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October 29, 2008

It's been a while… here's why

It's been a while - but hasn't it always...

Life became surprisingly busy of late and, barring panic attacks when I realise I have to hand in a dissertation form in two days time, I couldn't be happier. I think of myself as a bit like one of those wobbly donkey things that you can occasionally buy from a souvenir shop. As long as the wires running through them are tense they stand upright - but press the base in and down they flop.

I'm working on a film script with the marvelous Jon Plant - he directed and edited Anhedonia, a 30-minute comic film that screened at last year's WSAF. The most interesting part of the process is that we have almost entirely divided it down the middle. Jon writes descriptions of mise-en-scene, camera motion, character appearance, camera shots and so on - I write the dialogue. It works remarkably well; I'm getting quite good at characterising people with their choices in conversation, and he has an incredible visual imagination which he is very good at expressing on the page.

It's interesting to me that despite being young, already mine and Jon's skills have begun to diverge. I think it can only be a matter of practise - I've spent much more time working on scripts (two months on Crowskin, on and off for almost a year with An Evening Without Dignity, and now almost a year of intensive work on another project which for the moment I will decline from naming.

I'm at a stage where I have to make a lot of choices which could have a serious impact on my professional writing career (assuming I'm good and lucky enough to have one). One of them is this - do I want to continue to develop my skills as a script writer, or do I want to try and broaden my abilities? For my personal writing project I have decided to try and pursue an extended piece of prose. At the moment I'm not ready to let my skills solidify into just one area of writing. But looming over my future is the old phrase "a jack of all trades is a master of none." I have rarely found any one activity sufficiently diverting that I can devote my entire time to it. As a result, I'm sure that I've achieved competence in most things I've turned my hand to - but I've never gone beyond that.

So. Do I take the plunge and launch myself with both hands at one form of writing? Or do I try and broaden my skills base as far as I can?

No right answer of course. And besides, even if I'm working on screen- and stage-plays and short stories at the moment, there are plenty of other art forms I can hope to try out. Perhaps my es muss sein will arrive when I'm polishing off the dialogue for a Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Game...

May 11, 2008

Big Monsters = yay

It's been a little while since I watched Cloverfield - how long ago was it in the cinemas? eh - but better late than never with my two cents.

So - giant monster, check. Minor gribblies, check. Love story? Inevitably. Armed forces? Oh yes. Tanks batted away like toy cars? Yep. It's all in there. How would we know it was a monster flick if it wasn't?

But something keeps creeping in around the edges. There's the well considered, funny, (slightly over-long) intro-sequence setting up the characters' motivations in detail before the raucous business of mass-death kicks off. The handicam footage which, although contrived, works, the most sensible way to convey the everyman protagonists' point of view.  And the everyman protagonists! Sure the army trounce back and forth and (we assume) the scientists work hard, but the characters are 

That substance seeping in around the edges is called innovation. Not true innovation, not that grade-A stuff you have to treck to the edges of intelligibility to find (The Girl With the X-Ray Eyes, loudly touted in the arts centre press, accompanied by a curious but enjoyable theramin rendition and an excellent essay reading on the origins of the X-ray dream, was drek, dull, uninspired drek, which neither challenged the subject of the documentary nor engaged the audience. The accompaniment by live theramin - presumably a nice exampe of the existence of imperceptible forces and metaphor for the possibility of x-ray vision was enjoyable in and of itself but pointless as an addendum to the film - but I digress). But that kind of slow, lumbering movement as an ancient genre behemoth starts to shed the barnacles. I suppose all it really is is good writing - but in a film so decidedly commercial, that feels innovatory.

Of course, whoever had the radical idea to make the film intelligent (not by a thousand miles intellectual) was shouted down midway through production. At one point, standing in a tunnel, the characters ask "what's that sound?". Now not only does the audience know that the large monster has been shedding little monsters, little monsters that can crawl through tunnels, but so too do the characters. Perhaps they are congenitally stupid? Perhaps their Manhattan champaign and coke lifestyles have rotted their main cortexes?

Whatever the answer the dullards have significant difficulty adding two and two, and certainly don't reach fucking four - instead they turn the camera onto night-vision, see the monsters, and finally, finally decide to run. Perhaps this piece of laboured long-winded direction is supposed to create tension? I don't know. Anyone in the audience who didn't see the surprise coming must have been too busy messing with the genitals of the person in the seat next to them.

It annoys me. The movie wavers violently between treating the audience like grown-ups (grown-ups who like to see fuck-off monsters), and suiting them up in padded clothing and sending them off to special school. It could be worse. But if someone had shot whichever producer decided that people with brains can't watch monsters, it would have been great.

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