Friday, April 22, 2011

Keep it fun, Keep it DIY

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Songs that Should Be Films #4

In earlier blogs, I've written my lists of Songs That Should Be Films. There's one here. One here. And another here. What's the point? Maybe the point is that embodied in a perfect four or five minute song is enough emotion and narrative and dynamism and complexity to sustain a feature length film. God knows a lot filmmakers could take some notes on light and shade, structure and depth from good songs and great songwriters.

Two Cents. Mine.

As we're currently running the rounds of the media traps at the moment with a film about protest songs, tonight I am going on the freaking great Superfluity radio show (on RRR) hosted by a dear friend, the absurdly brilliant literary and intellectual heavyweight Christos Tsiolkas, and two other damned fine hosting folks, Casey Bennetto and Scott Edgar. It's a two hour spot from 8-10pm of conversations and songs that riff off or emerge from the last song played and the conversation as it evolves. No pre planned playlists. I am guessing part of what we'll be doing is talking about the songs in 'murundak - songs of freedom', protest and folk song traditions, but as the nature of the show demands, it will also be free ranging and, hopefully, satisfy my secret radio host fantasies.

I hosted a couple of radio shows at high school. The first one was in Yr 10 and, along with some pals, Tiy Chung and Nicola Dracoulis (now a kick-arse photographer), we played straight up golden era hip hop (well, it was the golden era, it wasn't a conscious choice), repeating Jungle Brothers 'Doin Our Own Dang', Tribe Called Quest's 'I Left My Wallet In El Segundo' and Boogie Down Productions' 'Jack of Spades' over and over again. Then, in Year 11 and 12, I used to embarrass myself and everyone else in the college common room by playing the same handful of angry protest songs - mostly political hip hop and agit punk (and, strangely, probably because I was a dreary teenager, I used to start every show (7.30 am in the empty school grounds) with The Cure's Plainsong (you know the one with the wind chimes and the wrist slitting romanticism?).

In my late teens, I then briefly hosted a show on community radio. I desperately wanted to get the gig doing Velvet Nights (music influenced by Velvet Underground which I assumed if I actually played and understood it at 18 would lead me straight to girls and rock'n'roll hair) but I made the mistake of listening back to my first and only show recording and realised I sniffed between every second word and sounded like a stuffed up toddler. Besides which, the uber cool Pip Branson from Sidewinder hosted the show and I had no chance of taking his spot. I gave up on radio, community and otherwise, never to return... until now!

So, tonight is my chance to redeem myself. I expect nothing less than glory.

And with that in mind and without any real segue, here are the lyrics to Fugazi's song Cassavetes, the perfect synthesis of music, protest and cinema.
"Crush my calm you Cassavetes
I was sitting tight so quiet quiet
In the dark till the lights came up my heart
Beating like a riot riot
Hollywood are you sitting on a sign
For someone to come on bust a genre
You poor city of shame
Ask me what you're needing
I'll sell you his name
cos he was the one to send it with truth
That's something from someone
And Gena Rowlands complete control for Cassavetes
If it's not for sale you can't buy it buy it
Sad-eyed mogul reaching for your wallet
Like hand to holster why don't you try it try it
Hollywood are you waiting on a sign
For someone to come on bust a genre
You poor city of shame
Ask me what you're needing
I'll front you his name
cos he was the one to send it with truth
that's something from someone and Gena Rowlands"

words/lyrics/awesomeness: Fugazi

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fighting Words

There's nothing as satisfying as breaking the back of a script or story problem that refuses to yield.

In recent weeks I've been wrestling with a script after making some changes that were reasonably and politely requested by the exec. producers, distributor and sales agent.

I wanted to make these changes, as I think they were all seeing the same kind of sense, and, over time, I began to see it too.

The only problem is that in making a handful of changes, some almighty massive fucking problems presented themselves which involved some significantly more heavy handling.

That is the problem with tight plotting, even in (or, perhaps, particularly in) an understated character drama.

In any case, this morning, over a couple of coffees and with the rain pummeling the windows outside and with the Red House Painters on repeat (not fighting music, it's true, but a good soundtrack for the zen state required of the word processor warrior), I snapped that little fucker in two.

