Friday, December 4, 2009

The Value of Shorts

This was in responce to a recent forum post:

With it being possible to make a feature films for about 5k these days , short films shouldn't need to be funded! Well received self-financed short films are supposed to attract funding for future, bigger projects. It's a bit like trying to get a record contract advance just to make demos , shouldn't it be the other way around ?
I don't think that's right. It comes back to the value of short films and, while I would much rather be moving into features, I think there is great value in short films. While often scene as calling cards to get feature made, they are of course a cinematic format onto themselves, many artists exists and thrive in making only short films. Plus its fun to tell a short story, not every story needs to be or should be feature length, there's something really wonderful about a well crafted short film, they're perfect when done right, something that's not trying to be a feature squeezed in, but a story that only needs to be 5, 10, 15 minutes long.

To this end, like any story, some are more complicated than others and do need more money. While perfectly possible to shoot a film for next to nothing and get something of value that does some business, I did this with my film Bill, for short(made for nothing, got into festivals, got distribution) you will also have ideas that couldn't possibly done without huge backing. I have a few of those scripts gathering dust that I know could be great little movies. My last one was a short entitle Angelina, set in Paris and involving magic, no way I'm getting that done for anything under €60,000!

And while people might say "What's the point?! You could make a feature for that money," I say to them - Why not? Again - shorts are something different to features, why not be able to tell a short story - short stories in print have been around as long as novels. And what if that money is available for making short, specifically shorts, why not use it?! Great! You got money to make a film, go do it!

If I'm lucky enough to get to make feature films I think I'll continue to make short films, and if I can get €60,000 or more for one then maybe I can dust of some of these scripts and make some magical little films.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Recession DVD buying

We're in a recession, I'm broke and out of work, but I still manage to scrap together a few quid for the odd DVD. The trick is, be picky, be frugal and look in places you would normal find DVDs. So here's what I bought, where and for how much (those who may find this boring and pointless, look away now):

I haven't bought much all year, money has been tight, but I've picked up a few new movies recently. Thrift has been key with these recent purchases. It really pays to look around. I find HMV quite decent for DVDs, it doesn't have a huge range and generally stocks the same old films, not too much of a turn over, but you get the odd bargain, I mean who could go wrong with €3.99 for No Country for Old Men!

I didn't avail of that particular bargain, I all ready paid full whack when it came out first! But I found La Haine for €4.99, which was great, I'd been looking for that, doubly nice as it was stacked with other copies of the film priced at €5.99 and one at €14.99. That's something else you have to be careful with at HMV, at least in Drogheda, you will find various prices in different parts of the store, staff oversight I guess, so it pays to look around.

Staying in HMV I picked up a four disc box-set of Inside the Actors Studio with Russel Crowe, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn for €14.99, worth it for a little insight I thought, and who could resist the hooky charm of James Lipton. Today I bought the original Miracle of 34th Street in preparation for the season ahead and Primer, as an antidote! I've been meaning to get it for some time, but it's always been at the ridiculous price of €33.99 (don't know where they pulled that one from) so as soon as it came down to something earthly, €14.99, I bought it - can't wait to watch it!

I popped over to Xtra-vision, they're doing a good deal at the moment, most of their films for €5.99. They actually have quite a good range and some obscure and hard to find films. I got for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, the original, I had no real interest in seeing the Tony Scott actionified version. It's great, I love that loose, gritty, honest 70's way of shooting. I love Walter Matthau's dry witty delivery.

Then I went further a field to Price Busters, a place in town that sells cheap rugs, dodgey lamps and no brand toilet cleaner, that kind of thing. But in the back of the store, hidden away from plain site, is a stack of DVDs selling at €2 each. Among the cartoon knock offs, likePig and the Spider (Charlottes Web anyone) were a couple of gems, two great anime's Blood, The Last Vampire and Metropolis (The one based on Osamu Tezuka's comic book), couldn't believe my luck! I also found two Horror Classics, Terrence Fisher's Dracula The prince of Darknessand Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death! all for €8 - Awesome!

Last night I was in Power City and picked up a few films for €4 each, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, In Bruges and Wolf Creek. Again, seasonal buying in there. I got Wolf Creek as it was recommended to me as a harrowing horror and a relentless marathon of endurance, sounds right up my alley, and I think it's based on something that happened in Australia while I was back packing there. I bought In Bruges more a study it again, I enjoyed the film the first time round. I thought there were good performances and the dialogue was fantastic. But I had a lot of problems with it, the structure, the level of coincidences, some poor characterization and the sloppy ending. So I want to go back and look at it again. I find it helps to look at these flawed enigmas again in an effort to be a better writer.

Also picked up The Blair Witch Project for €4. I've only scene this film once and I've been eager to go back to it again. I think it's responsible for a lot of how filmmaking is made today. It's as low budget as they come, very original and the first film really to grab hold of how the internet could be used. Times have changed. The internet is a different beast. But I think this film still retains the energy of indy, no-budget filmmaking and I'm eager to see it again.

And that's what I bought recently.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tools for the job. Weapons for the battle.

I think every script is different, the inspiration comes from different places, the ideas pop into your head in different ways, you come at it from different angles and start it in different places, and not always at the beginning!

I've written 8 feature scripts, 3 I would count as practice, 3 need some work and 2 I'm really happy with. Each one was a different experience. The first three I bulled into with out really knowing any of the rules of screen writing, without even knowing what I wanted to write or where the story was going. The next three I started to be more deliberate, take my time and think about the process and the last 2, I was meticulous, the last script I wrote has taken 14 months to complete.

In 1997 I thought I'd write a vampire road movie - friendly, misunderstood immortals who have learned to live without killing are found out and forced to go on the run with an old crusty vampire hunter, Midnight Run with Vampires basically. I still really like the idea, but I didn't execute the script very well, lack of experience led to lack of characterization. I was concentrating on the forward momentum, the atmosphere and the cool scenes and forgot aboutwho these characters were, essential for a story like this, would Midnight Run work without such highly developed characters? So it ended up flat.

I think knowing your characters is vital before you begin writing. Having a strong understanding of who your characters are will inform the story. You may have heard it said that characters will begin talking to you. It's true, they do, they'll say "I wouldn't do that" and when they do you know you've written a strong character and you know you can't bend them to the will of the story, you have to work out a different way to get them around.

