Wire star spills the BBC beans

•13 April, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ll just sit-back and lazily blockquote this one, as thelondonpaper has done all the hard work for me.

The British star of the hit US cop show The Wire has criticised the BBC for screening too many costume dramas.

Actor Dominic West claimed schedules were overly reliant on costume drama and claimed that BBC producers secretly “hate” working on the likes of Cranford, the award-winning period adaptation starring Dame Judi Dench.

His comments are a major embarrassment for the BBC who last night screened the hit US show for the first time on terrestrial TV in the UK.

The actor, 39, who became a major industry player in the States after playing Baltimore police detective Jimmy McNulty, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there is a lack of “high end contemporary drama”.

He said: “If you turn on American TV, there’s a huge choice of nothing you want to see and, unfortunately, I think that’s the case here now as well.

“We seem to lack the high end of drama. We do costume drama brilliantly, and I love costume drama.

“No-one does it like the BBC – no-one has the money to do it, first of all, and, secondly, Americans don’t have the history to do it.”

He added: “But if you talk to any BBC producers, they abhor the fact… they are dying to do The Wire and hate doing Cranford.I thought Cranford was incredible but we don’t seem to be able to do contemporary stuff.”

His comments infuriated the BBC which dismissed his claims as “nonsense”.

Ben Stephenson, controller of BBC Drama, said: “The BBC makes a wide variety of dramas, of which period is a tiny proportion.

“Cranford was a multi-award-winning drama that was enjoyed by more than 7.5 million viewers every week and starred some of the greatest acting talent in the UK.

“To suggest that producers ‘hate’ working on such pieces is nonsense and certainly not a view shared by those involved in this particular series.”

The Wire, a gritty tale of detectives and drug lords operating in modern-day Baltimore, has been hailed as the greatest drama ever made.

West, who was born in Sheffield and educated at Eton, perfected a Baltimore accent to play hard-drinking police officer Jimmy McNulty.

He moved to the US in 2001 after despairing of the opportunities available in Britain.

He said: “I went to America to get away from constantly being cast in costume dramas, playing posh people.

“It’s interesting that I’ve been cast as a working-class cop because I doubt that would happen at home.”

- by Steve Myall on thelondonblog

Frankly, I couldn’t have put this any better than that.

It took and damn good actor from these shores to go and make a big splash in the US, then come back and hand the Beeb it’s ass in a bag.

The Beeb just got pwned. It serves them bloody right for putting The Wire on 5 nights a week. The eejits don’t even know when they’ve got quality product.

Law & Order UK: the day before

•22 February, 2009 • 1 Comment
Law & Order: UK

Law & Order: UK

It’s Sunday – the day before the pilot episode…

First off, it’s safe to say that I’m not an ardent fan of Law & Order. I prefer SVU, but I don’t really follow either one. It’s a bloody good show, but I’m just not that into procedural cop dramas (Spooks and NCIS being the exceptions to that rule). But there’s no WAY I’m missing the UK version of this multi award-winning franchise.

Let’s see just how much we can mess up this formula. Will it be a car-crash pastiche of the original? Will it be a cheap-as-chips knock off – quite literally the ‘poor cousin’? Or will it be the best thing since sliced-bread and quite possibly the saviour of British television?

Well, it’s on ITV1, which bodes ill, as I watch about 1 hour a year of that cultural wasteland. It’s the televisual equivalent of the gossip rag “Closer.”

But, it’s produced by Kudos, who make the only British dramas worth watching (Spooks, Hustle, Life on Mars), it’s 13 parts, so at least it can be globally syndicated (I can’t believe it’s take the UK industry decades to figure out why their 6-part shite never sells abroad) and it’s got one helluva cast.

There’s that fella from BSG, whatsherface from Dr. Who, a bloke off Corrie, RSC lady, him from “Cutting It” and that guy from all those period dramas.

So we’re onto a winner, demographically, as this (the above) is exactly how the Great British viewing public think of Jamie Bamber, Freema Agyeman, Bradley Walsh, Harriet Walter, Ben Daniels and Bill Paterson – excellent actors all, but not exactly the ‘household names’ they deserve to be.

