Kingsman: The Secret Service is about a working class young man (Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton) who finds himself amongst the new recruits for a top secret service of upper class spies. Directed by Matthew Vaughan, the film tries to say something about class – that it’s not defined by your background, but your attitude – and has attracted some interest for casting an able-bodied actress (Sofia Boutelle) as a disabled character. It may sound liberal, but it’s actually very right-wing – Obama gets his head blown up, and the bad guy is an environmentalist.
But the film’s biggest issue, for me, is its misogyny.
Kingsman: The Secret Service has four female characters.
The first (Samantha Womack, née Janus) is the hero’s mother – a female character existing only in relation to a male one. Her boyfriend beats her up – a damsel in distress serving only to be saved by the hero.
The second (the aforementioned Sofia Boutelle) is the bad guys’s henchwoman. Superficially she’s pretty cool and bad-ass, but really all she does is follow the commands of her boss – a man.
The third (Sophie Cookson) is set up as if to be the love interest, but that angle is never pursued. Instead she fills more of the ‘best friend’ role – that’s a little more original – but she’s the single token woman in the ranks of new recruits. And she’s the worst recruit. She messes up all the time and has to be saved by the hero.
But it’s the fourth that really made me ashamed of both my gender and my industry.
Hanna Alström plays Princess Tilde, a character who exists to be captured by the bad guy and rescued by the hero. As if that’s not bad enough, Tilde offers Eggsy anal sex if he frees her. And if that‘snot appalling enough, the movie ends with a shot of her naked behind as she looks over her shoulder as if to say, “My hero, you’ve saved me. Now take your reward.”
Vaughan is unable to see the misogyny in this. “It’s a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind,” he says. He seems to think that because the woman offers the man anal sex it’s a clever reversal of all those movies where the hero beds the leading lady as his prize.
But how many people were sat in the cinema thinking, “Ha ha ha, how brilliantly Mr. Vaughan has satirised the cinematic trope of the hero ‘winning the girl’ by pushing it into the realm of absurdity.” And how many were thinking, “Yep, that’s normal.” And worse still, how many were thinking, “Yeah, take it up the arse, bitch, like you deserve.” The filmmakers might be horrified by that latter comment, but that’s the kind of attitude they’re reinforcing.
This objectification is not how I want to see women. It’s not how I want women or men to expect me to see women. And it’s not how I want society and the media to tell me I should see them. So I’d like to offer a few observations and suggestions to Vaughan and his co-writer Jane Goldman.
The prevalence of female characters who exist only to be saved can make men think that women cannot be equal partners or authority figures, which is bad for society as a whole.
It’s wrong to teach young men (who will be the bulk of Kingsman’s target audience) that they deserve sex.
It’s wrong to teach young women that they are expected to offer sex as a reward or a currency.
It’s wrong to teach anyone that sex is the only thing women have to offer.
It’s wrong to perpetuate the ridiculous trope that women need to accept anal sex from their partner on special occasions or as a reward, regardless of whether they’re fully comfortable with it or not. It’s equally wrong to train men to ask for anal sex from women and see it as a badge of honour, when they might not be comfortable with it either.
It’s wrong to require an actress to do gratuitous nudity, doubly so for a scene that seems to exist purely in the service of misogyny.
Jokes that satirise a trope by repeating that trope may well do more harm than good.
The closing image of a film can be very powerful. To close a film with an image that degrades 50% of the world’s population is irresponsible to say the least. (Technically there is another shot after the naked backside shot, but it’s the naked backside shot that everyone will remember.) Did you actually stop to think how a woman in the audience might feel being left with that image, particularly if she’s sat next to her boyfriend who has also been left with that image and may now be feeling some sense of entitlement?
There has to be more responsibility on issues like this from filmmakers who are reaching huge audiences. You have the power to change the world. Use it.
