Tuesday, 21 December 2010

What got you writing? Answer: skateboarding

I was asked this the other day - was it a book? Something noble – the erudite and concise language of 1984? Or did you have a trippy epiphany reading Hunter S Thompson during your late teens? Nope it was Skateboard! magazine. Search online and you'll find many references to the original seventies version, which had quite a hobbyist vibe to it. That's not it. For me it was the relaunch in 1989 by editor Steve Kane.

In much the same way I miss the Observer Sport Monthly, Skateboard! took a completely different approach to reporting its subject. Well, it did for me as a twelve year old growing up in the fens. Thinking back on it, I suspect Skateboard!'s editorial approach was squarely in the gonzo camp. The writers were the skaters. When they travelled to comps, they hitched, crashed on impressionable teen's floors and raided the fridge before they left. And this fed into the writing. I can still remember the vivid article about Dogtown where an imagined and exasperated father explains the importance of South Californian style to his son after he complains of Stacey Peralta 'waving his arms like a spaz' in an old Bones Brigade video. 'You take that back son! That's goddamn blasphemy. That's the roots and a tree without roots is a pretty dead fucking tree'.

I have thought about tracking down old copies on eBay, but that way lies nostalgia, and there's too much of that around. Instead, I'm reading the flippin' inspiring Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. This is a tight, evocative tale and just the sort of thing to spend a bath with in this black metal weather. Or you could watch the film.

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Monday, 20 December 2010

Against The Clock diary: how it happened

I haven’t really written anything for me very much recently, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the process of making Against The Clock.

I have no experience directing films. But I know what I want to see and more importantly, what I want to say. But there’s a big disparity between that desire, and the knowledge and experience to actually make it happen.

I’m not claiming to be an expert in documentary, but I have learnt a great deal. Mostly from this book:

Get it from Amazon it's ace!

And a little bit from the experience I’ve accrued making ATC. That’s what I want to talk about and I’m going to start at the very beginning:

Why a drag racing documentary?
Originally ATC was going to be a 26 second film for a project with 26, the writer’s organisation and the UVLC. I figured it would just be long enough to show a driver queue up, race and come off the track at the end. I’d tell his story using voiceovers.  The whole film would be one, continuous take.

This is of course, written with the benefit of hindsight. At the time I only had a vague idea of what the film could be like. One direction was making a YouTube doubler video:

<table cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0"><tr><td width="425" height="355" valign="top"> </td><td width="425" height="355" valign="top"> </td></tr> <tr><td colspane=2><span style="font-size:8pt; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, verdana, sans-serif;">YouTube Doubler</td></tr> </table>

The more I looked into it, the more complex this idea looked to make. I had to find two different race teams to agree to an interview and let me in their cars to shoot with cameras that someone else would own. All I could think was ‘insurance’. Not to mention organising two shoots and a difficult edit.

A producer I met through the project loved the idea of a drag film, but she thought the doubler bit was complicated. ‘You need a human interest.’

I went home, thought about who could be a drag racer: old people, children (there is an established junior drag racing class), people with disabilities. I typed in ‘disabled racing drivers’ into Google. I got two promising results. One was a Daily Express article about a blind man who raced the salt flats in Utah. He used walkie-talkies, four guide cars and GPS to guide his supercharged Jag. The other link was for Nigel Holland’s drag team, Ave a Go Racing.

The blind man lived in America and the article was seven years old. Nigel lived in Bedfordshire and was competing in the 2010 Summer Nationals. I emailed Nigel.

He was a drag racer and I wanted to make a film about drag racing. When I was ten my dad took me to see bike dragging and I loved it. It’s fast, the action is all in one place and I’m pretty sure I saw a man with a chrome-plated prosthetic leg. I love the look of drag racers and when I saw photos of Santa Pod there was something peculiarly reminiscent about where I grew up: the big, flat sky and the race to the horizon. It just seemed to fit: all the action was in one place I could see myself making a film there. And I was pretty certain the prospect of shots of American muscle cars, with their exotic paintjobs, would be just the show reel candy to entice a film crew to give me their time for free.

Nigel emailed back to say he was interested and that as a press photographer at Santa Pod, he could get us access to both the pits and the track. Rhys and Rich said they were up for filming. It looked as if it was all going to happen.

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Friday, 17 December 2010

Stephen King films for new book: Full Dark No Stars

Roger Corman, - the king of the B movie – was as much of a mythmaker as a film mogul with over 350 titles to his name. One story claims he made The Terror using shoot time left over from The Raven. The Little Shop of Horrors was reputedly in the can after two days (to meet a bet). But perhaps the hardest rumour to confirm is how Corman raised funds for his projects. Now, I have only empirical evidence to back this up (some guy on the radio said so), but I’m a copywriter, not a journalist so I’m going to side with the Maxwell Scott quote. Corman’s method was pretty simple. First he would think of a catchy title, then shoot and cut a trailer of what the film could look like to hook investors.

