June, 2002

Day Off

June 14th, 2002 June 14th, 2002
Posted in Film making
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Sleep. Sleep sleep sleep. I’m currently working a 60-hour week. Yes, of course, there’s some slacking in there but once you add in all the travelling time, 60 hours pretty much covers it. Two days of that is overtime. I need the money. Boy, do I need the money. Entering a film festival in the USA costs $30-40 and in the past month I’ve entered about 50, so do the math.

Those entry fees don’t include tape duplicating, by the way. Nor do they include postage. That’s just the entry fees which are bleeding my bank account white. Oh, and interesting fact: pretty much nowhere else on the planet actually charges an entry fee to be considered for a film festival. That’s right. And, yes, it’s to ‘be considered’ as opposed to be shown. Most of these festivals will only show ten percent of the entries.

Maui, for instance, wrote me an email this week all the way from the Pacific to say, Pacifically, that they’re only showing 64 of the 600 entries they’ve received and mine wasn’t Pacifically one of them. That’s 600 multiplied by $30. Yes, 18000USD, for sitting watching other people’s films. Not the money from entry fees which you need to run the festival. Hmmm. I’ve been thinking about this business idea where I run a film festival in the USA. Aloha moolah!

Despite that, in the past week I’ve managed to go to something called Filmstock–a local film festival, three rail stations up the line, ten minutes distant–and taken in two dozen short films made by peers I’ve never met in four sessions over two days. They were really good. I’ve also seen Some Like It Hot on the big screen on Monday, Unfaithful (Richard Gere/Diane Lane) Tuesday, and Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst) yesterday.

Yesterday, Thursday was my day off. And I slept. Boy, did I sleep. I could have slept for Britain. The neighbours don’t know if I’m in or out which I think is a good thing. When I finally did surface, it was some time in the afternoon which I initially spent productively shoving videotapes into envelopes and getting them down to the post office for the cast and crew of Fate & Fortune. Then I had my Spider-Man fix at the local multiplex.

*****

Spider-Man actually lives up to the hype, I think. But then I’m the target audience. I *was* that geeky kid at school who drew superheroes in his text book and secretly loved the girl next door. Of course I didn’t have any super powers and Hemel Hempstead (let’s call it Hem-Hell, shall we?) only had one large tower block, so swinging on a thread was out of the question. Nevertheless I could relate to Spider-Man.

You know, what’s really pleasing (and I won’t review it here but just a word) is you can see that Stan ‘the man’ Lee has been consulted and respected throughout the production. Peter Parker is insecure, Spidey wisecracks and there’s a humanity there which only the Marvel comics really ever achieved. In the end, he’s a true hero, even if it is a comic book hero. He makes hard choices and you see him struggle to live up to his ideal of who he should be. That’s why he’s the best.

*****

So, I see Spider-Man and it brings a lump to my throat, partly borne of nostalgia, partly because the movie actually does have some emotional depth. And I figure, I’ve worked hard, I’ve played hard, I deserve a lift. I deserve steak. So I go shopping and I find prime steak, a potato I can bake and some broccoli. I also stock up on wine, in my usual clueless fashion–ie. go for the quality graphic design of the labels and look for the shelves which are almost sold out.

At the checkout they question the validity of my American Express card because the signature is nearly worn out and we have this scenario with coupons and airmiles vouchers which I eventually win. I buy a lottery ticket on the way out too. This is something I never do. I’ve played the lottery twice in my life, in fact, but I was sent a piece of turquoise on Tuesday and there was this clairvoyant said I should buy a lotto ticket two days after someone gave me a piece of turquoise…

You can see I’m not going to get rich quick, can’t you? Maybe I should also confess to buying Telewest (LSE: TWT) at £4.50, then again at £2.50, £1.20, 60p, 20p and lately 12p. I compulsively check the latest price. They’re currently worth 4.5p and going down the U-bend. It’s not my whole portfolio, you’ll be relieved to know, but an expensive lesson–don’t buy a company so deep in debt it can’t trade out and which has already realised it’s potential value when the previous owners sold it. Several times.

*****

Back home I eat steak and drink fine wine. It is good. Life is good. I look at the redraft of my new script for Strawberries and decide again that it’s ready to start shooting, perhaps in September. I send copies out to people and think that I really need a producer and a production designer. I call my friend Paul and tell him I’d like him to sculpt a chess set to look like fruit and he makes these gargling choking noises. “Do you know how long that will take?” he asks. No, why would I? “I’ll think about it,” he says, eventually. Good.

