Inspiration and references (Part 2: Comedy)

Welcome to Part Two of inspirations and references for The Fitzroy. This week we’ll be looking at comedy. I’m really excited about this. I adore comedy and can’t wait to share some of my favourites with you.

The only thing I know for certain about comedy is that it is hard – really hard. It’s a cliché to say it but it’s true, I’ve done two comedic short films (directed one and written the other) and they were both incredibly difficult.

Goodness knows why I’m trying to do a comedy as my first feature film. I should be doing a slasher or horror film or something else, anything but a comedy. I don’t really know how to write a joke, timing or delivery!? All know is what I like.

Something For Everyone

I do have one theory of comedy though, and that is to base it all on the opening number from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Stephen Sodenheim (the film was directed by Richard Lester – who, as you know from the previous blog, I hugely admire).

Comedy Tonight really sums up comedy for me. It’s almost like a recipe for creating the funny – stick to this and make ‘something for everyone’ – that is my motto.

The Silent Greats

I grew up watching movies on never-ending rainy Sundays. These were usually crusty old westerns or Laurel and Hardy films. I guess this was where my love of physical comedy came from. As I got older, I started to discover the other silent comedians and fell under their spell. For me it’s pure cinema – visual and music. Of all the silent comedians, my favourite is Buster Keaton. I love his physicality and sense of the surreal.

This newspaper gag perfectly illustrates what I mean. Besides someone falling over is always going to be funny.

The Fool Triumphant

One of the age old characters in comedy is the loveable fool. From Charlie Chaplin’s tramp to Borat, he is a staple in comedy.

This is for two reasons – everybody loves the underdog. They want desperately to see them ‘get one over on The Man’, and succeed. Who can’t relate to that? The fool character also allows the comedian to work in a great deal of physical comedy.

One of my favourite jokes from Charlie Chaplin is a very small one. The gag comes from ‘The Kid’, when Charlie wakes up to find a hole in his blanket. He turns this hardship on it’s head and into a positive, all without batting an eyelid. This simple quiet little moment sums up his character perfectly and does so with an understated laugh.

The ‘fool character’ is something I have tried hard to build into the script of The Fitzroy. It is the opportunity to work with status and power that I really want to play with.

I’m a big Jerry Lewis fan and this scene from The Ladies’ Man uses the fool and reversal of power to its best. It is such a great scene and there is so much to admire – the writing, the staging and the performances are all brilliant. I could watch it over and over (if you listen carefully you can hear Jerry cracking up near the end).

British Sitcoms

The other huge references for The Fitzroy are the other type of comedies I was brought up on – British sitcoms, in particular the work of David Croft. His sitcoms have become a corner stone in British comedy. The list is remarkable: Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served?, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi! and ‘Allo ‘Allo. I mean, come on! What a body of work!

The thing for me that makes these shows so wonderful is the ensemble nature of them. They are groups of individuals thrown together through circumstance. The characters are all so well-defined and complete individuals that it becomes comedy gold to watch them bash up against each other. The shows are also written with such affection and warmth that it is impossible not to laugh.

The rifle inspection scene from Dad’s Army illustrators this group dynamic that I would love to capture for our film.

I can’t go on without mentioning Officer Crabtree, the policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo, He’s probably not politically correct, but he is delightfully silly and cracks me up every time.

The Fitzroy is a dysfunctional hotel and I would be amiss if I didn’t touch on the daddy of all British sitcoms – Fawlty Towers.

Fawlty Towers is rightly hailed as one of the greatest British comedies ever. What I love about it, and tried to incorporate into The Fitzroy, is it’s level of energy and sense of panic – the feeling that this hotel is only barely being held together, that it is just one situation from falling into complete chaos.

Well that is just a few comedic references for The Fitzroy. There is still so much more that I would love to share. The work of Jim Carrey, Rowan Atkins, Jacque Tati, Spike Milligan and many many more.

Maybe I’ll do another blog at a later date and talk about some of those.

Hopefully a little of the magic of the above comedy giants will rub off on our little film. And if it’s not funny I’ll just pretend that it was meant to be a serious drama and you’ll just have to keep quiet.

Follow us on twitter where I’ll be tweeting some more of my favourite comedy references.

Keep an eye out for Part 3 of inspiration and references all about the music for the Fitzroy.

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Procrastination Corner

Welcome to this week’s Procrastination Corner. A dish full of distractions!

Lets start with some photos of sand. Sounds dull I know, but its all kinds of beautiful. (Link)

An interactive LED t-shirt and one of the best promotional videos in a long time. (Link)

Film techniques of Alfred Hitchcock. (Link)

The Oatmeal is always great and this is one of my favourites. (Link)

An interesting essay on the work and innovations of Christopher Nolan in ‘Nolan vs Nolan’ (Link)

10 Disney songs you’ve never heard. (Link)

Shane Meadows on screenwriting (short but brilliant advice). (Link)

If, like me, swords fascinate you, then this site is for you… (Link)

…which leads nicely onto ‘Armour for cats and mice.’ Yet no pictures of an actual duel! (Link)

And finally, this week’s game. Some good old mass murder of animals (it’s cuter than that). (Link)

Inspiration and references (Part 1: Visuals)

This week we have been continuing to meet various composers, musicians and heads of departments. For me it’s incredibly exciting to hear different people’s takes on the film and what they can bring to the project. They are all so talented, I’m going to have some tough decisions to make.

