Pirates of the Caribbean at the Barrel’s Bottom

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – was the trilogy really crying out for an extra installment, minus the original director and plus a third spatial dimension? Jerry Bruckheimer obviously thought so. Sort of. As usual Katie and I travelled to Malvern cinema in order to be spared the eye-aching party trick that is 3D, but I hear that this film’s 3D was fairly shallow to the point where you wonder why they bothered. I was unable to observe any difference in the camera and editing style from what I’d expect in a 2D movie – there was just as much handheld material and quick cutting in the action scenes, so I can only conclude that watching it in 3D wouldn’t be very pleasant. Honestly, watching it in any format isn’t very pleasant because Jack Sparrow has been transformed into something approaching a heroic romantic lead, thereby robbing the character of at least 50% of what made him so great in the original trilogy.
But that’s enough of that. In other news, I’m making a short Super-8 film next weekend… that is, if I can sort out an actress and a location in time. Watch this space.

Pirates of the Caribbean at the Barrel’s Bottom

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 21st, 2011

Okay, for any of you contemplating a future visit to the Cannes Film Festival, here is the cost breakdown of my trip this year. Did I manage it within my UKP600 budget? Let’s see….

Flight: 76
UK transfers (train & EasyBus): 58
Subsistence en route: 9
Laptop insurance: 3
Phone credit: 10
French trains (paid for by card): 15
Festival accreditation: 0
French hotel (4 nights): 288
Luton hotel (1 night): 28
Euros for petty cash: 73
Total: UKP560

So I came in under budget, and I’m sure you could do it for even less than this if you lived closer to the airport and were prepared to live off canapes and crisps all week.
The UKP73 for petty cash got me 80 Euros, of which 8 were spent on bus fares between my hotel and Cannes, 4 went on hotel tax (sometimes charged separately in France) and the rest went on food and drink.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 21st, 2011

Cannes 2011 Video Blogs

These video blogs include discussions about the development of The Dark Side of the Earth with producer Carl Schoenfeld and script editor Quay Chu, plus an interview with some other filmmakers attending the festival.

Cannes 2011 Video Blogs

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 19th, 2011

Palais des Festivals, Cannes, Wednesday, 5:10pm
A quiet day. A lot of people have already gone home.
The issue of TV vs. film was raised again at a meeting this afternoon, the point being that I might get far more control over the project if I’m making it for a TV channel than if I have a bunch of production companies and distributors to satisfy.
A living statue on the Croisette was balancing cats on his head. Real cats. I guess the French aren’t big on animal protection.

UK pavilion, Cannes, Wednesday, 5:45pm
When I’ve got home and the dust has settled, I’ll break down what my final costs were for attending Cannes this year, but right now it looks like I’m on budget. I allowed myself a 20 Euro per diem, which was fine until I went out to eat with friends twice on Monday and racked up a 30 Euro total for the day. That means yesterday and today I had only 15 Euros each day. Hence the MSG last night. Plenty of people just live off canapes at the plentiful Cannes parties, but that’s not for me. What you can definitely do is avoid buying drinks, since these are all overpriced. Take a water bottle and keep filling it up from the coolers downstairs at the Palais.

Le Chateau des Artistes, Ranguin, nr. Cannes, 9pm
I bumped into Michael Booth, a filmmaker I’ve seen every time I’ve been to Cannes. His debut feature Diary of a Bad Lad was completed around the same time as Soul Searcher and we briefly shared a distribution company. The difference is: he’s made two more features since and I’m still stuck in No Man’s Land.
Carl and I went to a reception at the Luxembourg Pavilion. I made the massive faux pas of mistaking a Belgian producer for a Frenchman, to match with the one I made on Monday where I asked the Canadian Elliot Grove which part of the States he’s from. We talked to a woman who develops iPhone games and I realised again how technologically out of touch I am. There’s no getting away from it; I’ve reached the point in my life that we all reach some day or another when we regard everything invented after that point with a mixture of disinterest, contempt and/or suspicion. This is probably why I don’t want to make 3D films, why I can’t get my head around which hybrid DSLR or HD video camera to buy, why I don’t own a phone capable of taking pictures or accessing the internet, and why I prefer the soft, flickering images you get on a CRT television to the harsh, pixellated ones a flatscreen delivers. It also explains why I worship eighties cinema and loath CGI with a passion. I’m a grumpy old fart at 31.
So Cannes is over for me for another year. We’re unlikely to be back next year. Either we’ll be too busy making The Dark Side of the Earth, or we’ll have put it on the back burner. We have made progress over the last few days, but as always with Cannes the proof is in the pudding, the pudding being whether people follow up positively in the coming weeks or not.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 19th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 18th, 2011

