Monday, 20 July 2009

You Say It Best When You Saying Nothing At All

Titling a post after a song covered by Ronan Keating isn't the best start to a blog...bare with me!

I met up with a film making friend last week, who as ever is bashing his head against a brick wall with frustration at how slow things move. He's made a big effort to try and make links with actors groups in his area, from colleges with performing arts courses to amateur dramatics groups, but doesn't seem to be getting much of a response back.

He made the joke about using Lego men or something else instead, as they won't let him down or have a busy schedule that he would have to film around, which led us on to the use of puppets.

I used a puppet in my feature film, Gettin' Some, which does sound out of place in a slice of life/ grounded in reality film. The puppet was originally made for a scene where Alex, the female lead, goes on a date with a guy called Jason, who saw himself as a real Liam Gallagher geezer. Throughout the date Alex would imagine Jason literally as a muppet, spouting his geezer speak.

The character of Jason was set to reappear later in the film in a few scenes, where it's revealed he's a friend of the second group of friends the film follows. But the actor who played Jason let us down - he failed to turn up for a big shoot and when I spoke to him he didn't seem too concerned about leaving us in the shit. It was the equivalent of getting a don'tgiveafuck shrug down a telephone line...oddly in keeping with the character he played.

We thought of some ideas, I even considered doing the role then reshooting his footage from the date, before we struck on the brilliant idea of recasting the actor with the muppet - we already had the date footage, nothing else had yet been shot that involved the character and we could easily redub the muppet dialogue, removing the actor who let us down from the entire production.

The muppet was a hit during the shoot - everyone thought it was hilarious and the actors brilliantly played it completely straight. I find this odd stroke of misfortune, or luck (depending on your perspective) one of the best aspects of the final film.

Which led me on to telling my friend about a film I saw at Movie Bar, before I took over the running of the night. The Mathematician is a film by Nathan Gregg and, as far as I remember, seemed to follow a scholar who is struggling with a math's problem and his life goes off the rails.

I thought it was amazing. And its online here:

The first half of the film was told entirely with cuddly toys and puppets and as a result, I thought it was much more emotive. It would have taken a really good acting performance to create the same kind of empathy and pathos towards the lead character, but having a cuddly toy, who you're more likely to find "cute", in a way creates a shortcut to empathy...the "arrrrrr" factor.

Funnily enough, comparing the first half (with the cuddly toy) to the second half (with the human actor) it feels the 2nd half isn't as successful to me. I think we suddenly bring our own baggage to the table. Do I like the look of the actor? Does he look irritating? Do I believe his pain and struggle? Does he look like he needs a slap in the face? Compare this to using the cuddly toy, close up of its face, bit of sad music - hey presto, I'm on the cuddly toy's side!

Remembering this film ties in nicely with my first viewing of Daft Punk's Electroma, which I finally got to see this weekend. Several friends had raved about it and I'd finally got around to picking up a copy of it this week - the dvd package is very swish, though I wished I hadn't looked at the pictures in the book before viewing the film.

I'm a big Daft Punk fan, though as their music isn't featured in the film, you don't need to be.

There isn't much to the film in terms of storyline, but the way I interpreted it was of two robots who don't want to be just robots and be like the mass majority - they find a way to make themselves stand out, which horrifically backfires and then finally lose their desire to continue existing.

I can understand criticisms of the film being boring, of long pieces where nothing much happens. The opening, where the robots drive through the desert seems to go on for a very long time - nothing much happens until they overtake a tractor, driven by a robot, which reveals we're in a world of robots. There's also the walk in the desert, and a particularly long tracking shot behind the two robots walking and walking and walking...and walking some more and walking some more...

In a way the film reminded me of some kind of 60s/70s art film - yep, it could be called indulgent, but it seems to revel in its indulgence, that this is the film they wanted to make and tough luck if you don't like it. Or perhaps the Daft Punk guys are goading the audience, seeing if they will sit through the more tedious parts of the film. I don't know why, but I kept thinking of Zabriskie Point - maybe it was the desert locale and there's also a repeated explosion in Electroma, though not the scale of Zabriskie Point's stunning finale.

