Saturday, October 12, 2013

Raindance Day 2

RAINDANCE DAY 2 (which was Thursday Sept 26th)

Woke up feeling much better.

This year I’m teaching 7 classes, 2 hours each, all starting at 1pm. These are the “lunch classes”, and last year they started me in one of the smaller cinemas in the 5 plex... and kept moving me to bigger and bigger venues. I’d sell out every day. I ended up in Cinema 5, and it was packed every day. This year they are beginning me in Cinema 5. They wanted me to do *9* classes - but 7 is probably too many. I don’t get paid for teaching these classes, but they cover my expenses and give me the all access pass. So it’s like a working vacation - they fly me over (coach), put me up (someplace acceptable - though one year there was a screw up and they put me on a production office sofa temporarily... and it ended up being fro the entire fest!), and give me some pocket change to cover meals and transportation... but not a lot. I end up taking the tube (subway) and eating in Chinatown (close to the cinemas) with a couple of expensive meals with friends somewhere in there... so my small per diem works just fine. I usually end up spending my own money for the first couple of days as I chase down Elliot for the per diem. Sometimes it seems like he’s running away from me, but that’s usually just having to run a big film fest. There have been times where it’s been the better part of the fest before I get my per diem, and often the last half comes at the end of the fest with the reimbursement for my plane ticket.

In the past I asked to find a hotel in a different part of the city, so that just going back to my room is sight seeing. One year I was in this 1960s James Bond type hotel in Kinsington... but the past few years I’ve been in the Russell Square area, probably because it’s wall to wall hotels. Though I didn’t see a new part of the city, I *was* able to walk from my hotel to the cinema every day - and it’s good to get the blood flowing. Last year they had me in the hotel where Julian Assange was holed up before he went to the Embassy where he “lives” now. I’m sure his room was much bigger than mine - and I’m equally sure that everyone else in the hotel’s room was bigger than mine. Nice room, but so small that when I closed the door the doorknob was in bed with me... and I liked it, I liked it! This year they had me near the Paddington Station (where those bears come from), so I had to take the tube to the cinema - the Bakerloo Line from Paddington to Piccadilly.

Every year I bring this *huge* notebook with all of my class materials - 60 printed pages for a 2 hour class... which means 420 pages for the fest! This thing weighs a ton! I have a big suitcase that I put it in, but that suitcase’s right wheel got stuck and now has a literally flat tire. So I can *drag it*, but that’s no fun. So this year I was taking my suitcase the next size down - and that meant less room for that huge binder. What was I gonna do? Well, since I can’t sleep on that long flight I always bring my Kindle and read a book... what if I put those 420 pages on the Kindle? Okay, that lightened my load, but would it work in the classroom? Just to be on the safe side, I did a bullet point thing for 3 of my 7 classes on paper and took it with me.

First class I had the bullet points for - just in case I was jet lagged (of course I was). I went to the cinema early and had a mocha at the Costa Coffee next door and went over the material on the Kindle so that I could remember it for the class. Though I’ve done this one many times before, sometimes I forget some key point... better to study first.

This year they started me in the larger cinema I ended up in last year, and at 12:30 I sat in the lobby and watched people enter the cinema for...

THE IDEA CLASS. My theory on the 7 days of classes was to start at the beginning and work towards the end - so every day was another piece of the screenplay puzzle. The good news was that the class went great - the bullet points pages really helped. I never looked at the material on the Kindle. The bad news - the room was *not* filled like last year. Okay, first day... so maybe it will grow like last year?

This was basically the lecture version of the class, not the “try to stump Bill with improv suggestions” version I did in 2009. The plan was to do 90 minutes of class and then open it up to questions... and get out before the 2 hours was up so they could start the movie... but every single day either I went over with the lecture or the questions went over and they showed up to give me the hook at the 2 hour mark. Some days it went 2 hours and ten minutes, and I felt bad for the cinema clean up crew who had to bus the cinema *quickly* before the movie crowd waiting in the lobby came in.

In the class I saw Janet Smith, my Raindance friend. She takes time off from her job every year to go to the fest, and we usually hand out together and see movies. She has produced a short film or two and has a film related radio show where she interviews filmmakers every week. I posted her interview of me from last year... and I’ll post the link for this year’s interview when it comes up. After the class we looked over the program to see what was playing that looked good - 5 screens, 5 choices. We picked...

