Monday, 30 August 2010
Sunday, 29 August 2010
Thursday, 26 August 2010
Regular visitors to Mint Custard may recognise the name of Rani Cameron as a big contributor to our little discussions, particularly those about comedy. Clearly someone who doesn’t just talk the talk, Rani has taken the seemingly drastic step of writing, producing and acting in her own sitcom. What’s even she’s done it alone, with no backing from television stations or production companies and with next to no budget.
The result is Retreat, the story of a bored paper shuffler who gives up her desk job to help run a holistic retreat in the English countryside. There she attempts to make sense of the dysfunctional, the disillusioned and the disquietingly odd people who live and work there.
Given it is entirely homemade and relies solely on amateur actors Retreat is a rather impressive – and yes, funny - debut which is well worth twenty minutes of your time. The trouble is the only place you’re likely to see it anytime soon is here in the glorious technicolour world of You Tube. Rani has kindly taken some time out to tell us why and provide some insight into what it takes to go it alone in the comedy world …
Hi Rani, thanks for talking to Mint Custard. Congratulations on episode 1 of Retreat - you must be happy to see it finally up there? Yes, thank you Mint. Very good of you to devote column space to it. I may never be interviewed again so I may milk it a bit.
We may never get to interview anyone again, so feel free! There's an old adage that aspiring comedians should talk about what they know. How much of Retreat is based on your own experiences? Well, a lot, clearly. But of course for legal reasons it is entirely fictional. Around here (Glastonbury) there is an awful lot of this kind of thing going on, so it's drawn from several sources. But for people around here it certainly has the ring of truth.
Did you take the idea to television companies? What reaction did you receive? Well I sent it to a thing called BBC Writersroom - they invite scripts to be sent and there is a possibility of them taking it up for development. My rejection was polite and I do remember seeing the word 'amusing' before I threw it in the bin. I tried Channel 4, and a few other places, but the chances of anyone seriously taking you up on it are extremely remote. A bit of paper isn't going to do it.
When did you first have the idea that you could do it yourself? Well, unexpectedly, a group of friends decided they would like to have a go at doing some comedy. The idea of radio was floated, but I said I couldn't do radio again, having already spent years in darkened, airless rooms for no pay. And then I showed them the Retreat script, written years earlier, and, gratifyingly, they thought it was funny and that we should make it.
Do you have any previous experience in comedy? Yes, through a Melbourne community radio program called The Third Ear, which I did with two very talented blokes who still do media-related stuff in Melbourne, John Richards and David Ashton. From there we moved on to ABC-TV, and worked on an aborted series involving most of the Melbourne stand-up scene. This did not go well (the stand-ups hated us). I also worked on the last episodes of a show called TVTV, all very ill-advised. And I was a writer and occasional performer on Full Frontal, which you are probably not familiar with Mint. Lucky you.
How long did it take to complete one episode from start to finish? I like to work very quickly, so I decided to shoot it over a four week period. I say quickly - that's as quickly as was possible, as it involved two shooting days a week, and that's all anyone could manage. Shoots were only a couple of hours long - again, no one had much time. You quickly realise when there's no money, there's no time either. After each shoot, I would edit the footage that evening. When we had all the footage, it was clear that the sound was awful, and some lines you couldn't even hear. But I had a friend who has the software to separate the sound from the pictures, and boost the sound. I cannot quite communicate how significant this was. It made the whole thing audible without us having to lay down a separate dialogue track. Don't you love technology? So all up, about six weeks. Not including writing obviously.
Do you know how that compares to a fully financed production? Well, that's a cumbersome beast, and you have pre-production, you have script development, you have casting, you have rehearsals, etc etc, and then post-production would be quite drawn-out as well. And of course most people would say there's no comparison because of the vast difference in production values. But I would say there's something to be said for the immediacy and freshness of self-made stuff.
