Archive for May, 2013


A YEAR OF HITCHCOCK REVIEW

So last week ended my Year of Hitchcock challenge meaning that I have now officially watched every Hitchcock film. From the year of doing the blog I believe I have learnt several things about films particularly good ways to build tension; that will ultimately improve my personal filmmaking and scriptwriting.

The challenge has been extremely rewarding and although lots of perseverance was needed – particularly during the first few weeks of silent movies – it was worth it.  For this post I was going to order all the films and write a paragraph so about each but then decided against that as there are countless blogs that already do so. I have however ordered the films based on my Hitch rating and were rather surprised with the ratings to which certain films where given. I have therefore broken down each section into Hitch rating and will briefly summarise that category.

FILMS GIVEN 1 HITCH:

Hitchcock

52) Juno & The Paycock

51) Topaz

50) Easy Virtue

The 1 Hitch category was a small one containing just three films; all of which where dire and the ones I struggled to watch. Juno & The Paycock and Topaz are to be honest tied for being the worst Hitchcock film in my opinion as both are dire films; where not much happens apart from talking. I decided to put Juno & The Paycock slightly behind because I do remember being mildly entertained by the opening of Topaz.

FILMS GIVEN 2 HITCH’S:

Hitchcock Hitchcock

49) The Pleasure Garden

48) Under Capricorn

47) Champagne

46) The Ring

45) Waltzes from Vienna

All of the films that where rated 2 Hitch’s are fairly early Hitch films. This summarises Hitchcock’s early career when he was attempting to find his feet as a director. One surprise in this section for me was that I only gave Waltzes From Vienna 2 Hitch’s. Waltzes from Vienna is for me a stand out film and one that I remember well in comparison to the others; I have very fond memories of this film and was therefore surprised by my poor rating.

FILMS GIVEN 3 HITCH’S:

Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock

44) Jamaica Inn

43) The Skin Game

42) Number 17

41) The Paradine Case

40) The Manxman

39) Torn Curtain

38) Secret Agent

37) The Farmer’s Wife

36) Murder!

35) Mr & Mrs Smith

34) Downhill

33) To Catch a Thief

32) Young & Innocent

31) The Lodger

30) The Man Who Knew Too Much (UK Version)

The 3 Hitch category is one I might as well have nicknamed the forgettable category as it contains all the films watched in the challenge that I struggled to remember properly. For example I remember Mr & Mrs Smith is a comedy and that is about all I know. Young & Innocent, The Lodger and The Man Who Knew Too Much (UK Version) top this category as these are the three I remember in the fullest. The Lodger in particular stands out as being a particularly tense Hitch film. These three films where perhaps rated a little too low considering those which appear at the start of the 4 Hitch category.

FILMS GIVEN 4 HITCHS:

Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock

29) Stage Fright

28) I Confess

27) Suspicion

26) Foreign Correspondent

25) Family Plot

24) Sabotage

23) Blackmail

22) The Man Who Knew Too Much (US)

21) The Wrong Man

20) Marnie

19) North by Northwest

18) Shadow of a Doubt

17) Rich & Strange

16) Trouble with Harry

15) Life Boat

14) Frenzy

13) Spellbound

The four Hitch category is a mixed bag of films that I rated too highly (Stage Fright, Family Plot) and films rated too low (Frenzy, Spellbound). There are several fantastic films in the category including Rich & Strange, which is the highest of Hitch’s silent films in my list.

North by Northwest and Shadow of a Doubt also appear in the section rated as the 19th and 18th best Hitch films respectively. Both of these films are generally in the top 10 when you see a similar list however neither of them really hit me with amazingness; Shadow of a Doubt is one of the films that I would most like to re-watch however but I think that is mainly due to the fact that it is referenced in Chan-Wook Park’s Stoker.

One surprise I found in this category was the inclusion of Spellbound a film I loved and presumed would I gave 5 Hitch’s. Spellbound is one of my personal favourites and would most likely have made the top ten if I were asked to order the films without looking at the ratings I had given.

FILMS GIVEN 5 HITCHS:

Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock

12) Saboteur

11) 39 Steps

10) The Birds

9) Rope

8) Psycho

7) Rebecca

6) Dial M for Murder

5) Notorious

4) The Lady Vanishes

3) Strangers on a Train

2) Rear Window

1) Vertigo

So 12 films where given the highest accolade and most of them are spot on; I would perhaps have rated Saboteur a four if I where to re-rate them however it is borderline.