I wrote a werewolf script a few years ago. I had a bunch of people trapped in a building and I knew how it would end. So I wrote that first. That was the third act. Then I had to figure out who all the character were, so I wrote about their lives before the werewolves. The was the first act. Then I had to join these two, second act. So that was ass-ways, quite literally! But it worked for that script. I don't think you should be afraid of writing whatever way it comes to you. Just get it down.

My other scripts were more straight forward, traditional I suppose, where I spent many months thinking about them, writing notes, ideas, structures, until eventually I get to the stage where I can start to plot it out by beats. Then I sit down to write. Because of those months of gestation, sometimes years on certain ideas, I'm able to blast out the first draft in a week. The werewolf script was written in 3 days (didn't sleep much). Then the writing begins.

For me the first draft isn't really a draft, it's the idea, as a whole vomited out onto the page, an I mean vomited, it's messy and stinks a bit! I have to clean it up, make it work, find structure and pace and make sure each character is working and has a singular voice. If there are characters in their who are just filler, just there to die, or say a funny line, they're gone. If there are two or three characters who's lines are strangely interchangeable then I fold them into one character and give him/her all the lines, and character traits. I find those character become much more interesting, and real!

From there everything gets worked on, teased out, every scene is questioned, pushed and pulled in every direction to see if it works. If it does then the challenge is to push every scene to be the best it can be, to give it everything you can. James Stewart often said that a movie is about creating moments. Each films should have several special moments, scenes that stand out, set the tone of the piece, make people think, gasp, react. Your job then is to find those moments with in the script and make sure they work.

This can take a while, for me usually about 3 months. Although the script I have just finished took 14 months! Be patient, work it out, make it the best you can. There are so many filmmakers out there who are so eager to get behind the camera and start shooting that they forget the most important thing, to get the story right, get the script right. I know there are been people out there that don't use like that, Mike Liegh, Ken Loach, Shane Meadows, even someone like Larry David who writes treatments rather then scripts and the cast ad-lib around the story. But these are extremely talented, experienced professional who've been working at the craft for decades, and they all began with an understanding of the craft of writing and how to tell a story.

You've heard the old sayings 'God is in the details', or, 'the Devil is the in the details'... everything is in the details. Why do the Coen brother's films work so well? They concentrate on the details. Everything gets looked at, from design, pacing, photography and so on, which all change film to film to illuminate the story, to language, accents, clothes and mannerism of their characters. They build a world. I read recently, in Sight and Sound, when William Friedkin was remaking the classic "The Wages of Fear" as "The Sorcerer" he asked Henri-George Clouzot what his secret was with the pacing of the film, Clouzot only responded "The Details", may not seem like much, but it's everything! - Friedkin didn't listen! The Sorcerer was a disaster!

I think it's an essential part of screenwriting, because you're basically asking you audience to live in your world for an hour and a half to two hours. So they had better believe. Personally I think that's the enjoyment of writing, is getting into the mind of your characters and the details of the world you're creating, or retelling. I think once you find that enjoyment you'll find your voice and getting to the end will be that much easier - well, perhaps easier is the wrong word, you'll have more tools for the job, more weapons for the battle.

I think all the books are fine, I've read quite a few of them. None of them really taught me how to write a screenplay, but they fed my passion, and I think that's just as important. What really taught me how to write screenplays was just writing writing writing and never stopping. I write all the time. I have 8 features as I mentioned, but 10 more I'm thinking about or fiddling with, a ton of shorts, TV show scripts and two novels. I do it because I love it, and that's half the battle. If you love writing, if you can't wait to sit down in front of the computer of get the notebook out, then you'll get there.

But you need to be writing all the time. It's a muscle, like anything, we're athletes of the mind! If we're not training everyday then we're going to get flabby and stiff and slow and lazy and before we know it we're sat in front of Cash in the Attic and Doctor Phil and finding a way to call it research! It's not.

I've told this story before: a friend of mine, had a meeting with David Keopp once, Keopp asked how long he had been writing and how many screenplays he had written, he proudly answered 3 years and 3 feature scripts. Keopp said he should be on his 8th script by now. So this friend went off and started writing like crazy, wrote 3 scripts in the next 9 months. Eventually he broke through with a show called Psychos, then came Spooks and soon after Shooting Dogs, plus two published novels. He's told me time and time again, there's no secret, it's just plain hard work, writing writing writing. Finish the script you're on, just finish it and move on to the next one.

I'd say don't get too hung up on it if it's your first feature script, get it written for sure, make it the best you can and get it out there, into the hands of producers. But keep writing, start the next script too. And if you find you're stuck, or you have writers block, I find the best thing to do is to move onto something else. Don't waste the energy waiting around getting frustrated. Start a new project, keep writing. It'll help blow out the cobwebs and you'll find the anxiety from the other script will be lifted and eventually the wheels will start rolling again. Prime example often given, the Coen brother wrote Barton Fink in the middle of Miller's Crossing because they had written themselves into a corner and didn't know how to get out. So they side stepped into another corner. Distance and time often solve many problems.

Happy writing!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Zbang Comedy Film Fest - we all need a laugh!!!

A friend of mine in Bucharest asked me to mention a festival she is organising, it is the first all comedy film festival in Bucharest and they are looking for funny, humorous, feel good movies to fill their programme.

For anyone with such a film all the info you need is below, including the contact info at the bottom, tell 'em Frank Kelly sent you!

• Zbang International Comedy Film Festival is the first festival in Bucharest that focuses exclusively on fiction films involving humor of all kind (comedy, parody, slap stick, black comedy, absurd comedy etc), be they short or feature length films.

• The major goal of Zbang ICFF is to bring forward a genre that is mostly overlooked in recent years’ cinema, both in Romania and in Europe. By focusing on a genre that is accessible both for the general public and for film professionals, the festival tries to put together frequent cinema goers and festival audiences.

• The organizers of Zbang ICFF wish to focus on one of the most important parts in the filmmaking process: the screenplay. During the 6 day festival, special attention will be given to comedy scripwriting by organizing a Comedy Script Contest and specialized workshops.

• Zbang International Comedy Film Festival is organized by Control N Cultural Association.

• Control N is a cultural association founded in 2009, having as primary objective the promotion of the Romanian cinema in Europe and of the European cinema in Romania, by creating a network of cultural exchange within film lovers everywhere.

