Tales from the High Tide tour bus – with sincere apologies to Mrs Miller

On Monday next week our feature film High Tide is showing in London at The Gate in Notting Hill; somewhat oddly, the screening is being sponsored by Jameson whiskey and everyone who buys a ticket will get free whiskey (providing you like Jameson’s) which should at least mean that spirits are high as the film begins (pun intended). There are still a few tickets left and they can be purchased via this link.

This London showing of the film is the last that we have scheduled and although there’s a bit of talk about further screenings in various places, it could well be that this is the final chance to see High Tide on a cinema screen.  Clearly this is going to be an occasion of mixed emotions; it will be hugely exciting to show the film in London and for many of the audience attending this will be the first time that they’ve seen the film but also, inevitably, there will be a smidgeon of sadness as this project, one that has held dominion over our thoughts for well over three years, reaches the end of its life in cinemas. Not that we are complaining. When we began the production process for High Tide we had no money and little idea of the challenges that we were going to have to overcome or the sheer bloody-minded will-power that would be required to drag the project into existence. We repeatedly modified our aspirations for the film during the production and post-production process, every time daring to dream a little bigger for what might, given a fair wind and a favourable reviews, be a reasonable expectation of its success. However, and speaking honestly, if you’d told us two years ago that the Notting Hill screening would bring the number of cinemas the film has screened at to well over twenty then we would have leapt into one of our special little jigs of thrilled excitement and then probably have gone to the pub and drank a few too many beers. To have reached this point feels very special.

Of course, High Tide will not just disappear once the final credits have rolled at The Gate. We are beginning the production work required for the digital and DVD release of the film and if everything goes to plan it will set amongst the virtual shelves of Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime etc, ready to be repeatedly flicked over by couples looking for “just something to watch” on their Friday night sofa. Who knows how many people will alight on High Tide and of those that do, who knows how many of them will be moved and entertained by it? And to an extent this is not really the point. The fact that it is possible, the fact that the film actually exists in the seemingly infinite world of available culture is a bit of a thrill in itself.

A DVD of the film will be of course a more tangible record of its existence and we’re currently working out what we can package with the release to make it a brilliant Christmas present for friends, lovers and family. The thought of a director’s commentary fills me with a cold dread; I really can’t imagine there will be much of a demand for a version of the film spoiled by myself and Jimmy droning over the top of it – “oh look, do you remember filming this bit? / Yeah. I was there. / And that’s just after the time where I fell over in the sand dunes / And did you know that we served real beer at the party? / Yeah, I do. I remember lugging the barrel up that tiny path/ etc etc ad infinitum.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a complete film with the commentary switched on. I think I began listening to Coppola’s Godfather orations but after about twenty minutes became overly-frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t hear the dialogue properly. It’s like you are sitting next to an irritating family member who has seen a film before and insists on pointing out all the good bits. At length. Loudly. So no, I think we can rule out this for the High Tide DVD. Whatever we do end up including will be decided upon in the next few weeks and we’re aiming for a September release, just in time for that well-documented post-summer, early-autumn, pre-pre-Christmas spike in DVD sales.

Anyway, I intended to write about the experience of travelling around the country and showing our film to strangers who’d paid money to see it. Well, it has been fun. We’ve clocked up a lot of miles, drank a lot of coffee (and I can reveal that after extensive testing, the best standard coffee – and I discount a very expensive place near Covent Garden that sold a blend that was a little like tasting gold and with a similar price-tag, is available from McDonalds. Which is somewhat depressing but then made less depressing by the fact that you are drinking a damn fine cup of coffee), drank a lot of beer, answered a lot of questions and met some lovely people.

The Telegraph didn't say that, Total Film did - but maybe this is a sensible change in Rye.

The Telegraph didn’t say that, Total Film did – but maybe this is a sensible change in Rye.

It is a profoundly terrifying experience sitting in a room, or latterly in the bar down the corridor from a room, filled with people watching your work. You can almost feel the judgement hanging in the air and our one survival strategy was to talk animatedly to each other about something completely different – often Liverpool’s tragi-comic performance this season or the multiple intrigues and big ideas of the Battlestar Galactica remake (although don’t get me started on its final bloody episode in which the writers seemed to have given up on resolving the questions raised by 70+ hours of television, thrown their pencils into the air with a big shout of “I don’t bloody know” and then gone to the pub), anything to create a temporary amnesia about what was happening in screen two.

Circe's Diner perform at The Cube in Bristol.

Circe’s Diner perform at The Cube in Bristol.

We’d then shuffle in to the screen and meekly answer a few questions, scour the darkness for a clue as to people’s reactions and then disappear into the night. We are very thankful to the many people who stopped us afterwards to say how much they’d enjoyed the film and to those who emailed / tweeted us to say likewise. It is definitely something special, something inspiring when a complete stranger tells you that they thought your work was great.

Oh and there were no walk-outs at any of the screenings we attended. Except for the premiere. Which remains amusing.

Particular highlights of the High Tide tour for me (and for Jimmy’s opinions you will have to persuade him to start writing his own blog, the chances of which are fairly remote) included being taken to the pub in the beautiful Sussex town of Rye by a couple of members of the audience; seeing the band Circe’s Diner play live before a screening in Bristol and being generously plied with beer by the London Welsh Centre to the extent that I had to excuse myself mid-way through the post-film Q and A in order to go to the loo. Such professionalism.

Pre-bladder incident at the London Welsh Society.

Pre-bladder incident at the London Welsh Society.

Oh yes and Exeter. Lovely Exeter. A city that I will always see through the eyes of my teenage self – a 90s photo-collage (cut and assembled by hand, having waited for the photos to be printed by Boots) of CD shops and wooden beads, Firkin ale drunk at the pub beneath the iron bridge, first loves and tricky parties and the music, oh the music . . .  you see what happens when someone mentions Exeter? Anyway, the screening of High Tide at Picturehouse was filled with family, friends and faces from the past, many of whom we hadn’t seen for twenty or so years. It was lovely. And in one case a little awkward – there’s a moment in the film when Josh is telling his Mum Bethan about a geography trip he’d been on with school to Worm’s Head, where this particular scene takes place.  He remembers a friend “pissing in to the sea” at which “Mrs Miller went mental and gave him a week’s detention”.

And who was in the audience seeing and hearing that line? Of course, it was my old Geography teacher Mrs Miller, whose identity I’d ruthlessly stolen for the purposes of fiction. Thankfully she didn’t seem to mind too much once the shock of hearing her name in a film had subsided. I met her afterwards, along with my ex-Head of Year, Ms Fawcett and it was just joyous to see them both and helped immortalise this evening as one of the very best in the short history of Long Arm Films.

