Archive | November, 2014

Get On Up: James Brown’s got a brand-new movie bag

20 Nov
Like a sex machine: Chadwick Boseman stayed in character as James Brown through the Get On Up shoot

Like a sex machine: Chadwick Boseman stayed in character as James Brown throughout the Get On Up shoot

Another week, another musical biopic: hot on the Cuban heels of the Hendrix biopic comes James Brown, the trouser-splitting Godfather of Soul. Hollywood seems to love the genre. Stars thus immortalised include Elvis, John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Tina Turner, Liberace, Ian Curtis, Sid Vicious, the Jersey Boys, Bob Dylan, Notorious B.I.G., Charlie “Bird” Parker, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles. Projects in development include Janis Joplin (already played in fictionalised form by Bette Midler in The Rose), Elvis again (by Baz Luhrmann), Kurt Cobain and Freddie Mercury (with Sasha Baron Cohen no longer attached).

Why so? They arrive with existing “brand equity”, ie a previously recognisable name, saving a fortune in marketing. Stars love them: it’s a chance not just to slip into someone else’s skin, but show off their singing and dancing, too. Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash) and Angela Bassett (Tina Turner) were both Oscar-nom’d; Jamie Foxx won as Ray Charles. And these biopics all come with a ready-made arc, the same one as in sporting movies such as Rocky or Raging Bull: youngster triumphs over adversity to find success; throws it away again, along with their friends, through the pressures of fame and the ravages of drug abuse; and eventually (though occasionally real life conspires against this ending) finds redemption.

But that’s also the great problem with them: they are familiar and predictable; the ending is known. So kudos to Get On Up, the James Brown biopic that opens in the UK tomorrow, for at least attempting something different.

As scripted by the brothers Butterworth, Jez and John-Henry, the time periods leap all over the place: Brown’s dirt-poor upbringing with parents who both abandoned him; his time in jail; his trip to play to the troops in ‘Nam; the rampant narcissism that alienates his band; his troubles with the tax man. We slip back and forth more bewilderingly than Mathew McConaughey inside a black hole, with only ever-changing hairstyles to guide us.

Though I applaud the ambition, I can’t say it’s totally successful. The lack of a clear narrative arc, together with Brown’s habit of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly, are disengaging. It would take an auteurial vision on the part of the director stronger than Tate Taylor can manage – a Nic Roeg, say – to pull this time-shifting off. The whole thing feels rather stagey, not surprisingly given the Butterworths’ origins as playwrights. The lighting and cinematography are more TV than movie, and there are a few too many lines that play to the gallery: “Don’t tell me when, where or for how long I can be funky”, he tells an officer in ‘Nam who tries to cut his show short; and when his plane gets shot at, “Do you want to go down in history as the man who killed the funk?”

Get On Up is always watchable and occasionally thrilling, however, both for the music and the extraordinary central performance by relative unknown Chadwick Boseman. He sings, he dances, he does the splits; at one stage during production he had to play a teenaged Brown in jail in the morning, and switch to Brown in his sixties on the same afternoon. He kept in character throughout the shoot. To me, Boseman never quite goes beyond impersonation and into inhabitation of the character – Dan Ackroyd as his kindly manager gives more of a sense of an inner life behind the eyes – but it is an astonishing tour de force. He’s destined for blockbuster fame as the Black Panther in Marvel’s superhero flick, slated for November 2017.

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Dusk Till Dawn in Nottingham at the Hotel That Time Forgot

19 Nov

Stage Hotel

The news today that a couple had been fined £100 by the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool for leaving a bad TripAdvisor review reminds me of my own worst hotel experience. Here’s a review I wrote at the time:

I can think of just three reasons to stay at the Stage Hotel in Nottingham: if you are stupid, desperate, or crazy. I stayed there for a weekend poker tournament at Dusk Till Dawn. I began as stupid, since I didn’t read the mostly one-star TripAdvisor reviews before booking (sample headlines: “Disgusting”; “Waste of money, filthy”; “Dirty, noisy, smelly”, “Good grief”). I passed swiftly to desperate, and would have ended up crazy if I hadn’t moved out early.

