Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Boy on TV (as of this posting it's not on the site yet, but should be soon).

It was just on, he's the team leader for Skorper Tank 225.

What's on the turntable? "Taschenrechner" by Kraftwerk from "Minimum-Maximum"

Adaptations are hard

...and seldom work satisfactorily.

So, the latest "Day of the Triffids" adaptation by the BBC. As I said it seemed to get very little promotion and was buried in the back end of the Christmas schedule. I imagine the powers-that-be realised that it "wasn't very good".

John Wyndham was a phenomenal writer, leaving aside his predictions of GM crops, global warming, satellite-based weapons, and who knows what else, he had a knack for creating menace using a very matter-of-fact style. His skill was, perhaps, in plotting the behaviour of people and society when put under incredible stress.

While occasionally he would get into nasty details - the horror of the attack on the sea-coast town by the aliens in "The Kraken Wakes" really sticks in my mind. Yet it's not really gory, just matter-of-fact recording (the narrrator is a journalist).

The problem with adaptations is that novels are a very different animal to TV or film. The best recommendation for writers involved in adaptations is to capture the spirit of the novel - the intention of the original author - and not worry so much about the actual plot, though one does try to keep the same sequence and events.

Peter Jackson took huge liberties with "Lord of the Rings" (and everybody leaves out Tom Bombadil) but created something that truly carried the spirit of the original. It's a phenomenal piece of work.

*** Utter Spoilerage from here on out ***

So we have to ask: what is the spirit of "Day of the Triffids"?

John Wyndham is always making a point about the human condition - usually human arrogance and stupidity. In the book he makes the point that the blinding of the population is caused by satellite weapons, and that the triffids are completely manufactured. In other words: humans did it to themselves.

In this version the blindness is caused by a solar storm, and the triffids are natural (if slightly modified to increase their oil yield).

In other words, to my mind, the story had its heart ripped out.

Purists will complain that huge liberties were taken with the events that took place - but I'm not really complaining about that. I understand why the writer introduced Torrance from the start and had him as the leader of the Brighton group - now shifted to London. It's not what I would have done, but I understand it.

Let's look at the triffids themselves. In the original they are plants, they can move slowly and have their poison whip - and they can hear and communicate with rattles. They are a type of carnivorous plant but still plants, mostly they sit around and wait for their prey to come to them. They kill to create a richer soil to grow on. Blow its flower off and it'll grow another one eventually. Guns don't really bother them, shotguns can slow them down a bit.

In the new version they move reasonably fast and have tentacular roots that are completely controllable (so must have a complete nervous system). Obviously this new nervous system is the reason why guns have a bigger effect and they can be killed by beating their flower head to a pulp. They also want to eat people - just people. They will travel a hundred miles for a human lunch.

And, apparently, one human every couple of days is sufficient to keep dozens of them satisfied - I am referring to to the nunnery sequence here - except they don't completely absorb these ones (just to be sure they're recognisable). Yet the other triffids are not satisfied with even one dead human, kill one and then ignore it and go to kill another.

It may be just me, but I feel the originals are far scarier then these new ones. By making the triffids an obvious danger - even one being lethal - their overall menace is taken away. The fact that triffids can hear is the key point of the menace. It means that as long as people are quiet they can get away (as long as they don't get too close) but if someone starts shouting or starts a car. the audience knows what's coming - it's how you build tension: audience superiority and inevitability. All this is lost with psychotically murderous triffids that can hear and feel - and think.

There were, of course, the other obvious problems: characters wandering around alone and at night when they know there are triffids around - typical stupid schlock horror rubbish. The main character going off to capture a triffid by himself ... by himself? Yet there were three other people who could go with him (one of whom was another triffid expert). When Susan hides in his landrover (which was impossible, by the way, there was no way she could have got to it unseen) you know that either he's going to get into trouble and she'll save him, or she'll get into trouble and he'll save her. (It was the latter.)

My feeling overall is that the story completely lost the point: the title of the story is "Day of the Triffids" by concentrating on the characters and their relationships - and changing the plot to increase that interdependence the triffids became an afterthought, it was no longer about them.

In regard to other aspects: the acting was all good (Eddie Izzard makes a great villain), the actual dialogue was good, the effects certainly good enough.

I have to say that I still prefer the 70s TV version, obviously it's a bit slow by modern standards and the acting (not to mention the triffids) are a bit wooden; but it is more faithful to the original and manages to communicate the level of menace that is the essence of Wyndham, despite its handicaps.

I didn't hate this new version (no point turning my emotions up to 11, it's only TV). I liked some bits, understood why other bits were the way they were, and tutted at the TV in places at the utter stupidity of it.

What's on the turntable? "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" by Elton John

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We have been watching...

What a laugh ... back in September it was the Teacher's birthday and the four of us (myself, the Teacher, the Daughter and the Boy) went out for a meal at a very nice local Indian Restaurant.

This was before we shot Monsters and before the Boy was on Bamzooki (and no, I haven't forgotten, they made rather more episodes than I expected - he hasn't been on yet, I'll let you know).

The discussion got on to the subject of shooting schedules - who was doing what and when - then we suddenly realised what we sounded like, all this TV and schedules and so forth, and burst out laughing.

However on to the main course:

We've been having a bit of a Bruce Willis Christmas.

We have a tradition: Boxing Day involves closing the curtains and watching a set of films from a series. For two years we did the entire Lord of the Rings extended - needs 12 hours - last year we did all four Indiana Jones (not entirely satisfying), and this year we did the Die Hards. (Next year we'll be doing LotR again.)

The Die Hards are good satisfying fun - you almost never see the third one nowadays since it involves bombs in New York - and we enjoyed them (the Boy had only seen 4.0 until then). EDIT: Die Hard 3 was on this very evening. Typical.