Mind you, the launch of this show is a tough-sell when the number one story in the uk is the imminent death of an utter nobody z-list so-called celebrity, who gained her fame from a gameshow and her notoriety for her racism.

Ho hum.

Sidebar: I’m perversely hopeful that Slumdog get its arse kicked at the Oscars tonight. I’ve nothing personal against the movie or anyone who made it, but I’m sick to death of the British press banging on about this movie like it’s the second coming and the saviour of the British Film Industry (a misnomer I’ve previously discussed).

I don’t care how good the movie is, it’s just one movie. Show me a whole stable fill of hits and I’ll get excited about British film. Is anyone else old enough to remember Colin Welland getting his Oscar and proclaiming to Hollywierd that “the British are coming”? I nearly vomited blood when he said that. What an ass.

Even when I worked in telly, I knew fine well that our American cousins are just better at doing it than us. I never had a chip on my shoulder about that fact, unlike a great many of my co-workers. I just did my bit and got on with it. But I really hope that Law & Order UK doesn’t shame us. It could be brilliant, or it could, once and for all, prove what a talent-vacuum we have become.

Fingers-crossed it’s not the latter.

Christian Bale rocks and you’re all whiney bitches: FACT

•3 February, 2009 • 3 Comments

FACT

Christian Bale can kick your ass: FACT


My favourite story of the day has already raced its way around the web any number of times, but there’s one thing that seems to be lacking from the vast amount of commentary that has been posted on t’interweb.

Spent the day under a rock? Well, it seems Christian Bale lost his rag at a co-worker while filming “Terminator: Salvation.” Check out the tirade here, then we’ll continue.

Well, firstly, will all the Americans in the room stop complaining about Bale “dropping the F-bomb.” Stop being such a bunch of pathetic puritans. He’s a Brit and we swear like Pirates. We’re the best swearers on Earth. Only the Aussies come close to the awesome swearing power of a Brit in full-flow.

Secondly, and here’s where my anger gets let off the leash and… well… I can’t really describe this, so I’ll have to wholly mis-appropriate some commentary from around the web to illustrate the dumbness surrounding this tale:

These from tmz.com

this a-hole has a huge ego…just because he was in Dark Knight and it won awards, he thinks hes better then anyone else..F’ HIM!!!

…..

LOSER!!!!!!!!! With a big ego and mouth. Someone should have bitch slapped his puny little ass.

…..

am shocked! I have absolutely NO interest in ever seeing another movie with him in it.

…..

Christian Bale has lost a fan….me.

I could go on, but that gives you the flavour of the mindless spite that’s out there.

Now, I can pretty much guarantee you that none of these whining ticks have ever set foot on a film set. They haven’t got the faintest clue as to on-set-etiquette. They’ve never worked a 14-hour day in their lives. And they certainly haven’t had a multi-million dollar production resting on their shoulders.

I really hope these pathetic idiots don’t go and see this movie, or any other movie for that matter. The fewer assholes in the cinema, the quieter it’s going to be for the rest of us.

This whole situation really is a no-brainer – answer these questions and you’ll see that:

1. What the hell was the DoP doing walking thought shot?

A.s.s.h.o.l.e! If ANY crew member wanders around set during a shot, they deserve a slap. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got a room full of people all striving to one goal – the next shot. You interrupt that or mess it up and you’ve just wasted the time of dozens of people. You are, therefore, and asshole.

This wandering fool begs the question…

2. Where the hell were the 1st AD and the Runners?

Who’s running this set? Can any asshole just drift around the stage? Let’s see the bit of the risk-assessment where it says “assholes are free to wander blindly around during the shoot, causing a distraction and wasting everyone’s time and production’s money.”

The AD’s should be shot for not dragging the DoP off set the second that this fight kicked-off. How spineless can they be, that they let a screaming match like this to happen on set? They should have stepped in right at the start of this row.

But the biggest question has to be…

3. Who the hell has leaked this?

Whoever in the sound department who let this tape get out should be run out of town on a rail. This is a serious breach of trust. Whatever happened to “what goes on tour, stays on tour”?

