Tag Archives: webisode

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!

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.