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NaNoWriMo: Martyrdom vs. Trampolines

03/11/2011 1 comment

This is my first year doing National Novel Writing Month and delving into the blogosphere (it’s a real word if The Economist uses it) to get some idea of what to expect, I came across a lot of people freaking out about the anxiety and stress of  it all. It’s day three for me, or should that be DAY THREE? I’m never sure how dramatic to make the whole thing. Sure, it’s a massive undertaking to write 50,000 words from scratch in 30 days. Solving world hunger, sorry WORLD HUNGER, is also a major undertaking but contextually I think we can see that day 3 is probably sufficient. I’m employing hyperbole, obviously, but you see my point.

I’m pretty relaxed about the whole thing myself. So relaxed in fact, that unlike many people, I’m not going to blog every day about the hardships of NaNoWriMo. We live in a land of central heating and electronic writing devices, does no one wonder at these things any more? I’ll blog a few times, just so I can maintain a sophisticated air of smugness about the whole process, but I won’t tell you what particular tea to drink when writing limited third person perspective. Indeed I’ll refrain from anything remotely like that. Essentially I’m relaxed because this is a voluntary project and at the end of it I’ll have a (slightly tatty) manuscript which I’m going to try and sell. Selfishly. NaNoWriMo is not martyrdom, but it is a reasonable slog.  Look at me, on day three, writing in a slightly muddled and acerbic way about ‘the process’. This is 700 words out of my total. Anyway, for what it’s worth here are some words of wisdom on meeting the word totals each day.

I’ve set myself the task of rattling off 20,000 words per week. That works out at roughly 4,000 per day and  Saturday and Sunday off. How marvellous. So it’s day three and I’m sitting on 11,267. Monday was still October so that keeps me roughly on track.

1.  Remember to have fun – Day one involved me writing some 6,000 words and having to physically stop myself writing any more by going to the shops. That was fun, I managed to fit two bottles of chocolate milk, an iceberg lettuce, one bottle of ginger beer, one copy of the Independent, a sprig of spring onions, a tub of coleslaw, a litre of milk, two baking potatoes and a slab of cheese into my jacket. This amazed not only me, but the entire bank of cashiers. That’s probably the most excitement I’ve had all week. Say what you want about NaNoWriMo, the hardest thing is the solitude. I’ll quite happily hand in a 500 word article and hit the pub knowing fine well that I need to do it the next day, but 4,000 words a day , everyday, tends to take its toll. Embrace the little things, you will miss them at 3am when you are crying into an etymological dictionary after two bottles of red wine.

2. Hydrate – My advice is to drink plenty of water. The brain is an organ and as such it needs energy just like the rest of us. Athletes get 30% more out of their muscles by hydrating properly, so why shouldn’t we? Think of your poor fingers! Drink a glass of water right now, go on. Remember: a healthy body means a healthy mind. You will be amazed at how much impact looking after yourself will make to your word counts each day.

3. Exercise – You could also think about going for a walk in the morning, it gets the blood pumping and it means you’ll feel the benefit of a nice jumper and a cup of coffee when you get back inside. If that’s too much time out of your schedule (you’re probably going to have heart problems in later life) then you could consider an indoor trampoline. I’m reliably informed that it’s almost impossible to think about work when you are flipping, falling and bouncing around so it’s surely an excellent method of relaxation. Stretching, morning noon and night, will keep your body in a good mood. Given that, unless you plan on standing up at your desk, you are going to crush your back as you fret your way around massive contradictory plot points (or is that just me?), stretching is essential.

4. Eat healthy – If you can’t get totally psyched about black olives, feta cheese and lettuce, then I pity you.

5. Start smoking – Most people these days think that smoking is a little old school. Now, sure, it’s terrible for your health and runs contrary to every other piece of advice but think about it like this: a lot of publishers smoke, outside, on their own.

I ran out of ideas after number 4, so I’ll leave it at that. Good luck to everyone taking part and I’ll see you on the other side.


