Archive

WORDS

DWF 17

‘When a 20-something artist is accused of being ‘date racist’ by her long-suffering best friend she launches ineptly into the world of cross-cultural romance in an attempt to prove her wrong.

Come watch the making of your new favorite show as the creators work out how to make their sitcom about race and relationships right in front of you!

It’s a playful deconstruction of the TV Show Table Read. It’s the latest phase of the Writers Room X project, which uses the structural trappings of TV to devise the kind of stories and characters that TV doesn’t do enough.’

It’s been a year since the beginning of Writer’s Room X, the experimental group-devised indie screenwriting collective that I originally dreamed up for the 2016 Noted Festival. One year since the 1-week locked-room intensive that saw six writers (Tasnim Hossain, Khalid Warsame, Linda Chen, Chiara Grassia, Emma MacManus and me) create full scripts for a six-part web-based sitcom called Drunk White Friend. One year since I committed to produce Drunk White Friend and started the awkward process of working out how to actually go about that.

DWF 2The film industry, even at the indie level, is glutted with participants to the point of being utterly broken. The world of experimental art festivals is tiny by comparison and so can’t help but make more sense. It’s also a world that makes sense to me and where I have a little track record. Plus experiments in form are my whole thing, as WRX to date suggests. So of course my approach to producing a relatively conventional web series (I mean sure it’s trying to break new ground in terms of content and representation but it’s doing it within a clearly identified form, the sitcom) is to create a model whereby every stage of the development takes place at an arts festival and involves a live audience event. I can hear you groaning and you are right to. DWF 10

DWF 13

In the same way that our initial writing process was structured around the conventions of a TV writers room, this one was conceived as a ‘Table Read’ in the classic TV production style. Really this was a spur to tackle what we knew would be one of our biggest challenges, nailing the casting of the show. Drunk White Friend only has four principles but the cultural backgrounds of the characters are specific, so we knew we’d have to look a little wider than our local networks. Sydney is still close enough that the meager artist fees we could offer for this stage wouldn’t be eaten up by travel costs, and so three of our wonderful cast (Toks Ogundare, Jemwel Danao and Hannah Goodwin) were sourced from there. Our fourth actor, Jim Nguyen, is a Canberran who I’d been looking to use in something since he auditioned for The Real a few years back.

That said, the casting decisions were thankfully not up to me. The not-so-secret edge of WRX is that every one of the writers is also extremely skilled and experienced in at least one other arts discipline. Emma and Tasnim are both in-demand theatre-makers and the only reason this iteration of the project went well (spoiler warning- it went well) is that they made time in their insane schedules to act as director and AD respectively.

Emma was the one who whipped my half-baked Table Read concept into an effective audience event. What she created was essentially a moved reading that made a virtue of super-minimalism, an old couch and a desk acting effectively as our five different story locations. Before we even got to that point Em and Tas worked for months on the audition process and their efforts were evident in the killer roster of actors that we ended up with.

As a thoughtless jerk I thought it would be a great logistical approach to mush the entire development into one day, including initial team meetings, rehearsal, script revisions and the final live performance. I also thought it would be a ‘fun’ twist for the whole thing to happen in a public space, which turned out to be the You Are Here festival Hub Space. This was a gross error in judgement for which Emma and the rest of the Drunk White Friend team should have rightly cut all ties with me and walked from the project. Instead they pushed heroically through the quite frankly fucked limitations of our noise-y chaotic working space. Who knows what our actors made of the insane working format, but they nailed everything we asked from them and it was a true thrill to finally see or characters made flesh-and-blood. Special thanks also to the other WRX writers for filling the variety of production, performance, songwriting and script-supervision roles that popped up along the way. Thanks to everyone but me the final performance was assured and clear, and the audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive (as well as full of constructive feedback for our next development stage).

WRX are some of my favorite people in the whole world and my belief in the merit of Drunk White Friend is total. The only possible weak link in the chain is me, so expect future blogs on the subject to be full of angst and misadventure as I do whatever it takes to Get This One Actually Made. Photos courtesy of You Are Here (I have to check whether Adam or Sarah took them then edit this post)

Advertisements

A5s

‘This experimental music event challenges the composers, performers and audience in equal measure. Canberrans Emma Kelly, Paul Heslin, Chloe Hobbs and Ben Drury have been commissioned to create new short works. BUT! the compositions must fit on an A5 piece of paper. WHAT’S MORE! They’ll be performed by a group of untrained volunteer vocalists who will only see their scores a few minutes before performing.

By ‘basking in their limitations’, the composers will no doubt serve up bizarre, wonderful, and refreshing new works. Their ideas and creative processes will be illuminated via a quick-fire Q&A.’

