Sunday 31 December 2017

Top 20 Films of 2017

I was going to post reasons for each choice but ran out of time. I enjoyed them all, it's been a great year for films, these all enriched my year and I hope you try some of them and get something out of them.

20 The Space Between Us
19 Lady Macbeth
18 Toni Erdmann
17 A Cure for Wellness
16 The Last Jedi
15 It Comes at Night
14 La La Land
13 T2
12 Free Fire
11 Moonlight
10 Goodbye Christopher Robin
9 The Big Sick
8 Dunkirk
7 Loving
6 A Monster Calls
5 Miss Sloane
4 Paddington 2
3 The Lost City of Z
2 Captain Underpants
1 mother!

Saturday 28 October 2017

5 questions with Rhys Jones on When Time Catches Up

How does the co-writing partnership with you and I work?

I’m not sure what the writing process on this one was, as I don’t remember anything about writing it. But normally these things come about thanks to conversations we have, we’ll talk endlessly and sometimes an idea for something comes out of that. When it comes to writing we tend (once we have a draft) to read it over and over and over, out loud, acting it out, and that way we can normally tell if something is or isn’t working for us. For example, if it’s a sitcom and a joke stops making one of us laugh it comes under a spotlight and we try and find out why it's stopped working. Mostly though we rely on the trust we’ve built up in each other, which lets us experiment and go off on some crazy ideas that I don’t think we’d explore on our own- like the “she’s a phone” bit in this film. When you pitched that to me it was a lot crazier than it is now, and I think you were surprised by my enthusiasm for it. Think you thought it was going to be stupid. Maybe had you been writing on your own that idea wouldn’t have made it to the screen. We like to play about and see what we can get away with, that’s how it works mostly, I think.

Do you think the film tries to pack too much into its short running time?

No, I don’t think it does. Time Catches Up isn’t that complex, really. It felt a bit crammed on the page, but Leonie did a good job telling the story. Stephen and Sara sold the relationship well. And I think after this long, having made so many short films now, we can tell richer story’s in a shorter time. That’s not to say the film isn’t full of story, it is. But it’s not trying to do too much, it works. It pulls it off, in my opinion.

How come time catches up is your only contribution for series 4?

Because I’m not a part of series 4. I stepped back a bit, well a lot, after series 3, but before I did that I had done this co-write and it ended up in the series. Simple as that really. Though we are starting to talk about the future of Twisted Showcase, and I might be coming back and being more involved again at some point.

Can you pick out a typical Rhys moment and a typical Robin moment from the script or is that impossible?

I don’t think this is a very typical script of mine. It isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally write, so I don’t think there is anything in it that is particularly, specifically “me” in it. Not that I’d recognise that anyway.  It does have a lot of those themes that creep up in our conversations, like the fear of wasting our lives, so as a whole it probably is very typical of the pair us when we get together.

I would like to explore what you see as a “me” idea?

I don’t know, I don’t tend to revisit my own stuff. I’m not sure if there is an example of the kind of idea that I think of as very “me”. Maybe Toilet Soup would be closest, because that’s funny and daft, but has something to say, and that’s the kind of thing I’ve always wanted to do. I really liked the shock value in Toilet Soup, how it was used to make a point.  Whether that’s what I do as typical “me”, I don’t know. Maybe Time Catches is up is more typical of me than I think. If I went through and looked at my student films, and my stuff for the showcase short story ebooks and the micro fiction on the website, perhaps I’d discover I'm talking rubbish when I said it’s not something I’d normally write. I always think you have a very distinctive voice, something like Be My Head, which I think is great, feels to me to be a very Robin idea.

Sunday 15 October 2017

5 questions on Muscle Memory with Debbie Moon

1. Would you call Muscle Memory a body horror story?

1)Yes, I think body horror is probably the most appropriate term. But all horror comes down to bodies in the end, doesn’t it? How vulnerable they are, how they betray us, how they can be changed into monstrous things we don’t recognize. This was a fun opportunity to look at how the body and the mind interact, which is still mysterious and a little scary to most of us…

2. Have you ever had a massage which brought back forgotten memories?

2) You know what? I’ve never had a professional massage. I feel like I should now! But having read the article that inspired the story - on how massage therapy interacts with memory loss in war veterans and others with PTSD -  I now feel a bit nervous about what it might unearth!

3. As writers we're usually reserved and modest, but here's an opportunity to throw off those shackles and reveal your favourite line of dialogue from muscle memory?

