review

Killer Cells

Here’s a trailer I was employed to produce for Avant Cymru’s theatrical production, Killer Cells. Killer Cells is a play about recurrent miscarriage. It manages to capture the pain and trauma of these tragedies with palpable authenticity – the script being based on real life experience – but it is in no way depressive or negative, ultimately being a story of optimism and resilience. It illustrates the importance of strong friendships and relationships, at times with a lightness and humour, yet this never distracts from the serious subject matter, and crucially, it doesn’t neglect to show things from the man’s perspective; depicting the male experience with equal validity. Killer Cells tackles a taboo subject, rarely discussed in public, with both bravery and sensitivity, creating something uniquely entertaining, informative and moving. I highly recommend you try and catch the play next time it tours, and together we can help #BreakTheSilence.

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Career Plan 2016-2017

At the beginning of the year, I found myself in a much securer position than at the beginning of the previous year and with a clear objective for the year to come of prioritising the development of my own work over critiquing other people’s.

My main focus has been The Darning Needle, a 3x45min drama that I’ve submitted to the Wales Drama Award. It’s my best and most substantial work to date and the first full-length piece I’ve been satisfied with (although a writer is never truly satisfied and I’ll go back to it if required). I’m eagerly awaiting the results of the Wales Drama Award, and preparing other work to present to the judges if I’m successful, including an outline for another full-length piece and a Doctor Who episode! At some point after the results, I should be able to share some extracts from The Darning Needle and these other pieces. I’m hopeful for success, but failing any, I’ll have another chance to submit The Darning Needle to the BBC via their Script Room in December.

I’ve also been seeking success with writing in the short form. Last September, I set myself the target of writing three short films by January with an eye to film the most suitable as an eligible contender for competitions and festivals throughout the year. The first I finished was Nice Guy. I felt this was least suitable as it wasn’t up to the standard of the other two and its critique of internet culture would require the potentially long and costly development of a fake social network to avoid copyright. The second, Total Investigation Television, was the script I chose to film. It still provided a critique of internet culture but was far more easily realised; being shot in the style of the social experiment films it satirised. I was happy with its realisation, its production led to connections with some brilliant actors and organisations that I hope to work with again, and it’s also received some recognition! It’s due to be shown at Made in Roath Arts Festival on October 15th, and was nominated for Best Fiction at Cardiff Mini Film Festival 2016, but failed to win. The final script I wrote, and possibly the best of the three, was A Love Story at Lin’s Kitchen. I decided not to film it immediately as I wanted to submit it to a couple of competitions that offered the prize of having it produced by professionals. Sadly, like Total Investigation Television, it was not successful. I feel on all these occasions, I missed out due to my entries incompatibility with the criteria, so next year I’ll be preparing more suitable applicants.

A further unexpected achievement came through our nomination at Cardiff Mini Film Festival. During the networking after-party, I introduced myself to the award hosts, Boyd Clack and Kirsten Jones, and asked them if they’d be interested in starring in A Love Story at Lin’s Kitchen; now retitled, Bamboo House. They loved the script and agreed. Shooting commenced yesterday, and you can keep up to date by watching our video diary. Being my first film to feature professional actors, Bamboo House provides me with a great opportunity, as this will not only enhance the production but potentially draw greater attention to my work than ever before. It will be made public on YouTube in November and submitted to competitions and festivals thereafter; including those we missed deadlines for last year – Cardiff Independent Film Festival – and others that Total Investigation Television was not suitable for due to its limited visual scope. With professional actors onboard, impressive locations secured, and greater opportunity for sophisticated cinematography, Bamboo House should be my greatest production yet!

As well as instigating my own projects, I’ve played significant roles in other people’s. I helped out first-year film students at Cardiff and the Vale College, acting in one of their shorts. I also helped third year scriptwriting students at the University of South Wales, assisting at script development classes. It was here I met James Humphreys, a fruitful connection as I went on to perform in a live reading of his script, Ringland, and was later asked to act at and script edit his first ScriptDawg event, and time permitting I’ll be taking part in all future events. I’ve also been told by senior scriptwriting lecturer, Sian Summers, that she’ll inform me of any further opportunities to assist at the university, which I’m very hopeful to do as I feel my tutoring/script editing ability has been put to good use. Another project where these skills have been utilised is YouTube sitcom series, How Not To Be Single, created by James Musgrove. I helped James develop the script for episode one, taking an advisory position, and then went on to co-direct and film it. Episode two I wrote myself, working from a brief from James, and again I’ve been co-directing and filming. It will be released later this month, and we’re confident it will top episode one! With this huge increase in filming, I hope to produce a showreel very soon or even multiple ones, focusing individually on my acting, camerawork, and writing!

