Monday, 19 September 2016

Sausage Party

Photo Credit: The Guardian

I recently saw War Dogs. Not entirely unexpectedly it didn't live up to its trailer - a 'hilarious' true-life story of how two stoners won a $300 million arms deal from the Pentagon. Directed by Todd Phillips of The Hangover Trilogy I was a little trepidatious going in given that I'm not really a fan of Philips' aforementioned work #sorrynotsorry but I was entirely prepared to be won over (as I was with Adam McKay's transition from the entertaining Anchorman to the excellent The Big Short). Sadly War Dogs is an uneasy watch, never really deciding if it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and unfortunately failing by being neither. Despite Miles Teller being spectacular in the equally spectacular Whiplash, in War Dogs, Teller is super weak as the 'everyday Jew Joe' who innocently falls into a multimillion dollar lifestyle on the fringe of legality. Nonetheless, I came away from the cinema truly impressed with the performance given by Jonah Hill who, throughout the film behaves like an utter cunt, but is somehow still the best part of a movie which was thankfully 'only' 114 minutes long, even though I'll confess, it felt much longer.

I've always been part of the Jonah Hill Appreciation Fan Club. I have a thing for schlubby actors with Jew-fro's; they just look like they  they know how to have a good time (which works for me as I haven't worked out since June and as I write this it's 3pm and I'm still in my pyjamas). So, after watching War Dogs I spent the majority of the rest of the bank holiday in a Jonah Hill Fest state of bliss, consuming Wolf of Wall Street where Hill is absolutely mesmerising as Danny Azoff; Superbad - which is the stuff that comedies should be made of. And I watched Moneyball for the first time and was blown away because it's excellent; and I was so surprised and a little bit ashamed I'd never watched it before. I'm so glad Hill was Oscar nominated for his part, even if he did lose to Christian Bale in The Fighter (I haven't seen The Fighter but my husband says Bale deserved it so I'll concede as apparently it's 1954 in our household). We wrapped up our weekend with 21 Jump Street which still makes me literally lol even though I've seen it more times than I'll admit to (Hill and Tatum, c'mon), and Hail Cesar! - and then we found this Reebok advert which made me love him even more.
And then last week I finally watched Sausage Party. I had fairly average hopes from a trailer that looked kinda predictably silly but entertaining enough; I'd  hoped it would be better than This is the End too, given that Kristen Wiig was in it and she can always make me smile. So I watched; and sadly I just didn't get it. I sound like my mother (not that I'd ever want my mother to watch this film) but it was bad. It was lazy; there's too much swearing; and it's just...weird. There's a literal food orgy that I just didn't get as it was way too odd and sexual - were people meant to go home and jack off to hotdog buns and horny tacos?! I'd also read the props it'd got because it pokes fun at religion, but it's so sloppy and in-your-face it felts super-smug and I'm bemused it's been credited for being gag-filled as it was more gag-inducing (I'm thinking of the male anal douching).
But my biggest issue around Sausage Party though was its treatment of women. They're objectified and the female food characters are overtly sexualised in a way that the dude characters aren't - even though the lead sausage Frank is as phallic as they come. Unlike This is the End where women are few and far between (but at least Rhianna whacks Michael Cera when she smacks her ass just because it's there), Sausage Party feels like it's unconsciously making a constant nasty joke against women. For the start, the objective of Frank the sausage, is to fill Brenda the bun. I know I knew this going into the movie so I guess I don't know what I was expecting, but there are so many jokes about filling Brenda's hole, and ripping her in two, that is becomes really unnecessarily graphic. Also, the fact that her mouth is literally like a vagina whereas all the men's faces are cartoonish and look like, well, faces - Brenda is a glorified hole with eyes (don't believe me - check out the merch). Also, Brenda aside, the real-life women in the movie are all animated to be tits, widespread legs and ass. Told from the POV of the food on the shelves, the camera angles are always upward crotch-shots and under-boob, and as a woman, I felt uncomfortable watching. I don't know if it was meant to be controversial, like, how you can get away with vulgar material because it's animation - but it left me feeling uneasy, not least because I was sat in a cinema with a vast majority howling with laughter, and all I could think is 'why are you okay with this?!'
As a woman I think it's dangerous when female characters are objectified and treated as sex-objects within movies. In Sausage Party women are sluts, whores, bitches. And it's not just what the men call them, it's what they call each other. There are literally no nice scenes between the female characters; the buns literally engage in a bun fight because of an upset that threatens their belief their life's objective is to be filled with any kind of filling. Even when Teresa Taco befriends Brenda and it appears the women are going to help each other, but after a few scenes we learn that nope, Teresa just wants to fuck Brenda too. It upsets me to think that this movie will reinforce movie-goers that women are nothing more than holes waiting to be filled. That their worth is only on attractiveness; there is another scene where a deformed lady-bun is the only bun nobody wants to have sex with in the food-orgy and she is bereft - until - a deformed weiner saves the day and makes her so happy by screwing her. What the hell kind of message is that? I guess one, in a world, even an animated one with singing jars of pickles and radishes, where a woman's only worth is by having a guy want to have sex with her. And I'm just not down with that.
In a world where Casting Call Woe regularly posts depressing audition briefs - last month I saw one that read Attractive, yet looks like she's sadly past her prime: Aged 28-40 - women have never treated more badly. With films like The Other Woman, a movie I watched for the most part believing it had to be satire and feeling utterly despondent when I knew it actually thought it was some sort of sparky revenge empowering film for women. It wasn't. It upsets me most that in a media where women take up only 17% of screens (despite making up more than 50% of the population) that Sausage Party is worse than most in its portrayal of its female characters. Because if women are going to take up so little time on the screen it's essential that when they do - they actually have something to fucking say, instead of just being there to be fucked.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Crack open the moet - we're going to be at Raindance!

