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.

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:

Beyond Depardieu: adventures in le cinema Francais

I am in France. I am sitting at a French table in a French house full of actual French people who insist on speaking French. I have just eaten a French meal and washed it down with a pleasing amount of excellent French red wine. So yes, right at this moment I am living the French dream, or Je vis le reve Francais (which may or may not be the correct translation and I don’t know how to render on a British keyboard all those extra fiddly bits that climb all over French letters (not THAT type of French letter) in order for the words to be pronounced correctly by French people or, in my case, somewhat mangled and then spat out with an overly-strong English accent).

It appears that I “double-bracketed” in that previous paragraph, an aberration for which I can only apologise. I could perhaps try and pass it off as a valid stylistic attempt to capture the myriad simultaneous computations of the human mind, the punctuational (?) equivalent of a magician (why aren’t there more female magicians, or as the French might say magiciennes?) whisking three cups along a flat surface and asking his audience to guess beneath which cup the coherent point lurks? I COULD do that. But it would be dreadful lie. And I respect you too much for that. So yes, I’m sorry. I’d like to suggest that it won’t happen again but you know what? It probably will.

Alors, back to all things French. This is a great country. And not just because of the food, although this is clearly a huge plume in its chapeau. A couple of days ago I ate a lunch so rich, so deliriously, perilously delicious that I had to have a two hour sleep immediately afterwards in order to recover. (God, I love being on holiday). However France can also be a frustrating (borderline racist at times), set-it-its-ways and insular country but at least it looks after its poor, treats its state workers with respect and after the horrors of a Sarkozy presidency, returned to good sense and elected a socialist to take decisions on taxation that drove the fat-headed, pissing-on-planes, horrid man that is Gerard Depardieu out of the country and into the warm embrace of famous humanitarian and all-around good egg Vladimir Putin. Or as French satirists might say, Vladimir Putain. (French joke; ask Google if you need to).

The fact that, in his pomp, Depardieu was an extraordinary actor is a little irritating but perhaps shows that if indeed there is a God he does have a dark sense of humour. Anyway, I will return to all things cinematic a little later in this ramble. Let me first tell you a story about my trip to la mer this afternoon.

We drove to the coast earlier under the first bit of sunshine I’ve seen for what feels like months and arrived at one of  the countless brilliant French beaches that pepper the extensive coastline. The French are not on holiday at the moment. The fact that I can make this statement, and for it to be largely true, reveals an enormous amount about French habit and psyche. You CAN generalise about an entire nation in a way that would be absurd if you tried to do the same about Britain (ignoring, clearly, the list I bashed together in the previous post concerning “truths” about Britishness). So yes, the French are currently not on holiday and so when you arrive at a pretty seaside town this is what you see:

Empty French beach

Just to clarify, I hadn’t roped off the local population in some sort of town-wide French-baiting police incident in order to secure the beach for myself, nor had I walked along the seafront happily eating a British beef burger (the French still believe that we carry BSE around like the common cold), no the truth of the matter was that there was no one there. The sun shone, the wind had dropped, the blue sea lapped gently against the golden sand and absolutely NOBODY was there to witness it. Such a scene would be unthinkable in Britain and as such it was all the more wonderful to experience it today. I did all those things that you’d do if a director asked you to act as if you were enjoying a rare spot of fresh air and good weather: I tipped back my head and closed my eyes at the watery sunshine; I inhaled and exhaled with all the drama of the very worst type of hammy (Gillinghammy?) amateur actor; I “mmmmm”-ed to myself a few times and then I showed off by saying “Que ca fait du bien” JUST BECAUSE I CAN.

What has all this got to do with filmmaking? Absolutely nothing of course. But that will be no surprise to regular readers of this blog. However, Jimmy arrives tomorrow and along with some pressing production work required in the ever-shortening approach to the “High Tide” shoot, we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of spending a few hours discussing our NEXT film, which very, very tentatively might MIGHT just possibly be at least partially set in France. That is if we don’t make an utter pig’s arse of our debut feature which, let’s be honest, we still might.

