October 2006 Archives

Cheap as Chips

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While you Americans deal with petty economic issues like high oil prices, we here in Britain have to worry about something real:

Fish-and-chip prices are about to skyrocket. They are expected to even surpassing the £5 mark at takeaway chip shops in south-east England.

Who is to blame, and what will the consequences be? It depends on who you believe. The right-wing populist Evening Standard blames those pesky environmentalists who want a fishing ban on the endangered North Sea Cod.The left-wing Guardian blames weather damage to potato crops (and perhaps, by extension, global warming.) The Telegraph--which likes to brag of its wealthy, health-conscious readership-- says the mania for Omega 3 fatty acids has driven up the price of fish. Scotland's Herald frets that competition from McDonald's is forcing Glasgow chippies to keep their prices low in the face of rising costs, potentially driving them out of business.

If the British government had as much vision as the Americans, they'd find a pretext to invade the Republic of Ireland, and seize their strategically vital potato fields. At the very least, they'd have a National Vinegar Reserve they could tap to keep prices down in the run-up to elections.

The Hated Redcoat

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As an American screenwriter living in the UK, the most common question I get asked is: "Why are the bad guys in American films always British?"

Simply put, to an American, British accents sound smart and sophisticated. You want your villain to be smart and sophisticated, because that makes it all the harder for the hero to triumph. And giving him an English accent is a fast and easy way to do that.

My British friends never believe me, but that's about 90% of the reason.

What's the other 10%?

Part of it is, the actors cast for villains are often really good character actors. And the English system seems to produce a lot of really good character actors.

Another part is that you want your villain to be some kind of "other," so he seems exotic and unpredictable. But you can't cast him as a member of some group that Americans have historically oppressed, because then you either imply that his group is inherently evil (which will anger the liberals) or that his group has been wronged so badly, they deserve to take revenge (which will anger the conservatives.) And for practical reasons, you have to cast an actor who speaks English at or near the level of a native speakers. And you can't make him Australian because we Americans think all Australians are good-natured beer drinkers who just want to throw a shrimp on the barbie. You can't make him Canadian, because we think of Canadians the same way we think of Australians, only colder and more polite. So, basically, that leaves you with a villain who is from either the UK or Singapore--and there just aren't that many Singaporean character actors floating around Hollywood.

Hard at Work

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As I like to remind Lauren, there are certain advantages to being married to a full-time writer. She never has to be the one to stay at home and wait for a delivery, and most nights, I've got dinner waiting for her when she steps through the door.

But there are certain disadvantages as well. One of them, no doubt, is that sometimes your husband calls you at 5PM on a Wednesday to tell you he's just walked out of the first free movie screening of his afternoon, and he's on his way to his second.

Anyway, For Your Consideration season has swung into gear. Before taking this afternoon off, I had already seen Marie Antionette, followed by a Q&A with Sophia Coppola; and World Trade Center, followed by a Q&A with Oliver Stone and Will Jimeno (one of the real-life officers whose story the film is based on.) Today, I added Keane and The Black Dahlia to that tally. Tomorrow, it's Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and the film's writer, Zach Helm.

I've already read the script for Stranger Than Fiction--it's being passed around from writer to writer, because it's just that damn good. I'm hoping the film will live up to it.

"In the past, cricket's not been seen as a sport with a native drug problem."

Before the Movie Begins

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Man, these anti-piracy measures are getting more and more intrusive...


(If you can't see the embedded movie above, click here.)

Should I go to film school?

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When I got my Master's from USC, the digital revolution hadn't quite kicked in. But now that it has, I usually tell people not to bother with film school. DVGuru offers 10 reasons why--8 of them very good. I disagree with #8 ("You can't teach art. Can you?") and #10 ("You either have it or you don't.")

I believe that everybody has an intrinsic maximum potential in any field--artistic or otherwise--and that education is the way to maximize that potential. But I agree with DVGuru that, nowadays, the best way to educate yourself is to beg, borrow, or buy a DV camera and a computer, and start shooting and editing movies. And that goes for writers who just want to write--even if you ultimately want somebody else to direct your work, you ought to direct a few of your own short scripts, just for the learning experience.

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