Bruce Franklin, an AD and Associate Producer on the movie, has insisted the rant has only been released to slander Bale. He goes on to say…

…that Bale, a “consummate professional,” just had a bad day.

“If you are working in a very intense scene and someone takes you out of your groove…but was the most emotional scene in the movie,” said Franklin. “And for him to get stopped in the middle of it. He is very intensely involved in his character. He didn’t walk around like that all day long. It was just a moment and it passed.”

E! Online

It’s tragic that he’s been put into the position that he has to defend Bale. He’s been backed into that particular corner by a vicious little douchebag who’s leaked this tape for their own gain.

If it is someone in the Sound dept (I can only assume it is) then they should have their Union membership rescinded – seriously. Then we’ll get the DGA to chuck the spineless AD’s out of their gang and, as the grand finale, we’ll strip the DoP of his accreditation and send the twat back to film-school, where he can re-take his freshman year and learn the basics of working on-set, before anyone lets him loose with a pan-glass and a lighting crew.

I think it fascinating that, amid all the hundreds of sniping comments on tmz.com, there are a number from people in the business who, almost to-a-man, stand up for Bale:

It is clear that none of the people who have posted a comment have ever actually worked on a movie set, let alone worked in theater, as a professional. Do you know all the facts about this story? No. Is it likely that the guy being yelled at was a stupid ass? Yes. It is more than likely that Bale had good reason to be pissed by this guy’ lack of professionalism. And what you all clearly don’t understand is that acting is not nearly as easy or glamorous as you think it is – especially if the actors are doing a technically difficult scene which requires real focus. Should Bale have been so vitriolic – well, probably not, but one can understand his frustration if some idiot has interrupted the scene not once, but TWICE. Lay off of Bale, and grow-up.

…..

have any of you people ever worked on a set? I have. do you have any idea how early some of these actors get up, how late they stay, how hot the lights are, how frustrating take after take after take can get?
most of you would have blown a gasket long before most of them do.
big deal, he got pissed. it happens. you never lose your cool?
actors, contrary to popular belief, are not machines created for your amusement, they are PEOPLE. god forbid they ever react like human beings.

…..

I have worked with Shane Hurlbut (the DP that he is yelling at) on a movie. It was awful. He was condescending and misogynistic. And his lighting was fair to middling. What a jerk! He was not a team player. He only lights the set not the people.

This does not excuse Christian Bale’s behavior, totally non-professional. But he probably had enough of Shane’s snarky-ness.

Zing! Oh, that’s a good one, but my personal favourite comes from someone who was there, it seems:

In all due respects to what you all may hear here, and what you all may be imagining, Mr. Bale was totally justified with his verbal outburst. The director of photography distracted Mr. Bale while he was trying to act in a scene.

There is a time and space on the set for the DP to work and set lights and cameras, and there is also a time and space for the actors and actresses to work. The DP was “intruding” on Mr. Bale’s acting time and space.

I totally understand and respect Mr. Bale’s being upset at that specific time.

From my point of view as one of the boom operators on the set at that time, and from my point of view using my experience of 22 years in the motion picture business, Mr. Bale is a professional actor, a gentleman, and excellent at his job.

Unfortunately, this incident has been taken out of its context, and the sound bite you hear does not make sense unless you were there.

So quit your bitching, fools.

On-Set Rules (#1-4)

•29 December, 2008 • Leave a Comment

typewriter_keyboard_01Hi there! Ranty-man is having a doze, so I thought I’d actually write something that actually might pass for actual advice – after all, that was the whole point of me starting this blog off in the first place.

Just like any workplace or social milieu, a film set has its own unique rules of behavior. I’m now going to stick my neck right out and attempt to make sense of these and write some of them down, even though the First Rule of Fight-Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

Rule #1: Shut the fuck up

Seriously. I cannot stress this one enough.

There’s a good reason that the 1st AD calls “quiet for a take.” Even if you’re not recording sound, even if you’re just filming a pack-shot, you keep quiet and you’ll get the shot done a lot quicker and in fewer takes.

