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From the Raiders Story Conference

Lawrence Kasdan — Before we kill this monkey, I want to really make him a villain. What if he is along when they’re headed out to the friends. The ambush takes place and as Indy is fighting them off, the girl jumps into a basket to hide and the monkey leads the Arabs to the girl. That’s how they get her.

George Lucas — That’s good.

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Movie recommendations part 2

Black Orpheus

This is one of the most beautiful films ever made. Shot in Rio De Janeiro during the Carnival of 1959, it’s a retelling of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

It’s so colorful and vibrant and filled with energy. It’s like being on an amazing holiday, but one that is marred by an epic love tragedy from which you will never recover. The leads, especially Marpessa Dawn, are hard to take your eyes away from, and if it feels like they are dancing their way through the whole thing, that’s because they are.

Black Dynamite

A parody of blaxplotation movies almost on par with Airplane in the accuracy of its subject matter and sheer density of gags.

Like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, it’s expertly poorly made on purpose, with actors looking at the camera and booms getting into shot. Michael Jai White definitely knows how to play an action lead, but I didn’t know he was so funny. His timing and delivery are impeccable. Definitely underrated.

The Black Hole

Disney’s famous attempt to cash in on the success of Star Wars. This is a truly weird film. It’s aiming to join the wave of spectacular blockbusters that defined the late Seventies and Eighties, but it’s stuck firmly in the old way of doing things.

It has the odd pace of something like The Forbidden Planet or Fantastic Voyage, too ponderous and formal after the breakneck pace of Star Wars, and the naturalism of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The music is good, the robots are good, the cast is good, the concept is good. It doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, but is still worth watching, especially for the freaky ending.

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MOVIE RECOMMENDATIONS

Timecrimes

Timecrimes is an insanely clever time travel/horror thriller from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo. The major difference between this and other time travel movies is that the protagonist only goes back in time one hour. What could go wrong? A lot as it turns out, and the problems and paradoxes pile up on each other.

I know firsthand how hard these things are to write, so to be able to keep events straightforward to follow, while still head-hurtingly complex is an amazing achievement. It’s also creepy as hell, and has a distinct ‘Lost’ vibe, which are all good things in my opinion.

Time Bandits

This is arguably Terry Gilliam’s most complete film. Sometimes an idea with broad appeal can be overwhelmed by a idiosyncratic director, but here his particular vision is fully realized. Obviously it’s still a little bonkers: a bunch of dwarves on the run from God, who they stole a time map from, gatecrash into the bedroom of a young boy called Kevin, who gets dragged through time and space, until some evil dude catches up with them and turns into a carousel.

It makes complete sense to your child brain. The effects and production design are pulled off perfectly, and there’s excellent cameos from lots of Monty Python people and a ton of famous stars.

Time Masters

A very intense French animated movie about a boy being stranded on an alien planet, and a crew attempting to rescue him. It is way out there in terms of sci-fi, with concepts such as a sentient planet of faceless angels, “water-lily like organisms blooming into dozens of empathic, sentient, primary coloured homunculi” and a big egg that you talk into.

The majority of the movie was designed and storyboarded by Moebius, so it benefits from his vast imagination. The co-produced French/Hungarian animation is great (especially the two cute flying dudes). It’s fairly violent and unnerving, and the ending blew my tiny mind as a kid.

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Awesome storyboards of yore

From INCEPTION:

How cool is that? The Atlantic has some more from movies like APOCALYPSE NOW, STAR WARS, JAWS and SPARTACUS. It’s really cool to see how they shaped such iconic images right at the board stage.

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Passengers

Passengers is a script by Jon Spaihts that’s been floating around for a while (I believe it got him the chance to pitch Prometheus to Ridley Scott), and finally it’s being made with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. I read the script a long time ago and really liked it.

There’s an air of familiarity about the concept. The person-isolated-in-space story has been done so many times it’s practically a genre, but it’s one I like a lot. This is reminiscent of stories like WALL-E, Silent Running and Solaris, but with a distinctly touristy vibe. Imagine being the only person stuck on a luxury cruise ship – not the worst situation in the world, but one that would eventually send you as mad as a window. The top half of the script has the main character Jim dealing with his loneliness and boredom in a variety of ways, until he can take no more. Without spoiling too much, eventually a woman called Aurora, played by Lawrence, joins him and the two have to find a way to live together.

