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.

What to expect from Pitchfest 2014

Some might argue that the most valuable part of the London Screenwriters’ Festival for journeyman screenwriters is the Pitchfest. Some writers even book a ticket for LSF just for the networking and access to Pitchfest, to pitch their projects and hopefully move their career forward.

So, how does it all work? First of all, have something you want to pitch! Now, this can be something that isn’t yet finished; this can get you very useful feedback in terms of how and what to pitch, and what to focus on in future. However, thinking positively, you really want polished work to hand so that if you’re asked for it you can smile and send them something you have some confidence in.

The next step is to look at the list of execs, producers, directors and agents at PitchFest. You’ll want to be quite focused in who you pitch to. Some pitchees will have restrictions in budget, medium or genre, so make sure you choose carefully. Pick several. Then, when the PitchFest schedule comes out, find out which slot(s) have the greatest concentration of your ideal pitchees.

Then, the big day; no, not PitchFest itself, but the opening of the booking system. This year that’s on October 18th at midday. Favoured slots will book up fast, so it’s a bit like trying to book Glastonbury tickets, except your entire career may depend on it. Okay, kidding. Maybe. A bit.

Then, the day itself. If you’ve never pitched before, queuing for the doors to open for your slot will be terrifying. You’ll panic that you can’t remember your loglines, pitch or name, that you’ve forgotten your business cards and one-pagers. You’ll fret and worry and panic. Then the doors open. As you all file in, you will see a large hall with a clock at the end and along the left and right walls, the execs, agents, producers and directors. Unless you were at the front of the queue at the door, there’ll already be a queue forming in front of some the pitchees in the room. So, you have to decide: Do you queue there too? You should, if they’re on your must-see list. But if not, consider one of the quieter tables, if the fit is good. That can also work as a great warm-up, to get you used to the idea of pitching, before facing the lion.

This was my revelation last year: Far from being monsters, sent to chew up you and your work and spit them both out with disgust, these are professionals who love what they do. And they want to love what you have, they want to meet you and like you and like your work. This epiphany made the rest of pitching much less stressful to me.

So, you have five minutes, and five minutes only with each person. After that you have to move on and go and pitch to someone else. You have five minutes to convince them that you and/or your work are perfect for them. If they’re not interested, they will often give excellent feedback as to why. And if they are interested, they’ll either ask for your card and/or one-pager, or give you their card for you contact them after the festival.

And that’s it. Keep doing it until you get the success you want and learn from each pitch you perform. And bear in mind that often Sunday slots are empty and you might get a chance to slide into a second session if you’re very lucky. And finally: If they suggest you get in touch with them to talk about your project? Do actually do that!!

So, good luck pitchers. May the odds be ever in your favour.

Creative Goals of 2014

Icon-Writing-150There’s quite a few things I want to achieve creatively in 2014, but all of them really point to two things: The Whedonian Principle of filling your tanks, and the somewhat pithy goal I gave the London Writers’ Circle: Finish what you fucking start. But, to break that down to something akin a plan of action:

  • London Screenwriters Festival 2014: Attending, obviously, but also meet more people, pitch more often, do some business.
  • Watch one film from my list of Top 50 movies every week.
  • Finish not only the first draft, but also the second draft of Underworld Calling.
  • Attend the theatre or cinema at least once a month and write reviews of what I see.
  • Rework the series outline for Maestro.
  • Read more screenplays.
  • Write a short script that could be performed theatrically for no more than three actors in a single location, or shot cheaply as a short film.

Top Ten List of Things 2013

It’s the end of the year and everyone is doing best of year lists; books, films, music, footwear, memes, you name it, it’s on a list somewhere. So, I’ve decided to do one of my own, a list of the top 10 favourite things of 2013. (It was either this or a top 10 list of top 10 lists)

  1. Gravity in the Imax – I’ll start, not just with a movie, but with a cinema experience. I cannot remember being more thrilled, of experiencing a more fulfilling cinema experience than this. I have no idea whether Gravity will work anywhere near as well in 2D on my TV, I doubt it, but that moment will be unforgettable.
  2. Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories – 2013 had a lot of great music released, but it’s no great shock to anyone who has ever perused my Last.FM account that I was going to decide on RAM as my favourite album of the year.
  3. The Hour – I’d been recommended The Hour for a long time by a friend, but it was always a TV show that I’d eventually, maybe get around to. Well, I did get around to it, it was amazing and I’m gutted there won’t be a third season.
  4. London Screenwriters’ Festival – This was a game changer for me; the lessons I learnt, experiences I had and people I met have had a hugely positive effect on my writing, my confidence and, dare I say it, my life.
  5. Chic at Glastonbury – Oh, how they laughed. ‘Chic?’ they sniggered. ‘Well, they were okay back in the day I suppose, but they’re no Arctic Monkeys’. Indeed. Chic’s set was the best party at the best festival and I danced for an hour and a half solid.
  6. Saga – In a standout year for comics, this was nearly a close call. But the art, writing, excitement and emotional power of Saga easily dominates the field.
  7. The Sexy Lamp Test – Both in terms of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s alternative to the Bechdel Test, but also the fact that it was far and away the top post on my blog in 2013, with 5,854 views.
  8. Gizmo Love – After a less-than-stellar theatre experience, I sought out recommendations for theatre. I ended up in the wonderful New Diorama Theatre for Gizmo Love, a dark tale of obsession and writing. I’ll definitely be back to the New Diorama, currently in the shortlist for Fringe Theatre of the Year.
  9. London’s Southbank – You’d think I’d be tired of it by now, but I still have so many amazing memories of that stretch just south of the river, from Waterloo station to London Bridge.
  10. Friends – Yes, yes, I know this one is cheesy. But this year has been a year for friends being there for me, people becoming friends and spending time with friends. And that will never not be important to me.