Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ten lessons from Terry Gilliam

Back in December 2011, in Filmmaker magazine, published the following gentle wisdom about filmmaking by Terry Gilliam, member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and the legendary writer/director of Life of Brian, Brazil, The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This list is a mixture of answers to interview questions, and comments made during a lecture.

1. Growing up is for losers.
As a child, I always drew funny creatures, funny characters. But I think the trick is not to grow up, not to learn to be an adult. And if you can maintain the kind of imagination you all had when you were babies, you would all be wonderful filmmakers. But the world tries to make you grow up, to stop imagining, stop fantasizing, stop playing in your mind. And I’ve worked hard to not let the world educate me. 

2. Film school is for fools.
Live and learn how to make films. I didn’t go to film school. I just watched movies in the cinemas. And probably my greater education was actually making films, so that’s all I would ever say: watch movies, get a camera, make a movie. And if you do it enough times, eventually you start learning how films are made. 

3. Auteurism is out. Fil-teurism is in.
Being an auteur is what we all dreamed of being, as far [back] as the films of the late ‘50s and ‘60s, when the idea of the auteur filmmaker arrived on the planet. And people kept using that term, and they do with my movies because I suppose they are very individual and they give me all the credit, so they say I’m an auteur. And I say no, the reality is I’m a ‘fil-teur.’ I know what I’m trying to make but I have a lot of people who are around me who are my friends and don’t take orders and don’t listen to me, but who have individual ideas. And when they come up with a good idea, if it’s one that fits what I’m trying to do, I use it. So the end film is a collaboration of a lot of people, and I’m the filter who decides what goes in and what stays out.

4. Put your ideas in a drawer. Take them out as needed.
I do have a drawer in my desk with all the ideas that I have and that I scribbled out. I put them in there and some day I use them. At the beginning of a new film, I often go in that drawer and look at everything I’ve done and see if there are some ideas that might apply to what I’m doing. But things grow, so I just start with a sketch and then refine it. And you do it with other people’s ideas coming in. That’s the fun part. 

5. All you’ve really got in life is story.
I think the important thing is stay true to what you believe. I mean it’s much more important to make your mistakes than somebody else’s mistakes. Like too many other filmmakers have compromised because somebody advised them [that] if you change this, the film will be more successful commercially. And then the film isn’t successful commercially, and these people get so depressed and destroyed because they didn’t ever finish making their film the way they intended it. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. And you’ve got to be willing to take the consequences of whatever it is. If you succeed, fantastic. If you fail, you might have to get a proper job.

6. Command the audience with your lens.
I keep wanting to see more of the world always. When I’m looking through the camera, when we’re setting up a scene, I don’t feel like I’m in the scene. And the wide angle lens, because we see so much, it seems to wrap around me a little bit. I also like the fact that with long lenses, the director controls the audience much more because you show the audience only exactly what you want. Everything else can be out of focus. And I like it to be a little bit more vague so the audience has to be aware of the environment as well as what I want them to look at. I don’t want to really separate the character from the world that it’s in. So the world is as important, and the rooms and everything, as the character sometimes. 

7. Nothing can defeat a director who is one with his actors.
I think the key is to make sure that the cast, especially if they’re big Hollywood superstars, likes the movie. My first film in Hollywood was The Fischer King, and Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges are playing the two leads. And I knew as long as Robin, Jeff and I were united, there was no way the studio could break it, and the film would go out. Same way with Twelve Monkeys. Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis and I were one. In both instances those films went very smoothly.

8. Surround yourself with improvisers.
I like the actor to surprise me all the time because the problem when you’re making a film, if you’ve written it and you’re directing it, you’ve been with it so long, it becomes a bit rigid. It can become mechanical when you’re shooting because you’re just trying to do exactly what you were thinking about for the last year. And what’s wonderful is when the actors come in and they do something that’s completely surprising, and suddenly every day becomes fresh. And it makes me stay awake. 