One thing that naturally comes up a lot when talking about the film is references.  ‘How do you see the shooting style?’, ‘Like the work of ________?’, ‘So the film is a cross between Delicatessen and Fawlty Towers?’.

There seems to be two schools of thought on referencing other bodies of work. During an online q&a, I once asked Nicolas Winding Refn if he watched films for inspiration/reference before shooting Drive, and, if so, which ones. He said he used to do this when he was younger, but not anymore as he wants his films to have their own unique feel. Then there are people like Martin Scorsese, who screens dozens of movies to his cast and crew before shooting starts.

For me, I very much fall into the second category and I am heavily influenced by other films, tv shows, books, plays… pretty much anything. Some people might say I’m too influenced!

So I thought it would be interesting to share some of the references for The Fitzroy. I don’t want The Fitzroy to be a copy of any of these, but cherry pick certain elements, ideas or even just a feel and mood.

NB: I got half-way though this blog and realised I was already up to 3 pages! I did say I was influenced by everything. So I am going to spread this out over three blogs, covering what I see as the three corners stones to the film; the visuals, the comedy and the music/sound scape.

So lets start with the visuals.

The Fitzroy is set in an alternative post-apocalyptic 1950’s. So obviously some of the key references visually are the period setting. The style of the clothes, graphic design and interior decorating are all incredibly important.

Austerity post-war Britain is fascinating. With food rationing continuing until 1954, the government information posters, pamphlets and films from this period are a wealth of ideas. Interestingly, many of the films employ humour to get their message across.

If you follow us on twitter you will have noticed we have been posting many COI films (Central Office of Information) as they are fun but also a rich mine inspiration for us.

Beyond the 1950’s references there have also been many, many films that have influenced the writing of The Fitzroy and no doubt will have an impact on it’s visual look.

The biggest of these has to be the work of Richard Lester.

Unknowingly, I grew up on Richard Lester’s films, especially the Musketeers and Superman films (he produced the first, uncredited, and directed two and three). But it is only recently that I discovered his earlier work like The Knack and How to Get It, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and How I Won the War.

His films have such a pace and energy about them that even today, almost 50 years on, they still leap off the screen, grab you and pleasantly shake you up.

A huge influence for The Fitzroy is the wonderful The Bed Sitting Room, written by Spike Milligan. It is a strange film to say the least, but the cast and visuals are absolutely stunning. Some of the sight gags are brilliant – the BBC news reporter has to be one of my favourite jokes of all time.

The other big reference are the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, (Amélie, City of Lost Children, Delicatessen). I think you can see the influence of Richard Lester in his work, especially in his use of camera and cutting style.

As for shooting style, at the moment I really want to shoot on wide lenses – as most comedy should be. They just make everything funnier. You need look no further than Raising Arizona to see this.  I adore this Coen Brothers film, it is great fun and a brilliant performance by Nicholas Cage. One of the aspects I really enjoy about it is the cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld. The use of the wide-angle lens heightens the comedy and creates an off-kilter feeling. It also allows for clever reframing with little movements from the actors or camera. This in turn gives the film a real frenetic energy and pace. The other great thing from a budget standpoint – it helps to keep the number of camera setups down.

So those are just a few of the visual references for The Fitzroy. As the film develops, the list will grow and grow. I kind of see it as a soup – we chuck in everything that we like and out of that will come the film’s own (delicious) identity. Well that’s the plan.

Blimey that was a long blog. Congratulations if you made it all the way through it! In part two we’ll have a look at some comedy influences. So hopefully that will be fun.

Procrastination Corner

Hi, don’t do any work, it’s a Sunday! Have a roast and enjoy these distractions while the spuds boil.

This is just so beautiful. The Icebook (Link)

Super cool, super slow, super synched. Genki Sudio  World Order (Link)

History’s most iconic photos… in colour (Link)

There is one advantage of winning silver over gold. (Link)

Sure everyone and their mother have already seen this but…Baby Got Back’ Sung By 295 Movie Clips (Link)

Portraits of This Generation’s Brilliant Comedians (Link)

This weeks game: Elona Shooter. I should warn you I have the impossible badge and it took me weeks! (my user name is andrewh117 if you don’t believe me.) (Link)

And finally if you are doing some work – editminon is a great tool for a quick bit of copy editing. (Link)

Right how are those spuds doing?

Boxes so many BOXES.

Well I am finally into the new house and surrounded by boxes. The office isn’t quite set up yet, but the new desk seems to be working out pretty well.

It was quite sad to leave London but I will be back and forth especially as the producers are both London based and there is only so much you can do over skype. Bristol seems to be  an amazing city and I can (just) see the bridge from my bedroom window, which is very cool.

Anyway, what with the move and the Olympics, it has been a mixed time with the film.

We have started meeting up with heads of departments and musicians for the film. I am keen to get these key positions in place before we start the crowd funding.

I always find it really exciting meeting creative people. They bring so much to the project and it is thrilling to see how people interpret the script. I have a version that constantly runs on a tiny screen in my head but it sure isn’t what everyone else sees!

I guess that’s the beauty of film. It is a collaborative process; a combined vision. I don’t buy into the auteur theory. And I can’t stand ‘A whoever Film’ credit. It just isn’t true. Although saying that, I don’t mind that credit if it’s used as a sales tool for a big name director, but for a first time director, come on!

So hopefully very soon we’ll have some announcements to make regarding crew. I’ll keep you informed.