Ms Fawcett (left) and Mrs Miller (right).

Ms Fawcett (left) and Mrs Miller (right).

So there we go; a few memories from the past few months. As I say, we are very much looking forward to Monday and then our attentions will turn to what is next. Well, we know some of what is next having made an announcement about our short film Zero Sum earlier in the week – but we’ve also got some other things upcoming that I am just desperate to tell you about. I hope I will be able to do so soon.

But in the meantime, if you’ve been to see the film over the past few months then thank you very much indeed. If you haven’t then maybe you’ll want to get hold of the DVD or look it up on your smart-tv-film-on-demand-service of choice. Even if you’ve just got to the end of another lengthy and ponderous blog post then thank you.

Oh yes, we do now have an irregular email newsletter thing as if it were still 2003. If you’d like infrequent Long Arm Films updates sent straight to your device of choice then you can sign up here. 

And talking of the 90s – here’s Blur, whose new album is far better than I ever dared hope it would be.

New Long Arm Films project announcement – Zero Sum

As High Tide approaches the end of its scheduled cinema run, a run that has seen the film screened in numerous towns and cities around the UK, it seems appropriate that we now start looking to the future. We have a number of projects at various stages of development, including some very exciting plans for our second feature film which I can’t say anything about here (although as the band Circe’s Diner discovered last week at a High Tide screening at The Cube in Bristol, if you allow me to drink a couple of bottles of strong local ale then I become a little more loose-lipped, particularly when Jimmy isn’t there to tell me off) but we do have something we can tell you, should you be interested enough to listen.

Last month we discovered that, following a lengthy selection process, we’ve been awarded a grant by BFI/Ffilm Cymru Wales to make a short film. This is something a bit special and whilst I am not going to be vulgar and mention the amount of money involved, it is going to be enough for us to make something with a level of professionalism that we’ve just not been able to achieve in our projects to date.

The film is going to be called ZERO SUM and, in a first for Long Arm, it will be set in space. Yes, that’s right, we are making a sci-fi film. The extra-terrestrial setting will also mean a host of other firsts for the company – we will be shooting exclusively in a studio; many of the shots will require green-screen and VFX technology (although we did use a bit of CGI in High Tide to remove a couple of rogue canoeists from Langland Bay) and the scope for creativity in its sound design will be greater than anything we’ve made so far.

Zero Sum

Zero Sum will also be the first Long Arm Film to not be exclusively produced by Jimmy and myself as we welcome Mr Ross Bliss to the team. Ross is an experienced producer, hails from the West Country and has an excellent beard, thus making him ideal Long Arm material. He’ll be in charge of the financial and logistical elements of the production, allowing Jimmy and myself a little more time to concentrate on the creative side of the film.  Ross’ involvement has already proved effective and we look forward to seeing our relationship develop further over this and future projects.

And that’s probably all that I am allowed to say about Zero Sum at this stage. We plan to shoot in the autumn and I will announce casting etc when this has been finalised. We are excited by the challenges posed by making this film and we hope that the finished piece will surprise and impress. That’s the plan anyway.

That’s the end of the announcement and all good sense would suggest that this is an appropriate place at which to lift my virtual pen from the virtual parchment and go and make a cup of tea or conjur some pesto in my new blender (this is still a dizzying novelty and our fridge is stacked like the shelves of the Bodelean library although not with books but with pots of various sauces and dips that I’ve overproduced since acquiring the machine, all catalogued via my own foody version of the Dewy-Decimal system, the stewy….. no).  However, let me resist the urge to blitz for a moment longer as I copy and paste below a short history of Long Arm Films that I wrote for the lovely woman who hosted the post-film Q and A session at The Cube in Bristol last week. She wanted a few notes on “how we’ve got here” and, never able to resist the opportunity to be a little bit silly, this is what I gave her. She seemed not to mind and it does give any readers of this blog new to out world a sense of what we’ve done in the past few years.

Long Arm Films is Jimmy Hay and James Gillingham. To avoid James-based confusion, they are known as Jimmy (Hay) and Jim (Gillingham) which actually doesn’t really lessen the confusion. Jim once experimented with being called Mabel but this was abandoned on account of it being ridiculous so they are sticking to Jimmy and Jim.
 
They grew up on the same street in Devon and were friends for over twenty years before anyone mentioned filmmaking. However, over a glass of wine and a curry for Jim’s birthday they concluded that Jimmy’s background in film studies and theory and Jim’s award-winning playwriting skills might give them a fighting chance of making half-decent moving pictures. They were proved to be right. Eventually. 

They made their first short film Sliced in a shed in Devon with a borrowed camera and Jim’s Dad in the lead role. It turned out that J and J didn’t really know anything about making a film after all and Sliced was released to a shrug from the small fraction of the population who saw it, including the cast. Sliced is no longer available online but both Jimmy and Jim think it is actually not bad. Apart from the sound. Which is terrible. 
 
Undeterred, they got a website, a logo (which is taken from a shot from the aforementioned Sliced) and embarked on their second short. This film became Stuart and Kate and is the story of the end of a relationship and, in a first for Long Arm Films, was actually quite good and people liked it. Stuart and Kate is available online and the sound is passable. Although mixed too loud.
 
Flushed with the minor success of Stuart and Kate, Long Arm Films started work on a third short film which was to be called High Tide. But then it was decided that in order to tell the story of High Tide properly it would need to be a feature-length film. Jim and Jimmy asked themselves how hard could it be to make a feature film? The answer turned out to be very, very hard indeed. But after a pre-production process that involved unwittingly upsetting large numbers of important people we arrived on set on Swansea and started making High Tide. And now High Tide has been released in cinemas in the UK. Which is thrillingly, unbelievably odd. Brilliant too of course but mostly odd.
 
After High Tide, its star Melanie Walters was still talking sufficiently to Jimmy and Jim to agree to be in their fourth short film Ex Libris. This co-starred Robert Pugh who is a proper star and has been in Game of Thrones and is friends with Russell Crowe (but wouldn’t give Long Arm his phone number). Ex Libris is about a dark love affair and is set in a library. It is slow, odd and ponderous. Jimmy and Jim are very proud of it although most normal people find it difficult to like. Some have been very keen to dislike it. But that’s show business. Ex Libris is available to watch online and the sound is excellent.
 
Long Arm Films has just been given some money by Film Wales to make their fifth short film. It is going to called Zero Sum. It is set in space (really) and we are shooting it later in the year. The sound is going to amazing.

Jimmy and Jim are also working on two new feature film projects which they won’t be able to talk about. Unless you really press them. Or buy them a drink. And then they’ll probably tell you everything and maybe offer you a part in one of them. 
 
They plan to continue making films for the foreseeable future and hope that people will want to watch them.

