Saturday, 30 August 2008

Faerie City Fail

To anyone considering building a beautiful faerie-like city for a short film they might be in the process of making, I would like to offer the following advice:

* It's probably a good idea to build the city before you start filming, not the other way around.

* If working outside, bring in the washing before you start filming, even if it is a nice drying day.

* Your treasures, spread on the ground in your garden, will tend to look like one of those piles of junk that old men used to display for sale on pocket handkerchiefs at the scuzzy end of Brick Lane before it got trendy - no matter how artily you assemble them, or which angle you photograph them from or how desperately you want them, collectively, to look like a skyline in Shanghai.

* It doesn't matter if you have been to Shanghai. A toast rack is a toast rack is a toast rack, whether upside down or right side up.

* Think twice before using Christmas baubles to bring a futuristic feel to your city - their shiny surfaces may reflect your face and camera in them during filming.

* Although it is cheap and plentiful, remember that tinfoil always looks like tinfoil even when it is out of the packet - what else could it be?

* You can't make a city out of jelly unless you know what you're doing.

* Show business is hell.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Lazy Susan

Her Majesty's Inland Revenue and Customs have written to me again to say that, on reflection, they owe me 90p, not the other way around. Now, maybe it amuses them to fire off letters at random about infinitesimally small amounts of hypothetical money. Perhaps they feel there is 'no harm done' by such foolishness. But of course there is a price to pay - every time I get a brown envelope through the post, I stare at it in terror before opening it. It's all very stressful. I am paying with my health, Inland Revenue pranksters. I haven't got time for your crazy karmic mind fucks. I am trying to make a movie here.

I really do hate getting official letters. I worry that any kind of encounter with authority might lead to imprisonment, particularly where demands for money are made, as I don't have any. You may say that we don't have debtors' prisons in this country any more but there are a lot of women in prison who have been put there for committing relatively trivial offences, such as failing to pay their TV licence.

As a consequence of this I treat all agents of the state, including the police, with a kind of awed deference. Am I the only person in Brixton who behaves like this? The other day I even let a Community Policeman into my house and participated in a survey that purported to be about safety in the area. He kept harping on about the lighting in the street - wouldn't I feel safer if the street lamps were a bit brighter? It all seemed very odd. And sure enough, a couple of weeks later the council wrote to say they'd be spending some of our exhorbitant council tax on new street lighting. If I wasn't so preoccupied with show business (and so fearful of authority), I'd write to someone and complain.

In the past I have always managed to keep calm when contemplating life in prison, thinking that I'll be able to get plenty of writing done. But making a film would be far more difficult to do from a prison cell - and I do so love filmmaking.

Currently, we're building the set. It will be a magnificent futuristic city, like Shanghai, only made out of jelly and twigs. I need to film it from all sides in a continuous tracking shot. We don't have any professional equipment but I'm happy to improvise. The question that's bothering me at the moment is whether to try to balance the set on a lazy Susan and turn it while keeping the camera fixed on a tripod, or whether to put roller blades on my feet and skate around it while trying to hold the camera steady. Alas, my roller-blading days are over, never having quite started. And come to think of it, I don't have a lazy Susan. It's vexing, although I shouldn't complain about that as puzzle-solving is supposed to be a good way of keeping dementia at bay. They should give government grants to old people to make films, although I haven't got time to write to the NHS to suggest it, as I first ought to write to Lambeth Council about the street lamp survey and before that I've got this tracking shot to get done.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so cross that HM Revenue and Customs have written to say they owe me 90p. Perhaps they were only trying to cheer me up. Someone out there in the tax office who is having their little joke is reading this and saying 'come on, it's only 90p, I thought my letter would take your mind off the problems caused by show business. I thought you'd be happy.' And after due consideration of the matter I can confirm that actually, yes I am.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Singing Piggy



Editing is the thing I like best about making films (click on the picture to see the latest one, above) - probably because it's most like the writing process. But it's also very hard to do well. I don't see myself being invited to Soho any time soon to help cut some-one else's feature film. Writing the script is the least interesting part of it and consequently I still don't have one for this project.