Putting the films into an order was difficult in this section as each of the film has many merits making it extremely hard to order; the choice of Vertigo and Rear Window as one and two where fairly simple as they are both simply outstanding and as close to perfection as Hitchcock would achieve.

The majority of the top 10 will not surprise many people as these are generally the films which critics praise as the best Hitchcock films; one that may surprise people if the inclusion of the Lady Vanishes at number 4. I really enjoyed the Lady Vanishes and remember it being the best film I had seen at the time of watching; it is a true stand out and a film I could watch over and over as there is some charm to it that is rare in any film.

And so my yearly challenge is done. I will not set out on a new challenge in which I will watch every feature length film directed by the messed up mind of David Lynch, beginning with Eraserhead!

I would like to thank everyone whose read the blog in the last year and hope that you’ve enjoyed my rambling about the master of suspense. Thank you!


So this week brings the challenge to a close with the final film Hitchcock would direct. Family Plot, it is sad to finish the challenge as I feel I have learnt a lot not just about Hitchcock but film in general as I have seen aspects of the films which worked well that I will most likely use as inspiration in my future career as a filmmaker. But that is for another day; next week I’ll be posting a challenge review of the Hitchcock year and will discuss the great directors career in detail; but for today its all about Family Plot.

WHAT HAPPENED?

A ‘psychic’ (Barbara Harris) is hired by a rich old woman to search for her nephew and is offered a huge reward. She thus brings her boyfriend/taxi driver (Bruce Dern) in on the deal and they begin an investigation. Before long they find that all is not what it seems with perilous danger awaiting them.

THE GOOD

The film much like Frenzy a few weeks ago is on the border between being a drama and a comedy. It is not as dark in tone as Frenzy making this film a more light-hearted experience with dark(ish) undertones. There are several moments of great comedy in the film but also several moments of great tension and the two counteract perfectly throughout.

Gun

A good example of this comes in a scene in which are protagonists find that the brakes on their car have been cut and are therefore surely on the verge of crashing. In this sequence certain shots such as the ones of the front of the car build up tension and danger; highlighting how close to the edge of the road the car is getting. Whilst the other shots – those inside the car – are comedic with Harris throwing her body over Dern in over the top ‘womanly’ fear. This sort of contrast is frequent and makes the film a joy to watch.

car 2

Car 1

 

The film also has a second storyline following the person whom our couple are searching (I don’t want to give away too many spoilers) and this storyline sort of mimics the first and adds for great tension and contrast.

THE BAD
The film is quite drawn out in the middle when there is a section in which very little happens. There are also many areas in which I felt the narrative could have explored to a deeper level in order to build great tension with some of the plot points being far too convenient

The film also lacks a defining moment; something of which an audience member will remember and talk to with their friends as they do about the shower scene in psycho. It is all a little tame; entertaining but not overly original; it is a good film for Hitchcock to bow out on but still far from the great heights he reached at one stage.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

Hitch makes a cameo in silhouette about 40 minutes into the film.

Cameo

FINAL THOUGHTS

Family Plot is a fitting film for Hitchcock to end his career on as it is a good film that’s worthy of admiration. Hitchcock shows in this film how to contrast comedy and tension to create something extremely entertaining albeit convenient.

Next week as I said there will be some kind of year review and then I will select a new challenge to undertake – I have a few ideas but am as of yet undecided.

Family Plot gets 4 Hitchs.

Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock

The penultimate week of my Hitchcock challenge brings to Frenzy. The story of an estranged ‘neck-tie strangler’.

WHAT HAPPENED?

With a ‘neck-tie strangler’ on the loose murdering woman left right and centre, a down on his luck man (Jon Finch) finds himself framed for the murder and must go on the run.

THE GOOD

The film has an interesting storyline with several key moments which where dleightyfully put together; for example there is a flashback of the real necktie murderer remembering his most recent crime which works wonderfully. The film also builds great tension as it is revealed to the audience early on who the real murderer and we are forced to watch as the police ignore obvious clues and convince themselves its Finch.

Watching the film I was unsure whether or not it was supposed to be an out and out black comedy or only be slightly amusing. There are several jokes and witticisms with the dialogue that are obviously their for comedic value however there are also moments within the murders (which are quite shocking) that appeared to be as humorous; without being explicitly so. This confused me and I still remain undecided as to whether I have a horrible sense of humour or Hitchcock was targeting laughs.

