Friday, 25 April 2014

Anzac Day

The Gallipoli Campaign took place during World War I on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey), between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916. The British and French aimed to secure a sea route to Russia. They launched a naval campaign to force a passage through the Dardanelles. After the naval operation, an amphibious landing was undertaken on the Gallipoli peninsula, to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul). After eight months the land campaign had failed, with many casualties on both sides, and the invasion force was withdrawn to Egypt.

The Gallipoli campaign was one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war and is considered a major failure of the Allies. In Turkey, it is perceived as a defining moment in the nation's history—a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli.

The campaign marks the birth of national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand, and the date of the landing, 25 April, is known as "Anzac Day". It remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans, surpassing Remembrance Day (Armistice Day).

The film version of the event, Gallipoli, was made by Peter Weir in 1981. It stars a remarkably youthful Mel Gibson, as well as Mark Lee, Bill Kerr, and Harold Hopkins.

Here's a short documentary which should fill in a few details for you.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

'Citizen Kane'

Almost from the moment you take a serious interest in film, you start coming across references to Citizen Kane (1941). You can't avoid it. It's on every list of great films. Argue, if you will, about which is the greatest, but Citizen Kane is on your list somewhere.

All this adulation causes newbies (typically young people) to cringe when they finally get to see the actual movie. Shock! Horror! It's in B&W.

The trailer for Citizen Kane is less a sales pitch than a mystery. It shows plenty about the people behind the making of the movie but nothing from the actual film. Based solely on the trailer, you don’t know what Kane is about, short of being about a shadowy, complicated character called Kane.

Welles wasn’t just being cagey for the sake of building audience interest. He was trying to head off a fight. Though Welles publicly claimed that Kane was not about media baron William Randolph Hearst, you can hardly blame the tycoon for feeling otherwise. Hearst was a newspaper magnate with a showgirl mistress who built himself a preposterously opulent castle. Citizen Kane is about a newspaper magnate with a showgirl wife who built himself a preposterously opulent castle.

Hearst did everything he could to stop the movie’s production – and he could do quite a lot. When he failed to kill the picture by pressuring the studio, he pressured theater owners. He used his media empire to slander Welles – using the director’s complicated personal life as tabloid fodder and even implying that he was a Communist. Hearst’s campaign to discredit Welles was so successful that when the director’s name came up during the 1942 Academy Awards, it elicited boos.

If you want to get a sense of just why Citizen Kane is revered then check out this exhaustive documentary below about the film.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Book review: Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays

Lucy V. Hay is a qualified teacher, novelist, script editor, screenwriter, a blogger who helps writers, and one of the organisers of the London Screenwriters' Festival (LSF), where she currently holds the position of Director of Education. She is the associate producer of the British thriller Deviation, and author of Bauchentscheidung ("Gut Decision").
    She also wrote Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays. I've been on the verge of writing a review of that since late last year, but health issues and the release of a novel of my own crowded the schedule. Anyway, here we are. ________________________________________________________________________

Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays is a 223 page paperback, with index (thank you), arranged in three parts. 

The first settles the question of "What is a thriller?"
    I used to be quick to say I wasn't a huge fan of thrillers, but it turns out I've watched a lot more of them than I'd realised.
    Lucy breaks the thriller genre into 22 sub-genres, and explains and illustrates each with examples. That's twenty-two sub-genres.

   Then she analyses thrillers from the point-of-view of the protagonist, and comes up with eight common male protagonists in thrillers, and ten female equivalents. That's another eighteen ways to slice up the thriller pie. If you decide you want to write a thriller, you have some homework to do first.

How much conflict is enough?
Part two addresses the business of writing your thriller screenplay. Please note: this has nothing to do with outlining formulas or beat sheets or any of those aids other people have written about so ably.
   The "writing of" section covers tools which are frequently underrated by newbie writers: premise, logline and story outline. What elements will you find in the logline of a marketable screenplay? Lucy will tell you, with real life illustrations. Everyone knows that the first ten pages are vital in grabbing a reader's attention, but what are the traps to avoid? They're listed here. 
    We know that screenplays are about conflict, but how much conflict is enough? When does your protagonist move from flight to fight? How do you bring your story to a resolution?