9. Directing is not for the faint-of-heart. Or the sane.
What I love about Don Quixote is that he keeps misinterpreting the world. He thinks the world is either worse or better or whatever. He gets it wrong every time. But in the end he has these heroic, epic moments, and he seems to be unstoppable. He just goes on and on and on. I think it’s a great example for people, especially in film, in how to get through life, because film can often be incredibly disappointing. What I like about the Don Quixote documentary is that so many other filmmakers when they saw that, they started telling me their stories of equally horrible disasters. It’s a very difficult business. [Lost in La Mancha] should discourage anyone who is not willing to live in a world where disasters like that occur. Don’t make films if you’re not going to be able to deal with things like that. I’m always working on it and one day it will happen. It’s changed me. If you’re going to make a film about Don Quixote, you’ve got to be as mad as Don Quixote, so the nature is helping me go crazy.

10. Be an enlightened despot.
I expect the actors to really be totally committed to the film and to their character and forget about who they are. Get rid of your vanity. Just be whatever the character demands. I think it’s horrible when I hear stories of actors coming and they bring their own makeup people and their hairdresser. Wait a minute, what’s going on here? The power is in the wrong hands. And if you let the power go to the actor, then you’re not directing the movie. And the actor is not thinking about the entire movie. Only the director is thinking about the entire movie. I don’t ever want to be the guy that is saying, “this is the only way that it can be done.” I don’t want to be a dictator. That’s not interesting. It’s interesting if you can have a dialogue going all the time and trying to all agree to find what is the best way for this film to go. 

Monday, 30 January 2012

"Please Enjoy!"

Please Enjoy! is a webseries made in Perth (which is a bit like Adelaide, except not quite as nice, and 1,700 miles away by road). The series was created and written by James Pentecost and Richard Webb, who also star in the series.
When Ben applies for the waiter job at Enjoy! Restaurant/Bistro/Bar/Café, he soon finds that things are not quite as they seem (apart from the prices which are actually very reasonable).
    A head chef gone completely insane, a health inspector suffering a rare form of leprosy, and a lesbian vacuum cleaner with right wing tendencies. These are just some of the horrific discoveries waiting inside Enjoy!
    Working amidst this nightmarish setting is Beau Danger (James Pentecost) - a pretentious hipster bar guy, Mike Glanz (Richard Webb) - a manic depressive junior manager, and Rita - a chirpy yet haunted head waitress.
    In order to get the job Ben will have to pass the SEVEN deadly, disturbing, and mostly pointless, CHALLENGES in this supernatural feel-good chiller-horror comedy. Please Enjoy!
It's billed as: Twin Peaks meets Cheers meets X-Files meets Boy Meets World

I couldn't find out much about it. No IMDb record, or website, or other point of access. Pity really. Anyway, here's Episode 1.


Sunday, 29 January 2012

What if...

What if Facebook and Twitter were real life?
  • Can I be your friend?
  • Can I write on your wall?
  • My status is single. What's yours?
  • Could I poke you?
  • I'm going to follow you.

Ever thought how odd your online life is? Ever thought what could go wrong? 

This film was made to explore the issues around ENO's production of Nico Muhly's new opera Two Boys, a production that lifts the lid on the dangers of living our lives online.

The guy asking the questions is Jolyon Rubinstein.
Watch this.

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Saturday, 28 January 2012


Sometimes life is hard. The temptation to give up and withdraw into your shell can be strong. Bernie is faced with a blind date, and she needs something good to happen. Her friend tells her, "Go in expecting the best, and you never know what's going to happen. You could meet the love of your life."

Ahh, if only... 

A comedy web series about dating and low self esteem. Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Kastle is 31, single, and a little bit desperate. A webseries and instructional guide on dating and low self esteem. Follow Bernie through the lows and lows of finding love and laugh at her misfortunes, safe in the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, her life is worse than yours. 
Here's Episode 1 of this webseries from Sydney. 

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Friday, 27 January 2012

Toy Story

Next week my old writing group will hold their first meeting for the year. There will be new people to meet, old friends to greet, and they're gonna start by discussing a story about jealousy. Toy Story 1. 

My copy of the screenplay runs to 111 (A4) pages. The film runs for 77 minutes, according to IMDb, but that includes the credits. The story proper only lasts 73 minutes. (All of which should induce a crisis of faith in those people who believe that one-page of screenplay equals one-minute of screen time. Someone has stolen a full 38 minutes of movie here, people!)

To get us thinking about the subject, here are 33 Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Toy Story series.

And here is another pile of Toy Story trivia.

