Cannes 2015 Entry #3 – The Divide

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The paradox of this place is that everyone is searching for money and spending money they don’t have. Or rather, the .1% here has great yachts (probably not the filmmakers – the CEO of Dolce & Gabbana perhaps) and spends with all riches while the 12,000 filmmakers cobble on the sidewalks and plea for development money. Where is the middle ground? There is one, of course, but it is harder to spot, as is the case when one critiques any walk of life/society. A further paradox is that everyone has to look like they do have money – this is Cannes – and so returns home completely out of stock! I’ll be taking that suit back for a refund…

The hotels. I discovered that the festival hotels on the Croisette, the Majestic, Carlton etc. aren’t even top dollar for around here. They are popping with glam and sleaze, but the stars venture further down the strip to a place beyond any apparent humane reach. One can begin to suffocate amongst all the comfort, though saying that, the lifts in the festival hotels are surprisingly tight-nit – don’t overload! I don’t mean to sound too critical, I mean who wouldn’t bath in these suites given the chance? It’s the self-absorbed entourage that picks my stomach.

Then there are the folks who don’t even hold a festival badge. They stand outside the Palais holding banners for invitations. I can’t see how that has ever succeeded when Lumière tickets are so sparse – perhaps I will defy my own convention and find a ticket for the old lady wearing her tired blouse; it’s certainly respect for the dedication of a cinematic experience. Then watch out for the cronies who will line the sidewalks with sticks of legs coated in their latest euphoric lotions – the suntans. Their eyes, mouths and ears lap over the iron bars to banquet on the red carpet. Then brace yourself for the selfie sticks that appear in their thousands (need I go down that route?); you grit your teeth as you try to get past the hordes to your far more urgent meeting regarding a potential future source of income! Either that, or you may stop to gaze, at whom I am not so sure – the (male) attention has many conduits to wonder in Cannes!

Cannes 2015 Entry #2 – The Consequences

The Coen Brothers – These guys are serious hard workers (and miraculous filmmakers) who are now heading up the Jury at Cannes this year.

The consequences of the reality of the film industry are quite simple: hard work (past the expiry date). Yet, you might say hard work that hides in plain sight, as everyone appears to be having a very jolly time. I can’t think of another industry where one minute the work could produce feelings in the nature of a catastrophic disaster, and the next, make one whistle amongst the stars.

Here are a few reasons why I expect hard work to be the key to some shape of success. The competition is so fierce, there are some 12,000 filmmakers in attendance at the market, which means you need to stand out and that won’t happen without hard work. Remember, even a genius with talent smoking from their ears needs to work hard. The industry is constantly changing and strategies are evolving, so how else can one keep up with the trends? Consistently renewing one’s knowledge seems likely. There are a thousand other factors, but the hard work will surely bring those other factors into being, they couldn’t exist without it.

Now in relation to this blogisode (could that work?), we should be talking about Cannes. What are the consequences of Cannes for a beginning filmmaker? There are fountains of film posters looking you in the eye and saying, “hey, I’ve already been made, I have representation, and don’t you wish I was yours?” This is in relation to the market, a fascinating place, and it makes one realise that the film only begins its life here, not during any phase of production but afterwards. It highlights the importance of thinking about marketing and distribution from an early stage in the game. Of course, big ‘players’ know this and are even able to raise significant budget numbers in pre-sales, but for the truly independents it is easy to forget and dive head first into putting a picture on the screen. Liaise with a sales advisor and ask them how your film will sell, I am sure you can even establish a firing line from your very first treatment.

More consequences? Attend film festivals. They are passionate places with people as crazy as you are i.e. they consume unholy amounts of cinema and talk about not a whole lot else (this isn’t a criticism – it’s a blessing). It will inspire you and give you a clear-headed perspective on what is actually on offer, in regard to careers etc. Or, actually, as in my case, it may just confuse you more – “now, there are all these other jobs to consider?” Frankly, confusion, in this sense, or complications, is beneficial as it widens your horizons and by offering more pathways can only serve to sharpen the mind. Once the mind is sharpened, then you are ready to follow the heart and soul of you career choices. Okay, that last note was a tad sentimental; let’s stop before this post turns out like an pre-dated self-help guide…

Cannes 2015 Entry #1 – The Reality

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I arrived in Cannes after a glorious drive through the heart of France; I say that with the utmost sarcasm other than the very respectable restrooms. It was a warm trip, considering the air con is bust (it’s a French car that I drive) and the windows don’t wind, I had a fair amount of heat to compete with. However, multiple stops, thoughts of nurturing cinema and layers of classical music served enough joy to see me through.

