Writing


I have been summoned by Scott at Front Room Cinema to attend to the latest Meme working its way across the blogosphere. And because I’m a good, dutiful zombie, I’m going to oblige my friend.

The rules to the 7 x 7 Link Award are simple:

1: Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows.

2: Link to a post I think fits the following categories: The Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, Most Pride-worthy Piece.

3: Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.

 

Okay, so here we go then.

Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows.

Jeez, let’s start with something easy, huh? I mean, if there’s something that no one else knows, then it’s probably for a reason, right? Let’s be honest, I’m not about to confess to the bodies under the floorboard on my blog. Oh…

I guess I can confess that I am something of a sci-fi geek and used to watch a lot of shows. I always loved Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Firefly, Sliders, X-Files, etc, but for many years I was a huge Trekkie. It’s not really something I mention in the pages of Celluloid Zombie, but I used to watch Star Trek religiously. All of the shows. At least one episode a day. I confess I know the Star Trek universe inside out.

However, I don’t have a Starfleet uniform, I can’t speak Klingon (beyond a few phrases from the shows) and I’ve never been to a convention. Mine was a private love affair. Until now, anyway. Live long and prosper. Don’t judge me.

1. The Most Beautiful Piece

A little something I wrote a few years back, entitled Two Hours in Another World. No pictures, just words, and a testament to my enduring love of cinema.

2. The Most Helpful Piece

Helpful? I write a movie blog. What the hell is going to be helpful about that? Okay, I guess it would have to be The Gremlins Gag Reel, for all of you out there who wanted a complete run down of the many in-jokes littering Joe Dante’s absolute classic. Helpful, right?

3. The Most Popular Piece

There must be a lot of people who share my love for Asian horror out there because the post that consistently gets the most hits at Celluloid Zombie is my Top Ten: Asian Horror Movies.

4. The Most Controversial Piece

I’d like to think everything I write is controversial, but since that’s patently untrue I’ll have to pick something. I was going to go for my review of Drive, which I thought was boring while everyone else raved about it, but instead I’m going to pick the recently published The Celluloid Zombie Guide to Becoming a Movie Snob – Part Two for which I received a complaint for suggesting tall people should be banned from cinemas. Apparently, I was quite convincing.

5. The Most Surprisingly Successful Piece

If two people and my mum read one of my posts it’s surprisingly successful, but rather than feel sorry for myself I’ll plump for The Thief of Bagdad and Simpler Times, which was actually picked up by another movie site. Surprisingly successful, I’d say.

6. The Most Underrated Piece

Ooh, two opportunities for self-pity in one meme. You’re spoiling me. It probably says a lot that this is the toughest one to call, doesn’t it? But after due consideration I’m going to hark back to Christmas 2010, when I tried to get into the spirit by listing Cinema’s Most Disastrous Santas. It was like the Christmas party that no one came to. Awwww, poor me. Sob.

7. The Most Pride Worthy Piece

It was between two, but finally I decided to go with my tribute to the Alien franchise, Life Cycle: The Birth and Death of the Alien Saga. Don’t ask me why, but I’m really proud of this one. It was a real labour of love, but I enjoyed writing it more than any other. And it’s the one I go back and read the most, too. Go figure.

Okay, that was relatively painless. And for my 7 nominees I have chosen:

Margaret @ Conjuring My Muse
Ruth @ Flixchatter
Colin @ Pick ‘n’ Mix Flix
Deborah @ The Intuitive Edge
Nadja @ 50 Reasons Why These Movies Suck
Claire @ Cinematic Delights
Cantankerous Panda @ Back in the Day

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My name is Richard, and I am a writer.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s the one thing about myself that I’m always proud to tell people (for ‘people’, read ‘anyone who’ll listen’). But, am I? A writer, I mean. What is a writer? At what point, or by what criteria, can one rightly refer to oneself as ‘a writer’? This may seem, at first glance, a rather odd question, but it is one I wrestle with from time to time. Usually around the time I tell someone I’m a writer and feel a faint lack of authenticity, coupled with a loathsome voice in my head, telling me I’m a total phoney.

‘I’m a writer’, I say.
‘You’re a total phoney’, the loathsome voice says.
‘I have every right to call myself that’.
‘Yeah, but you’re not telling the whole story, are you?’
‘I’m relating the important bits’.
‘You’re a big phoney and you smell of poo’.

Let me explain, and at the same time assure you that I do not smell of poo. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.

I’ve written seven screenplays, two of which were optioned for a short while. I’m in the process of writing two novels and I’m a semi-conscientious blogger. I write. I love to write. It’s what I was meant to do. However, like most writers, I haven’t yet reached the point where my craft is my primary source of income. So, I am currently cursed with what people call ‘a day job’. You know, the thing that people advise you not to give up? Actually, my day job is a night job. I work the night shift in a hotel. It’s a thankless, tedious and demeaning job and certainly not the kind of thing you’re going to tell people you do. Not if you have a plausible alternative. Which, God be praised, I do. You see, I’m a writer.

‘Phoney’.
‘Oh, fuck off’.
‘Touched a nerve, have we?’

You see the issue?