Despite being married to a French lady, I am far from an expert on French cinema, despite her best efforts to educate me. When I was taught French at school, the standard end of term “treat” was to watch a knackered VHS copy of one of the only two French films ever made (or so we thought) – i.e. Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. To us these films seemed ancient (although actually they’d been made relatively recently when we saw them) and I would like to say that despite my tender years I was moved by the tragic story of Jean the hunchback and by the eventual revenge of his daughter. The truth is I found them dull. I mean for a start they were set in the countryside and when you yourself grow up in a rural area what you really want to see are exotic cities, clumps of illuminated skyscrapers, dingy, graffitied underpasses, glass and steel, not a peasant with a big nose who chases chickens. And secondly, and more problematically, THEY WERE IN FRENCH. And although by Year 9 (or third year, as we called it, in those “pre-decimal” days of school year labels) we could ask our way to the railway station and say that we lived in Devon, the linguistic subtleties of early C20th French rural life were entirely lost on us. Not only this, the television (and video) was one of those ones kept in a sort of cupboard on wheels (immediately familiar to any British adult of a certain age) and you could only read the subtitles if you were sitting at the front of the class. And we didn’t do that except in Geography because we fancied Mrs Miller.

To our minds (and this frequent use of third person possessive determiner refers to me and my school buddies with whom I had many low-risk adventures with bikes, go-karts, booze and eventually (and entirely unsuccessfully) girls during our formative years – see, told you I would double-bracket again) the ONLY interesting moment in either film was the brief flash of Emmanuelle Beart’s breasts in “Manon des Sources” and even this moment of wonder was usually spoiled by our French teacher standing in front of the screen to howls of derision from the spotty, horny teenage boys in the class. Mind you this moment of censorship (the kind of which you would never get in France) was as nothing compared to the travails of our music teacher when showing us Quadrophenia as part of a unit on Sixties music. She seemed pretty relaxed about the regular drug use in the film but would leap across the classroom (this being in the pre-remote control era) and scramble for fast forward during the masturbation scene (which did render the scene all the more hilarious to watch) and would near-explode with panic during sex in the alley moment at which she would press stop and then fast forward “blind”. Memorably (and it is no wonder that we remember given our age at the time) she once showed us the sex scene several times over by trying to find the correct place in the film again once she’d finished her attempted censorship. This was clearly the very best music lesson ever in the history of English secondary education.

Looking at them again now, Jean and Manon are cinematic masterpieces. They are by turns, tender, brutal and hugely moving. Gerard Depardieu is stunning in the title role of the first film (as indeed is Daniel Auteuil who went on to be near- ubiquitous in French cinema of the 90s) and Beart is just as good in the sequel. But to think of them as the sole representatives of French cinema is like suggesting that British culture is expressed most accurately by the films of Richard Curtis or if you own Don McLean’s “American Pie” album you need never buy another record by an American artist.

Cinema is in the blood of the French nation, as much as bread, wine and cheese (and not just because they invented the whole thing in the first place). As a British filmmaker I can only envy the health and stature of a French film industry that produces dozens of excellent films every year that reach interested, knowledgeable audiences. This is truly a nation that tells stories about itself. That said, despite the wonder of French cinema, French television is truly execrable. We have Doctor Who. They have Jules et Jim.  We make better television, they make much, much better films.  My esteemed colleague Jimmy Hay will happily sit you down at his dining table and talk you through the highlights of la nouvelle vague (he even has a giant poster of A bout de souffle above said dining table thus cementing his credentials as a proper cineaste) but I will end these gallic ramblings with five films francais of recent years that I have enjoyed. There are many, many more. And there may be many better. But all of these choices stay with me.

1. Comme une image (2003) Dir. Agnes Jouai

2. Ne le dit a personne (2007) Dir.Guillaume Canet

3. De battre mon coeur s’est arrête (2005) Dir. Jacques Audiard

4. Paris (2008) Dir. Cedric Klapisch

5. Intouchables (2011) Dir. Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache

Oh balls, Jimmy will kill me if I don’t include this final one, so the list is now SIX French films that I have enjoyed. Although I don’t think “enjoy” is quite the right word to describe my reaction to this final one; “shocked”, “moved”, “troubled” might be better verbs.

