God is my Director

Youth ministry, movies, no drugs and a variable amount of Rock ‘n Roll

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Summit in view

Posted by Martin on July 17, 2007

Sorry for the lull in posting – I’ve been working desperately to finish my second screenplay, which has been cryptically titled ‘Project CS’ since I started this blog (not for pretentious reasons – but because it’s SO DUMB that you’d get the plot from the title).

Anyway, looks like I’ve got about 15 pages left to write, after which there shall be loud whooping in these parts. Listen out for it.

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5 Things you probably didn’t know about me…

Posted by Martin on June 29, 2007

Have only just realised that Len tagged me on Boxing Day last year (!) with this little challenge. You have to list 5 things that people don’t generally know about you. As an anonymous blogger, this should be fairly simple, but we’ll see…

1. I have a truly enormous collection of Dr Who memorabilia. Well, these days, my parents’ loft does. But from the ages of 11-16 (the pre-first-kiss years I’m afraid), I accumulated over 200 books, 60 videos and a range of action figures, mugs and badges. I could quote from episodes at will. I knew the names of all the actors who operated the daleks. During much of this time, I was what real doctors call, obese. I kissed a girl in Norfolk,  in summer 1995, and the curse was lifted.

2. I once interviewed Darth Vader for my University student newspaper. Or rather, I interviewed Dave Prowse, the guy who was in the big black costume in the original Star Wars trilogy. He told me he was shocked to realise, at the first screening of Star Wars: A New Hope, that his own Devon-accented voice had been dubbed over with the infamous canyon-deep tones of James Earl Jones. ‘Luke, I am your faaaaaather’ would not have been quite the same.

3. I’m a huge Billy Joel fan, and have every one of his albums, live and studio, on my iPod. Thus if anyone tags me to do this ‘shuffle’ thing that’s floating around the blogosphere, I shall have a very dull reply. For the record, ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ is better than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

4. I like to tell people that my favourite book is Money by Martin Amis, as it makes me sound edgy and intellectual. My real favourite book is ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’ by Julia Donaldson. Or possibly an old Dr Who book…

5. I went to the wrap party for the new Transformers movie. I spent ten minutes talking to a guy who did some of the effects on Optimus Prime, without realising that the guy next to him –  whom I was ignoring – was none other than Hollywood legend Jon Voight. I also ran into famous director Tim Story in a toilet once. We didn’t say anything to each other, but we did nod. 

Having realised that I am far more of a sci-fi geek than I ever knew, I shall tag Amanda. I choose her by way of apology for saying ‘in your face’ to her over the alphabet typing game incident.

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

Writer’s block

Posted by Martin on June 25, 2007

Still (nearly two months on) crippled by some serious screenwriter’s block. Every time I sit down to work on ‘Project CS’, I am struck by this fear/realisation that I am an absolutely terrible writer, with less talent than a speck of gnat manure. Now, one of two things has happened:

1) My ability to evaluate the work of others- and therefore myself – has accelerated faster than my actual writing ability. In the past, I’ve written badly, but not been able to see it. Of course, if I look back now at my first book, I hate the way it’s written – at the time, I thought it was a serious contender for Richard and Judy’s book club. Now, I’m able to see flaws in my work almost before I create them.

2) I’ve lost it. Which does happen. Just look at the last four series of Friends. Or Tony Blair.

 I’m hoping it’s either 1), or secret option 3) – this is all a bad dream and I’m about to wake up full of refreshment, ideas and ability.

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Plot hole

Posted by Martin on April 29, 2007

Those who are responsible for gently kicking my unfocused butt on matters of screenwriting will be pleased to hear that I have indeed begun work on the final script for what I have codenamed ‘Project CS’ (out of some demented fear that the title will inspire plagiarism).

However, I had the agonising realisation today that, during the period of treatment writing (where I changed the story structure eight times in order to prepare it for drafting), I made a mistake. This is the stage where you lay the foundations for the building, and unfortunately at the last minute I moved one of the toilets without changing any of the associated plumbing. This is a big problem, as I’ve discovered now that I’m just peeing in a hole in the floor.

So I now have to go back, and rewrite the first twenty pages again. Still, better now than when I’d written 100.

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Hysterical Epic (or not)

Posted by Martin on February 12, 2007

Writing the previous post reminded me that this is in no way the first time that I’ve developed an idea and then seen it show up at the local multiplex a few months later (perhaps soon, I’ll actually be doing that for a living…). Ten years ago – I promise you – I came up with a movie outline that was so similar to Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels that I almost cried when that movie came out. But at least that was good…

About a year ago I started kicking around an idea for a spoof movie. It’s hardly my natural genre, but I was always a massive fan of Airplane, and felt that there was a lot of fun to be had with that kind of movie. I think Airplane’s strength came in the fact that it new exactly what its target was, and while ripping into that target for all its worth, it also tried to tell a funny story.