So, the questions is, what labour defines you? The work which pays the rent or the work which you love but presently pays you little to nothing? Have I earned the right to tell people I’m a writer, or should I, in all honesty, tell people I work the night shift in a hotel? It’s like being Clark Kent, forever compelled to present that mild-mannered persona to the world, while desperate to tell people you meet that you’re actually Superman. After all, you really are Superman. Clark Kent just pays the rent. Ironically enough, he’s a writer too. I wonder if he gets the loathsome voice in his head?

Is it, in fact, the case that the simple of act of writing makes you a writer, regardless of whether you ever get paid for it? Surely it’s the act that earns the definition, not the result of that act. I mean, is a musician only a musician if his songs are recorded? Is a rapist only a rapist if he gets convicted? No, of course not. That’s just ridiculous, right?

So why, when I tell people I’m a writer, do I feel like such a fraud?

And how much thinking is too much thinking?

I love movies. I love them. I’ve always loved them and I always will. I love watching them, I love writing them and I love collecting them. To me, there is no other medium like it. I enjoy music, I enjoy books, but it is in cinema that I find the true spark of passion and joy that can only come from knowing you are where you belong, you are in a place where everyone speaks your language. It’s in the shiver that runs down my spine when the camera slowly moves toward Harrison Ford’s face, as he studies the golden idol he is about to steal in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s in the way my heart breaks when Al Pacino opens his mouth and lets a lifetime of regret emerge as an animal howl at the end of The Godfather III. It’s Morgan Freeman’s eyes in Seven, the Orca sailing out to sea through the teeth of a shark in Jaws, or John Hurt starting to cough during dinner in Alien. It’s two hours in another world. It’s magic.

It started with my father. And, no doubt, some genetic predisposition, since my brother did not develop the same passion. From an early age, dad passed to me this love of cinema. I would sit and watch countless movies with him, while he would explain to me why certain shots were set up a certain way. How, for example, Hitchcock would often frame his characters claustrophobically, using stair banisters to simulate bars and signify their entrapment. Through years of viewing, I began to understand the language of cinema, recognising the style of certain directors, the signatures that appeared in their work. I would smile when Spielberg used a shadow because I could name all the other times he had done it. I recognised the way John Carpenter took the basic premise of his favourite movie, Rio Bravo, and made a series of brilliant horror movies from it. I saw the symbolism of oranges in the Godfather movies. No, honestly. Oranges. Oranges signify death. Watch all three movies again and you’ll see.

I’ve accumulated a vast wealth of, let’s face it, potentially useless movie knowledge. I mean, who cares if Scorsese slowed the frame rate of a certain zoom on Robert De Niro in Goodfellas, just ever so slightly, because it made him appear more menacing? Who cares that Hitchcock made Psycho in black and white because he didn’t have enough of a budget to make it in colour? I care. Because this is my passion.

I’m old enough to remember a time when movies were almost a once only experience. It was either a trip to the cinema or catch them on television, three years later. So, I look back very fondly at the early eighties, and the advent of home video. The sense of wonder I felt at the fact that it was now possible to own a movie, in a box with a cover, was absolutely overwhelming. The local video rental store became a holy place for me; thirteen years old and staring, wide-eyed, at the store walls, lined with movies. In boxes, with covers! I could choose one of those movies, take it home and watch it whenever I felt like it. It was incredible. And what a choice! At the cinema it was a choice of three. Here, I had a choice of hundreds. My appetite increased in direct proportion to the nourishment available.

Of course, when I try to convey that sense of awe to my son, himself now thirteen, I’m met with the same kind of amused condescension I used to give my dad when he told me how cool his Davy Crockett hat was when he was thirteen. The wheels keep turning.

Movies have been the one constant in my life. While other loves have come and gone, my love for film has remained, concrete and undiminished. This, I’m afraid, is carried through to my love of movie memorabilia. I’m not an insane collector. I can’t afford to be, but I do have my own little movie shrine set above the fire in my lounge. And on the walls. And a few other places. They say that men never truly put away their toys, they just move up to more expensive ones. For some it’s cars or bikes, for some it’s sports, and for some it’s hi-tech gadgets. For me, it’s movie memorabilia. Posters, books, and yes, toys. You can call them that, if you must. I mean, I don’t run around playing with them. They just sit there, which to my mind puts them under the category of ‘ornaments’, right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I always had aspirations towards working in the movie industry. As a child, I vacillated between all manner of the more whimsical ambitions. Actor, stuntman, special effects, storyboard artist. Each month I moved onto a new career path. In my early thirties, I took the more pragmatic step of running my own video rental store. I hoped I could recapture the magic of those places from my childhood, but by that time the rental industry had become commonplace, corporate and regimented. The magic had gone. I was just a faceless guy in a T-shirt, handing out video cases to an undemanding public.

So, finally, I sat down one night and decided to start writing a movie. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before, and I couldn’t tell you why I decided, on that particular night, to start. Something in my head just clicked. A few months later, I had my first completed screenplay, Dark Road. I immediately started another, and shortly after that, Dark Road was optioned. The option was dropped a few years later, but my fourth screenplay, Debunking Dad, won the BAFTA/Rocliffe New Writers Forum in 2008. There have been successes and failures, and the ultimate success has not yet been reached, but I’m confident I will get there.

Who knows? Maybe one day, a scene from one of my movies will give someone a shiver down their spine. Maybe one day, something I wrote will inspire someone else to do the same. And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be magic. And toys.

Sorry, I mean ornaments.