Murder

Some of the more obvious jokes work wonderfully as a contrast to the tension of the chase for the murderer, for example a policeman’s wife cooking horrible food, and her husbands reaction to this had me giggling like a moron.

Food

THE BAD

The main let down of the film comes from the performance of the lead actor, Jon Finch; with whom I felt no real connection and whose attitude on the run didn’t create any sympathy for him. In o the Hitchcock films which tackle a similar subject of the wrong man accused such as North by North-west, the skill of the lead actor plays a huge part in creating empathy with the audience and giving us someone to back. In this film Finch was extremely lack-lustre and just didn’t seem like a nice person.

My main problem when watching this film is one that I find difficult to explain; the film as discussed is very Hitchcockian in style and narrative. Yet something is not quite right; it felt at time like an imitation of the best Hitchcock film; as if it was not created by the man himself but a team of people who had studied his work. There is no spark in the film that makes it stand out in his career or the challenge and the reasons for this I cannot fathom.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

Cameo

After originally wanting to cameo as a murder victim – and even going as far as having a model of himself built – Hitchcock decided that for the good of the story (the strangler only murders women) he would make a much more standardised cameo standing amongst a crowd of people wearing a hat.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Frenzy is a tough film to rate because although it is enjoyable, tense and extremely Hitchcockian there is no aspect that is truly memorable; it feels as if it’s a film one could watch and forget with no worries. For this reason I award it 4 Hitchs.

Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock Hitchcock

 

 

In this weeks post I’d like to talk about script-writing and the personal processes through which I go when writing a script and how I believe that those who study writing at pretty much any level often lose a sense of creativity within their writing which can lead to unoriginal and sub-standard media.

This opinion is one that many people will disagree with as there are countless successful writers who did study their craft in order to perfect and that’s fine; however although what they write may be decent and audiences respond to it on a large scale; the ideas are often not original and often rely on the re-working or combining of clichés or tricks which I often find too obvious.

I would like to start my argument by looking at the sheer volume of courses, books, blogs, seminars and so forth which claim to teach you ‘How to write a successful screenplay’ and yes some of these are written by professional writers who have valid opinions on what makes a good script it or not; but often they are written by people who aren’t talented enough to write/sell their screenplays so instead sell their advice which is bad advice due to their lack of talent, if you follow. It is a vicious circle that leads only to poor writing and the reason why so many formulaic films are made.

Now I am not untouched by the study of film writing – although if I could go back in time I would – I have a Film Production degree in which one module was based on script-writing. This module did have a few advantages in that it taught me useful things such as how to format a script properly, this is a skill that needs to be learned as if your script doesn’t match the formatting standards no-one is ever going to read it; but its easy to learn and software like Celtx is free and does most of the work for you.

The script-writing module mainly consisted of information that I didn’t want to know and regretted learning. For example it covered areas such as the ‘Three Act Structure’ – which can be applied to any film, if you study it hard enough. This structure as its title suggests splits the narrative of the film into ‘three acts’ forcing a writer to decide on key plot points and work their script so that these occur at certain points in the script. When I attempted to write with this in mind I found it extremely limiting as I found it to be tedious that the length of my exposition was dictated by some book; if you’re characters need extra time to become established let them have it, the book going to watch your film is it?

Now when people read the above they will probably think that I’m telling people they shouldn’t plan their screenplays but I’m not; everything I write is planned but the amount of planning I do depends on my mood and the ideas. You should remember that with computers nothing is permanent so if you’re inspired to write something at half 3 in the morning after drinking eleven pints, write it. You may find yourself presently surprised when you wake up in the morning (or most likely late afternoon) and if you don’t like what was written, or can’t make sense of the drunken mess then you can always delete it.

Instead of studying writing people should sit down and actually write; plan a story however you want be it by creating an extended breakdown of each scene or (as I’ve found works best for me) a simple hand-drawn flow-chart showing what’s going to happen. I often have only a vague idea when I begin a script and will go through at the end and re-write it so as the twist ending makes sense or the characters become more fully developed.

As I continue with this rant, I would like to point out that I am not an experienced writer in any way.  Although I often write, I have only a mediocre YouTube sketch channel and a single short film to my accreditation and therefore have very little to back up my opinions with experience wise.

It’s just one thing that people seem to like about my scripts are there originality. Rather than re-hashing Twilight with zombies instead of vampires; I’d rather write about a headless man haunted by evil chickens (that is the actually the idea behind a short film I once wrote, however for obvious reasons it never got made). Obviously not all my ideas are good and many of my scripts don’t work for a variety of reasons; however when I do pull one off they are praised by others; with my most recent creation – a film about a guy whose transported into a bottle of wine – being made and reasonably successful with audiences responding to its weirdness.