How do you bring your story to a resolution?
Part three is all about selling your screenplay. It opens with a short pep talk, which is pure Lucy. I used part of the pep talk in this post back in February. 
    As someone who has been asked for feedback on screenplays in the past (I don't do that any more), I know that many newbie writers have no idea of how to handle it. Lucy provides five questions the writer should ask about feedback that will put a boundary in place and help them maintain their equilibrium. 
    Probably the biggest single question to ask about a screenplay, before you thrust it before the eyes of a startled world, would be, Is this screenplay ready? Most I've seen were so far from ready that a few honest comments generated despair. Good work was thrown aside, interesting projects abandoned, and writers with potential were left tottering on the edge of true failure, which is to quit writing altogether.
    Assuming the screenplay is ready, the next step is to pitch it to people with the power to get it made into a film. What are the basics of a pitch? Do you know how to handle an emergency pitch, a one-page pitch, an advanced pitch? Can you write an appealing treatment? What are the common mistakes that turn readers off a pitch?

No one has ever said after hearing a pitch, 'I wish they had talked longer.' ~Stephanie Palmer
Is this screenplay ready?

At this point you'll be dreaming of a simple sale, a large cheque and an Academy Award. Keep dreaming! Better yet, stay awake and read Lucy's observations on the myriad tracks that can open up before you as you wend your way through the undergrowth of Potential-Filmmaker Forest. Careful. There's bears in there!  
    Have you considered transmedia? How can your sample screenplay open a door into the industry? How should you respond to an offer of an option? How do you find a producer, or a director?

There's a lot to consider and Lucy lays much of it out before you. If you've sold several screenplays, you don't need this book. If you're a newbie—somebody standing on the edge, looking in—this might be the book you've been searching for. And if you're even thinking about writing a thriller, you'd be nuts not to buy and read Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays by Lucy V. Hay.


Here are a few of Lucy's more quotable lines from the book.

  • Knowing what has gone before in produced movie content is absolutely key in writing your low-budget thriller spec or your blockbuster script sample.
  • Agents and filmmakers don't care what a great writer you are; they care whether your screenplay is an easy sale.
  • There are two things everyone in the industry wants from a screenplay, regardless of genre: a great story, with great characters.
  • Hollywood mantra: Write me a low-budget picture that creates a $200m sequel.
  • It's not the execution that counts; it's the concepts that sell.
  • The uncomfortable truth is that execs, agents and filmmakers know a good idea when they hear it.
  • First impressions count in the industry. It's rare that agents and producers consider redrafts.
  • Too many writers in meetings simply look like rabbits in the headlights when asked about their premise.
  • There are so many spec scripts out there, why should people pick yours?
  • Learn to recognise feedback with an agenda attached; don't let others impose their own vision on your work.
  • Actors' skills and experience are frequently underestimated by spec screenwriters.
  • There is no 'right' way to write a one-pager (only multiple 'wrong' ways).
  • Treatments are frequently left out of screenwriters' arsenals and this is always a mistake in my opinion.
  • The more people who know you and what you do, the more likely you will hook up with someone who will be able to take your work somewhere.
  • There is always money available for the 'right' project.
  • Forget about art and think on this: your thriller screenplay is a business opportunity.
  • I see no point in writing without an 'end point' in sight, whether it's a production or a contest deadline.

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Interview with Michael Facey

Michael Facey is an Australian film producer, based in Perth. He has produced award-winning short films, which have screened at festivals around the world. His short film Kanowna was the only Australian film accepted into the Canada International Film Festival in 2011, where it also won a Special Jury Award. He is a founding member of the production company Archangel Pictures.

