Saturday, 14 December 2013

It's Big - And It's Full Of Stars! [Reply To All]

A big thank you to everyone who pledged support for Reply To All and helped us reach our target! We are currently working towards a final version of the script and planning rehearsals and the shoot in January - we have a lot to do if we're going to do the script justice. More updates to follow soon...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Audition Video [Reply To All]

Tracey Pickup, who will star as Becki in Reply To All - clips from audition video.

The Reply To All fundraising campaign is in it's final 6 days. Thanks to the generosity of those of you who have already backed us, and to those of you who have been spreading the word, so far we have raised £2,000 in pledges but still have some way to go: the clock is ticking and, under Dragon's Den Kickstarter rules, we will only receive the funds pledged if we reach our goal. Please check out our campaign here and, if you like the idea of Reply To All then please consider backing us. And of course please get in touch if you'd like to know anything about the film or the campaign.

A selection of the rewards available to backers: but check out the campaign for the full list.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Horrible Histories [Review: A Hall Of Wolves]

I've been on a literary medieval epic bender recently. At one point I even got some of the books confused but I think I've sorted it out now.

So to summarise: Thomas Starkwell is a young noble who rises to power through his allegiance to Archsepton Thomas Cranwell, eventually becoming the Hand of King Robert VIII, but must face up to his dangerous rival Queen Cersanne Boleynnister. Meanwhile across the seas, Janaeris Seyborn hatches her own plan to take the throne.

Hilary R.R. Mantel's fantasy world is vivid and complex, sometimes more convincing and sometimes less. I can vouch for the dragon biology which is pretty accurate, and of course the vicious winters that last for years or decades will be familiar to British peasants of any age. On the other hand Mantel seems a little too fond of graphic beheadings, and the idea of a King who would overturn a religion and risk triggering both civil and international wars just for a mistress who is playing hard to get seems a little far-fetched.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Message from Becki our bride-to-be [Reply To All]

A video message from Tracey Pickup, the actress who will be playing Becki, the lead role and only non-animated character in our short film "Reply To All." To find out more about Tracey, our film and the rewards you can get by backing us, come join us over at Kickstarter

and help us make this film awesome!

Friday, 15 November 2013

"Reply To All" Campaign Trailer

Crowd-funding campaign videos aren't supposed to be as funny as this! Watch our chucklesome 3 minute trailer for "Reply To All" and:

i) if we make you laugh once, maybe consider backing us

ii) if we make you laugh twice, give some serious thought to backing us

iii) if we make you laugh three times, reach down the back of the sofa and give us whatever you can spare After all, if we can be this funny in the campaign, just think how hilarious the actual film will be :-)

And please, please, please share us with your friends....

- the "Reply To All" production team

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Disaster Movie Competition [Reply To All]

Ever had a REPLY TO ALL disaster? 

Were you able to save the day?

Please share your story with us:
Share the pain, spread the love.

We will select the 10 best stories, with the winners receiving an exclusive RTA-branded T-Shirt.

End of competition: 10th November 2013 at midnight (London, UK time)

The Reply To All Team x

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Coming Soon To Your Inbox [Reply To All]

Coming soon: "Reply To All" - a short comedy written by Nick Boocock and produced by Sophie Caramigeas / Caramie Productions. I will be directing, and working with artist Jeremy Hay to produce the animated sequences. There's a main shoot in January 2014 and the film should be complete March 2014. There's more info on the Caramie website here: no poster yet but watch this space.

There will be a Kickstarter campaign for this film. I directed a campaign video a couple of weeks ago with the production team and it's with the editor now for some final touches - we're planning to go live in the next couple of weeks. So you'll be spoiled for choice - you can follow progress on this film here at the Sci-Fi Gene, on the Caramie website, on Twitter and on Kickstarter.

We've been auditioning for the main part as well - somehow we managed to get the original 450+ applications down to just the 6 we met with yesterday. I'm impressed by all of our final 6, it will be difficult to choose. Meanwhile I'm also working with our artist to develop the animated supporting cast.

More updates on this project soon.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Better Red Than Debt? [Preview: Dragon Day]

Trailer for Dragon Day starring Ethan Flower

Spare this film a thought: obviously intended to be science fiction but it could become a documentary in the next 24 hours as the U.S. prepares to hit the debt ceiling... Movies are one way to take a nation's pulse and if nothing else this trailer does indicate just how much the U.S. is currently in fear of China.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Young Adult Science Fiction Drinking Game

The protagonist is an adolescent or young adult woman (drink) who lives in a walled city state (drink). All decisions are made by a council of elders (drink), and a rigid and extreme two-tier caste system (drink) is enforced by fascist police (drink). The protagonist is an outsider from the lower caste (drink) who feels insecure (drink) and alienated from her peers (drink) but is insanely loyal to them (drink). She also has an extremely rare skill or innate talent such as a sense of direction (drink) and may have some secret connection to the upper caste (drink).

Our protagonist is sent on a voyage of discovery into upper-caste territory (drink) where she discovers that there might be traitors amongst the lower caste (drink) and also meets a member of the upper-caste who is cute (drink). The meeting is accidental and there is clumsiness (drink). This challenges her stereotypes about rich people (drink) but they both have to learn to trust each other (drink).

