Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year I Became Angelic

Traditions are for fulfilling so here's my look back at 2011.

In many ways it's not been a great year. Nor has it been a bad year.

There have been bad things though not on the screenwriting front. I've had two bad contracts this year - one of which cost me money. I could take time going to court over it but frankly it's not worth the effort. I went down that round years ago when I ran a design agency and we were ripped off by someone who said to our faces "If I can get out of paying you, I will".

Here's a tip: If you choose to take legal action against someone to get money you're owed: Get the biggest legal firm you can - even if it means that you'll lose most of your money in fees. Why? Because you'll win, and that's more important than the money.

But here's another tip: Think long and hard about taking legal action. It's very stressful, very expensive and seldom really worth it.

Mmm. Cheerful. Let's move on.


Early in the year I met with an agent. They liked what I could do but it just wasn't quite ... enough. Later in the year I made the Talent Connector through Industrial Scripts and had two bites from other agencies. They read my stuff but it wasn't quite ... enough.

As mentioned in a previous blog I am competent. But nothing I currently have has sufficient spark.

Not writing

I spent a lot of time not writing this year. Partly because of the contracts I was working on and partly because of the travel time to and from work. And partly because of a web site I've been working on for a while now, though it's finally coming together. Part of my plan is to make myself less reliant on the day job but since I have a family, mortgage and credit cards to support I can't dedicate myself 100% to the writing, which would be what I'd like to do.


But I did go to the BBC's writing festival in Leeds which was very good indeed. And where I made a contact with a major US TV writer and producer (a legend in the TV SF world) currently working on something for the BBC. I have his email address and he's reading my stuff :-)

I almost didn't go to the London Screenwriters Festival. But I did and what happened? I got onto the advanced mentoring session with Gub Neal. Awesome.

But curiously that leads into something else which will be in my "Next Year" post coming up tomorrow.

The LSF also taught me something very very important: Rehearse pitches. I pitched at Gub Neal's session, the speed-pitching and, on the spur of the moment, the Pitch Factor. For Gub I had rehearsed the pitch and narrowed it down to a set of reminder cards that just kept me on track, though I barely used them. The speed-pitching was hastily written and only slightly rehearsed, while the Pitch Factor wasn't planned at all.

Result: From Gub "Good pitch" and from the others no kind words at all, and some critical ones. This also becomes relevant for the future (in the obvious way but also a less than obvious way).


I always do ScriptFrenzy and write a feature script in April. And this year was no different. Except I wrote a Steampunk story in the same universe as the Winter project.

ScriptFrenzy has been going five years which means I have five feature scripts I wouldn't otherwise have. Of course they need work but they're out in the real world.


This web project has been in development for three years now - you can read the potted history of that developing on the Voidships blog and if you're a Google+ person you can circle the Voidships page (and please don't believe the anti-hype about G+ being quieter than the grave - that is truly bollocks).

Two months ago the pressure I'd been building up internally to rewrite Winter suddenly kicked in and the story poured out. I zoomed it off to various readers and a month later I had all the feedback - which wasn't too bad and the areas that need work were agreed on by all readers which is a clear sign of what's needed.

Angels One Five

When we make the Winter project happen a lot of it is going to be crowd-funded. I could take the attitude that, well, we'll find the people and they'll pay. But that's not fair, really, is it? How can I justify asking people to pay money towards my projects if I take no notice of anyone else's? There are other filmmakers (and other creatives) who are trying to get their projects made.

What goes around comes around. As ye sow so shall ye reap. Treat others the way you'd like them to treat you. Stuff like that.

So I started funding projects - short films and book. Those on a personal basis.

Then, as my business, I became an investor in Piers Beckley's Red Table stage productions.

Let me say this: If you're in it for the money, or the rewards, forget it. That's not what it's about. What it's about is supporting creative people because they are the ones who make the real difference in the world. (Not that I want to give the impression that Piers' Red Table does not give ROI, but that's not the reason why.)

Summing up

It wasn't a bad year, much of it felt like treading water. There were a few good things and a few bad things, but the coming year is shaping up to be totally awesome and I will speak on that anon.

What's on the turntable? "Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Crimble post

This is not a look to the past or really much into the future, that'll come later in the week. This is just this week.

I got back from London on Friday afternoon, picked up by The Teacher from the station and home. She's managed to get most of Christmas organised with the help of the Daughter and The Boy - who are both tremendously helpful and neither had the terrible teens the way that they are supposed to.

The Boy has no gigs over Christmas, which is nice, and the Daughter's friends are all local so apart from providing a taxi service it's almost as if she never leaves the house.

Christmas Eve brought a trip to a local village where we each had £10 to buy stocking fillers for one other member of the family. It worked very well. A good new tradition we shall continue if we can, though it's possible the Daughter will be in the USA next Christmas. Which would be sad.

The kids were taught the proper meaning of Christmas in the evening by being required to watch the Morecambe and Wise Christmas compilation - including the full Andre Previn incident. ("You're playing all the wrong notes" "I am playing all the right notes! But not necessarily in the right order.") Both found them to be extremely funny. They've been brought up proper.

Christmas Day. Presents. The entire Buffy for the kids, the entire Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes for The Teacher and I. We don't buy chocolate because the Teacher is bought tons of it by her pupils. I got the Lis Sladen autobiography and started welling up just looking at the cover. How I'm going to be able to actually read it I have no idea. The death of someone I didn't know has never affected me so strongly before.

Boxing Day is movie day. We shut the doors and windows, close the curtains turn off the lights and watch wall to wall films, belonging to a series. For three years we did only the Lord of the Rings, 12 hours solid. In recent years we have branched out - all the Die Hards for example; this year we're doing Harry Potter - well, no, not all of it that would take two days. We're doing episode 1 and then 6, 7 and 8.

Wednesday is role-playing day - we're doing Victoriana with a select group of friends (the kids love role-playing games, as I said, they've been brung up proper). Thursday nothing specific but probably a big walk if it's not raining. Friday we head off for family visits down south - my sister even invited the dog so she'll get everything she deserves.

That'll do. I'm being called downstairs for a game of Cleopatra.

I hope your yuletide exceeds your expectations. And, regardless of all else, remember the wisdom of Bill and Ted: "Be excellent to each other!"

(And party on, dudes!)

What's on the turntable? I can hear Mama Mia on the DVD downstairs...

Monday, December 19, 2011


I just want to say at this point that if I get told I'm a "competent" scriptwriter just one more time I think I may skweem and skweem and skweem until I make myself sick.

Seriously, I think it's four times this year that someone who knows what they're talking about (different someone's in each case) has described my writing as "competent".

Unfortunately competent doesn't win you any competitions. Or get you commissioned.

You will now be returned to your normal scheduling.

What's on the turntable? "Too Fast for Love" by Motley Crue from "Greatest"

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Over on the Voidships channel

There's a new entry on my Voidships blog about how I came to write Winter so it's a blog that probably also belongs here 'cos it's about writing.

I have an entry for the Red Planet prize which I'm just sprucing up - how's yours?

What's on the turntable? Something by Tangerine Dream

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Mystery of Suspense with a side-order of Sex

Writing 101.

The concept called Dramatic Irony sounds complicated. It isn't.

It's when the audience knows something one or more of the important characters in a story doesn't know. As in Hitchcock's bomb under the table[1], if the audience doesn't know it's there and it explodes, that's a surprise. If the audience does know it's there and it doesn't explode... the fact the audience knows is dramatic irony, the effect it causes is suspense. Though it only causes suspense if it's got consequences, the bigger the consequences the better the suspense.

Bombs generally have consequences.

Suspense is a very good thing, it keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. It enforces their participation and without audience participation a story is worthless.

