Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bebo celebrates with Kate Modern

I received a nice invite to Bebo's first party tonight. Not only have they become the UK's top social media network but their first online drama KateModern is now the most successful TV show on the web. I'm off to find out what plans are afoot for 2008 and chat about plans for UKTheatre and Making It In Hollywood. In the meantime, if you're wondering what KateModern is all about, here's the story so far.....

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Next stop Sundance

Flights, check. Hotel, check. Sundance passes, check. Snowmobile, check.

Just in time before the press accreditations are announced. It's a strange system but very fair and I guess it works the way Robert Redford wanted it. The world's press have to make a decision to book up prior to receiving accreditation. Meantime, anyone who had planned in advance, like yours truly, got their timeslot to book online which gives a two month head start to book hotels and flights.

I was fortunate enough to get the last Queen room in the Yarrow Hotel. It's one of the two main hotels at Sundance where the press conferences and screenings are held. It's not cheap as you can imagine, but I can justify it as a holiday, a stress break, a filming opportunity and an adventure.

Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes will be there. Their film In Bruge, a Martin McDonagh film, opens up Sundance. An honour indeed and great news for British film. The publicity generated alone will mean that millions of people will have heard of their film before it even hits the local marketing. The cost saving to a film production's budget must be in the millions.

Sundance here we come !
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

UKGigs - Amy Winehouse stuns audiences

Keeping her audience waiting for an hour is becoming commonplace for the diminutive soul singer and at Hammersmith Apollo in London, there was little surprise. What was surprising was that there was no apology from the organisers or the singer herself. The audience were getting restless and started booing each time an unrelated song was played on the PA system. It's a good way to lose your audience's interest.

Miss Winehouse's reputation precedes her and I had read some of the articles with a degree of mistrust. Surely the press were wrong ? None other than Andrew Lloyd Webber had come to her defense on TV by saying she was one of the top UK talents of our times, so perhaps the press are being unfair ?

Well, I think her reputation appears to be close to the reality. A great voice but wasted in a woman who was irritable, distracted, emotionless and barely able to stand at times. She strolled on stage after her backing singer had announced her, and walked straight to the microphone, fixed her bee-hive hair, fiddled with her boobs, the strap on her shoulder and pulled down at the bottom of each side of the tiny bit of cloth she was wearing. She left her hands to attention, moved towards the mike and let escape some magnificent sounds. Where did that come from ? She barely looked able to string two words together, far less generate such a rich sound.

She continued with each song from her repertoire in much the same way and while the audience were watching and listening intently, there was no emotional connection. I looked around at the audience several times and found them mesmerised. If you had waved a hand in front of their face they would've continued their gaze towards the stage. I was much the same. I wanted to know how it was being done. Looking for the strings which held her together.

She wandered off stage at the end of every other song leaving her band to get on with introducing themselves, or starting the next number. Her lead backing singer kept the others informed and helped to avoid any confusion. They seemed to take it all in their stride and professionally delivered some great music.

Her quirky dance moves were delivered perfectly in time with her backing singers when the moment came. Much to my surprise. She also didn't seem to be miming but there was little or no effort in the giant sounds she was making. Watching closely, I determined that there was no way she was playing her guitar. No sound emanated from the simple plucking she was doing and I think there was some clever sound engineering going on. Much like the click-track used in some theatre performances to underpin vocals. It was especially noticeable when she sang her signature tune in the encore, by which time she had lost it totally.

Having said all that, the style of her movements and sound she was creating reminded me of early Diana Ross, you know, the black and white TV footage you've seen where she moves awkwardly and in a shy retiring way which was both sweet and amusing. Was this part of the creation or was it simply a reality due to late night partying ? Such is the enigma that is Amy Winehouse.

I do hope her family and new tour management help her make the right choices to come out of this dangerous phase she is in. She could really make a significant difference to the UK music industry, if she was more aware of being part of it. Instead of saying "No, No, NO !", as the song goes, I think she should really go to the place "they" are trying to make her go to.

Amy Winehouse should be continuing her tour in Brighton, Bournemouth, Brixton, Cardiff, Manchester and Dublin.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Now live on SkyNews.Com

It's a picture of the Ninentdo Wii. So what's this got to do with theatre and film, I hear you ask ?

Well, it was just one of the six stories I was given one hour to read and digest and comment on as part of last night's News programme. They take some of the rising stories on the internet in terms of hit counts, and get someone in the world of the internet to comment on them.