3) Boasting? How very un-British! The final line is fun – always love a good twist – but I also like the “You’re the car crash” line. The way it reduces a complex person to one event in their life - right before we use that one event to open up a very complex life indeed…

4. With writing for an anthology you didn't have to match existing character voices, but what holds Twisted Showcase together is probably it's tone. Did you worry about making it fit with the show, or look at certain episodes for a guide?

4) Obviously, I was familiar with Twisted Showcase and the kinds of stories it tells, but I don’t think I thought too much about matching the tone. I just felt this was the right kind of story for the anthology, and the tone took care of itself…

5. What do you think is the scariest aspect of your episode? And I'll sneak in another question - what are you most proud of about it?

5) I suppose the scariest idea is the idea that everything we’ve ever done – even the things we’ve forgotten – is written in our minds and in our bodies somewhere. There’s no escape from memories, even if they seem to be erased. That feels like a classic horror idea to me…
         And what am I proudest of? I think, fitting a full story into a short running time! I’m used to having a few more pages than this to play with!

Thursday 5 October 2017

5 Questions - Episode 1 Be My Head

Each week, for the next six weeks, there will be a quick interview - 5 questions long - regarding the most recent Twisted Showcase episode. This week Debbie Moon, creator of Wolfblood, has asked me 5 questions about the first episode of Series 4, Be My Head.

Debbie Moon: This story is rooted in a very relatable "real" tragedy.  Do you think the best horror is rooted in reality?

Robin Bell: I think the things that we can latch onto, and identify as something from our own lives are the most effective elements of horror whether that be the feelings of grief or the fear of what'll happen to your leg if you leave it hanging out of bed. Familiar settings and emotions are important also to ground the big monsters or the abstract ideas. Godfrey Cavendish, the crazy tape licker in this episode, is scary because of how he is juxtaposed with the intense stillness of Lucifer Jones. So reality has to play its role to create scares, but as with all good ideas, it's how elements rub together and react to each other that creates the best results.

DM: What was it like working with a first-time director?

RB: A lot of Twisted Showcase has been working with first-time directors, but it has never felt like it. Every director on the series has come to set fully prepared with loads of ideas, invention. I've been very lucky. It was obvious to me that Gareth would be a great director from the first time we worked together. We were a nervous crew making our first film and he knew what everyone on set should be doing, he had loads of ideas to keep the shoot flowing and create intense scenes for Peter & Paul. I'm incredibly proud he chose Twisted Showcase as the platform to make his directorial debut, and think he did a terrific job.

DM: How does writing for specific actors affect how and what you write?

RB: To be honest we've very rarely done it. I think Rhys did a draft of Toilet Soup where he Norman'd the character up a bit, but I don't think we've ever started a script thinking this is one for Gareth. Even for Be My Head, I think he had a choice of a few scripts.

DM: The music is very striking. How did you settle on it?

RB: We were very lucky music wise for this episode. On set, Gareth explained what sort of music he wanted for the film and referenced a few films, and it sounded similar to the type of thing one of my closest friends make. He soundtracked Peter & Paul but makes so much stuff that I knew he'd have something that'd fit what we were going for. We were very lucky in that he gave us complete access to everything he's made. There was a complete team effort to get to the finished goal - Gareth whittled it down to about 8 choices and broke the film into 3 categories for 3 different types of music. I made my favourite choices for each segment and then Leonie who was editing it started putting it together. Little segments changed here and there but I think the music really stands out and in every moment really highlights whats going on emotionally in the film. A testament to the team and to Jim Hughes for making those soundscapes that always create an emotional  reaction.

DM: If you could get rid of your worst memories, would you?

RB: I'll just avoid answering that for a second to talk about my love for titles with double meanings. Moffat was great at them in Who e.g.  The Eleventh Hour, The Pilot. It took me ages to realise that Mad Men had multiple meanings. I was quite pleased with Payback and The Drugs don't work in Series 3, and the double meanings they had, but this episode is my favourite and I think most clever as it sort of sums up the issue at the centre of the episode. It could be read as asking someone else to "be my head" take my thoughts away from me, or it could be read as "be my head" I need to be myself, true to who I am even if that contains pain and grief, that is part of who I am. I suppose I'd err towards the second one of those meanings, but there's an incredible temptation in the first. It's what makes this episode so intriguing, alongside the performances, the look of it, the jokes and everything really. I'm really proud of this one.