I arrived exhausted at 1.30am, but couldn’t sleep because of the noisy clock directly above the bed. The clock had lost its hands – this literally is the Hotel That Time Forgot – so there was no purpose to its pitilessly loud ticking, except perhaps to remind sleepless residents of the ultimate futility of existence as their lives tick away second by second towards the ineluctable void.

I finally discovered that if you hold a button down, the ticking stops. Fine, but you can’t sleep while holding down a button. Eventually I chewed some gum; stuck it to a coin; stuck that on the button; got some sellotape from reception; taped the coin against the button. Success! Pausing only to hurt my arm on something broken inside the mattress, I finally fell asleep…

Only to be woken again at 4.50am. “Listen, raht, listen, will you listen raht, listen, LISTEN!” This phrase was shouted every five minutes during the couple’s argument across the hall. The whole corridor’s listening, dear, I wanted to shout back; the walls are paper-thin. Finally, nearly an hour later, the argument calmed down, in anger if not in volume: “You know what I WANT, raht, what I REALLY WANT?

“What do you want?” answered the long-suffering unseen boyfriend, for once not using the F-word.

“I want you to be my man, and me to be your girl.”

Aaaah, how sweet. EXCEPT AT 5.40 IN THE MORNING.

What I wanted, what I really wanted, raht, was to phone reception to get them to have a word, but there are no phones in the rooms. There were no towels in the bathroom, either – you have to go and ask for that luxury – nor even a mirror (though the hooks were still there), which made shaving a challenge. Perhaps the absence of a mirror was actually a rare thoughtful courtesy, saving residents from gazing into their hideously bloodshot, sleep-deprived eyes as they contemplate the aforementioned futility of their existence ticking down to the ineluctable void.

Near 6am I decided that, British or no, I was going to Make A Fuss. I trudged down to reception in my pyjamas, hoping they would do something about the commotion. Offer me another room, perhaps; or go ask the couple to calm down. Nope. “Well I’m going to knock on their door then,” I said. “Hope I don’t get stabbed,” I added, when no reply was forthcoming. “All right, then, good night,” said the receptionist.

The argument had got heated and sweary again by the time I got back to the corridor, so I thought I’d leave it a few minutes. Bad idea. Somehow they transitioned abruptly into make-up sex. “Oh bay-BEH! Oh bay-BEH! BabyiloveYOU!” shrieked the woman. “Eurgh! Wurgh! Ooogh!” groaned the man.

As a small blessing, he lasted only four minutes… after which the arguing started up all over again.

I gave up, got dressed, and went to sit in reception, Googling other hotels to stay in (there was no Wi-fi in the room, of course), until 7am breakfast – which, for the sake of fairness, I should point out was perfectly good. The other plus is that I convinced the manager to give me a partial refund, which other reviewers have failed to do – not for the night I’d stayed, admittedly, but for the next night I had pre-booked. We settled on 50%, to account for taxes, fees to Bookings.com etc.

I’d booked the hotel online at just £35 per night, including breakfast and free parking. That sounded like good value. Not so. As David Byrne once sang, I wouldn’t stay here if you paid me.

Beyond the chick-flick: 8 ways to improve female-driven films, by Pilar Alessandra

18 Nov

Pilar-Alessandra-ready-to-speak-at-the-LSFPilar Alessandra is one of my favourite film lecturers: bright, engaging, great at audience participation. I recently bought her book The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script Ten Minutes A Time, and it’s full of useful exercises to give you a deeper understanding of character and plot. At the London Screenwriters’ Festival recently she held a seminar on Beyond The Chick Flick: Writing The Female-Driven Screenplay. Here are the best bits:

1. Films with women as leads sell. At long last. There’s Bridesmaids, The Heat, Hunger Games, Gravity. And TV, Pilar points out, is even better at giving meaty parts for women.

2. Embrace the difference. Famously, the part of Ripley in Alien was written for a man, but changed at the last minute to a woman. That created one of the most enduring and strongest heroines in modern cinema. But, says, Pilar, to adopt that strategy wholesale means missing out on gender differences and expectations that can add depth to a screenplay. In Aliens, knowing now that the protagonist was a woman, the writers used that fact to create an instant bond with the young girl Newt, which might have been less convincing in a male protagonist.