6. Cache (2005) Dir. Michael Haneke

And there we go. Apologies to French readers for the lack of accents and cedillas in the titles above.

Et maintenant, Je pense qu’il est presque l’heure de se coucher. Peut-être qu’il est temps pour un dernier verre de vin?

Salut et a bientôt.

10 entirely invented motivational quotations for writers

I try very hard not to be a moaner. I mean we all love a good moan now and then: about the government, the football, the shockingly poor selection of cheese available from the corner shop but no one actually LIKES a moaner do they? No one wants to be sitting on the bus, or in the tea room or astride a ski-lift next to someone who is letting rip about the veins in their legs or the price of lawnmowers these days or the shocking state of post-structuralist teaching in some of our second-tier universities. We all moan about moaners. And with good reason. So I do try to avoid the overly-negative in these “blog’ posts; I try to look towards the light and not the dark, celebrate rather than denigrate, be silly rather than cynical. Sometimes I succeed (I bought some new boots this weekend; they are brilliant! – see, just like that), but at other times I fail (Peanut butter is disgusting and anyone who says otherwise is on the devil’s payroll – yep, like that) and I am sad to say that this is one of those times.

So here goes. Existence: feel my wrath!

You know what really annoys me? Quotes. And not just the fact that the noun is “quotation” which EVERYBODY GETS WRONG ALL OF THE BLOODY TIME (although this does make me cross and repulsively self-righteous, so much so that at times I do want to punch myself in the face) but also the fact that they get plastered up everywhere as if somehow such gobbets of wisdom could be of actual use to ANYBODY when in reality they’re just further examples of the reductive and under-baked nonsense that passes for thought in this so-called “Twenty First” century of ours. (Gosh, I am grumpy this evening).

Bruce Robinson, author of “Withnail and I” reportedly had a sign on his typewriter which read “Write damn you; it’s the only thing you’re good for”. I like that. That one can stay, that one is allowed but all other quotATIONS that are plastered around the walls of student flats and schools and pubs (those ones particularly grate – I don’t need Samuel Johnson’s reassurance that drinking a pint of ale is like kissing a princess or something – I KNOW IT IS) should be made illegal from tomorrow. No, earlier than that. They should be made illegal from this very moment. From now. That’s it. I’ve passed the law. They are now illegal and the punishment for displaying even the most likeable aphorism in a public space will be punitive and entirely unfair. And if you post one on Facebook then the keys on your keyboard will secrete superglue before becoming electrified. And that is for your first offence.

I am sounding entirely unlikeable aren’t I? I do try not to be wherever possible. Perhaps I should be a little less misanthropic; after all, if a well-chosen quotation gets you through your day then what the hell does it matter what I think? It doesn’t matter a jot, of course it doesn’t. But do a quick google search for “inspirational quotations” and be prepared to vomit all over your pyjamas – even if you have to cross the sitting room, go up the stairs, past the bathroom and into your bedroom where you open the second drawer on your chest just to find your pyjamas in order to vomit over them. Listen up world, you don’t need the blessing of someone most likely dead (and certainly as flawed and farty as you are) to kickstart your chosen career. Writers seem particularly needy in this respect and whilst I know only too well the challenges involved in sitting down and ACTUALLY WRITING SOMETHING I don’t see how a phrase ripped entirely from its context and then rendered in a twee typeface gets you closer to finishing your masterpiece. Did James Joyce have a little sign blue-tacked up in his garret as he wrote Ulysses which said “Words are like rain. Just put out a jar beneath a piece of guttering and assuming that it is a rainy night then after a bit you’ll have lots of them“? Well if he did, it would certainly weaken my point so let’s just agree that he didn’t.