You've called yourself a zero budget sitcom, but it must still be expensive to do this? For anyone thinking of going down this path what type of things are involved? Well, the Flip Mino [camera] cost £70 on Amazon. Apart from that, it's a lot of begging, or just asking people for things. Luckily in this area people are very generous and supportive of any creative endeavour, particularly Paddington Farm, where we did the exteriors. They even let us light a fire in their barn. People would drop out at the last minute and you have to think on your feet. One morning I had to drive around the Somerset levels for 45 minutes looking for a guy in a caravan, because we needed someone to hold the camera. None of us have any money anyway so we just had to be resourceful.
Are the actors people you know or did you have to do casting as well? We did do some auditions. That was pretty funny. We found our first Robin at the auditions. He was drop-dead gorgeous, charming and all the ladies in the room went a bit funny. But then he suddenly left town, and two weeks later we heard he was in jail for murder. It's that kind of town. We found Gareth through friends, to our relief - we couldn't go ahead without a Robin. Nino [from the first scene] was from the auditions - fantastic young bloke. Steven (Graham the gardener) was a last-minute replacement, as the other guy left town that morning. But that was a blessing, as Steven was really good.
There's a nice contrast between the wide open fields of Somerset and the inward-looking, slightly institutionalised atmosphere at the retreat. Was that deliberate? Absolutely. But this is what you find out here. This incredible environment and, in it, these oppressed [repressed?] people. This is what I find interesting, the contrast, not only with that, but with the stated purpose of these places and the behaviour of the people who run them. It's all peace and love until you get into the kitchen. Then it's all sturm und drang.
It might just be me but Retreat has some parallels with Julia Davis' Nighty Night and Steve Coogan's Saxondale. Were either of these influences on you? I actually couldn't sit through Nighty Night, perhaps I'm too delicate. It's very black and she's amazing, but I found it too disturbing. I have seen Saxondale, quite enjoyed it, never thought of it in connection with this. But I guess it's the lost in the seventies thing.
What type of comedy did you love growing up? The Young Ones was massive with me and my friends. I still love it. Then Monty Python which I now find dated although I still love Holy Grail. I did like Fast Forward, which was the precursor to Full Frontal. That probably made me want to be a comedian, a condition I have tried but failed to purge from myself.
Which comedians inspire you in 2010? Oh, it's a long list. Stephen Mangan, Sharon Horgan, Jo Brand, Peter Capaldi, Armando Iannucci, Mark Heap, that girl from The IT Crowd whose name I can't remember but I adore her [Katherine Parkinson]. Sarah Millican. Bill Bailey. There's too many. Oh and I love Steve Carell in anything, and Tina Fey.
What has been the reaction to Retreat so far? Well, it hasn't been seen by as many people as I would like, mostly friends, who like it, but maybe that's because they're kind of involved. Nobody's said anything bad so far.
Are you looking for help to complete future episodes and if so what do you need from people out there? Oh, people out there probably have enough on their plates. It would be lovely if people liked it and said so. That would give me a reason to continue. Obviously money would be great, but feedback is the most elusive thing at the moment. I found moral support was what I most needed, when I was out on the Somerset levels looking for this caravan, asking myself, "Why am I doing this?" Why indeed. I just needed to prove to myself that I could do it, I suppose.
Given the role the internet plays in people's television-watching habits, do comedians even need television companies any more? It may be moving that way. Certainly it would be lovely to have a TV show, and have armies of people, and on-set catering, and massive media exposure. But maybe all that is not essential, maybe the essential part is the creative part, which does not need all that stuff. There are a lot of talented people who never get their chance. It would be wonderful if that would change.
As television companies cut back on funding for new talent, do you think Retreat represents a likely do-it-yourself future for people trying to break into TV comedy? Why not? It's very important to have your chance, have your say. That was the main thing for me, to actually have a go at doing it the way I wanted. And let me tell you Mint Custard, it's not as hard as they all make out. Particularly the acting, which I find piss-easy. Why they have to give themselves all these awards is beyond me. The hard thing is finding an audience. I may never find mine, but at least I did it the way I wanted. If this document is the only thing that survives me, I won't be too unhappy.