Back in lower caste territory the protagonist must rally support from people who previously hated her (drink) prove to them that upper-caste people are still human and can be trusted (drink) and lead a revolution (drink) in which both castes unite to overthrow the ruling council and/or discover the secret beyond the walls (drink only if both apply) – only then can she truly relax and allow herself to be clumsy in a cute way with her upper-caste partner (drink).

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Now In Pre-Production

I'm at the start of two exciting film projects. Both are still in pre-production stages so this update is necessarily a bit vague. The first will be a comedy short made in collaboration with a small but professional production team and supported by a crowdfunding campaign, which will combine live action and animation in quite a unique way. Casting and other pre-production work is already underway, and I'm really looking forward to sharing more about this project very soon.

The second project is my own and will be produced along DV Rebel lines, that is with opportunistic shoots, a lot of improvised or self-made gear and a negligible budget. It will be made in stages and could take a few weeks or several months, and at this stage the result might be a short film, a webseries or both. Again I'm not quite ready to reveal the details, although I will post updates along the way. This project will rely on the Blender motion tracker for screen replacement effects: so for now here's an effects test using a toy phone and some green card.


Friday, 13 September 2013

Quiet Revolution [Review: Robot And Frank]

Frank Langella plays Frank, an elderly man in the very near future starting to struggle to look after himself. His hard working but distant son buys him a robot butler to help him around the house and to look after him, but Frank is a retired cat-burglar and discovers that the robot is perfectly capable of helping him re-start his career.

Robot and Frank is a gentle and funny film about our relationships with each other and with technology. One of Frank's favourite haunts is the library where he goes to flirt with the chief librarian (Susan Sarandon), but things are changing: books are becoming obsolete, the librarian is now accompanied by her own robot helper who she has named "Mr. Darcy" and the library has been bought by a young entrepreneur who wants to turn it into an "experience."

There are some excellent performances particularly from Langella and Sarandon, and this is a touching film, particularly as you gradually realise just how much Frank's memory has been affected. Also despite the fact that the robot in this film is portrayed as non-sentient, it's still very clear that one could become emotionally attached to it and consider it a friend.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Roxë15 Version 2.0

For those of you following the Roxë15 campaign, despite a late surge the team didn't make their Kickstarter target. They haven't given up and a new campaign is starting on indiegogo. If you were supporting Roxë15 on Kickstarter, remember your donation will not have been donated, so please consider switching it over to indiegogo.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

9921 & Alien Masters Of The Web

(C) Johnny Edward 2013

The future of the internet? A short film written and directed by Johnny Edward. Most of the visual effects work also by Johnny Edward, my involvement was with CGI elements in a couple of shots.

You can see more of Johnny Edward's videos here.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Work In Progress: Ba Boomerang Rang

 Warning: do not use in an enclosed space.

 These dot patterns are harder than they look.
Can you see what it is yet?

[produced in Blender 2.68 and]

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

ROXË15 Kicktraq

ROX�15: A short sci-fi film. A new voice in science fiction. -- Kicktraq Mini
A Kicktraq tracker for the ROXË15 campaign. I should also pledge to do more for diversity in my own films although at least Last Zombie Standing and We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear feature green and yellow protagonists...

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Roxë15 Kickstarter

I'm posting this Kickstarter video link for a filmmaker friend who is making this film because she wants to see more diverse casting in the movies - in this case more black African-American faces, without resorting to the stereotypical supporting roles they often play, and who is (like me) very much in love with the concepts of science fiction. Roxë15 is a short cyberpunk film about a computer programmer battling a virus. The raw footage is already in the can and hopefully you'll agree after watching the kickstarter that it's already looking stylish and intriguing. The campaign is to fund postproduction and get this film audience-ready.

I think that the point about lack of diversity in mainstream cinema is well made. You can find out more about what this film is trying to achieve over at Kickstarter or on the Roxë15 Facebook page here.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Just another manic Monday [Review: The Secret Eater]

Kenssie is a demon with an unusually human appearance, who discovers that she is losing her demonic powers. Can she penetrate the secrets and conspiracies of the demonic world and recover them before she loses the respect of Rakmanon, her powerful demon boss?

This Young Adult novella by Ros Jackson is, on one level, about demons and witches in the modern world. On another level it's an office romance - the story of a personal assistant in love with her boss. In Kenssie's world, demons, witches and humans can be "enthralled" to more powerful demons - both enslaved and in love with their superiors. They can be abused, mistreated and still remain loyal and devoted - the perfect employee. Demons feed off human emotions (and sometimes their owners) and Kenssie's "work" involves sniffing out sources of embarrassment for her boss, while she herself feeds off secrets. Kenssie is a likeable character and a very human demon, resourceful, witty and intelligent without being a supercharged kick-ass action heroine, who never lets a simple solution get in the way of a complicated scheme to land herself in even more trouble.

This is a very short novel but there are several interesting ideas and funny moments, and a lot of scope for exploring themes like love, loyalty, unequal relationships and corporate power games. I did think some of these ideas could have been explored further but this is an enjoyable read and I was left curious to know more about Kenssie's world.

Ros Jackson's website is here.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Money For Nothing part II: No Expense Spared

Some of the tension over working for free comes from the fact that the movie industry has always been exploitative, and often horribly so – the era of the casting couch was not so long ago, for example. It’s true that a free worker may well be taken for granted or even mistreated – I would argue this can also happen with paid workers, and in either case the defence is to get smart and choose your work, and your friends, carefully.

