Big Smashy Things

To cut a long story short, while I've had a great couple of months edging my novel forward after a successful and revealing round of beta-reading in Dec, other areas of life have intervened, and suddenly - a change of plan - I'm back for another round of vfx madness with my buddies at DNeg.

A sideward step for the novel perhaps, but not a backward one - the past couple of months I have also been quite busy setting up the additional business arms I have been hinting at over the last several months, now fully up and running (despite not having officially launched), paying clients and all. Even with a return to VFX, the virtual businesses are a solid step toward future-proofing my writing career; whenever the time comes to step away from the film stuff even further, there'll be something to keep food on the table besides the gamble of hoping a successful book might do that - from here on in I can focus on improving at the craft without necessarily needing treat writing like 'a job', something I always hated as a musician.

2014 is shaping up to be an interesting year. I've set up a company, had a pile of people read and critique my book, about to move into a (bought and paid for) new flat in East London, and somehow already squeezed in a movie or two... January has most certainly not been an unproductive month. (Side note: I could always do a little better on that 'blog more' New Year's Resolution...).

For now, I'll leave you with a little taste of the movie I've started working on this week :


Top 10 Reasons Why 'Die Hard' Is A Better Christmas Movie Than 'Love Actually'

There comes a point during every Christmas holiday where an inevitable war for the remote is fought - a battleground nobody wants to speak about at any other time of the year, one which divides families, ruins relationships, and regularly results in bloodshed. You know what I'm talking about: The Die Hard vs Love Actually Christmas Movie Stand-Off. Naturally, I have my own feelings on the matter, and despite you likely having yours, I've decided it's time we all put this matter to bed for once and for all, proving (most decisively) that Die Hard is by far a more superior Christmas film than Love Actually:

 

Two very different Rickmans...
Case in point : the two very different Rickmans...

1. The Rickman Factor

Both films are blessed by the inclusion of Alan Rickman, but he’s WAY cooler as Hans Gruber than as weak, womanising Harry. Also, Hans is far more Christmasy - he even performs a memorable Santa impersonation at one point.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

I can't even... I just can't...

2. You (Mostly) Get A Break From Ridiculously Insipid Child-Actors

Christmas entertainment is vicious time where practically everything on television is packed full of horrible child-actors. There are only a few insignificant seconds of terrible child-acting in Die Hard, as opposed to Love Actually, with entire sub-plots, musical numbers, and several minutes packed full of children dressed up as cute animals. Eww.

 

3. Die Hard Embraces Multiculturalism

In McTiernan's opus, characters with English as their second language went to a lot more effort to ensure they could directly communicate with people of other cultures (even if it happened to be down the barrel of a gun). In the Kurtis film, the same rely on shrugs, sheepish grins, and don't seem to care about blatant mistranslation and the significant cultural offence this may or may not cause those around them. I'd call that "naughty" not "nice", as opposed to Die Hard's foreigners who took the time and came prepared.

 

4. "The Quarterback Is Toast"

The only toast you ever get in Love Actually involves cheap, miserly-poured sparkling, often accompanied by depressing moaning or attempts at infidelity.

 

5. Die Hard Has Better Retro Value

While Love Actually may have Bill Nighy, it does not contain any actors from legendary 80's classics including The Breakfast Club, Ghostbusters and Magnum PI. It doesn’t even try. That's just not in the spirit of the season.

 

6. Love Actually Isn't Actually A Christmas Movie

The complete chronology of events in Die Hard take place during the one, long Christmas Eve. Love Actually is spread all over the calendar, some of the earlier scenes quite possibly taking place closer to Halloween than late December, the final airport montage obviously taking place the following Easter*

( * I can't back this last point up, though I swear there's someone holding a toy rabbit in one shot.)

 

7. Die Hard = Less-Questionable Casting

The producers of Die Hard managed to cast actors far more believable at playing authority figures and Americans. Also, the new associations between Hobbits and pornography invoked by Love Actually doesn't sit right with me at all - Christmas gets enough midget action as it is.

8. More Explosions

There are no explosions in Love Actually. Not one. There isn't even a helicopter crash.
Seriously. It's like they've completely forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.

 

 

9. Stronger Female Role-Models

Love Actually is brimming with old-school 1950s female stereotypes, whereas 100% of Die Hard’s major female characters represent a much more modern approach to gender roles (eg. Holly and her high-powered executive position within Nakatomi, versus Natalie who doesn't fight back at all after being sexually harassed and unfairly dismissed from her job).

