Tag Archives: Ngurrumbang

Linda Cowgill’s Art of Plotting

Linda J. Cowgill, The Art of Plotting: Add Emotion, Suspense, and Depth to your Screenplay (Lone Eagle 2007)

20140518-223632.jpg It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged about my reading, and this book is a partial explanation. (The rest of the explanation lies in small matters like a nephew’s wedding, paid work, dense bedside reading, too much television.)

The person sometimes known in the blog as the Film Director has been at me to write a feature film script to build on our modest success with Ngurrumbang (which incidentally just screened at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in Melbourne and is scheduled for the St Kilda Film Festival on Saturday week). I don’t share his confidence in my ability but I’m up for the challenge, so I’ve just done an online course in Screenwriting for Film through AFTRS, and am well on the way to the beginnings of a first draft – though not the one the FD wants. The course was brilliant. Anne Brooksbank, the teacher, led 15 or so of us in two chat sessions a week for 10 weeks and commented on weekly assignments, managing to be both encouraging and challenging, collegial and inspirational. She made us watch some awful films as well as some brilliant ones, and we learned from both kinds.

One of the lesser things I learned was how to read a book like this one. You have to ignore the occasional motivational-speaker language (too many sentences starting ‘Great screen writers …’), and not get too snooty about the movies used as examples (I didn’t care much for American Beauty, and hadn’t seen Se7en – which I have now watched because of this book, and on the whole wish I could unwatch). You have to realise that the way things like structure, character or theme used to be discussed in Eng Lit courses (and probably still are, only more so) may be more fun, but is very different from the way you talk about building them. This isn’t a manual, but it’s immensely practical. It assumes knowledge of the established wisdom about structure – assumes the equivalent of the course I’ve just done. I don’t know how it stacks up against the myriad similar books out there, but I found it clear and helpful. I imagine it works best if, like me, you have a project more or less under way, so when Linda Cowgill talks about, say, having a logical progression from one scene to the next, or informing the audience about a character not by telling, or by showing, but by dramatising, you have examples of your own work fresh in your mind and can immediately see how the advice can be applied.

Ngurrumbang update and some very old news

It can now be revealed that Melburnians will have a chance to see Ngurrumbang on their home turf in May. No need this time to travel to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or central Spain, just head off to the Australian Shorts session of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image 7.30 pm on 9 May.  The whole program looks fabulous. (Sadly, that set of films won’t be part of the Festival as it travels around the country in the next three months.)

And other news: I was interviewed yesterday for a project about resistance to conscription at the time of the Vietnam War. Gulliver Media’s Hell No! We Won’t Go, which may one day become a film, is shaping up at present as a collection of interviews with draft resisters and conscientious objectors. I was a conscientious objector and happy to delve into memory as part of this project to preserve part of our history that is threatened with occlusion.

I also delved into a diary that I kept at the time (my CO hearing was either late 1970 or early 1971), which prompts me to offer the following unsolicited advice to anyone in their early 20s who is keeping a diary: no one, including yourself, is going to be interested in your half-baked witticisms and introspective anxieties in 40 years time; what they’ll want is NAMES, and DATES, and PLACES.

While finding very little to help my recollections of the court case, and shrivelling with embarrassment at the angst and pomposity of 23-year-old me (which makes me look even more kindly on Lena Dunham’s Girls),  I did find one or two entertaining snippets. On Les Murray:

I met Les Murray at Dianne’s party last Saturday night, a man who is not shy about quoting from his own someday-to-be-written ‘Table Talk’. Among other things he said wh I found interesting: ‘There is no Tao for stumbling in the dark. If you had the Tao, you’d walk.’

On David Malouf, perhaps from conversation in the English Department common rooms, which I’d forgotten I ever shared with him:

Dave Malouf  ‘don’t think Polanski’s any good’, but when pressed likes all except Rosemary’s baby, on the grounds that it moves away from the class vision wh MUST be part of his Communist framed sensibility – and WILL NOT see Fearless V Ks.

Having recently read the script of Rosemary’s Baby, I think he was right about that. But I hope he relented and saw The Fearless Vampire Killers, which I hope is as funny as I remember.

2013 in review (lazily)

Many good things happened in my life this year. Possibly the biggest was that Ngurrumbang, the short film whose screenplay I co-wrote with my elder son, was screened at three festivals in Australia and one in Europe, with Flickerfest still to come. But here are three relatively lazy looks at the year that’s just finishing.

One: The first sentence (or sometimes the first two sentences) of the first blog post for each month:

January: Whatever the ghost of Rembrandt might think about the state of Dutch art in the early 21st century the arrival of Florentijn Hofman’s magnum opus in Darling Harbour today was a hit, even after the seeming endless and mostly lame concert and tumbling act that preceded it.

February: I heard Paul Ham speak about this book [Hiroshima Nagasaki] at Gleebooks early last year.

March: Geoff Lemon, co-editor, was surely tempting fate and the critics when, as soon as the 32nd issue of Going Down Swinging was complete, he nicknamed the impending Nº 33 the Jesus Issue.