If you are the type of a writer who needs an aphoristic jump-start to get you going in the morning then at least let me help you; let me save you the searching and the sifting through thousands of trite and largely useless scrapings from the barrel of human thought by providing you a list of handy phrases to set you on your way. For this there shall be NO CHARGE. Yes, the following is absolutely free. It will cost you neither pound nor dollar, neither Yen nor Euro, as I present:

LONG ARM FILMS’
TEN ENTIRELY INVENTED MOTIVATIONAL QUOTATIONS
FOR ASPIRING SCREENWRITERS

Bill Murray quotation

1. “Even Bill Murray has days when he is not Bill Murray”. – C14th Estonian Proverb

2. “Good writing is like good jam: sweet, fruity and sealed with a floral lid”
– Sarah Basterds – “The Impish Sentiment” (1932)

3. “Film is the distance between onanism and quantum theory” –
Prof F.J. Ruislip – “Once upon a time in the Western Avenue” (1998)

4. “The perfect screenplay is like the footprints of a deer across a Scottish hillside. I don’t need to sodding explain why.”
Alice Childress – usherette at the Alexandra Cinema, Newton Abbot, 1985

5. “Working hard is almost always relatively useful”.
Edgar Sirmadam, (19th philanthropist and sausage pioneer

working hard quotation

6. “Love yourself. Frequently”.
Sir Francis Walsingham

7. “Take doubt out to dinner. Give good chat to doubt. Let doubt linger over dessert and coffee then stab doubt repeatedly in the taxi on the way home”.
Mary Quite, “Fish and Chaps” – The birth of seaside homo-eroiticism: (1974) 

8. “Choosing the right words is less important than order them the putting in right”
Geoffrey Chaucer -“The Screenwriter’s Tale” (1378)

9. “Belief is the fart that warms the duvet of talent”.
King Christian VII of Norway addressing the Oslo branch of the WI (1802).

10.  “When people ask me why I write, I tell them it is to nourish my soul. When people ask me how I write I tell them that I use my fingers on a computer keyboard and press letters in a pre-determined sequence, that I began to learn around four years old and really haven’t stopped working on since, which in turn creates words that are understood by speakers of the English language and then I repeat this process until I have created something that is maybe just a shopping list or maybe the libretto for an opera it just depends on how sexy I’m feeling”
Hadrian Patel – Winner of the Branston Prize in 2005 for his novel “Balls”

belief quoteFeel free to pin any of these up by your desk and reap the creative and inspirational benefits.

You are welcome. I do it because I care.

A rose by any other name would smell like teen spirit

This blog entry begins with a sound effect. And a really cool one at that. No waffle (that is to follow, clearly), just get in there and hit the button below:

That’s good fun isn’t it? Suddenly you are Bill Murray in a boiler suit. Suddenly you are sitting around your breakfast table in the 80s and fighting with your sister over the “cut-out-keep’ Ectoplasm-Dectector (TM) on the back of the packet of Shreddies. (Isn’t it utterly absurd that we remember such ridiculous ephemera? Today I locked myself out of an email account because I couldn’t remember the new password that I dreamt up YESTERDAY but I can readily transport myself back to Devon in the 80s and picture exactly what the aforementioned packet of Shreddies looked like. Absurd and deliriously brilliant). Anyway, back to the sound. Do you fancy another go? Go wild:

I love it. My excellent friend Mark used the sound to open his debut album. I can’t play you that track here as I haven’t asked Mark’s permission but I can play you this one from a few years ago. (written with our good pal Bob). Seriously, Mark is brilliant. Properly brilliant. And he once covered our kitchen wall with spaghetti. Great days. Whilst on the subject, here is a track that Mark, Rupert and I recorded whilst drinking. It is actually one of the more cogent examples of our work and we recorded it as a birthday present for our pal Chris who knows a LOT about George Orwell.

Back to the sound. Do you remember it?

I suggest finding a way of triggering this sound at key moments of your day thus bringing a frisson of movie magic to otherwise onerous domestic routines. For example, you successfully pull your pants first thing in the morning (and Americans, I do mean pants in the British sense of the word), turn to the mirror, salute yourself and PRESS PLAY! You shut your car door, depress the lock button on your car key and PRESS PLAY! Storm into the office of your boss, PRESS PLAY! and then demand that they take you the hell more seriously or, goddammit you are outta there like a bat out of an extensive sequence of Peruvian caves!

