Sunday, December 28, 2008

RIP Harold Pinter

Although I've never been a particular fan of Harold Pinter, I found myself curiously moved by his death. His work, it appears, affected me more than I realised, so I thought I might perhaps take a moment to reflect upon the man, and his life.

The exact time and place of Harold's birth remains unclear, and although his upbringing by his father's brother sister after the tragic loss of both parents (in an incident that would scar the young Pinter for the rest of his life), has been described as less than ideal, Harold appeared to deal with his situation in a particularly stoic manner. Yet his teenage years were in many way tempestuous - perhaps the inevitable result of bottling up the emotions of his early life. This would, of course, affect his work, although it is arguable that without such a dramatic start to his life, Pinter would never have made the considerable breakthroughs in his field for which he became justly famous -and in some quarters infamous. His acceptance into noted public school Hogwarts certainly moulded the young Pinter into the man he would become, even if for such a tragically short time.

Pinter stamped his mark on the cultural and thaumatological scene as a suburban brooder and as an irate iconoclast - his work on the Crucio incantations alone have earned him a place amongst Britain's finest magicians. Yet it was his stance against the war that gave Pinter most fame towards his final years, perhaps undeservedly overshadowing his earlier, more theoretical work in the area of Imperious Curses.

In recent years, he had seized the platform offered by his 2005 Triwizard Tournament prize to denounce Dark Lord Voldermort and the war in the Wizarding World that was to claim the lives of so many, Muggles and non-Muggles alike.

On a personal note, I rather lost track of Pinter's work somewhere after the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I found well-plotted, but rather lifeless, and stuffed full of sub-Dahlian whimsy, which sat rather uncomfortably next to the over-cranked teenage angst and blatant use of plot tokens. Still, Harold did the best he could with what he was given, and one can ask no more than that. He touched all our lives, whether we knew it or not, and our thoughts must certainly go our to Ron and Hermione, who will need all our support in this difficult time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I don't know why this is funny, it just is.

Ah, apparently it's Steve Carrell's bit from 'Bruce Almighty' stuck on the soundtrack of a small dog barking. Well, that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Also, who's doing all the clothes washing?

I am enjoying Survivors, and the final episode next week looks properly epic, but one or two questions have raised themselves during the unfolding storyline.

1. Where do the main characters get their unending supplies of hair conditioner and makeup from? If they are making regular trips to some cosmetics warehouse, and fighting regular running battles with groups of disenfranchised post-apocalyptic WAGs, I feel this warrants an episode, at least.

2. Where are they going to the toilet? Again, just a single shot of one of the characters clutching a bog roll and saying a cheery 'I'm off to that tree behind the lake now' would have been fine.

3. How come the middle three episodes seem to have turned into a cross between particularly dark episodes of Casualty and Peak Practice, without much of a reminder that the rest of the country has pretty much ceased to exist? I'm afraid I also disapprove of what I refer to as 'Lassie Episodes', where the characters wander off, get caught up in someone else's story, help them resolve it, then get back to the country house in time for tea. I like getting the snapshots of other peoples' experiences, but it does sort of imply you could just watch the first episode, and then the last, without missing much in the middle.

All that said, Max Beesely is turning out to be pretty damn good (and having read some early drafts of the scripts, it's interesting to see his character has become rather more ambiguous than originally planned, which is no bad thing), and next week we get to see an abandoned, flooded-out and burning city -hurrah!

This is one of those shows that definitely needs a few more series, partly because I want to write an episode SO BADLY, but also because the further the show gets from its starting point, and starts to build up its own societies and characters, the more interesting I think it will get.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The crossbow/nudity story

(given a post of its own now, for the purposes of neatness)

So, I was working at Waterstone's in Canterbury, about eightish years ago, and came down from lunch only to have Paul Grigsby, who was writing a novel about a frog, thrust a piece of paper at me.

'Some bloke said you'd agreed to make a film with him,' he said, sounding rather doubtful.

