No such thing as Global Warming, eh?

In the summer, most of the time it just rained. In January and February, we had days where it was so hot that you could go out in a T-shirt. (Not just one or two freak days, but quite a few.) And we’re talking about Germany here. We didn’t see an inch of snow the whole winter. Nothing. It rained sometimes, but often it was quite warm.

Now, in March, with all the trees in full bloom, it’s snowing. It has been snowing, again and again, for several days now.

And there are still people who claim there’s no such thing as climate change? Take a look around, people! The climate isn’t just changing, it’s completely fucked.

I wonder sometimes… when we have children, how will we explain summer to them? Or winter? Hell, what about autumn? These things will no longer exist, not like they used to.

It’s pretty depressing.

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke is dead. Literature has lost one of its greatest visionaries and humanity has lost one of its most dedicated and positive proponents. He will be missed.

The good thing, however, is that as long as we’re around – and by “we” I mean our entire species, the species that Clarke had hope for when so many other writers have nothing but fashionable misanthropy – his stories and his ideas will be with us. Forever.

(And if there is an afterlife, I will find him and kick his arse for dying before someone could make a Rama movie.)

Finally someone who *understands*…

Stephen Fry is not only one of my literary heroes (and someone I hugely admire in general), he’s also a blogger (or blessayist, as he delightfully puts it). And since he recently broke his arm and can’t blog all too well, he’s now posting podcasts (or Podgrams, as they are called on site). (Look, it’s another parenthesis. They were on sale today.)

Anyway, his most recent podgram is called Bored of the Dance , and is all about dancing. (Or possibly about not dancing.) It’s hilarious, eloquent, and deeply, profoundly true. (For me. )(Not for most people.)(That’s it.)(Go and listen to it.)(Here’s the link again.)(I don’t like pork.)(Chicken is good, though.)

10,000 B.C.

I went into the cinema with the lowest expectations. The trailer showed us wooly mammoths building the pyramids and good white guys fighting evil Arab-dudes; not exactly a promising premise. So I was surprised to find that Roland Emmerich has finally made another good movie (the other one being Stargate ). Not brilliant, no. There are some scenes that could’ve been very touching, but the movie never quite takes off emotionally. Emmerich is competent, but not visionary, and the Zimmer/Badelt-knockoff music fares likewise: good, but not special. Which is still a whole lot better than most movies.

So, here are some thoughts:

  • The writing was mostly good. I’m sure some people will disagree, but the way it lived somewhere between folk tale and epic was really well done, especially in the narration; the only place where the writing fell down a little were Evolet’s scenes.
  • Unfortunately Evolet not only sounded too modern, she looked too modern, too. Casting someone with more normal (and therefore more interesting, more specific) looks would’ve been a big plus. The generic nature of the love interest kind of harms a story that is all about a man trying to save said love interest.
  • The effects were pretty good. It’s strange. Everyone went all orgasmic about the effects in Independence Day , which were terrible (yes, even at the time) and yet when it comes to this movie, where the effects are actually quite good, people complain.
  • The landscapes were fantastic. Utterly ridiculous in how close they were together, but truly beautiful.
  • The cinematography was also competent. Certainly much better than all the crappy shakycam bullshit Peter Jackson pulled in The Lord of the Rings . Quite often I did wish for close-ups when the camera was far away and for wider shots when they were using close-ups, but except for the scenes in the jungle it all looked pretty good, and you could actually see stuff, which is always a plus.
  • Unless it was night. Can somebody please forbid day-for-night shoots? Or explain to filmmakers that nights aren’t completely blue? You can use darkness as a visual tool, you know.
  • Cliff Curtis is a god. What a wonderful actor. He was stunning in Sunshine (one of my favourite movies of all time), and here he is clearly the strongest presence in the film.
  • A couple of scenes were truly hilarious – intentionally so. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I do want to say that those scenes were really well-written and clever, and the acting was perfect.
  • Some people (idiots, we call them) are bound to complain about the film’s message of universal cooperation. They’d much rather be told that all humans are inherently evil and we will keep on bashing in each other’s heads for eternity because that’s just how it is, no sense trying to change anything, besides, being a misanthropic nihilist is totally in these days, maybe that way you can also get chicks. But the scenes with people of different tribes/races working together, becoming friends, were beautiful and touching – more touching than the love story, actually.

