Friday, 8 June 2012
In Episode One Chris and Myself lament the fate of BBC's 'The Fades' and tackle the issue of whether networks owe their audiences closure in the face of cancellation.
Thursday, 7 June 2012
Monday, 18 July 2011
"The wonderful world television from the perspective of a narrative obsessed wannabe screenwriter; who each week will discuss a very particular TV related topic which has momentarily captured his imagination before becoming distracted and rushing through some of his scattered thoughts on the weeks new shows, ratings and news."
The first edition will be about the biggest winners and losers of the 2010/2011 US TV season and I got so carried away writing it that the lovely people at the Farmyard politely suggested splitting it in two... because it's far too long. So, part one of the column will be online on Wednesday the 20th and the second half will be online on Friday the 22nd.
Of course, between this new column and my new job, this blog will likely only have occasional updates, but I'm sure anyone still reading is more than used to that by now, instead I hope you can come visit me at the Electronic Farmyard every week where we shall make merry and write words about stuff...
Thanks for reading.
PS: Don't worry, I won't do PS's on Narratively Minded... I'll reserve that particular pleasure for those of you who read the blog.
PPS: Look at that, a short blog... I CAN reign myself in occasionally!!!
PPPS: Nah, I'm just hungry and couldn't be bothered writing more.
Sunday, 29 May 2011
Friday, 27 May 2011
Friday, 15 April 2011
After a good long hard think (About 0.006 seconds) I emailed back and thus began my involvement in Liquid Lunch. A comedy web series that follows two down trodden twenty something’s as they spend lunch every day in the same pub trying to drink some interest into the monotony of their working day.
Although I’m about to explain how we got there, six (2/3 minute) episodes of this were shot this past Monday and hopefully this time next month we shall be placing the first two episodes online for everyone to see. I mention this because I’m about to explain in some detail how the project came about and I’m more than aware that not everyone will be interested, so if you fall in this category please fell free to scroll down, look at the pictures from the shoot and read the final paragraph. (Click the images for larger versions.)
Danny had sent an early draft of episode one in one of the initial emails, it was funny and I had an instant affinity with one of the two characters, although I didn’t know who Danny had me in mind for. So I didn’t bring it up, and oddly enough, neither did he.
Danny did however ask if anyone I knew would be good for/willing to be involved in the second role. I spent another fraction of a second thinking before I came to Chris Billingham, who I had worked with on the Edinburgh Fringe show "Placement Crisis". Not only did I know he could act, but he's a good friend and I knew he would be very easy to work with. Danny was happy to have Chris involed and it seemed decided.
One problem I had was that I was a bit nervous I wouldn’t be able to do the script justice, I had only ever acted out of necessity and wasn’t sure Danny was aware of my potential limitations. So I suggested Chris and myself record a read through of the first script and send him the audio, to make sure he had a good idea about what he was dealing with before he decided on anything.
To be honest, I didn’t want Danny to know about these doubts, so the excuse I used for us recording our own voices for a reading was that it would be “Helpful to the writing process to hear the dialogue out loud”. Danny agreed, and also mentioned that if we wanted, we were free to add improvisations to the recording. A chance that two people with their eyes on a future in screenwriting simply couldn’t turn down.
So Danny got two audio files in his email a few days later, one that was word for word the script he sent us and one where we had improvised a lot of additional material. In terms of who would play who, seems fate played a small part in that decision. Without really discussing it, Chris and myself had both formed a connection to different parts and read as those parts. It turns out that Danny had imagined it this way from very early on but wanted to see how we would choose.
It also turned out, that Danny liked the improvised version, and seemed perfectly happy to move forward with Chris and Myself. I arranged for us to meet Danny in London for lunch where we were treated to an unfinished version of the episode two script. It was brilliant, superior to the first in almost every way, which is saying something because I had really enjoyed the first episode. Danny gave us an overview of how the final four episodes would pan out and we went our separate ways rather excited.
Over the next week Danny emailed myself and Chris a draft of episode two which we also did an improv session for. Shortly after that we received first drafts of episodes three and four. At this point Chris and I asked if we could potentially have a session together where we actually performed face to face, we explained that this would lead to alternate versions of the scripts themselves that included our improvisations.