• Zbang International Film Festival consists of one competitive section, dedicated to short fiction films and one non- competitive section, dedicated to feature length fiction films.

• The Sections of the Festival are:
• Zbang Competition
• Pure Zbang
• Fresh Zbang
• Special Zbang
• All Time Zbang
• Zbang On the Spot

• Zbang Competition – a selection of 18 films, produced within 2 years prior to the festival
• Pure Zbang – a selection of 7 films produced in Europe or with a majority of European contribution
• Fresh Zbang – a selection of 3 films produced one year prior to the festival, that have benefited from a special media attention in the film industry
• Special Zbang – a film program composed of 3 films in the filmography
of the special guest of the festival
• All Time Zbang – a selection of 3 films that have changed the history of comedy, selected on the basis of the theme of each edition. The first edition theme is: Taboo.
• Zbang On the Spot – a selection of 3 films from one European cinematography, produced within 3 years prior to the festival (Zbang 2010: British Comedies)

• The competitive section of Zbang International Comedy Film
Festival is dedicated to short fiction films. Selected films are automatically eligible for the applicable competition category. Zbang International Comedy Film Festival awards films for the following categories:

• The Zbang Award for Best Short Comedy
• Best Direction of a Short Comedy
• Best Screenplay of a Short Comedy
• Best Performance in a Short Comedy
• The Audience Award for Best Short Comedy
• The NISI MASA Award for the Best Short Comedy

• Zbang ICFF Festival also organizes four parallel programs dedicated to the promotion of comedy among film lovers:

• COMEDY SHORT SCREENPLAY CONTEST – a screenwriting contest dedicated to film professionals and non-professionals, focusing on writing a short film comedy script.

• SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOP – a 4 days intensive training programme with an international Script Development Specialist, having as main purpose the improving of the selected scripts.

• MASTERCLASS ON COMEDY – a 3 hours masterclass held by one of the festival guests, whose activity strongly focuses on comedy.

• ROUNDTABLE ON COMEDY – a public discussion involving Romanian and international film personalities on the theme “What Happened to the Romanian Comedies?”

• Directors or scriptwriters whose films have been selected in the festival program are invited to be guests of the festival. In this case, the Festival will contribute to
the travel and accommodation expenses according to its means. After each screening of their films, the guests will be present for Q&A sessions with the audience.

• Other Festivals guests include European filmmakers, festival organizers, national and international press.

CONTROL N Cultural Association
OP 15, CP 10,
Bucharest 053120

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Knowledge Before Power

I’ve done both kinds, a larger budget with large crew, everyone in their place and doing their job. And a no budget with just 3 lads and me pretty much doing everything. Both worked out fine and both had what they needed. I don’t think I could have swapped the approach on each. I don’t think the first could have been made with just me and 2 lads, and the second, there would have been no need for more people.


You set out to make a film and you find out what you need as you go. Your instinct and experience and the experience and advice of others all inform you decision to go one way or the other. I don’t think its ego. I think you do what you have to the make the film you have envisioned and to best serve the story that needs to be told.


I think Irish short filmmaking is astounding. It is the only section of filmmaking in Ireland at the moment where we stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the filmmaking world. You look at shorts like Darren Thornton’s ‘Frankie’ a gritty fast paced story shot on the signatures scheme which won the European Academy Award last year, Simon Fitzmaurice’s ‘The Sound of People’ featured in Sundance, we’re over there at the moment with ‘6Farms’. The films of Ken Wadrop, ‘Farewell Packets of Ten’, ‘Useless Dog’ and of course ‘Undressing My Mother’ all extremely successful internationally award winning films. Daniel O’Hara’s wonderful shorts ‘Yu Ming Is Anim Dom’ and ‘Fluent Dysphasia’. The list goes on, and on.


There are so many amazing, beautiful crafted, well-told short films that come out of this country I think we’re in danger of losing sight of that if we concentrate on the bad. Which, fair enough, there is a lot of. I guess it’s the double-edged sword of digital technology. It has put filmmaking into the hands of those who would not have otherwise been able to afford it, which I am absolutely all for. But it also puts it into the hands of those who could perhaps benefit from training, learning technical skills and learning how to construct a story and how to film it effectively, in a way that suits that story. Digital Technology has allowed a lot of people to side step education. It’s power before knowledge, and it should always be the other way around.


I think learning and using the correct terminology and giving people roles to play within a production is important and vital. It gives people opportunity to concentrate, do the best they can at one job, shine, find their niche, excel. Which in turn benefits the production. People are natural born directors, or writers, or sound people, or cinematographers. I think if we’re all grabbing the camera there’s going to be no coherence to the piece. It’s chaos. And filmmaking is chaotic enough without having semblance of order. If the crew is organised it cancels out a lot of stress.


Visuals and design for me are extremely important. They tell as much, if not more about a character or a situation then dialogue ever could. When I see films where no effort has gone into set design of costume design I’m disappointed, because I feel like the filmmaker hasn’t gone the extra mile, hasn’t really thought about the characters and how they inhabit the space. I feel it harms the story and pulls the viewer out of the scene. Everything in the scene, everything surrounding the characters, informs the viewer as to what kind of person they are watching and what situation they are in, without having to think about it – it’s our job to think about it!


And of course, story is all-important, if you’re making a narrative, plot driven film, the script needs to be right before the camera roles. But aside from that I believe there is room for so much more with short films. It’s an art form onto itself and in that place there is room to experiment. I believe shorts should be anything the filmmaker wants. A poem, a story, something experimental, an exploration of light, texture, a visual delight, a performance piece, a montage of photography, something obscure, whatever it may be, short film is where we get to play as filmmakers, to experiment, make mistakes and try things.


Personally, I’m a storyteller, I want to tell stories and I want to represent them as visually as possible. But I love film and I want for nothing more then people to take hold of this medium, embrace the possiblities and create good, valuable work.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Just Ask Me

In keeping with the No-Budget way of things (we are in a recession after all) I had the pleasure of being involved to some small degree, I did the music, with a new no-budget short film calledJust Ask Me

Written by Allan Clarke, it tells the story of a young man who crosses paths with an unusual individual, who, it seems, has the answers to some of life's eternal questions, all one need do is ask.