The tone is surprisingly light, so I can see why they cast who they did. The only thing that concerns me is how they will keep it visually interesting for the duration of the movie. The script flags a little in the middle, and with only a handful of characters and locations to support it, it might get a little repetitive. The ending was somewhat soft as well, but maybe they’ve changed it.

Overall, it’s great to see an original sci-fi movie get made in the current climate. There’s an opportunity for some excellent acting here to go along with the robots and spaceship repair scenes, and I happen to love spaceship repair scenes, so it’s a double win.

Passengers is set for release on 21 December 2016.

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Thoughts on the Rogue One teaser

circle_rogueThe trailer dropped today, so now everyone can see how great this is shaping up. It’s definitely in the same Star Wars universe people are familiar with, but with a slightly different tone. More war, less hero’s journey.

That’s one of the great things about Star Wars. It’s so rich and so vibrant, just a different angle is all it needs to become interesting again.

Here’s five things I noticed:

This Star Destroyer has extra shit on it. Look on top of the bridge tower between the two ball things. What is that? Also the Star Destroyer looks very white, which makes me think it’s a new class. Maybe a specialized ship used for construction.

The Death Star getting it’s super laser installed. Okay, that’s a cool shot, but that thing is 22km wide. They are shoving it right in there pretty quick, like 1km per second. I guess it’s all done with tractor beams and such, but still.  Take your time guys.

This guy looks like a Grand Admiral. He’s posing pretty hard to make himself look evil, which I actually don’t love. Apart from the Sith, the Empire is run by a bunch of bureaucrats, but not out-and-out villains.  Still, that cape is wonderful.

I love this shot. You might think it’s on the Death Star, but it’s actually Canary Wharf tube station. Those desert scout troopers look great, and there are a ton more trooper types yet to be revealed. If one thing is certain, we’re going to get really good look at the Empire’s military in this.

Emperor’s Royal Guards! This is probably the best shot in the teaser. Who’s the guy in the foreground? Is it Palpatine? Is it Vader? What’s the tube in the middle of the room? And what’s in it? Probably nothing.

The teaser insinuates that Jyn turns into an Imperial or is drawn to the enemy, but that’s just trailer misdirection, I think. She’s sneaking on the the Death Star to steal the plans. Maybe she gets a chance to defect though, which would be a nice moment.

Overall, a tiny glimpse, but a good one. We didn’t see any of the new aliens and droids that are in this, except for a few snippets. I really like Felicity Jones already. My only fear is that Star Wars iconography is getting so familiar it feels a bit normal, but that could be because I look at it every day. My word, I love this stuff.

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Thoughts on The Force Awakens

I saw The Force Awakens three times on opening day. First at Grauman’s Chinese Theater at 2am, secondly on the Disney lot at 10am and thirdly at the Arclight Hollywood in the evening. I don’t know how JJ and the crew does it, I was wreck after 24 hours of this stuff.

Nothing can repeat that seismic moment of pop culture history that was the release of the first Star Wars movie. It was so complete, so far ahead of its time, and delivered on every level, that a repeat of something so unique was unlikely. One aspect that the Star Wars saga has been able to maintain is surprise. They are all highly unusual films, filled with things you’ve never seen before, wrapped in a very solid, archetypal story. That’s where I thought The Force Awakens failed. It had a lack of surprise.

It does so much right. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were superb, arguably more comfortable than even the returning veteran Star Wars actors. There’s a subtle leap in visual effects that brings the CG work up to the level of the original trilogy, and can finally match the ambitions of the creators’ imaginations. Kylo Ren is a welcome addition, as are Maz Kanata and Poe Dameron.

Apart from the general retread of the story from A New Hope, one thing that stuck out as false (and likely won’t hold up to repeat viewings) were the blatant callouts to the original trilogy. The holochess set, the training remote, Han firing Chewie’s bowcaster, were all played for nostalgia. At that moment, the actors knew they were in a movie and were communicating to the audience directly to say ‘remember this?’ One of Lucas’ tenets for the world of Star Wars was that nothing should call attention to itself (something even he failed to stick to), but it’s a shame it went that way here. We also got the same ships, and stock Star Wars locations, so there was a heavy dose of familiarity, too. Minor nitpicks, and only bothersome if you’ve absorbed the universe over hundreds of hours of viewing.

The new aliens seen in Maz’s castle, Jakku and the Eruvana were pretty weak. The scene with the Scottish guy, the little freaks of Kanjiklub, and the godawful rathtars will have people scratching their heads for years to come once all the hype has died down. Or maybe it’ll end up people’s favourite scene in the movie. It’s moofmilking at its best.

