Thursday, 25 June 2009

Bad Habits

Must. Get. Into. The. Hang. Of. Writing. Smaller. Blog posts.

Film: Terminator Vs Transformers Vs Star Trek

I have now seen all of this unholy trilogy that is being constantly referred to as “the summer movies”, a phrase that makes me wince ever so slightly, as if the only reason I’ve seen these films is because they have been carefully and perfectly marketed to me in order to catch some kind of summer vibe that requires, nay, demands to see things fight each other, win romantic conquests, blow up or a combination of all three.

From this squabble of “summer movies”, I’m going to ascertain a clear winner and a runner up. Let me first of all establish that surprisingly, none of them were out and out bad. If you have to pick one and you find yourself not wanting to read through the rest of this, see Star Trek, but I think I’ve already said that in a previous post.

Terminator: Salvation
I hear lots of people calling this Terminator 4, which it is, essentially, but I’ve noticed a trend with these films in that they’ve abandoned numerical identification, almost as if they are trying to trick us into thinking these are new, original, not-in-any-way-a-sequel ideas. The fourth film in any series definitely seems to be the final nail in a franchise shaped coffin, with exceptions of very long running series’ such as the James Bond films. There may be a reason for this in that we are used to the format of a trilogy and the well trodden beginning middle and end. You look at any trilogy (preferably one that was planned to be as such) and you should see the beginning in the first film, the ending in the third film, and the second film containing almost pure plot and struggle (or struggling plot in some cases). Even trilogies that only become trilogies after the success of the first film such as the original Star Wars, the Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean seem to follow this structure, so it’s clear we’re happy with three films in a series before we start to lose interest. A fourth film will always destabilize how an audience will feel about the other products. The Alien series is probably a good example of this in that the fourth film can only really be described as “snooker loopy” with the main character being a resurrection of the main character from the previous films through the method of replicating her DNA through the ashes that remained of her body after the third film. Although the fourth film wasn’t all bad (the script was pretty good and the characters for the most part solid) it served to remind me that the whole franchise had started to go rapidly down hill. Terminator Salvation did the same thing. Instead of enjoying the film, I couldn’t help thinking about how much better earlier incarnations were. Terminator was fun, Terminator 2 was remarkable and probably the only film that I can see as better than the original, and Terminator 3 threw everything out the window and started heading rapidly down hill again, exactly as it did with the Alien films.
Focusing more on the film as opposed to half-baked theory on audience tolerance and running the same idea through the sequel grinder, I can’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong with Terminator Salvation. It had some promising moments, it had some decent if underdeveloped characters and it was great to finally see a bit more of the post-apocalyptic world that was teased at the beginning of Terminator 2. Unfortunately, the post-apocalyptic world that was teased at the beginning of Terminator 2 was much more bleak and dramatic in my imagination (and I know it’s difficult to make some both bleak and dramatic at the same time so I really do expect too much from my films), they had John Connor as the main character instead of the far more interesting half-man half-machine character that was introduced, and the promising moments were near the beginning of the film that were quickly abandoned around about the time a giant humanoid transformer style robot with bikes that launched from his thighs turned up, delicately picked up some humans and put them in his basket, blew everything else up and rode off on the back of a flying machine.
I feel like I’m being harsh on this film when I think back on it. It was better than the third film, but the third film still felt more like a Terminator film. I suppose now I’m being incredibly difficult to please by seeming to demand original material yet original material that adheres close enough to what has come before it.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
This one was pure unmitigated fun. Following my logic discussed previously, this being the second film in the series, if it were a trilogy, we’d be into the substantial meat of the story. As it happened, Revenge of the Fallen is allegedly the final Transformers film that Michael Bay intends to direct, so actually what we got was substantial story and an ending, but that is said with a caveat the size of China in that putting the words “substantial”, “story” and “Transformers” together isn’t truly representative of what I’m talking about. I’ve read reviews about this film that say it’s boring, along the lines that fireworks are boring: See one firework and it’s impressive, spend an evening watching fireworks and it becomes dull, only replacing the word “firework” with the phrase “robot turning into a car/plane/tiger”. I can’t honestly say it was boring. Apparently the film was very long, but again, I can’t really say I noticed. Some people have said the plot is confusing, or not there, or somehow hidden. This again is probably not fair; I think if you think about it for too long it will disappear, but there is a plot in there somewhere and it holds up well enough to have transforming robots beating up transforming robots, and really, if you’re expecting Citizen Kane from Transformers, someone needs to remind you that this is a film based on a cartoon based on a line of toys that became popular after Hasbro recognized that children generally want a tiny amount of back story to what they’re playing with.
Another Transformers film would wound this particular reinvention (and Transformers have been reinvented many many times before so I can’t say the franchise as a whole) and a fourth film would kill it.
This film was however, as I’ve said, fun. Really good fun. I don’t know if it was because it’s genuinely decent, or whether it was because I saw it with three other twenty-something-probably-too-old-for-this-film types, but either way, it was fun.