Michael is the great-grandson of A.B. Facey, the author of one of my favourite Australian books, A Fortunate Life, so when I met him online I took the opportunity to ask a few questions.

On the left we have A.B. Facey in 1914, and on the right we have Michael Facey a hundred years later.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in the gold mining City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, the largest outback city in Australia, some 550 km east of Perth, W.A. (or 3,000 km west of Sydney).

Where did you go to school?

I was educated in the goldfields, first at Kalgoorlie Primary School and then Eastern Goldfields Senior High School. I would later move to Perth to study at the Perth School of Art, Design and Media before studying at the W.A. Screen Academy at Edith Cowan University.

Muster of students at Kalgoorlie Primary School

When did you first take an interest in movies?

I’ve always been a major fan of movies. If I wasn’t going to the cinema, I would be at the video store. Watching films with my parents kick-started my love of cinema.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

My first paying job would have been delivering pamphlets when I was twelve years old. It bought in some pocket money, which my parents wisely set up into a bank account until I was eighteen.

You are a founding member of Archangel Films. Can you tell us a bit about the people involved with you?

Archangel Pictures was formed by myself and director Chris Richards-Scully, once we realised we both enjoyed and wanted to make the same kind of films. Archangel Pictures was born during the development of our first short Kanowna and has grown from there. We are both passionate about what we do and are searching for new projects and teams to develop and work with.

Your short film, Kanowna, reached the Top 50 in the Final Draft Big Break Contest, from over 6,600 entries worldwide. Amongst other honours, it was one of the first ever Australian films screened at the 2012 Cyprus International Film Festival. What have been the longer-term positive results of that project?

Kanowna as a short was incredibly successful for us. It took a while to gain traction, first screening in regional festivals and then it took off overseas, especially in Canada.
    The success of the short, and the rich history behind the true events it was based on, has inspired us to develop it into a feature film. There is an epic story to be told about our gold mining history. The script has been developed through ScreenWest’s feature Navigator Program and recently finished in the top 10 for its genre in the Final Draft Big Break Contest.
    Last year we were invited by the Perth Actors Collective (PAC) to have a live reading performed in front of an audience which has allowed us to hear the script and to continue developing.

You put a lot of effort into fundraising for a project called Super Fresh, but fell short of your Pozible goal. The team you compiled to make that film is quite impressive. Can you tell us about the formation of the project and where it is up to today?

Super Fresh came to us through Heather Wilson, who is a very talented writer and her career is set to take off in a very big way. I read the script when ScreenWest announced their 3:1 initiative with crowdfunding website Pozible.
    Super Fresh seemed like the perfect project for such a program. I’m a little disappointed we were unable to make that film. I still believe it had the makings of an entertaining and exciting sci-fi/action/comedy. We still have a lot of interest in the script and hopefully can bring it to life through other avenues as it is certainly a project I would love to see on the screen.

You’re the great grandson of A.B. Facey, the author of one of my favourite Australian books, A Fortunate Life. (My mother’s father had a parallel life story. I recommend that anyone interested in the traditional Australian character/mindset/value system read that book.) Did you know him at all? Have there been any consequences (positive or negative) as a result of being the relative of such a famous man?

Sadly he passed away a couple years before I was born so I never had the pleasure to meet him.
    His book has become a family bible of sorts. His attitude and mindset has been a major inspiration to my family and serves as great reference material when life doesn’t go to plan. We have a tradition where every new member of the family gets given a copy of the book, in fact my partner has only just finished reading it for the first time.
    There haven’t been any negative consequences, apart from my old high School English Teacher selecting the book to be broken down and analysed for an English Assignment. I remember her telling me that she expected nothing less than my best work because I knew the material...
    A lot of people ask me if I would ever adapt it into a film. I believe that it was done perfectly as a mini-series for Channel 9 in the late eighties. There is just too much rich material to condense into a two hour movie and it wouldn’t do the story justice.

What are three things you wish someone had told you about making a living from movies when you were starting out?

