Monday, February 27, 2012

Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington

As I write this it is Oscar night and Hollywood royalty will be out in force.  The Artist is widely tipped to do well and by the time you read this you'll know if it did well or not. I haven't seen it myself; reports from friends have been mixed so I'll wait for it to come out on DVD. I also have issue with it being called a French film. Inception had more British crew than The Artist had French but no-one called that a British movie.  I think it's just a marketing ploy really and would explain the director's reticence to be the poster boy for French film making.  If it does get Best Picture, it will be the first silent film to win since the very first Oscars. If Jean Dujardin wins Best Actor, he'll be the first French man ever to win. And I like him so I hope he does.

It's quite likely that The Artist will win though because, not only is it about Hollywood, but it's actually shot there too. Not so unusual you might think but you'd be wrong.  Last year, only two big budget films (that's films with budgets over $75 million) were filmed in Hollywood. Yes, just two. Ten years ago, the number ran to hundreds. So what's changed?

Well, it's the unions. They have long exerted a stranglehold on filming in Hollywood and not just in Hollywood, the situation in Ireland is similar.  The Husband used to work in Ireland all the time. He's not worked there for quite a few years now because the Irish unions have strict quotas of 'foreigners' who are allowed to work on films there. In the old days, a canny producer would drag a couple of guys off the street to sweep up the stages but they can't get away with it now.

One the one hand it's good to ensure that your own people are looked after. On the other hand, it's killing their industry slowly because they don't have the crews with the right experience.  As a result, more than one production has folded or decided not to return because the lack of experience in key areas, particular in the Art Department, has led to a poor quality end result.

The last production which the husband worked on in Ireland was taken over for the subsequent series by someone who had worked as his work experience assistant as the unions refused to sanction his employment. It was a disaster. He ended up fielding dozens of calls every day as his replacement struggled to do the job. It was unfair on him and unfair on her. The end result was atrocious, the lead actor refused to return for a further series and it was shelved.

In Hollywood, the state government has taken away many of the tax breaks and together with the over-zealous unionisation of the industry, production in Hollywood itself has reduced dramatically.   Producers prefer to film elsewhere; other states, the UK, Eastern Europe.

The flip side of this particular coin is that producers are now filming out of the reach of the unions on contracts that would make your eyes water.  I thought I'd share a few of the highlights of The Husband's contract on a $100million Hollywood movie he worked on last year.

1.  You are contracted to work any hours which are required by the production
2.  You are entitled to one rest day at the company's discretiion
3.  You have no entitlement to any holiday or holiday pay
4.  Your contract may be terminated by the company at any time with one days' notice
5.  You have sold your body and soul to us to do with what we will (OK, I made that one up but it would probably fit in quite nicely with the sentiment of the rest of the contract.)

And this was in an EU country!

In the UK, the film and TV unions have been pretty much emasculated. When The Husband first joined, you had to be proposed and seconded by a current member in order to be accepted. It was almost as hard as Equity to get membership.  They have worked hard to promote the industry, keep pay rates set at decent levels and name and shame those who use and abuse their members.  But in an industry with the 'glamourous' tag, and hordes of eager youngsters willing to sell a kidney for a work placement, it's fighting a losing battle.  Now, membership is easy to come by but then hardly anyone joins. That way they can undercut the union pay rates. All good news for producers, less so for their crews.

And with productions being more and more judged on their ability to bring the job in under budget rather than produce quality work, it's difficult to know where it will all end.  The Husband is working on a fantastic series at the moment. It's been a while since he's been so excited about a project. Four weeks in, and his budget is shaved on a weekly basis until what is left is just a pale imitation of what it could have been while the producer literally jumps up and down squealing in production meetings when something comes in under budget. He's considering a capital offence!

So what's the answer? Where is the middle ground between unions legislating their industry out of existence and producers handing out contracts that probably violate just about every employment law going. Damned if I know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day... or as I like to call it, Tuesday

No sooner was Christmas over than the shops were going into a pink, fluffy, heart shaped frenzy over the next opportunity to part the public from their hard earned cash - Valentine's Day, named for a saint who's head is now kept in a church in Winchester. Maybe he lost his head for love.  Well, actually he didn't. There is no romantic link to St Valentine at all. We have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for that. Cheers Geoff!