All this being said, I am a filmmaker who has worked for free for others, and who has benefitted from the generosity of others willing to do the same. Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Making a good movie is hard work. Everyone involved in a movie should be getting something out of it in return for the time and effort they are putting in. Value yourself! If you are in it for experience then make sure this is what you are getting – will the project actually contribute to your CV or showreel? Will it give you the kind of experience you are looking for? If you are doing it for fun, make sure you are actually having fun.

2. Filmmakers need to think seriously and make sure the experience of being onboard is enjoyable and stress-free. Good planning, reasonable expectations, friendly attitudes, breaks, and decent food may all go a long way.

3. “Expenses only” is NOT synonymous with “zero.” If you accept an expenses only gig, think about what your expenses are, and agree what would be reasonable to claim. Reasonable expenses should be agreed in advance and in writing – you should be on some kind of contract even if you are working for free.

4. Yes! It’s unfair if some people on set are paid a lot, some are paid a little and some are unpaid. Of course it is – just as it is in other industries or walks of life too. As a free worker you do have a choice whether to take on a particular project or not, and I am suggesting you should make this decision based on what you will personally gain from doing so, not from what may or may not be happening to the rest of the crew.

5. On the other hand, you may well find that the director/producer is working for free too. It’s not unusual to find people who are driven to make a particular film whether they can afford it or not.

6. Free or paid work are not the only choices. In this brave new world of kickstartification some people may wish to work for profit share or on a deferred payment basis, and other financial models will spring up too. They won’t suit everyone or every project but in some cases they may prove to be a better alternative.

7. Before agreeing to a project it doesn’t hurt to get to know who you will be working with.

8. Apply common sense - unless the director is Ed Wood, a three-week feature shoot in which actors are working thirteen hour days, giving intense character-driven performances, doing their own stunts and their own love scenes, and shooting underwater in cold weather, is probably going to be a paid job.

In summary, there are many perfectly good reasons why you may be willing to work for free – but you should never work for nothing.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Money For Nothing Part I: Freebird

A debate that keeps going amongst the various filmmaking communities: when should you offer to work for free, and when is it OK to ask someone else to work for free?

Although actors, musicians, camera crew, writers, animators etc. all sometimes to feel that everyone else is being paid except them, in fact the same debate takes place over and over again – typically it’s about free workers taking jobs from paid workers, versus the need to work for free in order to break into the industry, and peppered with cautions and dangers facing the free worker.

Last month, on a certain filmmaker website discussion board, I saw one post by a composer arguing with great force about the evil of free services, followed immediately by two other composers quite happily advertising them.

Two interesting facts about the movie industry:

1. In every single movie related profession you will find both professionals and amateurs.

2. It’s as difficult as ever to break in and start a career. This is not reality TV – you can’t just pitch up with a good sob story and a willingness to give it 110%.

Peace between amateurs and professionals is about as likely as peace between Pastafarians and the Jedi. We won’t see it in our lifetimes. In fact enjoyment is just one possible reason you might offer to work for free: others might include gaining experience and exposure, making contacts, building up a showreel. All of these may be priceless benefits for an individual at a particular point in their career. An experienced artist might sign up because they approve of a cause or message, believe in the artistic value of a project, or wish to help newer artists learn and improve their craft. Are they wrong to do so? What about actors who support charity campaigns or run drama courses in prisons? be continued

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Stop... Hammer Time! [I'll Be Your Thor]

Singer songwriter John Anealio has released this musical tribute to a certain Norse god/superhero. It’s free to listen or download and I thor-oughly recommend doing so, not least so you can find out what rhymes with “mjolnir.”

For more of John Anealio’s work including the awesome Steampunk Girl, transport over to the Sci-Fi Songs blog.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Logan's Light Morning Stroll [Review: The Unit]

The Unit is a Swedish novel by Ninni Holmqvist. Like Never Let Me Go, it’s about a group of people detained legally by the state for organ donation and medical research, but who are also aware of, and to some extent, accepting of their fate. So The Unit is not science fiction – at least to start with. In this case it is the over 50s rather than cloned schoolchildren who are detained, and there is a value judgement – they are deemed a burden on society if they haven’t had children by this time, and are unworthy of protection for any other reason: their only other choice is suicide which seems a little wasteful.

The story is told by Dorrit Weger who was brought up to be independent – not to become dependent on any man, not to derail her career plans with childbirth. She reaches age 50 with very little to show for it. Meanwhile, her country has been sleepwalking into a very dark place, and financial and political pressures are making unthinkable solutions thinkable.

The Unit has several themes. It’s about the way we view the elderly: creating a sort of sinister care home with an opt-in organ donation scheme, and institutionalising the way that elderly people can be abandoned by their families and left to die or to be abused, their lives unvalued.

There’s also a strange challenge to feminist ideas – it seems that Dorrit would have been fine if only she had found a man to love her and father her children. Instead the silly woman put her career and independence first, running the risk of being left on the shelf. Misguided? Perhaps.

