Sunday, August 31, 2008

Horror ruts, Torchwood, and a Brand New Thing

Back from FrightFest, only got slightly brain damaged, which was nice. A mixed bag of films, some very good, some very bad. Horror movies go through phases, but at the moment, many of them seem to be stuck in a rut. Everyone seems to want to make the same movie over and over: some stupid people get tortured and killed by lunatics for no apparent reason. Which is NOT a story, it's just people being brutalised for 90 minutes. I love horror movies, so I'm perfectly happy (oh, you know what I mean) watching trauma and gore, but if there's no story, then it's boring and pointless, I'm not invested in it. "Ah yes, but in life, there are no easy answers, sometimes bad things happen for no reason." Hey, in life, sometimes cats take a shit in your garden, doesn't mean we have to make boring movies about it. Write a story! Make it interesting! Is that too much to ask? The best films at FrightFest had stories, they had something to say, they didn't virtually tell you everything that was going to happen in the first 5 minutes. Time Crimes, Dance of the Dead, Freakdog, Let The Right One In, Martyrs - all proper movies, all crowd pleasers, all clever and interesting. None of them were a short film spun out over an hour and a half. Martyrs was about torture and revenge, but it had a lot to say, and kept you guessing for quite a while, it had a *point* to it. Give us something to think about, or at least show the characters trying to escape in a variety of ways.

Also, if you have several scenes where your main characters could get themselves out of trouble, easily, or just leave - then fucking rewrite it. We will notice. We are not idiots. If you have a scene where the main characters get themselves into the trouble in the first place - then fucking rewrite it. If you have a scene where someone comes across a load of potential weapons, but doesn't take any because otherwise the movie would end too early - then fucking rewrite it. There is no excuse for laziness. Even so, I'm amazed at some of the plotholes and logic fiddles that got through to the finished product. My agent would never let me get away with any of them. Here's a revolutionary idea for you: when you write your horror movie, why not pretend that it's a normal movie with normal characters who behave in a somewhat realistic fashion? If a killer chases them, they run away. If things go wrong, they call the police, or try to get help. I know people get scared and make mistakes in real life - but this is a movie, and you have to convince the audience. Rewrite it. Blimey. It doesn't cost you anything but time.

Anyway, fun time had by all, lovely atmosphere as usual, and lots of cool people to chat to. Hello to everyone I met, and hello to everyone I didn't meet, too. My Asus/Jesus/Anus came with us, and performed very well on the go. Full review coming soon, hopefully.

So my Code 9 came and went, and if you didn't catch it, you'll have to wait for the DVD which seems to be out next month. I mean, you don't have to get it, you don't have to watch anything just cause I say so, I'm just saying that it would be lovely if you choose to watch it, or rent it, or buy it, or something. And if you don't, I'll come round your house and kill you dead with an elephant gun. It fires thirty elephants per minute. Takes eight months to reload. I don't know where this paragraph is going.

Filming has officially started on Torchwood series 3! You may clicky clicky on the link for more details, fresh juicy details, get 'em while they're hot. I'm hoping to get along to see some of it soon, now that I have less of a hefty workload. Things are calming down, which means I can work on one thing at a time. It also means that I can soon start work on one of the 4 spec films I've been waiting to write. They're all outlined, ready to go, just dying to get out into the world. I'm going to start the first one very soon, while I have a break. And I can't wait.

Edit: I didn't wait. I started. I have a brand new thing. Nobody knows what it is, only Jo knows the plot, I haven't even told my agent. So right now, it's all mine. Nobody to give notes, no budget to worry about, no guidelines to stick to. Anything goes. Blimey, the power.


goooooood girl said...

Feel good......

Chuck said...

How many years went by in film land where the heroine always could seemingly outrun the reanimated severed hand but for some reason always tripped, fell, and for no reason layed there until the hand caught up.

I can't watch horror films not because of the horror, but because of the generally horrible writing. I can usually think of ways to get out of, or never get in to trouble that the film makers sort of ignored. Really ruins it, makes me want to fall down and wait for the hand to catch up.

I agree most people notice the bad writing. It's the elephant in the room that is not talked about.

Few screenplay writing books bother to make mention that the story should actually be believable. Hell no, they are to busy with "make the story unbelivably great in the first ten pages" and "don't forget about plot points 1 and 2."

Then James comes along and looks about and say's "why is there an elephant in the room?" Nice going!

Glad to hear you had fun here in the US and that you are home safely. Now I feel at ease roaming the streets at night again.

Dozeymagz said...

Here's a great idea for a horror movie...
'Tis about a normally easy going, happy and laid back geek girl who through no fault of her own gets messed around by her broadband provider. Not only do they inexplicably cut her service forcing her to use dial-up, but she must also endure the horrors of multiple calls to a hideous and evil call centre. This leads her to go completely insane and she seeks hideous revenge on all those responsible. Lots of blood, gore, severed heads and exploding bodies.

Based on a soon-to-be-true story!!!!

I hate dial-up.

PS - good luck with all your shiny new projects!

Good Dog said...

