UNFORGIVEN (2014) review

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I was asked to do a bit of coverage for the Pan-Asia Film Festival a few weeks back. Head over to Cigarette Burns Cinema and check out my review of the new Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s classic western Unforgiven.

And between slaving away at my day job and trying to build my filmmaking empire, I’m also hoping to get a bit of time this weekend to write a review Paddy Considine’s new project Honour. Check out the trailer here:

 

Edit: and here is the original script if anyone wants to have a look!

WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

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Over the weekend I was lucky enough to catch a late night 35mm screening of this mesmerising and brutal Australian film by Ted Kotcheff, director of the equally amazing (but somehow not quite as brutal) First Blood and Weekend At Bernie’s (which was also brutal, but for entirely different reasons…).

Wake In Fright is a movie full of contradictions – it’s a classic that very few people have ever heard of. It lived up to the hype but it wasn’t what I expected it to be. It was psychologically intense and haunting but also charming and funny. It was disturbingly graphic but beautifully shot. The fierceness of the film is right in your face, but the setting is a constant reminder that it takes place on the other side of the world. It’s slowly paced but brimming with action. The story has a nice rambling-ness to it, but the script is tight and polished. It’s hard to say what this movie is, but it’s very easy to see that it’s brilliant.

The event was held at Rio Cinema as part of their Late Shows screening, and was hosted by Cigarette Burns Cinema and featured a guest introduction by Sylvia Kay, who co-starred as Janette (and was at the time married to the director). The story about how this cult classic came to be screened in England for the first time after 40+ years in relative obscurity is absolutely fascinating. Check out this video for more details:

Now, onto the movie (and be warned: there are spoilers):

Gary Bond plays John Grant, an Englishman stuck working as a bonded teacher at a tiny school in the middle of nowhere, a tiny speck of a place called Tiboonda. When school season ends, he collects his paycheque and boards the first train out of town – if two sheds and a train platform can be called a town.

Intending to spend a quiet night in the small mining city of Bundanyabba before catching a flight to Sydney the next day to meet with his beloved girlfriend Alice (Nancy Knudsen), John is instead befriended by the local Sheriff Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty) who, after getting off on the wrong foot, soon has the beer pouring freely.

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After the pub closes, Jock takes John for a steak (and several more beers) at a secret club where John gets interested in the rowdy crowd gambling on a “simple-minded” coin-flip game. He meets Doc Tydon (a wicked Donald Pleasence), who keeps the books for the game. In what is a big hint that things operate differently in the ‘Yabba than they do where John is from, John is offended when Doc eats the discarded scraps from John’s meal.

Intrigued by the game, John throws down £50 and comes out with a big win. The euphoria of the crowd, coupled with his aching desire to raise enough money to buy his way out of his so-called slave-labor job, leads to an escalating series of highs. John makes just enough money to *almost* change his life for the better, but then…

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Well, you can guess what happens. But it happens with gusto and suspense, thanks to amazing camerawork by cinematographer Brian West. The shots are beautifully crafted, and John’s defeat is crushing on a number of levels. He’s left with only £1 to his name — not enough money to buy a drink, let alone call Robyn to let her know he won’t be on that plane in the morning.

Things quickly go from bad to worse for John. Unable to afford to stay in the hotel, he hits the street looking for work but instead he finds himself back at the bar where he insults another local — a nice and well-off chap named Tim Hynes — by refusing to drink with him on the grounds that he can’t afford to buy a round in return. Tim berates John, saying he’s offered to buy John a beer, he’s not demanding John buy him one. Later, when John is caught sneaking a handful of cigarettes from Tim’s case, you get the feeling Tim would’ve been delighted to hand them over if it meant they’d have a chance to smoke them together over a laugh and a pint. And that’s the way things work in the ‘Yabba — hang around, be one of the guys, drink a beer when one is offered to you and buy a round if you can afford it. If you’re not going to eat that egg on your plate, then I will. If you’re not going to sleep in that bed, then don’t mind if I do.

John stays at Tim’s place while he tries to sort himself out, and here he is introduced to Tim’s daughter Janette (Hays), and Tim’s rowdy buddies, including Doc Tydon who lives in a nearby shed and eats scrambled kangaroo and pops pills. Tydon isn’t a very good doctor but the townsfolk don’t care and in exchange for his help they keep him stocked with drink. It’s a nice balance for everyone. The contradictions continue — he’s well-educated but not above anything we experience here; he’s a drunk, but he refuses to touch anything but beer. Pleasence’s performance — which was nothing short of amazing — reminded me of a sort of beta-version of Tyler Durden but without the urge to blow anything up, he’s satisfied with his own slow, downward trajectory.

