Sunday, 27 September 2009


Tonight sees the onset of Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It finishes Monday night, the completion of 25 hours spent mostly in Synagogue, fasting and praying. We ask forgiveness for the sins committed in the last year and pray for a better year to come.

The thing that most people don't get about religion is that it's just all about making choices. Making choices about how we spend our time, making choices about how we behave, and how we treat other people, making moral choices everyday. Can you be a moral person, however that is defined, without being religious? Of course. Can you be a religious person without being moral? No. You can pretend. Many people sadly do. But they usually get found out in the end.

As screenwriters, we also constantly face choices. What stories we tell, how we tell them, what a character does when, where and how? The more successful we are, the more important these choices become. When you know what you write will end up on the big or small screen, hopefully watched by millions, the words and stories can have an incredible influence we may not consider when we first scribble FADE IN.

However, I have never supported the idea that a film is the 'reason' people do what they do. Off the top of my head there have been criminal court cases which have led to accusations being made against films like Child's Play (I've never seen it) Reservoir Dogs (loved it) & Severance (never seen it.) How many people saw these movies, and yet only one, or two, thankfully, decided to act out something they saw on screen. These people were sick, and if it hadn't come from a movie, the 'inspiration' would've come from elsewhere.

But nevertheless, it's always worth thinking about what we choose to put on screen. Like I've said many times on this blog, I am all for freedom of expression. But just because we have the legal right to do something, doesn't mean we should ignore the moral obligation not to. Take for example Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Let me say up front that I haven't seen it. And I don't normally like to comment on something I haven't seen myself (and if I do, I make sure that I state that I haven't) But goodness me. I know what it's about, I know what's in it, and when the director himself describes the movie’s ending as full of “violence and stupidity”, and apologised for some of the clumsy Biblical references, saying “normally I would have taken out all that shit. I was relatively uncritical of the script,” you really do wonder who thought the estimated 11 million dollar budget was going to be money well spent?

But if anything, I was even more dismayed by the recent Nick Love film, The Firm. Again, I haven’t seen it, even though the official website screams it’s 'this year's must see film,’ (courtesy of Zoo, apparently) But maybe a better epithet would be the most unnecessary film of the year. Did we need another film about football violence? We already have the original The Firm, ID (which I had a rather unhealthy obsession with when I was younger and dumber) Green Street, and The Football Factory (from er, Nick Love, again.) Yes I’ve read all the protestation that The Firm not actually about football violence (do they protest too much?) but, well, sorry, it is. Because that’s the setting you’ve chosen to tell your story about male behaviour, boys growing up and whatever else you want to chuck in there. (Not to mention the obvious glee in the interviews on the website with the creators about the violence.) Nick Love and co couldn’t have known that not long before the film’s release, Millwall and West Ham fans would conduct their own remake of 80s football violence. And he is of course entitled to make the film he wants to make. (I’ve never met him and have nothing against him!) But why the hell would you? And perhaps more importantly for the industry at large, why the hell would you finance it?

This goes to the core of an article by Phil Parker recently in Screen International, reprinted over on Julian’s blog. Phil was in charge of my MA when I started there and was a huge inspiration for me. Anyone who has heard his passion for screenwriting and film knows that when he speaks, the industry really should take note.

But coming back to what we ourselves do on a personal level. And I speak as much to myself as to anyone kind enough to read my blog. Let’s think about what stories we want to tell this year and how we want to tell them. I’m not talking about censorship or being a prude. For a start, when I read scripts, I never pass judgement. One of the best spec scripts I’ve read was a horror film that I’d never go and see in a million years – but its quality was undeniable and scary even just on the page! Previous screenplays of mine contain violence, alcohol and drug abuse, swearing and er, in the last one, some pretty low brow Judd Apatow style comedy! And as the tagline for Dough is now in the public domain, the savvier amongst you will no doubt recognise a drug reference that is very relevant to the movie. But I hope and like to think that the overall message of the stories I tell is a positive one, never justifying things that a moral society should find abhorrent. And that the content is never included just to shock, to cause controversy or because I couldn’t be bothered to “take out all that shit.”

Good luck with everyone’s writing this year. Let’s tell stories that force the British film industry to acquiesce to Phil’s wishes, and end the endless monotony of remakes and sequels etc. And more importantly, choose stories so that when we look in a mirror in our old age, we can still think, I’m proud I did that.


Adaddinsane said...

"Can you be a religious person without being moral? No. You can pretend."

Couldn't agree more. This is the real message, as opposed to the "religion is bad" propaganda put about currently.

"Let’s think about what stories we want to tell this year and how we want to tell them."

Someone accused me, because of what's in Monsters, of "giving people ideas" - in this case the idea of having ID chips in every citizen's head. Which, of course, would be very bad indeed.

I'd be very surprised if it hadn't already occurred to those that want complete control of the populace anyway.

But I wrote it as a warning - that "they" will continue to rip away your human rights given any excuse. And that this idea would never achieve the (apparent) desired goal anyway - because it's so easy to get around.

All artists have a responsibility because we create the new ideas.

Jez Freedman said...

well i think you summed up my post with your last sentence! and i would add that as well as creating new ideas, we also perpetuate old ones - which can be equally as powerful.