Shot in one day on a freezing cold January morn with a small crew for no money it just shows what can be done with the bare minimum. All you need is what you have to hand, some friends and plenty of determination. I love it! Makes me wonder how many films don't get made because people think it can't be done, when it so easily can. 

I know Allan had some problems getting the film made, the director pulling out the day before they shot being the main one! Nice! But these things are sent to test us and I think the guys proved that the project was important enough to carry on and not go quietly into the night. 

(David Butler steps into the breech as 
Director, the stress takes it's toll.) 

Allan let me read the script a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. Back then he wasn't sure if it was going to happen, but he got it together with the help of his friends...

Allan Clarke: Writer/Exec Producer also played Joe
Brian Talbot: Adam
David Butler: Director
John McDonnell: Producer
Dean Kelly: DOP
Dorothy Craven: Make-up
Frank Kelly: Music (that's me!)
Bench: as himself
I wish the guys all the best with this film and hope it does well for them. And I hope to see many more to come from the Just Ask Me team.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A break is as good as a rest!

When asked about what I do to deal with writers block:

I like drawing to I have to say, I find it very relaxing and meditative. But I came from animation, so I imagine there are plenty of writers out there who don't draw. I find moving onto something else, starting a new project, doing re-writes on an old one, just getting away from it for a while. Don't be a afraid to jump from script to script, no one's stopping you, there's no rules that say you can't. In fact some great scripts have been written because of writers block... prime example, Coen Brothers wrote Barton Fink because they had writers block on Millers Crossing. Andrew Stanton wrote Wall-E out of writers block on Finding Nemo. I myself always jump around, and I find when I've had time to think, or rather, time not to think about it, I come back fresh, re-energised and with new ideas. A breaks as good as a rest.

2009 awaits.

Here's a list of 10 things I want to do for 2009. Hopefully when I check back in a year, at least a few of them, if not all will have been achieved!

Well I've got 4 things happening already...  
1. Stage a reading in the Attic Studio of feature script. 
2. Mount a solo Exhibition of my photography and new short. 
3. Hold workshops in local schools on Digital Photography and Filmmaking. 
4. Produce a new short film (Slán agus Beannacht)  

All in the pipeline for January. But I'd also like to achieve a few other things.  
5. Produce two more shorts (scripts ready to go) 
6. Produce a Documentary (Subjects available) 
7. Produce a Feature Film (Two scripts ready to go) 
8. Continue with the Pale Stone Podcast and get more listeners. 
9. See Bill, For Short in more festivals.
10. Write at least 2 new scripts.

That's not much... is it?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It coming... there's no stopping it!!!


And in the spirit of the impending celebrations here is my Top Ten, and what i'll be watching over the coming weeks!!!

Tokyo Godfathers
10. Tokyo Godfathers

9. Gremlins

8. We’re no Angels (1955)

7. Die Hard

6. The Shop Around the Corner
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

4. A Christmas Carol (1951) 
3. A Muppets Christmas Carol

2. It’s a Wonderful Life

1. A Christmas Story

Friday, November 28, 2008

Drogheda as a Location

I’ve shot two short films here, and honestly, I think Drogheda is a great location and a very cinematic town. 

I remember when we were finishing Emily’s Song in Screen Scene, the guy doing the blobbing (digitally removing blobs and scratches etc.) was from Drogheda. He had spent a full day starring at the screen and he didn’t realise it was Drogheda until we said so! We just did extensive location scouting a picked great place, right near the centre of town.

I love the derilict sites around town, the places I played as a kid. I’ve been photographing them recently, as you'll see from my Celluloid Journey blog I have an exhibition of that work coming up, and I always like to shoot there because one because these places play such a significant role in my life, I believe they were instrumental in building my imagination and two because now, unfortunately, they’re being leveled.

I guess it’s a good thing, it’s great to see places being regenerated and jobs created, but the child in me is very sad to see the playgrounds of my youth disappear. I’m happy to say I captured many places in my two films, so even if they’re not there in real life, they are somewhere forever.

The next two shorts I have planned will be shot here. And I would imagine my first feature will be too... and hopefully many more  there after.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some Inspiration...

Here's an idea for a stocking filler this Christmas for the writer in you life! (Hint Hint!!!)


"An exclusive ten-hour box set, WORDPLAY's five DVDs offer indepth interviews from Screenwriting Expo 4, a three-day event featuring over 350 seminars, workshops, and panels on every aspect of writing for film and television.

WORDPLAY showcases an incredible selection of screenwriters, directors, producers, and actors sharing practical advice on how to break into and stay in the screenwriting trade.

A master class and a career seminar rolled into one, WORDPLAY is an entertaining and informative look at the art and business of screenwriting from the best of the best."


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Two Cents...

In a recent thread on a less then appreciative poster became quite abusive to one of the regular posting members. This young and arrogant imbecile (probably destined to be one of those critics who seems to hate film) proceeded to insult and denigrate the work of the other poster, who was simply trying to be informative and instructive. I find this kind of negativity a complete waist of time, foolish and downright ignorant. Thankfully he was banned from posting on the site... anyway, here's was my response to the whole thing:

"Such a shame twats like that guy clog up useful threads with such imbecilic drivel... anyway, he's gone - suddenly the air smells cleaner in here. Many thanks to Jason for it.

I whole heartedly disagree with whoever it was that said only completed films should be in this section. I think it's essential that threads like this exist. 

If a young filmmaker or student logs on wanting to know how to go about shooting a no/low-budget film they need look no further. Here we have a blow by blow account, as it happens.

What the Hethwheel boys are doing is awesome and inspiring, for all of us. I love the just do it attitude. Especially as the guys have lives outside filming (not that I know them all that well) The fact that they're committed to this and making it happen, and working toward their vision, shows a level of commitment we can all be inspired by and learn from.

Film is art and everyone, bar none, has the right to create art. It's what makes us human, it's what separates us from the animals and anyone who tries to say it's wrong or stop it from coming into existence obviously has no idea what art is, and is, quite simply, ignorant.

Not all of us are going to be the next Tarintino, Speilberg or Kubrick - hell, the chances are slim that any of us will even get close the success of Lenny Abrahanson! But why should that mean we have to stop? 