I’ll think about it too. Meanwhile, it’s time to pass out. The night has reached the incredible hour of 10pm and there’s work the next day. The emails stack up, the boards go unread, the cooker, fridge and various appliances disappear under piles of correspondence and paperwork in the kitchen. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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June 15th

I buy a lottery ticket on the way out too. This is something I never do. I’ve played the lottery twice in my life, in fact, but I was sent a piece of turquoise on Tuesday and there was this clairvoyant said I should buy a lotto ticket two days after someone gave me a piece of turquoise…

Now you’re all sitting there wondering if this actually came to anything. The funny thing is that I got a cheque through the post this morning for £100 from a club lottery I have been doing every month for some time but had forgotten about because the money goes straight out of my bank account. That’s right. Yes. And yes. I won!

To coincide with that I got an invitation from the director’s guild to go on a one-day workshop with the New Producers’ Alliance at BAFTA this coming Friday. It’s something called Zentropa Film Day and is being run by a group of auspicious Danish film makers, including some of the people who worked on Dancer in the Dark.

As luck would have it, I’m not actually working on Friday, so my lottery winnings are almost immediately spent. There’s some technical talk, a chance to network and a one hour session where we can openly pitch ideas at the Zentropa CEO. I wonder what he’d think if I suggested my feature idea for a group of immortals living under a university town in the industrial north of England?

Best hope for the day, anyway, is that I might bump into a producer at the NPA who can help with Strawberries. Meanwhile, I still haven’t checked tonight’s national lottery numbers so I go and have a look. I’ve won £10–my money back. Life, as I said before, is good.

*****

Talking of money, on Friday I discovered that there’s a pool of money being offered by the London Production Fund for shorts. The deadline for applications was 5pm Friday evening. I phoned them. They said, “The office closes at five. We won’t be looking at anything until Monday. There’s a letterbox.” I don’t need a bigger hint.

The script is done. Tonight I’ve drafted a budget, which I might bump up a little, but not too much, so that we can have decent catering and a good set of prime lenses. I particularly want a long telephoto to shoot with, something that was sadly lacking in both camera kits on Last Train and Fate & Fortune.

Applications also have to include a synopsis and a one or two page treatment–“It must describe and evoke the work you are proposing to make”–ie. the cutting style, camera angles, filters, lighting, style and suchlike. They also want a career summary–I kick myself for not updating my resumé two weeks ago–and then they want my marketing and distribution plans.

Hang on.

Marketing and distribution plans. For a short? Who are they kidding? I’ve sketched out a budget for video copying, festival entries and publicity material. I trust that’s the sort of thing they mean. It comes to around £5,000. Shooting on 16mm and editing to finish on DigiBeta comes to roughly the same amount, with another £2k if I want to have a 16mm print made.

Yep, marketing is half the budget.

*******

Well, marketing might be half the budget, but production design is a huge percentage of the look. On Last Train I did my own design work. On Fate & Fortune I worked with an art director, a graphic designer and Jaffa did a lot of property construction. The DoP and I knocked heads together to get very specific locations and vehicles. Next time, on Strawberries, I want a designer to take on getting all those things done.

Last month I bumped into the sound editor from Last Train at the Production Show in London, as mentioned previously on this board. Also mentioned previously, I found out she studied textile design and fashion and is keen to take on the role of production designer, so yesterday I spoke to her and sent her a script. We shall see.

*******

Getting there, gradually. Maybe I’ll get sleep on Monday. In the meantime I just keep thinking. Yes. Getting there.

One. Bit. At. A. Time.

==============================

June 16th

Talking of money, on Friday I discovered that there’s a pool of money being offered by the London Production Fund for shorts. The deadline for applications was 5pm Friday evening. I phoned them. They said, “The office closes at five. We won’t be looking at anything until Monday. There’s a letterbox.” I don’t need a bigger hint.

Application form – done
Synopsis – done
Treatment – done
Full Script – done
Budget – done
Schedule – done (rough)
Career Summary – done
Exhibition & Distribution – done (kind of)
Supporting Material – done

Checked with Whatever Pictures. They aren’t applying and I can use their address, so that’s pretty much it. Now I have to find where this letterbox is, drive there tonight, then wait until September to find out if I’ve been successful in getting some hard cash…

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June 22nd

got an invitation from the director’s guild to go on a one-day workshop with the New Producers’ Alliance at BAFTA this coming Friday. It’s something called Zentropa Film Day and is being run by a group of auspicious Danish film makers, including some of the people who worked on Dancer in the Dark.

