Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's the little things...

I got quite a lot of positive response to my post about Neil the Penguin. Many you seemed to be very interested in the writing process. While the main purpose of this blog is to discuss my mad little projects I don't mind taking a bit of time out to talk about my "day job". So I'd like to share this wee gem with any film makers out there. 

This is from the excellent book: 101 THINGS I LEARNED IN FILM SCHOOL By Neil Landau with Mathew Frederick

Turn straight to page 52


1. On-the-nose dialogue in which characters say exactly what they're thinking in lieu of subtle exposition. *

2. Excessive use of coincidence. *

3. Flashbacks that disrupt forward momentum and take the audience out of the moment. *

4. Voiceovers explaining exactly what can be seen on screen. *

5. A perfectly good protagonist or a perfectly evil antagonist. *

6. A passive protagonist who does not choose a course of action. *

7. Flat frames lacking foreground and background enrichment.

8. Too many scenes filmed from the same distance.

9. Under active actors who recite lines without seeming to inhabit the scene.

10. Uneven lighting. 

11. Poor sound quality.

12. Inattention to continuity, resulting in simple transition errors.

13. An ending that doesn't grow naturally or inevitably out of previous events. *

I see these mistakes being made over and over again by film makers. And not just those of you starting off, there are many established film makers who make these mistakes constantly. 

You'll notice that I've put little stars* next to a few. These are the mistakes that are made at the script stage. It's my job to weed these little buggers out of my work. 

Sadly more often than not other interested parties are responsible for putting them back in. These points are - I firmly believe - the difference between an average film and a truly special film. That's today's lesson. Happy writing you lot. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Flight of the Penguin

I'm a professional writer so one of the questions I get asked the most is "where do your ideas come from?" Usually I simply say: "I steal them from other people."

But the truth is I have no real idea at all.  Many years ago I remember hearing a very successful writer speak and he said he never has any ideas, he simply spends all his time preparing a runway for the ideas to land. At the time I thought he was just giving us a glib answer. However in my ten years as a paid writer I have come to believe him. I say "paid" writer not to show off or let you all know that I get paid to do this but to remind you (as I do to myself daily) that the roof over my head and food in my belly is reliant on the words I produce. 

No words - no beer and biscuits. 

Some days I panic what if I'm not good at this? What if I wake up and I can't write anymore? What if they all discover what a fraud I am? I have no idea where the ideas come from. How can I find more when I don't know where to look? However most days I just get over myself and get on with the job at hand - telling a good story and telling it well. 

Then recently I had a huge crisis of faith. I was so utterly and completely cut down by one persons comments that I was literally unable to work. In fact I hated facing the blank page. Despised it. The joy was gone. Why write when the work I produce is so under-valued by others? That all the months of effort I put in are seen to be such an utterly worthless contribution to the process of making a film? All it took was one person to cut me down so cruelly and that was it, I couldn't get up again. 

If the world doesn't want me to write I won't. And I didn't. 

But then something happened that reminded about the landing strip of ideas. 

Now bare with me here...

It started with a visit to buy hubcaps. My runabout car (not the Kingswood) is missing a hubcap on the front and the back hubcap is stuffed so I thought a new set would be in order. 

There's this place around the corner from me that has always intrigued me. It's a crazy old run-down oil-stained shop with piles and piles of hubcaps and chrome in the window. Second-hand hubcaps. Now I had and excuse to visit the shop and see what it's like inside. 

As it happens it was run by a delightful old guy in oily blue overalls with a permanently bemused expression on his face. The place was utterly deserted, there were no lights on, half an engine was lying on the floor as I entered and a car seat was blocking the "press for service" button. 

The old guy took ages to emerge from the dark hallway at the back of the shop and when he did it seemed that I had totally inconvenienced him by turning up as a paying customer. Anyway after our transaction was finished I left the shop and walked past the shop next door. 

And this little fellow caught my eye. A strange bird with a label around his neck saying "HI" MY NAME IS NEIL!

The shop was a furniture shop selling second-hand restored wooden furniture and nicknacks. I went inside and there was a bloke staining a set of drawers in the main entrance area. 

He looked at me and said, "What were you doing next door?" 

"Buying hubcaps", I replied. 

Given that was all the hub cap shop seemed to sell I would've thought the Stainer could've figured that out himself. He just nodded and went back to his drawers - I was another inconvenient paying customer it seemed. 

"What can you tell me about the bird in the window?"  

Without looking up the Stainer said:   

"I can tell you his name is Neil."

He offered me no further information. And do you know what? That was good enough for me. The little guy was a reasonable price so money changed hands and Neil rode in my passenger seat home. It wasn't until much later that night I realised that the old guy in the oil-soaked shop next door was called "Neil" as well. 

So Neil the penguin is now sitting on my bench top at home. Looking at me. I don't know what it is about him but he intrigues me. There's an idea for a story here but I'm just not sure what that story is. But what I do know is that the landing lights are on so my seatbelt is secure, my tray table is folded away and my seat is in the upright position. Prepare for landing.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hard as Bricks

This is an actual picture of a Desert Eagle pistol designed by Magnum Research in USA and manufactured by IMI in Israel. An iconic weapon. So I thought it might be fun to try and make one out of Lego. With apologies to Dan who suggested I make it out of cheese and also to Kal who isn't happy about the opportunities modern Lego offers us.  

So step one. Take a big pile of black Lego. 

Then I guess the best place to start is the handle.

That's looking good. Now maybe I should randomly move on to the main body of the weapon. 

That's the trigger. I'm using a rubber band to make it work. Oh yes did I forget to mention? This will be an operational handgun. John Malkovich used springs in his plastic gun in the movie "In The Line Of Fire" but the problem with springs is they tend to set off metal detectors so mine will be utilizing the mighty power of rubber. Anyway, moving onto next steps... 

There's the handle in the background, awaiting some attention. The firing mechanism is coming together nicely I think you'll agree. Next we need to start bringing this puppy together.

There we go. Looking more and more like a bought one. 

 And finally some sexy shots of the complete article. 

And here is is in action. 

So now. Bullets. The actual Desert Eagle fires .357, .41 and .44 Magnum cartridges. Now I suspect that they might cause my lego gun to explode in my hand so in the interests of safety I will be using .50 Action Express cartridges in my Desert Eagle.

I'll be taking it out to an isolated lake close to my home to test it tomorrow if anyone is interested in coming to have a look. However - be warned - I will have to kill you afterwards.