It remains to be seen whether one of it's relations comes back to attack me from behind, sending me hobbling back into the change rooms.

all images by Manolo Remidi
all clumsy and poorly-conceived over-usage of wrestling metaphors by Rhys Graham

Jose Ahumado

In the interests of full disclosure and the self stripped bare, here, from the bottom of the drawer, is a page, a poem, from a zine printed a decade or more ago:

Ways of Working #3

You might have seen this already, but I hadn't and if it was any further up my alley I'd be making a right turn.
In which the esteemed writer and artist, Austin Kleon of Newspaper Blackout Fame---

--- riffs and reels on how to work, how to live, how to create, how to be, under the following subheadings:

Check it out. If you're interested in process and ways of working, like I am, or immersed in an unfinished project and wondering how you got yourself into this whole damned fucking mess, like I am, then you'll dig it...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sculpture, Film, Life

"I want to address the light that we see in dreams and make spaces that seem to come from those dreams"

James Turrell

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ways of working #2

"destroy all dreamers with debt and depression"

printed on the CD face for the album
'he has left us alone but shafts of light sometimes grace the corner of our rooms'
by 'A Silver Mt Zion'

Ways of working #1

I'm obsessed with process; with the way people achieve what they achieve and do what they do. I've long wanted to get some understanding of filmmakers processes outside of the structured periods of production and shooting. It would be fascinating to see how people maintain discipline when such a scattershot approach to work is required.

My obsession with process extends far beyond film, however. I've grilled lots of writer friends, artist friends, musicians, athletes, dancers... all to understand the ways they work when self discipline is required. So, for all of this, the following blog - - is incredible. It details the daily routines of writers, artists and other folks who do, make, say and think the good stuff.

Below are some excerpts from this blog but there is a vast archive of interviews and articles on the site with many, many more revelations (Auden's use of a daily dose of benzedrine for 20 years of writing is a good'un, for example)...

JONATHAN LETHEM: What were you doing today before I appeared in your house?

PAUL AUSTER: The usual. I got up in the morning. I read the paper. I drank a pot of tea. And then I went over to the little apartment I have in the neighborhood and worked for about six hours. After that, I had to do some business. My mother died two years ago, and there was one last thing to take care of concerning her estate—a kind of insurance bond I had to sign off on. So, I went to a notary public to have the papers stamped, then mailed them to the lawyer. I came back home. I read my daughter’s final report card. And then I went upstairs and paid a lot of bills. A typical day, I suppose. A mix of working on the book and dealing with a lot of boring, practical stuff.

JL: For me, five or six hours of writing is plenty. That’s a lot. So, if I get that many hours the other stuff feels satisfying. The other stuff feels like a kind of grace. But if I have to do that stuff when I haven’t written—

PA: Oh, that’s terrible.

JL: That’s a terrible thing.

PA: I’ve found that writing novels is an all-absorbing experience—both physical and mental—and I have to do it every day in order to keep the rhythm, to keep myself focused on what I’m doing. Even Sunday, if possible. If there’s no family thing happening that day, I’ll at least work in the morning. Whenever I travel, I get thrown off completely. If I’m gone for two weeks, it takes me a good week to get back into the rhythm of what I was doing before.

JL: I like the word “physical.” I have the same fetish for continuity. I don’t really ask of myself a given word or page count or number of hours. To work every day, that’s my only fetish. And there is a physical quality to it when a novel is thriving. It has an athletic component. You’re keeping a streak going.

PA: Writing is physical for me. I always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind. I write in longhand, and the pen is scratching the words onto the page. I can even hear the words being written. So much of the effort that goes into writing prose for me is about making sentences that capture the music that I’m hearing in my head. It takes a lot of work, writing, writing, and rewriting to get the music exactly the way you want it to be. That music is a physical force. Not only do you write books physically, but you read books physically as well. There’s something about the rhythms of language that correspond to the rhythms of our own bodies. An attentive reader is finding meanings in the book that can’t be articulated, finding them in his or her body. I think this is what so many people don’t understand about fiction. Poetry is supposed to be musical. But people don’t understand prose. They’re so used to reading journalism—clunky, functional sentences that convey factual information—facts, more than just the surfaces of things.


I'm always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o'clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o'clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I'll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it's a pleasure to work."