Star Trek
Star Trek has now had so many films, TV series’, spin offs and what-have-you that they’re pretty much coming full circle. I can’t even think of what number you could accurately pin on this film. Possibly 0 because of the fact it’s pretty much a prequel, but potentially 11, 12, 35, or whatever number they’ve gotten up to previously.
This is a franchise that is a very very brave project for anyone, even someone with decent credentials such as JJ Abrams. The use of the word “rabid” in describing even mild fans of the series is probably a massive understatement, but in short, there is a lot of room here to anger a lot of people, and from what I can see, he neatly avoids any issue like this by saying “Right. All that happened. Now this is happening as well, but earlier and differently.” To briefly explain that nonsensical statement, this isn’t a reboot or a re-imagining or a lowly remake, this is just a new series set in an alternate universe, a concept that is explored probably every five episodes of any Star Trek television series, thus making it sit perfectly well with true Star-Trek-for-life fans, and giving it room to be fun and entertaining for the newcomers to the series.
I have nothing much more to say about Star Trek other than it was very well executed, the casting was spot on, it trod the line between not-taking-itself-seriously and decent science fiction extremely well and I would recommend it to anybody, regardless of whether they like space ships or not.

The Winner Is:
I’ve already said which is the better film. In fairness to the other two however, Star Trek had its script finished just prior to the writers strike. Transformers and Terminator weren’t so lucky, and it was noticeable that for some sections, dialogue and direction was somewhat improvised. There were in fact whole sequences in Transformers that were really just showing what was going on as opposed to spending any time going through it, but I actually thought this worked quite well. A film that claims heritage to a line of toys can get away with this. A film that is known for its philosophical ramblings on the nature of man, war and inevitable self destruction can not.
If you have to pick one film to see, see Star Trek, if you can make it to two, go for Transformers, and if you can go and see three, see Wolverine, but if you’re bored, Terminator isn’t as bad as it could have been and it isn’t a complete waste of your time, just a partial waste.

Additional Notes:
Actually, I can’t even say the word movie without feeling physically ill. I don’t know what it is about the word; I just always see them as films.

I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned Wolverine before or not. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure why.

I suspect the real test of whether I’m right or not about Star Trek being for everyone is if my girlfriend would like it, but I’m just not brave enough to throw my theories into the field just yet. My self esteem could not take the hit if my suppositions turned out flawed.

Incidentally, at some point in the future, maybe we’ll see the actual film of Terminator Vs Transformers Vs Star Trek. I’m not saying it would be good, but it would at least be well attended.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Script Writing

I like to think of myself as a bit of a riter.

I mean that. I know I’m not of a professional standard, I have no real credits to my name and my only real completed projects are half baked essays and a series of underdeveloped comics. I am a riter. Almost a writer, but not quite enough credentials to really qualify.

It is with this in mind that I consider the following might be a pointless thing to say given my lack of experience or even significant effort in the field, but I find writing scripts incredibly difficult. I’m fine in the imagination department and getting ideas for a story and how it will pan out, I’m not bad and improving in the field of characterization, and dialogue, one of the most important things of a script, isn’t a major issue. What I have a problem with is putting it all together.

