Ads in time for Christmas…

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Maybe this is a little on the late side, what with presents mostly wrapped, cards written and sent and i-gift order times over – but it has to be said.

After what proved a wrist- achingly busy first term at Central Saint Martins – two plays, a competition Brexit play, two films and numerous outlines, checklists and scene-by-scenes, I found a new love – film shorts. These are  little nuggets of story with set-ups, pay-offs and final twists. The best can be blissful perfection – a 3-30 minute distilled version of a favourite film with clues a-plenty and ( for me ) a second viewing to appreciate them all.

The Christmas ad is a great example of these, but word to the wise John Lewis – the lazy fluffy pet/woodland creature and cute child offering is hackneyed and old hat. The best version of this year’s being the Trump/Clinton spoof.

Now from the ridiculous to the sublime. The winner of Best Christmas Ad ( yes, there is a reward), went to H&M. The right amount of product placement coupled with a great story and a final, tear-inducing twist. A Grand Budapest Hotel vibe, directed by Wes Anderson and starring Adrien Brody, an actor with the right amount of quirk. Of course, one guesses the ending, but that doesn’t matter – and at the risk of sounding cheesy – these filmic nuggets are filled with familial love whether peopled by fashion models or actor-grannies and push the right yuletide buttons.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas – wherever you purchased that Christmas jumper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Starting at the beginning.

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Second week at Central Saint Martins. Every Monday and Tuesday I get off that train and to quote Dorothy Gale ” I’m not in Kansas anymore”, though Thames Ditton is hardly a dust bowl and I haven’t yet seen Miss Grinch outside Waitrose).

What’s amazing is how a fifteen minute train ride can change your world. Huge walks through brightly lit undergrounds,mega restaurants,men in skirts. Enough already – I’m beginning to sound like the musical number ( usually the third song in) where the ingenue launches into some new world , see Michael Crawford in Hello Dolly, “Put on your Sunday clothes”, but the list is endless.

So far, during the sixteen hours I’ve been there , I’ve had craft sessions in ideas and story structure, lectures on theatre business and my first lab with the head of a theatre company ( Rob Drummer – Company of Angels). But it’s the extras – or rather the guidance leading one to make use of them  – that make this feel unique to me.

So, I’ve been to a play set in a Karaoke bar on the Uxbridge Road, watched the stars of the future perform monologues which shall surely earn them a good agent, been to a Q&A with influencers of all stage, screen, radio and TV, and  an invite to a naming of a  theatre company. Tomorrow night there is a scratch night at the Pleasance, a local fringe venue.

I’ve written five-year plans, story outlines, early pages of the play for our degree, researched theatres, entered competitions and last but not least, this blog.

Yes, I’m a busy bee indeed. Must go – I ‘ve set myself the challenge to write a ten minute short  on Britain after Brexit – just hope it won’t prove too hard…

Antici…pation!

The time has come. I’m about to step through the institute of learning that is  Central Saint Martins, not so much “hallowed portals” as industrial chic really. Imagine a huge victorian warehouse with a street running through it. It is actually called “the Street” – a wide avenue with shop-fronted workshops, a café, an art shop, and at the end a bar. I longed to show the girls around, but they were not allowed beyond the ping-pong tables at the far end. Outside a large square with timed mini jets and concrete benches, which can be seen in the latest Bridget Jones film.The Rocky Horror Picture Show - Photo #2

I won’t pretend the nerves haven’t kicked in. They have and tomorrow there’ll be screams of panic inside. I have tried to be prepared but I can’t help feeling it is never enough. All last week a plethora of Amazon parcels flew through the door – ten Shakespeares, a volume of Chekhov, books on Screenplays,etc. Luckily I could make up the reading list from a huge collection dotted around here.

This last friday I attended a welcome day which consisted of stalls for the library, students union, health services,etc and lots of lovely designer canvas bags ( no more 10p Waitrose plastic recyclers on my shopping trips thank you very much) and then to the main event.

An assortment of the main department heads of the college – all full of welcomes, advice and humour and the (as in a comedy gig) usual questions of which course are you on? Not many from MAs and I’m sure most people still think I’m Staff. The Acting Course were loudest unsurprisingly, will they still be laughing when they have to perform a scene butt-naked as was the norm twenty years ago at the Drama Centre- all in the name of barrier breakdown?