The idea being that Danny would then be able to play Dr. Frankenstein and pick and choose bits from his drafts and bits from our drafts to create a hybrid version that felt in line with his vision, but also included a little of Chris and I. So that’s what we did, we spent a rather tiring weekend looking at the scripts, rehearsing and adding where we could. We didn’t dare label any of the scripts that were the bi-product of that weekend “draft two”, that didn’t feel right, these were simply the drafts Chris and I had played with so it would be easier for Danny to decided which of our improvisations to indulge.
But low and behold when Danny emailed back the new “Hybrid” versions of the first four episodes they were all labeled as “Draft 3”. Also, there was much more of Chris and I in there than I was expecting, but it was all much better somehow. Danny had found this incredible way of enhancing everything we added and blended it into his original work perfectly. Not only had he indulged our additions, he had run with them and improved them. These hybrid drafts Danny put together are quite close to what eventually became the shooting drafts.
Danny came up to my place in Kingston a week or so later to record me and Chris performing the most recent drafts to a camera to give us a chance to rehearse and to give him a chance to see what did and didn’t work in practice. A truly great day of rehearsals, that proved even further, as if it were needed, the strength of the material we had.
As we moved into early March Danny sent episodes 5 and 6, and like the absolute legend that he is, he sent them in final draft format and invited us to “have a play” with them. An opportunity we would not miss. Just like the first time, we didn’t consider these new drafts, we saw it as an alternate draft with our take on the material, we simply added a gag here and there and tweaked the wording of certain sentence. Danny had done such a great job executing his story it was nothing short of a pleasure to have a little fun with the material.
Once we sent our take on those scripts back to him Danny once again took the best of both drafts and created a hybrid. These drafts are also very close to the shooting drafts. After one last rehearsal session with Danny in London around mid March focusing on the final two episodes, Danny sent us shooting drafts of all the script and started putting a production together while Chris and I started learning our lines.
I’m sure Danny will expand on the process of making the production happen on his blog at some point, although if he wasn’t planning on doing that before, by saying that I'm forcing him too now (Sorry Danny). From my perspective it cannot have been easy arranging all the equipment, crew, cast and the location so they would all be in place and ready to shoot on the same day. But he pulled that off too, genuinely can’t speak highly enough of the man.
So while Danny worked his magic I spent the next couple of weeks staring at those scripts until I got thoroughly sick of looking them (That’s how you know when to stop) in order to learn them. Danny organised the shoot for Monday the 11th of April and on the Sunday Chris and I made our way down to Bournemouth (Where this was shot) and met Danny for a final rehearsal sans scripts.
This went well enough and at half five the next morning my alarm went off (Unit call was at 6:30) and we made our way to the pub where we spent the day shooting. We finished around half past two in the afternoon, exhausted but happy with our work. As you have no doubt realised, the pictures I’ve scattered through the blog are all from that day.
Welcome back those of you who skipped the majority of the text, enjoy the pictures? Good. So that’s that, I am genuinely very proud of what we have accomplished. The series will be online as soon as Danny finishes post production and gets the website sorted, so keep your eyes on my twitter and Facebook for more information if you’re interested. And finally, here is a promotional still from the actual production itself to wet the appetite. (Again, click for a larger image, it's one of those pics that doesn't look as good unless it's in full definition.)
Liquid Lunch is coming soon and will be brilliant… honest.
Thanks for reading.
Images are the copywrite/property of Danny Stack; do not reproduce without permission.
PS: I genuinely want to thank Danny Stack for taking a chance and giving me and Chris this opportunity. He could have played it safe and brought in more experienced people. But he gave us a shot, and for that we shall be eternally grateful.
PPS: Honestly Danny, I promise that will be the last time I'll thank you.
Wednesday, 2 February 2011
If you’ve already read all that and come back for more, well then you’re a braver man/woman than me...
Best Original Screenplay
Nominated: Mike Leigh (Another Year), Scott Silver (The Fighter), Christopher Nolan (Inception), Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right), David Seidler (The King's Speech)
Who should win?