Watch Episode 1 of Retreat on You Tube here. And leave comments. Nice ones. And make sure you spell them properly...
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Dana Nance and Kyra Kimpton (courtesy Restless Dance Company)
This year’s program includes local and international films from countries as diverse as
Still from the film A Broken Puzzle For those wanting to round off their evening’s film watching with a bit of post-movie dissection, there is The Other Club. Running from nearby Charcoal Lane in The Other Film Festival runs at the
Still from the film A Broken Puzzle
For those wanting to round off their evening’s film watching with a bit of post-movie dissection, there is The Other Club. Running from nearby Charcoal Lane in
The Other Film Festival runs at the
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Now before you Gen-Y kids get all uppity and start telling me to get avec le time Grandpere, I do understand that Asterix is as much a brand as a little man with an unfeasibly large moustache. It's a brand that has been flogged to death in Europe, especially as a result of Parc Asterix and the so-so live action movies starring Christian Clavier and Gerard Depardieu. The films and tie-ins notwithstanding there have also been umpteen video games, board games, soft toys and even other less than Michelin standard food as this picture will attest...
Still there's just something about the idea of our indomitable Gauls selling out to Maccas, particularly after the way French anti-globalisation campaigner / nutcase José Bové was portrayed as a real life Astérix for driving his tractor into a McDonald's restaurant. He may just have been another pissed off French farmer and obviously destroying one McDdo was never going to bring down the Empire, but this is a powerful way for it to strike back.
I will admit I'm not totally averse to a bit of fast food franchise plastic toy collectible action when its done right. I have a marvellous Simpsons-sofa-and-family on top of my telly that my brother-in-law ate many pieces of chicken for once. Still, it's rare that the association between childhood icons and take away food results in anything more than piles of scruffy unloved and unwanted plastic at school fetes and garage sales.
Ultimately what I find most (ahem) galling about this is the way Uderzo has taken one of his best known and loved images (the traditional post adventure feast with Cacofonix / Assurancetourix bound up for the safety of everyone's ears) and cheapened it for the golden arches. Let them give away little plastic figurines for kids to play with, but at least leave those of us who don't eat at Maccas with our memories intact. Asterix may not be les beaux arts but it means something to me and probably to the 325 million people who've shared in their adventures, by Toutatis.
Sunday, 22 August 2010
However the word I'd really like to see more use of is ming. Or minger. Or minging. Or any variation thereof really. I love the word minger. It's practically perfect for evoking a sense of measured disgust for anything. That might include food ('this kebab is minging but I'm too drunk to care'); weather ('wrap up, it's minging out'); illness ('sorry I can't come in to work today, I've got a minging headache'); smells ('who did that minging fart during the second act? I bet it was you Gielgud, you minger'); art ('I appreciate much of de Kooning's work but that painting is totally minging') or a person's general presentation ('you ming - get in the shower and wash it off now'). I'm less fond of the slightly nasty way it gets used to describe someone's looks ('is that your fella? He's a minger') but this is what happens when language is abducted by the ignorant.
I appreciate that our position in the heart of Asia makes more widespread use of the M word a little less savoury for some, given it's popularity as a surname amongst the Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities. That said, I'm sure that Federal MP Joanna Gash, the owners of Canberra model village Cockington Green and the residents of Cockburn, Western Victoria will tell you that life isn't always fair.
