Tag Archives: film

Don’t forgot the support

Candice: I was pondering the other day about those people who do all the work in the background to keep us entertained.

I’d spent a very long day mainly sitting in a room having random conversations with people I didn’t know and wouldn’t see again.  No, I wasn’t waiting for a job interview but waiting to do some work as a supporting artist or extra.

I meet the most interesting people when I do my extra work.  One of the last jobs I did I worked with a Bollywood star, a property magnet, a judge in training.  Plus those who do background acting as a full-time job.

Being an extra doesn’t pay well, the hours are long and you often get treated like stupid sheep – herded from place to place and told when you can eat and go to the loo.  But it also gives all of us a buzz being on set, hanging out with semi-famous and famous people and then getting to watch yourself on TV or the big screen. I’ve always said that there is no other job where I would get up at 5am, sit around for hours, be treated like I am thick, and get home for 9pm for peanuts in cash.

But these are the people who keep our favourite shows going and make them believable.  There are a whole host of people who do TV work, or write for the love, not the money or fame.  And we if didn’t have all those people then the world of entertainment and escapism really wouldn’t work.

Phil and I definitely fall into this bag, as we haven’t certainly become millionaires from our writing but we’ve had fun along the way.  And the same is true of my TV work.  But I can say to my daughter, look that’s Mummy on TV. She still doesn’t really understand it at the moment the connection between the two, (though we did watch a ‘making of’ programme the other day for a TV show she likes and then she watched the actual show and was talking about how the doors weren’t real). And that’s something, plus my books that I can always have to say – that’s mine, I did that and I’m proud of that.

So lets not forgot all the unsung background people, pretending to drink and chat behind the main shot making it real and never being acknowledged or the thousands of writers out there creating something that a small number of people get enjoyment from.

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The future is NOW!

Phil: Looking for a photo album a couple of days ago, the book Sci-fi Now fell off the shelf. As soon as it hit me (literally) I remembered how much I enjoyed reading it many years ago.

Published in 1978, the pages are basically a list of films, loosely clumped together in genres and commented on by critic Alan Frank. At the time, the big news was the first Star Wars film, which he reckons to be a masterpiece.  I can’t disagree, but even I felt at the time it was given a disproportionate amount of space in the pages, probably just to sell copies.

What I also found were details of dozens of other films that I’d never heard of. In the pre-VHS, at least in our house, land, there was little or no chance of me seeing these obscure and dated films. I could dream though, that and scan the TV listings in case any ever turned up. Remember, these were only 3 channels in the UK back then, so the chances were slim but sometimes I got lucky. The arrival of the slightly arty Channel 4 helped, but the chances are anything would be on so late that I couldn’t watch and get up for school the next day.

Re-reading some of the reviews, I was reminded of the curse of science fiction films – real life catching up with the film-makers imagination. Punching keys to work a computer? Why, when we can just ask Alexa (or Siri or whatever the thing on my phone is called) now.

Worse, how futuristic and distant the year of 2018 must have seemed back in 1978 when the makers of Rollerball chose to set their dystopian world in it.

The future is great, until it starts to look dated.

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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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