The Road We Travel

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I woke up feeling militant today. When it comes to my film career, have I taken The Road Less Travelled? But if so, why do I meet so many Fellow Travellers? Today it feels more like The Road We Travel. Here’s where we’re going and why:

In Search of Alternative Structures. After years of riding those two horses of being inner-directed as a writer and yet respecting the market, I believe there is a third way – to build your audience as you write and make your film – and create an alternative distribution path. The internet has made this real, but it also builds on a far older model where stories rise up to meet the needs of the community – we seek out the stories that help us understand our universe and survive it, maybe even transcend it for a few moments.

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Away from Predictability and Routine. It is not our job to sell the old paradigms of existing shows and tried and tested formats. It’s our job to originate new ones. No one under 20 admits to watching TV. Yet they do watch heavily authored and beautifully crafted series that speak to their own tastes and values. Nothing is ever truly new of course and those shows stand on the shoulders of others and have their own ritualistic formats and tropes. But at least for the moment they feel box-set fresh, a story we want to collect, like golden breadcrumbs.

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To Meet Fellow Travellers and Collaborate. Communities of filmmakers, actors, writers, musicians and other creatives are getting together online and in the real world to create, distribute and cross-promote each others’ work. The freelancers have got together and as Billy Bragg would say, ‘there is power in our union’. Our manifesto is simple:

This is What We Want to Make. This is What We Need to Say.  Choose your dream project and make it happen. ‘I want to invite you to join me in making a story I care about.’ Few can resist those words and so artist speaks to artist directly without mediation or need of cumbersome management structures that falter at the first hurdle of making a decision.

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Make a Choice. Stand up for the stories you want to tell, the people you want to work with and the causes you believe in. Build value into your movies – not just monetary (though that would be nice) – but true value that supports our community and makes us stronger.

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Diversity is Who We Are. It is not a special interest group or a catch-all phrase for troublesome outsiders. We are a truly diverse nation and we have the opportunity like never before to reach a global audience by writing, making and distributing our own stories. There is a huge pool of talent already trained and ready to be a part of this– don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

May Your God Go With You. All belief systems are valid, even those we despise have a function for those who hold to them. To contemplate a network of stories and storytellers that span this incredible world of ideas, to connect emotionally to even one human being is extraordinary. How much greater is it to connect to millions with our words, our images, our lives?

Let’s Get Together. And make something great.

Red River Screening

I’m in the usual places – @emlin32, and right here. Leave a message. x

RED RIVER – My New Drama for Directors UK

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It started with an image. A tiny girl chased by a giant red veil. But it started before that, at a Human Rights Watch talk at the Frontline club, where I first heard about child brides, the number one issue facing human rights campaigners.

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It stuck in my mind. A girl, clever girl, young, still at school, who didn’t want to get married. Not yet. Not to a man much older than her. Not when she was ten, twelve, thirteen. So I carried this idea around, waiting to write it up. And in the winter, just before Christmas, it came out – this dream, this chase, this story. A runaway child bride, here, in London, on the River Thames. And then this story was made real. ‘Red River’ was selected for the Directors UK Challenge ALEXA scheme, sponsored by ARRI.

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We went into pre-production in February and have just shot the film over three action-packed days in March. Alongside my writer-director role, I put my producer’s cap on and started to pull the elements together that we needed. There was a 12 year old girl in a boat on the river, a VFX dream sequence involving a giant veil, a chase sequence on the River, involving mud, more boats and water, and a series of driving scenes across London. It seems I had written a rather complicated ten minuter. But mostly I thought about the girl in the boat. The boat and the girl, drifting away in my dreams. And the Risk Assessment…

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Nikhita Mani and Munir Khairdin

The best thing about producing as well as directing is you get to pick the best people as your team. 90% of directing actors is great casting – and I had an amazing cast thanks to our clever casting director Shakyra Dowling, including  Goldy Notay, Munir Khairdin, Simon Nagra, and our two young actresses – Nikhita Mani and Mia Rolfe.

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Goldy Notay with Mia Rolfe and Nikhita Mani

So I do believe that directing a crew depends on – well – that crew being something special. Which of course they turned out to be.

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Abigail Berry at Directors UK provided invaluable production support while ARRI gave us an Alexa XT camera with a set of Master Anamorphic lenses and a generous lighting and kit allowance – plus a terrific amount of goodwill and technical know-how from Milan Krsljanin and his team of Challenge Alexa camera trainees (and all trainees are Met Film School graduates!).

So we hit the River running – and then God gave us the weather.

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Light on the water, captured on those beautiful lenses by expert cinematographer Patrick Duval.

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Footfall and dialogues caught by our very own Sam Cousins.

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And production design by creative dynamo, Sam Sharma.