"I am a completely horizontal author. I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I've got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don't use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance."

I don’t get up very early. I linger over breakfast reading the papers, telling myself hypocritically that I’ve got to keep with what’s going on, but really staving off the dreadful time when I have to go to the typewriter. That’s probably about ten-thirty, still in pajamas and dressing gown. And the agreement I have with myself is that I can stop whenever I like and go and shave and so on. In practice, it’s not till about one or one-fifteen that I do that—I usually try and time it with some music on the radio. Then I emerge, and nicotine and alcohol are produced. I work on until about two or two-fifteen, have lunch, then if there’s urgency about, I have to write in the afternoon, which I really hate doing—I really dislike afternoons, whatever’s happening. But then the agreement is that it doesn’t matter how little gets done in the afternoon. And later on, with luck, a cup of tea turns up, and then it’s only a question of drinking more cups of tea until the bar opens at six o’clock and one can get into second gear. I go on until about eight-thirty and I always hate stopping. It’s not a question of being carried away by one’s creative afflatus, but saying, “Oh dear, next time I do this I shall be feeling tense again.”


 - Where do you write?
 - have always thought that the place where you sleep or the place you share with your partner should be separate from the place where you write. The domestic rituals and details somehow kill the imagination. They kill the demon in me. The domestic, tame daily routine makes the longing for the other world, which the imagination needs to operate, fade away. So for years I always had an office or a little place outside the house to work in. I always had different flats. But once I spent half a semester in the U.S. while my ex-wife was taking her Ph.D. at Columbia University. We were living in an apartment for married students and didn’t have any space, so I had to sleep and write in the same place. Reminders of family life were all around. This upset me. In the mornings I used to say goodbye to my wife like someone going to work. I’d leave the house, walk around a few blocks, and come back like a person arriving at the office. Ten years ago I found a flat overlooking the Bosporus with a view of the old city. It has, perhaps, one of the best views of Istanbul. It is a twenty-five minute walk from where I live. It is full of books and my desk looks out onto the view. Every day I spend, on average, some ten hours there.

 - Ten hours a day?
 - Yes, I’m a hard worker. I enjoy it. People say I’m ambitious, and maybe there’s truth in that too. But I’m in love with what I do. I enjoy sitting at my desk like a child playing with his toys. It’s work, essentially, but it’s fun and games also.

I will tell you my order of time for the day, as you were so kind as to give me your's. At 6. oclock, we all rise. We breakfast at 7. Our study hours begin at 8. At 9. we all meet in Seminary Hall, for devotions. At 10¼. I recite a review of Ancient History, in connection with which we read Goldsmith & Grimshaw. At .11. I recite a lesson in "Pope's Essay on Man" which is merely transposition. At .12. I practice Calisthenics & at 12¼ read until dinner, which is at 12½ & after dinner, from 1½ until 2 I sing in Seminary Hall. From 2¾ until 3¾. I practise upon the Piano. At 3¾ I go to Sections, where we give in all our accounts of the day, including, Absence - Tardiness - Communications - Breaking Silent Study hours - Receiving Company in our rooms & ten thousand other things, which I will not take time or place to mention. At 4½, we go into Seminary Hall, & receive advice from Miss. Lyon in the form of lecture. We have Supper at 6. & silent-study hours from then until retiring bell, which rings at 8¾, but the tardy bell does not ring untl 9¾, so that we dont often obey the first warning to retire.


What is your writing process like? Do you write every day? Do you have a kind of totemic place or object? Or do you need to read before you write?

I try to write every morning, from about nine until twelve. It’s really rare that I would ever write more than that. I know it’s a good idea to listen to music on the way to writing, but I often just can’t quite get it together, for some reason, to do that. I try not to speak to my extended family before I write, because that just clouds everything up.

So you don’t answer the phone, you don’t do e-mail.

No, I do. I’m not, like… I don’t curate the museum of my writing. I am not at all prissy about it. Things don’t have to be a certain way, and life gets in the way all the time. When I was in college and starting to think about writing, I was driving once from Princeton to D.C., where my parents lived, and there was a sex therapist on the radio. And someone called with whatever problem, and this therapist said, “What do you do in the bedroom?” And the guy was like, “Well, watch TV, sleep, have sex, do my taxes; that’s where we change our clothes…” And the therapist said, “Don’t do anything in your bedroom except have sex and sleep. Don’t watch TV, don’t do—because all these things are going to be on your mind, and it’s going to be much harder to separate this thing that needs to be separated out.” And writing is like that. If you don’t find a way to create a wall between it and the world, the world will always win.