While it’s absolutely wonderful to see Mike Leigh get a nomination for the charming “Another Year”, I would really love to see Inception take this one, and not just to appease my desire to see more genre films take home gold, but because I truly believe one of this films greatest strengths is its script. Which I realise isn’t a popular opinion to have online right now, but hear me out.
I admit the characters were a little thin, but the script finds an incredible balance of action and story, and weaves them together seamlessly. So many films these days fall into the trap of arbitrary action sequences that have little connection to anything other than to fill screen time with lots of mindless shots of people shooting at each other, and while this film isn’t completely free of that (The snowy mountain shootout springs to mind) it tries to ensure that most action scenes are either progressing the plot or the character arc. This sounds like a simple task, but as someone who tried to write a screenplay that achieved that balance last year and failed miserably, I can assure you that it’s no mean feat.
Besides that, the story is well paced and the script treats its audience with enough respect to avoid spelling everything out to them. And on top of that it leaves just enough room to ensure people will spend hours after watching the film having lots of discussion and debate over their theories on the aspects that weren’t entirely explained.
Who will actually win?
My prediction is that The Kings Speech will take this one, and while I am far from this film's biggest supporter, if I’m honest its one award I really don’t object to it getting. The script itself is quite well written, I can’t pretend I’m the films target audience, but its dialogue was strong and its focus on character is what drives the piece by forcing the audience to become invested in the characters and their problems.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours), Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (Winter's Bone)
This is another one of those pesky moments where I fear my format is rendered redundant because I actually think me and the academy are going to agree on this one. I think Aaron Sorkin will be umming and ahhing his way through an acceptance speech at this year’s ceremony for his frankly brilliant script for The Social Network; which was interesting, charming, funny and well told. It also had plenty of Sorkin’s usual brilliant dialogue.
I do want to mention something though... an issue I have long held with this category.
The rule that all sequels are automatically considered adapted screenplays on the basis that they are based on the original is pretty insulting to any writer who worked hard to craft his own unique story within the same world. If it is true that a sequels quality is connected to how it stands up as a film in its own right, then it is also true that any sequel good enough to be nominated for an academy award is unique enough to be considered for best ORIGINAL screenplay.
It’s an outdated rule, these days sequels can be so much more than a simple cash in on the original, some modern sequels have their own themes, characters and plots. Unless they are simply retelling that first story again, then they are far from what ANYONE could possibly consider an “adaptation”.
Toy Story 3 is its own story and should be nominated for best original screenplay and I really do feel it is a great injustice that it is not.
Nominated: Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), James Franco (127 Hours), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
Who should get it?
Admittedly, this is one of the categories I’m personally more invested in and will absolutely devastated when it inevitably doesn’t go my way, but no one, and I mean no one, deserves this more than James Franco this year. A movie with a concept as character driven as 127 Hours falls apart at the seams if you don’t believe in the characters struggle; and Franco made his character so brilliantly flawed and human. He sold the despair and the hopelessness of the situation and even more impressively the courage, strength and regrets of the character. The character is given a strong voice and real depth by Franco and I would love nothing more than to see him win this.
And as with the best supporting actor category, there is someone else nominated who I would not complain if they won, no matter how unlikely it is. And that would be Jesse Eisenberg who became a better Mark Zuckerberg than the man himself. One I could actually stand to listen to for more than 30 seconds.
Who will actually win?
Unfortunately I believe Mr. Darcey himself, Colin Firth will be taking this one home for his entirely average portrayal of King George the sixth. I know this opinion will not be a popular one, but I had little love for this particular performance, I didn’t once believe the stutter nor could I muster any feelings of sympathy for his characters situation and I suspect a large part of it is a result of Firths heartless portrayal, because I felt the script was pretty strong.
In short, I just didn’t believe it, and I’m fairly certain, much to my dismay, that he will win this award.
Nominated: Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
I’m not even going to do a full discussion or subheadings for this one because not only is the competition thin in the category, the clear front runner was so damn good it’s not even worth debating or discussing.
Natalie Portman is taking home this statue. Fact.
