Sunday, February 25, 2007

Man-faced cats - to the extreme!

I've been spread across two cities - London and Nottingham - and three projects - 'Mum and Dad', 'Deliver Me' and 'Damaged' (the Cinema Extreme idea) - this week, so my head doesn't really know where it's at. Whenever anybody asks me how things are going, and I reply with something along the lines of 'Really busy, but it's doing my head in", they (usually quite politely) remind me that it's better to be busy. The fucking smug know-it-all bastards. Here's a recap of the week:

Monday: In London for first casting sessions for 'Mum and Dad'. Scheduled to meet 18 people today, spread across all five main roles. See some good potential Elbies - which I was worried about in terms of auditioning because the role, though quite large, is entirely mute - and some good people for Lena and Birdie as well. Unfortunately, we only get to see one person for Mum and no-one for Dad - everybody who was scheduled to turn up didn't want to do it, mainly because of the nature of the script. Anna, the casting director, thinks that the introduction scene for Dad - which is, admittedly, quite raw - is putting people off. If it is, I don't know what I can do about it. I think changing the script would be a bad thing, because it would send out a message that elements of the film were up for grabs, and I worry about the horror of the film being emasculated. Surely there must be 50 year old male actors out there who like horror and don't mind a bit of wrongness?

Tuesday: More casting, but this time I have to take my daughter Betsy into the office with me, because we've got to head back to Nottingham in the afternoon (she's been staying with my own Mum and Dad near Heathrow, a notion which always seems to bring funny looks from people at the production office...). Betsy is fine hanging out in the office and seems to induce mass brooding in the staff. On leaving the office (still not having seen a potential Dad...) we arrange to meet up with Jeanie, who has just got back from Montana and is a bit insane with tiredness. Have a few brief hours as a family before Jeanie goes to bed and I have to start thinking about the next three days, which are to consist of the Cinema Extreme workshop. I remind myself to print out the application I put in and read through it before tomorrow. Thankfully, it seems to hold together - I am grateful to Myself-Of-Six-Months-Ago for actually doing the thinking back then, because it's going to take me a while to get back up to speed right now.

Wednesday: The workshop is to take place, handily, at Broadway, where I have my office. There are about 10 projects in this workshop (and about the same again for the two other workshops in London and Newcastle), ranging from emotional coming-of-age dramas, through atmospheric horrors to non sci-fi futuristic examinations of sex and emotion. I can't talk too much about the other projects, so a lot of what went on over the three days isn't going to make it here. I did, however, do some doodling in amongst my notes, so maybe I can talk about those instead.

Here's a weird man-faced cat crouching on a rickety fence. Don't quite know where that came from, but he looks quite worried/angry and he does have the words 'fuck awards' hovering over his back (with jagged teeth no less). I think it was during the time we were being told about the guidelines for the scheme - the timescale, length of projects, that sort of thing - and there was a discussion about whether the budget should include a film print or not. Some of the bigger festivals only take 35mm prints, so that would be an argument for having one, but it depends on whether you want to enter your film for BAFTAS, Oscars, Canne etc. Personally, I can't stand awards ceremonies, and think that the idea of worrying about awards at any stage of the filmmaking process is entirely detrimental to you as a filmmaker. Obviously, this isn't necessarily a popular or common view, so instead of expressing it in the group (it's the first day after all, and you don't want to come across immediately as the Grumpy Fucker), I decided to sketch this weird man-cat.

After introducing ourselves and our projects, we had lunch, then went on, in the afternoon, to take part in what was described to me as 'a smorgasbord of creative thinking techniques'. Some of these were quite interesting and helpful - although, for me, there was a little too much of a 'postive thinking', self-help vibe to a lot of it - and at least one of the exercises had a few people cringing, but most of the group said they got a lot out of it, so either they're fibbing to be nice, or what the hell do I know about anything. I probably tend towards the latter.