The writing of this film ‘Pinot Rouge’ is actually a perfect example to showcase why I believe films should be written without study. For as long as I can remember I have been writing short stories and films, pretty much anything I wanted; however just when I was taking my scriptwriting module (for which I submitted one of the worst scripts I’ve ever written) I found that I couldn’t write anything decent. I would spend an entire night planning out a script in the way we where taught; writing a detailed synopsis, carrying out character studies for each character, deciding exactly where my plot-points would be etc. Then exhausted I would go to bed. When I awoke I would look at the notes I had made; notice that one aspect didn’t quite make sense (a character had no motivation for example) and discard the entire writing. This was because I just wasn’t passionate about the idea anymore; it seemed a long way before I could actually write something and as a writer that’s what I want to do. This process of planning and not writing went on for some time before eventually I wasn’t even inspired to plan.

Then one night I went to the pub, got drunk and came home. Sat at my computer I decided to write something, so I looked around my room spotted an empty bottle of wine and typed away for a few hours before falling asleep. Waking up the next day with a groggy head, I looked at what I had drunkenly typed and was actually happy. Sure it needed work to be a decent script but the basics where there; a narrative that mostly made sense and two characters who could easily be developed. This time I didn’t feel like discarding my work, why would I? I had a ten-minute film written!  I took inspiration that the problems could be fixed and after several drafts I was happy with the results and ultimately happy with how the film looked when it was made.

After writing the Pinot Rouge was when I realised that I was over-thinking the writing process. I was letting advice written in a book lead to the way I wrote and becoming annoyed because the plans I had made didn’t stick to some formula that ‘could’ help my film become a success. So I decided to screw it and attempted to forget everything I had learnt about film writing and just write what I wanted to, unfortunately this cannot be done and I still often find myself annoyed when my writing doesn’t conform with the three-act structure, however never annoyed enough to change it.

So my advice to any person who wants to be or is a writer is just write whatever you want. You can always delete it or re-write it at a later date. If you like to plan, plan. Just don’t plan to a formula; decide on a beginning and an end and go from there.

This weeks film was the extremely dull Topaz and before I even begin to write this post I will point out this is one of the worst films I have watched in this challenge.

WHAT HAPPENED?

A French spy investigates the Cuban missile crisis for the American government and uncovers a global spy network.

THE GOOD

There is very little good in this film, which has only one or two glimpses of Hitchcock’s genius. One of these moments come in the way precious documents are smuggled around Cuba in items of food; for example cameras are stuffed into chicken, papers are rolled into baguettes etc. This was unique and reasonably interesting –  and apart from one other scene in which a spy distracts a Cuban man so a briefcase can be stolen – is one of the few moments I actually enjoyed when watching the film.

Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 11.36.47

THE BAD
I don’t know where to begin with this section for this abysmal film; and to be honest there is so much wrong with it that I could write all day. However I will attempt to keep it brief and spoiler free.

Perhaps the most major problem with the film is that there are too many characters that it was easy to lose track of who was who and what was going on. As the film explores a network of spies it focuses on several different ones and attempts to establish each; this leads to a horrible mash of half-developed characters of whom where supposed to care about. The film has no lead role with each character handing off to another character and so forth; with them all coming together for an ending; but with no one to back it is difficult to feel any sort of tension.

The story of the film is also too complex with too much happening for the audience to full comprehend the action; standalone scenes lead to questions about what is happening that will not be answered until much later in the film when they have been forgotten. The narrative is also politically heavy with the weight of the cold war and the bureaucracy of the film makes it tedious and difficult to sit through.

CAMEO O’CLOCK

Hitchcock makes a cameo sitting in a wheelchair – perhaps he was paralysed by how bad the film was!

Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 11.31.59

FINAL THOUGHTS

Terrible. 1 Hitch.
Hitchcock

Apologies for rushing this post; but I’ve been super busy the past week trying to secure locations for a film I am making.

This weeks subject is location scouting, which obviously a key part of the filmmaking process as good locations add production value and realism. I also find it much more fun to film on location over a set as there is something freeing about it.

In the past week I’ve spent four days locations scouting and hours sitting at my computer sending out e-mails. This is the first time I’ve needed to do a proper location scout and it has definitely been a fun and interesting experience as I attempt to secure rights to film in perfect locations for no cost; with varying degrees of success.

