Cry laughing and… Clay

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘laugh until you cry‘ but a couple of nights ago, I watched a show that made me cry-laugh. No really. Ugly crying and laughing my ass off (I have a lot off ass, go figure).

It feels like I’ve been bleating on about my excitement for I’m Dying Up Here for months now and, after watching the show’s premiere, the hype was well deserved. With Jim Carrey serving as executive producer and a cast that boasts names such as Melissa Leo, Clark Duke and Ari Graynor, this new series from Showtime has all the ingredients of a hit. Throw in Sebastian Stan in the pilot episode, and, surprise surprise, I was utterly sold.

Set in 1970’s Los Angeles, I’m Dying Up Here, focuses on Goldie’s: a comedy club famed for priming the finest comedians for superstardom under the guidance of Goldie herself (played by Melissa Leo). The gang are a close knit bunch, so much so that when one of their own, the tragically dashing Clay Appuzzo (Sebastian Stan), makes it on to the Tonight Show, they find themselves huddled around the television together, anticipating the moment of truth: will he impress so much that he gets the couch? Of course he does.

But mere hours later, he walks out in front of an oncoming bus (sorry Stan clan, his role on this show is short lived… no pun intended), feeling like he’s reached his peak with nowhere left for him to climb.

It’s Clay’s story that seems to serve as the show’s catalyst, propelling viewers into the plight of these stars in the making. Stan enjoys very little screen time, however, what we do see of him is satisfying enough; he is, after all, seasoned in playing these tortured souls throughout his career and he brought just that to Clay. Stan conveys Clay’s pain in such a subtle yet convincing way that you just can’t help but lap it up. Not only that, but some of the writing of Clay really resonated with me on a personal level, particularly that line about being far more honest around strangers than loved ones. It’s something I endlessly wrestle with in life. Not to mention the feeling of dread I have about actually realising my own potential in my career, which I saw in Clay’s character.

But I have to admit, it was Clay’s ex, Cassie (Ari Graynor) that wowed me the most. Over the course of the episode, we see Cassie struggle against Goldie’s judgment that she isn’t ready to perform on the main stage and it’s her grief at losing (and being haunted, in a sense, by) Clay that forces her to evolve. I became so invested in her plight, that I was on the edge of the seat towards the show’s climax, when she finds herself on the main stage, faltering (David Flebotte and your glorious writing team, I salute you big time). But the kicker comes when she reminisces about her ex in the most lewd yet heartbreaking fashion. This was it. This was when I cry-laughed.

I cannot wait to see more of this show and you can bet your ass I’ll be blogging about it as the season progresses.

I’m Dying Up Here premieres on Showtime on June 4. You do not want to miss this!

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Filming my first short…

So we’re two days into the filming of The Book Club, my first short, that I’ve co-written, co-produced, and co-directed with Lauren Grech and Megan Taylor – both students from my masters programme. I was so anxiously enthusiastic yesterday that I kind of feel like I’ve burned myself out, but I’m happy to say that the film is starting to look like how I envisioned it. I’m still dead on this inside though.

For those of you who don’t know, The Book Club is about a journalist, called Andrew Paton, who receives a tip-off that witches are operating in Ayr. Now, you guys might not be aware of this, Ayr was a hotbed for that kind of thing in the 1600’s, we have such a rich history for the paranormal it’s unreal. Andrew goes in pursuit of this modern-day coven and finds Maggie Osborne (the real Maggie was a blood-curdling woman, a really bad egg). He follows her for a couple of days, filming everything on his phone, and winds up at her book club. If I tell you anymore, it’ll ruin the story, but what we’re going for is this incredible found-footage, DIY, Blair Witch Project meets Tam O’Shanter style look and narrative.

Thus far, we’ve nailed it. We’ve used compact cameras, SLRs, webcams, phones…anything portable to capture our images. Obviously the next stage is my favourite part – most of the SLR cutaways are ready to be graded to give them even more of an eerie feel.

It’s a process of firsts for me; I’ve never written any scripts before, I’ve never filmed a short, never produced anything of this scale, never directed a proper film. Insofar as our cast, two of our actors have never acted before either. It’s an exciting time for sure.

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So I just found this really interesting post from a year ago…

I wrote this half way into the final year of my journalism degree when I first started thinking about making films and documentaries. Here’s a little excerpt:

Academically, I’m in the process of applying for my MA in Creative Media Practice, which is, essentially, the perfect course for me. It allows me to cherry-pick the skills I want to learn, to work with creators from other disciplines and to hone my style of work. For me, I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from Danny Clinch’s ‘The Making of Handwritten’ mini-documentary. I think that when I saw that piece of work, I stopped and thought, this is perfect, I want to do this! In fact, I’m a huge Danny Clinch fan…period. And it should be simple enough for me to cross over, since I already know how to approach the contacts, gain the access, and work the camera. It’s just turning it from journalism into art. It’s not a case of just telling the story straight up anymore; it’s about presenting it in a striking and artful way. I love people and their stories; I want to get those stories out there. That’s what I want to learn. And that’s what I’m doing.

