Friday, November 27, 2009

More food supplements for thought

Back here I passed on details of an e-petition in regard to a set of proposals which would restrict all food supplements to being prescription-only i.e. under the control of the global pharmaceutical companies - which would be intensely silly and very annoying.

I did note, at the time, a news story about how "dangerous" food supplements were. Yeah right, as compared to normal medicines?

Anyhoo, I received this reply from our lovely government today, saying they won't be doing it. Of course, the potential to do it will be there but apparently there's no current intention to do so.

Hurrah, I'll still be able to buy fizzy vit C and the Boy will still be able to make "Cold Bombs" for the family as needed.

Cold bomb? You put 2 x 1000mg fizzy Vit C tabs in a glass, boil some water and pour on to the vit C (not too much), which fizzies and bubbles excitedly and looks like a Dr Jekyll concoction. Then get some orange Lucozade and fill glass to the brim. Give to person with cold and let them drink. Works wonders, the person will feel much brighter and happier for several hours - at which point you can repeat. You don't have to use Lucozade, you could just use water and then add some honey.

The Boy likes making cold bombs.

What's on the turntable? "Toccata" by Sky from "Sky 2"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Story logic

In yesterday's post I mentioned the internal logic required of stories, and this evening I watched the new BBC cop show Paradox where images of a future event arrive and must be interpreted to find out where a disaster or crime will happen in order to prevent it.

The BBC's version of FlashForward, sort of. Funny how these things happen since both shows must have been in development at the same time. Spooky.

Anyway, back to logic: The following contains spoilers for the end of the first episode, so don't read it if you don't want to know what happens.

I really mean it, this is all about the actual climax of the show - because up to that point this was very nicely put together. Don't read any further if you don't want to know why it annoyed me.

Okay, you have been warned.

The police are rushing to intercept the inflammable-gas tanker that's going to explode and take out a train carriage killing lots of people.

The police car is zooming along the road from one direction, the lorry is heading towards the bridge from the other direction. About 50 yards from the bridge (when they know they have only seconds to spare) the police car stops, the police-persons get out and start waving their arms and shouting at the lorry driver that they have previously deduced is incapable of noticing he's heading for a low bridge. (Plus he's really not going to hear a shout, is he?)

So the lorry hits the bridge, explodes and kills 70-odd people.

The question is: Why did the police stop when the logical action is to keep going, get under the bridge and intercept the tanker? Even if it means giving up their own lives to save the people on the train which, of course, any normal hero would have done.

Most people will say "bad writing" but we know better, don't we?

I imagine the original script had them do just that, run the tanker off the road. I could also imagine that the guy on the train, who knew something was up, deciding to get people off the train and hence become a hero - and not lose his job after all.

But the producer and/or director (or some pen pusher) decided that for this first episode they needed to have the police fail, because that builds the stakes for future episodes.

I don't object to this in principle - but having the police stop, get out of their car, wave their arms and shout? Give me a break. Why not just have them arrive moments too late? That would have been a simple and logical alternative.

What we saw was, in my opinion, utter stupidity and ruined a perfectly good show.

Oh well.

Today I have managed to do some more detailed planning on the web series Winter and come up with a little idea that will make the opening episode a little juicier. Audience superiority (when the audience knows more than the protagonist) builds tension so I've added a smidge of that.

What's on the turntable? "The Echoing Green" by Gordon Giltrap from "Visionary"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death to characters!

Here I am having a jolly time in Brum.

And I've been getting some writing done, hurrah!

I've been doing more planning on my next TV series pilot, Tec, and I've disposed of another character. There I was busily using one of Jeff Kitchen's plotting techniques from Writing a Great Movie and lo! I suddenly went "Is this main character really necessary? Could I combine him with this other main character? Would it hurt the plot? Damage the story?"

And I could only answer "No". In fact it improves it.

So let me see, I have now chopped out: one series leading character, one supporting character and one episode main character. (Oh, and a murder victim who is now offed before the main story starts, instead of during, so that's another one.)

Curiously enough the technique I was using is a refined form of something Bill Martell wrote about in his Script Secrets post for today. The only difference being that while Bill tells you that you must write your scripts in a logical cause-effect sequence, Jeff has a nifty technique to make it easy to achieve.

What's on the turntable? "The Deserter" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


"Pre-awareness" is the movie industry buzzword it's fashionable for writers to hate. It's the word that gives us endless sequels, remakes ("re-imaginings") and adaptations, and an apparent fear of original ideas.

There is an ordinary word that covers the concept: familiarity.

The movie industry (and to a lesser extent the TV industry) likes product that comes with a built-in audience. This is not really surprising, movies cost a lot to make and familiarity with the material means the audience is potentially bigger and the investors have a better chance of a return on their investment.