Nominated: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are Alright, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone
This category is usually the most difficult for me to pick my personal winner, because Best Picture implies that the winner is essentially the best film of the year and how can you possibly decided which of these films is the best when so many of them come from such different places? Can you really compare Toy Story 3 to The Social Network objectively? I mean, I enjoyed both immensely, but on such different levels. So what I usually do is analyse it mathematically, taking into account all the relevant factors such as script, acting, directing, visual effects, editing, lighting and score to help me make an informed decision that considers all the variables.
Who should win?
This year I didn’t need to bother with any of that. Because I knew without giving it a second of contemplation that Black Swan was the best film I had seen this year. I literally cannot express how brilliant and gripping and intense this movie is. At heart, it is pure paranoia turned into film, and you simply cannot help but be swept up in its story.
It’s so strangely organic; it doesn’t once feel like a film because it's story flows so naturally. This is because the writer covers his tracks well leaving the screenwriting techniques executed well hidden. The story itself is small and subtle but well told, allowing room for the themes to be properly explored and all plots to be fully developed. And not only is the story compelling, but the film looks incredible, blurring the line between fantasy and reality in the most convincing fashion, leaving the audience unsure of what is and isn’t real, which forces them to empathise with the central character. The soundtrack is beautiful and unsettling all at once and the performances feel surprisingly layered.
All in all this incredible film is entirely deserving of this award.
The real shame is, it doesn’t have a chance of getting it.
Who will actually win?
Assuming the academy members examine the question as I usually do, mathematically, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out where the their votes are going in this category, considering they nominated Black Swan in five categories and The King’s Speech in twelve .
Since the 50th Academy Awards in 1977, only one film has won the Best Picture award with only five other nominations or less to its name, and that was The Departed in 2007. This mean’s it’s happened once in the last 34 years, personally, I can’t see it happening again anytime soon. The real shame is, even if The King’s Speech doesn’t win Best Picture, True Grit (10 Nominations) and The Social Network (8 Nominations) have a better chance of winning than Black Swan.
So... there you have it. My thoughts on this years Oscars summed up in a measly.... 3200 words? What the hell am I doing with my Sunday! I need to stop typing now...
Thanks for reading
PS: Look at me, regularly updating, it's a freakin miricle.
PPS: Dan's Blog will be back in "Five awsome films hardly anyone has seen".
PPPS: How many people actually remember the days they used to put stuff like that at the end of credits?
Sunday, 30 January 2011
In other words, it’s time for the Oscars, and this year I planned to do another blog following the event with my thoughts, but then remembered that my blog like that last year was pretty dull, so instead I’m going to write a blog detailing my thoughts on the nominations themselves, which were announced earlier this week. I would of written this blog the day they were announced, but I hadn’t yet seen “The Kings Speech” and “127 Hours” and thought it would be better if I had seen them first.
So with back to back viewings I’m caught up enough to give at least a couple of thoughts on the nominations... and here they are... and in true Oscar style I’m gonna build my way up to the Best Picture Category to give a false sense of suspense.
Nominated: Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network
This one is tough for me, because in my opinion there are two clear contenders for this particular award, which are Black Swan and 127 Hours. Not to say there is anything wrong with the editing in The Social Network, The Kings Speech or The Fighter. (Maybe there’s a connection between the quality of editing and the use of the word “The” in the title). It’s just that in my opinion there is nothing particularly special about the way the other nominated films are edited.
And I found it interesting that the two films I feel deserve this award, both have protagonists that at some point, loose their grip on reality. Both films have moments where the audience are supposed to question the authenticity of the scene, if not during then after. I personally feel that editing has a great deal to do with the success of this. If not edited properly these moments quite simply fall flat.
Who should win?
Black Swan and 127 Hours both work this technique beautifully and I would be thrilled to see either of them win, but I must say I personally feel 127 Hours deserves it just a little bit more because not only does it succeed in turning a static premise into a film full of energy, it also manages to weave flashbacks and glimpses of the future into those mind bending moments in a way that is completely seamless. It would have been so easy for this film to turn out completely disjointed as a result of all the elements at work, but it plays perfectly, and that is very much down to the stellar editing job done on it.
Who will actually win?
This one is such a toss up for me I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Black Swan took it, and as I’ve already hinted I won’t be disappointed by that at all, it’s really put together well.
