Popcorn Counter: The Process of Writing

If we got a dollar every time someone asked us where we get our ideas, we’d have eight dollars. Everyone seems to have a great idea for a movie, but what does the process of converting that idea into a hundred page script look like? This episode we talk at the popcorn counter about what writing techniques work for us. Mind maps? Post it notes? Treatments? Or just plain ‘listening to strangers’ conversations on the bus and writing them down verbatim’? Plus, what’s the one screenwriting book we’d recommend above all others?

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Asteroid City vs Rushmore: The Magnificent Andersons

There’s a new Wes Anderson film out! Is it very different to the last Wes Anderson film? Good question…

This episode we watch Asteroid City and compare it to Anderson’s sophomore picture Rushmore from 1998. The new film is certainly starrier, with the kind of cast that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars on any other film. But does that result in much actual drama or is Asteroid City as flat as the desert that surrounds it? And has the work of America’s most recognisable director changed in the last 25 years? Or has Wes stayed the same while the world has changed around him?

Plus, we play our new game ‘The Coppola Count’, invent the school of ‘Insiderism’, debate the difference between ‘fluff’ and ‘fondant’, watch a slapstick interpretation of Watergate, catch ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm for Middle Schoolers’ and enlist a hair-raising new sponsor.

Popcorn Counter: The A to Z of 1970s Hollywood

The 1970s is often called the last Golden Age of Hollywood, with big stars and auteur directors making challenging and experimental films aimed at an adult audience. Join us as we relax in the sticky, grimy foyer of our local repertory cinema for our longest Popcorn Counter yet, where we try to come up with an A to Z of the most influential pictures and talents of the decade. Will we see appearances by Coppola, Spielberg or Altman? Are there any uniting themes that define the era? And which of us gets stuck with the letters ‘X’ and ‘Z’?

Reality vs Three Days of the Condor: Three Days of Reality

Some movies are ‘ripped from the headlines’ but new HBO feature Reality has been literally transcribed from the headlines, using the text of a publicly available FBI interview as its script, word for word. It’s a mesmerising tale about espionage, betrayal and the US intelligence services, and this episode we put it in a locked room with Sidney Pollack’s 1975 spy thriller Three Days of the Condor and see which one breaks first. How have attitudes to spies and leaks changed in nearly fifty years? Do the films treat their female characters fairly? And does any of this remind us of any big news stories happening right now?

Plus a discussion of toupees in the movies, some controversy over the pronunciation of the word ‘translator’, a warning from the Cliche Squad, a look at a new VR headset, a trip to see a 1980s rock star and a place on the team for the Tour de France.

Episode 65: Popcorn Counter: Ninety Minutes or Less

Brevity is famously the soul of wit, but exactly how short can a film be to still get classified as ‘feature length’? We looked it up and the answer is probably shorter than you think (and more than four times shorter than Avatar: The Way of Water…) Join us at the Popcorn Counter this episode where we try to figure out what is the greatest film of all time under ninety minutes using our own, foolproof, scientific scoring system. Along the way, we struggle with French pronounciation, fail to add up single digit numbers, and finally prove that Christopher Nolan is a greater film maker than Akira Kurosawa. Maybe.

Episode 64: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret vs Welcome to the Dollhouse: Growing Pains

It’s back to the first year of Junior High this episode, with two preteen dramas that both perform well in their midterms. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is a heart warming family story that’s witty, fresh, sweet and more moving than we expected, while 1995s Welcome to the Dollhouse is its antimatter equivalent, jarring, grimy and nihilistic. But the two have so much in common that it’s like looking in a greasy, fire-damaged mirror. Which film has the more modern view of adolescence? Which film has the best chunky phones? And how does each film use food to explore character?

Plus we discuss the banning of books from public libraries, watch a greatest-of-all-time TV climax, recount a podcast-inspired nightmare, listen to an extremely well-recorded word from our sponsors, and ask: does corn have sides?

Episode 63: Popcorn Counter: Adèle Haenel

French actor Adèle Haenel, best known for Portrait of a Woman on Fire, published an incredible letter about her retirement from the film industry a couple of weeks ago. This episode at the Popcorn Counter we read the letter and talk about some of the issues she raises. What are our responsibilities as writers and as consumers of cinema? What is the right way to respond to news of sexual assaults and the abuse of power? And what can we do to effect progress? Some heavy subject matter this time round, and neither of us feels like we have the answers, but it’s good to talk.

