And the war continues between Actors Equity and Sir Peter Jackson. What floors me is that Spada and Sir Peter offered to attend the Wellington meeting last night to discuss the matter, and they were turned down.

Now Actors Equity appears to be dragging this out, while Sir Peter has warned that Warner is already beginning to plan how to save their movie.

How clueless are the heads of Actors Equity?

Once a film is in production stage, time is of the essence. No doubt NZAE and MEAA were hoping that this would force Warner and Wingnut to want to rush to resolve the issue. What they didn’t count on is the producers being stubborn.

Unfortunately for them, this is making NZ look bad to the rest of the film industry. The timing of the boycott has placed the film in jeopardy and it has been revealed that Spada have been trying to resolve disputes with NZAE for over a year.

The impression being created is that NZAE is trying to hold the industry hostage rather than aiming to get a genuine compromise. This will not end well for the industry as a whole unless all parties involved resolve this before the end of the weekend.

NZAE has hours, not days, to get this fixed. I will not be surprised if Monday’s news will be that the Hobbit is moving to Eastern Europe.

And that will make work for guys like me, who want to make a break into the industry, that much tougher.

There is a time and place to pick a fight. The more I hear, the less sympathy I have for NZAE. Which is a shame as there are many talented actors who will be more harmed by this action than by any non-union contract Wingnut would have offered.

Conan

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So the Hobbit saga continues. NZ Actors Equity has weighed in with some respected names, Sir Peter is swinging between embattled creator and petulant child, and now with NZ’s film industry seriously at risk of vanishing and taking approx $3b NZ a year with it the Government appears to be preparing to wade in with it’s scattershot sights set.

I previously sided with Sir Peter regarding the MEAA’s stance as being bully tactics and I very much still stand by it. NZ Actors Equity has tried to argue that this is about Actors getting a fair contract – but I still have to ask where was NZAE when Boy was being made? Why were there no boycotts for lack of union contracts then? Secondhand Wedding? Under the Mountain?

What, exactly, has NZ Actors Equity succeeded in providing to NZ’s acting fraternity other than a regular working gig for Jennifer Ward Leland?

The blunt reality is that it is one thing for these famous folk to step forward and say that this is about fair contracts, but it is another to genuinely put the entire industry at risk.

Weirdly this kind of acts as a mirror to the Teacher’s dispute, and I wonder if National is seeing it as the same kind of problem.

It is interesting to note that when you look at the protest placards that the teachers have been holding up – they are more concerned with the National Standards than their 4% pay rise. National has been trying to paint the issue as a greedy teachers fight – but the reality appears to be more about teachers saying either address National Standards OR give them a 4% pay rise.

Meanwhile, Actors Equity isn’t talking about better conditions on set for actors – their argument is that actors need to get a bigger cut of profits from films that are made.

Now as I said before, actors tend to be the ones who get the abuse in the film-making relationship. Part of this is because there are so many actors out there that the cheapest will always be the preferred option.

Naturally, with work being so unpredictable and the competition so fierce, actors want to have some security – and this is where royalties can be a major boon. Ask any writer which is better – paid per word or paid per unit sold.

The flip side is that if the film bombs, you don’t get as much back from it.

But I’m wandering off message. While what is at stake here is to some degree reasonable, this is not a fight that Actors Equity will be able to win easily.

Picking the fight with a major international project is drawing the wrong kind of attention. Timing it when casting calls started rather than approaching the producers much earlier in the situation gives the boycott the air of a cynical stunt to grab attention and influence rather than being an effective support of actors these organisations purport to be supporting.

Ultimately, MEAA and Actors Equity need to change tactics and go on a charm offensive. They do not have enough clout or goodwill to be able count on Sir Peter and Hollywood being only bluffing about Eastern Europe.

I have no doubt that if they don’t try to change their approach soon, we will see film companies looking elsewhere. And that is going to make things a lot worse than not having a collective union contract.

Conan

So I’m going to get more political today.

<a href="National’s Education Minister Anne Tolley talked to principals and teachers yesterday about the new National Standards being set by the Government.