Here is some online Story Analysis:    Dramatica      Karel Segers   

Now for a short film homage to the central conceit of Toy Story, that toys are alive.  
A lonely desk toy longs for escape from the dark confines of the office, so he takes a cross country road trip to the Pacific Coast in the only way he can -- using a toy car and Google Maps Street View.

For afficionados of the TV series The Wire, here's a mashup: Toy Story meets The Wire.

Here's Toy Grit, a mashup of True Grit and Toy Story.

And while we're in the mood, here's a celebration of twenty-five years of Pixar Animation.

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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Australia Day

Adelaide, with the oval in foreground
It's Australia Day in the wide brown land. On this day we celebrate the first arrival of European settlers. It is traditionally a time for barbeques, a few tinnies (of beer), a bit of cricket, and a lot of sunburn. 

As Indians celebrate Republic Day on the same date, we sometimes get together to hold a Test Match. This time round, the game is being played at Adelaide Oval.

For the benefit of our international audience, this is not the 4th of July. The wider population never got much excited about the patriotic, nationalistic side of things, so the government recently took a hand in geeing us up with a bunch of "culturally appropriate" activities. They even have a website for it.  Stone the flamin' crows!

Adelaide Oval scoreboard, cathedral in b.g.
The following video shows a series of views from selected parts of Australia, set to music. In a display of antipodean cunning, we left out the less salubrious locations, and avoided all reference to Adelaide (population 1.3 million) so as not to attract too much attention. We know a good thing when we see it, and we don't want the neighborhood spoiled.

So sit back, turn up the volume, and while you people in the Northern Hemisphere think about getting a suntan, I'll be thinking about snakes, sharks, and skin cancer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

"Webseries Down Under"

As we slowly work ourselves into the right frame of mind for Australia Day, here's a tribute song, celebrating the Australian webseries LG15: The Last and Oz Girl.  All done to the tune of Men At Work's song, Down Under.

And while we're in the mood to reminisce, here's the original version, by Men At Work.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

"Oz Girl"

OzGirl is the creation of Melbourne writer and director Nicholas Carlton. He directed and co-wrote it with Sophie Tilson (who has since appeared on Neighbours). Sophie also stars in OzGirl with Shanrah Wakefield.

For those who don't know, "Oz" is a common shorthand for Australia, also known as "the wide brown land" and a few other things. Ruby slippers won't get you here, you need a plane; or a boat and a lot of determination. In Australia, lots of people (like me) grow up in the bush, then head to the bright lights of the big city, where they always find true happiness. Or something.

In the 23 episodes of OzGirl, we meet small-town country-girl, Sadie Brown, who moves to Melbourne to live with her cousin. She makes friends, gets a job, pursues her passion for photography, seeks "Mr. Right," and hopes to fall in love. She also wants to find her long-lost mother.  

Nick Carlton said that OzGirl was "Australia's first social web show in which the characters exist within the audience's existing social networks and interact with them as they would if they were real people.' The show won a bunch of awards.
A country girl in the big city...
Here's episode 1.

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And if you enjoyed that, here's an interview with the team that made the series.

Monday, 23 January 2012

"LG15: The Last"

LG15: The Last is a crowd-sourced follow-up to the popular lonelygirl15 webseries. Set in Sydney in 2009, it was produced by Samantha Carr, Emily Rose Robinson, Andrew Strouthos, and Catherine Williams
The original premise revolved around the last four trait positive girls in Australia - Chasina Wilson, Leigh Taylor, Jayde Cooper, and Antonia Moore - and their stuggle to escape from the Order and somehow lead normal lives. Halfway through the series, villain Sibylla Weave was introduced, and regularly chatted with and taunted fans on LG15.com.

In the show's pilot episode, Chasina receives an email from lonelygirl15 and LG15: The Resistance's Jonas Wharton, which informs her of her trait positive status, and provides her with information about the three other girls. She must save herself and the other girls, with help from Mitch Evans and Bray Johnson, from a tech-savvy Elder, Sibylla, and Xavier Weave, and a traitor living right in their own homes.
Here's the pilot. 