If you're expecting a rant against pre-awareness on this blog, you won't find it.

I can see it from the viewpoint of the money-men, they are in it to at least make a profit, and they want as much assurance as they can get before they part with their cash. (The fact that A-list actors plus A-list director plus a known product can still fail horribly is not the subject of this blog.)

The thing is that "pre-awareness" is not a new idea.

Shakespeare wrote plays that had pre-awareness - the fact that he wrote them very well is not the point. The Greek plays were all based on known stories - that's pre-awareness.

It's not a new thing.

At the Screenwriters festival I attended the seminars by Phil Parker. Phil's new emphasis is on "Dynamic Universes" which is his label for multi-platform, multi-creator settings.

Say what?

Instead of simply writing a screenplay, you create a setting in which you can have a movie (or many movies), TV series, web series, novels, online games, comic books - in fact anything you can think of. The more the merrier. It's a complete creation, and the idea is that you as the author/creator hold the intellectual rights to your creation and you never let go of them - you just let other people play in your world. (Or not, it's your choice.)

Does this have anything to do with pre-awareness?

I think so.

Right now the chances of anybody making my Monsters TV series are pretty slim. It's expensive and it's new - no pre-awareness.

However, we made a few scenes, and now I have found an illustrator to work on a comic book version (long time readers will know that I have found and lost two illustrators so far, but this one looks more solid). If I build up an online following based on a comic book then I'm building pre-awareness and increasing the probability it will get made.

And that's the sort of thing we, as writers, must consider.

Pre-awareness is not necessarily a bad thing - all you have to do is create it yourself, and the Web gives you that power. You just have to think big.

What are you waiting for?

What's on the turntable? "Demon Lover" by Steeleye Span from "Commoner's Crown"

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Must be my week for epiphanies.

There are two types of epiphany (in my humble opinion) first there's the "OMG! Of course!" epiphany, then there's the "Oh." epiphany. The latter is when you realise you have been rather stupid.

I had an "Oh." epiphany on Friday.

It goes like this: I have written two quite good scripts (Monsters and Air) I have also, in the last year, written three not-so-good scripts (Unit X, Running and Tec). In the not-so-good ones the dialogue and action are still good (so I'm told by those that know), the premise was fine in each case but the structure just didn't quite work.

So one has to ask: why? Or more accurately: what changed between the first two and the last three? What did I do differently?

So I had a think and epiphanied.

There is a writer who goes by the name of Jeff Kitchen and I used to refer to his book "Writing a Great Movie" ad nauseum on this blog - because it is an excellent book. And don't be fooled by the title, it's not just for movies, it applies to TV, stageplays - pretty much any storytelling.

Even the book's introduction contains amazingly useful storytelling techniques.

The point about this book is it contains stuff that you can actually use, genuinely helpful ways to analyse your story and turn it into something even better. He starts off with Aristotle's analysis of drama, and goes on from there.

If you're the sort of person who objects when you think someone is dictating a screenwriting structure - well, so do I but I can see what works and what doesn't. Jeff Kitchen isn't a guru and doesn't dictate. He does describe what has been shown to be successful and effective story structure (Aristotle), but you don't have to use it if you don't want to.

But the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

When I wrote Monsters and Air I used this book extensively (it's the only screenwriting book that I've ever kept with me, and kept re-reading). And those are good scripts. When I didn't use the book I ended up with not-so-good scripts.

It was arrogance, of course, I'd done two good scripts so I thought I knew what I was doing. Ha.

So yesterday I sat down with the planned web series, Winter, and started applying the various techniques from the book to it. One and a half hours later I had something that was essentially the same, but now had a much better structure and various ideas had been expanded.

Winter will be a 6 x 5min web series and requires that each episode ends on some sort of cliffhanger - just like the old cinema serials. And this needs to be integrated into the overall structure of the story - which still has to have (in Aristotlean terms) Dilemma, Crisis, Decision & Action and finally Resolution.

And using the techniques in the book I should be able to manage that without it looking contrived or "constructed".

And that's important.

What's on the turntable? "Phaedra" by Tangerine Dream from "Phaedra"

Friday, November 13, 2009


Did you watch it last night? I did. I enjoyed it enough to want to watch the next episode (which is more than I can say for Defying Gravity). Misfits is a 60-minute dramedy, and the balance was good for the first episode - I hope they can keep it up.

The next section isn't really spoilerific but if you don't want to know anything you better not read it.

I imagine Misfits has been described as Heroes for the UK: Small scale and very real. What we have is a bunch of loser kids on community service for various misdemeanors who find themselves with superpowers after a freak accident.