However the strongest message is the call to political activism. Dorrit and her generation have been apathic, and have completely missed gradual but relentless societal changes. Even when arriving in the Unit Dorrit remains stoic and non-science-fictional about the whole thing, and ultimately it is selfishness, plus an unlikely change in her personal circumstances, that “activates” her. Like Aldous Huxley, this author wants her readers to wake up and take action to avert a dystopian future, and it’s hard to argue with that.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Can You Read My Mind

More musings on Superheroes by David Schwartz…

Long ago, during a school visit to a top secret Government mathematics facility, I was bitten by a radioactive abacus: I quickly discovered I had gained an uncanny ability to count things. I was tempted initially to use my superhuman skills for personal gain, and very nearly became an investment banker. Instead under the cover of my alter-ego “The Plus One” I have employed my unique talent in the fight against crime for many years, and can even claim to have saved the Earth on five occasions. Or was it four?

Even with my phenomenal counting abilities I seem to lose track of the number of times the Superman concept has been “reinvented.” The novel Superpowers is just one of so many examples: films such as Unbreakable, Mystery Men, Push, Next, Jumper, Kick-Ass, Super, The Incredibles, and TV series such as Heroes or Misfits have already been there. Superheroes falling out of favour with the public, turning against the humans or against each other, with and without costumes, alter-egos and actual powers, with corporate sponsors, and with insanely powerful or eccentric powers – haven’t we all at some time fantasised about being able to hurl forks with deadly accuracy, or to make fish explode?

It doesn’t require any supersenses, though, to see that most of these “reinventions” are nothing of the sort. The Hulk never wore spandex! Batman never had any powers! Superman makes fish explode all the time! (allegedly) One theme that never seems to go away is the supervillain, and the cliché that the hero and villain complement each other.

Superpowers is therefore exceptional in that much of the story is about the absence of supervillainy. The All-Stars make a real but underwhelming impact on local crime statistics. They both assist and annoy the police, and the public become irritated and litiginous but fall short of baying for blood. Without a supervillain or doomsday plot they lose their way and lose their hero status – their powers also have their own limitations and divide the team more often than uniting it.

It turns out that the plot is smarter than this. There’s a twist coming – it was foreshadowed in the first line of every chapter but it still took me by surprise. Perhaps superheroes exist in our minds because supervillains do indeed exist in real life.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Absolute Power [Review: Superpowers]

Five college flatmates suddenly develop a range of superpowers and form a costumed vigilante group. Yes! David Schwartz’ novel Superpowers is yet another attempt to reinvent the superhero mythos – more on that story later. The plot of this novel has a superficial similarity to the film Chronicle and does cover some of the same ground, however the climax - and perhaps the point - is very different.

As the title suggests, the novel is all about the powers themselves. All five superstudents go through similar superpower angst: Mary Beth, gifted with superstrength, breaks everything she touches – her toothbrushes are doomed, as are the ribs of any potential boyfriends. The self-styled All-Stars learn to control their powers, up to a point, but they are isolated and lonely, and their situation divides the group more often than it unites it. Also, having a power will only take you so far – you can read someone’s mind but you might still not be able to influence them. In the end they are hopelessly unprepared for the crisis that is coming.

The cast are pleasingly diverse. That’s SOP for novelists now, ever since Ben Elton daringly wrote his novel Gridlock which features a traffic warden hero. The ethnic diversity is also a pointer to another aspect of the book. The term “superpowers” has another meaning, and the issues faced by the All-Stars can be read as a metaphor for conflicts played out every week on the international stage. The Earth’s most powerful countries routinely have to decide how and when to use their economic or military strength, and whether to intervene in the affairs of other countries – and in the resulting pressure, mistakes can be made.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Work in progress: Stubble part 2

Modelling another simple head from a sphere, blocking out texture zones and basic features. Next goal will be to rig both for some facial expression and lip synch, but that's for another night.

Stubble and Evie
[produced in Blender 2.67]

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Work in progress: Stubble part 1

Modelling a cartoon head in Blender starting from a UV sphere.
 Blocking out some features:
Adjusting features and assigning some materials. Using the new Freestyle feature to add cartoon outlines.
 Freestyle with perlin noise geometry for a more sketchy look:
 [produced in Blender 2.67b]

Friday, 31 May 2013

"We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" Screening: SHORTz

"We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" will be screened at SHORTz short film and music night on 2nd June at East Bloc, Hoxton. Details here.

Mega Black Jack Geary Vs Giant Honor Harrington

John G. Hemry (Jack Campbell) and David Weber are two acclaimed writers of military sci-fi - the Lost Fleet and Honor Harrington series. I reviewed Dauntless here, have worked my way through Fearless, Courageous and Valiant and the rest of the series since, while I read and enjoyed the Honor Harrington novels several years ago. At first glance they seem very similar: both series describe massed battles between large space fleets with naval command structures and ship classes, clashing at relativistic speeds and fighting with missiles and beam weapons. Both feature very charismatic commanders. Both authors share the extraordinary ability to describe a large and complex military action in such a way that even we civvies can follow the action and understand the tactical errors made by the commanders.

David Weber is an avid historian and draws extensively on history for inspiration. The Napoleonic wars are important but in some ways this is a front – there are coded references to other historical eras everywhere if you start to look for them. The ships of the Star Kingdom have impenetrable shields above and below. As a result they fight like sailships, firing broadsides then rolling to fire double-broadsides, crossing the enemy T, forming walls of battle and so on, with only a little adaptation for three-dimensional theatres and gravity wells. It’s contrived but artfully so, and other features such as the Warshawski hyperspace sails uphold the sailship analogy.