The Teacher was also very pleased with her gifts, since she got one of her all-time favourite films on DVD: Hudson Hawk. This is a very silly film and it was a box office disaster - but it has a certain charm. The Teacher loves it. And it's a Bruce Willis film. From a screenwriting viewpoint there is an awful lot wrong with this film - it doesn't know its genre for a start - and yet it still manages to please.

In the great video cull of 2008 we lost a lot of films we liked to watch - though by then we did not have a video player that worked properly (except one integral to a very small TV). So we've been replacing with DVDs - we've seen Blu-ray on a big TV and yes, it is fantastic, but we won't changing in the near future.

We have now also re-acquired The Hunt for Red October which we watched. Quality stuff. Other DVDs we've newly received but not yet re-watched: Galaxy Quest to go with our brand-new copy of Star Trek, and Practical Magic, as a family we're big Sandra Bullock fans and the Teacher and the Daughter adore this film.

TV has been mostly irrelevant, as it tends to be at Christmas. We watched Dr Who, of course, and were suitably impressed - bearing in mind it was a "part 1". I'll talk about the new "Day of the Triffids" tomorrow when we've seen part 2. However the fact that it had almost zero promotion may give you a clue - John Wyndham knows how to spin a terrifying yarn in novel/short story form, adaptations are always hard.

Oh, and the DavidTennant/PatrickStewart/RSC "Hamlet", of course. Overall we think it wasn't as good as the Brannagh one, but still damn good. Brilliant writer, of course.

And I got a telescope for Christmas, I was absolutely stunned and delighted - I've always been interested in astronomy - unfortunately there is a problem and it's not focusing. We are in discussions with the UK distributor.

What's on the turntable? "Your sister can't twist (but she can rock and roll)" by Elton John

Monday, December 28, 2009

Heard the one about the bearded bloke and a reindeer?

Merry wotsit. I shall do my review of 2009 and goals for the coming year on Thursday because I'm just a pedantic bar steward.

I had a private response to my Solicitations blog (the previous one) from one of the actors who appeared in our Monsters mini-pilot. It was on the subject of making direct contact with producers and directors with a view to getting in. (He gave me permission to talk about it.)

There's a production company that have an amazingly commercial idea, well they've had it for at least two years. I had seen their website and their idea myself. Anyway, my correspondent saw their website, recognised that the idea had potential and introduced himself via email as an actor who'd very much like to be in it, if it ever got made.

Cutting a long story short, they stayed in touch, and two years later the film is getting attention and that means money. And it's looking like it's actually happening - at which point he gets an email inviting him to have a featured, but non-speaking, role.


I have another friend who's a writer-director, he's been trying to get a horror movie made for at least the last five years. It's a decent story, a decent script, and he's got real name talent attached (big names). And yet - nothing. Why? Because he wants to direct it himself and the people with the money find that prospect too scary.

It's the way it works. As Simon Beaufoy said at the Screenwriters Festival - it's their money so yes they do have a right to have their conditions met (at least some of them). They are gambling millions.

So what's the solution? There isn't one really, at least, not by being pig-headed or cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

In the first story, this actor (having got over his initial disappointment) realised that this was a very good opportunity and that it could easily lead to better things - a credit in a successful movie is valuable.

In the second, the director has been producing other work - proving that he can direct. And things are beginning to move.

Anyway, back to the bearded bloke and the reindeer - have you heard that one? No? Pity. I don't know how it ends either.

What's on the turntable? "Joanni" by Kate Bush from "Aerial"

Thursday, December 17, 2009


You don't have to like David Bowie, it doesn't bother me, but I do both as a singer and an actor. One of favourite films is Labyrinth, I can watch it again and again.

***Mild Spoilerage***

At one point the characters have to cross a bridge but it's guarded by a knight who will fight anyone who tries to cross it "without my permission!". After being beaten to a standstill by the knight the main character finally just asks for permission. The knight is a bit surprised by this turn of events - apparently nobody ever just asks - gives it.


This is the whole point when it comes to production companies who don't accept "unsolicited" scripts, because everybody really really wants to find good writers and hopefully good scripts.

It's the query letter or email.

I have quite a high success rate getting my scripts read by industry peeps because I get them to solicit my scripts even without representation.

My feeling is that an old-fashioned snail-mail query letter is easy to ignore and forget - what you need is a good brief email. Since I'm more of a TV writer (I'll get the hang of features one day) I tend to target TV companies. I find ones that produce things I like and are the sort of things I write. I check their website for the the right person to contact, find the email address and write a concise (sometimes not so concise) email explaining who I am, my writing credentials (such as they are) and ask them whether they'd be interested in reading my work.

Humility is called for - and a good choice of subject line. I have a subject line that works really well in all circumstances, and I'm not saying what it is (sorry).

I've even used this approach successfully with the BBC.

I personally think the key is to realise that you're selling yourself as a writer rather than attempting to push a particular script. Almost all writing jobs in film and TV will be writing what someone else wants, it's very rare to get a spec made until you've made a name for yourself, sometimes not even then.

If your scripts, or parts of them, are available on the web so much the better - then you can just direct people to the correct URL. It makes it really easy for them and that's important, the fewer barriers between them and your script, the better. It's also useful if you have more than one - just to prove you're not a one-script wonder.

I mention all this because I got an email yesterday from a production company as a response to one of these query emails. And they will be reading my scripts (plural).

Nothing may come of it, but at the very least (for better or worse) they now know my name.

What's on the turntable? "Mobocaster" by Tangerine Dream from "Tang-Go"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writing about writing

Yes indeedy.

I was watching Elf yester-eve. I hadn't seen it before and I'm not a huge Will Ferrell fan - but as I mentioned in this post, I'm not the sort of person that feels the need to turn their emotions up to 11, when anything from 1 to 10 might be more appropriate.

Elf is okay, amusing and doesn't get overly sentimental despite being a family feel-good movie. I wouldn't be averse to seeing it again, but wouldn't go out of my way to see it.

But that's not the point. It's the important similarity between Elf and The Fugitive that I'm talking about here - actually Elf isn't a perfect example but it has elements that reminded me of the point.

