The Audacity of Hope.

I’d like to dedicate this blog to my mum and dad. Without their support and endless belief in me, there’s no way I could ha… Nah. I’d like to dedicate this blog to all the bloggers out there who work tirelessly, typing their little arses off to an audience of maybe just 10 or 20 readers, I’d like to say to them ‘it can be done! It ca… No. I’d like to dedicate this blog to the political prisoners all over the world – whilst we sit in our warm, cosy houses blogging away about pop culture, they sit bound by the chains of… Fuck it.

In case you haven’t already noticed – I’ve become a bit of a twat. I’d like to think this is a recent development but I’m sure there’s a list of defective idiots who would beg to differ. To be precise, I became a twat on Sunday and this blog is my attempt to claw my way back from twat to mere wally.

It started last year when two of my best friends decided to make a short film. I’m quite pompous about short films – I hate them. Not on an individual basis but on a conceptual one. I believe that short films are the province of the amateur. I think they are wonderful exercises for learning the craft of film-making and wholly believe they should be made in their thousands. I just don’t want to see them. They are generally the pretentious works of rank amateurs who have severely overstretched their resources, overestimated their skills and underestimated their audience. I feel entitled to say this because I have honestly seen thousands of the things. As a teenager, I religiously watched Channel 4’s Shooting Gallery, at film school, I was surrounded by the form for 4 years, as a film festival attendee, I was swamped by them and as a film teacher now, I am still bombarded by them. I’ve probably seen about 6 great short films – and I made two of them (I’m still allowed to be a twat until this blog is finished).

I’ve been infuriated by watching funding bodies squander money on the production of what are, and should always be, training exercises. I’ve seen short films with budgets of over £30k and they’ve paled in comparison to those made for no money because ultimately it is a format where concept trumps production values. And it’s a display for raw, emerging talent. it shouldn’t look completely slick.

I’ve made a lot of short films over the years and made the conscious decision to stop after my last one, which can be seen here:

I’m quite proud of it. I’m very happy for it to be my last effort in the format because it was a huge hassle to make. It was made as a ‘taster’ of a world I’d created in a feature length script that I was trying to get off the ground at the time. The shoot was a huge amount of fun but the post production took the best part of 2 years and trashed a very important friendship in my life with my pal Hank. He had produced and financed it but we fell out over the direction of the edit. To the point where we basically didn’t speak for a year. And no film is worth that, especially not a short film. In the end, we both abandoned it until my friend Ben, unemployed and looking for a project, took the rushes and crafted the film you might have just seen out of them. Hank and I re-bonded over mutual admiration for the film that we had kind-of made but Ben had realistically pulled from the bin.

Resolved to never work in the format again, I was disheartened to hear that Ben and Hank wanted to make a short film. I wished them the best of luck. But they wanted a screenplay. This was to be Ben’s film, which was a great idea as far as I was concerned, as a pro editor, it’d been many years since Ben had directed and he’s a creative guy and I loved the idea of him doing his own thing again. He had a pretty great plan, too. He had access to the HD Nasa archives. All of that incredible space footage. I kind of like Space, I had read the brilliant book Moondust just before and, as a result of that, tracked down the film For All Mankind. I’d also made friends with the excellent Oxford institution that is Tim Turan who, as anyone who knows him will testify, will rarely give you the chance to avoid a conversation on the subject of space exploration.

Ben’s plan was to create a fictional film entirely from archival footage of an Apollo mission that never actually happened. To blur the lines between documentary, fiction and creative film-making. Hank was producing, Ben was ready to go – I thought it was great and looked forward to seeing it. But they wanted a screenplay.

I can’t remember if I actually said no but I was generally stroppy and truculent about doing it. Hank and Ben are two of my best friends and they had both been amazingly supportive of my ongoing epic struggle to make Anyone Can Play Guitar – both generous with their time, resources and advice. I owed them this. But I really didn’t want to do it. I had turned my back on screenwriting for a while, far more impressed by the possibilities of documentary. Even if I was in a writing mood, it’s a story I would never have chosen to tell. Ben had the basic idea – that of an astronaut stranded on the moon with depleting oxygen after a lunar mission had gone awry.

I agreed to do it but procrastinated like a bastard. Eventually Hank pinned me down and I realised I couldn’t avoid it any more. I wrote it very quickly, one draft, in a day and it seemed OK. It’s one of the weird realities of writing professionally (which I don’t anymore but once did) that anything you write to order – which you wouldn’t naturally have chosen to write – feels like a bit of a surrogate baby. I didn’t know if it was good or bad, I still don’t, but it was a script and it was at least functional.

Ben and Hank trotted off to get the film made and I took an interest but very much left them to it. I was geekily impressed when it came time to cast the actor who would supply the voicework. They got William Hope, an ex-pat American who will live forever in the hearts of the kind of people I love as the character Gorman in the film Aliens. Gorman is the one in charge of the colonial marines who isn’t up to the job but ends up dying like a man, wrapped around Vasquez with a grenade. Go Bill!

