Category Archives: Other People’s Stuff

What’s in a Thought Bubble?

I helped launch an art project on Tuesday. Well, I don’t know if you’d call it art, exactly, but it does have a manifesto; that’s got to count for something, right? Anyway, this venture of dubious worth is called [THOUGHT BUBBLES], and it’s all about impulsive creative expression.  You might want to go check out our first post before reading any further. I promise you it won’t take more than two minutes of your time. Go on. I’ll wait. Welcome back! See? That didn’t take so long. As you can see, [THOUGHT BUBBLES] is all about brevity: we’ll be putting out videos of one minute (or shorter) in length once a week for as long as we can keep it up. There are certain other rules that apply – as seen in the aforementioned manifesto – but we can go into those another time, particularly as we’ll start breaking them pretty early on. But who is this “we”, you ask? Am I not the sole architect of the project, filming, composing and creating every atom of beauty that makes up the very being of [THOUGHT BUBBLES]? Of course not; don’t be ridiculous. I make up one third of a creative trio I am perpetually humbled to be a welcome part of. My fellow bubblenauts are none other than musician Alice Rowan and filmmaker Dave Beveridge. They’re both much more than that, obviously, being dear friends of mine, but for the purposes of this introduction that’s your key to understanding the basis of a Bubble’s creation. Here are a couple of brilliant things they made:

Dave

Alice

I know, right? I’m sure you now want to see and hear a lot more from them. Rest assured – you will. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

  • Dave films something that speaks to him. He shoots a single shot for however long he feels is necessary, then cuts the resulting video to a minute or under.
  • He then shares the video with Alice and myself. Crucially, this is the first time we’ll have ever been aware of this footage or the context in which it was created so that we can proceed unbiased.
  • Alice composes a piece of frustratingly marvellous music, records live as quickly as possible and adds it to the video.
  • Then your humble narrator takes one look at the piece and declares it finished, stating that any contribution he made would only lessen its stupendous value.

…Just kidding.

  • I look at the video and add one final layer of interpretation – a spoken word recording. It could be overwrought narration, a clutch of whispered dialogue or even field recordings of overheard conversations in retirement home cafeterias.
  • All of this is put together, mixed ever so slightly so that one element does not drown out another (any more than intended, at least) and put into a digital box to await its release.

And really, that’s about it. Oh, except that it almost never occurs in that order. Everyone takes turns beginning new bubbles and contributing at different stages to make for ever more interesting interpretations; there’s no single authorial presence pulling the strings, which is exactly how we like it. I have no idea how a bubble I initiated is going to end up, how it’ll be interpreted, if a joke I wrote will be turned into a tragic note or a heartfelt declaration turned into a punchline. That’s really scratching the surface of what happens with the finished products, but I’m sure you get the picture. And this isn’t a project that benefits from over-explanation, anyhow. Which is mainly why I’ve chosen to write this here and not on our shiny new official site – [THOUGHT BUBBLES] is about short, spontaneous creative expression and, above all, not overthinking things. If you’re a long time (or an anytime) reader of this blog, you’ll know how hilarious it is that I’m a part of something like that and how crucial that these two outlets never collide. [Of course, there’s nothing to say I can’t dot a few links here and there.]

I think that’s all I have to say for the moment. Part of the reason I wrote this was to have something to direct people toward when they ask what the project’s about, at least in the early days before the (fingers crossed) vast library of content speaks for itself. The site’s a little austere at the moment, and I get itchy when I think people might be confused about something I’ve done. Another part is that I like to ramble about myself and my talented friends, but you already knew that. Oh, one other thing – we launched the site and the first video on 21st April 2015, which is exactly a year after Dave, Alice and I conceived the project. A lot of things happened in the interim – some good, others not so good – and the effects of those will likely (in some cases, will most definitely) be shown in future bubbles. It’s personal and epic and tiny and heartbreaking and life-affirming and ultra-camp. Mostly, though, [THOUGHT BUBBLES] is indefinable. Stay tuned to find out what the hell that means.

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Flaws Are Sexy

A few friends on the media social were linking to this piece on “strong” female characters and it’s well worth checking out. It discusses the notion that what’s more interesting and three-dimensional are female characters with flaws and personalities and, you know, those things that humans have.