Another example Pilar used was Kill Bill, in the scene where Uma Thurman fights Copperhead in her home: they use frying pans and kitchen knives as impromptu weapons; then, when a schoolbus pulls up and Copperhead’s child enters the living room, they both stop fighting and pretend nothing’s wrong. “So have a fight scene, but don’t forget they are women, as that can bring something extra to the scene.”

3. Use gender stereotypes – but flip them. Pilar asked the audience to shout out some negative stereotypes associated with women. Most men in the audience kept very quiet at this point! The women, however, had no problem shouting things out. Then Pilar flipped showed how negatives could be re-read as positives. Emotional could be read as caring; bitchy as forthright; indecisive as cautious; gossipy as well informed.

She then used the example of Juno, which was aware of the stereotypes but inverted them all to make a more interesting and surprising film. You expect pregnant teens to be uneducated; Juno was super-articulate. Cheerleaders are usually shallow; in Juno she is supportive. The boyfriend of a pregnant teen is usually a womaniser; here it’s him who was seduced by Juno, and he’s willing to help. Parents of pregnant teens are meant to be ashamed; here they are resigned and amused. “Flipping the stereotypes on their head was enough to make a popular movie.”

4. Ask yourself: “What would a guy do?” Pilar encourages the writer to look at “masculine activity” and see if it works better. So: a female protagonist might be expected to make a careful plan and manipulate a key character into giving her information. A man might simply break into the office and steal the computer. Confounding expectations is always interesting to the audience. By the same token, when writing a male character, ask yourself sometimes what a woman might do.

5. Spin the male-driven template. Million-Dollar Baby could be pitched as “Rocky – with a female lead”. How about trying that with The Godfather? Or Star Wars?

6. Spin the female-driven template. Cinderella saves the world; Pocahontas leads a movement.

7. Don’t be flowery. When writing a female-driven screenplay, be especially careful not to be flowery in the descriptions: make the scene directions “macho”, a bold, sharp read.

8. Don’t be frightened of flaw. “Flaw is interesting. Don’t make your women too perfect.”

Read Pilar Alessandra on Creating Character, from last year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival.

Allen Jones, Stanley Kubrick and the women used as tables

16 Nov
Left to right: Allen Jones's Chair, Hatstand and Table

Left to right: Allen Jones’s Chair, Hatstand and Table

I visited the Allen Jones exhibition at the Royal Academy yesterday, the day after it opened. The paintings are interesting, with bright pastel colours and strong movement, often literally bursting out of the frame; the sculptures of dancers are fun, like Matisse’s La Danse come to life. But it’s the fibreglass sculptures of women as furniture – Table, Chair, and Hatstand – that inevitably take centre-stage.

Jones, in interviews, is still mystified at what all the fuss is about. His art doesn’t objectify women, he says: “Women are not the object, they are the subject. Sculpture is the object.” He wanted to make a comment about sculpture, not about women’s place in society; he simply saw an illustration of a woman used as a table in an adult comic and thought it would work well in 3D.

I was prepared to give Jones the benefit of the doubt; to believe that the sculptures were an ironic commentary on the subjugation of women. But that Jones seemingly still has no conception how they could even be viewed as objectifying women, despite describing himself as a feminist, is a tad odd.

The Milk Bar in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange: inspired by Allen Jones

The Milk Bar in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange: inspired by Allen Jones

There is a film connection to all of this: Stanley Kubrick, for one, admired Jones’s sculptures when they were first exhibited, and asked Jones to work on the Milk Bar scene of his film of A Clockwork Orange. Jones did some sketches, then raised the subject of money. “I’m a very famous film director,” said Kubrick. “This will be seen all over the world and your name will be known.”

In other words, the internet model of paying writers and other artists in “exposure” rather than money is, sadly, nothing new. Jones declined, as it would have taken him several months’ work, but allowed Kubrick to copy his style. The controversy over the resulting film put Jones’s sculptures in the shade.

