Friday, 25 February 2011

The joy of film

Afternoon all,

Back for another blog on another topic that has been rattling around my brain of late, namely that of films. I've done a lot of programming in literature down the years, and it's a field I absolutely love. Hearing a really interesting discussion or a fantastic reading is always great, and I've been lucky enough to be there for some great ones.

But of course literature isn't my only interest, not by any means, and film is something I've always been really keen on. I may not have the broadest of taste, or be of any use at the monthly film quiz, but I'm a fan of genre films and cult films and foreign cinema, so I have my little patch anyway. But what I've been wanting to do for a while now - and have only seriously been looking at this week - is how you go about sourcing films for screenings. I've been able to get advice from a lot of people with an involvement in film, which has been a huge help. And to be honest, even since Wednesday when I first started making tentative phone calls, I've learned a lot about the process.

And boy, is it a tricky one.

Well, it is and it isn't. There's no intrinsic reason for it to be difficult - call the rights holder, tell them what you want to do, pay them a fee and then boom, you're ready to screen. The process in itself is simple, but what was particularly interesting to me, as an absolute novice, was how different it was trying to get hold of certain rights when compared to others. I'm not going to sit here and name studios or films, but some things were perfectly easy to get a hold of. Some you could even just play your own DVD without having to bring in a 35ml print or source anything from the distributor. Then other times it could be a long, exhaustive process involving shipping prints from the US or elsewhere overseas. Then there are differences in some cases for the size of the audience, the size of the screen, whether the audience is paying...

So while you have certain principles in general, there are a lot of differences in each individual case. Which made me realise just how tough a job the guys at cinemas, and particularly independent cinemas, have to do. They have to weigh up not only whether they can get the rights, and then cross the proverbial minefield that ensure, but whether what they pay for the rights will recoup itself at the box office. Sure, it's cheaper to bring in an old classic than it is something brand new on release, but then do people want to see it when they can just pick it up on DVD, in many cases for less than the price of a cinema ticket? Then if you're splashing out for a new film, is it going to draw enough audience and be popular enough to justify its outlay? I remember being thoroughly annoyed when I couldn't find a local cinema showing Pandorum when that was released, but having seen it since I can better understand why it would perhaps have been a risk - it's hardly safe ground like an action film or a romcom after all.

As I noted a few days ago, the process behind things has always interested me, and it's been a buzz to have the chance to explore this new process. Hopefully the fruits of all these phone calls and emails will be seen soon enough, and I'll be able to expand my programming horizons a bit into this new area. As I've always said, it never hurts to have another string to your bow (says the event organiser/tutor/proofer/copyeditor/writer...)

So that's been the joy of film for me this week. Be sure to stop by next week, as I should be able to announce some very exciting gigs for the first time...



Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Events - the ins and outs

Afternoon all,

Interesting times at the moment for me - even though the next few weeks are a bit quiet on the events front, April to July is going to see quite a pick up, not just in Alt.Fiction terms but also on freelance terms as well.

I have to admit that this is one of my favourite phases of work. First of all you have the daydreaming, the blue sky thoughts of what would be absolutely ideal to run. That's a good bit, because at that point the world is your oyster. Then it's taking all those optimistic, wide-eyed ideas and then trying to apply some kind of sense to them - what is feasible, what is realistic, what is affordable. At that point you tend to lose a whole batch of ideas, and after that process of elimination you're left with a simple choice - just how much can I take on? And what offers me the best return on my time and effort?

I don't want that to sound too clinical, but I think we all know these are tough times and unfortunately my days of being able to do things because it was a good idea are long behind me. If it doesn't make money, then unfortunately it's on the ideas scrapheap and soon forgotten about. Artistic quality doesn't always pay the bills unfortunately.

Then it comes to my absolute favourite part - the logistics, the real ins and outs of putting an event together. People will often say to me 'I don't know how you go about running events'. And I always say that it's not any particular talent, it's just that your brain either works that way or it doesn't. Ever since I first started going to events I was interested in how they came together and how they worked on the day - from my earliest days of volunteering just after university, the process fascinated me almost as much as the event themselves.

And that's what I mean by how your brain works - 9 out of 10, perhaps 99 out of 100 people, would go to an event and listen to the speaker and just enjoy it, take it in. I try and do that as well, but there are all sorts of thoughts pop unbidden into my mind such as 'I wonder what this venue cost to hire?', 'I wonder if you could do idea X in this space', 'I wonder what the deal was on the bookstall' and so on. I'm always interested in what lies underneath an event, which is no doubt how I've come to putting events together myself over the last five years. I'm also a dreadful venue watcher when I'm out and about, which I think is a particularly bad habit, but I digress.

