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    Taking the 48Hr Challenge

    2012 - 05.05

    >> post originally written for and posted on Chris Jones’ blog

    I’ve been going to the SF London Film Fest a few years now, and annually considered the people who undertook the 48Hr Film Challenge to be a pack of loons. Having now completed it, I can safely confirm this as truth.

    I’m a novice writerly sort myself; this whole film-making business is something I considered better left to people better qualified. But after watching a couple of the 2011 shortlisted films at the SFX Weekender in February, I had an itch. I also had a twitter account and predilection for enthusiastic tweetage.

    By the close of the Guerrilla Film Masterclass a few weeks later, I accidentally had a huge team of very awesome (and far more qualified) people wanting to do this thing. I accordingly called them Team Awesome and we got started.

    How awesome? THIS awesome.

    Let it be said: Team Awesome was absolutely a team affair, as was always my intention.  I didn’t assemble a group to carry out my particular vision; I assembled a team to produce a film in which we could all claim creative ownership. Mission Objective 1 was obviously to complete and submit a great film; Mission Objective 2 was to have a damn good time doing it and build creative partnerships that would far outlast the key 48 hours. In this, we absolutely succeeded, with a hugely enjoyable shoot and plans already afoot for further films.

    We were a team of 19 in the end, 18 of us innocent 48Hr virgins. Veteran Edward McLeod Jones bought invaluable advice on workflow, which got us across the line within time, and that was despite set-backs in post.

    Whatever the competition rules on “preproduction”, PREPARATION is absolutely key to these events. I’ll first explain our preparation; then you can then see the film and I’ll explain our reflective conclusions. As first-timers, the learning curve was MAHOOOSIVE.

    Much like Alex’s… gun…


    Life’s too short not to be Leia: SFX Weekender 3

    2012 - 02.09

    This may require some explanation

    If the geeks do inherit the earth, rejoice my friends, because they know how to throw a damn good party.

    Now since arriving on the fair shores of Albion I’ve been no stranger to the writing, film, TV and comics fan scene, and there is photographic evidence of me prancing around in a wannabe Xena/Angua outfit at Discworld events. But I am telling you true, ain’t nothing I’ve seen could have prepared me for geektasm of an SFX Weekender. Or a Pontins Holiday Park, for that matter.

    Am I talking Swahili? Never heard the word geektasm? Fair enough, I probably made that one up. Put it this way: SFX Magazine hosts an annual Weekender consisting of talks, panels, screenings, merchandise trading, cosplay (costume play, aka legitimate dress-up for adults and yes, that is no euphemism), excessive alcohol, extraordinarily bad food and very little sleep. Walking into the bar at such an event is likely to look like this:

    Drinks, ladies?

    An SFX Weekender is a place where you can run into any character from the varied realms of SF, Fantasy and Horror and the people who created or bought them to life. Where you can be groped by Chewbacca in the bar, run into Paul Cornell in the cafeteria and hear Brian Blessed sing O Sole Mia ala Pavarotti (from about three miles away).


    It is therefore, in short, strange, surreal and very special.


    The ‘E’ word (for writers) – part 1

    2011 - 07.31

    Oh yes, today’s subject is… exercise.

    Yes, for writers.

    Though I’m a fitness professional, I hardly ever talk about the E word by choice – mostly because people seem to want to talk to me about it all the time, generally hoping for magic fixes.

    Go away, there are none.

    Unless you’re Steve Rogers.

    Lucky sod

    But when David Melkevik* asked me for a blog about exercise for writers, I thought: what the hell. Why not? I’m a card-carrying member of that rare and fortunate strain of humans genetically wired view endorphins as the greatest (not to mention cheapest) drug on the market. However after a couple of years of inflicting acts of exercise on people for a living, it has come to my attention that not everyone thinks Exercise Is Fun. But do not despair, my friends, because even if the E word doesn’t rock your day, it can rock your writing.

    (*I met David at the Screen Writers Festival two years ago. We conducted a friendly competition throughout the four days to see who could produce the geekiest t-shirts. In the end, he won both the competition and therefore my continued admiration).