Nominated: Alice In Wonderland, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1, Hereafter, Inception, Iron Man 2
Who should win?
Erm, let me think about that one for a se.... INCEPTION!
If anything BUT Inception wins this, I might actually go on an Oscar related rampage and start picking off academy members.
Look, these days, any old moron can stick a film in a computer and add good looking visual effects, and don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of skill required to do that well, but the truth is, it’s never going to be better than practical effects. And that’s because the human eye is clever, it can tell the difference. It might just be a slight difference in the physics or a simple movement that doesn’t look quite natural, but either way the second we spot it, we are pulled out of the reality of the film. And even though it is vastly more effort to create practical effects, the film is almost ALWAYS better for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate CGI, its a great tool which makes things possible we never could of dreamed committing to film 20 years ago, but it should only be used when there is simply no other way to create the effect or when it is used to supplement practical effects and blend them seamlessly into the rest of the film, but never as a substitute for real visuals. (Yes George Lucas I’m looking directly at you as I say this, and I’m not even being subtle about it.)
So as I have already stated, for me Inception earned this for its wonderful use of practical effects, which both looked great and felt authentic.
Who will actually win?
Well, I’m gonna be honest here and admit that this is one award the academy are going to get right. I predict this will be Inception's one and only award of the night.
Best Supporting Actor
Nominated: Christian Bale (The Fighter), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Mark Rufallo (The Kids Are All Right), Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)
Who should win?
For me, Christian Bale should win this statue after his incredibly convincing portrayal of a former Boxer turned addict who won’t accept his glory days are behind him in The Fighter. I mean, not only does Bale convince me of his addiction, but the man absolutely sells his, however misguided, affection for his brother. I mean, it’s so clear how much he loves and respects his brother before he utters a word. It’s a truly stunning performance and he absolutely deserves to go home with the statue. I mean, the guy makes Marky Mark’s performance tolerable. That’s Oscar worthy in itself.
I do also want to add that Renner’s performance in the Town, which was absolutely brilliant, is noteworthy and I would not complain if he took home the statue, even though it’s unlikely.
Who will actually win?
But as we proved two years ago in the “Best Actor” category, a decent impersonation of someone from history often wins over a decent original performance, so I think Geoffrey Rush will be taking this one home. He was very convincing in the role of Lionel Logue, but failed to match the layers and dimensions Christian Bale demonstrated in his performance in The Fighter.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominated: Amy Adams (The Fighter), Helena Bonham-Carter (The King's Speech), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)
Who should win?
This is a tough one to call because Amy Adams is a fantastic actress and a favourite of mine, but for some reason I didn’t really think much of her work in “The Fighter” for which she is nominated. So, with that said, I would absolutely love to see Melissa Leo take the award for her role in the same film. She gave a stellar performance as Marky Marks unreasonable mother in The Fighter; which completely holds the film together. Without a convincing performance here, you simply don’t believe the Mickey character's reasons for putting his family at arms length. But Leo doesn’t disappoint and she does manage to evoke a reaction from audiences that really causes them to empathise with Mickey.
As a side note I’m really disappointed to see Mila Kunis isn’t nominated in this category for her work in Black Swan, which wasn’t strong enough to win this award, but she definitely deserved to be nominated for it.
Who will actually win?
Amy Adams is an Academy favourite and for good reason. I see her taking this one despite the fact this particular performance hardly represents her best work.
Nominated: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David Fincher (The Social Network), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit)
I’m absolutely baffled to see Tom Hooper on this list, and even more perplexed to see Christopher Nolan being snubbed. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hooper is a perfectly fine director and there is absolutely nothing wrong with his work on the Kings Speech, but that’s exactly the point. There’s nothing wrong with the work, but it’s far from stellar. Yet Christopher Nolan’s incredible work bringing his Inception script to life goes unrecognised. I realise it all comes down to opinion, but for me the difference in quality is so huge it is beyond me that others do not see it. And there’s an extra jolt of disappointment when I realise the academies decision probably has something to do with Inceptions science fiction routes.
Who should win?