Now while there is a problem with the level of literacy in New Zealand at the moment, National in their characteristic naïveté rushed an ideological policy out without really trying to understand what the actual reality was in the schools.

What is most galling is how Tolley is being hard-nosed in the face of facts presented to her. She and John Key have fallen back on questionable research that seems to lack any solid foundations rather than face the reality. The worst thing is that they are promoting an adversarial atmosphere with the education sector and then ask why teachers are being so aggressive towards them.

When a teacher tells you that only one student in their class of 21 is passing the new standard, when independent researchers warn that your policy was rushed and needs serious review and alteration – arguing that you don’t believe them and that in fact the standards are working without producing facts, just suspicious figures, is not helping our children. It’s just exacerbating the situation.

What disgusts me is that National is sending a clear message that they feel teachers are nothing but greedy whiners. According to National the average secondary school teacher earns 70k a year. Yet out of the number of teachers I know, I find that seriously hard to believe. Where is National getting their figures?

It seems to me that they are hiding behind their reports rather than actually getting out there and seeing the reality. Seriously folks, if this many teachers and actual trained experts are saying there is a problem, then there is a problem. Relying on information that is two or three times removed from the facts is just being stubborn.

Furthermore, working to smear the reputation of teachers is a further idiotic action as it makes their jobs harder and ultimately undermines the quality of the education children get. National is only making a token effort to seem like they want to work with teachers. The reality is that they are painting the education sector as the enemy.

Of course there are some in the teacher’s union who aren’t helping their cause. Apparently some children are sending a letter template to Tolley – some on union stationery – complaining about the recent disputes. Now this kind of activity just feeds National’s adversarial position. I’m sure there are some tin hatters out there who will cite a conspiracy to besmirch the union – but I think it is highly likely that some members have foolishly thought it would help.

It’s turning into an ugly public stoush. But the reality is that it is the Government’s responsibility to quell the animosity and work in good faith. Instead it has tried to paint teachers as the villains of the piece, which only succeeds in inflaming them more.

By refusing to listen to the experts that the National Standards are not working and will lead to more children failing in our system – National are putting fuel on the fire and revealing that they don’t care for facts. They stubbornly believe that their ideological hard line will prove to be the winner. Unfortunately talking tough isn’t always the answer, and in this instance it only goes go expose how little National cares about the facts. Instead they have hidden behind statistics that average out and toy with the figures to make it sound like it is working.

Much like with the “tax cuts” – the reality is obfuscated by statistical trickery to get a result that National wants to be seen while the reality can be disputed by “statistical research.”

Having done statistical research, it is not based on reality but by taking a sample and predicting beyond that sample. It is useful for predicting future possible trends, but not for providing actual facts.

And the whole reason that we haven’t seen a boost in buying before GST rises is precisely because a majority of NZ is not onboard with National’s version of the tax cuts. It’s the old adage of “too good to be true.” We are waiting to see what the reality is when we start seeing those cuts in our pay checks and the cost of living.

I think National has seriously underestimated NZers. And with elections coming closer, this is possibly the worst time for National’s honeymoon to be over.

Conan

<a href="In the paper today Sir Peter Jackson takes a shot at the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. (MEAA)

Essentially the MEAA is concerned that there are no compulsory union contracts for The Hobbit, and they are pushing a boycott of the film production until contracts are provided. Arguably, these contracts will benefit the cast and crew, ensuring their rights a protected and that they get their due royalties for any money made from the films.

Sir Peter is arguing that it is more about an Australian business bullying their way into NZ’s film industry.

Now, as with so many union based issues, it is never a cut and dry case. I remember when I was a young aspiring actor, I was told matter of factly by my agent at the time that joining the actors union was not a choice. If you didn’t belong, don’t expect to be cast in anything.

This is what really pisses me off about the entertainment industry’s unions. While the idea of a union is a good thing – providing security and bargaining power for actors and crew – the reality is often that the actors and crew are exchanging one abuser for another.