I used my mouth on the model, as you can probably tell from the glimpses of my crowded, crooked teeth if you have ever met me in real life. I don't have tattoos, so if ever I was in a gruesome accident without ID and the dentist was closed or dental records lost, you could always refer the detectives to this video on YouTube to help with identificiation. I did photograph my mouth in an 'm' shape but didn't film it on the model as the wind was getting up and I was sick of chasing eyes and mouths around the garden mid-take. I forgot to photograph 'l'. As ever, the key thing I learned was that you need to plan.

Oh, and I need to sort out the sound. I'm currently recording on the microphone that is built in to my computer. We do have a sound man in the family but he's been on tour at various festivals this summer. I'm sure he'd be delighted to come home to an advisory role in a short film about a singing pig as part of an as yet unscripted larger project involving an elderly dog, but for now I'll see if I can make do with the microphone on my Skype headset. Got to be a step up.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Highs and Lows of Show Business

To be honest, I only really started making the Dream Detectives film as a joke. In fact, I wasn't going to make a film at all, only write about it, posting a few stills, to make it seem as if I was making a film. Very meta.

But you know how it goes. You start something and before you know it, you've got a shot list, a mood board and a company logo.


Today we filmed an exterior shot featuring Lauren and Jessie walking up and down the street in front of our house. That went very well, with me saying 'action' a lot and some builders two doors down stopping work to watch what we were doing, in what I hoped was an admiring way.

Then, later, we filmed the bit where Jessie and I whirl our way back home from the Dream World. I had to lie on the grass in the garden in my detective costume and wave my arms and legs about but when we played back the footage ("the rushes") I looked like a fat lady who has fallen over and is struggling to get up.

So, highs and lows, then. But that's show business, I suppose.


Thursday, 14 August 2008

Dan Turner's Special Offer

Dan Turner posted this offer the other day, to film a 4-5 minute short if he likes your script. Sorry, I meant to link to it before but I have been caught up in a crazy whirl of movie making myself.

Dan's a proper film director - bona fide, as they say in the American television programmes we watch at home - none of your Windows Movie Magic nonsense. Check out his blog.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Film-Making - Key Learnings

This is what we've learnt so far about
1) The Role of the Director
2) The Role of the Writer
3) Acting
4) The Role of the Camera Man
(Please bear with us through the laughing, which will be familiar to some of you; new footage follows it)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Missing Cheese

Right. I've discovered the effects and transitions buttons on Microsoft Movie Maker. I thoroughly recommend the 3D Ripple effect.


Sunday, 10 August 2008

Cut Off Your Nose Productions

Well, this is what we've got so far:

Smith and Kirkels, Dream Detectives

I've realised that there's no point in Smith & Kirkels, Dream Detectives being about solving crime as I don't like confrontation and there is always a bit at the end of such stories where the amateur sleuths gather everyone together and confront the perpetrator. Much better to take a more relaxed approach and simply investigate whatever presents itself when we get to the other side.

We won't be charging for the service. There are no expenses to be incurred in the dream world as there's no currency there. As for fees payable in this world - well, you can't give money to a dog as dogs don't have pockets or anywhere else to keep it. And as I'm in the same line of work as JK Rowling, you'll not be surprised to learn that I'm fabulously wealthy and don't need the money.

We had some creative differences during yesterday's shoot. It seems Jessie wasn't happy with the wardrobe and kept wriggling out of her clothes. As I tried to explain to her, the title of the project is not Nude Dream Detectives but she became uncooperative and ate her gravy bones without doing any acting. In the end, we compromised. If we're going to have nudity in it, then we'll also have knitting, which is one of my interests.

Here I am making the difficult transition
from this world into the dream world. You can
imagine me saying Arghhhhh during this bit.