I was called yesterday afternoon and the conversation went something like "Mr McFarlane, we liked your interview on Sky last week and wondered whether you would be interested in doing a regular monthly slot on one of the evening programmes." Nice I thought. It's a good way to get more audiences clicking on UKTheatre.Net. I agreed. "I also wondered whether you would be available tonight", the researcher added.

This was my second time on live television and the nerves still kick in. They are the same nerves you get before an opening night performance, as you are waiting in the wings getting ready to come on stage while the audience take their seat. I welcome the butterflies as I know they are merely a preparation for the mind to kick into action, and it does.

It's a strange experience being on live TV. The atmosphere in the studio is very relaxed, and everyone smiles and says hello. You head for make-up first and a team of busy women, some in the middle of eating their dinner on the hoof, welcome you like a friend and delicately powder and brush your face before you return to the green room. The producer arrives, "We have six stories for you and here is the running order" he says before he walks out and on to his next activity. I noticed my stories are in perfect reverse order from the notes that I'd taken, so I number mine from the bottom up so that I have reference points.

Here's what I was faced with:-

Babies May Hold Social Judging Skills
Wife Busted After Wii Proves Affair
Plastic Shopping Bags On Their Way Out
Hunger Levels in New York Rising
Swiss Army Knife Sets Record
Jellyfish Wipe Out Salmon In Northern Ireland

The floor manager came to collect me and put a mike on. "There's a lot of cables on the set so just be careful". I was introduced to Martin Stanford (pictured below), who said that he was just going to do a few minutes on the top stories and web videos before coming to my bit. 5 - 4 -3 - 2 ........ we're on air.

I sit waiting for Martin to come to my bit. He's talking live to millions of people, reading from an autocue as well as a monitor in front of him. There's videos he's commenting on as well as images of the top stories and then it's "over to Douglas McFarlane of UKTheatre.Net"

I'm relaxed by this stage. I've sat up straight in my seat, shaken loose, made sure my face doesn't look as nervous as my inner thoughts, and start a casual conversation about six topics which I knew nothing about an hour ago. I opened up well with the baby story and quipped "it brings a new meaning to throwing your toys out of the pram". Martin smiled and we moved on through all the stories, with quips like "I think you'll need another golf bag to carry the knife" and "an entreprenurial Scottish salmon fisherman may call and help out with the Irishman's customers".

It was over in a few minutes and I waited until I got my cue to go off set. I shook Martin's hand and the floor manager said it was great, she took my mike off and I headed for my chauffeur driven car back to normality.

It was great fun and I look forward to the next one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

UKFilm.TV - Shrooms: Get Ready To Get Wasted

Think Blair Witch on acid. A psychedelic, psilocybin-soaked, mushroom-munching slasher movie.

A group of American teens come to Ireland to visit an Irish school friend who takes them on a camping trip in search of the local, fabled magic mushrooms. When the hallucinations start taking hold, the panicked friends are attacked by ghostly creatures; never able to determine if they are experiencing gruesome reality or startling delirium. When one teenager unknowingly eats the dangerous Death's Head mushroom, the group's nightmare takes a deeply sinister turn...

--UK Release Date: 23rd of November 2007--

Monday, November 19, 2007

UKTheatre.TV - TAKE THAT feature


I've just uploaded a 5 minute video on the musical Never Forget which features the music of Take That. All the songs are here from "Want You Back For Good" to "Could It Be Magic" and you can now watch it on DVD. It's one of the best of the new breed of musicals with a dramatic storyline and some good comedy moments. Feel free to pass the word around if you know any fans of the band. The DVD would make an ideal Xmas gift for musical theatre lovers everywhere.

Douglas McFarlane

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Here's a link to the DVD:-

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Brushing shoulders with Branagh, Caine and Law

I was becoming rather disappointed this week with my choice of films. It was supposed to be an indulgence in great film so that I could do some reviews to camera and then publish them online. Normally it's a tough call which films will be winning a BAFTA as most of them step up to the mark, making the voting process difficult. Well, this week it was clear who was out and who was in. In my humble opinion, and only one BAFTA vote out of 5,000.

Grace Is God
Great acting from John Cusack and some talented young performers but the movie is about grief, which is brave to take on, but not one to win audiences.

I'm Not There
A film about Bob Dylan, played by Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger and Richard Gere. Yes, you read correctly. It's a confusing screenplay and requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. Until I knew it was Cate, I did think it was a great performance, but then as soon I knew, like most audiences will, it made it even more difficult to watch. Great music though and I think I'll buy the soundtrack.