My brief dealings with the union left me feeling that they didn’t care less if I got work or not, as long as they got their fees. And that is the real rub. The entertainment industry, which should be full of creative and excited people keen to produce quality product is instead a brutal industry that can be prone to people who resort to bullying tactics behind the scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, not every actors union or guild is a nasty scumbag – the NZ Writer’s Guild, for example, works hard to help writers protect their work and find people to get their works out into the Market.

But I am inclined to side with Sir Peter on this one. The MEAA seems more interested in forcing memberships than ensuring that the cast and crew of The Hobbit are getting a fair deal. The tactic of spreading negative comments to other guilds and unions, and timing it just as casting calls begin – this seems to me to be more about the MEAA than about it’s members.

There is an anti-competitive streak to this all. I would be interested to know if Boy had met the same criteria that the MEAA are touting. Secondhand Wedding?

I suspect not because neither of those films had the international attention or, to be blunt, money to be worth the fuss. I feel that this is a political stunt to gain cachet and a stronger foothold in NZ’s burgeoning industry.

It is a shame that this is happening, rather than people putting more attention towards actually making films.

Conan

Continuing my journey into the Cult of Apple, I recently added the iPad to my list of Apple products.

Initially I wasn’t certain I was going to invest in one – I prefer deadwood over PDFs, I have an iPhone for mobile internet… why would I need an iPad?

As I puzzled out the dichotomy between “ooh new shiny” and “do I really need this?” a lot if friends were more than keen to provide their opinions. There is a risk inherent with liberal thought to always think of things out of context or in views of Ebul Right and Pure Left.

Who would have thought buying an electronic device could be a political statement? 🙂

See, Apple are very controlling of their products. This is risky in that they cab potentially control what you see and interact with when using your iPhone or iPad.

But, conversely, they also provide some of the best productivity tools to allow you to create your own content – which they can’t interfere with. (And would be hugely foolish if they did.)

Furthermore, with many forms of media becoming standardised there are plenty of simple solutions other than distributing through iTunes.

Most common was the Cult of Android trying to tell me that there are better Android tablets. I looked around. To date, none seem to exist.

Further to this, despite Google being a mostly fluffy company, they do still own YouTube, which is almost as regulated as iTunes.

Finally, the liberal argument comes around to the conservative argument structure. Nothing truly bad is happening now, but it COULD happen. Hello slippery slope. Yes, we need to be vigilant – but that is no excuse for being cowboys.

Apple’s control does mean better quality and better security. Not that they have perfected this yet. 😉

Finally a friend said to think of the iPad not as a computer, but as an electronic piece of paper which can store any information you want and be able to carry loads of books without the weight.

After talking to a number of US role-players who had iPads, I realised that this was the best way to view the iPad.

So I bought one.

What first strikes me is that this feels like a much more intuitive way to read a PDF. I hate reading PDF books on a laptop because they feel clumsy and inelegant.

Being able to physically “turn” a page, pinch or zoom effortlessly just seems natural, whereas using a mouse seems very detached.

In much the same way that MP3 players made listening to music easier than the old “rewind tape” Walkman, the iPad is an improvement by going back to the way you normally read a book.

With the added benefit of interactive elements. As Wired have shown, an iPad allows a magazine to be more than words. A great example is their interview with Trent Reznor, following him through the creation of a song. As you read the article there are versions of the song to play at each stage of it’s development, images change to show what is being discussed.

It’s a great example of the future, and certainly has me reading more again. An added bonus is the thousands of free classics to download. I’ve been beefing up my Philosophy collection.

Frankly, I feel the door is open for all manner of use and application with this device. Hardly the restrictive horror others perceive it to be.

Conan

It has been a while since I’ve posted to this blog, but I have been crazy busy with websites and scriptwriting. Crazy busy.

But today I want to write about something that is really pissing me off.

InFamous, the PS3 exclusive third person superhero sandbox game, was one of the highlight titles on the PS3. It genuinely felt like a comic book setting and hero with some great gameplay, cutscenes and a suitably gonzo storyline.