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Then 11 year old Nikhita Mani ran on screen and became that character I had dreamed of all those months before. That clever girl, that girl who didn’t want to get married so soon, so young…

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So now we are in the edit, with my old friend Alex Morgan, and in a few weeks time I will have to let her go – to the composer, the VFX compositor, the sound mixer and the colourist, ready for our Challenge Alexa screening in May. And then she will be off again, across the screen, running for her life, towards a new life.

Catch her while you can…

For more updates on RED RIVER, you can like our Facebook page here or follow us on Twitter: @emlin32, @golday_notay, @Nikhita_Mani, @ShakyraDowling, @Directors_UK

HUGE THANKS  to everyone who has worked with us so far! Emma xxx

Emma and Nikhita

 All photos by Doris Zajer..

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Work it like Wimbledon

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The Wimbledon men’s final always makes me cry. I’m sure I’m not the only one.  I am always inspired by the velocity of these athletes, their strength and application and by their powerful will to win. A career in film is a bit like being a tennis pro – years of hitting a ball against a wall for maybe one or two shots at success. So it pays to work like a Wimbledon Champion:

O – LOVE the work you do. Honour each day of training – practice your art whenever you can and relish the chance to write/direct/act on a regular basis. Honing your skills is never wasted and builds consistency – it keeps you match fit.

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15 – FIFTEEN reasons to give up are always knocking on your door. So choose to forget you lost the last game and play each moment fresh as it unfolds. My mum used to say ‘Quitters don’t win, and winners don’t quit.’  She was right, dammit.

30 – THIRTY other people want your job! and that’s just today. But so what? Use the competition to spur yourself on to your own best performance. Respect them, like them, but never forget your own determination to succeed.

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40 – FORTY years is a long time in show business, but Federer is a veteran at 32. Oh to be as gloriously at the top of my game, combining years of experience with such grace and energy! His temperament is superb whether in victory or defeat. Pacing yourself is vital. So is self-belief and knowledge.

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DEUCE – Is like starting again, another chance to get it right. I love the purity of this concept. Every point is fresh, unique, can play out in a totally different way. Yet you’re always just two points away from joy or disaster.

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ADVANTAGE – Is what you must act on – now is your chance to show them what you’re made of. You have visualised this moment a hundred times and now it’s here. All you have to do is – not f**ck it up…

GAME, SET AND CHAMPIONSHIP – Shoot for nothing less – because if you win – and reach your creative goal – then all that training, self-belief and fight pay off and you’re Golden.

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In Praise of Migrants


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I want to write about our freedom to work in other countries. As UKIP and the Front National are voted into the European Parliament, this basic human right is again threatened.  I have just come back from Cannes Film Festival which celebrates international cinema and welcomes filmmakers from around the world.  No one suggested that Jane Campion, Sophia Coppola or Leila Hatami should ‘go back where they came from’.

I have certainly learned the most in my life from working abroad.

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Shooting in Poland

I studied directing in England but was given the chance to make a film at the renowned Polish Film School thanks to a European MEDIA grant.  Suddenly I was able to work with filmmakers from all over Europe. For the first time I saw my own films in a wider context and realised there were other ways to tell a story. Learning your trade in another country is a life-enriching experience I wish all people could try.

My greatest love has been America. I dreamed of studying there but couldn’t afford the school fees, and as a young filmmaker, couldn’t get sponsored for a work permit. After many years of visiting as a tourist, of writing and pitching ideas for US television and sitting in on screenwriting classes, I finally got sponsored by a TV company for an employment visa.  I was there, working in both the UK and US, refining skills learned in both countries, comparing the differences, following in the footsteps of writers and directors who have taken the foreign as inspiration and used their outsider’s eye to see a little differently.

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Directing ‘In Search of Food’ in the US

We desperately need this broader perspective if we are to move forward as a country.  This year, as I crossed the US border into Mexico to see the moving effects of a mass deportation policy on migrant families, I was reminded of how rich and privileged I am to have a British passport and enough money to travel freely. Why do we deny the same right to people who can’t rely on privilege but just want to earn a living and contribute?

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Deported migrants in Mexico

As thousands of migrants die in deserts, overheated trucks, under the wheels of trains or at the hands of people traffickers or border guards, we don’t make the connection between this huge economic migration and our own privileged ability to travel the globe for vacation or employment.  I am tired of politicians blaming migrants for the recession and angry with an electorate that votes for the far right by way of complaining about house prices.

Now we have a government that believes we should study only English writers. I teach at an international film school that welcomes young actors, writers and director from all over the world to England so that they – and we – can learn from working with each other.

Closing our borders to people who want to contribute to our society is like locking ourselves into an air-tight room and then wondering why we can’t breathe.  If we walk away from Europe and close our borders, we create an island fortress that holds us captive as surely as it keeps our neighbours out.