UK Pavilion, Cannes, Tuesday, 11am
Found time for a quick dip in the hotel pool this morning before heading into Cannes. Missed the train in so had to get the bus instead – demonstrating the value of picking accommodation close to multiple travel options.
Our first meeting was a no-show.

Le Chateau des Artistes, Ranguin, nr. Cannes, midnight
The end of another day. As a filmmaker, eventually all this sitting around talking about making films but not actually making any films becomes annoying.
Went to a talk about co-productions. What is a co-production? Well, if you have a script about British people going on holiday to Spain and you shoot it in Spain then it’s not a co-production, it’s just a British movie shooting on location. But if the script deals with Spanish issues or characters, or some key cast and crew members are Spanish, then you could legitimately set up a British-Spanish co-production. The benefit is that, providing you jump through certain hoops, you can theoretically access the public funding and/or tax incentives of both countries.
Co-production has been a major theme of our meetings this year. What’s quite unique about Dark Side in this regard is that it would be shot mostly on stage, so we can choose any country we like to shoot it in, based solely on the incentives and resources that country has to offer, without having to worry about whether it has suitable locations.
Carl and I had dinner at a cheap Chinese place he introduced me to last year, Delices Yang. Probably loaded with MSG, but very tasty. No-one knew of any good parties going on, so we decided to go see one of the films. (I don’t have a good track record of actually seeing films at festivals.) We picked what turned out to be a documentary about a bunch of young people digging up some old punk rocker and having long conversations with him about the changing music scene, intercut with archive footage. We left halfway through and found the Cinema sur la Plage screening of an old Titanic film (possibly A Night to Remember) much more entertaining. Imagine Cameron’s Titanic in black and white with locked-off cameras, without all the screaming and panicking, and people with very clipped accents saying “Let’s have a nice cup of tea” while the ship sinks and you’re pretty much there.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 18th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 17th, 2011

Riviera Building, Cannes, Monday, 10:30am
Free breakfast this morning courtesy of the Mandarin Hotel Group. Benefits to me: pain au chocolat, bread, cheese, fruit, yoghurt, OJ, coffee. Benefits to Mandarin Hotel Group: Er… well, they got mentioned on this blog.
The UK Pavillion hosted a talk on 3D. As you all know by now, I hate 3D. Increasingly this opinion is making me feel like a freak and a luddite. When I say I want to shoot a fantasy film on 35mm and in 2D, they look at me like I want to throw out my flush toilet and started crapping in an outhouse.
Anyway, here are some interesting things I learnt from the talk:
1. Because kids’ eyes are closer together than adults, the depth in 3D films appears greater to them, unpleasantly so in some cases.
2. It can take 45 minutes to changes lenses on a 3D shoot.
3. 3D adds 30-35% to your budget.
4. 3D technology that does not require glasses will likely be a reality in cinemas in about 12 months.
5. An associated sea-change in the industry that is just starting to appear is shooting higher frame rates. The Hobbit will be the first film distributed at 48fps, with Avatar 2 following.
One of the speakers argued that if you don’t like 3D, you should wear an eye patch, since real life is in 3D. My response is that interlaced video has more life-like motion than 24P, but very few people would argue that the former looks nicer.
One thing that’s worrying about 3D is how it encourages other traditions to be undermined. Shooting celluloid in stereo is prohibitively expensive, so 3D means shooting digitally. But that’s not the end of it. Take set building. Imagine a scene in a room that has a window. If shot on a set, unless what’s outside the window has to move or is important to the scene, on a 2D film you would typically put a painted backdrop out there. But in 3D you can’t do that, because it would have no depth. The only real choice is to bung up a greenscreen outside the window and put the backdrop in digitally. So now all those fantastically talented scenic artists are out of jobs. This is not cool.
Okay, enough about 3D for today. Gerard told me yesterday that he saw the Soul Searcher poster in the Riviera building, so I went in to have a look and, sure enough, it’s up on York Entertainment’s stand (the US sales agent). Sadly it’s the same crappy artwork as the US DVD release, with a random hooded guy and a disgustingly misleading splatter of blood.