Despite all my filming and scriptwriting work, I’ve still found time for reviews and analyses of film and television. These include E.T., the Star Wars saga, all the X-Men universe films, Ghostbusters 2016, and the classic Doctor Who serial, The Ark. I was particularly proud of my X-Men and Doctor Who posts. The X-Men posts perfected the more light-hearted yet informative blogging style I’ve been trying to move towards after writing formal university essays for years. Next year sees the release of Spiderman: Homecoming, and I’d like to review the Spiderman franchise in a similar style, as well as the new Wolverine film so I can maintain my complete record. I was pleased to be able to debunk the negative and unfair fan opinion of The Ark, and I’m still hoping to produce many more Doctor Who posts in future. Critiquing at least one story from each Doctor is my next target, as well as an overview of all the Dalek stories with an accompanying video ranking my best to worst! I also plan to post about Star Wars: Rogue One this Christmas and Trainspotting and its sequel upon its release.

I’ve exceeded my objective as this has been by far my most productive year. I’ve produced my best work, made great connections and received recognition for my efforts. I feel my ability is still progressing at a rapid pace and I’m more focused and confident than ever. I’ve achieved more than I could’ve hoped for, but I feel now that I’m in such a strong position, next year will reap even greater rewards. Big success is just around the corner!

Fear of the Unknown (The Ark)

Is The Ark racist? It’s become a popular opinion in recent years, with various bloggers championing it, but is it true? Let’s take a rational look at the story and see what we discover. The Humans are travelling on the Ark with their seemingly willing servants, the Monoids; their destination, Refusis II. They are aware Refusis II is inhabited but know nothing about the Refusians. When the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions arrive on the Ark, they accidently bring a deadly illness and are put on trial for their lives; accused by the Humans of being Refusian spies, out to destroy them! When the prosecutor, Zentos (Inigo Jackson), reveals it is irrational feeling rather than reason that leads them to this conclusion, Stephen (Peter Purves) protests the Humans’ intolerance.

STEPHEN: the nature of man, even in this day and age, hasn’t altered at all. You still fear the unknown, like everyone else before you.”  

Only when the Humans overcome their prejudice against the newcomers to their world and let the travellers free is the situation resolved, as the Doctor is able to cure the illness. The Doctor leaves them with a parting message, “travel with understanding as well as hope”. So far, the story’s intention seems clear; to encourage acceptance of difference, not fear and hatred. However, it is the second half of the story that has provided the most evidence for the accusations of racism. The travellers return to the Ark 700 years later to discover the Monoids have now enslaved the Humans. It’s been suggested that the Monoids represent migrants, as they came to Earth to live with the Humans when their planet was destroyed, and that their rising up to overthrow the Humans reveals a fear of migrants doing the same in Britain. Unfortunately, the Monoids are depicted as crueller masters than the Humans, as although the Humans were seen to consider Human life more important than Monoid, and the Monoids served them, it seemed to be an amicable relationship, with no evidence of the Monoids being mistreated. Whereas the Monoids use weapons to inflict pain on the Humans and keep them in order, and plan to destroy them once they get to Refusis II. But is this intentional racism? No, not at all, just ill-considered, unsophisticated writing, accidently contradicting the message of the story. Yes, this could have been avoided if the Monoids were depicted as more sympathetic creatures, but to label it as deliberate racism is to be completely ignorant of how scriptwriting works. Both Stephen and the Doctor, the show’s moral conscious, give speeches condemning the Humans’ behaviour (“they were extremely intolerant and selfish”) and blaming them for the Monoids’ revolution.

THE DOCTOR: “they were treated like slaves! It’s no wonder when given the chance they repaid you in kind!”

Unawareness that a writer who wishes to send a prejudice message against migrants doesn’t write this kind of dialogue is baffling. However, the most glaring oversight that is always made by The Ark’s attackers is that the Humans are migrants too! Earth, the Humans’ home, has been destroyed, and they are travelling to Refusis II to make a new one; this is the whole thrust of the story! When they arrive at Refusis II, the Refusians insist that they must settle their differences with the Monoids. Once they do, they welcome the migrants to their planet in peace rather than enslaving them like the Humans did the Monoids. Again, the Doctor offers his message of hope and understanding, clearly signposting it as the story’s central moral.