Last year I was offered the chance to direct pick-ups and reshoots for a low-budget feature. I watched the existing rough cut and it was utterly, unsalvageably awful. One of the key investors, however, had a list of suggestions to “improve” it. Amongst them – prefaced with the line, “Sex sells. Always has. Always will.” – was an entreaty for some gratuitous female nudity.
He would not have been the first person to try to save a bad movie with T&A.
Take the puerile 2011 “comedy” Your Highness. Already steeped in misogyny – the villain plans to rape Zooey Deschanel so that she’ll conceive some kind of demon, a plan which the script treats as more comedic than abhorrent – the film reduces Natalie Portman’s warrior to eye candy with a needless thong scene. Inevitably this scene figures prominently in the trailer.
Or 2009’s Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale as a US Marshall stationed at a research base in Antarctica. How is her character introduced? Setting up her deductive powers as she solves a case? Establishing her authority as she defuses a tense situation? Demonstrating her physical prowess as she chases down a suspect? No. She strips off and takes a shower, and the camera gets a close-up of her bum. For no reason whatsoever. Whiteout is immediately ruined because the audience has been told that the lead character is only there to be ogled. Presumably director Dominic Sena misguidedly thought that a little skin would improve the appeal of a film that’s uniformly inept, from the production design – a British character decorating his room with a huge Union Jack, seriously? – to the script, revealing its tedious backstory through clumsy flashbacks. (Even more depressingly, I’ve just read on Wikipedia that the graphic novel the film is based on had two female leads, but one was changed to a man for the film because the studio thought that would increase the audience.)
There will be some men reading who think gratuitous female nudity is harmless, even a good thing, but here are just a few reasons why it’s not:
It’s a signpost that your film is bad, and you know it is.
It undermines your female characters, weakening your story and the level of emotional engagement an audience will give to it.
Your actress is a human being. How does she feel about it? What about the countless websites that will inevitably take the scene out of context and present it for male gratification?
It perpetuates the objectification of women and misogyny in general, both huge problems in our culture today.
It contributes, I strongly suspect, to the dearth of women behind the camera, by portraying them as glorified props rather than valuable contributors to the filmmaking process.
If writers spent more time on crafting good characters, particularly good female characters, they wouldn’t need gratuitous T&A or any other spurious fixes. Stronger female characters are starting to appear in cinemas, but often they’re far from ideal. This article from Dissolve questions the quality of some of the superficially strong female characters in recent blockbusters. Putting a woman in an action role just so she can wear a skin-tight costume and demonstrate her physical flexibility is not equality. There’s a long way to go yet.
Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the Avengers movies, has some excellent and impassioned stuff to say on this subject. I’ll leave him with the closing words.
On the advice of my friend and mentor Carl Schoenfeld, I’ve just read Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing. Penned in 1946, it’s a manual for playwrights, but it drills to the core of what’s important in drama, and as such is just as useful a read for a screenwriter or filmmaker.
The book is divided into four sections: premise, character, conflict and general.
What Egri calls premise I would call theme, though he soundly argues that calling it premise forces you to think of it as almost a pared-down logline, which may make you more inclined to treat it with the appropriate importance. He suggests that a premise should have three parts, indicating the dominant trait of the lead character, the conflict and the ending. Examples he gives include “honesty defeats duplicity”, “bragging leads to humiliation” and “poverty encourages crime”. Reverse-engineering a few recent movies along these lines might give us “instinct trumps conformity” (The Heat), “love transcends human flesh” (Transcendence) or “the powerful triumph over the weak” (Captain Philips). Egri emphasises that the premise must be the very DNA of the script, informing every line and every action.
We have all heard people saying that characters in a film must be three-dimensional, but have you ever wondered what those three dimensions are? Egri’s answer is: physiology (physical appearance, health, heredity), sociology (class, job, religion, home life, etc.) and psychology (morals, ambition, temperament, IQ, abilities and so on).