Yes, but what is the point? I hear you scream.

The Protagonist and the Hero's Journey.

Everybody knows that the Hero goes on a journey and they change in the process.

Everybody knows.


Actually that isn't always true. (Please note, I am not turning my emotion up to 11 here, I said "it isn't always true" which means there are instances where it isn't true, and instances where it is true.)

Who's the protagonist in the Fugitive? Dr. Kimble, whose wife is killed by the one-armed man, or so he claims. What journey does Dr Kimble go on in The Fugitive? Um ... none. At the beginning he knows he's right and at the end he's exactly the same. The only journey is proving he is right, he doesn't change.

But, his pursuer, Tommy Lee Jones's character, he changes but he isn't the protagonist.

In Elf Buddy is the protagonist, no question, but the journey belongs to his father. He's the one that does the classic Aristotleian Dilemma-Crisis-Decision and Action-Resolution. And it's really obvious. (Buddy does have his own sub-plot which involves some change, but it's a sub-plot.)

What it means is: the Protagonist does not have change, they can be "Steadfast". But someone does have to change.

I'm not going to pretend I thought this up all by myself, however it's taken me a while to absorb this concept thoroughly and find other examples. It comes originally from Dramatica which I read up on for a while - it appealed to my computer programming background (which is why, I suspect, some people think it's too automated - but as usual that's not right, it's just another tool which you can choose to use or not use).

So that's today's take-away, or leave-behind depending on your viewpoint. And if you want to disagree, well, I don't mind, but have a good think about it first.

What's on the turntable? "Something to believe in" by Clannad from "Sirius"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Keeping up appearances

I've not been blogging because this is primarily a screenwriting blog - and I haven't been. I've been rather tied up with a little web-based project that could net me a few extra pounds. And we could all do with a few extra pounds (as long as they're monetary - I have plenty extra of the other sort).

Anyway if you don't read Bill Martell's blog you should and this one is another interesting insight into the curious world of scriptwriting in Hollywood.

Tomorrow I'm heading down with family to That Crazy London, to see relatives and go to a birthday party of an old friend. I'm pretty sure he doesn't read this blog - and he doesn't know we'll be there. I hope I haven't spoiled the surprise.

I'm planning to invest much of the Christmas break to writing - hopefully getting the first draft of Winter complete.

Oh, the Boy hasn't been on TV yet - we have no idea when he'll be on because it hasn't been the last two episodes of Bamzooki and isn't the next one either (apparently).

The Daughter has discovered there's a major (well-loved) fantasy book which is not currently optioned ... she wants to make it. She really wants to make it. With that kind of intention, she just might.

What's on the turntable? "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac from "Rumours" - except this is deluxe edition with lots of extra tracks. And this is a previously unreleased version of the song with slight differences to the released one, though not many.

Monday, December 07, 2009

So shoot me

I know, I haven't blogged in over a week. Very unlike me.

Well, I'm not blogging now, either. But I think this is important (it's about screenwriting).

What's on the turntable? "Into the Lens" by Yes from "Drama"

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"

Saturday, October 31, 2009


So, was I ambivalent about SWF'09?

I can see why one might think I was.

I'm no newbie when it comes to living (old fat bastard might be more accurate) therefore I have opinions, very strong opinions. Sometimes those opinions differ from the expressed opinions of people who supposedly "know" - and I don't care. (Old fat and opinionated.) And sometimes I know I'm right, so I get annoyed because people who don't know the truth are getting conned.

The trouble is that as I spent most of the time tired (mostly because of the hotel bed) my annoyance tended to stick and be expressed out of proportion to the good things.

There is no doubt that SWF is incredibly valuable as a networking opportunity - my last blog should have demonstrated that.

But I think the most valuable factor is being with other writers. We are the creators without which drama would not exist in any form, but what we do is fundamentally lonely. A room full of writers, or even a table full of writers, is a phenomenal thing and a very encouraging thing.

So, from that viewpoint, SWF is actually vital. The fundamental factor required for success isn't talent (unfortunately) it's persistence. And it's easier to keep at it when you've met a bunch of like-minded people.

Any apparent ambivalence stems from personal disagreements with specific people.

I am not ambivalent about SWF.

What's on the turntable? "Mortal Kombat"s on the TV...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fiesta - Day #4

It's too long. Four days is just too long but then if it hadn't been four days perhaps certain things wouldn't have happened...

I made no notes today. None. Nada. Zilch.


Not exactly because no one said anything interesting, more because the first session was about "Classic" Dr Who, the second session was New Who, the third session was the second part of Phil Parker's "Dynamic Universes" and nothing new was said.

The evening was Stephen Moffat talking about being in charge of Dr Who.

Much was said but nothing of major significance. But things happened on a more personal level.

I had my meeting with the "important development person from Kudos". It was a very good meeting, she loved Monsters, the whole world creation thing that I do automatically and really without a lot of thought (things are like "obvious" you know?) well apparently this is a rare skill. I know at least half a dozen other people who do universe creation without batting an eyelid - is it really that rare?

The detail was the thing that impressed her (apparently).

So will I be writing for Spooks, Hustle or MI High? Not in the near future. Why? Because I have written series and not serial. Neither Monsters nor Air demonstrate the ability to write story-of-the-week so she cannot judge whether I can pace something like that correctly. So can I submit a script that does? I asked.


Kudos have a strict "no representation = no sendee scriptee" so even that personal contact with a script that demonstrates an ability to write well is not enough. They're a tough audience.

Curiously she seemed surprised that I had no representation when Monsters was such a brilliant demonstration of writing skill (ahem). I said "catch 22": can't get an agent without a credit ... can't get a credit without an agent. She didn't think that was really true, and we parted on reasonable terms - though it felt a little "awkward".

Later I spoke to Jon Peacey who had seen two (or was it three) agents as part of his speed dating, and every single one of them told him they wouldn't consider anyone unless they had a credit. (Jon had a better time later with producers.)

