Wednesday, 19 April 2017

REVIEW: Twenty First Century Horror Films by Douglas Keesey

If you love reading Sight & Sound magazine (and I do), I think you’ll enjoy this exhaustive trawl through the famous, the cult, the controversial, the remakes and even the spoofs of the last two decades and occasionally of the twentieth century. You may not always agree with the analysis (I certainly didn’t) but that’s the great thing about horror or indeed films of any genre – they are subject to multiple readings and critiques.

Interestingly, what the book did for me was polarise exactly what it is I love about horror. I love the creepy and the jump scare (Sinister, the Babadook, It Follows). I’m not likely to see Martyrs or The Human Centipede any time soon, though I did love Neon Demon. On the strength of the analysis in this book I will certainly see Green Inferno. I also like horror films that say something about politics so it’s Purge 2 all the way for me! Horror is at its strongest when it’s the return of the repressed, so in that vein (arf) I’m keen to go see The Love Witch Which seems like it's harking back to an era of just that: fear of female sexuality. Surely that will be included in future editions? I was surprised not to see any of the hugely successful Blade films featured (surely ripe for a revival?) but then I imagine that with such a wealth of material to choose from, it was hard for Keesey to whittle them down.

Buy this for the horror fanatics in your life, it’s practically guaranteed to keep heated debate alive. Perfect also for anyone engaged in more formal film studies. And, like the best horror films, I found once I started reading that I couldn’t look away.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Taster for ‘The Other Twin’ by Lucy V. Hay

I’ve never read one of these taster booklets before but what a good idea they are! Let me declare an interest here: I went with Lucy during the Brighton leg of her research period for the book. A great time was had as we drank in the local pubs – well, I drank; Lucy made copious notes.

There’s an art to these tasters, clearly. Chapters must be excerpted in such a way as to set up curiosity in the reader. Job done here, I must say. I particularly like the sense that bad things can happen in ‘good’ (rich) families; the shadiness of some aspects of social media culture; and the eloquently allusive online messages from India to Jenny that hint not just at the transcendence of love but at the transcendence of death and possible rebirth.

Protagonist Poppy’s own journey also intrigues; she’s indomitable in her drive to discover what happened to her sister but has issues of her own to resolve along the way. She may not even be likable but she certainly comes across as compelling in this extract. The prose is spare, incisive and written with urgency as though the reader must find out the missing pieces of Poppy’s jigsaw, what happened before India’s awful fate, and who exactly Jenny is before it’s too late. The book is released later in the year, you can pre-order it here.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review of Running a Creative Company in the Digital Age by Lucy Baxter

This book could not have come at a more fortuitous time for this reviewer. If you’re thinking of starting or restructuring a creative company in the digital age this is the book for you. Extensively researched and compiled with view to Brexit and how that will affect the digital media companies now thriving in the UK, it acts a s a timely reminder that creatives cannot afford to be left behind in a rapidly changing landscape.

All that you need to know is addressed here: from establishing your company, legal documentation, the dreaded tax, managerial structures… All delivered in succinct chapters that tells it how it is. It doesn’t pull any punches but it also delivers the information in a humorous friendly way. True, you could research what you need from the web, but sometimes you need one book to act as a useful reference top take the headache out of the whole process. This is it. Put it with your dictionary. Lucy Baxter has extensive experience in production and you can put your faith in her insights. I particularly enjoyed the case studies from those in the industry who share their own experiences with generosity.

Hopefully, Lucy Baxter (who clearly loves her subject) will be updating this book every year, or at the very least maintaining a blog on changes that occur. I think it's not enough to have the good ideas, you must also have the savvy to put them out there in a world that is flooded with content and subject to rapid digital evolution. Recommended.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

REVIEW: Jaws in Space - Powerful Pitching for Film and TV Screenwriters by Charles Harris

Darling ones,

Kamera have done it again with this practical guide to the dread subject of PITCHING, written by Charles Harris. If you have the good fortune to know Charles through the London Screenwriters' Festival or Euroscript, then you will be familiar with his no-nonsense approach. The great thing about Charles' advice is that it's all actionable. You will also glean a lot from his own experience in the film world. This reviewer was amazed at Charles' indefatigable nature - best to develop it yourself, you're going to need it. Yet, and I think this a salient point, Charles makes the whole process of pitching seem so enjoyable. If nothing else, even if you don't get your work of genius made, you'll meet loads of like-minded people and go to places you never dreamed of.