All in all – a good and entertaining way of spending some time. It won’t change your life, but it’s not forgettable, either.


It's a scary monster movie! (Minus the scary and with only half a monster.)I was really looking forward to this one. I mean, how could I not want to see a movie about a giant monster rampaging through a city, shot by someone actually experiencing the event? I love monster movies. I love cool, “experimental” (I can’t come to terms with the term) ideas. I still think The Blair Witch Project was an amazing movie. And yet, Cloverfield , proceeding from the same basic concept (a horror you can barely see, documented by the actual characters) is almost a complete failure.

And yet the concept is so good! Underneath the monster story there is actually a love story, and as the movie develops we realize that’s what’s it’s actually all about. That is good. In fact, it’s fantastic. One of my favourite movies of all time, The Village, is very much like that (and totally underrated precisely because people go in to watch a horror movie and can’t take the genre shift).

So why doesn’t Cloverfield work for me? Here’s a whole bunch of reasons.

  1. Most of the characters are idiots, especially the guy with the camera. At the very long party scene in the beginning, almost nobody is likeable. And Hud (camera dude), is a total moron with the emotional and moral complexity of a pre-schooler. It’s very hard to care for people so superficial that they might as well be made out of paper. Only Michael Stahl-David as Rob Hawkins, the man trying to get to his ex-girlfriend, is an interesting character.
  2. The behaviour of the characters, especially Hud, is completely unrealistic. Hud spends most of his time annoying the fuck out of the other characters (and the audience) by pointing his camera at them and asking how they feel. While this could be played as a reaction to his fear, it just comes across as annoying. It’s not the actor’s fault – it’s the writing. Would Hud really be behaving like that after the girl he’s supposedly in love with exploded? (More on that later.)
  3. Nobody has any meaningful conversations. They either run around or just get annoyed by Hud. They talk about what to do, but never about what’s going on. It’s just like an episode of Lost. I mean, there’s a GIANT MONSTER out there, doesn’t anybody wonder about what it is? Only Hud says anything about the subject at all, and as always the others just ignore him. Besides, what he says is mostly played for laughs. (Come to think of it, this is a *lot* like Lost.)
  4. The camerawork is completely unrealistic. Even the most inexperienced amateur can use a digital camera more sensibly. I’m fine with all the shaking when they’re running away, but Hud can’t even film the party that opens the film without making it look like a war movie.
  5. The city doesn’t look real. I think it’s mostly the lighting, which often is too professional; it all feels too slick, which in turn conflicts with the crappy camerawork. What the film needed was essentially a Dogme approach and look. I hate Dogme’s guts, but here it would’ve been appropriate. The film should look rough.
  6. There is no proper introduction to the characters. The entire beginning of the movie is too chaotic not only for us to become attached to anyone, but also to be able to tell them apart in a meaningful way. Sure, once a bunch of them have been killed off – with barely any reactions from the others, apart from Rob – it’s fairly easy to tell them apart, but this still means that the all the deaths in the beginning have no impact.
  7. Irrational behaviour, again. Why does Marlena, the girl Hud’s got the hots for, join the group in its attempt to rescue Rob’s beloved? She doesn’t know any of them, in fact she seems to find Hud quite annoying. There is NO reason for her to do this, other than for the script wanting it. I really don’t understand why this was written as it was; it would be so easy to do it any other way.
  8. This one’s a biggie: monster design! The monster sucks. We barely get to see it, which I suppose is part of the idea; but given that it’s almost as big as a skyscraper, even the worst cameraman should be able to get a decent shot of it. But that’s not design, that’s presentation. The design is the real problem. It’s boring. Dull. Featureless. A big grey blob with legs and bendy arm-thingies. What’s the deal with all the sloppy CGI these days? The thing had no presence, no weight. No decent textures, either. Everyone complains about George Lucas but nobody knows how to do CGI half as well as Lucas and his brilliant people.
  9. What about the monster’s origin and purpose? No, it doesn’t have to be explained in the actual movie, but the people making the movie need to have some concept of what it is, to lend its behaviour some consistency. I didn’t get that impression at all here. I mean, sure, the monster’s only purpose can be destruction – but even then it has to do this in a specific way, and to have reasons for what it does that are reflected in its behaviour. Take The Mist, a brilliantly underrated movie with some truly terrifying creatures. There you get a real sense that the creozoids are part of some ecosystem, that they have reasons for behaving as they do. In Cloverfield, the monster feels like nothing more than a cinematic device.
