Thursday, December 24, 2009

3D vs 2D cinema

I haven't come to a conclusion on 3D vs 2D, but following a trip to see Avatar 3D, I do have some thoughts:

1) Wasn't cinema 3D already? I never sat there looking at the screen aware that I was seeing something one dimension short of reality.

2) I hate having to wear the glasses over my own glasses. Perhaps a real myopic 3D lover would get a prescription set made up.

3) Cinema images tell us what to look at by putting some things into focus and some things out of focus. While watching this in 3D, I found my eye jumping around to things at different depths and being confused that they were out of focus. Perhaps I need to learn how to watch a 3D movie.

4) As Rhys Davies pointed out to me yesterday, 2D cinema has depth behind the screen. 3D cinema has depth in front of the screen. These are quite different from each other.

5)Whilst awareness of the glasses does take me out of the film from time to time, there is something intensely immersive about the 3D experience. I suspect I was pulled deeper into the 'reality' of the world I was seeing in Avatar because of it.

6) It is a long time since I have felt a lurch of vertigo at the cinema. But I most certainly did with the 3D of Avatar. That was a really good experience. The weightless scene at the beginning was also particularly effective.

7) There were moments in Avatar where the 3D was breathtakingly beautiful. Particularly the floating, luminous seeds in the forest.

8) I can't help feeling that 3D is being pushed by the studios as a means of fighting back against piracy rather than it being motivated by a desire to expand the scope of the art form. But perhaps it can expand the art form anyway. I am undecided.

9) Silent movies were extended by the introduction of sound. Black and white was extended by the introduction of colour. But it seems to me that in each case it took time for artists to understand how to use the new capacity. Why should it be different in this case?

10) Perhaps when we start getting low budget, indi-produced 3D movies, we will start to see people being brave enough with this new dimension to discover its true capacities.

I'm undecided and with a lot to learn. Your thoughts and comments would be particularly welcome on this.

UPDATE - new article on 2D vs 3D cinema here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar Review

I hated the Avatar trailer, which projected a corny plot and unbelievable, blue CGI creatures. I might not have gone to see the film at all if James Cameron hadn't been the director. But he was. So I did. I mean, the man created Aliens and Terminator 2 - both formative movie experiences for me. So I had to go.

That's the problem with trailers. There is no time to get immersed in the world of the film. Image and story are reduced to a few seconds. And these days the most likely place to see those images will be a small rectangle on the screen of your laptop.

But in a finely crafted film - as Avatar most certainly is - the film makers have the time and the tools. It is a testament to their skill that watching the movie itself, the strangeness of the imagery never burst the bubble of my belief. Even the flying mountains.

In Avatar James Cameron takes the European genocide of native American peoples and re-writes it, placing it on an alien planet and thus giving himself the space to re-cast the ending. The humans (European-American colonists) want the planet because of its mineral content. The indigenous blue tinted humanoids (native Americans) just want to live in harmony with the ecosystem.

But the humans have a trick that is going to get them into native culture and discover its weaknesses. A human mind can be made to temporarily inhabit a lab-grown alien body. And thus our paralysed hero gets to walk again - as a tall, blue skinned native. And of course, there is love interest along the way. Who was it who called this film 'Smurfahontas'?

Cameron cleverly uses imagery evocative of the destruction of the World Trade Centre to help us feel the obscenity of the destruction of native peoples. (I'm not saying there is any kind of moral equivalence between the two. But that is the power of metaphor - taking feelings that were attached to one event and juxtaposing them with another, without ever having to define logical equations of meaning.)

The film is not carried on the strength of the sci-fi story. The major act climaxes were obvious some 45 minutes before they arrived. This is Hollywood. We know where we're heading. The film is carried by its imagery, movement, immersion and, yes, emotion. It caught me up. I was enthralled. And, unexpectedly, I found myself weeping with emotional release at one particular moment near the end.

It is not, in my opinion, as perfect a film as Aliens or Terminator 2. But is is excellent none-the-less. Don't wait for it to come out on DVD. This is one for the big screen. As for 3D or 2D - perhaps that can wait for another blog posting.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Writing and Improvisation

Aren't all writers improvisers, really? I mean, we sit at our writing desk or our computer or whatever, and we don't have the whole thing mapped out already finished in our heads. There may be an overall plan, but the detail has to be foggy.

Then we write. And the words spill out on the page.

Yesterday I was standing in a large, disused commercial kitchen, pretending to be a boom operator. Rhys Davies, the real life director, was playing the part of the camera man. In front of us were three actors - two playing the parts of actors who had turned up for an audition at this unlikely location and the third playing the part of a director with no budget who was interviewing them.

(Sorry about the confusion - actors playing actors etc. Unfortunately there is going to be much of this as the story of the new movie project is revealed. More of that later.)