Mystery is the opposite of suspense, being just something the audience - and one or more important characters also doesn't know. Hopefully the audience wants to know, but they don't and the story hinges on it, then it fails.

I'm getting interested in this stuff because I've nearly finished Winter and I'm heading into the "let's analyse the story scene by scene using screenwriting tools and see how we can make it better" stage.

In Winter I'm reasonably happy with the suspense factor - even though it's based on a mystery. The audience knows that the protagonist has a major secret, it's a mystery although it's almost certainly something bad (good things are seldom any use). The audience also knows that this secret is going to make something bad happen to one of the other characters. Eventually.

And I wrote my first sex scene which was an interesting experience. It only occupies half a page (this is a script after all) but it does the job it needs to do.

But what's even more interesting was how to get the two characters from strangers to making love in 30 pages. For that I did some research and found the 12 Steps to Intimacy[2] which, like all things, are guidelines rather than rules.

Have you written your first sex scene yet? How was it for you?


What's on the turntable? "Spare Some Love" by Renaissance from "Prologue"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

When I say "Oh dear"...

I realise my empty last posting needs some explanation. I mean I could delete it but where would the fun be in that?

Fun? Not feeling very fun-ny today I must admit. This is not because anything bad is happening in my life, it isn't. Just had a bad night a combination of the weather suddenly turning hot and humid (just for a couple of hours), people just down the way having friends round and making just enough noise to prevent sleep, cats deciding to take objection to other cats, and our dog taking exception to the cats taking exception to each other.

Very sad. So I'm tired, hence the unfunny feeling.

The "Oh dear" was because I was going to make a comment about how I had completely failed to make any further posting about the London Screenwriters Festival. But the inter-tubes in the place I'm staying decided to behave badly and that was as far as I got. Except I managed to post it.

Not very exciting at all.

London Screenwriters Festival

I went to others of the sessions of course, nothing truly major stuck in my mind. Ellin Stein's session on editing down scripts was interesting enough; and the one on a new way of analysing scripts was passingly interesting, though the speaker was primarily selling his products - and his clientele is directors rather than writers.

I can sum up what he said: The key moments of a script are when a character perceives something different in their environment.

I think, on the whole, it's a valid tool for directors, is it a valid tool for writers? No idea. I'll have to try it out.

I had a go at the Pitch Factor on Saturday evening. It was fun and I was rubbish - but considering I wrote the pitch on the back a cigarette packet half a  minute before speaking that comes as no surprise. (I'm lying professionally here. It was a note pad, and I wrote it half an hour before.)

I also had a Speed Pitch session booked, which was also a bit poo. But I was similarly unprepared. No surprise there then.

I went to the Writing Fantastical TV session which had a good panel and the overwhelming advice was - smuggle it in. Of course, as I read elsewhere, it's ludicrous if TV commissioners say "oh that last SF TV series really bombed we won't do any more of those". After all, do they, when a cop show bombs, say "We won't do any more cop shows?" No, they don't.

There was also the Writing for Comics, another good panel and something I knew nothing about, so I was suitably enlightened. Interesting.

And, of course, I met new people and generally had a good time. So I'll no doubt do it again.

Family Drama

So, the Boy has been doing exams (his school push them through early GCSEs) so it's been a bit a stressful time for him. But he has come out the other side safely.

For the drama exam (part of English Language) they had to write their own 5min script based on Saving Private Ryan. Scripts is something we know something about so he got the job in his groups. (Actually it makes no sense, this is a drama exam so he gets nothing for the writing - surely they should just give them a script?)

Anyway, without going into detail, there was much to-ing and fro-ing with this script. He wasn't sure what to do, so we discussed conflict in scenes. His first version barely made 90 seconds. Then he got something sorted that was long enough. Then he found that his part was too short so had to add a completely new sequence into the scene, but we discussed what could be done and came up with something he liked and he wrote it.

I'm currently working away from home during the week so the Teacher (okay, that's potentially confusing - when I say "the Teacher" I mean my wife, not his schoolteacher) helped him clean up the spelling and grammar. And then she wanted to put some additional instructions into the action lines and the Boy says "No, mum, you can't do that, that's director stuff."

There humour. (For the sake of completeness, yes, I know, in stage work the writer is god, so "director stuff" would be fine - but that wouldn't be funny.)

Anyway it all went off well and he got the equivalent of an A grade for the drama part - I'd have given him the same for the writing, but I'm a bit biased.

Winter Blog

I am also instigating yet another blog - just a sucker for punishment - this one is specifically about writing the web series Winter which is going very nicely and I have some observations to make (well, I think they're interesting - others may differ.)

What's on the turntable? "The Third Hoorah" by Jethro Tull from "Warchild"

Friday, October 28, 2011

London Screenwriters' Festival Day #1

In previous years I've made lots of notes and done a blow-by-blow account of this and similar events. I'm afraid that's not going to happen any more - at least not in detail. There are a couple of reasons for this: they are filming almost all the sessions so if you have access to the site you can see most sessions - even ones that conflict; and because once upon a time I was completely ignorant of screenwriting, but now I know a bit so I don't feel the need to make copious notes.

Also, as it happens, I missed most of the first day. I was there but the whole afternoon was taken up with the Advanced Mentoring session with major international TV producer Gub Neal (he has also produced three films but, as he said, that world is just weird).

On the previous night I had been afflicted by a proto-migraine, I don't get migraines (the lie down in a dark room and feel like you're dying kind) any more but if I've not slept properly for a few days I get the beginnings of a migraine, a headache which can get very painful unless I'm careful (chocolate helps).

Anyway I went to the London Screenwriters' Festival pre-launch thingy to get my event registration complete and to deliver some pitches I'd printed out for someone else. I didn't stay. Got back to the flat, watched the final episode of The Fades (quite good); practised my pitch again despite the headache; and then got an early night.

I knew I'd feel better in the morning and I did.

So then came the rushing around ensuring I had everything I needed for the Advanced Mentoring. I did not forget anything, and I remembered set up my computer with a new backdrop - the CGI shot from the Monsters trailer we'd done, created by the Director Chris. As I say that's a CGI shot, we weren't allowed on top of a skyscraper at night, it was actually shot in the cellar of my house.

I wanted it as the backdrop so I could have my computer open and displaying it as I did my pitch. I also download the trailer. I was in two minds about showing the trailer but decided to show it at the end of the pitch. I had all the leave-behinds printed - hey, I was taking this seriously and Gub is one of the biggest TV producers around.

So what was it we were doing? We'd been told it was a kind of Dragon's Den thing, each of us would pitch in turn to the rest of the group who pretended to be producers. Each was allocated five Monopoly money notes (5 x 100 units) which they could decide to invest in the pitched project. If the project got 1000 units of backing it could move ahead.

It's a nice game and worth copying because it's just like the real world - only a certain amount of money to go round and if you commit all your money then even if a better project comes along ,,, it's too late. Very instructional.

I listened to the first two pitches and terror began to set in, it wasn't that those pitches were especially good or not, it was that they weren't anything like what I'd prepared. And I knew some of the people around the table had been to the pitching training the day before, just not which ones. One of those pitches made it to the 1000, so went through. Worse and worse.

What to do? Could I change my pitch on-the-fly into something resembling what these other two had said? I was sweating, what to do? In the end I did the only thing I could do. I decided that, well, this was just a training session and I was here to learn, so I did it the way I prepared it.

I got up, set up my machine with the picture and did the pitch, fluffed it in a couple of places but not seriously. Then played the trailer. Gub's note on the pitch? "Very good pitch, don't use the trailer." Never had my flabber been so ghasted. And then? Everybody round the table just said it was great, that they really got the characters, crazy Dom threw in all his money, and I got the 1000 easily.