Before talking about the scouting itself I’d like to explain why I was scouting. Last weekend I entered a Coventry based competition entitled 2Weeks2MakeIt and as the title suggests the competition gives me just 2 weeks to a make a music video for a band.

Drawn out of the hat, the band to which my group was assigned was a young singer-songwriter who had written a pretty little song. After discussing ideas we decided that a forest location would be the ideal setting; as the mood of song would require a balance between prettiness and desolation.

Therefore last Sunday I headed out to Sutton Park that has a wonderful forest area and scouted around for locations. The park is a lovely location and after hours of exploring; several locations where found which would have looked wonderful for the video.

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However on Monday due to some unforeseen circumstances all the plans where halted as our musician was forced to withdraw from the competition. The lovely people who run the competition paired us with a new band and extended the deadline accordingly. However this did mean we had to begin planning from scratch.

The new band being a rap/hip-hop group obviously wanted a more urban setting and with song being a love-song the narrative which was chosen was to have two couples going on terrible dates before meeting each other and finding their ‘true love’. This story meant that two locations for these bad dates needed to be found – some kind of competitive one (e.g bowling) and a more casual one (a restaurant).

On Wednesday I was off scouting again and this time it was a very different experience to the first scout because rather than simply wandering through a forest; this time I needed to speak to people and negotiate with them.

This is something I was extremely nervous about – I am not only the most confident person and have a tendency to mumble. But I took a deep breath and entered the first location. After a brief chat with the manager; he agreed that we could film if needed and contact details where swapped. I was surprised by his reaction and he seemed really interested in the fact that we wanted to make a film. I think this is most likely because to an outsider the idea of a film crew coming along is quite snazzy and exciting; whereas to me working it doesn’t feel to impressive.

So after this first acceptance I went from location to location and made lots of contacts. Emails where consequently sent out and each place sent us a list of available times and this is where problems arose. Although the locations where fine with us filming; the fact that we needed to film this weekend – because of the competitions time constraints and that the band work full time jobs – meant that many locations wouldn’t allow us access and would prefer us to film in the week.

It also doesn’t help that the weekend is a bank holiday meaning they will most likely be busy; this makes the shoot a scheduling nightmare as many venues had only small availability.  The idea for the video has consequently been adapted meaning the crew, are now going to spend the day location hopping and filming small segments at each location.

The one thing that surprised me the most with a majority of the venues is that they where willing to let us film free of charge. This was odd as I was expecting to have to pay extortionate amounts for locations or at least spend some time negotiating. Most places however just seemed happy for advertising in the video; which is ideal and extremely easy for us to offer.

During this week I’ve learnt many valuable lessons about location scouting and discovered that obtaining rights is a lot easier than I expected; if next time I need to scout we have a confirmed date then the entire process would go much more smoothly.

 

This week’s film is Torn Curtain an interesting movie set in the back-drop of the cold war.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Professor Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) and his fiancée (Julie Andrews) are travelling to Europe to attend a physics conference; however once they arrive he informs his future wife that he is going elsewhere; she consequently stalks him and they end up on the other side of the Iron Curtain in East Berlin; where Armstrong must obtain some information from a German scientist before they can escape West once more.

THE GOOD

The film starts very well with the characters well established as a couple travelling to a conference. There is also several moments of good tension as the audience is forced to wonder exactly what Paul Newman’s character is up to; particularly regarding a mysterious book he must pick up. This mystery and his blatant lying help build up tension and interest in the film, which unfortunately is not maintained throughout.

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There are several scenes in the film that are particularly well created with the stand out moment coming in a scene where Armstrong and a farm hand have to murder a German agent. The murder is drawn out and extremely gruesome – for a film of the 60’s and was a surprising inclusion in a film that is otherwise toned down.  

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Newman’s performance is also very good as he plays a double agent and attempts to protect himself and his fiancée whilst also attempting to get the information he so desperately seeks.

THE BAD

The film after a promising start begins to lose its edge as it progresses; the final escape sequence is rather lengthy and there is no real sense of danger throughout. It felt very much as though Hitchcock was simply going through the motions of creating tension rather than carefully crafting each shot in order to maximise it. 

CAMEO O”CLOCK

Hitchcock makes his cameo in a hotel lobby bouncing a baby upon his knee.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is ok but far form brilliant. 3 Hitch’s.

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