The author links to this other piece from the New Statesman that inspired her. It’s somewhat more substantial, especially for its notion of the “Strong Male Character” and the potentially few examples of such a narrow-minded concept, like so:

Batman’s insistence that he can, must, will get into the Strong Male Character box comes close to hysteria, but there’s no room in there for his bat ears and cape and he won’t take them off.

As you can tell it’s also pretty funny so I’d heartily recommend that too.

As a guy who writes women (as well as men of my own gender) and worries that he’s making them too flawed, that people won’t get that I’m making a statement with a character or just trying to give them enough depth to be interesting and seem real, it’s somewhat comforting to read pieces like this and know that I really am just overthinking things.

Wait. It’s comforting to know that I’m just neurotic?

Um. Yeah, I guess.

I kind of wish I’d been able to read something like this a couple of years ago when I started working on Scars, that horror/drama/comedy screenplay I occasionally blather about that has a female protagonist and a reasonably diverse supporting cast of characters. I won’t spoil the story for you but it concerns a young woman named Laura who comes back to her hometown after an extended absence and starts to fall into old patterns that aren’t necessarily too healthy for her. Naturally, this meant she had a few problems, and I was terrified that I’d be crucified for making her seem like a “bitch” or a “slut” or any number of other derogatory, reductive stereotypes.

This was, of course, pretty dumb.

I’d bash my head against the wall trying to make sure Laura didn’t come across as the kind of character who would offend anyone when really I should have been more concerned with ensuring her motivation made sense and that I cared about her enough to get other people to care about her too. That kind of second-guessing can drive you mad, so I’m glad I gave it up before long.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t think critically about your work as a writer or an artist of some description. That’d be pretty dumb. But you can’t let the guiding principle to any work be “who might be offended by this portrayal of so-and-so?” – that’s the death knell of creativity. Instead, I’d suggest the advice that’s been given a million times before: just get it written. Beat that first draft out without giving it too much thought and then look back on it to see if the result matches up with your intentions. If there are a few glaring contradictions and howling errors in what you’ve done then congratulations – it’s definitely a first draft and deserves rewriting to within an inch of its life. And hey, if you’re so mired in the intricacies of the story that you can’t see your characters for the plot, just get your nemesis to read it. They won’t be shy about telling you if your characters suck, believe me.

Okay, I think that’s all I have to say about that. I’m starting to do that overthinking thing again.

G’night.

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A Coupl’a Cool Videos

So last week Redshirt Films launched our new webseries Nights At The Round Table, which I contributed material to, recorded sound on a couple of episodes and occasionally made attempts to stop things falling apart (mostly by heading to the shops to buy flapjacks).

It’s picked up a fair few fawning reviews and a ton of steam (at the time of writing the view count’s pushing 1100, which is excellent news for a video posted five days ago), and I hope everyone who worked – and is still working – on it is as proud as I am that it’s finding an audience, especially the show’s creator Jamie, who regularly comes close to killing himself at every stage of production so that not only can an episode be finished but to such a high quality that it astounds people to learn that the only budget we had was for tea.

Anyway, if you’ve somehow missed my laser-guided social media bombardments of the first episode until now, here’s your chance to catch the premiere episode:

And if that didn’t whet your appetite for the next episode, perhaps the tantalising promise of a cameo from your humble blogger will suffice? Yeah, I thought so.

In other York-related movie news, local production company Parashoots just posted this trailer for a Blade Runner-inspired advert that looks (predictably) pretty incredible. I thought you might like it:

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Hooped

So last summer I produced a lovely little short film (written, directed and edited by Jamie “I Am Tim” McKeller) which was released on YouTube in October. Why am I telling you this now, you yell risibly into my bleeding ear canals? Well, there are two answers:

1). I plum forgot to blog about a single part of that process, bewilderingly. Yes, I’m that good at this self-promotion business.

2). It was screened a couple of days ago at the Up North film night at the White Cloth gallery in Leeds, to an apparently packed house of about 200, AND it won the inaugural People’s Choice award.

Which is pretty neat. The award’s no Picard-headed statue, but it’s got a certain rickety charm:

Unfortunately I wasn’t there to see the reaction, but it was either train fare to Leeds or eating this week, and I do so love the bittersweet taste of life.

The film’s called Hooped, and it looks a bit like this:

Hope you like it.

