Tag Archives: film-making

Cannes confessions #5: the publicity stunt Queens and (Jonathan) Kings of Cannes

20 May

Image

I had no idea, when I woke up yesterday morning, that I would be spending an hour on the Cannes Croisette with the legendary, the notorious, the irrepressible (despite a spell detained at her Majesty’s pleasure) music mogul turned unlikely film auteur Jonathan King (see my photo, above — not to be reproduced without permission). 

He spins a great yarn, and I’d like the opportunity to write the interview up at greater length sometime/somewhere. Until then, you’ll find a small portion of that interview, along with futuristic nuns, Marilyn Monroe lookalikes, and Eva Longoria’s wardrobe failure, in my second and final Cannes Festival feature for the International Business Times: click here.

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

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

Come back tomorrow for still more on Cannes!

Cannes confessions #3: Troma Warriors in Festival Hell!

18 May

Yesterday morning in Cannes a gang made off with a million dollars of Chopard jewellery destined for the swan-like necks of the festival’s red-carpet stars. Later the same day, a lone gunman was arrested after firing blanks at Tarantino actor Christoph Waltz. My first thought, in both cases, was “I wonder what movies these stunts have been staged to promote?”

Maybe I’ve been hanging out in Tromaville too long.

I met up with Lloyd Kaufman, the legendary cult film-maker and founder of Troma, in the Marché du Film. Over nearly four decades, Troma has made hundreds of films bearing a distinctive brand of high-octane schlock, gross-out effects  and occasional gratuitous nudity, coupled with relatively high production values and often surprisingly witty scripts. Some titles to savour: A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell; Alien Blood; Angel Negro; Attack of the Tromaggot; and, appropriately, All The Love You Cannes. And that’s just from the ‘A’s. Enjoy the full list here: http://www.troma.com/films/.

At 67, Kaufman shows no signs of slowing down. With a limited budget for marketing, he has long found inventive ways to generate heat. Hence the foundation this year of Troma’s “Occupy Cannes” movement, staging a different promotional stunt – sorry, piece of performance art – each day.

On Thursday they handed out flyers and stickers while a male streaker Tromatised the crowds on the Croisette. On Friday they attempted to stage a lesbian “wedding”, in honour of the tender love story at the heart of Kaufman’s latest oeuvre, Return to Nuke ‘Em High, but the event was shut down by the police.

Opinions vary as to why: Justin the publicist thinks it was revenge by the authorities for the streaker incident. Asta Paredes and Catherine Corcoran, the film’s young stars, say that it was the gay celebration that disturbed the authorities. “France has legalised gay marriage, but it doesn’t come into effect until the 26th, so they said they were in fear of riots. It’s ridiculous: yesterday we had a streaker and nothing happened, but two women displaying a public symbol of love was threatening.”

It’s refreshing, incidentally, that these girls are clearly both highly intelligent (Paredes previously wrote and directed her own short) rather than rent-a-babes. As to Kaufman, there is no doubting his drive and conviction. “You think I do this for the money? These films don’t make any money. Unless you make an underground movie for $150 million and cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, no one gives a fart for true art.”

He likes to smuggle social messages into the films, and behind the laughs, he is in deadly earnest. Kaufman made a promotional film for PETA called Sunny Acres Farms, in which naked humans are locked in tiny cages like chickens, injected with drugs and “humanely” slaughtered. Even Poultrygeist – Night of the Chicken Dead is, he says, about “the dangers of fast food”. The New York Times called it “about as perfect as a film predicated on the joys of projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea can be”.

As Paredes puts it: “That’s the role of the jester, isn’t it? To make social commentary through humour?”

I’ll leave you with a final intriguing piece of Tromatrivia. I asked Kaufman if, like B-movie maestro Roger Corman, he had helped launch any A-list careers. “They call me the East Coast Roger Corman!” he said, before rattling off a string of names: the creators of South Park; Oliver Stone; Kevin Costner; Samuel L. Jackson; Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas (aged nine in Monster in the Closet).

And you may not have heard of James Gunn, whose first film was Tromeo and Juliet, but you will. He is currently directing the mega-budget Marvel/Disney movie Guardians of the Galaxy.

More on Troma in my International Business Times feature on Cannes promotion: click here.

Click here for the next thrilling episode of Cannes confessions, in glorious Picturerama!