KU-ON (Japan): A strange thing - whenever anyone asks a question in the class, the next film I see almost always illustrates the answer. Someone in the idea class *always* comments that high concept ideas are just too expensive to make (yada-yada-yada) as an excuse for their dull ideas... and I counter that a true high concept idea is all about the idea and doesn’t need all of the CGI and FX to make it work. KU-ON was a great example of that...

200 years ago a meteor struck a remote village in Japan, and the people from that village ended up with accidental superpowers. They can jump into your body and live your life, just by touching your chest in the heart area. Great no cost high concept!

The catch is - you can only switch bodies with someone your own age - so you stay young *forever*... but grow old in your mind. Kind of a twist on the vampire legend, with the added cool factor of being able to become a different person and escape detection.

Plot has a teen serial killer who has been killing for decades and swapping bodies, finally captured and imprisoned. Because he is the only one his age in maximum security prison, he has been unable to swap bodies... but he is going to be transferred to a minimum security facility where there may be people his own age... and he might escape to kill again. So a team of bodyswappers assemble to stop him. Except one of the team members may be secretly working for the serial killer - trying to help him escape. Oh, and these folks keep swapping bodies so that the killer won’t know who they are.

Does that sound like it might be a little confusing for a film starring Japanese people who are not famous?

Okay - no add... it’s in a mixed up chronology like a Nic Roeg movie.

At the Q&A after the film the director - through a translator - said he loves Christopher Nolan’s MEMENTO and FOLLOWING and wanted to mix up the time in his film. Not tell the story backwards like MEMENTO, just mix it up like crazy! So you spend a large amount of the film wondering what the hell is going on and who the hell that is. It’s one confusing thing too many - and the fracture chronology serves no story purpose. Unlike MEMENTO, where it was done to give the audience amnesia - like the protagonist we didn’t know what happened 5 minutes ago... because we haven’t seen it yet. So the film was very confusing. I hope this doesn’t sound racist - but when you have a bunch of Japanese characters who are the same age in your film I get confused as to who is who. They were often not on screen long enough to remember facial details, and you’re busy reading subtitles on the bottom of the screen, so - at least my mind - went “Japanese guy”... and so was everyone else! The mixed up chronology also created confusion because a character who had changed from one body to another would then pop up in the body he was in 2 bodies ago and it would take you a while to remember who the heck that is/was. So, lesson learned: limit the amount of confusing stuff in your story and only use fractured chronology *for a story reason*, not just because you think it’s cool. Even though the film was confusing, it had some nice twists and reveals and was well made. I suspect a Japanese audience might have an easier go of it. The concept of the bodyswappers was both high concept and low budget - and can still be a cool idea in a less confusing story.

WAYLAND’S SONG (U.K.) - And here’s another lesson on basic storytelling...

Story: An ex-soldier travels back to his home town when he gets a voice mail message from his 20 something daughter saying she’s in serious trouble. The opening shot is the Soldier on a train heading home - totally GET CARTER. We know we are in for some ass kicking action. Soldier gets back to his home town, daughter has been missing for days... was mixed up with the wrong crowd... has probably been kidnapped and will be dead if the Soldier doesn’t rescue her. Sounds good, huh?

But this is no GET CARTER.

The plot is a mess. Nothing makes sense. The Soldier goes to the daughter’s flat and talks to her roommate - an attractive 20 something gal - and looks really tough and says some tough things... but oddly stands there without moving at all. Like a mannequin or something. He finds out his daughter was hanging out with this artist, goes to his loft with the roommate, looks menacing and talks tough... and the artist says she was hanging out in this bar - the roughest bar in the world where you may not get out alive - and when he goes there he should ask for “Grace”. The Soldier has never heard of Grace. Goes to the bar - which is kind of boring and has a couple of tough looking guys sitting on a sofa, but *I* could get in and out of that place alive with $100 bills pinned to my shoes. Not a dangerous place at all. He asks for “Grace”, and this 40 something woman shows up... and asks why he never calls. Seems this woman he’s never heard of before is his ex-girlfriend. The whole script is like that - it’s as if it was made up as the writer went along, and the writer is the dude from MEMENTO and can’t remember what he wrote a page ago. A mess! There are all of these characters who have nothing to do with the story who show up - like the guy who says he will find the daughter if the Soldier pulls a job for him.... and the best I could piece together what was going on is that the artist was renting out his loft to a gang that was kidnapping beautiful fashion models in negligees and hooking them on heroin just for fun.