Why did Gub say don't use the trailer? In fact he'd said it for the same reason I was in two minds about using it: Because another producer, the inestimable Philip Shelley, had told me once not to direct any potential producers or financiers to the trailer. Not because it's bad, but because when someone reads the script (or gets pitched to) they have created an image in their imagination, if you show them the trailer that replaces what they've imagined and becomes the level of what they expect - I'm paraphrasing but that's essentially it.

Well, now I've been told twice, I won't do it again.

And so it went, another three pitches and one more person through to the final round.

The next round I had not prepared for, at least not directly, but I have to attribute my success to my friend Liz, for whom I had to print out the one page pitches mentioned earlier. I took one look at her pitches and went OMG my written pitches are nothing like this - and she's done an MA in screenwriting. (Are you sensing a pattern here?)

But it had meant that I had created a super-trimmed-down version one page pitch.

Gub announced that now he would pretend to be a TV commissioner for a broadcast company and we had to do a short pitch and then get grilled by him as to why he should help fund this project with a view to putting it into production.

I grabbed my super-new one-pager and used the first few lines with a few amendments, off the top of my head. He asked searching questions - I had answers, so thank you to all those people on the Intertubes who saw my request for difficult questions, they ensured I had an answer for everything.

Ultimately all three of us were sufficiently convincing - bearing in mind that this was make believe I got commissioned for further development for Sky 1, someone else got Channel 4 (for a very "difficult" piece), and the other was ... ITV?

Mind you, as Gub said afterwards, that was the easy version. But it's a game I'd like to play with the big boys :-)

We'd certainly been put through the mill and it was awesomely educational. I learned something: I actually love pitching.

(I did see a couple of sessions today and I would write about them but it's late and I need my sleepy-byes.)

What's on the turntable? "Life Burns" by Apocalyptica from "Apocalyptica" - you can't go wrong with heavy metal cellos.

Monday, October 24, 2011

London Screenwriters' Festival 2011 - prelude

So much to say, so little time.

I am going to LSF'11, this week. I got onto the speed pitching on Sunday, and miracle of miracles I also got the Advanced Mentoring session (which is going to start with Dragon's Den-style pitching and cross-examination from the floor) with Gub Neal on Friday. This is all good.

I know pitching is a very scary thing, and people will tell you it's all down to preparation. I don;t think that's right really, of course it helps to be prepared - and I'm not going in unprepared. But there is something vastly more important: emotion.

You could be apathetic, imagine what response that would get. You could be tearful. You could plead. You could be plain scared. You could be snide and superior. You could be angry. Antagonistic. You could be anxious. Bored.

Any of those and it would be an utter disaster. You could be a bit interested, a lot interested, cheerful - those would be better.  But there's only emotion that really works: Enthusiasm and it has to be genuine.

If you can't be genuinely enthusiastic about your own work, you're on to a loser. I'd probably argue that you could get away with a minimum of preparation, as long as you're enthusiastic. Your idea still has to have merit, of course.

This year I'm not relocating to a nearby hotel, because my latest contract has me in a room in Kensington, London. So no additional costs incurred - nice. But I won't be heading home at the weekend to see the family which is not so nice.

Last weekend I was intending to get all the pitches and one pagers done. I didn't. So this evening I rushed out after work and bought a nice little Epson printer that takes the same inks as the one I have at home. Excellent.

So what have I been writing? Well the planning on Winter web-series has been going very nicely but I've had to hold fire on that for the LSF'11. I did a tidy up on my feature Rebel set in the same steampunk universe as Winter in fact it happens at almost the same time. I'll be pitching Rebel in the speed-pitching.

For the Advanced Mentoring I'm pitching Monsters (SF action thriller TV series) still my favourite after all this time.

There's also the deadline (the day after the LSF'11) for the Channel 4 screenwriting course which I completely failed to get into last year. For that I'm sending my broadcaster-friendly detective series Mara though I'll give that a brush-up first as well.

And that's it.

I don't know if I'll be supplying a day-to-day rundown on the LSF'11 this year, I'm going to be a lot busier than usual. We'll see how it goes.

What's on the turntable? "Always somewhere else" by Steve Hackett from "Highly Strung"

Friday, October 07, 2011

What are your characters doing?

It's been a while since I wrote a blog exclusively on writing, the craft of. And that's what this is.

I've been reading "The Tools of Screenwriting" and finding it a very useful book indeed. I'm not one for formulas (except Aristotle) but I'm always keen on tools for the screenwriting toolbox - they don't necessarily make things easier but help you to incorporate those things that make your writing better.

This isn't a review and I'm not going into depth (you can buy the book) but this afternoon, as I travelled home on the train, I've been working on something that came from just a single sentence in the book:
"Determine the actions that reveal character and move the story forward first."
I'd been working on character background for the web series Winter and applying various other tools (such as Bill Martell's "just come up with scenes, lots of scenes, more than you need") but when I came across this gem I put all those aside.

There are three main characters in Winter and I knew the overall arc of the story (I had roughly plotted the acts and there is an earlier draft), so I sat down with the Protagonist and went "What does she do first?" and wrote it down, then I went through the whole story listing her actions that drive the story forward and reveal character.

The thing I observed was that nailing it down to the specific actions could not help but reveal character - a character is what they do - and character is story. It was a revealing experience to go through and nailed the story so much better than I ever had before.

Then I did the same for the other two characters. After all they are the protagonists in their own stories.

All in all it was a very productive couple of hours - I highly recommend it.

What's on the turntable? "Will you love me tomorrow?" by Carole King from "Tapestry"

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Well I never

Hard on the heels of my last post about the nice producer, I got an email from an agency who asked to read a sample script - and then I got an email from someone in the BBC also wanting to read a script.

So that's three in a week. Gosh.

Screenwritery fun

I'm a bit late to the party on this one but just in case you missed it Two Philips are sunning a weekend of screenwriterly goodness - unfortunately, because I'm late, the early bird discount does not apply. Sorry:

Early Bird Discount - Last Few Days – A reminder

“The Authoritative Guide to Writing – And Selling! – a Great Screenplay"

Sat-Sun 24th and 25th September, 10am - 5.30pm Central London

You just have 1 day left to book your place at the Early Bird discount rate. Full price
will apply after SEPT 9th .

The seminar comprises two intensive, interactive days, designed to focus your
creativity, your screenwriting skills and improve your networking.

It's run by two very experienced practitioners: Producer/Script Editor Philip Shelley
(Waking The Dead, BBC; Inspector Morse, ITV), who also runs the Channel 4
Writers Course and the website, and Screenwriter Philip
Gladwin (Trial & Retribution, The Bill (both ITV ), who also owns and runs the
Screenwriting Goldmine website.

If you’re a screenwriter who is looking for new inspiration after the summer
slowdown, and if you want to learn some very specific and highly effective
techniques for writing – and selling – a great screenplay, then this two day workshop
is for you.

If you are interested in finding out more, and seeing some of the excellent
feedback we got from our inaugural course in July – and booking before the
Early Bird discount runs out this Friday – please follow this link for more information:

I know from personal experience that  Philip Shelley knows his stuff.

What's on the turntable? "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac from "Rumours"

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When things are good

Just received confirmation from a producer that he does indeed like a feature script of mine. And likes it to the point that he is interested in moving forward with it. Which is nice.

Of course it's the nature of the business that the magnitude of said "movement" will be zero for months - and possibly forever. That's not being critical, I'm very happy about it, but you can't eat hope or promises (and he didn't promise anything).

It just is what it is: a producer is interested enough to want to move forward but he's busy on his current project.


It's another step forward, and if he likes one script, others may well like other scripts of mine.

Onwards and upwards.

