comedy

silent movie, clown, Buster Keaton, Neil Brand

Review: Neil Brand Presents Buster Keaton

Last night, I went to see a Buster Keaton movie, ably accompanied by his musical partner for the evening: Neil Brand.

It was an early Christmas treat for me – and it was terrific in that quiet, enjoyable way of being served a delicious meal, where every course is a delight, but the chef isn’t in the room, waving his hands and being dramatic about it.

Right at the start, Neil introduced us to the public face of the actor – but explained that actually there were quite a few Busters in his own lifetime – and that the relaxed way he is represented in this photo (featured at the top of this post) belies the fact that Buster treated life as something to be attacked with energy.

As the first clip began to roll on the screen, Neil naturally began to play the piano alongside – no big dramatic announcement – it just happened, and was a beautiful, natural segue.

The “Silent Movies” of course weren’t silent when viewed – there would be a pianist, or organist playing – or if it was a posh cinema for the release of a major new film, perhaps sometimes a small orchestra.  The film itself had “titles” where a piece of card with words on it would appear on the screen, interrupting the moving picture – to let us know what was being said.

The first half of the night was introducing Buster the man and some delightful clips of his short films (the one in which he’s changing into swimming togs in a cubicle together with a large, hectoring man, where there is barely space for one skinny man is a particular joy).  It’s viewable on Youtube, but with an unsubtle organ accompaniment which I personally don’t enjoy so much as live piano accompaniment.

The full-length film being shown last night in the second half of the evening was “Steamboat Bill, Jnr“.  This is a classic – it is THE one where he stands, stone-faced, and the front of a house topples over him – his body going through an upstairs window.  It was a genuinely dangerous part of the movie.

This particular film was what began Neil Brand on his accompanist career – it was the first film he played music to.  He’s now able to play along with the film without having a musical score on the piano.  In fact, he teaches other people to accompany silent movies – and gives the same advice as to us the viewers – “Just hang with the main character – hang out with Buster Keaton.”  And then we simply spent the next hour with an ingenious, charming clown who made us laugh, gasp and watch in wonder.

Although I’m a Buster Keaton fan, have read Paul Merton’s books “Silent Clowns” (which features Keaton, among others) and though our family have a DVD of “The General” and watched it many times – this presentation by Neil Brand still had fresh joys to offer.

So – keep an eye out for silent movies with live accompaniment at your local independent cinema – they’re becoming more frequent.  And if Neil Brand is making a presentation – do go out and see it, even if it’s -5 degrees at the bus stop on the way home! (which it was, last night).  It will be worth it.  Here’s a taster introduction by the man himself.

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Response to “Workout” prompt

Here is my doodle animation inspired by the word “Workout.”  Don’t blink or you’ll miss it; don’t turn up the sound, it’s silent. It’s very brief and simply made on mobile phone.

It seems to be that I’m getting slower and slower to respond to the prompts.  I wonder how you are getting on with them, if they are interesting or genuinely make you want to create.

6 tips for Writing Comedy from Script Editor

These tips for writing comedy come from Andrew Ellard, an English comedy writer and script editor who has worked on hugely popular British TV sitcoms such as “Red Dwarf” and “The IT crowd”.  In the video below, he’s giving advice about writing sitcom – but much of what he says will help us writing comedy of any type – whether in books, plays or for large or small screen.

Here’s a brief, non-executive non-summary of the main points in the video:

1. What makes a good sitcom character?

The main character should have a central flaw, a problem, of which they’re unaware.   (more…)

creative pledge

Screenwriting Masterclass: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Phil Lord and Chris Miller, screenwriters or producers on such diverse projects as “The Lego Movie”, “21 Jump Street”, “Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs”, TV’s “How I met your Mother” (3 episodes), “The Lego Batman movie“…. give a masterclass on screenwriting and producing.  They break it up really well.  So although they speak for 53 minutes, they’re worth hearing.

They have a relaxed way of presenting together, bring in some crazy fun but over and over again repeat that they’re obsessive about making every tiny part of their projects absolutely brilliant – refusing to settle for merely excellent.  As the presentation continues, and this is repeated, you realise that they are speaking truly.

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 02.26.15They speak for under an hour – and then there is a further 30 minutes of questions and answers – which are good – so worth setting aside the full one hour and a half to watch in its entirety.  They are amusing, honest about early failures and difficulties and how they won through was – no surprise, folks – lots of hard work.  They write and rewrite and rewrite and tweak and rewrite, show to friends, rewrite.

 

 

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 02.33.25

One tip which came across clearly was to show your script to other people – no matter who they are in the studio pecking order or whether they’re friends/family – they’re a person with an honest opinion – and as writer you should listen up, because you are too close to the project to see its flaws.  It’s humility – but it’s also good sense.

The two voices give variety to what is said, and there are plenty of illustrations and clips from their projects:

Along the way, they present their maths of working as a partnership:

half the money, twice the effort, twice the time = an output which is 1.3 times better!

They also lead the audience in a pledge to make work, and are adamant that all humans are creative, anyone can do the work they do but it is hard work, done repetitively.

What they’ve also learned along the way are, like all important learning, found through failure and near failure.  One vital lesson was learning to listen to other people’s feedback and recognise that making a film is a hugely collaborative venture.  Also, to recognise that even at the end, the film is actually ‘made’ in the imagination of the viewers.  And this is one reason given for really listening to someone/anyone who has an opinion on the work – because if they don’t get the story clearly, then likely the final paying punters will find it puzzling in the same way.

A film is about RELATIONSHIP not just CHARACTER.

This is a great insight – at one point, “Cloudy with Meatballs” was about a main character and a situation – it was funny but there wasn’t a real sense of involvement, until they made one of the characters the father of the hero – and the hero wanted to get his taciturn father’s approval.

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 03.31.32If you want to be a screen writer, then watching this interview is a good thing to do – yes, it is long, but that gives enough time to talk pleasantly and with humour through the whole career process.

In fact, the whole series of “Genius” strand of masterclasses by BAFTA looks worth a checkout.  See them here.