 

 

Locke and Calvary – The rise of the literate screenplay

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When is a film not a film?  When it’s a play on words.  I’ve just seen a beautifully written film – and yet it could have been a play – as it revels in language in a way we usually identify with radio or theatre.  Locke is an intense, poetic and visual movie that relies on words for its main impact.

In Locke, written and directed by Steven Knight , our anti-hero (played by Tom Hardy) is trapped behind the wheel of a car for 90 minutes.  The drama occurs not through action but through a series of dialogues – not even face to face but on the phone. The only physical action he takes is driving.

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Tom Hardy is the draw here but it was not his face – expressive though that is – that stayed with me. It was his voice, his thoughts that moved me – that and the gap between what he said while his face betrayed how he really felt.

When Locke does take action and make decisions he does it through language. Words are the prime dramatic currency of Locke and the story is none the poorer for it.  The writing has a dense yet lyrical quality – not for nothing did Tom Hardy listen to Richard Burton reciting Under Milkwood to prepare for this (the likeness is uncanny).  The visual metaphors are not on screen but are created in the dialogue.

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Locke also observes the three unities of place, time and action, so it really could be a play.  In the end does it matter?

With the multi-platform, multi-media way in which we consume creative content, are these boundaries forever blurred?  While the studios chase global success with tent pole spectaculars using as few words as possible, the real audience is viewing online in the revolution that has allowed high-end intelligent drama series and movies to go viral – to go global. It is a mistake to assume audiences don’t enjoy language – wit, irony, deep emotions, the pleasures of thought and moral complication.  For Netflix and co, prestige drama series are now the premium content that people will pay for.  As the writer’s dominance in television and online drama drives the quality of scripts skywards, is there also a resurgence of the writer – and dare we say it of drama vs genre movies –  in low to mid-budget feature films?

It is the marriage of great script and great actor that audiences are drawn to.  The skills of the director are at the service of the writing and are the invisible, traditional – and often underrated – ones of interpreting the material, getting great performances, as well as expressing the visual world the characters inhabit.

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Calvary written and directed by Michael McDonagh, is another example of a great, writer-driven film – funny, literate, dark storytelling  powered by great dialogue that celebrates word play and the interrogation of received ideas.  The story and characters may borrow from the Western but the execution is resolutely Irish in its love of language.

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary

As film writers we are often (rightly) discouraged from using dialogue at the expense of the active and visual.  And there are wonderfully cine-literate screenplays that have hardly any dialogue at all.  Yet a cinema that celebrates and explores ideas and self-expression through language surely raises everyone’s game.

How do you use dialogue in your scripts? And which writers do you admire for their use of language?

Leave your comments here or you can find me on twitter @emlin32

 

 

FOUR GO TO CANNES


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Last year I wrote  Diary of a Cannes Virgin to share the experience of going to the most famous film festival in the world for the first time. But I didn’t go alone. I went with three new friends from the WFTV mentoring scheme.  ‘Four go to Cannes…’  It was a real Girl’s Own Adventure story, although we were less Enid Blyton and more a writers’ splinter group, a Gang of Four curious to see how the international system of buying and selling features worked on the inside.  Faced with long queues for badge collections and deciphering the arcane booking system to see films, our first day in Cannes felt less like ‘What dress shall I wear to the premiere?’ and more like hacking into a heavily encrypted national bank.

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It took us a good 24 hours – helped by Elizabeth’s insider knowledge of previous Cannes – to simply work out where everything was. We spotted the red carpet easily enough – the big one at least. The pavilions, the film market, the food stands and the loos took a while longer. But like all good Brits abroad, we splashed out on overpriced hot dogs and vino with cheerful humour and threw ourselves into the long Cannes days – from queueing in the rain for our bus in the morning to all jamming into a taxi together at midnight…

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Three days later, after countless industry panels, rained out screenings, a party and a case of food poisoning from a dodgy salad at the panini van where we took most of our meals, we took refuge in a proper French restaurant outside the enclosure and celebrated our first Cannes visit. Despite the crazy conference centre atmosphere we’d all had a really great time.

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I put this mostly down to our natural support of each other. From sharing beds on the first night in our hotel and giggling into the night, to sharing canapés at drinks dos, to arranging to touch base for lunch and dinner during the festival and compare notes on networking events, we had each other’s backs from day one.  Although Cannes is full of people you either know or think you want to know, it’s important to draw breath – and have a real conversation with someone you really like, who you’re not trying to sell anything to, and who knows your feet are aching and you’ve been on the go since 7, and, most importantly,  have a laugh with.

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Looking out for each other at Cannes created a real bond, and we’ve stayed in touch during the last year, reading each other’s scripts, supporting each other through  the ups and downs of development, and sharing our good and bad writing days.  Our faith in each other has been rewarded times ten.  One year on, it’s fantastic to see how well our Gang of Four has done.

