Thursday, 21 August 2014

Book review: "The Cheeky Monkey"

Tim Ferguson is a comedian, writer and producer. He has written and produced sitcoms, live stage comedy shows and light entertainment programmes, and is Australia's foremost teacher of screen comedy. He toured the world performing stand-up and musical comedy as a member of the Doug Anthony Allstars (DAAS). Tim is the author of The Cheeky Monkey and Carry a Big Stick.
     In this post we're only concerned with The Cheeky Monkey. I got my copy from Booktopia, after kept me hanging around waiting for six months. When I discovered that several pages were blank and others printed out of alignment, I rang Booktopia and a nice young man sent me a replacement copy; no fuss, no bother. 

There are a number of things to take into account when assessing something like a comedy instruction textbook. One of them is language. In her autobiography, Bossypants, Tina Fey gets the difficult stuff out of the way upfront. She offers a number of possible reasons why people might hate her, including the fact that she uses:
... all kinds of elitist words like "impervious" and "torpor."
That's on page 5. In contrast, Tim waits until page 74 to work in a solitary torpor. To be fair, he was talking about the TV show The Office at the time and Ricky Gervais can have that affect on people.
    So, only one torpor and no impervious; that can be construed as a mark in its favour. (I'm currently reading What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting by Marc Norman—that's the guy who wrote Shakespeare in Love—and I'm batting away words like zaftig and hegira and crepuscular, so I'm a bit sensitive.)

The title of the book, The Cheeky Monkey, is a clever Australian choice, drawing as it does on long usage of the phrase to describe someone who is disrespectful, but in a cunning way. The weakness of the title is that it gives no clear indication that this book is almost entirely a description of how one goes about creating your very own TV sitcom.
    There are seven chapters; two deal with writing jokes and five deal with designing, creating and selling a sitcom.
    I've read a few comedy instruction books in my time. This one shocked me. Truthfully. If, like myself, you knew Tim Ferguson from a few brief appearances on television, you could be forgiven for thinking he was another Australian smartarse, with a big mouth, rapid delivery, and a capacity for holding a tune. It was the depth of his erudition that shocked me. Sure, he could only manage one torpor, but his grasp of comedy history around the world, on the one hand, and his tight, systematic delineation of the principles and categories of humour, on the other, surprised me. 

    Then I remembered that he was already teaching a course on comedy writing at RMIT University when he succumbed to demands that he write a textbook on the subject. He also teaches short courses at RMIT, UTS, VCA, AFTRS and in conjunction with a variety of screenwriting bodies. The dude might sound like a smartarse, but he's seriously bright and absolutely dedicated to what he does.

Who should read this book?

    Anybody working as a writer. Not just bespoke comedy writers. Every writer. If for no other reason than the application of the principles outlined will help you punch up your dialogue.

Tim says in his Introduction:

The aim is to offer comedy writers some broad principles and practical methods for devising and assessing their work.

The central purpose is to aid screenwriters in developing (a) sitcom.
And, yes, the book is riddled with jokes-by-way-of-example, the secret reason most of us have for reading comedy instruction books; a bit like reading Playboy for the photos articles.

The Cheeky Monkey: highly recommended.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"Damn Right I'm a Cowboy"

Please, watch this short video.

Now read this:

Damn Right I'm a Cowboy is an Australian feature-length documentary about local music. It was a foot-stomping riot at the Adelaide Film Festival. Made with no grants or funding, it received 'facilitity support' (but again, no money) from the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), and screened three times to great reviews. 

Now it's been invited to be part of the Down Under Berlin Film Festival in September this year! Down Under Berlin, held annually at Moviemento, the oldest cinema in Germany, is the largest showcase of Australian films in Europe.

The bad news? The ABC paid music copyright for their screenings only, so some tracks in Damn Right I'm a Cowboy need clearance before anyone else can see the film. That costs anywhere from $200 to $2000 per track used.

For details, some clips, and a list of rewards for donating go to:

Can you help send this bundle of joy to Berlin? Thanks for reading. May the horse be with you!

Now here's a couple of tracks from the show.

How to Talk Australians, Ep.1

The Delhi College of Linguistics presents How to Talk Australians, an introduction to the Australian vernacular, with particular emphasis on their penchant for expletives and derogatory put-downs.

Here's episode one, "G'day Knackers."

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Monday, 18 August 2014

Made Underground - London

US band, the X Ambassadors, is searching for buskers. London was their first stop, a city that has made some incredible contributions to the global music catalogue.

Jamie N. Commons, a London native and former busker himself, guides Sam Harris through popular performance areas in the city, but also off the beaten path. They visit a houseboat on the canal, and a beach in the middle of town. They stumble across a Chapman Stick player, an unconventional ‘hand pan’ instrument, and some unexpected bluegrass vibes.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Do schools kill creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The 'Aussie List'

Simonne Overend
Australians in Film (AIF) is a Los Angeles based non-profit organization made up largely of Australians who work in the film and television industry. The board of directors features top journalists, publicists, managers and industry executives. AIF 'Ambassadors' include Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson.

AIF has appointed a new President, Simonne Overend, and one of her first points of business has been to launch the Gateway LA script development program.

The program will support the development of commercially successful, Australian-created television and movie screenplays.
Ms Overend said recently in LA:
This new program will help Australian projects secure exposure to the best networks in the business, and our goal is to discover screenplays with strong global appeal. I look forward to steering the program and supporting the wealth of talent we are currently seeing emerge from Australia, and to working with the Australians in Film network as a whole.
Simonne Overend has been based in Los Angeles for the past several years where she works as Vice President of Scripted Development for Essential Media, creating a slate for the U.S. market

She will co-chair the program with Peter Lawson, Executive Vice President of Production and Acquisitions at Open Road Films. In his previous roles, Lawson served as President of Production at Thunder Road, and Executive Vice President of Acquisitions and Co-Productions at The Weinstein Company.

The Gateway LA prize will see between one and three winners announced per year. They will be selected from an ‘Aussie List’ of up to 10 film and television scripts, circulated to a group of judges selected from the AiF network.

Winning projects receive a cash award to facilitate development of the script, a flight to LA, targeted meetings with producers and executives, and table reads.

Modeled on The Black List and the UK’s Brit List, the script development program will promote Australian writers to both Australian and international producers, development executives and talent in Los Angeles.  

Applications are now open and will close on September 12.