April: I recently heard a distinguished novelist claim that she grew up believing New South Wales was mostly settled peacefully and that damage to the original inhabitants was largely unintended, caused by infectious diseases and the like.

May: The launch of this book [Pam Brown’s Home by Dark] last weekend was a convivial affair in an Erskineville pub.

June: Sydney has Vivid. Wellington has Lux.

July: I was extremely lucky in the timing of my university studies. I started at Sydney Uni in 1967 when, because of an overhaul of the New South Wales school system, only a very small cohort had graduated from high school the year before.

August: After Karl Ove Knausgaard’s mountains of mundane detail, we wanted our next book to be one that spins a great yarn.

September: It’s about two and a half years since we moved home. About a year ago, the grass tree (Xanthorrhoea) that had stood outside our kitchen window in the old house was ailing in its new location – most of its fronds were brown or browning.

October: This book [Contemporary Asian Australian Poets edited by Adam Aitken, Kim Cheng Boey & Michelle Cahill] seems to be part of a current efflorescence of attention to Asian Australian writing, and of Australian attention to Asian writing.

November: It’s November, and once again, while all over the world people with stamina take on NaNoWriMo, I’m setting myself the modest goal of 14 sonnets in the month – LoSoRhyMo (Local Sonnet Rhyming Month).

December: As Vagabond Press’s beautifully crafted Rare Objects series of chapbooks approaches its hundredth and final title, Jennifer Maiden makes her debut at Nº 95.

Two: Top Ten Movies (in no particular order)

Me The Art Student
Philomena (Stephen Frears) 1p
In Bob We Trust (Lynn-Maree Milburn)
130_ibwt
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
140_bj
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)
140_swt
The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt)
1r
A Gun in Each Hand (Cesc Gay)
1geh
Twenty Feet from Stardom (Morgan Neville)
140_20f
The Past (Asghar Farhadi)
136_past
What Maisie Knew (Scott McGehee and David Siegel)140_wmk
The Attack (Ziad Doueiri)
140_a
No (Pablo Larrain)
140_no
Barbara (Christian Petzold)1barbara A Late Quartet (Yaron Zilberman)
140_p

Three: Notes on the year’s reading

Rather than single out some books as the best, let’s see how I went in reading diversely.

I’ve listed 63 books in my ‘Reading and Watching’ column. I didn’t finish at least five of them and quite a few were journals, not books at all. It looks as if I read 53 books as such.

  • 31 were by men, 22 by women
  • 6 were translations – two from Norwegian, one each from Bengali, Russian, German and Catalan
  • 32 were Australian
  • 24 were poetry books, including substantial anthologies as well as tiny chapbooks
  • 7 were Book Group books
  • not necessarily the best, but 3 books that enriched my sense of what Australia is were Heather Goodall’s Invasion to Embassy, Noel Beddoe’s The Yalda Crossing and Contemporary Asian Australian Poets, the anthology edited by Adam Aitken, Kim Cheng Boey & Michelle Cahill
  • the Art Student’s pick from her year’s reading were Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, Eleanor Caton’s The Luminaries and her crime fiction discovery, Martin Walker’s Bruno xx series.

That’s it. Happy New Year, all!

Our movie at Flickerfest

Flickerfest, the festival of short films that is one of Sydney’s cultural institutions, is on again at the Bondi Pavilion in the middle of next month. I confess to having appreciated it from afar until now, but this year I plan to be there. My elder son, Alex Ryan, sometimes known in these pages as the Filmmaker, has not one but two films screening.

FlickerClips, a program of music videos screening at 4.30 on Saturday 18 January, includes his video of the Cairos’ ‘Obsession‘. Given that the competition includes Nash Edgerton’s clip for Dylan’s ‘Duquesne Whistle’ we’re pretty chuffed.

The festival includes seven programs of Australian shorts. Ngurrumbang which Alex directed from a script written by him and me, is screening in Best of Australian 7 at 4.30 on Saturday 18 January.

You can buy tickets at the links.

Ngurrumbang BIFF

The Brisbane International Film Festival unveiled its program today, and if you search for ‘Australian Shorts’ on the BIFF site you get a listing of all the movies shown in the two Australian Shorts sessions.  Ngurrumbang is in the second session, screening at 2 pm on Sunday 24 November.

biff

Ngurrumbang at Seminci

We just heard last night that next weekend Ngurrumbang is being shown at Seminci – the Semana Internacional de Cine de Valladolid – in the fabulously named Teatro Zorrilla at half past four on Saturday 19 October and again at 7 o’clock the next day. It’s screening with Bart Van den Bempt’s 82 Days in April. This may be our little movie’s only European screening, so if you plan to be in northern Spain in nine or ten days time, add this to your calendar.

In case you haven’t heard of the Valladolid Festival, here’s a sentence or two from its web site:

Reivindicamos más que nunca el cine intimista, el cine hecho con pocos medios pero con dignidad, ambición y verdad. Ahora que peligra la presencia de ese tipo de cine en las salas, porque se cierran o porque los empresarios prefieren no correr riesgos con la taquilla, reivindicamos un cine que sirva para algo más que para entretener.