The other thing about events is that you have to remember that the ultimately satisfying thing is the end result. Many jobs and walks of life you have landmarks on a pretty regular basis, things that you can tick off and say, 'yes, that was done successfully'. An event essentially has no life apart from on paper until the day, and even then your months of planning will only result in a day or a weekend of activity. That's not something that is satisfying for everyone. But for me, again, the penchant for logistics comes in, because for me that one day of activity is not just one success, but a whole series of small successes. When the venue is set up right, that's a little moment of satisfaction. When things kick off on time, that's another. When the glasses of water arrive on time, that's another tiny victory. And these are the things that make up an event, the tiny pieces of a jigsaw that hopefully will only ever be seen as a whole by an audience, but has been painstakingly put together over many months.

I suppose, frankly, that to most people these types of ins and outs are ultimately quite boring. Even more so, as an audience member, they are largely unnoticeable in your experience. But do bear in mind the people who put events together up and down the country will ultimately succeed or fail on these often tiny factors. I salute my fellow pedants, detail-watchers and control freaks who make all these things happen.

To be honest, I struggle to see myself ever not doing events. It's become a sort of addiction over the years, the buzz of planning and putting together and then the even bigger buzz of getting there on the day and thinking 'I made this happen', or at least in part made it happen. There will always be other things on the table as a freelancer, but events are ultimately what I love. So brace yourselves for more - more from Alt.Fiction and more from Alex Davis Industries or whatever it may in time be called.

So just remember, next time you see a glass of water arrive on stage, that was meant to happen.


Friday, 18 February 2011

A long overdue blog

Morning all,

Thought a new blog was well overdue - things have been pretty busy with Alt.Fiction, as well as a number of other projects going on right now, but I promise I'll get more regular bloggage from now on :-)

So what's happened since my last blog? Well, we ran the day of Christmas Spirits at QUAD, in association with 1623 theatre company, which was a fantastic experience. Having never done anything like it before, I was pretty terrified to actually get up on stage, but both the kids and adults alike seemed to enjoy the whole of the show and I got some nice compliments about my section, so that was all good.

Our afternoon show was a shortened version of A Christmas Carol, which featured Jane Upton as our narrator, Marcus Houden as Scrooge and me as... well, everyone else. That's Jacob Marley, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, plus Bob Cratchit and Scrooge's nephew Fred. I'm just glad we did cut it down, because it could have been many more characters... Highlights of the hour-long show for me was the reaction to me walking in as the robed and hooded Ghost of Christmas Future (that got a real gasp!) and the kids making the most of Scrooge's new-found generosity, going into the crowd and dishing out chocolate coins. The excitement of it was almost too much...

The show in the evening was a whole different matter, because I didn't have a costume or a host of characters to hide behind. Marcus kicked things off with a reading of The Tell-Tale Heart (always a favourite of mine), which set things on their way in a suitably atmospheric and spooky fashion. Jane was then up with her rendition of The Turn of the Screw, the superb closing extract, which I still say has one of the best last lines ever. These solo readings both went down really well, especially with the whole thing being set completely in character.

Into the second half, and it was my turn, performing Dickens' classic The Signalman with Marcus as the unfortunate signalman of the title. Despite my utter fear, I did my best to project nice and clearly, and having practiced the story to death I managed to avoid any big stumbles. The story itself got a great reaction, with a lot of people saying afterwards that it was one of their favourites, so that was good to hear. There will be some footage of the evening forthcoming, which I will of course post up here.

So will we be seeing another Christmas Spirits? Frankly, yes, you bet we will. Having sold out two shows at QUAD, as well as having had such a positive response, I think it'd be silly not to. And when that takes shape, you'll be the first to hear about it.

Other than that, it's all been looking forward, with plan afoot for a busy few months in May, June and July. I can't say a great deal at this stage, but if you live in Lincoln, Leicester or Nottingham, rest assured Alt.Fiction will be headed your way in the near future.

The last thing to add is that I was on Siren FM's Midweek Drive show yesterday, which was a great fun experience - thanks a lot to Alex Lewczuk for the invite. If you'd like to hear me talking all things SF and Fantasy, you can check it out at

Cheers, and have a good weekend y'all!