Okay, okay... to be fair, while there is only one major female character in Die Hard, she still kicks more ass than half the Love Actually women. Further, I'll put $50 on the table right now that says Bonnie Bedelia would beat Keira Knightly in a straight-up fist-fight. Think about it.

 

10. Die Hard Has A Better Ending

In its closing minutes, Love Actually (disrespectfully) brandishes a Denise Richards cameo, a terrible non-Chrismas Beach Boys song and truly horrendous and tacky heart-shaped graphic montage. A travesty, as opposed to Die Hard - a classy 'Let It Snow' Christmas play-off as the camera pulls out over the mist, mere seconds after this shot :

 

In Conclusion...

I think that's all settled then, don't you?

###


Page Break

It's been a busy November. After several very solid crunch-time weeks getting my upcoming novel The Brave ready for a team of readers to break, it's out there, being picked through, chuckled at, and critiqued even as I type this.

No matter how much I prepared myself for the day it would finally leave my laptop, it was still an unexpected and difficult moment - sitting there, finger poised above the send button on a bunch of emails, waiting to send the baby off on its first day of school. The feedback has already started trickling in - largely a good list of constructive picking-apart which I'm largely taking aboard in order to make The Brave a better book (and without too much work) - valid points, all. I expected there'd be fights and tears, but those haven't come. (Still... early days - nobody has finished yet...)

For now I'm trying to forget about the book, the disastrous number of typos I'm only just starting to notice, and focus on the next phase - agents, my pitch, and how to get it out there. There's still going to be some work to do once the team have delivered their numerous verdicts, but it's been nice getting out of the word-space this week and back into the cold, boring reality of finding the right home for the toddler once it hits its teenage years. Mind-numbing stuff. Staring at a billion literary agents' websites, poring over the likes and dislikes of the numerous strangers' biographies (all those heads I need to get right inside), staring at their mugshots, trying to see if I 'feel the vibe'. It's fun in its own way, but difficult - I know how busy these people are, and I don't want to waste their time with a book or a relationship that's not going to work out. I've got a strategy at least. I don't know if it's a good one, but like any great casino gambler will tell you, coming up with a thoughtful game-plan before putting in the hours is the only way to get results.

For now it's a great distraction. The coming weeks are likely to get icky as I keep polishing, incorporating reader feedback, and trying to stay positive about the steep curve of rejection I'm about to start stumbling up, but even with all of that I'm still loving the hell out of this process. The crazy long weeks I've been putting in lately meant that suddenly I'd absorbed the entire book into my head, and can picture it as a whole beast rather than the individual sections I'd been working on in the past - a funny zen absorbency situation, just like Neo and his kung-fu. I kinda know the deal with it now - how the book really is, as opposed to how it was as a plan, and what the aftertaste is once you put it down. There are plenty of things about it that I'm not in love with, but it feels like something at least, warts and all. While there were a few moments I cringed at the craptacular, but there were plenty of others where I laughed out loud or felt genuinely stirred. I'm happy. I've learned a lot, and already have plenty of thoughts as to what I'll do better writing the next book. Yes, there's still a pile of that self-doubt rolling around as always, where I'm still asking "Is this good enough?", hoping trained eyes will see enough promise to throw their talents into the manuscript and make it a book. But for my part, I'm happy. It's not finished, but writing a book is something I've done now - the rest from here is a new and different process, one laden with a whole new set of mysteries. 

Anyway, can't sit here blabbing on all day. This phase might be nearly done, but the toughest hurdles are yet to come...

Wish me luck.


Tipping Point

Ok, so I'm back. Last post was July, but who's counting?

Things got a little crunchy on Thor : The Dark World, but I went with it, without complaint, knowing there was a substantial writing break coming once it wrapped. Normally I'd be whining like a baby about a bunch of lost weekends and strings of back-to-back 18-hour days, but not this time. The work was genuinely satisfying - a really fun show to have been on for all sorts of reasons, and I hope it shows.

But, all this talk of Thor is SO last month. October is all about "The Brave". For the patient few who have followed it's meandering journey from afar these many long months, the wait is nearly over. I'm predicting several more weeks before I can release a beta draft to a few testers, but release it I will. Enough is enough. While it's far from a perfect manuscript, it's starting to read like 'a book', one which is about ready to have a shot at standing on it's own two legs, just see what sort of feedback it generates in the wild.