Fast forward a bit and Sucker Punch announce inFamous 2. In a surprise twist, they reveal that the main character has been completely redesigned. Part of the problem is that due to schedule clashes, Cole had to be recast. Now I am if the opinion that if the voice actor is changing – it is a great opportunity to reimagine the character. This is not the first computer/console game to do this, and even in the comic book world character appearance change is very common.

Unfortunately, the Internet being what it is, a vocal number of fans kicked up a fuss about how Cole looked like a backstreet boy/gay porn star/etc etc etc.

So, against better judgement, Sucker Punch have apparently redesigned the character to look more like the original.

I say against better judgement because if they had kept the New Cole, the furore would have died down and people would have focused on the game. Until now, more attention was on the game than the change in character. But now that the change has been reversed, fans are arguing over which was better. New or Old. Attention has moved away from the game and on to the character choice.

There are many who welcomed the new look, myself included, and feel that having Old Cole with a different voice is more jarring and tackier than completely overhauling the character. Others welcome the return, because it is comfortably familiar. However, now some of them want the original voice actor too.

Ultimately by listening to the “fans” – and I use that hesitantly because the complainers were not speaking for the fans IMO – Sucker Punch have mired themselves into a trivial debate that threatens to overshadow what looks to be an awesome new game.

If they had stuck to their guns, said “we made the change because of xyz” and asked fans to trust them – it would have had a much better outcome. Now they have made themselves look indecisive, and left a very negative taste in lot of people’s mouths.

Having recently played inFamous again, the original Cole was not a great design. The newer look was definitely better. I am disappointed when fan pressure is used this way, as it doesn’t improve the product, it just sows ill will.

Hopefully for those of us who are more open to change, a skin for the new Cole will be provided as DLC or unlockable. Or better yet, the core game changes back to using the New Cole and the Old Cole is a DLC/unlockable character.

Laters!

Conan

So having not successfully made it into Escalator, Catherine – the producer I teamed up with – has convinced me to apply for the Early Development Fund at the NZFC. This has lead to some of the most hardcore script writing I have done since I decided to revamp the original Winding City scripts two years ago.

Giving the story a lot of thought, and rethinking about how it would fit into a feature film, I realised that my very first scripts were more feature film than television series. There is a complete story, very witty dialogue and great moments. So I mushed all six original episodes into one screenplay – to find it was only about 59 minutes worth of script.

The next step has been to polish the script from that ungodly mess. Fortunately the original story has a strong filmic pacing, and with the lessons I have learned over the last three years, the characters are much stronger as well.

So with rewrites, edits and then padding, I have the current script up to 70 minutes and still to be finished. The finale is going to be dramatically different from the original script, as the main antagonist’s plan goes in a different direction from my earlier idea.

While I want to leave room for a sequel, the first film needs to stand on its own.

But looking over the NZFC’s storytelling FAQs, I am worried that we may struggle selling the script to NZFC.

The main issue is that they seem to have it in their heads that a good film only has ONE protagonist. Now, Winding City effectively has three core protagonists and four secondary leads. Primarily there is a central protagonist, but he doesn’t really get introduced as such until about ten minutes into the film. Sure he’s an early character, but one of the other protagonists takes a good 2 minutes of screen time setting up the situation.

Now I could rewrite it to firmly place Bram as the core protagonist – but part of the drama in the film is the character dynamics between my three main characters.

No doubt after we have a script development analyst look over the script there will be some changes, I’m really worried we wont get to that stage.

I am loving this version more than the previous iterations of the story, though. A lot more information is provided about the city, the characters are stronger…

I just have to be determined and get this script to the point where it is clear where the film is heading.

I think this has all the promise of being a big hit of a film – but it is still a very long haul to see it getting made. 😦

Conan

Sorry for not posting in a long time, folks. I’ve been a busy beaver trying to get a few projects underway and kickstarting some stymied projects. But I’m back with a review on a recent film – Jennifer’s Body.

Be warned, there may be a couple of spoilers in the following review. I’ll try to avoid them where possible.

The reason this film has kickstarted me into posting is because it exemplifies the issue of how even with all the right ingredients a film can fall apart very easily.