We're doing this because we love film, we love everything about them... I don't have to blatther on about it, everyone here knows what I'm talking about... So we do what we do and it's not about the fame and fortune, it's not about the awards, the box office, the glory of it all (if it comes, all well and good) It's about the love of film and the need to tell a story. And as a filmmaker, some of my favourite stories are about the making of

Hands up here doesn't sit glued to the behind the scenes on any DVD! Who didn't watch the pre-production blogs onKing KongMonths before it ever hit the screen. Who doesn't read empire/total film/film Ireland/sight and sound to find out about what's being made? How the shoot is going? What the sets look like? The costumes? The script? We love it, and sometimes, as was the case with me and King Kong, more than the film itself.

I'll say it again, this stuff is essential, it's nourishment, we need it to keep going, because if someone else is doing it, then it means we can do it - and what the hell ar ewe sitting around for - lets make a f***ing movie!

For that I thank the lads for this thread, and wish you all the best with your production. Break a leg lads.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tough Nuts

The Nicholls fellowship is probably the best screenplay competition out there. Very prestigious if you get into the top 100 you're pretty much garunteed someone big is gonna wanna read your stuff. It's tough though.

BBC are great, one of the only major TV film companies still to accept unsolicited work. Again, they get thousands of scripts a year, they take months to get back to you and it's usually a standard rejection letter, although I have had notes from them before.

Both tough nuts to crack, but great website full of great advice. I would read them front to back if I were you... and probably was once, and I did just that! You'll learn alot from them.

Here's a couple of links to my own blog that might help you:
Good books.
Questions you need to ask.

Just a couple of thoughts that might help.

My best piece of advice is this, don't send your script out until you're 100% happy with it. Don't send it out thinking "I really should fix that line, that character, that typo, but I just want to know what they think!" Fix it, it wont take long and you'll have no regrets or doubts, you'll know you did the best you could. That extra hour, day, week, will make all the difference.

Best of luck.


I recently watched the masterpiece that is Rififi

An absolute gem. I loved it. Much has been written about this film. It is one of the most famous French Film Noirs. Directed by Jules Dassin, the American Director of other such Noir classics as Brute Force:

The Naked City:

Thieves' Highway:

and Night and the City:


Dassin was one of the black listed Hollywood directors of the fifties. He was exiled from Hollywood and moved to Europe and directed several films there. After five years of unemployment he was offered the chance to direct Rififi. Apparently it was not a film he wanted to do, he was not a fan of the book, but being in a bad situation and feeling somewhat taken advantage of he conceded to make the film. What came was one of the best Heist movies ever made.

The heist it's self is the centre piece of the movie and one of the most famous heist sequences ever committed to film. It's easy to see why. It's just incredible. Taught and tense. Beautifully thought out, brilliantly paced and the performances through out are outstanding. Not a word spoken nor music for 30 minutes and you're on the edge of you seat.

The film has a brilliant hard edge to it. It feels more raw then a lot of the hollywood film of the same period, it has an independent feel to it and so feels more more free then a lot of the studio pictures of the time.

It is a beautifully shot film, showing a misty grey Paris, with streets fading into fog in the distance. Dark and dramatic images by the legendary cinematographer Phillipe Agostini. Matched perfectly by the performance by lead actor Jean Servais. 

I can't recommend this film highly enough. Go buy it today.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Unsung Master

I am about to settle in to a night with Sherlock Holmes, 'The Hound of the Baskervilles', with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. One of my all time favourites! 

So, with the time of year that's in it, I thought I would pay tribute to the director, one of the unsung masters of the horror genre, Terence Fisher

He may never be remembered in the same way Romero, Craven, Carpenter or Cronenberg (and others) will, but his contribution to british cinema and horror is outstanding. 

Curse of Frankenstein 1957
1957 The Curse of Frankenstein
1958 Horror of Dracula
1958 The Revenge of Frankenstein
Hound of the Baskervilles poster
1959 The Hound of the Baskervilles
1959 The Man Who Could Cheat Death
1959 The Mummy
1960 The Brides of Dracula
1960 The Stranglers of Bombay
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
1960 The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
Curse of the Werewolf poster
1961 The Curse of the Werewolf
1962 The Phantom of the Opera
1963 The Horror of It All
1964 The Gorgon
1965 The Earth Dies Screaming
Dracula: Prince of Darkness poster
1966 Dracula: Prince of Darkness
1966 Island of Terror
Frankenstein Created Woman poster
1967 Frankenstein Created Woman
1967 Night of the Big Heat
1968 The Devil Rides Out
1969 Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
1974 Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Monday, October 6, 2008

On My Shelf

Writers' & Artists' Yearbook - A&C Black 
Filmmakers Yearbook - A&C Black 
Film Budgeting - Ralph S. Singleton 
Digital Film Making - Mike Figgis 
On Film-Making - Alexander Mackendrick 
Making Movies - Sidney Lumet 
Film Directing Shot by Shot - Steven d. Katz 
Story - Robert McKee 
Screenplay - Syd Fields 
The hero with a thousand faces - Joseph Campbell 
Eats, Shoots & Leaves - Lynne Truss 
Which Lie Did I tell - William Goldman 
The Seven Basic Plot - Christopher Booker 
Down and Dirty Pictures
Gods and Monsters
Easy Riders Raging Bulls - all by Peter Biskind 
Bambi Vs. Godzilla - David Mamet


When asked by someone just starting out, is there a standard camera for shorts and what book would you recommend: 

I am currently recommending this book to everyone, it is a must, and I would say perfect for someone in your situation.

Also, here's and oldy but a goldy. 

Here's another I haven't actually read, but having watched the film, the extras and the commentary on El Mariachi and being a big fan of Rodreguiz' work ethic, I would say it's a good one to get.

As for standard camera's, there are no standard cameras, only what you can afford to buy or rent and what you want the film to look like, whether it be film of digital. 

As Godard said "Show me the budget and I'll show you the film."

If I were you I might try to get a look at a few Irish shorts, see which ones you like the look of and ask the filmmakers how they achieved that look.

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Favourite Coen Brother's Movie.

There is hope... I'm always one for lining myself up against other people in terms of what they have achieved at a certin age! It's a bad thing to do, I know, but I can't help it... I'm 31, and although not old by anymeans, I did think I'd have a lot more done by now. You look at Robert Robregiuz, did El Mariachi at 23 or something, Speilberg did Jaws at 27 or there abouts! (and he'd all ready been in the business 8 years) It worries me...

