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?

Notes from beneath the smog pancake (the drugs barely work).

I think it indicative that my initial attempt at an opening paragraph for this blog, a  paragraph that I’d been tinkering with for the past ten minutes or so and then in a fit of mighty good sense expunged via a haughty flick of my right index finger, was dominated entirely by musings on the weather. I am passing through this week like a slightly portly zombie, my senses dulled by the antihistaminic battle raging along the snotty corridors of my sinuses between my rubbish body and the thick layer of dirty fog that has been sitting over London like a limp pancake for the past few days. The drugs don’t work, they just make you worse, or rather the drugs do work to an extent but render you dulled and limpid and trick you into believing that opening a blog in a fashion such as this is in any way helpful to humanity.

Anyway, it’s been a trying few days and although I have been prompted back to the keyboard by the flat line at the top of the WordPress window showing that the number of visitors to by blog today has been “0 visitors 0 views”, I really won’t keep you longer than I can possibly help. Think of it like going to a party of someone that you probably don’t like as much as you should; I mean you go, because you are British and therefore somewhat self-hating when it comes to social convention, but you then neck as much free wine as quickly as you can before smiling and pretending that you’ve got a crate of venison being delivered to your local butcher which you’d forgotten about but really must collect immediately. And yes it is odd that a butcher is open on a Friday night but you know, old Barry Sinew and Sons knows his market and so there must be sufficient demand for after-hours game in the West London area.

Back in the world of Long Arm Films (which in the distant past was the reason that this blog existed in the first place; that was until Jimmy booted it off our website because I’d upset too many important people with my fingers) Jimmy and I have had the very pleasant opportunity to spend a few long phone calls actually talking about stories rather than any of the other production stuff that often dominates our chat. We’ve got an idea for a new script. We think it might not be terrible and I am off to France next week to write the first draft. Actually that sounds far too grand and deliberate. No, what I mean is I am going to France next week anyway and while I am there I will attempt to write some of the new script. You can therefore expect several thousand blog words about cheese, wine and what a heart-clefting horror it is to have to sit down and actually write something. Which of course it isn’t. But yes, I am very much looking to writing.

This is not writing. Clearly.

In other utterly unrelated news, I took a well-aimed swipe at the pervasion of Facebook meme things which I could of course turn off but don’t because I like being grumpy. Eat my satire world!

(or rather, satire COMMA world – “satire world” sounds like a theme park for Guardian Readers where idiots like me and my pals can swan around in pastel shades and ride on THE ROLLER- HORACE or the er, BUMPER RORY BREMNARS   . . . time to exit that particular piece of imaginary nonsense  . . . although it would probably still be better than Trago Mills (very, very specific Westcountry reference)).

Screenshot 2014-04-03 21.38.50

I apologise for the unnecessary vulgarity. At primary school people would say that “twat” meant a pregnant goldfish. I have no idea if this is true or not (if only I had instant access to some worldwide repository of human knowledge). As far as I know it means “vagina” which probably makes me seem like a misogynist on top of everything else (which I am not, although there is a pleasing grammar joke to be made about “on top” being the most appropriate preposition for a misogynist – although I won’t be making it). For most of my teenage and university years calling someone a “twat” was pretty mild and actually a phrase like “come and sit over here you big twat” was actually so redolent with love and desire that it was akin to a proposal of marriage. At least that is what I was told. I spent a lot of my university years alone.

Kenneth Branagh! There I’ve said it. I bloody love Kenneth Branagh. I thought I saw him in town earlier this week. Turned out it wasn’t him at all. But this fascinating episode did remind me how much I loved him. (I even shouted out and called this faux Branagh a twat. This went badly). Watch his Wallander. Watch his Henry V. Watch his Hamlet – all four and half hours of 70mm brilliance of it. Watch this:

A speech that Shakespeare geeks like me will smugly remind you is not in the First Folio of 1623 but Branagh wisely restores it from the earlier Second Quarto of 1604. And oh that language in the mouth of a great actor . . .

And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds . . .

Yep. This is the good shit alright.

And in another leap of utter disconnection, thanks once again to the unmatchable BBC 6Music, I’ve discovered a man from Canada called Mathias. His band is called The Burning Hell and they are a bit like They Might Be Giants crossed with someone else. Here they are playing to a bookshop-full of nodding Germans:

Their track “Amateur Rappers” is ace too. Check them out!!!

And check me in. Up. And out of here. As the antihistamine claims me and I sink back beneath the smog pancake. And the rest is silence.

(Good luck with selling this one on Twitter Nat).

 

 

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow.