Or in English:

Today more than ever we advocate intimate films made on scanty budgets, yet full of dignity, ambition and truth. Now that the theatrical distribution of this kind of cinema is under threat (either because movie theatres are closing down or because the film business is reluctant take risks at the box-office), we firmly support motion pictures that do more than entertain.

Ngurrumbang at the AFF

I’m thrilled to learn that Ngurrumbang is screening at the Adelaide Film Festival. It’s part of Australian Heat, a session of four short films at 9.15 pm on 15 october. The other films are River Water (written and directed by Sara West), Summer Suit (directed by Bec Peniston-Bird, written by Francesca Sciacca) and The Hunter (directed by Margaret Harvey, written by Cameron Costello).

The Festival blurb says:

Tough, wild, brutal or haunting these shorts pack punch and are as scorching as the land that spawned them.

SFF: Dendys etc

If you had told me 15 years ago when my Elder Brilliant Offspring was 20 years old that he and I would write a short film together that he would go on to direct, and that the film would be a finalist in the Dendy Awards … Well, you wouldn’t have.

Having Ngurrumbang screened at two sold out sessions at the Sydney Film Festival has been thrilling, but it’s been a joy beyond words to have worked on this project with him. I’ve learned a huge amount from the collaboration, and from his leadership of the crew, myself included.

I’m typing this on the phone during the opening speeches of the last night of the Festival. Maybe we’ll win something. Now I’m going to pay attention. I’ll tell you if we win or lose on the comments in a couple of hours.

Noel Beddoe’s Yalda Crossing

Noel Beddoe, The Yalda Crossing (UQP 2012)

0702249394 As Noel Beddoe says in an Author’s Note, this book is fiction, but adheres closely to the history of white settlement near what is now the township of Narrandera, including the Second Wiradjuri War and the massacre on Murdering Island. That’s the same massacre that lies in the background of our short film Ngurrumbang and Andy Kissane’s poem ‘The Station Owner’s Daughter, Narrandera’ that inspired us. It’s my great good fortune that the book wasn’t published until the screenplay was complete and pre-production was well under way – the first I heard of it was a comment from Jim Kable on my blog entry inviting people to donate via pozible. If I’d known of the book any sooner,  I would probably have been scared right off.

It’s a formidable achievement. Told from the point of view of Young James Beckett, as a teenager in the 1830s and as an old man in Sydney decades later, it is deeply embedded in its historical moments, and has a powerful sense of place. We care about the characters and come to appreciate their secrets and mysteries, not all of which are revealed, and some not until the last pages. The unfolding narrative gives us neither the ‘dun-dreary naturalism’ that Patrick White hated in Australian fiction, nor the black armband breastbeating that John w Howard claimed to discern and despise among Australian literati, nor again a ripping yarn of the frontier (though unless I’m very confused, Young James mentions reading some James Fenimore Cooper, whose novels must have been hot off the press). The tensions of the colonial society are there – English vs Irish, convicts vs free,  authority vs opportunism, women as a tiny, vulnerable minority – but they are embodied in recognisable individuals, facing particular dilemmas. I started this blog entry with the massacre, and most of the publicity for the book has centred around it, but the social, economic and moral world of the settlers is thoroughly fleshed out in its own right well before the prospect of massacre appears on the horizon.

Unlike other fictional treatments of atrocities against Aboriginal people, The Yalda Crossing lays the ground so that we understand how good people can deliberately commit abominable acts, not without reluctance, revulsion and remorse, but with a terrible sense of necessity. The good people who set the tone of the community aren’t drawn into the vortex of violence created by people less grammatically correct than they: when push comes to shove, they are the ones who orchestrate the terrible acts. Launching the book at the Sydney Institute last July, Linda Burney said that as a Wiradjuri woman, descendant of the victims, she had to skip the chapter where the massacre happens and come back to it later. Noel Beddoe, descendant of the perpetrators, doesn’t blink, and invites us, his semblables, to face our heritage with similarly unflinching gaze.

Linda Burney quoted a moment just before the massacre when a white man refuses to take part because he would lose his soul, which is more important to him than gaining the land. (Incidentally, it’s a gauge of the strength of Noel Beddoe’s writing that only when I typed it like that did I recognise the Biblical reference there.) For me, one of the devastatingly true things in the book is how that man, in spite of his genuine refusal to take part, is nonetheless in the end completely implicated.

Every bit as good, I think as Thea Astley’s A Kindness Cup or Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. (Links are to my blog entries, though the one on Kate Grenville’s book is very brief.)

Blowing a trumpet

Today the Sydney Film Festival revealed the finalists in the 2013 Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films.

NgurrumbangNgurrumbang, directed by Alex Ryan from a script written by Alex and me, is on the list.

It’s eligible for the Live Fiction Award and the Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director, each bringing a cash prize of $5000, sponsored by Dendy Cinemas.

The competition looks stiff, which means the screenings will be worth attending. The winning film in the competition will be announced at the festival’s Closing Night on 16 June 2013. I plan to be there.