And then, Jeremy Till. Fluffy white-hair and wise – a modern day Wizard from behind the curtain but this time with a Powerpoint presentation. Short rules which he went on to explain. Be curious, always ask, be yourself and,as CSM is so prized :- Be confident, not arrogant. Hand on heart there is no chance of the latter with me.

I’m away now to pack a bag filled with flashy new stationery, sort out student travel and cram in a copy of Hamlet. Wish me luck.

 

 

Déja vue again and again…

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We’ve all had our hearts warmed by the YouTube clip of 80 year old Alzheimer’s sufferer,Ted Mc Dermott , singing “Quando” in his son’s car and now being given a record deal.  I was particularly moved by this story, as my own father, who died from Alzheimers two years ago, had been quite the chanteur in his time and ” Raindrops Are  Falling on my Head” had with him a similar affect. That and Oklahoma!

Back to the record deal, and the single chosen for Ted was Sinatra’s “You make me Feel so Young”. My heart sank. I don’t mind telling you the reason : all this was part of my current ( as yet unfinished) screenplay. The elderly Dementia patient, being driven back to the care home, sings along to that very song. All this was conceived at least a year ago.

I’m not the first to feel like this,nor will I be the last. How must David Chase have felt when, having worked on the Sopranos for years, the De Niro/Crystal vehicle Analyse This hits the screens? “No problem “, as Tony would say.The Sopranos went on to win 106 awards from 257 nominations ( with many for original writing).

This must happen to loads of us (not the awards/noms bit) but the sudden emergence of a play/TV series/film that is so like yours it isn’t funny. A friend, on finishing an early draft of a northern snooker play, ends up in Sheffield watching Richard Bean’s The Nap, a northern snooker play.

Another friend pens what he thinks will be a great hit – a play about the affair between Scott Thorson and Liberace – and up pops Michael Douglas from Behind the Candleabra.

I can only attribute it to the Z word – zeitgeist. It’s almost like there are ideas floating around in the ether and they find their way to writers all over the place, a bit like Santa being able to give a bike to a boy in Oz, while at the same time delivering a doll to some girl in Sweden. Ideas and inspiration are like Christmas gifts and we shouldn’t moan when others have the great good fortune to receive, just make sure when we get ours we are grateful, use it wisely and don’t let the batteries run dry.

Always be Closing…

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Yesterday I was asked to “pitch” my Playwriting Club to a group of nine and ten year olds in front of the whole school. Were they the least bit interested? Who knows? I guess I’ll find out next week when they either do/don’t show up.

Why does the idea of pitching fill us with dread and nerves; give us dry mouths and sweaty palms? I bumped into an old friend just afterwards, über- confident and socially successful, who finds the idea of “the pitch” just mortifying. Is it because we think we’ll be no good,fail miserably, stutter over our words, bore the assembled?

I don’t think so. For me, it’s the fear of not saying everything your best self had prepared in their head, forgetting exciting points and in short not living up to the captivating character on that stage at the TEDx event. It’s that feeling when leaving the interview where you left out a crucial, impressive project which you later feel would have swung all in your favour.

Who are life’s great pitchers? Anyone who has wowed the crowds at a TEDx – I’m thinking Andrew Stanton of Pixar who began his talk with the risque goat joke ( begin with a funny – great strategy) and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat,Pray,Love fame. The late Steve Jobs was always pictured at the annual Apple meeting introducing the latest iWotsit – charismatic guy with great material but his greatest pitch must surely have been the fabled Toy Story/Pixar one. Politicians are forced to excel in the eloquence stakes, but the current race for the White House has turned that one on it’s head.

Nature’s greatest pitchers? Children. They pitch for the right to finish the last cornflakes, where they get to sit at school or in the car, an extension to their bedtime or the prospect of a sleepover. They need to – they are not in a position of power and their only hope is in their powers of persuasion.