Not so in the case of the Scary Movie people – the spoof franchise that this generation is sadly growing up with. While the first movie at least focussed on the Scream trilogy for its main joke fodder, the later movies just seem to be trying to squeeze in as many movie references into 90 godless minutes as they possibly can.

And unfortunately, they’ve branched out. First, Date Movie took a wild stab at every movie released in the previous two years, and now, there’s recent US no.1 smash (shame on you) Epic Movie. Very loosely poking fun at, er… historical epic movies, this nevertheless takes in such non-epics as The Da Vinci Code, and Borat. Are the writers seriously saying that there’s no mileage in a movie which just spoofs the historical epic?

Well either way, they’ve blown my chance of ever doing so. I had a great idea too. Beaten to the punch by the Scary movie guys. Oh well, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all…

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The screenwriter’s secret agony

Posted by Martin on February 12, 2007

I am of course kidding. This was not my idea.This is something which only writers can truly understand – the despair felt when you realise that someone else has got there first. Sure, when a movie/book/play/TV show comes out on very similar lines to the one you were developing, it is strangely reassuring that your ideas are good. That small comfort is hugely outweighed however by the biting reality that it may severly hinder your own chances of getting your movie/circus act/TV show greenlit.

Unfortunately for me, it’s not even as if my celluloid nemesis is small-scale. It seems to be featured on every bus, TV show and website I stumble across. I know I’ve blogged about it (Project CS is the codename) before – I was aware of the script a few months ago, and made changes accordingly – but now that I’ve seen clips, it does appear that we’re just working on too similar lines.

And what’s even worse – everyone loves it! So not only is my movie like another one, it’s also far too much like a movie which everyone loves. I should just write a rip-off of It’s a Wonderful Life and be done with it.

My agent is fairly sure that there’s room in the world for both movies -but having seen the trailers for this one, I’m not so sure. Will keep you posted.

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Notes on Notes on a Scandal

Posted by Martin on February 12, 2007

Spent an enjoyable evening watching the Oscar-nominated Dame Judi Dench (the real Queen of British cinema, sorry Helen) chewing up the scenery to marvellous effect in Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal. Judi plays stone-faced lesbian battleaxe Barbara opposite Cate Blanchett’s wispy hippy Sheba, and without question steals the show.

Having spent many years bitter and alone teaching in a particularly nasty London comprehensive school, Barbara latches on Sheba and becomes a mentor and friend to her. Things turn nasty though, when Barbara catches her protégée in a sexual affair with a 15-year-old pupil. As the levels of deceit burrow deeper, the tension escalates, and more and more lives become sucked into the maelstrom that Sheba has created.

It’s a very British film – although the drama is significant, it never spills over the edge of realism – and so when the tension all gets too much, no-one pulls a gun or reaches for an ice pick. Yet my real only criticism of the film is that the stakes never really feel high enough; and so I left the cinema wondering if I’d accidentally missed the third act.

That said, the movie provides both a masterclass in acting from Dame Judi, and a powerful illustration of the destructive powers of lies. Well worth seeing, but probably on DVD.

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The most ridiculous day of my life

Posted by Martin on February 6, 2007

Stick with this one; I hope it’s worth it.

I have had quite the most remarkable day. It started with an incredible email, was punctuated by a long and terrifying meeting, and ended with an even more incredible email. Let me tell you about it.

I don’t know if you believe in prophecy (look at this blog going all charismatic recently), or even more crazily, the idea that there can be a personal prophet for an individual – like a kind of Guardian Angel of prophecy I guess – but I do. At least, I do now. I first got an email from this person, whom I know only superficially, in the middle of last year. It had a few words which she believed God had given her for me, and being a cynical-before-my-time spoilsport, I took it with a pinch of salt. The email was an encouragement about God’s plans for me, and it was fairly specific.

That evening, I got a phone call from LA from a guy who wanted to sign me to his agency as a screenwriter.

I started to take my prophet friend a bit more seriously at this point. The next email came, towards the end of the year, full of similar promises, and this time I was less surprised when, come the evening, I received an invitation from the same Agent to visit a bunch of movie executives in Hollywood.

I went out there, as readers of this blog will know, and had some great meetings. But since then, thanks to a combination of factors (not least the fact that LA shuts down over December and January), nothing really happened.