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Dustin Hoffman puts gel in his hair to play the "wacky" Mr Magorium who runs a toy shop with Julie Andrews as shop assistant. I mean, Natalie Portman but she looks exactly like Julie Andrews with her short bloke-like hair. It's one for parents to take their kids this Christmas but don't expect too much as it doesn't quite get there.

Now you're talking. A Pinter play, directed by Kenneth Branagh, played by Sir Michael Caine in the role he originally played opposite Sir Laurence Olivier. This time Jude Law plays his character, while he plays Larry's role. With me so far ? Remember these two also played Alfie and in one scene Law says to Caine, "What's it all about ?". The first 15 minutes of this film was worthy of major awards but then instead of 10 out of 10, it slips a few points due to another requirement of audiences to suspend disbelief. I won't spoil it for you but it is a serious contender for awards. The acting is incredible and complimented by the direction and design. I was lucky enough to be at the Q&A afterwards and was brushing shoulders, literally, with all three of them. Kenny, Mikey and Judey ;-)

I'll write up a review and do a piece to camera over the next week.


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Monday, November 12, 2007

Live From Sky News

This morning was my first appearance on live television. A chauffeur driven Mercedes picked me up at 5.15am before the world was awake and took me to the studios. A bit of makeup, a relaxing coffee in the green room and then on. Live. In front of millions having a quiet conversation with Mark Longhurst. It was over before most people had had their breakfast and then back in the car to London.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An interview with Gary Wilmot

I'm just off the phone with Gary Wilmot, seasoned actor in theatre and TV, and star of Half-A-Sixpence which is reaching the end of its UK tour this month.

Is theatre your passion?

It hasn’t always been my passion but it has been since Me and My Girl. I just loved it and wanted to do more.

Are you enjoying Half-A-Sixpence ?

Yeah, it’s great. It’s a brand new show and the script has been re-written, with permission, and it’s a lot of fun to do.

How do you cope with the gruelling schedule and repetitive performances?

Well, it’s not always the case but in Half-A-Sixpence it has been that way. I get two days off but as we are travelling a lot with the tour it can be hard work.

How do you keep your performance sharp?

That’s the art. That’s what all actors should be striving for. I tend to ensure I get lots of sleep and drink lots of water. You have to treat yourself like a Formula 1 race car which needs careful handling.

Does all your work come from your agent?

Work comes from everywhere. It could be someone in the audience who likes your show and they want you to be in something, or a chance meeting in a restaurant. My agent is always very busy on my behalf and doesn’t just go for quantity, it’s always best to focus on the quality of work.

Any TV or Film work in the pipeline?

Yeah, I’ve got two scripts in consideration at the moment. One of which I’ve co-written, so I won’t be acting in that one. I’m not interested in being in the middle of a jungle or sitting in a house with strangers for months and that seems to be what is being produced most often at the moment.

Is there a chance of Showstoppers returning ?

Showstoppers was a great show and I’d love to do it again. Sadly there is too much focus on low cost productions with audiences calling a number. I’m not bitter, it’s just the reality of today’s broadcasting.

What’s the best advice to someone making it in show business ?

Don’t get a mortgage
It ties you down to one place and when you’re not working you worry more about paying the mortgage than developing as an actor.
Work where you can
Do anything, for anyone in any place. It’ll soon settle down and you’ll get into your niche.
Avoid disappointment
You either get a part because it’s right for you or you don’t because it’s wrong. It’s not because you’re not good enough, so avoid being disappointed.

Gary Wilmot is playing the lead role of Arthur Kipps in Half-A-Sixpence which is showing in the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford until 10th November (box office: 01274 432 000) and then at Stoke on Trent until the 17th November (box office: 01782 213 800)

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Queen visits Pinewood

Mission accomplished.

I had the pleasure of being invited to the Queen's visit to Pinewood studios today. I was on a strict embargo of information and received an operational note from Buckingham Palace yesterday to provide the itinerary.

Pinewood is where some of the best UK films are made including Casino Royale, Bourne Ultimatum, Atonement, Stardust and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were shown around by Pinewood Chairman Michael Grade. Some stunts were setup using some of the stages and props at their disposal. Helicopters, boats, wind machines, a water tank and a troop of soldier abseiling down a gigantic blue screen. I managed to capture some of the excitement of the day no my Sony HDV so I will do some edits and upload soon.