All of these are certified excellent ideas (aside from their lack of certification and dearth of excellence).

In a moment of structural brilliance I can now reveal that the Ghostbusters sound effect that I have overused above has absolutely nothing to do with the remainder of this post. Am I sorry? Not really. Am I embarrassed? A little. But that might be something to do with the fact that I am currently typing this naked in “Ewan’s Internet Cafe” in Stranraer. I mean, who uses internet cafes nowadays? Embarrassing or what?

I better warn you now, the remainder of this post may well slip towards the quicksand of “self-indulgent writerly moaning”. In which case you can stand impassively on the bank, arms on hips, thumbs through belt-loops like a redneck linedancer (are there any other kind?) as I disappear beneath the surface. I am not waving, I am drowning in a metaphorical quicksand of my own making.

But. And there always is one. I’d like to spend a few paragraphs musing on the challenge of coming up decent character names. When Jimmy and I were in the early stages of writing “High Tide” we spent a considerable amount of time wondering what to call the lead female character. The film is set in Wales so it seemed like a reasonable idea to find a Welsh-sounding name. Easy we call her Cerys because that’s what Cerys is called. Cerys from Catatonia. Who were ace. And very Welsh. But no, that was deemed “too Welsh” (as were Angharad and Myfanwy). So what about “Sarah”? No, Jimmy cried, that’s not Welsh at all. We finally settled on “Bethan”. Which sounded “quite Welsh but not overly-Welsh”. It’s a minefield I tell you. Particularly after all that Bethan may not be Welsh after all (long story – I will save it for another time).

To avoid further head-scratching and cold, soulless violence in the Long Arm office, I will now provide you with a handy guide to naming your characters. If you ever want to write a script or a novel or even hastily find a new identity for yourself after perpetrating a major crime then please feel free to refer to it. Here goes.

THE LONG ARM GUIDE TO NAMING YOUR CHARACTERS IN A FILM THAT YOU MAY POSSIBLY BE WRITING AT THE MOMENT OR MIGHT DO IN THE FUTURE SOMETIME. 

You have SEVEN options. And no more okay? There are NO MORE. Don’t even bother trying to think of others because you won’t.

1 – THE PLODDING HACK METHOD

We’ll start with the most common and most deadeningly tedious of the seven options. You sit at a desk with a pen and a piece of paper and then you embark on a reasoned and subtle process in which you consider options based on the ethnicity, age and birthplace of your character. You may well have a conversation such as the one Jimmy and I engaged in above. At the end of the process you will have a number of plausible options and you will go to bed content. BUT YOUR SOUL WILL BE DARK. This is the most sensible method by far and is to therefore be avoided at all costs.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Simon Banks; Rachel Huntington; Phillip Balls; Dwaine Devons.

2 – THE SCI-FI METHOD

Blame George Lucas. When I wrote the Sci-Fi musical “Moon on a Stick” with my two pals Rupert and Andy, we had endless fun thinking of names for the parade of ridiculous characters we created. Some of them were very obvious in their inspiration – the character “Jupiter” made it from the very first notes we wrote to the first night with his name unchanged. We also drew inspiration from some of the poor bastard animals that NASA blasted into oblivion in the early days of the space programme: “Belka” for example. Others we just made up a word that sounded “spacey” – “Grok”. All great fun and the perfect method for those of you working up a script set in London in 1800 based around the early days of the Royal Institution.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Nova Rockets; Zang Petersburst; Laika Lovelace

3 – THE IKEA METHOD

Sometimes when a little drunk in pubs I begin banging the table and telling my friends for the hundredth time about what I consider to the best job in the world – i.e  the man or woman employed by Ikea to NAME THEIR FRIGHTENINGLY UBIQUITOUS PRODUCTS.