Hello. Please excuse the delay. This blog would have commenced a half an hour earlier had it not been for the rediscovery of a few old CDs nestling on the shelf next to my computer. This shelf sees pretty scant action in these days of iTunes match; the CDs remain unopened, unflicked, unsorted and gathering a layer of dust that in a forgiving light would donate to them a timeless quality, like ancient texts along the bowing shelves of a medieval chained library. Except made of plastic. And featuring a predominance of 90s indie albums. Look:

2014-03-24 21.19.08

Gosh, I do like REM don’t I? (and Noel Coward – what of it??) Anyway, I was distracted by The Libertines which I have just been reminded is a truly, fabulously dirty and brilliant collection of indie rock tunes.  Then of course Pete Docherty took too much heroine (not sure there is “just enough” heroine) and went mad. And went out with that model lady. Kate Moss. Yes, that’s her. And wore hats a lot.

Anyway, more hat-related banter later. This is a FILM BLOG so I’d better make a stab at giving you some recent Long Arm news because I know you’ve all been utterly bereft since my last entry into your electronic lives. Well, we finished our short Ex Libris  and Jimmy and I are delighted with the results. I am afraid that I must be coy and keep Ex Libris concealed beneath my blouse for now as we are submitting it to various film festivals and they require exclusivity and therefore make us promise that we haven’t shown it to all of our mates by shoving it on YouTube and allowing rude American children to write filthy comments beneath. But one day, I shall unbutton the blouse (just put on some good music and ply me with a few half-decent glasses of red, this usually does the trick) and reveal to you Ex Libris in all her glory. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

At least one of our cast has given the film the metaphorical thumbs-up (and maybe even the literal thumb-up; you’ll have to ask Jimmy to confirm this one as I wasn’t there at the time). Our pal, now-regular collaborator and generally all-round marvellous and talented Melanie Walters told the world via Twitter that she didn’t think it was rubbish:

I particularly enjoyed the translation of “tidy” – which is a Welsh joke that I don’t have the inclination to explain. But it is funny. I promise.

And that’s about it for Long Arm Films news. We do have another couple of projects under way but I can’t say anything about them yet and our editor Dan is still busy in his edit bunker at the posh end of Swansea on our debut feature film High Tide. Regular readers of this blog (hello both) will know that I’ve been promising a trailer for a few months now. And yes, I am still promising. But it is close. I promise.

And so let me leap like a spring lamb to a relatively unrelated topic for a a few hundred words or so. I went to see the musical We Will Rock You last week and it was terrible. Awful. Mind-bendingly woeful. Thankfully I didn’t have to pay for a ticket in pounds sterling but I did pay with three un-returnable hours of my life. And I am running out of these so I am riled when I spend my dwindling purse on something shite. And this really was several shades of shite. Now, I am not a hater of musicals. I am actually a writer of musicals; I’ve co-written three of the buggers and, despite the other half of Long Arm’s contempt for the genre, I retain a huge affection for the form. Two of the greatest nights I’ve ever had in a theatre were spent watching musicals (not including my own); firstly the sublime Anything Goes at the National Theatre over a decade ago and much more recently, almost exactly a year ago, the unmatchable Book of Mormon. So in a fight between musicals and the rest of culture, I’d be on the side of the Musicals, fighting like one of those sweaty cartoon men in 300 alongside women and effete gentlemen. (We’d lose the fight clearly, but we’d have a damn good sing-song as we were hacked limb-from-limb on the battlefield). However, We Will Rock You (despite its modal verb assuring us that rocking is assured) left me decidedly cross and bewildered. Not that it matters now; the show is closing soon and genuinely talented and lovely people will be out of work and for this I am sad but at least London will be free of Ben Elton’s primordially terrible script. Ben Elton. Oh Ben, Ben. You were a hero. Your stand-up, your co-penning of one of the greatest sitcoms of all time but now, now this. I know it’s made you chariot-fulls of money and you most probably bathe in liquid platinum and wear pants spun from the breath of angels simply because you can afford it but Ben, dear Ben, did it have to come to this?

And I like Queen. I mean who doesn’t? Their music is timeless, catchy and in the case of Bohemian Rhapsody utterly-off-the-scale insane and yet amongst the greatest pop songs ever penned.  But then you crowbar their music into a show and we’re greeted with a character who is called, without irony, Galileo Figaro and has a girlfriend called Scaramouch . . . . and there’s a gang of underground freedom fighters called The Bohemians who are searching for their freedom, or rhapsody  . . . . OH GOD I WANT IT TO STOP NOW. For over three hours this parade of nonsense was paraded in front of a packed theatre and then at the end, EVERYONE got to their feet, wiping tears of joy from their eyes and cheering as if Jesus had just appeared on a unicycle, wearing a Vladimir Putin mask, juggling disciples and fire. Everyone that was save for me and my three pals. The problem MUST have been ours. Surely. The will of the majority has never been proved to be anything less than infallible and perhaps we should just return to the theatre every night until we realise the huge error of our ways. But seriously, it was an odd sensation to be in such a tiny minority in the midst of an audience response like that.