I am still looking for a few more literary randoms out there to donate some reading/commenting time to the cause, in particular "near-total strangers" who don't know enough about me or my history to be able to pick the book up stone cold. (No offence to the rest of you - you're either on the readers-list already or not, based on some really boring demographic criteria. Hell, I've got to save some of you to actually buy the thing...). By all means hit me up if you read a lot of books, won't be upset by the swears and typos, and have your interest piqued when I say : "one man's year-long journey back to relationship enlightenment, set in a quirky, globe-trotting world of sex, drugs and men in kilts". (Hey, so I haven't locked down my final pitch yet. So shoot me.)

For the rest of you, watch this space. I've got some big things in the works - not just the book - and a whole lot of non-vfx-filled time to do it. 

Until then, here's some music to get you into the appropriate frame of mind: Training Montage! :)

 


The Prisoner

I've already mentioned my obsession with filling up Notes.app with random street observations. Since moving to London - a city where a lot more tends to happen on the footpath than a lot of other places - the folder has been filling up with even more snippets covering everything from street brawling, more crazy people talking to themselves, interesting new slang, declarations of love, lovers' arguments and even a couple of celebrity cameos.

The point is still to keep amassing this stuff for no other purpose than to mark and remember these glimpses into other people's lives, fodder for future scribblings. Completely lacking context, sure,  but this exact lacking it what makes it such a perfect catalyst for the imagination. Take this one for instance - written down back in May, discovered again today amongst the mess as I rummaged through the folder during a long render-wait:

"Early afternoon - sunny. A crowd of people is bottle-necking the Euston Street footpath-traffic. I think it's the media the way it's clumping in a tight circle, but there are no cameras. In the centre is a ragged-looking older man - a little hunched and twisted - being hugged in turn by every person in the crowd. Passing even closer, I notice he's old-school handcuffed, locked up hard by some Victorian-looking steel. The crowd are his family and old, old friends, all except two. One, a bearish type in a plain suit holding him tight by the elbow. The only other pair of eyes not on the cuffed guy belong to another man lurking right up the back - staring at me like cold death, tense and ready.

The prisoner looks tired and just a bit overwhelmed. It's like he doesn't want anybody to even be there (embarrassed?) but at the same time trying hard not to crack/melt and show how glad he is to see them, saying "y'all right" over and over as each person steps forward to smother him. The couple of teary women in the group must be his sisters. Family at least, not lovers. A couple of the men are trying to keep it together from behind the safety of their sunglasses. All  of them are of his own generation or older.

I look around to see which courthouse we are in front of, but the modern chrome and glass facade belongs to a hospital. To my eyes the prisoner suddenly seems much more tired, that embarrassment now seeming much more like preoccupation. I wonder how many years he's been locked up, as they're showing. Not just the bags and lines and crooked posture. More how dated everything else is;  the hair and facial expression of a young 80s crim slapped onto the decaying body of a tired, old, sick one - a rusted time-capsule. 

One last hug and he disappears in behind the doors without a look back, alone bar the brutes at his elbows."

Does he already know he's dying of cancer, or is he on his way in to do the tests that will eventually tell him so? Is he even sick at all - some worse injury concealed under his clothes? Why did his family choose to congregate in the street just to catch him for those few seconds in between getting out of a car and walking through the doors of a hospital, knowing full well they weren't going to accompany him inside? Will they be there when he comes out later? More to the point, why am I feeling sorry for this guy? What put him in prison in the first place? Was he sad because he was dying, sad because there were less people meeting him than the last time (like, no Dad), or sad because this would be the DNA test that will prove he was locked away an innocent man, those years now lost?

I've got piles of this stuff. Every entry spitting forth a hundred human questions, each begging for some back-story. Most of it is just taking up bytes - ordered clutter, digital hoarding, and feels a bit like insanity when you look at the pile as a whole. Or perhaps it'll be these same snapshots that find their way into a scene or a character and lend a three-dimensionality that pulls the entire story together, sparking the next big thing?

Hell, if nothing else, they've spurned a new blog post. That, and an anonymous, lonely-looking prisoner has a couple more random strangers on the Internet thinking about him tonight.