'Hmm', I said, because I had absolutely no recollection of such an event. But I rang the phone number on the piece of paper, and got chatting to a man with a Kentish dialect, who seemed reasonably certain we'd had a big chat about fantasy novels, and scripts and so on, around the SF section of the bookshop, the previous Saturday. This sounded quite likely, and indeed in many ways, my impact on the lives of the humble folk who entered my section of the bookshop must have been somewhat akin to a meteor: a flash in the sky, a single moment of visual brilliance, the sonic impact of my latest insight ('yeah, the early Dragonlance books were okay, but they went off the boil after the second trilogy, I reckon'), and a hushed silence as the life-changing moment passed - but is the meteor aware of the lives it's changed forever? No. I suppose also it's been smashed to bits by that point, but right up to then, the comparison holds.

Any-old-way, Kent Man was having a film meeting over at his house for a weekend, and asked if, bearing in mind my previously-expressed, if now utterly forgotten enthusiasm for the project, I fancied meeting some of the other participants.

I said yes, for a laugh, and that weekend was met at one of Kent's more bleakly remote train stations by a man who looked exactly like someone who repaired television aerials for a living. This insight was backed up by the van he was driving, which advertised his television aerial repair business on the side, and when I got in, proved to be full of spiky metal bits, which could have been bits of television aerials, or could have something else entirely. I chose not to investigate too closely, which with retrospect, might have been an error.

It turned out I was the first person to arrive, so was shown a preview of the work done so far, which turned out to be not exactly a film, in that it was shot on handheld video. In it, ninjas in cloaks jumped out of woods, men with swords and cloaks jumped out at other men with swords, and haunted-looking women in cloaks peered furtively from between trees, presumably wondering where all the ninjas had got to. Occasionally, dialogue threatened to break out, at which point Kent Man would fastforward the video to get to the next bit of action, which suited me fine.

Not that I was taking much of this in anyway, because the front room of Kent Man's semi-detatched home was festooned with medieval weaponry, the reflected light of the television glittering off so many buffed and shining claymores, maces, morningstars and daggers, I could barely make out a thing. Pride of place above the wooden television cabinet were two curved Japanese swords on a special wooded stand that, I'm pleased to say, was carved to look like another sword. The weirdest thing was how the layout of the semi was almost exactly the same as my parents' house in Cornwall. If I'd won the lottery at around fourteen, then had my parents shipped overseas so I could decorate any way I wanted, this was exactly how it would have looked.

However the on-screen events were showing no sign of coming to any kind of conclusion. In fact, the pace seemed to be picking up somewhat, with the cast now decamping to what appeared to be some kind of small electronics warehouse in the woods, where ninjas now had the opportunity to jump out of doorways, while the haunted-looking women could now peer furtively out of actual windows.

'We'll put the turrets and stuff in post-production', said Kent Man idly, in a manner that suggested adding post production turrets was but the work of a moment for one such as he. 'Might put some magic effects in as well, like fireballs and stuff'. I nodded wisely, and at this point, the other contributors appeared. Their faces and voices are lost to me now, in the mists of time, although I do remember Kent Man's wife bringing a tray of teas and coffees round in that slightly absent way I'm sure is present in the spouses of the more cosily middle-aged serial killers. They know hubby has a little hobby, but they also know better than to ask for too many details.

Once Mrs Kent Man had left the room, we were able to look at footage from the previous weekend, in which the hero (who I think was one of the cloaked men with swords) had to seduce the wife of a prominent baron, or possibly a ninja, or perhaps the owner of the small, woodlands-based electronics warehouse. The wife was a fairly large woman in her late forties, wearing one of those sort-of-Middle Ages dresses, and a rather blank expression on her face, which turned out to be for the best.

'None of these people are professional actors,' said Kent Man proudly. 'That's Enid, who works down at Tesco.' On screen, the hero sat Enid down on a large bed, which had been carefully laid out with a medieval-style duvet, looked briefly at the camera for guidance, and then began unlacing her top.

'Hmm', I thought to myself. 'Righto'. But he kept on unlacing, and then suddenly the top half of the dress was hanging down, and it became increasingly apparent that Enid was wearing no support garment. The hero placed his hands upon Enid's mighty charms and began a seduction technique that involved a sort of listless kneading the like of which I have never seen before, although to be fair, I gave up watching Big Brother quite early on. The kneading continued for some time. Enid's expression did not change at any point.

'Meep,' I said quietly, then the hero looked sideways at the camera, and suddenly we were back to ninjas.