If you've read anything else in this excellent imprint on screenwriting, you'll know that they're written by people passionate about writing and film, who are working in the industry NOW. Refreshingly free of any 'guru' style pomposity, Jaws in Space tells it like it is, with handy tips at the end of every chapter. But of course, it's not just about tips and advice on the pitch itself, it's all about RELATIONSHIPS in the film world. The allies you nurture will stand you in good stead - the creative act is one of collaboration. As Charles himself says in the intro: 'Pitching will not only help sell your ideas but develop them in the first place. it helps you clarify character and refine plot. it makes it easier to collaborate with others. Every good writer, director and producer I know is excellent at pitching.'

The exercises interspersed throughout this very accessible book will give you insights into every part of the process, from the 'art' of the pitch to when things go wrong (and they will) and beyond. Above all, Charles wants you to succeed at pitching your film, be it mainstream, documentary, short or arthouse, for film or TV. The visual media industry is a monster, they're always looking for good writing that will sell.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Review of An Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film: A Director’s Perspective

Whether you’re already established as a creative in the film world or contemplating a course of study or vocational training, then this book by Alex Cox will give you great insights into the filmmaking process, from idea to production to cinema.
The bonus with this book is that Cox recommends various films and clips for you to watch interspersed through the text, together with his thoughts on the process, drawn from his own career and experience. This is, of course, the perfect film book for the internet age, as there’s never been better availability of the content he signposts. He also provides interesting further reading lists should you wish to explore specific areas more deeply.
That said, this is a highly personal and eclectic journey through film history and the influences and figures in filmmaking that Cox thinks are worth further investigation. Therefore the reader must bear in mind that hardly any female filmmakers are represented here, though this reviewer was pleased to see mention of Marleen Gorris and her marvellous film A Question Of Silence, (certainly a groundbreaking film in terms of gaze for this reviewer). I hardly think this is intentional on Cox’s part – like I say, this is a highly personal account and Cox notes that countries with repressive attitudes towards women often don’t make great art. Not that Cox’s observations are superfluous on the greats like Hitchcock or Kubrick, who, whatever you may feel about their work can only be admitted as iconic filmmakers.
The most interesting section for me was on world cinema with the Latin American canon coming under the spotlight. I do love a film book that teaches me something new. I’ll certainly be checking out some of the Latin American films he suggests, specifically El Angel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel), cited by Cox as a brilliant use of resources, as the characters are all trapped in one room.
In a way this book serves as a primer for our own reflections on how we are influenced historically and culturally as creatives. It would be interesting to consider, say, ten films that have influenced our own process, but perhaps that’s for another blog post. I think Kamera Books have hit a rich seam here and I look forward to other filmmakers’ perspectives on their craft.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

REVIEW: Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

Darling ones,

I've been a long-time fan of Highsmith's Ripley books. So when Lucy Hay spotted Those Who Walk Away in a Tiverton charity shop, I couldn't resist.

I've always loved Highsmith's forensic way with her prose. She gets right into the heads of her flawed characters, but, bizarrely, eschews judgment in favour of examination of their motives. That was true of Ripley and it's true of her protagonists in this book. Ray Garrett's young wife Peggy kills herself. Her father Ed Coleman holds his son-in-law very much to blame. The two men seem bound by mutual loathing as they hunt or avoid each other through the streets and canals of Venice, inevitably drawing the people around them into the drama.

Each man throws himself upon the mercy of strangers in the story, as much to escape themselves as each other, yet each man must interrogate himself as to his involvement in Peggy's sad end. Had they failed her in some way? Ed by his lack of involvement in her life, or Ray, by failing to meet his wife's needs. Venice is the perfect backdrop for the story, coming to represent the labyrinthine twists and evasions in Ray and Ed's minds, as well as the ideal place to hide from your enemy in its claustrophobic streets and waterways. These men are deeply flawed but there are no easy classifications of villain and hero here. It's not difficult to identify with their desire to leave lives that have gone so hideously wrong in the wake of a shocking act of self-destruction.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Not enough hours in the day...

Darling ones,

I am happily involved in several projects at the moment:

Reading and editing for the Twisted 50 project. Got a horror story for the next book? Time to get re-writing!

Writing, proofing, editing and frankly, eating and drinking, for new listings magazine SEEN.

Plotting a low-budget horror script with our very own Lucy V Hay.

The Forgotten Women anthology (in which I have a tale) is published this July 1st. If you lke dystopian sci-fi, then this may be for you.

If there's one difference between what I'm doing now compared to this time last year, it's that I am working in COLLABORATION with others. I must say I enjoy it more than I did when trying to get my own projects off the ground. Which is not to say that I DON'T like being alone. I do. I've always been good with my own company; you have to be if you write.

1. Talk to other writers. If you like the same films or books then it's odds on that you can write together.
2. Always be willing to slaughter your darlings if it favours the story.
3. Play to your strengths within the partnership. They'll complement each other.
4. Always give/receive feedback in a constructive manner.
5. Be open to the experience. You'll learn loads.