Note, there are four ways of being super: natural (it's in your genes), freak accident (radioative spider anyone?), gimmicks (Iron Man) and magic (Dr Strange, Juggernaut).

What was interesting from a screenwriting viewpoint is the type of powers the characters have. In Heroes the powers are pretty random but in the Fantastic Four movie the writers linked the abilities gained by each character to what they were doing, or trying to do, at the point they were zapped with gamma rays. (So Reed Richards is trying to reach for something - his ability becomes elasticity.)

In Misfits they have done almost the same thing but from a more writer-ly perspective: all the characters have been given powers related to their external wants - which, in each case, is the opposite of their internal need. (Well, I say "all" but there is one character whose power has not yet been revealed - though we ought to be able to work it out from what we know of his character.)

I think this is a pretty good start, and offers lots of character development opportunities - some of which are already manifesting.

What's on the turntable? "The Long March" by Vangelis from "China"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Boy on TV

Yesterday the new series of Bamzooki started - the show that the Boy is in, having auditioned over a period of a year. He wasn't on yesterday's show, we're not sure when he's going to be on.

Apart from being hosted by Barney - who is much better on TV than he ever was on radio (Radio 4's "Go For It" kids show) but that's not saying a lot. It's not too bad, though they've even managed to dumb this down in comparison to the original series. (The original Zook Doctor was the commentator giving genuine advice on how to make zooks better, now it's just stupid "humour".)

On the other hand, it's technically very clever.

If you want to (and are in the UK) you can force yourself to watch it on iPlayer, but don't expect too much.

What's on the turntable? "Idolizing" - Bix Biederbecke's Greatest hits

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Now read this

If you don't read John August's blog ... well ... you should!

This is good stuff.

Where did I put my matches...

What's on the turntable? "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins from "Face Value"

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Writers write

And I have been. Page 1 re-write on Tec off to a flying start, admittedly I've been half-inching some scenes from the previous draft but they've all needed modifying. The whole structure of the story is different now, the initial death which previously didn't happen until about 20 minutes in, has happened before the story starts.

The main character is now into the thick of it within 10 pages (oh good) though there's still work to do on that.

Apart from losing the main character's side-kick, I also disappeared a receptionist, replacing her with one of the other main characters. Things can get dangerous when I get into a cutting mood.

Write on.

Oh yes, I meant to say this as well: I was out driving today and thinking "My back hurts, I can't write today" (accompanied by a heavy sigh). Then I thought: "What if my back is hurting because I'm not writing?"

Which put a new complexion on things. So as soon as I got home I got in front of the computer and started.

And my back didn't hurt at all.

There's a thing.

What's on the turntable? "Dreaming" by Blondie from "Eat to the Beat"

Saturday, November 07, 2009

New blogger on the ... block

(That title really doesn't work very well.)

Please give a warm welcome, ladles and jellyspoons, to Chris Payne who has entered the scribosphere, or is that the directosphere?

Chris was the Director on Monsters, so I have good reason to give him space here. He took my words and turned them into pictures - moving pictures at that. Clever bloke.

On the writing front, (fairly sure I haven't mentioned this) I have finally restarted work on Tec my UK private investigator series. And the first thing I did was look over the notes I'd been making for improving characters - written three months ago.

There was one character, who would be the lead's side-kick, and my notes were a bit thin on the ground. I didn't really know what to do with this character.

So I killed him.

Ripped bodily from the story - which now looks cleaner and less cluttered. I did this with Monsters, there was a love interest who had little other value, he appeared in about six scenes. He and his scenes were cut. It was so much better afterwards.

You remove dialogue that's unnecessary, remove actions that are unnecessary, remove scenes that are unnecessary, remove sequences that are unnecessary, remove unnecessary characters, unnecessary sub-plots, unnecessary gimmicks - and sometimes the entire script is unnecessary. Dump it.

Oh, Chris and I are discussing a new project, it has a code-name you will have seen before on this blog: Winter. This story was one of the first I ever worked on in detail though I think I only ever wrote one draft of a script (lost on the hard drive of another computer).

Then it became the basis for a pitch for a BBC web project last year - it was unusual, and was something that had never been attempted before. But although it was claimed the BBC was looking for something original and different (and it was agreed that this was indeed original and different), the truth was they really only wanted something like that if it was the same as everything else.

(Or the pitch was complete rubbish as an idea, this is possible.)

Anyway Winter is the new project and, unlike Monsters, will be a complete entity. Very early stages, so I'll say no more than that.

What's on the turntable? "Die Mensch Machine" by Kraftwerk from "Minimum-Maximum"

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I live in a semi-rural setting, the front of the house looks out on to the untouched beauty of the Pennines* - the back looks out onto an industrial estate.