As we walked back towards our hotel I got some abuse for the rather fetching hat I was wearing. The problem with modern hat-wearing (the name of my new novel) is that it is very hard for it not to seem affected or wilful. Woolly hats are fine, baseball caps are fine, for some, but don a brown fedora in London’s West End on a Thursday evening and passing football fans dressed in identical t-shirts, jeans, white trainers, all with cropped hair and sneers and making those lowing sounds like demented cattle, will call you all manner of witty names. I can’t understand it. I was only in a flowery shirt, tweed jacket and my new brown fedora. We could have been members of the same family. Perhaps this is why Pete Docherty was driven to smack; he’d just had it up to his balls in insults about his pork-pie hat. Anyway, I am sure that these football-loving gentlemen were entirely correct and I am indeed a “wanker” and a “fucking poof” and, oddly, “a fucking Kraut”. (I don’t mind being called a poof but NEVER call me German).  Every single one of them would have absolutely adored We Will Rock You.

Having been reminded of the genius of Bohemian Rhapsody, and I do mean this without a hint of irony, the only film that would suffice on my sofa the following night was of course this:

A film I watched maybe fifty times as a teenager and which, I am delighted to say, is still very, very funny even now. And yes this must partly be nostalgia but it also is much to do with Mike Myers being genuinely brilliant. Do yourself a favour. Watch Wayne’s World again.

And as for me, I am driving around south Devon in the mid-90s, my two-tone Ford Fiesta Mk 1 stuffed with my pals and all of us are banging our heads, Wayne’s World-style to the rocking bit of Bohemian Rhapsody. We didn’t have a care in the world. Not a shred. Not a shred.

Anywhere the wind blows. 

 

The Advent Film Quiz (eventually); providing succour in a world of idiocy.

So then, December has arrived like a fat uncle who has taken up residence on the sofa and is demanding booze. And mince pies. He’s knocked off his shoes, unbuttoned the top button of his trousers in anticipation of the Romanesque onslaught of feasting that is to follow in the next few weeks and has nicked your remote control and is insisting on watching “family” (and rarely has there been a more damning adjective) films on ITV. In short, he is a terrible guest and heaven forfend that the bastard stays for the full thirty one days.

Actually such fanciful similes belie a more straightforward truth. December is largely jolly, save for all the myriad shite lining shelves and screens depicting Christmas as an orgiastic celebration of the very worst kind of commercialism (not that there’s really a best one). I love my family and my friends; I like good wine and excellent food; I’d probably rob a bank for you if you paid me in really good stilton cheese, but all the rest of the nonsense (c.f. the current, vomit-inducing Marks and Spencer ad) I would happily pile into pandora’s box (not a euphemism) and lock away for eternity – if you’ll allow such wanton mixing of one’s cultural reference points.

In recent weeks all things Long Arm Films have been a little quiet. At least publicly. Although Social Media captain Nat fired off a pleasingly enigmatic tweet last week:

In fact it was so enigmatic I had to call her up to ask her what she was talking about. But it’s okay, Nat remains “on message” and when she told me that which I had forgotten I was keeping secret (does that work syntactically?) I was excited afresh and all the more so for having forgotten about it and then been reminded of it for a second time. So yes, we’re working on some stuff that we can’t talk about yet. But it is good. Or at least it will be. We hope.

Dan the Editor has been very busy in his edit bunker in posh end of Swansea and large swathes of High Tide are emerging, rough and battered like a newborn calf (although with less amniotic fluid) blinking at and mooing at the fragile light that seeps into the pen and throws the attending vet into sharp silhouette. Which is of course a frankly ridiculous way of saying that there’s some way to go but things are looking good. And not at all bovine. Apart from my brief cameo as “Doris”, udders akimbo, during the party scene.

What else? Oh yes, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has surprised no one by being an odious, fascistic toss-pot in a speech he made last week. I was so angry but such barefaced idiocy, such smug and dangerously ill-informed attempts fellate Right Wing voters that I seized the digital reigns of the Long Arm Twitter account and made this dazzling declaration:

That showed him. Amusingly we were tweeted back (is that the correct phrase?) by a Johnson PR monkey who’d obviously been given the almost divinely onorous task of replying to everyone on Twitter who’d called their master a dick that night. This tweet pointed us towards an article published elsewhere suggesting that BJ had been misquoted and misrepresented by an evil left-wing press. Which was of course utter nonsense in itself. Still it did allow me to add to my infrequently attended to list of the “world’s worst jobs” – to wit, the poor bastard charged with dashing around the internet with a digital mop and bucket in an attempt to stem the tide of political excreta deposited from the mouths of powerful idiots.