The experience was fascinating. Some of the material the actors came out with, I could have written down there and then as polished dialogue. Other parts needed editing, so to speak. To be honest, some moments were so funny that I had to bite down on my lip to stop myself laughing out loud and spoiling the moment. And yes, funny was waht we were aiming for.

Today I am sitting at the laptop, experimenting with scenes for the same movie project. I'm typing dialogue that those same actors might potentially end up saying. The process seems very similar to what we went through yesterday. The lines come to my head and I type them without thinking. OK - I can go back and edit later, but the process feels as if it has that same spontaneity. I'm being the characters, just as the actors were.

The process of writing has a tension between these two tendencies - spontaneity and self-awareness. The creative genius and the critical editor. Both have to co-exist in the mind of the writer. Getting the balance right - that is the trick. As for the actor - is there room for the critic in her/his mind? At least I have the luxury of separating the process of creation from the process of editing.

I suspect that if I understood more of the actor's craft, I would find more parallels.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Whirlwind of writing and organising

Some people had suggested that I might have been biting off more than I could chew to be writing TWO screenplays at the same time. However I felt happy enough with that situation, as they were completely different from each other. Thus there was no muddling up of the two plots in my mind.

What they are going to say when I let slip that I am now working on THREE films, I am unsure.

Last week I sat down with Rhys Davies to work on the Memorabilia screenplay and before we started, I shared a couple of movie ideas - things I had been kicking about in my head for a years or so. When I mentioned one of them, his eyes lit up.

We talked more. He threw in some concepts. I came up with new concepts in return. And I know this is going to sound flaky - but we dropped everything and are now rushing towards a fixed date in mid-January for the beginning of the shoot.

For various reasons, I can't tell you the date. Not yet. The date would give the game away.

The start date is implicit in the film idea - as is a funding model and the beginning of a publicity campaign. When an idea like this comes along, you have to make a choice. Let it pass and trust that another will come along at some stage, or go for it. And that, it seems, is what we are doing.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The state of the publishing industry

Last Thursday Leicester Writers' Club was host to a talk by Elizabeth Cochrane, a rights manager from literary agency Greene and Heaton. The talk was kindly sponsored by Creative Leicestershire.

That's the background.

The substance is that Elizabeth's excellent talk sketched a depressing picture of the publishing industry. Not a new story. If you have followed this blog you will be aware of similar pictures being painted by various speakers on the subject over the last few years. The best sellers are selling better. The rest are selling worse. Publishers and agents are on the hunt for those few who will make it to the stratosphere. The death of the mid-list.

Sales managers were in the past getting to be as powerful as the commissioning editors. Now it seems that they are more powerful. Most books did not make much money before. It seems that they are now making a loss.

That is a somewhat bleak summary of the talk. There was much useful detail, hints and insights.

Here are my thoughts on the matter.

This bleak picture of publishing correctly describes the state of the mainstream industry. The major publishers. The authors represented by agents. As this section of the industry narrows down, new channels are opening for good writers working outside the mainstream. New small publishers have sprung up in the regions over the last few years and well-conceived self-publishing ventures are getting the respect they deserve.

We live in a time of rapid change. The number of different book retailers is shrinking. Leicester's independent book shops have withered to nothing and now even the Borders bookshop is closing. At the same time, the technology of printing is making it progressively easier for individual writers to bypass the system altogether by publishing their own work. If I was starting out now and could identify who my readers were and where they gathered, I would seriously consider doing it myself - writing, editing, printing and selling.

It might not be comfortable to have to think about how one would persuade a person to hand over money for a copy of your book. It might seem to be a prostitution of a noble art form. But for me it gets to the reality of the process we are engaged in.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Memorabilia screenwriting

I’m stealing a few minutes in the middle of a Memorabilia scriptwriting session. Rhys Davies and I are sitting in an upstairs office in The Art Organization on Humberstone Gate, Leicester. Outside the window, rain is spattering against the glass. We’re both sitting as close as we can to the heater without our coats catching fire, because it is cold in here!

The process we’re going through is different to the collaborative writing I have done before. This time we are taking a well-worked treatment and transferring it to screenplay format. That might sound like a mechanical process. Merely reformatting. The reality is quite different. We are finding that the process of unpacking the treatment to form the screenplay leads us to make many discoveries.

Some scenes do not work in the form that we initially conceived. Characters do not want to do what we imagined they would. Transitions between scenes turn out to be visually jarring. Or maybe the flow of emotions doesn’t work.

All these discoveries are the direct implication of what was in the treatment. But it is only at the point were it is written out in full that cause and effect is revealed and the discoveries are made.

In answer to these newly revealed problems come new ideas. If one character is changed from benign to scheming – what will it do to the dynamic of the story? And from these fresh ideas come the real joy of the process.

The treatment we had was good. The screenplay is in my estimation much stronger.
Today we will reach the point where we have the first act scripted in rough. On Friday I hope to spend some time on my own editing dialogue and making the prose of the scene descriptions smoother.