From a decent amount of experience making comics, I have a rough idea what does and doesn’t work in a narrative sense, largely by doing all the things that don’t work, but I never leant how to write scripts. I always had a plan, but that plan was “I’m starting here, I need to get to here” which in one case took me a whole sixteen page issue longer than I expected. With my current TV script writing project that I’ve set myself, I don’t have the option of crafting it as I go along in the same way that I did with the comics, so I have to start with the script and work it through from there.

It seems that the second you try and mash together the setting, the plot, the characters, the dialogue and the action, things go disastrously wrong. Maybe I’m getting too hung up on formatting the scrip so that it looks professional, but no matter how I write the opening scenes, it comes across as stilted, halting, and generally awful with a real struggle to get the middle ground between fast paced staccato dialogue and longer plodding exposition based dialogue.

What I’m trying to write is the first thirty minute episode for an animated children’s show. I don’t think I have an issue with writing for children, as most of the things I’ve done previously have been of the right sort of tone for children, especially so with only a little bit of tweaking, but I do have a problem with working out how to fit it all together without it becoming utterly all over the place.

Like most things I try and do, I suspect the problem I’m running in to is trying to do it all at once and assume I need to fire out my entire brain into the script in the first few pages, where actually I need to gradually leak it out over thirty, probably leaving plenty more to be deposited over subsequent potential episodes. I also reckon that this instinct of mine to try and do a whole project in five minutes isn’t helped by the fact that the people I’m submitting this to suggest making sure the first ten pages are really tight and gripping because that’s all they’re obliged to read and they’ll only read further if it’s any good, so if I have all the fun stuff happening after the ten page mark, that’s essentially the end of the project.

If anyone has any short sharp hints and tips that I could read and then ignore anyway because I’m not bad at taking advice, just bad at implementing it, I’d be very grateful to hear. Failing that, I’ll try and post some form of update if this goes anywhere.

Additional Notes:

Making mistakes is a fantastic way of learning that I fully advocate and I believe I’ve made a vast majority of them with my comic-projects. If you have the right mindset as well, looking back on those mistakes with a renewed sense of wisdom can be highly entertaining rather than utterly and crushingly depressing.
It’s also quite a kick to see how much you’ve improved from previous attempts. If you take a look at any webcomic and compare the first and most recent entries, chances are you’ll notice a marked improvement. It is incredibly satisfying to see the same thing happen to your own work. I feel really sorry for people who produce vastly inferior creations after they’ve been working in their field for a significant period of time, but that’s enough of that, I promised myself I’d stop complaining about Star Wars and grow up a little bit.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Multiple Choice

I finally retook an exam that I had failed over the weekend. I feel better now, but equally terrified.

Just to provide a quick background, my GDL law course that I recently finished off comprised of 7 major exams for 7 main topics, 1 research assignment that had to manifest in a 5,000 word essay, 1 case analysis test where we were given a fictitious chain of events to disassemble, and 1 statute analysis test. The statute analysis test involved being given a real statute to read through and then being asked questions relating to it and the methodology required to analyse a statute in general. The test was online, two hours long, and multiple choice. It was considered one of the easiest assignments and just about everyone got over 70% in their results…..except for yours truly who got an absolutely pitiful 35%.

At first I might have been indignant that the computer could have made such a ridiculous mistake, but on further contemplation, I realise that multiple choice just isn’t my thing. The substantive exams weren’t a problem. More stressful as anything I’ve done before, but unambiguous and straight forward armed with the right knowledge. The multiple choice exam was question after question with four answers that all essentially said the same thing.

I found myself analysing the questions and answers more than the statute. I was also unsatisfied by the wording of some of the answers and found them to be more ambiguous than the wording of the statute itself and some questions where I could actually think up a more appropriate answer myself than the four listed. As a result, I’m not sure if I’ve struck idiot-gold once again and blundered into a second failure. If this happens, I’m honestly not too sure what will happen to me or my overall status on completing the course. I guess I’d fail, which would be a crushing shame, not to mention wholly embarrassing for myself.

The worst part about taking and failing multiple choice exams is of course knowing that you’ve been asked a question for which the answer is actually in front of you, and you still can’t get it right.

Regardless of all of this however, I have now completely finished everything I have to do and can now concentrate on more enjoyable personal goals, such as any writing projects that I’ve been putting off.

