile and cute little wiggle; John Goodman plays the greedy producer with a heart of gold to a tee, you can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes. Penelope Ann Miller is completly wasted in such a cliched, one dimensional role, (remember how good she was in Carlito’s Way?), a cardboard cut-out would have sufficed here. James Cromwell is also underused as the lovable, loyal lackey. 

The star of the show is undoubtedly Jean Dujardin, he moves effortlessly between his over-the-top film within a film performances and his actual character as the actor Valentin, and displays a wonderful range of emotions from sophisticated success to desolate destitution. He is also devastatingly handsome and oozes more charisma than a Clooney-Pitt love-child. We will definitely be seeing more of him which I for one am extremely happy about.

You will all be disappointed and somewhat surprised I am sure if I make no mention of Uggie the dog. Yes he’s cute and yes as an actor he has an uplifting backstory and yes I adored him too but he really is just there an extra piece of fluffy charm and his presence works beautifully at making us adore and sympathise with Valentin even more.

Visually stunning, utterly heart-warming and an education for this aspiring screenwriter. I would highly recommend seeing this on the big screen and give it one thumbs up out of two. I knock one off for its plethora of superficial characters.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Film Reviews

 

Old Dog, New Tricks

I passed my first two modules! Great relief. 

I was pretty confident about the Dramatic Structure essay having chosen to write Director’s Notes for my grand idea of a mixed-media-outdoor-promenade production of Romeo & Juliet which has been floating around my brain for over a decade and was therefore a dream to write. The tutor appeared to like it:

This is a wonderful and passionate interpretation of a play that, because of it’s fame, could have been very difficult to make feel fresh. You have succeeded brilliantly… You express the play’s complexity in a way that brings the drama to life with a real clarity…  It is also very well written. It grabs the imagination of the reader as well as being informative… Excellent work.

I have however been horribly hung-up and worried about the Theatre & Radio module. Having got off to the worst imaginable start last term where the tutor rubbished my fledgling idea in front of my brand new class-mates deeming it:

‘clichéd, old hat, awful like Britain’s Got Talent’ and ‘when did you last go to the theatre?’.

I was mortified, devastated and spent the rest of the day trying to keep my wobbly bottom lip under control before I got into my car and cried my soft little heart out.

She very obviously did not like my idea of a violent homeless lad who can only express himself through rap – she even said ‘I would love to see the faces in a theatre when you turn up with some rap lyrics’ and laughed her head off. I’d also mentioned nightmares expressed through shadow-theatre street-dance and the faceless members of society such as cops, social workers, employers etc wearing white masks.

 Anyway, it was the only idea I had and she told me to turn it into a three-hander set in his granny’s living room.

I tried.

I tried for three weeks to write what she wanted and couldn’t. It was a nightmare, my characters didn’t want to be confined they wanted to be violent and loud and expressive through rap and dance. So I finally got another idea and emailed asking if I could write that and she said: ‘no, write from your heart’. So I wrote my rap and physical theatre piece – the first 35 pages anyway and submitted it.

The feedback I got from my peers was astonishing, they loved it. The tutor? Well, she came to me last and she made a public apology saying that she had underestimated my talent.

By then the damage had been done and I didn’t really want to write anymore of my clichéd, old hat idea, even with the apology.

Then I smashed up my ankle and couldn’t write even if I wanted to. The painkillers didn’t make me all floaty and brilliantly creative they zonked me out and turned my poor brain to mush. I was given an extension but finishing that play was truly the worst writing experience I have ever had. I had to stop deleting my words so that I would have something to submit.

I never finished the play but I submitted it and I passed.

I properly dobbed her in it last week telling the course director what had she’d said and how she had made us all go and watch a rehearsal of a children’s play she had written instead of teach us about sub-text on one of our workshop days. The director was horrified and thanked me profusely for letting her know.

Felt much better after that.

 

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Back To Uni

 
 
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