Hm. I think I believe the horse's mouth.

This next bit takes some explaining: Among the "Classic" Who line-up was Bob Baker who (among other things) invented K9 and, it was mentioned, wrote the incredible kids TV series Sky, back in the 70s. I have mentioned Sky before, it was weird and it was scary and apparently called "Kafka for kids" - but I hadn't known Bob wrote it. And there he was.

During one of the informal "Scriptbites" I had a word with him and told him what an influence it had had on me. And that my script Air was inspired by Sky (the name similarity is not a coincidence).

Anyway the Daughter had agreed to spread my business card among the guest speakers she came into contact with (she's a good girl). It just so happened that Bob was presenting a session about his new "K9 and Friends" series - in the venue the Daughter was responsible for. Not many people were there and it was very informal and chatty - and it turned out that they were looking for British writers for the series. So she got an email address for me to contact them.

When she told me, I grabbed one of the computers in the Internet cafe and popped an email over to them asking if they had guidelines for story idea submissions, and attached the one appropriate script I had been carrying around on a memory stick: Air.

Serendipity is cool.

After Stephen Moffat's presentation we went to the wrap party and chatted, then I returned to the hotel and here I am.

I'm going to bed.

What's on the turntable? "Show Biz Kids" by Steely Dan from "Countdown to Ecstasy"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fiesta - Day #3

Shall I start by saying I'm tired? Seems a bit obvious and repetitive - this time I was woken by someone in the room above me stomping in at 2:00am and I came completely awake - even thought it might be time to get up.

It wasn't.

I tried really really hard not to be the first person in this morning and I think I wasn't. I was still the first person to pay for a coffee ... the nice coffee-serving person knows what I like now. (Fat double-shot mochachino with plain chocolate and no chocolate dusting.)

As the noble Piers has already mentioned we were into TV territory today in a big way with lots of bigwigs from the BBC plus Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes co-creator Ashley Pharoah.

(Ohmigod, the cursor has disappeared, that's rather disconcerting. Ah, sorted it.)

My first stop was the Web Thriller session with the mighty, and self-effacing, James Moran (Severance, Dr Who, Torchwood:Children of Earth) with his director Dan Turner. Together (and with some other quite talented people) they have produced Girl No. 9 which is a 6 x 5min cop thriller. They showed us episode #1 (yes folks, we've seen it twice - they showed it again at the end) and then answered questions from the floor.

They told us that they did not know what the cost of production was - because they refused to listen whenever the Producer wanted to tell them - however they also pointed out that it was an expenses-only production. They also explained how liberating it was to produce something for the web, completely free from the constraints of the established distribution channels. This, interestingly, tied in with Simon Beaufoy's comments yesterday that smaller budgets increased creative freedom.

They do intend to monetize the product but the first showing, and for a period, it will be free - which follows Joss Whedon's Dr Horrible. You can watch it online for a fee or buy the DVD.

They are also using other platforms for distribution - like Twitter where the characters have their own accounts. There is already a fan base and the characters talk to the fans.


I went to the talk with Christine Langan, Creative Director of BBC Films. It was mildly interesting inasmuch as we learnt that if the BBC invests in a film they want some editorial control which reflects the BBC's purpose. And they don't accept unsolicited material from mere writers (well, you can't blame them for that) but will look at stuff submitted from agents or from production companies.

We had lunch and the bloggers indulged in enormous silliness and raucous laughter in the cafe.

I just could not bring myself to listen to Ben Stephenson, Controller of Drama Commissioning at the BBC. Why? I was tired and I'd probably heard it all before.

However I thought I'd try Kate Harwood, Head of Series and Serials at the BBC, on the subject of solving the problems of TV drama under the current climate. Can't say I was enormously impressed with that either. She compared the current situation with TV in the 70s when no money was being spent yet we had fantastic TV like Boys from the Blackstuff and Pennies from Heaven. And pointed out that it was just quality writing, and that's what we need now.

Yeah, I think we can all agree that quality writing is a good thing.

Finally there was Ashley Pharoah and Stephen Volk, in a session chaired by the same Kate Harwood, on the subject of Writin' USA.

Essentially it was about covering the differences, why the US are always trying to grab UK TV formats (although they also plunder Australia and anywhere else they can find stuff). Why those formats don't always work - and what it's like to work in the US compared to the UK, as a writer.

Life on Mars USA was cancelled after 17 episodes. Ashley thought that if they had been willing to listen to some of his suggestions it could have lasted longer. But he was not allowed to make suggestions even though, technically, he was a consultant.

On the other hand, The American Office has gone from strength to strength, but Ricky Gervais is Executive Producer on it.

The question arose: Are the Americans better at writing than the British? The consensus was that, at the top end, they are about the same but at the low end the US are slicker but not necessarily better.

In the US, a series must get to 100 episodes in order to break even (once they get to 100 they can syndicate and the money pours in) until then a series is always produced at a loss. This means that the pressure demands a certain formulaic (or perhaps stylistic) writing in order to keep up the ratings. The scripts are polished but, except in rare cases, unemotional.

Which means that the financial restrictions in the UK, limiting series to around 6 episodes, is actually a bonus to the quality of writing (cf, Simon Beaufoy and James Moran on budgets and creativity). However it means that a powerful 6-part UK drama which has a beginning, a middle, and an end, translates poorly to the US 100+ going-on-forever episode structure. (But comedy always operates under different rules.)

All three panellists agreed that they had heard US writers complaining that the US broadcasters look to the UK first for new ideas.

One of those is Being Human , the powers-that-are in LA cannot stop talking about it, one company got the format, the others are grinding their teeth and wishing they'd offered more. And that is a format that will work for long running series. (Though it'll be like Friends meets Buffy, I imagine.)