You may be surprised to hear that despite my bitching and moaning about Nolan not getting the nomination, he would not have been my choice to win the award either way. No, while Nolan deserves the nomination, the award itself should in my opinion be bestowed on Darren Aronofsky.
Black Swan is easily on of the best films of the entire year, if not the best, and while the fascinating script, gripping performances and wonderful music all play a part in that. None of it works without Aronofsky. Every other project nominated in this category (With the possible exception of True Grit) could have been helmed by a different director and you would hardly notice the difference. And this is because no director was as integral to a project this year as Aronofsky was to Black Swan.
He brought an unusual idea to life in a way few could have and he deserves all the credit in the world for it.
Who will actually win?
I think the academy will recognise this and give Aronofsky this statue...
I know, it’s never as interesting when we agree, but that’s truly the way I feel it will go. (Probably because they Academy will all feel guilty for ignoring this film in the best Picture Catagory.)
Anywho, that's all for now, but not to worry, will post Part Two on Wednesday.
Thanks for reading
PS: I actually wrote the entire thing last night and this afternoon, then realised it was 3000+ words and decided to split it into two parts for the benifit any poor soul interested enough to read through this. EDIT: Part Two now availible here.
PPS: So don't say I don't do nothing for ya.
Monday, 17 January 2011
The odd thing about being a writer, for me at least, is that ever single idea feels like my last. I have this odd little doubt at the back of my mind every now and then that tells me that one day I’m going to run out of ideas, because I’m not a proper writer. Even the simple act of starting this blog by labelling myself as a writer feels wrong to me somehow. I haven’t yet earned anything from my writing and I’ve not even got an agent, so how can I possibly call myself a writer? The truth is, my doubt often pushes the fact from my mind that I may not yet be a professional writer, but I certainly have written enough and have dedicated enough time to the craft to feel like a writer. But of course, that's a logical way of looking at it and doubt has this funny way of bypassing logic.
Most writers feel doubt, no one seems to want to talk about it, but almost every writer feels like they aren’t good enough at some point, and coincidentally this is often a quality that can actually make someone’s writing stronger, because unsurprisingly, feeling like a failure can actually drive someone to achieve excellence.
Doubt manifests in different ways with different writers but I truly believe that it exists in 90% of writers, maybe more. But thankfully, the saving grace is that this doubt isn’t permanent and every now then a writer will completely overcome that doubt, it’s not permanent, it’s guaranteed to show up again mere hours or days later, manifested in a completely different way and fully equipped to make that person feel like a fraud all over again. But it can be beaten; in fact, the reason I’m writing this blog is because I’ve just managed that very thing myself.
Lately, my self doubt has taken the form of, “I don’t write as much as I used to, that means I’m a failure as a writer”. And last night I realised that it had nothing to do with my shortcomings, which are many, and everything to do with the fact that I used to get a big fat student loan every couple of months that made it much easier to find time to do it, recently, forced to find a way to pay my sizeable rent, I have had to find work. And not so surprisingly, full time work that isn’t writing related does unfortunately have a rather nasty side effect of leaving you with less time to write. And it’s only now, on this side of redundancy that I have realised this.
The other thing that kept concerning me was the very notion I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the possibility that I had run out of ideas. I was struggling to find time to develop concepts, so naturally convinced myself that this wasn’t a matter of finding the right time or the right mindset and instead convinced myself it’s that I couldn’t come up with workable ideas anymore. This, as it happens, is bullshit.
I sat in bed last night, unable to sleep. Simply because I couldn’t shut down that section of my brain I usually reserve for developing my ideas. An idea I had had and forgotten months ago suddenly shot to the surface and started bubbling. Not only was this proof that I was far from out of ideas, but it was such an intriguing idea I simply couldn’t stop thinking about it, and then I had this unbelievable need to get it written down. So I picked up my iPhone and typed some notes shorthand notes that I planned to develop into a treatment in the morning. But no, that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t help myself; I couldn’t stop expanding the concept, introducing themes, developing motives, creating characters and the idea’s expanded so far that it became uncomfortable typing such masses of stuff into my iPhone’s tiny tiny keypad.
So I got up, moved to my desk and started writing that treatment right then and there, and worked for several hours, by 5 I was finished, and I returned to my bed with a big smile on my face, my mind at piece and swiftly fell asleep.