  10. Yeah, I have even more to say about the monster. Considering the fact that they wanted it to be really dangerous and scary, it’s pretty bloody useless. I mean, what does it do? It’s this big ugly blob that walks around and crushes a few buildings – not that many, actually. It doesn’t do anything cool. It doesn’t feel unstoppable. In fact, it’s not quite clear why it’s so hard to take out; again, a cinematic device rather than realism.
  11. The other powerful weapon the monster has is that it drops mini-monsters, spidery crab-thingies about a metre or so in size, that run around and eat people. Now these could be scary, but they have the same problems as their mommy: they’re badly designed, inconsistent, and pointless. In one scene, the characters are attacked by a fairly large group of these beasties, and manage to do some serious damage to the monsters before getting away. In another scene, they beat one of these creatures to death quite easily. If you can easily beat them to death with a stick they must be pretty wimpy, right? But the army, with soldiers and machine guns and tanks, can’t deal with them at all and just gets butchered. WTF?
  12. Also, what are the mini-monsters meant to do? In one scene, Hud’s love interest is bitten by one of them, and a little while later she starts bleeding from her eyes, until a soldier takes her to a place behind a strategically lit tent, where she EXPLODES. Hud doesn’t seem to care much, and after filming all this he doesn’t really seem to think about it much, either. That’s dumb enough, but the question I have is WHY DID SHE EXPLODE? It’s not like something came out of her, Alien-style (or at least we didn’t see anything anywhere in the movie). It’s so… gratuitous. And none of the other main characters explode, even though they are hurt by the creatures. The impression we get is of the writer sitting there, thinking to himself “Wouldn’t it be totally freaky if she like…. exploded? That’s it, she’ll totally explode! Awesome!” So it just happens, completely out of any meaningful context. I suppose this could be a species of monster that has evolved over the millennia just to have that one cool scene… but that’s stretching credibility a little, isn’t it?
  13. The movie does nothing with the handheld camera concept except use it as an excuse for being sloppy. And there is so much that you could do! I mean, think about it: what we have is a first-person movie. So what about all the tricks a writer can use with that kind of perspective? How about a scene in which the characters are suddenly attacked by beasties, there’s a cut, we see them running, they escape, the on-camera characters talk for a while… then the guy behind the camera says something and we suddenly realize that it’s someone else! (Obviously, you would then have to talk about the other character’s death. Cloverfield kinda forgets this stuff sometimes.) Or have them use the camera for something other than recording – looking around corners, zooming in to see what’s going on further ahead, that kind of thing.
  14. The camera is used twice in such a way, though. At one point, the characters have decided to use a subway tunnel to get where they’re going. (There’s a brilliantly ridiculous scene where they are overtaken by fleeing rats, and their reaction is basically “Hmm, fleeing rats. Do you think that might indicate something bad is happening at the other end of the tunnel?” “Nah.”) Since they can’t see anything, they turn on the camera’s light, which is bright enough for everyone to be able to see. Now there may be cameras with lights that strong, and I’m sure that in the future this wouldn’t be a big deal, but with the technology we currently have the movie should’ve ended five minutes after that with a “battery low” symbol. In a slightly better sequence, the characters turn on the camera’s night vision mode, only to discover a bunch of beasties right on top of them. While conceptually cool, the scene also feels terribly forced.

All in all, Cloverfield suffers from not being properly thought out, and from not taking advantage of its concept at all. What’s really depressing, though, is that Diary of the Dead will be compared to this movie, and will not be appreciated – despite the fact that Romero’s work has always been funny, intellectually challenging and well-made.

The mediocrity (or not) of humanity

Recently onegoodmove, a site I like a lot, posted an excerpt from a book called The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. It was called “Six Reasons to be an Atheist” and seemed all right at first, until I got to number five…

  • The weakness of the opposing arguments, the so-called proofs of God’s existence
  • Common experience: If God existed, he should be easier to see or sense.
  • My refusal to explain something I cannot understand by something I understand even less.
  • The enormity of evil.
  • The mediocrity of mankind.
  • Last but not least, the fact that God corresponds so perfectly to our wishes that there is every reason to think he was invented to fulfill them, at least in fantasy; this makes religion an illusion in the Freudian sense of the term.