And there we go. I think I will write soon about the lessons learnt from screening High Tide to the paying public over the past few months (although the overwhelming response to the film has been soul-soaringly positive) but for now let me leave you with a plug for next Monday’s screening of High Tide at the glorious Gate in Notting Hill and a song from an obscure American songwriter that Jimmy thinks is dull but I love dearly.

Being kneed in the nuts by The Guardian: film criticism from across the divide

Our feature film High Tide has been on release in cinemas for nearly a month now and we’ve been delighted by audiences’ responses to it. As explored in previous posts it is a profoundly terrifying process when you expose your work to the eyes of strangers; you spend years gestating a project, loving it, nurturing it, meeting its every need like a doting parent or soppy pet-owner and become increasingly flustered as the time necessarily approaches when your pride and joy, your vessel for all that affection and heed, must leave your care and confront its fate in the murky world of other people’s opinions. So it is with considerable delight to report that we’ve had a huge number of people sending us messages or coming to talk to us after Q and A appearances to tell us that the film moved them, that they enjoyed the performances and, in one case, immediately texted their Mum to tell her how much he loved her (this will make more sense if you’ve seen the film). There is clearly no better feeling than having your work received in such positive terms.

However, aside from these very welcome attestations of enjoyment from people we don’t know, we’ve also had our first introduction to the experience of being reviewed in print and online. And what an introduction it has been. When we first discovered that High Tide was going to get a limited cinemas release our immediate thought was wow, journalists with large followings are going to be writing about the film. How brilliant. And then we started getting emails from reviews editors asking for preview copies and RSVPs to the national press screening of the film and the excitement built further. We fantasised about the killer review in a national publication that would pluck our film from low-buget indie anonymity and thrust it into the shimmering spotlight of national or indeed international acclamation. I began wondering what I should wear for my inevitable saunter along the Croisette later in the year.

We still get a thrill looking at this.

We still get a thrill looking at this.

The first review arrived. I got wind of it late one Wednesday evening as I sat with my wife on the sofa watching the brilliant Engrenages (if you haven’t, you really should; although ignore Series 1 which is un peu merdique) and it appeared that Total Film magazine had given High Tide four stars. Joy unbounded. Leaping around the room. Rockstar poses. High-fiving imaginary well-wishers. And phoning Jimmy to tell him the news. Except that he was selfishly asleep and would not answer his phone.

The next morning dawned and Jimmy and I turned metaphorical cartwheels and phoned each other several times during the day just to extend this moment of joy and relief for as long as possible. Once the magazine was published we enthusiastically told Facebook the good news and our rag-taggle bunch of supporters and likers did the decent thing and pressed “like”. The red notification icon glowed red and numerous and we began planning the next stage in our forthcoming conquering of the entertainment industry.

A week or so elapsed and we had the utter pleasure of High Tide’s world premiere in Swansea; we dressed up in our finery, drank copiously from both glasses of prosecco and the audience’s reaction to the film and ended up middle-aged, drunk and elated in a late-night drinking establishment in the posh end of Wales’ second city. We’d done it. We’d made a film and everyone liked it.

Then the national reviews began being published. And in amongst the praise, for there was much, one particular review suggested that our house was actually made of straw and the BBC had forecast a gale. I am not going to link to the review because you are clearly capable of using Google but it is out there and my goodness did it sting when we read it. Now let’s be clear, I believe completely in the sanctity of free speech; journalists, indeed anyone, must be free to say whatever they like and the years of love, sweat and devotion that we’d ploughed into High Tide count for absolutely nothing when you are inviting the press to judge the film. You don’t have a Je Suis Charlie banner on your Facebook page if you expect exceptions just because you put in a lot of work. However, this was the Guardian. This was the newspaper that we’d both grown-up reading and feel an instinctive loyalty towards. The Guardian is our people; it’s the home crowd; it’s almost like family. So when its reviewer dismissed High Tide in the most searing fashion it did feel as if our own mother had taken a run-up, looked us in the eyes and then hopped, skipped and jumped towards us before launching a Doctor Marten boot full-force into our testicles.

No artist in any medium wants the word “atrocious” in a review of their work. For me the noun form “atrocity” is what happened in the darkest moments of the Bosnian war or during British imperial rule in Africa and so to have it applied to our film was desperately hard to take. To be fair, the reviewer used the word to describe only one aspect of the film and he did have some relatively pleasant things to say about some other moments but clearly it’s “atrocious” that sticks in the memory. Jimmy and I spent a brief phone call after this piece had been published just saying nothing; there was little to be said; our film had been castigated by a publication that we instinctively respect in front of a global audience. Ouch; ouch to the power of ten.

Friends and supporters rallied to our support; said the right things about it being only one opinion amongst many other positive ones and pointed to the fact that  the reviewer in question had a history of giving poor reviews to films, many of which we thought were excellent. And it is all just a matter of taste after all and we knew that High Tide was not going to please everyone; it deliberately takes it time and relies on its final few moments contextualising everything that has gone before and frankly, some people are not going to like it. However, we felt sick to our core, sad, tired and thoroughly fed-up of the whole crazy process of filmmaking.

The mood was dark a week later as we drove in the rain towards Cardiff for a BAFTA Wales-hosted screening of the film. When we arrived we were met by a lovely woman from BAFTA and we told her that we were happy to go ahead with the Q and A session as arranged but would probably not actually be in the cinema to see the film. She baulked slightly at this and very politely suggested that although we were of course free to do as we wished the sight of the two directors leaving the cinema before the film began probably did not send out the right message to members of the audience. Over a quick coffee we decided that there was good sense in this and so we took our seats reluctantly to watch High Tide for the first time since atrocious-gate.

And then something wonderful happened. We enjoyed the film. We enjoyed every second of it. We lived every shot, every line, every piece of music, every scene, processing that which we saw in the most profound fashion. At the Swansea premiere we’d had a few glasses of wine before we sat down and so the whole experience was emotional and almost dream-like but at this screening we were sober and still sore from what had happened. But as each minute ticked past it was as if we were reclaiming our own work, able to put negative reviews into context and just enjoy what we’d made. I’ve never been prouder of the film than at the moment it ended in Cardiff. This was not a two or a four star film, this was our film and it was really good. The Q and A session that followed was lively and fun and Melanie and Sam were on top form and then in the bar afterwards we had some excellent conversations with members of the audience, all of whom had good things to say about what they’d seen.

The atmosphere on the journey home could not have been more different to that which had choked us on our approach to the cinema. Something had changed, we were now assured in our work, delighted in what we’d achieved and able to treat the twin imposters of praise and criticism with a equable dose of cynicism; after all, after everything, they are just opinions to be read, respected and then forgotten. We’d made a film and it was playing in cinemas. We’d achieved everything that we wanted. 