At Tim’s house, as the friends drink they take notice of John’s “odd” behaviour:

Dick: What’s the matter with him? He’d rather talk to a woman than drink?

Tim: Schoolteacher.

Dick: Oh.

Later, as John has another random encounter with a seemingly friendly local, he has this to say about the ‘Yabba:

John: What’s the matter with you people? You can burn your house down, murder your wife, rape your child. But if I don’t have don’t have a drink with you – if I don’t have a flaming bloody drink with you – that’s a criminal offence! That’s the end of the bloody world!

So it goes in the ‘Yabba.

John’s next big step in the wrong direction is when he lets his lust take over. Presumably he hasn’t been with a woman throughout the school season, so one can begin to understand why he’d allow himself to justify a supposed one-night-stand with a beautiful stranger in this ugly strange land. But for his troubles, he ends up with a shirt full of vomit and probably a life time of remorse.

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This should act as a wakeup call but doesn’t, as over the course of the next several nights John’s life goes from troubled to thoroughly fucked as he descends further into the hell that is classified as typical life in this shit-hole. Once he realises the bind he’s in, John doesn’t seem to put up much of a fight, instead he chooses to go along with the group madness. John partakes in a kangaroo hunt (a scene which you’ve probably already heard of – it’s not for the feint of heart), and drinks until the madness takes over.

Each beer is another cold, refreshing step away from Robyn, but it also serves to take his mind that much further from the bondage of his job. It’s not hard to see which of these two forces has a stronger pull on him: John’s descent from well-groomed outsider to blood-soaked, gun-toting madman happens without much of a fight. (And, by the way, it says quite a lot about this town that only the former raised any eyebrows as he walked around.)

John’s absolute betrayal of Robyn isn’t complete until, after 4 or 5 nights of raging self-indulgence, he gives into a drunken whim and spends the night having a sweaty Outbackian sex romp with the Doc. Realizing the absolute depths to which he has plunged, he tries to escape only to find his plans thwarted at every turn. It’s horrible, and John is a likeable guy, but he brought this all upon himself. More crazy stuff happens which I don’t want to spoil, and the film ends with a resolution that is both heartbreaking and well-deserved.

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It is one of those few movies that I’d gladly watch again, and in doing so I imagine I’ll pick up all sorts of neat little details that I missed the first go around. Amazingly acted,  and it absorbs you from the opening scene and it leaves you feeling awful and empty inside when it’s over. So I suppose, in many ways, it’s a precursor to each film Michael Haneke film ever made. It’s not as stomach-turning as, say, Salo or as mad as, I don’t know, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover maybe, but you will cringe and you will feel bad. And yes, it is a violent film, but not in the same way that today’s horror films try to out-gore one another. It’s hard to watch, but only because it demonstrates the realistic results of human nature when there isn’t someone checking in on us from time to time to make sure we’re doing alright.

Posted by Alex Cassun. You can follow us @indieground on Twitter

App-based work flow (part 1)

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Until about a month ago, I’d spent much of the past year riding on public transportation around London — 15-17 hours a week on average, in fact. It only took a few weeks of this before I broke down and got myself an iPad which immediately gave me the ability to be productive in my spare time between work and home. Since then I’ve been seeking new apps to help streamline the pre-production process, and would like to recommend a few to you here.

Whether you write it yourself or pay top dollar for it, your film starts with the script. Like most screenwriters I use Final Draft but they’ve yet to launch an app so I’ve had to look elsewhere so I can write on the go.

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I’ve tried a handful — Celtx, Scripts Pro, and Fade In — and found Celtx to be the best, although not ideal, program. The pros include it’s ability to synch with several other apps, and you can work on your scripts at home as well as on your tablet, but there are a few downsides as well, the most annoying of which is the formatting isn’t always 100% accurate especially when it comes to page breaks. But all in all, it’s definitely a fine substitute for FD.

Actually lets take a step backwards: your script really starts with your notes.