No, no, no. Also no, and no. If you think mankind is mediocre, you’re an idiot. Please shut up and go be mediocre yourself in a far-off corner. Humanity mediocre? Give us a fucking break. Monstrous, yes. Insane, yes. Heroic, too. Self-indulgent. Idiotic. Brilliant. Clever. Imaginative. Godlike. Wormlike. Evil. Good.

All of the above aspects of humanity, as paradoxical and maddening they are, are real. We’ve done terrible things. We’ve also done amazing things. But only the most bland and pessimistic moron, who has never understood anything about the passions and ideas and fears and visions that drive us, would think humanity to be mediocre.

So yes, many people believe in God because they’re afraid of death. That doesn’t give you the right to feel superior because you’re not. Yes, it’s great that you can look death in the eye like that. I truly admire that. But if you think that the mind that posits an all-knowing and all-loving being in response to the fear of death is mediocre… then you have no imagination, and no perception, and I’m sad for you. Yes, the Bible is full of bullshit. But it is also filled with writings and thoughts of amazing beauty and depth, not to speak of the works it has inspired. Religion gave us the Inquisition but it also gave us much in the way of visions and dreams and poetry that we would never have had otherwise, and I pity the small-minded fools who cannot see that. A distaste for dogma, blindness and fanaticism is a good thing, in fact a necessary thing in these times of intellectual and social decline; but fashionable misanthropy and snobbishness have as little to do with reason and logic and the principles of thought as the Democrats have with Democracy, or the Republicans with republicanism.

Re-reading the list, only points 1, 3 and 4 make any sense; the rest are extremely flawed. Texts such as this one (much like Richard Dawkins’ work) mean well but are ultimately pretty damn shallow and illogical. Religion is a complex issue, and should be treated as such.


A very short review of the movie we saw yesterday.

It had potential. The locations were great. The sets were good. The actors all have the ability to make scenes work. I haven’t read the novel, but Stephen King is an incredibly gifted writer – one of the best living writers of our times, I would say – and I’m sure that the book is enjoyable and touching and complex and scary and all sorts of other things, even though it’s probably not as good as It, or his absolute masterpiece The Dark Tower.

The script, however, is crappy. The lines themselves are mostly mediocre, but what really kills it is the structure, which just doesn’t work. The first 20-25 minutes are pretty good, the rest is just boring. The director fails to make the material interesting and also fails to get good performances out of the actors, who mostly don’t seem to know what they’re doing there, and who sound like they’re just reading their lines. The special effects are mostly OK, but the director doesn’t know what to do with them, just like he doesn’t know what to do with this movie. It has no emotional weight, and it sure as hell ain’t scary.

This kind of thing should be left to Guillermo del Toro, or other directors who know what they’re doing and take it seriously, like John Carpenter or George Romero.

Better King adaptations: Hearts in Atlantis (many differences from the original, but a beautiful movie), Kingdom Hospital (completely nuts and totally amazing), Storm of the Century (complex and scary), The Green Mile (according to Verena it’s not as good as the book, but still very touching), The Night Flier (deeply flawed but Miguel Ferrer is bloody brilliant) and of course classics like The Shawshank Redemption (perfect) and Stand By Me (very good).

The Golden Compass, or how not to adapt a good book

How not to adapt a good bookJust for once, I’m grateful for the fact that the morons of the Catholic League and other so-called Christians managed to keep people away from the movie. Not because it contains atheist elements – that wouldn’t be a problem – but because it sucks. Had any of their supporters gone to see it, it might have killed off their last remaining brain cells. All three of them.

I mean, Jesus! It really, really SUCKS! What are they trying to do, permanently kill off the fantasy genre? Actually, come to think of it, that seems to be the general plan. Eragon, Narnia, Stardust, this one… these movies are so bad they make the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy look good!