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spion Kop

The new film adaptation of the seminal espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré owes as much to its sterling British cast as it does to the erstwhile foreigner at the helm. Rarely does a film trust its audience as much as Tinker, Tailor and the decision to hand over the directing to Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, 2009) has unleashed what one hopes is the first in a line of intelligent adaptations of le Carré.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired cuckold thrust back into the grimy world of the secret service in order to track down a Soviet double-agent. Smiley is out to clear his own name in the eyes of his mentor, Control (John Hurt), who sets the benchmark for paranoia in “The Circus” of 1970′s MI6.

Secret service hoods Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and the insipid Estherhase (David Denick) comprise a cabal that Smiley must crack in order to track down the Russian mole. Each actor would be comfortably capable of carrying his own 90-minute vehicle, but here, every line is spoken by someone at the top of their game.

In 2002, when we were treated to the first of a trilogy of Jason Bourne novels adapted for the silver screen, the watchword was realism. James Bond had been replaced by a more cerebral, realistic spy and the aesthetic was as gritty as Bond had been glamorous.

It is hardly surprising that The Bourne Identity, voted the second greatest spy novel of all time in Publisher’s Weekly, should have made such a compelling trilogy. It certainly started a trend away from the meretricious world of Sean Connery’s MI6 spook and paved the way for Daniel Craig’s more spartan incarnation. It is also telling that topping the list was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the prequel to Tinker, Tailor.

With Tinker, Tailor the trend to nullify the Semtex and amplify the drama has taken us well beyond the measured assassinations and explosions of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne masterpiece: now we are in a world of people and places. We are introduced to a Budapest frozen in time, minarets sizzling in the distance while godless agents fill the bazaars. Alfredson casts London in a starring role and his unobtrusive selection of 1973 signifiers deftly builds the heavy atmosphere of a world on the brink.

Peter Straughan and his late wife, Bridget O’Connor, cannot be commended enough for constructing a screenplay that refuses to yield to the excess of so many modern thrillers. There is nothing unnecessary here, and Alfredson uses these restrictions to scintillating effect. Smiley has no words for the duration of his retirement, instead there are glimpses of vanity and isolation played out through bus-shelter reflections and lukewarm cups of tea.

This Tinker, Tailor is a period piece, far removed from Alec Guinness’ Smiley of the BBC adaptation. That was a contemporary drama, this is the Cold War re-imagined and endowed with hindsight. It hints at smoking rooms and bacolite rather than action or gadgets, and one can’t help but feel transported into the surrounding darkness.

Keep an eye out for some excellent supporting roles from the legendary Kathy Burke and the magnificently versatile Stephen Graham.

This article was published in its original form on

Categories: Articles, Blog

Alhimself @ The Traverse: New Season, New Writing

As you may know, we here at Alhimself are big fans of The Traverse, and with October seeing the release of The Traverse theatre’s winter season, I thought I’d look back at some of the best shows they had on offer in the Autumn and look forward to some top shows from Scotland’s new writing theatre (which also happens to be one of the best bars in town).

Coming up this October, the return of A Play, A Pie and A Pint .  The fourth season of the successful program, has five world premieres by the UK’s hottest new playwrights. The performances take place at 1pm from Tuesday to Saturday, which gives you the chance to spend your lunchtime watching a brilliant 45 minute play – with a pie and a pint – simple as that. To whet your appetite check out Katie Douglas’ Dig, a tale of economic hardship and the struggle between pride and providing. Also highly recommended is Leo Butler’s Eternal Source of Light, which promises to explore birth, life, death, and the prospect of an afterlife in just forty-five minutes.

Some of Autumn’s best from The Trav included I, Malvolio & the award-winning The Wheel, for interviews with Zinnie Harris and Tim Crouch, check out The Traverse’ podcasts here.

The Right Way to Spend A Pony

or Why I want £22 of your money. Right now.

In October last year Edinburgh University Settlement, who owned the building that The Forest occupied at 3 Bristo Place, were declared bankrupt and forced into administration. The administrators put the property on the market and are currently trying to sell it. As part of that process, they terminated the Forest’s lease, giving them six months notice. Their last day was Wednesday 31 August. It’s been empty now for twenty days, but that isn’t the end.

The Forest is a big part of this city, it’s a free arts space in Edinburgh and it’s always been good to me. Sure, it’s full of vegetarians and people with dreadlocks (some people don’t like steak and combs, who knew?) but it’s a publisher, a disco and after the closure of the Roxy Art House it’s all we’ve got to stem the tide of faceless corporate pubs and expensive empty conference centres dominating the future of music, literature and community spirit.

They don’t want to leave their home of eight years in a listed historic building, so they’ve launched an appeal and they have managed to raise well over £30,000 so far.

Maybe you’re a Forest fan that is directly affected or maybe you’re an ex-pat who loves Edinburgh, whatever the reason you should help buy the Forest because right here, in 2011, with all the s**t that’s going on is an opportunity to make a difference to the arts scene.

Ryan Van Winkle, who’s one of the brains behind the campaign (and literary pistolero to some, Spanish language Bruce Campbell to others) had this to say:

“We are in a pretty amazing time right now — a decade ago no one would ever have thought it possible to raise £70k in one month but thanks to the wide reach of the Forest, the massive tentacles of the internet, and thanks to sites like ‘WeFund’ where you pledge and don’t pay unless the campaign is successful — I actually think we have a shot.”

The pledge system will only take your money if they reach the target, so in essence it won’t cost you anything unless the Forest hit their target, and if they do then you will have taken part in an amazing venture! If you need any more encouragement, take a look here.

But what if they fail? What if I only donated a tenner? I thought you wanted twenty quid?

Good question(s), and the answer is simple. I want you to put your hand in your pocket for The West Port Book Festival as well. They run an awesome free book festival for the last three years and they are doing it again, come hell or high water, and you can make the difference to this adventure too. They want it to stay free, and when you consider the line-up of year’ past and that a ticket for one event for the Edinburgh International Book Festival costs £10 by itself, a tenner for a whole festival of delights is a total bargain!

Edinburgh is the home of artistic endeavour in Scotland, let’s help keep it that way. All I’m asking is for £20, you’d spend that in the pub in one night. If you spend it today on these worthwhile projects you will be making an impact that will last for a very, very long time.

Now that you’ve waded through all of that, if you’re still with me, I shall reward you with news of a poetry competition worth £2,500 – the Fifth Annual Troubadour International Poetry Prize – which costs £5 to enter. If you do win, I’ve some ideas about where you could invest the money…

The West Port Book Festival will run from the 13th-16th October 2011 and full details of the programme will be available here tomorrow.

Best of the Fest: EdFringe 2011 Comedy

Here are some of the finest comedy shows that Edinburgh offered up this year.

Josie Long: The Future Is Another Place (Fosters Comedy Award Nominee 2011)

Josie Long has been bringing quality stand-up to the Fringe for the last three or four years, winning the if.comedy award for Best Newcomer for her 2006 show, ‘Kindness and Exuberance’. Her performances are generally marked by these gentler attributes, making her stand out from the usual vitriolic comedians that marks a lot of the newcomers to the Fringe comedy circuit. This year, however, Long has continued the trend she flirted with last year and brings us into her innermost political thoughts. Having embraced the work of anti-cuts activists, UK Uncut, Long described how she has come to get to grips with the politics of the day. The programme for the show is a photocopied zine which includes a “Tories’ Fun Page” and Long directs much of her ire at the new coalition government.

She charts a year in which she made contact with Kenny Zulu Whitmore, a member of the Black Panther Party who is still in prison, performed a gig in a branch of Barclay’s and found herself flying into a greenhouse in Wales. Not all of it is directed at the Tories, there is a brief interlude featuring the Bronte Sisters, but The Future Is Another Place is undeniably a foray into serious political comedy. Good news then, that Long’s character still comes through all the material and the experience remains as much of a treat as always. I suspect she would do well to commit to some of the ideas she is raising with a bit more determination but I’m sure that will come in time. As a manifesto for a new wave of left-wing comedy, Long has made a fair bash and it’s worth an hour of your time.

Richard Herring: What is Love Anyway?

From Ferrero Roche to sexual excrement, Richard Herring tries to answer the ultimate dilemma (according to him) of 1981: what is love? This is a much softer show than those who have seen Herring before will perhaps be used to, but it is no less polished.

He charts a virginal youth, replete with dreadful poetry and pent-up feelings of chivalry, while explaining to us the various dimensions of life as a forty-four year old finding love. His journey includes a mortifying anecdoteabout Julia Sawalha, his then girlfriend, and a Fist of Fun episode involving a creepy shrine to the actress whom he had yet to meet.

Stewart Lee is not Richard Herring

At its heart this is a love story to Herring’s current girlfriend, wrapped in a smartly-paced package it never fails to impress. If you are looking for something as acerbic as Stewart Lee (whom Herring does a spot-on impersonation of) then this might fall slightly short.

If you want to take your significant other out for some quality comedy though, Herring has put together a considered and charming little show that would certainly suit.

Michael Winslow: The Man of 10,000 Sound Effects

Familiar to anyone who has ever seen the Police Academy movies, Michael Winslow’s run at this year’s Fringe proved to be a huge success.

It was the first time the stand-up had brought a show to Edinburgh and his dexterous vocal talents seem to have fit in rather well.

Winslow, who voiced one of The Gremlins and made an appearance in Spaceballs, is a man who comes across as deliriously happy to be doing what he does.

That enthusiasm is infectious, and whether he is explaining the mechanics of AM radio or taking us through the TIE fighter dogfight from Star Wars: A New Hope, he does it with such a sense of mischievous pride that you can’t help applaud the sketches.

Some of the observational comedy which ties the ‘funny noises’ together is under-cooked and often hampered the pacing of the show. So too the attempts to engage with the ‘British’ sense of humour. It seems rather unnecessary to include it, but kudos to Winslow for trying to give shape to what otherwise would be a rather manic sixty minutes.

At the end of the day the sound effects speak for themselves and that’s what people have come to hear.

4th of July In Perspective: The Role of The Continental Army


“Why The Empire Handed It To Them On A Silver Platter” (as George Orwell might put it – ed)

(As a special treat for you folks, I’ve dusted off some academia to honour our American cousins and celebrate this sunny 4th of July. Enjoy.)

The military skills of the American revolutionaries are ones less of military strength or superiority and more of diplomatic intellect in maximising the potential of any armies in the field. That is to say, the importance of simply maintaining an army and using that army toward a diplomatic victory was not lost on commanders of the American rebels. The real victory of the General of the Continental army was in avoiding defeat and knowing when to use even minor victories to his advantage. George Washington’s contemporary Ben Franklin would, along with the Committee of Secret Correspondence, exploit the wider international system to America’s benefit1. American victory would in the fullness of time owe more to British failures of ideology and command, foreign intervention – especially in the form of French alliance – and the exploitation of international movements and imperial rivalries toward the American cause, than to genuine military success on the field of battle. However the military’ ability to survive would prove to be a vital element. The colonies were rather Britain’s to lose, more than the Americans to gain. In 1776 at the outbreak of the war, the colonists were divided between patriot rebels, loyalists and a largely neutral body of the populace. It is not at this stage a war between Americans and British. By the end of the war in 1783, the divisions between the colonists are far less important, they are now unreservedly American and this owes much more to the British military than it does to the American.

In October 1777 with the surrender of German mercenaries under British command at Saratoga, a rare victory for George Washington, the American Revolution moved dramatically from what was essentially a regional insurgency into something more closely resembling a world war. The victory of the colonists in October was hailed in France as practically a national triumph2. By December the USA and France would be allied against the British; a year later Spain and France signed a treaty of co-operation and in 1780 the British declared war on the Dutch who had been aiding her enemies. (Upon sacking the Dutch colony at St. Eustatius in 1780 Admiral Rodney seized some £2,000,000 worth of merchandise3). The theatre of conflict stretched from India, through Africa and the Mediterranean to the West Indies; even the North Sea felt the impact of the now global focus of the American War of Independence. This would not only strain imperial Britain’s finite resources, but it would dull the Empire’s focus on American independence, allowing the potential for independence to slip into the American people’s grasp.

From the outset of hostilities the British command had a strong belief in colonial loyalists. Reports of ‘friends of government’ in the southern colonies had reached Britain4; coupled with the belief that white colonials could not resist when the majority of their population was made up of slaves, British hopes in a swift locally supported victory were strong. The offer of Lord Dunmore to give freedom to all slaves fighting for the British against the colonies would alienate many loyalists within the southern colonies. The Franco-American alliance was also reportedly unpopular and creating new loyalists ‘by the day’5. A dislike for France and a veneration of England can be seen prior to the revolution; American revolutionary spirit was arguably linked to Britishness rather than any anti-English sentiment6.

General Howe was also seemingly becoming ‘increasingly obsessed’7 with facing and defeating Washington. This is understandable considering his failure to follow up swiftly at Long Island in 1776 and conceivably crush the fledgling Continental Army. So too the co-ordination, diminished by Howe’s wayward pursuit of Washington distracted the British from the swift and decisive victory they sought in the Americas. In fact the ‘vague…intermittent references to each other’8 describes the relations between the three commanders working against the continental army in America; proof of the lack of cohesion that was playing into the hands of American colonists seeking independence. The economic importance of America to a British state financially cowed by the seven years war was so intense they were willing to use force, and even more expenditure to subjugate the insurrection, this would unfortunately play into the hands of the patriots and their ideologues.

The mistakes of Howe contrast sharply with the leadership of George Washington. Washington succeeds in instilling discipline in the Continental Army, through his own experience as a soldier in the American-Indian wars and his reportedly incredible charisma. Washington is first among equals; he is not a distant monarch but a companion to the small community of the continental force. He understands how important it is to avoid capture or defeat, that the survival of the revolution is tied inexorably to the army of the revolution. These advantages over the divided British command, and their forces, are paramount to the role that American military intelligence, and pragmatism, will play. More important is the situation this dynamic finds in the British they are fighting as it develops through the course of the war.

The failure of the British command to realise they were fighting a new kind of war, far from the traditional European conflicts of great powers they were used to. The guerrilla tactics of colonials was unprecedented; mass propaganda and public insurgency were bed-fellows of the American colonial military. Even after the capture of the colonial capital at Philadelphia the Americans did not surrender, but counter attacked. Washington’s ability to retreat strategically would prove immensely useful in a war that was proving increasingly un-popular back in England. In January 1775 prior to the outbreak of hostilities, merchants from England (ironically enough from 13 centres of commerce) petitioned for ‘peaceful concessions to the colonists’9. The ideology of radicalism in America was beginning to find a new voice among English radicals. Thomas Paine, who had been involved in revolution in France, radicalism in England and now was enlisted in the American cause, whose pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ was mandatory reading for members of the Continental army is a prime example of the ideological link between Britain’s radical opposition and that of the American revolutionaries. America had won a new sort of independence from France in the aftermath of the Seven Years War, one linked to British victory. The progression of the American cause into one of independence from British rule proved, more than by arms, to be advanced by its ideology. Viewed as a ‘non-nurturant…fatherly authority’ from Britain10, the impact of The Stamp Act on editors, lawyers, merchants and their influence on colonial populations, would directly contribute to the radical idioms that would spark the revolt, the ‘growth of a revolutionary mentality’11. The anti-Catholic strain of English radicalism would allow for an easier migration of American feeling from Catholic France to Protestant England12.

The sacrament of the American insurrection performed in the ‘hearts and minds of the patriots’ would hearten the passage from one state, that of the reign of a King, to the other, the rule of the people13. This strength within rebel ideology would be in stark contrast to British imperial forces dominated by internal divisions. British regulars consisting of English, Irish and Welshman, many of whom were press-ganged, conscripted or drawn from prison to fight. “Hessian” German mercenaries, in reality drawn from many German states, fighting for money, and not willing to die before they could spend it, were shipped to the American continent. Loyalist Native Americans, ‘savages’ in puritan eyes, used against the colonies would appal religious communities in the Americas, further driving a wedge between British subjects and their American counterparts. These combined to create a divided force whose aims were equally as splintered. When Washington surprised an ignorant British force at Saratoga it was not against foes that were ideologically opposed to American self-rule; but men whose desire to live and earn wages as soldiers of fortune had drawn them into the American Revolution.

Fighting alongside the British redcoats in the Seven Years War had reduced the spectre of the mighty redcoat to a mere model of influence for many of the militia of the American colonies. While the regulars of the British army had developed many skills for fighting irregular warfare from their militia companions, they still regarded them with a distain that would hamper the British ability to maintain cordiality and order with local loyalists. Again it was British racism toward Americans that would drive a wedge between the British government and its trans-Atlantic subjects, rather than military superiority of the rebels drawing them into independence. The French allies fighting the land war against Britain shared much in common with the Americans both finding reward in the burgeoning ideals that would lead to French revolution also. The official adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th of 1776 is a marked step toward ideological hegemony in the cause for independence. The declaration is designed as an international declaration, no longer an issue of mere taxation, the revolution is about self-governance, Republican sovereignty and opposition to bad government.

The French treaty would have consequences in terms of opposing the British on land, but the real impact would be felt on the high seas. The British ability to meet its naval commitments when France entered on the side of America would have dire consequences on their ability to maintain control of the colonies. Caught between fighting a defensive action in the English Channel, defending her interests against the Dutch in the West Indies and combating American and French ships in the Atlantic, the British navy was pushed to breaking point. While the American navy lacked military superiority, with the help of the French they were able to compete with the might of the Royal Navy. The victory at Yorktown would demonstrate the necessity for French naval help, but so too the failure of the Americans to take New York and Charlestown afterward. They could not hope to attack such heavily fortified naval positions without French assistance. The Royal Navy was also responsible for alienating local loyalist support, their actions in burning ports up and down the coast of the colonies, beginning in Falmouth in the October of 1775, in an effort to force the colonists into realising the economic cost of insurrection would merely prove to disaffect the colonials and inspire the patriots further.

Britain could conceivably have continued fighting even after the surrender at Yorktown; they would continue to wage war against France for another 32 years. With the threat of local and international strife in India, Africa, China, Canada and the West Indies there is a clear argument for disengagement after Yorktown. Seeing the Americans had a chance to run their own colonies while believing they would eventually again need British support seemed like a fair trade-off for some harmony on the eastern Atlantic sea-bard. The Franco-American alliance, without which the rebels could never have won the war, overshadows any American military superiority. Also, the ideology of the colonists, both public and martial is superior to that of the divided imperial armies of Britain. The leadership of pragmatic intelligent statesman such as Franklin and Washington is in stark contrast to the arrogant and often stubborn gentry in charge of the British forces. Their intelligent use of a force (in the form of the Continental Army) largely overshadowed by the martial potential of the British Empire would win them places in world history and make effective points of interest for American propagandists down the ages. American military superiority played only a minor point in the victory of the colonials in the American war of independence. Through a series of other factors they were able to use what military they could to amplify diplomatic and ideological factors to their benefit.

Ultimately the victory of the colonies in the American War of Independence owes most to the contribution of military ineptitude and ideological division among the British army and the Royal Navy. It is nearly impossible for a colonial master to use force of arms to regain control of territory so far from central government without using overwhelming force to institute martial law. This was an option open to the British but was not one they would consider against the American colonists. Even if it had been instituted it is likely this would only have further inspired ideological division between Pax Britannia and ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. The American colonies were lost the moment Britain tried to win them back.

1 P. 233 ‘The War of Independence: The British Army in North America 1775-1783’ J. W. Fortescue, John Shy, Sir John Fortescue, London (1991)

2 Tindall & David 169

3 p.168 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

4 p.160 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

5 p.164 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

(Travels in the American Colonies, New York (1916) p.580)

6 p.229 ‘American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

7 ibid

8 p.162 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

9 p.135 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

10 p.230 ‘American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

11 p.228 American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

12 ibid

13 p.231 ‘American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

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EIFF 2011 Blog w/ Troll Hunter writer & director André Øvredal

For me the stand out movie of the Edinburgh International Film Festival was Troll Hunter. A ‘mocumentary’ from writer/director André Øvredal about a grim Norwegian chap with a very peculiar sort of job. I caught up with André while he was in Edinburgh to chat to him about the film.

“I think I just wanted to make a film about trolls.” He explains to me matter-of-factly when I ask what first inspired the idea.

“We haven’t really used them for much since the eighteenth century. There have been a couple of children’s short films, animated films in the seventies which are classics you know, wonderful films but for a movie audience it’s never been used.”

So had this been something he’d been thinking about for a long time?

“Probably, but as soon as I did think about it clearly I was already in a position where I knew how. I had a knowledge of how to make a film so I just started working on it immediately. It’s the kind of thing when you come up with an idea that you really love you just have to go for it.”

And what inspired the unusual ‘mocumentary’ style to the film?

“That came pretty much immediately, because again knowing how to make a film, to make a Jurassic Park-sized monster movie is not going to happen on a Norwegian budget unless you do something different. We had a very limited amount of days to shoot because we can’t afford to have the crew on set too long and of course the effects budget will be much smaller than a Hollywood budget so we had to limit the amount of shots. But still we were able to put in enough shots to make it feel like a real monster experience.”

One of the surprising things about Troll Hunter is the readiness of André to show us the monsters. I explain to him how I had expected a Blair Witch style, where the action took place off-camera – was that something he had set out to do from the start?

“Yeah, I wanted to talk about the mythology of the trolls and I wanted to talk about how they behaved and show them. You know I didn’t want to keep them secret because I think they are such wonderful creatures. That was the whole point: I wanted to show trolls.”

And the eponymous hero?

“I was trying to put that in context of a character that you would see in a very different light, in let’s say an American movie, and having this kind of monstrous adversary, you know this crazy job and it ends up with, after having to do this amazing event (hunting trolls), having to fill out bits of paper. It puts things in perspective.”

At this point I feel as if we could be discussing a nature documentary, and that attention to detail comes across in the performances during the film. I wondered if he had noticed different audiences picking up on different references? Or some non-Norwegian audiences missing the mythology?

“Well of course people outside of Norway won’t get everything but I think most of it they will get as either something new or they understand the implication of the joke or the cultural troll mythology. It does cross over surprisingly well. I was kind of worried about, I remember the first screening of it at Fantastic Fest in Austin I was quite nervous because I had no idea if anyone was going to understand what the hell the film was about. That was actually the first, I hadn’t even shown it to anybody outside of our core crew of the producers, the editor and sound guy and they were the only people who had ever seen the film.”

“I think now the film is more known before people go into it they are a little bit more ready to laugh. I think at the very first screening people were apprehensive about that, wondering ‘Is it funny? Is it not?’ and then now that people know that they are allowed to laugh a little bit I think that they do respond more.”

Are they laughing at the right bits then?

“Yeah”, he says, laughing.

An American remake is already planned, with Chris Columbus reportedly at the helm. What did he think of that?

“I was asked if I wanted to direct it. I said no thank you, I didn’t want to do another mocumentary and do another film about trolls and actually,” he says with another chuckle “…do the same film again.”

“Personally I had a hard time seeing it from an American perspective. I was trying to think how I could tell this story about Norwegian mythology and I figured its much better to leave it up to the Americans to figure it out. They would understand how to tell that story better than I would.”

And was he worried than any of the religious references would be controversial to an American audience?

“I didn’t think it would be controversial because it is part of the fairy tales, the fact that trolls can smell Christian blood. Its something that the trolls say when you know, I can smell…” He pauses, “in Norway even the most religious people, I have read reviews of the film on Christian websites you know and they say this is great fun for Christians”, he laughs again, “The Muslim joke is so harmless, it’s not poking fun at anything. The Americans love it, they laugh their asses off when they see that scene so I do hope that they will keep that kind of idea in there.”

And so what was the shooting process like?

“It was very intense. I worked so much on the script that I ended up working on it until the very end of August 2009 and we started shooting 21st September 2009 so we only had about a month of preproduction. So it was a mad rush to make it and suddenly we are standing on set and , you know we are anyway going to improvise things but we are improvising even more than we are expecting to. We hadn’t scouted locations properly and were stopping off and saying ‘Let’s shoot the next scene here’. We were shooting in some sort of sequence, for the first three weeks we were driving around the countryside from the West coast of Norway up until the mountains.”

“Week three was shooting the final sequence (which involves some rather powerful weather in snowy foothills) and that blizzard would hit us in the middle…like we came there and started shooting on a Friday and there was no snow and we had a weekend break and we came back Monday and it was just white and we had to start all over again. Then in the last three weeks we were shooting around Oslo for most of the effects scenes in the forest and that kind of stuff, just to be closer to our production centre. It was insane.”

The mocumentary style must be unorthodox to film?

“I knew that I couldn’t direct the scenes in a traditional sense, with directions saying ‘you go there’ and ‘you turn here’, you know I couldn’t direct the scene to camera like that specifically for a composition because it would feel like a movie. So, we had to constantly shake things up. Also I wanted the actors to say things with their own words and constantly be involved in the scene, not based on their understanding of the script, but based on their understanding of the character and the situation. So we would talk much more generally about the scene, the scene was scripted, but we would talk about what the topic was what the attitude was going into the scene and what do you have to do going out of the scene. Then how you get there is your own thing.

“All the actors were constantly improvising what they were saying and what they were doing, as long as they stayed within the topic of the scene and some points that they had to hit and then in the end once we edited it down it pretty much becomes what was on the page, something similar anyway, but there was so much improvisation to get there and it was all done on set as opposed to before hand. We had a couple of days just talking because the casting was done just a few days before shooting and we spent the last weekend before shooting just talking about everything.”

“I’ve known the camera man for ten years, I’ve worked with him on a hundred commercials and I know his qualities and he’s so helpful in finding the right moment with the camera and he’s directed documentaries on his own so sometimes it’s just putting together the right people, that is such a big part of directing. The crew you have around you is everything when you’re shooting because you are basically the only one on set who is not doing anything.”

And so what is next?

“I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a director of a specific form of film-making. I’d rather be pigeon-holed as a maker of fantasy films because that is quite an open range…I might be doing a sequel at some point. It depends on the next few years. Definitely in my opinion, I haven’t thought about much yet, but it should follow up the ending of [Troll Hunter]. There is material for a sequel.”

And so with my promise to brush up on my knowledge of Norwegian troll mythology in anticipation, I bid André goodbye.

The Troll Hunter goes on general release in the UK on the 9th of September 2011.

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