On a personal note I finally found out who I'm meeting for the ScriptMarket prize - tomorrow, I get half an hour with an important development person from Kudos. Exactly what I wanted. (Also, Monsters does fit the 100+ episode model, as well as the UK 6-episode model, I'm just so clever. Air doesn't, Tec does, Clones does.)

What's on the turntable? "Bambele" by Santanna

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fiesta - Day #2 - Bonus

I took some piccies today, of the Ladies College rather than people.

What's on the turntable? "Super-boogie/Hong Kong Blues" by Santanna

Fiesta - Day #2

Slept much better but basically still very tired (I need to catch up now).

The morning began much the same which meant I arrived far too early - I honestly tried to arrive later but getting up with the Daughter means I have a long time to kill. I'll try harder tomorrow.

Although I tend to discuss the things I've seen there are, of course, lots of other things going on, there's always at least two things running simultaneously and if you want a real clue, go to the website and look at the programme.

So today we started with Simon Beaufoy. And what an nice intelligent guy he is. He was talking about the screenwriter as diplomat, there hoops you have to jump through to keep the project moving because it's the stalled project that doesn't made.

Useful takeaways included: if you're in a major project and you're going to be getting notes from the suits (and they do have a right to give them - it's their money and they are rarely stupid) then make sure that those notes are prepared in advance into one document and sent a week before the meeting.

As a writer you are entitled to insist on this, and it means several things: (a) they don't hit you with the notes unprepared; (b) you can get upset and calm down in the privacy of your own office; (c) they have to make sure the collected notes make sense and aren't self-contradictory. These are all good things.

He also pointed out that the smaller the budget the more creative control you, as the writer, have. Kind of self-evident, but only when you think about it.

He's also managed to do a couple of low budget movies where the finance, and even casting, was in place before he even started writing the script, which was very liberating.

An interesting point about making Slumdog Millionaire with Warner Brothers was that he, with Celador, were perfectly capable of financing the entire project themselves if they wanted to - but they wanted the US distributor on board. It meant that they could walk away at any time if they didn't like it. But it mostly went well.

Then I went to a seminar with the development head and sales head of Ealing Studios Why the Market is important to Writers. This was a curate's egg (good in parts) mostly they talked to each other which gave you a feel for the interplay between them. They also took questions as they went along. All very nice and unstructured.

But I was forced to be rude. The finish was 11:15, theoretically. At this time they seemed to have no intention of stopping, nor any attention on the clearly visible clock. By 11:20 they still seemd to have no intention of stopping. At 11:24 I decided I would give them one more minute - because I wanted to get to the next item, and I could see other people getting edgy.

As the second hand hit 12 (11:25 exactly) I stood up and walked out - followed by another three people and, soon after, a stampede. I hate being rude but there was no other option. And that is the problem with unstructured events.

I moved to the main hall where Tessa Ross, head of TV and Film development for Channel 4 was to be interviewed. She seems a very nice person and has a tiny budget (only £8m), but works hard to help interesting film projects (including Slumdog Millionaire, of course). She's not interested in making copy-cat films. But even given that they only take "solicited" scripts they still have to get through a pile of 50-60 a week and can only assist 3-4 projects each year.

As for TV they, like all channels, are looking for the successful continuing series (like Shameless) but don't bother sending stuff on spec, it won't get read.

That was me pretty much done for the day, I had very little interest in anything except Son of a Pitch which is run by 4-Talent through the year with the final at the end of the day.

So, I chatted to a guy who wasn't a writer, he runs a nightclub and restaurant in Bristol, but he'd had an idea for a film and had someone write it for him and was looking for guidance. I offered to look at the synopsis he was carrying around.

All the usual newbie problems, although actually the first two paragraphs were great and I think if I were a producer I'd be interested. There was also some script which had been laid out in Word by someone who'd looked at a shooting script. It wasn't rubbish, there was some good stuff but it needed a lot of work.

So I suggested he find a decent script consultant (I suggested a couple) and get some hard graft done on it to knock it into shape. It had some excellent promotional potential - and notice I'm not giving away any of the details because it really was a clever idea.

My good deed done for the day I wiled away the afternoon chatting to people including Tim Clague who was a Son of a Pitch finalist. Then I did some work on my Phil Parker homework, and chatted with Liz about some of the ideas I'd put in, and finally met up with Philip Shelley my script consultant.

He's another nice guy and he's been feeling really bad because he hasn't managed to get me an agent yet. But he said something we can all learn from: "I've got a lot of people I work with who have one good script, only a couple, including you, have two good scripts - and that's important."

Two good scripts means that you can do it again - and agents need to know that. (As do producers if you want them to give you a commission.)

So I went to Son of a Pitch I listened, I laughed, I applauded. To be honest no one was really bad, which is just as well, they had had intensive pitch training the day before. The winner was Office Gothic a comedy zombie movie, Tim Clague came second with his Delete Friend? jointly with Man of Colour.

This evening I took the Daughter to dinner, at Pizza Hut, really splashing out. The staff are very pleasant indeed which is one reason I went back.

And that was that.

What's on the turntable? "Guajira" by Santanna

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fiesta - Day #1

I'm tired. The bed is really bad here and I woke every hour last night, or so it seemed. Though perhaps it was the excitement - or maybe the coffee.

I don't usually drink coffee after 3 in the afternoon (caffeine stays in the body for 10-12 hours, so if you drink it too late, you sleep badly, then the next day you need coffee to stay alert but then... etc) but I only had a mouthful. It wasn't the actual coffee, it was the taste - it was foul. Disgusting.

I hadn't rinsed out the kettle before boiling water and I think either the tap had rancid water, or the kettle did. Maybe it was that.

Anyway, I didn't sleep well. And then woke early.

Had breakfast with the Daughter though she had to rush out to be on site by 7:30. I followed a little later and located the entrance at about 7:45. I hadn't actually meant to be that early but I wasn't entirely sure how long it would take to walk. Not very long, is the answer.

So, not only did I buy ticket #1, I arrived first (I think) got given the first delegate's pass (they spelt my name wrong, they always do that), picked up a pack and got the first coat-check ticket. It's true, I am Numero Uno.