What's on the turntable? "Inside" by Jethro Tull from "Benefit"

Friday, August 26, 2011

What's happening, you know, like socially?

It's been nearly a month since I last blogged, which is a rather long time for me, and writing did not form much of the reason why I've been quiet.

I've just been very very busy. And still am. But I thought I'd write a summary of what's happening in my universe. Just so you know I'm still alive. But where to start...

In the past few weeks I've started to use Twitter (@adaddinsane) I spent several weeks just researching it, reading everything I could about it - before I even created my account. I thought this would be wise, no point blundering in and making more of a fool of myself than I already do.

So that went off fairly smoothly, I don't tweet much and as suggested by the things I've read I certainly don't mention what I'm eating or bodily functions.

It's an interesting medium and the important thing to realise is: you will miss stuff. It doesn't matter. My main purpose in getting an account was to see how useful it would be as a promotional tool. I concluded it would be very useful indeed.

Then I got a Google+ account (you can only get one by being invited currently, it's still in beta, only has a few million users). And then I got a G+ plug-in (SGPlus) which allows me to read and post to both Facebook and Twitter just from G+. So I do.

G+ is different again from either Facebook or Twitter. It's more solid and its controls for privacy are far more intuitive than either FB or Twitter. Soon SGPlus will allow me to access my LinkedIn account as well. G+ also integrates with all your other Google products, like GMail, PicasaWeb and so on.

But again, I'm looking at these things from the viewpoint of promotional tools when we start to promote our steampunk Voidships project. Which is all very exciting.

On a personal note the Daughter has been to Bolivia and returned alive. You can see some of the pictures on her  Bolivia page on Facebook. She worked in two places, the first did not involve animals directly but they were building holding pens - hard manual labour, in high temperatures, in the jungle.

The second stage did involve animals, and she worked with an ocelot called Ob (oh-bee, ocelot b). The ocelot has to be walked every day, but will never be released back into the wild as she was rescued from being someone's (extremely inappropriate and dangerous) pet. A bit bigger than a domestic cat, behaves like a domestic cat until she decides to take a piece out of your arm.

It may have been said elsewhere, the Daughter would like to be a professional actor - and has done quite a bit of stage (and some TV) in the past. Well she has finally got an agent, a proper one (hurrah!). Plus, though 20, she looks 14 so can work without the legal restrictions imposed on under 16s.

We went to the Edinburgh Festival and saw many many performances, some good, some less so, and some completely off the wall.

Having an affinity for Japanese culture (our whole family) we had to see "Samurai Grandma" if you read the reviews on the referenced page you'll see there was audience participation. There were less than 10 people in the audience when we saw it. Guess who ended up on stage ... twice. Luckily I revel in playing the fool in public. Gave the family a good laugh.

All I can say is: Watch out for that devilish Kitchen Penguin!

The Boy is a musician, he plays the tenor horn in a brass band, saxophone (most recently in Bugsy Malone, where he was also on stage) and so we visited an educational show called "Blues!" covering the highlights of the history of blues music in one hour. We were blown away. So blown away that we went to see it again.

We also went to see comedy rock band Axis of Awesome who were excellent live - reminded me of Morecambe and Wise: so well rehearsed it looked improvised. It's the Boy's birthday and tomorrow we buy him an electric guitar. He'd like a drumkit too ... maybe next year, after we sound-proof the cellar.

The Teacher has been working with early years for the past few years, but she's moving to Year 2 which has meant a lot of work. But she's so sorted she sat down to do some work, and then realised she's already done it.

Today is the last day of my current contract, I start the next one on Tuesday, in Bristol for a week and then back home for the rest. I could get used to this working from home lark.

And that's about it. Now I have to do more paying work.

What's on the turntable? "Drifting" by Clannad from "Atlantic Realm"

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Interim blog

I've been very busy mostly not writing screenplays or any of that sort of creative.

Instead I've been doing a different sort of creative, working on a website that will hopefully generate some cash for me (sorry Chris not Voidships) it's a web developer - or indeed any programmer - kind of thing, of absolutely no use to any writer - except (weirdly) it just might be.

I shall explain:

Sometimes programmers have to write code that can import files from other places, but a major probklem can be not actually having a sample file to import - a lack of test data. Well there are tools that can create these kinds of files but most of them are too powerful and too expensive for your mid-range developer. And I did find one online generator that will do this sort of thing but it's not as flexible as I wanted.

So I've been building this thing, and yes it does have relevance to writers because one of the things it does is create character names. Like this:
Mr Jacob Collingwood, Mr Kurt Fisher, Dr Kira Drury, Mrs Brianna Underwood, Mrs Georgina Blake, Mr John Hubbard, Mrs Beryl Smith, Mr Lesley Dahl, Dr Alexander Hubbard, Ms Eliza Moffat
I don't have a huge selection of names yet. And it'll do addresses, social security numbers, email addresses, date of birth, and not just UK - you can select the country (initially just a few). Ultimately there'll be an ethnicity selection for names as well but probably not in the first released version.

Anyway I thought the name generator might come in handy. (Of course you could just use this: )

More writer-relevant stuff to come soon, I hope.

What's on the turntable? Screenwriter UK podcast by Danny Stack and Tim Clague (whoo-hoo) at 

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Quick Guide to Webseries

This week I have mostly been watching webseries.

I have observed that, with (very) few exceptions, webseries have the following qualities, in order of frequency:
  1. Bad scripts.
  2. Bad acting.
  3. Bad production values.
  4. Bad music.
Any combination of the above, but the first two are the winners by a huge margin and generally go together.

I have been doing this as research since I'm writing one.

The exceptions are created by people who already in the industry.

Comedy helps but only if it's actually funny.

What's on the turntable? "Man in the Moon" by Yes from "Open Your Eyes"

Monday, July 04, 2011

Busy week

The day job continues unabated. I have the rest of the month to complete it then, who knows, I might have to get a new contract or this one may get extended.

Had a good conference with Chris the Director about our Steampunk project - all about promotion, marketing and the direction we're going with it. Plus talking about the first actual film project associated with it, Winter. A real business meeting - hardly talked creative at all.

I've been working on the back story of the characters in Winter in lots of loving detail - I came to the conclusion that I didn't know enough about them so they came out a bit flat, and the story did not come from them, they were merely fitting into the story.

This is where the big lie comes in: Story is Character. Which is quite true, of course, no doubt about it. But it's just as valid creating the characters to make the story, as the other way around.

Tomorrow the Daughter heads off to Bolivia for 6 weeks. Coincidentally a new talent agency has contacted her to see if she'd like representation (don't worry people, I have thoroughly checked them, they are kosher). When she returns from looking after dangerous animals she will meet with us at the Edinburgh Festival - my first time there, though the rest of the family has been before. I shall be using this trip as research for my script Running.

The TV Drama - Writer's Festival is taking place in Leeds on Wednesday and Thursday, and I shall be there along with many from the scribosphere. I've ordered new business cards which should arrive today - my only business cards were too "production" oriented as opposed to "writer" oriented.

I can only say good things about Vistaprint's business card service, their online design-your-card system is excellent, especially if you have a clue about design (and though I'm no designer, I do understand what I'm doing). And even if you don't it's still easy to use and hand-holds all the way through.

Being a smart-ass I put a QR-code on the back of the business card which links directly through to the scripts on the blog here. This one. (Where did I get it from? - more on that another time.)

Also, on Thursday, it's the Boy's appearance in Bugsy Malone. As previously mentioned he doesn't have a big part but he's also playing saxophone in the band. And now has been given several solos - because he's cool. I've not previously mentioned but, when it comes to clothes, he's one of those people that has a natural knack for picking the right combinations and looks good in almost anything. (Jealous, moi?) In a 30s suit complete with trilby and a saxophone, he looks perfect - hopefully we'll have a picture.