Time passed, and the only thing that became clear to me from above was the fact that I am called to Youth Ministry for the long haul. God has spoken fairly clearly now to tell me that Youth Ministry and Movies are two sides of the same calling, not the big Sophie’s Choice that my life is hurtling towards.

This morning, I received another email from my prophet friend (she doesn’t go around calling herself that, by the way). Again, the message was that God’s hand was on me, that he had plans, and that he was going to provide for my family and I. Nice and reassuring, but since time had passed, I’d forgotten to expect movement later on.

That’s the first email dealt with. The rest will be shorter, I promise.

Regular readers (if there are such people) may have noticed a distinct drop in activity on this blog in the last month. There’s a clear reason for this – I’ve been putting together a business proposal to the parachurch youth ministry organisation which employs me, which, if implemented, could have a huge impact. Can’t really say any more than that, but when I say huge, I don’t mean it in the usual Christian superlative sense. I mean elephantine.

I met with the board of the organisation in the middle of the day, I pretty much fluffed it. For the first minute of my presentation, my nerves got the better of me. I said ‘er’ so many times, I started to sound like a refrigerator. I got grilled, roasted and sliced open by the panel of board members. I’m not exaggerating – I was a four out of ten at best.

And then something mad happened – they passed my proposal. I done so badly, that I didn’t really process it when they told me. But they said yes. Elephantine youth ministry development, here we come.

I went back to my desk, and re-read the email from Prophet Girl (that’s her superhero name). Ah! Of course, I should have expected it. God’s plan in action. Got it.

But that wasn’t it. As I said, there was one more twist in the day left to come. That night, I got an email from my agent in LA. It had been a while, but there it was – always sure to conjure up a mixture of stomach churning fear and excitement.

I opened it, read it, and re-read it. A director had come forward to take up my movie. The one that had been knocking around in Hollywoodland for the best part of a year. The one I’d begun to believe no-one wanted. The one my agent had last week told me to forget for a couple of years. Proper director – wanting to sign up.

The email ran through my head again, and I realised I’d limited God. Not only had he revealed his plan for my movie career once again in perfect time, he’d also timed it perfectly to coincide with the other massive development in my life, in the world of youth ministry. Could that message be much clearer?

So it’s the two things, together definitely. Elephantine youth ministry development AND Hollywood movie, here I somehow come.

Told you it was ridiculous.

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | 1 Comment »

Rocky Balboa: youth worker

Posted by Martin on January 30, 2007

Went to see Rocky Balboa with my good friend Chris last night, and wanted to post my thoughts. But first:

DISCLAIMER: Rocky Balboa is clearly a big piece of cheese. The script is pretty basic, and some of the acting is not going to win any awards. I realise this, ok?

Right – now that’s out of the way… what a great movie! It’s been a long time since a piece of cinema literally got me leaping out of my seat in excitement, but Sylvester Stallone’s last (please Sly) Rocky movie managed it. I have to admit that like most people, I was fairly exasperated to hear that he was actually making what was effectively Rocky 6, especially since he’s hardly a youngster anymore. But what Stallone said was that he wanted to give the story a ‘proper’ ending, and indeed, that’s what this movie really feels like.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is the music, and one, haunting tune in particular: a recurring reworking of the famous Rocky theme on tinkling piano. It’s a poignant piece which perfectly captures the retrospective feel of the movie. Rocky’s life and career are drawing to some kind of close – but there is still unfinished business, and still too much sadness in the protagonist’s life.

Despite the simplicity of the story and script, there’s a raw emotional energy that will resonate with many. And even though it’s completely ridiculous, watching Rocky go back into training for one more fight is a pretty cathartic experience. I recommend it!

What really interested me however, was how Stallone both wove in his own Christian spirtuality (example line: why you gotta do something to get something back?), and his hopes for young people. One outstanding scene features Rocky choosing a new dog, and taking the teenage son of his platonic girlfriend to the dog home to do so. At first, the teenager messes about, and lives down to expectations. But when Rocky empowers him, asking him to help choose a name for the animal, the teen softens, and, once he realises that he is genuinely valued, contributes. It’s a small thing, but it made a big impact on me – seems to me that Sly believes we need to listen to and respect young people more.

There’s a fairly big youth work theme in the movie in fact, from Rocky’s relationship with his son, to the gradual redemption of a teenage girl who is apparently transformed by watching his example. Again, a lot of this stuff is portrayed simply, but sometimes that’s the most effective way. There’s a lot more going on in this movie than some people will care to notice; I hope the cheese and the drawbacks won’t prevent cynics from spotting it.