Would you believe it? They cancelled it “due to unforeseen circumstances”. To round off this thread, I got another day off. Ha! It was spent watching England lose in the World Cup quarter finals, followed by napping, filling out three application forms for different directing jobs, talking to people on the phone, chasing up an application form to get funding from the National Lottery and, finally, going to the Lower Red.

More napping follows soon.

The Screening

June 7th, 2002 June 7th, 2002
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Last night was the special preview screening for Fate & Fortune at the Curzon Soho, a cinema in London’s West End. I’d sent out 500 postcards to cast and crew, industry contacts, friends and relations. I’d also emailed about 200 people I work with. I was seriously worried about being able to fit everyone into the theater. I needn’t have.

This week, for those of you in the twilight zone, is the beginning of the major festival of sport that is the World Cup. Football. The Beautiful Game. The sport of sports. Everything else is, as my mate Mike would say, “muggy bonehead.” I must ask him what that means.

Football. For three and a half years I’m blissfully ignorant of the ins and outs of football, then like so many others, I become an instant expert and follow every England match. Beckham, Owen, Seaman, Coles, Schole, Butt, Sheringham… Now household names.

All of which means most people are getting up early in the morning and have no intention of going out in the evening. Even to see my film. Add to that that this is also the week of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, which means a four day weekend which many have extended into a week off, and London is pretty quiet. So the worries about overfilling the Curzon became worries about getting anyone at all.

So… So about fifty or sixty people turned up, in all. Maybe even seventy. Yes, let’s call it seventy. Hoorah! And it was good. Most of the cast and a good number of the crew, along with their partners and buddies. Plus a lot of old friends including people I haven’t seen for many many years. Even one school friend I haven’t seen for nearly a decade. I didn’t spot any industry people but then there were a few faces I didn’t know who kind of slipped in at the last minute then slipped away afterwards. Mystery guests.

I stood up on the stage without a microphone (Nkako, the organiser, suddenly realised I’d probably want one and just as quickly realised it was too late to sort one out). I shouted a few words at the assembled dark hordes to introduce Fate & Fortune, thanked people for coming, briefly described what they were about to see and thanked them for coming again. There was a round of applause, which was nice.

Then the lights went even lower and the film rolled. I think the most pleasing thing is that people laughed in the places I thought were funny. Afterwards they applauded again and said they’d enjoyed it.

In fact, it got two reactions, generally, in the bar afterwards: “I thought it was really great.” and, “I enjoyed it but I wasn’t sure what it was all about.” Haha! I’ve made a cult-ish arthouse film, as I intended. Well, we can but hope. People also commented on how good the sound was and the excellent visuals. Not bad, considering I’ve seen it so many times that I’m now hypercritical of both.

A group of us went onwards to eat bland Chinese food in Wong Kei’s, around the corner in London’s Chinatown. Okay, the crispy duck was quite nice because the sauce had a flavour. Otherwise it was bland bland bland. Even something that tasted of chicken would have been a bonus. But they could seat 19 people at the drop of a hat and conjured up food and wine for us all for only £15 a head.

Oh, digressing even more but still talking of Chinatown, it’s growing, I noticed, spreading on to Shaftesbury Avenue more and more. And what are all these acupuncture parlours that have sprung up everywhere this year, like prickly mushrooms? I even saw one in St Albans this afternoon.

Eventually we escaped Wong Kei’s with our wallets fairly unscathed and went on to Bar One-O-One, under Centre Point, because it has a late licence. This is good. The drawback is that they play the music so loud that you have to practically scream at the person next to you to have a conversation. But they are open until 2am. That’s rare anywhere in England. Nevertheless, this afternoon, when I finally got up, my voice sounded gravelly from so much shouting.

Now I have a load more festival applications to send out, two scripts to work on–which scriptwriter Simon and I discussed and dissected at length yesterday afternoon. And everyone wants a video, so no rest for the wicked. Today, however, was spent watching England beat Argentina one-nil in a nailbiting ninety minutes followed by a brief trip into town to take the Memento DVD back to the library. The whole of St Albans seemed to be full of people in England football shirts singing and blowing the car horns. Football is here. Football football football.