What helps about listening to music?

I think music is probably the most directly impactful art form. I mean, it’s the one that, within three minutes, you can find yourself screaming at the top of your lungs and banging your fists. And a novel never does that.

A poem can do that sometimes.

A poem can do that, it’s true. But not quite like that. I mean, certainly you can’t, like, turn up the volume on a poem. A poem is still always going to be a more active experience than listening to music. And there’s something about the passiveness of it that allows for whatever mood you’re in to really enter.

It works on the limbic system, in a way.

Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s a very quick way. It’s like a shot to the heart, you know.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

These Days

We went to Adelaide.
We had film launches.
We went to see friends who had film launches.
It was great.
We went to Canberra.
We celebrated gestations.
We tackled step fathers and tied them up with rope.
We let off smoke bombs.
We went driving and scouted for locations.
It was great.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hands, Gloves

"It's no fun holding hands with gloves on, Miss Alma."

image: Ivan Zhao
words: Tennessee Williams
(from 'Summer and Smoke')


It's a little predictable for a Melbourne film geek that I always fall back on the 'new wave/nouvelle vague/cinema novo' periods of cinema reinvention in the 60s. Mostly out of a subterranean sense of embarrassment, I often question why. All I can come up with is the idea that intertwined with the various national cinema waves of experimentation that took over cinema in the late 50s and 60s was a complete love for and belief in the transformative power of cinema as an art form and not as a medium of commerce. Many of the defining films of that time seem to just revel in what was possible through cinema. So, if you're an idealist - and I am and getting worse - then these films remain perfect touchstones, devoid of the creative cynicism and commercial manipulation that defines films of the recent decades. When they're cool, they're cool as hell. When they're sentimental, their heart is pinned on their sleeve. When they're intelligent, they show off the footnotes to their philosophical references. And when they're inviting, they use every trick to lure you into a state of rapture. In this way, they are inspiring because the filmmakers seem to love what they are doing and assume that, if they love it, you'll love it, too. Which mostly, we do.

A few days back, after one of these touchstone urges - which usually go hand in hand with a period of working on an unmade project and wondering why the fuck we even get involved in this madness - I rewatched Agnes Varda's 'Cleo from 5 to 7' and it seems from the first images that each sequence in the film wants to charm and seduce and be playful and show you something new and possible. It wants to glory in the simple pleasure of cinema. It seems effortless. And to, do all this while also incrementally moving to a rich emotional depth is pretty startling. It seems so much more modern than 9 of 10 of the films made in the last few years.

Take this credit sequence. Seriously. 1962.

Where has that energy, inventiveness and celebration gone? It's gone into the safety and security of aligning images and stories with advertising and promotion and 'jobs' and 'content' and guaranteed audiences and investor caution. Filmmakers these days don't live in film, they live in those 'jobs' and in that 'content', in being sensible and safe, while waiting for the films to drop from the sky. I'm guilty. We're all guilty except for a blazing few who keep the film world as honest as it will ever be in these dark days. The dumb, beautiful belief in film should be an obsession that demands dedication and it's a relentless, driving thing to try and keep that alive and always on call.

So, this is what I have learned from being a film geek trapped in the past.

1. Make a film that you know you yourself will LOVE like crazy.
2. Make films with swagger.
3. Mess with heads, with expectations, with hearts, with desire.
4. Make smart films.
5. Be playful at all times. The energy and joy will seep from the seams.
6. Make films with anger and desire and an urge for freedom.
7. Make films that are like a gift to someone you love.
8. Make films that are about what we all know. Sex, love, work, family, petty crime and conflict, fear of death, fear of life.
9. Make films that feel like a dream.
10. Make films that pull at us like the songs we love, the pictures we return to, the books we hold closest to our hearts; films that have concealed inside of them love, death and desire, fear, bravado and stupidity, the messiness and beauty of life, the madness of the world outside our doors and the strangeness of the world inside our doors.