Kubrick himself withdrew A Clockwork Orange from distribution in the UK after it was linked to the murder of a vagrant by a 16-year-old boy. While I was at Time Out it was shown occasionally at the Scala by Steve Woolley, now a noted director and producer himself, with its title disguised in the listings under pseudonyms such as “A Fruity Mechanical Treat”, but otherwise it remained unseen here until after Kubrick’s death.

The film, in my view, suffers from a similar problem to Jones’s sculptures: it can lurch across the line from being a commentary on sexual violence into a glamorisation of it. The scene where Alex and his “droogs” break into a home and assault a woman while dancing and crooning “Singing in the rape”, to the tune of Singing In The Rain, is justly horrific. But the rape scene in the theatre is filmed in a titillating and voyeuristic way, using a pendulous-breasted and feebly protesting dolly-bird actress.

Apologists will say these were just the times – the fetish scene had gone overground in films such as Barbarella and TV programmes such as The Avengers. And, yes, the extraordinary testimony this weekend about child abuse and murder by ex-MPs and their highly placed cover-ups were of their time, too. It doesn’t make it seem much better. And it doesn’t explain why, even now, Allen Jones can’t see why his sculptures are breathtakingly offensive. Substitute black men for women in the sculptures, and it’s doubtful they would even be shown.

Rocky Horror Picture Show: Magenta on Prince Charles in fishnets, and Richard O’Brien on the secret Frank N Furter

14 Nov
The Rocky Horror Royal box at the Albert Hall. Bottom row, left to right: Rocky Horror Show producer Michael White with his carer Salem; Henry Woolf, producer of Harold Pinter's plays and also the photographer at the start of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with his wife Susan, a famous coach; and Kevin Whitney, Olympic artist and director of Syd Barrett film Psychedelia. Middle row, l to r: film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair; the inimitable Lady Stephens ("Magenta"), and her ex-husband, director Don Hawkins; architect Michael Davis, who designed the Glasshouse for himself and Andrew Logan. Top row, l to r: artist and Alternative Miss World impresario Andrew Logan; rock star Adam Ant; and talent manager Gregor Gee.

The Rocky Horror royal box at the Albert Hall. Bottom left: Rocky Horror Show producer Michael White with his carer Salem. Middle row, left to right: film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair; the inimitable Lady Stephens (“Magenta”), and her ex-husband, director Don Hawkins; Henry Woolf, producer of Harold Pinter’s plays and also the photographer at the start of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with his wife Susan, a famous coach; and Kevin Whitney, Olympic artist and director of Syd Barrett film Psychedelia. Top row, l to r: artist and Alternative Miss World impresario Andrew Logan; the rock star Adam Ant; talent manager Gregor Gee; architect Michael Davis, who designed the Glasshouse for himself and Andrew Logan. Photo by Sam Mardon.

It’s astounding. Time is fleeting. Can it really be 40 years since The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened? Actually, technically, the 40th anniversary is next year; but with a bit of a mind-flip, we were into the time-slip, and celebrated a couple of months early.

I arrived on a rather special night: yesterday The Rocky Horror Picture Show played at the Royal Albert Hall, on a giant screen, introduced by Lady Stephens, the actress formerly known as Patricia Quinn – or as all the unconventional conventionalists who dressed up for the occasion would know her, throaty-voiced Magenta from the planet of Transsexual, Land of Night.

Inspired by the Albert Hall’s royal connections, she told the audience of her own links with royalty. “I went back to playing in The Rocky Horror Show 21 years later,” she said, “and at the time my husband Robert Stephens was playing Lear. Yes, I know. And he received an invitation to Sandringham from Prince Charles. So Magenta hung up her fishnets and Lear hung up his crown and off we went.

“Robert found out Charles was going to be in Sheffield at the same time I was playing in Rocky Horror there, and tried to persuade him to go. The Prince said to me after, ‘Frightfully sorry Pat, but I couldn’t very well turn up in garters and fishnets.’ I said to him, ‘You could have turned up as Brad the nerd!’

“Tomorrow is the Prince of Wales’s birthday, so I sent him a card covered in lips which said, ‘Put on your fishnets tonight and come on down to the Royal Albert Hall.’ So, can we do a search of the Royal box? [Looking up] Ooh, nice calves, sir!”