The battles and wars in the Honor Harrington series are often recreations of real historical and political dilemmas: the different attitudes towards losing commanders on British and French sides, for example, or the social pressures that might lead a society first to republicanism and then to war.

Hemry’s background is his own Navy service. While his backstories are equally detailed, the links to specific nations or cultures are much less clear - instead the Alliance seems to be a generic feudal culture while their opponents, the Syndicated Worlds, are an equally generic business-led society where ships are commanded by CEOs. Also, where Weber’s writing celebrates history, Hemry’s seems to celebrate physics: in particular relativistic distortion becomes a major theme in every battle. On the other hand the ships of the Lost Fleet are not constrained by seafaring tactics and, once Blackjack Geary manages to stop his captains’ overreliance on the Suicidal Head On Charge, the 3D tactics become fascinating.

By choosing a more generic setting, Hemry’s writing is less about the morality of specific historical wars and more about the morality of war in general: atrocities and murders, treatment of prisoners, the importance of tactics, the politics, and the value of basic discipline, as well as the human cost of war. These issues come up in the Star Kingdom too, of course, just as they do in real life.

But all this distracts from the most important question: who would win in a fight? Fleet to fleet they are well matched: both are strategic and tactical genii, both have, at times, faced overwhelming odds and snatched victories from the jaws of defeat, both have turned rivals amongst their own captains into faithful allies, and importantly both make their own luck by responding quickly and intelligently to situations. They’re both devious as hell too – expect a battle full of feints, diversions, melodramatics and underhand tactics. Geary might have a slight edge simply because he’s used to commanding a much larger fleet. On the other hand, in a face-to-face combat situation, I don’t think Geary would stand a chance against the coup de vitesse.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Doctorin' The Tardis [Review: The Name Of The Doctor]

My money was on the Doctor being Kandy Man all along... damn.

Madame Vastra hears a cryptic message about the Doctor from a murderer and with Jenny's assistance she brings together Strax, Clara and the deceased River Song via a trance. When the Doctor eventually hears the message himself, he and Clara set out on a voyage to the one place a time traveller should never go - the location of his own grave.

The Name Of The Doctor leads to an extremely clever reveal and central concept, and it does at least look as if the whole Clara story arc has been building to this point. It's also got a lot of heart - some nice scenes with the Doctor and River Song, as well as the relationships between other characters, and for the long-suffering Doctor Who fan there are glimpses of the Doctor's earlier reincarnations, digitally remastered and worked into the plot.

However before you get to the really good stuff, you do have to swallow two bitter pills: the fact that "time travel has always been possible in dreams" (no it hasn't, sorry) and the appearance of the laziest Doctor Who creatures ever, the White-Stocking-Over-A-Plastic-Skull-Maskodonians.

Government cutbacks have gone too far. Even the Romanian entry in this year's Eurovision Song Contest made more of an effort to look sci-fi.

[It's My Life - Cezar]

Some plot elements remain vague and mysterious - it's hinted but not fully explained that the cheap monsters are just information, as is River Song, and this is connected in some way to the Library where her personality was stored after her death. Also, the Doctor and Clara have to Tardis it to the supposed graveyard with great difficulty - but the Cheapikons can get there, bringing Vastra and the others, using only background music and a couple of focus pulls. The last few seconds make no sense, but not to worry - Moffat and friends have until November to come up with a plausible explanation. Once again an episode promoted as something incredible turns out just to be a regular one but still enjoyable.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Mind Forever Voyaging [Review: A Man Of Parts]

“It would be no more than justice to give his name to the twenty-five years between the ‘nineties and the War. For it was he who largely wove their intellectual texture.” - Odette Keun, 1934

As a writer of fiction, the subject of this quote and David Lodge's "fictional biography" created genres and concepts including alien invasion and the time machine, pushed the scientific romance firmly into the literary mainstream, helped to shape the modern novel and increased the division between popularist and artistic literature - while predicting the role of air supremacy and nuclear weapons long in advance of their development. As a writer of fact his account of the history of the world commanded international respect until it was superceded. As a politician he was present and influential in the early days of the Fabian Society, and as a celebrity and socialite his scandalous love-life and general misbehaviour was never far from the public eye. Oh, and he invented table-top wargaming too.

David Lodge's "fictional biography" of H.G.Wells is in fact a fastidiously-researched and well written account, putting Wells' fictional and non-fictional writing into context: Lodge’s evidence entirely justifies Keun’s statement, while advancing the argument that he could have achieved far more in any of his endeavours, were it not for the consequences of his scandalous personal life. The "fictional" status of the book allows the author to take two liberties: to imagine the internal dialogue as an elderly and physically frail H.G. looks back on his life, and to take the reader behind closed doors imagining the intimate relationships between H.G. and his wives and lovers. H.G. is his own sharpest critic, whether commenting on the racism that surfaces in some of his novels, or dividing between those women he loved and those he did not.