The premise acts as a goal to your characters, especially your lead, and powers their development – Sandra Bullock’s loosening up in The Heat, for example. Egri reminds us that character development must be a smooth process, so a character who goes from anger to love must pass through many intermediate stages such as irritation, ambivalence, interest and affection. Missing out these transitions, Egri warns, will result in melodrama.
“A weak character,” says Egri, “is one who, for any reason, cannot make a decision to act.” He goes on to explain that, in theory, any character can be strong if you choose the right “point of attack”, in other words if you write about a period in their life when they HAVE made a decision to act, when they are ready for conflict.
To generate rising conflict, Egri asserts the need for “a clear-cut premise and unity of opposites, with three-dimensional characters.” He defines a unity of opposites as a scenario in which the protagonist and antagonist want precisely the opposite things. This can apply not only to the overall thrust of the story, but to individual scenes within it too. Egri urges the reader not to fall into the trap of “static” conflict, where characters argue back and forth without escalating the situation.
Being aimed at playwrights, the book considers dialogue as the only means of revealing plot, character and conflict, but in a film conflict could be literal (as in an action film) or expressed through some other non-verbal means.
Overall, Egri’s breakdown of a script’s essential elements provides me a with useful template with which to begin interpreting a screenplay. Many people have produced books attempting to distill the essence of good writing, and it is largely a matter of taste which one you find most useful. Personally, I found The Art of Dramatic Writing clear, concise and refreshing, and I’m sure I’ll refer to it frequently.
There have been a lot of articles going around lately about the representation of women in the media. A lot of the statistics are pretty shameful. A New York Film Academy study of the top 500 films of 2007-2012 found that less than a third of speaking characters were female, there was almost three times more female nudity than male, and the ten highest paid actors made over two and a half times more money than the ten highest paid actresses.
I’ve always considered myself fairly enlightened on this issue. From my first major film project (The Beacon, 2001) I began a deliberate policy of alternating the genders of my leading characters with each movie I made. But before I get a sore arm from patting myself on the back, let’s delve a little deeper by applying the Bechdel Test to my films. To pass this test, a film must have
at least two named female characters
who talk to each other
about something other than a man.
The Beacon is a cheesy action film about Sarah Mayhew (Lorna-Jane Hamer), a council clerk who ends up saving Britain from a biochemical terrorist attack planned to be launched from the Malvern Hills. I switched up the traditional gender roles by making Sarah an action heroine who has to save her useless boyfriend from the terrorists. It easily passes the first two steps of the Bechdel Test, but I had to skip through 55 minutes of it before I reached a conversation between two women that wasn’t about a man.
Soul Searcher is a marginally-less cheesy action film about an ordinary Joe (Ray Bullock Jnr) who is chosen to be trained as the new Grim Reaper. While it passes step one, that’s as far as it gets; leading ladies Heather (Katrina Cooke) and Luca (Lara Greenway) never speak to each other. There is a brief exchange between Clubber Girls #1 and #2, but since they don’t have names, and their only purpose is to be put in jeopardy by a man (alright – a demon, but a male demon) and saved by another man, I hardly think this counts. Massive fail.
The Dark Side of the Earth, apart from a five minute sequence shot in 2008, exists only as a screenplay, so it’s the screenplay I’ll judge. The protagonist is a young woman, Isabelle (played in the pilot by Kate Burdette), who sets to out to re-start the earth’s rotation after it shudders to a halt, nearly wiping out humanity. There are brief exchanges between Isabelle and some minor, but named, female characters in which they talk about things other than men, but the one proper conversation she gets with the only other significant female character concerns a man. And at least on some level, the reason she goes on the quest is to impress a man. So technically Dark Side passes, but it’s hardly a glorious victory.
My three Virgin Media Shorts entries have little or no dialogue, but even without applying the test, it’s easy to see how sexist they are. The Picnic is a silent film revolving around a man trying to get revenge on another man for stealing his girlfriend. Woman as prize. Hardly enlightened. (Earlier drafts of the script had the gender roles reversed. I can’t remember why I changed it.) The One That Got Away makes the female character a trophy in exactly the same way. And Ghost-trainspotting doesn’t have any women in it.