This was the program copy for Reuben Ingall’s You Are Here festival work, at which I got to be one of untrained volunteer vocalists. The results were chaotic, super-fun, and often sublimely lovely. A5S 6

This is of course just the latest in the never-ending string of creative projects by the beautiful Reuben Ingall, who’s insane breadth of excellent artworks was recently broken down here. Also special shout-outs to my fellow choir-members who, when pressed upon to come up with a name for our group, settled on the most obvious misreading of the event title. I’ll never forget my time as a member of Bunch Of Ass.A5 5A5S 8

For the last year or so, I’ve been working with artist Adam Huntley on a comic book submission. I haven’t mentioned anything here for fear of jinxing it, but now feels like a good time. versa-8Early concept art

The idea came one slow afternoon at work after a couple of Red Bulls. I dashed it off and emailed it to myself in an over-caffeinated burst. Much of it has been re-worked and refined subsequently, but the energy of that original premise remains.

20161113_180022

Some character sketches adorning my walls.

Here’s an excerpt from my pitch:

Versa Vice is a superspy series, a melange of balls-out action and goofy hijinks. It’s about making something audacious – the kind of comic that can have both six-barrelled revolvers and homages to Van Gogh. It’s a salmagundi of the high and low-brow, a violent and funny book where everything is turned up to 11.

 Versa Vice is the story of soldier-of-fortune Versa Vice (probably a codename), and rookie FBI field analyst Bea Honest (unfortunately her real name).

Versa Vice is a full-on, fast-paced, funny caper – a comic book that feels like an over-the-top action movie. It’s arthouse action, like Crank written by Godard.

I’ve written scripts for the first two issues (which combined complete the first story), and the outline for the first six. Once I had these written, I set about finding an artist.

After a few missteps, I found Adam on deviantart.

Out of hundreds of artists I looked at, Adam instantly stood out. There’s a plethora of good pin-up and sketch artists but dramatically fewer that have experience doing full pages of sequential art. Adam is equally adept at both – I wrote to him pitching the story and he immediately wrote back.

Thumbnail art for page two

His style is perfect for the bright, pop tone of the story. His work jumps off the page – to me, it’s in that sweet spot whereby it’s realistic without being gritty. It’s heightened, kinetic super-fun like some beautiful amalgam of Darick Robertson, Mike Allred, Phillip Bond. And his art moves – it’s visceral in a way that’s hard to explain or teach – none of his panels feel static. It’s the same type of smart-stupid as a good blast of punk rock.

Working together on it has been a protracted process, with life frequently getting in our way – Adam’s gotten married and I’ve become a father since we started. We’ve still never talked (Adam’s in California) but we’ve exchanged dozens of emails. In between the work back-and-forth, we update each other on our lives and have gotten to know each other (we’re both beardy comic and music nerds so there’s that!). It’s like having an old school pen-pal, which has been one of the most satisfying (and unexpected) parts of the process.

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-5-33-45-pm

A panel from Page 13

To say I am excited about this is an understatement – beginning with The Phantom when I was in primary school, comics have been an enduring passion of mine. And this is a story, while being far-fetched and wild, that has got a lot of me in it.

All art by Adam Huntley.

wa-holiday

This is me on holiday. The run is done.

I went to Fringe prepared to be a lonely isolated cog in a huge machine. I feel very silly about that now. Of course Melbourne Fringe is just a rag-tag bunch of overworked wonderful people, just like any other arts festival. Being in the Fringe hub made me feel supported and surrounded by friends, and I was humbled by how many of the staff members made time to come and see my show considering how busy they all were.

I was super lucky to have solid crowds from the first night (by which I mean I was super lucky to have Adelaide Rief as my producer, she promoted the shit out of the show) and I was thrilled to see those numbers track up to almost full rooms by the last couple nights. The crowds in questions were generous, warm and proactive in engaging with what the show is. I got a very flattering review of the opening night, and the thing I’d been most afraid of- turning around 7 nights of the show- became the fun part. I realised that I’ve been working this show on and off for 2 years now, and it’s a solid show. It’s doing the thing I want it to do solidly.

It feels so solid in fact that I’d be mad not to make plans for some more runs. Which I will do. After a bit more time outdoors.

bomb-collar-melbourne-posteringDon’t tell anyone, but I’ve actually brought Bomb Collar to Melbourne once before.

A bit less than a year ago I came and did a an alternate, 20-minute version of the show at The Village in Edinburgh Gardens. It was an extra-comedic spin on the story based around just three of the eight songs. I plugged the Last Singer into a completely different, time-travel-based plot and used the whole thing as an excuse to improve my spontaneous crowd work. That version of Bomb Collar has been somewhat sequelised in my recent twitter posts. I think most sequels would work better in tweet form.

Two shows at the Village. Four in Canberra. One In Newcastle. One in Manila. Two in Wellington. By the end of next week I’ll have nearly doubled that again. That’s the sure part.

Of course I hope that this is the best run yet. That the character pops and stays with you. That it’s clean in the right ways and complicated in the right ways. Maybe most of all that you like the songs.