So Australia, start spreading the news, we're minging today. Go gently at first - trying out new words takes time and you don't want to look silly. Perhaps something simple like 'don't pick your nose and wipe it on the settee, you minger.' Should the situation arise of course. In the interim, here are some photos I've taken to inspire you as you go about your private business (not that kind of business, you minger...)
and on and on... Minging in Enmore, NSW
Thursday, 19 August 2010
Friday, 13 August 2010
OK, so when I said this week that I’m an old git that only gets excited about touring bands when its embarrassingly personal it wasn’t necessarily an open invitation to every band I’ve irrationally adored to come play for me in Australia. That said I do very much appreciate the Manic Street Preachers and Charlatans getting off their bottoms and scheduling tours down under for this November. Whatever your reasons, thank you.
Clearly the Charlatans weren’t put off by their first ever Australian tour just two years ago despite what was technically stalking by me and my friend Julie (who achieved one of her proudest moments in life helping Tim Burgess rearrange his sweaty fringe – at his request). Northwich’s grooviest fuckers will be back to promote their 11th studio album Who We Touch,out through Shock on 17 September.
I understand the words ‘11th studio album’ aren’t generally associated with a band at their peak, but 2008’s You Cross My Path was a little gem and I can assure you the three times I saw them in 2007/08 were as good as any other time in their career. The truth is a night out with the Charlatans is always worth your bus fare and even a taxi home, if only so you can experience the high of Sproston Green live. When you’ve followed a band every step of the way for 20 years love tends to obscure all logic but if the idea of dancing euphorically for a couple of hours appeals in any way then just take my word for it and go.
Tickets for the Charlatans November 2010 tour of Australia go on sale Friday 20 August through Custom-Made or from venues: Wed 10th - Brisbane, Hi-Fi; Thurs 11th - Sydney, Metro Theatre; Fri 12th - Melbourne, Billboard;Sat 13th - Adelaide, Fowlers Live; Mon 15th - Fremantle, Metropolis
Having given up on ever seeing the Manic Street Preachers again, news that James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire have decided to temporarily swap South Wales for New South Wales after an 11 year absence has left me both cock and a-hoop. If my love of the Charlatans (and no Nicky, I’ve never had a moustache) is about something spontaneous and irrepressible that I can’t resist - my devotion to the fortunes of the Manic Street Preachers is more akin to supporting a football team. I feel like I no longer have any choice in the matter; for as long as there is a Manic Street Preachers I am doomed to follow. It’s no longer about whether they win or lose – indeed losing is pretty expected - but that they exist at all that draws me in. Not that I expect many in Australia to share my glee. In all my time living here I haven’t met anyone who shares my enthusiasm for the Manics
This isn't unique to Australia. Apart from two or three unlikely years in the mid-nineties the Manic Street Preachers (and their fans) have operated under the old Millwall FC adage of 'nobody loves us and we don't care'. Hated by many in the pre-Britpop indie world for their punk-style sloganeering, big-gob proclamations ('We will always hate Slowdive more than Hitler') and tendency towards mainstream American rawk, they have been derided since their post Holy Bible/Everything Must Go popular nadir for being a sanitised version of the band they used to be.
What's missing here is the story and having lived it with them (well, you know, from my own bedroom) I will always love the Manic Street Preachers more than Pavement, Belle and Sebastian or any other bands of a similar vintage that Pitchfork says it is OK to like. It still excites me to think about even the idea of four Babycham-drinking working class boys from the Welsh Valleys dressed in Top Shop blouses and glittery make-up spouting Camus, Chuck D, Octave Mirbeau and Sylvia Plath being the biggest band in the world. It’s the kind of excitement that inspired me to walk to one of their gigs through dodgy areas of Dublin dressed in bright white army surplus clothes, a Belgian army helmet and a ton make up. I got an apple thrown at me by some teenager, which is getting off quite lightly really considering what I looked like (though the green stain never came out which was a shame).
The Manics' story is Control, Billy Elliot and Rocky wrapped into one tragic and beautiful epic, and yet many people can't see past the soundtrack. If I may steal an analogy from the current election coverage, the Manics are a bit like the Australian Green Party; loved too much by their supporters and hated too much by their detractors. The result is a distorted public view of a band who deserve more credit than history has afforded them, but perhaps - based on music alone - not as much as their devotees think.