So far so interesting, but what can we learn from Roger’s approach? Well, say what you like about Roger Corman’s pictures (and many do – mostly bad stuff), his parsimonious production and clever manipulation of investors’ anticipation have meant his films never get stuck in development hell and always make their money back. Except The Intruder, which starred William Shatner.
Roger might not be Fellini, but he is a master at marketing. Who do you think puts about all these apocryphal tales? And it’s this and the fact Corman knows the power of a good trailer and poster that’s led to a long and healthy career. He’s still making films today.

Watching these YouTube films promoting Stephen King’s new book ‘Full Dark No Stars’, I was reminded of the Corman Method of Film Financing. Sure, these films are a nicely crafted campaign to shift King’s latest anthology to the Internet generation. But they’re also a clever way of selling the film rights too.

There are four films (one for each story), but the above are the best because of their obsessive detail. After all, there’s nothing new about the basic premise of each tale. Fair Extension is a twist on the standard ‘Man in need meets the Devil’. A Good Marriage sees a dutiful wife uncover her husband’s dark secret. What we want is the detail King promises to bring to bear. And these films reveal just that.

Look at where Elvid decides to set up shop in Fair Extension – down a dingy alley in the airport side of town. Mr Streeter has to literally cross to the wrong side of tracks. Only then can our unfortunate protagonist meet the casually attired stranger with grotty teeth and a voice that drops an octave when he outlines the more nefarious parts of the deal. I love the rhythm of the dialogue and the footage of a healthy Streeter, post transaction. It’s almost as if there’s a film sitting in a can that just needs funds for distribution Mr Investor!

A Good Marriage is more a straightforward proposition. A strong (if obvious) soundtrack, cast and production design dramatically reveal a wife’s grim discovery and subsequent dilemma. It’s not as polished as Fair Extension. It could do with losing the ‘cameraman stumbling around in the woods’ shots. But the elegant cinematography and editing nicely unravel a chilling tale. What is she going to do? Aside from his growing driving licence collection, he’s a lovely guy – smiling at her from the wing mirror and content to share time spinning coins (I would have cut this bit – too contrived). What would you do Mr Film Investor? What would Joan Cusack do? What if she was married to Michael Chiklis? Who let’s face it, has only played The Thing since The Shield finished. We don’t even have to go to a studio. AMC could pick it up. It feels similar in tone to Breaking Bad. Hey! This project has John Dahl written all over it. He’s done television movies before – and Red Rock West – one of my favourite films – was so good it eventually got a theatrical release. Send him a copy of the book. Heck, I think I might pick a copy up for myself.

I can almost imagine what Full Dark No Stars could be like – filmic.


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The best of Writing Soundtrack 2010

Download now or watch on posterous
tasty.mov (30581 KB)
Good grief this blog is just turning into a dorm for all my nonsense playlists. I better write something good for myself soon - as opposed to just searching off the Boomkat new release email and dropping radio hits from my childhood.


Anyway, This year's tasty. Back in Jan.

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Friday, 10 December 2010

Writing soundtrack 7-10 Dec

'Listen mate, don't even ask to have a go on the NeoGeo, it's not going to happen. Right, Mystical Ninja - you do know it's in Japanese yeah?.'


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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

ATP Godspeed! You Black Emperor - match report

I don’t know. ATP just didn’t work for me this year. Maybe it was the weather, or the fact I was shattered. Or that I’ve just moved. Or hey, perhaps it was my half-finished film sat on a harddrive at home. I don’t know. It was not the time to spend a freezing weekend at a Butlins. But enough of all that boo hoo hoo. Here’s a playlist of:

My favs

And Godspeed You! Black Emperor were good, even if it did edge towards shrill at times.

Download now or watch on posterous
IMG_1335.MOV (13104 KB)
It was still fun. Just expensive, cold fun. The cinema programme was made almost entirely of stuff like Chromo Sud:

Interesting, if a little low on the lols to be honest.


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Writing soundtrack 28 Nov to 2 Dec

"Carved from wood, these totem poles were a monument to past leaders of the tribe.Wow."

"Gordon's would be a bit blank. Dave n Nick?"


"Unless if it was for the Royals - Kate & Wills - what would that be like?"

"Massive tombstone teeth."

Red Indian

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Thursday, 2 December 2010

Bath Spa at 2000 frames per second

'Shot on a super bright day'. Yeah, no shit. Lovely

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