All of the bodies

Shot Into The Ocean

All Of My Family Are There

I’m Made Of Tears

I’m Made Of Water

I Could Have Been Born

Anywhere

Tear Down The Ceiling That Holds Back The Sea

Let It Rain Down On Me

Let It Rain Down On Me

Come Back

Please

Rain Down On Me

Rain Down On Me

Mad Max Guy

The best way to influence to future is to try to predict it. Everything you predict will be wrong and therefore eliminated from the possibilities of what the future can be.

Last night my producer and I were finalizing the Melbourne Fringe version of the Last Pop Singer’s costume. The Bomb Collar itself does a lot of heavy lifting visuals-wise, but on it’s own doth not a future-guy make. It’s been an ongoing process of juggling the character traits- he’s from a burnt-out future, he’s an entertainer, he’s from the Deep Sea, he’s coming apart at the seams, he’s playing for The Troops. Previous versions of the costume have veered harder in the direction of warped ‘national-dress’ but this time we’re zooming in on ‘post-apocalyptic pop-star’. Which involves judging what clothing items available today might persist 90 years from now. We’ve made our judgments, rendering them definitively wrong in the process.

It’s been a similar approach with the music. I made a conscious decision that music in this future has eroded to it’s bare-bones, reduced to cut-price version of it’s most essential elements. But what are those elements? I made a selfish call that they would be overwrought pop melodies and Suicide-esque synth presets. My platonic dream of the musical future, which now thanks to me will never be the one that comes to pass.

If I Reach The Farthest Bend

Your Song Can Pull Me Back Again

We’ll All Be Gone When Our Live End

But Songs Will Light Our Way Again

AuntyEntityWe Don’t Need Another Hero was the lead soundtrack single from 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. It was performed by the legendary Tina Turner, who also featured in the film as the inscrutable Aunty Entity. The music video has Turner performing the song in full costume as her character, which seems only appropriate as the song is doing something very unique and very great.

Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can`t make the same mistake this time
We are the children
The last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change
Living under the fear, till nothing else remains
We don`t need another hero
We don`t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond
Thunderdome
What an incredible type-rope walk between generically ballad-y pop lyrics and extremely specific references to the story world of the third Mad Max film! And then the way the the end of the chorus just goes ‘fuck it’ and just talks about escaping Thunderdome as if of course you’ll know what that means. (also the song canes)
This is an obsession I’ve kept coming back to- fleshing out a genre storyworld through the restricted prism of conventional pop lyrics. Bomb Collar is an attempt to do this across a whole show, the words to the songs being every bit as vital to an understanding of the character and his circumstances as as any dialogue spoken in between. Also I’ve still tried to craft each song so that it convinces as a stand-alone unit of pop songwriting.
Bomb Collar is the latest and most refined of my many attempts to pull off this same trick. But why? In a world where the accepted standard for a ‘concept albums’ involves using the same character names across a few tracks and then explaining things in the liner notes, why am setting myself such strict parameters? Why take so many steps toward stage musicals without just jumping all the way in?
I do love musicals. So do you. Yeah, yeah, most of you will tell me you hate or dislike musicals, but every single one of you has at least one that you love. Disney films way count. You can tell me that it makes no sense to you for a character to tell you their feelings and thoughts through song but meanwhile that’s what every song you’ve ever liked listening to is doing.
So musicals are factually great. But for a neurotic structuralist like me they’re a little bit too open a format to work in. The divisions between Song and Book a little too free. Also the dominant musical aesthetic of modern musicals is a little lacking in grit even for a pop-pushover like me.
Cabaret shows always have the advantage of intimacy, and an expectation of doing a lot with a little. It’s a tighter format and one that supports a single-character narrative, so I was easily drawn to it. I particularly love a good period cabaret show, one where the songbook of an era is used to mirror a characters’ experience. But I’m a songwriter, I want to write new songs, and I’m not the best candidate to capture a bygone period anyway. So…
I realised that there was a period that I could write the traditional songbook of and create a period setting for- the future. In the same moment I realised that the challenge would be to extrapolate a folk song tradition from a starting point of todays’s chart pop music. I would also have to map those songs to a sci-fi protagonist and make his story coherent and compelling to an audience.
And that is the amount of ridiculous restrictions that allow me to start writing something.
The first song I wrote is now the second song in the show. It’s a war anthem, about a legendary military leader in the Deep Ocean Colonies, and it’s designed as a sickly descendant of some of my favorite Shock and Awe Diva songwriters like Linda Perry (if you don’t know her, she’s written a lot of songs you really like). It’s called Red Song, here are some of the words.
She rode as the head
Of a dragon made of men
And her words, once a secret
Will never be again
She said join your voice
To the thunder that splits the sky
Say it’s not anybody else’s voice
Who you embrace as your own tonight
We are free to be enemies
We are free to be family too
But if we meet on the battlefield
We will see just whose cause is true