Palais du Festivals, Cannes, 6:15pm
Had lunch with Gerard and co. Mostly we talked about how much 3D sucks.
Had a meeting that involved talking about sets, and the large shopping list thereof. Got shown a photo of a soundstage in Hungary bigger than Pinewood’s 007 stage. That will do nicely.
Wandered around the town for ages looking for shops selling postcards, then at last three came along at once. As I was sitting by a fountain eating a delicious brownie ice-cream I got a text from Carl containing excellent news of a significant person who has just jumped aboard the good ship Dark Side.
Bumped into Richard Cambridge, who was cast as the lead character Joe in Soul Searcher when it was due to be shot in 2002. He’s now running a company hosting indie films online.

Bus station, Cannes, 8:40pm
Went briefly to a low-rent party, then to a much swankier one. Carl unplugged the fridge so I could plug in my laptop and show someone the pilot. Then we went for pizza with Elliot Grove of Raindance, amongst others. Someone (possibly Elliot himself) made a remark about Elliot, then someone else joked I should put it in my blog. But I can’t remember what it was now. This is his seventeenth Cannes. That’s a lot of bullshit and canapes.
It was brought to my attention that there is no Kodak pavillion any more. A sad symbol of the decline of celluloid.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 17th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 16th, 2011

Luton Airport, Sunday, 6:10am BST
I’m experiencing that peculiar sensation, that unique feeling-like-utter-crap that you can only feel on an international journey. I haven’t even flown yet. Perhaps it’s something they put in the air conditioning at the airports. Perhaps it’s in the shampoo dispensed from the box on the wall in the hotel bathroom. It can’t just be lack of sleep, because I don’t feel like this if I don’t get a full night’s kip at home. I feel like my ears need to pop but can’t. Like I haven’t showered in days. Like I want to take my eyeballs out for a bit to give the sockets a rest. Ughhhh.
Does anyone else think those rolly suitcases that have four tiny wheels on so you don’t have to tilt them back are against nature?
Small triumph: got my empty flask through security despite the signs saying no containers over 100ml were allowed. Funny how putting stuff inside your bag hides it from the security guys. Even though they have DIRTY GREAT X-RAY MACHINES. Maybe x-rays don’t really exist. It’s a con. They tell us they exist so you don’t think you can hide stuff from them, but really they’re just watching the football at that little monitor and they can’t see into your bag at all.
My gate just opened. Time to go.

Le Chateau des Artistes, Ranguin, nr. Cannes, Sunday, 8:00pm BST
The journey was smooth and uneventful. I got to Cannes at about 11:30am local time, collected my lovely free festival pass and soon went into a series of meetings Carl had set up with various international folks. I had forgotten how busy Cannes gets, and how knackering it is to slog up and down the Croisette in the hot sun with a heavy Powerbook in your backpack.
My one observation so far about how Dark Side is being received this year versus last is that the involvement of Benedict Cumberbatch is much more exciting for people now that he is on the brink of stardom. Ah, the industry is so fickle.
I bumped into Gerard Giorgi-Coll, lenser of many of this site’s behind-the-scenes videos. He and his friends had come to experience their first Cannes and were just as shocked by the cynical commercialism of the market as I was on my first visit. You can find out all about Gerard and co’s own film projects on their website, www.fascinationpictures.co.uk
My hotel is a considerable improvement on last year’s dive, being much quieter and cleaner (though still a bit manky in the corridors) and blessed with a swimming pool. Hope I get time for a dip this week….