Friday? Just work, catching up on the day job with the time I've lost.

What's on the turntable? "And the Mouse Police never sleeps" by Jethro Tull from "Heavy Horses"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

6000 and Marketing

Marketing is not a dirty word. Without it nobody would know you exist. The person who said that "if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door" was only partially right - they have to know your mousetrap exists otherwise they won't know where to beat the path.

This is why new writers are told to network and why social networking is considered important. People have to know you exist - it's how you put yourself out there.

Back in April I noted that the number of people looking at my Shooting People profile hit 5000, and now it's just passed 6000. That's a smidge under 100 per week which is pretty good.

I don't use Twitter at present, but I have been reading up on it and studying it, seeing how I can use it (or not). But what I do is blog (like this), and I can also examine the statistics of how many people read my blog.

However I also had this blog tied in to automatically post to my Facebook account. Which means I could not count anyone who read the blog there - because there are no statistics. So, what to do?

I notice that other blogging screenwriters write their blogs and then put a note about it on FB (often via Twitter) with a link to the blog page, which means their blog page count is accurate. So I spent half an hour yesterday finding out how to disable the auto-posting to FB - got there eventually but it wasn't easy - so that I can do the same.

And then there's link shortening using a service like You've probably seen shortened links, but one of the clever things about them is that bitly provides statistics as to how often that link is clicked. So I converted all my major web links into shortened links and replaced them on my various websites and profiles. So now when someone clicks one of those links to go from one page to another of my pages, I'll know about it.

Why bother?

Once you're an established writer it probably matters less - because the access to your potential market  becomes easier and can become more focused. But as someone starting out you need to be communicating to every possible contact you can, so how do you know you're succeeding if you have no way to measure it?

Of course what you really want is someone contacting you and saying "I've read your stuff, would you like to write something for me?" but that becomes more likely if you're contacting more people.

What's on the turntable? "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire (let's boogie!)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I got the final feedback on a feature I had sweated blood over, in its 5th major rewrite. This time I knew I'd got it right, I had really got a feel for the theme and the characters, it was all there.

I knew it.

Jez was very apologetic in saying there were serious issues. The US coverage company were businesslike in their damning analysis. Philip Shelley was somewhere in between with his negative appraisal.

Though they all agreed it had something solid at the core, the implementation was something else.

It was about this time I started to realise that perhaps I was not quite as good as I thought I was. Humility is a good thing, it just hurts a bit when you're forced to remove the rose-tinted spectacles. Producing two very good scripts early on gave me the wrong impression.

And I have this web series to write.

I was reading Bill Martell's screen tip and was forced to acknowledge that the flood of the first draft (or even the flood of the fifth draft) is not a replacement for the hard work you actually have to put in to make a script really work.

What's on the turntable? "Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blankety-blank! or Who's creativity is it anyway?

This time I'm not talking about the collaboration aspect of film/TV production.

This is a reference to something I wrote about a long time ago (2009); how factors like sub-text, the "off-screen screenplay", "in late, out early", dramatic irony, character emotion, and so on, are all aspects of the same thing: audience involvement.

I was reading the Bitter Script Reader this morning and he was also talking about this subject.

Then I thought what are we doing, really?

Aren't we encouraging, nay, forcing the audience to be creative? Because we are forcing them to fill in the blanks?

Of course if they are unwilling to do it, or can't see what's supposed to go in the blanks, they aren't going to enjoy it, are they? And everybody is different because they have different ability to fill in the blanks.

Genre? Same thing. Genre is something that has a given set of blanks that the audience is expected to fill in simply by knowing what type of production it is. If a person does not like a genre maybe it's because they don't understand the blanks.

The same thing applies to a crew making a film - do they understand the blanks? If they don't, they will do an adequate job, but if they really get the blanks, they'll know which blanks they should fill in and which they should leave uncoloured-in, for the audience to do it.

What do you think?

What's on the turntable? "A Hazy Shade of Winter" by Simon & Garfunkel

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

It's more than writing

David Bishop just* posted a blog on the invisible bits of a writing career, which reminded me that I needed to write an email to a producer. Which I was just doing when I thought that's something that needs saying.

I have a feeling that new writers think the only thing that's important in a writing career is the writing. Even though all the experienced writers will tell you that networking, staying in communication with people and knowing what's going on in the market are very important.

As a web developer I have to stay up-to-date with my industry: learning all the new stuff; seeing what the trends are; even staying aware of relevant legislation. Because even though the visible part of my job is to "just create websites" according to a supplied specification, my skills have to stay relevant and I need to know whether any new laws affect what I'm being asked to do (which happened recently). This is all part of the job. And if a website specification says "do this" and I know that "doing this" might contradict a relevant law I can say so (at the very least it protects me) - and that's what makes me a professional in my industry.

As a writer it's worth knowing, for example, when the BBC commissioning rounds take place. Because it's worth talking to producers and production companies in advance of those commissioning rounds if you have a script that might go into them. And giving that as your reason for contacting the producer shows that person that you are a professional.

And that's why I had to write an email to a producer. There's a commissioning round on the way (only four months, so it's close) and if the producer likes the script we can put it in.

And if I hadn't been to the Kid's TV event on Friday, I wouldn't have known. And if I didn't read David's blog I wouldn't have been reminded, because even reading blogs is part of the job.

* When I say "just" it was a couple of days ago but I have delayed publishing this blog entry.

What's on the turntable? "South Horizon" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's wrong with your presentation?

(And what's that got to do with screenwriting?)

The  Teacher has had to do two presentations in the past few weeks - and she'd never used Powerpoint. In fact, I likewise had to do a presentation recently and I'd never used it either.

Both of us have been using computers in business environments since the mid-80s. We both have lots of experience talking in front of audiences - my largest was about 3000, and you can stick me in front of an audience with nothing prepared and I can just talk. The Teacher has spoken in front of a BAFTA audience, and done TV as well.

Speaking in public holds no fears for either of us. But neither of us had used Powerpoint.

The technology of it was no problem - we've used more different software packages than the average person, and on half a dozen different platforms (some no longer extant). Just not Powerpoint.

I hope the Teacher doesn't mind me saying that her first presentation did not go well at all. And it was not the technology that was the problem.

How many times have you seen a presentation where the person threw up slides covered in text and simply said what was on the slide? Does that remind you of anything?

Bad voice-overs.

There are those that say all voice-overs in scripts should be banned. This is nonsense of course, because there is a right way and a wrong way to do voice-overs. The wrong way is to describe what's happening on the screen - telling the audience what they can already see.

The right way is to have a voice-over which adds to what's being shown.

The same thing applies to presentations. What you say should not be what's on the slide, what you say should add to what's on the slide.

That's all. (I know I'm not the first person to say this.)

But there's more. The second presentation by the Teacher went swimmingly, she enjoyed it, the audience enjoyed it. The difference was not only that what she said added to what was on the slide. It was the fact that the slides she created were far more visual - appropriate pictures. The images were bound thematically throughout the presentation - and, to some extent, they told a story.

After the disaster of the first presentation the Teacher and I spent some time analysing the whole presentation thing. While it does depend to some extent on what you are presenting, the closer you can get to proper storytelling the better.

Imagine that each slide is actually a scene. It has its own beginning, middle and end - can you create a conflict on each slide, as well as through the whole presentation?

Can you get the audience emotionally involved? (Humour is always good for this.)

And it's at this point I start to step away from myself in horror.

Because this comes horribly close to the thing I loathe about certain TV shows - they do it on the talent shows a lot, but they've also been doing it on Great British Menu, and other competition cooking shows.