Even I can't claim the three or four piece Manics were ever able to consistently create music that matched their lofty ambitions. Still songs like Faster, Design for Life, You Love Us, Too Cold Here, Of Walking Abortion, No Surface all Feeling, If You Tolerate This Your Children will Be Next, Motown Junk, PCP, Black Dog on My Shoulder and Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky are reason enough for anyone to go and see them live.
More encouragingly the band are coming off the back of a genuine return to form in the album Journal for Plague Lovers. It might just be that I like the Manics more when James Dean Bradfield is struggling to sing all the words (Plague Lovers' lyrics were solely drawn from notes and poems left to the band by Richie Edwards when he went missing in 1995) but it was the first of their albums to really grab me for a decade (the remix album, featuring the Horrors, Four Tet, Underworld and Fuck Buttons amongst others was also surprisingly worthwhile, unlike the majority of similar projects).
Like the Charlatans, the Manics also have a new album to flog, Postcards from a Young Man (the cover of which features a very Edwards-like photograph of a young Tim Roth). Described by Bradfield as "one last shot at mass communication" and Wire as "heavy metal Tamla Motown. Van Halen playing the Supremes" it will no doubt promise more than it can ever deliver. But hey, that's the Manic Street Preachers and if that's what it takes to be able to share a room with them one last time, then I for one am happy.
Manic Street Preachers’ Postcards From A Young Man Tour:
Saturday 13th November – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane
Monday 15th November – The Metro, Sydney
Thursday 18th November – HQ, Adelaide
Saturday 20th November -The Forum, Melbourne
Monday 22nd November – Metropolis Freemantle
Tickets on sale Wednesday 18th August
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
As a rule tax returns are not usually a source of entertainment, so my thanks to whichever petty bureaucrat at the Australian Tax Office put together this year’s online E-Tax forms. I hadn’t got much further than my name when I was presented with a doozy of a drop-down menu from which to choose my title of choice. Take a deep breath…
Abbot, Able Seaman, Admiral, Air Chief Marshall, Air Commodore, Air Marshall, Air Vice Marshall, Airman / Aircraftman, Alderman, Archbishop, Arch Deacon, Associate Professor, Baron, Baroness, Bishop, Brigadier, Brother, Cadet, Canon, Captain, Cardinal, Chaplin, Chief Petty Officer, Colonel, Commander, Commissioner, Commodore, Constable, Corporal, Count, Countess, Dame, Deacon, Deaconess, Dean, Deputy Superintendant, Doctor, Duchess, Duke, Earl, Father, Flight Lieutenant, Flight Sergeant, Flying Officer, General, Group Captain, Gunner, His Royal Highness, Her Royal Highness, Honourable, Honourable Judge, Honourable Justice, Inspector, Judge, Justice, Lady, Lance Bombardier, Lance Corporal, Leading Aircraftmen, Leading Aircraftwoman, Leading Seamen, Lieutenant, Lieutenant Colonel, Lieutenant Commander, Lieutenant General, Lord, Madam, Major, Major General, Master, Matron, Mayor, Mayoress, Midshipman, Miss, Monsignor, Most Reverend, Mr, Mrs, Ms, Pastor, Patriarch, Petty Officer, Pilot Officer, Private, Professor, Rabbi, Rear Admiral, Rector, Reverend, Right Honourable, Right Reverend, Right Reverend Bishop, Right Reverend Monsignor, Seaman, Second Lieutenant, Senator, Senior Constable, Sergeant, Sir, Sister, Squadron Leader, Staff Sergeant, Sub Lieutenant, Superintendent, Swami, Very Reverend, Vicar, Vice Admiral, Viscount, Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer 1st class, Warrant Officer 2nd class and last but certainly not least if you like your old school space adventure computer games, Wing Commander.