I have mentioned my disinterest in TV soaps. But I did follow a radio soap for a few years: The Archers. And I still tune in occasionally to see what's happening. The actor who played Phil Archer died last week.

One of the interesting things about the Archers is its original remit: To educate town dwellers about life in the country, and it still does that job. I suspect that is one of the reasons for its continuing survival and success - a genuine purpose. As the years have passed it has covered many subjects including the urbanisation of villages.

A few mornings ago I had taken the dog for his early morning walk when I spotted something lying in the lane we were climbing, something grey and fuzzy. My first thought was that a cat had been hit by a car - but it would have to be a damn big cat. The dog was curious but willing for me, as pack leader, to do the initial investigation. The responsibilities of leadership.

It was a badger. With no apparent cause of death.

On the one hand it was sad but then I'd never actually seen a badger up close (even a dead one) and one part of me was making notes. On the other hand I was glad there were badgers in the area. We have foxes, of course, and we have at least three varieties of owl; we have bats; innumerable small rodents that the cats like to bring home (dead or alive), and rabbits a-plenty. I have seen other creatures in the distance which I couldn't name, ferret-like so maybe they were, or stoats, or rats. Skylarks nest regularly round here. And we see the occasional hare.

So seeing a badger was good. Except it was dead. It could have been hit by a car but there was no blood and, to be honest, on that part of the lane vehicles don't go fast - they can't.

On my return I spoke to the Teacher, having a nagging thought in the back of my mind that we were required to report dead badgers. If there's one animal that cattle farmers don't like, it's badgers. Because of the threat (real or otherwise) of bovine tuberculosis infection. And some farmers will poison badgers, though it's a crime punishable by fines or even imprisonment.

You see we have a local farmer who supplies organic milk and organic beef. The badger was lying by one of his fields.

The Teacher thought we had to report it too (we listened to the show together mostly), made a couple of calls and yes, we were required to report it. But I wouldn't have known if it hadn't been for the Archers.

The badger's body was gone by the next day. I doubt we'll hear any more about it.

I hope the farmer hadn't been silly.

* When I say "untouched" I mean: heavily modified by the hand of Man dating back at least two thousand years. Anyone who admires the natural beauty of the British countryside is ignorant of the truth. Almost no part of the British countryside is untouched. The Pennines were once wall to wall trees (the name of our town means "mossy wood"), part of the coast to coast forests that covered the land filled with danger. Until they were chopped down to build ships, make it safer and clear it for grazing animals. I like industrial archaeology.

What's on the turntable? "Never Forget" by Fleetwood Mac from "Tusk"

Monday, November 02, 2009

Fiesta - Takeaway

So, it's been a few days for me to absorb the Screenwriters Festival, and in that time I've spent an evening scaring children at the scariest house in Carrbrook, caught a chill, drove to Leeds to spend a couple of hours at the Royal Armouries and FIASCO with all the family (bought lots of dice). Came home and went to bed for a few hours.

And that was just 24 hours.

Feeling better today. Went back to work to discover that the latest website launch had been - difficult. But they managed without me.

So, SWF.

One lesson that was reinforced this time was the fact that everyone in this business is scared, scared of getting it wrong. Weirdly enough the writer is the only one who has the power to inspire confidence. If making TV or a movie is a tent, then the writer is the tent peg.

They know this. They know they have to trust you - so be trustworthy.

But that's the same lesson as last year, but other people have been saying it.

So what's new? Stephen Moffat has never written for soaps (unless you count Press Gang as a soap) so the idea that you must is wrong. Which is just as well for me since my interest in that area is exactly zero. Stephen Moffat also writes for himself - what he wants to see on TV. (And Spielberg makes the films he wants to see. There's something to be said for the selfish approach.)

Misinformation floating about: I noted that the Sales Agents said "write what the market is producing" but then, they would. It is nonsense, of course. I was sitting in the room where a sales agent was saying that while the Head of Development was saying "don't try to follow the market, you're already too late."

So that's no help. What was new?

Ah yes, you need a champion. Whether it's film or TV, UK or US, you need a champion.

Actually what you need is PR, but in this business PR is best achieved with a champion. A champion is someone already in the business, with a reputation, who will stand up and say "this person is good". This has to do with the fear thing. It means that people in the business are essentially followers (because leading is dangerous - you can get shot). So if someone with a reputation stands up and says "this person is good" everyone will agree (because they can blame him if you're not) and you can inch your way through the door.

Of course you do actually need to be good, a champion can get people to listen but if you don't have the talent you'll be out so fast your posterior will not touch the floor.

So there you go.

What's on the turntable? "Night by Night" by Steely Dan from "Pretzel Logic"