    I understand how exercise becomes either a particularly dirty word or unachievable holy grail for writers who go from a day desk-job to a home desk-job. Where to fit it in? It can be a battle just to find the time to write, much less exercise and write. But consider that not all writing takes place at the desk. If Time is the most commonly cited Enemy of Excercise (politely skirting various versions of the other biggie, ‘I’m a lazy pillock’), how about shifting it from being a competing time pressure to being a complimentary part of the creative process?

    I’ll throw out three ideas to start from. The first is how to slot exercise into your current schedule through multi-tasking. The second is how to slot exercise into your current schedule by advantageous multi-tasking which permits you to be expanding yourself as a writer at the same time. And the third is to simply be determined to slot it in, come hell and high water – and if you’re going to do it that way, the best thing is to at least be aware that there are ways you can still be using that time to aid your writing.


    NUMBER 1.
    Slot exercise into your current schedule through multi-tasking.

    DON’T PANIC! Now I realise the dreaded ‘m-t’ word might strike fear into the heart of the men amongst us, but bear with me.

    Is that ACTUALLY Matt Smith? Too much squeeee.


    Trashing Trailers

    2011 - 01.30

    My kind of cheese

    So I’m at Vue between teaching spin at GymBox and hitting the flicks, and where the ambient soundtrack is starting to freak me out. Since discovering trailer-specific artists like Two Steps From Hell, X-Ray Dog, Immediate Music, Globus and Epic Score, suddenly every single film trailer sounds like a track from my spin classes. I’ve just realised that the cinema has become as corrupted as the radio, where every second song belongs in a Les Mills fitness class and you’re constantly fighting the desire to break into inappropriate exercise routines in the middle of supermarkets… malls… clothing stores… dance clubs… your car… the Home Office…

    That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’ve sat myself, my laptop and my daily 1,500 word objective facing Vue’s preview screen, which is a Terrible Idea as I now proceed to ‘not watch’ the trailer loop. I’m trying to use i-tunes to block out the sound of the trailers, to reduce their distraction factor. So far, not an astounding success; for instance while working very diligently on this blog post I’ve just ‘not watched’ the preview for Never Let Me Go, which I knew nothing – and still know very little – about, but feel the need to research anyway.

    *wikipedias Never Let Me Go – depressed now but still interested*

    Oh dear, there’s a film coming called Gnomeo & Juliet. Excuse me? You can just see the pitch, can’t you?

    SCRIPT WRITER: ‘It’s a comedy-caper re-imagining of Romeo & Juliet, updating this classic Shakespearean tale for a younger audience.’

    EXECUTIVE: ‘Er, hasn’t Romeo & Juliet been done to death?’

    SCRIPT WRITER: ‘Ah yes – but not with garden gnomes! And not without the death either!!’

    EXECUTIVE: ‘Brilliant!!! And we’ll call it… Gnomeo & Juliet!!!!’

    I mean it’s a family animation, what are they going to do, kill the gnomes? Or not kill the gnomes, which is even lamer?

    Ah, interesting, I just didn’t-see the trailer for The Kings Speech, which made me rather glad I didn’t see it before I saw the film either, because it has just given away the entire two hours of plot and emotional beats (crisis requiring resolution, gathering of the fellowship/friendship, fun & games, betrayal, dark night of the soul, but oh wait, everyone’s happy at the end!!). If not for the fact it was so exquisitely executed, I wouldn’t really see the point of seeing it post-trailer, to be honest.

    [If you’re interested in trailer breakdowns, the good folk over at Movie Vortex are now doing analyses of upcoming trailers, which can be seen here. Mel Gibson’s The Beaver makes for a particularly interesting conversation.]

    Now I also know hardly anything about Tangled, and having just not-seen the trailer without sound, I fear it does look awful. But HOLY CRAP there’s a smurfs movie? And Yogi Bear? Justin Bieber has an autobiographical film out? Look, I’m practically a closet fan to the point of having watched the video to Never Say Never a few times more than once, and hell, the kid is doing well, but they better hope he’s not going to go off the rails like Billie Piper, Britney et al, or in a few years this film is going to be all kinds of awkward.

    Now there’s something about some blue parrots bouncing off ladies’ ample butts on a beach. Rio? And i-tunes is playing the Voyager theme at me. While Rio bounces off ladies butts. This is frankly too much.

