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30 Day Film Challenge – 6. A Movie You Wish You Had Made

I love zombie films. There’s nothing quite like a horde of shambling, moaning corpses to brighten my day. It doesn’t matter if they’re fast or slow, if they crave brains or are just generally hankering for a hunk of human flesh – give me a good zombie movie and I’m happy.

I love zombies so much that the first film I made with friends was a zombie film – you can check out the link on the My Films page. It’s not the best film we’ve made, but I love it nonetheless. It was fun to make, and ended with a punchline that I’m altogether too proud of.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I would list Shaun of the Dead as a film I would have loved to have made. The RomZomCom premise is (a slice of fried) gold, and it’s so well made. I don’t just mean it’s well shot, though it certainly is. What I especially love about it is how tightly it’s written. Every detail, every joke, every event from Act One has a comeback or a payoff later in the film. From the obvious (“Next time I see him, he’s dead.”) to the more subtle (Nick’s pub crawl plan foreshadows the rest of the events of the movie), it’s a jigsaw that fits together beautifully. Hot Fuzz does the same, and though I’ve not seen it more than once I’m certain The End of The World is just as tightly plotted. It also helps that it’s immensely quotable, making it a goldmine for those who like to communicate almost entirely in pop culture references.

Shaun of the Dead is a love letter to the genre, from the biggest nerds the film industry had to offer at the time. The referential and irreverent humour really complements the subject matter, and the buckets of gore don’t hurt its case either. You can tell it was fantastic fun to write and to film, and that’s everything that a film should be. Fun, entertaining and exciting for the filmmakers and audience alike. Between this and Spaced, there’s a wealth of lessons to be learned on filmmaking in general and comedy in particular. If you’ve somehow missed out on watching this, please rectify this immediately!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a nice cold pint and wait for all this to blow over.

Yeaaaah booooiiii.

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30 Day film Challenge – 5. A Hidden Gem

Growing up as a voracious reader, there was a time when I would read pretty much any book I could get my hands on, regardless of genre. My tastes have developed and become a bit more insular now, which is frankly quite sad, because it means I’m far less likely to pick up a random book and enjoy it these days. That’s how I came across The Road to Welville as a teenager – I read the book first, and was instantly charmed by the story and the characters. And when I finally got my hands on the film, I was not disappointed.

It’s the story of a turn-of-the-century health sanatorium run by one Dr John Harvey Kellogg, he of the breakfast cereal fame. A man of science and staunch vegetarian, he ran the health spa with one aim in mind – the promotion of what he considered to be a clean and healthy lifestyle. Away with alcohol! Down with red meat! And don’t even think about any of the other carnal pleasures, you dirty boy. No, it’s vegetables and electrical treatments and yoghurt enemas all round. He was an odd man.

Anthony Hopkins plays Dr Kellogg with a wonderful glint in his eye, having a whale of a time in the eccentric role. From his first appearance, you can tell that while Dr Kellogg is no Hannibal, it’s certainly a role to remember:

“A sausage is an indigestible balloon of decayed meat riddled with tuberculosis – eat it and die!”

Strong words.

The rest of the cast do an admirable job too, though they’re acted off the screen whenever Hopkins appears. That’s just fine, though, because such a strange character requires a larger than life performance, so it fits nicely. John Cusack is especially good as a naive young huckster hoping to start his own breakfast cereal empire riding on Kellogg’s coattails. Matthew Broderick’s character is the fish-out-of-water, the eyes of the audience, the sane man in the mad world, etc.

The plot is a bit on the thin side, as really it’s just an excuse to explore the strange setting and kooky characters – but it’s all done with a gentle charm that’s really quite endearing. It never comes across as false or twee or quirky for the sake of quirkiness. It’s a film about the cult of personality, about our need to conform and to rally around symbols and people who give us purpose, about the intersection between scientific advancement and absurd hoaxery. The Kellogg devotees are almost a cult; you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kellogg would be passing round the Kool-Aid by the end of the film (though he’d never poison his followers with anything so insidiously evil as sugar, no sir!).

It’s very difficult to get hold of on DVD for some reason – I keep checking eBay and it’s always just out of the price range I’ll normally pay for a DVD. It’s well worth keeping an eye out for and acquiring if you get the chance. You’ll never look at yoghurt the same way again.

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30 Day Film Challenge – 1. Your First Movie

Movies are magic. They bring us together in seemingly impossible numbers, especially since the invention of the internet. If I wanted to I could strike up a conversation right now with someone on the other side of the world on whether Han shot first (of course he did) or which Star Trek film is the best (it’s Galaxy Quest). Movies build communities as much as they build imagination and a desire to escape the mundane.

This month, I’m going to be writing a blog post a day on movies. Every day will be a particular topic, and I’ll highlight at least one movie that fits. Sometimes I’ll do one or two. My site, my rules. I encourage you to discuss the films (and your own personal examples) in the comments.

Without further preamble, let’s dive in.