High Tide is still being screened around the country. More showings are being added all of the time so for the latest list please visit our website.

A Guardian critic filing his review of "Morte D'Arthur III:  It's Gawain to be personal (in 3D)".

A Guardian critic filing his review of “Morte D’Arthur III: It’s Gawain to be personal (in 3D)”.

Four stars and two walk-outs: The world premiere of High Tide

Last Friday night saw the world premiere of our feature film High Tide at Taliesin, Swansea. It was an incredible night: we had live music (from the shimmering and wonderful Circe’s Diner), free drinks, a stringent dress code and of course we showed the finished film to an audience for the very first time. And this was as terrifying, bewildering, and ultimately as joyous as we ever hoped it would be.

After a year of some pretty difficult, dark moments for both Jimmy and myself, I must admit that I was holding back the tears when the BBFC certificate flashed on to the screen at the beginning of the film; a mixture of pride, relief and the realisation that this really could be the start of the next chapter, if you’ll forgive the clunking cliche, of our lives. I wish I could be more eloquent than I’m currently being about all of this but the night ended up at an after-hours drinking establishment in the posh end of Swansea and my increasingly middle-aged constitution is only just beginning to recover. I don’t think I have been up at 3.45am for about twenty years (having not first gone to bed) and it may be another twenty more before I am physically able to do it again.

We recorded some audience vox-pops just as people were leaving the cinema in a deliberate attempt to garner more publicity for the film. They were then shared with the small part of the world that is interested in all things Long Arm and we’ll be hammering them further this week as we build towards the cinema release. I do realise that this was the homiest of home crowds but people’s reaction to High Tide seemed to be overwhelmingly positive (and not just because we’d given them free booze before the film began) and as such I’ve embedded the video below if you want to have a look.  Do watch out for some particularly high praise from Hollywood’s Robert Pugh.

As the evening progressed and things got a little fuzzier I was asked by several people how I was feeling to which the obvious answer was that I was feeling pretty amazing (and a little drunk) but thinking about it now it does feel that the premiere was something of an inflection point in this whole process. After several years of micro-managing the entire project, from the early ignorant days when we managed to inadvertently upset a lot of important people with our clumsy amateurism right up until Friday afternoon when we were pushing a trolley of drink into the venue (something that I am sure Scorcese does before all of his premieres), it was time to let High Tide stand alone and be judged by its audience  with the two of us reduced to the status of cowering, powerless bystanders.

I’ve written before about the moment that a writer, metaphorically, slaps his or her new work on the table and says to the crowds, right, judge me on this. It is a terrifying and essential moment and one that the novelist David Mitchell likened to lying on your back, handing the audience a sharpened stake and egging them on to take their best shot. This is what we did on Friday night and very quickly we were afforded a lesson in the brutal process of judgement. There was a heady warmth to the early part of the evening as the free drink flowed and friends were reunited after many months absence (I hadn’t seen several of the cast and crew since the end of the shoot); Jimmy and I introduced the film from the stage, we thanked lots of the people that had helped us reach this far, there was generous amounts of applause. Everything felt wonderful.

Then the film began and after about ten minutes a woman got up out of her seat. Well, she must have been off to the toilet after quaffing too much prosecco on an empty stomach. So we thought. But a few moments later her husband likewise lifted himself from his seat and, with an air of some embarrassment, slid himself out of the row and mumbled that the film “really wasn’t our cup of tea”. I don’t know who this couple were; those invited to the premiere had some connection to the film so they weren’t complete strangers. Maybe they’d given us money (and presumably therefore now think that their donation had been squandered for which I can only apologise a little insincerely) or maybe they were friends or relatives of the cast, who knows?, but whatever their connection they disliked the opening of the film sufficiently to stand up and walk out in full view of everyone in the cinema.

I don’t mind at all that they did, in fact I am glad that they did. Art is always going to be divisive; one person’s David is another person’s big block of borderline pornographic marble which would be better served on their kitchen worktop rather than as one humanity’s finest ever artistic achievements. There are also some, deeply troubled and unhappy, people who don’t like Zoolander. High Tide is deliberately slow in its opening twenty minutes; we ask a lot of patience from our audience and then reward this patience in the second half of the film. But frankly, it is not to everyone’s tastes. And that’s fine. That’s good.

Perhaps, more than the BBFC certificate, more than the TV crews, the dinner suits and ballgowns, the sparkle and the fizz, two punters walking out of the premiere is proof that as filmmakers we have reached the level of professionalism that we’ve worked so damn hard over these past few years to achieve.

Either that or we should try to make better films.

Some people, however, have liked High Tide very much; who wouldn’t want to receive a review like this?  Or indeed a four star review in this month’s Total Film?

But let me end this entry with a piece of music that was playing as we arrived at Mozart’s in Swansea for a night of merriment after the premiere. The Breeders’ Cannonball is a stonewall early 90s classic and I dedicate it to star of High Tide and all-round superstar Mr Sam Davies who I bored with my thoughts on this song for a lot longer than was polite.

A High Tide trailer released. At last.

For the past year and a half I’ve been using this blog as a forum for a whole manner of stuff and nonsense. Regular readers will be all too aware of my frequent forays into whimsy and nostalgia and some people have been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed reading it. Most have just remained silent on the matter. I have tried wherever possible to stick to the theme of film and filmmaking or at least creativity in general and when I’ve failed in this then I have at least apologised.

However, this blog was conceived initially as a means to document the often-insane and always-exhausting process of making a independent feature film. And I think I’ve largely succeeded in this; if you read back over the archives then you will see the various triumphs and disasters that myself and my partner Jimmy have celebrated and endured, rendered for you in overly-verbose and meandering prose. In truth, some of the posts have been removed from public view because they managed to make some important people cross, albeit not deliberately. Maybe one day I will collect them all together in order to present a coherent and complete chronicle of what has been, and continues to be, an unforgettable process. But we may need to run it past the lawyers first!

Anyway, this is all prologue to what is for us a hugely significant moment in our adventure. We finally have a trailer for our feature film High Tide. We are also in the midst of various meetings about how this film will be shown to the world but for the moment I have to be annoyingly coy about the specifics of these. However, yes we do have a trailer. And you can see it here:

We’re jolly pleased with it. I think it does give a decent flavour of the film; you get to see some of the stunning locations we shot in plus there are snippets of the acting performances of Melanie Walters and Samuel Davies both of which hint, utterly accurately, at the wonderful work they do in the film. Having sat many, many times in front of the footage we shot I can say in all honesty that not only do the pair achieve great things in their portrayals of their characters, repeated viewings of a scene at three in the morning do not diminish their power. I take this to be a good sign.