But the real problem with this story? Okay, your daughter has been kidnapped and might be killed if you don’t rescue her - that’s what is driving the story. And what does the Soldier do? Well, he goes on a long walk through a park. He goes out dancing with the daughter’s roommate, he cleans up her apartment and washes all of the dishes, he visits his ex-wife in the hospital who has had a nervous breakdown and crawls into bed and spoons her... all of this while the bad guys have his daughter and could kill her if he doesn’t rescue her! What? If the writer had just put himself in the character’s shoes for a minute he wouldn’t have written any of these scenes. Oh, it was a writer, director, producer who takes no notes from anyone because he wants his pure artistic vision on the screen - yikes!

The film has more dish washing than action, and the Soldier just looks mean without moving - as if that’s enough. There *is* a fight scene at the end where the Soldier kills a bunch of people because the script tells him to, but this is a silly and unsatisfying film. The thing about doing some sort of GET CARTER inspired story is that you can watch and study GET CARTER to find out how it works and then do that. Lem Dobbs did a great GET CARTER inspired story with THE LIMEY - different than GET CARTER, but works the same way. WAYLAND’S SONG doesn’t work at all... and it’s as if they tried to save money on lights, because lots of it is so dark you can’t tell what is going on and other parts are grained out because they pushed the image to try and get every pixel of light possible. The strange problem with these ultimate auteurs is that there’s no one to tell them they are making a mistake... so they just keep making those mistakes.

Afterwards, Q&A with the writer-director-producer... who was completely full of himself.

EARTHBOUND (U.K.) - Packed house. The other two films were pretty sparsely attended, but this one is the big cinema and almost every seat is filled. One of the weird things this year is the descriptions of movies in the program seem to be written in the most boring way possible - so you have no idea if the film is good or not. Sometimes the descriptions seem to go out of their way to describe the film *wrong* or make it sound dull. This was a good example of that...

Dull description, great movie.

Our hero is a science fiction geek who works at a comic book shop... and has a secret. When his father (Dr. Who David Morissey) was dying he whispered to his son that they were space travelers from another planet hiding here on Earth from an evil galactic dictator who wants to wipe out all members of their race in order to fulfill a prophecy that will make the dictator into a supreme being. So our hero has kept all of these things his father left behind - a toy raygun, some electronics gizmos, a roll of super 8mm film that contains a hologram of his father that comes to life to advise him. Okay, his dad was probably either drugged up when he was dying or just telling his son a death bed story to make him feel important after his father passed away. But this now late 20s guy believes it all...

So, he’s obviously single.

When a ditzy cute woman around his age comes into the comic book store to sell some toys from her childhood, they strike up a friendship... that leads to romance. Now we have a great, charming, rom-com... with the hero’s secret as the things that comes between them. Brad Anderson’s “Happy Accidents” is one of my favorite movies, and this reminded me of it - but as a lighter, more fun movie. As the couple becomes more serious, she wants him to give up this crazy fantasy and live a real life. He begins to wonder if his father’s deathbed story to him was real... or just a story. He travels to his childhood home with her, and discovers the box the toy raygun came in and other things that seem to point to his father pulling his leg on his deathbed. He begins to doubt all of it, and when he tries to show her the hologram of his father on the super 8mm film... it doesn’t work. It’s just a home movie of his dad. No sound, it’s super 8mm.

But then (spoilers) we discover his father told him the truth - and the aliens come for him, and kidnap the woman, and he must go from science fiction nerd to science fiction hero and save the day. The great part about this movie is that all of the “real” science fiction elements - like the escape pod from the villain’s space ship - look like something from our world. The escape pod looks like a playground space ship. The rayguns look like toy rayguns. So we kind of don’t know if this has all been a fantasy or not.