After skimming through the list I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed in myself in having to settle for plain old Mr Custard. As the son of a communist gas fitter (a damn fine one I might add) Housemartins fan some of the more aristocratic titles were perhaps always going to be beyond me. Still, even taking the la-di-da’s out of the equation (and really Australian Tax Office, just how many His/Her Royal Highnesses do we have completing their tax returns in this country?) I think I need a fancier moniker to present the world with.
So how do I go about it then? Given the above list the military seems like a good option for plebs like me. Sadly, unlike many members of my slightly odd family I have no interest in the armed forces. The army is, well - you know - the army, and my Grandad’s double torpedoing by U-boats in 1944 left me suspicious of the Village People's claims about life on the high seas. Still my Star Wars obsession did lead me to believe being a fighter pilot might be a goer for a while. After a promising start (I had several almost finished models of the Space Shuttle and a Harrier Jump Jet and was gifted – almost prodigiously so – at Arcadians) a future in the air force was swiftly curtailed when I was luxuriantly sick on my maiden flight in a two-seater Chipmunk training plane. This airborne hurl – along with that whole discipline thing and uncomfortably itchy RAF trousers - meant my chances of Corporal Custard (never mind Air Chief Marshall Custard was gone before I was 15.
Keen-eyed watchers of The Bill amongst you will know that many of the same ranks are available in the police force. I will admit to having unhealthy thoughts about those stockinged ankles that used to appear at the end of the UK's premier cop drama so that was enough to get my attention. Also I am tall, so that's that important entry criterion fulfilled. Sadly two other considerations counteract this early promise. Firstly, I am a complete coward who hates violence, confrontation and all acts of aggression. Even on telly. Secondly, blue is not my colour. If I could dress like Sam Tyler in Life on Mars then I might be interested but I don't think it's a realistic goal.
I could of course aim for higher up in the judicial system with judge and justice (both honourable and just plain old regular flavour) up for grabs. On the plus side I am very judgmental and I love a comedy wig. On the downside, I really am very lazy and the idea of 23 year's study starting from scratch is really very unappealing. Whilst we're at it maybe we should rule out Professor and Doctor on the same grounds. Unless I become really famous and get awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of Woolloomooloo for being lovely, or tall, then I just don't see it happening.
So what else? Well life as a man of the cloth seems to offer a quick route to an interesting title. Even new starters get to be called Brother which is very Desmond Hume. However looking into it there does seem to be a lot of, well, Catholicism involved. Regardless of how cool it would be to have Right Reverend Monsignor Custard on my letterbox I'd rather stay excommunicated. Options in other religions are limited, though Swami is an option. Sadly Wikipedia's definition of a Swami as someone 'who knows and is the master of himself' rules me out. Anyone who has seen our puppy boss me about will tell you that I'm master of no one.
This limits my options for a bit of variety in my titulation to either a post-gender reassignment Miss or Ms (and no offence ladies, but that's not quite different enough for the level of investment required) or me getting my community hat on and running for public office. Given the level of public respect for our members of parliament in 2010 perhaps the time is right to step forward. Vote 1 Mint Custard for Mayor? I'd probably be rubbish but then that seems to be almost expected these days. Honourable Member...? Please. Now you're just being rude.
Aristocratic silver spoons aside it would seem that upgrading my name requires a level of time, effort or commitment which I clearly don't have. I could of course take the option pursued by Def Leppard on their Hysteria album when they listed themselves as Wing Commander Steve "Steamin', Dreamy, Snikker, Mayhem, P.T.W." Clark, A.H.D. (Guitars), Air Commodore Phil "Felix, P.C., The Guru, Wambo, Top" Collen, B.T.H (more guitars) and Baron Beaverbrook "Sir Richard" Rick "Sav" Savage (Bass). I could... but I won't. I think you know why.
So Australian Tax Office, it is with regret and shame that I declare myself as plain old me for another year. Not much to boast about, but hey, my Grandma loves me. Is that tax deductible...?