Otherwise I think, films. Films films films. Everything else that’s not films is the real muggy bonehead. Including my hangover.

Life In One Day

June 1st, 2002 June 1st, 2002
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Get up at the crack of dawn and head into London. Arrive at the Curzon at 10.30. No one there. Go to McDonald’s and eat a cheeseburger for no particularly good reason. Go to newsagent and get a banana milkshake. Head back to Curzon which is now open and meet N’kako, the girl who’s apparently looking after my screening, and the projectionist, who takes my print. Add orange juice to the unsavory morning cocktail in my stomach.

After about ten minutes, the projectionist returns to say he’s ready and we head into the theatre. The lights go down, the curtains part and the film appears. Without sound. We call the projectionist on the internal phone. Ten minutes later sound appears. Slightly buzzy sound. The film is rewound, I get him to rack it down a bit so people’s heads aren’t cropped off at the top of the frame and we watch it. It’s cool, except for the buzzy sound. Very cool, in fact, regardless to see your film in the cinema!

Projectionist returns and tells us they’ve a problem with one of their amps which is being fixed tomorrow. They hang on to the print and I head for home. On the way I read some more of the seminal Peter Biskind book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and think more about what kind of film maker I want to be. An artist auteur? A collaborative enabler? A seriously commercial mainstream moviemaker? It’s all up for grabs.

Home: I want to pass out. I’ve had about five hours sleep. But sleep, like failure, isn’t an option. I package up two videos for the Short Film Bureau acquisitions department then drive to the post office. From there, I head into St Albans and shed unwanted clothes (half a dozen shirts) at the charity shop plus some books unread for more than a decade. They’ll also find an inflatable pink bat in there which I didn’t tell them about. I’ve no idea where it came from, just that it’s extra baggage on life’s journey and I don’t need it.

I take out £20 cash from the ATM and stop at the stationers. Five pounds immediately vanishes purchasing padded envelopes for film festival submissions. Then the library where I return this week’s DVDs–Blow, which was fairly good and has brilliant extra material; La Malena, a wonderful coming-of-age Italian film which made me shed a tear near the end; and Dude, Where’s My Car?, which was every bit as dreadful as all the reviews said. In fact, it was worse. Consoling, though, that films with acting and dialogue more pitiful than anything I could imagine do actually get made.

On the shelf Memento sits, daring me to rent it. Another three pounds vanishes, then 30 pence for a chocolate bar and 70 pence for parking and my twenty pounds is nearly halved. I drive back home and nap for a couple of hours before taking a bath and heading back into London.

The Screenwriters Workshop is hosting a seminar about development funding. Nearly a hundred people are packed into a sweaty little room with fifties windowframes high in the white walls, a few posters and a framed print of Marlon Brando as Don Corleoni on the wall. I surmise that the screenwriters here would prefer the art of Coppola to the even more rampant commercial success of Lucas. Would that one could synthesize both.

Looking around the room, all ages and walks of life are represented on the plastic chairs or hanging on the walls. Potential competitors. Potential collaborators. We’ve paid £5/£7 each for this and they don’t actually have enough chairs. The chairman introduces a woman from the Film Council and everyone scribbles furious notes. There is money to be had, and lots of it. We all want it. Up to £10k for individuals to work on screenplays. Yes please. She mentions the currently underrepresented genres–thrillers, horror and sci-fi. I grin the grin of badness.

The chairman drones on about the ‘non-existent’ British film industry and has this big chip on his shoulder about the Hollywood studios. He clearly has no clue and obviously is a stranger to Biskind. The Film Council spokesman mentions something about how marvellous British television is and I roll my eyes. But I continue to take notes when the funding is mentioned. That’s all that matters.

Afterwards I wind up chatting to a guy called Darren in the bar. Darren is a writer who part owns a four bedroom house in London with his girlfriend and rents out the other rooms, which means he can write full-time without worrying too much. He’s currently working on a vampire story and has an agent touting his scripts around for him. I invite him to the Fate & Fortune screening. I’m embarrassed that I can’t actually afford to buy him a beer, even though they’re only £1.50 a bottle, but it turns out we’re both down to our last £2. We pay for ourselves. Such is the life of struggling artists.

I get home at around 1am and fall straight into bed, full of ideas but without the energy to make anything happen. I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow. Another day full of promise. It’s all good.