It’s sad that a story that’s tried to promote the need for races to peacefully co-exist together has been labelled as racist by people putting two and two together and making five, but also blame must be put on the writer for not fully thinking through the connotations of his work. An example of how rational deliberation must always be employed by both writers and critics.

The Ark

Monoids and Humans, happy together.

Additional Note: One recurring piece of evidence given by those accusing The Ark of racism is that Dodo (Jackie Lane) calls the Monoids savages. THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN. She hears the sound of drums from her cell when THE HUMANS are conducting a funeral and says, “sounds like savages”. A no longer politically correct word, but it’s never used as a slur against the Monoids.

It’s Terrible, It Really Is (Ghostbusters, 2016)

Intolerably loud and garish. The original was set in a semi-real world, the support characters were played straight, while the leads were unique characters in a unique situation and the comedy came naturally from this. This is set in a full-on comedy world, or more accurately, a full-on ‘bad’ comedy world. OTT characters spout nonstop cringe-inducing jokes, utterly brain-numbing compared to the dry wit and sarcasm of their forebears and relentless in their awfulness; the only interruption coming from the even more dire cameo appearances. The most embarrassing material is given to Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, the Ghostbusters’ dim-witted secretary, who confusingly has a dog named Mike Hat. Yes, it sounds like ‘my cat’, that’s the joke! The bombardment of awful visuals is almost as sickening as the verbal diarrhoea spewing from the characters’ mouths. The bright, shiny, CGI ghosts look pathetic compared to the graphic and, in some cases, genuinely horrific creatures from the original, and the cartoony action sequences again rob the world and characters of any realism.

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Stuff of nightmares vs. puff the magic dragon.

As well as brainless comedy, there’s also plenty of brainless morality on display. Okay, the morality of the original is questionable, with Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman coming across as a bit of a sex pest, but this is just mean-spirited in the extreme. The ‘Big Bads’ from the first two films were mythical demigods, creatures that thought themselves above ordinary humans but who were defeated by heroic underdogs. In this film, the underdog’s the bad guy. A recluse, an outsider, a loner, driven to take revenge on society because he doesn’t fit in (judging by their disrespectful comments against fandom, perhaps he’s intended to represent the kind of person the filmmakers think will dislike their awful movie). I was waiting for an acceptable payoff for this, hoping the Ghostbusters, characterised in some ways as outsiders themselves, would help or embrace their familiar. But no, instead they offered a cruel joke about his assumed virginity and then blasted the poor bastard to hell. The final line of the film is “that’s not terrible, not terrible at all”. Sorry, but it is, it really is.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Happy Halloween! Today I’m posting about that terrifying Halloween classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (dir. Speilberg, 1982). E.T. is the tale of a parasitic alien from the darkest depths of space, who infiltrates a family home and attaches itself to a small boy, forming a symbiotic relationship that drains the boy’s life-force. A brave group of government agents must battle to save the boy and defeat the monster; before it’s too late! Okay, that might be the story told from an adult character’s point of view, but E.T. is not a story told from an adult’s point of view. E.T. is a story about empathy, an attribute we see facilitated through childhood innocence and impeded by adult ignorance and misplaced authority that must be rebelled against. Immediately upon being stranded, E.T. is hounded by a group of adult hunters, viewing his otherness as dangerous to their way of life and something to be extinguished. E.T. is able to find refuge with a child, Elliot (Henry Thomas), who hides him from adult persecution. Elliot does not see E.T. as a monster, but as a person in need of help who has been separated from their home and family. Elliot is able to empathise with E.T., having recently had a split in his family, with his father leaving his mother (Dee Wallace). Before the arrival of E.T., Elliot is insecure and lonely, being picked on and excluded by his older brother Michael (Robert Mac Naughton) and his friends. He is also immature and inconsiderate, bringing up the fact that his father has run off with another woman in front of his younger sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore). This upsets his mother and angers Michael (“Damn it. Why don’t you grow up, think how other people feel for a change?”). The arrival of E.T. sees Elliot take Michael’s advice, as having to care for someone in a similar position, sees him mature and gain confidence and purpose.

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E.T. does indeed form a symbiotic relationship with Elliot, but there is nothing sinister about it. Instead, it is used to emphasise the importance of empathy. E.T. and Elliot share emotional and physical experiences; getting hungry, scared and ill together. Seeing them share these experiences reminds us that although E.T. is different to us, he still feels the same and should be treated equally. E.T. and Elliot’s empathy goes beyond consideration for intelligent life, as an affinity with all of nature, including animal and plant life, is displayed. E.T. is able to live in harmony with all living things, caring for them as though they were part of him. This is shown through his ability to heal, as he mends a cut on Elliot’s finger and brings a flower back to life. Thanks to his relationship with E.T., Elliot develops empathy for other life, freeing the frogs that are about to be dissected in science class and starting a youth revolt against the ruling adult teacher (Richard Swingler). The teacher is another example of adult cruelty and detachment. He treats the frogs as just things to be experimented on; just as Elliot fears the ‘adult’ authorities will treat E.T. (“they’ll give it a lobotomy or do experiments on it”).