    Talking of too much, there goes Peter Weir’s The Way Back, which looks like an immensely bleak two hours at the cinema. The trailer talks of nothing but death and suffering – and I can’t even hear a damn thing of it through a playlist that’s jumping through Dark Knight, Scooter and Enya. There’s not even the sort of uplifting montage you get at the end of a trailer to say ‘don’t worry, there’s a happy ending’, which means you’ll probably want to kill yourself by the time the lights go up. As opposed to Gnomeo & Juliet, for which you’ll probably already be borderline suicidal to even enter in the first place.

    *Wikipedias The Way Back: right, now that’s proper Shakespearean tragedy*

    Well would you look at that, it’s now time for Tangled. Total word count on the rewrite? 365 words. That’s tonight totally knackered. But for now… bring me Disney.

    Bagpipes: MIA

    2010 - 08.07

    It’s Ed Fest 2010, I have 90 minutes invaluable work time in which the 3Ness article urgently requires revision and 40 pages of script even more urgently require being written. Which is probably why I’m uploading very silly photos of Cec’s farewell to Facebook and writing an entirely un-urgent blog instead. Yes, I am that bad.

    Here’s the view from my window in Starbucks on the Royal Mile . Yes, I’m in Edinburgh – one of the most beautiful UK cities, retaining not only its unspoilt character but also its centuries of hard accumulated dirt – in Starbucks – but I am not ashamed because there are coffee shops here with whole lists of how to behave on their premises with laptops – ie don’t bring them in and take up valuable seating space for hours on end while consuming one small latte – so there. I’m here, I have a power point (an item conspicuously missing from the hostel room) and an apparently charmingly ancient table that wobbles worse than me after half a glass of wine.

    Anyway, improvements on last year’s trip include not living with a madman Braveheart impersonator plus claymore – I’m still absolutely paranoid that I’m going to run into Jon somewhere on the Royal Mile, this city surely can’t be big enough for the two of us, even during Festival – and living right under the castle. And having an iPhone so I can plan on the run and even remain more or less found (as opposed to perpetually lost) when unaccompanied by navigator/nominated adult Poppy. She’s currently in a real cafe, you know, a small family business type that probably has better coffee but would frown upon me, my Wonder Woman shirt, the unavoidable hunt for a table near a power point and the unpacking of the  laptop. (more…)

    Hay Fest: Karen Armstrong – Faith at Work

    2010 - 05.31

    Karen ArmstrongInterestingly, in 13 sessions at Hay, I have seen only one female speaker (excluding two women in the Saturday night Guardian Debate: Is Reason Always Right, in which all six panellists managed to both agree and disagree with not only one another but also the motion, to varying degrees, regardless of whether they were in attack or defence of it), and that was religious historian Karen Armstrong, asking Does God Have a Future?

    About half way through her hour, I still didn’t have a clue whether God had a future or in fact how she was addressing the topic at hand; early on, her talk largely consisted of entertaining but inherently fictitious anecdotes about conversations between God and his apostles. She started though by noting that we often first encounter God along with Santa Claus – hardly an auspicious point of introduction for a child, and Santa Claus has the benefit of being much more easily understood. Discussing God, she continued, involved talking about a different level of reality to the one we see and routinely exist in – and not for instance an alternate, unseen but detectable reality such as the atomic world, but the Ultimate Reality. By this time, I was feeling my atheism to be increasingly confirmed, not challenged.

    And then with Santa Claus, Ultimate Reality, apostles and fictitious conversations with God aside, things started to get interesting. Karen began to explain Brahmanism, the Indian search for the connection with God in the self, or more specifically, in silence. (more…)

    Hay Fest: Michael Jacobs across the Andes

    2010 - 05.31

    Saturday 30th May 2010

    Michal JacobsIt’s the end of my second day of Hay Festival, I’ve seen 10 of my 13 sessions and have just emerged from a talk by Michael Jacobs (no, not actor MJ, but author of Andes, The Ghost Train through the Andes, The Factory of Light, Between Hopes and Memories), a travel writer obsessed with all things Spanish who is now following his in grandfather’s footsteps through South America.