We are also delighted with how good our composer Matt Harding’s music sounds on the trailer. We’ve long been fans of his work and were delighted when he agreed to contribute to the film but it is particularly pleasing now that we can hear his music illustrating the images. Again, having seen cuts of the complete, film it is heartening to find that his music, just like the work of any great composer, has become part of the essential business of telling our story. I can’t now imagine some of the images without their accompanying music. Again, this seems to be a very good sign. There is still some way to go but we are closer than ever to being able to show this film to the world. What the world will think remains to be seen but whatever the reaction we are very proud. And let’s face it, if the world doesn’t like it then we’re just going to assume the world is wrong and has no taste whatsoever.

If you are interested then we now have an expanded section about High Tide on our website and because you are all lovely, here is a still from the film which is not in the trailer. Just to prove that we really do have ninety minutes of footage, not just a shiny two minute trailer. Thanks as ever for being interested enough to read this far.

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Samuel Davies as Josh. Melanie Walters as Bethan.

The High Tide party scene: twelve months on

As I sit in a quiet house watching a large amount of rain throw itself to the ground with alarming gusto, I can’t help but reflect that exactly a year ago today I was rushing around a garden in Wales setting up for what was to be both the busiest and most remarkable day of shooting on our feature film High Tide.

Jimmy and I both watched near-complete drafts of the film yesterday in preparation for a short ADR session next week (and there I go waving around acronyms like ADR without a care in the world – ADR or Additional Dialogue Recording means getting your actors back to rerecord dialogue that was imperfect on set. Many films, particularly those with huge special effects sequences, are almost entirely composed of ADR work, but for High Tide we need only record a small amount. Gosh what a thrilling piece of parenthetical filler.) and one of the highlights of the whole piece is the twenty or so minutes we spend at the party scene that we shot that day.

Having the wonderful Sam Green and the Midnight Heist play live in the garden was a real treat (especially for the neighbours) and the general good grace shown by everyone ensured that the day was a success, even if Jimmy and I did have to spend the dying moments of the evening rushing around like crazy things in order to get everything shot by the legally-binding working curfew. Most people were a bit drunk by then; we were very sober!

Anyway, I don’t want to chunter on about it so I think I will curtail my reminiscings there. Thanks to everyone who was involved in the day and thanks to anyone who cares enough to be patient for the release of the finished film. It is coming, I promise you.

Here are a few images and videos from the day:

party2 party1 2013-08-08 15.43.27 2013-08-08 20.02.28-3

 

 

 

 

Boyhood and the exquisite pleasure of now

I don’t remember a point in the last ten years when I saw a particular film more than once in a cinema. I must have done so since the new millennium but I am struggling to think when and what it would have been. This contrasts with my heady and unhealthy student days of the late 90s when I would regularly visit the wonderful City Screen in York to see some obscure piece of art-house fare. And if I liked what I saw, as I often did, then I would frequently go again the next day. This was less to do with a raw passion for the cinematic medium but rather I had little better to do, or at least could spare a few hours to sink into the not-overly-comfortable seats and disappear. And plus it was really cheap. I remember I saw a screening of Der Himmel uber Berlin on two consecutive days; the first time with a pal, and the next trying to impress some girl (who was so resolutely unimpressed that she fell asleep within ten minutes). I also saw Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour uncut 70mm rendition of Hamlet THREE times in that cinema because I found it utterly wonderful and, as the two regular readers of this blog will know, I do sort of LOVE Kenneth Branagh with a singular passion. Plus Hamlet as a text is, you know, pretty alright.

However I really can’t think of a time where such multiple cinema visits to the same film have occurred this century. That is until this past week when I’ve had the utter pleasure of seeing Richard Linklater’s Boyhood being twice projected onto a large screen.

Boyhood-poster-I-

I’ve written before about mine and Jimmy’s adoration of Linklater’s Before trilogy and so I was very much coming at this as a fan; despite this I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what was, hyperbole aside, one of the most moving, humane and unpretentious pieces of storytelling I’ve ever seen.

The premise is brilliantly simple: Linklater filmed the same set of lead actors for a couple of weeks every year for twelve years and thus when edited together the audience is able to watch them grow. The eponymous boy is Mason who we first meet lying on the grass outside his primary school and whom we leave on his first day at university. The effect is almost overwhelming as we are confronted by the sheer speed with which time passes, the bewildering consequences of choice, both good and bad, the twin pride and terror of parenthood and the astounding capacity that we have to survive and even thrive in the most trying of circumstances.

Boyhood-Ellar-Coltrane-Ethan-Hawke

Linklater’s direction is, of course, sublime and on second viewing I was able to enjoy shot after shot of his typically unfussy style. There is one shot during Mason’s high school years in which he talks to a classmate who bumps alongside him on her bike. They talk, they walk forwards and the camera stays one step ahead of them moving backwards. No cuts, no singles, just a backwards tracking two-shot that seems like it had to be done in one take. You can see this shot again and again in the Before films and it is suggestive of a director utterly confident in his own craft. A scene requires two characters to have a conversation so Linklater just lets the camera do only what is necessary to allow us to witness what is being said. Anything else would be artful and extraneous.

I am no film academic and if you want a near-definitive account of Linklater’s work then look no further than our pal Professor Rob Stone’s excellent book: The Cinema of Richard Linklater – Walk, don’t Run. Rob is clearly a man of vast intelligence and insight (as well as being pleasingly ready to take the piss out of Jimmy’s levels of personal hygiene) and he writes with a rigorous passion for Linklater’s work and succeeds, through a jealousy-inducing series of interviews with the man himself, in exploring the films in comparison with each other as well as illuminating the many and diverse films that have influenced him throughout his career. It’s a great read. I recommend it heartily.

As Rob explores with greater insight that I could ever muster, time does not really work in a conventional way in Linklater’s films. This is particularly the case in Boyhood which despite seemingly locked into a structure that forces its audience to confront time in all its unflinching and relentless forwards motion, paradoxically removes its characters from a temporal context almost completely. This is a film of the moment, a film of now. There is very little in the film that looks backwards and that which looks forward is only the usual cliche of expectation that others force upon Mason. What any of the characters really aspire to in the film is making sense of the current moment; that is all that really matters. No film I’ve seen in a long time is as preoccupied with the present. And it is all the more refreshing for it. The only false moment in the whole near-three hour wonder of the film is when there is a moment of narrative resolution for an immigrant builder whom we’ve seen, briefly, in an earlier scene. For me this felt like a misstep; a nod to the conventional story arcs that Linklater so successfully eschews in the remainder of the piece.

Anyway, I’ve started to use words like “eschew” so it is probably time to stop banging on. But I urge you to see Boyhood. I implore you so to do. It really is most wonderful.

