I posted that last update – the review of 2018, mainly because, no matter how embarrassing some of that baloney is, it throws some interest new light on what’s happened since or rather what was (and is) going on in the background on the filmmaking side and I thought it would be good for me to do a catch up on my creative goals.
Also, this is not an attack. This is a journal of my creative endeavours and I am just needing to explain what is going on and why it has happened. Please do not hold any ill will here. We’re all human, and all fallible and I for one and far from perfect.
And this is a cursed post. I’ve tried around 20 times to get this damn blog to post this text…
So – as of yesterday at 11:11pm I managed to hit my #nanowrimo2014 of 50,000 words just half way through the month! This has never happened to me before – considering the last time I did Nanowrimo I did exceed my target, but with only a few days to spare.
I was both ecstatic when it happened, but also feeling all kinds of strange feelings, elation, mixed with despair (‘What would I do with myself now?’) and also heightened by a large weight having been removed from my shoulders. So I tweeted:
50K! Target acquired; new stretch goal to finish the damn novel commences tomorrow. Maybe 10K left to do??? I need a walk. #NaNoWriMo2014
Then I made sure my baby was backed up (on my hard drive, USB stick, to Drop Box and to One Drive – paranoid? Who me?) and went out for a walk in the brisk Stockholm night air, to calm down, and do some thinking as I wandered the almost abandoned night streets. I had two questions to answer – how had I felt the process had gone and what to do next?
So how had I managed to complete the challenge so quickly?
This is the first Nanowrimo – or the first time during any writing project! – that I have planned in advance. I am a classic pantser. I have tried planning / outlining and structuring before and never completed it. Usually I get distracted quicker than a dog at a fire hydrant museum and after a few dedicated hours of effort I drift off and find myself starting to write. But this time I was relatively steadfast and forced myself to spend a good month and a half planning (I’ll explain more about the process I’m using later). I didn’t complete the planning in time, but I did manage to at least set up a separate scrivening scene for every idea or scene I wanted to cover in my novel. I also managed to assign meta data in Scrivener to every scene – so I could use the status of the files to find out which ones needed working on, if I decided not to work in a linear fashion and jump around – and I knew which characters were in which scene and what time of day the scene took place, in case I wanted to kill characters or merge scenes or basically move things around. I would know at a glance if my ideas would work. I would also be able to easily filter based on specific criteria and jump to any scene I wanted.
The main thing that helped me – but I also found to be a creativity limiting factor – was having a feature film script already prepared previously. I had basically taken a script and taken the scene information and used that as the basis for my planning. So in most cases I had a good idea of what the scene was about and where it should go. Here’s an extract from the first page of the script:
(I will explain more about the process of taking a script back into Scrivener – from Final Draft – and breaking it down for adaptation purposes, in another later post)
So, with that level of detail you’d think it would be a breeze right? Well I found that when my fingers wanted to dance across the keys and I wanted to write the scene in a fresh creative way, I’d often be trapped into a mindset where often all I could see was the original scene in my head. It was tough sometimes, when my energy levels were lower, to be able to see the way it should flow from a novel view point, maybe to see the scene from a character’s perspective, rather than the viewer’s perspective – which after all is how a script is written. The script is far from perfect. In fact I had wanted to do a complete rewrite on important sections of the plot to fix it – because I realised later in the process, that I had started to rewrite, making brutal changes to the plot and not finished the job or tidied up after myself by leaving detailed notes about where my mind was at the time. So there are massive chunks that conflict with previous scenes or that were just plain missing! But the real positive I found for me, when I felt like I was really writing and in that creative flow, was when whole new scenes would flow from my fingers and onto the page, or I’d see the scene in greater and fresher detail, and I’d wonder how I’d missed key details when I was writing the scenes of the original script!
