Tag Archives: film-making

The Fallen: 18-year-old Brit makes sci-fi flick

20 Aug

 

I was impressed by the trailer (above) for micro-budget Brit sci-fi flick The Fallen. It had action scenes and explosions and hundreds of alien spaceships hanging in the air, as Douglas Adams once memorably wrote, in exactly the same way that bricks don’t. I was even more impressed when I discovered that its director, Rupert Rixon, is only 18, wtf. So I kept an eye out for the finished product.

Now the first episode in this ambitious six-parter, which together will add up to feature-film length, has finally been uploaded to YouTube (click here). Given the director’s age and the tiny budget (for their most expensive battle scene they managed to dig trenches, set off explosions, fire machine-guns and kit out actors in army uniform for just £600), it’s enormously impressive: pacey, well directed, making excellent use of derelict areas and buildings across England to give it that post-apocalyptic feel. Give Rixon a few years and a good producer, and you could expect him to be beating Hollywood at their own game.

And yet it doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise. The sound quality is atrocious, which is hard to forgive. And you wish as much thought had gone into the initial script as it clearly did into the filming.

A sci-fi or fantasy film only works if the alternate world it creates is credible, if it feels real. Lord of the Rings or Dune or even Harry Potter endure not just because of story and character, but because so much thought has gone into the economics, politics and language of their worlds. Here, we are told in an opening voice-over that most of Earth’s water has been sucked out by aliens, leading to global famine. It’s not thought through. Bottle-caps are used for money, which in itself makes no sense; a handful of caps is apparently fortune enough to provoke an armed fight at a poker table, yet 30cl of water costs 120. Humans need a litre per day.

The characters’ motivations, too, are frequently unclear or downright unconvincing; not least when a man running from machine-gun-toting baddies lights his way with a flare, which may look good on film but is not recommended for evading nocturnal pursuit. (Mind you, M did much the same at the end of Skyfall, and she’s meant to be the spy of spies.) And so far there’s not an original or surprising line of dialogue.

Does all this matter? You may think not, on YouTube. It’s free, it’s short, the audience maybe don’t expect so much. Comments so far have all been positive. But it doesn’t cost any more to think these things through, so why not do it? And if you feel this is harsh on an 18-year-old, it is I hope a mark of respect for Rupert Rixon’s prodigious potential that I am criticising The Fallen as I might a “proper” film.

Lessons for would-be film-makers? Get a proper sound recordist/mixer, and a decent script-editor. They will do your film far more good than the latest state-of-the-art digital camera that most directors get their rocks off on.

But the more important lesson is – just do it. You can’t complain you don’t have the right contacts, the right financing, the right breaks, the right training, when an 18-year-old can get out there and make a full-length sci-fi feature armed with little more than vision, determination and a giant pair of clanking brass balls.

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Film networking events: where to booze and schmooze

5 Jul

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The first monthly gathering of the London Film Entrepreneurs club, at the Pure bar in Camden last night (above), was a great success. As a quick for-instance, I chatted to Dave Sohanpal, a highly experienced sound guy who works mostly in commercials, but still regrets turning down From London to Brighton; to Danish Wakeel, a designer/model who exhibits at London Fashion Week, and whose film The Island premieres next week; and to Andy Williams, an ex-exec with the commendably ambitious aim of making an Oscar-winning short within the year.

I mention specifics only to demonstrate that, at these things, you never know who you’re going to meet: actors, composers, animators, producers, writers, editors, lighting technicians. Film is a collaborative medium. The more potential collaborators you have, the better.

So don’t be shy. If you are in the film business, or want to be, your first port of call should be www.shootingpeople.org, a virtual film community of 38,000 members worldwide which releases daily newsletters with film discussion and pleas for help: it’s through this that I got to collaborate with director Tony Errico on the short film Colonel Badd, which we took to Cannes this May. They also hold regular “real-world” pub drinks, in London and elsewhere.

Euroscript, Soho Screenwriters and Raindance all hold seminars and workshops as well as occasional get-togethers; I’ve also enjoyed People In Media’s networking events, and there’s a big one coming up on the 16th; as for the London Film Entrepreneurs, join the club on Facebook here. Finally, I heartily recommend the unstoppable whirlwind of enthusiasm and practical advice that is Chris Jones and his Guerilla Film network. His inspirational weekend Masterclass took place in June, but there are many more one-off events to come.