So there I was, 8:00am with people beginning to trickle in and no coffee. (This is not a criticism of the catering company, they'd been on the road since 5:00am.) First rule of conferences, dump all extraneous material - well, I didn't actually dump it, I put it in my backpack. All you really need is a map and a schedule. And a trusty notepad, then the map and schedule can be folded and put into the notepad. Lovely.

What can I say about Cheltenham Ladies College? It's a conglomeration of buildings through the ages, some very old, some disgustingly 70s. And it has a main theatre to die for (the Daughter drooled) and apparently they're having a new theatre built over the road. Gosh.

The main buildings almost completely surround two central quads - a sort of digital figure of eight - but our access is extemely limited and the individual rooms for the various seminars, lectures and events are spread out all over the place. This does detract from the event somewhat, all the events I wanted to see took place in a single room, away from everything else.

Not to say I didn't move around but it was a bit weird.

More ScriptMarket winners turned up and several of them did not know who they were going to be meeting and almost all didn't know when. I felt slightly happier about than previously but it's very awkward - makes planning tricky and how are they going to find us when they do know?

First up was the keynote speech from Chris Jones who delivered a mini-version of his two-day seminar but was essentially a "you are brilliant, do it" speech. Good stuff.

Something he said that is very important, well, I think it is because I absolutely 100% agree: The first thing you have to do is decide that you're going to make your film (short or whatever), because it is after you've decided that things will happen and finance will arrive. If you just "wait for the right time" it will never happen.

Hard on the heels of that was Doug Chamberlin, (successful) US movie writer now living in the UK (the mad fool) and his explanation of how to get into Hollywood who spent his allotted period explaining how the myths about Hollywood are unhelpful and replacing them with his own rules and the explanation that if you imagine Hollywood is just High School where image is everything it all makes sense.

Interestingly he also expressed the opinion that everyone in Hollywood is terrified which also helps to explain things - a concept I first heard last year from Kraitt and Leys, more on that later.

He did say that Hollywood is about who you know, and not your script - talent won't get you in to Hollywood, but it will keep you in. What you need are champions; people who will say "this guy/gal is great" and then everyone will agree with them, and so that's what you are. You work your way up like this getting newer and bigger champions.

He ended with a quote from someone who I forgot to note the name of but it goes like this: The road to Hollywood is littered with dead bodies - and they're all suicides.

In other words, don't quit.

Next up I went to Phil Parker's Dynamic Universes talk. Phil is one of the most powerful script consultants in the world, I jest not, and he's been at it for 20 years. His new project is to start with the writer (and other creatives) who create a universe from which multi-platform products can be derived - but with the original author keeping IP (intellectual property) rights. Unlike the traditional model.

We became guinea pigs for his experimenting and were arranged into groups for creating universes. I ended up with Liz Halliday which came as no surprise since we both write SF and Fantasy. We were temporarily also teamed up with another couple writers but decided to split with them because our imaginings were too disparate.

We now have until Thursday to come up with a coherent universe and some key characters. Excellent, it's what SF/F writers (and role-players which we both are) do for fun.

As a rider on this it occurred to me later that the Monsters universe also fits this new model perfectly as well so I tracked down Phil and his business partner Richard in the evening and we discussed it, they were interested, we exchanged cards and I left them with a Monsters DVD. Lovely.

I had lunch - I like to try to space out the seminars as much as possible - and then went to Rob Kraitt and Kate Leys follow-up to last year's "How to be Good", this time "How to be Better". I had been recommending them to anyone who'd listen and the room didn't even have standing room (not that I think it was all me doing that).

They covered much of the same ground as last year, but they make a great double act so it's worth it. Important things they covered were the "everyone is scared" factor, and it's actually up to you, as the writer, to help them and make them feel comfortable and confident. Otherwise they say stupid things and do stupid things - it's because they're scared of failing.

They also briefly commented on networking which they suggested is not schmoozing people you despise and who are all talk and no trousers - it's finding people you can talk to, people who like the same stuff you like.

I took another break. I could have gone to see Armando Ianucci, but decided not to, I had suddenly flaked out and couldn't face it.

When I got my Scriptmarket script report I knew immediately that the reader had not really read the script. Yes, I know, that's what writers say when they're rubbish and don't want to admit it. But there were giveaways like the description of the length of the work being incorrect (some of his criticisms would have been right if Monsters was 2 hours long - but not if it was 6 hours, which it is).

Plus the fact that Monsters had been through people with far more TV drama experience than this reader. The report was just wrong. (And it seems mine wasn't the only one.)

Then I got an interview with two industry peeps - honestly, the wrong two, I got the film people and not the TV people. It wasn't a good interview really, I disagreed with them, a lot, but then their comments were based on the reader's report (though even they had noted the timing error).

It was these two who gave the "Spec Scriptmarket" talk that I, and a lot of the Scriptmarket entrants, attended. They remembered me. The idea was to go through the typical flaws found in the Scriptmarket entries, and really they were just the same as the flaws found in most scripts: bad pitch documents, characters without purpose, genre confusion, etc.

To be honest things were said in this seminar that made me seethe with anger. It's just as well that Liz wasn't there because she's more volatile than I am - I was recording it for her and I'm sure I heard an explosion a few minutes ago.

I detest people who express their personal opinions and bias as if they are incontrovertible facts. It's a display of ignorance and arrogance. (As you can tell, I'm getting worked up just thinking about it.)

I commented on this to one of the other attendees on the way out, he said: "They all do it." He was commenting on one of his screenwriting lecturers. Well, that certainly doesn't make it right.

Anyway one good ting had come out of that interview I had back in July at the BBC with the Scriptmarket people - I decided to do something about Monsters, and then our Director Chris contacted me. (Which is a perfect example of what Chris Jones was talking about: the decision comes first.)