And don’t think you’re immune to this rule just because you’re off-set. We can still hear you.

I know I’m stating the bloody obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many times I’ve had to go for another take because someone was talking. If you’re talking, the odds are you’re not paying attention to the set and, therefore, to the shot.

This rule extends to that plastic lump in your pocket…

Continue reading ‘On-Set Rules (#1-4)’

Science Faction *

•13 December, 2008 • 1 Comment

(*OMG! Did I just use that awful portmanteau word “faction”? Shoot me now!)

This news, hot off the Japanese press:

Images read from human brain

From The Yomiuri Shimbun

OSAKA–In a world first, a research group in Kyoto Prefecture has succeeded in processing and displaying optically received images directly from the human brain.

The group of researchers at Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, including Yukiyasu Kamitani and Yoichi Miyawaki, from its NeuroInformatics Department, said about 100 million images can be read, adding that dreams as well as mental images are likely to be visualized in the future in the same manner.

The research group… measured the visual cortexes of the two people who were looking at the word “neuron” and five geometric figures such as a square and a cross. Based on the stored brain patterns, the research group analyzed the brain activities and reconstructed the images of Roman letters and other figures, succeeding in recreating optically received images.

Am I the only person getting flashbacks to Kathryn Bigelow’s oft-forgotten classic Strange Days? Surely not.

As I recall, the original inspiration for the movie’s Maguffin – the S.Q.U.I.D. mind-reading device – came from Producer James Cameron’s brother who used to work for DARPA, where they’ve been tested as possible control systems for fighter-planes.

And wasn’t that something they cribbed off the Clint Eastwood movie Firefox? Am I the only one here old enough to remember that flick? Meh – whatevs.

Anyhoo, today’s strangely thrilling news got me thinking of all the other awesome bits of futurology that James Cameron has given us.  The news has been full of snippets in the last few months.   So here’s a slightly different “Here’s is the News” posting.

The oxygenated perfluorocarbon that’s breathed in The Abyss is old-news, but recent footage of an unusual benthic creature is worthy of a flashback to that movie.

from National Geographic:

A mile and a half underwater, a remote control submersible’s camera has captured an eerie surprise: an alien-like, long-armed, and—strangest of all—”elbowed” Magnapinna squid.

In a brief video from the dive recently obtained by National Geographic News, one of the rarely seen squid loiters above the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico on November 11, 2007.

And now, in strange homage to one of the greatest movies ever made, here’s a company called Cyberdyne, making a robot suit called HAL – I kid you not.

That’s 2 classic movies for the price of one.

ABOUT CYBERDYNE

CYBERDYNE Inc. is a venture firm aiming to utilize accomplishments by Prof. Sankai and his laboratory at University of Tsukuba.

hal

We strongly believe that technologies should be designed for the benefits of humankind. We will be focusing on strong R&D and will introduce very new products and services to the society.

Benefit of humankind? That’s so reassuring…

And if that’s not enough of a Terminator moment for you, how about Skynet going online? It’s around this point in the article that I’ll leave you for a moment and go make myself a tinfoil helmet.

from BBC news

Final Skynet satellite launched

An advanced satellite that will improve greatly the ability of UK military forces to communicate around the globe has been launched into space.

“Skynet 5 is about two-and-a-half-times more capable than the previous system, and it also gives us the ability to use not just voice communication but also data communication,” explains Patrick Wood from spacecraft manufacturer EADS Astrium. “So, computers can talk directly to computers…”

The spacecraft have also been “hardened” to withstand any interference – attempts to disable or take control of the satellites – and any efforts to eavesdrop on their sensitive communications.

Yeah, I edit for dramatic effect, but… come on!

So, when these computers are talking with other computers, who will they be relaying their binary orders to?

These guys, of course!

From New Scientist:

‘Robot arms race’ underway, expert warns

Governments around the world are rushing to develop military robots capable of killing autonomously without considering the legal and moral implications, warns a leading roboticist. But another robotics expert argues that robotic soldiers could perhaps be made more ethical than human ones.

dn13382-1_250

Over 4000 semi-autonomous robots are already deployed by the US in Iraq, says Sharkey, and other countries – including several European nations, Canada, South Korea, South Africa, Singapore and Israel – are developing similar technologies.