Stop/Eject, on the other hand, seems well-placed to pass the test with flying colours, with two of its three main characters being women and plenty of conversations between them. Unfortunately, the whole movie is about the death of a man. It does pass the test though, because the final conversation between grieving widow Kate (Georgina Sherrington) and mysterious shopkeeper Alice (Therese Collins) is not about the man. It shames me to recall, however, that Alice was (a) originally written as a man, and (b) not given a name until Therese requested one.
In general, writing this article has drawn my attention to the imbalance in the number of characters of each gender in my films. Even those movies with female leads are otherwise populated predominantly by men. I think I have a tendency, and I’m sure many of you out there do this too if you’re honest with yourselves, to make characters male by default, and to only make them female if there’s a “reason” to.
I know that some people may say, in defense of their own films or actions, that they did not intend to offend or oppress. I certainly did not aim, when making Soul Searcher, for example, to oppress women. But that is no excuse. Everything we do, say or create will be judged in the context of our society, and if – in combination with things said, done or created by others, innocently or otherwise – it contributes to a culture of oppression, then it is wrong. So for my own mistakes, I apologise unreservedly.
As with all of my blog entries that point out my own failings, I record this publicly to burn these mistakes into my memory and reduce the chance of me making them again. I hope too that it might make others out there consider their own work in the light of the important issue of gender representation.
One thing I often find myself struggling with as a filmmaker is clarity of motivation and storyline. It’s amazing how easily an audience can misinterpret something – or perhaps I should say how easily they can interpret it differently from the director, writer, etc. Here are some examples:
Stop/Eject‘s protagonist Kate is a costume designer, though this is never stated explicitly, and the scene that might have hinted most at it was deleted early on in the editing process. In the opening scene she enters a charity shop and gets a scrapbook of costume designs out of her bag to refer to whilst browsing the clothing rack. But after trimming the scene to improve the pace, the sequence of events in the locked edit became: Kate enters the charity shop with her husband Dan; she approaches a clothing rack and opens her bag; we then cut to Dan asking the shopkeeper how much a record is, drawing her away from Kate’s location. In short, it looked like Kate was opening her bag to do some shoplifting and Dan was abetting her by distracting the shopkeeper. I was blind to this because I knew Kate’s real intention, but my wife picked it up as soon as she saw it. Despite having locked the edit, on spotting this issue we hastily cut out the shot of Kate opening her bag.
In the same scene in Stop/Eject, Alice the shopkeeper was filmed looking at her watch. The intention was to show that she knew the cassette in the magic tape recorder needed turning over very soon, and was weighing up whether she had time to answer Dan’s query first. But test audiences thought that, given Alice’s mysterious connection to the time-travelling tape recorder, she was looking at her watch because she knew that any minute now an accident was going to happen, which indeed it does at the end of the scene. The solution was to simply cut Alice’s watch check.
My 2012 Virgin Media Shorts entry, Ghost-trainspotting, is about a deceased nerd who spots trains of an equally ghostly nature. His ghostly nature, however, is not revealed until late in the film. This revelation comes in the form of (a) him ascending into the clouds in a shaft of heavenly light, his final mission on earth being complete, and (b) a closing shot of his photo in a shrine. But we had to cut the shrine shot due to the competition’s strict length limit, and some viewers thought the shaft of heavenly light looked more like he was being beamed up by aliens. Result? A complete misunderstanding of the story. Sadly, with the competition deadline upon me, I was unable to correct this issue in time.
Audiences aren’t stupid; you just have to remember that they haven’t read the script, been on the set and worked on the edit for months. They’re coming to it completely fresh, and if the right clues aren’t in the film, they have little chance of interpreting it as you intended.
This is why test screenings are so important. Happily most of these types of issues can be resolved fairly easily by cutting something out or adding a line of ADR, but unless you show your edit to fresh eyes you probably won’t even know they are issues in the first place.