That was a diversion. Let’s get back to being festive. Jingle bells not jangly balls – a complaint for which you must seek medical help. Next weekend, some of my dearest friends and myself are gathering for our annual christmas dinner. This event has happened for over a decade now and represents the single occasion in the year when all of us are in the same room at the same time. There was a time, back at university when we’d spend most of every day together, writing, performing shows, drinking (a lot) and generally not working as hard at our studies as we should have done. Here is a  photograph of some of us taken more years ago than I would care to divulge:

Showreel Group Photo copy

These days we see each other much less frequently and so our “Gentleman’s Christmas Dinner” has become one of the sacred, immovable dates in our year. Jimmy has been to a few over the years but although I am clearly the fresh-faced good-looking one in Long Arm Films, I am actually a few years older than my pal and so our friendship groups don’t really overlap. Plus he’s busy (so he says) and he’s in Swansea so this year he won’t be there. And so he’ll miss the four course meal cooked by me (see, all those many hours camped out in front of Masterchef are not a waste of time), he’ll miss the sight of eight ageing men drinking far too much wine and he’ll miss, and this will really smart, the annual quiz.

I bloody love a quiz. Years ago back in Devon we’d go to one in our local town in a pub called The Jolly Farmer. This was pre-smoking ban so the place was pretty disgusting, its air thick with fag smoke, its wooden floors paying potent testament  to the decades of spilt beers and ciders that had seeped into its fibres, and once a week the landlord would host a general knowledge quiz. I can’t remember what our team name was but I am certain it didn’t match the punning brilliance and often downright filthy sobriquets of our rivals – “Norfolk in Chance” was one example I remember, as was the at least a little more highbrow “Les Quizerables” and I am pretty sure there was one, boastfully or otherwise, called “I Have a Lovely Vagina” which may have been just a ruse to get the cheapest of laughs as the landlord summarised the scores or, who knows, it just could have been a statement of fact. Although the team was comprised of a lone, male participant so the idea seems fanciful.

Many years later some friends and I, now in London, found a pub quiz that became so much of an obsession that we didn’t miss a single week in two years. Our team was called The Ploughmen, after our preferred menu choice and, due largely to our brilliant friend Chris who has been on Mastermind and Only Connect, we did very well. We developed a fierce rivalry with another team of never-miss-a-week-ers called “The Whirlybirds”. They hated us. We hated them. It was like Fight Club but with knowledge of the hits of Wizard rather than bare-knuckle barbarism. Week after week we traded obscure knowledge, one team edging the other out only for the reverse to happen the week after. Month after month this rivalry played out and intensified only for one day, after twenty four long months of battering each other with esoteric facting UNTIL (and in a moment of clunking bathos from a narrative perspective) the pub closed for refurbishment and reopened a month later as a terrible gastro abomination. In the words of the landlord / quizmaster and our supposed FRIEND the pub was now “more fine dining” and there was no place at the polished table and needlessly high stools for quiz. Shame. Shame on them.

Quiz lives on, mercifully, at the Gentleman’s Christmas Dinner and as a reward to you for making this far down a wilfully arcane addition to the blog canon, here is a WELL IT IS ALMOST CHRISTMAS SO LET’S HAVE AN ADVENT FILM QUIZ quiz.

ROUND ONE (of one) –
NOT VERY FAMOUS OPENING LINES FROM FILMS IN MY CUPBOARD.

Yes, we all know the LAST lines. But how about the first? I give you the line. You give me the film. One point per correct answer.

1 – I believe in America.

2 – Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure.

3 – Officials at the Pacific Nuclear Research Facility have denied the rumour that a case of missing plutonium was in fact stolen from their vault two weeks ago.

4 – Alright Curly, enough’s enough. You can’t eat the venetian blinds; I had them installed on Wednesday.

5 – There’s an old joke.  Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of ’em says: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know, and such … small portions.”

6 – Alright. I’m going to turn over the next card. Concentrate. I want you to tell me what you think it is

7 – I’m going for a cup of tea. Do you want one?

8 – Somebody asked me today, “Phil, if you could be anywhere in the world where would you like to be?

9- With the coming of the Second World War many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or desperately towards the freedom of the Americas.

10 – How you doing Keaton?

And yes you could look them up on the internet but what would be the point? You’d only be cheating yourself and your soul would shrivel to the size of a walnut and then you’d spontaneously develop a nut allergy and your soul would cause you to go into anaphylactic shock and you’d have to epipen yourself but in the HEART like in Pulp Fiction. None of which sounds much fun. So, like just don’t cheat kids.

I will send a Long Arm Films badge to the first person to correctly name all ten in the comments box below proving you provide some sort of sworn affidavit that the answers have come from your brain not your iPhone.

Round Two will happen as soon as is likely.

And with that rather I wish you a happy advent.

Ending these things is harder than starting them, isn’t it?