Seriously, someone must have this job. And I am jealous. There is someone sitting in Stockholm office right now (which is tinted by those 70s hues of brown and green that you see in all those Scandy detective series) with a box of those little brown pencils and a big pile of new products and their mission is simple – give these products slightly arcane, slightly Swedish and ENTIRELY INVENTED names that are either ridiculous or unpronounceable or both. Now all you need to is apply this system to your gritty drama set in the lift of a South London tower block and your naming crisis is ended.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Wayne Faönkulla; Tamsin Knutdaag; Old Mrs Gregonspluff; Billy Bookcase

(Balls, I have just discovered that Ikea’s names are not invented. They are proper words. This is hugely annoying so PLEASE FORGET THAT YOU READ THIS. Thanks so much).

4  – THE WIKIPEDIA METHOD

Simple – go to Wikipedia. Look at the “In the News” box and pick the first appropriately gendered christian name listed. Then go to the “On this day’ box and pick the first word that could be a surname, no matter how outlandish.

Today’s example: Beatrix Venezuela.

Beatrix Venezuela is a crime-fighting member of the aristocracy who sleeps and bakes her away around the criminal underworld of Exeter in her search of her nemesis Handball Polish . . . .

It works!

5 – THE DICKENSIAN METHOD

Dickens was a genius. For multifarious reasons but no more so than his character-naming policy. No need for pith here, just luxuriate in these unmatched examples: Bayham Badger; Sgt. Buzfuz; Luke Honeythunder; Harriet Tattycoram, Rosa Bud . . .

Have a go yourself by all means. But if you fail (as I have done) then I am sure you could borrow a few of Charlie’s for your slacker comedy set in the Mid-West.

6 – THE FRIENDS AND FAMILY METHOD

All writers have used this one. Scour the scripts of every published writer and you will find names stolen from people that they have met, slept with or are related to. They may be changed a little to avoid legal action but make no mistake these are names that belong to REAL PEOPLE. I have done this. And I am going to confess a few below. None of the characters that were given these names were murderers I promise.

Sample names conjured by this method:

Simon Wain; Andy Patrick; Richard Fletcher; Janet Miller; Sophie Barrs . . . . .

I am sorry. I am very sorry to all of you.

7 – THE WILDCARD METHOD

And so we come to the final method on our list – JUST PICK SOMETHING. ANYTHING. Sometimes called the “sod-it-that’ll-do method”. And the very best example I can think of right now is from the filthy, violent and wonderful sitcom “Bottom’ in which one of the two main characters is called Eddie Hitler. Offensive, misjudged and very, very funny.

And a great excuse for a clip.

I know it isn’t a film. They did make a film version of Bottom. But it was rubbish.

Thanks for reading. Good luck in all your naming adventures.

With warmest regards,

James Stiltingflud Banfer’estest.

Press the “Relative Indifference” button

We have a new website. It is not very grand and when we have some more money we will get something more elaborate, one that will make you a cup of tea, tickle you gently under the chin and sing the hits of Aerosmith to to you in an alluring falsetto. But for now you’ll have to make do with a photo of Jimmy and me looking like we REALLY want to be in a band and some embedded videos of stuff you’ve probably already seen. If you haven’t then hasten over there right now and have a watch. Some of it is quite good.

But remember when you watch Stuart and Kate  – KATE DOES NOT EXIST. Thanks. It probably could have been clearer in the film.

Now of course when doing anything online these days you have to have a “social media strategy”. We now have a lovely woman doing this for us. She is called Nat (hello Nat) and she is the one behind  both the Long Arm Twitter account and the Facebook page. Nat recently went to Canada and spent some time gadding around wearing snow shoes. This makes her officially a good thing.

And so we are forced to join the fug of electronic noise bouncing around the planet in order to tell people who are mildly interested that we are making a film. To not do so would be putting ourselves at a significant disadvantage and as long as we have someone as supremely competent as Nat at the helm (of our metaphorical social media ship which, bizarrely, is shaped like a modest willy) then those that subscribe will receive only relevant and diverting material.