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Over the years I’ve evolved from jotting gibberish on the back of napkins and paper towels, to scribbling into my trusty Moleskin, to typing 100s of thousands of keystrokes into Word and Google docs. Now whenever a halfway decent thought strikes me I type it my iPad’s Note program. When I have enough ideas to justify a script, the next step is to get them organised. There’s no shortage of apps to use to get your ideas sorted, but I like using SimpleMind to see how all those various ideas fit together. There are several apps that can help organise your thoughts (in fact, as I’m writing this I’ve discovered Idea Sketch, and will give that a spin next time an opportunity arises), so find what works for you.

This is the stage where I ask myself things like, “What is the one thing my character wants more than anything else?”, or “What is my character most afraid of?”. This branching of ideas allows me to get to know my story and my characters more than if I’d just jumped into writing a draft.

When I’m comfortable with the flow of the story, I’ll  Index Card to add more detail to my thoughts. This is especially helpful for complex stories, and for making notes for things not directly involved with the story — color scheme concepts, camera movements, that sort of stuff. I’ll also make notes for specific dialogue I’d like to include, and gives me space to write up elaborate character bios, or make suggestions for log lines, actor wish lists, production design ideas, you name it.

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So now you have a script. My next step is to upload it to Dropbox which I prefer over Google Docs simply because it is so well integrated into many of the apps I use. You (or your 1st AD) can break the script down on paper, or you can download it from Dropbox directly into Shot Lister which will break it down for you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll then spend the next several hours (or days) obsessively inputting all the shots you can think to include. At this point your DOP and 1st AD show up and talk you back a bit while your Producer scowls at you.

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Anyway, I love Shot Lister, and it is constantly evolving to be even more functional. You can upload your storyboards or reference photos, you can put your shots into a calendar and rotate them around to create your shooting schedule. There’s so many uses for this app, I can’t possibly cover them all here, but I will say it is absolutely essential and so worth the money. There is a bit of a learning curve, and it’s not perfect but the things that annoy me about it aren’t huge set backs.

(For example, as of right now you can’t assign character numbers yourself; Shot Lister assigns character numbers based on the amount of scenes they’re in and the amount of dialogue they have which is annoying when, say, your protagonist doesn’t really talk much. Like I said, not a big issue but something I hope they adjust in the near future.)

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Moving on: your script is locked, it’s been broken down into scenes and you have your shot list completed. You know how many characters you have, and how many shots you want and what elements (jibs, cranes, lights, etc) you think you’ll need on any given day. You might even have your storyboards done.

For me, the next step is to create the movie, scene by scene, in Shot Designer to give cast and crew alike an overview of how you see things playing out. The beautiful thing about this app is it allows you to create your set using either real photographs or their set design tool. When this is done, you place your cameras, actors, extras, props, lights, even your audio guy, and with the push of a button you set everything in motion.

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Like Shot Lister, there is a bit of a learning curve but watch the tutorial videos on the website and you’ll be fine.

With your script and shot list done, you’re ready to move out of the fun part of pre-production and get into the more serious stuff. At this point, along with having a strong 1st AD, you should have a wily Production Manager on your team. The first thing they should do is get all your crew to download a task management app called Trello. It’s free, but it does have additional options available through a pay service, although I’ve yet to encounter a reason to pay for it.

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Trello is wonderful because you can use it to brainstorm and organise ideas, you can create check lists and schedule meetings, you can create and assign tasks to various crew and move them along through the To Do, Doing, and Done columns. And best of all it allows all users to see any updates in live time. Obviously being hooked up to the internet is key to this, so if you’re doing your prep work in some remote region you may want to find another app. There are reasons that Dropbox (large file transfers) and Google Docs (multiple users changing docs in live time) are so helpful for filmmakers, but Trello goes along way towards making both of them redundant. (What I’d love to see them incorporate somehow is a mind-mapper function similar to SimpleMinds but I suppose nothing is perfect.)

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Delving deeper into prep, I’ve heard great things about Scenechronize, it seems fairly comprehensive but it’s quite expensive so it’ll have to wait until I get a bigger budget. In the meantime here are a few other apps I love:

  • create and send PDF call sheets using Pocket Call Sheet
  • never get stuck without the proper paperwork by using Cinema Forms
  • if you’re just starting out, skip the first couple of weeks of film school by downloading SMAPP
  • and don’t go on a location scout with MapAPic and Techscout (although I’m waiting for them to make an iPad version)
  • I’ve yet to find a good budgeting app so I still use Google Docs for that

 

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I’m still trying to find a good app to help with catering. The best I’ve found is Food by Evernote, but it has limited functionability. (And to state the obvious, the reason a good catering app would be useful is because your cast and crew will get grumpy quickly when you feed them cheap pizzas for lunch every day, but if you’re not paying attention your on set meals can eat up a huge chunk of your budget. On the music video The Pigeon Song, I’d organised feeding 25 cast & crew members a total of 4 meals for less than £200, and we’d received many compliments on the quality and variety of food. But it took a lot of effort to keep things organised, and finding a good food app would make life a lot easier for the next shoot.)

