Tag Archives: Short film

Online at last! Watch our acclaimed short film, Dotty

20 Jun

1620580_10151837018812062_1676636489_n1I am unbelievably thrilled to announce that Dotty, a truly lovely short film I wrote, is finally available online to view for free. I won’t spoil your enjoyment by telling you anything about the plot, save that my influences were Harold and Maude, Alan Moore and The Usual Suspects.

It’s one of those rare films where everything comes together. Sadie Frost, the producer and award-winning star, gave me a terrifically useful note on my first draft: it was just “simpler, with less dialogue”. Ben Charles Edwards, the hugely talented director, put great care into the details as well as the big picture, from the gloves Sadie wears as Dotty to the long hours spent in the editing suite with editor Darren Baldwin making it just so. John Hicks’s cinematography is ravishing, and it was he who first suggested filming something about a mysterious older woman in a trailer near his home in Lanzarote. The landscape looked to me looked like an American desert – helping to inspire my key story idea. The music by Paul Honey still sends a shiver down my spine at the climax. And Sadie’s son Rudy Law really is a natural in front of the camera, as we first found when Ben filmed him in Suzie Lovitt.

To me, it was the best possible illustration of the way film is the ultimate collaborative medium: that it may start with a strong idea and a few words on a page, but it takes the combined talents of many to give them life and make them sing.

Anyway. I’m proud of our little film, as you can tell. The many festivals round the world who accepted it for screening, from Australia and Korea to Raindance and Hollywood, seemed to like it. I hope you’ll like it too. Let me know!

To watch Dotty on Nowness.com, click here.

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Online at last: watch Rudy Law in Suzie Lovitt

15 Jun
A then eight-year-old Rudy Law stars as Suzie Lovitt

A then eight-year-old Rudy Law stars as Suzie Lovitt

At last! A short film I helped out on a few years ago has been put online for free viewing on Nowness.com. Suzie Lovitt is a quirky, avant-garde, ravishingly shot film starring a young Rudy Law, son of Sadie Frost (who produced the film) and Jude Law.

Rudy liked to make up characters, and in particular liked to “channel” the character of a middle-aged dry cleaner called Suzie Lovitt. When director Ben Charles Edwards saw him “doing” Suzie, he knew he had to put Rudy’s rich fantasy inner world on screen. I helped out with redrafting and restructuring Ben’s initial script, though much of it was jettisoned on the day to let Rudy do his own thing. Just don’t take the stories of family life in it to be a true reflection of the Frost household – that’s all fiction! In other words, it’s not Rudy playing the part of Suzie Lovitt, but Rudy playing the part of another boy who likes to play the part of Suzie Lovitt. Very meta.

Rudy proved to be such a natural on film that Ben, Sadie and I developed another short specially for him. That’s Dotty, my favourite of all the shorts I’ve been involved in, and I’m incredibly excited to say that it too will go online on Nowness.com later this week – watch this space!

Ben Charles Edwards has since made his debut feature film with Sadie Frost and Emma Comley’s production company Blonde to Black, out next year. Set The Thames On Fire is like a darker version of Withnail & I set in a retro-Dickensian dystopian future London. This one is written by musician Al Joshua, and I have no vested interest in it beyond a cameo in a party scene, so you can believe me when I say that, having seen a (very) rough cut, it promises to be one of the most bizarre and visually striking films you’ll ever see.

To watch Suzie Lovitt, click here.

In the psychiatrist’s chair: six revelations from David Lynch (interview part four)

29 Jan

David-Lynch

What follows is self-contained, but there’s more good stuff to the interview. Click the links to read parts one, two, and three, or for a review of his current photography exhibition.

Despite the recurrent obsessions on display in his patently f***ed-up films, David Lynch has never undergone psychoanalysis. “I went one time,” he explains, “and I asked him if it might affect my creativity. And he said, ‘David, I have to be honest with you, it could.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m happy to meet you, but I have to go.’”