Freeing the frogs.

The film expresses the importance of family. Separated from his family, E.T. grows ill but recovers upon their return. The family home is used to symbolise an ideal empathetic environment; there E.T. is safe and cared for by those who treat him as kin. Childhood is used as a symbol of virtue, as E.T. is taught about the world through the use of toys, watching kids TV shows and reading children’s books, and his idea to “phone home” is inspired by a children’s comic. He is also, at one point, mistaken for a soft-toy, an item that is the focus of childhood love and care, but that is later abandoned by adults. This shows the importance of carrying childhood empathy into adulthood and bringing the love and care shared within a family into the outside world. When the government agents track down E.T. to Elliot’s home, we see the devastating effect a cold-hearted ‘adult’ view of the world has. They transform the warm, empathetic environment into a sterile laboratory; intending to experiment on E.T. just like the frogs in science class. They believe they want to understand E.T., but unlike Elliot, they do not try and communicate with him; their lack of empathy means they only know how to take apart and destroy. Again, a youth revolt saves the day, as Elliot, Michael and his friends rescue E.T. from the government agents and return him to his people.

ET

E.T. is a messianic figure. He comes from the heavens, heals the sick, dies and is resurrected. Upon his resurrection, we see him dressed in white robes, and finally, he ascends back into the heavens. Unlike most messianic figures, his message is simple, as simple as his last words to Gertie, “be good“. A message of empathy. Spielberg has described E.T. as “a minority story“. E.T. is a minority on Earth, Elliot is also a minority, beginning the story as a loner. Through empathy, they are able to ignore their surface distinctions and join together to overcome adversity. That is the film’s message to the world – to put aside our difference, embrace our commonality and have compassion for one another. As E.T.’s spaceship departs, it leaves a rainbow in the sky; a symbol of universal harmony, unity and hope.

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Additional Points

  • Elliot has rainbow curtains in his bedroom – symbolising his empathetic outlook.
  • I don’t like that the girl Elliot kisses in class (Erika Eleniak) is seen standing on a chair, screaming when the frogs are freed. It’s a sexist stereotype (girls are fragile little things, afraid of creepy critters). It would make much more thematic sense if the large boy who struggles with Elliot to keep his frog in his jar was scared of the frogs – cruelty comes through fear and ignorance.
  • Gertie is read Peter Pan. Specifically, the scene where Tinker Bell is brought back to life by children’s belief in fairies. This fits with the film’s theme of the virtue of maintaining childhood innocence. Later, the children fly on their bicycles and are silhouetted in front of the moon; another nod to Peter Pan.

 

Career Plan 2015-2016

Creatively speaking, it was a slow start to the year, as after completing my Scriptwriting MA, I found myself between homes and between jobs. The latter half of the year proved far more advantageous, and I have now set up my own freelance film company, Outré Media, and I’m saving to buy my own house. Through the company, I have managed to secure a long-term contract with Vegalive Wheatgrass as their Media-Specialist. I will be documenting the progression of Vegalive, as well as producing regular video adverts, and getting paid!

This past year saw me concentrate far more on critiquing other people’s work than developing my own. This is something I will be rectifying in the following year by dedicating three weeks out of each month to my own work and one to other posts. Although I feel I perhaps should’ve concentrated far more on my own work, I’m very proud of the posts I have written on other people’s and believe I learnt a lot from dissecting their themes; insights that will help me develop my own work. As a dedicated fan, it has been hugely satisfying to put into words some longstanding thoughts on Doctor Who serials; expect many more Doctor Who posts in future. I have critiqued all Neill Blomkamp‘s films, including Elysium (dir. Blomkamp, 2013), for which I used a more comical style. This was part of an endeavour to move away from the more formal style of university essays to a more fun and accessible blogging style; this has provided my posts with variety and popular appeal. In terms of popularity, my most successful series of posts were on the Mad Max franchise. Again, it was satisfying to put into words my thoughts on the inner complexities of these films, as I’ve always felt it is a franchise that’s subtext and depth has been ignored in favour of its action movie exterior. My Mad Max posts have generated consistent views; with my viewing figures and visitors multiplying exponentially. This success is not just down to the quality of the posts but to my use of Tumblr (on which I’ve generated many followers) as a less serious and more commercial platform for my work, and my timing the posts to coincide with the release of the franchise’s latest instalment, Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015). This is a tactic I intend to use again, so expect Star Wars, Quentin Tarantino, X-Men, and Ghostbusters posts in the year to come. Also, expect some vlogging, as in December I will be moving to a new home, with room for a professional looking studio setup, and I feel vlogging will further widen the appeal of the website.