There’s a line very near the end of the film in which a character says something approximating that in life it isn’t really a case of seizing the moment, it is more that the moment seizes you. I think that is utterly beautiful and no better epithet for the wondrous strange thing that is all of our lives. Just keep letting the moment seize you, says Linklater. And you’ll be okay.

p.s. I think I love Ethan Hawke just as much as Kenneth Branagh now. Even Ethan Hawke with a terrible moustache.

p.p.s. High Tide is VERY NEARLY finished. More news very soon.

p.p.p.s. We have been working some more on the screenplay for our second feature film. Jimmy is not letting me get away with anything remotely rubbish – my favourite comment from his recent edits – “is this a reference to old vaginas? If so, I don’t get it”.

p.p.p.p.s. It wasn’t. But now I kind of wish it had been.

A High Tide update (at last!)

I fear that this latest entry in to the world of blog may be a little more terse than I’d otherwise like. This is most likely a blessing for you but at the moment I am banging at the keyboard like a fat-fingered  Beethoven (with one millionth of the talent) and the words refuse to stick. I am tired. It has been a busy few weeks in one of my other lives as a maker of theatre and a show that I co-wrote successfully made it to the stage this week. And it was great. Really great. But I am suffering a little tonight as a result.

So let’s bash on with a a bit of a Long Arm Films update. It has been a more than while and we don’t want our many supporters to think that Jimmy and I have just been sitting on our arses playing Uno for the past six months. Although that does sound like a pretty decent idea.

After several more sessions in Dan’s edit bunker in the posh end of Swansea I can tell you that High Tide is pretty near finished.  And it is looking good. Really good. Don’t believe me? Well. look at this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 21.33.51

That’s Sam Davies as Josh and Melanie Walters as Bethan.

Actually looking at it now, it’s a fairly low-res, grainy still that I’ve just grabbed using some keys on my computer. I am not allowed access to the actual, full-res digital files because I might spill tea or red wine on them so you are going to have to trust me on this. Jimmy and I now have a weekend to pore over this latest draft while the film itself crosses the Severn for some digital jiggery-pokery (and final, final tweaks) and sound mixing in the Bristol area before heading back to Wales for colour-correction. All of which should suggest that High Tide is very nearly, nearly finished. And that’s a good thing.

And at some point you should be able to see it. The specifics of which I will bring you as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, my new role is to write the credits for the end of the film. So then, that’s writer, director and credit writer – which makes High Tide such an indie film that it is wearing a checked shirt;  a yellowed, crumpled paperback stuffed into the pocket of its corduroy jacket while it whispers near-inaudible dialogue into the ear of a attractive student of philosophy with glasses and near-perfect breasts. With this soundtrack:

Which you won’t have heard of. But I love with a passion.

Anyway,  I am certain David Lynch does not have to write his own credits (but that’s probably because he’d scrawl them in the blood of a vixen or Kyle Maclachlan) but I am pretty happy with the job. Except that I have to spell everyone’s names correctly and remember who leant us a hairbrush and made us a coffee somewhere on Gower last August.

But I think I’ve got it cracked. Here’s the current draft.

Bethan – Melanie Walters
Josh – Sam Davies
Tess – Claire Cage
Sophie – Charlotte Mulliner
Bloke in Shirt with Fag – Cousin Tom
Simon Le Bon – Mickey Flannel
Jennie Spinning – Rufus Waring
Man in Sauna – Sarah Cloud
Body in Sauna – Desert Orchid
Whore in Sauna – James Gillingham
Sauna Repair Man in Sauna – Alan Titchmarsh

DOP – Alain Prost
Sound – Dougie Donnelly
Gaffer – Janet Ellis
Edited by Dan in his bunker

Written and directed by Big James and Little Jim.

Sorted. Time for some sleep. More updates when I have them.

 

Words on film (it’s a global conspiracy actually).

There’s an odd disquiet in the air this evening as the sun wanes a grubby orange and London’s throaty roar thunders more angrily than ever; a noxious Last Post for a city slowly eating itself. Maybe I should just shut the window; maybe I should reign-in the hay-fever pills a little or maybe I should load up my fingers with words and tap out the bellicose rhythms of a linguistic war upon my battered keyboard.

Or maybe just get on with it.

I am bothered by the stats page on my WordPress site. I pretend not to be. I feign indifference like a recovering smoker shrugging at the pub on a Friday afternoon as a forgetful friend offers him a fag even though it’s been nearly seven weeks since he’s last smoked. He declines politely. He pretends not to care. He ignores the raging beast of nicotine addiction stomping around the wires and neurones of his brain – yes, he thinks, yes for the love of all that is holy and grand, please just let me smoke. But he says nothing. He smiles. He is fine. Really he is.

My name is James and I’ve given up smoking. This makes me simultaneously very happy indeed (and god, do I feel better for it) but also a tiny bit sad.

Anyway, this analogy began sometime in the late C19th and let me try to bring it some sort of, inevitably disappointing, conclusion. Yes, the stats page. I pretend to be immune to its charms but the last few days have seen the longest period so far during which nobody on the planet has read anything that I’ve published here. This blogging duck (a cricket metaphor, sorry American readers – hi Julia) was broken today by a single view of my (ahem) award-winning post about motivational quotations for writers from a reader in Djibouti. Which is a very hot country on the East coast of Africa. I know this because the internet has just told me. So anyway, time to tap my way back to a few more readers.

There’s a fair bit of Long Arm news on the horizon; something about a finished feature film, a trailer for said film; some exciting developments about our short Ex Libris and a draft of a new feature script that features a man called Spider and a lady who keeps a shotgun in her bra. However, none of these exciting headlines can be supported by much detail just yet although we do hope to expand on these themes in the coming weeks. We should be able to show you something exciting in roughly a fortnight. And I don’t mean Jimmy’s bum. Although clearly for most rational human beings, things just don’t get more exciting than this.

So to continue a theme that I began in my most recent post (which was published a blushingly large number of weeks ago) I thought I’d write a little about something very close to my lungs. Nicotine. No, not nicotine. I am over nicotine. Smoking is SO OVER. No I mean scripted dialogue. As ever I don’t profess to being any sort of expert on the subject but as a writer whose written more of the stuff than I have anything else, I do feel that I have a few observations worth sharing.

There are manifold challenges for the screenwriter as he or she sits down to write some dialogue for a scene. Not least the fact that people are rubbish at talking. Real people in real life spew a never-ending shite-stream of piss-poor construction and half-remembered cliches. To quote them directly would render your script utterly turgid and sound like the average chat on an episode of Masterchef –

“I’m going to give it everything to reach the next level and cook outside my comfort zone and nail these dishes like one hundred and twenty percent and if I go home today I will be just like gutted because this competition is the most important thing that has ever happened to a man or a woman ever”. 