Here's a revolutionary idea for you: when you write your horror movie, why not pretend that it's a normal movie with normal characters who behave in a somewhat realistic fashion?

I think that should be put on one of those Sunset Blvd. billboards. My big problem with recent horror is that it is just about torture and brutalization. It would have been better if the writer or director or whoever had spent the money on therapy sessions.

What if the cat taking a shit is the garden is a mutant zombie cat looking for humans to shred into kittie-litter?

I'm glad that your Anus performed well. Was this ever in public?

SK said...

So, Spooks: Code 9 -- just one little question.

Why, for the love of all that is holy, why, why, why, why?

SK said...

(Was it an attempt to make Bonekickers look good by comparison?)

Anonymous said...

Any chance you can bring your elephant gun to Australia and fire it at the CEOs at Network Ten? Please? The Torchwood fans here will love you forever.

BaaBaaDoodle said...

So you came back from Texas with a gun fetish too eh? I knew it. Well, glad you will be missing the bad weather down there.

Any TW spoilers to share? Specifically, about whether Martha or Mickey will be in series 3?

Anonymous said...

Hi again James, Killing Time here again.

Sorry I never managed to track you down for a pint at FrightFest - either those breaks in between movies are getting considerably smaller or I'm gettting older and just can't take the pace!

Couldn't agree more with your comments about many horror movies being churned out with little interest in the actual plot other than how many power tools can be used to tortuous purpose. It's just as well there were some stunners like Let the Right One In and Time Crimes to make up for that.

I'm intereted to see that you liked Martyrs. As the FrightFest boys rightly claimed it's a surefire audience divider.

I have to admit that after the reveal of the first section I was bored stiff by it's execution (no pun intended). I thought the kernal story was wonderful - a great secret society, masonic mystery kind of premise - but as this element had a fraction of screentime compared to the basement beatings I ended up at the conclusion that the director just wanted to add his name to a growing list of people concerned mainly with throwing punches and scaring through the threat and action of physical violence. I probably could have walked I was so bored but didn't want to be able to be accused of not seeing the thing through...

Anyway, looking forward to any other reviews you might post - hopefully it will inspire me to get something up on at long last!

Good luck with the new projects.


Jon Peacey said...

I've no problem with people in horror films getting themselves into trouble in the first place (Deliverance, Chainsaw Massacre). I have every problem when the same (rapidly diminishing group of) people stumble across a choice of two doors- one says 'here be kittens' on it, is wide open to show said kittens playing on sunlit uplands and the other reads 'certain death' and lightning crackles and violins screach when a hand is even reached out to it... and they choose the latter... that rather annoys me.

Of course, in my movie, the kittens are biotech-ultra-kittens with opposable thumbs and chainsaws- and the uplands are an unstable slag heap in a dome which intensifies the UV of the sunlight to such blinding levels that you can't see to run from the chainsaws. 'Certain Death' would probably end up to be a doorway to a thrash metal gig.

GD... couldn't agree more.

Good Dog said...

I don't know if you've answered this before, way back in some distant post, but out of interest, what would you say were the best horror movies?

I don't watch many and the ones I do tend to be genre hybrids, like Alien or.... uh, well Alien. But as good horror films, with scripts that don't make you cheer because some utter rhubarb deserved an axe in their head because they were dumb as a bag of spanners, which would be the best. I feel it's time to branch out.

Oh, Blair Witch Project. I saw that one. And luckily at home because then that trio of dopes got lost in the woods I was shouting at the screen, "Follow the river downstream you cock-knobs!"

And... relax!

Robin Kelly said...

James, is there an air-date for Law and Order yet? And how many episodes will there be?

Oh, and I'd like a list of the best horror as well. Cheers.

James Moran said...

Chuck: Oh, sometimes they still try to get away with that, even now. This is why horror gets a bad reputation, because some film makers forget that they're making a proper movie, they don't know the genre properly - they say "oh it's only horror, doesn't matter". Usually it's people who try to cash in on the horror trend without knowing how it works, they think it's easy.

Magz: And at the end, she gets a medal from a grateful nation, who have all suffered at the hands of the same broadband provider. Probably.

GD: Oh, they're usually well adjusted people, they just can't tell a decent story. If they *were* violent obsessives, they'd probably make a better movie... My Anus was seen in public, both me and Jo had a go on it. And nobody said a word about it. My favourite horrors, in no particular order: The Exorcist, Halloween, The Thing, The Omen, A Nightmare on Elm Street, An American Werewolf in London, The Shining, The Birds, Ring (original version), The Eye (original version), Session 9, Switchblade Romance, Alien, Dead of Night (1945), The Haunting (original version), Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow... Gah, loads more, mind's gone blank. All tip top examples of the genre, and hardly any stupid people doing stupid things. Once you've seen all those, there are lots more to check out, there are plenty of good ones out there! Didn't like Blair Witch at all, very well done for what it is, but it didn't grab me at all.

SK: Well, assuming you want an answer: I can't speak for the creators of the show, but these things usually happen when someone has an idea that they like, that they think they can tell stories with. When I was brought on board, we were all very excited about the possibilities, and tried to make the best show we could. It's up to you whether you like it or not. If you have a specific question about specific choices in my episode, I'm happy to answer them.