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Sunday, 22 January 2012

"Brooklyn Is In Love"

Brooklyn Is In Love is a webseries produced and directed by Danielle Earle, and written by Danielle Earle and Stephanie Lazorchak. It tells the story of three twenty-somethings living in one of the most beautiful places in all of New York City - Brooklyn

The series explores the fears associated with the process of growing up and finding one's place in the world. We follow the lives of Nikki, Diane, and Bryan, who are all searching for something greater then themselves. The characters eventually find comfort in each other, and learn the hard way that the choices we make in our mid-twenties are going to shape the rest of our lives.

Here's Episode 1.

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Saturday, 21 January 2012

Etta James: 1938-2012

Etta James passed away on January 20, after a long battle with leukemia. Her career started in 1955, when she was discovered by the bandleader Johnny Otis, and ended in November 2011 when she released The Dreamer, a collection of soul standards. At that point she was suffering from dementia, leukemia and hepatitis C.

Beyonce, who portrayed James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, sang the elder diva's signature tune At Last at Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony in 2009.

Christened Jamesetta Hawkins, she was a child gospel prodigy, singing in her Los Angeles Baptist church choir (and over the radio) when she was only five years old.

The Dreamer
She recorded with the Otis band and vocalist Richard Berry in 1954 for Modern Records. Otis inverted her first name to devise her stage handle. "The Wallflower" topped the R&B charts in 1955.

James moved to Chess Records in 1960. Leonard Chess viewed James as a classy ballad singer with pop crossover potential, backing her with lush violin orchestrations for 1961's luscious "At Last" and "Trust in Me."

Although Chess hosted its own house band, James traveled to Rick Hall's Fame Studios in 1967 and emerged with one of her all-time classics. "Tell Mama" was a searing slice of upbeat Southern soul that contrasted markedly with another standout from the same sessions, the spine-chilling ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind." Despite the death of Leonard Chess, Etta James remained at the label until 1975.


Your Film Festival

How would you like $500,000 to spend on your next short film?  And have Ridley Scott and his team to help you with any tricky bits?

That's on offer from YouTube. First you have to submit a short video (including live action shorts, animation shorts, documentaries, web-series episodes, or TV pilots, up to fifteen minutes long) to Your Film Festival. Submissions open on February 2, 2012, and close on March 31, 2012. 

In June 2012, members of Scott’s TV/film production company Scott Free Productions will select fifty videos for the rest of us to vote on. Those fifty films will become a Channel, part of YouTube's reach into the world of filmmaking. The idea is to establish YouTube as the foot-in-the-door into Hollywood.

The top 10 will screen at the Venice Film Festival, while the winner gets a $500,000 production grant to work with the Scott Free team on a new project.  How many talented, but unknown, filmmakers will create original story-driven content for YouTube, in exchange for a crack at a large audience and a job working with Scott’s production company? My guess is lots.

Ridley Scott said of the new venture:
Short filmmaking is exactly where I started my career 50 years ago, so to be helping new filmmakers find an entry point like this into the industry is fantastic.
Here's a couple of videos from YouTube. The first one tells you all the same stuff, but with pictures and music. The second features some interesting filmmakers, adding their comments.

    abc News    The Guardian    New York Times    Speakeasy    Time    YouTube   

Friday, 20 January 2012


Another approach to making a webseries is to centre the story on a neighbourhood, then get local businesses to support your venture in return for advertising. Here's an example set in Mendocino County, California. 

Sundays is produced, written and directed by Forrest Naylor, an American actor who spent years performing across Europe with the Amsterdam Chamber Theatre, before deciding to settle down and concentrate on writing and making films.

"Sundays" is a small coastal Californian town. The characters are residents of that town. Their individual stories play out on clifftops and sailboats, in barns, fields and old weathered houses. They are stories of love, desire, hurt, confusion, mystery and humour.

Here's Episode 1.

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Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Seven Year Itch

In 1955, Marilyn Monroe blew up audience skirts in The Seven Year Itch. Fifty years later, in 2005, YouTube was founded and not much happened. At first. The pioneer video uploaded to the new service (on 23 April 2005) runs for 18 seconds. It features one of YouTube's founders, Jawed Karim, at the San Diego ZooWatch this for an adrenaline burst of exhilaration (just kidding).

He finishes with the line, "And that's pretty much all there is to say." Maybe not.