Thursday 28 September 2017

Twisted Showcase Series 4 - Why I still love making it

You don't make four series of web TV by mistake, or for the hell of it, but until recently I've avoided defining what makes Twisted Showcase tick. It began as a mix of the domestic and the uncanny but has grown to be layered with more meaning each series. There's a cult following of fans that have their own reasons for their Twisted fandom, but this is what Twisted showcase has come to mean to me, and why it keeps drawing me back to make more.

Firstly, it's a freeing concept the anthology, giving you lots of areas to play in - you can hop across genres, invent new characters each time, and hone down a satisfying story in a limited space of time. Ok, we may be limited by cast size and locations, but they actually work in its favour keeping the setting domestic and balancing it with the uncanny, keeping things intimate and keeping our characters trapped with their fears.

Also, there are great moments where you get to work with really talented people whilst making the films, and the upcoming excitement of releasing the films and getting feedback.

But recently I had a revelation which made me realise how far Twisted Showcase has come and what it has come to mean for me. This week I was interviewed by Andrew Pollard from Starburst magazine. It was a great interview, he makes me think about lots of things I probably take for granted regarding the series and he drew something most unexpected out of me. I realised that Twisted Showcase is the perfect filter of fear for our times. We live in times heightened by the internet -  politics through the prism of social media, symptoms through Web MD (so many times a minor ailment I've had has been diagnosed as cancer - STOP LOOKING UP SYMPTOMS ONLINE!!!) and I realised that Twisted Showcase functions in a similar way - as rational fears put through the filter of our modern times, put through the distortion of the internet. Look at series 3 opener Payback, the fear of falling into debt taken to it's extreme. Or Toilet Soup's heightened take on kneejerk reactions and internet trolls.

In series 4 we look at grief, responsibility, secrets, the way we treat our hopes and dreams and aging, but with all of these we take them to the Twisted Showcase extremes. I hope you like where we take you in Series 4 - to the extremes of your fears.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Tribute interview with Philip Shelley

Thirteen weeks later and like the circle of life we're right back where we began, talking to the man who put this whole series together, Philip Shelley. This time we're focusing on his brilliant, honest and heartbreaking episode, An Ordered Life. Before we begin I'd like to say a huge thank you to Phil, and all the other writers who have given up their time and been so open and honest in these interviews, exposing their grief and emotions we oftentimes bury, and also bringing forth many secrets of their writing technique and how their Tribute came together. It's been an interesting thirteen weeks, I hope to do it all again. As always, go and listen to An Ordered Life before reading the following interview.

1. You mention this is a thinly veiled fictionalisation, I've found this to be the case when interviewing a few of the other writers this series, and my own Tribute is included in this category. In what ways did you draw on reality and how did you mix that with fiction for this story? 

I suppose I’ve streamlined the story a bit, pushed the reality to clearer extremes in places, but it’s very close to the reality of my relationship with my father. The motivation for telling the story was probably a desire to exorcise issues I have / had with my father that remained unresolved after his death. There’s not much imagination in here – pretty much everything is taken from my life.

2. I love how the episode explores how we find it difficult to understand things at certain times, "as a child I found this odd, as an adult I understood it" and the way we struggle to understand the previous generation. I also love how the story explores ways to understand, like who your Dad learnt communication from. Is the story making a point that as we communicate non-stop in the fast-paced modern world we fail to stop and understand, so much like the past where they bottled everything up, we now have a generation that also doesn't understand others, or have I read that wrong?

I think it’s interesting that as children we accept everything – because we have no alternatives, so we accept everything at face value. And as we grow older, we look back at events from our childhood and adolescence and re-examine them in a different light. I think your interpretation is probably kinder than mine. I think I’m saying that there was something very particular about my parents’ generation and class that made them particularly emotionally closed-off. And with the benefit of hindsight how odd and sad this is. And that our generation is, largely, more emotionally functional and communicative. But it would be interesting to know how my own children think about me if and when they have families of their own to compare!

3. Being the creator of the Tribute podcasts you've probably thought about what a Tribute is a lot. Do you think the essence of what a Tribute is boils down to the respect you have for that person and the amount of time you will dedicate to understanding them?

What appealed to me about the format, about having each character give a tribute to a dead person who meant something to them, was the universality of it. Every life is rich, unique and absolutely distinctive to that person. The most ordinary lives are extraordinary in some way. At times in our lives, we will all think about how we will be remembered (or if we will be remembered!) after we’ve gone. But of course, most of the time, we live our lives in the present, day by day. I think it’s important and fascinating to try to look at lives as a whole. And yes I suppose a tribute is so much about the respect and love we feel for the person we’re talking about.