(yes)

Trichlorophenylmethyliodsalicyl or, the Stinging Weasel

I have a toothache. Not that you are in any way expected to care but there we go, it is true. To counter said toothache I have taken the only two sensible courses of action available to medical science: I have necked a tiny red orb of neurofen (the hardcore stuff that you can only score from a pharmacist) and then gargled with a dilute mixture of TCP and liquid nausea. So I am feeling a little queasy and clouded and, rather like a rudimentary cartoon character, I have a haze of TCP-fumes lingering around my face that I suspect are probably flammable. Please don’t get too close. And don’t offer me a fag.

I do wonder if I should provide a brief gloss here for readers who are not familiar with Britain’s Favourite Liquid Antiseptic (my capitals, I have absolutely no idea whether this is true – I suspect it is must be in the top three though). TCP or, as it is known colloquially in bars and clubs, The Stinging Weasel or, even more colloquially, trichlorophenylmethyliodsalicyl, is British attitudes to healthcare in liquid form. If you fell over in the 1980s whilst playing swingball or scrabbling to buy shares in a newly privatised utility company then your mother’s immediate response to the injury would be as follows. 1 – Say “it’s just a scratch” and then 2 – Liberally apply TCP, in quantities roughly proportionate to the severity of the injury; so if you’d grazed your bare forearm on some barbed wire as you snuck into a field to play football or bother the sheep then perhaps one capful would suffice or if you’d lost your leg altogether then maybe you’d need up to three capfuls. It is magical stuff and in a country when even most GPs will greet most medical complaints with a two pronged strategy of “have a glass of water” and “perhaps a couple of paracetamol” then TCP represents our first line of defence against the big bastard of Real Life who comes at us brandishing a bewildering arsenal of weaponry. Slice open a British child of the 70s or 80s and they will bleed TCP (and then of course please patch them up again and tend to their wound with Dettol Savlon TCP).

I have just spent over three hundred words writing about TCP. I could write a many more but I think I should probably move on. Although my research paper “TCP – Chasing the Stinging Weasel” will be published next month in The Lancet.

There is no way to link from liquid antiseptics into some Long Arm Films news so I won’t even attempt to contrive one. I will just let you know that after many months of having a rubbish website we now have one that isn’t rubbish. Actually forget litotes, we now have a REALLY QUITE LOVELY website. You can view it by clicking on this link that I have handily provided you here in text form. 

And if you are averse to leaving one site to look at another here is a picture of the homepage. Which through the magic of binary coding is also a link to the site.

Screenshot 2013-10-23 22.12.34

It contains all the same information as before but it looks a lot sexier. (And ladies (and men), can you find the hidden picture of Jimmy reclining, Roman Emperor-like, in a bath with a not quite sufficient amount Matey bubble bath to cover his modesty? – We call this feature “Where’s Willy?” – sorry, sorry, sorry, blame the TCP). Anyway we think it looks great and if only the BASTARD DNS settings would stop resetting themselves at our domain host, thus preventing the URL masking from working properly (first world tech problems) then I would be as happy as a cow. Three days ago I didn’t know DNS settings were actually a thing. Now I hate them with dark, treacle-like intensity. Still, if you’ve reached the end of this paragraph and still not visited then you can type http://www.longarmfilms.co.uk and you’ll get there.

The still on the homepage (see above, at length) is from our feature film High Tide starring television’s Melanie Walters and Sam Davies. The rushes from the shoot are still with Dan in his edit bunker at the posh end of Swansea but I am pleased to say that last weekend I was able to see about fifteen minutes of edited footage. Now I know this will seem like I’m dancing from foot-to-foot in front of an enchanted door whilst waxing lyrical about the unbounded joy within but then telling you to bugger off because there’s no way you’re coming in. It may seem like that. Possibly. But I am afraid that I really can’t show you any of it yet. I’d get into all sorts of trouble with the producers, not to mention Jimmy who, when he’d hauled himself out of his bath, would go ape-shit (as we used to say in the late 80s) and kick my ample Devonshire ass from here to a week on Thursday. But please believe me when I said that I was very pleased with what I saw. Okay, enough dancing in front of imaginary doors.

I’ve just finished reading a book by David Mamet which was passed in my direction by my lovely friend Viv (thanks Viv). It purports to be a book revealing the ‘truth” about Hollywood – it is called Bambi vs Godzilla by the way – but it actually consists of Mamet mumbling on like a grumpy wizard about the various people who have pissed him off during his many years making films. He also uses incredibly arcane vocabulary (vocabulary that makes the word “arcane” seem as straightforward as “dog” – I do have some interesting chat about the etymology of “dog” actually but I’ll save it for when we are next in the pub together and I can bore you with it then) – I had to use a dictionary several times (shamefully in app form on my phone rather than a dusty tome pulled from a creaking shelf) – here’s one from page three – PICAYUNE, and on the next page MALFEASANCE and then EXCULPATORY .  .  and so on. However when he’s not having a pop at bastards or showing off that he has a wider vocabulary than God, he does write provocatively and with passing brilliance about filmmaking and creative processes in general. The book ends, appropriately, with a discussion about effective endings to films. Let me quote from Mamet briefly:

Stanislavski wrote that the last ninety seconds are the most important in the play. Hollywood wisdom casts it thus: Turn the thing around in the last two minutes, and you can live quite nicely. Turn it around in the last ten seconds and you can live in Bel Air.

