Tag Archives: film

Simple stories = compelling narrative

Phil: A couple of weeks ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon in the Electric Cinema in Birmingham watching the 1973 film Westworld.

For those not familiar with this Michael Crichton written and directed film, the story follows a couple of guys heading off on holiday to the new and amazing Delos resort in 1983. Phenomenally expensive ($1000 a day!) they promise that “”Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”.

Indeed they have. Guests stay in either MedeivalWorld, RomanWorld or WestWorld, sharing the locations with incredibly lifelike robots who that can fight, kill or shag to their heart’s content.

This being a film, things go wrong. The robots develop some sort of virus (the first time this had ever been mentioned) and malfunction. Eventually, they kill all the guests except our hero. He finds himself pursued by Yul Brynner wearing the all-black costume last seen when he appeared in the Magnificent Seven. This time, he is an unstoppable robot gunslinger and the final third of the film is taken up with a chase around the park.

Brynner hardly speaks, or runs during this, making him a proper, menacing unstoppable force. I’ve seen the film before and it’s still edge-of-the-seat stuff.

“So, why have you illustrated this with a low-res picture of a dinosaur?”, I hear you ask.

Well, this screen grab comes from one of the greatest computer games of all time – 3D Monster Maze.

Launched in 1982 for the Sinclair ZX81 computer, the premise is simple. You are in a maze along with a T-Rex. You can’t see the beast, you have to run around and find the exit. If Rex sees you, he will give chase and probably eat you.

Since the computer was very basic, there wasn’t any sound. Instead, we had subtitles. The words “Rex has seen you” appearing at the bottom of the screen sent a shiver through the player as it was time to run or be dinner.

Graphics were low resolution as you can see, but it didn’t matter. Played in silence, this was properly spooky. OK, we weren’t used to first-person points of view in games back then but this just makes things more claustrophobic.

The game is really, really simple. But utterly addictive. You know what you’ve got to do and since there are only 3 keys for movement, how you’ve got to do it. It’s just you and a dinosaur.

Which is pretty much how WestWorld works.

We can put ourselves in the position of the “prey” in this particular hunt. The predator is unstoppable (Spoiler: In theory) but we will our hero to escape. Whatever plot holes there are (how are the guests stopped from fighting, killing and shagging each other rather than the robots in  MedeivalWorld and RomanWorld?) we cast them aside and get caught up in the action.

In fact, this is such a simple and effective plot that Crichton pretty much used it again in Jurassic Park (see, dinosaurs again) and James Cameron did it in The Terminator. I’m sure readers could suggest others. So, feel free to have a go in your novel too!


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Should you give the audience what they want?

TrooperreadsPhil: Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” He decided to create the mass-market automobile instead.

The writers of the new Star Wars film must be feeling glum at the moment. Tasked with creating a new film in the largest franchise in the world for a new owner who expects a return on their massive investment.

So, they looked at the previous 6 films and tried to work out what people liked.

Then they gave it to them.

Unfortunately, in doing this they managed to produce a film that was rather too close to the 1977 original. And boy has the Internet noticed. People who wake up under a Star Wars bedspread, wearing Star Wars pyjamas and eat breakfast from a Star Wars bowl have been taking to forums to complain. I bet there was hardly any work done in any It department for a week.

To be fair, when I saw it, I did wonder quite how stupid the Evil Empire have to be to build a pretty near identical mahoosive weapon and still make it as vulnerable to attack as the previous two. How that made it through plot development is a mystery.

Trouble is, how “new” a story do you go for?

The three prequels were roundly criticised for being dull and over-complicated, so the fans don’t want too much new story.

Imagine if there was a new, simple tale but something else got left out. Perhaps the writers produce the script and skip the lightsabre action as it’s a bit of an anachronism. You’d be deafened by the sound all the fans throwing their Millennium Falcon’s out of their prams…

It’s a problem for those of use with rather smaller budgets. Genre fiction audiences demand a new spin on the same old story. In the world of chick-lit it’s girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back again. At no point must boy turn into a Yeti (that’s fantasy) or girl kill him with a vat of health drinks (Crime fiction).

