Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The heroes and baddies of Christmas movies

It’s the time of year when Christmas movies are all over the telly. But none in the cinemas! There was a period about 10 years ago when there was always a Christmas movie out in theatres at this stage, usually starring Tim Allen and featuring some variation on the “cynical lawyer becomes Santa” story. But now Christmas has been banished to the Hallmark Channel.

Considering some of the stinkers I’ve seen in the last few years, this isn’t too surprising. There are a lot of truly awful Christmas films visited on the public as they lie on the sofa in a Quality Street-induced coma. But it’s a shame they’ve sunk so low because practically every writer has a Christmas movie in their drawer (I do, for one!)

So in honour of these seasonal shelf puppies, I thought I’d come up with my top five worst holiday films and the top five best:

The crimes against Christmas list

Four Christmases – I read the logline for this film long before it came out and thought it sounded like a fantastic idea for a high-concept Christmas movie. But the finished product was shouty, charmless and very, very low on laughs. A lot of talent - and a great initial idea – all wasted.

Deck The Halls – Kristin Chenoweth’s aggressive blonde trophy-wife aside, this is a really bad movie about two male neighbours fighting over who has the best Christmas lights on their house. Which if I remember correctly, was only a B-plot in Clark Griswold’s Christmas misery. Danny de Vito is given nothing to work with, script-wise, and I started falling asleep every time Matthew Broderick’s character came on screen. Rent Christmas Vacation instead.

Santa Baby – this is a jaw-droppingly bad film starring Jenny McCarthy as Santa’s cynical corporate daughter, who has to step up to the reins when her dad becomes ill. Everyone involved phones in their performance and it all looks like it was shot in a department store.

Mr. St. Nick - Kelsey Grammar was great as Scrooge in a straight adaptation for TV a few years ago. But he misfires in this one, where he’s a cynical newsman (can you sense there’s a theme here?) who becomes Santa. He also marries Ugly Betty’s sister in the end, even though (as my sister pointed out in outrage), they hadn’t even had a snog!

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause – I’m going to put this one in largely because they got rid of Bernard the Elf, the only character who made the previous two films worth watching. And hired Martin Short, who gives an utterly horrible performance in between making calls to his builder about his new house extension (I imagine).

And the goodies…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I’ve seen this practically every Christmas I can remember and it’s still funny. Not clever, mature or sophisticated. Just big laughs, and they keep coming. It’s a stone-cold classic that sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who ever agreed to host a family Christmas…

Scrooged – Bill Murray when he was the funniest man on screen. This is a great Christmas film because it’s not afraid to have a really dislikeable main character, and to show some really grim moments along the way. Vince Vaughn can only dream of starring in something this brilliant.

Home Alone – A John Hughes holiday movie with an underrated script, this film skirts a lot of potentially dark issues. A child left alone for Christmas, being terrorised by two creepy burglars? My mom practically cries with laughter at the bit where Joe Pesci tries to make it up a frozen set of steps and I don’t blame her. This is Macauley Culkin’s finest hour.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Again, a film which on the surface is loaded with sadness. A depressed man decides to throw himself off a bridge, only to see the effect his life has really had on others. Yet it’s one of the most heartwarming films ever made. Elf (another great Christmas movie) also had an on-the-bridge moment which I assume was in honour of It’s a Wonderful Life (only played for laughs).

Miracle on 34th Street – I don’t mind which version it is, this is a lovely film with a great story. Can we prove there really is a Santa! This is one film that always makes me choke up. Yes, I am a girl.

Happy Christmas and happy movie-watching!

The heroes and baddies of Christmas movies

It’s the time of year when Christmas movies are all over the telly. But none in the cinemas! There was a period about 10 years ago when there was always a Christmas movie out in theatres at this stage, usually starring Tim Allen and featuring some variation on the “cynical lawyer becomes Santa” story. But now Christmas has been banished to the Hallmark Channel.

Considering some of the stinkers I’ve seen in the last few years, this isn’t too surprising. There are a lot of truly awful Christmas films visited on the public as they lie on the sofa in a Quality Street-induced coma. But it’s a shame they’ve sunk so low because practically every writer has a Christmas movie in their drawer (I do, for one!)