Prince Charles wasn’t really in the Royal box. But I was.

Rocky Horror Albert HallWhen it all began, I was a regular Frankie fan: I’d sneak off in my teens to the midnight screenings in Ottawa and then New York where audiences would squirt water in the rain scene, and hurl toast across the cinema when Frank N Furter announced “a toast to absent friends”. And now, in one of those dreams/reality confusions that perplexed Dougal in Father Ted, there I was up in the box with Lady Pat and her famous friends (see main picture caption), including Adam Ant and Michael White, the maverick producer and original backer of The Rocky Horror Show – frail following another stroke but stubbornly waving away all offers of a wheelchair, and getting the biggest cheer of the night.

Andrew Logan was there, too. He created the Alternative Miss World, which Marcus Campbell Sinclair is making a documentary about, as well as a doc about the last days of Logan’s famous Glasshouse home/studio (“Like” the Facebook page here). When I spoke to Logan’s partner Michael, he recalled how the Alternative Miss World launched the year before The Rocky Horror Show. “Together we changed the world,” he said, which sounds like a large boast, until you recall that Glam Rock came out of the same creative camp. As Riff-Raff presciently put it, “Nothing will ever be the same.”

Richard O'Brien as Riff-Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

“I think perhaps you’d better both come inside.” Richard O’Brien as Riff-Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Speaking of Riff-Raff, I’ve interviewed Richard O’Brien three times, the first way back in 1987. The most recent was for The Times, in 2009, and it was a doozy. This was the first time he had discussed publicly his pain and confusion at feeling “transgender”. He cried as he described how, in the grip of near-insanity, he finally plucked up the courage to confess this to his son, only to be told, “yeah, Dad, we know”. (Presumably, The Rocky Horror Show itself gave some clue!) He’s been taking oestrogen for the last ten years, though it doesn’t stop him standing up to homophobes in the street: “You’re f***ing with the wrong drag addict!”

But there was more — a revelation that, as a lifelong Rocky Horror fan, knocked me sideways. We were talking about Frank N Furter, and what a complicated character he is. On the one hand charismatic, seductive, brilliant, talented; on the other the sort of psychopath who would kill anyone who interfered with his pleasure, and create new life only for the purpose of being his sexual plaything. It’s an astonishing post-‘60s parable – how the hippie ideals of free love and hedonism can so easily be painted black when pursued without regard for the happiness of others.

“He’s a drama queen, really,” O’Brien said of Frank. “He’s a hedonistic, self-indulgent voluptuary, and that’s his downfall. He’s an ego-driven . . . um . . .” and here his voice lowers to a stage whisper, “I was going to say, a bit like my mother.”

Wait – what was that? Is O’Brien really revealing after all these years that the inspiration for Dr. Frank N. Furter was his own mother?

Tim Curry as Frank N Furter: inspired by Richard O'Brien's mum

Tim Curry as Frank N Furter: amazingly, inspired by Richard O’Brien’s mum

“My mother was an unpleasant woman,” O’Brien continued, with sudden venom. “She came from a working-class family: wonderful people, not much money, undereducated but honest, a great moral centre of honesty and probity. And she disowned them. She wanted to be a lady. And consequently became a person who was racist, anti-Semitic . . . It’s such a tragedy to see someone throwing their lives away on this empty journey, and at the same time believing herself superior to other people.

“She was an emotional bully. And sadly all of us, my siblings and I, are all damaged by this. She was bonkers, my mother, and I think by saying that I’m allowing her to be as horrible as she was without condemning her too much.

“I loved her, but stupid, stupid woman, she wouldn’t understand the value of that.”

I have always been struck by the passion with which Riff-Raff suddenly cries out at the end, about Frank, “He didn’t like me! He never liked me!!” It sounds like it’s ripped from somewhere deep down inside of him; gives me goose-bumps every time I see the film (and that’s close on 50 times). Now I know that Frank is inspired by O’Brien’s loveless mother, it makes heartbreaking sense.