That’s Hollywood as in filmmaking capital not as in Paul and his salt and pepper hair – just to clarify for British readers (this is James writing, not David Mamet).

Perfect endings are hard to come by. If they have been overly-signalled then they arrive with thudding predictability; if they come out of absolutely no where then they can be greeted with a collective OH COME ON from the audience. Followed by violence in the stalls. If they are too weird then they can leave an audience feeling betrayed – I still grumble about the final episode of Twin Peaks. I gave up SO MANY hours to this show, I loved its oddness, its unsettling and confusing multiple plot strands, I embraced Twin Peaks and then it ended without any answers but with a dancing dwarf in a maze. I love you David Lynch but I also HATE you.

Mamet makes some excellent choices about great endings. Who could argue that the final line of Some Like it Hot is anything other than perfection? I am therefore going to end this blog with two suggestions of my own.

1. Big Night (1996) dir. Cambell Scott and Stanley Tucci.

I think I have written about this before but two Italian-American brothers open a restaurant. They cook. They fall out. And then THIS happens.

Understated brilliance showing the wonder of what you can do when telling a story in pictures. And talking of brilliance:

2. Back to the Future (1985) Dir. Robert Zemeckis

There are only rubbish versions of this on youtube so you are going to have to picture the moment in your brain. Come on, you’ve all seen it.

Marty and Jennifer are about to climb into the big truck thing when POW! Doc Brown arrives in the DeLorean telling them they’ve got to go the future to save their children. Marty enquires politely that how will they reach the necessary speed for time travel because, verily, the road is too short. Christopher Lloyd, a genius, earns every cent of his fee for the film by saying (altogether now):

ROADS? WHERE WE’RE GOING WE DON’T NEED (pause) ROADS!

Bosh! Filmmaking perfection. Oh balls, I’ve found the clip now.

Admit it. It was even better in your head. If you saw Back to the Future in a British cinema on its release then the air would have been thick with popcorn, TCP and the stale odour of an overly-forced conclusion to a blog entry.

It’s time for my next shot Doctor, it’s time for my next shot.

Netflix and the dulling of basic human function (via the joy of Portland, Oregon)

Good evening world. I hope all is well wherever you may be. I hope you’ve been able to put aside, even just for a moment, your fears about chemical warfare, the shutdown of America by a cabal of right-wing fuckwits, the ongoing horror that is the editorship and indeed readership of the Daily Mail or your lingering disgust at that moment yesterday when two, count them, two separate people barged in front of you in the queue for the talking till computer things (I remember when you were served by a human being; call me a daft, middle-aged nostalgia-twat but I found that experience just a little bit more pleasant) in Marks and Spencer, and have had a lovely day doing something at least fairly agreeable. I ate a sandwich, fell asleep beneath a yellowing autumn tree and then looked at some pumpkins (not a euphemism). All in all, something of a triumph as far as Sundays go.

pumpkinsPumpkins: a range of varieties from around the world and already condemned by the Daily Mail as “Marxist” and “Britain-hating” and therefore should be stripped of all benefits and sent back to the Americas post-haste.

I am also somewhat chipper to be to bring you a few nuggets of Long Arm news; none of which are particularly life-altering in their magnitude but should reassure the many of you that gave us some money that we have not just spent it on pants and then hoped that you’d forget about the film if we didn’t talk about it for long enough.

So here goes:

1 – Jimmy represented Long Arm Films at the Welsh BAFTAS on the arm of television’s Melanie Walters. He had a good time but sadly did not make it into the official photographs of the evening that you can find on BAFTA’s website. This may be due to the fact that he went all “Emperor’s New Clothes” in his wardrobe choice. However, he did drink a lot but not enough to keep up with Mel who abandoned him at 3am and then branded him a lightweight on Twitter the following day. A good night for LAF.

2 – The edit of High Tide (starring of course the aforementioned Ms. Walters) continues in the very safe hands of Dan the editor. He seems still to be happy in his work and he is making some very positive noises (just like the one you make when you’ve taken a first bite of a dish that you’d assumed would be no more than mediocre but actually turns out to be lip-smackingly lovely, that kind of noise) about how it is looking. This of course means he is yet to tackle the hours and hours of footage that we shot with two cameras during the party scene. At this point in the editing process, Dan will turn from affable gentleman to crimson-eyed demon and curse the name of Long Arm films in a series of imaginative and deeply offensive constructions, his diabolic voice rattling the slates and Vietnamese noodles across the Uplands with a good chance of being heard in Mumbles if the wind is blowing favourably.

Enough Swansea references.

