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"

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I had the meeting with the agent. It was fine but I didn't get promoted to the "New but unproduced writers" list. But they still want to talk to me and see any new scripts. I'm pretty happy with that.

So I call them my (almost) agent. Having an (almost) agent retains all the disadvantages of not having an agent but also contains the soul-destroying* hope that one day they might actually want to represent you.

In the meantime I have very nearly finished my Running rewrite and I'm thinking of changing my planned Script Frenzy script to something that fits the Steampunk world that Chris (the Director) and I have been working on. Something that would be incredibly expensive to make :-)

In other news

I have had a extension on my current job contract - but I'll have "work from home" flexibility, which is very nice indeed.

*Only soul-destroying until they actually say "we want to represent you".

What's on the turntable? "Bach's Prelude No.1, BWV 846" played by the Jacques Louissier Jazz Trio. Yummy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blame the audience

So Being Human and Outcasts have finished their seasons.

Being Human is a shoe-in for renewal, Outcasts is already cancelled. (Apparently the US version of Being Human is doing well - some of the dialogue is straight out of the UK version.)

I went to a Q&A with the creator of Being Human, Toby Whithouse, last year. I have read an interview with the creator of Outcasts and read a comment or two from the Producer.

Being Human is enthralling, powerful and threaded with its core theme: being human.

Outcasts was boring. I hate to say that because people worked their arses off to produce it and I desperately wanted to like it.

But now I read what the creator and producer are saying - and basically they are blaming the audience for not liking it, not being willing to put up with it being boring. Also, according to the producer as quoted in SFX, us geeks didn't like it because we just want action and shooty guns and aliens. (He didn't use those words, but that's what he said.) 

Hm, that's why we love Being Human so much then. The action and the shooty guns and the aliens. Well, the last scene of Being Human lasted for nearly 15 minutes, almost all talk and it was gripping - because it was all about the core theme of the show.

I mean I could talk about writers who know nothing of science not realising that writing science fiction doesn't mean you can just make stuff up (manipulating DNA with ultrasound at long range - oh puh-lease, there are fundamental Physics reasons why you couldn't do that) but then we'd be here all night. But even that would have been forgivable if the overall story had been character-driven instead of plot-driven (another common error among those who don't understand SF).

So, what's the difference between the two shows really? Theme and expression of theme. Being Human has it, Outcasts squandered its opportunities. And theme is not characters uttering portentous but ultimately meaningless phrases like "This changes everything" when, in fact, nothing's changed. Which is what we got instead.

There is only one reason why people switched off Outcasts, it broke the fundamental rule of writing: It was boring and that is not the fault of the audience.

(Yes, I know some people liked it, of course some people did, everybody's different and has different tastes, this is all my opinion obviously - but, to the majority, it was not appointment TV and that cannot be argued with.)

It has been suggested, with some justification, that perhaps a writer (especially a wannabe such as I) should not denigrate another writer's work - after all, how would I like it if someone did it to me? I expect I wouldn't like it at all, but I do know that if I had a cataclysmic failure like this, I wouldn't be blaming the audience.

We write to entertain the audience, and if they are not entertained the fault is ours not theirs.

What's on the turntable? "The Rube Thing" by the Esbjorn Svensson Trio from "E.S.T. Live in Hamburg"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Someone's looking at me

In fact more people are looking at me than have looked at me before, and I have no idea who they are.

It's not even paranoia, it's just a fact.

I have a profile on the Shooting People website, and it tracks how many people have looked at the profile in the last week. I usually average 30 per week (though I did go through a period of 70/week).

But now it's up to 103. Trouble is there's no way of knowing where they are from. Though admittedly I do actually have some clue: I'm on the Circalit Gold List and also the Industrial Scripts "this-was-a-good-script" list.

So I'm guessing that's the reason. Which means Important People are looking at me.

Which is nice.

Edit (now 104): And that may need further explanation. Both those lists are only viewable by agents, producers and such like in the industry. It's a form of pre-screening so they can take a gander at the work of unproduced writers that has already been assessed as being "quite good, actually", thus not having to worry about working their way through a zillion tons of slush pile to find the pretty things.

I suppose you really want to know how I got on them: Well for Circalit I was recommended by someone already in the industry, and for Industrial Scripts I sent them a damned good script.

What's on the turntable? "So Deep Within You" by "The Moody Blues" from "Threshold of a Dream"

Friday, March 11, 2011

You're going to think I'm just rambling but...

...I have a plan, and it's cunning.

Six days to the meeting with the agent.

Bring ideas they said. "What else you got?" I have ideas, quite a few. (And twelve original ideas for Hustle plots.) How about two kids series from the 70s that could be "re-imagined" for Saturday evening. A naughty $200m blockbuster book adaptation without permission (my excuse? Kate Leys told me to just write it - and, to be honest, I had to get it out of my head). And some original stuff.

Bit like the perennial question that established writers get: "Where do you get your ideas from?" The correct answer is, of course, everywhere.

I like to use ScriptFrenzy to knock out feature scripts, it's a handy deadline to write a script in a month. But this year I was thinking, hm, I've got no feature script idea, and I have a rewrite on Winter to do. And we're halfway through March. (Mind you, the last two years I've done the scripts in two weeks rather than the permitted four.) So maybe I'll skip it this year.

Timeline is a fairly poo movie that was on TV this evening. I read the book first, that was a bit poo too, and read like a movie treatment, which I guess it was. It should have been a better movie, but it wasn't.

But that's not the point.

I was watching the end of it (nothing would make me watch all of it again - well, nothing except money, or love, or cake. Especially cake.) and a scientific question formed in my mind. Something about the technology being used for the time travel. And this scientific question begat another question (also in my mind). And the second question begat a "what if"* ... and suddenly I had a plot for a feature**.

So I'll need to knock that into some sort of structural shape before April 1st, and knock the whole thing out in a couple of weeks because that's how I roll. (Unlike some I don't roll by turning over and over - that's just so last millennium.)

And that's another idea I can present to the agent.

Easy as falling off a log. (And, as someone who has fallen off a log or two in his long log-standing career, I can confirm that it really is that easy. And often as painful.)

Right. That's enough garbage for one evening. Night-night.

* In my mind.
** Guess where - though I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget.

What's on the turntable? "In the Gallery" by Dire Straits from "Dire Straits"

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Quality of Dirty Laundry

Hop over to the BBC iPlayer here and listen to the wondrous Alan Bennett introducing his Talking Heads monologues.

More than an introduction, he discusses the process of writing them, how monologues differ from playwriting, something about creating characters - and writers finding themselves with dirty underwear in their suitcases.

Quality stuff - and then you can listen to the Talking Heads themselves and marvel at how he generates scenes with conflict with just a single voice.

We are not worthy.

What's on the turntable? "Deckard & Roy's Duel" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner Trilogy" Disc 2