A giant chunk of the credit goes of course to Jamie and the film’s two stars, James Rotchell and Anna James, who all took a fun idea and made it not only hysterical but also (I don’t care if it’s corny, I’ll say it) heartwarming, but it wouldn’t be the same thing without the contributions of everyone involved, who sometimes get pushed aside when the accolades come a-callin’.

Michael Howe and Sebastian Synowiec (who makes an unfussy but enjoyable cameo the eagle-eyed among you may spot) kept us all on track as relay assistant directors – just when you thought you’d gotten rid of them, another comes out of the woodwork to make sure you’ve finished the job you’re on ten minutes ago. Delicate souls, them.

Chris Atkinson, who had a large part in getting Dead Man Working made all those moons ago, did a great job of capturing the summery, sepia-tinged feel Jamie wanted as our director of photography, and the ever-dependable Natalie Roe was on hand for camera assisting and general cheeriness. Who doesn’t want that on a set?

Nat was there at the screening along with Jennifer Jordan – I Am Tim‘s Anna (she was also in a little-known work called Pieces Falling Into Place), general stand-up gal and inarguably the main reason for Hooped‘s success that night, being that she was the one who submitted the film in the first place. I suppose it helped that it’s a cracking little movie as well. So yeah, thanks, Jen – you rock.

And me? Well, I did what any producer does to get the film made, really: buy people drinks and say things like “We definitely don’t have that in the budget”.

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Zomplugs

Those cats over at ace York-set web series Zomblogalypse have been hard at work writing their feature [adaptation? follow-up? reimagining? who the hell knows/cares?] of/to the series over the past eight months, recently completing the eighth draft.

They put this video up to talk about the process and share some juicy deleted scenery:

My favourite bit’s when they all segue onto egg and chips.

And Tony’s hair, natch.

If you haven’t a clue what’s going on in this post, FRET NOT! For I have links that will satisfy your intense desire for enlightenment.

Here’s the Zomblog site, here’s MilesTone Films’s YouTube channel (which also hosts a veritable smorgasbord of videographic delights) and the obligatory Twitter and Facebook plugs. Check ’em out.

A few months ago (it was probably a lot longer) I was involved in a photo shoot to promote the movie in Cannes (snoot snoot), one of the results of which is thus:

Spot the blogger. Think Oceanic.

[Courtesy of friend, enthusiastic camera boff and beard-owner Dave Beveridge’s ace spinner. He’s in the yellow. I forget who pulled the cord. Sorry!]

So yeah, I’m pretty excited about this thing. As I am for the other two films these guys have got coming out before this’un.

It’s almost enough to make a guy feel like he needs to catch up or something.

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Other People Do Cool Stuff Too #3

In keeping with catching the hell up to this damn blog’s regular schedule – blame house-moving shenanigans and poxy end-of-uni kerfuffles – here’s Wednesday’s post:

Johannes is a photographer, writer and filmmaker I went to uni with for three years. He’s German and is therefore straight talking yet philosophical and introduced me to the wonderful world of Werner Herzog impressions.

He’s got a great eye, which is one of the reasons I’ve worked with him as cinematographer on a couple of productions.

Jo has directed a few shorts – along with great things like this:

and I look forward to the day when a producer gives him enough money to make a feature, because I’m certain it’ll look gorgeous and be filled with quirky Teutonic humour and existential musings. All good things.

He’s back living in Germany now, which makes me sad, but he’s been up this weekend for graduation, which has mitigated said sadness somewhat. He tells me that he’s been working various roles on a couple of feature productions and he’s been doing some promotional work for a company that essentially provides the same service as that in ace David Fincher flick The Game

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, wonder no more:

If you already did know, you’ll understand how bloody excited that makes me.

Also a little terrified.

Anyhow, Johannes (Cornelius to his friends) is a pretty swell guy and you should get to know him better on his professional site, Flickr, Vimeo and blog.

Other People Do Cool Stuff #2

See what I did there? With the title and everything?

Okay, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Until #22.

Tonight my parents watched the season 2 finale of Mad Men, a show that if you know me you’ve probably borne witness to my banging on about how earth-shatteringly brilliant it is.

I like to think I introduced the ‘rents to its amazingness, but sadly not; they just nick the seasons they don’t have off me. My dad’s in the phase of modern middle age where he’s decided that he until now wasn’t watching enough quality programming in high definition, so he’s been on a bit of a Blu-ray binge for a couple of years now.

Which, along with the wondrous/insidious magical box that is Sky+, has made temporarily relocating home much less of a chore than it could have been.

