Wednesday, 13 September 2017

REVIEW: Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film by Lucy V. Hay

At last! A book that pinpoints why we need more diversity in the characters we read about, watch or importantly, write about. Not only does Lucy's book highlight the same dreary old stereotypes (my own particular bĂȘte noire being the lack of complexity in disabled characters), she gives the reader some excellent observations and insights as to how to actually redress the situation in their own writing without reorting to jargon (I hate jargon!) or exhortations to the writer to flagellate themselves IMMEDIATELY in the name of white, male, middle-class, ableist, homophobic guilt. Save it for the writing, people!

Which is not to say that the writer shouldn't examine their own unconscious bias when writing about characters that have hitherto been marginalised. If the adage 'write what you know' has any value at all, it is surely the writer's own inner workings that prove a worthy source of knowledge. In the age of the internet, as Lucy says, it's never been easier to research the reality of lives that are dramatically different from the writer's own. Authenticity is the name of the name of the game when writing diverse characters, not the recycling of tired old stereotypes (dead sex worker, inspirational disabled person - AARGH!) from OTHER FILMS. This is certainly soemthing I've been guilty of in the past in my own writing. Reading Lucy's book has sparked off some interesting tangents that I hope will enliven my own work.

Lucy backs up her observations with facts and figures, quotes from peers, established writers and producers and her own expertise built up over many years of script reading, writing and blogging. She's not afraid to practise what she preaches. Most importantly, she is passionate about writing, writers and the strength of connections, relationships and community. And if you think it's 'political correctness gone mad' - consider this: audiences want stories that reflect their own realities. Films, series and books that flip the usual characters on the head will be the ones that get made, talked about and REMEMBERED. Isn't that what any writer wants?

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction TV or Film

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Other TwinThe Other Twin by L.V. Hay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me state an interest here; I accompanied Lucy on a recce of Brighton for this book and have listened to the evolution of it over the last two years. Even though I knew the nature of the twist, it still came as a shock. No spoilers here, however! Suffice to say that the nature of it drags crime fiction firmly into the 21st century for this reviewer.

I grew very fond of Poppy, the contradictory protagonist, in her guilt-filled search to find out the truth but also to atone for her own behaviour in the past. I could totally relate to her desire for her ex, even as she manipulates the situation to get closer to the truth. But more than anything, what resonated with me was the fucked-up family dynamic. Secrets are dangerous things and skeletons do indeed tumble out of the cupboard, whatever the attempt to keep them concealed. There’s a warning to us all, here.

Poppy is a heroine for our times; flawed, yes, but with courage and resolve and eventual self-knowledge. The character of India inhabits every page, much like Rebecca in the film of the same name. I liked the diversity of the characters in The Other Twin, this isn’t some antiquated clichĂ©-ridden white middle-class milieu, this is the modem world. It rings true and possible in a world governed for the young by social media. It’s entirely plausible that Poppy takes on the search for India’s real fate herself: the police can only act on the facts. Poppy is self-contained and utterly lacking in self-pity, using the peculiar energy of grief to propel her forward despite the danger to herself. She’s very much in the mould of Smilla in Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (one of my fave thrillers). She has autonomy, complexity and isn’t that bothered about pleasing others, and that’s so refreshing. More please.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

REVIEW: Twenty First Century Horror Films by Douglas Keesey

If you love reading Sight & Sound magazine (and I do), I think you’ll enjoy this exhaustive trawl through the famous, the cult, the controversial, the remakes and even the spoofs of the last two decades and occasionally of the twentieth century. You may not always agree with the analysis (I certainly didn’t) but that’s the great thing about horror or indeed films of any genre – they are subject to multiple readings and critiques.

Interestingly, what the book did for me was polarise exactly what it is I love about horror. I love the creepy and the jump scare (Sinister, the Babadook, It Follows). I’m not likely to see Martyrs or The Human Centipede any time soon, though I did love Neon Demon. On the strength of the analysis in this book I will certainly see Green Inferno. I also like horror films that say something about politics so it’s Purge 2 all the way for me! Horror is at its strongest when it’s the return of the repressed, so in that vein (arf) I’m keen to go see The Love Witch which seems like it's harking back to an era of just that: fear of female sexuality. Surely that will be included in future editions? I was surprised not to see any of the hugely successful Blade films featured (surely ripe for a revival?) but then I imagine that with such a wealth of material to choose from, it was hard for Keesey to whittle them down.

Buy this for the horror fanatics in your life, it’s practically guaranteed to keep heated debate alive. Perfect also for anyone engaged in more formal film studies. And, like the best horror films, I found once I started reading that I couldn’t look away.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Taster for ‘The Other Twin’ by Lucy V. Hay

I’ve never read one of these taster booklets before but what a good idea they are! Let me declare an interest here: I went with Lucy during the Brighton leg of her research period for the book. A great time was had as we drank in the local pubs – well, I drank; Lucy made copious notes.

There’s an art to these tasters, clearly. Chapters must be excerpted in such a way as to set up curiosity in the reader. Job done here, I must say. I particularly like the sense that bad things can happen in ‘good’ (rich) families; the shadiness of some aspects of social media culture; and the eloquently allusive online messages from India to Jenny that hint not just at the transcendence of love but at the transcendence of death and possible rebirth.