I tell him that in that case I’m going to play psychiatrist, right here in this Paris hotel suite. I’m going to give him six words – connected with key imagery from his films – and he has to tell me the first thing that comes into his head for each. Surprisingly, Lynch agrees. The results are strangely revealing…

fire

1. “Fire.” I’m thinking of Lynch’s trademark close-ups of cigarettes (above); the blaze that haunts Wild At Heart; the burning cabin in Lost Highway; the very title Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But what’s Lynch thinking? Fifteen seconds elapse.

“Well, it’s… It’s kinda…. It means different things in different situations. When I just think about fire, it’s so pure, I don’t think about anything else.” And then, shockingly: “When you said it, I was picturing being in it.”

Your first student short was of heads throwing up and catching fire, I add. “It was the reverse, actually. But the elements water, earth, air and fire, it’s no accident that we really like those things, and things get reduced down… Fire is so magical. There’s a texture to it that occurs nowhere else. And controlling something like that… It wants to get bigger if it can, and then you’re very worried that one will go out! With me, I always think about magic, the unexplainable.”

jazz

2. “Jazz.” Lynch works very closely with his composers, though it must be said, Bill Pullman in Lost Highway (above) is the least plausible jazz saxophonist ever seen. There’s hardly any pause this time: “Freedom. It’s like no constraints, an opening, and then barriers going away and lifting and breaking and experimentation and… it’s like attempting for something.”

brain 3. “The brain.” Each Lynch film out-grosses the last on brain injuries; in Eraserhead the hero’s head is made into pencils; The Elephant Man is killed in his sleep through the sheer weight of his head; Blue Velvet has the shot cop briefly still standing, brains exposed, like a faulty electrical appliance; in Wild At Heart Sherilyn Fenn wanders about in shock after a car crash, holding her brain into her cracked skull (left), while asking if anyone’s seen her hairbrush; Lost Highway tops the lot by burying a glass coffee table in a man’s cranium.

“Well, um…” Nineteen seconds go by. I wait. Then: “The brain is just like a plate but the nervous system and the mind is, ah….” Fully 27 seconds of silence as he furrows his brow comically like a boy at examination time. “It’s the thing that traps us and ultimately frees you.”

bed

4. “The bed.” In The Grandmother, Lynch’s best early short, a lonely boy grows a grandmother from a plant on his bed, on which she later dies; Wild At Heart contains a number of heroic sex scenes (above). Complete silence for 48 seconds. What part of “first thing to come into your head” does he not understand? Then Lynch giggles like a schoolboy to whom one has whispered the word “sex”. “It’s sort of like… A bed is used for many things, but it really is a closeness to death.” Pause. “And birth, too.”

red curtains5. “Red curtains.” I’m thinking of the afterlife/limbo of Twin Peaks (left); how in Lost Highway the camera moves over red curtains like a spaceship exploring a strange planet. Immediate response. “Curtains are both hiding and revealing. Sometimes it’s so beautiful that they’re hiding, it gets your imagination going. But in the theatre, when the curtains open, you have this fantastic euphoria, that you’re going to see something new, something will be revealed.”

outside

6. “The outside.” This is where Jeffrey finds the severed ear in Blue Velvet; the woods are where all the weirdness happen in Twin Peaks (above); there’s the Lost Highway itself. I tell Lynch I’ve read that he was terrified of the outdoors as a child. Immediate response. “Right, I did have a period of that. I really like captured space. Even great vistas are okay because I see some edge. But the word ‘outside’, it’s uh, too random. I lose a bit of control with that word.”

And yet your dad worked for the Department of Agriculture. “My father was a woodsman, yes. And wood has played a huge role in my life. So I like building things out of wood, I like chainsawing, I like the smell of the wood, I like the look of a tree, particularly my father’s favourite tree which was the Ponderosa Pine. The wood is… everything all the fairy tales made you feel.”

Shia LaBeouf’s plagiarism scandal – and how history repeats itself

17 Dec

Yesterday, actor Shia LaBeouf admitted plagiarising a short comic strip by Daniel Clowes. “In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation,” he Tweeted after Buzzfeed broke the story that his short film HowardCantour.com bore uncanny similarities to Clowes’ Justin M. Damiano, including word-for-word dialogue.