I recently served as DP and postproduction supervisor on Fled, writer-director-producer Brendan O’Neill’s 2013 entry to the SciFi London 48hr Film Challenge. I asked him to share what he’s learnt from this and other film challenges he’s entered.
Brendan, this is not your first 48 hour film challenge. How many have you done before and what are the biggest things you learnt from them that you applied to this latest one?
I’ve done several now, 3 straight 48’s and 2 London Sci-Fi Society 48’s plus a time limited music video competition. My first ever film Black Widow was made for a local Birmingham competition called Film Dash in 2008. My second film What Goes Up Must Come Down was shot over a weekend for a non time limited competition run by Filmaka in the USA. I did a lot of ringing around and pre-production for this one as I wanted to really push the number of locations I could fit in. I found that by getting through to the right people, explaining who you are and what you want help with in a structured way can be very successful.
I made another 48 hour film Seconds Out for the same Film Dash competition in 2009 which placed 3rd out of 24 entries. I achieved some good production value by piggy backing a real event – a boxing contest held in a Birmingham hotel – with the help of the promoter who is also a local filmmaker.
The first really big production I put together was for Internalised – our first attempt at the London Sci-Fi Society’s 48 hour filmmaking competition in 2011. I spent 6 weeks pre-producing, location scouting, auditioning etc. and assembled a cast and crew of 50 to help us make the film. I also fed them all via an in-kind deal with local vegetarian catering company ChangeKitchen.
I suppose the first lesson I learnt on that was to not try to do it all on your own. The second being to be very careful who you take on board to help you and define clear roles and responsibilities for those involved. It can be difficult when you are working with volunteers but if you can convey the ambition and vision of what you are trying to do and have some previous track record then you can build feature size crews to help.
The shoot went very well but we were let down in post-production by not getting all the VFX/CGI we wanted into the competition version. You need to have your VFX/CGI team in the same place as your editors as it’s asking too much to render and then transmit the large files involved from remote locations when time is at a premium.
Our second attempt at the London Sci-Fi society 48 hour competition in 2012 was a World War II themed film called Around Again. We were looking for unusual locations with built-in production value and had identified a Midlands WWII era tunnel complex as a good location. We then found out that the person who controlled access to the tunnels also owned an extensive WWII costume wardrobe that had been used on Atonement and Band of Brothers so we dropped the tunnels location idea and went for battle/bunker scenes. The production value that all the great uniforms and replica / decommissioned firearms gave us was superb.
We were also very fortunate that our friend with the costume wardrobe Craig Leonard and his pyrotechnics colleague Matt Harley of Trinity VFX knew lots of German army / SS re-enactors who were more than happy to appear in the film. It shows the value of networking and being pro-active as that one contact expanded in all sorts of interesting ways to help us make a great looking film. I’m still reaping the benefits as Matt supplied the SWAT team outfits and arms for Fled as well as the GCHQ-esque second main location.
We were very surprised that the film didn’t shortlist but I think as producer if we’d had more clearly defined sci-fi elements in it then that would have helped.
Moving on to Fled, how much work had you put into writing and producing it before the challenge began on 10am on Saturday?
I spent about 6 weeks in pre-production. I hadn’t directed for a while so the first thing I did was do a smaller 48 hour competition which was running as part of the Stoke Your Fires festival.
[The next thing] I did was launch a crowd funding campaign via Indiegogo. I raised about £850 after fees so it helped a lot but it was a very labour intensive way of doing it with limited results. I didn’t have any donors who weren’t already linked to me in some way – mostly through Facebook.
Fortunately an established writer who I’d met twice at the Screenwriters Festival helped me a lot with an early and substantial individual donation. I think he likes my DIY attitude to getting films made. The previous year I also received a substantial donation via a Twitter relationship I had developed so it demonstrates that both traditional and social media based networking can’t be ignored.