Creating stories that don't exist. For example, in GBM, inventing some issue with the cooking by a certain chef; that something is difficult when there's no evidence that it is; that something may go wrong; that there is risk and danger - which isn't really there; trying to play up their efforts to win, the level of competition.

The hand of the producer is very obvious. These "stories" are utterly fake and it grates. When it's false you are betraying the audience - you are lying to them.

So, if the idea of creating a story doesn't apply to your presentation (it didn't apply to the one that I did) then please please please be clever and don't fake it.

What's on the turntable? "Amalpura" by David Bowie (Tin Machine) from "Sound and Vision"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Something for the Kids: Q&A #2 and Summing up

To be honest there wasn't much to the second Q&A - but I'll see what I can put together.

Can we do historical? Connal: The current controller doesn't like historical, it's not a cost thing. There's no reason why not otherwise, as long as it's distinctive in period and has relevance. Having said that we are doing "Just William" and have "Leonardo" coming up.

What about animation? Connal: We won't do it though we do have a big puppet thing coming up. It's a very international thing best to go through an animation company.

Jo Combes of the Writersroom had talked about grabbing people in the first 10 pages? Connal: For us we work in 30 minute slots - you have to grab in 2-3 minutes. And you need to know how to structure a good story.

Summing up

There was a lot of information here but whether it's what people were expecting I have no idea. I went there to find people to whom I could promote myself as a scriptwriter. And I succeeded in my quest. Whether anyone else succeeded in getting what they wanted, you'd have to ask them.

I suspect not in many cases - I just hope the person who flew in from Belfast got what they wanted.

What's on the turntable? "Fascination" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

Something for the Kids: Connal Orton

Connal Orton is Executive Editor of the CBBC In-house Script Unit. You can look him up for the rest of his extensive, and appropriate, career. Suffice to say he developed, produced and wrote for My Parents are Aliens and I think that says it all.

What I write here is not a transcription, it is my interpretation based on my hit-and-miss notes. So it may not accurately reflect what Connal said, or what he meant to imply. It's my interpretation of what he said.

Connal had a cool presentation based a flash thing which zoomed in and out - which it would be impossible to represent here. It was essential a compilation of those things that he observes work in Kid's TV. Not that he was saying that this was the be-all and end-all, just that it's what he's observed.

So essentially I can only reproduce in text form the sort of thing he had in a fancy graphic, plus notes as he went along.

  • Children at the centre
  • Active child protagonist
  • Child's point of view
  • Often the Kid's name in the title
  • It's about: Standing out and Fitting in
  • Needs likeability
  • Should be aspirational
The World
  • Everyday: Home and school - children's worlds are shrinking, because of the supposed threats in the environment being pounded into parents by the media. It's identifiable and relatable.
  • Fantasy - LoTR, Narnia but Connal thinks pure fantasy is limited: once you;ve beaten the bad guy, the bad guy is beaten. No legs. (I don't necessarily agree with him but I know what he's talking about.) It's escapism, an alternate reality, imaginary.
  • High concept - The Queen's Nose, My Parents are Aliens etc. A mix of everyday and fantasy, a dramatic metaphor and the ability of the child antagonist to actually do something and make a difference, when in the real world they couldn't.
  • Dynamic action
  • High stakes
  • Emotional intensity (clear differentiation between emotions)
  • Values (clear moral centre - stuff that matters)
  • Visual
  • Renewable - has it got legs?
  • Powers - abilities - wishfulfilment - empowering
To be continued...

What's on the turntable? "1984/Dodo" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

Something for the Kids: Q&A #1

I decided to put the Q&A session in its own blog post...
Following Lynn's talk there was a Q&A session

What do you do about contemporary references that date a script (like technology, since that's what they use)? Don't put them in.

Do alternate methods of storytelling (like voting on how the story goes forward) threaten writers? Garry thought it was a worrying trend; Lynn didn't agree and thought it was just another way telling a story. (Personally I think "group-voted storytelling" is the stupidest idea yet. It cannot produce anything worthwhile.)

If the CBBC target age limit is 12 why is it that all the best shows have older kids in them? Lynn: It's called age aspiration. Nobody knows what to do about the 12-16 group, the most watched show by 14yo girls is Waterloo Road. Channel 4 is probably best placed to deal with that age group.

Impact of audience gender? Garry: Less gender distinction in 6-12, the gender split for The Worst Witch was 50:50 for a show with almost 100% female cast. Lynn: Even shows with boys (Dick and Dom, Ed and Oucho) they represent "older brothers". Tracey Beaker had an equal split.

CBeebie guidelines? No evil baddies. Crazy really because no baddies = no jeopardy = no story. This is down to pressure from the US and internationalisation of Kid's TV especially pre-school. They can be naughty but not evil and have to learnt heir lesson by the end. What they want are naughty protagonists - Bart Simpson.

Why do we have to have children in children's TV? Garry: Well yes, why. It's a limitation of imagination, a narrow interpretation of the idea of having to empathise. Lynn: It's lazy TV programming after all kid's don't play at being kids. (I said this to the Teacher (Foundation/Primary teacher) she said "That's right. Unless it's Ben 10 - but he has special powers.") Lynn: Though generally most adults who are the protagonists in Kid's TV are childlike.

What's on the turntable? "Anyway, anyhow, anywhere" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

Something for the Kids: Lynn Whitaker

Lynn Whitaker is an academic researcher of children's media culture, who has just spent three years researching with BBC Scotland's Children's Department. She taught English and Drama for 10 years. (And lots of other genuine experience which means she is worth listening to - I tend to be very critical of academia especially when it comes to social matters [because most of it is utter bollocks] but she passes the test.)

What I write here is not a transcription, it is my interpretation based on my hit-and-miss notes. So it may not accurately reflect what Lynn said, or what she meant to imply. It's my interpretation of what she said.

Lynn initially described what it's like at BBC Scotland's Children's Department - the fact the staff is generally younger than elsewhere; that they have outings and do things that kids might do; run drama workshops with kids not just for the casting process but also as research and to keep them in touch with their audience.

Because Kid's TV is the one area where those that make the content cannot be the audience.

And this is vitally important to understand. If you're producing content for kids you have to know kids.

But not all in the garden is rosy. Management has a tendency to frustrate the producers (when Lynn says "producers" she means anyone involved in the production of content - including writers). And compliance restrictions cause confusion.

The classic anecdote was the talking sprout in one show: they were not allowed to show the sprout getting speared by a fork and eaten. But they could show it being scooped up and eaten. Just no spearing.

Her view of the production seemed slightly at odds with Garry's rose-tinted version, she sees CBBC as being risk-averse.

For writers she sees the comedy short-form content being the best way in, and perhaps the best content because kids like to laugh.

Kids are "differently" discriminatory. We may despise High School Musical, but a child may love it and love the Chuckle Brothers just as much. It's not for us to judge - we are merely adults with fixed ideas and we tend to laugh a tenth as much as a child on a daily basis.

To be continued...

What's on the turntable? "Round and round" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Something for the Kids: Garry Lyons

Garry Lyons is an award-winning screenwriter whose work includes The Worst Witch, Leah's Trials and musical adaptations of The Secret Garden. He is also a lecturer and the Programme Director for the MA in Writing for Performance at Leeds University.

What I write here is not a transcription, it is my interpretation based on my hit-and-miss notes. So it may not accurately reflect what Garry said, or what he meant to imply. It's my interpretation of what he said.

The initial thrust of Garry's talk - well, he was presenting an academic paper he'd written but that's fine - was Kid's TV drama as a training ground for new writers. He cited Paul Abbott who wrote for "Children's Ward", Stephen Moffat who wrote "Press Gang" and Russell T Davies who wrote "Dark Season" and others.

