Friday, January 25, 2008

Barrow in Furness

Though Kingston Upon Hull is not geographically that far from Barrow it would still take me more than three hours on the train due to their only being one way in and one way out of Hull and having to ride a train south to connect to a train that took me back up north. I wasn’t really that inconvenienced, but goddamn am I starting to spend a lot of time on these trains.

Jo Hutton (Cumbria filmmaker’s network) picked me up from the train station and was really happy to see me. You can never get tired of British hospitality – I don’t care how much of it your experience. Since I’d already kicked it with Jo and her partner Phil I kind of felt at home. She had secured a room for me at a local bed and Breakfast in the center of town (uh, as if there is a center of Barrow) and I was ready to party. The old man running the place was a real riot; I mean this dude is 100% old school British. He wasn’t feeling baggie pants, hip-hop or dreadlocks all he wanted to know was if I would pre-pay.

I told him not to worry and broke out about 40 quid to pay the room stay and I cracked a joke about how convenient it would be to be staying in a room above a bar. He didn’t even acknowledge the comment which I should have known then was a bad sign.

I did my roaming around town thing and read a few newspaper articles that mentioned my visit to the town…wow, I was moved. I don’t get any real newspaper press in the States but I assume because I’m a black dude and a filmmaker and an American… and people (in the states) kind of don’t stop to hear what any of these groups have to say…but here, here I had an accent and I had crazy stories to tell and everyone wanted to hear how they ended…I should fucking move here.

The room in the Bed and Breakfast was small and dimly lit. I only had two days to stay here so I didn’t think it was really worth arguing about. I wasn’t screening till tomm. night so Jo took me on a little sightseeing, well really sight-shopping; we went to the mall. I was a total fucking trip because I was a mall rat in high school. I’ve spent more time in food courts sucking down Icee’s than most people in the English speaking world and I really wanted to see what the UK mall shit was like.

After 45 mins I realized that things are the same where ever you go, because they also have like hundreds of stores full of nothing that I really wanted to buy…but then I saw a store that sold Playstation games. I told Jo that I just wanted to see what kind of stuff they were selling, 6 min’s later I was playing the demo for Sega Rally on the 360. Let the record show that I’m really not a fan of the Xbox and before I have to endure the PS3-fanboy taunts and all that shit let’s just set the record straight – shall we?

Yes I do play 360 with Det. Budd and I really love Rainbow 6 III – Vegas… it’s a sick shooter. But I’m still pissed at Billy Gates for the dog that XP is and what the fuck were you thinking with Vista? Other than the fact that nothing is where it should be, Word isn’t backwards compatible, it’s a memory hog and I really hate the skins…I mean didn’t this release get pushed back like nearly 2 years and this is what you release? So why the fuck should I trust the 360? I love Tekken and Need for Speed and all that shit. I guess there’s a lot to be said for gamers being gamers and 360 or PS3 is really the same kinds of people just different platforms. Ok, I can concede that…if we exempt the Wii people. I don’t give a fuck how much fuck you have with your friends and your Wii parties…if I was trying to make friends I’d shower more often…I mean c’mon. And when the fuck do we out grow Metroid and Zelda and Mario. I mean how fuckin’ old is Mario now? 80??? And he’s still just a plumber? Him and Luigi could start a franchise or export a bunch of jobs to Mexico like any other self-respecting American businessman? And let’s just call a spade a spade…Nintendo means kids, it means running noses and crying and people who ask too many questions when I’m hittin’ the bong. So I’m not a Wii fan…so kill me.

Anyway I love driving games and I really love Rally games so I had to jump on the demo. two minutes later I was in a battle for 3rd place…ha, and this is my first time playing…ha, ha… this game sucks ass. I mean sure it’s got pretty colors and lots of flashing lights, but I have two words for you…true Physics. Sega never heard of them and really expects me to play a game that defies the laws of the third dimension. For example how the fuck is it possible that you can get the rear wheels to break loose with the slightest over emphasis on the throttle, but you don’t have the torque to climb any of the hills without losing speed? Hello, this is a rally car…this isn’t a Datsun B210 (fuck you… I love Datsun’s) or a Chrysler K car. But maybe I’m being harsh so here, let me state it plainly, if you like cars that can only accelerate when you are going into a tight turn and cars that only handle on straight-aways (IE..they don’t handle at all). Needless to say I used my superior gamer skills and catlike reflexes to fight my way to a second place finish. Of course I did a fair amount of head bobbing and weaving and cursing to animate the driving to make all that happen and when I looked around I had a bit of a crowd standing around me. I wasn’t sure if it was my superior driving skills or the “animated American” thing that did it…but I was gettin’ noticed so I didn’t trip.

We beat a hasty retreat out of there and headed for the nearest music store. Here Jo and I had a bit of a disagreement because she was really reluctant to buy anything. She opted to download all the tracks she wanted, which is a fair thing to want and very European because they’re much less open to seeing what a record label can do for them. The issue was that I’m into underground hip-hop and you can’t really find a ton of MF DOOM and J-Live on iTunes…and I don’t really like the taste of Steve Jobs’ balls in my mouth so I kind of avoid the whole IPod thing (but I do have a shitty insignia player and if anyone from Rhapsody is reading…you guys suck hairy ass!!)

I found a rare (rare to me) Stones Throw records compilation and I had to buy it. It was like 18 quid which is a good $36, but hey, it’s Peanut Butter Wolf…how could I resist? So after I spent entirely too much money on a few T-shirts we decided to go and get a pint. The Brit’s really have the pint thing down, the consistency across the island for pint quality is fucking amazing. Jo and I sat there and talked shit on the UK film council and indie filmmaking in general before we stumbled out of there and she took me back to my bed and breakfast.