After that I hung around a bit, met Phil Parker, wandered in the direction of the hotel, stopped of at Pizza Hut and had a nice meal.

Got back to the Hotel about 8 and I've been doing email and writing this blog ever since - apart from an hour watching Flashforward - my word, they are really burning plot. Brilliant.

What's on the turntable? "Touch to Remember" by Jean-Michel Jarre from "Téo & Téa"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pre-Fiesta Bash and other bananas

It's 10pm and I have returned from the official pre-SWF get together. Partly because I am very tired (my body thinks it's 11pm and I've had a long day), partly to write this blog and partly because the website was demonstrating the same symptoms as yesterday despite being completely rewritten.

Which is odd. Apparently the block of servers that host my site are unwell, which means it might not actually be my fault. So I shall reveal the website, because it is functional (having said that the hosting company are taking them offline sometime in the next 24 hours to see if they can fix them).

Monstrous Productions

However you still can't watch the Monsters segment because it's not there yet. Soon I hope.

Addendum: Sooner than I expected - the video is there, not currently DV but it will be.

What can I say? I went to the bash (with the Daughter) at The Queen's Hotel and it was very jolly and quite official, we had our own room set aside, and a SWF'09 sign outside.

The Queen's Hotel is quite large but we managed to not find it at first and circumnavigated the centre of Cheltenham a couple of times before locating it.

I met people who I met at last years event, and people I met at the ScriptMarket event back in July (Liz, Lee, Darren, Robin, to name a few - and the Piers and the Jason, of course). Slightly worryingly most of the ScriptMarket peeps knew who they were talking to as their "prize" but both myself and Maria had not heard. I'm glad it wasn't just me.

Of course I took some pictures, but they were really rubbish because I had the camera set to macro. Oh well. Mostly it was lots of people drinking.

Tomorrow things will be more exciting.

What's on the turntable? "Souvenir of China" by Jean-Michel Jarre from the same


I discovered two things this morning:

(a) My train was leaving and hour and a half later than I thought it was, and
(b) The two tickets for self and the Daughter on Friday are the wrong direction, Manchester to Cheltenham instead of the other way around.

But I had already packed and it seemed weird to break out the computer again, so I watched TV instead - X-Files, and a sweet little episode I'd never seen before.

On the train I re-built the website I had so carelessly destroyed yesterday - I'm going to have a go at uploading it this evening. I rebuilt it in such a way that this time there should be no problem.

I should be meeting the Daughter presently and then we'll be off to the semi-official pre-event scribomeet.

What's on the turntable? "Geometry of Love - Part 1" by Jean-Michel Jarre from "Geometry of Love"


So, a couple of hours before I start travelling down to Cheltenham for the Fest (the Daughter has been there for the last couple of days as she's a runner).

I have burned a bunch of Monsters DVDs and printed out DVD labels and stuck them on. I have business cards. I have a copy of the Monsters scenes on a memory stick so people with a computer can watch directly.

I spent all yesterday on the website and then tried to get it up on to the server.

At which point everything went terribly wrong. It wouldn't work and then, in an effort to fix it, I managed to mess up my local version. Ten hours work wasted. Well, not entirely wasted, just mostly wasted. I shall have to rebuild it, better than it was before. I have the train journey for that and the hotel has WiFi so uploading shouldn't be an issue.

Now I have to pack which I appear to have forgotten how to do after all those weeks of weekly commutes. Strange.

See you the other side of the journey.

What's on the turntable? "Evacuee" by Enya from "Shepherd's Moon"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Final cut (not the software)

My preparations for the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival hit a climax this evening.

The new business cards arrived, they look really good, and match the website perfectly (no, that's not a coincidence). And that was nice.

But then I began to download the two parts of the DVD image of the final cut of the Monsters scenes. This took some time, partly because the two parts are both rather large, but mostly because the free file service ( has download restrictions.

Now I don't blame them, they are in it to make money and kept pointing out that if I paid them money I'd be able to download right now, very fast. However I wasn't going to and as a result had to wait an hour before I could download the second part.

Various other things had to happen including moving to the Teacher's computer which has the Burn DVD capability and fetching some other specialised software. This all went smoothly.

So I burned the DVD.

Then I watched the DVD.

You know, it's not perfect ... but I thought it was bloody brilliant.

And that, I can tell you, was a huge relief. I knew it wasn't totally awful, the previous cut had been "OK". But I hadn't been overly excited about handing out copies or pointing people at it on the website. It would have been just "OK".

But the final work the team did, down in Coventry, pulled all the loose ends together, sorted all the little things that needed sorting and they came back with something that's really good.

Now I have no qualms whatsoever about handing out copies or having it playable from the website.

I am thrilled. Honestly I wanted to watch the rest of the story, I wanted to know what was going to happen. (Okay, I know what's going to happen but that's not the same as seeing it.)

I showed it to the Teacher, yes, I know she was never going to say anything bad, but she did say "Is that all? I was just settling in." Which I think is a good sign.

The Daughter tried not to watch the bits with her in - which is most of it. But even she admitted it was okay, at least the bits without her in. (She's one of those who doesn't like to watch themselves.)

It took 10 weeks and less than £500.

Not bad.

What's on the turntable? "Airborne, Part I" by Mike Oldfield from "Platinum"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Good idea, Piers

The great Piers Beckley has referenced his 2008 posts about last year's Screenwriters Festival. I posted quite a lot too, so click to fetch it all to your screen.

Things are moving along, we have a final cut of Monsters so it will be available at Cheltenham - which is a bit scary, since I have to put the production where my pen is.

Or something.

Website is coming along, should wrap that up tomorrow.

Haven't seen hide nor hair of the business cards, I hope I don't have to use my old ones.

For those going along to the pre-event get together at the Queen's Hotel, I will be there, but I think so will about ten million screenwriters. We may have to just wave across the room.

Excited? Oh yes.

What's on the turntable? "Down South Camp Meetin'" by The Manhattan Transfer

Sunday, October 18, 2009


So..... I saw Up today. It is an exceptionally good movie.