Additional Notes:

I was going to give examples of how the test seemed to contradict itself, but seeing as the deadline is technically Thursday and there might be people yet to take it, despite the fact I have probably two readers, neither of which are doing this exam, it might mean I could be liable for cheating by discussing the exam content publicly. That would be an even more stupid way of failing my course: Complaining about failing my course due to an easy exam that I’m worried of failing.

As it happened, I very nearly sat down and wrote a whole host of things yesterday, but decided to have lunch instead and then pretty much forgot about the whole thing.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Three Strikes and you're out

In recent news, we have been hit by a few strikes of late, namely from the RMT tube strike (that admittedly doesn’t exactly affect the whole country, but living in London makes it easy to forget that the tube network isn’t everywhere) and the postal strike that seems to have jumped out on us today. Working for an insurance company that maintains a trade union client base, you would hope that I might have some sort of insider knowledge into the workings of a strike and the dynamics of a trade union, but unfortunately, I am woefully ignorant and probably about to make myself small-scale flame-bait with ill informed opinions.

What I want to know is what is the point of striking and does it actually achieve anything?

The concept of a strike is simple. A work force is disgruntled with the way it is treated, therefore it refuses to do anything until an agreement is reached. This is a good example of a simple democratic “we are not slaves and you can not treat us as such” process and is a very effective way of avoiding being maltreated as an employee. Trade unions make this whole process slightly easier, more secure and less of a risk for the workers and despite them not having nearly as much power as they did in the pre-mining Thatcher strike breaking days, they’re still a force to be reckoned with and some of the unions have a reputation for being particularly militant.

Putting strike action into context at the moment means putting it alongside the ever present news of the ever present doom-and-gloom fuelled recession and enormous record breaking job losses. All in all, an unusual background with which to be dissatisfied with having a job.

Allow me to put forward a few examples:

The RMT Tube Strike
The name “Bob Crow” has become a curse word around London, and I suspect beyond. I don’t really know what his job is like, I don’t know how well he performs his abilities, but he certainly seems to enjoy a good strike. The last strike I remember happening was over a pay rise demand that was actually granted to them before the strike was about to commence, and they went ahead with it anyway. This breaks the fundamental concept of the strike in the first place if you’re going to strike even after you get what you want. It’s almost like the confused teenager that doesn’t know how to stop sulking even after he gets his own way.
The most recent strike was almost as bizarre, almost as if the demands had been written by two people with differing agendas. On the one hand they wanted an increased focus on health and safety, yet on the other they wanted two drivers that were fired for breach of safety regulations to be reinstated. Much as it must have been fun to see the reaction of commuters when the doors on the wrong side of the train opened, it’s not exactly going to win you employee of the month.
A lot of people will complain that tube drivers are overpaid anyway. I wouldn’t entirely agree with this. They have horrible hours, they have horrible working conditions, there’s a certain amount of danger attached to the job through accident, slow deterioration of health or attack from giant moles, and in the middle of all of that is what I can only imagine is mind numbing boredom. At the same time, demanding more pay at the moment when people are being sacked left right and centre is most definitely not going to win the hearts and minds of your passengers, many of whom will earn less than half of the drivers themselves if they are even employed in the first place.
In fairness to the drivers, I did get the impression that many of them weren’t interested in striking, as many of them turned up to work after a while anyway. This could be an example of a union trying to justify its position without really caring about what its members really want, but I don’t know.

The Postal Strike
I do feel that postal strikes have somewhat lost their impact. Aside from businesses not getting a collection or a daily drop off, I’m not sure anybody notices when Royal Mail strike. Also, any impact it has on business that it might have is instantly mitigated by the fact that everyone knows about the strike and everyone knows things might take an extra couple of days and nobody really cares.
I actually find myself sympathizing for the workers on this one. Whenever they go on strike, the create a massive backlog of work for themselves, meaning they have to work twice as hard the following day. I remember our old postman coming into the office the day after a strike muttering to himself about how it was a stupid idea to strike and he didn’t want to and how he then had to work overtime.
In my woeful ignorance I’m not actually too sure why the post office are striking this time around. At a guess I would assume it’s the threat of massive job losses and huge reform or even the threat of re-nationalization, and in fairness if I was about to be nationalized into the public sector at the moment I’d strike as well, but I would be curious to know how not turning up to work really affects the potential job losses factor. I suppose the people that work extra hard the following day get a gold star or something.

