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.

Epic. Lots of EPIC.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to spend two very lazy weeks on the Caribbean island of Martinique. It was hot and sunny and the air smelled of rum. And bananas. The island is fringed by the kind of beaches you see only in Bond films: a thick stripe of white sand caressed by a tideless sea as blue as if painted by a child. In short, pretty bloody lovely.

The point of this story, aside from being a welcome distraction from the endless rain of our climate-changed winter, is the fact that I had the time to lie in a hammock (which I can heartily recommend as long as you never need to leave it in a hurry – don’t drink too much rum whilst wrapped in one for example) and read an entire novel in luxurious three or four hour sessions. Oh the joy. It had been many years since my undergraduate days in which entire afternoons could justifiably be spent reading (or sleeping, or drinking, or smoking or making love to exotic women – not that this ever happened) and I lost myself in the pages of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

And what a novel it is. “Epic” is an overused word – “Epic savings on sofas this Boxing Day“, “Epic range of buttons and thread available at Alan’s Haberdashery” – but when discussing the multi-threaded (a word that must be in my head for some reason) narrative of Cloud Atlas then “epic” is indeed appropriate. The time I invested was gloriously rewarded as Mitchell jumps in time and style whilst at no point making the linking device seem anything like a, er, device. Or worse, a “concept”; a word so damned hideous that I used it myself in a previous post.

Thank god the novel is so immense, its scope so broad, that no one would ever attempt to make it into a film.

Oh balls:

Seems like someone has. And gosh, it looks suitably EPIC. The trailer is so epic it lasts about a day and THAT IS JUST THE TRAILER. My computer has just exploded when playing it because it is just so damn huge. Tom Hanks is in it. And he has a false nose. Ben Whishaw is in it and I like Ben Whishaw. And, oh shit, Hugh Grant is in it.

It is directed by the Wachowskis whose decision to build a multi-million dollar film trilogy around the acting talent of Keanu Reeves shows either a seer-like determination to see the truth lurking behind screes of small-minded misconception or that they just really really like Keanu Reeves. (Presumably they hadn’t seen his performance in Much Ado about Nothing). Either way, this pair do EPIC. They do EPIC really damn well.

Oh by the way, don’t think that the novel’s subtle exploration of human immutability has been diluted by its transfer to the screen. No, the trailer is reassuring in this respect, telling us only about sixty times that WE ARE ALL CONNECTED. And then printing this legend across the screen for all those who are watching youtube with no sound.

And Hugh Grant is in it.

Anyway, it might be great. It really might. I will definitely see it.

How did I get here? Ah yes, I was actually going to quote from David Mitchell’s follow-up to Cloud Atlas – the altogether less epic but equally impressive Black Swan Green. In it the young narrator writes poetry and has this to say about the creative act:

“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”

As I contemplate an evening at my desk working on the screenplay for our forthcoming project these are words that rattle around my head. I am lying down. So give me your best shot. I can take it.

I think.

man in hammock

man in hammock – Martinique

bloke on beach

bloke on beach – Martinique

Sixty Unseen Seconds

To continue the story  – such as it is.

Jimmy and I returned to London from shooting Sliced and a few days writing and then shooting what would eventually become Jesse – our entry in a one minute film competition.

This was a lot of jolly fun, especially as we were working with our good friend Rupert Waring. This (very) short tells the story of a man writing to a partner asking for some time and space to clear his head. The first draft of the script was my usual verbose and hyperbolic stuff but Jimmy stripped out all the nonsense and we were left with something tight and affecting.

The irony of the film is that our protagonist is mistaken and far from escaping the modern world of noise and electronic fluff, he is in reality submerged in a digital context but one that is unseen. So far, so much bad sixth form poetry. However we succeeded in achieving something of note with the film by using (I think) nine different cameras on the shoot, to give the impression of multiple pairs of eyes staring at our hero as he writes. This made it a bit of a sod to edit but it looks interesting.

Again we ballsed the sound up – even though we were simply recording a voiceover – so please don’t listen to it through headphones. However, the more I watch Jesse the more I like its distant and distracted tone; I don’t think that the “point” such as it was, comes across particularly clearly but for all that I think it is a decent piece of work.

And Rupert is great in it.

To finish the story, the competition for which it was entered folded before the closing date and Jesse was put out to grass on our Vimeo page where it was largely ignored.