Seven years later, YouTube is getting ready to blow up a few Hollywood skirts. There's an interesting article on what's afoot in the current issue of The New Yorker by John Seabrook, "Streaming Dreams." And another interesting write-up in PaidContent-dot-Org by Will Richmond, "What The Burst of Hollywood A-Listers Will Mean For Online Video."

The thrust of The New Yorker piece is that YouTube is gunning for the Netflix-style online-distribution-of-content business. Instead of trying to buy out the existing players, they will undercut them by building a subsidised range of online “YouTube Original Channels for creative people to use in constructing entertainment-on-demand services. Some of the people who have leapt aboard this moving train include: Jay-Z, Madonna, Amy Poehler, Shaquille O’Neal, Tony Hawk, Brian Bedol, and Ken Lerer. Also The Onion, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, Hearst, Meredith and Disney have agreed to partner with the company.

The bottom line? High quality online entertainment is going to kill cable television, leaving the big boys nowhere to go, but online.

The Will Richmond article takes a wider view. It's not just YouTube, but Yahoo, AOL, Netflix and Hulu also leading the charge. "They are each doing their part to create an ecosystem of third-party production houses gaining expertise in digital, and therefore poised to help subsequent stars succeed in the online medium." 

These companies are poised to invest in original online video projects by people such as Tom Hanks, Louis C.K., Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Spacey, David Fincher, Bill Maher, Jennifer Lopez, Judy Greer, Steven Van Zandt, Morgan Spurlock, Ed Begley, Jr., and Heidi Klum

The result of this will be to help "upend the Hollywood ecosystem, legitimize the online medium and further fragment audiences." According to Richmond, "Hollywood is entering a brave new world, driven by audience changes, technology advancements and the shifting interests of its own biggest stars. How it adapts to all of this is yet to be determined."

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

"12-Steps To Recovery"

12 Steps to Recovery is a romantic comedy webseries, written & directed by Tony Clomax. Produced by Tony Clomax of Maximeyes Productions and Emelyn Stuart of Stuart Films.
Parrish Diaz, the struggling actor and jingle writer, has been dumped by Corporate Diva Sheryl. His friends Blue and Dani arrive at his place to help him get out of his funk. They come up with a plan to heal his broken heart.
Stars Kaleber Soze as Parrish Diaz, Stephen Hill as Blue Garner, and Erika Myers as Dani Ulmer.  

This is probably worth watching for The Godfather impression alone.

Here's Episode 1 - Act Like A Man.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Audiences and happiness

The originator of the hottest theory in Hollywood today is Lindsay Doran.

Who's that, you ask?

Production executive on This Is Spinal Tap and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Executive producer of The Firm, Sense and Sensibility, Sabrina, Nanny McPhee, and Stranger Than Fiction. President of United Artists Pictures. And, these days, an independent producer.

She comes from a Hollywood family. Her father was a studio executive for nearly 50 years, who worked on films like Sunset Blvd. Her mother typed scripts for Preston Sturgess. Her brother was the publicist on 2001: A Space Odyssey. She says she "grew up listening to people talk about story. There was always the sense that the story was the thing that mattered, and that was always the thing I loved most."

After reading the book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, by Martin E. P. Seligman, she began watching films with one eye on what Dr. Seligman calls the five essential elements of well-being”: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. 

She analyzed critically-acclaimed movies on the American Film Institute’s favorites lists and discovered that these five factors were embedded in films as far-flung as Ferris Bueller's Day Off (characters who displayed positive emotions throughout), The Godfather (characters fully engaged in what they’re doing throughout) and The Karate Kid (a character completely focused on accomplishment).

She says, “It’s no surprise that American movies specialize in stories of accomplishment. When Jennifer Grey finally dares to make the scary leap at the end of Dirty Dancing, when the Karate Kid performs the impossible kick that wipes out his opponent, or when King George VI gets through his wartime speech without stammering — those accomplishments are among the great pleasures of cinema.”

But when Lindsay Doran consulted a veteran market researcher about the five elements of well-being, he told her that audiences don’t care about an accomplishment unless it’s shared with someone else. What makes an audience happy is not the moment of victory, but the moment afterwards, when the winner shares that victory with someone they love.