No one wants to hear people talk like that (says the man who gets very upset if he misses even five minutes of an episode of Masterchef) and so writers are forced into playing a game with the audience in which they attempt to fill their characters mouths with words that SOUND as if they could be actual spoken at some point by a real human being but are in actual fact as highly constructed as an oil painting or a giant medieval tapestry. Oh I do love a giant medieval tapestry.

Great dialogue writing is really about how far you can push the characters’ language towards unreality before anyone notices or, more importantly, before anyone gets cross. Some writers are masters, absolute masters at pushing this tolerance threshold to a point so distant that it becomes irrelevant. Take Noel Coward for instance; no one in England has ever spoken with the spontaneous beauty of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. Not even when England was black and white and we drank our tea from bone china tea-sets.  But the audience does not give a solitary fig (roll) because the language is extraordinary:

Alec: I wish I could think of something to say.

Laura: It doesn’t matter, not saying anything I mean. 

Alec: I’ll miss my train and wait and see you into yours . . .

Laura: No. Please don’t. I’ll come over with you to your platform, I’d rather. 

Alec: Very well. 

Laura: Do you think we shall ever see each other again?

Alec: I don’t know. Not for years anyway. 

Laura: The children will all be grown-up. I wonder if they’ll ever meet and know each other. 

Alec: Couldn’t I write to you? Just once in a while?

Laura: No Alec please. You know we promised. 

Alec: Oh my dear. I do love you. So very much. I love you with all my heart and soul. 

Laura: I want to die. If only I could die.

Alec: If you died you’d forget me. I want to be remembered. 

brief_encounter

Swoon! Tears! Coward was a genius. And Brief Encounter, for me, represents perfection in film making. There is not one second that is misplaced or anything other than luminously brilliant.

Compare this to one of the more abject examples of dialogue writing that, for some reason, has stayed with me for well over a decade. Remember the X-Files? Of course you do. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Mulder and Scully running around in the 90s with poor quality torches in search of extra-terrestials? It was ace. Remember the X-Files movie? The first one? Er, not so much. But I do. And I remember this speech with dizzying clarity:

Bartender:  So, whaddya do?

Mulder: What do I do?

Bartender: Mmm hmm.

(Mulder takes a sip from his new drink, puts it down and begins his tale.)

Mulder: I’m the key figure in an on‑going government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrial. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet. (he laughs) So, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s gonna be the shit‑storm of all time.

Oh dear. Oh dear indeed. To be fair a lot of the work required of dialogue in the average film is to get plot across to an popcorn munching, girlfriend snogging audience (not a problem in a Long Arm film of course due to Jimmy’s wholesale rejection of anything remotely resembling a story) but really, credit the audience with a soupçon of narrative literacy please. And poor David Duchovny. He had to sit for a day and repeat this speech countless times without ever being able to rip off his own nipples in disgust. This may have had something to do with the paycheque he was receiving of course.

And then of course there is Aaron Sorkin a man who, as regular readers of this blog will attest, I love more than I ever thought possible. In his West Wing pomp, Sorkin was untouchable as a writer of dialogue; at its zenith I’d suggest that it beats pretty much anything else I’ve seen on television. And I’ve seen Rentaghost. Again it is no more real than an episode of The Simpsons, in some ways far less real, but when the President of the USA chastises God for killing his secretary in a car accident IN LATIN then you either throw a grenade at the television in utter disgust or you just stand to applaud and marvel. And I did just that.

And yes Martin Sheen is a genius. And yes I now do want a cigarette.

But not every writer can be Sorkin. And nor should you even try so to be. I often get my work sent back to me by Jimmy with comments such as NO ONE EVER SPEAKS LIKE THAT. And OH PLEASE. And THIS IS LARGELY PISS. And for this I am grateful. Jimmy is a brilliant man. A man of images. A man of vision. And these little spats between us (and goodness, the making-up is always SO good) are indicative of an inescapable tension between the image and the word. Film is by definition a visual medium and for the first thirty-ish years of its existence got on very well indeed without any words whatsoever. Words bastardised the medium, diluted the purity of the form. And the two have been competing ever since. What are the greatest ever moments in film? The door to Michael Corleone’s office shutting on Kay at the end of the Godfather or “Here’s looking at you kid”? I guess it is a matter of taste.

Do we forgive Star Wars “It’s the ship that made the kessel run in less that twelve parsecs” or “Luke, run away, far away. If he can sense your presence here then just leave this place” just because you know, it is Star Wars? Well millions upon millions do.

But for some of us, despite its inherent friction with the genre in which it exists, there will always be a greater thrill from watching someone on a huge screen say something really, really cool.

“Go and never darken my towels again”.

And from Groucho to a pair of Swedish sisters who make lovely music. And no, there is NO connection whatsoever. But I’ve been listening to this a lot this evening and I think you should do so too:

Eight ways to be a better writer (eventually) via FR Leavis, Tinkerbell and fine French cheese.

If you are a disciple of the late, legendary scholar F.R. Leavis (you may have his scowly visage tattooed on your bum, or as you stand on the terraces of your local association football club you may find yourself chanting “Leavis till I die”) then you will be certain that any reading of  any literary text depends on an understanding of the contexts, morality and prejudices that shaped the author during the its inception.

(If you neither know nor care about Leavis then I’d gladly bore you a few hours with illuminating commentary stolen from someone who knows more than I do, but I suspect life is far too short).

Anyway, all you rabid Leavisites are in for a treat in the next few paragraphs as I reveal a number of strange contexts that are occurring to me RIGHT NOW (if you were reading this in real time, which clearly you are not).

Number 1 – I am currently aboard a cross-channel ferry heading for Portsmouth after a cheese-filled fortnight of French food and English flatulence. And writing. More of which later. It is an “express’ ferry which means the journey is only going to take three hours which is excellent; however, with speed comes a certain instability of which my stomach is not particularly fond. However, I will try to maintain my digestive integrity for the remainder of this piece.

Number 2 – To my left sits my son who is watching a film on big screen towards the end of the cabin. This film is “Tinkerbell and the something of something” and might just be the worst film ever made; so bad that I keep looking up from laptop to keep abreast of all the latest doe-eyed action.

Number 3 – Talking of breasts, to my right sits my wife (and that is NOT the connection you smutty buggers) who is reading this week’s edition of “Voici” magazine; this is a French “gossip” publication that seems to contain nothing but pictures of ladies on beaches with their boobs out. This is not necessarily a problem but again it is something of a distraction. (Being French, Voici also has a genuinely excellent recipe page. Boobs and tiramisu: a heady combination).