The Writers Strike
This is a bit of an unusual one. I realise this happened quite a long time ago as well, but the reason I bring it up is because it’s had one of the most insidious slow-releasing affects of a strike I’ve ever seen. Rail strike: No trains for the day. Postal strike: No post for a couple of days. Writers Strike: all current seasons of TV shows come up twelve episodes short and the films being released in two years time will be awful. The reason I’ve noticed this is because I’ve recently seen two films of vastly contrasting quality; Star Trek which was written just before the strike, and Terminator Salvation, that was due to be written just after the strike started.
As far as an impact goes, a lot of people noticed that their favourite shows had suddenly finished off earlier than expected, or that their favourite oh-so-witty talk show host suddenly wasn’t so witty, and now we’re getting an echo of that impact in the cinema over this summer and probably through to Christmas. As for how effective this was at achieving their aims, I’m not sure. I know that pre-strike, writers were being denied vast sums of royalty money from DVD sales and the like, but I also know that you don’t become a writer in order to make your millions.

A final note
I don’t disagree with striking, nor do I disagree with standing up for yourself if you’re being abused in some way, but I’m just not sure that it works. Going back to themes that I’ve found earlier in this blog, it’s probably the case that I can’t see the bigger picture, and that even a small victory as a result of a strike can result in a large impact on a work force, but sometimes demands are just unrealistic. A threat of a strike also doesn’t appear to be much of a threat most of the time, more a passive inconvenience.

Additional Notes
I might write about these films later if I can muster the apathetic bile I felt for Terminator. In short, if you want to see both, but can only afford to see one through limitations of funds or time, see Star Trek, even if you hate Star Trek.


For the last two months, I have been deaf in my left ear. This was due to my body's rather strange stress response to fill the ear canal with wax, almost like nature's way of putting ones fingers in your ears and going "LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU".

Far from alleviating stress, it does in fact do the opposite, because you can't hear anything.

I finally got around to getting it sorted out yesterday afternoon and a poor nurse ended up blasting it out of my ear with an ear-irrigation device (basically a very small high pressured water jet). Not a pleasant job, but she assured me that it's not the worst thing they have to do. Having processed medical applications for an insurrance company for the last two years, I have a few vague ideas about what could be worse.

As a result of this little procedure, everything is now incredibly loud, to the point that I can now hear my hellium-filled upstairs neighbours squawking at three-in-the-morning, the air conditioning unit in my office is a deafening roar and typing makes me jump. The world has become a very noisy place.

Part of me wants to go back to the doctors this evening and ask if I can have the wax put back in...

Additional Notes:

I also have this horrible feeling that I've been shouting at everyone for the last two months. If you have been shouted at by me, I promise I just thought that was a reasonable volume and I am very sorry.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

But how does it make money?

I’ve recently obtained some work as an extra. I’ve done some work as an extra before, and if you have made an extensive study of the film “Starter for 10”, you will have seen me a grand total of 3 times, but then, actually, if you have seen me and made a note of the superb performance that I gave, then I’ve been a lousy extra as they’re meant to melt into the background...

The thing I’ve noticed is how much time, effort, and money is being piled into this film even at such an early stage on a relatively inconsequential group of extras. I’ve already attended a fitting that was being run by several costume workers, the pay for the two days filming and the fitting itself is pretty good, and they include travel money as well. It’s also clear that there are a lot of extras that they need to work with.

My question therefore is how on earth do these damned things make money? If vast quantities of time and money are being spent on extras that are in essence untrained instructable monkeys like myself, what are they paying the camera crews, the sound departments, the writers, costume and makeup departments or the name actors, not to mention any post production that's done?

I realise that films can get fairly decent budgets and grants and can pull in a lot of money from the box office, but the scale of these productions seems gigantic, even on smaller low-budget films. I was staggered by the size of operation that was responsible for the 15 seconds of film that my 12 hour day on the set of “Starter for 10” turned into.