I am on Twitter. Is “on” the right word? It makes it sound like a drug. Which for some it may be. I am rubbish at Twitter. Those that follow me do so out of pity mostly. I used to agonise over crafting subtle, arch and ever-so-pointed tweets that I hoped would be pinged around the world like a million tiny parcels of my god-damned genius. It never happened. The most retweets I ever received was three when I oh-so-brilliantly called George Osborne a posh, self-serving wanker. Which he is. But it wasn’t worth repeating. When I was first “on” (in? amongst? beneath?) Twitter I tweeted etymologies of interesting words that I had found in a slightly obscure book secretly hoping that logophiles and Guardian readers would flock to my account and be so wowed by my diverse and witty observations that they’d tell their friends who read the Independent and little by little, floral print by floral print, I’d accrue the numbers of followers enjoyed by Pegg and Fry and then I would lead my new army to VICTORY OVER THE IGNORANT. And there I’d be in my new palace made of gold and poor people, my face on a massive painting like Kim Jong-Un, passing down decrees about spelling and Bill Murray.

Again, no one was interested. So if you do decide to “follow” me then be warned, it is no fun. Unless you like plugs for Long Arm stuff  or potty-mouthed insults of the government, particularly the odious Michael Gove.

Oh goodness, I can’t allude to North Korea without thinking of this. Utter genius.

And as for Facebook. What can you say about Facebook? Actually the Guardian today said that it was shedding users like a balding man sheds hairs. Although not quite in those terms. We all know Facebook is evil don’t we? We all know that we’ve essentially entered into a Faustian pact, albeit a rubbish one because we don’t get unlimited knowledge and pleasure we just get to look at that bloke from school who you didn’t like very much getting drunk in a tedious nightclub. And then getting married to someone who is not very pretty. And yet we all offer up our souls willingly.

I saw a tweet recently (see, I am addicted too) which went something like this: celebrate the joy and wonder of your friends brining a child into the world by repeatedly “liking” their photos on Facebook! And we all do it. And then post photos ourselves. And pretend that we don’t care about the numbers of “likes” we gather but secretly keep a spreadsheet with in-depth analysis. If I post a picture of my (admittedly beautiful) son, the “likes” go off the scale. When we first announced that we’d made a short film I think I had about three. Not that it matters. But Facebook sort of pretends that it does and then I DO start to care and that really, really bothers me.

And then there is the LIKE button itself. What an invention. I realise that complaining that Facebook is reductive is akin to leaping into a river and complaining that you’ve got wet. But that won’t stop me complaining. It is binary thinking: yes or no, good or bad, LIKE or ignore. There is no room for nuance. I’d like a “HMMMM, THAT’S QUITE GOOD” button or a “WOW! HE’S GOT OLD” button or a “RELATIVELY INDIFFERENT” button. We are complex, subtle and changeable as a species and the LIKE button reduces us to the level thoughtless drones with a stick taped to our forehead hammering one of the two very large buttons on the desk in front of us. We are digital woodpeckers, but with a lot more flesh. And wind.

Ionesco’s play “Rhinoceros” may not have been an allegory of Nazism after all. From this perspective he seems to have foreseen the age of media; technology that purports to collectivise but in reality atomises us and makes us think that we are more important than anyone else.

And I am one just like all the rest.

That said it is useful for telling people that I have written more of this nonsense and for that I am grateful. Hypocritical to the point of crisis but grateful. I am delighted that so many people have been reading my recent wonderings and drivel but promise to write more about the film we are making when I have something of interest to say. Honestly I will try.

But if by any chance you do like what you’ve read on this blog, be a poppet and pass it on would you?

Maybe even press LIKE. (I am clearly keeping count)

Laughing at clouds

As evening falls and the drinkers of the world retreat to their favourite haunts, you can be sure that amongst the tattle and the gossip, the joy and the melancholy, the gins and the tonics, one conversation will be repeated in a hundred different tongues before the night is chased away by fresh-faced dawn.

It is one that we’ve all had, one that we are all slightly nervous about and one that can vary wildly each time it draws you in. The conversation is, of course, the “so what’s your top three (five, ten, a hundred – it depends on how much wine you have to get through) films?” conversation.