Episode 62: Beau is Afraid vs Forrest Gump: Life is Like a Box of Terror

We’re still trying to recover from the trauma of watching Beau Is Afraid for this episode. Ari Aster’s new Freudian ‘comedy’ horror movie feels like a three hour nightmare that left us begging to wake up. Happily, we’re comparing it to Tom Hanks’ 1994 Oscar winner Forrest Gump, which is just the right film to cleanse our tainted, rancid, bloody palates. These two have so much in common that one is like a ‘dark dimension’ mirror image of the other. But which movie features the most running? Which movie says more about the state of America? And which movie draws from the David Lynch playbook?

We also hail the invention of ‘elastic thinking’, visit Iñárritu’s new homage to Fellini, rewatch a low budget time travel romp, and give a lesson on how to fit a burro in a station wagon. Plus Tom Hanks. Did we mention Tom Hanks? Tom Hanks’ name comes up in this podcast. Many times.

Episode 61: Popcorn Counter: Inner City Blues

Welcome to the ‘urban planning’ section of the podcast, as we meet at the popcorn counter this week and talk about why the inner city gets such a bad rep in cinema. Who is London’s most famous inner city resident? What does ‘NF’ stand for in the world of Shane Meadow’s ‘This is England’? And why should ‘Boyz N The Hood’ be remade as ‘Boyz N The Garden’?

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Eye patches and fruit waving

(theme music intensifies…)

So we had a family trip to DisneyWorld in Florida last month, something I had been mentally planning since my daughter was born fifteen years ago. And then last weekend we reached another milestone, with a different event I’ve been thinking about on and off for at least as long: our first family viewing of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.

‘It’s probably the greatest action adventure movie ever made,’ I told the children before we watched it.

‘That was the most racist movie I’ve ever seen,’ my daughter told me afterwards.


So, okay, I do think the movie is still great. It’s a textbook of action adventure film making. It features so many set pieces that have become part of the cultural fabric: the giant ball, the golden statue, the hijacking of the truck, the submarine, the taxi-ing aeroplane fight.

But the set pieces wouldn’t have endured if they featured characters we didn’t want to watch. And what a great character Indy is. He’s 25% hero, 75% regular guy. He’s clever and resourceful and brave, yes, but he’s no superhero, and he has neither the super-competence nor the bulked up musculature that we see in, say, most of the Marvel leads.

Instead, he’s often an asshole. He leaves Marion tied up. He puts his intellectual curiosity before the safety of everyone he meets. He’s naive, believing the US government will let him keep the Ark when Denholm Elliot is much more realistic. He’s arrogant, he’s over confident, he fails to plan, the list goes on.

But because he’s constantly messing up, he’s exciting to watch. He can barely jump the gap as the tomb door closes. He underestimates the weight of the statue and then runs off with poison darts flying. He’s far outclassed by most of the people he fights, having to cheat by bringing a gun to a sword fight or waiting for his assailant to get hit by a spinning propeller. We love the film because we love Indy. And we love Indy because we see something of our own, flawed-but-trying-hard selves in him.

However, yes, the film is pretty racist. I’m sorry. Brown people are essentially props here, with no agency and no value beyond waving fruit or guns as the story requires, or wearing eye patches and being dastardly. And they always seem to be delighted to help white people steal their cultural artefacts. The film is an affectionate pastiche of 1930s serials, so maybe one could charitably suggest it is aping the attitudes of its source material as part of its homage. (And Captain Katanga is an interesting enough character that I came away surprised he hasn’t had his own spin off movie.) But overall, oof, my daughter is right and the movie has got this aspect of the story wrong.

‘Mr. Jones! I’ve heard a lot about you, sir. Your appearance is exactly the way I imagined.’

It does at least hate Nazis, though. It’s unambiguous. There’s no ‘both-sides’-ing, no ‘good’ Nazi character, no ambivalent ‘some of them were all right’ shrug. Nope, ‘Raiders’ knows Nazis were bad. So let’s celebrate that much.

I didn’t realise until recently that the film had its name changed in 1999. It’s now officially called ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Supposedly to fit in with the names of the other films in the series. What the name change really illustrates is one of the central tenets of writing for the screen. One of the tenets of fiction overall. The film endures because of Indy more than because of the Raiding. As always, it’s all about the characters.