Tag Archives: Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival

See my short, Dotty, for free! Plus: amazing new feature Set The Thames On Fire

6 Nov
Dotty, starring Sadie Frost and her son Rudy Law

Dotty, starring Sadie Frost and her son Rudy Law

If you’re in London this Saturday lunchtime, grab the chance to watch Dotty on the big screen – for free! Dotty is a truly lovely short film that I dreamed up and Ben Charles Edwards directed, about a troubled young boy growing up in Nevada in the ‘60s who forges a life-changing friendship with an eccentric lady in a mysterious trailer in the desert. I was very loosely inspired in writing it by Harold and Maude, and there’s a reveal at the end that still sends chills up my spine, thanks in part to a haunting Danny Elfmanesque score by Paul Honey.

Sadie Frost won a well-deserved Best Actress award in the title role from the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival (I flew over for that, see here), and the boy is touchingly played by her real-life son by Jude Law, Rudy Law. Dotty has screened in 20-odd festivals round the world already, and this is its second London outing, following Raindance. It’s showing as part of the Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Festival, now in its tenth year, together with four other shorts under the themed of “Growing Pains”. Tickets are free, but you should book them in advance here.

I can’t be there in person, sadly. I’m going back to my old Oxford college for its Careers Day, to give advice to students contemplating a future in journalism. That advice, incidentally, distilled to its essentials, is THERE IS NO FUTURE IN JOURNALISM! RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!

Set The Thames posterDotty’s visionary young director Ben Charles Edwards has since made his feature-film debut, with Sadie Frost, Emma Comley and Andrew Green as producers. I’ve seen some rushes, and it looks extraordinary (and not just because I am in it, briefly, playing a music producer in a huge quifftastic hat). It’s like a darker version of Withnail & I set in a retro-Dickensian dystopian future London, and it’s called Set The Thames On Fire. The screenplay is by the very talented musician Al Joshua, whose recent showcase gig  I wrote about here.

Check out the amazing pics for Set Thames On Fire on the new website.

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Despatch from Hollywood #4: Vivien Leigh meets the teenaged hit-man

15 Feb
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Tears: Juliet Stevenson in Penelope

Another day, another five hours of shorts at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. Again, the standard was exceptionally high, which makes me even happier that our film Dotty won an award. Here’s the best of the fest:

Penelope, written and directed by Dan Susman, stars Juliet Stevenson. So you know there’s gonna be tears. She’s given a part worth sinking her teeth to here, and invests with it an extraordinary dignity: a jilted wife meeting up for the first time with her husband’s mistress (Hattie Morahan).

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Beers: Ray Larkin and Jack Kehler in Last Call

Another terrific drama was Last Call, about two ageing guys (Jack Kehler and Ray Larkin) shooting the shit and having a few last drinks after one has been given two weeks to live. This won Best Student Film for writer/director Ryan Moody, and deservedly so. It’s a surprisingly mature work that never stoops to cliché or easy sentimentality.

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Cheers: Caitlin Harris as Vivien Leigh in Love Scene

Probably my favourite of all was Love Scene, which is about as near to perfect as a short film can get: fantastic script in which not one word is out of place; terrific performances; luminous cinematography; blessedly brief. It’s the screen test of one Vivien Leigh (a hard act to follow, but Caitlin Harris nails it), in which she confesses her determination to bag Laurence Olivier – that both are currently married presents no obstacle to her. It won an award for Best Comedy, which is weird, because it may be Best but it ain’t no Comedy. Writer/director Bethany Ashton Wolf has already won a clutch of awards at other festivals. Remember the name.

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Fears: Martha MacIsaac and Keir Gilchrist in Seasick Sailor

Of the genre films, the one that really stood out for me was Seasick Sailor. It’s hard to put your stamp on hit-man films; there are so many. This has a unique voice. It’s about a teenaged killer-for-hire who hates his job, until he realises that it’s no more boring and time-consuming than others. A romance offers hope of redemption… Writer/director Torre Catalano not only wrote a terrific script, he coaxed pitch-perfect performances from his whole cast – notably the young lead, Keir Gilchrist.

I met Gilchrist outside the Gents before the awards ceremony, which was about as disconcerting as bumping into Joe Pesci would be after watching GoodFellas. I told him he was terrific… not a very original thought, as it turns out. He deservedly walked away with the Best Actor trophy.

Despatch from Hollywood #3: the night I became Sadie Frost

15 Feb

ImagePhew! Yesterday was fun. I’ve picked up awards for magazine editing before, but never for film.

A couple of years ago, I stood on the stage of the Dolby Theater, where the Oscars take place, and yelled “You like me! You really like me!” over the empty chairs. I vowed to be back someday for real.

Okay, so it wasn’t actually my award, it was Sadie Frost’s. Her achievement in winning Best Actress in a Short is especially impressive given the competition, which, having watched ten hours of shorts at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, I can tell you was stiff. Sadie was up against not just Juliet Stevenson, but the ageless Lee Meriwether, as well as Caitlin Harris who is terrific as Vivien Leigh in Love Scene.

And okay, this wasn’t quite the Oscars. But it was still good to get up there, in Hollywood, in a rep cinema owned by Quentin Tarantino (the New Beverly), in front of a hundred-odd gifted film-makers and actors. I apologised for not being Sadie, since “I’m not nearly as pretty as her”, and on her behalf thanked Sadie’s son Rudy, the film’s producers, cinematographer John Hicks, and of course “the director, Ben Charles Edwards, who’s ridiculously young, handsome and talented – the bastard”. I hope the Californian natives understand British humour.