If you don’t mind a bit of boxing-ring blood, this is a decent film to watch with teens.

Posted in Movies, Youth Ministry | 1 Comment »

Resolute again

Posted by Martin on January 5, 2007

The first of January came and went, and I’m pretty happy with the results of my last round of resolutions. 2006 was the first year I’d really tried to make them work, and as a result I’m now much lighter and entirely more biblically literate. I ended up losing a shade under my target of two stone, and got all the way to 2 Kings in the Bible, meaning I’m exactly halfway through.

This year, rather than calling them New Year’s Resolutions (and thus setting myself up to fail), I’ve drawn up a list of 2007 targets. They are as follows:

  • Finish reading the Bible
  • Become a blood donor (despite needle phobia)
  • Write three complete screenplays AND have them signed off by my manager
  • Lose one more stone in weight (and then frankly, you’ll want my number)
  • Er… give up drinking alcohol

Yeah… I know that last one is a bit ridiculous, but I just wanted to see if it was possible. You see, I’ve been a fairly serious drinker (as in little and often) since the age of 18, and so ten years on, I want to see if it’s something I enjoy or need. I’ve found that when I drink even a glass of wine or beer, my manner changes and my ability to stay alert rapidly deteriorates. So I’m not preaching – just seeing if it’s something that I can do without.

The real killer on that list is the screenplays. It takes me four months of solid work to take a script from idea to completion, so there’ll be no letup. Having been out to LA in October and set up all these smokin’ contacts though, I now have to do the hard work of putting full scripts in their hands. So three is the magic number, and I’m praying that will be enough to see my first one sell.

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‘Kate Winslet lives in Narnia’

Posted by Martin on December 13, 2006

There was another World Class rant from Britain’s finest film critic, Mark Kermode, on BBC Radio Five Live last Friday – once again I wholeheartedly recommend that you sign up to his podcast, even if you don’t like movies. His tirades against bottom-end commercial cinema are legenday – so much so that the BBC website has a special Kermode Ad-Rant Calendar, counting down to Christmas with a different outburst each day.

This week’s victim was The Holiday – the film in which, as Mark put it: ‘Cameron Diaz lives in LA; Kate Winslet has a tiny job at The Daily Telegraph, but appears to earn enough money to live in Narnia, in a cottage sprinkled with fairy dust, in what is supposed to be Surrey but is clearly on another planet. [and they swap homes for Christmas]’

And then: ‘It’s so putrefyingly awful that you find your life force ebbing away into your seat, and your mind starts to turn to evil thoughts.’

Bet you they don’t stick that on the poster.

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My painful purge

Posted by Martin on December 10, 2006

I’m no puritan, but recently it’s struck me that I have an awful lot of expensive plastic sitting on my shelves, completely unused, and occasionally still shamefully shrink-wrapped. I’m talking of course about my DVD collection, which, thanks to an obsessive compulsive personality which I am only now beginning to control, is obscenely huge.

Sure, I own lots of my favourite movies – everyone does.  And as a youth worker, I think it’s fairly legitimate that I own a bunch of films which can be useful in triggering discussion with young people, such as Spider-man and Forrest Gump.

But why on earth do I own a copy of Ang Lee’s Hulk? Or in a similar vein, Fantastic Four? Why did I buy (and never, ever sit down to watch) The Abyss: 2 Disc Collector’s Edition. And I’m not even sure I know what Bubba Ho-Tep is!

So I’ve sat down this morning – as an act of Sunday worship, if you will – to try to bring my collection down to a more reasonable size. And with classics like the ones I’ve mentioned in there, it looked like an easy task. Yet if I’m honest, it’s still a wrench. Why am I finding it hard to throw away Dodgeball? I am never going to watch it again. If I was stuck on a desert Island with only a DVD player and a copy of the movie, I’d probably just build sandcastles for eternity. Yet I don’t want to throw it away. Why?

I’m not sure of the answers. All I know is that our possessions have more of a hold over us than we sometimes like to believe. At the moment, I’ve managed to pull just 17 rejects out of a collection of around 400. I’m trying to add to that number, but right now, decisions like – King Arthur or Last of the Mohicans? – feel like Sophie’s Choice.

Ooh – Sophie’s choice. That’s a classic – I should so order it on DVD…

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything | 2 Comments »

Good news on Project CS

Posted by Martin on December 8, 2006

Ok – very excited – have finally got clearance from the people who pull the strings to start work on my next movie script (for non-regular visitors: I’m a screenwriter, but not a wildly successful one as yet), after I’d been led to believe that it was dead work. Someone else announced a movie with a very similar plot, and it looked like I was going to have to abandon work on my script. Which, considering that I’d invested a couple of months of work in it already, was not good news.