I’m too tired to go into all the details, but…

  • Having a coherent plot would help. There’s this book you could borrow some ideas from. It’s called Northern Lights.
  • Actors would also be an idea. Well, there’s Daniel “Evil Bond” Craig, and Nicole “Just As Bad As Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust” Kidman, and Christopher “I ONLY HAVE TWO LINES IN THE ENTIRE MOVIE” Lee, but… actually let’s do this the simple way:
  1. Nicole Kidman – fine actress, terrible performance.
  2. Daniel Craig – he’s just scary.
  3. Dakota Blue Richards – uhhh… acting classes, please?
  4. Ben Walker – whoever you are, please go away.
  5. Ian McKellen – just because he played Gandalf doesn’t mean you have to cast him in every bloody fantasy movie you make! Just hearing his voice drives me insane by now.
  6. Eva Green – uhh… I’m sure she could act, in a better movie.
  7. Sam Elliott – a joy to watch, even in movies like Ghost Rider and this one; I wonder what would happen if he actually had a well-written part.
  8. Christopher Lee – HE ONLY HAD TWO FUCKING LINES!
  9. The rest – mostly generic.
  • The CGI. Why did this movie cost 180 million dollars? It looked like shit.
  • Apparently ice bears don’t bleed. Even if you rip off their jaws.
  • The music was BORING. But then, so was the movie. It didn’t even manage to rip off Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • But worst of all: the writing. How in Dog’s name did they manage to take a well-written, complex book and turn it into… this? There were bits of dialogue so bad that I literally groaned. It’s more or less on the level of Aragorn Eragon. Characters show up out of nowhere, deliver some entirely random bit of exposition, and then go away. No detail. No personality. No nothing. It’s not like a good story needs people in it, right? Unless, that is, you think American Pie is a good story. Oh, wait…
  • And let me point out that I wanted to like this. I really did. I was even prepared to live with them taking out the religious aspects of the original, if only they delivered the story properly. But this wasn’t just a terrible adaptation, it was a terrible movie.

Why why why why why does this kind of shit have to keep happening? The original books are wonderful. They’re not just amazingly deep on a philosophical level, they’re also fun and imaginative and dark and mesmerizing. And exciting! Ever heard of that word, Mr. Weitz? But no, we can’t have that, can we now? What we need is another boring, bland, amateurish and utterly forgettable piece of tripe that manages to put another nail into the coffin of fantasy films. Thank you so much for this load of crap.

Do read the books. They are very, very good – despite this movie.

Making The Lord of the Thingies

A week ago was the last performance of The Lord of the Thingies, the Christmas panto that took up a significant amount of our time these last few months. There’s a lot to tell, and I’m still too tired from having a sudden and terrible toothache at 6 a.m. to be particularly coherent about it; so I’m going to write several posts, all of them probably extremely confusing and repetitive.

The project began a long, long time ago. We started writing in October 2005, but the actual beginning of the panto lies even further back. The idea first fell while we were writing Star Warts, the previous Christmas panto that we did, sometime in 2004. In theory that show was written by myself and Mr. Morden Michael, Verena’s then-fiancé, but the reality of it is that Verena wrote at least half the show, and more than half of the good jokes, but never got credited. (I suggested in might be an idea, but was overruled. I didn’t have much authority as a director – this is a problem we’ll come back to later.)

By the way: I’m not going into these personal details because I want to spill my personal life all over you. I do indeed enjoy occasionally peppering my posts with remarks about my life, but this isn’t a celebrity memoir; the reason I mention this stuff in this particular post is to illustrate the difficulties of doing amateur theatre, with an eye to maybe helping a few people involved in doing this kind of thing. Besides, some of these points may also apply to other forms of collaborative art.

Star Warts was a success as a show, and introduced some pretty cool ideas that hadn’t been done that way before by Chaincourt (our theatre company). It was a non-traditional panto in the sense that it wasn’t about a fairy tale or any of the usual topics: instead, it was about Star Wars. It featured mostly parodies of modern songs, which the audiences loved – and I think it was also pretty good in terms of what it did with the plot, and how the scenes were built to utilize the entire stage. I know a lot of people who loved it.

Still, it could’ve been better. A lot better. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the writing. Most of it was done by three people sitting around a laptop: Michael, myself and Verena. What makes a big difference is who was sitting at the laptop, in this case Mr. Morden I mean, Michael. To put it bluntly: Verena and I are writers. Michael is not. Ideas would be thrown around, possible lines would be suggested – and then they would immediately be typed up and we’d move along. I would always be unhappy about this and try to work on the lines a little longer – because when you’re writing comedy, even the tiniest difference in the phrasing can make a huge difference.

