REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL PART 27
Things I’ve enjoyed recently – screenwriting-connected – and some things only very tenuously connected to screenwriting.
I went on two long-haul flights recently and managed to cram in 7 movies in the process.
The ones I enjoyed most were –
You may have read my newsletter about the excellent THE BIG SHORT (Feb 5th). 99 HOMES works well as a companion piece to THE BIG SHORT – it dramatises the actual effects of the reckless ‘BIG SHORT’ gambling on the housing market. It’s got a great classical structure (Robert McKee would approve) with evicted home-owner Andrew Garfield as protagonist, and Michael Shannon’s ruthless evictor as antagonist. The film shows the human cost in the collapse of the mortgage market – there are several emotionally harrowing eviction scenes. Where families have to leave their homes immediately with no warning. It’s a film with a strong political agenda, a powerful message to convey – but it’s couched within an equally powerful human story.
One of those films that seemed to disappear without trace on release – but it’s well worth catching if you get the chance. Written by Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi (and directed by Bahrani).
An old film, and one I hadn’t seen for a long time – but an absolute classic that still works beautifully. A great autobiographical script by Barry Levinson, reminiscing on his coming of age in 1950’s Baltimore. There so many wonderful scenes, little gems of character screenwriting. And a film that launched the careers of so many brilliant American actors of the ‘80’s – Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenburg, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin & Kevin Bacon.
RICKI & THE FLASH
Screenplay by Diablo Cody. A low-key character-driven film featuring Meryl Steep as an aging rocker who gets back in contact with her estranged and relatively conventional ex-husband and grown-up children. There are some lovely scenes, some great writing. A lot of thematic similarities to other Diablo Cody scripts (the excellent JUNO and YOUNG ADULT). Perhaps not quite as narratively engaging as those two scripts, the film was still really enjoyable.
GRANDMA – written and directed by Paul Weitz. MISTRESS AMERICA written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, written and directed by Leslye Headland.
These three films had similarly indie sensibilities. All three had some great, very funny moments and were very enjoyable but IMO the story didn’t quite deliver in all three.
THE VERSIONS OF US by Laura Barnett
I really enjoyed this book. It’s the story of a mutually attracted couple, about the love they share, told over three different versions of their lives, each version being subtly different, as the characters make different decisions, take different paths, at various points in their lives. I loved this structural conceit (reminiscent of films like SLIDING DOORS, the Robert Frost poem, THE ROAD NOT TAKEN). This big structural idea has such emotional resonance, and the characters and story-telling deliver on the promise of the structural approach.
In the Kindle version there is also a rather excellent article by Laura Barnett at the end of the book, ‘TEN NOVELS THAT MADE ME’, that really bring home the importance of reading around your writing, how other writers can inspire you. This brief 4 page article tells you so much about Laura Barnett as a writer – and also points you in the direction of more wonderful stories and writers (Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout and Thomas Hardy among others).
NO PLACE TO HIDE by GLENN GREENWALD.
A compelling first-hand account of Edward Snowden’s initial meetings with Glenn Greenwald and film-maker Laura Poitras in Hong Kong, and about the information Snowden gave Greenwald, the release of this information, and the wider implications about the state secretly spying on the populace. This book works on different levels – initially as a really gripping thriller, and then as a more thoughtful examination of the huge ethical, social and political implications of unsanctioned state spying via the internet, and the insidious, destructive effect and illegality of this secret state activity. The book is terrifying, important – but also very readable, a real page-turner. And Edward Snowden emerges from the book as one of the heroes of our age.
Los Angeles screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin’s weekly podcast about screenwriting and things of interest to screenwriters is a great listen, one I’ve only recently discovered, and to which I’m now rather addicted. No dog walk is now complete without a SCRIPTNOTES podcast (the dog is enjoying the 1 hour+ walks) – and there is a wonderful archive of 240 episodes. So there’s a lot of catching up to do!
Some episodes are better than others but every week brings up something inspiring and thought-provoking about screenwriting. And an added bonus is that it’s often laugh-out-loud funny. Topics covered recently that have really interested me have been – Character introductions / descriptions (they’ve inspired me to write a blog on this subject in the next few weeks); Bad notes they’ve got from execs, and why the notes are bad (essential listening for script editors!); scripts they’ve developed that haven’t been made, and what these scripts have in common; an analysis of writing rom-coms with guest Tess Morris; creating feature film pitches from newspaper stories (one very close to my heart!). And much more bedsides. Gold-dust.
(NB Perhaps you could tell me what other essential podcasts I’ve been missing?)
TONY GARNETT FACEBOOK PAGE
Producer Tony Garnett, who founded World Productions, and has been responsible for some of the most consistently excellent and challenging film and TV drama in the UK over a very long period of time, has arrived on facebook, and written a series of fascinating, politically-engaged blogs, which are well worth reading.
HAPPY VALLEY Series 2
What an absolute delight it is – writer and actors absolutely at the top of their games.
INDIE TRAINING FUND courses
I’m running a number of one day courses at the ITF in achingly trendy Hoxton over the next few months –
SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS on May 19th
STORY, IDEAS AND CHARACTER MASTERCLASS (a variation on my CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS course) on March 16th and June 21st
All details on the ITF website http://www.indietrainingfund.com/
Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to an excellent new scheme that addresses the shortage of women working in the arts. This is close to my heart because this is an issue that arises every year from the C4 Screenwriting course, and also because I am heavily involved in the excellent MA Dramatic Writing at University of the Arts London / Central St Martins.
University Women in the Arts
University Women in the Arts is a new one off scheme to mentor female students studying arts subjects at University level on making the transition to working in and leading the way in the arts.
10 female students studying the arts at University level will be selected for the scheme to be mentored over the course of a year by 14 women who are leading the way in the arts in the UK.
In addition to the mentoring scheme, public events will run over the course of 2016 – 2017 which will be open to all.
The full list of mentors is:
Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre
Amanda Foreman, historian, columnist and presenter including of the recent BBC series The Ascent of Women
Elizabeth Freestone, Artistic Director of Pentabus Theatre
Charlotte Higgins, Chief Culture Writer at The Guardian
Kate Bryan, former Director of Art16, art historian and presenter and winner of the Women of the Future Arts and Culture Award
Anne Edyvean, Head of BBC Writersroom
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre and founder of the WOW Festivals
Lucy Kerbel, founder and Director of Tonic Theatre
Pinky Lilani, founder of the Women of the Future Programme
Joanna Prior, Managing Director of Penguin General Books, President of the Publishers Association and Chair of the board of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of the English National Ballet
Kate Rowland, founder of BBC Writersroom, the BBC’s new writing department, and the former Creative Director of New Writing at the BBC, Head of BBC Radio Drama and Commissioner of Radio 3’s The Wire
Tanya Seghatchian, film producer of films including the Harry Potter series and My Summer of Love and former Head of the Film Fund at the UK Film Council
Jennifer Tuckett, Course Leader of the new MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins, founder of the UK’s first industry partnered MA in Playwriting, and Director of Writers at Work Productions, which manages London Writers Week and The Student Guide to Writing amongst other projects
The scheme is being launched to address why more female students study arts subjects at University level but less make the transition to working in and leading the way in the arts.
The deadline for applications for the mentoring part of the scheme is midnight on March 26th 2016.
More information on the scheme, a mailing list to be kept informed of the public events which are open to all and application details can be found here: www.universitywomeninthearts.com
The next newsletter will be Friday March 25th,
All the best
March 11th 2016