There have been a few slightly uncomfortable moments between mum and dad when Game of Thrones has been on, I won’t lie. Still, it makes a change from their terminal Strictly addiction, mercifully.

I’m not trying to get you to become interested in my parents, by the way. For one thing, they’ve next to no online presence so it’s be kind of difficult unless I started handing out mobile numbers, which is something I won’t do again in a hurry (don’t ask). For another, I’m not sure how keen you are on church fêtes and accounting.

No, the titular Other Person for this week is Matt Weiner, creator/writer/executive producer of Mad Men. Why? Because I think it’s a great show and I’m trying to get more folks to agree with me. Or just watch it. Despite the period sheen of the show it actually has a hell of a lot of substance, tons of clever writing (some of which is very funny and all incredibly well-observed) and more genuinely human moments in one of its seasons than I’ve seen in many series’ entire runs.

That most of the characters are all trying to keep up the public charade of this fake, plastic world that they’ve created for themselves while their private lives crumble and decay in the background is about as good an allegory for the effects mass media advertising have had on the modern world as you can get.

I don’t buy that it’s too slow: I’m glad to be given a story that doesn’t want to constantly spoonfeed me morals or race to the next plot point as fast as Betty Draper can change outfits.

I also don’t buy the complaint that it’s sexist (That’s the point. That’s the joke!), or the characters are unlikable:  I might disagree with their views on gender or race, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sympathise with every single character on a certain level at some point. They have different layers. You know, like real people. I can’t talk to some of my close friends or collaborators about certain things like politics or religion because I know it’ll cause an argument. You shift your talking points to the things that are going to keep you good friends; I’m genuinely excited about a show that lets me have that complicated a relationship with a fictional character.

Phew. That kind of went on a bit, didn’t it? I don’t know what effect this will have on anyone. If you’ve already decided that you’re not a fan then little I say is going to change your mind, but if you were on the fence about whether or not to check it out I hope this wasn’t far too long-winded and heavy-handed for ya.

To keep up with the Matt Weiner theme: he pretty much writes or co-writes every episode now, along with usually directing the season finale. That’s workmanship I really admire. Plus his commentaries are full of wit and insight and you tell in his voice that he truly treasures being able to tell these stories, which is what it’s really about. I get a kick out of having these stories told to me and taking them further by talking them out and deepening the tales with people who aren’t me.

I think the mark of great art is that it gets people talking. Sometimes important things, sometimes just the hurt look someone gives when another person mentions something perfectly innocuous, sometimes laundry masturbation – yes, that’s in Season 1 – but talking nonetheless.

And Mad Men‘s a show I want to talk about with you.

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Other People Do Cool Stuff Too #1

And then you have to live up to promises you made while under the influence of optimism.

Uh oh.

So! As it’s Wednesday, I should be talking about someone who isn’t me. Who better, then, to start with than the man who spurred me onto this foolhardy quest to, uh, be more interesting – one Patrick Hadley.

Pat’s an archaeology PhD at the University of York, sort of. His work is all about audience engagement with the Mesolithic period, and to that end all he does is teach his students how to use Twitter and lend me gorgeous-looking comics about cavemen. I’m pretty sure that’s it.

[You’ll have to let me know if I’ve left anything out, Pat. Or if I’ve gotten it completely wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised.]

You should read his blog Think|Dig|Write|Share for an intriguing, entertaining and actually accurate look at Pat’s work, and he’s definitely a must-follow on Twitter. Why you aren’t following him already is beyond me.

Pat also shows me short films on Vimeo that, as a (invert commas) filmmaker I really should be finding on my own. Kind of a cheat sheet. Like this ‘un here:

More importantly, he’s a damn good drinking buddy and cooks a mean salmon. What more could you want?

[Some of you may be thinking “bromance” right about now. Go with the feeling.]

I’m hoping that we’ll be able to work together at some point in the future; the post-grad stuff means he has to think up new and exciting ways to present old stuff, and he’s made quiet noises about a ‘retreat’ with a bunch of creatives and experts in the future, which would be rather exciting. If you’re going to do a period piece, you might as well make it as ‘period’ as ancient history.

Until then, I’ll have to hope the beer, the films, the hip-hop discoveries (Pat introduced me to Blackalicious the other day) and the being shown pictures of little stone pigs will be enough. I think I’ll cope.

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