Many of the real-life characters in the novel are brought to life in a very personal way: not only familiar authors such as Henry James and E.Nesbit, but in particular Amy Catherine or "Jane", H.G.'s wife. She emerges as a complex character herself, choosing more than just to tolerate her husband's behaviour, often befriending and supporting his mistresses after he had abandoned them. At times it is possible to see H.G. as a true believer in libertine values but overall, on balance he appears to have been more of an opportunist accepting female attention as a consequence of his fame, and his attitude to women was a long way from any present-day semblance of equality.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Drop Your Shoulder

"Drop Your Shoulder" (C) Tenderstar 2012

Tenderstar recording session at Resident Studios 20.5.12. All tracks mixed by Matt Burns. Videos produced and edited by Joshua Westbury for Tenderstar, with thanks to Max Blustin for additional technical input.

Previous videos from this session here or on my Short Films page.

Find Tenderstar here or on their Facebook page.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Written Off

Written Off, a short comedy directed by Sophie Caramigeas. My contribution to this film is small - just the titles and credits animation. Expect to see some exciting things from the producers, Caramie and Tiger Dreams, over the coming year.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Killer Eels From Mars

Molly Brown's short film, made for a Kino Challenge. One of the voice-overs sounds strangely familiar...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Epic Journey Baggins [Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]

As an aside, may I say how excited I was to learn that The Hobbit has been shot at the revolutionary hi-tech rate of 48 frames per second. I must add that my sheer ecstasy at this envelope-pushing feat was only slightly tempered by the fact that, thanks to the miracle of interlacing, television has been broadcast at 50 frames per second since the 1920s. Way to go Peter Jackson!

Do I need to summarise? Perhaps. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a planned trilogy adapted from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the prequel to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) recounts an adventure that takes him out of the cosy Shire and into the dangerous reaches of Middle Earth in the company of an elderly wizard (Sir Ian McKellan) and a band of dwarves seeking to re-take their mountain kingdom.

There is a trend for expanding books into multiple films: Harry Potter 7 and Twilight 4 were both made into two-parters. The commercial advantages are obvious, although in the case of Harry Potter 7 I think it was also a good artistic decision.

However, The Hobbit is a short, children’s novel, so developing it into a trilogy means playing fast and loose with the pacing, expanding back-stories, flashbacks and action scenes sometimes to the point of boredom. On the other hand some of the action is great – a scene in which nature-wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) leads the Orcs a merry chase in his rabbit-sleigh is both dramatic and amusing, in keeping with the light tone of the novel.

Another aspect of the film perhaps a little too faithful to the novel is the near-absence of femininity. Unlike modern sci-fi and fantasy which is full of strong, confident and interesting female characters, Tolkien's cast are predominantly male, and I have to be honest and say I found the film a little less enjoyable as a result. Cate Blanchett is excellent as the elven queen, for her few minutes on-screen. Otherwise women are just background – Hobbit washerwomen in the Shire, elven musicians in Rivendell. There may have been a female dwarf running away from a dragon in one of the flashbacks.

Overall the strengths of this film outweigh these points – as with The Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien’s fantasy landscape is once again brought to life, the film is very faithful to the characters and Middle Earth lore, and once again the cast are incredible – hard to say which out of Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis (once again playing Gollum via motion-capture) or Sylvester McCoy is the real show-stealer.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Friday I'm In Love [Review: Delirium]

Delirium is a young adult novel by Lauren Oliver, soon to be a film. It's set in the future, in a religious totalitarian state where love has been identified as a disease: “amor deliria nervosa,” and is eradicated surgically at every child’s coming of age. The blurbsmiths would like this novel compared to “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret “not science fiction” Atwood, so here goes: “Delirium is a bit like The Handmaid’s Tale.” Lena, a teenager approaching the procedure, must challenge her own faith and the version of reality imposed on her by society: Delirium is therefore science fiction.

Actually the scenario is much more reminiscent of the movie Equilibrium, where daily doses of an antidepressant eliminate all feeling, while the surgical “cure” is a crude treatment, taking away much more than the capacity to love, and sometimes failing - not unlike the Capping ceremony carried out by John Christopher’s Tripods.

The plot is unfortunately the weakest link – 100% predictable from the moment Lena sets eyes on Alex, a young man dressed as a security guard but clearly an outsider who should not be present or even exist under the regime. The scenario and characters, on the other hand, are well thought out and executed and the end result is believable and interesting. There’s nothing wrong with the standard forbidden-romance plot – after all, the great playwright Anonymous used it to good effect in her classic science fiction play “Romeo and Juliet” – but I would have liked to see a more original use of such a good backstory.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Watchin' The Ships Roll In [Review: Ship Breaker]

[Old-school clipper Cutty Sark.
Photo: Sci-Fi Gene]
"Ship Breaker" is a short YA novel or novella by Paulo Bacigalupi, the author of the award-winning "The Wind-Up Girl." It's set in the near future in a world where oil has become scarce. Nailer (whose nickname is extremely rude in future-slang) Pima and Sloth are teenage members of a "light crew" who live in shanty towns and make their living by scavenging the abandoned, beached oil tankers for metals and anything else of value. Nailer's talent is for crawling through the exhaust ducts and bringing back copper wire. Far out to sea, new, sleek sailships - the clippers - have replaced the old oil-powered ships and Nailer and his teenage crewmates dream of being rich enough to sail in them.

The first part of the novel is set amongst the shanty town folk where your allegiance to your light or heavy crew matters the most - families aren't so great. Nailer experiences betrayal by a member of his crew, but then makes an extraordinary discovery within the ship - this in turn leads to a meeting with someone from a different background entirely.