I’m now off to get a cup of tea to moisten my parched mouth, for, as the Alec Baldwin character from Glengarry Glen Ross says, “Coffee is for closers”

 

Lana del Rey said it all…

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Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it’s September. The end of summer. The end of all those dreams of what are summer was going to be – our ‘head summer’ if you like; the books we were ‘gonna’ read, the exercise we were ‘gonna’ do. Some people don’t subscribe to ‘head summer’, I know because they tell me. On Facebook. Not for them the self-deprecating “didn’t do much” or “awful – can’t wait to be back”. I tell a lie. We actually went on an’extreme staycation’ as ‘the Donald ‘might say. Not only did we not holiday abroad,we didn’t holiday at all.

This summer I holidayed vicariously. First of all via my World Service sports journalist friend covering the Rio Olympics – pics of the Olympic Village and his performance on the beam in the gym.An energetic actor friend who had just landed a role in The Libertine in the West End, resplendent in French peasant garb and another actor travelling to glamorous spots in southern Europe whilst starring in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Then there were the general holidays to Spain/France/Greece et al. accompanied by pics of lobster/paella and enormous cocktails. You can see I’m not bitter.

Everyone has their own life story and maybe they now have a short chapter on the Côte d’Azur or the Costas.

This would work fine for a book (description of bougainvilleas and jellyfish,etc), but not theatre,film or TV. Trips to the beach, market or cafe are not in themselves stage worthy. There has to be more.A happening. And it is how one puts flesh on this happening that determines how it is received.

Robert McKie in the iconic, oft quoted and oft mentioned ironically,  calls it “Story Talent”.In his book he gives the example of a mom telling how she got her kids to school in the morning – full of highs, lows,twists and turns. The dad next to her tells a far less trivial story and bores the assembled group to death. Story talent is essential – it is an itch to tell a good story. Couple this with technique,craft and the ability to wring all possible creativity from the bare elements and you’re on to a winner.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Torquay…

su42ezw5f1jr1f8yecq8Darn it. For one reason or another I missed out on seeing last night’s performance at Gray’s Inn Field of Antic Disposition’s Comedy of Errors. One reason being that nonone wanted to come along – after all they’d seen that play at the Rose, done by an all male company, who the year before had given a cracking Midsummer Night’s Dream with full on production values and energy in spades. Thanks to their funding being pulled, their CofE was a school show with costumes being pulled from railings as an obviously necessary device – I could smell sweaty gyms and the fading smell of school dinners. The set text kids loved it – but I was saddened.

So I thought I’d give the other a go. It was set in a prohibition- era Chicago and was based on a favourite film- Some Like it Hot. Obviously the cross dressing, trickery,etc was the key.  There was a band ( based on Sweet Sue’s) and a Marilyn/Sugar Cane – what’s not to love?

BUT I DIDN’T GET TO GO. Instead, I settled down to watch the previously mentioned Friday Night Dinner.  The family love it – no schlepping into town, for one thing. And so I got to thinking – none of this has changed since the days of Plautus ( Roman comedic playwright who followed the Greeks) – no wonder Frankie Boyle is whinging about the BBC and how sitcoms are stuck in 1978 ( yeah,1978 BC!).

Your average Plautine comedy is responsible for many a sitcom. Think first of all about stock characters – crafty plotting slave, hapless master in thrall to a nagging wife, young lovers finding ingenious ways to meet, cases of mistaken identity, annoying neighbour, the list goes on. Oh, and the chorus.

Starter for ten – name as many as you like. I’m thinking of Fawlty Towers, Terry and June -often the twenty year old son plays to the crafty type here), Porridge, the list is endless.

Where’s the Chorus, you’re asking? Think of those little scenes at the beginning of the show which foreshadow the action – when Seargent Wilson mentions the Warmington-on- Sea village fete,one immediately  senses trouble between the Vicar and Captain Mainwaring, when Basil tells the Major that the wife’s sister is turning up, when Godber informs Fletch that McKay is on a cell hunt for contraband, etc,etc.

Films? Apart from Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, The Rocky Horror Show (!!). Textbook. The storyteller in the armchair, the revellers, the plotting servants. Pure Plautus.

Which brings me back to Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. S challenged himself to write to the model of Plautus’ Menaechmi , for Ephesus read Rome of course.What about The Office, The Royle Family,People Just do Nothing ?Look hard enough and he’s in there somewhere.And as Billy Wilder wrote as the final line of Some Like it Hot:- “Nobody’s Perfect”.