    After a rather shaky, verging on ballistic start, during which I had no idea what he was rambling about to the point of genuinely considering the cardinal festival sin of pulling out my phone to send a few text messages, Jacobs somehow seamlessly evolved from a nervous bumbler into a gripping speaker. When he first bounced shyly onto the stage (a paradox, I understand, but he pulled it off), I wondered how this chipper greying chap in the bright floral shirt could possibly be an internationally renown travel writer – surely every con artist in the world would see him coming and rub their hands in glee. He’s practically Two Flower from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, minus the protection of the Luggage.

    And then I realised that this is probably his secret weapon and the very reason for his success, for like any entertaining travel writer, his holidays are invariably disaster-struck.  He admits that it’s practically a law of the universe that he attracts every possible calamity and madman en route. (more…)

    Still in mourning

    2010 - 04.25

    2 doctors

    While I absolutely ADORED the first episode of the new Matt Smith series of Doctor Who, the second two episodes have left me rather cold, to my great distress. It seems I am not alone in this discomfort, for while it is expected that the people who comment on newspaper blogs are mostly ranting psychopaths, Den of Geek, for instance, is usually commented on by loving, thoughtful though occasionally frightening types of fans – and yet even they really got the knives out for that bloody dalek episode. I mean really, it must take effort to make the Doctor plus the daleks plus the Blitz plus Churchill dull. Like Beast Below, Victory of the Daleks was full of good ideas with rubbish execution.

    But last night was the return of the Weeping Angels and Riversong, so after skipping out on the live airing last night for Tom Stoppard’s wonderful The Real Thing, I’ll be firing up I-Player this evening for a catch up – and hoping for the best.

    And trying really, really hard to get over the old days…

    SWF: The Moff on the New Who

    2009 - 11.07

    International Screenwriters Festival: 29th October 2009

    There’s a very different relationship between new Doctor Who show runner (although is he really? Kate Harwood absolutely insisted that the BBC has no show runners, only ‘lead writers’, as they can’t afford to pay them enough to justify the title) Steven Moffat and the UK’s best-known DW journo, Ben Cook. Ben’s close friendship with Russell T Davies turned out a terrific book The Writer’s Tale (a must-read tome for those interested in the realities of the commercial scriptwriting process), which will soon spawn a sequel, covering the writing and broadcast of Series 4. They banter. They laugh. A lot.

    Steven, however, came across as almost a little spiky to start with, testing Ben’s journalistic skills with a fair dollop of opening sarcasm. But then again, Ben opened with the most hotly contested – and apparently misplaced – Doctor Who rumour on the net: will Steven’s Who be darker than Russell’s?

    “Why? Because Coupling was so dark. So was Press Gang,” was the sarcastic reply – and that just about says it all, really. What Steven Moffat actually does best is funny – but isn’t it funny how easily that can be forgotten? “I’d argue that Russell is the one who does dark. Look at Midnight. I never wrote anything that dark,” Steven continued – and thereafter began to relax into an extremely entertaining interview.


    SWF: Doctor Who Day (hurrah!)

    2009 - 11.07

    International Screenwriters Festival: 29th October 2009

    On Day 4 of the Screenwriters Festival, you could have attended sessions on taste and offensiveness in humour, films with a social conscience, porn, getting sued (these three sessions not being linked in any way, shape or form), marketing yourself through social media… or Doctor Who, Doctor Who, and more Doctor Who.  For the last day was weighted rather heavily towards the Once Upon A Time Lord thread, and was a little thin on the ground for anyone not up for adventures through time and space.

    Fortunately I am an ardent fan of all things Who, so after three days of quite serious talks and sessions, I was quite content to tag around after the assorted Who crew.

    Classic Who Panel

    Under the watchful eye-plunger of a classic Dalek, lurking at the back of the stage, self-professed Who fan Jason Arnopp hosted a panel of writers Terrance Dicks and Bob Baker, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Andrew Cartmel.  More entertaining than educational, the session threw the earlier workings of the BBC drama departments into grave disrepute, all activities apparently centering around the free BBC bar until work absolutely had to be done. From the many tales of Dicks and Baker, it seems Doctor Who could only ever have been made by accident rather than plan, and indeed Dicks denounced the whole script department as an utter ‘shambles’.