So in honour of these seasonal shelf puppies, I thought I’d come up with my top five worst holiday films and the top five best:

The crimes against Christmas list

Four Christmases – I read the logline for this film long before it came out and thought it sounded like a fantastic idea for a high-concept Christmas movie. But the finished product was shouty, charmless and very, very low on laughs. A lot of talent - and a great initial idea – all wasted.

Deck The Halls – Kristin Chenoweth’s aggressive blonde trophy-wife aside, this is a really bad movie about two male neighbours fighting over who has the best Christmas lights on their house. Which if I remember correctly, was only a B-plot in Clark Griswold’s Christmas misery. Danny de Vito is given nothing to work with, script-wise, and I started falling asleep every time Matthew Broderick’s character came on screen. Rent Christmas Vacation instead.

Santa Baby – this is a jaw-droppingly bad film starring Jenny McCarthy as Santa’s cynical corporate daughter, who has to step up to the reins when her dad becomes ill. Everyone involved phones in their performance and it all looks like it was shot in a department store.

Mr. St. Nick - Kelsey Grammar was great as Scrooge in a straight adaptation for TV a few years ago. But he misfires in this one, where he’s a cynical newsman (can you sense there’s a theme here?) who becomes Santa. He also marries Ugly Betty’s sister in the end, even though (as my sister pointed out in outrage), they hadn’t even had a snog!

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause – I’m going to put this one in largely because they got rid of Bernard the Elf, the only character who made the previous two films worth watching. And hired Martin Short, who gives an utterly horrible performance in between making calls to his builder about his new house extension (I imagine).

And the goodies…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I’ve seen this practically every Christmas I can remember and it’s still funny. Not clever, mature or sophisticated. Just big laughs, and they keep coming. It’s a stone-cold classic that sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who ever agreed to host a family Christmas…

Scrooged – Bill Murray when he was the funniest man on screen. This is a great Christmas film because it’s not afraid to have a really dislikeable main character, and to show some really grim moments along the way. Vince Vaughn can only dream of starring in something this brilliant.

Home Alone – A John Hughes holiday movie with an underrated script, this film skirts a lot of potentially dark issues. A child left alone for Christmas, being terrorised by two creepy burglars? My mom practically cries with laughter at the bit where Joe Pesci tries to make it up a frozen set of steps and I don’t blame her. This is Macauley Culkin’s finest hour.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Again, a film which on the surface is loaded with sadness. A depressed man decides to throw himself off a bridge, only to see the effect his life has really had on others. Yet it’s one of the most heartwarming films ever made. Elf (another great Christmas movie) also had an on-the-bridge moment which I assume was in honour of It’s a Wonderful Life (only played for laughs).

Miracle on 34th Street – I don’t mind which version it is, this is a lovely film with a great story. Can we prove there really is a Santa! This is one film that always makes me choke up. Yes, I am a girl.

Happy Christmas and happy movie-watching!

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Now is the winter of our discontent"

And how! There’s an awful lot of moaning going on right now and to be fair, a lot of reason for the moaning. The 2009 spec sales market has been terrible and every second movie to hit cinemas seems to be part of a franchise.

But I got a little spark in my belly today when I read about Fede Alverez’s $300 short movie Panic Attack!, which he produced and put on Youtube. This little giant-robot-invasion-story has been a monster hit, having more bang for its buck than many Hollywood blockbusters . And the next day his inbox was jammed with emails from Hollywood executives wanting to work with him (“if you can do that with $ 300, what about $30 million dollars!”.

Now he’s been offered a production deal by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures and will come up with a story with a studio-assigned writer to be set in Uruguay. Result for the internet and for innovative thinking!

The old world of movies – like the old world of everything else – is being stripped away and it’s a brand new world. Some people will embrace the big changes and others will opt out and sulk. Or write Hallmark Channel movies. Which way are you going to go?

"Now is the winter of our discontent"

And how! There’s an awful lot of moaning going on right now and to be fair, a lot of reason for the moaning. The 2009 spec sales market has been terrible and every second movie to hit cinemas seems to be part of a franchise.

