Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Why I Watch Cartoons....

You want to learn how to write?

How to create story?

Watch animation.

Oh yes, I have reverse engineered Penguins of Madagascar in an attempt to discover the brilliance of pure story-telling. I’ve taken Mr. Bean apart piece by piece and put him back together again. This happens when you teach English to young learners. Nemo has not just been found, that little fishy has been discovered, examined, and dissected on a petri dish piece by bloody piece. Each part of that perfect production examined under microscopic lens. My students lost in the story have little idea that their teacher is pulling it apart and discovering the beauty of story-telling.

Want to learn about economy of story? To know what parts to leave out? Watch feature length animation. You are NOT allowed to become lost in that story, oh no, you must analyze it. Watch it cold and make notes and you will see that nothing in animation happens accidentally. The cartoonist’s world is a world of foreshadowing and manipulation. Pure story.     

These films are fluid, perfect, not a wasted frame, not a wasted moment – they can’t waste time, it is too expensive. You want to learn how to write stories? Check out Toy Story, particularly the third one. I have chills thinking about how brilliant the final scenes are.

So watch cartoons. Take these films apart and put them back together again. Apply it to your own world and your own work. A story is a story whether it be for adults or kids. It is there to entertain.

How does it entertain?

By being entertaining.

Your job is to discover how.    

Took my kids, week in and week out, to the cinema, buckets of coke and wheelie bin sized popcorn containers, we sat in the theater to watch every new release.

They get to escape into another world. I get to work out this thing called story.


But it wasn’t to last.

Before we knew it the boys had graduated from animation, and traversed to action and drama. Star Wars was okay, Pan was great, but Life of Pi was ultimately the best feature we watched together. Not ashamed to admit I wept as I realized the adaptation was all it should have been. Crying in the cinema, yeah, weeping because you know the filmmaker had nailed it.

Now the kids have grown up, we watch horror, and comedy. Yet I still have an ache and a need to watch animation, luckily I have my students who are happy to watch childish flicks.

Now if you will excuse me I have an appointment with Big Hero Six.     

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Words on writing...

Some years ago, living in rural Thailand I needed a desk, and was introduced to the local carpenter, who was a lonely soul and for the most part incoherent. But then again I wasn’t far behind him.

A desk was needed so I followed him to his workshop. We cracked open a bottle of beer Chang and he ushered me into his domain.

Inside were the most incredibly beautiful pieces of half-finished furniture. Hard wood teak tables rubbed and polished yet missing one leg. Ornate chairs beautifully carved yet to be upholstered and cushioned. Doors, again, hardwood, carved illustrations of peacocks etched into the wood grain.

Sun rays shone into this man’s workshop, reflections danced over his creations.

He may be antisocial, an outcast in the village, but his work, I concluded, was awesome.

I drew the plans for the desk, left the workshop, and waited, and waited, and waited. 

Four or five months the desk arrived. A beautiful piece, huge work surface, piano style legs, drawers lined with green felt. This was without doubt the most perfect piece of furniture I’d ever bought and it was well worth the wait.

The desk had to be perfect as it were to be the desk on which I’d type the novel that I’d been threatening myself to complete.  Once, that is, I’d extracted it from the battered pages of notebooks that I had assembled over two years of traveling around Asia. The novel was Bangkok Express, much of which was written on that desk in Surin, the other portions typed out in the Business Inn, Bangkok, Sukhumvit Road.

So the desk arrived and I sat down at it and began the journey.

I opened word, I opened a file, I began typing. Found a flow, two chapters turned into four, five into ten; then the material inexplicably dried up. 

The notebooks exhausted, the blank screen stared back at me with menacing intent.

What to do now?

The answer was simple. Open another a file. A new idea for a novel. This idea really had wings, hell it was better than the last idea; a boy with magical powers disappears during a game of chequers. Sounds great, yeah? I worked on this one. I worked really hard. Somewhere around chapter twelve I ran out of steam. Again the screen stared back at me like a broke debt collector on a rainy Lewisham afternoon.

No problem. Another file, click, open, this time a story about the population of Bangkok turning into humanoid lizards.

How could this not fly?

It didn’t.