So with clichéd predictability having not blogged for 6 months I am now blogging for the second time this week.
But I don't care because yesterday I had some amazing news; the film I wrote back in November last year - Henri (which won the Raindance MA 48 Hour Film Challenge) has been selected as part of the MA showcase at Raindance Film Festival! It's going to be shown at Vue Cinema in Piccadilly Circus - and Vertti and I have been asked to do Q & A afterwards! This is the first time I'll ever see my work on the big screen and as someone who hadn't written or made a film for 14 years until I took part in this challenge - I genuinely am so excited!

If you fancy coming along (and heckling asking lots of intelligent questions that make me seem über talented and like, a really good screenwriter) it's happening on Friday 25th September (time: tbc)!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


So, it's been a while...
I'm not going to pretend that this post isn't incredibly difficult to write. I'm not the kind of person who likes a burst of frenetic activity followed by radio silence - but essentially, I'm coming to realise, that's the kind of person I am.
To catch up; in February of this year we shot The Hiker. It was a 2 day shoot and I think I managed 6 hours sleep in 48. It was the most incredible couple of days; with 9 people on set, including the 2 cast members; the environment was intense and rapid and I came out of it literally bloodied and bruised but completely exhilarated. It wasn't of course perfect - shooting in the winter with a phenomenally ambitious shooting script - we ran out of light ∴ time - and because of that, the story I wrote wasn't the story we filmed but I have a feeling it won't be the last time that happens. As an actress, I also learnt first-hand what it was like to be a 'warm prop' (even as I was turning blue with cold lying on the forest floor during set up). It was however very, very funny working with my super talented best friend. I can't wait to do it all again next month.
In March I submitted my second MA assignment. A research paper on narrative structure in low budget, limited protagonist storytelling. I examined Breaking Upwards, Tiny Furniture and Your Sister's Sister. I ended up writing 10,258 words on the subject; tweeted about it - and Lynn Shelton favorited my tweet. I then died and went to mumblecore heaven.
In April; we entered the Sci-Fi 48 Hour Film Competition. Our title was Slap Down; our line of dialogue 'Some people worship it like a god, but there's no accounting for taste' and the prop was a survey. I think Vertti and I can both agree it's not the best of the shorts we've made (in fact it's awful) but we've definitely learnt a lot from the process so that in itself is important. Amazingly there are even some scenes in it that I genuinely like and can now be used in the show-reel we have planned; so I feel there is something to be gained from every opportunity I take in trying to be creative.