The British sometimes look down on networking as a shallow American invention. If so, think of it, instead, as just meeting up for a pint or three with a bunch of people who all love movies. It’s easy to get chatting: it’s one place you know that everyone’s there to meet new people. A simple “So what do you do?”, like the Queen, will suffice as a conversation-starter. Make sure you take business cards, natch, and write a memory-jogging note on the ones you get in return – otherwise next morning you will find yourself leafing blearily through a sheaf of cards wondering who the hell each belongs to.

So, see you there! Mine’s an ice-cold Stella.

Now You See Me: the secret mind control behind the film magic revealed

2 Jul

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Now You See Me is an old-fashioned caper movie with a 21st-century sheen: Ocean’s Eleven meets Derren Brown. A raggle-taggle band of magicians — mentalist Woody Harrelson, escapologist Isla Fisher, card sharp Jesse Eisenberg and street hustler Dave Franco – are recruited one by one by a mysterious hooded figure who uses their skills in elaborate Robin Hood stunts to redistribute wealth. Morgan Freeman plays the magic-buster who is there to explain their tricks to the cops (Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent), and thereby also to the viewer; Michael Caine also lends star power in an underwritten part.

The film has become a surprise hit in the US, grossing over $100 million in a summer full of blockbusters, and industry pundits have put that down to good word-of-mouth and marketing centred on much-loved Morgan Freeman. That may be true, but I have another explanation, a fiendish and cunning explanation, one that all along has been hiding in plain view.

Look again at the poster: the film’s seven stars gaze up at you hypnotically, like Reservoir Dogs in 3D, over the vast heading “Now You See Me”. Having communed with my inner Derren Brown, I can exclusively reveal that it is in reality one giant subliminal command. As in, “You: See Me. Now!”

You might as well just go with it. The film is directed with enormous energy by Louis Leterrier of Transporter and Hulk fame, and spectacularly well edited by his regular collaborator Vincent Tabaillon (jointly credited with veteran Robert Leighton). One might wish more effort had been put into making the characters as likeable or the love story as convincing as the tricks, but the plot twists cleverly, keeping one step ahead of the viewer right up to the final frame.

That said, the key to magic, as the protagonists keep telling us, is misdirection, and that applies just as well to Now You See Me. It’s a film of smoke and mirrors, blinding the viewer to the fact that, at heart, it’s utter tosh. As with machines, the most durable criminal plans have the fewest moving parts; the magicians’ ridiculously complex schemes could easily have gone awry at any juncture.

And illusion on film simply doesn’t thrill the way it does live. When I was a kid, I half-believed in vampire visitations and fairy-tale wishes, and was so convinced that my parents were shape-changing aliens that I rattled the doorknob before entering to give them time to adopt human form. No? Just me, then?

Anyway, the David Blaines and Derren Browns can reconnect you to that childish sense of prickling wonder, where you almost start believing, for a split second, telepathy, or levitation, or the power to predict the future. On film you just believe in the power of CGI to do anything and that Woody Harrelson has read a script rather than minds.

Film itself has been called “magic at 24 frames per second”. To me, it’s enough to see other human beings living intensely on screen, in places I could never visit, and lose myself so completely inside them that I emerge at the end credits blinking, surprised to find myself sitting in a cinema.

This is not the kind of magic Now You See Me performs. But if you want nothing more than a highly entertaining way to spend an evening, then… alakazam!

Now You See Me opens on July 3

Man Of Steel: repaint the ‘S’ on his chest with a ‘Z’

21 Jun

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What a colossal bore Man of Steel turns out to be. To get all Shakespearean on your ass, it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It’s about as engaging as spending 143 minutes watching a statue.

Henry Cavill looks the part, sure; but he’s just not given anything interesting to do or say. The extended back story about his Kryptonian origins is about the most enjoyable thing, and even then not very — it’s all kind of rent-a-sci-fi, an origin without originality – and that only emphasises how resolutely earth-bound the rest of the movie is. Russell Crowe is good, and reminds you there was once some point to him. Michael Shannon, despite the hype, is wasted here on a one-note performance as General Zod that runs the gamut of emotions from intense, all the way through to even more intense.