Once the Indiegogo campaign was out of the way I worked on getting everything together. I had hoped for some substantial co-producer support but this didn’t really happen and the fact that I had to produce it nearly all myself definitely affected the amount of time I was able to spend on developing the script with my pal Dominic Carver as script editor. That said certain people such as Ella Carman, Matt Harley and stand in make-up artist Kerris Charles helped restore my battered faith in people.
I was surprised at how large the crew was (around 20). Do many hands make light work on a time-pressured project like this? Was there a degree of over-crewing in case some people didn’t turn up?
I’ve been on shoots where I haven’t had enough production assistants and runner/drivers so I tend to have some over-capacity just in case. The nature of the competition also means that it’s better to have more people to help in case the criteria you are given by the organisers are particularly difficult to handle. You are given a title, a line of dialogue and a prop/action by the organizers on the morning of the competition.
Although I did have some crew drop out prior to the competition I was able to replace them. My regular sound person dropped out with a foot injury so it was fortunate that Nicola Dale who was going to be post sound runner assisting Matt Katz and Joe Harper on the Sunday was able to step up to the mark and deliver great production sound with the help of Chantal Feliu Gurri on boom. Fortunately I’d met Nicola at a networking event a few weeks earlier and offered her the chance to come and work with some more experienced talent.
I do wish I had had some actor back-up however as someone dropped out on the Sunday morning pleading illness. It’s difficult to ask actors to turn up unpaid for what might only be extra type roles in a 5 minute film but it’s also VERY damaging when those who say they’ll do it drop out at short notice. It was especially galling as I’d written a role especially for this young man.
The consequence was that I had to bump someone who was only meant to be an extra into a role with lines which in my opinion definitely affected the quality of the film. For me Quality is King – with so many people having access to great technology you really have to try to ensure production values are as high as possible across the board in order to make your film stand out.
How did you approach integrating the challenge criteria (line of dialogue, prop and optional theme) into the film?
I try to build mechanisms into the script to deal with those things i.e. the wireless in the bunker scene in Around Again. That was there to help us field any difficult lines of dialogue we were given. Unfortunately last year we were given a very modern day line about the SEIS investment scheme so it was a bit clunky which is ironic given that it is a scheme that can help filmmakers raise finance!
We were lucky in that the criteria [this year] were very easy to integrate into the script.
Prop: A key. A single key is put on a key ring with three near identical keys.
The initial idea was that [the entity] was an alien civilization that had had to flee some dying star millennia ago and had lain dormant on Mars until the first manned landings. This fitted the FLED title well. The key scene in the church echoes this when you can just make out the ethereal voices saying, “We can’t go back, we can’t go back.”
I was able to fit in the compulsory dialogue line as part of the NASA controllers trying to contact the Mars Explorer. The key on to keyring action/prop was easy and was the same one we got last year!
What was the schedule for the 48 hours in terms of when you started and finished filming, when the edit was locked, etc.?
At 10.00am DoP Neil Oseman and his gaffer Colin Smith went to the church location to pre-light and set up ready for filming whilst I awaited the criteria from the organisers. That way we could hit the ground running once we had a script finalized. The criteria arrived by text at about 11.15.
Fortunately the criteria given were very easy to integrate into my script so I arrived on set around 12.30 – 13.00 having picked up the VFX team at their hotel on the way. We needed to shoot the scenes they needed first in order to give them as much time as possible to work their magic.
I had planned to try and finish by 8pm so that the crew would be reasonably fresh for an early start the next day. I think we finished at around 21.15 and had a quick drink together before heading home. The next day we were all on set for 8.00am and set up for the first scenes quickly. I intended for us to finish around 2pm but there was a bit of creep to 3pm even though we trimmed and dropped some non essential scenes on the way. At both locations Neil and his regular gaffer Colin Smith, who was well assisted by Jay Somerville, did a brilliant job with the lighting.
Any plans to take part in future 48 hour challenges?