Thursday: The doodle for today was this: - a figure in a plaid skirt (kilt?) pointing at a big cat (what's with all the cats?) next to a rubbish clown. In order to emphasize the fact of the cat, it appears to have a sign, spelling out in lightbulbs 'Big Cat' above its head. Don't know what's going on with that, but the bit in the corner 'if my father was the king of Britain' refers to an example Matthieu from The Bureau (the Execs of the scheme, along with Film Four and the UKFC) was giving about creating psychological depth. From what I remembered, he described a writer thinking 'What if my father was the King of England?' and then having to dismiss the idea because his father couldn't be the King of England because it could never happen in real life (I may be misrepresenting him - after all, I was obviously too busy doodling rubbish clowns to have paid full attention). I wanted to say - 'What about if, instead of saying he couldn't be King of England because his character and backstory wouldn't lead him there, you instead changed England and the notion of the monarchy to fit your father?' but I didn't formulate the idea quick enough (and also didn't know if I'd fully got what he was trying to say) so I didn't. I did, however, not long after, manage to slag off Andrea Arnold's 'Wasp', which Matthieu had used as an example. I feel quite strongly about the film, so let rip a bit, but only halfway through remembered that it was actually a previous Cinema Extreme film and that The Bureau had produced it. Although this wouldn't change my opinion, it did feel, in retrospect, a bit rude.

Also today, we had a session of show and tell, which was really interesting. I wish I had prepared a bit better for this - I spoke generally about where I'm coming from as a filmmaker, but think now that I could have related it a bit more closely to the film I was pitching. In fact, typically, on the way home I had several much better ideas about what I should have done. That'll teach me.

Friday: Had to repitch our ideas today, and talk about what we'd learned. For me, it had been really good to get my head back into the project and to start thinking about shots and dialogue and character. I had good meetings with all the Execs, the majority of whom seemed to really respond to the project. I think the main task for me is going to be to try and get everything that I've talked about into a short script (20ish mins), without it becoming over-complicated.

There was a session this morning where Chris Cooke came in to talk about making the leap from shorts to features, but I ducked out of that (partially, it must be said, at his request. I think he thought I'd put him off.) I had just got the rough mix back for 'Deliver Me' so it gave me a chance to try that out, syncing it up with the film. I've got to be careful not to let 'DM' get lost in all the other things I'm doing - after taking so long to get the film together, it would be stupid to lose focus now.

In the afternoon, we had Peter Carlton from Film Four and Lenny Crooks from the UKFC New Cinema Fund come in to talk about what they're looking for - essentially 'unique visionaries'. While they were talking, I doodled this:

I think the figure on the right is an amalgam of Peter and Lenny (probably more Lenny to be fair), as they both have shaved heads. The figure on the left appears to be some kind of knight with weird fishlips. Don't know what's going on with that - maybe some kind of Holy Grail subconscious thing? (Although, having met with Lenny Crooks before and come away feeling that there's no way I'd ever get funded by the NCF because he doesn't like genre, that would seem to be a weird association to have.)

Managed to get quite arsey again during this session, this time about the idea of filmmakers from London coming up to the East Midlands to, in my charming term, 'scab money of us' by pretending to be from the region, but I think everybody seemed to take it in the spirit in which it was meant - I know that this region has quite a lot of public funding, but London does have a few other things to make up for it - like a massive commercial filmmaking infrastructure, tons of equipment to be blagged on downtime, and being the heart of the British Film Industry. Not to say that people in London have it easy, but then neither does anyone - it's all just swings and roundabouts.

Then that was it. Some of us had a brief drink together - in fact the drinking time over the three days was probably the most useful in getting to know where people were coming from - and then everybody disappeared off. And I went back to the edit suite to finish off syncing up and messing about with the sound mix.

As far as next steps for Cinema Extreme go, I've got to write a script now for delivery in April. I've got a fairly good idea of the story and a lot of the scenes, but it is still going to be a job, and at a time when I am up to my neck in it. I think I'm going to try and use the time when I'm on the train down to London to do it and just hope for the best. I'll just have to trust my unconscious mind to come up with some bright ideas.

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