Finally, if you can make a decent argument for “films do make money actually”, then transfer the question to television. Clearly we’re on a smaller scale again, but I see the methods of making money through television even more intangible. Really, where does it come from? I can only assume the license fee comes to an enormous sum and revenue from advertising produces the equivalent for non-BBC counterparts.

Maybe I can’t think big. Maybe I can’t see the larger picture when it comes to film and television and revenue therein. Maybe I’m alone in thinking that somewhere, someone forgot to carry the 1 and is now sat billions of pounds in debt but doesn’t want to tell anyone because everyone enjoys film and television too much. Whatever the case actually is, from the minimal amount of time I’ve spent “working” on film sets, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for the amount of effort that goes into even the crappiest of productions.

Additional Notes:

Of course, having seen how much time effort and money goes into these things, it’s even harder to reconcile it with examples of where they just don’t get things right. Not enough films start with a script…

As a quick reccomendation, Starter for 10 is actually a very enjoyable film. A bit quirky, but great fun, and yes of course I'm biassed.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Back to Normal

After a brief stint of student-ship, I am now back to the treadmill of life and the setting is probably just one notch faster than is strictly comfortable at the moment, but that might just be because I’m not making the effort to keep up.

The things I have done

Over the last couple of months that things have been a little quiet here, I have knuckled down to revise for my law exams and taken them to varying degrees of success, leaving 99% of my course complete, putting me in the position of a fresh law graduate, with the crucial difference of actually having a day job.
I have also experimented in not drinking alcohol; an experiment that reached a natural conclusion of “yes, this isn’t a bad idea” before normal service swiftly resumed and I was reminded about what hangovers are like. Further tests have proved that no, the Erdinger I had a couple of months ago was not in fact off, that’s just what it does to you.
Also, in amongst my academic activities, I have started a couple of writing projects that may reach completion and that I hope to push out to a few places to see if my writingness is of a capable quality and goodness.

The things I have learnt

First of all, it is possible to enjoy something you have resented for a good six months. Towards the latter days of my law studies, I found myself utterly detesting all aspects of the subjects I had to study. Criminal Law is rather depressing, Equity and Trusts occasionally confusing, and Land Law…well, you try and read through your lease or mortgage agreement carefully, making notes of all the little clauses and provisions, and you can get a glimpse of what Land Law is like. However, towards the end during my revision, I found myself enthralled by the intricacies (with the possible exception of Land law) and found myself debating the merits of the criminal justice system with strangers on the tube.

I have also learnt that just because you like something, it doesn’t mean it can’t stress you out to an inordinate degree. I suppose anyone that’s been in a long term relationship could tell you the same thing. The exams that I took, in particular the first one, were the most terrifying I have ever had. I genuinely wasn’t sure if I could make it through them, because in my mind, I just hadn’t put the work in during the year. Normally I get by on minimal revision because I’ve paid attention and remembered stuff throughout the year, but this time I found myself doing it the other way round, or what most people would describe as “the normal way”.

Another thing I have picked up on is my ability to be more content when I think I’m working towards something. At some point, it became relatively clear to me that I wasn’t going to end up training as a lawyer fully and that I would find a different direction in life, but the mere act of going to my tutorials and lectures every week let my brain assume that I was doing something that would take me somewhere and that it didn’t have to worry about that anymore. In truth, I think this is probably what most people do; they don’t know where they’re going or what they’re going to do when they get there, but there brain assumes they must have got it figured out, because if they haven’t, then why the hell are they doing that-particular-thing-that-would-naturally-lead-to-that?

The direction to take from here
For the moment I am staying where I am and doing what I have been doing. How wise this is, I don’t know. How plausible anything else is, I also don’t know. I have however heard that now is a good time to go into politics, so who knows? The next time I wake up with a hangover, perhaps it will be off to the local recruiting station and signing up to the front line of whichever political argument is the flavour of the month.

Additional Notes

Saying something like “I suppose anyone that’s been in a long term relationship could tell you the same thing” is a really good way for me to find out if my girlfriend does actually read this…

I’ve actually missed writing in this. I probably need to work on my blog-ability though. Having read a few blogs of late, I can see that slightly shorter posts are probably the way to go. My long pointless rambling style means very few people make it down this far.

If you made it this far by the way, thanks and congratulations! You win!