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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Make your own Cheerleader

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Everyone needs a cheerleader!

I’m sure many guys would agree with me though I don’t mean the all American cute’n’bendy girl kind.  I mean a friend who is always in your corner cheering you on in whatever mad enterprise you choose to take on next. They may be your partner, work colleague or friend.  I am lucky enough to have several close friends and a family who are tireless supporters of me and my hare-brained schemes.

So how do you find – and keep – your own personal cheerleader?

1)   Take chances. Fortune favours the brave. Risk taking creates its own energy and brings you unexpected allies and supporters.

2)   Admit you’re scared. Asking for moral support – as well as practical help – is the sign of a strong not a weak character.

3)   Offer help to others. Sounds obvious but supporting others is its own reward and builds friendships built on mutuality and shared interests.

4)   Join mentoring schemes and networking/support groups or create your own. Like attracts like and joining forces once a month to share successes and problems is immensely satisfying and fun.

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5)   Ask for advice and opinions. Read each other’s scripts and application forms. Involve others in your ideas, they can usually make them better!

6)   Be generous with your time. However busy you are, take a moment to listen and reply to a request for help. The favour will be repaid a hundred times.

7)   See friends not rivals. Create a community of artists just like you – they are absolutely your best support in a competitive world.

The best cheerleaders are smart, supportive, kind and often very unselfish. They’re also a little bit magic.

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I may not win the World Cup but I have the best cheerleaders a girl could wish for. Thank you. x

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Location in Arizona – read my story

 

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Hi!

Excited to share with you the full story of my feature film location scout in Arizona – as published in Digital FilmMaker Magazine.

Just click on the link below.  Hope you enjoy reading it and look forward to your comments!

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Work continues on the script as what I learned on my trip influences the story so watch this space for more updates soon.

Thanks to the magazine who do a great job of reporting on independent film productions around the UK and abroad.

All the best and good luck with your own projects!

 

Emma

A Girl’s Eye View of True Detective

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‘Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?’  That’s how I feel about True Detective.  It’s silent, brooding and masculine as hell.  All the guys I know love it but to begin with, as a girl, I wasn’t so sure.

It’s true there’s double the eye-candy – you can choose between Matthew McConaughey as the moody intellectual with the razor-blade cheekbones, or Woody Harrelson as the fresh faced, good ole cop with a naughty twinkle in his eye for the ladies.  But the only ladies you’ll see are hookers, wives and pissed-off girlfriends.  Nothing new there you might say.  So what’s the hook for this girl?

This is the old made new, the generic buddy cop movie made strangely particular by the beauty of the language and the stillness of the pauses between these two men as they drive through the Louisiana landscape.  Nic Pizzolatto’s writing is elegant, often spare but sometimes dense, intellectual and witty.  This is dialogue worth tuning in to, by turns philosophical, self-loathing and slyly funny.  As a film it’s impossibly beautiful, the big skies, the yellow skin tones,  the Southern heat and dust made visible by director Cary Joji Fukunaga and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw.

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And then there are the two star turns – McConaughey the initial draw as the screwed up anti-hero, but with Harrelson subverting your expectations as his character becomes less charming and more a drowning man clutching at women like straws.

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Like my other favourite ‘slow-burn’ series from last year – Hannibal and Top of the Lake, True Detective ain’t in no hurry to tell you the plot, using the now common device of ending a quiet episode with a sudden glimpse of horror.  The momentum keeps building.  Like House of Cards, you’re watching one long story unfold over a series.  There is the odd flashy set piece but it’s the incremental gains you watch for.

It’s a masculine vision of the world that reminds me of The Godfather, not in its description of mob life but in its belief that it’s ‘kill or be killed’.  The characters are in the grip of ancient laws, desires and grudges beyond their control or understanding.

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It creates a view of the male psyche, trapped in a world limited by the very pleasures used to drown his sorrows.  Sex, drugs, alcohol and violence  are seen as useless aides in the face of the loneliness of life, they only make things worse by confronting you with a vision of yourself you can’t stand to be around.   You could argue many male-oriented films indulge in these activities while revealing them as hollow and self-defeating – but it’s the quality of the writing and the silence enveloping these characters on their long, existential drives that demands our attention and evokes a desire to understand them.

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That and they’re just so goddamn cool. Like Billie Holiday, I am in love with the ‘No Good Man’, but I also want to whisper, ‘Don’t Explain.’