And here I am, safely on the other side, looking
in vain for my partner Jessie, who is
lost in a dream of her own about
catching frisbees.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Dream Detectives


Dream Detectives
Helen Smith & Jessie Kirkels

and introducing their assistant Miss Lauren Smith

Yeah. I've spent the whole day doing this. Jessie wouldn't wear the glasses provided for her scenes - presumably out of vanity. It's not as if she doesn't need them, she's got cataracts. It's a story about Jessie and me eating cheese and then going into the dream world to solve crimes. It's much more interesting than writing a novel because I get to be in it. Tone-wise, it's like Hart to Hart - glamorous but not terribly believable. I'm the Stephanie Powers character, obviously.

When the Talent Refuses to Take Direction

I haven't had any mad dreams since Jessie returned from her holiday in the countryside with Lauren - when she's here, she must sop them up somehow before they ever reach me. I'm trying to make a short film on the subject of cheese, dreams and dogs but it's quite hard to get Jessie to take direction. One good thing about being an auteur is that it makes writing novels seem quite straightforward. Maybe I'll just get on with that.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Dog Shit Pinball Machine

Oh dear. Yet another dream full of theatricals and foreboding.

This time it was Chris Goode, much admired in the experimental theatre world, who was improvising a play in a church yard. Not quite sure what CG looks like but seeking to ingratiate myself, I went and said hello to the wrong person, an actor called Greg.

Mark Ravenhill was there and put his arm around my shoulders in a comradely way as we walked to a nearby refectory to take a break for lunch, which was very comforting. Unfortunately I reciprocated by putting my arm around his waist, which was much too intimate, as if I thought he was my boyfriend. It was all very embarrassing and I wasn't sure how to get out of it but just then I stumbled and was able to break away. The pathway was covered in dog shit and I had to take care not to step in it as I staggered about, trying not to fall. I made a joke about being the ball in a dog shit pinball machine but it was too late to recover my dignity, although I did avoid the dog shit.

I know I said I wouldn't mention any more of my dreams but here I am being visited night after night by people I admire from the theatrical world, who seem to want to warn me about something. I don't know any of them in real life. It was funny at first but now I want it to stop.

I've got to leave the house today to go into town for some meetings. I'm a bit behind with my word count on the book. Actually my total for the week is something like minus 10,000 as I had to take a chunk out of the manuscript. Perhaps the dream wasn't warning me against writing another play but warning me against leaving the house? Yes. That'll be it.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Typhoon Warning

My friend Gareth called from Hong Kong this morning, where a typhoon warning means all the ferries have been cancelled and nobody can go to work. A typhoon warning is seen by most of my friends over there as an opportunity to go to the pub and get drunk. Even drunk, Gareth is wiser than most people I know. I told him I was writing another novel and he told me I should have a murder in it, to help sales. He's probably right about that, as he is about everything. He's one of those people who can find a solution to anything. Friends in HK have told me that they calculate the complexity of a task by how many Gareths it would take to complete it in a given time.

I have got a disappearance, poetry, a miracle and a strong friendship between two women in this book - all the usual ingredients, in fact. But no murder. There is a character I could kill. But I don't know. I'll have a think about it. Why don't we have typhoon warnings in this country? A drink might help.

Penelope Wilton, Benjamin and Me

Well I wasn't going to tell you any more of my dreams because other people's dreams are so boring. But I haven't left the house for nine days and have nothing else to write about. Besides, last night I dreamt that I went to the National to admire the props for a costume drama starring Simon Russell Beale and Penelope Wilton (possibly The Seagull). I was with members of an amateur dramatic group and my dog Benjamin, a miniature dachshund, sadly now dead in real life.