However, have submitted a vastly revised version of the same idea, with the same characters (meaning a lot of my work still has some kind of value), and both the producer and my manager have given it the thumbs up. Now begins the long journey of actually making the script appear out of thin air… I’ll keep this blog posted as to how I get on.

Oh, and about the title of the post – sorry to be cryptic, but as it’s a high-concept movie, if I post the title, I’m going to be pretty much giving away the plot. Which says quite a lot about the state of Hollywood right now. So it’s ‘Project CS’ for now.

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Argh – beaten to the punch

Posted by Martin on November 28, 2006

Just discovered that the movie script I’ve been working on bears a shocking resemblance to another movie due out in early 2007. This is hugely frustrating, and one of those things which apparently happens all the time in Hollywood. I now have a choice – rework the idea to make it less similar, or drop it altogether. It could still get made if I change things around a little, but then I guess I’ll be known as the guy who plagerised that other movie. Oh the struggles of a bottom-rung screenwriter.

One of the great things about being on the bottom rung however is that you basically get put through film school for free. Every other night I talk to a Hollywood exec who’s keen to dish out their wisdom on some aspect of moviemaking or another. I may not be getting paid, but hey, at least I’m learning.

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Diddly diddly dee… two callings

Posted by Martin on November 2, 2006

Well, I’ve been writing this thing for a couple of weeks now, probably time to cut to the chase…

I believe that sometimes, God gives us a specific path to follow. A job maybe, or a ministry. For some people it’s overseas mission; for others it’s primary school teaching or nursing. It doesn’t even have to be anything terribly altruistic. He could send you into investment banking. I’d term that ‘calling’ – others will have their own definitions.

This is meant, in some way, to illustrate youth ministryFor most of the people I’ve spoken to about calling, it tends to be quite a focused thing. A calling to work in Malawi; a calling to become a children’s worker; a calling to work with prostitutes. And in my case, I thought I was getting the same deal. A few years ago, I believe that God spoke very clearly to me, telling me that he was calling me to youth ministry.

Then, a little while later, I believe he spoke just as (or even more) clearly, telling me that he was calling me to the movie industry, to be a screenwriter. I know, that’s a bit like saying ‘God’s calling me to be rich’, or ‘God’s calling me to be a pop star,’ but bear with me.

Now I usually test these things in two ways – first, does this ‘word from God’ seem to tally with the God I read about in the Bible? If I felt God was telling me to become a porn star, the call would probably fail this test. But a calling to work with youth, and a calling to work in the media/communication industry – they both pass.

Secondly, I tend to lightly prod the relevant doors, and see if they swing open. In both cases, they have done so emphatically. So I’m highly involved in UK youth ministry, and deeply embedded into the Hollywood scene. Which presents various challenges, ranging from mild time pressures to tear-my-hair-out moments.

I am overwhelmed by this dual calling – and I’m pretty convinced now that is what it is. Hence the title of this blog – I’m going to need some serious help navigating two concurrent paths. Also, God is my Director has a very subtle movie industry link – can you spot it?

Tonight, I’m going to serve as a church youth pastor from 7.30-9.30pm, running a sports night. Then I’m packing up and running home, where I have a conference call with Universal Studios at 10.30pm. Welcome to my life. I have no idea where it’s going.

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | 2 Comments »

The world’s best movie podcast

Posted by Martin on October 30, 2006

Mark KermodeIf you’re a movie fan, and you enjoy witty and informed reviews, there are none better than those on uber-reviewer Mark Kermode’s weekly slot on Radio Five Live, on the Simon Mayo show. Subscribe at iTunes, or visit this link for more details.

Interestingly, both Mark (left) and Simon are Christians – Mark’s major field of expertise is the horror movie, but he’s clearly got some sort of thought-through theological justification for his interest – one of the most fun parts of listening to the podcast each week is listening to their subtly-inserted references to faith and spirituality.

The best recent review – of the atrocious Wayans brothers debacle Little Man:

Mark: If you go to see Little Man, Shame on you. Shame on you.


Simon: Would you go as far as to say that Little Man is possessed by the devil?

Mark: Honestly Simon? You want to know what I really, honestly think? Yes, Little Man is possessed by the devil.

Seriously, start listening now. Unless you’re a big fan of Pirates of the Carribbean

Posted in Movies | 1 Comment »