But then I get to the Coens, my favourite filmmakers and I realise that they were 34 and yes 31 when they made Blood Simple and I breathe a sigh of relief and think 'Well, if they can do it...' and then I look forward to having a career that contains films like Rasing Arizona, Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou... and yes, I would happily but my hand up to the lesser The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty and, -swallow- The Ladykillers... if it meant at the end of the dark years I came out with No Country For Old Men.

Just imagine being responsible for that list of films... staggering. 

My favourite? Wow! they all have so much. But my desert Island Coen Brother's movie would have to be Miller's Crossing... no wait... The Big Lebowski... no, hold on... No Country For Old Men... then again, O Brother Where Art Thou was brilliant, soggy bottom boys Hah!... Fargo... Blood Simple, one of the best low budget crime thrillers from deput filmmakers ever made... dammit!

3 pieces of advice

Film can be whatever you want it to be. That's the beauty of cinema, it's an art form and there for expressive, so you make it whatever you want to express... might be pirates chasing ghosts, a man stalked by the ghost of his dead wife on a spaceship, a body hoping alien stuck in the Antarctic with a bunch of grumpy men, or the devastation of war on an innocent boy, a group of men driving nitro-glycerin at 5 mph across a rocky mountain range... it's whatever you want it to be, whatever story you want to tell, and whatever points you want to make... and if you want to make Wedding Crashers II thats OK too.

Ps. Films broken down were Pirates of the Caribbean, Solaris, The Thing, Come and See, Wages of fear... all must sees.


I'd try to be a bit more methodical than trial and error. It really depends on what kind of movies you want to make, chances are, whatever they are, they will find an audience and thus be entertaining to that audience. 

What you need to do is learn you craft, if you want to be a writer, learn how to write, buy the books, the magazine, talk to other writers, swat up on it, the same if you want to direct... pretty much the same for every part of it, learn it, know it, be the best you can be at it. You'll find out along the way what works and what doesn't, largely by studying what other people are doing and what audiences are going to.

That might be a bit vague. But I will say this, make what you would want to see and make it from a truthful place, by that I mean, believe in what you're doing, no matter what it is, find the honesty in it. If you do that, the audience will too and you will find an audience.

Here's a link to a good site, check out the colums section and read all of them. They'll give you a good insight into putting successful films together.

Also, check out this place, lots of interviews with writers about their work, you'll get a good understanding of the thought process behind this stuff.

That'll get you started. Enjoy. Hope that helps.


No. There is a craft to filmmaking, same as there is to carpentry, there's a way of doing things, a methodology. But where as some carpenters bang up crocked timber frames on building sites, others carve exquisite pieces of handcraft furniture while others make funky modern designs. You take the rules and you bend them to make them do what you want to do. 

But if you don't first learn how to make a basic chair and understand the physics of how it works it's just gonna fall apart when you sit in it. Same with film, if you don't understand what makes them work your audience is just gonna pick out all the holes in it. 

You know yourself when a film doesn't work, you can see the plot holes, you get bored, you know when somethings not working and you feel cheated. It's because the filmmakers took a short cut, they left off on of the legs and hoped no one would notice. (OK, enough carpenter analogies! I promise)

Remember, every story has been told, there are only a few basic plots, the trick is to tell it like it's never been told before, with something unique, and that uniqueness is you and your slant on things.

Good ideas in Kids Fests

One of the better festivals I've been to was the Oberhausen Short Film fest. in Germany. I had Emily's Song in the kids section, it was great, a brilliant experience, loads of fun and I found I preferred the films... they tend to be more narrative based, rather than experimental... but that's just me... anyway! They were involved with all the schools in the area and they bused them in every morning, class loads filled the theaters, it was great. And the thing about kids, they have no problem telling you if your film sucks! Thankfully they liked ours!

Great idea.

Something else worth thinking about is making an educational thing of it, we were part of the Showcomotion film festival in England, where we picked up the UNICEF UK Award, and they made questionnaires based on our films for the kids and had discussion groups.

For example, with Emily's Song, they asked, what song would you have at a funeral and why? What would you do if a loved one stopped talking to you? How would you help your family if they were in trouble? and so on. I thought it was a great idea... I just wish I could have been there to hear the answers!

The Joys of being a writer:


1. Bad back.
2. Sore hands.
3. Tired eyes.
4. Weird hours.
5. Writers block.
6. Procrastination.
7. Rejection.
8. Frustration.
9. Insomnia.
10. Months spent on a script that you realise doesn’t work.
11. Months spent on a script only to open Empire Magazine to find Wes Anderson is making the very same film (it happened!).
12. Writing with a partner who can only write one day every two weeks, who’s always late, often cancels at the last minute when I changed my own plans to write or simply doesn’t show at all and doesn’t call.
13. Unemployment.
14. No money.
15. People close to you stop believing in you and tell you to get a real job.
16. Empty promises from producers and other filmmakers.
17. Fear of failure.
18. Obsession.
19. Paranoia 
20. Loneliness

The Perils of being a writer:

1. Joy.
2. Inspiration.
3. Satisfaction.
4. Exhileration. 
5. Education.
6. Finding a story you want to tell.
7. Finding an ending to that story.
8. Finding the characters who will tell that story.
9. Beginning a new script.
10. Realising something about your main character you weren’t aware of that make the whole story work.
11. Hearing your characters voice in your head.
12. Seeing the structure begin to work.
13. Writing a scene that works.
14. Knowing you have a great story.
15. Realising that although your writing partner is often late, unavailable and sometimes inconsiderate he has a wife, kids and job and does everything in his power and bent over backwards to write with you and he is your greatest supporter, educator, inspiration and the one who reassures you that what you’re doing makes sense and is valuable.
16. Realising you’re getting better.
17. Having people enjoy your work.
18. Hearing someone laugh out load when they read you script.
19. Typing FADE IN:
20. Typing The End.

Does your script work?

Here's 60 questions from screenwriter Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean). If you want to sell a script or make a film that will be marketable then I think we all should ask ourselves these questions about our feature scripts. 

I just apllied it to the script I'm currently working on. It works well. Puts things in perspective. And I realised that I'm bloody brilliant and gonna make a million dollars... 

Checklist A: Concept & Plot

#1. Imagine the trailer. Is the concept marketable?