Cannes confessions, #2: the name’s Wiffen; Paul Wiffen

17 May
Image

Paul Wiffen (left), Tony Errico (centre), and Spy Fail actress Victoria George-Veale

Glorious glamorous beach-side Cannes hasn’t totally worked out that way. True, I haven’t seen so many dinner jackets since watching March of the Penguins. They were even in the McDonald’s opposite the Palais. (Before you sneer at me for eating there on my first night, I did order a Royal With Cheese in deference to former Palme D’Or winner Pulp Fiction.)

But the first night was a wash-out – a Biblical downpour that not even the heat generated by Leo DiCaprio’s smile could ward off. Read more about that in my article for the IBT, here. It’s also taken me two days to get the internet working in this apartment, which is a good deal further from the Palais than advertised (everywhere, apparently is “15 minutes from the Palais”); plus Google maps didn’t warn me about the incredibly steep hill. Thank god I’m not wearing heels.

Yesterday was a bit more on track: after filing my article for the International Business Times, we fit in a couple of afternoon parties in the marquees behind the Palais. The first, at the Russian Pavilion, earned black marks for refusing to open the bar until the end of loooong, barely audible speeches in Russian. The second, in honour of the Locarno Film Festival, required some blagging to get into. Tony Errico, whose short film Colonel Badd I helped write, is Swiss, which helped; I played the Press card. They didn’t seem too fussed as long as you looked the part. For me, gold shoes, white trousers, white Clements Ribeiro jacket, and always the Philip Treacy Elvis hat.

When you’re hanging around critics and journalists at Cannes, as I was in 1997, the talk is all what movies have you seen? When you’re hanging out with film-makers, it’s all what movies have you got coming up next? Tony and I spent some time with Paul Wiffen, co-director of a Bond spoof premiering in Cannes on Tuesday called The Pink Marble Egg, with a sequel, Spy Fail, shooting shortly. He cuts a dashing figure with his white lieutenant’s hat and bevy of spy girls. It’s his 17th Cannes, he seems to know everyone, and he’s always the Man with the Plan: which parties to go to, how to score the best screenings.

He had tickets to the Ozon film Young & Beautiful, in the balcony – or “balcon”, as the French has it, which caused some ribbing from his friends. (“Balcon” is the more elegant French slang for what the Americans call “rack”. So “Il y a du monde au balcon” – literally, “there’s quite a crowd on the balcony” – well, you can work that out for yourselves.) Paul has a master’s in languages from Oxford, and switches effortlessly from French to German to Italian. He’s also a master delegator: this person to carry that bag, take this picture, call that person – whatever gets the job done, but always with a kind word.

It’s a salutary lesson that it takes a certain personality to be a director. Camera angles etc, yes, that’s all well and good. But you chiefly have to be a leader of men, a marshaller of resources, a smoother of egos, a tireless cheerleader when things are going wrong.

More Cannes confessions tomorrow… NOW POSTED: how Troma Occupy Cannes

S**t happens: the coincidence of the new Audi ad and the remarkably similar short

15 May

I’d like to show you an amazing coincidence. A coincidence so astounding that you could stick a beard on it and tour it round the country in a freak show. In fact, forget the beard; it’s freaky enough on its own.

Take a look at the new TV ad for the Audi SQ5, above. Then take a look at the minute-long 2011 art short No 26 To Hackney, by fashion photographer turned film-maker Ben Charles Edwards (below).

 

See what I mean? Freaky! To the untrained eye, it gives kind of a déjà vu.

A glamorous woman walks down a dimly lit street: in slow motion, to nonchalant music at odds with the drama about to unfold, her heel breaks; her handbag falls; she falls with it; there’s a close-up on her handbag as its contents spill to the unforgiving pavement; the woman is left sprawled on the cold hard ground.

There is a key difference between the two: the ending. At the close of the ad, a gleaming Audi drives off leaving the hapless pedestrian stranded, whereas at the end of the short film it’s the more prosaic No 26 bus to Hackney.

Oh, and in the short, the woman’s face ends up pressed into a pile of dog shit. That’s not in the TV ad.

I know that film-making coincidences happen. My own premise for a sci-fi movie turned up years later as Looper (see here). Animal Charm, which I co-wrote with Ben, featured terrorist babes in balaclavas, just like Spring Breakers (see here). But this seems a bigger one. The first Ben heard of it was when his mother texted him to say “Congrats on the Audi ad!” Knowing his short film, she had assumed the ad she’d just watched on television was his doing.