Rewind the concluding scenes of these “accomplishment” films: Jennifer Grey leaps into the arms of Patrick Swayze at the end of Dirty Dancing, and after that she reconciles with her father. Jaden Smith performs that impossible kick at the end of The Karate Kid, but afterward makes peace with his opponent and shares the moment with his mother and trainer. Colin Firth conquers his stammer at the end of The King’s Speech, and then shares his victory with his wife, daughters and the crowds cheering outside the palace. The film closes with a title card that reads that the king and his speech therapist remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Some of the most elevating movies are about people desperate to achieve something that they do not get to achieve. (George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t get to travel the world, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird doesn’t win an acquittal for his client.) Many of the greatest romances (Roman Holiday, Casablanca) are about lovers who can’t or don’t remain together. And in many movies, accomplishment is accompanied by incalculable loss. Obi-Wan dies, Dumbledore dies, Gandalf dies, 1,500 passengers on the Titanic die, thousands of Pandorans die. The protagonist may be happy at the end, but that happiness is mingled with a sense of loss.

What this suggested to Lindsay Doran is that “the accomplishment the audience values most is not when the heroine saves the day or the hero defeats his opponent. The accomplishment the audience values most is resilience.”

The thing that makes a film memorable, and might make people go back to see it a second time, might not be winning. It might be not winning, but finding something deeper, something that means more than victory. An ending in which a character survives loss might be the more inspiring, the more commercial, way to end a movie.

Gender differences
Lindsay Doran says that relationship movies are gender-specific. In movies aimed at men and boys, there is the goal, the thing the hero is trying to accomplish. Then there’s the relationship, usually with a woman, child, friend or father. Usually at the end the hero realizes the relationship is more important than the accomplishment. In most movies geared toward women, the relationship is the accomplishment. 
“Some would say that this is patronizing to women,” Ms. Doran said, but she saw it differently: “Maybe it just means that women have figured it out.”

Her conclusion: Positive movies do not necessarily have happy endings; their characters’ personal relationships trump personal achievements; and male and female viewers differ in how they define a character’s accomplishments.
See: Perfectly Happy, Even Without Happy Endings, by Carrie Rickey, New York Times. 
        Interview with Lindsay Doran, by Melissa Silverstein,  Huffington Post.

Monday, 16 January 2012


Did you like X-Files? Or The Da Vinci Code? Try watching Guidestones, the story of two college students in pursuit of a mystery that, once uncovered, will expose a global conspiracy. 

This is advertised as a fully interactive webseries, though we only have a bunch of trailers so far. The series was written and directed by Jay Ferguson, and combines scripted drama with real life people and events (including the audience) in a vérité style that is intended to draw audiences into the story.

“You are one click away from the truth.”

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Interview with Xander Bennett

Xander Bennett is an Australian screenwriter who divides his time between Sydney and Los Angeles, where he once worked as a Hollywood script reader. He first became famous as the author of the Screenwriting Tips... You Hack blog, and a book of the same name.
    I stumbled across the blog a year or so ago and found his advice sharp, funny, helpful and absolutely to the point. I imagined him to be a stern bear of a man, with a mop of unruly hair and a severe, professorial manner. Then I discovered he was under thirty, meaning even I could trust him. I wanted to learn more about how such a young man could have done all he has, and still have time to develop wisdom, so I asked him some questions.


* You were born in Perth, Western Australia, on 16 February 1984. What were you like growing up?  (Were you a nerd? Did you play football? Were you a gang leader? When were you first arrested?)

You'll have to speak to my lawyer about that last one. I have four (lawyers): my father, mother, brother and sister-in-law. 
  Yep, I grew up in a family of lawyers. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems quite inevitable that I'd grow up geeky and literate. We were surrounded by books from a young age. I vividly remember books on mythology, some early Batman and Silver Surfer comics, all the big sci-fi authors (Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury), and especially Terry Jones' book Erik the Viking, which for some reason scared the crap out of me.
  I was not a sporty child except when it came to swimming, which I excelled at. I was picked last for every team except water polo.
  Summer was my time to shine; in every other season, I just went back to avoiding sports in favour of geeky activites: LAN parties, D&D, etc. 

* What kind of a family did you grow up with?  