UK Pavillion, Cannes Film Festival, 8am BST
Finally got onto the internet so I can upload blogs and vlogs! Yay!

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 16th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 11th, 2011

At the weekend Tess Berry-Hart turned in the first draft of her sample chapters and synopsis for the novelisation of The Dark Side of the Earth.
It must be nearly a year since Carl first introduced me to Tess as a potential author for the tie-in novel. We immediately discovered a shared interest in period literature, particularly the works of Jules Verne and P. G. Wodehouse, and I hugely enjoyed her teen sci-fi novels Escape from Genopolis and Fearless. In January we gave her the go-ahead to produce the sample chapters and synopsis, as part of a cross-media package we are trying to build around the film.
Reading her material, I was delighted to find she had got the tone spot-on, interpolating a conventional third person narrative with first person diary entries by the heroine, Isabelle. The fantastic details Tess has introduced fit perfectly with the world I envisaged; in fact, more than one of them will probably find their way into the next draft of the script. It’s great to see that she really understands and appreciates the underlying mechanics of the story to such an extent. It made me realise just how compressed everything has to be in a film, whereas a novel can give the characters and storyline much more room to come to life.
So many talented people have worked on this project now. I really hope we can get somewhere with it in Cannes and introduce a worldwide audience to their wonderful work. Carl flies out tomorrow and I follow on Sunday morning. Like last year, you can expect daily vlogs, but maybe this time I’ll drag some other people in front of camera rather than just rambling on by myself.
See you at the weekend.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 11th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 4th, 2011

This morning we screened the pilot again in Soho. I got up at 5am to catch a train to London to attend this event, but whoever’s in charge of the signals between Didcot and Paddington (Network Rail?) was not on my side. I got to Paddington 40 minutes late and missed the first and most important screening.
I suppose you’re expecting a rant about how terrible the trains are. Well, you’re not going to get one. I think I’m the only person in the world who is reasonably satisfied with the the UK’s railway service. Since giving up driving a decade ago – after realising that I was definitely going to kill someone if I didn’t – I’ve travelled by rail a hell of a lot. Not as much, perhaps, as those poor unfortunates who commute by train five days a week. If I did, maybe my views would be different. I rarely travel at peak times, so unlike those wretched commuters I usually get a seat and the fares are generally affordable.
Nonetheless, I believe my opinion is still perfectly valid when I say that I find UK rail travel to be a rather pleasant experience. For example, I’m writing this blog on a train. Could I do that in a car? No, not unless I wanted to puke up everywhere. What about a coach? Same problem. (And let us not forget my negative coach-based experience in January, with the patronising driver who put me off National Express for the foreseeable future.) I can read a book. I can get up and go to the loo. I can wander to the buffet cart and purchase some food. Extortionately priced food, admittedly, but no more so than that you might find in a motorway service station.
Okay, you’re thinking, so train travel is better in principal, but what about in practice? What about the price? If you’re travelling alone, off peak or having booked in advance, trains are, at worst, the same price as the fuel for the same car journey. And you don’t have to tax, insure, maintain or MOT your train. (“Sorry, mate. Your emergency alarm handle’s bust and we’re waiting for the parts to come in.”) Alright, but what about all the delays? Well, the thing is – there aren’t that many of them. Honestly, there really aren’t. This morning’s experience was unusual. And hopefully I’ll get my ticket at least partly reimbursed. Do Texaco reimburse you for your tank full of petrol if you’re late to your meeting because the traffic’s awful? No, they do not.
Yes, there’s still plenty of room for improvement: more branchlines, better Sunday services, cheaper peak-time fares, less mugger-friendly stations. But that’s only going to happen if passenger numbers are sufficient to pay for the investment. Someone’s got to make the first move.
Hmmm, this wasn’t meant to be pro-train propaganda when I started. I was going to write about the law of diminishing returns as it applies to screening attendance, and perhaps touch on the plans for Cannes. Sorry. Next time I promise the post will actually be about Dark Side.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 4th, 2011