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.