And work was also a factor – this was the first year that work was not absolutely insane for me. I am between main gigs, looking for work contracts as a freelancer, and purely through scheduling issues with certain projects starting, I found myself with a window to devote almost entirely to Nanowrimo. I’d have to spend a few hours each day on work related stuff for the most part, with only the odd insanely demanding day, but mostly I was able to force myself to focus on the novel – in between conversations with my partner, trying to keep fit, housework and cooking, and socialising. And I did have to force myself – especially when having to deal with my insomnia or illness. It’s not fun writing when your heart isn’t in it and you feel like crap and you can barely think straight. in fact I did have a few days of terrible performance; but never a day when I didn’t write a single word! When you read all those inspirational articles on writing you find that the one central and great truth is that writing is a [mental] muscle. You have to work it hard, flex it and get it used to hard work. it has to be developed. Then, when you have to dig deep inside for a small grain of something, to put onto a page in your moment of need, things like ‘writer’s block’ rarely are a genuine blockage.
In fact, I hope that such effort can be maintained. I hope that I can plan more. I hope that I can force myself to write each day – as I’ve done – to continue to develop that muscle activity.
So what will I do next?
I was almost toying with writing a second novel, over the rest of Nanowrimo, to see how far I could get with more pantsing. lol As I do love writing and I’m not short of other ideas. But I think that I will continue with this novel – I still have more to write. I’m guessing around 10K more. But I am still in the end of a slightly bloated Act Two, so there is definitely more work to be done.
Once that is done – i still have various planning activities to do – like finish constructing the maps of my locations, finish defining my characters – their backstory, timelines and motivations – so that I can really nail these details when I next come to work on the rewrite / second draft. Those activities will definitely keep me busy.
For anyone else still in this journey with me – stay strong! You’re awesome! I’ve already seen three people fall by the way side, unable to see the challenge through. The fact that you’ re doing this is great. There were plenty of times when I wanted to give up on this foolhardy quest. Of course I’d much rather be drinking and going to parties, than sitting staring at a screen, or cursing my neighbours for having a party when I very much needed sleep after a tough writing day. Or having nice dreams instead of the blood-soaked visions of torture that bled through from the page into my subconscious in the rare moments when I did sleep. There were days when I hated what I was writing and wanted to jump onto another idea, or do anything else, like scrub an oven, rather than stare at a page – even with knowing for the most part what I was to write! Keep at it people!
For me, I’m going for another walk, then I’m going to get comfortable and I am going to get me another 2.5K under my belt before the end of the day. If I don’t, something bad is going to happen. I know this because my harsh taskmaster of a brain tells me this. He says that if you want to open door no.2 you’ll get a nasty surprise. Go through door no. 1 and don’t be foolish. I think I’ll take his advice. I can hear the claws on the other side of door no.2 and I don’t fancy meeting what’s on the other side.
I first became aware of Adam Baker’s writing when searching from some holiday reading. Shopping sites remember our preferences, and sometimes they’re even correct – sometimes – and this time when searching for post apocalyptic pandemic / zombie fiction it presented OUTPOST to me. At the time of purchase there were only a few reviews. Although the reviewers were divided, the positive reviews filled me with hope that I would find a new PONTYPOOL or 28 DAYS LATER between the covers. It wasn’t until I was sequestered in by the pool, in the shade, so pale that I appeared to be in black and white compared to the other resort guests, and opened the cover of the book, that I realised I was in for a skilfully crafted and incredibly addictive joyride.
OUTPOST was an unforgiving tale of Arctic desperation, and ever pervading dread: seen through the eyes of a suicidal overweight priest and the crew of a defunct oil rig; watching the world submit to a global pandemic which turns its victims into a 21st century version of the living dead. Every page was either filled with the slow dread of eventual starvation, submitting to the elements and the bite of the infected, or I was captivated by the survivors’ Maguyver-esque attempts to turn the tables on fate.
I couldn’t wait to tweet about it as soon as I finished it – being a social media-addicted saddo (hence the blog) – and tell people that they need to grab a copy at once. That’s how I eventually came to own a pre-publication copy of JUGGERNAUT; a sort of prequel, if you will. Adam Baker read my tweets. We then corresponded. And when Adam later announced that he had written a new tale, I jumped at the chance to get my greasy paws on it. And I’m glad that I did… (forgive any spoilers!)