At the end of April, Nat and I dusted off our heels, threw on our glad-rags and attended the Raindance Independent Filmmaker's Ball at Café de Paris. It was an interesting experience, not least because every single person man who introduced themselves to us asked if we were actresses. Despite it being 2015, apparently as I have a vagina that's all I must be good because as people men were genuinely surprised when I told them I'd co-set up my own micro-budget film company; and wrote and produced films as well as acted in them. This isn't a paragraph about sexism, or rather it's not intentionally a paragraph about sexism, it's just what happened.
In May I completed a 20 page outline for my feature film. It was an enormous achievement as I started writing it about 9 months prior and had never completed the re-writes to a point where I actually had a finished story. In some ways I'm not massively proud of this (as I can't believe it took so long to actually write the outline) but in other ways I've probably never been prouder of myself as I finally committed to something for long enough to actually complete it. I also worked on my title and logline and put myself out there by inviting people to participate in a short survey about the aforementioned subject matter. Over 90 people were kind enough to take time out of their lives to complete it and I am forever grateful - even if my ego still stings when I reminisce over the extrodinarily blunt criticism I opened myself up to receive. The power of anonymity on the internet is a beautiful thing. I then submitted my 1st reflective report (of 4) towards my MA. At 54 pages, it came in at a beefy 17,916 words - but I was rewarded with my 3rd distinction of the degree, which I celebrated by drinking brown bottled beers in a Brooklyn beer garden sat behind the beautiful Bjork (try saying that in quick succession).
And then June and July happened and they were relatively low key - with the exception of my beloved cat George dying and my heart breaking. Nat and I spent a mental day dubbing The Hiker (so much harder than I thought it would be), and Vertti and I signed off on the final edit - hooray. I also spent a large portion of time writing a backstory for my feature in an attempt to know my characters better. What it lacks in psychology, apparently it makes up for in literary style. I now have a set of 50 character development questions to work through for 4 characters in the next week and a half, so I better get cracking this weekend.
This month (August) however has been pretty productive thus far. After 8 months of sporadic brainstorming I've finally written the outline for the prequel to my feature (nicely pretentiously titled Him. Me. Us.); and Vertti, Nat and I feel good about taking it forward. I actually feel really excited about making this film - it's my first attempt at mumblecore and being such an enormous fan of the genre, I just hope I can do it justice. I've already re-written it 3 times and we have our first read-through scheduled for tonight. Today was also spent buying a fake pregnancy belly, contacting the amazing Ella Masters to see if she'd like to design our film poster - and learning about film permits and public liability insurance. I can't deny the latter's a rather dry subject, but with every new thing I learn I feel a little more confident about turning my ideas into reality.
So there we have it. A 6 month round-up of everything that's been going on wrapped up relatively neatly into 8 paragraphs, 9 if you count the opening gambit (which you probably wouldn't). I can't promise the next activity on this blog won't be the equivalent of a cheap cattle-prod horror film (quiet-quiet-bang), but I promise I will try.

Ps. The final thing I have to report is I watched the best film of the summer last week - Patrick Brice's Creep. Thanks sista-Crista for the heads-up.