I thought this would be a good opportunity for some reflection on where I’m at right now in terms of my masters degree, because honestly, I’m in a pretty good place.

The first thing I’m going to say is that my MA is everything I had hoped it would be and more. I went into this having quite a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve, and while I have, or am, achieving that, it’s opened my eyes to other possibilities. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a fantastic writer and my mum always had this big dream for me that someday I’d write a novel. Now I always scoffed at the idea of writing for the rest of my life, but actually, a few writing classes were laid on through my course and I’m really starting to find my feet with screenwriting. It was never something I had considered until recently, but now, my big, final, MA project involves writing a mockumentary. So I guess the whole process has unlocked all these interests I had hidden away. It’s also taken a lot of the fear out of creative ventures. I can tell you now, that during my journalism degree, I set foot in the TV studio at university once and once alone, and I was far too terrified to actually touch anything. Now, I’d be completely comfortable in there. Not only that, but the prospect of organising a shoot would have struck fear into my little heart. Twelve weeks later, I’m about to direct my first short film, The Book Club.

I still love the work of Danny Clinch; it can’t be beaten. But I’ve found that my range of influences have been broadened considerably through the experience. I’m not just looking at photographers or documentary makers. I’m looking at music, I’m looking at directors, I’m looking at fashion designers, at poets and at the world around me. Everything I’m consuming, I’m putting something into that bank of influences now, so in that sense, the way I view art has changed so much in just twelve weeks.

When I wrote the post that excerpt is from, I thought I knew everything, but that was really just the beginning. I think I had myself fooled into the frame of mind that I knew everything that was worth knowing because there was that overwhelming fear of trying something new and failing. But thanks to my MA, I’m at the point now where I have the ability to approach the unknown with more optimism than fear, which is an utterly new thing. I also love the amount of freedom there is, in a postgraduate environment, to take responsibility for your own learning. I’m very much of the school where if I don’t know how to work a certain programme or a particular camera, I’ll spend an afternoon fathoming it out until I can do it, and at this level, that’s kind of expected, so I’m really thriving in terms of how I’m learning.

Finally, I’ve found myself working alongside some genuinely wonderful and talented people from all areas of the arts. As a journalist, there is a tendency to focus on your own story and see everyone else as competition, but when making a film, another pair of eyes, or bringing someone else’s expertise to the table is only going to make your finished project so much more rich. And I absolutely love that.

So yeah, I’ve learned a lot in the last year or so.

Interviews, projects and keeping busy!

This past fortnight has been the most hectic I’ve ever experienced, but I probably wouldn’t have it any other way. I kind of enjoy being so busy that I don’t have to think about anything else.

It started a couple of weeks ago. I had the incredible opportunity to head to BBC Quay Sessions to watch Ibeyi and Frank Turner (also met Frank, see the main image). I also interviewed Scottish broadcasting royalty, Edith Bowman. The experience was incredible – my first time heading to the BBC in Glasgow. It’s a marvellous setting to view live music. I still haven’t written anything up about this – or edited my interview with Edith, but I should be doing that this week now that I have the time.

I then attended Frank Turner’s spectacular gig at the Barrowlands. I feel a little guilty talking about how great a night I had, considering what happened in Paris that same night. Nonetheless, it was a stunning performance. Not only that, but I chatted to the man himself, as well as some of his fans for a little mini-documentary exploring why his fans are fans in the first place. This should be done within the next week or so, so keep an eye out, and the review will be up tomorrow!

I also gave birth to a beautiful politics essay of 3,000 words in length at 4.20pm last night. I’m not gonna say too much but it was a painful process and one that I do not wish to repeat…like, ever.

Last but not least, I had the pleasure of seeing a tremendously talented artist called Chloé Marie at the Garage last night. I also interviewed her, so do pay attention for the imminent video interview, and please check out her work, because she’s probably one of Ayrshire’s finest musical talents right now.

As of now, I’m in the process of planning some of the projects I’ll be putting together while I’m away in New York / New Jersey. So as you can imagine, my mind is swimming with ideas and I’m really excited. It’s now that I’m starting to see what my particular brand of journalism actually is: it’s all about telling the stories of the people I meet on my own journeys and the experiences I find myself immersed in in a fun way. Taking my own adventures and finding cool stories along the way. I never want it to be too serious. But I am going to try my hand at a more serious style whilst on my travels which should make a fun change for myself. This trip’s going to be very beneficial to me, not just journalistically, but I just really need a holiday at this point!

But anyway, that’s where I’m at right now.