But I got a little spark in my belly today when I read about Fede Alverez’s $300 short movie Panic Attack!, which he produced and put on Youtube. This little giant-robot-invasion-story has been a monster hit, having more bang for its buck than many Hollywood blockbusters . And the next day his inbox was jammed with emails from Hollywood executives wanting to work with him (“if you can do that with $ 300, what about $30 million dollars!”.

Now he’s been offered a production deal by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures and will come up with a story with a studio-assigned writer to be set in Uruguay. Result for the internet and for innovative thinking!

The old world of movies – like the old world of everything else – is being stripped away and it’s a brand new world. Some people will embrace the big changes and others will opt out and sulk. Or write Hallmark Channel movies. Which way are you going to go?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The second coming of Hotel Darklight...

I went to a second screening of Hotel Darklight today at the IFI, comprised of ten shorts that includes my script Regards to the Chef. I ended up taking part in a Q&A after on stage with the two directors, a director and another writer. This was kind of alarming because of the blinding lights focussed on us, although at least this meant I couldn't really see the audience and get nervous. Truth be told, I'm a shameless talker and it was fun to get to take part in it. And even more fun to see the movie again. Thanks to everyone at Darklight for arranging the whole thing!

They're now going to try and enter it into some festivals and then it will be available to watch online. The great thing about that whole project was the can-do nature of it. Bear in mind that they started with no budget and yet managed to make ten short films and give a lot of crew members their first screen credit, including me. That's gold, especially for a writer. 

I've read several bad reviews of the recent release Situations Vacant - I'm going to reserve judgement until I've seen it myself this week. But whatever it's like, someone managed to make a film and get it released, which is no easy task at the moment. I think this should be applauded and that the critics should remember that this is a tough period for moviemakers. 

We have to find cleverer and cheaper ways of getting our work on the big screen - these are harsh times but also ones potentially full of opportunity.

The second coming of Hotel Darklight...

I went to a second screening of Hotel Darklight today at the IFI, comprised of ten shorts that includes my script Regards to the Chef. I ended up taking part in a Q&A after on stage with the two directors, a director and another writer. This was kind of alarming because of the blinding lights focussed on us, although at least this meant I couldn't really see the audience and get nervous. Truth be told, I'm a shameless talker and it was fun to get to take part in it. And even more fun to see the movie again. Thanks to everyone at Darklight for arranging the whole thing!

They're now going to try and enter it into some festivals and then it will be available to watch online. The great thing about that whole project was the can-do nature of it. Bear in mind that they started with no budget and yet managed to make ten short films and give a lot of crew members their first screen credit, including me. That's gold, especially for a writer. 

I've read several bad reviews of the recent release Situations Vacant - I'm going to reserve judgement until I've seen it myself this week. But whatever it's like, someone managed to make a film and get it released, which is no easy task at the moment. I think this should be applauded and that the critics should remember that this is a tough period for moviemakers. 

We have to find cleverer and cheaper ways of getting our work on the big screen - these are harsh times but also ones potentially full of opportunity.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Does Hollywood love novelists and hate screenwriters?

Hollywood's love affair with novelists is a well-known, long-time phenomenon. Back in the day, the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker were wooed to Los Angeles and paid vast sums of money to write scripts. Novels are also in constant demand for adaptation into screenplays. Not all novelists view this as good (Ernest Hemingway apparently advised novelists to drive to the California border, ''and let them throw the money over the line, then throw the book back.''). But it has to be said, writing a successful novel is a good step towards getting a movie made of your work. Or embarking on a screenwriting career.

When I was in Austin in 2008, I was at a talk given by Texan writer Shauna Cross, who had written a screenplay called Whip It! based on her teenage roller derby experiences. She was unable to raise interest in it until she adapted it into a novel called Derby Girl, and then "adapted" the published novel into a script! It was released in the States in October starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. 

So why the obsession with novels? Well, there's two theories. One is that Hollywood likes material that comes with a stamp of approval from someone else. If someone has published a novel that sold even moderately well, they have a publishing house and at least some readers behind them. If those readers buy tickets to see the accompanying movie, well then you may have a Da Vinci Code-sized hit on your hands. 