3 – We have gone into pre-production on two NEW short films that will be shot early next year and then released in the run-up to the premiere of High Tide. The first will be a new short by Jimmy and me but the second will be written and directed by High Tide DOP and all-round good egg Mr Christopher Lang. This will be the first Long Arm production written by someone else. We are very excited about both films; it will be good to be making something again and we’re delighted that the first Long Arm non-Gillingham / Hay film will be in the safe and steady hands of our pal Chris. I will reveal a bit more about each of the two short films as we get closer to the shoot, including casting and a few hints about the plots of each.

4 – We had a something of a breakthrough on our second feature film script this week. And, in a first for Long Arm, we weren’t engaged in a round of pitch and put when the breakthrough happened. I must be coy (and sensible) and not reveal the plot of our as-yet-unwritten second feature-length screenplay on my blog but I can say that it is interesting, provocative and unexpected. And the Daily Mail will HATE it. Which can only be a good thing.

Away from Long Arm and back in the domestic realm, this week I’ve realised (the grammar of which suggests that I have, like baths, weekly revelations; this is very far from the truth) that sleek modern technology may look sexy, shiny and Helvetica Extra-Fine but frequently it does not solve many of humanity’s fundamental problems, and god knows we have a few of these, but just shifts them to new contexts. Take for example, the utterly anodyne ritual of choosing a film to watch on a Friday night. You’ve had a long week, a couple of drinks after work and you’re in the mood for a decent film. In the VHS days, you’d have to traipse to your local rental shop and stand beneath near hospital-level intensity white light and scan the plastic racks for a copy of Heathers or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or Short Circuit. And this was fine, if a little hard on the eyes. At least it got you out and maybe you could pop into Spar on your way back for some Bombay mix, a bottle of cheap red and a packet of durex.

Now things are different. Things are EASIER, he writes in ironic capitals. Now with on-demand services streamed to your television the trip to the VHS rental shop has gone the way of socialism and milkmen. Now you can sit on your sofa and choose from a near-infinite selection of films and television programmes from around the world. But such infinity serves only to nudge you towards madness as you are terrorised by overwhelming choice; it is an endless box of chocolates stretching out past familiar stars and out towards deep space; it is a bar stocked with all of your favourite ales that breaks through the side wall of the pub and continues for miles along the A303 towards Honiton. And faced with such unquenchable supply of product your ability to be decisive goes the same way as socialism and milkmen. You have infinite choice. But you can’t choose. This is the torture of the digital age; the dulling of those instinctive faculties that kept our ancient ancestors alive and, cruelly, prepared the stage for our eventual, inevitable and ignominious exit.

ANCIENT GILLINGHAM 4500BC – Shit! There’s a mammoth. Wow. It’s really big. Despite our dearth of basic refrigeration facilities that could keep the family going for like ages. What shall I do? I shall HUNT IT. NOW! COME ON! Eat spear my hirsute, elephantine adversary!

MODERN GILLINGHAM 2013AD – Shit! There’s a mammoth. Wow! It’s really big. Although you know what, I’ve seen bigger. And it’s not like there’s a shortage of mammoths. And I’m a bit tired. What shall I do? Well, I QUITE want to chuck my spear at it, but I don’t know if I can be bothered. I mean, I want to chuck my spear at it AT SOME POINT. But maybe not now. Maybe I’ll wait and see what else comes along. I’ve always wanted to hunt mammoth but I just wanted something, I don’t know, a bit funnier on a Friday night  . . . .  .

Thank goodness, Neolithic tribes didn’t have Netflix otherwise NONE OF US WOULD NOW EXIST.

However, despite all that bluster I am very grateful to Netflix for introducing me to Portlandia which has made me very happy indeed this weekend. It is a sketch show set in Portland, Oregon (which seems to be like a large-scale, American version of Totnes, a reference which although limited in its accessibility is nevertheless pin-sharp accurate) and, at a time when nothing on television makes me laugh anymore, it is very, very funny. I love everything about it. This is the opening of the first episode:

And if you don’t love that then we can no longer be friends. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Portlandia features regular guest appearances from Kyle MacLachlan who I first encountered in late-night Twin Peaks sessions (ON VHS!) with Mark, Bob and Rupert in Shepherd’s Bush. But that is another story. However, let’s end with a bit of David Lynch genius and dig up from the digital top-soil MacLachlan’s first appearance in the aforementioned Twin Peaks in what must be one of the greatest introductions to a character ever. And I mean that. Take it away Agent Cooper:

Layerings of befuddle and hummus

I have spent the past few days in the fair city of Bristol in which, on Friday, my wonderful sister got married. And the sun shone and I saw lots of brilliant people I hadn’t seen in years and I discovered a new way of cooking potatoes (“Pommes Anna” -a French, of course, recipe which apparently involves dousing a mini mountain of thinly sliced potatoes in butter and then slowly turning them as they cook in order to gain a pleasingly crunchy shell which houses the orgasmically tender flesh of the potatoes within) and it was happy and silly and I even thought that it was probably a good idea to follow several (and really the top end of several) glasses of strong red wine during dinner with several pints of strong local ale as I hit the dance floor.