It’s a shame. I wanted to love it, and I’ve read some pro reviews and seen the 8.1 grade on IMDB, but guys, guys, you have to give me someone to root for, something real to care about. It’s moral dilemmas, emotional conflicts that make even an action movie, not just the punch-ups. The only affecting scene in the movie from that perspective is the tornado (no spoilers by saying more). Superman deciding he was going to side with nice Earth people against mean Kryptonians was never an agonising choice.

So, Superman must save the world – in the guise of Metropolis aka New York — from destruction by an alien ship hovering above it. The climax of Avengers Assemble was spookily similar, only WAAAAAY more fun and inventive. If you’re going to give us a standard action-movie-type punch-up, at least make the choreography of it inventive, not just shot after shot of evenly matched superheroes punching each other through buildings. For instance: what really happens when an omnipotent force meets an immovable object? Put some thought into it, please.

The other problem is the production design. It’s as though Zack Snyder had heard that 50 Shades of Gray was wildly popular, but hadn’t realised the title was not meant literally. I’ve seen mime artists less muted than the colour palette of this movie.

And finally, Amy Adams. I like Amy Adams. Who doesn’t? But investigative reporters are not nice. Smart, yes, driven, yes, deceitful, yes. Nice, not so often. Casting her as some kind of latter-day Hildy Johnson just doesn’t fly.

And while we’re on the subject, what’s with this niceness epidemic? The essence of drama is conflict. But here, look at the people of planet Earth, not one of them is any less than thoroughly nice, apparently: Lois Lane, supercutely-nice; hard-bitten editor Perry White, yup, will selflessly risk his own life for his staff; even the army guys, after mistrusting Superman for about a second, get behind the cape and play nice.

Speaking of the army, that brings me on to a scene so extraordinarily stupid and casually sexist that, if it hadn’t come right at the end, I might have walked out. The notion that a woman, having recently won the right to serve alongside men in the military, having completed a gruelling training regime to weed out all but the leanest, meanest fighting machines, and having been entrusted with the position of aide to the most powerful general in America — the notion that this able, driven young woman would, on being confronted with the extraordinary spectacle of a God-like walking weapon in a cape more dangerous than any nuclear bomb, simply simper and giggle and say “I just think he’s kinda hot”… Shame on you, David S Goyer. 

Aguirre, Wrath of God: the tale of a lunatic, told by madmen

18 Jun

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On Sunday I saw Werner Herzog’s startling, visionary, hallucinatory 1972 film Aguirre, Wrath of God at the BFI Southbank with my 17-year-old son. It was a big moment, as well as a great film, for two reasons.

One, that my son would choose this over the easy thrills of Man of Steel shows how far he’s come in his own cinephile journey (click here for the funny, sweet short film he made in Film Studies). Two, Aguirre was the film that turned me on to European art cinema, when I myself was 17.

The film stands up to time. Slow by modern standards, but, as my son said, still not a second wasted.

Aguirre tells of a doomed expedition of Spanish conquistadors to find the legendary gold city of Eldorado, sailing downriver through the jungle on makeshift rafts at the mercy of hostile Indians, in scenes that are a blatant influence on Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. It opens with an astonishing shot of hundreds of soldiers and their South American Indian slaves winding their way down a vertiginous mountain pass. As the fog slowly parts, like the mists of time, it’s clear that the film will be more symbolic as literal.

The second in command, Aguirre, is consumed with dreams of glory. He betrays his commander and leads his men through a combination of sheer will and sudden brutality. “That man is a head taller than me,” he says to his henchman, as he overhears talk of mutiny; “that may change.”

After the henchman takes the hint and decapitates the conspirator with a machete, so suddenly that his severed head completes his final sentence from the ground, Aguirre delivers an inspirational pep talk to the rest of his starving, fever-stricken troops: “Anyone considering desertion will be cut into 198 pieces and trampled on until you can paint the walls with him.”

But it’s not so much what he says and does, as how he is, that inspires fear and awe. Klaus Kinski is a one-off: a diagnosed schizophrenic and insatiable sexual libertine, his fleshy lips are set in a perpetual sneer, and slashed across his face like an engorged sexual organ; his jagged cheekbones provide a constant reminder of the skull beneath the skin; his gigantic eyes are as blue as the sky and as cold as ice.

Watching Aguirre stroke his 15-year-old daughter’s hand, brought along on this lunatic venture because he could not bear to be parted from her, is made especially uncomfortable by the revelation earlier this year that Kinski’s younger daughter Pola was sexually abused by him from the ages of 5 until 19.