Elizabeth closed a development deal on her feature script this year.  Wanda has enjoyed a stellar series of acting roles and is writing her first UK feature.  Our other friend has a feature length thriller in development.  As for me, I met a great producer during that first trip to Cannes, who is helping me develop the US feature I took there so hopefully a year ago.  As Sinatra would say, ‘It was a very good year.’

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So to Cannes 2014 – Wanda and I will be braving the Croisette once more, with the others there in spirit. This time we have a studio apartment thanks to another friend from last years’ trip. We are determined this year to hit the best parties, the most exciting premieres and sample the delights of proper French food.

That is until we get there – and the panini van beckons.

 

Share your Cannes stories (or plans) below – or you can find me on twitter @emlin32.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Border – My Arizona Film Scout

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Where to begin?  After two amazing weeks of travelling Arizona as research for my feature film, ‘Anchor Baby’, I’m home.  What did I discover about the world of my story?

Accompanied by my friend Doris,  we flew into Phoenix, then drove down to Tucson, then south to Nogales on the border, in search of the reality behind the events I had written in my feature length drama.

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Every day in Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape. Everyone had said it but I just wasn’t prepared. It’s beautiful.

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I must have taken a thousand photos.  None of them will make it into my movie but all are sketches for the world I want to describe.

I did a photo shoot in the mountains around Phoenix with a ten year old Mexican girl.  In my story the girl crosses the desert to find her Mum and so we took some shots to suggest that journey.

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It was just me, a camera, the girl and her Mom and my friend Mary, a local teacher who had helped me set it up. But this girl became Elena, the girl in my story.

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 My script is about undocumented migrants on the US/Mexican border and many of the people I interviewed could not go on the record.  Immigration is a hot topic in the States right now – but beneath the political posturing and TV sound bites showing polarised factions, the reality is hugely complex and moving.

All the people I met spoke from personal experience of living on the border and all expressed feelings I could relate to, from the recently deported migrant to the rancher whose land they had crossed – supposedly enemies but both bound by the same reality – that a once more relaxed border is now a war zone, controlled by the cartels and policed with difficulty.

Jim, whose ranch is on  the Mexican border, has thousands of migrants smuggled across his land every year, alongside numerous drug runs.

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Slippers left behind by crossing migrants

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The soles are lined with carpet to avoid leaving tracks

What united the Arizonians I spoke to was a feeling they were misunderstood by the rest of the country and abandoned by central government.  As one local immigration judge put it to an East Coast liberal , who questioned ‘Operation Streamline’, the new fast track legal process for detention and deportation – ‘Where are you from? If you don’t have a border, you don’t have a problem.’  The sheer scale of the problem and the dominance of the cartels in drug and people smuggling make for tough decision making, torn loyalties and fear along the border.

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The most inspiring place we visited was the soup kitchen run by the charity Kino Border Initiative  for recent deportees on the Mexican side of border town Nogales, a common crossing point.

KINO Soup Kitchen at Nogales

People are often deported from the States in the middle of the night with no money and far from their original homes in Mexico or Central America.  KINO gives them a hot meal, clothing, a phone call to their relatives, basic medical care, and someone to talk to.  This tiny makeshift building is full of positive energy and served almost 50,000 migrants last year.

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KINO and a few other humanitarian groups along the border provide some of the only aid available to migrants.  Although admirably non-partisan, they were clearly disappointed by the huge increase in deportations under the Obama administration.

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The most moving encounter I had was with a recently deported Mexican woman.

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Fourteen years ago, she had crossed the desert to come to America. It had taken her a week, carrying her three year old.   She had worked in the US for fourteen years and raised three children there. One day she was stopped while riding her bicycle, her papers were checked, she was found to be undocumented and deported. Her three children are with a friend in Arizona  while she is trapped on the Mexican side with no way back.  Her only option now is to return to Mexico and then try and bring her US raised children back to the impoverished town she came from.

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There are no easy answers but nothing about this deportation seemed right.

It has been a privilege to meet the people of Arizona whose stories I am trying to tell. I only hope I can do them justice as I move forward into the script, writing and rewriting my story to reflect the responsibility and affection I feel towards everyone I have met along the way.

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Thank you to everyone we met on this trip. You took us into your homes and showed us great generosity.  We will let you know how the movie develops!

To help migrants by supporting the work of the Kino Border Initiative click here .

You can read more about my trip and my US indy feature ‘Anchor Baby’ in the forthcoming March issue of Digital Filmmaker Magazine.

Additional photography by Doris Zajer and Jack Dalleywater, many thanks.

Get in touch here or find me at @emlin32 and info@emmalindley.net   Happy Travels, and may the story you’re looking for find you.