It's because the BBC has its own production department for Kid's TV and it's own structure (CBBC) completely separate from the rest, that it is able to produce innovative TV that can break the rules. And has done all through it's history. It can create drama with more imagination and freedom, and is not constrained to the rigid "naturalism" of mainstream TV drama.

We have to say "mainstream" rather than "adult" because "adult" tends to suggest other things.

Because Kid's TV has less visibility, after all most adults don't watch it, it gets less interference. Although that is not as true today as it was, there is still greater freedom than in mainstream TV.

Do you remember Kid's TV when you were young? There will no doubt be shows that left their mark on you (for me personally it was Sky by Anglia TV - never repeated though it is out on DVD now - very scary fantasy; my script Air is inspired by that story, though you won't recognise it).

What Kid's TV does is help to shape our national identity, which is why it's essential that we have home-grown TV for kids. Now that is part of the BBC's remit, and they are putting more money into it. But commercial TV is no longer forced to produce Kid's TV by law, so they don't. In 2004 £139m was spent on Kid's TV, in 2009 it was £87m.

But no competition for CBBC means no innovation. Where are the long-running series now? The Worst Witch (killed by global success and stupidity); The Queen's Nose; The Demon Headmaster; replaced now by cheap easy-to-produce kid's soaps?

And yet: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings (no, I wouldn't call it kids entertainment either), Narnia - and the live theatre which is now booming: like The Railway Children usually produced in Railway museums with real steam trains (awesome).

But with a global market out there it's a matter of re-packaging the fundamental Britishness for the global market as well as the home market. (And it's Britishness that sells - it's a global brand in itself.) But it seems that Kid's TV is already ahead of the game, already the major productions have global funding - makes management harder but gets good product out there.

This story is not a tragedy.

What's on the turntable? "Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

Something for the Kids: Introduction

I'm going to divide my report on the "Something for the Kids" event into four bits, this introduction and three of the talks during the two sessions (maybe a fifth part if I decide to do a summing up). With all due respect to Jo Combes of the BBC Writersroom she essentially went over stuff which you can get from their website and I don't need to repeat it (I didn't write it down anyway).

I'll be staging the release of the posts over the next couple of days. Oh and I'll be writing "Kid's TV" rather than "Children's TV" because it's less typing.

What was it about?

So what was this thing I went to? I have no idea what to call it, it wasn't a conference or a seminar or... It was just an "event" (not the event, you understand just an event), that had something to do with writing for Kids TV. It was organised by the Louis Le Prince Centre and the BBC Writersroom, for the Institute of Communication Studies and the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds. Which is a mouthful.

It was free, and there was food, which was also free. And it was very nice food. Very very nice food.

The trouble with this event (if it was a trouble) was that I don't think the people who went really understood what it was. I know I didn't. And I know with certainty, from some of the comments from the audience, that some were expecting an a-b-c of "this is how you write for kids and this is how you get your script to someone important so they'll make it". And it really wasn't that at all.

It was a lot of talking around the subject of writing for Kids: is Kid's TV important; what's the nature of the business as it is now; what's good; what's bad; and how things may go in the future. Because currently there is only one UK outlet for writers writing for Kids, and that's the BBC.

I had applied quite late to go to it and was told it was full up, but that I was on the waiting list. Then they changed the number of attendees and I was included. Huzzah! They were surprised at the level of interest, but I suspect it's because people thought it was the thing that it wasn't.

Now I live just over the Pennines to Leeds so it wasn't a big journey for me, except I had to use different trains (I got rid of my car). And nearly managed to miss the important one.

I was saved by a broken loo on the train. (The driver needed to use the loo so had to use the one in the station thereby delaying the train sufficiently for me not to miss it. I live such an exciting life.)

Anyway we turned up in Leeds on time and I took a taxi to the University - it's uphill for a mile, I'm not walking that (though I did walk back). I was early so spent time chatting to people, well mostly a person, (hi Dionne!) and met up with Kulvinder Gill who I'd met at the London Screenwriters Festival (hey Kulvinder!).

Finally we were ushered through to the theatre the lights dimmed and the excitement began. (Actually the lights didn't dim at all.)

To be continued...

Other posts in this series

What's on the turntable? "Space Oddity" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bringing it into focus

On the writing front I am getting feedback on Running some of which is causing me pain, but in a good way.

I am in the process of talking to producers about a script or two and I have succeeded in getting onto the BBC's TV Drama - The Writers Festival in Leeds in July - on the very flimsiest of commission history, but I was completely honest. Which means if you have flimsy commissions you might be able to get on it as well.

I failed to get on Something for the Kids however, they are fully booked.

So this is all good writing stuff.

Oooh, what else? OMG - it happened to me, another writer wrote the pilot for a TV series that I was going to write - almost exactly the same premise as I had planned. The only difference was he made his setting rural where I would have made it urban. I've read it and it's jolly good.

After a quiet low-numbers period during the holiday my Shooting People profile numbers have shot up again, now at 145 views per week. But why does nobody actually contact me...?

In other news

The Daughter is still set fair for Bolivia in a couple of months - she'll be traveling along the most dangerous road in the world. Though maybe they'll use the alternative route. Then she'll be looking after the big cats (and other endangered species - but mostly the big cats - and snakes - and big moggies). She likes dangerous things.

I mentioned almost exactly two years ago that the Boy would be appearing as Fat Sam in a school production  of Bugsy Malone. Well that production is finally happening but there're problems: the Boy got a lot taller - and it was decided that the production would only involve the drama students at the school. Which the Boy isn't.

But he is a saxophonist. So he's in the band instead - a band composed mostly of teachers. He gets all the solos, and his adjustments to the supplied have been greeted with approval.

And then they lost Laughing Boy from Dandy Dan's mob. And the Boy got cast, so now has to run from stage to pit and back through the production. Which is slightly problematic as the saxophone reed dries between times. Such are the trials of success.

The Teacher continues to teach, and has applied for a Deputy Head position.

What's on the turntable? "A Passion Play (part 2)" by Jethro Tull from "A Passion Play" - specifically "The Hare who had lost his Spectacles"

Friday, April 29, 2011

ScriptFrenzy - that's a wrap

So, I have completed my script for ScriptFrenzy this year, 101 pages.

Funny I always seem to hit almost exactly 100 pages every time I write a ScriptFrenzy script (I've done it five times), of course 100 pages is the amount I need to "win". But I never overrun which is surprising since I barely plan these things - I start with a rough idea of the characters and the plot, and nothing else (except last year which was an adaptation).

The Teacher has suggested it's my magazine training. Nearly 20 years of writing articles for magazines (and editing them) has meant I have had "writing to length", "writing to style" and "writing to deadline" drilled into me until it happens automatically. I will write the correct length of script - almost to the page - by the deadline. I like deadlines, though not for the same reason as Douglas Adams, that's one reason I do ScriptFrenzy, I know I'll come out the other end, a month later, with a feature script.

Anyway it's done, codename Rebels, now I have a polish to do on Running which will take a couple of days and then it's on to the rewrite of Winter. Finally.

What's on the turntable? "Brandenburg Concerto No. 1" by J S Bach.

Monday, April 18, 2011

ScriptFrenzy 2011, part the second

I have been remiss and not blogged for a while.

But I have been busy, among other things with ScriptFrenzy, however while battering my way through the first draft of this 100 page feature script this evening I had a passing thought which I thought I'd share with you. Because you are my friend.

It's to do with what you call your characters in your script ... or perhaps it's to do with what I call my characters in my script. I don't mean the choice of name (although that is relevant, of course), but how you say it.

I have a character called George Hadfield, he is the father of Victoria Hadfield. She is the protagonist, and the story is set in 1911.

