Thursday, 11 December 2014

quick review - WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS


yawn, vampire film. No, wait, this is a really good one. Cause it does the only thing left to do with the genre, which is take the piss. It's a mockumentary about four vampires living together in New Zealand, kind of Spinal Tap does Twilight.

It's made by the people behind FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS and is quite similar in themes - oddballs living together, deadpan humour, deliberately flat in the face of the absurd, flatshare comedy. It starts with a digital alarm going off at sunset and a hand reaching out of a coffin to slap the snooze button, and carries on in the same vein, mining funnies from the intersections of vampire myth and modern life: cause they can't look in the mirror they have to sketch each other when they try on clothes; when they go out clubbing they have to convince the bouncers to invite them in; when they get the internet they like to watch sunrises on youtube; they bitch about who's turn it is to wash the bloody dishes.

That makes it sound like a SCARY MOVIE sketch fest, but it's much better than that because the characters are really strong, angsty, out of time, frustrated and dealing as best they can with a horrible situation. Best is the 18th century dandy vamp who is in love with a human (now in her 90s) and hates getting blood on his clothes, and the new laddy vampire, who has to start learning the ropes from his undead cohorts, while teaching them about modern world.

There's not much of a plot - a vampire hunter adds a degree of threat, there's some kind of showdown brewing at the Unholy Masquerade annual ball, but it's a pleasure just to hang out with the loveable (blood drinking) misfits.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


on adaptation

Adapting books is how most films get made these days. I think producers like to option a book cause then there is a property they can 'own', and you, as the screenwriter, are hired - and can be fired just as easily if they don't like your 'take'. An an original script, it's more 'your' project, so it's harder for them to dismiss you.

Books are not written like films, so it's generally as tough as writing an original screenplay.

Most of the work is boiling the story down - cut subplots and characters, trim locations and so on. A book is something like a gormenghast castle - ramshackle, with diversions on every corner. You wander through it without worrying too much about the destination. There are dull bits, funny bits, digressions, varieties of tone. A screenplay, in contrast, is like a cathedral, with every detail harmonising (ideally) as part of some grand design.

Plus, only when you start trying to work out how to adapt something do you realise just how much novelists rely on interior voice and flashback. Especially when they're trying to give you a handle on the characters. A novelist often lays down the whole history of a characters, shows you incidents from throughout their life, gets into their head. You can't do any of that so you have to find actions that offer an insight into the character.  

Some stories just work better in one medium than another - closed world mysteries go great in books - The Name of the Rose, some of the Harry Potters, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo... but they made pretty dull films. Maybe it's because an investigation involves lots of talking - interviewing witnesses and such like - and dialogue works better in books (and on TV) than on film.

World building is much harder to do as well. That's what makes adapting fantasy and sci-fi tricksy.

Thrillers are probably the easiest. Though not always. Lots of thriller books have surprisingly creaky or odd stories, which you only notice when trying to strip them down. I once got asked to adapt a thriller in which the romantic interest, the girl, gets shot in the head exactly half way through, and goes into a coma, and comes out of it on the last page. Can that work in a film? And the plot didn't make any sense and the revelation at the end was a fifty page chuck of flashback. But it wasn't a bad book cause it took place in a fantastically well realised world. I pretty much had to throw the plot away but try to stay true to the characters. (There is a very odd story to why that never got made which I cannot tell).