Lady Pat Stephens posing with Rocky Horror fans, plus me (second from right) and film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair

Lady Pat Stephens posing with Rocky Horror fans, plus me (second from right) and film-maker Marcus Campbell Sinclair

After the screening, a bunch of us decamped to the Royal Albert Hall’s one open bar. Marcus was a little nervous: “Pat’s going to get mobbed,” he said. And he was right. But she loved it. “Darlings, don’t you look fabulous!” cried Lady Stephens, much more welcoming than Magenta ever was, as she disappeared into a mass of fishnet stockings and maid’s outfits, and people literally ran to fetch friends and cameras.

Most of these fans were kids, barely into their twenties, who weren’t even alive in the ‘80s, let alone the ‘70s. What an extraordinary film The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, to arouse such a passionate following after all this time.

Don’t dream it. Be it.

Finding Nemo: the co-writer’s commentary to ten top scenes

12 Nov

An incredible amount of detail goes into writing animated films, particularly at Pixar: years of rewrites, then more rewrites when the voice artists are signed. David Reynolds, co-writer of Finding Nemo, gave a Page To Screen session at the London Screenwriters’ Festival in which he talked over a screening of the film to give some fascinating insider insights into its creation:

1062590_1386881790830_410_2301. Marlin shows his wife Coral their new home. Andrew Stanton had written the original scene – they’re on the edge of the reef and Coral was so happy about their new home and Marlin was nervous. I said, what if we flip it? So that Marlin proudly says, “Did I find you a house or did I find you a house?” So now, when the barracuda comes, it’s his fault. That’s why he’s so nervous [for the rest of the film].

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2. “You’re a clownfish, right? Tell us a joke.” Albert was hilarious, ad-libbing this really bad joke for five minutes. They originally had William H Macy who’s a fantastic actor and who was getting the laughs, but it just wasn’t working. So they got Albert Brooks instead, and he did some improv in a recording studio and was just great. So they said to me, take the script and rewrite every line to suit Albert Brooks. But one of the keys we learned early on was that Albert Brooks could not be allowed to be funny, after that opening. His son has been kidnapped, and I said you can’t stop and tell a joke.

15903. Marlin tells Nemo not to swim out to the boat, and Nemo says “I hate you” just before being captured by a scuba-diver. The inspiration for the film was that Andrew kept saying to his own son “don’t climb on this”. He said, “I loved him so much I didn’t want to be a kid, I wrapped him in blubble-wrap.” And when Andrew was growing up he had a fishtank, and always wondered what the fish were doing. The last thing Nemo says to his father is “I hate you.” When he finally comes back, that’s the first thing he addresses. Apparently, boys watching the film are like “He’ll never find his son” whereas girls were like, “the Dad will find a way”.

review-finding-nemo-3d4. They meet a fearsome shark called Bruce, who luckily is trying to give up eating other fish. The Pixar guys are movie junkies, they take a day off when a new James Bond movie comes out. It gets kind of geeky, but yes, Bruce the shark was named after what they called the mechanical shark when making Jaws.

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5. They’re trapped by a submarine, and the diver’s mask they are chasing falls into a chasm. We just kept pushing the story, one impossible obstacle after another. Any one of those problems should have stopped him, but he’s looking for his son, so he just carries on.

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6. They meet a school of fish that make shapes, with the voice of John Ratzenberg.  John Ratzenberg is the Pixar good luck charm. John Lasseter will not make a movie without him, he’s superstitious that way.

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7. The turtles take Marlin and his friend Dory surfing a current. Crush the turtle was voiced by Andrew, the director. We had wanted Sean Penn to do that voice from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He came in and saw the movie at Pixar, but he wanted too much money, or something like that. We all thought Andrew was the better voice anyway.

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8. Nemo is imprisoned in a dentist’s fish tank. Everyone at Pixar had this little joke on me: they wanted to surprise me at the premiere. They secretly recorded this bit, about a kid in a dentist’s chair, where the dentist goes, “Well well, if it isn’t little Davey Reynolds.” I was sitting in the premiere, and when that comes up I go “Whaaaat?!” And they all turn round and go “Gotcha!”

dory-and-nemo

9. Dory, the fish with a hilariously short-term memory, is the first to find Nemo. “Really?” she says with delight, when he introduces himself. Then, “that’s such a nice name”, obviously having forgotten their whole quest! I snuck into a movie theatre showing the film and sat at the back, and at that bit I held my breath: could we pull this joke off again? The audience loved it.

