Monday, 31 December 2012

TOP TEN FILMS OF 2012

2012 will shortly become a hazy memory of failed apocalypse and sporty folks running around London, so time to reflect on a pretty good year at the old kino. I’ve been having some violent mental skirmishes with myself over what to include in this year's top ten. My main rule of thumb came down to what stayed with me (and had a UK release in 2012). Settling on a top ten was hella tricky, believe you me, but I suppose I'll just have to live with the choices I've made. 

10. THE HUNGER GAMES (Gary Ross)

Didn’t know much about The Hunger Games until I was biting back tears watching the trembling lower-lips of terrified young kids enter into a lottery of violence. This disturbing scenario sees the mucky faced young’uns pitted against one another in a fight to the death for the sake of ensuring the status quo of post-apocalyptic America. Not a wholly original concept but it is a timely retelling for the X-Factor generation. It’s more emotionally involving than the similarly premised Battle Royale and brilliantly carried by Jennifer Lawrence. In a summer of fatties like The Dark Knight Rises and countless other bish bash bosh flicks (I think that’s official industry jargon), The Hunger Games is accountable for the violence it portrays.



9. SHAME (Steve McQueen)

There can’t be many actors capable of playing the world’s most prolific wanker but Michael Fassbinder pulls it off with aplomb. He’s uncomfortable company throughout but you’re still willing to head towards the dark heart of the night with him. When the arrival of his sister causes his unquenchable sex addiction to unravel, it’s as horrible and mesmerising as you would hope. 



8. INTO THE ABYSS (Werner Herzog)

Herzog’s documentary style occasionally seems to mock his subjects, but here the effect is insightful as we comb through the bleak wastelands of white-trash America and uncover the anatomy of a triple homicide that brought a young man to the death penalty. The film is gruelling (the old police video of the crime scene is a particularly haunting moment) but alongside Herzog’s four-part documentary series exploring the cases of four other inmates (On Death Row) it all makes for grimly compelling viewing.



7. ABOUT ELLY (Asghar Farhadi)

Farhadi drops us right into the midst of a group of yuppies from Tehran as they travel to a beach house in the opening sequence of this intense drama. Before you know it the group of young families are playing charades with reckless abandon. But soon enough all hell breaks loose in a chaotic, thrilling and emotionally trying sequence on the beach. The jubilant mood nose-dives into acrimony, accusations and a troubling mystery that gnawed at me long after the lights went up.



6. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Sean Durkin)

Foreboding American indie released back in February, in which a revelatory Elizabeth Olsen (from the sinister Olsen dynasty) tries to free her body and mind from John Hawkes’ quietly chilling cult. Dreamy flashbacks to Martha’s indoctrination and subsequent escape take us deep into a fragile, splintered mind. I guess cults aren’t always as fun as they look on Summerisle.



5. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (Peter Strickland)

I sort of want to put The Equestrian Vortex on this list, but that would be a bit wanky, being the film within a film in Peter Strickland’s follow up to Katalin Varga. I did think one of the many wonders of Berberian Sound Studio was the vivid mental picture we’re left with of the film we hear but never see. Toby Jones’ uptight sound designer sets about composing the effects, leading him towards a discombobulating blend of reality, horror fantasy and the English idyll that he clings onto in vain.



4. THE HUNT (Thomas Vinterberg)

With impeccable timing, The Hunt hit cinemas slap bang in the middle of the UK’s latest paedo freakout. With it’s tight-knit village setting and a climax that takes place at the religious pillar of a rigidly structured community, it's a bit like a gnarly Ingmar Bergman film. Sure to become a Christmas classic of the ‘false accusation of child abuse’ sub-genre, mark my words.



3. AMOUR (Michael Haneke)

Bit of a downer. But the foregone conclusion glimpsed in the opening sequence, along with a claustrophobic Paris apartment setting, lends a slow-burning thriller quality to the ticking time bomb of death. Probably shouldn’t take your Granny to see it though.



2. THE MASTER (Paul Thomas Anderson)

The critical success of Amour and The Master made it tempting to bump them off this list to make some space, but not having nutty stooper Freddie Quell present would seem plain wrong. It’s like the fascinating I’m Still Here razed Joaquin Phoenix to ashes so that his re-emergence could be as visceral as humanly possible. It’s not just the Wacky Phoenix show though; Hoffman proves a powerfully bullish match in Paul Thomas Anderson's stunning bromance about religion, charisma and the ungodly powers of mixing the right amount of paint stripper with just about anything.



1. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Nuri-Bilge Ceylan)

Nuri-Bilge Ceylan delivers an epic journey through the night, as a group of officials are led by a convicted murderer to his victim, if he can only remember where he put him. Ceylan’s style is often cited as being anti-dramatic but I find his films wholly concerned with conflict in genuine human relationships. His characters always display an authentic sense of experience, humanity and humour. In Once Upon a Time in Anatolia the long takes compliment the narrative perfectly, locking us into the characters’ frustrating predicament in what feels like real time. This leads us imperceptibly to some almost hallucinatory revelations. Climates (Iklimler) is one of the best films of the 00s and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia lays down the gauntlet for the teenies. Or whatever it is we’re calling this decade. Well done Nuri, more please!