Set The Thames on FireAnd on that note, I’m delighted to draw your attention to today’s Hollywood Reporter article which officially announces that Sadie Frost will be producing Ben’s first feature film. It’s called Set The Thames On Fire, after a Tom Waits lyric, and he and the writer, the also hugely talented raconteur, flâneur, wit and songsmith Al Joshua, have been developing this project for a year or more. Last time I was with them, they showed me some amazing artwork for their modern-Dickensian, dystopian alternate London.

I had no idea till then that their buddy-movie project, which I always thought of as “Withnail And I in Shoreditch”, had spun off into fantasy. But with Ben, you always have to expect the unexpected. Fingers crossed they get the film – and the cast – they deserve.

More reviews from the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival tomorrow. Or maybe the next day, if I get distracted by the joys of LA and my feature deadlines!

Despatch from Hollywood #2: Finding the stars of tomorrow

13 Feb

ImageI spent five hours yesterday watching short films at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, looking out for the stars of tomorrow. There were quite a few writers and directors I’d want to get meetings with if I were a Hollywood producer.

A Killer Of Men stands tall here. A post-apocalyptic Western, it’s beautifully shot – I dug the camera following a rivulet of blood back up to a pile of corpses from underneath which the lead character heaves himself out. Gregg Meller is the writer/director, and it’s his USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate thesis film. The closing credits help explain why it looks so good: they are as long and filled with crew members as any feature, and he’s even managed to secure a David Bowie song over the top (“I count the corpses on my left/I find I’m not so tidy”). But it’s Meller’s script, concept and direction that really mark the film out. Give that man a feature.

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Mocha and Chai

Two comedy-tinged crime/ gangster shorts also stood out. Even more than the direction by Andrew Hines, it was Mocha and Chai’s oddball, Tarantinoesque script by Brit Matt Tilley (who also plays the lead) that grabbed notice. Terrific dialogue, immediately compelling characters. The same goes for Sunny Side Up, “a dark comedy about friendship, breakfast and the Russian mob”. It’s the first script by Tanner Bean, who’s worked as a production assistant for seven years, and it’s smart, funny, offbeat and more than a little lavatorial. Loved the line about “don’t come to me with your little dick… tionary lesson”.

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Joel and Joseph Harold

There were two strong comic webisodes, too. Living With Uncle Charlie, about two identical teenaged twins living with a guardian uncle who is even more immature than they are, is the pilot for a projected nine-webisode series. Joel and Joseph Harold are currently raising funds on Kickstarter, here. If you want to support young black actors, or just love good, goofy comedy, it’s worth your $$.

Out of the Closet, written and directed by Hunter Davis, is part of a web series called HELL.A about three delusional friends from Cleveland who move to LA. In this episode one of them gets into trouble when a married woman’s husband returns unexpectedly (hence the hiding in the closet). Zero marks for originality of concept, then, but it’s winningly acted, pacily directed, and fun enough to be worth a look. It’s viewable on YouTube, here.

There were more great shorts (The Interview and Dream Couch Sold Separately in particular had a distinctive voice), but those were the ones that looked the most Hollywood- or TV-producer-ready. All in all, the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival has made some terrific choices so far (well of course the programmers have good taste – they’re showing Dotty this evening!). I also loved the film Bulletproof… but that’s worth a separate blog at a later date.

I’ll let you know tomorrow how our short film Dotty went down!

Despatch from Hollywood: the day before the world premiere of our film Dotty

12 Feb
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Dotty, premiering at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival tomorrow

So here I am in West Hollywood. The sky is as ridiculously blue as it almost always is – that’s partly why the first film pioneers chose this place. I’m staying with hospitable fellow film journo and screenwriter Steve Goldman. And tomorrow the short film I wrote, Dotty, is having its world premiere at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, with Florida, Australia, St Albans and New York so far to follow.

I’m really proud of the film. Ben Charles Edwards, with whom I collaborated on the hugely ambitious Animal Charm, did a superb job of directing. Sadie Frost is so good she’s being awarded Best Actress at the festival – despite Juliet Stevenson also being in the running. The specially composed score still echoes in my mind.

I can’t tell you too much about the plot of Dotty, as it would spoil the ending, but it’s a touching inter-generational friendship between a lonely, troubled boy and the eccentric woman (‘Dotty’) he finds in a colourful caravan plonked in the middle of the dusty Nevada desert. I had the cult 1971 film Harold and Maude half in mind when I wrote it. I’ve shown it to septuagenarians and nine-year-olds, and all ages in between, and it seems to strike a universal chord.

One great lesson when writing it: less is more. The first draft was 10pp long – half the length of Animal Charm. It was deliberately light on dialogue, since it stars a nine-year-old kid. And though that kid is Rudy Law, son of Sadie Frost and Jude Law and with acting clearly in his genes, you still can’t ask too much of children in the way of scripted dialogue.

I got one note back on the script: make it shorter, with less dialogue. It was a great note. The even more stripped-down 6pp version worked even better.

And now, tomorrow, The Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival gives Dotty its first showing to critical fellow film-makers, ones who aren’t cast or crew or friends or family. I’m not nervous. With my film critic’s hat on, rather than my insecure writer’s hat on, Dotty works. It’s good.

I’ll tell you on Friday how it all went…