I screened in an Audio/Visual center that was state of the art. Huge fucking image, great sounds I was in heaven. I wasn’t the most packed attendance I’ve ever experienced but I can’t really complain…shit, we had about 8-10 people there and a few were industry people (rumored).

They treated me like more of a big deal that they had done before and was really grateful. It was a bit of a rainy night and that seemed to have depressed the turnout a bit but we still had a sincere crowd. I did the introduction and screened the film and when the lights came up it was literally silence. I was of course loaded so I didn’t really care. But was I conducted the Q&A it became obvious that again the Brit’s couldn’t understand why everything had to be so “big” so “over the top”.

Since these were shooters and producers, I gave them the straight dope. I told them that the excess production values allowed us to compete in a different talent pool; we tended to be seen as professional trying to do something professional and not some SoCal kids who were fucking around with a camera. As per usual it was a tough sell at first and we began to focus on “the strength of the script” and shit like that. I particularly enjoyed this Q&A because it gave me the opportunity to shatter the myth of the script.

“Myth of the script”

The myth of the script is, in my opinion, the belief that all of the risk of film production and specifically principal photography is solely tied to the script. So, in theory, if you have a well written, well vetted script you are not only facing less risk, but you have taken a significant step in the right direction to shooting a good film. This is not at all true and I took the time to explain why.

No matter where we go, no matter who we speak to, no matter what their skill level is in filmmaking they will tell you that it’s all about the script and if you are fortunate enough to meet an actor or writer or producer that has been around for quite some time they quote you some esoteric shit like “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage”. These are very harmful statements to make and I want to explain why.

The script is a rough idea at best. Yeah, I know a lot of you screenwriters take objection to that, but that’s the true. You would be hard pressed to find a competent director or producer who hasn’t started with an “awesome” script only to have a number of problems in principal and specifically post. But it goes even further than that if you speak to financiers who will tell you relatively quickly that many a bad film has been shot from a good script and many a great film was edited from less than stellar principal photography dallies…why is this?

In my opinion this results from the fact that there is only so much you can envision and control in a script. There are a number of shooting issues and editing issues that will not be apparent when you are writing be will be extremely evident when you are shootin and editing, but that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that there is a real difference between writing a deeply moving scene and shooting a deeply moving scene, I know that sounds confusing but bear with me. A script is a collection of isolated events in time that you can almost fully assess and understand in written form. Now when we film these scenes things changes, that’s because we now have moving pictures and sound design and atmosphere tracks and attractive actors and camera lenses all of which bring added dimensions to a scene, sequence or film that aren’t perceived clearly in the writing stage. Here, I’ll give you an example…you’re at the climax point for your breakout feature and you’ve written a really heartfelt scene…problem is, it doesn’t come across as heartfelt for any number of reasons like the scene isn’t visually interesting or the viewing audience is distracted by the sequence that proceeded this scene or are preoccupied by a scene or sequence that they anticipate appearing on the screen quite soon. Either way we have a problem that the script cannot fix. Only by the addition, deletion or rearrangement of the/a/many sequence(s) can we get the desired effect.

Therefore it is my belief that the “myth of the script” is an almighty, never differing, never altering book of knowledge is what’s causing a lot of the problems. Now this is not meant to insinuate that I just go out and wing it…to the contrary I suss things out and vet my projects to an infinite extent…the difference is that I know that I don’t really know what I have till I see the scene on the screen/monitor. This is why I think plain ol’ screenwriters are at a serious disadvantage to writer/directors because a writer/director can refine the vision step by step using all the tools in the box when as the spilt positions of screenwriter working with a director can be a more cumbersome process.

As I stated this in Barrow I saw people begin to chew on the idea that it’s not just about the source material. I told them that in my opinion filmmaking is about your ability to make adjustments not to follow a predetermined path. One of the concerned filmmakers asked me what I would say to someone who had used the “myth of the script” process flawlessly for a number of films…I replied that a production problem was inevitable as soon as the negative costs became significantly large enough where you couldn’t envision every single thing that might happen. I told them that it ‘s the practice of not know what to do and figuring it out on the spot that we practice and not just following the plan we made last fall. There was some groaning and hard looks at first but as we continued to debate they began to see my approach to it and why I opt to shoot more expensive films than less expensive films (if you want me to explain this…send an email or post a comment).

It was a good screening and there was a lot of exchanging of ideas (ok.. my ideas, but fuck you…it’s my screening). And then guess what happened? The dude that working in the A/V place asked me if I liked to play Playstation? Are you fucking kidding me? The next thing I know were playing Ridge racer on a huuuge fucking screen. Ok, I did get my ass kicked but I fucking hate ridge racer and the cute little Japanese chick that comments on your driving (I prefer a British dude screaming at me). I drank another pint and then got my ass kicked again and then the bar closed (what is the deal with the 12am closing time…how’s a Yankee supposed to get fucked?)

Well I left with Jo and Phil and followed them back to their flat and they made me some eats and we watched a crazy British indie film ( Withnail & I) . I ate and drank and laughed my ass off before stumbling back to my bed & breakfast…which was locked up for the night (no, I’m serious). I was kind of fucked but I just went back to Jo’s and passed out on their spare bed.

I was up at the crack of dawn and on my way back to my room and then to the train… I was on my way to Wimbledon….to see Mr. Keats…this out to be money!


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