The Darning Needle was the primary focus of my scriptwriting this year. I totally rewrote the treatment and have completed multiple drafts of the script. The treatment will be updated again shortly, and I’m continuing with further drafts of the script. I may also film a short segment – depending on feasibility and budgetary constraints – to act as a promotion for the script. I’m very happy with its progress; it is by far my best work, and I feel my scriptwriting ability is developing at a rapid pace. I have refined the premises of Panda Girl and The Outsider and written notes to aid in the rewriting of their treatments and development of their scripts. I have premises for other feature films, but before developing them, I wish to focus on developing some audio plays, short films, and treatments for Doctor Who episodes. As well as my audio play Bottle, I have premises for other audio plays and short films that I plan to develop, film and record. It has been two years since I filmed or recorded one of my scripts, and as my writing has developed considerably in that time, I feel new audio and visual examples of my work are needed. Doctor Who remains my obsession, and my dream is to write for the show, so I feel it’s about time I started developing some ideas.

Now I’ve found myself in a much securer position than at the beginning of last year, I’m sure this year will be even more productive and I can continue producing popular posts – allowing the site to grow in popularity – and carry on with my main objective of building and perfecting my slate.

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Recent feedback from a friend on my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) post brought to my attention my disregard of the Gyro Captain’s (Bruce Spence) role in the film. So, in an attempt to compensate, I’m giving him a post all of his own.

We are introduced to the Captain when he captures Max (Mel Gibson) by concealing himself beneath the sand and tempting him with the prospect of gasoline. Max, in turn, is able to outwit and capture the Captain, which sets in motion a game of one-upmanship between them. The Captain’s association with a snake is symbolic of the cunning he displays and his ability to adapt to life in the wasteland but is also connected to the film’s religious themes, as we see him use temptation and treachery in pursuit of his goals.

In contrast to Max – who resembles a Marauder – the Captain attempts to maintain a respectable appearance and employs a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation, making him seem more attuned to the Settlers’ ideals. The Captain sees himself as a gentleman and criticises Max for his lack of ‘style and taste’ – evoking certain representations of Satan. If we compare their initial encounters with the Settlers, we see Max is persecuted while the Captain is accepted and, indeed, respected instantly, due to his transport and air of sophistication (showing the traditional Settlers aversion to those who are different).

Both Max and the Captain seem affected by the Settlers’ lifestyle, seemingly abandoning their self-interest to aid the community – but not before Max is hunted down by Wez (Vernon Wells) and the Captain tries to tempt Lusty Girl (Arkie Whiteley) away (his compliance with her refusal suggesting he is warming to the Settlers’ family-like existence). When it is revealed that the Captain was complicit in the Settlers’ betrayal of Max, we see that he hasn’t changed at all and he is merely profiting from the opportunity the alliance provides. It’s possible he even instigated the betrayal, as it is he who returns Max to the compound so the deception can be carried out (speaking demoniacally to the addled Max), and he later returns to gloat upon its success. Like the Settlers, his respectability is merely a cover and his true selfishness is revealed.

Mad Max 2 uses exaggerated villains to criticise capitalism, politicians and religion, but it is its most subtle villain that prevails. The Captain has the ability to fit in, to pursue his self-interests within the system while maintaining a mask of decency. He does not come across as evil, in fact, he is very likeable – as are many unscrupulous opportunists in our own world, who’re often part of respected organisations and institutions – but, in the end, he proves himself more dangerous than any of the anarchic Marauders.

Max, like myself, ignored the Captain at his peril – believing this was the story of his reformation while all along he was still embroiled in a game of one-upmanship with the nefarious Captain. The Settlers adopt the Captain as their new leader, referring to him as ‘the man who came from the sky’. The title allots the Captain prophet-like status, but while Max’s Christ-like figure is representative of the need for communality, the Captain represents immoral self-interest, showing they have embraced a false prophet. Max, untrusting of such a society, chooses to remain an outsider.

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More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)