I grew up with a small but supportive family. I have two younger brothers. We couldn't possibly be more different from each other, but we still get along very well.
  My parents wanted the best for us, and my dad had (and still has) a love of gadgets. Those two factors led to us becoming early adopters for game consoles, home computers, the internet, etc. We even had a massive home video collection at a time when that meant closets full of bulky VHS tapes. 
  My parents never pushed us one way or the other; they always told us to follow our dreams and become whatever the hell we wanted to be. You can't ask for much more. 

You started writing early. You won the West Australian Young Writer of the Year award in 1999, when you were just 15.  How did that come about?  
My mother encouraged me to write short stories. I'm sure they were absolutely terrible, but she made a big deal out of them. I'd print them out and she'd read them quietly and reverentlymaybe make a few polite suggestions here and therethen tell me how good they were before filing them away in her document folder.
  Thanks to her, I developed an artificially inflated sense of my own skill. I heard about a short story competition which our city's newspaper was running and thought, "Pfft, I can do this". My entry was something grandiose about God and Death playing a game of chess, except the chess game was actually World War II. I even threw Hitler in there! 
  Anyway, I won, and I got to go to an awards ceremony and listen to my entire story being read out in front of a hundred people. They gave me a little trophy. I think that was it: my inciting incident. People had publicly announced that I was a writer. I had independent verification. I've been trying to live up to it ever since.

* How old were you when you first left Perth?  

I was right on the tail-end of 18 when I first left Perth. It was a big decision, but I wanted to go to film school and there weren't really any film schools in Perth at that time.
  (For your international readers, let me explain: leaving Perth is a little like leaving your village in Siberia. Perth is the most isolated state capital in the world. It's a five hour flight to pretty much anywhere else on the continent. Kind of a weird place to grow up.)
  At the time, I figured I'd live over east for a few years before moving back home. Nine years later, I still haven't moved back.

* You won the 2010 Queensland New Filmmakers Award for Most Original Script. Tell us a little about that screenplay. What happened with it?

That was a weird one. Myself and a group of my closest friends were sitting around one evening in December, and we realised: hey, we're all film school graduates, we're all pretty talented, but we've never actually made a film together. Surely we can bang out a script, gather some more friends, call in some favours and get a short film made? We even know a great production designer with a garage full of props. The sky's the limit!
  Obviously, it was a lot harder than that.
  To start with, I wrote a weird little script. It was a mock 1950s educational film from an alternate reality in which aliens have enslaved humanity. I'd read about how the early atomic scientists were afraid that nuclear fission might, y'know, rip a hole in the fabric of spacetime. Our premise was that it did, and aliens came through and kicked our asses. The film was narrated by a creepy scientist called "Doctor Sitwell", and it consisted of him explaining how we could best serve our alien masters.
  I was not subtle with my allegory in those days.
  It was a hard script to film on a low budget, but we made a valiant attempt. There were problems and hang-ups, as there are on any film set, but we got it done.
  My friend then spent three years editing it. I couldn't tell you exactly why. Suffice it to say that she does things in her own time, and hey, the end result won awards!

* You have lived in Perth, on the Gold Coast, in Saigon, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and in Sydney. Which is your favourite place and why

My favourite place would have to be Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, if you have no romance in your soul). Why? Because you could take a photograph of a random street in any of those other cities, and I'd be hard pressed to tell you where they came from.
  But Saigon's different. All of Saigon looks like Saigon. It's another world, completely unlike anything I'd ever seen, and it blew me away the first time I laid eyes on it. I'm not sure that it's a perfect place to live and writeI find it quite draining, mentally and physicallybut it might be a nice place to retire.

* You have written film and television screenplays, videogames, role-playing games, comics, a graphic novel and a screenwriting advice book. Which is your favourite form of writing, and why?

I suppose it must be screenwriting, because that's the one I think about every single day. I go through phases of loving comics and games, but film and television is a constant presence in my life. And when I come up with a new idea, I tend to mentally frame it in terms of either a feature or a TV pilot.
  That said, I'd love to try comics writing again. Comics are a bit magic. There's a weird alchemy to them that I haven't quite figured out yet. And nothing in the world compares to the feeling of getting a finished page of art back from an artist. That's pure, almost instant gratification. Writers can, and do, get addicted to it. 

* What sort of role-playing games did you write, and what was that experience like?