The last couple of months have been ripe with self doubt for me, mainly as a result of finding it difficult to find work in a related field, but that’s all changed now, maybe it will only last a couple of weeks, maybe it will only last another hour, but how can I possibly sit here this morning and doubt my status as a writer after that? The quality of the work itself is irrelevant. As far as I’m concerned writing is what makes someone a writer, having that unstoppable desire to tell a story makes you a writer, spending a large percentage of your day thinking about writing even when your doing something else makes you a writer and anyone who spends their time writing would do well to remember that next time they feel that all too familiar doubt.
This blog exists for one reason and one reason only, to document this moment, so that in future, when I’m struggling with my own doubts, I can turn to this and remind myself what I am.
Thanks for reading.
Sunday, 31 October 2010
And as much as I would love to tell you that this is far from the case, unfortunately Paranormal Activity 2 looks to be setting that franchise on the same path.
With that said I think I'll begin with the positive.
(Warning - Mild Spoilers Ahead.)
The story was easily one of this films greatest strengths, which is something I never imagined I would be typing in regards to Paranormal Activity 2. The set up and development of the plot are exactly what you would expect from this franchise based on the first entry. There's a house.... some people... some cameras... and of course, paranormal activities ensue. But beyond this, the films core story did something quite remarkable which really impressed me and showed off it's true potential.
Often sequels suffer from something I call "This story didn't need to be told" syndrome. Where the first movies story was wrapped up in a way that trying to squeeze a sequel out of it is very difficult and the writers have to find convoluted excuses to drag new stories out of the concept and bring characters back, of course this isn't the case for all films (some have concepts that naturally lend to sequels) but when this is the case it can result in sequels that simply don't need to exist. Yes I'm looking at you Matrix Revolutions....
And in all honesty when I saw the first Paranormal Activity I strongly felt it would fall into this category and that its sequels were doomed to struggle in terms of story. And to my surprise despite this films other shortcomings (more on that later) it did manage to completely avoid this problem.
A good sequel usually finds a way to be it's own film and have a story worth telling while, at the same time, supplementing the story of the original and adding to the mythology. About 15 minutes into the Paranormal Activity 2 it is revealed that we are not watching a sequel as we assumed, but a prequel. We discover this when the film quite obnoxiously states in massive typeface that these events take place about 60 days before Micah's death... while Micah is on screen. Anywho, back to my point, this is actually a very clever storytelling device because it means we get a glimpse at the events leading up to the first movie, and this opens opportunities to shed more light on it's somewhat mysterious story.
As this story of demon haunting progresses we discover that these events are quite literally the cause of the unfortunate fate that befalls Katie and Micah in the original film. I'm being intentionally vague here to avoid spoilers, but the way Paranormal Activity 2's story intertwines with the original is executed perfectly and it actually manages to make the first movie stronger by flawlessly expanding it's story in a way that both fits seamlessly with the original content and doesn't hinder it's own tale.
By the end of this film I truly felt that this sequel earned it's right to exist and that's an impressive feat in itself. Especially considering how complete the story felt after the first film.
Unfortunately, this is roughly all I liked about this film... the rest left something to be desired.
Failure to Build Tension and Frighten:
What I feel made the first films horror effective was it's method of building tension by slowly escalating the nature of the demons activities. It started small and gradually became more and more overt, which worked because it created a certain level of believability, by the time you saw Katie dragged from her bed by her ankles, the film had been building up to an event of that size, so it didn't feel out of place. This sequel absolutely throws that out the door and becomes almost farcical as a result.
There's a haunting moment where the baby is slowly lifted out of it's cot by an invisible force, it's one of the films most innovative moments but unfortunately, the effect of this scene is lost because it happens earlier in the movie, at a point where the most the demon has done is close a door. This was such a jump in the scale of it's activities that the audience in my particular screening literally laughed out loud at this moment, because it seemed ridiculous to go from moving doors to floating children. Had the movie saved this moment for later in the film when we had experienced some of the demons other abilities we might have found ourselves finding it more believable. This is one example of a problem that persists throughout this film and it highlights the films greatest failure, it's inability to build tension.
