Its 11:05 pm
Welcome to another edition of “8 Questions with…..”
Tom Jolliffe is a interesting writer,not only does he write movie screenplays but he has been a long time contributor to one of the largest movie websites in Europe,”Flickering Myth”.
In looking at Tom’s articles on Flickering Myth and also chatting with him,the one thing that sticks out his how sensitive he is. He isn’t a brash and attention seeking person as I’m seeing myself more and more “critics” banging their own drum at the expense of the film or film maker themselves. His favorite type of films actually mirror a lot of the same tastes I have and I found that to be rather refreshing because face,you ain’t finding the cheetah and I hyping blockbusters.
Instead I found myself looking at Tom’s screenwriting credits and getting more amped for “Scarecrow vs. Vikings” then I am for “Shazam” or any other 200 million CGI driven mess. Tom Jolliffe is the kind of writer I enjoy reading and whoses films will definitely be watched by the cheetah and myself. Let’s get to know this humble bloke who calls the United Kingdom home and ask Tom his 8 Questions…..
Please introduce yourself and share with us what project you are currently working on.
My name is Tom Jolliffe. I’m a UK based screenwriter and part time film journalist (For UK site Flickering Myth). Right now I’m just beginning a WW2 action script with a very tight turnaround. So that will be shot within the next month, and released worldwide within 12-18 months.
When did you discover that you enjoyed writing? What was the first article you wrote outside school?
I’ve always been quite creative but wasn’t very productive at school. I left school, had a few years working and then went back to college. I retook my English exam and an amazing teacher called Leah Smith really inspired me to hone my writing. My first ever A* grade was writing a review for Fast and Furious. My first article outside of school was a review I speculatively sent in to AintitCool News which they posted up. This was for a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. By that point I’d just been firing reviews out onto IMDB. It wasn’t until a friend of mine came to me at work one day and asked, ‘You didn’t write a review for In Hell (also a Van Damme film) on IMDB did you?’ I then realised people might actually read these.
How do you approach screenwriting versus writing a regular column? Do you have a set routine when you write?
My routine at the moment is to fit writing in around a regular job (because regular jobs have regular paychecks and writing is irregular) and a toddler. So if I’m working the day job (menswear for weddings) I’ll go in an hour or so early and take a seat in my local coffee shop (Perkys in Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire…amazing) to write. Screenwriting is a mixed bag. It’ll either be something I’ve conjured entirely myself where I set the pace of how I write. If I’m writing on spec, I’m usually on a tighter turnaround. Columns I tend to do predominantly feature pieces now, rather than reviews (I find reviews boring now as it requires quite linear writing I guess), and ideas hit me very suddenly. I do a regular beginners guide to directors, and these can come about after watching a film or even a trailer.
What is Flickering Myth and how did you come to write for them?
Flickering Myth are 10 years old now. I’ve been writing for them for 9. They started life as a blog, and it’s spawned into one of the top UK film-sites, with a huge readership across the world. I love writing for the site and the boss Gary is very open to varied and diverse content. Marvel/Star Wars gets the most hits like most sites, but what sets Flickering Myth apart is just how varied our content is. I’ve covered things from B movie feature pieces (I once did a piece on Eric Roberts, because…well…he’s awesome) to celebrating an arthouse distribution company like Janus Films.
Other writers are given similar freedom and as such I think we cover corners other sites just don’t. I’m not into filmsites very much any more, or film magazines, because honestly, the outputs aren’t that brilliant on the whole. The market is too saturated, and criticism has in many areas almost been bastardised. However, even if I wasn’t writing for them, FM would probably be one of only a few film sites I’d be reading. Often on some sites, I find there’s too much ego in many writers. It’s more about them than the film, and that should never happen in good film criticism. Apparently Ron Perlman and Quentin Tarantino read the site regularly. Written content is giving way to vlogs and Pods, so to maintain such a large readership is impressive I think. It speaks volumes about the quality on site. FM are always expanding and developing with Vlogs and Pods now, but the main site remains the bread and butter.
Do you feel big budget technology is making film writers lazy,that stories aren’t as important?
I think so. I think technology does so much and makes things so easy, that across the board, people take their foot off the gas. If Star Wars kicked off the modern blockbuster as we know it, what is interesting to note would be looking at the levels of craft and ingenuity it took to make that first film. To make shots possible. Nowadays you can create anything with CGI, which opens limitless worlds but creates a crutch and we see more than we need to. Story and character get glossed over and so many blockbusters push 3 hours because action scenes can run 15-20 minutes non-stop. I point to Jaws. It’s exceptional film-making and it’s most effective when you don’t see the shark. Part of that was not having the tech to have it as a constant visual presence, but often the unseen is more effective. Film-makers are forgetting that.
Why do you feel there is a lack of original material being produced today and can this be reversed?
Disney have kind of monopolised cinema. They own Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and more. This identifies that as a company they know exactly what audiences want. The trouble is, this is only true to a point. Sleeper hits in recent years like Get Out show audiences will respond well to original and intelligent cinema if the film is given the right platform and a fair marketing push. It’s great that films can cost 300 million dollars and gross over a Billion in return, but Hollywood is not making enough mid-budget films to get solid returns on. If you also look at the majority of remakes and reboots. Most of them fail because studios have such an unimaginative approach to content. Who thought a Robocop or Hitcher, or Point Break remake were good ideas? That money would have been better spent on writing something fresh and clever like Get Out. Get Out was fortunate too. Films like that would generally get 50-60 screens in the US and disappear because not enough faith was shown. If the Disney big hitters begin losing audience numbers, the whole industry will collapse and in the streaming age that’s entirely possible.