But it could also be seen as a celebration of films that maybe the film making duo love - the opening in the desert, in their swish black Ferrarri, brings to mind the desert and car of Mad Max and its sequel. The look of the robots, decked in sharp leathers, recalls the robot police men from THX 1138. When the robots reach the white picket fence picture perfect postcard American town, it feels as if we're in something like the town in The Wild One, or Blue Velvet's mocking small town America. The robots have human faces crafted on to them at a clinic which is bathed in blinding white light which reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, from the machinery to the white dining room where the aging Dave Bowman is dining at the end. Then maybe we're in to Walkabout territory, with the hike in the desert.

I could be wrong, but I might have spotted a reference to Street Trash in there, of all the things to wink towards...

Strangely, another film it recalls to me is Easy Rider - perhaps its the travelogue element to the film, and two friends going on a journey which we assume from the outset isn't going to end happily. As the robots face a kind of "rascist smalltown backlash" against their look, as do the bikers in Easy Rider, perhaps this isn't so ridiculous as it sounds.

With no dialogue in the film, only music and many passages of nothing really happening, you do find yourself projecting more on to the characters on the screen. There's two sequences in particular which I thought were really powerful - the first is after the robots face grafting has gone horrifically wrong - their faces have melted in the harsh sunlight of the desert and, pursued by a mob of the townsfolk, have taken refuge in a toilet. One of the robots, seemingly furious, tears off his face and clothes and cleans himself up, returning to his Daft Punk robot look. His partner, however, is much more reluctant to give up their human identity dream - he stares at his face in the mirror, the top of his head covered with a wig, his forehead covered with the still melting latex skin and his chrome head framed on either side by a pair of latex ears. Its an equally laughable but pitiful sight, but one which I found deeply moving. And he just continues to stare and stare and stare at himself, at the dream which has gone sour.

Later, after hiking in the desert for what seems an age (both to the robots and the audience) the same robot halts. His companion, eventually noticing that he's alone, goes back to him. There's no dialogue spoken, nor body language such as hand gestures to express what they discussing, if anything. But in that series of reversal shots between the two, you get the impression of a heated debate, of a friend who cannot go on anymore and perhaps doesn't want to go on, of asking a friend to do the unthinkable. I thought it was a remarkable sequence to say we're staring at nothing apart from two metal faces which do not move or express anything.

Perhaps its a film which could have been edited down to half its running time, but nevertheless I think Electroma is an amazing achievement - its has an incredible aesthetic, the film looks gorgeous and I think its one of the most moving pieces of cinema I've ever seen, despite no word of dialogue being spoken or shown on screen.

I'm going to be suggesting my friend views Electroma and The Mathematician - perhaps it may offer some inspiration away from his troubles with finding actors.

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Delays

"Forever Delayed" was always one of my favourite lines from a Manic Street Preachers' song. Strangely, the way it was sang at the end of "Roses In The Hospital" seemed almost celebratory, when really the words alone seem almost melancholic, carrying an air of perpetual disappointment...that the elusive thing you're waiting for is just never going to happen.


Well, the filming of Stranded has been delayed again. I made a decision on the replacement of the actress for Gwyneth, which was a positive step and I'm excited about working with the actress, but then the availability of crew means the earliest we can now film is September. That will then be two years since I cast the original cast for the film when I was hoping to shoot the film in October 2007. Damn, that seems pretty crushing.

I can only cross my fingers and hope that no one gets offered any paid work in the interim, resulting in the first weekend of September being cancelled. Normally the weather is pretty reliable in September, but I can't really take it for granted.

So I was maybe thinking I could hopefully get things moving on Goodnight, Halloween in the interim...but Ryan is having trouble with the footage he's been supplied with, meaning the digital blood effects have been delayed...realistically, my hope of having even a rough cut of the film to show at Son Of Movie Bar at my Halloween special is unlikely to happen, which I am really gutted by.

Endless delays where it feels like I can't get anything moving, much that I'm desperate to. Writing of The Reprise has been sticky too, mostly down to being so tired by the time it gets to late at night. I blame the summer heat, hayfever and early sunrises - I always seem to sleep badly in the summer.