Great podcasts for screenwriters…

I love me a podcast. On my daily commute, any long(ish) drive or walk, or when I’m doing the ironing or washing up, I’ll plug in and absorb news and information like Neo in the Matrix. Well, I like to think that’s how my mind works, though the reality is I need the same ideas reinforced again and again and again, and podcasts are a great way of doing that.

Many of the podcasts I listen to are writing- or film-related, and I thought I would share them with you now (and yes, I did something similar a couple of years ago, but these are updated and I have a handful of new additions)…

You can get all of these on iTunes or whatever podcast software you use for free, but it’s well worth having a look at their related blogs and Twitter feeds too.

Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin:

 

@johnaugust

@clmazin

There’s never been a better time to get on board with this one, as the latest episode is a Spring Break clip show, essentially a greatest hits. Click here to listen.

What sets these guys apart from the Syd Fields and Robert McKees of this world, is they’re actually working as writers in the film industry, so they can talk with authority about how the industry works today. They cover everything from writing techniques, to agents, managers, lawyers, the WGA, writing software (don’t get Craig started on the vagaries of Final Draft!), and even typefaces and fonts (John August also develops apps). It’s been running for quite a few years now, and the most recent 20 episodes are free, and the backlist is only available via the premium feed, or you could buy a USB stick with all the episodes. It’s worth it: this is cheaper than any seminar or writers’ retreat and far more useful.

Scriptwriting in the UK with Danny Stack and Tim Clague:

@scriptwritingUK

Danny has one of the best UK scriptwriting blogs out there, and, in this monthly podcast, he and Tim Clague cover all aspects of writing for the screen: film, TV and games. And, most astonishingly, they actually went and made their own children’s film, WHO KILLED NELSON NUTMEG? which premiered at the London Film Festival. An incredible achievement, and an experience that has informed their podcast ever since.

This is invaluable for insights into the UK film and TV industry, and they’ve interviewed the likes of Tony Jordan, Chris ChibnallAndrew Ellard, and yours truly (if I sound like I’m at the bottom of a well, it’s because it was recorded via Skype in a glass room!)

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith:

@yogoldsmith

Jeff gets an amazing roster of writers talking at great length about how they started, their careers and their latest film. This is American too, but he gets loads of British writers on the show. These are often recorded after a screening, and the audience get to ask questions.

He previously presented the Creative Screenwriting podcast, which no longer seems to be on iTunes, but I’m sure you can find it if you go digging online. They were terrific, essentially the same format, but presented in association with the magazine Creative Screenwriting.

Filmsack:

Not a podcast about writing, but these guys love popcorn movies. They watch them on Netflix (which can skew what kinds of movies are available) then get together over Skype to dissect them. They’re really good at pointing out tropes and plot holes, which is invaluable for a writer. The earlier episodes on films like Superman and Wrath of Khan are outstanding.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review:

@wittertainment

Probably the best film show on radio. It goes through phases of being overly self-referential, but Kermode is passionate and really knows his stuff, and Mayo keeps him in line, and it’s a weekly lesson in how intelligent, informed audiences will react to movies.  Hello to Jason Isaacs.

Empire:

I bloody love Empire, and this podcast is huge fun, but it’s the spoiler specials that are particularly good for writers as the gang will often dissect the story in minute detail. The epic Chris McQuarrie Mission Impossible spoiler special (nearly three hours long!) is an incredibly frank look at how a blockbuster gets made. Gold:

 

 

The BAFTA Screenwriters’ Lecture Series:

More of an annual event than a regular podcast, these are live lectures recorded for podcasts, and so there are references to clips that the listener doesn’t get to see, but there are some very experienced and wise minds dispensing advice here and you’d be a fool to miss out!

Film Nuts

Filmmaker Mustapha Kseibati shares his colossal passion for film in this series of interviews with UK writers and directors. And it’s the only place where you’ll here me get excited about the Dad’s Army film. Mus’ is a busy man, so there aren’t as many of these as I’d like, but each one has nuggets of wisdom.

The Allusionist

Okay, so not a podcast about writing, but if you’re a writer you’ll love words and Helen Zaltzman’s podcast is a delight. You’ll come away from each episode with another insight into what makes word work, and that can only make you a better writer.

 

And that’s it! Do please let me know if there are any I’ve missed. I’m not sure I can squeeze any more into my week, but I’m always up for something new.

“Ullo my lover..” – Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and how an imperfect film can mean so much.

Robin... mate... your pants are fire...
Robin… mate… your pants are fire…

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves is on TV, and I’m getting all misty-eyed.

