2014’s Favourite Things

We often hear about the decline in cinema, the cultural decline, how everything is eternally somehow worse than before. I’m sure even I’ve been responsible for some of that on occasion. And so, I present you with this list of some of the my favourite things in 2014:

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Forget what anyone says, I think it was a bumper year for movies and there were loads that I saw that I really liked. An early highlight at the beginning of the year was Under The Skin which, while not to everyone’s taste, I really enjoyed. I loved the minimalistic feel of it, a narrative sparsity that never overburdened what was happening on screen. I also got to see the wonderful Laputa – Castle in the Sky at the BFI, which was a wonderful experience. Laputa is my favourite Miyazaki movie, so it was wonderful to see it on the big screen. It was also the year of Tom Hardy; as well as a scenery chewing performance in Peaky Blinders, I loved Tom Hardy in Locke and The Drop. The former, again, was wonderfully sparse; just Tom Hardy, in a car, talking himself and others through the repercussions of his decision. I thought it was wonderfully executed. The Drop didn’t make much of an impact, a lot of people hadn’t even heard of it, which surprised me. But it was a really nice slow burn of a movie and Tom Hardy is excellent again. One film I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did was Gone Girl. I’d never read the book, nor heard much about it before seeing it, so it was great to be taken through the films twists and turns. And finally, it would be churlish not to mention Guardians of the Galaxy. Silly, flawed, slightly ridiculous? Sure. But in my view the best of film of the Marvel Universe so far; joyous fun that doesn’t diminish on rewatching and as close to a musical as we’ll likely ever see in big budget superhero blockbusters.

Icon-TV-150 I had a good run reviewing Peaky Blinders this year, but lets face it: 2014 was all about True Detective. The combination of Nic Pizzolatto’s script, Cary Fukunaga’s directing, Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography and Matthew McConaughey’s acting made this must-watch TV. Utterly compelling in its visuals and narrative, I know I’m not alone in being incredibly excited for what season 2 has to offer. A new cast, a new location, a new crime and overall feel, we’re all hoping the creative team can pull another piece of genius out of the bag.

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It would be impossible not to mention London Screenwriters’ Festival 2014, which involved meeting, and re-meeting so many wonderful people. The people, fellow creatives all, was more important than even the tentative nibbles from production companies for Underworld Calling or the excellent feedback from the Actor’s Table Read. These people continue to be friends, critics, supporters and cheerleaders, in a community I’m proud to be part of.

Creative Goals of 2015

I wrote a list of creative goals for 2014 last year, and I didn’t do too badly on them overall. I might not have watched as many films from the list as I wanted, nor read as many screenplays as I should have, but nobody can say I didn’t finish what I started. In so many ways I’m in a very different place to this time last year, and a wealth of possibilities lie before me; I’d be a fool not to take full advantage of them. Not, at this point, to fully transition to a full-time writing life, that may come later. But 2015 will be the year where I put things into place to allow that to happen in a controlled manner. So, with that in mind, I’ll cease this wittering and put out my stall:

  • Writing: May as well start with the most important one. By LSF 2015 I want to have written one TV pilot and series bible, one feature film and a couple of shorts.
  • Tank filling: There are still so many films I need to see, and scripts I need to read. I’m going to treat myself to a BFI membership and aim to take full advantage of it.
  • Film making: I have a filmmaking task outstanding from last year which I intend to complete in the next weeks, but more importantly in spring I intend to produce and direct my own short film. I already have the script and some interested people lined up; it’s all a little daunting but I intend to just throw myself into it and learn all I can. To help with it I’m taking a filmmaking course with the Met Film School in March.
  • Commercial: To earn money for one piece of creative output, whatever it needs to be; whether writing, filming or photography, at least one thing this year will be a paid piece of work.

2014 was a tumultuous year, meaning 2015 is very much a tabula rasa; an opportunity to decide on the priorities in my life. It’s not my dayjob and it’s not where I live; what matters to me, what’s important, is living a creative life and be true to only myself. I won’t be wasting my time between now and the end of January, there’s plenty of writing and watching and reading and planning to do before then, but in many ways my birthday celebration will be like a reboot, a rebirth-day. Surround myself with good people and begin my life anew.

So, motto for 2015?

Create and Live.

Christmas Presents for Writers 2014

It’s that time of year again: You have a writer in your life (and this could very well be yourself) and you need to buy them a Christmas present. Stat. Or it might also be their birthday soon and you’re stuck as to what to buy them. Have no fear, we’ve got you covered.

Stationery

Let’s not beat about the bush, writers of all kinds are utter addicts for stationery.  Now, you could go with the traditional Moleskine, but I’ll tell you what, you can’t go wrong with a pack of index cards and some Sharpies.

Sustenance

Writers are terrible at looking after themselves, yet they need regular fueling if they are to continue their good work. They’ll need some snacks of course, but when we say sustenance, we really mean caffeine. Tea drinkers will always need a better mug, but coffee drinkers? What they need is a coffee subscription and, take my word for it, an Aeropress. Best coffee maker I ever tried.