 


10 Epic On-Screen Music Moments

Someone recently asked me if I could name my favourite musical moments in film - a classic all-time top ten. Tough call. There are so many to choose from, and even if we tried to narrow things down by saying "only films which aren't musicals", we'd still be left with a fairly solid list to start culling down.

For now, I'm not going to bother with the 'all-time' tag. Too tough. Plus, this is the Internet, and even though by next week my list will have completely changed, I'll still be tried and executed by the court of Google for crimes of bad taste I'm unknowingly committing today.

So my list for today, in no particular order:

1. Wayne's World : Bohemian Rhapsody

It's iconic, it's a cliché, but honestly, what is there not to like about it? The mark this one scene left on an entire generation still stains this killer Queen track to this day, none of us likely to ever hear the smashy guitar solo without feeling the urge to headbang. The film may have dated a bit now, but the epic opening is timeless. Even better in French...

2. Buffy - They Got The Mustard Out

There's far too much back-story to explain here (like, six seasons plus six episodes preceding) but in short: a demon has come to town and is sucking everyone's lifeforce by making the townspeople involuntarily sing and dance 'til they burn up in a ball of all-singing all-dancing flame. I know this isn't a "movie" by any stretch, but in the stand-out episode of this classic Whedon series, this small interlude still makes me laugh. Quintessential 'if life was a musical' moment if ever there was one.

3. Magnolia - It's Not Going To Stop

A couple of hours into this fine, multi-threaded film by Paul Thomas Anderson, at arguably the bottom of the rollercoaster for each character (of which there are many, their pitfalls very dark and deep), they suddenly break into song. I found it an odd, uncomfortable moment when I first saw the film, but have come to love the craziness of it. That, and I'm totally down with Aimee Mann as a rule. Great movie. Tom Cruise was robbed of an Oscar that year (the only thing I'll still defend him for).

4. High Fidelity - Let's Get It On

Say what you will about Jack Black and his music career nowadays, but when High Fidelity came out and he got up and belted out this classic Marvin Gaye track, not many in the audience knew he could even hold a note. The setup throughout the film is perfect - the boisterous all-talk music-snob, getting up at the make-or-break moment for John Cusack's character, then nailing the shit out of the song to everybody's complete surprise. We all know Black can belt, but every time I watch this bit I still buzz.

5. South Park Movie - Uncle Fucker

You have to remember that when this film came out, nobody had *ever* heard the South Park kids swear. After sitting through a fairly lame, tame opening scene or two (wondering why the hell I'd paid to see it on the big screen)  we were all suckerpunched by this sweet puppy of a song. I remember laughing so hard a little bit of wee came out.  What still gets me to this day is how superbly overdone and polished everything else (apart from the lyrics) is about the track - a fantastic arrangement littered with nods to many famous musicals, perfectly executed. And farts.

6. Beetlejuice - Day-O

I was torn between this song and the one from the closing scene (which I think I honestly prefer), but I think this has to win out on style points, memorability and the fact Tim Burton managed to combine both demonic possession and Harry Belafonte in the same scene. Another song I cannot hear in any other context without thinking of plates of shrimp grabbing people by the face and beating them up.  

7. Donnie Darko - Head Over Heels

I love a good "geeks and jocks" scene in any high school movie, but because Donnie Darko isn't your average teen flick, its G&J gets an equally special treatment. The kick-ass Tears For Fears track introduces the viewers to practically every character in the film (we haven't met yet) in this glorious steadicam sequence, wordlessly telling us everything we need to know about them all. Brilliant. (UPDATE - had to change this clip over to someone's remix of the music video and Donnie Darko clip because of a copyright notice from FOX - alas, you'll have to watch the movie to see this scene in full!)

8. Reservoir Dogs - Stuck In The Middle

Who doesn't like a spot of easy-listening while they're maiming tied-up policemen? Not much to say about this that hasn't been said elsewhere before, except that it's another song forever linked to this gruesome visual...

9. The Big Lebowski - Just Dropped In

Fine, okay, so I'm getting quite 90s heavy on this list in general, but hey, you promised you wouldn't judge!  Just shut up and watch the clip. It's Kenny Rogers for crying out loud - show some respect! This movie moment is so full of awesome I don't even know where to start.

10. Muppet Movie - The Rainbow Connection

Awww... Kermit sitting on a log all by his lonesome, strumming on a banjo, singing that song. If that's not a perfect way to round out this list, I don't know what is...