'Well that's just more of the same,' said Kent Man, turning off the television. I sat frozen in my chair, aware of the other people sitting next to me on the sofa, and wondering what exactly was going to happen next. What actually happened was Kent Man telling us the rest of the story, which apparently we were only a third of the way through. There was one big baddy to turn up yet, in a manner that involved time travel, possibly using items rigged up from the electronics warehouse. This opened up a whole new series of events linked together by the phrase 'and then', which was to be used approximately a thousand times in the next sixty minutes.

'The thing is,' I said, when Kent Man paused for breath, 'I've sort of got to be getting back.' I didn't dare look at the people next to me on the sofa, in case they were already winding soft velvet ropes around their hands, while eyeing up the nearest edged weapon. Kent Man shot me a terribly disappointed look, but was kind enough not to question this, and we went out to his van.

We didn't talk much on the way back to the train station, although we had one last touching moment just before I got out the last television aerial repair van I would ever exit.

'The thing is,' said Kent Man, with a touching shyness, that still makes tears well up in my eyes, 'We need a baddy for the next bit of the story. And he's supposed to be a bit sort of... dashing, and everyone I know has short hair. So how would feel about, you know, taking on the role?'

There passed a horrible, horrible moment of silence while I shuffled through the one million excuses I had started preparing around the time the first ninja had leapt out of that first clump of saplings.

'I'm sorry,' I said, finally, 'The thing is, I've got a Bob The Builder episode to write, and I just don't think I'm going to have time for projects of this scale. Thank you very much for asking though.'

And then Kent Man played his trump card.

'I've got a crossbow,' he said. 'It's in the back of the van. Do you want me to get it out?'

I thought about it. Kent Man hadn't just thrown this thing together. His sales pitch was so designed to hook into my very soul I wouldn't even have had to consider it, were it not for Enid's blank dead gaze that haunts my subconscious still.

'No thank you,' I said firmly, and walked away forever.

The Greatest Music Video Ever Made, or 'Oh Noes, He's Grabbed The Pointy Ends!!11!eleven!'"

This is going to be all over the internet soon, and peope are going to be queueing up to take the piss, but I genuinely think there's something glorious about this video. The guy who made it knows EXACTLY what he likes, and you have to respect that. Well, not 'respect' exactly, but something very close.

Also, if I could play the guitar, I would play it exactly the way Chris Dane Owens does at 2:13.

It's also brought a deeply repressed memory back of a strange incident in Kent, about ten years ago, involving Waterstone's, female nudity, crossbows, and a television repair man. But there's no time to go into that right now.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why do female comedy writers tend to be writer/performers?

Some interesting responses to the post about the Screenwipe TV writing special. It hadn't occured to me that the writers Charlie was interiewing were all male, but when I tried to think of some female television writers as well-known as RTD, Paul Abbot, Bain and Armstrong or Tony Jordan, I simply drew a blank. After a bit of a struggle, I came up with Kay Mellor and Lynda La Plante, although I can't pretend to be that familiar with the work of either of them.

Yet if we're specifically talking about comedy, there are of course, plenty of female comedy writer/performers: The Bearded Ladies, Sharon Horgan, French and Saunders, Ruth Jones, Meera Syal, Catherine Tate and Julia Davies to name but some. So why is this?

1. I think mainly because comedy-writing as a profession is just terribly terribly geeky, which has to be combined with a sort of misplaced rage that women don't seem to suffer from in quite the same way as do men. It's quite a macho little world, in a seedy, sad sort of way.

2. Performer to writer is quite a natural sidestep. This annoyed me terribly when I first started out. These people already have careers of their own, why would they want mine as well? But it actually makes perfect sense: all that time sitting around doing nothing while you wait for people to fiddle with lights means you often have time to think 'surely I could write better than the load of old rubbish masquerading as a script in front of me?' Plus, comedy's a small world - if you already have a living, however meagre, as a performer, you're well placed to get your material to agents, producers and commissioners, in a way you simply don't if you're just starting out.