What they did do, they got absolutely right. The filmmakers just didn’t get overly ambitious. In fact, looking through the Art of The Force Awakens book, there’s a much more interesting and maybe more original movie that didn’t get made.

They chose the safest route, and the balancing act of ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing’ and ‘this shouldn’t even work’ was lost. That is a ridiculously high bar to judge something against. Maybe it’s more sensible to look at where it ended, which has potential to make for an absolutely mind-blowing sequel.

If they dare to do it.

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TWINS

When you and your wife are pregnant and going to your second ultrasound scan at 12 weeks, the last thing you want to hear is unexpected news. Me and Lakshmi were worried. We’ve never been through anything like this before, and we didn’t even know if we were mature enough to handle having a child.

We had an uneasy sense that day, even as we left the apartment. Sure enough, halfway there, a clicking sound started coming from the car. I couldn’t ignore it, even if it meant being late to our appointment. I pulled into a gas station and had a look at the front left wheel. A huge spike had gone into the tire, and the only thing stopping it for going all the way in was a washer around it. It was cleanly embedded, so I thought we could limp to the hospital and figure something out afterwards.

We were running late, but not too late considering what had happened. Arriving at the hospital, we got in the elevator to the 8th floor. It got stuck between the 6th and 7th. We looked at each other. Yup. Of course. Some other people in the elevator laughed and played around with the buttons, and soon it continued up to the 7th floor and the doors opened. Everybody got out.

Next we found ourselves taking the fire escape stairs (slowly, remember. One of us is pregnant) to the doctor’s office. I felt like we were either sneaking in, or being evacuated, and neither made me feel too relaxed.

They saw us right away. We were prepared for… something. But everything was fine. The baby looked healthy. No complications, apart from massive bouts of morning sickness for the mother. The doctor had finished, and told us to come back in four weeks. I don’t know why, but then she wanted to check things one more time. She had another look around.

“Did we know there were two in there?”

I can still remember Lakshmi and I looking at each other and just start laughing. What else are you going to do? Okay, twins it is. Sure, we’ll have two. It’s not like we know what we’re doing anyway. Hell, make it three. (The doctor actually checked.) We’ll have a whole litter of them.

So that was that. We got the car fixed, had a nice lunch, and then went home and called our families to tell them the news.

Cut to a year later. Emily and Leela are here and they are perfect, as far as I can tell. Leela likes screeching, bouncing and throwing Lamby on the floor. Emily would rather sit down with a good book and laugh her head off. I can’t wait to tell them this story.

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Flavor Jockey

My friend made this. There are no words.

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5 Things to NOT do when you Pitch

fancyI had a string of meetings at the end of last year, and I got some insight on what works and what doesn’t. Obviously there’s more than one way to pitch something, but I thought it would be helpful to put a few common mistakes out there. Here’s some things to NOT do:

WING IT

Lack of preparation is a huge red flag, it looks like you don’t care enough about your project. You might be good at discussing it, but you need make sure you’re concise and clearly getting your vision across. Simply reading from your document or inventing new characters in the room is not professional.

ANSWER A QUESTION WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER

I have had to learn this the hard way. Execs like to ask a lot of questions, and that’s a good sign they’re interested. Some like to simply test out your knowledge. But inevitably there will be a question you can’t answer. If that happens, don’t start babbling about season arcs and power-ups (for example). Be honest – say ‘That’s a great question, I’ll have to give it some thought.’

TELL THEM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR

Obviously you want to sell your pitch, you’re not just there for the cold water and warm handshakes. In order to make something happen, it’s tempting to pick up on what the exec wants and start pandering to that. DO NOT DO THIS. No matter what you do, stick to your vision. It’s YOUR ideas they want, not their own reflected back at them. Execs hate that. They will be disgusted with you.

ACT LIKE THIS IS THE LAST TIME YOU’LL EVER BE ALLOWED IN THE BUILDING

Just relax, will you? This isn’t a job interview, it’s just a meeting. There are no wrong answers. The final decisions are out of your control, anyway. Be professional, but enjoy yourself. It will give the buyer confidence if you’re not stressing out. Be entertaining.

BARE KNUCKLE FIGHTING

In rare cases, things can devolve into a shouting match, and chairs can get tipped over. If they are not seeing your project in the way you’d hoped, challenging the exec to a one-on-one fist fight on the top level of the parking structure is not going to help. Plus, you want to leave the door open to pitch new work HAHA THIS IS A JOKE

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