Protagonist Poppy’s own journey also intrigues; she’s indomitable in her drive to discover what happened to her sister but has issues of her own to resolve along the way. She may not even be likable but she certainly comes across as compelling in this extract. The prose is spare, incisive and written with urgency as though the reader must find out the missing pieces of Poppy’s jigsaw, what happened before India’s awful fate, and who exactly Jenny is before it’s too late. The book is released later in the year, you can pre-order it here.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review of Running a Creative Company in the Digital Age by Lucy Baxter

This book could not have come at a more fortuitous time for this reviewer. If you’re thinking of starting or restructuring a creative company in the digital age this is the book for you. Extensively researched and compiled with view to Brexit and how that will affect the digital media companies now thriving in the UK, it acts a s a timely reminder that creatives cannot afford to be left behind in a rapidly changing landscape.

All that you need to know is addressed here: from establishing your company, legal documentation, the dreaded tax, managerial structures… All delivered in succinct chapters that tells it how it is. It doesn’t pull any punches but it also delivers the information in a humorous friendly way. True, you could research what you need from the web, but sometimes you need one book to act as a useful reference top take the headache out of the whole process. This is it. Put it with your dictionary. Lucy Baxter has extensive experience in production and you can put your faith in her insights. I particularly enjoyed the case studies from those in the industry who share their own experiences with generosity.

Hopefully, Lucy Baxter (who clearly loves her subject) will be updating this book every year, or at the very least maintaining a blog on changes that occur. I think it's not enough to have the good ideas, you must also have the savvy to put them out there in a world that is flooded with content and subject to rapid digital evolution. Recommended.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

REVIEW: Jaws in Space - Powerful Pitching for Film and TV Screenwriters by Charles Harris

Darling ones,

Kamera have done it again with this practical guide to the dread subject of PITCHING, written by Charles Harris. If you have the good fortune to know Charles through the London Screenwriters' Festival or Euroscript, then you will be familiar with his no-nonsense approach. The great thing about Charles' advice is that it's all actionable. You will also glean a lot from his own experience in the film world. This reviewer was amazed at Charles' indefatigable nature - best to develop it yourself, you're going to need it. Yet, and I think this a salient point, Charles makes the whole process of pitching seem so enjoyable. If nothing else, even if you don't get your work of genius made, you'll meet loads of like-minded people and go to places you never dreamed of.

If you've read anything else in this excellent imprint on screenwriting, you'll know that they're written by people passionate about writing and film, who are working in the industry NOW. Refreshingly free of any 'guru' style pomposity, Jaws in Space tells it like it is, with handy tips at the end of every chapter. But of course, it's not just about tips and advice on the pitch itself, it's all about RELATIONSHIPS in the film world. The allies you nurture will stand you in good stead - the creative act is one of collaboration. As Charles himself says in the intro: 'Pitching will not only help sell your ideas but develop them in the first place. it helps you clarify character and refine plot. it makes it easier to collaborate with others. Every good writer, director and producer I know is excellent at pitching.'

The exercises interspersed throughout this very accessible book will give you insights into every part of the process, from the 'art' of the pitch to when things go wrong (and they will) and beyond. Above all, Charles wants you to succeed at pitching your film, be it mainstream, documentary, short or arthouse, for film or TV. The visual media industry is a monster, they're always looking for good writing that will sell.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Review of An Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film: A Director’s Perspective

Whether you’re already established as a creative in the film world or contemplating a course of study or vocational training, then this book by Alex Cox will give you great insights into the filmmaking process, from idea to production to cinema.
The bonus with this book is that Cox recommends various films and clips for you to watch interspersed through the text, together with his thoughts on the process, drawn from his own career and experience. This is, of course, the perfect film book for the internet age, as there’s never been better availability of the content he signposts. He also provides interesting further reading lists should you wish to explore specific areas more deeply.
That said, this is a highly personal and eclectic journey through film history and the influences and figures in filmmaking that Cox thinks are worth further investigation. Therefore the reader must bear in mind that hardly any female filmmakers are represented here, though this reviewer was pleased to see mention of Marleen Gorris and her marvellous film A Question Of Silence, (certainly a groundbreaking film in terms of gaze for this reviewer). I hardly think this is intentional on Cox’s part – like I say, this is a highly personal account and Cox notes that countries with repressive attitudes towards women often don’t make great art. Not that Cox’s observations are superfluous on the greats like Hitchcock or Kubrick, who, whatever you may feel about their work can only be admitted as iconic filmmakers.
The most interesting section for me was on world cinema with the Latin American canon coming under the spotlight. I do love a film book that teaches me something new. I’ll certainly be checking out some of the Latin American films he suggests, specifically El Angel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel), cited by Cox as a brilliant use of resources, as the characters are all trapped in one room.
In a way this book serves as a primer for our own reflections on how we are influenced historically and culturally as creatives. It would be interesting to consider, say, ten films that have influenced our own process, but perhaps that’s for another blog post. I think Kamera Books have hit a rich seam here and I look forward to other filmmakers’ perspectives on their craft.