I watched the first cut and gave Ben some criticism, which he took well and by the time the final cut came around, I was basically impressed. Like any writer uninvolved with the process of film-making you get a twinge of ‘they missed the point there!’ with any direction or performance but I thought it was a cool film. Ben had done stunning post-production work on it and the sound design and music were excellent.

Then people started going a bit mental about it. I was getting emails and facebook messages from people who’d seen it and adored it, it started doing very well in film festivals and being nominated for all kinds of stuff. It managed to get distribution – this still makes me laugh, I don’t understand who the hell would bother distributing short films but Ben assures me there’s a lucrative(ish) market for them. Whatever, it was doing well.

A couple of months ago, Hank asked me to fill out some details because the film was now eligible for a BAFTA and he was entering it. I laughed a lot. Said some patronising things, then filled out the form.

I actually hate film awards. I’ve probably blogged on the subject before but I find them ridiculous and unfair and pathetic and corporate and shit. My least favourite awards are the Empire Magazine awards who seem to literally throw out a net and say ‘which famous people can come to the ceremony?’ and then concoct awards for those very people as long as they agree to be photographed holding a bottle of whatever product is sponsoring the awards that year. Ugh.

The Oscars are the worst, they seem to be the ‘films you might have heard of this year’ awards. My friend Dan rightly stormed out of an Oscar party we had at film school when Titanic swept the board. I think the BAFTAS are a bit better than the Oscars but the notion of awarding a ‘best’ prize to anything in a field so varied is ridiculous. Whatever. I mocked Hank for his decision but fair play to him – he would argue that an award – for better or worse – raises your professional profile and aids your career. True and sensible.

Anyway, just before Christmas, we get the call that the film (now called DUST) has been shortlisted for the BAFTA. There is a shortlist of 10 films, 5 of which get nominated and 1, of course, wins. I found this highly amusing. I suppose I was surprised but my arrogance quickly steam-rollered that and declared that since pretty much every short film ever is a shitty mess, ours probably does stand out as a thing of quality. But I knew we wouldn’t progress any further. We didn’t meet the criteria that these awards tend to go to. Most short films that win awards deal with socio-economic disenfranchisement with a whimsical visual approach. I remember seeing Peter Mullan’s short film ‘Fridge; many years ago and declaring no more short films need ever be made as he had perfectly summed the form up in his black and white piece set in the slums of Glasgow in which a dirty-faced young boy got locked in a discarded fridge whilst his teenage compatriots taunt a tramp with fire.

Not only did our film not have a trite social message, it also missed out a vital part of the film-making process – we didn’t film it. It wasn’t directed, it was edited. I can’t imagine being rewarded for that. Even though it’s a stunning piece of post-production work, it is essentially cheating. I told the guys not to get their hopes up and told very few people about the shortlisting. The nominations were to be announced this Monday at 7am.

I ignored it for a long time. Then last week, it started to creep into my thoughts. I had a look at the BAFTA website. I found out that if you get nominated, you get a crazy giftbag with loads of expensive stuff in it and you get to stay at The Savoy. And you get to go to the ceremony. Which despite being daft, looks fun! And slowly, very slowly, I started to want it. At first I wanted the giftbag. Then I wanted to get dressed up with my friends in tuxedos and have a fun night out. I started imagining Hank getting drunk and providing a scathing running commentary on the ceremony. And Ben goes all funny around famous people – he really likes famous people and gets all distracted and wide-eyed, that would be hilarious to watch in a room like that. So, I really wanted to go.

Then I wanted to be a BAFTA-nominated film-maker. And that’s when I became a twat. Because I don’t like the concept of awards, I hold no stock in them, I hate that other people do, and here I was liking the idea of the acknowledgment of an institution I opposed.

On Sunday night it got worse. I became a cliche. My head filled with thoughts of my acceptance speech. At first the humble – a simple ‘thank you’ and a nod to the room. Then the sincere – ‘my friends Hank and Ben’. Then the sentimental ‘my parents for supporting my childhood dream and always believing in me’. Then the controversial ‘I’d like to point out that this film was made with no assistance whatsoever from the UK Film Council – a corrupt organisation whose mistakes, I hope, shall not be repeated by the BFI’. Then it got ridiculous ‘I’d like to dedicate this to Huw Davies and Des Bell – the two arseholes who ran my film school (into the ground). Where are you now, eh?’

These were genuinely in my head. I was genuinely thinking about these things.

The announcement was at 7.40am and I set my alarm for 7. I barely slept all night.

We, of course, didn’t get nominated. And I was disappointed. At first for the failure, but that passed very quickly, then for Ben and Hank who had worked far harder than men and deserved their efforts to be recognised, but then I became disappointed in myself. I realised that I had put stock into something that I never cared about. That actually kind of scared me because, by this age, you should know yourself pretty well. I felt like a total idiot for having bought into that. If someone whose opinion you don’t care about tells you they like you, you shouldn’t then accept that opinion.


So, I’m presenting my awfulness to you, the internet, to remind me to stay focused.


A wally.

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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