The best advice I ever got was day one of film school, where a producer was a guest lecturer. Her opening statement “ I’m a producer. I have an Academy Award, and I’m broke. If you want to be rich and famous, I suggest you quit now.”
    Making a living in this industry is incredibly tough, there is only a small amount of funding available and it is such a high risk venture for investors that can be easily scared off by the prospect of waiting 2-5 years of ever seeing a return on their investment, if any.
    But we all knew this when we started. It’s the desire to create something that gives us the energy and will to continue fighting everyday. To be able to tell stories and entertain audiences is a reward in itself.

What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

Hahaha, It’s hard to pick just ten as I have so many favourite films. I love films that entertain me. They might be scoffed at by critics, but I enjoyed the journey they took me on. So if I had to pick just ten, I would select ten films that I’ve just re-watched recently and still enjoyed the experience.

In no particular order:

The Godfather (1972)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Halloween (1978)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Aliens (1986)
Casino (1995)
Se7en (1995)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Rock (1996)

What’s next for Michael Facey?

Currently we are developing a slate of feature films which include:

  • Sunday’s Driver: an action/crime/comedy has received development financing from ScreenWest and was recently taken to the 37° South Market and pitched to distributors and sales agents. 
  • Kanowna: "Place of no sleep," which went through ScreenWest’s Feature Navigator Program.
We are also working on a couple more short films for upcoming funding rounds.

A scene from Kanowna.   Western Australian goldfields, 1902,
a lawman does the unforgivable and fathers a child to a Japanese prostitute.

For the benefit of those who have never read A Fortunate Life, here's page 1.

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Monday, 21 April 2014

Havana Mambo - “Malaniña”

Havana Mambo are a salsa/Afro-Cuban band based in Italy, formed in Havana, Cuba, in 1994 by ten Cuban musicians who had been members of the New Pérez Prado Orchestra—a so-called "ghost orchestra" that was modeled after the bands of the seminal Pérez Prado, who was among the most influential Cuban artists of the '40s, '50s, and '60s.
     Cuba was the birthplace of the many rhythms that comprise what is now known as salsa music—son, cha cha, mambo, guaguancó, and danzon, among other things. Havana Mambo realized that there was also an audience for salsa in Europe and embarked on an extensive European tour in 1996. They found audiences to be especially receptive in northern Italy and spent several months at a club called Sabor Latino.
    In 1997, Havana Mambo was asked to perform at Umbria Jazz, Italy's most famous jazz festival. The bandmembers decided to remain in Italy permanently and settled in Milan. Although the name Havana Mambo implies that they are mambo-oriented, the musicians don't play mambo exclusively and are quite capable of embracing a variety of Afro-Cuban styles.
    In 2003, Putumayo World Music included one of their songs on the compilation Salsa Around the World, which was meant to demonstrate that not all salsa or salsa-influenced bands are based in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Miami, or New York City. Here’s their song: Malaniña.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Good-Bye, New York City

Luci Westphal has packed up her apartment in Brooklyn and moved out of New York City after 15 years of calling the Big Apple "home".
My first cut of the "Best of 3 Years of NYC" was over 9 minutes long... too many great places, too many meaningful shots. Consequently, I had to chop a lot - kind of with one eye closed. I can't say that this is my best material or that these are the most significant place of NY - it's just what ended up on top while making lots of Sophie's choices. To see more of Brooklyn, Manhattan and even Queens (sorry, Staten Island and The Bronx, I never got around to film you for this series) and to make up your own mind as to what you like best, please check out all the In A Brooklyn Minute videos here:
Here's her final New York video. The song featured is the instrumental version of "Hell Came For Breakfast" by Jason Matherne, who provided most of the music in the series. Check out his Soundcloud page for lots of free music downloads:

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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Christopher Walken on Gene Kelly

Christopher Walken has appeared in over 120 movies and TV shows. Before he was an actor, he was a dancer. Here he tells us a little bit about screen legend Gene Kelly.