A few of the more notable films I’ve watched (in Alphabetic order):
30 DAYS OF NIGHT 2: DARK DAYS – Yawn, blah… this b-movie sequel fails to live up to the promise of the first film. Right from the first movement when we see a quick actress switch and tiresome flashback monologue you can tell the film will suck worse than the hissing vampires this actress is trying to warn everyone about. It tells the tale of the female survivor travelling around and trying to convince people what happened after an apparent cover up, who is then sought out by a useless band of supposed vampire hunters to hunt the vampire queen. Only these tossers have no clue, inappropriate ideas about suitable weaponry and we don’t care what happens to them as none of them are anything more than cardboard cut-out characterisations, including the Ripley-esque lead. It really outstayed the welcome and stunk up my night’s viewing and was only memorable for the pain it induces when I think about watching it again.
BLOOD CREEK– a strange mix of atmospheric horror and sporadic, outlandish CG gore. This tale of a Nazi warlock using an ancient runestone to reanimate the dead and do his bidding proved entertaining, if a little predictable in places. Surprisingly good cast for what felt like a low budget schlocker. The main plot had more than a few plotholes, but entertaining and innovative enough, despite it’s obvious desire to create a franchise. Worth repeat viewings.
CASTRATION MOVIE – Round a friend’s house I was told a tale of a tape handed down from a cult film director by the band who released it. The bizarre nature of its footage and the murky provenence seemed like too good a chance to pass up the opportunity to watch what may be an actual – albeit bizarre – ‘fake’ snuff-type movie; as released by Psychick TV. The movie features the shoddy home movie road trip footage of a potential serial killer, featuring various 70s Mexican and White rentboys playing with electrode sexual stimulation / drug induced highs, with not altogether successful and sometimes fatal results. My friend had never watched it all the way through, so we did. You can’t unsee this type of film, so think twice before deciding to check it out. – if you wish to check out what others think about the film and find out more about what is shown CLICK HERE. I certainly think it is a film that deserves more research into it. Not sure who would want to though.
MACHETE – Danny Trejo (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, HEAT) stars as the titular badass Mexican cop with a penchant for overly large shiny knives. The bag guys underestimate his gift for survival, when he is forced to watch them kill her, before being left for dead, stabbed and left to die in a burning house. He soon appears in the US as an illegal immigrant and is forced to take part in the fake attempted assassination of a candidate for State Senator (De Niro), using immigration as his ticket to office. Soon everyone is out to get Machete, but this unstoppable force of chopping and slicing carves his way through them all, until he gets his revenge; only stopping for the love of some hot Chicas – including a great pool scene with Lindsay Lohan (the Senator’s daughter) and Alicia Rachel Marek (the Senator’s wife). If you don’t mind your action extra bloody CG, and can handle the idea of Trejo being an irresistible stud, then this film will float your boat. It did mine.
ONG BAK 3 – Another flawed martial action film starring Tony Jaa – picks up right where the second one finished. We find out more about the power of the Evil Crow assassin character, whilst Tien (Tony Jaa) is healed and regroups to fight another day. Flawed, but still amazingly shot and featuring some unique action sequences – this time a more yoga / Thai dancing style of fighting. Well worth a view.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 – The much hyped sequel to the original haunted house tale – where a family bring their first born male home and all hell breaks loose. I fell asleep through the first film and wasn’t entirely keen on going to see the second one. It does suffer from the same repetition and painfully slow build-up, and ‘just-in-time-exposition’, but it does deliver in the end. I was impressed that I felt the classic hairs-standing-up-on-the back-of-my-neck feeling, and that others in the cinema were jumping left right and centre and the unhappy ending. But I could have done without the pool cleaning equipment porn moments and other repetition. The film could easily have been 30 minutes shorter without sacrificing the experience. If I’d watched this at home on my own I doubtless would have slept through the good bits. I may now actually bother rewatching the first snooze fest.
REC 2 – a brilliant sequel to the first excellent Spanish Cinema Verite zombie movie, which blends the occult, possession and zombism into a terrifying unrelenting mix. This film picks up where the last one left off, the same night, with the female reporter being carted away by a possessed freak, and throws two new bands of curious people into the apartment building looking for answers. As one would expect, each band fall prey to their own stupidity and the hunger of the building’s inhabitants. This film should be watched late at night, alone, in the dark. It will scare the pants off you and make you reach for the light switch when you go to bed. It has a very clever spin on how to make a monster truly terrifying and make use of night vision; something that is rarely seen in the tired horror genres of the last few years.