4. The tennis story is excellent and touches on the slipperiness of memory. "Part fearful, part hilarious" If this is from truth I wonder if when recalled it has been remembered both ways or if there is always a mixture to the memory? 

Yes, this is something that really happened. It’s so odd and interesting why, amongst the innumerable things you’ve lived through, certain things stick in your memory. But this is a moment that has stuck with me. I think it’s stuck with me because, for a brief moment, I was actually terrified. But once my father had thought better of whatever he was going to do to me and turned back to his side of the net, it became a story to share with others to make them laugh. It’s a moment I’ve re-enacted to amuse my own family – which is cruel, isn’t it? There are so many emotions tied up in that brief moment. And to me it says so much about the person my father was.

5. When we think of a secret life, everyone's thoughts first turn to the wild sex theories you mention here. Is an ordered life just as thrilling to discover though? I'm not sure if it's my own obsession with music which found that thrilling or if you did too.

If I’m honest, I didn’t find my father’s orderliness thrilling, I found it fucking irritating. It was like he sublimated all his passion for the music into lists and box files. He never shared his passion for the music he clearly loved – his way of expressing his passion was to make lists and keep programmes in neat box files. The absurdity and meaninglessness of this response was brought home to me recently when me and my two sisters had to clear out my parents’ house after my mother’s death. This process brings home to you just how worthless other people’s possessions are – even your own parents’ possessions. All my father’s well ordered opera programmes are now in the bin. All the stuff they accumulated over so many years, stuff which was part of my life, books and ornaments that I’ve looked at, walked past for decades – so much of it just went straight in the bin. I’m a big reader – I have a house full of my own books – and so did my parents. But of all their books, I think I kept two – the rest - literally a van load - went to a reluctant second-hand book seller for £200.

6. It's a really touching final line, did you always know it was building to that point or was it an ending you discovered during the writing?

It was an ending I discovered in conversation with Will! Thank you Will!

7. I won't ask which Tributes stood out for you but will ask what themes are you happy that the series explored, and did anything surprise you from the series - certain things you may not have thought of before, or stories you didn't think the subject would throw up.

This may sound like bullshit but I am immensely proud of all 13 of the monologues. I had a lot of choice – I received around 60 scripts, and I only chose the ones that I genuinely loved. But the process of getting really good actors to perform / read them elevated every single one to something more than I thought they could be. When you go into something like this, you’re always worried that the idea you think is interesting will fall flat on its face. But I am so pleased with how this has turned out. I think I stumbled across a very good format – and I think all you writers rose to the challenge brilliantly. The themes – the value of an individual life, and how do you measure that value? The nature of love. And the nature of memory – how pure is memory, how subjective is it? At the risk of offending the other actors – and I am so delighted with ALL the performances - I would like to pick out a couple of the performances because they did raise the scripts to level that I didn’t realise was there – Finty Williams for VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING. The emotion and clarity of her reading is exceptional – I’ve seen so many listeners literally moved to tears by the script and Finty’s reading. Patrick Brennan’s reading of REX is also exceptional – there’s such a strong sense of character in his reading – and of clarity, and of a rich, ambivalent relationship with this violent prisoner. And from a personal point of view, I will forever be grateful to Will Mount for taking it upon himself to read my script, and do it so incredibly well.

8. I feel I've learnt so much from interviewing the other writers, what's been your main takeaway from the interviews?

I’ve been so taken by the intelligence of the questions and therefore the answers. All of the interviews have revealed the enormous amounts of thought, commitment and emotion that have gone into these short scripts. The interviews have demonstrated to me many of the things you need to have to be good writers – deep thought and self-analysis of your work, a love of good writing in general, acute observation of people – and above all a generosity and openness of spirit.

9. What other projects are you working on, do they bear any similarity to An Ordered Life?

Recently all my time has been taken up by my script consultancy and the Channel 4 screenwriting course. I love working on both of these – but I’m also determined to do more of my own creative – producing and writing – work in the near future. As a writer, I dabble and I want to do more than this. I am in awe of the bravery of writers who commit so much of their time and emotion to projects without any guarantee that anyone will pick them up. But writing your passion project spec script is the key to screenwriting success. I have written a 25 minute monologue about a middle-aged / mid-life crisis vicar that I’d like to do something with, and am dabbling with several other ideas.