The Reality of Cannes is that the film industry is like a bombsite, or that it’s actually pretty damn large. There is so much to contend with and so much to scatter your nerve ends around that one either acts like a puppy on acid or decides to take the beach route; sit back, eat a baguette and watch the crowds pass. It is the reality of the film industry and it was also my hopes that it would all finally make sense… Though, if you are wondering why you need to consider marketing and distribution before making a film, then go to Cannes before making it and you’ll soon work it out! Meet a sales agent with strategy before pre-production; the likelihood is it could even effect the minutest details of content that you structure into your film.

Being impressed is what comes to mind most. Impressed by the scope of the international industry and impressed by the ethos of those in attendance, or maybe I haven’t yet seen enough ins and outs to make a concise judgment on behaviors, and so on; interesting, to say the least. People certainly make an effort and the cogs won’t want to stop anytime soon; it definitely feels like an exciting industry to be dipping in to, or rather sinking in to! And sink we shall, ever so deeper into the miasma of this glorious, glorious, and overflowing land of the films.

Personality Type Testing

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My girlfriend, who is studying to become a psychologist, keeps me informed from time-to-time with various insights into how our minds work. I am always intrigued, as whose mind doesn’t battle with itself from day-to-day? From a filmmaker’s perspective, personality is fundamental to understanding character, and consequently directing an actor to play that character. I am beginning to think that all film directors should take a few months out to study some psychology!

Anyway, she was doing a personality test online and showed me the results – scarily accurate! The test gives you a certain personality type coded by 4 digits, of which there are apparently 16 types, all of which are official by research and study across the board today. It is a surprisingly aggravating test of 72 thoughtful questions, once completed you are presented with a long description listing basically how you live your life and interact with the world. This may all sound a bit overboard, but I found the answers frighteningly truthful, it’s the equivalent to having David Blaine walk in on you.

One of the most interesting lists provided on your personality type is the prospective career field. A bit intimidating, hopefully you will be on the right lines, though it is all possibility of course. My personality type turned out to be ‘The Artist’ (ISFP), how wonderful, I appear to be on the right path – and yes filmmaking is considered an art (a discussion for a different day). After answering 72 questions it is especially reassuring to be categorized as you might expect, but then the database hammers home the reality of your personality, the inherent weaknesses. All of us humans will have our weaknesses, but ‘The Artist’ appears to have a quite a few significant ones! Notably, “life is not likely to be extremely easy for the ISFP.” Great!

So there it is, a bit of fun, or rather a life-changing exercise if you wish to go along with it and ritually embed yourself to a personality type. I have put the links below. Please share your thoughts and your life destination in the comments below!

The Test: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp

The Personality Type Information: https://www.personalitypage.com/high-level.html

Asleep at the Bottom of the Pack – The Movie Extra

jonathan-strange-and-mr-norrell-by-susanna-clarke

Film extras need to have a certain agenda i.e. not a lot of pride. If you begin the day with pride in your stride, you will walk away gasping in despair. Ricky Gervais really did hit the nail on the head with his comical representation of extras in his TV hit of the same name. The reason I say this is because last week I had the pleasure of being an extra. I received a call to work on BBC’s period drama Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

There are a few reasons why it was a worthwhile opportunity. To be a good film director, you need to gather a degree of experience in every role on set. There is surely no better way to project a feeling of unity as a director if you know exactly what everyone is going through. So it was nice to sit back and watch everyone work – the tension of the 1st AD as he kept looking down at his watch, the sparks as they all ran around close to tripping up over the obstacle course in front of them and the costume dailies as they darted back and forth between takes pulling up collars and sleeves etc. There was also the fact that BBC pays their extras rather well!

However, the behind-the-scenes experience wasn’t quite as fruitful, at least for the extra, as I had expected. Mingling with anyone other than extras is like staring at the horns of a dragon. Instead, when not needed, we would be locked up in what they called “the green room” – a room where extras sat falling asleep, playing cards or talking about past experiences of similar anguish. I decided to be slightly more pro-active, at lunchtime I headed over to the 3rd AD for a chat about the production and his work… he gaped at me, gave a hesitant non-existent answer and turned around to chat to someone else. Fair enough.

Lunch was surprisingly plentiful and tasty. Roast dinners were followed by sponge cake and custard. The only problem was actually getting to the food. The queue seemed to move backwards as grips and electricians continued to flood in. Though you can’t blame crew for pushing in, they are actually doing a job and working hard rather than walking aimlessly backwards and forwards, and out of focus I might add.