Now, it's just  become another excuse for florists to rack up their prices and manufacturers to think of ever more creative ways to 'St Valentine' their products. It's also a day where teenage angst reaches fever pitch. Will they or won't they get a card? If they do, who sent it? Was it a secret admirer? A boyfriend? Their mother? Apparently 8 million Americans send themselves Valentine's cards. It's also a day when people are pressed into making declarations of love that they may or may not feel able to carry through.  Excited partners receive cards expressing undying love and devotion  because  there's no card saying 'Be Mine... for the moment anyway' or 'To the One I Quite Like But It's a Bit Early to Talk about Love'.

The Husband and I don't 'do' Valentine's Day. We used to in the early days. I still remember driving across London, from my home in Putney to his in Ealing, clutching a box of heart shaped cookies I'd made for him - and bearing in mind that I'm to baking what Jeremy Clarkson is to international diplomacy - this was a serious declaration of love. And not least because I had to be up at 5am to get them onto his doorstep by 7am when he left for work.  

On the way home it started to rain; not just a shower but driving, torrential, sideways rain. When he left the house he trod on the box, which was by then soggy and the cookies bloated with water. He wasn't even entirely sure what they were. So much for that.

A few years followed with a dozen red roses arriving at the office, which I usually went on to kill because I forgot to replenish the water. Then he went away filming and forgot to send me a card. I had, of course, sent him one. I was upset and the next year I didn't send him one. He sent one to me though, so he was upset. In the end we agreed that we just wouldn't bother. We didn't need a fluffy toy or a soppy card one day a year to know that we loved each other.

So today was spent up in London worshipping at the shrine to Mammon that is Westfield Stratford City.Actually, the Girl is going to stay with her best friend from France who now lives in Essex and this was midway between us both.  It was like one of the rings of hell in Dante's Inferno and I left vowing never to go again unless they opened it up just for me and me alone. 

Happy Valentine's Day, or as I like to call it, Tuesday. Have a nice time however you decide to celebrate it... or not
Lost for a present for your loved one? How about this
anatomically correct beating heart... seriously!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fabio Capello, a man of few words .....well 100 at least

.Well, I'm sure you were all saddened to see Fabio resign...No?  Me neither.

In homage to the man who is to the English language what Shakespeare was to Serbo-Croat, here's my blogpost from last year about Ab Fab Fab.........

The British are often chastised for being poor linguists, too lazy to learn another language. It seems this is not just an Anglo-Saxon trend.

I read in The Times today that the totally unintelligible Fabio Capello, he of the pitchside interviews that leave you going 'Huh?', believes his poor grasp of the English language doesn't prevent him from being an effective Manager of the England team.

I guess those who watched the comprehensive drubbing of our pathetic national team in the World Cup might beg to differ but never mind Mr C.

Fab Fab believes that he only needs 100 words in order to be able to communicate with his team. Personally, I'm not sure that the entire team has a vocabulary of more than 100 words combined but perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. The rest he makes up with elaborate hand gestures which generally involve pointing at the goal, jumping up and down and going purple in the face. It's nice to know that he's paid £4 million a year for this.

So, here is my suggestion for the 100 words that he needs to manage the team. Feel free to add your own.

Poor, passing, missed, penalties, bend, it, like, fashion, icon, in, his, own, mind, at, least, superinjunction, sorry, mate, I, schtupped, your, girlfriend, Wayne, Rooney, Shrek, Ashley, oops, gun, went, off, by, accident, never, mind, only, work, experience, offshore, bank, account, not, tax, evasion, avoidance, two, percent, what, is, the, problem,  roasting, young, tarts, drinking, driving, get, off, prison, sentence, failed, World, cup, bid, are, you, blind, ref, team, resembles, Pugh, Pugh (OK, I know I'm repeating myself but I'll give you an extra word at the end), Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub, clowns, drunken, nightclub, shenanigans, inept, captaincy, tuhbehonest, training, one, hour, each, day, Hello, big, cheque, obscene, chavvy, wedding, Teletubbies, more, talent, my, Hummer, bigger, your Ferrari

Have I missed anything?  Football fans will, no doubt, be delighted to know that each word in Don Capello's small English vocabulary is worth a cool £40,000.

In France I couldn't have got a job as a cleaner without a better grasp of French that the Inarticulate Italian has of English but that seems to be no barrier to success in the UK. Ain't equality a wonderful thing!

Oh Fab, I couldn't have put it better myself!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

TOOT, TOOT! In which I blow my own trumpet..

For the  past year of so I've been slogging on with a novel about a young woman who moves to France. Unashamed chick lit rather than the next great British novel.  I posted the first 6 chapters on Authonomy in mid-November where it went into the rankings at over 5000 and today I have reached the heady heights of the top rated Chick Lit book on the site this week and No. 21 across all genres. I'm very excited.