But I have to say that this is not a kids' movie. Really.

This is not to say that child from, say, 8 up isn't going to enjoy it, they will. But this is not a kids' movie. There were a lot of children in the auditorium who were under 8 (of course! It's Pixar, it's about an old man, a kid and balloons).

I'm not going to say a lot about it, so much has been said by others, I will say that if you haven't seen it then I recommend taking tissues, you'll need them in the first 10 minutes, and maybe a couple of times after that. I did.

The imagery of this movie is so powerful that I can't even think about those first 10 minutes without welling up again.

This is a film about character, every one of them is beautifully drawn, and every one of them, even the animals, have their needs and goals. It's also a perfect example of how to build conflict into every scene naturally (even into the stair-lift scene). It has excellent set-ups and pay-offs throughout.

And, the Teacher and I agree, this is a devastatingly sad movie.

If it hadn't been Pixar this would never have been made.

Absolutely not for kids.

See it.

What's on the turntable? "Chanson d'amour" by The Manhattan Transfer

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pit stop

Pressure of work has meant I haven't blogged for days. Sorry about that.

The second cut of the Monsters scenes was hugely better and we have a little way to go on that, the music is being composed as we speak (yes indeedy, original score too). I have designed and ordered new business cards.

Oh, I finished the treatment of Clones last night and popped that off to the collaborator. After all the prevaricating it took a mere 45 minutes to wind up - I was really cooking by the end, I love writing action sequences.

I've been working on the new website, I need to get something in place by next week.

And because of the screenwriters festival I have had to compress three weeks of the day job into two weeks, I'll be in Cheltenham when they do the next launch. Eeek.

And finally I got sort-of good news from my accountant - my business did so well in 2008 I have a huge amount of corporation tax to pay ... damn.

What's on the turntable? "Tour de France, Etape 1" by Kraftwerk from "Minimum-Maximum"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rough cut

I have now seen the rough cut of the chunk of Monsters that we shot.


The producer expressed pleasure that even this initial rough cut was better than what she's used to seeing. And it seems that we were all pretty much agreed on what needed to be done - in my case I knew something needed to be done but didn't quite know what it was. I'm new to this part of the game.

We have two weeks left and are planning to get it finished in one. I say "we" but there's not a huge amount I can do now. We've decided to have a little explanatory text at the start because coming into these scenes ignorant of the story could be confusing.

One lesson I have learned: If you're writing a piece of dialogue where Speaker A gets interrupted by Speaker B, then write a good chunk (if not all) of Speaker A's interrupted speech. Otherwise you get the situation where Speaker A trails off waiting for the interruption, instead of actually getting interrupted mid-flow. With the whole speech in place Speaker B can just interrupt as needed, and really do it.

Once again there was discussion about cutting lines - they were kind enough to ask if it was alright with me? Depends on the line, of course, but generally I am not bothered. As long as the heart of the scene stays in place (and it works as a whole) it doesn't matter.

There are, of course, things that we don't have enough coverage for, but as far as I can tell that's par for the course.

So it's onwards and upwards. Two weeks to Cheltenham. Eeek.

What's on the turntable? "Do It Again" by Steely Dan from "Can't Buy a Thrill"

Thursday, October 08, 2009

National Poetry Day


I've been quiet all week, you may have noticed, work pressure is one thing because the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival clashes with the next release of the website and I have to get stuff done a week earlier.


Yes I do that sometimes. How about my shortest poem in the world?





I think I've posted that before - but it's quick. How about this one...

Sticky Sweet

When her hand brushed mine, time

Caught its breath and the memory of it stuck

Like bubblegum, sweet and sticky and overpowering.

Forbidden thoughts welled up, ideas

That could not live in the day flooded in

And I drowned in their sweet, sticky ecstasy.

It is not love, cannot be love, how

Can I love you, the object of man's desire

And I am just a sweet, sticky friend of a friend.

But the thought of it, the taste of it, the

Fire, the heat and the burning desire–from a touch

Of your hand, that gentle brush that flames in my mind.

Next time, next time I will stretch out, my hand

Will touch yours and the heat that is mine will toast

Your desire and your sweet and sticky world will be mine.

Best read out loud paying particular attention to punctuation and line endings - I write them to be spoken because I hear them as I put them down.

Anybody else got some kicking around that need airing?

What's on the turntable? "The Speak-Up Mambo" by The Manhattan Transfer from "Anthology"

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Searchamafaction #5

I'm at a ceilidh, I wonder if I'm enjoying it! I wrote this yesterday and did the clever "deferred posting" thing.

It's been 3 months since I last did this, I get relatively few visits to the site from searches nowadays, it's all direct or from redirects off other blogger sites - which is nice. So I left it this long to get some differentiation...

So, from the most popular search terms:
  1. BBC's Merlin - I wrote a lot about this originally, but haven't bothered to watch it since it offends the Teacher.
  2. "I am a mime..." - the classic sketch by Rowan Atkinson from "Not the Nine O'Clock News". It is not on YouTube.
  3. "Go Go Google Gadget - Progress Bar" my sooper-dooper progress bar which suddenly stopped working, people would really like one that works.
  4. My daughter's first name is similar to the name of one of the kids in that reality show "Young, Dumb and Living off Mum". So I get hits for that. The fundamental problem with that show was that the problem was that the parents needed fixing, not the kids (if the parents had been fixed the kids would have changed).
  5. The CBBC writing competition which I entered and got into the second round. I didn't get any further (assuming the writing was good enough) because my characters were too old - like the most successful drama on CBBC currently (Sarah Jane Adventures) which breaks all the CBBC rules about what's acceptable. Bitter? Me?
  6. Inktip.
  7. Celtx.
  8. "How to be a loser" - is this a personal comment?
  9. "Dry white wine" - um -
  10. James Moran

What's on the turntable? "Going Under" by Evanescance from "Fallen"