The other theory is that Hollywood execs are somewhat impressed and awed by novelists, whereas they regard screenwriters as being in the same category as bellybutton lint. I hope this isn't true, reflecting badly as it does on everyone involved...

I guess the way forward is obvious. Write a (bestselling) novel like Shauna Cross or Bring it On Writer Jessica Bendinger, whose novel The Seven Rays is the new Twilight. Then wait for the call from Hollywood....

Does Hollywood love novelists and hate screenwriters?

Hollywood's love affair with novelists is a well-known, long-time phenomenon. Back in the day, the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker were wooed to Los Angeles and paid vast sums of money to write scripts. Novels are also in constant demand for adaptation into screenplays. Not all novelists view this as good (Ernest Hemingway apparently advised novelists to drive to the California border, ''and let them throw the money over the line, then throw the book back.''). But it has to be said, writing a successful novel is a good step towards getting a movie made of your work. Or embarking on a screenwriting career.

When I was in Austin in 2008, I was at a talk given by Texan writer Shauna Cross, who had written a screenplay called Whip It! based on her teenage roller derby experiences. She was unable to raise interest in it until she adapted it into a novel called Derby Girl, and then "adapted" the published novel into a script! It was released in the States in October starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. 

So why the obsession with novels? Well, there's two theories. One is that Hollywood likes material that comes with a stamp of approval from someone else. If someone has published a novel that sold even moderately well, they have a publishing house and at least some readers behind them. If those readers buy tickets to see the accompanying movie, well then you may have a Da Vinci Code-sized hit on your hands. 

The other theory is that Hollywood execs are somewhat impressed and awed by novelists, whereas they regard screenwriters as being in the same category as bellybutton lint. I hope this isn't true, reflecting badly as it does on everyone involved...

I guess the way forward is obvious. Write a (bestselling) novel like Shauna Cross or Bring it On Writer Jessica Bendinger, whose novel The Seven Rays is the new Twilight. Then wait for the call from Hollywood....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Write me a cheque for 10 million dollars!

I was at my screenwriting group last night and Jim Carrey came up because of this really funny scene he did in Fun With Dick and Jane. I once heard this story about him, that before he was famous, when he was broke, he wrote himself a cheque for ten million dollars and marked it, For Services Rendered".  This was to represent the money he would make one day. Then of course, he did go on to make many times that amount - in fact he's earned 20 million dollars for one film.

Sometimes I think it helps to have a little reminder like that, that you can pull out now and again and feel inspired by. I don't know if I'd go so far as to write myself a multi-million euro cheque, but I think you have to have some ultimate goal in mind or else you've got nothing to aim for. 

So here's mine: I want to someday write a summer blockbuster. Something that's going to have people queuing around the blocks in July to see. An event movie that gets everyone excited but has a decent plot and great characters. And so goes on to make millions of dollars and make me (and the studio) happy bunnies! Now I just need to write it. And then write a lot of other movies. And network. And make compromises, and get through them and keep plugging away....

Bring on the summer of 2015!


Write me a cheque for 10 million dollars!

I was at my screenwriting group last night and Jim Carrey came up because of this really funny scene he did in Fun With Dick and Jane. I once heard this story about him, that before he was famous, when he was broke, he wrote himself a cheque for ten million dollars and marked it, For Services Rendered".  This was to represent the money he would make one day. Then of course, he did go on to make many times that amount - in fact he's earned 20 million dollars for one film.

Sometimes I think it helps to have a little reminder like that, that you can pull out now and again and feel inspired by. I don't know if I'd go so far as to write myself a multi-million euro cheque, but I think you have to have some ultimate goal in mind or else you've got nothing to aim for. 

So here's mine: I want to someday write a summer blockbuster. Something that's going to have people queuing around the blocks in July to see. An event movie that gets everyone excited but has a decent plot and great characters. And so goes on to make millions of dollars and make me (and the studio) happy bunnies! Now I just need to write it. And then write a lot of other movies. And network. And make compromises, and get through them and keep plugging away....

Bring on the summer of 2015!