In the second part of the novel events lead Nailer and his new friends to a sailship and an apprenticeship and this becomes a naval adventure. The new clippers are fast, hi-tech sailships that can harness both sail and solar power. When conditions are right they can fire kite-like high sails into the upper atmosphere for extra speed, a tactic which also has implications for combat. On the other hand the culture of the sailors is more or less Age Of Sail, with piracy, mutiny, privateering, boarding parties and prize crews very much on the agenda. If this was the first in a series of futuristic naval adventures I personally would be extremely happy to read them.

"Ship Breaker" is short but it's simply a great read from cover to cover. While I loved the setting, this is mostly down to some great characterization - not only Nailer and his friends but all the characters are fully three dimensional. There are the romantic plot lines that seem to be essential to YA fiction but the author handles them with a light touch and so they never overpower the central themes about allegiance and friendship.

[embarrassing mistake corrected 17.4.13]

Friday, 5 April 2013

Soupremacy Screening: Tight Shorts Film Club

NASA may not be sending anyone to Mars any time soon but "Soupremacy" will be screened at the Tight Shorts short film night on April 30th, at the Wenlock And Essex in Islington.

[Update: this screening of Soupremacy did not go ahead due to unforeseen circumstances. I'll post news about future screenings when confirmed]

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Thoughtful Paws

I have been writing The Sci-Fi Gene blog for almost four and a half years. I don't always mark blogiversaries or make serious New Year's resolutions but just occasionally it's worth putting on hold the fame, excessive wealth, groupies and rock'n'roll lifestyle of the modern-day blogger and taking some time to reflect.

2012 was a good year for me as a filmmaker and this has carried on into 2013. Serendipity (possibly my favourite out of all the groupies) played her usual role and many projects I've taken on have grown from some kind of chance encounter. I've had my first festival screening with "2007" at London Independent 2012, and now my second with "We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" at St. Albans 2013. Serendipity was at work again - "Cheap Gear" came about after I accidentally broke the house rules at Kino London, which is worse than Crossing the Streams, almost as bad as talking about Fight Club, but in this case has turned out OK.

It's also been good to return to "Soupremacy" and bring it to some screenings - I think it's OK to say I'm really happy with this animation, and even more happy to see the composer's music out there. More news on this film shortly.

2012 has also been a bad year in some ways. One reason I started the blog was to keep my creative projects on track and place myself under pressure to complete them. That's only been half successful - for all the films that have gone right, there are still two short films from the past few years that I've shot but never completed the edit, and a third project that is still only half done. I've entered my fourth 48 hour competition but despite drawing together a team of incredible people I still failed at the final hurdle and the mess I eventually submitted was a long way from being a film.

So I have to learn that there are things I can do well and things I can't - and use this self-knowledge when planning future teams and projects. It sounds obvious but when you start out as a filmmaker there's a misleading feeling that you can just pitch in and do anything yourself if needed - but actually my best films have come about from collaborations where everyone plays to their strengths.

Meanwhile those unfinished projects are a dilemma - return to them in the distant future, delete them and move on, or focus on completing them now? It's not just about me. Everyone involved in shooting these projects has contributed in so many ways - time, hard work, creativity and skill at the very least. If I don't complete them there's a feeling that I'll be letting down the other participants.

So on into 2013 and there are some plans afoot. I recently completed an animation project for a film crew - but until I know the fate of that film I can't tell you any more. I'm also hoping to make two conceptual music videos this year and I have some other music-related plans as well. As far as the unfinished projects go, I don't think I'll be able to sort them all out so I'll have to choose which ones I'd like to return to - but on a more positive note, I've learnt a lot in the intervening time, and the software I'm using has also grown in strength, so goals which might have seemed impossible in the past are now starting to feel merely stupendously difficult. I will of course be ready for Serendipity if she chooses to help out again.

The best thing about the past year has been getting to so many enjoyable short film events and festivals, and seeing so many different kinds of film. It feels good that my own successes and failures haven't in the slightest dented my love for film.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Friday, 8 March 2013

Veni Vidi Vici [St Albans Film Festival]

On arrival in St. Albans it became clear that the town has been invaded: the purple, Clockwork Orange inspired branding had infiltrated shops, restaurants and pubs acting as temporary venues.

I planned to make the most of my filmmaker's pass over the three days. I managed to attend workshops on directing actors, stop-motion animation and the indie filmmaker's journey, as well as the 18 plus and student short film screenings and Jan Harlen's documentary Stanley Kubrick - A Life In Pictures before heading on to the awards ceremony and party at Havana. There were too many clashes however - in particular I would have liked to see the pre-release screening of Vinyl that opened the festival.

The 18 plus screening was varied - after all, your film can be 18 plus for several different reasons - sex, violence, drug references and so on. However many of the films featured blood, guts and gore - all tastefully filmed of course... I was happy with the reception for We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear and got some good feedback afterwards. Of the selection my favourites were Tim Kent's Two Persons Max for it's strong performances, and Saw Misgivings directed by David Lilley, a Saw-inspired black comedy.

