Archive for Donkeys

Pets Win Prizes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 25, 2011 by dcairns

Naturally, my first posting published from Hollywood concerns… Scotland.

The BAFTA Scotland awards are doled out in November — so this is a shameless “For Your Consideration” type notice plugging my friends Morag and Colin’s DONKEYS, the best Scottish feature film I’ve seen in recent years. Of course I’m biassed, and I haven’t seen NEDS or PERFECT SENSE, so my word isn’t of much value here — I just wanted to remind anybody who has seen the films and who’s planning in voting — DONKEYS is REALLY GOOD, remember?

Remember how you laughed, were moved, laughed and were moved at the same time, resulting in a strange holographic emotion that doesn’t have a name? Remember how Morag drew sensitive, convincing and funny performances from her actors, including James Cosmo and Brian Pettifer, both of whom are BAFTA nominated? Remember how Morag’s acute eye for humorous detail made a surreal wonderland of Glasgow? She’s nominated as best director. And remember how Colin’s BAFTA-nominated script interwove tangentially related characters into a tight, compact tragi-comedy?

James Cosmo is a Scottish legend, an incredible figure for whom the word “rugged” was invented and then discarded as pitifully inadequate. His long career encompasses the cult horror DOOMWATCH, plus HIGHLANDER, BRAVEHEART and TRAINSPOTTING. In other words, he’s the man they call on when they want a Scottish film or a pseudo-Scottish film to have a bit of integrity. And in DONKEYS he gives a career-best performance of previously unseen vulnerability and comic skill.

Brian Pettifer’s been a fixture in British cinema for even longer. He’s in all three of Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis films, IF…, O LUCY MAN! and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, as well as AMADEUS and THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. Often cast for his distinctive features, here he has the meaty role of a lifetime as the Laurel to Cosmo’s Hardy, one-half of a co-dependent double act of tragic no-hopers.

A conclusive set of wins for the film and filmmakers would send a nice message, I feel, about the kind of Scottish cinema we want to see.

Speaking of which, saw WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN just before leaving, but notes on that’ll have to wait until I come back.

Donkey Work

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by dcairns

It’s frustrating that I’m good friends with several of the personalities behind DONKEYS, particularly writer Colin McLaren and director Morag McKinnon, both of whom I’ve worked with in various capacities, because I’d like to tell you how marvelous DONKEYS is but you’re duty-bound to not believe me. I declare my prejudice in favour of the movie to be near-total, but promise to confine myself to the facts.

Recap: I’ve spoken about this before here, but this movie has an unusual origin it’s worth knowing.

DONKEYS, originally called ROUNDING UP DONKEYS, is a sequel of sorts to RED ROAD, a Scottish arthouse hit based on a scheme devised by Lars Von Trier and Lone Scherfig: three writer-directors were given a group of characters and told to make three movies using them. Morag asked LVT what she should do if she couldn’t find ways to use all the characters from RED ROAD. “Oh, just use the ones you want and have the rest go by in a bus.”

She then set about cheating even more. First she brought in Colin to help with the script. He’s the genius who scripted her BAFTA-winning short HOME, and co-wrote my own hit CRY FOR BOBO. Then she told her employers he was helping. Then she told them he was collaborating. Then she told them he was writing it.

Meanwhile, Colin elevated a bit-player from the RED ROAD cast list to leading man status. This eventually led to the part going to the great James Cosmo (Ewen MacGregor’s dad in TRAINSPOTTING), and Brian Pettifer, a familiar face from Lindsay Anderson’s work, was brought in as his hapless friend. One of the RED ROAD actors threatened to sue. Then he dropped dead. Problem solved.

Colin tinkered. Kate Dickie’s Jackie no longer works in front of a thousand monitors, surveilling Glasgow by CCTV. She now works in a supermarket. She suddenly has a daughter. Natalie Press, a teenage runaway in RED ROAD, is a doctor in this one. This is the alternate universe sequel to RED ROAD. Also, it’s a comedy.