The Song of Roland
If you know about role-playing games, you might remember that they had a surge of popularity in the mid-2000s due to the rise of digital publishing and the release of a universal system called 'D20'. It was the biggest thing to happen to RPGs since Dateline declared D&D a satanic cult. And it gave many geeky young writersme includedtheir first shot at freelance fiction.
  I worked for several companies, including The Le Games, Dogsoul Publishing and Highmoon Media. One book was about pirates. Another was about the Tuatha deDanann, the Irish hill faeries. I also wrote an enormous adaptation of the Medieval French epic The Song of Roland. I think about three people read that one. Overall, the experience of writing for RPGs was educational, if not exactly lucrative.

* Your first job as a writer was on the Australian animated children's show FARMkids in 2005.  What do you remember most about that experience?

I remember the exec producer was an incredibly loud man who spent most of our meetings talking about himself. In the Australian vernacular, he was "a character". I was worried he'd turn out to be a control freak and I'd be stuck doing drafts forever, but it wasn't so badonly one or two rounds of notes.
  Mostly I remember the thrill of getting paid to write a script which I knew was going to get turned into a real, live episode of television. That's exciting!

* Your most recent feature film work was developing The Colour of Fear for a Melbourne-based producer. What is happening with that project?

That project is the brainchild of actor/producer James Vegter. It's an Australian thriller set in India, for the Australian and Indian markets. James brought me on board to revamp the story and write a lengthy outline, with an eye to eventually write the script. They're still in the pre-production and funding stage, but James is an incredibly persistent guy. If anyone can get the project off the ground, it's him.

* You’re famous for your blog, but you’ve also written a book with almost the same title: Screenwriting Tips, You Hack: 150 Practical Pointers for Becoming a Better Screenwriter.  The book surprised me a little. I wasn’t expecting much more than a selection of Tips from your blog, perhaps with a comprehensive index. Instead it is a screenwriting manual; written from a coaching perspective, rather than the usual dry, by-the-numbers reworking of Syd Field. Now that it’s out there, are you happy with the book?  

I'm very happy with the book, and I'm glad it surprised you. I wanted it to be much more than just a collection of tips. I guess I had a lot to say about screenwriting, and the book was the perfect outlet for that.
  Some amazing things have come from the book being published. One of them was hearing that the great Will Akers had added my book as a course requirement for his screenwriting class. And several readers have emailed me to say how much they enjoyed the book. One reader even said she'd make sure to credit me in her first film! It's comments like that which make you feel like the whole thing was worthwhile.

* Who was the screenwriting teacher who had the biggest influence on you?

The aforementioned Will Akers, definitely. I didn't like my screenwriting teacher at university, and I had never gotten much out of McKee, Vogler or Field. But Will's book Your Screenplay Sucks! made a big impression on me. I thought, wow, here's a guy who's not sugar-coating it. He's not pretending that it's going to be easy, or glossing over the grimy mechanical parts of the process. 

* If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book (not your own) to a newbie writer back in Adelaide, which one would it be?

A toss-up between Will Akers' Your Screenplay Sucks and Blake Snyder's Save The Cat!. In fact, I'd cheat and tell you to get both. One focuses more on the first draft, the other more on rewriting. 

* Is it true you play ukulele in a strip club to unwind?  

That's not true, although now I kinda wish it was. Mostly, I unwind by watching TV. Which is a bit sad, considering I already think about it all day. In my defence I watch a lot of half-hour comedies, a genre which I don't write.
  I'm also partial to a bit of Rock Band on Xbox (Expert guitar and vocals!), and I'm addicted to buying games on Steam for my PC. I try to read as much as I can -- comics, histories, scripts, novels, whatever. I also recently discovered Scotch whisky (trust me, it's an entire hobby in itself).

* As a final question, tell us something about living in L.A., and rubbing shoulders with celebs.  Any famous encounters, conquests

Hmm. This is a hard one. I'm rubbish at celebrity sightings. Even when my friends point them out, by the time I turn to look they're invariably gone.
  Let's see... I saw Gary Busey at a party once. Um. I met Scorcese's agent? Nope, that's crap...
  Wait, I know: I once walked past Susan Sarandon on a plane and gallantly refrained from singing Rocky Horror songs to her. Does that count?

It will have to do. Thank you, Xander Bennett.