What three writers are your favorites and why?
I think the golden period for screenplays was in the 60’s and 70’s, across Europe and the US (a little preceded by Japan with Ozu and Kurosawa). Films like Taxi Driver, Chinatown, The Godfather, all inspire me. That intense, gritty and complex era. As a writer there are three films in particular that I aspire to capture the spirit of. I can’t mimic them because you can’t copy lightening in a bottle but if I can get a bit of that style or magic or get close, I’d be happy. Those films are Withnail & I, Naked (by Mike Leigh, which ironically was unscripted) and Paris, Texas. In terms of etching a unique film with beautifully crafted characterisations, that’s what I aspire to.
What is “Scarecrow vs. Vikings”,how did you come up with such a concept?
I love that this is the follow up question to my last answer. Ha ha. Scarecrow vs Vikings was a concept that was offered to me. I was already working on a script called Cy:Wife for a production company that specialises in low budget genre cinema (which I love). They get requests regularly from Distributors based on current tastes and trends in the direct to DVD/VOD market. Then they’ll throw it round to writers. So I got a message one day…’Could you write a Vikings vs Scarecrow film in two weeks?’ I loved the idea so I couldn’t turn it down. I even threw a Witch in for good measure. For what it is, I’m quite proud of my script (I wanted to treat it with sincerity and not poke the audience into laughing like Sharknado for example) but by the same token, it’s not deadly serious. So I’m very interested to see how it turns out. Ultimately it’s easier to get Horror films funded and made than it would be for me to do a spiritual ode to Withnail & I. My cinematic tastes are so diverse that as it is, I love writing films with demonic Scarecrows or Cyborgs. So it’s never going to be something I look back on with regret. Apart from anything, something like Vikings was so much fun to write. If I write a labour of love, I have to give more and refine more and more, like my passion feature, Feral, which has evolved from short script, to feature (and about 4 drafts in now).
How do you juggle being a screenwriter and also a film critic? Some would questionthe ethics of this,how would you address this?
If there’s anything to be learned in the internet age, it’s that ethics are regularly called into question on almost everything and often in the most blinkered unconsidered ways. As far as switching between critiquing and screenwriting, it doesn’t bother me. One thing film-makers will regularly fire back at critics after negative reviews is ‘well this person doesn’t understand film because they’ve never made one.’ I think it’s good to be able to have an insight into both. Proper film criticism (I don’t claim to be the new Roger Ebert by any means) is a dying art, which is part of why there’s a growing friction between critic and film-maker. You would be amazed (or perhaps not) but Flickering Myth gets asked with great regularity to take down negative reviews. We stick to our guns, even if it occasionally damages relationships with PR companies. As a film-maker you have to be open to criticism. I’m no different and I’ll take whatever comes my way as far as reviews for my films go. I do both because I enjoy both. I just love cinema.
One thing film-making has given me, is an appreciation of just how difficult it is just to get a film off the ground. To pull people together, to shoot something and to finish it (even a short). So it’s given me a new preset mentality in my review process. Even if I absolutely detest the film, right from the off, I have to commend its existence. People laugh at someone like Tommy Wiseau for that lack of awareness whilst making The Room. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him though. He went out and got a film made, and albeit not quite for the reasons he may have initially thought while making it, has seen it become iconic around the Western world.
What is your opinion of websites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes?
I think they’re useful tools and as long as you remember to take the ratings with a pinch of salt, and never question your own judgement and tastes, you’ll be fine. I think film-makers openly pouring scorn on Rotten Tomatoes is a bit pathetic, and you’ll notice it’s never after a certified Fresh rating. I also think these militant keyboard gangs trying to derail films like Captain Marvel, Black Panther or The Last Jedi for example (by organised rating attacks) is just moronic. There are more interesting things for these people to be doing.
The cheetah and I are flying in to attend a big film festival but we are a day early and you are now our tour guide,what are we doing? (Hype your town…favorite places,people,attractions,etc).
Well, once I’ve showed you the Chair Museum in High Wycombe for 3 minutes, we’ll just hit the train to London. Maybe a visit to The Prince Charles Cinema (which plays old films and has a great atmos), followed by my favourite Dim Sum restaurant just opposite called Superstar. Then I guess we could hit Portobello road and go see if my friend and co-producer on an upcoming short and feature, Leila Bartell is around. She’s the coolest cat you’ll ever meet and we’ll tell you about her upcoming star turns in As The World Falls Down, and a passion project feature we’ve been brewing called Feral for 1.5 years.
We’re also doing a Samurai film called The Last Ronin as well.
As always I would like to thank Tom for taking the time to chat with me and I look forward to getting to know him even better. See,I have this idea called “Scarecrow vs. Cheetah” and I want to see what he thinks about it…..of course it will have to come after “Cheetahshark” that our pal Sean Cain is developing…..and no Eric Roberts!
To keep track of what Tom is doing next:
Follow him at his IMDb page.
Tom also has a InstaGram page.
You can read Tom’s thoughts about film at Flickering Myth.
Send Tom your ideas about “Scarecrow vs. Cheetah” at his Facebook page
Once in a while Tom drops a new blog which you follow here..