Monday, 1 December 2014

My Most Significant Director: Lynn Shelton

Fig 1 MovPins (2011)
I debated long and hard when it came to my most significant director, not least because up until this year I had never even heard of Lynn Shelton - and to be completely honest, Shelton isn't my favourite director; Wes Anderson is. In fact I am such an Anderson fan-girl, in Spring this year, after having an argument with my then-fiancé (now husband) on the way to the cinema during opening week of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) I actually made him turn around and drive home rather than risk tainting my appreciation of Anderson's latest cinematic offering with my black mood...Yes, I think we can safely say this is the nerdiest thing I have ever confessed. But another factor that made me hesitant in writing about Shelton was that the irony wasn't lost on me that despite my wanting to write a feature screenplay, I've chosen a director/writer  who specialises in improvised dialogue. So how much can I be influenced by someone whose filmmaker's map was once described as 'Scriptless in Seattle' (Rochlin, 2012)? A lot it seems, because despite having never come across a Lynn Shelton movie until about six months ago - after I watched the incredible Your Sister's Sister (2011), something shifted within me; and her way of storytelling is something I utterly aspire to.
Starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWhitt - Your Sister's Sister tells the story of Jack, Iris and Hannah. A year after the death of Jack's brother; Jack's best friend Iris invites Jack to stay at her family's island get away. Whilst there, Jack meets Hannah - Iris's lesbian sister; and a bottle of dusty tequila (and the kind of heartfelt conversations you can only have with a complete stranger) later, Jack and Hannah end up in bed together. When Iris shows up at this island the next day, all three characters are forced to re-evaluate and admit to secrets that had, up until that point, long kept hidden. Your Sister's Sister makes for a fascinatingly confident piece of filmmaking not least because it is a movie that primarily consists of three characters talking, one boathouse and a rusty red bicycle. However what was completely magic for me was that despite being low on cast members and set locations, Your Sister's Sister is undoubtedly a fully-formed and beautiful film, driven wholly by superb and complex character development and raw engaging dialogue.
I went away an immediately tracked down one of Shelton's earlier works - Humpday (2009). With Joshua Leonard and (once again) Mark Duplass taking the lead, Humpday is a story about Ben and Andrew - two straight men forced to take their bromance to another level when challenged to participate in an art house amateur gay porn festival project...together. Despite sounding like a precocious Indie wet-dream (no pun intended I swear) Humpday has some genuinely moving scenes throughout. I think the film also resonated with me because at age 30 (a similar ballpark age to Humpday's characters) Humpday examines the presumptions of who you are once you reach a certain age - both on a personal level, and in the eyes of others. Beukes (2014) writes "everyone lives three versions of themselves; a public life, a private life and a secret life...we are different things to different people in different contexts" and this notion is repeatedly explored in Humpday as the arrival of Andrew after an absence of 10 years, gives himself and Ben no choice but to reflect upon how they define themselves both existentially and also within the confines of their friendship. To me it was never more poignant than when a recently married Ben tells perpetual drifter Andrew "You're not as Kerouac as you think you are...and I'm not as picket fence as you think I am".
I think I find Shelton's work so compelling because at the heart of her films are flawed yet highly engaging characters who are just trying to figure out something truthful. I completely agree with Shelton when she recently stated the qualities which drew her to direct her most recent film Say When (2014) as being ""The characters felt fleshed out, three-dimensional...I liked the fact that the humour is based on the characters, and that, tonally, there was a nice balance between the comedy and the drama...These are flawed human beings who are allowed to make mistakes, to be imperfect and fumble their way through their journey"" (Fine, 2014). And this notion of flawed characters - of flawed female characters is something that really excites me as a filmmaker. It may be 2014 but until recently I feel that men have been dominating the quarter-life crisis movie whereas, as Shelton herself comments "women - especially in manchild movies - had to be the mature ones. Boys were expected to be boys, while girls were relegated to the side-lines being sensible...Women need to be reminded that it’s fine not to have it all figured out at 28. The world will not end if you don’t get married and have a baby or know exactly where your career is going. Growing up doesn’t mean ticking things off, it means figuring out what your list might be. Don’t do things because everyone else is. Prioritise doing them right, instead" (2014). Were you talking directly to me just then Ms Shelton..? I think I'm a bigger fan-girl than I thought.
Beukes, L. (2014) Broken Monsters. London: Harper Collins
Fine, M. (2014) Nothing Lagging about Lynn Shelton [Online] Available from: [Accessed 1 December 2014]
Lewis, H. (2014) 'Laggies' Director Lynn Shelton on Connecting to Film About Growing Up Your Own Way [Online] Available from [Accessed 1 December 2014]
Rochlin, M. (2012) Scripless in Seattle: A Filmmaker's Map. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 29 November 2014]
Shelton, L. (2014) Why I like leading ladies who don't act ladylike [Online] Available from: [Accessed 30 November 2014]
Humpday. (2009) Film. Directed by Lynn Shelton [DVD] USA: Magnolia Pictures
Say When. (2014) Film. Directed by Lynn Shelton [Film] USA: A24
The Grand Budapest Hotel. (2014) Film. Directed by Wes Anderson [Film] United Kingdom-Germany: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Your Sister's Sister. (2011) Film. Directed by Lynn Shelton [DVD] USA: IFC Films
Image Source:
Figure 1. Mark Duplass and Lynn Shelton at event of Your Sister's Sister. (2011) [Photograph] Available from: [Accessed 30 November 2014]

Thursday, 13 November 2014

My Most Significant Film: It's just girl stuff

Fig 1. Lola Versus (2012)
I first watched Lola Versus (2012) last summer after I picked up a copy of the DVD at the closing down sale of my local Blockbusters. An indie "rom-com-ish movie about a woman who goes looking for herself after she's dumped the same day she tries on her wedding [Lola Versus] opened to bad numbers and worse reviews" Beckman, L. (2012). But whilst I know it's not the biggest or greatest of classics (opening on the same theatrical release date as The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was always going to be a tough sell), Lola Versus is the film I watched that made me want to write screenplays.

Starring Greta Gerwig "the Mumblequeen herself" (Ultraculture, 2012), Daniel D'Addario (2012) argues "Lola Versus is a quirky...flick with dreams of being a big, broadly appealing romantic comedy - it’s not so different from last summer’s Friends with Benefits, a big, broadly appealing romantic comedy that wanted to be quirky...Put Mila Kunis or Emma Stone in Greta Gerwig’s role, and move the setting to a backdrop more cinematic than somewhere in crypto-Downtown Manhattan or North Brooklyn, and, voila, you have a movie that pulls in upward of $30 million on opening weekend." The problem is I hated Friends with Benefits (2011) and found it to be an emotionally vapid, predictable, smug smirk of a movie (and that's just the poster). I just about made it through Bad Teacher (2011) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) where Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis were merely supporting actors but to sit through nearly two hours of their Friends with Benefits on-screen 'romance' was personally, almost unbearable - even with the advantage of being drunk when I watched it.