All of which is by way of an excuse if this blog ends up a little more ragged in its discourse than normal. Not that you’d notice.

Right then, well, as eagle-eyed Leavisites will have gleaned I have just spent a happy couple of weeks in Northern France. The food was excellent and the weather, oh the weather was just magnificent; so magnificent in fact that every French person with whom we broke baguettes told us several times over just how magnificent the weather was and how it was never, ever like this. So that was good. If a little repetitive. But aside from enjoying some glorious Breton sunshine, my other main purpose en France was to being writing a screenplay for what will hopefully become Long Arm’s second feature film.

France. Just lovely.

France. Just lovely.

The project is not nearly advanced enough for me to tell you anything about it, which I am sure is deeply troubling to you, but suffice to say I arrived in France with a few notes and a message to “get on with it” from Jimmy and I return to the UK with over a hundred pages of pretty decent stuff. And it is not yet finished but both Jimmy and I are relatively happy. There are no helicopters in it (yet) but there is a motorway service station, which I think is on a par in terms of filmic spectacle. (Seriously, if you want a GREAT NIGHT OUT then get yourselves along to Membury Services on the M4. It is a riot. Once I went to the loo there and in the cubicle next door I swear someone was being fellated; it is that kind of place – classy).

So yes, I can’t really say more than that but I will press on for a few more paragraphs about the process of writing a script. It sounds a little false but in all honesty a few people have asked me recently “how do you write?” (although many more have asked “How’s the jogging going?” knowing FULL WELL the answer). Now not for a moment would I profess myself to be any authority on the creative process whatsoever, however I have meant for a while now to note down a few thoughts in a WordPress –friendly numbered list format – something like Jim’s Six Tips for Better Writing – but I’ve never managed to get around to it. And even when I do then I wait until the high seven hundreds in the word count before mentioning that this is my intention. You see, this is why I need Jimmy. I’d be utterly absurd without him.

But, for what it’s worth, here are few conclusions gleaned from twenty years of writing stuff. Feel free to ignore them, or tattoo them on to your bum. Or even do both. Which would be a bit odd.

JIM’S LIST OF THINGS THAT HE’S LEARNT ABOUT WRITING (sponsored by Brittany Ferries)

  1. No one knows anything about writing. Never buy a textbook; never pay to go on a course; never read blogs on the subject; never read this blog; ignore websites claiming “How the three act structure will transform your scripts” because you’re sure as hellfire then going to stumble on one claiming “How the three act structure will destroy your script”. It is all balls. No one knows anything.
  1. Accept that Point 1 is true, now please ignore Point 1. By which I mean gather together a small coterie (if only for the joy of being able to use the word coterie) who you trust to read your stuff and give you honest feedback. And don’t just ask people who love you because that’s no use. They need to love you AND hate you enough to wilfully make you cross. Because you will get cross. In fact, love is irrelevant but you do need to respect them if you are going to accept that they may have a point. My first script reader is always Jimmy – he gives daily feedback when a script is underway and he is relentlessly honest. I need this. And he is almost always right. I also regularly bend the ear of three of four others and I care about what they think; I will respond to what they think. Establish a working relationship with your chosen few and then go back to Point. 1.
  1. Your first five years (at least) are going to be rubbish. Unless you are Rimbaud (or maybe even Rambo) or Kate Bush then your first attempts are writing are most likely to be a bit shit. And this is fine. This is necessary. It took me at least ten years to write anything that was half-decent and not the linguistic equivalent of either self-pity or self-love. Neither of which are very desirable qualities. The more you write, the better you’ll be. This is a simple principle but one I believe to be inherently true.
  1. Read. Read well. I went to poetry reading many years ago and Simon Armitage, a poet familiar to anyone who’s studied GCSE English in the UK in the past fifteen years , and also a sodding genius as far as I’m concerned, answered the dull question “How do you become a good a writer?” with a simple one-word answer: read. And he was right. And I don’t do enough of it as I am always exhausted at the end of the day. And I am a worse writer because of it. (Case-in-point: I just began that previous sentence with “and”). Read decent writers, don’t read The Daily Mail and you’ll be on the right track.
  2. Don’t associate creativity with things that are going to kill you. This began for me many years ago when I’d sit under a plum tree in my parents’ garden with my dear friend Kris and we’d write scripts for our university comedy group and smoke fags. And not just normal fags either, these were big ones. Marlboro 100s as they were called. And it was bloody brilliant. However, there’s been a part of my brain that associated smoking with creativity ever since. Most of my pals gave up smoking years ago but I’ve been doggedly persistent (until a more recent, much-needed breakthrough and a stern talking to from a scary Doctor) because I think, I know, that somewhere in my brain smoking means, for me, being able to write. This is fucking stupid. Don’t do this.
  1. Some people are going to hate your stuff. Some people will be indifferent. The second of which is worse actually. But you need to get used to both reactions. And unless these people are card-carrying members (and yes, do make membership cards) of your coterie (see Point 2) then you just need to square your shoulders and walk away.
  2. Tea is your friend. Unless you drink it in sufficient quantities to make it pertinent to Point 5.
  3. Write with heart and purpose. Well if the ferry doesn’t make you vomit then statements like that certainly will. But please keep your dinner down below for a moment while I explain. You should write about things that you give a shit about; whether it is things that make you happy or aroused or sad or very bloody angry. Or maybe all of these things together. If you don’t then your work will be like a glass of non-alcoholic beer: all craft and no substance (and it won’t get you pissed). As for purpose, always have a reason for writing. Write for someone. This could be one person, it could be millions, (and the chances are you’ll fall short of your target) but it will give your work an edge, a polish, a reason for existing. Otherwise all you’ll have done is just leave a few sheaves of paper in a drawer or, more likely, a few 0s and 1s etched on some server somewhere. This is a bit sad. Your work will be richer for being read.

And that’ll do for now. I quite like eight. You don’t see lists of eight on Buzzfeed (get me Nat!) so that seems reason enough to alight this particular train of thought at this stop. I’d had some notes about writing decent dialogue that I may save for a future date. Or may bin altogether.

Maybe some of the above was of use to you. Maybe not. Bear in mind that I am just an idiot from Devon so everything I say could well be a load of old balls. And anyway, the 3G signal has just connected on my phone and, as we approach the motherland, I want to check the football results. Because I am interested. And because you should never lock people into lazy stereotypes because they’ll always do something to surprise you (a bonus Point 9!).

Oh if you are interested, at the end of Tinkerbell and the something of something it turns out that it was all a dream. And the Butler did it. And Bruce Willis rides off into the blood-red sunset on a stolen motorcycle with a soundtrack by Philip Glass. I know, I know, who’d have thought it?