It's been bugging me for some time now - actually through the entire script that I refer to him as "George". This is very very wrong because it communicates entirely the wrong message. Apart from the bit where Victoria shouts "Daddy, my Daddy" (ok, this is a first draft, that will be going) she refers to him as "Father" because that is the appropriate level of respect.

You've seen Mary Poppins? Of course you have. The children refer to their Father as Father.

Since Victoria is the protagonist and the audience will be identifying with her, they will have to have the same level of respect.

But, you may say, they won't be reading the script. This is true, but people will be reading the script - script readers to name but one variety of person who will. And they will get the wrong idea, they will not have the right level of respect for George, or rather, for Mr Hadfield.

So there, I thought I'd share that with you. What we call people in the script can be important.

I hope you're thoroughly impressed. Now I must stop procrastinating, I need to finish up to at least page 60 tonight to stay on schedule, but that's only a couple of pages to go and I do have it all mapped out now.

Perhaps I shouldn't worry, he's going to be dead within the next five pages, and Victoria is going to very sad.

What's on the turntable? "Shining Morn" by Gordon Giltrap from "Shining Morn"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Something good

Can't say much about this but I can confirm that talking to producers is a good idea for writers.

I talked to a producer, and within the week I have a script idea heading BBC-wards. It may come to nothing, I follow my primary rule of "send and forget" but without talking to the producer the opportunity would not even have appeared.

What's on the turntable? "Until I Meet You" by The Manhatten Transfer from "Down in Birdland"

Thursday, April 07, 2011


As previously mentioned, ever since I got onto the Circalit Gold List scheme, and the Industrial Scripts Connections the number of people accessing my Shooting People profile page has shot up - from 30-40 per week average, to 140-160 (170 yesterday).

Well, there's a cumulative count which I knew was approaching 5000, and it hit that. Honestly, I wasn't sitting there refreshing the page until it changed (the page that gives the result is not the page that does the counting) but by chance I had a peek when it was on 5000, so I took a picture.

Does it mean anything? Who knows. Nobody has got in touch.

What's on the turntable? "In the presence of" by Yes from "Magnification"

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

ScriptFrenzy 2011

So we're on Day 5 and, as of yesterday, I was on target - not sure if I'll get my 3-4 pages done this evening but we shall see. (Might help if I stopped prevaricating.)

But I have a name Rebels (not Rebellion, not personal enough), a plot, I have characters and I have flora-jutsu: the use of flowers in a combat situation.

I know, sounds silly, but that's deliberate; in fact it's far from silly in context. An amateur botanist from 1911 will use every weapon she has to hand, especially when she's in a long dress and a corset, faced with a character reminiscent of Dredger from the recent Sherlock Holmes.

It was all the Teacher's fault. I was picking her brains about what a well-brought-up young girl suddenly finding herself in impecunious circumstances could do. "She could work as a florist", says the Teacher. "Like Eliza."

You see, it wasn't my fault.

What's on the turntable? "Don't Go" by Yes from "Magnification"

Thursday, March 31, 2011

And fade out ... fade in

Right. That's the rewrite of Running finally finished.

Just in time for me to start work on this year's ScriptFrenzy, oh good grief. Now I was going to write an SF thriller based on the idea I got at the end of watching Timeline which I called Pox. But I'm also supposed to be re-writing Winter which is a story set in a Steampunk setting.

So I thought I'd get myself in the mood by writing a Steampunk feature in the same universe. No idea what yet but typically for ScriptFrenzy you have to write 100 pages in the 30 days of April, which is a fairly relaxed 3.33333333333333 (etc) pages per day.

I'll think of something, I'm a professional.

What's on the turntable? "Pan Dance" by Jethro Tull from "Minstrel in the Gallery"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trouble ahead

Can I get myself into any more trouble? Of course, I can. Getting into trouble is easy, it's the getting out that's the hard part.

You see, something's been bothering me for a while now. And then I was on the phone to a producer last night, a very experienced producer, and the subject of the BBC TV series Outcasts cropped up (which I didn't like much, though I watched all of it).

Then this producer said what I've been thinking.

Let's make this clear from the start: I am not interested in doing the BBC Writers' Academy - lots of people do want to do it, good writers get to do it. And it gives them a hell of a boost in their careers. This is a good thing, I am pleased when other writers do well.

For those who don't know, the Academy's primary purpose is to find writers for shows like East Enders, Holby City, Casualty and so on, and train them to write for shows like that, the BBC's flagship shows, as they call them. More importantly the BBC see this route as the way you earn the right to write other stuff.

You see I have this feeling we're seeing the soapification of British TV drama. Now you may say that soaps are drama and, well, fine, but are you sure?

William Gallagher in this blog (where he was celebrating some fantastic success) mentioned in passing something he'd got from Russell T Davies, something which was a revelation to him:

In the liner notes for the DVD release [of Queer as Folk], he talked about the difference between writing for soap and writing drama. He'd had to learn this, he said, and realised that it boiled down to one major thought: in soaps, people say everything they're thinking; in drama they don't even know what they're thinking. 

In other words one of the best writers in Britain today states there is a fundamental difference between soap writing and drama writing, and that difference is what makes drama drama: subtext.

For RTD and many other excellent writers this is not a problem. They can do both and do them well. And I'm sure that many of the writers progressing through the Writers' Academy can learn to do that too.

But then, you see, we have these heavily plugged shows like The Deep and Outcasts (oh and by the way, in another interview the writer and producer claimed Outcasts was not SF...) what do we get but character dialogue lacking in meaningful subtext. Characters that just say what's in their heads.

Soap not drama.

Yet some of the most original work in the BBC is coming from writers who did not go the soap-writing route, and from ones who clearly recognise the difference.

But we're getting soapified drama as well, but what else can we expect? It's built into the system now. 

I would love to be convinced I am wrong. Truly. Can you convince me?

What's on the turntable? "In Search of a Heart" by Clannad from "Sirius"

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to repay credit cards

Yup, this has nothing to do with writing. And isn't spam :-)

Do you have maxed out credit cards which you repay at the minimum amount every month? Me too.

Or rather I did but then I thought of some very obvious facts:

First: If you have a maxed out credit card you stop using it, right? Which means that you are able to survive without the credit card. You may as well not have it, it has no money on it so you can't use it. Obvious.

Second: But you are servicing that credit card every month (hopefully). You are repaying the maximum amount you can on the credit card - and surviving. That means that you can survive while paying out that amount of money every month. Obvious.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to pay off a credit card at minimum rate, assuming you never took anything else out of it? If it's £5000 that would be at least 20 years. And you'd pay vastly more than £5,000 with the interest charges.

Okay everybody knows credit cards are bad. They are the bread and butter (and the champagne) of the banking world - who love people who pay the minimum. So why play that game?

Let's just reiterate those points: (1) You can survive without the card, because you already have to; (2) You can pay off the minimum amount every month because you already do.

So, stop paying the minimum amount and pay a fixed rate at the current minimum.

Let's say you have to pay £200 per month into your credit card as the minimum. Well pay £200 every month, fixed rate. Even when the minimum per month starts to go down, keep paying the £200. Why? Because you'll pay it off much faster, you'll be no worse off and you'll pay far less in interest.

Now if you, like me, have multiple maxed out credit cards this gets even better. Let's say I have to pay £150/ month on one and £200/month on another. Once I've paid off the one with £150 I transfer that £150 to the other one.

I'm still no worse off but now the second card is getting paid off at £350/month. So it gets paid off even faster.

Yes, of course, it takes discipline. If you're the sort of person who just has to spend money if it's available this won't help you; you'll just have to go on suffering and continuing to pay bankers to keep them in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.

Personally I'd rather have the money for myself because once you've paid off those cards, and any other debts, it's all for you.


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