Needy is your stereotypical Hollywood high school geek girl. We know this because her hair is frizzy, she wears glasses and usually has her hair in a ponytail. She is best friends with high school cheerleader, Jennifer. (Played reasonably well by Megan Fox.) They live in the small hick town of Devil’s Kettle – so named after a mysterious waterfall and sinkhole on the outskirts of town. After escaping from a bar fire, Jennifer allows herself to be driven off by a visiting indie band who are devil worshippers in disguise and ends up possessed by a demon who proceeds to eat the local jocks and boys. But when she sets her sights on Needy’s cute boyfriend, Chip, the war between BFFs is on.

Despite being penned by Diablo Cody of Juno fame, and despite a number of talented actors – this film never knows what it is trying to be. It is clear that Cody is trying to tell a metaphorical tale about the pitfalls of an abusive friendship -the boy eating takes a backseat to Jennifer and Needy’s friendship and the strain put on it by Jennifer becoming demonic.

However the director’s lack of confidence unhinges the film, as does the weak set pieces and Cody’s error in writing the characters as more in depth than the archetypes they are meant to subvert.

While making things have a very real foundation, the failure to decisively be a comedy or a humorous horror ends up making for an uncomfortable mess of a film.

That, in my view, is the director’s responsibility. Despite casting a pretty girl as Needy, she never transforms into an attractive character. She remains geeky throughout. Even though the promotional posters have her sexied up.

Jennifer is presented at times in a sympathetic light, but nothing ever really comes from this.

Often humorous lines are delivered in a flat manner, and are accompanied by totally inappropriate music that steals from the scene.

By refusing to take one position over another in style, the film is just an awkward mess. The big face-off even happens at the beginning of the third act rather than the climax, leading to another weaker climactic face off that is far too emo for its own good and leaves everything feeling flat and undercooked.

A comedy, even a dark comedy, should never make you shy away from finding the humour. It should make you feel uncomfortable for laughing – but it shouldn’t make you feel too awkward to even laugh.

This film lacked that decisive directing that would have kept the film balanced. Which is a shame. In the hands of a more capable director, this did have the potential of being another Heathers. Brilliant, witty and dark. But what we got was wishy-washy and awkward instead.

I finally got to watch Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds last night, and I have to say… I’m disappointed.

It is first, and foremost, a pretentious film that reminds me a lot of Shadow of the Vampire – I often find that these critiques of the film industry tend to fall flat because they become wrapped up in their own irony.

Shadow was about the cannabilistic nature of the industry and the pretentions of directors – the irony was that the film became pretentious by mocking pretentious film-making, and was a poor film for it.

Inglourious starts off promising enough, having a Spaghetti Western style opening in Nazi-occupied France, the overlong conversation that starts the film off has a beautiful tension to it. The use of long, casual conversation underlies the potential for violence that permeates the scene.

Unfortunately, the film is pretty much down hill from there. Tarantino seems torn between making the film a black comedy or a metaphor about violence in film.

These are often two flavours that simply do not mix well. Then about halfway through the film, he decides to use the very same long conversation technique from the beginning of the film – this just is a bad move. The second time loses the tension and when the expected violence breaks loose, Tarantino cuts off several storylines before they really began. This is a deliberate decision on his part – but it’s a bad decision.

In what could have been a humourously dark twist, the plan of one group of protagonists have to change. But instead, it just gets played too straight and feels mean-spirited instead. Tarantino is trying to copy the underlying metaphor of the film Funny Games – but he ends up revelling in the very thing he’s meaning to criticise. Funny Games worked because it made the audience uncomfortable by being honest about what they were going to see – it’s a thriller/horror and it remains so. The audience is made uncomfortable by the way the film progresses – but it never mocks the audience.

Tarantino, on the other hand, is mocking his audience – which is, frankly, stupid. Yes, make them uncomfortable. But this film tries too hard to mock them for watching a violent war movie – and then degenerates into a violent war movie anyway.