The film also fails to truly frighten it's audience. The central reason for this is the absolute lack of innovation. It does almost nothing the first film didn't already do. Opening and closing doors? Check. Loud bangs? Check. The sound of footsteps without any identifiable source? Check. A demon communicating via a Ouija board. Check. Shadows moving across people while they sleep? Check. Whispering peoples names? Check. Dragging people from bedrooms by the feet? Check. Possession resulting from a weird bite? Check.
It doesn't take a screenwriting degree to know that something would struggle to be scary if the audience have seen it before.
In fact, the closest thing this film had to an original idea in terms of it's scares was having some of it's horror moments occur in the day. Which might sound like a good idea in theory, creating a situation where the audience won't necessarily see the scares coming because they expect them at night. But in practice it creates a problem. Some of the first film's tension stems from the audience being in a position of knowing when something was going to happen, but maintaining the element of surprise because they didn't know what.
Because frightening things only happened in the evening in the original, every time they cut to night vision you could literally feel the tension build for the audience. This sequel doesn't share these core sensibilities, instead going for cheap jumps with plenty of sudden and loud noises that can happen anytime, sacrificing the tension of the night time sequences to do so.
There really isn't much to say here. I've always stuck by the opinion that a film is only as good as the audiences empathy for the central characters. As an audience member, if you think the character is an asshole how can you be expected to care about whatever fate awaits them? And in a horror film it's particularly important, if you don't care then all sense of jeopardy and tension is gone. With Paranormal Activity 2, I didn't really care weather these people lived or died.
In this genre, poor characters have a greater effect on the films overall quality than most because they can severely effect the films believability.
Micah and Katie from the original felt well rounded. They were believable, flawed and had a certain depth. They may not have been the most likable characters in the world but you gained empathy for them simply on the level that they felt like real people. This helped sell the reality of the film and the more real it felt the scarier the moments of horror become.
The characters of Paranormal Activity 2 are flat, two dimensional and one note, causing it to feel far more like a film the it's predecessor. And when your films core is routed in the "Found Footage" genre, the last thing you want is the illusion to tear at the seams. Believability is key.
The other issue that plagued this film was it's pace. In short, it was astounding to me that a script with such obvious and crippling pacing problems could even get green lit at all. How nobody spotted these issues is absolutely beyond me. Evidently, the writer sustained a rather large blow to the head at some point and thought that it would be a good idea to try and build tension in this film by having absolutely nothing happen for the first 30 minutes, which is both a completely ineffective method of building tension and a great way to make the audience completely bored and restless.
Now, normally I wouldn't single this out as such a huge problem, you can usually argue that this time was used to introduce the characters, set up the situation and develop the story but Paranormal Activity 2 is a short film with a simple premise, you don't need 30 minutes of set up. If you combine it's rather modest length with the amount of time wasted at the beginning you find that Paranormal Activity 2 is forced to cram all it's mythology, story development and scares into the latter half of the film in a rather rushed clumsy and heavy handed manner. The frustration of this is that it's pacing problem is easily remedied, all they needed to do was cut about 10 to 15 minutes from the beginning or maybe make the film a little longer. (Preferably both)
Remember all those really strong story elements I highlighted earlier? Yeah, well surprise surprise, thanks to the poor pacing the film manages to fuck those up too. Because a great idea can sit and be as great as it wants, but if it isn't fully developed and explored its wasted. And that's really the story of this film, wasted potential. It was frustrating to watch this interesting story squandered due to poor script decisions.
I loved the first Paranormal Activity. It was tense, subtle, creepy and had a level of realism that made it's horror elements all the more effective. Summed up, Paranormal Activity 2 tries hard to satisfy my desire for more of this franchise but it is unfortunately not cut from the same cloth. And despite it's potential, it's failures are undeniable and many. To quote Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw...
"It give(s) an inscrutable feeling of unease, as if a stranger has come into your home, thinly disguised as your best friend, and you're wondering if he intends to leave soon or murder you and cannibalise your body."
Anyway, thanks for reading.
PS - In an effort to put an arbitrary scoring system into place I give this film five rabbits out of twenty six.