And don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it or you have never been asked. And don’t tell me that you’ve never changed your answers to suit your audience. You know the pretty girl who always wore blue, the one with the glasses and the well-thumbed paperback tucked into her stripy bag? You told her that your favourite was “The Graduate”, closely followed by “Cinema Paradiso”. And that worked, didn’t it? It worked pretty sweetly. You remember when you could still smoke in pubs and you spent a couple of months seeking approval from the bearded Marxist who chained Camels and drank nothing but cognac? You told him that the film that moved you to your core was “Jules et Jim” (one that you’d looked up in an encyclopaedia that afternoon, you remember, back when the internet was to be found in books on the shelves of libraries). He called you “obvious” and you crept home, drank a shit load of shit lager and fell happily asleep in front of “Arthur 2: On the Rocks”.  And then there was that dreadful blonde who worked in Threshers, the one with the great breasts who you chatted up despite all good sense and when she said she loved “Ace Ventura”, you agreed with enthusiasm and said that the first film was “like really good” and definitely in your top three films of ALL TIME. Probably number one.  And despite all that, despite such a sickening, soul-crushing denial of everything you hold to be true; your taste and dignity sacrificed on the altar of lust, you only had that one crappy date at “Ask” pizza where the food was shit and she talked endlessly about her ex-boyfriend who was in the army. And then didn’t let you sleep with her.

We’ve all been there. (Well not there specifically as all the above examples are of course utterly fictitious). And I am not playing that game tonight (although if you asked I would probably mutter something about “The Godfather” – which is a bloody tedious choice in so many ways but a film that astonishes me afresh each time I see it) because tonight I am a man of moments. I think in all seriousness I remember moments from films more than I remember narratives. Sometimes it is a look, sometimes a line, sometimes it is Bill Murray dancing. Moments that delight, haunt, or bury themselves deep and then spring back into vivid life when you least expect. Moments of epiphany, Stephen Dedalus on the beach dreaming as the sea laps against the sands:

“A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory.”

I seem to have quoted James Joyce there. In a “film” blog. I apologise.

For me there is one moment, and I am about to contradict my point in an earlier post about my favourite of all time and in doing so revealing the nonsensical nature of the whole enterprise. but this moment is stuffed with so much joy, some much whimsy, so much that makes cinema the potent, gut-clutching, cheek-stroking force that it is, that it chokes me slightly just thinking about it. Let alone watching it.

And here it is:

It’s perfect. And not in the much abused, gradiated form of that word, but with the full force of its true meaning: it is without fault. And it makes me feel glorious when I watch it. And yes I know it is artifice, I know I am being manipulated, but I subject myself willingly with a smile on my face and an imagined Gene Kelly deftness whilst swinging around a lamp post.

Apparently it isn’t true that it was shot it one take. But it is true that they added milk to the water so it would show up on camera and it is true that Kelly had a stinking cold when they shot it. Whatever the truth of it, Kelly illuminates the song, the scene, the whole film, like a stonking great beacon, his greatness reflecting from his perfectly white smile and the sheen of his dark hair. If it sounds a little sexual then I readily admit it. Who would not want to look like that, dance like that, sing like that? And yes when the scene ends, when the film comes to a close and Kelly and Reynolds kiss in front of the billboard, you flick off the television, take the wine glasses to the sink and remember that you promised to take the bins out. But this is not bathos. Because you have been changed, subtly, imperceptibly but nonetheless irrefutable by some wonderful, wonderful art.

And that’s why I love it.

Here’s another treasure. Many, many years later Gene Kelly appeared as the “special guest star” on The Muppet Show (I show that I loved dearly and will require its own post at some point) and throughout the show, refused to sing “that song”. Well, of course you can predict the ending but it is nevertheless the joy when it happens is tinged with an almost unbearable nostalgia. And old man walking off screen for the last time. What grace.

And finally, something altogether more British. More English perhaps. And something that reminds me of my dear Grandmother with whom I remember reading these books and who had a wonderfully old-fashioned Englishness about her which only now do I realise was shared by generations but is now no more. Not that I mourn its passing. I’ve just noticed, that’s all. Here we go (I don’t really need to cue these up with phrases like “Here we go” do I? I am not a prose DJ).

And if you have watched all three of these clips then your night will be spent at peace or your day will be spent in contentment.

I sincerely hope so anyway.