“Im [sic] embarrassed that I failed to credit @danielclowes for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration,” he continued, even though in past interviews he gave the distinct impression he had come up with the script himself. He closed with a simple, “I f***ed up.”

People are scratching their heads that he ever thought he could get away with it: Clowes is hardly unknown in Hollywood, having written Ghost World and Art School Confidential. But then again there was a much more extreme case, back in 1990, that I broke while at Time Out.

We’d received a tip-off from a comics fan (Alan Jones, I think) that the forthcoming Brit sci-fi flick Hardware (below left) bore a striking resemblance to a four-page strip in a 2000AD comic (below right). So I set up a classic journalistic sting.

I dug out a copy of the comic from my boxes (finally, a purpose for my hoarding!), and wrote out a synopsis of the strip, which was about a killer robot accidentally activated inside a home. I told our Sidelines editor, Alix Sharkey, to call the producer of Hardware and say that we were planning a story on the film, but wanted to make sure we had the story down correctly.

He then read out my synopsis of the comic strip. Throughout, the producer went uh-huh, yep, that’s the plot of our film all right, until the end when he said there were a few extra minutes Alix had missed out. Only then did Alix tell him he’d just agreed that Hardware was exactly the same plot as a comic strip. A long, lo-o-o-o-ong pause ensued. Then: “Can I get back to you on that?”

I later heard from the strip’s writer, Steve MacManus, that he and artist Kevin O’Neill were subsequently offered a cash settlement (way too low in my opinion given that Miramax were involved in the film, but Steve seemed delighted), plus a credit, which you’ll still see on IMDB. Writer/director Richard Stanley, a known comics fan, was even vaguer in his apologies than LaBeouf: “The story came to me in a dream,” he insisted, and even in a recent 2009 interview he downplayed the connection.

But we know better, Richard… and so, bizarrely, should La Beouf, who is one of Hollywood’s biggest actors – even if not, apparently, one of its biggest thinkers.

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!

Video

Here comes the son: Sam’s ‘Circus Freak’ short

20 Mar

Circus Freak by Sam Wells and Matt Hooks

Forgive me Blogfather, for I have sinned: it has been 23 days since my last post. I’ve been working literally day and night on a bunch of different journalistic assignments. Still am, for the next week. But I couldn’t not write about this.

My son Sam has directed and acted in his first short film, Circus Freak (above). Aww! But actually, if you watch it, you’ll see only two of those letters are correct. The response should be “Wow”.

Am I biased? You betcha. So see what you think. Once you’ve watched it, let me tell you a bit more about it:

As part of his AS Level Film Studies, Sam was told to make a 2.5 min short. No more. His initial script idea would, I worried, run to nearly five. That was pretty much my only input (that, and the pizza phone call joke). Everything else he and his collaborator Matt Hooks worked out themselves.

Eventually they stripped out the character of the annoyingly eager younger brother who makes the protagonist realise, at the end, that family is what really counts. It ate up valuable screen time, and never quite rang true. Instead they substituted a terrific visual ending which still makes me laugh every time I see Sam’s goofy grin.

sam circus freak 2

Is it a coruscating commentary on talent-show dreams of instant gratification? Or a paean to boundless optimism and the hope that springs eternal? I favour the latter, but either way it’s a great lesson in narrative economy.

Every second was pre-planned and storyboarded. Note the details: the shot from under the bed; the camera following the ball as it bounces along the pavement; the close up on the balls in the air before the long shot of Sam juggling; the tight shots on feet, hands, eyes and mouth when preparing for his public show. It’s nice to know that a lifetime of being shown film classics by myself and the estimable Frank Wynne (www.terribleman.com) has been put to good use.

The action is amazingly well edited to the music. This is how precise it is: Sam showed me a near-final cut in which the transition from initial voiceover/montage to live action seemed too abrupt. He thought that carrying the music over by two more notes would solve the problem. It did.

My final take-home from this? If a pair of 17-year-old kids can make a good-looking short with a digital camera and a laptop, so can we all. You don’t need a big budget. You don’t even need a big idea. You just need a tight script, a lot of planning – and boundless optimism. Get out and do it.