In December 2007, the US Department of Defense (DoD) published an “Unmanned systems roadmap” proposing to spend about $4 billion by 2010 on robotic weapons, a figure that will later rising to about $24 bn.

But never fear! There’s someone aboard the International Space Station who can protect us. A real hero who’ll go the distance for his friends. In fact, a bit past that distance. All the way to infinity, and then a bit…

“The Death of the Middle”

•13 December, 2008 • Leave a Comment

newsnightI’m busy watching Newsnight Review and they’re doing a special on how the credit-crunch will affect the arts.

Now, in times of recession, you might think that government cutting arts spending is the shrewd thing to do – as one of tonight’s pundits put it: “a kidney machine always trumps the arts.”

It’s a valid point.

We’re already seeing the effects of the recession in the arts. Shows on  Broadway and the in West End are closing early as theatre attendance drops, and out-of-towners stay away in droves.  I’m suprised to hear that British cinema box-office takings are down, year on year – even if it’s only by one percent – as American box-office is up, just like it was back in the great recession of the 30’s.  It seems, when Americans tighten their belt, they still find the cash to go to the movies for their mass escapism.

The comment that caught my ear (and that inspired this article) came from Mike Newell, saying that the sub £6-million movies will get made, and the block-buster movies of £40-50-million-plus will get made, but those in between won’t get made.

Hmm. An interesting point that was picked-up by the Newsnight pundits, who called this “the death of the middle,” agreeing with Newell that “interesting” works will not be produced – assuming that “interesting” has a production value of, say, £10-30 million.

One pundit said that Brokeback Mountain “wouldn’t get made these days.”

What utter bollocks.

Production budget around the $14 million mark – so it’s right in that “middle” they’re talking of – with a worldwise gross of more than 10 times that.

You’re honestly telling me that any producer worth their salt isn’t going to greenlight a “cheap” movie like this, directed by a multi-award winning director, starring multi-award winning actors.

Really?

Get a clue!

I think what they really mean is, that sized budget movie won’t get shot in the UK. And there’s the rub…

Not really news, I’m afraid.  That size of movie rarely gets shot in this country – I’ve been hearing that from producers for years – ever since I worked on my very first micro-budget feature.

The reasons are simple:  You can whip-up enough private investment to make your own sub £6-million picture.  It’s not actually that difficult – honestly.  I’ve worked with a bunch of guys who’ve had little to no experience of working in movies, but they’ve had a script, a dream and the balls to get their film made.

But to make something that costs £40-million plus, you need a massive company with pockets deep enough to not make a penny of profit for the first three years.  Those big studios have weathered storms like this before – they’ll do it again.  Never fear – your summer blockbusters are safe for another season.

But, pity the poor British Film Industry…

Well, industry… really… cottage industry, perhaps.  It’s not a real business.  It lives hand-to-mouth, stumbling from shot to shot, picking up the occasional crumb from our American cousins.  We really don’t have a studio system like the USA, India, China.  Hell, even France has a stronger studio system than we do.  We haven’t had a studio system for at least 30 years.

And I’m sitting here, listening to the august tones of the esteemed pundits on Newsnight Review, as they gnash their teeth over the death of British cinema.

Have they all been going to the same movies as me?

Hell, are they all living in the same century as the rest of us?

Never fear – the credit crunch will have little lasting impact on the British Film Industry, because there is no British Film Industry.

Oh thank god – they’ve gone from my magic telly box and have been replaced by a Mark Kermode doco’ on Baz Luhrmann.  That’s more like it!

Four Act Structure (Nobody Knows Anything – pt.2)

•7 December, 2008 • 2 Comments

typewriter_keyboard_01or: why Syd Field can kiss it.

Go into a bookstore and take a look at the shelf of screenwriting books.

I can’t believe I’ve just told you to do that, but… what the hell…

On that shelf, there’s a name you’ll see again and again: Syd Field.  Now, I’ve already taken a pop at this turd-polishing hack in an earlier post.  If you’re not familiar with his odious ouvre, go read that post – I’ll wait here until you get back.