Kinski’s mere presence helps elevate the film to the realms of myth. As Aguirre refuses to abandon his dreams despite overwhelming odds, you question what a fine line it is that separates the madman from the visionary, genius from delusion. It’s a question Herzog has returned to again and again in his film-making career, and in a sense, it is the story of every director, and every film. The making of each feature is a triumph of will, a victory of dreams over common sense, an impossible task conducted by a madman with dreams of glory leading a raggle-taggle band of occasionally mutinous followers.

Herzog more than others. The shooting of Aguirre was famously fraught: the perilous raft journey you see on film was real, and experienced by the actors; the fevers they suffered, real too. Herzog and Kinski fell out so badly that – accounts differ wildly – a gun was brought into play. And yet, a decade later, they reunited in the South American jungle to make Fitzcarraldo. This time, their task was to haul a three-storey, 320-ton metal steamship up a mountain – both fictionally, and in reality.

No, they really don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Aguirre, Wrath of God is still playing (till Thursday) in a new restoration at the BFI Southbank, Curzon West End, and after that at selected venues nationwide

#8: Secret Cannes diary of a Time Out Editor, aged 33¼

24 May
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Continuing the extracts from my Cannes diary from 1997. This time: partying on the Soho House boat with a young Anna Friel, Sadie Frost, Jude Law, David Thewlis…
May 10. Woke up at 9, or so I thought — my watch had stopped, and it turned out to be 12.30. Started off feeling terrible, then thought hey! It’s Cannes! And the sun is shining! And immediately became annoyingly cheerful.Forced down some bread and pate, then watched Jon and Paul (Ronson and Kaye, see previous blog) rehearse the new character Jon’s been writing for him. I giggled in the kitchen, even though I’d heard the jokes before; Paul’s delivery brought them to life.

Nothing planned till 5.30, so spent much of the afternoon wandering up the Croisette, where the crowds prevent you moving any faster than a zombie, and overheard a smart French woman tourist say, “Oh, mais il n’y a même pas des starlets nues.” Bought a phonecard and phoned Jonathan Rutter of DDA to beg tix for a party the next evening, which he said he was giving to only three people, Jon and I being two, then off to join the Young British Talent.

Normally you can’t get into the colossal Palais des Festivals without an accredited pass. Bureaucracy is such that I had prepared a speech in French for when I was inevitably  refused entry despite having a printed invitation to the roof-top reception, but no problems. There are gorgeous views from up there, and the view improved even more when the Brits arrived.

They’d all been styled in designer gear, and looked stunning: Joely Richardson in a ’30s-looking, calf-length shimmery dress; Sadie Frost with little horns, a tattoo, and killer blue eyes (and later in bare feet); Anna Friel (above) thin and poised in a black dress with plunging back, behaving like a naughty schoolgirl during the speech and making signs to Sadie; Catherine McCormack in Doc Marten’s beneath her dress; and then the boys — Rufus Sewell, Jude Law, Jon’s friend James Frayn — all dressed to kill in Paul Smith tuxes and exuding a raffish charm.

I introduced myself to Anna Friel and thanked her for being kind to Brian Case (Time Out‘s legendary Senior Editor) when he went on location recently for Landgirls. Brian had told me he was worried that his drinker’s reputation had preceded him, because Anna always seemed to have a bottle of wine to offer, even in the morning; but she said that’s just what she always did, with a deliberately insouciant air that shouted “See? I may come from the soaps but I’m a bad girl, really!”

Jon turned up late, and still gloomy, having a Bad Birthday. He introduced me to ??, head of MTV, who had produced his Jon Ronson Mission, and cheered up  when I told him the young stars were all off to dinner at the Soho House boat — so we could mosey along and somehow inveigle our way in…. which we did.

Barry Norman (the BBC film critic) was standing proud on the top deck, gazing into the distance like an Admiral, very much in command and in his element. We ligged into the bar area for free champagne and Sea Breezes, where Jon had two coups and two foot-in-mouths.

Catherine McCormack was effusive in her praise of Jon’s Omar documentary (earlier he’d said his great ambition was to meet Mike Leigh, but he was too frightened he’d snub him. I had joked that he’d probably say “Jon Ronson! I’m a great admirer of your films…”). This delighted him, though he spoilt the warm glow by saying to her, in the end, “So what do you do?” Oops. Mind you, I hadn’t realised she had starred in Braveheart, either.