We’re working on Book 2. Kate and Dave are circling each other but we have a story arc and so they aren’t going to get together properly quite yet. Maybe in a couple of books time. Or the next one maybe. You’ll have to keep reading to find out.

In the meantime, we’ll try to take you on different and interesting journeys. Unless Disney gives us 4 billion dollars and then all bets are off but there will be some cracking songs and a range of collectible action figures.

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Jurassic World

Candice: In my last blog post I talked about great summer reading.  The kind of book you can enjoy on a sun lounger and then leave in the hotel library without a care in the world because its not ‘War and Peace’ it’s just an enjoyable light read.

So that leads me nicely to the other thing we get over the summer months  – Blockbusters.  So named as they are the big film that can make or break a studio as they have to generate a big financial return.  They normally involve something child and adult friendly which doesn’t have a lot of plot.

The other week I went to see ‘Jurassic World’, a nice bit of big budget fluff.  I remember the other films when they came out 20 + years ago, I particular remember the first with some dramatic deaths – in a loo – and the stealthy velociraptors, a dinosaur I hadn’t even heard of before that film.

So we cut to a reboot as the film companies like to call it, roll in a new hunk and a new way that the dinos can cause chaos and you have a whole new franchise.  In fact the film pokes fun at itself with a theme park based around the animals where they are having to make them bigger and more dangerous to keep the crowds coming in, and a whole chase scene where the escapees are hiding in the stuffed toys and tshirts.

You know, even though I could drive a truck with a T-Rex on it through the plot, and it was obvious what would happen with the love interest, I loved every bit of it.  Two hours of complete and utter tosh that had me hiding behind my hands and chewing my nails to work out what would happen next (even though I really knew).  And that to me is perfect book and film fodder, absolute escapism that does not change the world but gives me a break from reality.

So, whats next on the cinema viewing list? Any recommendations?

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Clever book titles

Phil: I’m reading “Step back in time” by Ali McNamara at the moment. There will be a review next week once I’ve rattled off the final 80 pages (Spoiler: I’m enjoying it) , but the thing that struck me was across the top of the cover:

From the bestselling author of From Notting Hill with Love…Actually

Notting Hill?

Love Actually?

Weren’t they a couple of massive films from a few years ago?

Admittedly, I’ve not seen either but I do remember the titles.

I can’t work out if this is clever or sneaky marketing. How many people think they are buying a book written by the authors of the films? (Note: Both films were written by Richard Curtis)

More to the point, surely there is some sort of copyright thing going on?

Could we call our book “Fifty shades of the prisoner of the Davidic Code”?

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Don’t wanna go to BAFTA

baftatweetsPhil: On Sunday I returned from a busy weekend, tired but not enough to go straight to bed. I flicked on the TV hoping to find something mildly diverting that would entertain me without engaging my brain.

What I got was the BAFTAs.

I’m not a fan of awards ceremonies. They normally seem to be a large group of people who earn far too much for what they do spending an evening congratulating each other on being marvellous and allowing us serfs to look on in awe and wonder.

Too stunned to operate the remote control, I watched for a few minutes and realised something else. It looks really, really boring.

If you don’t stand a chance of winning anything then you spend the evening watching people who do. Looking at the number crowded in there, I bet the winners were less than 1% of the attendees.

At this point, I decided I didn’t want to go and sent Candice the tweet above.

It seems she does.

This might not be the problem you might expect. For a start, there are 26 awards and it’s reasonable to think that the film of The Book will sweep the lot. If the table is at the back of the room, that’s an awful lot of walking back and forth and my friend is far fitter than I am. She might need to wear trainers under the big frock of course.baftapic

The main issue is that no-one wants me there.