Due to the kind of machinations and screw-ups actuated whenever a film is made, especially with multiple producers, various gags did hit the cutting room floor during the journey to the screen. This resulted in an odd, but ultimately pleasing phenomenon. DONKEYS is a very black comedy, so by not announcing the tone up front, it spectacularly wrongfooted the critics and filmmakers at the industry screening. The audience, expecting a grim slice-of-life in the Loach vein, following on from Andrea Arnold’s rather glum debut, slowly began to suspect that something was up. Titters were heard. “Ah, it’s the comedy of the everyday,” they thought. “A bit of naturalistic comedy in the Mike Leigh tradition.” (I was there, I heard them thinking this. I’m still just reporting the facts here.)

When Cosmo, who may be terminally ill, tries to win back his estranged daughter by extemporizing a dreadful song at her late husband’s grave, you could practically see the suspicion shading into certainty that this was an actual funny film. The song is very poor. It continues for a long time. The laughter built. And then the film was home free.

Cosmo, a rugged, ragged man mountain with a face apparently hewn from granite, then dropped from a great height, contrasts physically with the small, smooth and round Pettifer, creating a sort of Laurel and Hardy effect. And I did actually think of the immortal L&H when I read the script. Even though this happens in a world closer to documentary reality, where the kind of flaws shown by slapstick clowns have altogether more tragic consequences. Morag’s gift for getting great performances and navigating the tonal switchbacks of Colin’s writing is much in evidence. There were tears and laughter and tears of laughter.

Here’s a clip from Morag and Colin’s previous triumph, HOME:

Three Women

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by dcairns


An entire film industry in female form: producer Angela Murray, writer Fiona Watson and director Morag McKinnon.

First came the shoes. Fiona seemed to have quite a lot of shoes, and our floordrobe was cluttered with them. It seemed ironic that we couldn’t walk anywhere in our flat for all the shoes. So Fiona bought a big steel shoe rack, which hooks onto a door, covering one side. But she only hung a couple of belts on it, and the Shoe Problem remained. Then she bought three big plastic boxes (each big enough to swallow an old portable TV like the one I watched ZOLTAN HOUND OF DRACULA on in my bedroom aged 15). But she seemed to be too busy to actually put anything in them.

So on Saturday morning I started putting away shoes and boots, ending with three boxes brimming with boots and an entire door decorated with shoes, so that you could take it off its hinges and use it as a wooden centipede, if you needed one. When Fiona came home and actually saw how many items of footwear she owned she started laughing hysterically. Because what else can you do when you suddenly discover you’re Imelda Marcos?

Imelda and I are currently redrafting CELL 6, a psychological horror thriller, for Edinburgh producer Eddie Dick — in fact, that’s probably what we should be doing right now. A new step outline by the 11th, please.

Off to Glasgow, where producing supremo Angelatook us to a Persian restaurant (hint: if you order the starters, you don’t need a main course) where I ate myself into a state of planetoid girth, complete with volcanic activity. Thence to Angela’s favourite bar, where I think I rather offended Angela by referring to it as “a suburb of hell” (sorry!), to be joined by Morag, who was upbeat about her upcoming film, which Sigma Productions seem to be calling DONKEYS, referred to here earlier under its working title ROUNDING UP DONKEYS (which is what they should call it). I’m really bursting to see this, since Morag and her writer Colin McLaren are among the great hopes of Scottish cinema, and since I’ve heard all kinds of onset reports that make me eager, anxious, excited, nervous, in equal measures.

Unfortunately, I’m sworn to secrecy on most of these stories. Even reproducing Angela’s stories about dealing with directors might be indiscrete, although I’m of the view that it’s a masterclass in diplomacy and would be beneficial to share with prospective producers everywhere. Maybe if we can get Angela in to lecture at the Art College she can pass on some of her wisdom and compassion.