Here’s the trailer and, yes, voice-over man really does start by saying “It was a time of waaaaar…”

This is a much maligned movie: the myriad, wandering accents, the glaring historical inaccuracies, the poor grasp of British geography, Costner’s mullet, the dodgy attempted-marital-rape-done-for-laughs scene, and last but by no means least, that bloody song… As anyone who was alive with any degree of hearing will tell you, you couldn’t turn on the radio that summer without Mr. Adams’ gravelly tones imploring that everything he was doing was indeed solely for your benefit. Still, it does have a lovely middle-8 guitar solo.

But, for all its faults, I bloody love this film and it’s my favourite Robin Hood movie by far (ahead of the sprightly Errol Flynn classic and the slightly more mournful Robin and Marian). Yes, Alan Rickman steals everything but the scenery, but this is the film where the woman who would later deign to marry me first flirted with me at the cinema. It later became our film and we will still greet one another with “Ullo, my lover.”

Also, I was working in a hi-fi/CD shop in Dorking at the time, and our rep for BMG records was called Steve Densham. I learned that his brother was Pen Densham who was the screenwriter of this beloved movie. This was the first time I had known someone who knew someone that had written an actual film. And not just any film, but the biggest film of that year. My one regret is that I never asked for some writing advice, but I was 17, unsure of myself and these things only ever occur to me some twelve hours after they might have been useful. (Top writing tip for younger writers: don’t be shy and always take the opportunity to ask for advice from more experienced writers – they can only tell you to sod off).

And watching again on TV just now (the horrible extended director’s cut with unnecessary backstory for Rickman’s Sheriff) I got all the feels all over again.

The emotional impact of a film often has less to do with the content, and more to do with when you saw it and who you saw it with. This is why seeing a movie in the cinema is so important. Sitting in the dark with your friends and family, surrounded by strangers, and sharing that experience is one of only a few communal experiences we still have in the modern world. And when it works, even with a less-than-perfect film, the event gets wrapped up in memories and emotions that resurface like old friends when you watch the movie again.

I had a meeting recently with a development exec at a very big animation studio (ooh, get me!). He told me that their most successful films transported the audience to worlds. Not just to other planets, but any place where the audience can escape to time and time again. That’s not to say that all films should be pure escapism, but they seem to be the ones we like to watch on repeat.

So, historical accuracy and gritty reboots be damned. Give me Kevin “This is English currige” Costner every time. All together now… “Look into my eyes…”

 

PS. Oh, and if anyone has a cut of the film where they keep in Christian Slater’s “Fuck me!” line, then do please get in touch.

Why bother going to the cinema?

I took my mum to the cinema to see PHILOMENA last night…

The last time we saw a film together was in 1978 when she took me to see STAR WARS for the second time. I remember chatting to an old lady on the bus on the way there and telling her how excited I was, and she tried to look sympathetic but told me she didn’t understand any of that spaceman stuff.

That wasn’t mum’s last ever visit to the flicks – not long after she saw ABBA: THE MOVIE and had a great time – but she stayed away after that. It was around this time that my dad, one of those people who has to have the latest gadget*, bought a VHS recorder. Why go to the movies when you can watch them at home? A man used to come door-to-door on our Hornsey estate with a typed, mimeographed list of films available to rent. Our first ever VHS rental was SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and I would scan the list for more, intrigued to know what kind of movie LEMON POPSICLE could be (there were no illustrations whatsoever to give us any hints or clues). I begged dad to let us rent FLASH GORDON, only for him to point out that the film listed was actually FLESH GORDON and not entirely suitable for children (he, uh, saves the Earth from Emperor Wang’s incredible sex ray, according to the trailer)…

Things got better, of course. To the point where I have HD TV, a Blu-Ray player, 5.1 digital surround sound, Sky Movies, and Apple TV with Netflix streaming and a few hundred DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. If the robot occupation ever did become a reality, I’d be well set for the rest of my life.

But I still go to the movies. In fact, I reckon I’ve already seen more films in the cinema this year than any other. So why, when you take into consideration getting a babysitter, paying for parking and over ten quid for a ticket, do I still go to the cinema?

In short, the memories.

For example…

Seeing all the STAR WARS movies

Going to the West End for the first time with dad to see THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN. I don’t remember much about the film, but remember the bright lights of the stores and restaurants in Chinatown making a big impression.

Going on a school trip to see SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS after we did it as a school play (I was Grumpy… typecast from the start).

Watching GHOST BUSTERS on a ferry to Ireland in a storm. The ship listing heavily from side to side added considerably to the feeling of horror and unease.

Watching THE GOONIES while on a soccer exchange in California. I was horribly homesick, but this had me hooting with laughter.

Swinging on lampposts and singing the Raiders’ theme after seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.

Bluffing my way into TOTAL RECALL with my best mate Tim (our first 18 movie – we were only 17… yes, shocking, I know).