10. What would you want your Tribute to be?

Wow that’s a question and a half! I would like to be remembered with a smile by my family – my wife (we’ve been married for 37 years) and my 4 children. (It’s having my own children that has opened me up so much to thinking about my own relationship with my parents.) From a work POV, it would be nice to be remembered by some of the writers I’ve worked with, with some affection. But that’s not important. The only important ‘Tribute’ would be how I’m remembered by my own wife and children.

11. What next for the Tribute podcast series? Will there be more?

I’m pretty sure there will be more. And I think the format will be the same. But I need to get through my backlog of script consultancy work, and find the time to look for funding for series 2, and to think about how I can improve and build on the success of series one. All ideas welcome! I am a freelancer but also a control freak who finds it very hard to delegate – I need to find more time to stand back from my day-to-day work and strategise

12. Why do you think it's important to write about and discuss death? 

Another cracking (but difficult!) question. I do think it’s absolutely vital. I am quite morbid, I think death is such an important subject in art. I love the poetry of Philip Larkin, the music of Loudon Wainwright III and the (early) films of Woody Allen for this reason! Thinking about death – our own and other people’s – shines such a powerful light on life. All art is in some way an attempt to find a meaning in life. Stories are one way of making sense of our ultimately meaningless existences. All our lives are a story, a journey. The inspiration for this project came from doing a eulogy to my mother at her (humanist) funeral in March 2015. My mother had not lead an objectively spectacular life. But nonetheless her life was packed with deep love, happiness, tragedy, some terrible sadness and some of the most extraordinary events – so many stories of such rich oddness that you couldn’t possibly make them up. And all of this is true of every life lived. With both of my parents having died in the last 5 years, I often ask myself (not this clearly) what I can learn from their lives, what they got from their lives, and what my two sisters and I got from their lives.

Saturday 13 May 2017

Tribute interview with Marilyn Court-Lewis

Can't believe there is only one more week to go of the Tribute Podcasts, and therefore the interviews. This penultimate episode is a rich and touching one called Turning written by Marilyn Court-Lewis who I got to interview regarding the episode, you can read that here.

1. Living in Wales myself I firstly wondered what reasons the story was set there?

 On the basis of ‘Write what you know’, the story is set there because that is the culture in which I grew up. I lived with relatives within the Welsh hill-farming community on the Brecon Beacons. This is the background that informs Turning.

2. The language is very rich, it reminded me of a classic novel. Is Bronte-esque a thing? What were the influences on the style of Turning?

 That’s interesting. No, Bronte-esque is not a thing. The main influence on the style of my prose writing and on the style of Turning is the work of Edna O’Brien, whose work, in my opinion, is very underrated. I love her humour and the lyrical quality of her work.

3. The distance between the characters in Turning is very deftly handled. Was this something you thought about when writing. How did you go about creating that distance?

 When I wrote the piece, I wanted to hone it to the bone in order to cut out any overflow of emotion. These were spare people who had lived fairly isolated lives. I felt the best way to get that across was to write sparingly.

4. I love the structure of the three things he said before he died, setting up the inevitability of death, probably the way we all look at it. Was this intentional?

 Yes, it was intentional. It was important they were spanned apart like that to create tension – a kind of emotional scansion, if that makes sense? His words mark the stages of his passing and are beats in the process of her realising he is going.

5. His statements are very simple and effective to the audience and the characters. How did you come up with those three statements?

 The story is predicated on a real experience and those are the words that were said.

6. What other projects are you working on, do they bear any resemblance to Turning?

I am working on three projects at the moment. One project resembles Turning in that it involves work I wrote around that time. I am reformatting it to make it suitable for podcasting. The second project is a rewrite of a feature-length screenplay which I want to pitch to a particular TV producer. It is nothing like Turning. The third is the development of a comedy about a reluctant hellraiser, who, having lived ‘fast and loose’, is horrified to find herself still alive when all her friends are dead. From the Land of Ozzy Osbourne to the World of Politics, she is baffled to have survived all this only to have to adjust to quotidian realities.

7. Have you listened to the other Tributes, if so which ones have stood out for you? 

I like them all and it has been a joy to be involved with this project and to have met such lovely people. But one Tribute really stands out for me. It’s Will Mount’s An Irresistible Force, which leaves me in awe. It is so well-written, funny, sophisticated and insightful, and I love his mischievous treatment of the theme.

 8. I was asked this question and think it's very interesting - what would you want your Tribute to be? 

It would depend on who was giving the Tribute.