No worries, another file, a cashless society, fight the government for a return of legal tender. This is high concept right here, how can it fail? Tap, tap, tap. This is bloody brilliant. Chapter twenty-three, hmmm. What about that lizard story? Maybe the lizard war is fought at a popular nightlife venue. Let’s get back to that book. Almost finished. Tap, tap tap. Maybe Bangkok Express needs some love. Back to that, back to this, back to that again.

Tap, tap, tap bloody tap.

And of course…

My hard drive on my computer resembled the carpenter’s workshop. Manuscripts in various stages of completion are littered all over the proverbial shop. He had half-chairs, I had half-novels. This is the way I work and it always will be. The best stuff comes when distracted from doing what I should be doing. This article came about because the pub I choose to have lunch in switched off their wireless internet. A neat trick, Kiwi Pub, keeps the customer traffic flowing. But little do they know most of my work is a reaction to what I should be doing. My favorite scenes written while I should have been writing, or doing something else, something important, practical, something that pays the bills.

So don’t feel to pressure to complete that novel, that article, that short story or poem. Let it bake, let it mature, grow.

Because when you force things to happen they appear forced and that’s not a good look. Take a leaf from my carpenter’s book. Keep ‘em waiting and deliver the goods.

Trust the carpenter.


Monday, July 11, 2016


Sydney played by F.C Nieuwoudt is a playwright on the slide. He penned The Murder Game, but since then his ideas have dried up. He stagnates in his Bangkok apartment wondering where his next hit will come from. The set and the space are well designed and eye-catching in this Bangkok production. We feel like we are in that apartment as Sydney’s wealthy wife Myra played by Cherene Knop sweeps the apartment and converses while Sydney manfully drinks what we assume is prop brandy, striding around his man cave contemplating his future with a grizzled outlook and a jaded delivery typical of a scribe on the slide. 

Knop and Nieuwoudt. Photo Loni Berry

Nieuwoudt plays the part solidly and convincing without a glimmer of hesitation or pause the entire show. Good strong delivery and expert timing from the young South African, and Knop, also from South Africa handles her part confidently, although perhaps a slight notch too enthusiastic with the screams when young Sirisak Pituck is apparently offed in the first act.  

The set designed by Loni Berry with help from Bangkok drama students consists of various weaponry; props from past fame, various knives, guns, a pair of Houdini’s handcuffs make for a subtle Chekhov’s gun. I found myself drawn to the room, and it was a nice touch to switch the location in the dialogue to Bangkok. There's a sense of audience participation, of being part of the show.

Pituck and Nieuwoudt. Photo. Loni Berry.

So on with the plot. Salvation arrives, perhaps, in the shape of a script entitled DEATHTRAP. It has drama, excitement, it will put the bums back in the theater seats, it will drive Bangkok crazy and the audience will be hungry for more. The script is written by Clifford and played by the aforementioned Sirisak Pituck.

Sydney invites the young scriptwriter over to discuss the work. But foul play is afoot as  Sydney  plots the removal of  Clifford's body having stolen the script.  “We'll put him in the back of the car, drive up to Isaan, and we bury him,” he tells his distraught wife.

But Clifford is alive all along and the victim is now Myra. We keep up with the plot, the twists and turns, screams and laughs and the murder. Following Myra's murder an onstage kiss and the young scriptwriter Clifford is now to become Sydney's live in lover, secretary, and collaborator. 

Belletti and Nieuwoudt. Photo Loni Berry. 
Despite a visit from his lawyer played by celebrity cyclist Ross Cain and a psychic Helga played by attractive Italian model Cecilia Belletti things seem to be running along smoothly. Until, that is, it comes to light that the younger man has an idea for a new play that would put the pair in an uncomfortable position with the law. The action heats up.

There are relationships here, character development, twists and turns and much humor along the way, As things spiral quickly towards a succession of final twists we are left satisfied with a finale that we didn't see coming. This is a tight production of a popular Broadway smash and it delivers on the BKK stage.

Although director Loni Berry’s run was short, just a week, with Deathtrap in Bangkok there are rumors that the DEATHTRAP may run again. We can only hope so . This is a neat two act one set production and we look out for more from the Culture Collective Studio production team.

The Beat Goes On in Bangkok.