Therein ends my annual roundup. If you want to check out my top twenty, click here. Thanks for dropping by and I wish you all the very best for 2013. Let’s make it a good one! I’ll bring crisps. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Avalon Mentorship 2012


Not content with the amount of psychical plant physiology that the theatre has to offer, I’ve been developing a script about a scientist obsessed with ESP in plants. Edinburgh-based theatre production company Siege Perilous liked this work-in-progress enough to offer me a place on the Avalon Mentorship this month with my play, entitled ‘The Dracaena Assembly’. The mentorship comprises a six-month development programme for six emerging Scottish playwrights, with the possibility of up to three of the plays being offered full-scale productions. 

So I’m on the verge of developing my first script for the stage with them and their writer-in-residence, Caroline Dunford. All very exciting. Will keep you posted, primarily with bracingly informative tweets. 

Siege Perilous are on twitter and facebook

Monday, 9 July 2012

Cutty Sark Short Film Competition

Very happy to win the Cutty Sark Short Film Competition and finally bridge my passion for whisky and film. I'll be meeting with Cutty Sark in the coming weeks to discuss making a global brand film for them. Looking forward to it!



Expedition (Cutty Sark Film) from Neil Hepburn on Vimeo.

Friday, 15 June 2012

DESOLATION

Hello blog. How are you? Desolate, lonesome, unloved? Like some pitiful web log orphan, begging for a few more views on the 'stats' page, hoping that someone is watching you parade around in your coloured fonts, scouring through your reverse chronological posts, on the verge of penetrating the barren comments section with a flurry of affirmation? You sicken me with your desperation. 

Joking aside, I've been busy. Four funerals and a wedding and we're not even halfway through the year yet. What the hell
 you playing at, Gods of Fortune? Piss off, would you?

Got a heap of works in progress at the moment. But until they surface, I thought I'd best pop in to post this candid shot of Dr John Viscum, taken from the very floral set of a short I've been making. 
Working title: CHILDREN OF THE SOIL.













Friday, 24 February 2012

SCREENPLAY CONSTELLATIONS

Haus 1, Studio Babelsberg, Berlin; where they shot Metropolis!
Last week I had the good fortune to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus; ‘a creative academy and networking platform for up-and-coming filmmakers from all over the world’. It was an incredible experience, meeting with participants (representing no less than 99 countries) and attending workshops from some of the world's leading filmmakers.

SOLUTION FOCUSED SYSTEMIC STRUCTURAL CONSTELLATIONS

In a week full of surreal moments, a four-hour writing workshop took the biscuit, placed it in the middle of the room and asked it how it felt to be a biscuit. The idea behind the convoluted title above is to take the key elements of a screenplay-in-progress (such as character, theme, setting etc), select people to physically represent these elements and have the writer position them in a room in relation to one another. They then experiment with different ‘constellations’ and take input from the story elements themselves, who are asked to contribute, in character. It was in turns bizarre, hilarious and eventually kind of emotionally intense. Definitely the most unusual approach to writing I’ve ever encountered. 

Here’s a short video, featuring an interview with me. I look a bit spaced out but I've just been through some seriously weird shit, so give me a break OK?


If you want to know more about the campus and access some of their rich online archive of material, have a look around here. Huge thanks to the amazing organisers of the BTC, all the speakers, and to the British Council for subsidising the trip.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

BERLINALE TALENT CAMPUS



I’m about to brace my buckles and fly in a plane – which is neck and neck with ‘hacking off my own fingers with a rusty spoon’ on my list of favourite activities. Luckily it’s for a damned good reason; I’m heading out to the Berlin Film Festival to take part in the Berlinale Talent Campus. The program for the campus looks excellent, with masterclasses from Mike Leigh, Werner Herzog, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Juliet Binoche. Oh, and Andie MacDowell. That’s right - Four Weddings, Loreal. She’s gonna be there.

So I’ve been dusting down some of my film projects in the build up to the festival. Pictured above is a mood board I put together for a psychological thriller I’m working on. I have a few friends who use mood boards (here's a good one) and I got into the habit last year. They can be time consuming to put together but are a great reminder of what you set out to do. I’m using this one (which is mostly made up of film stills) to orientate the development of a feature script called Bitter Memoirs. It’s a dark version of the rags to riches story, where worldly fulfillment leads to moral ruin. That sounds a little bleak but my protagonist's descent into the maelstrom is going to be a hell of a lot of fun. Until he gets stabbed.   

I’ll be tweeting from Berlin like a bastard Chaffinch, so if you want to chart what may be the gradual unraveling of my soul in a haze of Germanic excess, do check in. Till then, tschuss!