For anyone who doesn't know about Authonomy, it's run by Harper MacMillan and is a writing community where we can all share our work. It is peer reviewed, rated from 1 to 6 stars, and each month, the five highest rated books across all genres make 'The Editor's Desk' and are critiqued by Harper MacMillan's editors.  Many new authors have found agents and publishers through Authonomy and we all live in hope.

If anyone is on Authonomy, get in touch and I'll gladly read your books.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The one in which I discover that life drawing is another skill I have yet to acquire

At my WI we like to liven things up a bit, teach our members new skills that they might otherwise not learn. Not for us a dry talk on the lesser spotted bastard of Salisbury Plain (or should that read 'bustard'?) or 101 ways with Great Aunt Matilda's hat. So for our first meeting of the new year we decided to have a go at Life Drawing, a new artistic endeavour for most of us and to be honest, the only way we could think of to get a naked man to come to our meeting. Strangely enough, the idea of a naked woman was never even suggested.

An art teacher was sourced and booked. She offered us her models who we managed to ascertain was about 60 and had a beard. Now, I've nothing against beards but if I was going to turn out on a winter's night it would need to be for something slightly more aethetically pleasing than a hirsute pensioner so we set about finding our own model. The advantage of living in (or at least near) a garrison town is that we have more than our fair share of fit young men and so it was in that direction that we cast our net. A well placed word in the ear of one of the commanding officers and two suitable candidates were procured.  I suggested a panel interview so we could assess their relative 'merits' but this was deemed a bit too pervy, so in the end we relied on the wisdom of our Prez to decide which one we chose.

In the end we went for the lovely Graham, a tall, very game Scottish soldier who had 'a lovely body to draw' according to someone who actually went for the art... go figure!  Originally we'd discussed only partial nudity, we'd let him keep his boxers on, but then, thinking it would probably be better for drawing (yeah really!) we decided on full nudity.  The news was broken to Graham. We hoped that, having faced the Taliban, albeit fully clothed, the prospect of getting his kecks off in front of a full village hall of women would be only marginally more frightening.  I did also check that he understood that we are a young WI so it wouldn't be a room full of matronly women but more likely of a similar age to him  Ok, well I might be flattering myself a bit there.

The evening arrived. It was the coldest night of the year, well below freezing but, dear Reader, if you want a sure fire way to get women away from the TV and the central heating on a winter's night, the answer is, sadly, a naked man.  There were twice as many people at the meeting as we would normally have.

We set a 'stage' up for Graham who hung around nervously watching us all file in. We plied the women with alcohol but not, sadly, poor Graham, who's the only one who probably needed a stiff drink. He seemed to be edging closer to the door.  I warned The Prez that he might bolt. Maybe the taliban was preferable?  Our art teacher suggested that he was already naked when everyone arrived to avoid a 'ta dah' moment when he took his dressing gown off  but, to be honest, a naked man lounging around while we were all signing in and buying raffle tickets would probably have been even more weird than it eventually was.

I think it's fair to say that he was probably the first naked man I've seen since meeting The Husband over 20 years ago, well, apart from one ill-fated Hen Night at a rugby club where a male stripper left me with a mild case of PTSD. I don't know what I expected, I don't know what he expected. I thought he'd be lying around, artfully draped in the white linen sheet I'd bought along. What I didn't expect was to turn round from fiddling (quiet at the back!) with the heater we'd brought along to keep him warm, to find him standing there, stark naked in a Usain Bolt-esque pose.  And my goodness, he had an extremely large............. tattoo on his back! I sort of squeaked and jumped. I guess you can take the girl out of Tunbridge Wells but you can't take Tunbridge Wells out of the girl.

He had to hold the pose for 10 minutes then change to another one while we tried out different, and in my case equally useless, drawing styles. I was only glad that I was sitting to one side so I didn't have to study his manhood in order to recreate it on the page. That said though, I think he'd be delighted at the proportions bestowed upon him by some of our artists. Mind you, this was before we'd been taught how to measure properly.

There was a little bit of sniggering from some people - you know who you are - and whether or not we created anything of any worth is debatable, but we had a great evening. Graham was a real sport, Mrs Graham was very good to lend us her naked husband for an evening and God knows what will happen the next time any of us run into him in Morrisons. And quite what the village hall committee would make of a naked man sitting on their prized fabric chairs, who knows, but now at least we now all know what a Scotsman keeps up his kilt.