No. I don’t think so. I think I’ve done enough of them now. I want to either do some really high quality, well planned and developed festival oriented shorts or hopefully a first feature. I think 48 hour contests are a good discipline for young or emerging filmmakers as it gives you a focus and stress tests some of the relationships you might be developing. All a bit frantic but I’ve learnt a lot from them and come out a stronger and hopefully better filmmaker.
I think for this year’s contest just doing one high production value location per day and insisting that the VFX team were at the same post-production site as the edit team really made a difference. I was really fortunate to have really strong post-production edit and sound team and a great composer in Hans Hess who was at the ready to do the score. Hopefully people can see the difference those elements made in the quality of the competition version of the film.
Lastly I couldn’t have done it without Neil Oseman and a great international team of volunteer cast and crew. I hope that I’ll be able to work with them all again at some point. I’d particularly like to thank “King of the Indies” actor Michael Parle who came all the way from Ireland.
A few days ago I re-read the FilmWorks homework instructions and noticed the hitherto-unnoticed word “edit” lurking after the phrase “mood reel“. Cue mad dash around the DVD shops of Hereford, frantic googling for software that will rip region 1 discs and even filming YouTube videos off my computer screen. I fear the technical aspect of the exercise may have overshadowed the creative one, but anyway here it is:
It’s probably the most random thing I’ve ever edited, but I can already see its value. Mashing up the romantic drama genre with sci-fi is not easy, and the Venn Diagram of audience demographics for those two genres has little overlap. I see the audience for Stop/Eject being males 25-45 and a wider female audience of 14-45.
Despite the difficulties, some films have straddled the genre gap successfully, The Adjustment Bureau being the best example to my mind. Sci-fi is at its best when using fantastic devices and situations to explore the human condition, and if I can pull off a moving personal drama against a fantasy backdrop it should be quite powerful. I think this is nicely encapsulated by Stop/Eject’s tagline: “What would you rewind?” – a classic “what if?” type question.
Last week I was delighted to be accepted onto FilmWorks, a fast-track development scheme for regional filmmakers, based at the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol. As part of the programme we’re encouraged to blog about our progress on the FilmWorks site, and I’ll be duplicating some if not all of those blogs right here on neiloseman.com, starting now.
FilmWorks kicked off this week with a masterclass on developing an idea. “Where do you get your ideas from?” is never an easy question to answer, but the speakers had plenty of interesting things to say on the subject. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Peter Lord, co-director of Chicken Run and Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! Apart from a few FX shots in my feature Soul Searcher I haven’t worked with stop motion animators, but I’ve always admired and been fascinated by their art. Peter was very open and generous with his knowledge when I briefly chatted to him, which seems to be the spirit of FilmWorks.
The masterclass introduced me to mood reels, montages of clips from other films which demonstrate the tone and style of a project you’re pitching. In the past I’ve used concept art, scrapbooks, videomatics and even once a full-blown 35mm demo scene (see darksideoftheearth.com), but I never thought of just half-inching other people’s films!
The workshop session afterwards was mostly about us participants getting to know each other. The organisers have pulled together a nice mix of people and I’m sure we can all learn a thing or two from each other.
As the session drew to a close, it was time to focus on our own projects. In my case it’s Stop/Eject, a fantasy-drama about a bereaved woman who finds a mysterious old cassette recorder that can stop and rewind time – but can she undo her husband’s death? Currently it’s a short film in postproduction, but co-writer Tommy Draper and I have just embarked on the development of a feature-length version.
And what would be on my mood reel? Films that cover similar ground in terms of emotion, tone and story elements include The Adjustment Bureau, The Time Traveller’s Wife, A Thousand Kisses Deep, P.S. I Love You and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I’ll continue to ponder this.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading up on my fellow FilmWorks participants, checking out their websites and watching their work. (Hmmm, sounds a bit like creepy cyberstalking.) I particularly enjoyed Matt Freeth’s short, Luke and the Void, which you can check out here.