Optimism

Hi guys. I get that these life updates are becoming increasingly sporadic, and for that I do apologise. It’s been all go.

Firstly, I’ve been shortlisted for a job at Team Rock. This is an absolutely huge deal for me, because if I get this, it’ll be my first real job in music journalism. It’s a hugely competitive industry; but also one that’s filled with teenagers spewing opinions on blogs and thinking it’s gospel. I just hope I stand out for all the right reasons. I’ve been wanting to do this since I was 17; so to have that first stepping stone to the dream job – and a foot in the door of one of my favourite companies – is absolutely mind blowing. I’m a bag of nerves, but also hopeful for the future.

Career-wise, I’ve been very fortunate recently. I’m working across a lot of different mediums right now whether it be audio, words or pictures. I’m hoping to have my first little interview package done and dusted by the end of the month. I’m lucky to be interviewing a huge artist for this in a couple of weeks’ time. I’m not going to say who, but this will be the most high profile interview of my career thus far. I’m looking for this piece to bridge my journalistic work into my future venture into documentary making – more on that later. I’m also working on a small entertainment based radio production; for this I’m looking to have a local artist in session. It’s all go.

Academically, I’m in the process of applying for my MA in Creative Media Practice, which is, essentially, the perfect course for me. It allows me to cherry-pick the skills I want to learn, to work with creators from other disciplines and to hone my style of work. For me, I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from Danny Clinch’s ‘The Making of Handwritten’ mini-documentary. I think that when I saw that piece of work, I stopped and thought, this is perfect, I want to do this! In fact, I’m a huge Danny Clinch fan…period. And it should be simple enough for me to cross over, since I already know how to approach the contacts, gain the access, and work the camera. It’s just turning it from journalism into art. It’s not a case of just telling the story straight up anymore; it’s about presenting it in a striking and artful way. I love people and their stories; I want to get those stories out there. That’s what I want to learn. And that’s what I’m doing. You can check out ‘The Making of Handwritten’ below.

Musically, I’m coveting Apple Music just now. I wrote a little column on why I’ve had such a change of heart regarding streaming services which you can check out here. I’m still listening to a lot of Pearl Jam (Ten Redux is like ten times the fun of Ten), and, as the nights are drawing in, I’m thoroughly enjoying listening to Cherry Tree by The National when I’m driving home in the dark.

  
Finally, it’s a month until I head out to New York, and also one month until I get to marvel at the yearly spectacle that is Brian Fallon’s holiday residency at Crossroads. Favourite artist, tiny venue. You can’t beat it.

See you down the road!

  
I see life as a movie; you see the journey and you hear the soundtrack. Sometimes the two converge. Sometimes it’s in your car, it’s raining so hard you can’t see very far in front of you and you’re miserable because you’ve just quit your dead-end job. Or sometimes it’s at a show in a city far from home. This time, it’s the latter.

Let me clue you in. It’s a long story, so you’ll have to bear with me…

  
 It was March 2013 when I discovered The Gaslight Anthem. Handwritten had been my album of choice for months prior and, on the off chance, I purchased a ticket to one of their shows. Late to the party, I know, but I had found my new favourite band.

Encores are out – as are gimmicks; overly enthusiastic 14 year olds; fixed, sub-par set lists; rehearsed crowd schmoozing; and sometimes even curfews. In a world where most established artists think you should be grateful with 15 songs at a show, these guys will gladly give you closer to 30 – different – songs each night of a tour. Not only that, but arrangements constantly get changed; inspirational speeches are kept to a minimum; and – many a time – I’ve shed a tear from laughing too hard as vocalist Brian Fallon delivers his view of the world (my personal favourite? His rant about Prince, Dave Grohl and periods but that’s another story for another time…) In short, you go see The Gaslight Anthem, and you get a completely different show. Every. Single. Time.
  
And that’s why I like them. See, at a time when my then favourite band had just given me the same setlist eight or nine times in a row, I was beginning to get a bit pissed about value for money. The Gaslight Anthem gave me value for money which kept me invested.

And from there, the music took on the role of ‘soundtrack’ if only for a period of my life that was, for want of a better phrase, ‘in flux’.

In time, I’d start to keep copies of Handwritten and The ’59 Sound in my car; I’d associate these with being on journeys. Down a motorway, or through life. I’ve shed tears in rain, and drove through the night with tired eyes with the best band in the world coming through the stereo in my car. Always on a journey, navigating roads, experiences, feelings.

  
So it’s fitting that – prior to the band going on a break – the last time I see them for a while is going to be an adventure, peppered with long journeys and late nights. It’s the best thing in the universe when your two favourite things converge like that. 

On Tuesday, I’m embarking on a journey to Utrecht, before spending a couple of days in Amsterdam before journeying to London for The Gaslight Anthem‘s final UK headline show for a while.

See you on the flip side!