So I wondered if there might be some connection between the two, if Ben’s film inspired the ad in some way. I phoned the ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who told me to phone Audi’s PR agency, who told me they would look into it and have an answer later that day. By evening they still couldn’t quite give me a definite answer: “So sorry I haven’t got back to you today. Just checking out the story but at this stage I think it is just a coincidence but I am just waiting confirmation.”

The next day, ie yesterday, I got my response, from Richard Stainer, Client Services Director of BBH. And it is categorical: “BBH was not aware of the short film of Ben Charles Edwards. While there are points of comparison in content (like the broken heel and the dropped bag), the Audi SQ5 story is original material. As an agency, we pride ourselves on creative originality and we take any claims suggesting otherwise very seriously.”

So there it is. An amazing coincidence.

I’m glad it turns out to be a coincidence, though. Not just because amazing coincidences are fun to gawp at, like a wedding ring lost at sea that shows up years later on someone’s dinner plate, inside a fish. But because it would be rather embarrassing all round if it weren’t. No top British ad agency would want to use emerging film-makers as a cheap source of inspiration. And no manufacturer of superlative cars would want customers to be viewing their ad, while all the while thinking of dogshit.

Come back for my daily reports from the Cannes Film festival, starting tomorrow!

The Cumberbatch tapes, #4: Spielberg v. Madonna

11 May

Image

This is the final part of my interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, told as far as possible in his own words. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and my review of Star Trek Into Darkness here.

On how he got the part in War Horse (above): “I got told that Steven Spielberg was a fan of my work! And that was just… I mean I can’t say it without laughing. I made one of the archetypal actor’s jokes when someone said Oh you must be having a break after this because you’ve just come straight from Sherlock to this play, and I said yeah, I’m going to definitely have a two-week break – unless Spielberg calls! And then Spielberg did actually call! I had to read the script, sign a confidentiality agreement, and that was it, he gave me the part.”

…And how he didn’t work with Madonna: “There’s another rather famous woman, who will remain nameless, she’s doing a film at the moment [putting two and two together, that woman was Madonna and the film was her directorial debut,W.E.], who demanded almost a dress rehearsal with her operating the camera. And, er, being an actor you jump through the hoops, and I came out going Wow… the difference between a confident director who knows what he’s doing and someone who hasn’t got a f***ing clue is just miles.”

On Doctor Who: For once, Benedict was reluctant to talk. When he finally came out with it, it was as though imparting some great State Secret. Matt Smith had recently taken over from David Tennant as Doctor Who, and I wondered, had Benedict ever been considered for the role? Long pause, then: “Possibly yes.”

That and Sherlock are quite similar roles, in some ways, I probed. “Aaaaaah… possibly. Well. The idea of Sherlock came along before David’s recasting, we did the pilot over a year ago, that was just about when David was going to announce he was going to stand down. And David and I talked about it, but to be honest, it had to be radically different from him, and I’m not sure I’m interested in doing something… you haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century before, and that was much more appetising. And Doctor Who is a ‘Bond role’ in the sense that each incarnation puts his own stamp on it, but I didn’t really like the whole package, I didn’t want to be doing school lunchboxes, I didn’t want to be known for that and nothing else.”

On meeting former Tory leader William Hague to prepare for the role of William Pitt the Younger: “It was great, a real privilege, I went to see where Pitt would have stood in the Chambers, I went to dinner with William Hague and talked about his book [about William Pitt], it was a fantastic evening, really special.”

Hague seemed too young to be a plausible leader at the time, I say. “Like a precocious Mekon, wasn’t he, like a possessed child. But he’s charismatic, very intelligent, very good company – he’s fit, focused, he doesn’t talk down to you, a very smart man. I’d like to see more of him, especially now he’s Foreign Secretary, it’s a great role for him. It is absolutely intoxicating being in the House of Commons, there’s such a feeling of power about the place.”

Finally, what does he think of Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes? “I really enjoyed it, it’s fantastic, he’s an extraordinary actor… but it’s really not Sherlock in my mind. He’s not Sherlock, he’s Robert Downey Jr!”