Here’s a video blog I recorded last year at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an interview with Quay Chu, who served as script editor on my in-development fantasy feature The Dark Side of the Earth for several months. He talks about his role and gives some examples of how he helped me to shape the script.
Remember that you can get feedback on your own short screenplay, and help me to finish my current short film Stop/Eject, by visiting stopejectmovie.com/donate and selecting the £20 “Script Editor” reward.
When we created the range of rewards available to people who sponsor our short fantasy-drama Stop/Eject, we wanted to offer collaboration – we wanted to share our skills. One such reward is Script Editor. In return for a £20 donation you can have your short screenplay (up to 15 pages) read by Tommy Draper, Stop/Eject’s co-writer, with constructive critical feedback. Just click the button below to make your contribution and claim this reward.
I recently interviewed Tommy about his current projects and his thoughts on writing.
How did you get into screenwriting?
Tommy: I got into screenwriting quite a few years ago after posting my first short screenplay online on the website SimplyScripts.com. The screenplay was called ‘Same Room Same Time’ and it was read by Miguel Gaudêncio who wanted to make it (at the time he was looking to take the step from commercials and music videos into movies). It took several years but the movie was released into film festivals in 2008 and from there more contacts were made and more movies (shorts and features) have been produced.
What are you working on at the moment?
Tommy: At the moment I have 2 short films in pre-production with Hamburg based director Sascha Zimmermann. I have been working with Sascha since 2009 and over the last few years we have ended up with a backlog of screenplays we want to make. We are starting with two that are ready to go and I am about to work on new drafts of three other screenplays so these can be made in 2013 (and 2014 if necessary). My zombie feature film Wasteland is a day or two away from finishing filming by Derby based Light Films Ltd, when this is complete I will be talking to the Producer and Director about what project we want to work on next. I am talking to Stop/Eject producer Sophie Black about a feature film screenplay that she has written and would like me to come on board to rewrite, this project is in its infancy and will be worked on during 2013. In addition to all of this I have a feature film script of mine called ‘Rock n Roll Romantics’ which I have been planning on writing for quite some time and I am getting the script ready in-between projects.
Why is it important to for a writer to get impartial feedback?
Tommy: Feedback for a writer on their screenplay is very very important, a fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference. Everyone sees the story and characters in a different way so the feedback you get can identify faults or create new and interesting paths that can take your story from good to great. Getting feedback that is totally impartial is also very tough. A lot of people, especially if they know you, won’t tell you exactly what they think. A lot of the time it is more important for someone to point to out what doesn’t work more than point out what does and the best people to give you this kind of honest feedback is someone who doesn’t know you at all.
What is the most useful feedback you’ve ever received on one of your scripts?
Tommy: The most useful feedback I’ve ever received was on an old screenplay I wrote for Miguel Gaudêncio. The screenplay was written prior to Same Room Same Time getting made and after a few drafts Miguel got an established writer friend of his to take a look at it. I received a fair share of positives and negatives about the script but it was the negatives about the first act not working that helped the most. It was too long, gave away too much and made the screenplay drag. I took the suggestions and chopped out lots of scenes from the opening section (at the time I was reluctant to do this not seeing the issues) and the screenplay really took shape. I then went through the rest of the screenplay looking for cuts to make and a much leaner screenplay evolved which worked a lot better.
In your opinion, what is the best-written movie ever and why?
Tommy: Tough question this as there are so many brilliant screenplays out there. If I had to pick one movie then it has to be Reservoir Dogs. I think the script is extremely clever, the structure of the story with its flashbacks to give the characters depth is amazing. I also love that the you never see the robbery but you know exactly what happened and what went wrong. The best thing about it are the characters themselves, each one rich and totally individual. You understand their motivation and once wound up they play out their role in an honest, unforced way, which is hard skill but Tarantino masters that in all his movies. Reservoir Dogs was the first time I had seen a movie and then read the screenplay, it has been a massive inspiration on me ever since.