Unfortunately Benjamin and I got trapped on stage after the curtain went up and Penelope Wilton had to work around us. I could tell she was cross, and indeed she read out some of my 'to do' lists that I had left on a series of yellow post-it notes on a book on a table on stage, giving rise to unfriendly laughter from the audience. However shortly before I managed to shuffle off on my knees to exit backstage with Benjamin in my arms, she gave me a kiss on the forehead to show that she had forgiven me.

It doesn't seem to be an auspicious dream - the kiss on the forehead from PW is a good sign but the unfriendly laughter from the audience and her irritation at my presence on stage are not, never mind shuffling around on my knees with a dead dog in my arms. Fortunately I have temporarily put aside the play I had been working on to finish my novel, which is going quite well.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Robin Goodfellow

I dreamt about Puck last night. He was leading an ARG/theatre game in Regent's Park, part of which involved sorting second hand books on the grass. He looked like a serious University student with his oatmeal tank top and messy brown hair. But his name was Robin Goodfellow, so I knew it was him.

The reason I'm having so many dreams at the moment must be because I am eating up the cheese left over from my vegetarian dinner party last Friday. Finishing up the dolcelatte brought me Martin Amis. I had the last of the goat's cheese last night and that got me Puck. When I woke up this morning, my first thought was that it was because he is half goat. But that's Pan, isn't it? I was getting mixed up.

I've still got a slab of stilton and rather a lot of cheddar to go.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Setting Realistic Goals

Well, I have had two days on my own in the house. I have written 4,000 words but it's Friday night and now I am drinking beer. Soon I will be drunk. I do find it's useful to have goals in life but it's so hard to achieve them, don't you think? I secretly (not so secret now) want to try and do 25,000 words while the kids are away. It's impossible. Nobody writes that fast. I mean, I could type that many words in a day, easy. But typing is not the same as writing, as I'm sure you'll agree.

Here are some other targets I have recently set myself that I have failed to achieve:
Write one poem a day until I reach 100 poems. Progress so far: One poem completed. 99 to go.

Make some short films. Progress so far: One short film about an angel and a mannequin, duration approx 15 seconds. It is somewhat marred by the 'free trial' stamp across each frame as I have not yet upgraded the software.
Ah life. It's so difficult sometimes. Thank goodness for beer.

Laurie Lee, Spartacus and Lauren

Watching a documentary on Laurie Lee last night on BBC4, I was heartened to see that he left approximately ten years in between writing each book, spending that time 'honing his prose', as they put it. Another story I liked was in an interview in the Paris Review with a famous American poet - oh, I can't remember his name. John someone? Sorry. After some early success, he fucked off and went to live on a beach for ten years to 'be a poet', which, for him, did not necessarily involve publishing work but was more a question of looking at things and thinking about them and writing about them later when the mood took him.

I don't write much. What is out there - i.e. what has been published or produced - is pretty much everything I have ever written, although in theory there is still a TV series in development somewhere. Four books and two plays; it isn't much when everyone you meet these days seems to have fifteen scripts in a drawer and half a dozen manuscripts for novels under their bed.

Good old Laurie Lee. When I was choosing a name for my daughter, an article about him caught my eye and I settled on the name Lauren for her because of it. It was unusual at the time but every female child born in Britain since that day seems also to have been named Lauren. Maybe a law was passed that I was unaware of or, who knows, maybe some evil spirit planned to steal a particular child named Lauren and so - in an 'I am Spartacus' sort of a way - all the mothers in the land decided to name their child Lauren so it wouldn't know which one to take. If that's the case and you knew about the evil spirit and you didn't name your child Lauren, well, shame on you. Fortunately mine is safe.

Anyway, I must get back to honing my prose. So much for turning off the broadband for a week. I'm making good progress with the book, though. I hope to break hearts with this one. Actually, the kind of books I would like to write would be so bleak that on finishing them, people would drive to the coast and walk into the sea, never to return. 'Ah,' commentators would say, noticing the increased traffic on the roads and the bodies in the sea, 'I see another Smith has been published'. But unfortunately everything I write is full of jokes. Not this time, though. Not this time.