#2. Is the premise naturally intriguing -- or just average, demanding perfect execution?

#3. Who is the target audience? Would your parents go see it?

#4. Does your story deal with the most important events in the lives of your characters?

#5. If you're writing about a fantasy-come-true, turn it quickly into a nightmare-that-won't-end.

#6. Does the screenplay create questions: will he find out the truth? Did she do it? Will they fall in love? Has a strong 'need to know' hook been built into the story?

#7. Is the concept original?

#8. Is there a goal? Is there pacing? Does it build?

#9. Begin with a punch, end with a flurry.

#10. Is it funny, scary, or thrilling? All three?

#11. What does the story have that the audience can't get from real life?

#12. What's at stake? Life and death situations are the most dramatic. Does the concept create the potential for the characters lives to be changed?

#13. What are the obstacles? Is there a sufficient challenge for our heroes?

#14. What is the screenplay trying to say, and is it worth trying to say it?

#15. Does the story transport the audience?

#16. Is the screenplay predictable? There should be surprises and reversals within the major plot, and also within individual scenes.

#17. Once the parameters of the film's reality are established, they must not be violated. Limitations call for interesting solutions.

#18. Is there a decisive, inevitable, set-up ending that is nonetheless unexpected? (This is not easy to do!)

#19. Is it believable? Realistic?

#20. Is there a strong emotion -- heart -- at the center of the story? Avoid mean-spirited storylines.

Checklist B: Technical Execution

#21. Is it properly formatted?

#22. Proper spelling and punctuation. Sentence fragments okay.

#23. Is there a discernible three-act structure?

#24. Are all scenes needed? No scenes off the spine, they will die on screen.

#25. Screenplay descriptions should direct the reader's mind's eye, not the director's camera.

#26. Begin the screenplay as far into the story as possible.

#27. Begin a scene as late as possible, end it as early as possible. A screenplay is like a piece of string that you can cut up and tie together -- the trick is to tell the entire story using as little string as possible.

#28. In other words: Use cuts.

#29. Visual, Aural, Verbal -- in that order. The expression of someone who has just been shot is best; the sound of the bullet slamming into him is second best; the person saying, "I've been shot" is only third best.

#30. What is the hook, the inciting incident? You've got ten pages (or ten minutes) to grab an audience.

#31. Allude to the essential points two or even three times. Or hit the key point very hard. Don't be obtuse.

#32. Repetition of locale. It helps to establish the atmosphere of film, and allows audience to 'get comfortable.' Saves money during production.

#33. Repetition and echoes can be used to tag secondary characters. Dangerous technique to use with leads.

#34. Not all scenes have to run five pages of dialogue and/or action. In a good screenplay, there are lots of two-inch scenes. Sequences build pace.

#35. Small details add reality. Has the subject matter been thoroughly researched?

#36. Every single line must either advance the plot, get a laugh, reveal a character trait, or do a combination of two -- or in the best case, all three -- at once.

#37. No false plot points; no backtracking. It's dangerous to mislead an audience; they will feel cheated if important actions are taken based on information that has not been provided, or turns out to be false.

#38. Silent solution; tell your story with pictures.

#39. No more than 125 pages, no less than 110... or the first impression will be of a script that 'needs to be cut' or 'needs to be fleshed out.'

#40. Don't number the scenes of a selling script. MOREs and CONTINUEDs are optional.

Checklist C: Characters

#41. Are the parts castable? Does the film have roles that stars will want to play?

#42. Action and humor should emanate from the characters, and not just thrown in for the sake of a laugh. Comedy which violates the integrity of the characters or oversteps the reality-world of the film may get a laugh, but it will ultimately unravel the picture. Don't break the fourth wall, no matter how tempting.

#43. Audiences want to see characters who care deeply about something -- especially other characters.

#44. Is there one scene where the emotional conflict of the main character comes to a crisis point?

#45. A character's entrance should be indicative of the character's traits. First impression of a character is most important.

#46. Lead characters must be sympathetic -- people we care about and want to root for.

#47. What are the characters wants and needs? What is the lead character's dramatic need? Needs should be strong, definite -- and clearly communicated to the audience.

#48. What does the audience want for the characters? It's all right to be either for or against a particular character -- the only unacceptable emotion is indifference.

#49. Concerning characters and action: a person is what he does, not necessarily what he says.

#50. On character faults: characters should be 'this but also that;' complex. Characters with doubts and faults are more believable, and more interesting. Heroes who have done wrong and villains with noble motives are better than characters who are straight black and white.

#51. Characters can be understood in terms of, 'what is their greatest fear?' Gittes, in CHINATOWN was afraid of being played for the fool. In SPLASH the Tom Hanks character was afraid he could never fall in love. In BODY HEAT Racine was afraid he'd never make his big score.

#52. Character traits should be independent of the character's role. A banker who fiddles with his gold watch is memorable, but cliche; a banker who breeds dogs is a somehow more acceptable detail.

#53. Character conflicts should be both internal and external. Characters should struggle with themselves, and with others.

#54. Character 'points of view' need to be distinctive within an individual screenplay. Characters should not all think the same. Each character needs to have a definite point of view in order to act, and not just react.

#55. Distinguish characters by their speech patterns: word choice, sentence patterns; revealed background, level of intelligence.

#56. 'Character superior' sequences (where the character acts on information the audience does not have) usually don't work for very long -- the audience gets lost. On the other hand, when the audience is in a 'superior' position -- the audience knows something that the characters do not -- it almost always works. (NOTE: This does not mean the audience should be able to predict the plot!)

#57. Run each character through as many emotions as possible -- love, hate, laugh, cry, revenge.

#58. Characters must change. What is the character's arc?

#59. The reality of the screenplay world is defined by what the reader knows of it, and the reader gains that knowledge from the characters. Unrealistic character actions imply an unrealistic world; fully-designed characters convey the sense of a realistic world.

#60. Is the lead involved with the story throughout? Does he control the outcome of the story?

Word Player

Hi guys,

Here's a site I came across I thought I'd share - - seems interesting. It was set up by famed and acclaimed writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, writers of Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean... OK I know, they also wrote the terrible sequels to those movies, but hey, they're successful, accomplished and they can write bloody good scripts when they want to, so they must know a thing or two... anyway, check out the site, judge for yourself. The 'Columns' sections seems to have some interesting essays. 