Ok.  DingDing.  Seconds out. Round 2.

Cutting straight to the chase…

Will you all please stop obsessing about story structure!

These formulaic out-of-the-box structures are nothing more than tools to help you build the spine of your screenplay. You’re the tool if you think these ‘tips’ have any meaning or relevance, of if you think they’ll make you write a better screenplay.

Sure, if you haven’t got the first clue about narrative structure, then they’ll improve your screenplay, but then so would reading John Irving’s The 158-pound Marriage twice or watching Taxi Driver three or four times.  You’ll also learn things about character from those two that you’ll never learn from the loathsome Field.

Let me quickly slaughter the sacred cow for you.  Lemme just destroy the basis of Field’s unfathomable success:

The Three Act Structure ‘Paradigm’ is a lie.

Slavishly follow that structure and you will write nothing of any importance or artistic merit.

The first plays ever written were one-act jobs. The idea of multiple-act structure was only invented out of sheer practicality.  Quite simply, it’s unreasonable for you to expect an audience to sit still for three hours without a break, so you split your play in two.  How do you stop them walking out during the intermission?  You leave them with some kind of cliffhanger or unexpected shift in story – leave them with a question that needs answering and they’ll be back in their seats in under 20 minutes.

Now do you see how Field has made an entire career out of baloney?

Oh sure – there are loads of movies that you can point to and say “buy Mike – this is surely written in a three act structure – so much so that you can set your watch to it.”

I’ll give you that – the barn-raising scene in Witness happens bang on half-way.  Time it and see.  You can go to a bazillion screenwriting courses and they’ll all tell you that this is the classic “Middle of Act 2″ scene.

Or take Star Wars -that’s a genuine three-act story – FACT. I should know – I’ve seen it eleventy gajillion times and the trilogy took up half of my college thesis.

But Field himself thinks that The Millenium Falcon blasting off from Mos Eisley happens in act 2, when it’s clearly in act 1, just because Star Wars’ first act lasts longer than the Field-prescribed 30 minutes (it’s Tatooine, Death Star, Yavin IV – the location shifts are a dead giveaway).  It’s like the guy doesn’t even understand his own theory.

And then there’s the problem with Witness.

That classic “Middle of Act 2″ barn-raising scene is the link between Act 2 and Act 3.

Witness has a 4-act structure.

I’ll say that again.

Witness has a 4-act structure.

As do pretty much all of these so-called “3 Act” Hollywood movies.  The 4-Act-ness of them has become increasingly obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention.  Check out Transformers.  It’s the very epitome of 4-Act structure – and it’s sticks to the 10-minute action rule pretty rigidly too.   It’s two hours of celluloid entertainment cut into 4 equal pieces.

It’s screenwriting-by-numbers.

I’m not knocking Transformers - I’m a massive fan of Michael Bay – this movie totally rocks me to the bottom of my popcorn bucket, but it’s not exactly Seven Samurai, is it?

If you want to write better screenplays, stop worrying about story structure and just tell us a story!

Stop thinking – stop reading these poisonous books – stop worrying about structure – start writing

I’m nearly all out of ranty for the day, but I’ll leave you with this jot of advice:

Next time you’re in the screenwriting section of your local bookstore, ask yourself what the hell you’re doing considering wasting your hard-earned cash on that shite.  You might as well be in the yoghurt-knitting self-help section for all the good these books will do your writing.

Get yourself far away from that mind-rotting crap and visit the Literature section.  Buy some Irving or Dickens.  Read The Great Gatsby or Rum Punch.  Or, if you really must read a script, try the Theatre section and pick up some Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman has 2 acts, BTW) or David Mamet (there’s a great collection with Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed the Plow).

Once you’ve read all of those, if you’re still not convinced, I’ll let James Bonnet try to convince you. I’m not saying he’s the guru you’ve been waiting for, but this article of his makes a lot of sense.

Now I’m off to write some freeform beat-poetry. Sod strucure.  Let’s jam.

 
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