Same with David Thewlis, who actually sought Jon out to praise him for his documentary; but when Jon started going on about meeting David’s ex-wife, and how he really liked her, it spolit the mood…

I meanwhile patched things up with Richard Jobson, who I worried might bear a grudge for a nasty Sideline in Time Out years back making fun of his dyslexia, which at the time made him furious. But no: he wanted to make a deal with Time Out to help out with his series of London movies [our News Editor Tony Thompson eventually co-produced with him], and sorted us out with VIP tix to the massive MTV party that night…

In the next episode, a fight breaks out at the MTV party… click here to read

Cannes confessions #6: the night time is the right time

21 May

Whoever said “Man cannot live by canapés alone” (they do say that, don’t they?) clearly has never been to the Cannes Film Festival. The place is a ligger’s paradise: every major film-making country has a pavilion, each one hosting receptions; the Croisette beach is lined with party marquees; and that’s without even counting the regular hotel ballrooms and nightclubs.

Veteran Canneites swap tips on how to smuggle extra people in – from walking purposefully past talking the doormen in someone’s slipstream talking into a mobile phone, to getting a stamp on your way out for a cigarette and then pressing it to your friend’s wrist before it’s had time to dry. Director Paul Wiffen, with whom I spent a fair bit of time, is a master of the art, having been to 16 Cannes Festivals. Someone really should ask him to write a book of Cannes Film Festival astuces, as he calls his clever wheezes, so if there are any publishers reading this…

There is truth, however, to the phrase “No such thing as a free lunch.” Every drink must be paid for excruciatingly in speeches, most of them barely audible and in a foreign language. And so I can exclusively report, from the ballroom of the Majestic Hotel with the Princess of Thailand in attendance flanked by kneeling flunkies, the exciting news that Thailand is proud of its film industry; ditto for the Russians; ditto for the Locarno Film Festival. As to the Swiss, for all I know they make atrocious films as efforts to gain access to their woefully disorganised bash on the beach were rebuffed.

The best party I went to was for Four Senses, starring former Miss Switzerland Nadine Vinzens and described by the wonderfully named producer Omar Kaczmarczyk (pronounced “Cash-my-cheque”) as an “eromantic” adventure. (The movie, he clearly believes, is so ground-breaking that it necessitates a whole new word.) Though I am still eager to hear the rest of charismatic director/writer Gabriel Murray’s Hamlet story, as I was called away to dinner too early…

And of course, poker fiend that I am, I couldn’t resist trying out the Croisette Barrière Casino, which a couple of years ago wrested the World Series of Poker Europe away from London’s Empire Casino. The cash games there are brutal, with minimum blinds of 5-10, but I figured it would be a novel way to meet top producers, and so it proved: one ended up sitting to my left.

He was in a foul temper, however, cursing every unlucky break, and in no mood to chat to an aspiring film-maker. My British modesty didn’t help. After I guessed correctly that he was a producer (he had a Festival pass round his neck, and was playing high-stakes poker, so duh), he asked what I did. “I’m a journalist,” I say, “but I also have a film I’ve co-written at the festival.” And then, apologetically – “It’s only a short, playing in the Court Métrage. Gotta start somewhere, I suppose.”

At that, he turned away. I have to learn not to be so bloody British. Still, it meant I felt no guilt when I flopped two pairs to crack his pocket Aces, and he exited soon after, hurling his final chip angrily at the dealer with appallingly bad grace.

So let’s abandon all British reserve now and toot my own horn. The next night I played a 30-person tournament at the casino, and came fourth after eight hours’ play. Not too shabby. Good training for the WSOP Millionaire Maker tournament in Vegas the weekend after this…!

For my recent Cannes despatches, read my first IBT article first, with the opening night gala and towering celebrity tales. Then my tips for festival virgins; hanging with the Bond spoofers; and streakers, lesbian love-ins and Nuke ‘Em High with the Troma crew. Plus picture-gallery here, and my final IBT article, on outrageous Cannes publicity stunts, here

For more about my own film in the Short Film Corner, Colonel Badd, see outtakes here and posters here.

Come back tomorrow for more on Cannes.