Look at this photo of Eddie Redmayne and his co-star in “The Theory of Everything”, Felicity Jones. As you can see, she is holding the trophy. The only problem is that it’s HIS trophy. She was a runner up and didn’t get one.

The press though, have decided that the person holding the gong should be the pretty one, even if it is rubbing her defeat in her face.

Conclusion: Because all the blokes wear dinner jackets and can’t be poured over by fashionistas who will decide if their outfit is “a disaster” (fashion journalism, your name is hyperbole) they aren’t really important and might as well go down the pub or watch the thing sat on a sofa with a bag of crisps.

Which suits me fine.

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You only write – Twice

James Bond CakePhil: At the moment, Candice and I are wrestling with at that difficult second novel. There’s new plotting and characters and locations to devise. While great fun, it’s also hard work.

On Sunday afternoon, thanks to ITV, I worked out where we are going wrong. Instead of writing a novel, we should write a James Bond film.

The film that inspired me is “The Spy Who Loved Me”. In this, a supervillan captures submarines and their crews from Russia and America in an oil tanker. His plan is to start a war between the superpowers that will leave him to launch a new world order.

Bond, dressed as Roger Moore, boards the tanker and frees the submarine crews who then attack a heavily fortified control room in their efforts to stop the war.

Sound familiar?

It does if you ever saw the film, “You Only Live Twice”. Here Bond, looking like Sean Connery, comes up against a supervillan who is capturing Russian and American spacecraft in order to start a war between the superpowers. He infiltrates the volcano lair with some Ninjas and they attack a heavily fortified control room in their efforts to stop the war.

OK you’re thinking. Similar plots but then this is a Bond film, not high art.

How about a company of supervillans stealing nuclear bombs and then holding the world to ransom with them?

As they say before the adverts on a daytime ITV show, which Bond film featured this plot?

A) Thunderball

B) Never Say Never Again

The correct answer is both.

In passing we might also mention the similarities between the room where Goldfinger reveals his plans for Fort Knox and Max Zorin’s version in “A View To A Kill” and that both see a meeting where someone who didn’t wish to take part in the plans finds themselves a bit dead a few minutes later.

All this makes me wonder if the Bond writers have plots written on Lego blocks. They simply shake the box, pull out half a dozen, clip them together and viola! A new film.

Pretty galling when you’ve spent hours wrestling with Post-It notes to devise something original for a book though.

(Please note: If you are in the market for writers for the next Bond film, you can contact us via the “About the Authors” tab above. Just saying. We’d take part of the fee in cake.)

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Don’t lose the plot Harry

Harry Hill CakePhil: Athough team nolanparker will be getting back in to the writing (and cake munching hopefully) swing soon, there isn’t anything to report at the moment so I’ll mention a film I went to see on New Years Day – The Harry Hill Movie.

The film itself is brilliantly summed up by one poster on the Rotten Tomatoes review site, “I’d rather eat my socks than watch this again.”

I think Harry Hill is great and some of the movie looks fabulous. There are a few entertaining jokes and you get to point and gape when you realise Jim Broadbent is in it. I won’t say who he plays but you don’t expect THAT. It’s just that it doesn’t really have a plot and you really wish it had.

There are lots of sketches stuck together but the basic story is Harry’s hamster (Called Abu – Abu Hamster – Geddit? I thought it was funny, but suspect it might have gone over the heads of the kids in the audience) is (mis)diagnosed as dying and is taken for a last week in Blackpool. Along the way his evil twin brothers henchmen try to kidnap Abu. As Nauseam.

If you want an idea how this pans out – remember those Christmas special episode of old sitcoms where they threw money at a normal episode, stretched it to three times the normal running time and it showed.

Jokes and set-piece scenes are great in books and film. They are the bits you remember. It’s just that they need to be part of a bigger whole. We’ve got a few crackers in our book but at least one has been edited out already as it interrupted the flow of the story. Those left bring something to the table by moving the plot along, as well as being funny. Oh, and every one is different from the others. Very, very different.

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