Clarrisani: What have the Network Ten CEO's done to incur your wrath? If they deserve it, then I'll get straight down there, and fart in their faces.

BaaBaaDoodle: Why yes, I have lots of TW spoilers, but the armed BBC hitman standing next to me has a very twitchy trigger finger. However, I can confirm that the series will rock extremely hard, with a rock factor of ten.

Justin: Yeah, I could have done without the lengthy basement section, especially given that we *already* knew how vicious the people were - but I was so interested to find out where the overlying story was heading, I stuck it out. Not the biggest barrel of laughs, I must say...

Jon: Yep, there were a few examples of that over the weekend. Like I always say, I know that every plot requires characters to be in certain places at certain times, but you have to write it so that it's not too clunkingly obvious. When the entire audience is wondering why the hell a character is being so stupid, then they've been pulled out of the movie.

Robin: No idea on the airdate, but there'll be 13 episodes. And because you so outrageously demanded a list of best horror, you are not allowed to read my reply up there. No, don't look. Unless you give me a chocolate biscuit.

Good Dog said...

Ah, I've seen a bunch of them and... my brain just drew a great big blank. Odd that, especially since some are on the shelves here.

I'll check the others out.

Robin Kelly said...

I've got no choccy biccie so I can't look at your list but I'd be very surprised if it didn't contain at least some of my own favourites: Halloween, The Thing, The Omen, An American Werewolf in London, The Shining, Switchblade Romance and Alien.

Jon Peacey said...

I must admit to being terribly heretical...

I don't have the first idea why The Shining is considered so good... Scatman Crother's finale makes me laugh every time- what's the point of that storyline, why does it lead nowhere and what's the point of the titular Shining...

You may now burn me at the stake- I will even provide the matches.

Anonymous said...

There's a long list of things that they have done, James, and none of them good. Firstly, they advertised Torchwood S1 as a cop show. Then they had one episode two hours late because of Big Brother and proceeded to cite bad ratings for putting the show on at 1:30am (where it set new records in the ratings department - no late night show has come close).

We've only just started screening Season Two here, and there has been absolutely no advertising. It is also on a channel (TenHD) that only the major cities can view, meaning 7/8s of Australia can't watch it.

They deleted our section on the Ten Forums at one point untul we protests rather loudly. They've hidden the website and won't update it. And when we ring up, they hang up on us at the mere mention of "Torchwood".

Why oh why didn't ABC buy the rights to air the show... *buries head*. We just want to watch Torchwood. And being one of the people who run Torchwood Australia, I'm emailed/PMed a lot of the complaints and its part of my responsibility to let Ten know, who don't want to know. It simply is not fair.

Please, elephant gun them. Now. Sticking 'Torchwood Australia' stickers all over their windows and spamming their forums does nothing.

James Moran said...

GoodDog: Ooh, and check out Black Sabbath, directed by Mario Bava, 1963 - three creepy tales of terror, saw it the other night for the first time, bloody brilliant.

Robin: Nope, none of them are in there, it's, er... full of completely different names... Don't look and check. I'll know.

Jon: Well, you're a blasphemer, and must be cleansed by fire, I'm afraid. The answer to all of your questions is: because it's bloody scary and weird.

Clarissani: Blimey, I had no idea about all that. That's pretty poor, I've just been on their website and couldn't find anything about Torchwood at all, or get their tv guide to work. Will there be a DVD release in Australia?

Anonymous said...

Hi there, if it's not too cheeky to ask, how much would you get paid to write an episode of a program like Torchwood? Does anyone know?

Jon Peacey said...

I'd have to be agreeing with you on Black Sabbath- I've recommended that one myself- in one fell swoop Bava manages to close the book on and predict most Italian horror cinema. Also try his first (official) film Black Sunday (with the gorgeous Barbara Steele and her snarling eyebrows).

Can that count towards my penance and save me from the flames...

Although, just to dig the hole a little deeper: I don't find The Shining either scary or weird...

On the hand, Eyes Wide Shut is bloody scary and weird... but for completely different reasons though.

James Moran said...

Anon: I'm not going into my own financial details, but the Writers' Guild of Great Britain has negotiated minimum agreements for film and TV, so you can see what the starting point is for many shows:

Newer writers are at the bottom end, while the more experienced famous ones are higher up. Don't forget to remove 10% agent fees, then tax, and living expenses etc etc...

Anonymous said...

Lucky for us, Season Two comes out on DVD on October 2nd. It's going to cost a lot, however. But if that's what we have to do... I'm awaiting the BluRay release in the UK. It's the same region code as Australia. I bought Season One and never looked back.

There is a page for Torchwood on the Network Ten website, but it's hidden. This is all we have:

Also, you might be interested in two things: firstly, "Sleeper" debuts tomorrow night in Australia. Secondly, my copy of "Transmissions" arrived on Friday. I've read "Breadcrumbs", liked it, and a more detailed review is coming if you're interested.