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10. They all live happily ever after under the sea. There was a point in the animation where they created sea flow and coral that looked so real, it was like a nature documentary. So they had to mess it up a bit. They didn’t want it to look real, but with cartoon fish!

If you liked this post, check out Joel Eszterhas’s commentary on Basic Instinct, and Joel Schumacher’s top ten scenes from The Lost Boys.

Charlie Brooker on why he hates writing, warp factors, Twitter and Transformers

11 Nov
Charlie Brooker (photo from London Screenwriters' Festival, by Chris Floyd)

Charlie Brooker (photo from London Screenwriters’ Festival, by Chris Floyd)

My sixth despatch from the recent London Screenwriters’ Festival is the fearlessly acerbic critic-turned-creative Charlie Brooker. You don’t need any commentary from me – just sit back and enjoy the rant.

On why he “f***ing hates” writing: If I appear to write a lot, that’s interesting. I have a terrible fear I’m not doing enough. I f***ing hate writing. I love the ideas side, and I love having written, but I hate the process of writing. There’s occasionally a eureka moment, but my life is a constant struggle to enter that and avoid the myriad distractions, like an acorn rolling by. I love my job, but it’s also like a fucking curse. The biggest high of it is “thank God I’ve finished that”. It’s just like the feeling of having done a massive poo.

On Touch of Cloth: I was going to say it’s like Airplane for cop shows, but I realise that’s Police Squad! So it’s The Naked Gun, but for Britain. It’s a collaboration – we run a writers’ room for it. We bought a script by the man who made Messiah, which was very bleak, and then used that as a basis for drawing knobs on, basically, because we were aping those dark Sunday night dramas that everyone seems to love but that I think are pornographic and weird, and dull.

We also got a compilation made of scenes from crime dramas, like morgue scenes, and when you watch nothing but these similar scenes, you spot the same tropes and clichés and become inherently funny. It was vital that in our world, none of the characters could acknowledge that what was going on was at all weird. Like in Naked Gun, where Leslie Nielsen takes it all seriously. The director would shout before every scene, “Don’t forget, you’re doing a serious drama – this is a real body, it’s the body of a child.”

On Black Mirror: The kind of sci-fi I like is allegorical, like The Twilight Zone. Not people with croissant-shaped foreheads talking about warp factors. Rod Serling did The Twilight Zone because he wanted to do plays about racism and McCarthyism, and couldn’t get them on air. That was my focus for the show.

Technology is never the villain in Black Mirror. It’s always, here’s a powerful tool – I don’t mean the character! – here’s a powerful technological tool, and we let the character pick it up and hit themselves repeatedly on the head with it.

We’ve just been shooting a Christmas special, with three episodes, like a Twilight Zone anthology. Jon Hamm’s starring in that because he’s a big fan of the show. It’s about what if you could block someone in real life like you do on Twitter, so they just become an anonymous blob – they can’t hear you or talk to you; and you play out the consequences of that. What I like is TV shows where you get to the end and you feel f***ing devastated. Now they’re all about easily entertaining people. How dare they!

On Nathan Barley: Oh god, writing with Chris Morris was terrifying. I was terrified he’d show up like his Day Today persona, and tell me to f***ing shut up, but he was jolly and friendly and very collaborative. But he’ll interrogate every aspect. He takes ages. We had a meeting before 9/11 and it actually went on air in 2005. We had meeting after meeting to discuss how to do it.

On Twitter: There’s this babble of voices, everyone feeling they have to chip in their two pence worth on how awful it is that Ed Milliband’s just done a poo on the High Street. And I do the same – why? Then everyone feels they have to outdo each other and exaggerate, and it all piles on top of each other, and before you know it everyone is performing, badly, and you’re struck by the existential pointlessness of it… So I wrote a column about it, going “here’s what I think about this! Look at this!”

On why it can be more creative to work on a low budget: The last 20 minutes of every big-budget movie is like you’re staring into a washing machine full of cars and robots and things all smashing together.