To take an example from The Lord of the Thingies: in Moria, Footolas (our extremely dumb version of Legolas) stumbles over a book. The original lines go like this:

(Ara = Aragorn, Gand = Gandalf, Boro = Borrowmir, Foot = Footolas, Gam = Gamly)

Ara: Gandalf. Light, if you would be so good.
Gand: Sorry dude, batteries must have run out.
Boro: Oh, great. Let’s just head for the exit. It wasn’t that far.
Foot: Just follow me, my superior Elven instincts will see you safely out of here.
(Sounds of shuffling and stumbling in the dark)
Foot: Argh!
Gam: I wonder were his superior Elven instincts have led him now?
(Lights go on again, Footolas is tangled around a big book)
Gand: Right on, it was just a short-circuit.
Ara: What have you… found?
Foot: A book.
Gam: Really? Wonders never cease. We can see that it’s a book!
Ara: What does it say?
Foot: Can’t say. It appears to be dwarfish.
Gam: Let me have a look, laddy. Hmm… the writing seems to be somewhat slurred.
Gand: Can you read it, dwarf-dude?

This is a fairly funny scene, especially when played out on stage, and the audience loved it. But there was one detail which was greatly improved during rehearsals. One day Johannes, who played Footolas, when saying “A book.” accidentally swallowed the “A” and ended up saying “Book!” We couldn’t stop laughing for about five minutes – Footolas is notorious for constantly pointing out the bleeding obvious, and this just made the character’s light-hearted stupidity even better. So we told Johannes to keep it, and the audiences responded really well. It was hard for the actors not to corpse.

And all of that just because of a single word. Just because we took out the “A” a good joke turned into a fantastic one. (If you disagree, I don’t care. The audience loved it and I’m happy. *g*) This is something that happened during the rehearsals and not during the writing, so maybe the example is bad; but that kind of optimization happens all the time during the writing process. This is extremely important. And on Star Warts, it didn’t happen enough. There were so many lines which were amusing, but which could’ve been hilarious if more work had been put into them. When Verena and I work together, that happens constantly – one of us comes up with a line, the other improves it, then we add another idea, and we end up with something great. The best lines in Star Warts came from precisely that kind of cooperation between Verena and me. Unfortunately, there was interference (and bad spelling) from her fiancé. Am I being nasty? No, not really. Blunt, yes. Nasty, no. If I really let all the stuff out that I’ve got in my head, it would instantaneously destroy the entire internet.

The lesson in all this? Except that relationships are difficult and the past is an ugly country that needs to be burned down, hacked to bits and fed through a meat grinder so that I don’t have to think about it? (As Hartley famously did not say.) Working with people is not easy. That may seem like stating the obvious, but it is something that you should keep in mind if you’re going to work in amateur theatre. Not everyone is talented at the same kind of thing; unfortunately, however, some people think they are. And it’s really difficult to tell them otherwise; after all, they’re not getting paid for this. And you may have to work with people you don’t like, or people you’re not comfortable around. This can make things considerably more difficult than you had anticipated.

Writing is a skill that is difficult to understand for a lot of people. When we were doing The Lord of the Thingies, we got oodles of complaints. Some of them came from the usual backstabbing bullshit any large group will eventually be infected with: people just don’t like you, because you have the wrong hair, or the wrong name, or the wrong girl/boyfriend, or the wrong sense of humour – and then they try to undermine everything you do. But other people complained because they honestly believed the lines weren’t funny, or didn’t work. When they saw that the audiences loved the play more than just about any other we’ve ever done, a lot of them changed their minds. But that was on opening night. Before that, we had weeks and weeks of people dragging down morale by saying that the jokes didn’t work.

That doesn’t mean those people were idiots. Some of them are basically quite nice. (Most of the real idiots threw stones from afar.) But they’re not writers, and they don’t understand how writing works. This is a particularly acute problem when it comes to writing for the stage, where some things only work in the presence of an audience. We could see that it would be funny, because we knew how it worked. They didn’t – not until the audience started laughing their butts off.

All of this would’ve been considerably easier if there weren’t so many people being professionally grouchy about this show because a) it wasn’t traditional enough b) it was a student production, and some people have a problem with that because they don’t want students to have any success, even though they are students themselves. Weird, but true.