However, I think that compared to what the box office would suggests a lot of viewers enjoy accept when it comes to mainstream romantic comedies, the problem is I just don't believe in their themes or characters. In Kim Hudson's The Virgin Promise (2009) she notes "Jung wrote "Meaning only comes when people feel they are living the symbolic life, that they are actors in the divine drama" (Hollis, 2004, 11). This statement ties into another fundamental principal of screenwriting - audiences need a protagonist they can relate to" - and sadly I can't relate to the likes of Friends with Benefits, Friends with Kids (2011); and the particularly unwatchable Something Borrowed (2011). Lola Versus though...I just fell in love. With Lola, with her stunned heartbreak, with her passivity, with her fear of turning 30, with her messy friendships, with her bad decisions; with the film's dialogue - especially the film's dialogue. And, not just in spite of, but  for me, because of the self-indulgent journey Lola takes as the film circumnavigates over a year of her life; which is perhaps not the easiest of tasks given that the film runs at a very modest 87 minutes.

To me Lola Versus is a modern day fairy tale. Whilst there's no glass slipper, no magic mirror; no Prince Charming - as Bettelheim (1989) comments "fairy tales are centred on self-worth and selfhood...presented as stories of casual, everyday life events, which take place in the domestic realm." At the end of the Lola Versus, an unmarried and triumphantly single Lola takes time to reflect on childhood expectations with her very-unwicked-and-very-un-step-mother summarising "Remember how much I loved Cinderella as a kid? It's what messes little girls up!". Dumped three weeks before her wedding yet ultimately going on a journey of personal growth and discovery, the story told in Lola Versus represents "the process of knowing yourself  as an individual, internally and externally" (Hudson, 2009). And that's the stuff I think fairy tales and films should be made of.
No Lola Versus isn't revolutionary - and granted, lines like '""Find your spirit animal and ride it until it's dick falls off"" aren't for everybody - but they are to me. Because underneath the aching Gerwigness; the saltiness and sluttiness, the themes of Lola Versus and the way the story is told represents something complex and truthful. Dating. Human interaction. Aging. Friendship. Sex. Comparing yourself to others. Maybe themes like that are just my preference when it comes to telling a story. Maybe essentially Lola Versus is just a movie full of girlish prattle; maybe it is just "‘mumblecore “Sex and the City”'" (Uhilch, K. 2012). But, as Waldman (2014) writes:
Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You're sizing people up to see if they're worth your time and attention, and they're doing the same to you. It's meritocracy applied to personal life, but there's no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact - to keep from becoming cold and callous - and we hope that at the end we wind up happier than our grandparents, who didn't spend this vast period of their lives, those prime years, so thoroughly alone, coldly and anatomized again and again. But who cares right? It's just girl stuff. 
Beckman, L. (2012) Is Lola Versus a bad movie or are all men sexist? [Online] Available from [Accessed: 11 November 2014]

Bettelheim, B. (1989) The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage Books

D'Addario, D. (2012) Lola Versus Reviewed: Mumblecore Vet Gerwig Attempts to Hold Off Stifling Script .[Online] Available from [Accessed: 11 November 2014]

Hudson, K. (2009) The Virgin's Promise. California: Michael Wiese Productions

Uhlich, K. (2012) Lola Versus. [Online] Available from [Accessed: 13 November 2014]

Ultraculture (2012) This month in Gerwig: Lola Versus. [Online] Available from [Accessed: 11 November 2014]
Waldman, A. (2014) The Love Affairs of Nathanial P. London : Windmill Books

Bad Teacher. (2011) Film. Directed by Jake Kasdan. [DVD] USA: Columbia Pictures

Friends with Benefits. (2011) Film. Directed by Will Gluck. [DVD] USA: Sony

Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (2008) Film. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. [DVD] USA: Universal

Lola Versus. (2012) Film. Directed by Daryl Wein. [DVD] USA: Groundswell Productions and Fox Searchlight Pictures

Something Borrowed. (2011). Film. Directed by Luke Greenfield. [DVD] USA: Warner Bros

The Dark Knight Rises. (2012) Film. Directed by Chris Nolan. [DVD] USA: Warner Bros
Image Source:
Figure 1. Lola Versus. (2011) [Poster] Available from: [Accessed: 12 November 2014]