Deciding to see GOODFELLAS with my A-level drama class after going to the West End to see a play, only to discover that it had closed the previous week (a great bit of planning on the part of our drama teacher). In the row in front of us were a pair of little old ladies who must have just come from the wrestling as they revelled in the film’s visceral violence while sucking on bonbons.

Bumping into Claire at a screening of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. We weren’t seeing each other at the time, but it’s since become “our film”… aww, stop puking at the back.

My first free preview of a movie was CASINO, hosted by Transworld, the publishers of the book. Free food and drink and a private cinema?! Nice. I could get used to this.

Taking Claire to see RESERVOIR DOGS and knowing that she was the girl for me.

Taking my young nephew to see the 1997 re-release of STAR WARS (he fell asleep).

Watching SKYFALL with the kids – their first cinema Bond movie – and seeing their little faces light up at the big screen mayhem.

And many more that I won’t bore you with now, but these are all about sharing an experience that you can’t get when sitting in your own living room. I always feel a tension when a film begins. Partly it’s “will that twat who was chatting all through the trailers continue to do so through the film?”, but it’s more to do with what kind of emotional rollercoaster is this story going to take me and my companions on today?

Going with mum last night was a shared experience. Having a drink and a chat before the film, I learned stuff about her that I never knew before. Watching the film we laughed and cried together, and I suppressed a giggle when she called the nuns “Bitches” just a little too loudly near the end.

And that’s why I go to the movies.

*An expensive habit that I’ve inherited from him big time.

Taking massive liberties with history

Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie ZERO DARK THIRTY (with a screenplay by Mark Boal) has come in for criticism for its depiction of the events leading up to the death of Osama Bin Laden.

It’s been called pro-torture by some and an exposure of the futility of torture by others, and it’s merely the latest in a very long line of historical movies (albeit very recent history in this case) to be criticised for its handling of the truth. Christopher Hitchens called THE KING’S SPEECH a ‘gross falsification of history,’ and Antony Beevor was quick to point out the flaws in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and you don’t need to be Antonia Fraser to find fault with BRAVEHEART, GLADIATOR and BEN HUR.

And even when you do try and present something historical with attention to detail, you might despair to discover that a large chunk of your audience weren’t even aware it was based on fact. Like all those kids who were astonished to discover that the Titanic was a real ship.

But isn’t this all missing the point? Does anyone really go to the movies for factual truth? Is it even the job of the movies to give us facts? Emotional truths, most definitely, and if you want facts then try reading a book. But then, as Greg Proops has said on a number of occasions, most of human history has been written by icky white men who rape their maids (I couldn’t find a link with the exact quote, but he says it enough on his podcast, so check it out), so even the written truth from esteemed historians should be approached with caution. Even the best of them are writing with an agenda or bias.

Maybe the way to go is to follow the example of Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and start taking massive liberties with history? It added hugely to my enjoyment of the film when (SPOILER ALERT) Hitler was shot to pieces near the end. If the guardians of the facts aren’t happy with how film depicts history then maybe we should abandon all pretense and go all out? Have Napoleon riding a dinosaur into the battle of Agincourt! Why not? Well, I guess the process has already begun with ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, and may God have mercy on our souls for that.

On one script that I’m working on at the moment, my co-writer and I are having enormous fun placing one very prominent historical figure precisely where he shouldn’t be and then putting him through hell. I know it will probably enrage Antony Beevor, but we’re not writing the script for him, we’re writing it for you because you’re smart and you know the difference between the truth and the facts.

PS. A quick update: I was delighted to get a reply to this post from Antony Beevor himself! Only he did it over on my ‘About’ page…

 

Cosmopolis

Went to see this the other night: seven people walked out during the screening and, as the credits rolled, a guy just along the row from us leaned over to his girlfriend and pleaded ‘Sorry’ loud enough for the whole cinema to hear (and got the biggest laugh of the evening).

This film seems to be polarizing people, and I’m definitely in the ‘didn’t like’ camp. Pattinson was fine, as were Juliet Binoche and Paul Giamatti, but it was alienating and obtuse and not as clever as it thought it was. And maybe that was the point, but I’d love to have seen Pinter* or Mamet have a stab at the dialogue in these vignettes; it could’ve been poetic and enthralling, but instead it felt like a series of drama school monologues.

And I know this isn’t your typical narrative-driven cinema, and I won’t usually be this negative, I’m generally a half-pint-full, well-they-didn’t-set-out-to-make-such-a-terrible-movie kind of bloke, but this one had me fidgeting like a six-year-old.

This is the latest in a series of movies I’ve seen where a director in his dotage is indulged by a studio and the results have been disappointing: Scott with PROMETHEUS, Malick with TREE OF LIFE and now this. Fair play, they’ve earned the right I guess but I’ll definitely think twice before parting with my Odeon points again.

*Yeah, I know he’s dead…