Books

There are about a million books for writers of every ilk, so I’ll restrict myself to three: Rocliffe Notes : A Professional Approach to Being a WriterThe 21st-Century Screenplay and Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer. All three are excellent, and all in very different ways. And let’s face it, they’ve probably already got all the others…

Media

Movies, music, books, movies… (yes I know), writers are continually seeking to fill their creative tanks. You could go with a voucher for either Amazon or iTunes, but they will (possibly) love you forever if you gift them a BFI membership. Similar to that, for a slightly different cinematic experience, the excellent Prince Charles Cinema also does memberships.

Software

A tricky category, but a lot of writers use inferior, free software for their scrivenings. You could either a) beat it out of them or b) buy them Scrivener (perfect for writers of prose and screenwriters wanting an excellent outlining tool) and/or Fade In, which is excellent screenwriting software.

Gadgets

There are millions of gadgets out there that purport to aid the ailing scribe. But really, unless they don’t own a laptop yet, you’d be better off getting them a backup drive to save their most excellent work from disaster! And, for when they need to concentrate in that ever-so-hip coffee shop? Some decent headphones wouldn’t go amiss.

Other

Feedback is always good, but if you don’t feel up to the job, Script Angel do gift certificates. Finally, you can’t buy it online, sadly, but you know what writers need, even crave? Some time and encouragement. If you have a writer in your life, this Christmas make sure that amidst the commercial fury of the season, they get some undisturbed time to write. And when they’re done? Ask them about it and look interested in their response! Cheap to you, manna from the heavens for the writer!

Best of Digital – Netflix Movies

Icon-Movie-150Carrying on the series from last week’s Best of Digital – Netflix TV Shows, I’d like to highlight a few perhaps hidden gems of Netflix’s movie offerings.

Capote – Writer Truman Capote finds himself in a dance with the devil while researching the Clutter family murders for his masterwork, “In Cold Blood.” It won Philip Seymour Hoffman the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award in 2006.

Fargo  – When a car dealer conspires with dim-bulb criminals to kidnap his wife for a hefty ransom, a folksy — and pregnant — police chief is on the case. It won 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1997.

Stand By Me – When four boys seek adventure in the woods while looking for a missing teenager’s dead body, they learn some truths about themselves along the way.

Vanilla Sky – A man who has everything — money, good looks and a gorgeous woman — seemingly loses it all when his face is horribly disfigured in a car accident.

Fish Tank – The life of a hot-tempered teen outcast takes an unexpected turn when her mother brings home a handsome and mysterious boyfriend.

The Raid – Trapped in a tenement building during a raid, a SWAT team must fight its way out against the forces of a drug lord they were trying to assassinate.

Battle Royale – The Japanese government introduces a system whereby randomly chosen schoolchildren are taken to an island and forced to fight each other to the death.

Carrie – An outcast teen with telekinetic ability lashes out with her deadly power when the high school “in crowd” torments her with a sick joke at the prom.

The Square – As the Egyptian Revolution unfolds, this 2014 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature immerses the viewer in the intense emotional drama of young people on the streets of Cairo claiming their rights and creating a society of conscience. As two governments topple, the personal stories of the freedom fighters unfold in an inspiring tribute to the power of citizenship.

Best of Digital – Netflix TV Shows

Icon-TV-150Digital streaming entertainment has come a long way in the last years, but what it sometimes struggles with is some form of curation. So, I’ll be working my way through the various digital TV and movie options, one at a time, and highlighting a few things.

This week, we start with Netflix’s TV offerings:

Justified – U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens takes the law into his own hands, frontier-style, as he faces off against crooks in the Appalachian town where he grew up.

The Returned – On returning home and finding they’re believed to be dead, a collection of near-strangers from the same village try to find a reason for their plight.Person of Interest

House of Cards – Kevin Spacey stars as ruthless, cunning Congressman Francis Underwood, who will stop at nothing to conquer the halls of power in Washington D.C. His secret weapon: his gorgeous, ambitious, and equally conniving wife

Orange is the New Black – Piper Chapman’s wild past comes back to haunt her, resulting in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. To pay her debt to society, Piper trades her comfortable New York life for an orange prison jumpsuit and finds unexpected conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric group of inmates.

Black Mirror – This sci-fi anthology series in the vein of “The Twilight Zone” reflects on the darker side of technology and human nature.

The Bridge – When a body is found on the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, a Danish inspector and a Swedish detective must work together to find the killer.

American Horror Story – Exploring humankind’s unsettling capacity for evil, this darkly twisted drama plays upon the power of supernatural fears and everyday horrors.

The Thick of It – This award-winning fictitious reality comedy cleverly pokes fun at the intricacies — and ineptitude — of the modern British government.