Wednesday 30 January 2013

Scott Ward - Director of Photography

Scott Ward was simply one of the warmest, nicest folks you were ever likely to meet amongst Scottish filmmakers. I never heard him raise his voice once and the loudest sound to come from him was always laughter. A kind of deep, jolly boom. A tall chap with the most wonderfully curly hair, his bicycle was never far away and he always remembered you, regardless of how brief your previous meeting had been, eyes widening above the crowd in a pub whenever he saw you. He had time for people.

I only worked with him once. An over-eager second year film student, I got a job as Grip on a university graduation film Scott was shooting. I'd worked on a fair amount of shorts by that time but this shoot seemed daunting to me. There were some rather serious people around and I was anxious to get things right. I would be controlling the movement of the camera on several long and slow tracking shots. What if I messed up? The film was being shot on film - way before digital technology swept in - and that's an expensive business, especially for already cash strapped students. A few technical rehearsals - it took a while to get the movement at the right speed and then maintain that speed. And all through it, Scott was calm, patient and encouraging, aware of the less experienced student and whatever anxiety I might have had. Keeping a calm atmosphere on set was important to him and he knew results did not come from tension, even if some of the actors were a little too sharp. He had time for everyone on the shoot, from director and producer to runner.

And then, when packing up the location and chuffed at getting things right, I dropped one of the iron weights used to steady light stands on my foot. A combination of horror and embarrassment from me (it bloody hurt) and amusement and exasperation from some of the other crew. But Scott, admitting the funny side, was first there to help me limp away from the location to knock back a drink after wrapping, making sure I was alright for the rest of the night, accompanied by some gentle jokes.

That's what he was. Calm, gentle, happy and always interested in others. On reflection, even though I didn't know him tremendously well, I'm shocked at how little I knew about him as he was more interested in other people. He was present at some ridiculously fun nights I attended, where all sorts of drunken fun was had at the expense of the dignity of several (often me and deserved, mind you) and I can still hear his laughter amongst the chaos.

I hadn't seen him for a while and the last time we met, which had been after another long while, he was just as welcoming and interested as always. I regret not being able to properly catch up that night as we were both caught up with others in the pub and both reckoned we'd catch up next time. The last meeting is often not the one you expect it to be.

A great cinematographer and a tremendously well loved man, taken long before his time. Rest in peace, sir.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Oscar Nomination Madness

The reaction to some of the nominations, or should I say non-nominations (try it with 4 beers - you'll kill your tongue) is verging on hilarious. Personally, I'm not so bothered. It seems to be between Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook. Lincoln's not been released in the UK yet and I enjoyed SLB, even if the end descended into something verging on romcom cliche.

But some folks really need to get a grip. Much of the vitriolic back and forth I've seen on some professional film blogs is up there with angry, pished pub arguments about football - pointless and nasty. And folks who don't care also need to back up and just let it be; "Waah! I hate the Oscars! They're irrelevant back-patting!! Waaah!". Well, then shut up, fuck off and stop paying attention to something that's upsetting you. Of course it's back-patting. It's a fucking awards ceremony. Sheesh.

The days of getting upset over these things seem to be happily behind me now. My opinion doesn't matter and neither does yours in the grand scheme of things. I still enjoy the madness around the Oscars, from the embryonic buzz throughout the year which starts to snowball around September to the night itself, which I like to stay up and watch (last year's was particularly memorable as my blog post about that makes clear). And I'm an unashamed Family Guy/Seth McFarlane fan so I'm hoping for a genuinely funny but old style showbiz affair this year. He knows his classic Hollywood and big time music numbers. I even found most (but not all - that deliberately awkward WW2 shtick needs to end) of today's announcement refreshingly funny.

I'm also going to make a point of reading as many of the screenplay nominees as I can. As far as the Best Film nominees go, I've only seen 3 of them so far (Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild and the afore-mentioned Silver Linings Playbook) as the many of the rest have not been released in the UK yet, apart from Amour, which got a dismal release I feel, and Life of Pi, which I'll see this weekend along with Les Miserables.

Most of the nominated screenplays are out there now. Time to get hunting.

Commencer le projet!

Please excuse the wanky title. Or don't.

Today marks the beginning of work on the first draft of my current feature project. Things agreed on with the good folks I'm working with and there is a delivery date.

These things are like babies, y'know; conception of the idea, first scribblings of a zygote of an idea float down and attach themself somewhere, it starts to grow inside you (bleurgh!) and gestates until it bursts forth from your ribcage, eviscerating you in the proce....hang on. No. It's born. And like a human baby, after birth it still has to evolve and grow. God help me if it becomes a teenager.

So, on with it until it's done.

Today's reading: This is 40, by Judd Apatow.

(I love it when Oscar season means these things are freely and legally available to download and read).

Monday 7 January 2013

Hello 2013

Well, the Earth spins on, regardless of idiotic translations of harmless Meso-American calendars.

Had a nice and quiet Christmas (twice, really, as my sister spent hers with her husband's family in Ireland so we had a second Christmas dinner on their return) but don't really do New Year. So, the decorations are down, the tree is in the back garden awaiting dismemberment and I'm trying to get back to getting up at a sensible time in order to get on with things. And feeling a bit better about that than is normal.

I'm a few days away from beginning the first draft of a current project that has seen several outlines. Rather excited about that and working on it with some great people.

Hope to perhaps earn a little from writing this year as well. We all do, I suppose, but there's no sense in thinking small and never seeing the potential in your skill.

I'm also watching more movies so far this year - last week saw my introduction to Spaghetti Western maestro Sergio Corbucci. I wondered what all the fuss was about with Quentin Tarantino's love of the guy, so I watched 4 of his films over 2 days:
His first solo Western, Minnesota Clay (1964), with Cameron Mitchell as a wronged convict out for revenge before his encroaching blindness takes his sight.

Cameron Mitchell shortly before he uses his ears to take out the bad guys.

 The original Django (1966), with the legend that is Franco Nero, which was great and muddy, although I kind of wish we hadn't learned what he kept in that coffin he dragged around, even though it was key to the story.

Django and his "burden" - more mud than McCabe & Nrs Miller could shake a stick at.

 The Great Silence (1968), a fantastic bit of harshness amongst snow with a mute Jean-Louis Tritignant and Klaus Kinski on top form as a bounty killer and one of the bravest endings I've seen to a movie.

One of the genre's greatest SOBs. Still unsure whether Kinski dubbed himself, though.

Finally The Mercenary (1968), a Zapata Western combined with a buddy movie with another great performance from Franco Nero. I enjoyed it a lot also but found it a bit meandering at times. Some great moments, though, particularly when Nero's character is offering his mercenary services one step at a time to Tony Musante's revolutionary during a pitched battle with the Mexican military

Corbucci loved his machine guns...
Jack Palance's amazing perm. Yes, the villain is called Curly.
Possibly my favourite duel scene in a movie.

Corbucci seems to enjoy blowing thumbs away from gunslingers and inflicting physical handicaps to his protagonists, placing him a bit higher in my estimation that Leone it turns out. I hadn't realised that Django was banned in the UK but, amongst all the guhn deaths, forcing a character to eat their own severed ear didn't impress the censors back in the 60s. Who knew?

Also going to read as many scripts as I can as well. It's not just the act of writing that makes you a better writer. The more you read, the more you learn also.

Today's reading: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Ol Parker, adpated from These Foolish Things by Deborah Mogach.