I'm beginning to see how each festival has it's own feel. I was impressed by the St. Albans volunteers - not unlike the Olympic and Paralympic Gamesmakers, all the volunteers I met were enthusiastic and friendly, passionate about hosting a cultural event in their region, and even though I was only the maker of a film with a crew of four and a budget of £10 I still felt welcome. Incidentally I can't complain I was out-budgeted - the winner of the main short film category, Gracious Awakenings, was also made for £10.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Pirates! In An Adventure With No Oscars

The Oscar for best animated feature of 2013 is awarded to Brave. I am in two minds. On the one hand, Brave is groundbreaking in many ways. A lot has been said about the character of Merida - a female lead is still a rarity in animation, and Brave's release is also a breakthrough moment for redheaded toons. Brave also succeeds in completely overthrowing the tired old Hollywood plot about reconciliation with father, by giving us a reconciliation with mother instead.

On the other hand I do believe The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! was the better film at almost every turn: script, animation, artistry, subversive humour. It's a personal opinion but only one of these films took me on such a journey that I left the cinema exhausted, and it wasn't Brave.

The Oscars often reward films that are thought to be "important" for some social or political reason, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Brave also fitted perfectly into the theme connecting all this year's winning films - gross historical inaccuracy, in this case playing fast and loose with Celtic culture. By comparison the psychopathic pirate-obsessed portrayal of Queen Victoria in The Pirates! is pretty much in line with most of the history books.

Cinema Just For Fun makes a good case for Brave in her review here, along with some great reviews of other Oscar winners and about a million other films.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A Cat In St Albans

Film festivals are not the same - each has its own character. St. Albans Film Festival is a new event on the film calendar and it will be interesting seeing what makes it stand out. My short film (trailer here) will be playing in the category for over 18s, however it is clear from the programme that St. Albans will be an especially child-friendly festival.

Events on the programme include childrens’ stop-motion and live filmmaking workshops, feature screenings of A Cat In Paris and The Prince’s Quest, a short family film category, a talk by Barry Purves on the use of puppets in cinema, and the Mini Student Film Award for the best film made by a 5-15 year old.

It’s good to see a programme reflecting the fact that some of the greatest films of modern times are children’s films, and, hopefully, one that will inspire some future talented filmmakers. The full programme is on the festival website here.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Why Black Mirror Is Awesome And Will Fail [Reviews: Be Right Back and White Bear]

A grieving widow subscribes to a website that promises to re-animate her dead husband's personality by analysing his tweets. Another woman wakes up with no memory, to find she is on the run from sadistic masked killers, while the rest of the world looks on in silence and films her on their mobile phones. Black Mirror is back and it's just as twisted as before.

These Twilight Zone-like stand alone stories work for several reasons. They have a clear focus - creator Charlie Brooker is at heart a TV critic and each story extrapolates from existing websites and technology trends, even if they occasionally stray into fridge-nuking territory. The cast are particularly strong - this is important as it's the Job-like suffering of the main characters that forces us viewers to take sides in the scenario, before a reveal or plot twist brings us face to face with the consequences of that choice. There's incredible attention to background detail, particularly the hardware and software McGuffins that drive each story, and a willingness to face unpleasant questions and go beyond the bounds of taste in answering them. And while some plot strands are similar to other sci-fi scenarios there's often an intelligent alteration. For example, Stephen King's novel Cell and the White Bear episode both feature a rogue, mind-altering mobile phone signal, the White Bear doesn't turn us into zombie killers but zombie onlookers, leaving the very human killers free to do their work.

Lenora Crichlow and Tuppence Middleton in White Bear

So will this novel awaken the consciences of the many, and make us more thoughtful about where our technology is taking us? Not a chance. Charlie Brooker should know that satire doesn't work - this was addressed in the last series episode Fifteen Million Merits, where a character staging a protest against the dystopia game show scenario is simply given his own TV channel as the moguls know he will be popular but won't actually change anything. Based on Twitter trends during the first two episodes, clearly people would welcome the personality substitutes of Be Right Back and the Justice Parks of White Bear. Memetics predicts that ideas will spread by any means, and the sheer quality of these TV dramas means these ideas will spread like wildfire until their time really comes.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Splice The Mainbrace

Holding the gun.

[produced in Blender 2.65]

Hoist The Rigging

Project: animate a human figure using the Rigify add-on for Blender. The base mesh is Low Poly Male.

Add a meta-rig armature, adjust the bones until they all match the position of the body then hit Generate to build the Rigify rig complete with cool-looking control bones.

A larger-than-life Walther PPK I happen to have modelled earlier.

[produced in Blender 2.65]

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The House That Joss Built [Review: The Cabin In The Woods]

Joss Whedon's film features a number of plot twists and misdirections, so it's more important than ever that I don't accidentally give away any spoilers.

So, this is a film about a group of teenagers who... but then there are these... and they can... so the teenagers...

This is really hard! I think I can reasonably state that The Cabin In The Woods is a movie, and the plot does involve some kind of log-based accommodation structure, which is indeed located in a forested area. But even that is only partly... and then it turns out that all along...

I give up. I enjoyed this film, but if I tell you almost any of the reasons why, then that would detract from your enjoyment of it. It's clever, although not necessarily Joss Whedon's best work, and there's a curious mixture of satire and nostalgia. You can read a genuine spoiler-free review on the Tired Of Previews blog here, or alternatively if you prefer the more spoilery type of review then you can go to Jigsaw's Lair for this detailed synopsis.