It is probably safe to say that I have had better ideas and even two days later my head feels a little wooly as I type. Which may mean that my usual meanderings are somewhat curtailed. Which is most likely a good thing. So in this respect I have done you a favour and you should be THANKING ME for my indulgences.

Usually when I fold myself into the corner of our increasingly tortuous sofa in order to begin writing, I do so with at least a sketchy sense of how the ensuing blog entry will be structured. Sometimes I even stick to the plan when I’ve made it. However, in these moments of beer-induced-brain-fuddle such planning is as unlikely as finding a pithy and original second half to this simile. So instead I am just going to hit you with all I’ve got. You may wish to stand back slightly or take sensible precautionary measures by wearing goggles or one of those bright yellow hats that fishermen wear in dreams. So here goes.

Brain salvo one: On Loving Bristol.

I bloody love Bristol. It feels like a place of true originality. And not of the sort that feels forced or fake. It is what it is. Its people are quirky and friendly; its buildings are eclectic and interesting; it has some amazing places to eat and it is the kind of place where people are happy to queue for SIX HOURS to see models of the canine half of legendary animated duo Wallace and Gromit. 

So while we’re at it, let’s take a moment to be reminded of the genius of Bristol’s Aardman Animations:

On Saturday morning, we walked around St Nicholas Market, past all the tiny little counters selling all manner of delicious foodstuffs. It really is a magical place, redolent of flavour, simplicity and hope. Later the same day I bought some hummus from Tesco. There really is no hope for the planet. Or for me.

Brain salvo two: Talking of Tesco.

All of Team Long Arm have the ability to post to our Twitter account so our millions of followers can be reached at a moments notice if we ever wish to invade a country or share a picture of a sleeping member of our crew with the word “twat” written on his forehead. Mostly, our social media captain Nat is in charge of broadcasting to the world, but sometimes it is me sharing 140 characters of bilge, and very, very occasionally it might be Jimmy. Anyway, we can all see our Twitter feed and sometimes I will have a read. And earlier this is what I stumbled upon:

This made me so fucking grumpy. Now, I have no opinion whatsoever on Downtown Abbey; I have never seen a single minute of it. But what I object to, particularly when tired and grumpy, is this behemoth of a supermarket PAYING TWITTER to engage with shoppers about their choice in television. AND MAKING IT WORSE by using a hashtag that is inevitably going to be trending as DA screens on the TV tonight. I was unfeasibly riled by this. And did I sit back and just take this corporate rogering? Did I blandly and blindly acquiesce to the fact that my go-to supplier of bog-standard middle-eastern pastes wanted to engage with me on not only culinary but also CULTURAL matters? Like arse I did. THIS is what I did. This is how I stuck it back to the man so hard that his corporate body-politic must still be pulsing with wave after wave of core-cleaving pain. This is how I charged with the lance of satire. This. THIS:

I meant “popular”. Oh dear.

And this is how the poor bastard who runs Tesco’s Twitter feed expressed his or her sadness at the situation. I actually feel quite sorry for them.

In future, I shall leave the tweeting to Nat.

Brain salvo three: Melanie Walters ascends the pantheon of legend and achieves near-Godlike status.

It is no secret that we love Melanie Walters. And you will too when you see her performance in our feature film High Tide. She really is extraordinary. However, Mel tops even herself in this video in which she’s meant to be talking about why she loves Swansea Bay but instead talks briefly, but we think with real passion, about Long Arm Films:

Obviously we are likewise supporting Swansea’s city of culture bid and I should have some news on this front in the next few weeks. But for the moment, we are just happy that Melanie remembers us. Thanks Mel. 

Brain salvo four: I watched Star Trek.

I watched Star Trek Into Darkness. And it was very silly. And the bit with the girl standing pointlessly around in her pants and bra is every bit as terrible and exploitative as the furore suggested when the film was released. I mean they’re not even SPACE PANTS. Not that would have been any less exploitative but it would have been at least a little more sci-fi. But pants aside (my motto) it is an entertaining enough way to pass a couple of hours; Mr Cumberbatch is as good as he is ubiquitous which, as grammar fans will tell you, is an impossibility – and you can win a Long Arm badge if you send me an email and tell my why this is. That is if I read the email and if you are right and if I get around to sending you a badge, and I have to be honest with you and say that this is on the muckier side of likely.

But call me an old fart but I would have liked a bit more exploring and a bit less EXPLODING.

Bet Tesco loved the tits off it though.

Brain salvo five: the soothing balm of music

This is sung by our friend Jaspreet. It is lovely. Thank goodness.

Goodnight.