THE COLLECTOR – amazingly dark and unflinchingly twisted take on the Slasher film genre, with a thief breaking into a family home, only to find the house rigged with booby traps (ala SAW) and the family all trussed up in various states of disrepair. The titular killer is always one step ahead and seemingly unkillable, or rather the victims are seemingly intent on only maiming and not finishing the job. if you don’t mind that sort of cliché fare then it is well worth a look.
THE LOSERS – a weird comic book action movie about an A-TEAM-like band of Special ops characters who fall afoul of an evil CIA operative and barely survive an assassination, when they go against his orders. Their quest to restore their honour and avenge a Helicopter of kids didn’t really float my boat, despite the very slick action sequences. Nor would it interest me to read the original books. But I may rewatch this when I’m in a better frame of mind and hopefully learn to love it.
Anyway, there are far more to mention soon. But that’s it for now.
Yes, I’ve been a busy film geek of late. Not only have we attempted to shoot a short film entirely on the iPhone 4, but I’ve been getting to grips with FCP Studio and learning how to edit the footage; as I am sick of trying to do it in the totally unintuitive and limited iMovie 09 or iMovie app.
It has not been the easiest of times. But as with each of my shoots I have learnt from it.
The main objective was to shoot a spoof commercial / short horror comedy film in 1 day, with mainly found objects / objects I already had, amateur actors, natural light and do it all on the iPhone 4 – and for £50 including food. It did not go to plan.
The End result – was shot in 4 hours, on the iPhone 4, is not edited on it though as that was doing my frickin’ head in, features the usage of one red head light as the weather was not with us on the day, I had to buy makeup and marigolds as props. Total budget – including feeding the crew was about £60.
Firstly, always check your makeup prior to prepping your shoot. I found that the latex and powdered makeup I intended to use for my zombie makeup had gone off, since I bought it after a special FX course that I took. Cue hurried calls and a mad dash by one of the crew to go and pick up some replacement makeup; only to find that it was vastly substandard, but by then we had to crack on and make a go of it. Not ideal. Periodically check your makeup, just like you would any piece of equipment.
Secondly, I must say that if you’re going to attempt to shoot anything meaningful featuring actors, that requires intricate zooms or moving the camera, don’t bother using the iPhone 4 unless you really want to keep retaking your shots to get them right. It’s difficult enough to shoot anything with actors and enabling them to hit their marks without having to ensure that you capture the shot. All it takes is the focus to suddenly become unresponsive or a slight knock to the camera itself or the tripod you’re using and the shot is ruined. This happened often. It’s fine if the shoot is simple or just shooting live action as it happens – after all that it what it was designed for.
I have noticed also that the compressed format of the iPhone 4 AVCHD footage doesn’t hold up well in blocks of colour, especially on blacks of shadows. It often looks blocky or patchy, even when the scene has plenty of light. My main actor brought a Canon 550D and I have heard amazing things about the video capability of this camera. If he had known how to use it and I could have quickly learned, I would have been sorely tempted to ditch the iPhone and do it right. However, the object was to have a fun shoot, using the iPhone 4 and not falling back to any of my other cameras – not even the fully charged Semi Pro DV cam I had upstairs; no matter how tempting it was!
The real point of contention for me has been the edit. iMovie just doesn’t cut it as an editing app, not when you’re shooting multiple viewpoints / angles and intercutting them. A 30 second sequence took me 4 times longer to edit in iMovie and it was far from polished at the rough cut stage compared to the same edit in FCP. That is the point though isn’t it. Although you may want to shoot a fun movie – fun is relative and if you approach it with a Semi Pro sensibility then you must use Semi Pro tools.
But the iPhone 4 footage is still relatively new. Few programmes automatically come with the codecs / settings as standard, so I found that FCP did not have suitable setting for me to use, which would retain the audio on the timeline. That is, until I stumbled across the article “Topic : Iphone4 video to Final Cut pro – giving away a droplet to help you out.” – which came with a link to download a droplet. This droplet converted over 62 clips in an hour – into better quality ProRes 422 LT footage that FCP could understand and could play back the audio. Nice! Thanks Jeff Greenberg!
Anyway, it will be while yet before the finished movie is ready for derision and mockery. But I am in the middle of editing it right now, and must stop procastinating. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait.