Cinefex Diaries – Rush and Spectre

Unbelievably, I’ve been working at Cinefex for nearly five years. That’s three years in my current role as full-time senior staff writer, which was preceded by two years as part-time blog editor. Time sure does fly when you’re having fun.

Big anniversary years make you nostalgic, right? So I’ve been delving back through all the magazine articles I’ve written during that time. The first of these was my article on Ron Howard’s Formula 1 biopic Rush, published in Cinefex 136, January 2014.

At the time, I was as green as they come. Despite many years as a novelist and short story writer, this was my first serious non-fiction assignment, and my first experience conducting interviews as a research journalist. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I muddled through, but muddle through I did, and I’m still pretty pleased with how the article turned out. Check out the blogs I wrote as I went through the process:

As an aside, there’s a nice circularity here. I recently completed my article on Solo: A Star Wars Story, for which I finally got to chat with the very director I wasn’t able to interview for Rush. More about Ron Howard, the Kessel Run and the Millennium Falcon when Cinefex 160 launches a few weeks from now.

After Rush, it was all about the blog for two years, until November 2015 when I joined Cinefex on a full-time basis, writing articles for the magazine (while still keeping the blog romping along). My first assignment as senior staff writer was Spectre, published in Cinefex 145, February 2016. This was a very different kettle of fish to Rush, where my interviews were largely confined to the film’s sole visual effects vendor, DNEG. With Spectre, I found myself talking with the world and his wife – Industrial Light & Magic, MPC, Cinesite, DNEG (again), Framestore, Peerless, Propshop, IO Entertainment, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould … the list went on. No surpise that the interviews yielded over 50,000 words of transcript – twice what I’d had for Rush. Here’s the blog I wrote at the time:

My favourite Spectre interview was with production visual effects supervisor Steve Begg, who spoke to me on the phone for over an hour while he was strolling through the streets of Edinburgh. Partway through our conversation, he found the optimum spot in the city for 4G reception – the interior of an old church. Steve’s obvious delight at the carvings he found in there was so beguiling that I almost wished I didn’t have to return his attention to James Bond and his latest exploits.

For the next issue, I took on not one article but two. Jody Duncan, Joe Fordham and I have a give-and-take way of sharing the workload, you see – if one of us has a couple of heavy assignments on one issue, the others will give them a break next time around. As the new boy, I only had to tackle one film on my maiden voyage. Next issue in, things ramped up. In fact, they ramped up more than any of us had anticipated so that, for various reasons, I actually ended up writing three articles for Cinefex 146.

But I’ll save that story for next time.

Cinefex 145 Now Available

Cinefex 145

There’s something hot on my coffee table.

It’s issue 145 of Cinefex, and it’s hot because (a) it’s just been published; (b) it has the Millennium Falcon on the cover (signalling the presence of a drop-everything-and-read-it-now article by my colleague Joe Fordham about Star Wars: The Force Awakens); (c) it contains my first article for the magazine as senior staff writer, namely a soup-to-nuts look behind the scenes on the 24th James Bond film, Spectre; and (d) as an extra bonus, it’s also managed to sneak in an updated reprint of my Q&A on the visual effects of the sleek sci-fi thriller Ex Machina.

Also inside this new edition are in-depth articles about awards season favourite The Revenant, and ocean-going melodrama The Finest Hours.

Golly. It doesn’t get much hotter than that.

Behind the Scenes on “Spectre”

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

My first assignment as full-time staff writer at Cinefex magazine is (nearly) complete. On Friday, I submitted the final draft of my Spectre article … and received the edited version back on the very same day. How that’s for efficiency? All that remains is for me to go through a rigorous review and fact-checking process, after which I’ll label the draft as “final” and hand it over to the production department.

My assignment began a couple of weeks ago with a moment of blind panic as I stared at a blank white page and wondered how the hell I was going to mould 50,000 words of interview transcript into an 8,000-word analysis of the special and visual effects of the new Bond movie. If you’re a writer, you’ll know that the longer you gaze at that damn page, the more it – like Nietzsche’s abyss – gazes back.

I’ve discovered that this fight-or-flight response is common to many – perhaps most – creative professionals. Years ago, I worked with an amazingly talented concept designer who produced the most gorgeous artwork seemingly without breaking sweat. Seriously, I was in awe of this guy. One day he confessed to me that, for all his years of experience, every time he sat in front of a blank sheet of paper he experienced the sudden conviction that all his abilities had abandoned him, and that this time he was certain to screw everything up and be exposed as the fraud he undoubtedly was.

One way to break through the fear is to have a process. I established mine when I wrote my first magazine article for Cinefex – on Ron Howard’s Rush. Working in Scrivener, I import all my interview transcripts as discrete files, then start lifting quotes from them, creating a separate text document for each different subject area and pasting the relevant quotes into it. With the Rush article, I gave these documents titles like “Practical Car Construction”, “CG Car Construction”, “Fire Simulation” and so on.

Spectre was slightly different. Due to the episodic form of the film’s narrative, and the way the effects work was divided between a number of different companies, it soon became apparent that this article would benefit from a more linear structure than the one I used for Rush. Therefore, I used document titles based on location and sequence, such as “Mexico City – Helicopter” or “Rome – Car Chase”. Each of these documents then developed its own sub-categories based on the details of the effects work relating specifically to the sequence under discussion, such as … hmm, well, that would be telling, right?

Working this way, I eventually ended up with a big bundle of individual files that worked like index cards. They were bulging with quotes and notes, but were a very long way from resembling anything like coherent prose. That came next, during the much more complex and time-consuming process of weaving all those juicy facts together into a coherent, accurate and engaging look behind the scenes of secret agent 007’s latest adventure.

Was my mission successful? You can decide for yourself in February, when my Spectre article is published in Cinefex 145. Meanwhile, my next two assignments have already landed in my in-tray, so if you’ll forgive me, I’m off to the movies again.

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