Really charming, and the leads are great (in the 90 minutes of this film, I fell madly in love with the female lead... she’s so sweet), and even though the film was made on a very low budget, the sometimes goofy special effects just add to its charm.

Afterwards: Q&A with the director and writer and the leading lady... not quite as cute and bubbly in real life (she’s an actress, that was a role).

So, now I race to the tube station to get back to Paddington and walk back to my room... and have my first meal of the day! There’s a microwave and a dorm fridge (I ignore the stuff inside they charge a million bucks to drink) and that morning I stocked it with some “ready meals” (not frozen dinner, refrigerated ones) because I had learned my lesson from opening night and realized I need to eat even if I am not hungry. So, first meal at midnight! Lasagna (3 for L6 on sale). This is the first of *many* midnight first meals during the festival.

- Bill

Raindance Day 1

RAINDANCE DAY 1 (which was Wednesday Sept 25)

(Because I was constantly dragging my butt back to the room at midnight and having my first meal of the day just before getting into bed, I missed posting daily updates about Raindance... So pretend you're in that old UPN show SEVEN DAYS and can go back in time, so all of this is happening *right now* instead of a couple of weeks later...)

It's 3:30 on Wednesday in Los Angeles, 11:30 in London... back in my room after the opening night party, hoping to sleep tonight.

Last night: no sleep. And I can't sleep on planes or in any moving vehicle, so no sleep since, um, Sunday night. Last night when I arrived in London my body said: it's day, why are you trying to sleep *now*? I took Melatonin, didn't help. Took some over the counter sleep aids, didn't help. So today I was 95% coffee. I didn't eat anything, because I was too tired to be hungry. I stopped by the Raindance Office to pick up my badge... and told them I was feeling exhausted. I corrected the TOC on the Story Blue Book in a coffee shop, then had to run back to my room to dump my laptop and then run to the opening night film. Yes, I actually ran. And even though part of my journey was by tube (subway) - that involves lots of stair climbing.

Made it to opening night film sweating like crazy - walked the red carpet, had that photo above taken, was interviewed on camera, talked to brilliant actor Jon Campling (who is in a film here at the end of the fest called SLEEPING DOGS), went in to the lounge before the film (complimentary champagne)... and felt dizzy, like I was going to pass out. I mean *really* dizzy. There was a moment, there, where I thought I might be dying. I wondered what the repercussions would be if I died on opening night of the film festival? Would the show go on around me? Would a dude dying on opening night increase ticket sales? I really felt like I was going to hit the floor any moment...

A pair of nice people helped me get to the "green room" where they had a sofa, and they got me some cold water and one of the Raindance volunteers gave me some sugar packets and told me to put the sugar under my tongue - this worked for her. It also worked for me. I’d had no food... and I take my coffee without sugar, so that may have been part of the problem. Low blood sugar. The green room was much cooler than the lounge (filled with people, no A/C that I could feel), and in no time I was feeling *much* better. I think the lack of sleep, lack of food, lots of running around just added up to me running out of steam.

Oh, I guess I should mention the venue. This year opening and closing nights were at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square - where they hold all of the Hollywood movie premieres in the UK. Last year when I was at Raindance, I saw the SWEENY movie there after the fest. It wasn't very good, and the ticket cost me about $25 once I translated the money. But this year, I just had to flash my badge to get in. It's a nice cinema - mentioned the lounge - a nice big bar on the middle floor. Cinemas serve beer and wine and both sweet and savory popcorn. Opening night meant free champagne... but I didn't drink any.

I was fine the rest of the night (though still in need of sleep) and the movie was great...

Movie: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS a doc that's presented as an infomercial, but packed with great info and interviews about the War On Drugs and how we are not winning it at all, but it's costing us $25 *billion* a year. Oh, plus all of the cost of jailing a bunch of addicts who can still get smuggled drugs in prison. They had great interviews with drug dealers (including the fellow who invented crack cocaine), drug suppliers, DEA Agents, lawyers, prosecutors, creator of THE WIRE, 50 Cent, and just about anyone else involved in the "war".

David Simon who created THE WIRE talks about how there are really no jobs in the inner city anymore... except selling drugs. So that's what people do to make a living. Then we get great interviews with drug dealers (as infomercial success stories) about how they were 12 years old, family without income, and they started selling drugs and made hundreds or even thousands of dollars on their first day. They could pay the rent for mom and dad! Simon says part of the solution is to get jobs back to these sections of America - they used to have manufacturing and good union jobs, now they only have drug dealing.