I’ve had some great feedback on Twitter (@DominicFilm if you want to Follow me) regarding this interview series. Benedict is lucky to have so many appreciative fans! Thank you, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Come back next week, when I will be reporting from the Cannes Film Festival.

Colonel Badd: out-takes from our short, showing at Cannes

29 Apr

The director of Colonel Badd,  the 15-minute short I co-wrote centring on an interview with a retired supervillain, has just put some out-takes on Vimeo. I’m in the poker scene (of course!), with an American accent and a hook for a hand. Do please help yourself to a slice of my ham (click the image above).

I always enjoyed acting. My Toad of Toad Hall was a hit when I was 12; and at 16 my Chrysale in Moliere’s Les Femmes Savantes went down well with those who could follow the French, even if the blond leg hairs sticking through my black tights made me resemble a geriatric hedgehog.

Hugh Grant was at my Oxford college, two years above me. But whereas he got to star in a student-made feature film called Privileged overseen by John Schlesinger – I recall Hugh stripped to the waist, carrying a deer on his shoulders across the Cherwell river – all the drama productions I successfully auditioned for collapsed before I could act in them. And so expired my thespian dreams along with, presumably, a 13-year marriage to Liz Hurley ending ignominiously in a parked car with prostitute Divine Brown.

Yesterday was also the cast & crew screening of the final cut of Colonel Badd. It was wonderful to see the featurette edited down, with music, and extra reverb for the succession of villainous laughs Colonel Badd tries out to “get in character”, as Tarantino would put it.

Next stop, Cannes – where both Colonel Badd and Filth, which Tony Errico also directed, have been accepted into the Short Film Corner. If anyone who reads this is heading to the festival, message me for a cocktail on the Croisette!

My Cannes 2013 reports start here. My diary extracts from the amazing 1997 Cannes Film Festival start here.

Easter special: Dave McKean picks his Passion films

29 Mar
Image

Dave McKean, illustrator, director and dead ringer for Orson Welles

Dave McKean is an astonishingly brilliant and prolific illustrator, graphic novelist, animator and director. His credits are too numerous to mention, but his films include Mirrormask, written by long-time collaborator Neil Gaiman, Luna (as yet unreleased) and last year The Gospel of Us, in which he filmed Michael Sheen being crucified on a beach in Port Talbot.

I’ve interviewed Dave a few times, and had the pleasure of asking him about his favourite movies involving Christ and crucifixion, to get us all in the Easter spirit:

“There are a lot of screen depictions of the Passion of Christ that I love. King of Kings, the silent film, has a beautiful atmosphere. There’s the Christ sequence in Ben Hur, which goes from a sepia image to glowing  Technicolor. Pasolino’s The Gospel According to St Matthew has these incredible faces of these non-actors he got to play the parts. Jesus of Montreal is probably the closest to The Gospel of Us. The Last Temptation of Christ is fantastic, it’s close to being my favourite Scorsese film. Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ is brutal and over the top in the scourging sequence but it has some amazing stuff in it. But nothing beats Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain.

Holy Mountain was hard to find for a very long time. The original prints were embargoed by the producer and it was only available in Japan in degraded and often heavily censored form: glowing orbs would appear over people’s genitals. But Jodorowsky finally got the rights back recently, and it’s an astounding film to look at, though it makes variable sense depending on who you are and how much you’ve had to drink.

“Jodorowsky has said he basically rounded up his actors and kidnapped them, kept them in isolation, broke them mentally, then put them back together on screen. In a key scene the Christ figure, who is a complete innocent, gets cast in papier mache by his followers. When he wakes up, he sees a thousand versions of himself and is driven insane, smashes them all up, and the last sequence is him eating one, ripping great chunks out of it.

“But the whole film is incredible. You start with this man, who wakes up, covered in flies… it doesn’t make much sense but it’s incredibly compelling. It’s one of those films where you arrive somewhere, look back, and you think ‘How the hell did I get here’ and you can’t imagine where you’ll be in ten minutes’ time.

“My own approach to Gospel of Us wasn’t much more sensible. We basically raced down to Port Talbot, where Michael Sheen was re-enacting the Passion over 72 hours with a cast of a thousand locals, taking ten cameras to shoot what the hell we could. It took eight months to whittle it down to a two-hour film.”

So there you go. That’s your Easter weekend movie viewing sorted. And we didn’t even mention The Life of Brian

A shorter version of this post first appeared in The Book magazine