It also manages to make every single character repulsive. It’s just poor film-making and writing. Yes, the idea is a good one. Showing how mindless violence in films is horrifying, and how audiences flock to see it is scary. But there are better ways of doing it than this. Personally, Pulp Fiction did a better job by keeping its sense of humour. Inglourious just feels like it doesn’t want to you enjoy the filmgoing experience. If anything, it seems to want to make the viewer never see a movie again.

An odd tactic. And then at the end of the film, the payoff just feels as crap and meanspirited as the rest of the movie.

This is a pretentious and unlikeable film and it’s Tarantino at his worst.

If you haven’t seen it yet… don’t. The message is just not worth the aggravation.

Conan

Let me start with this warning. I loved Under the Mountain – both the book and the series. Maurice Gee’s famous science fantasy/horror children’s novel isn’t exactly the strongest in narratives – but it tells its story well and manages to be suitably creepy.

The television series was remarkably ambitious for NZ television at the time and while it is pretty hokey now, it was genuinely creepy at the time it screened.

So how does this “reimagined” upgrade of Under the Mountain fare? Afterall, the technology has reached a point where NZ film/television can really do Maurice Gee’s classic justice.

It’s a shame this isn’t that film.

Firstly, I have heard that the actors have been accused of hamming it up – which I have to disagree with. Sam Neill does most of the scenery chewing, and Oliver Driver does a fair bit of it too. But the two twins and cousin Ricky do a reasonable job of the roles they were handed. I suspect much of the problem is that a lot of reviewers are still not used to hearing NZ accents in a film with flashy VFX. Personally, all the damage in this film is from a combination of some seemingly weak directing and an atrocious script that tries to be Buffy witty without actually being funny, nor having the actors trained in how to deliver comedic lines.

But the screenplay not only fails from the witty dialogue issue, it is a classic example of how *not* to write a reimagining.

I get the idea behind reimagining the story to fit into a filmic structure, make it a little more traditional Hollywood-like in pacing and structure. But you don’t just change things wholecloth to squeeze into the structure. You need to think about how the story will be changed and what other differences need to be considered. One of the biggest flaws of the movie is that nobody’s motivations make any sense.

Theo is an angry teen, but without really explaining it. Sure, his mother just died – but we get absolutely no examination of his motivation for spurning his sister’s support. It just doesn’t make sense and causes him to make some completely implausible leaps of judgement. He respects Mr Jones, but then completely ignores Jones’ warnings for no other obvious reason other than the script demanded him to be separated from the others.

And Mr Jones has been so rewritten as to be one of the most unlikeable characters in the film. He’s a douche. Not only that, but he makes no sense in the context of the film. In the original tale, Jones watches over the twins because of their connection to him and the Wilberforces – and he guides them as a mentor for the most part.

In the film, Mr Jones has no relationship to the Twins prior to Theo talking to him. Further the twins connection to events is much more coincidence rather than their destiny. Also, the word “Twiness” is stupid.

Jones doesn’t seem to care about the twins and lacks a lot of personality – he is a Deus Ex Machina to give the Twins a reason to fight the Wilberforces. Even though the Wilberforces are creepy – they are not sufficiently set up as a threat, and again their involvement comes across more as “we need a villain” than actually having a decent motivation or plan. Either the film needed to have a few more Wilberforces discussing plans, or more of them as alien remorseless monsters. In the end they just aren’t scary enough and don’t appear to actually have a drive to really do anything.

Another thing that bugged me was that not enough of a deal was made about earthquakes in Auckland. Hello – Auckland is not a town that experiences earthquakes usually. The film suggests that its a common occurance. It’s not. Even if the intention of the scene is to suggest that the quakes have been happening long enough for Aucklander’s to have become somewhat blasé about it – this was not communicated.

On that note – the quake they call a 3 pointer was NOT a three pointer. Having lived in Wellington, I know my quakes- and it is nothing like the way it was presented in the film.

For the most part, the biggest let downs in this film come from the atrociously bad rewrites. This came across as a clumsy attempt to make an accessible mainstream film without any thought about consistency or coherency. I guess in a way, the film tries too hard and fails because of this.

There were many bad decisions made on where to make changes in the script.

Conan

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