They also interview a bunch of nice middle class white kids who sell drugs because it's better paying than any other job available. One kid in Beverly Hills began selling drugs in high school, and eventually moved up the ladder to become a local legend. And the two older white guys they interviewed also began as kids - though either was from Beverly Hills. Part of the backstory on all of these guys is that they began as users, became addicts, and part of the reason they became dealers (and worked their way up to importers) was that they could make money *and* feed their habits. By the way, all of the drug dealer folks interviewed had tons of charisma and great friendly personalities - these are not your evil movie drug dealers, these are the folks you want to hang out with... and do drugs.

One of the most interesting interviewees was an ex-police officer who was on the drug task force in Texas, where they *regularly* planted drugs on suspects and did no-knock SWAT raids... often on the wrong house. So they'd plant drugs there to cover their mistake. This police officer finally quit the force... and now does undercover surveillance of police drug task forces - exposing how often they plant drugs on people. He's busted *hundreds* of police officers planting drugs, which makes you wonder. But, you see, drug busts get a police force some of that $25 billion, so they will do *anything* to get a lot of drug busts. Though the doc had an agenda, it was surprising how many people interviewed talked about planting drugs, and how the money in the drug biz corrupts *the police* and the *DEA*. All of this money spent - and we are no closer to winning the war... in fact, we are further! They looked at one country (sorry - don't remember which) that decided to legalize and tax all drugs... and then use that tax money on addiction programs. And they have succeeded. The doc presents a solution to the war - that busting people doesn't cure their addiction, so they continue to use drugs (even if they are in prison); but spending (less) money and focusing on the addiction side of the problem removes the demand for drugs... and dries up the problem. By the way - USA is #1 drug use per capita in the world, and has a huge chunk of the population in prison for drugs. We're #1! So we are losing the war on drugs with the *bust 'em* method. Film was *entertaining* - showing you each "level" of the drug business and how you can make great money by moving up the ladder.

The great thing about our digital world is that the director of HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS shot an introduction *for* the Raindance Film Fest (since he could not be here in person) from a jail cell (or set) a couple of days before the film aired, sent it to London through the internet, and it showed before the film. Instant big screen entertainment!

After that, I breezed through the closing night party at Cafe Du Paris - missed the band which is always way too loud for a film crowd - then headed back to get some sleep... but I'm writing this instead. Tomorrow afternoon I teach my first of *7* classes. Really need to sleep tonight!

- Bill

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Lancelot Link: Jet Lagged Again!

Lancelot Link Thursday! Okay, I'm back from London, still getting over jet lag, and typing up some reviews from Raindance (I'm going to run the whole fest in order - which will be a little weird.) Here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are eight links plus this week's car chase...

1) Diablo Cody on The Pitfalls Of Being A Successful Screenwriter.

2) Easy Joe's 10 Golden Rules Of Screenwriting.

3) Quentin Tarantino's Top 10 Films of 2013.

4) Gavin Hood on ENDER'S GAME.

5) GRAVITY Proves Original Screenplays *Rule*!

6) Julian Fellowes forced to defend his story - everyone's a critic!

7) Thinking of chucking screenwriting and writing YA novels? Think again!

8) Concept designs for Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN.

And the car chase of the week...

- Bill

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Lancelot Link: London Edition

Lancelot Link Thursday! Okay, I'm in London for the Raindance Film Fest and was planning on blogging every day... but I return to my room at midnight and have to do a class at noon and there's not much time for detailed blog about the films I've seen. So here's the usual Thursday post. Here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are seven links plus this week's car chase...

1) Color Behind The Scenes Photos From Dr. STRANGELOVE.

2 Rom Coms (as we know them) Are Dead!

3) Young ANd Hungry List - Top New Screenwriters! Congratulations!

4) Nicholl Fellowship Finalists. Congratulations!

5) Make A Feature For $6k?

6) Tony Gilroy: How To Write A Blockbuster.

7) The Story Behind PRISONERS.

And the car chase of the week...


- Bill
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