This kind of ridiculous and childish infighting isn’t unique to Chaincourt. If you want to direct an amateur show, you have to be prepared to deal with it, or it’ll kill you. It may not be as bad for you as it was for us, Chaincourt currently being in one of its death/rebirth moments (the group has existed for about 40 years, but my theory is that it goes through cycles of being brilliant and being shitty), but it is something you need to be aware of.

In our case, directing the show wasn’t a problem. We knew what we wanted. The real problem was getting through all the whining and self-important complaining. In the end we were proven right – but the process of getting there nearly killed us. I kid you not. It was an incredible amount of effort, and having to fight so many people made it all much more difficult. I had already decided this would be my final show with Chaincourt, but what we went through was a pretty good confirmation. I don’t regret having put all the work into Chaincourt that I did; but professional conditions would be so much better.

Let’s not be unfair: there were more than a few people in this production who were utterly professional. Henning (our Gollum), Matthias (our Frodo) and Fabian (our wonderful lights technician) are three good examples of people who were utterly perfect to work with. I enjoyed working with them immensely. That’s the kind of people you need. People who can follow directions and can also suggest their own ideas, but aren’t disappointed when you say no. Their input improved the show greatly, and simultaneously they never bitched when we rejected one of their suggestions.

Speaking of Fabian, a short digression. There’s a scene, typical panto stuff really, where Gandalf (or rather Randy Gandy) comes in and tells the audience about the ring. Only he can’t remember the word “ring” and tries to describe it: small, round, you can put them on your finger… the idea, obviously, is for someone in the audience to shout “a ring!” During rehearsals, we would shout in the most absurd stuff and see how Gandy reacted. (I always suggested “churches.”) During one rehearsal the following exchange occured:

Gand: You know, they’re small and round, with a hole in the middle…
Fabian: Donut!
Gand: No, not a donut, it was shiny…
Fabian: Shiny donut!

That still brings a lunatic grin to my face. Yes, I do have an absurd sense of humour…

Anyway, back to the story. We started writing The Lord of the Thingies in October 2005. Verena and I did most of the writing, but we were joined in the process by a friend of ours called Sebastian. It was all a little strange – originally we just invited him to suggest a few ideas, not to become a co-writer/co-director, but somehow he decided he wanted to do that and we didn’t say no. (Touching very uncomfortable subjects here, but at least some semblance of the truth is required if anyone’s gonna learn something from our experiences. I’m not saying he meant to do this – but that’s kind of how it happened. Clarity in communcation is extremely important, and we weren’t clear enough about these things.) Adding Sebastian to the group wasn’t a disaster, and he did contribute many funny lines and ideas – but it also caused a number of problems. Verena and I had a very clear idea of what the panto should be like, and Sebastian’s vision (and approach to the work) was quite different from ours. This caused some conflicts and made the entire process much more stressful, especially since we felt that the panto was our baby and didn’t take well to suggestions involving changing things which we’d decided upon months or even years ago. If you do a play with your friends, I think it’s important to be very clear about who does what, or you’ll end up wanting to kill each other. Directing requires vision, and that vision needs to be clear.

Speaking of that kind of conflict – a couple of days before the first show, there was a huge fight during a rehearsal, with people saying the show didn’t work and demanding that scenes be cut. It was extremely frustrating for me and Verena, because we knew it would work when an audience was there, and Sebastian was far too willing to compromise – in the end, I stormed out of the rehearsal room and went home to write a scathing email to our Yahoogroup.

And you know what? It helped. I thought people would get angry. They didn’t. Instead, they suddenly started truly committing to the show. The next day, for the very first time during the production, we had a real team spirit going. People were putting effort into the thing, working together, solving problems. Apparently what they had all needed was a thorough kick in the butt. I was surprised, but happy.

The Lord of the Thingies had the biggest audiences of any Chaincourt show in the past few years. The people who came loved it. Even a lot of the naysayers did. People who usually just get dragged to pantos by their significant others and hate it told us that they really enjoyed this show. People who have seen every panto ever done by Chaincourt said this was the best one. In fact, a lot of people said that.

We did it.

I’m not saying this to show off, though I am proud of the show. I’m saying it because it demonstrates the importance of sticking to your vision and working your butt off for it, even if other people tell you it sucks or it can’t be done. Doing something new and ambitious can be done. It is important to remember that, especially when you’re working on this kind of show – because with so much working against you, every little bit of confidence and hope is a great help.