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(Unfortunately, the snapchat bogus above is the only image I managed to capture, but it seems to sum up the few days pretty well. Left: myself – Right: a good fellow stranger called Lee).

“The green room” did host some ingenious fun and games. A fellow extra started a round tournament for throwing plastic cups (previously containing hot tea) into a distant paper bin. Accuracy was greatly impeded by the fact that arm and shoulder movement was vastly limited in tight 19th century waistcoats and jackets. If you tried to loosen your jacket (and breathe), costume would be through the door screaming at your back. They are like a team of hawks and you do not want to get on the wrong side of their leader, the costume designer! Make-up and hair provide a similar shot of sharp-sighted glares.

Other games included movie trivia with a an extra who rather fancied himself as a Marty Scorsese, a movie buff who I could pass the next five hours with. This was turning out to be a fun day and a great way to bring in the cash. We played another game – I don’t know how better to describe it: name the film, name an actor from that film, name another film with that actor, name another actor from that film etc. until you get stuck. However, some extras were incredibly tame individuals and others remarkably self-possessed. To be frank, the whole clout could make rather a good theatrical component itself!

The show is airing in 2015 next January. See you then!

Keeping a Film Diary

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A lot of people would believe this to be a mad waste of time. Think again. I like to think of my film diary as a personal journey, and here’s why. Films are full of life – be it life re-imagined and projected onto a screen. People have been writing heartfelt criticism on the subject for over a century, good and bad. For some people, films can change their life, for others it can be something to chortle at. Either way you look at it, film provokes a response, a very human being response. But, why should we bother write about these responses?

They can instigate thoughts that may have a deep and desirable effect on our day-to-day lives. I am not just speaking for cinephiles when I say this, take a look in the news and you’ll see all sorts of arguments over the power of visual content – movies and games in particular. I notoriously remember the case with Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy being blamed for the Virginia Tech massacre.[1] There is also the argument that movies desensitize us: “Now the act of violence with a gun or a knife is the norm and we in the entertainment industry are partly responsible in making the presence of weapons such as knives almost an acceptable commonplace”, Sir Richard Attenborough.[2] On the contrary, I believe that seeing violence and other matters in the movies can kindle us and make us more aware and susceptible to these themes. Though, you can see the argument overlapping. It befalls on the individual at the end of the day.

I clearly digress. Film can be a very personal journey, and regardless of how many movies you watch, writing about them can reflect your current demeanor and outlook on life. This outlook will inevitably change over time and that is an interesting arc to discover. Use film as a means to reflect on your current state of mind. Writing your thoughts about a character in a movie is equivalent to writing about your thoughts on the man opposite the street or the girl living next door. The medium of film is irrelevant if you reflect on the characters – humans with various obstacles, behaviors and emotions. Of course, some people may only write notes on the aesthetic/artistic aspects of a film, but by digging into the characters minds we can locate a magical reflection on our world. This is the filmmaker’s greatest task, to give a character that magical human touch. Next time you watch a film, try watching it with this task in mind, and the characters will become an extension of yourself.

This may be biased toward my love for dramas, but even movies with aliens and monsters should give off a similar aura. This then becomes dependent on how we perceive various genres of film. I am beginning to think that film is just a cycle of contradicting gestures – much like life.

But, lets not forget how important and powerful film aesthetics can be. You may discover a hidden desire for a certain look and feel that a film gives you – it could be the aura of a period drama, or more specifically, the unnerving sensation that stark lighting in film noir gives you.

Besides film analysis, the reflective experience of writing a diary can be liberating and great for your film knowledge. If you keep track of the films you watch you will be able to tell your friend when he or she asks what you want to watch: “Yes, I have seen that”, rather than “Not sure, lets try it” and then half way through you release you have seen it and know how it will end! When you write down a film noting its title, crew and cast details etc. you will not easily forget it, unless it is terrible. Though unfortunately, in many cases, it is the terrible films that are the most memorable! Much like, “why is it the negative reviews that stick?” Mark Kermode.[3]

Writing about film can also give you a better understanding of what genre or style of film you like best and why. As you begin to note differences in characters, story arcs, designs, locations, cinematography etc. it will become apparent. This post is becoming too much like a film school lesson (and I don’t like school), so let me wrap things up.

What I am trying to get at is that if you are not consciously aware of how you are being affected when you watch a film and wish to reflect and understand it a bit more, then write a diary! You will be surprised about your unique insight – everyone has one when it comes to rummaging through film criticism. For those who are already film lovers, then you probably already have a film diary, so keep filling it!