A Must

I'm currently reading the book, Digital Film-Making by Mike Figgis. I have to say I haven't seen much of his work, except for Leaving Las Vegas, but this book is really good. It's basically a book of advice for low budget digital filmmaking. Lots of simple, practical advice. 

It's a book I very much would have like to have read four years ago! But it's going to come in handy for up coming shoots. So far I've read some simple tips on preparation, budgeting and financing. 

It's only 150 pages long, fits in your back pocket, I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone starting out, and I will continue to do so. Much impressed so far.

Dust to Dust

Near Dark is a beautiful, soulful, poetic genre mix of a modern western and truly great vampire story, about two star-crossed lovers in a love story that is only surpassed by Romeo and Juliet. 

I really can't imagine they'll keep all that. Chances are it'll turn out to be a western horror actioner, which would be great if it didn't happen to be a remake of one of the best films of the eighties.

I guess we have to wait an see...

Another one bites the dust!

Screenplay competitions.

Hi guys,

I came across this link: and thought it might be useful or of interest. It's basically a well recommended directory (I picked it up in Script, the final draft magazine) for good comps. Might be worth a look. 

Anyway, enjoy.

Notable French Horror Movies:

The House of the Devil (1896)
I Accuse (1919)
The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (1929)
I Accuse (1938)
La Main du Diable (Carnival of Sinners) (1943)
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Diabolique (1955)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)
Les Louves (Demoniac) (1958)
Blood and Roses (1960)
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The Hands of Orloc (1960)
The Rape of the Vampire (1967)
Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay (1971)
Man With the Transplanted Brain (1971)
Shock Treatment (1973)
The Tenant (1976)
Grapes of Death (1978)
Zombie Lake (1981)
The Living Dead Girl (1982)
Frankenstein 90 (1984)
Baby Blood (1990)
Deep in the Woods (2000)
Six-Pack (2000)
With a Friend Like Harry... (2000)
Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Requiem (2001)
Trouble Every Day (2001)
Bloody Mallory (2002)
In My Skin (2002)
Maléfique (2002)
High Tension (2003)
Saint Ange (2004)
They Came Back (2004)
Caché (2005)
Sheitan (2006)
Them (2006)
Eden Log (2007)
Frontier(s) (2007)
Inside (2007)

The Treatment

Here's a great podcast for those who don't know about it. KCRW's The Treatment with Elvis Mitchell. 

I've been listening to it weekly for about 2 and half years now. Always interesting, always informative. Some great interviews with the main players and heavy hitters in the industry.

For Writers... essential listening

If you dont know about this then sign up today, it's a great

Hour long interviews with writers on major and minor new releases every week.

Writing Good Dialogue

I do have the benefit though of writing most of my scripts with a writing partner, so we bounce stuff back and forward. The stuff I do on my own though I do find that it's got easier and comes quicker now. Just keep writing. 

Some of the best dialogue and character repartee:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Newman and Reford at their best)
Princess Bride (The poison chalice scene is breathtaking!)
All the Presidents Men (Your on the edge of your seat the entire time and Reford and Hoffman play it brilliantly)
Some Like it Hot (the sharpest of Wilder and Diamond's scripts, and that's saying something)
His Girl Friday (This shows why no one has come close to Carey Grant for comic timing)
Rear Window (The early conversations between Jimmy Stewart and Thelma Ritter are gold)

There's more, sure there is! But it's late and my brain is shutting down! Anyone else got more great dialogue movies?


For more naturalistic Dialogue I guess you'd have to go with Mike Liegh, but there again, that's something that comes out of rehearsal and allowing the actors to find the characters and letting the character speak in any given situation... that why it's important to make sure you have well developed and well written characters, if you can do that, they'll do the talking for you.


It's been an interesting couple of years, I wish I could say I have achieved all my goals, most of which I set out 2 years ago and for a one year plan, but of course they bled into this year.

In bullet point:
  • Write a new feature script.
  • Produce a new music video.
  • Produce at least two new short films.
  • Promote those films.
  • Find an agent.
  • Secure Financial backing for a Feature.
  • Develop a TV show.
  • Begin building a working studio for likeminded filmmakers.

Well, I got someways along the way. Of course not everything goes as planned does it?!
  • I wrote three new feature scripts, development on going.
  • I found out that I did not like working with rock bands and vowed never to make another music video.
  • Made one short for no money which I was happy with and has now been accepted into a fest in the US. And I am promoting another with Jason Byrne. And Developing a third which I hope to shoot in the coming months.
  • No agent yet.
  • Got backing for one feature, but fell through. So no financial backing as yet for feature, but the next best thing, a crew chomping at the bit to shoot. So plans are rolling for shooting next year.
  • Developed TV show, found a production comapny to make it and interest from RTE, only to have the plug pulled at the last minute.
  • I have started the business plan for the studio.

Other unlisted things that have happened:
Started two new feature scripts, which makes a total of Five in the last two years. I'm also developing two more TV show ideas, the pilot of one I hope to shoot in the winter. I started work on a comic book. I'm also planning an exhibition of my photography later in the year. I screened my shorts at Electric picnic and Emily's Song continues to screen at festivals around the world. And I'm getting married next month!

So I would say it's been a good year... I'm still bloody broke though!!!

For your viewing pleasure

He Walked by Night
Raw Deal (Not the Arnie one)
The Big Combo
The Blue Dahlia 
The Glass Key
Out of the Past
Asphalt Jungle
The Killing 
Murder, my Sweet (aka: Farewell my lovely)

All stunning stunning films, brilliantly directed, played, wonderfully crafted films. Noir is all about style and these are among the most stylish of this incredible genre.

If you find it a little hard to appreciate what you might perceive as being dated or something, think about modern noir and films today that you may like that are directly influence by noir and work you way back from there.

Most of the Coen's:
Blood Simple
The Big Lebowski
Millers Crossing
No Country For Old Men

A History of Violence
Reservoir Dogs
Blade Runner
LA Confidential
The Usual Suspects
The Dark Night

Noir is usually centered around an unreliable narrator or a character with a tragic flaw that will eventually snowball into something catastrophic. If you learn to appreciate this genre it is one of the most fascinating and exciting genres within cinema and there is a wealth of amazing films there to be discovered.