Day 1 – Your First Movie

This was always going to be tricky. Memory is a fickle thing, and facts dance away from grasping fingertips as you struggle to remember your first this or your first that. How on earth can I remember the first ever film I watched? To put it simply, I can’t. But I can narrow it down to three.

As a very small child, I lived in Kuwait in the late 80’s. I have very few memories of that time. I remember someone selling clothes door-to-door out of a very large suitcase. I remember the blue tiled mosaic columns outside my father’s bakery (and the hours of fun I had picking the tiles off, ruining it forever). And I remember an advert for a pizza place called Pizza Italia. I’m pretty sure that they had some sort of deal on where you could get video tapes from them. Again, memories are fuzzy things. But if memory serves me well, that’s where I got what I’m sure are the first three films I ever watched. On Betamax. I’m so old.

Ah, Batman. Hero to children everywhere. Such excellent family fare from noted warm-and-fuzzy director Tim Burton. Looking at the trailer there, two things strike me. 1) That’s an awful trailer and  2) DAMN this film more violent than I remember it. If my parents had seen this trailer, there’s no way they would have let under-10-year-old me watch this. They baulked at Gremlins. Guns! Punching! Explosions! Jack Nicholson’s eyebrows! Yikes. This is still my favourite Batman film, though time hasn’t been especially kind to it. Mind you, at least it’s not Batman and Robin.

Ah, now this is more like it! The film, that is, not the trailer. The trailer’s almost as bad. The first of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, this gave me a thorough appreciation for special effects. Look at those suits! The facepieces! The Splinter puppet! This film had such a great balance of goofiness to darkness. And, if you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot a very young Sam Rockwell in one scene. The franchise went downhill fast after this. This one still gives me the warm fuzzies.

For a long time, this was the best animated film that wasn’t from Disney. Thrilling and heartwarming by turns, it’s a wonderful work of art that still stands up today. I defy anyone not to be moved by THAT scene with Littlefoot and his mother. I’ve got a lump in my throat just typing this. From the score to the beautiful animation to the joy of running around screaming ‘YEP YEP YEP YEP YEP YEP’ – this film is forever cemented in my psyche. Just don’t ask about the sequels. There are no sequels.

These are the first three films I have any memory of watching.

What are yours?

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Create 50 : The Impact

Falling Asteroids

Those of you who know me well may remember that I entered the 50 Kisses competition a couple of years ago. This was a fantastic idea – 50 scripts, 50 shorts, 1 feature film. It was also a great opportunity, a chance to get my work read and potentially noticed. I wrote Geek Love, which is now a short film trilogy that has been screened at the Derby Quad cinema.

This happened because, of course, I didn’t make it through to the final 50 in the competition. But I was longlisted, which gave me a lovely warm gooey feeling inside. I was also asked to write a blog post about my experience and what it meant to me.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that there’s a new competition – The Impact : same portmanteau format, now with an exciting scifi-tinged premise. There is a colossal asteroid heading for Earth, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. The short films that make up the feature will chronicle mankind’s final minutes before its inevitable extinction.

The aim of the competition is to shoot for substance and emotion rather than spectacle and effects, which is just as well because you only have 2 pages to tell a self-contained story about staring oblivion in the face. It’s going to be tricky, but what’s writing without a challenge?

My aim is to submit 3 scripts for consideration. The reasoning behind this is that I’d quite like to to try my hand at different styles for it. I’ve today finished the first draft of the first one, a Geek-Love-esque vignette that will hopefully bring a smile to a few faces. With the other two I’m aiming for darker territory. I’ve not quite cemented the ideas, but I’m working on it. I’ve had a couple of thoughts, but they were exactly what you’d think they would be, so they’re on the back-burner. Cliché is all very well and good, but only if you can do something interesting with it.

I’ve got a good feeling about this competition. Not necessarily an I’m-going-to-win good feeling, just a vague sense of impending accomplishment and fulfilment. And who doesn’t like accomplishment and fulfilment?

Stick around, more news on this as it comes.

Picture: Falling Asteroids by Robert Davies, CC-BY-NC 2.0

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Updates

A very quick post to let everyone know I’ve updated the site a little – I’ve added a section for my films, a section for my short stories and a section for my non-fiction.

I’ve only updated the films page so far, but I intend to use these pages as a portfolio, a way of showcasing a selection of my work. It’s by no means meant to be a comprehensive collection of everything I’ve ever done in the history of ever – it’s just a selection of works I’m proud of.

Those familiar with the short films I’ve made will be pleased to see the links and the scripts to many that I’ve already unleashed on you – but please be sure to check out The Tree, A Done Deal, Innocence and Snapshots – these are scripts I have written which have not (yet) been filmed. Let me know what you think!

Speaking of letting me know what you think – suggestions, comments, demands and thinly-veiled-threats-against-my-wellbeing-should-I-stop-writing are all gratefully accepted – let me know in the comments and all will be addressed!