OK, that’s probably enough to get you started. Next time we’ll discuss some apps to help you on set.

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There are a lot of really good and thorough blog posts out there with advice on the ever-expanding variety of production apps available for indie filmmakers. My advice is to experiment to discover what works for you and your production. I love working with Shotlister but I know a lot of ADs who are hesitant to break away from their on-paper traditions, which is understandable — on the one hand I have a much easier time learning or understanding when I use my hands so a turn towards 100% digital production hasn’t always been as easy as it seems it should be. On the other hand I’m terrible with allowing clutter to take over my workspace (and my life) which makes keeping organised quite a chore, so I’m always on the hunt for a way around this and apps tend to help quite a bit. On the (other) other hand, I have a terrible memory, so letting computers do the remembering as much as possible is a necessity that allows me to free up much needed brainspace for more exciting things. With all that said, most of the info in this post should be taken with a grain of salt as it’s all just hypothetical at the moment — I’ve used a handful of these apps on various projects, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to combine all of them on one super efficient, app-based production. But when I do, I’ll report back to let you know the results!

– Alex

RIP Peter O’Toole

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Sad to hear about the passing of a legend yesterday. I’ll always remember my first impression of Peter O’Toole as an actor — I was lucky to catch a 70mm projection of Lawrence of Arabia a few years back in a cinema near Santa Monica. With intermission the runtime was well over 4 hours but it could have gone on forever and I’d’ve loved every minute of it. O’Toole’s performance was of course masterful, and seeing the film in that format was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, one of those once in a lifetime events that cinemaphiles cherish forever. In honor of his passing, we have a copy of the Lawrence Of Arabia script for anyone interested in taking a look at how it all came together.

A little bit of Martians press

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Although it’s been a bit of a slow first week for our Kickstarter campaign, behind the scene we’re getting a lot of work done — finalizing the location, working on the shot list and storyboards, working on developing the music and preparing for auditions on Saturday, just for starters. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed with all the prep work, so it’s nice to see things like this nifty article about that popped up over at Zombie Hamster. Have a read, enjoy it, and if you can please donate, Like, Share, or Retweet. Thanks!

“Martians” Has Landed!

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Urged on by my beautiful horror film-loving wife last September I came up with an idea for a short 3-minute horror/comedy to shoot and submit to the ABCs of Death 2 film anthology contest, originally titled “M Is For Martian”. The story was funny and the film had potentially strong visual and musical elements, but it was a very ambitious project to produce in time to have a chance of getting the public votes needed to move on in the competition. Instead, we’ve decided to expand the script, develop the characters and dialogue a bit, have a bit of fun with our location before the craziness goes down. We’ve found our cabin, we’re bringing on crew, we’re organising auditions, we’ve got our Kickstarter campaign underway, we’re working with talented artists and musicians, and I’m begging favors from all my horror-loving friends, so although we’re still 6 or 7 weeks away from filming, things are coming together nicely!

The Making of “Pigeon Song”

Before moving to London I was in Dundee where I was approached by Flyboy Creative to help create a video for this incredible track by the Scottish blues/folk rock collective Anderson McGinty Webster Ward & Fisher. Producer-Director John Fairfield had come up with the concept and together with myself and co-director/editor Matt Cameron, we spent several weeks hammering out the story and preparing for the shoot. Along with developing the script, my role was a bit of a combination of Production Manager and 1st Assistant Director. Although the budget was tight, our goal was to create a video that captured the epic feel of the song, and I think we did a really nice job thanks to the amazing cast and crew who braved the freezing temperatures and long hours.

We had a lot of footage to knock out in two days, but we’re all incredibly proud of how the video turned out and I don’t think anyone involved was surprised to hear it had been picked to screen at Raindance Film Festival this year alongside videos for Nick Cave and Amanda Palmer. The video above is a fun little behind-the-scenes doc shot and edited by the very talented Jenny Ross.