UPDATE: also, lest anyone think I'm having a go at writer/performers here, people who regularly have to read out their own lines, or those written by other people, usually pick up a load of skills directly transferable to writing: dialogue written by those used to performing is often much more convincing than that written by someone who's never actually had to say their own words aloud. Comic timing translates to the page better than you'd think: think of Victoria Wood, for example. Writer/performers can often fall down on structure (which I often think is overrated anyway), but they usually know how to write dialogue that sounds like something someone would actually say, rather than a bit of speech that just bridges a gap, or fixes some other minor technical problem.

3. Comedy seems to be more and more geared towards writer/performers generally. There really isn't that much cash on offer for writing a half-hour episode of comedy (the starting rate for a channel four sitcom is about seven grand, which may sound a lot until you realise that has to cover month's worth of writing and rewriting, and often you'll be put on a Comedy Lab or similar scheme, which can pay about half that). There's more money in performing, so many actors write scripts almost at a loss, knowing they'll make back the cash if they cast themselves.

4. Female writers just don't seem to do that sort of 'snappy one-liner auto-cue here comes a joke about John Prescott being fat' sort of thing that gets so many comedy writers started. Not to say that they couldn't if they wanted to, but for most of the female comedy writer/performers I know, their material seems to be more complex than that, less reliant on kneejerk 'lol Will Young is teh gayz' type stuff. Thankfully.

5. I suspect quite a few women comedy performers are pushed into writing almost solely because good material for women comic actors is so thin on the ground.

But that's just off the top of my head, and I'm not a) female, or b) a performer, so they could all be completely wrong. Any other points of view, please feel free to comment below.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Always Back The Writer

Idiot Comedy Actor A heckles, then throws a succession of increasingly heavy and dangerous stuff at Comedy Writer B, who is accepting an award, culminating in quite a cool moment at 1:14.

Okay, I know it's not that dramatic or anything, but for a writer, that's pretty amazing, taking into account the standard writerly lack of physical coordination alone.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

'It's like doing a big poo'

If there's anyone who hasn't seen it yet, Episode Three of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe is still available on iPlayer, including interviews with Russell T. Davies, Paul Abbot, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, Tony Jordan, and Graham Linehan. Fifty minutes long, and well worth it for anyone who's ever wondered about the ins and outs of writing for television. General consensus seems to be: procastination is fine, don't write scenes set on aircraft carriers if you can't afford them, and think twice before throwing David Mitchell into a freezing cold lake, but basically do it if you think it'll get a laugh.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Blue Cat Blog Meet 2008: The Post-Match Analysis:

1. Boz is surprisingly chiselled in real life.
2. Jayne is v. slinky with great hair.
3. Billy looks as good as ever.
4. We all drank too much.
5. Ow my head.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I caught up with an old friend from school today. We hadn't really hung out for about twenty years, and our friendship was based, as far as I was concerned, on me shouting 'let's play judo!' and pushing him over every lunch break, while he sighed patiently. He is now a policeman, a fact he chose to break to me over the phone thusly:

FRIEND: You do know I'm a copper, at the moment?

It was the 'at the moment' I particularly liked, as though later that afternoon he may well have started robbing banks, or stabbing passersby on a whim.

Later, conversation turned to Facebook.

FRIEND: (in disbelief) You go on Facebook? But you have a baby, and work from home! How do you have time?

Sometimes I forget what it's like for people who have proper jobs.

Things You Probably Couldn't Get Away With In The Police:

1. Doing, at most, three hours of Policing a day, and claiming the rest of the day counts as work, because you were 'thinking about crime'.

2. Claiming to have solved new cases, when you actually just dug up some old cases from a couple of years ago, and changed the titles and some of the names.

3. Often not going outside for days on end.

4. Getting bored with writing up crime reports, so ending them with 'and then a load of zombies arrived'.

5. I had something very clever for 5, but I've since forgotten it.

Anyway, abandoning this post, because it wasn't really going anywhere, there seems to be some kind of mini blog meeting evolving for Monday night (1st December), around 6-6.30 at The Mortimer on Berners Street, just off the Tottenham Court Rd end of Oxford Street. Currently confirmed as attendees: Boz, Jayne, James Moran. Anyone who's around is quite welcome, be they blogger, commenter, or lurker. I will probably have some geeky object on the table if I remember, but we will easily be the most glamorous and exciting group of people in place anyway, so will be easy to find.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday morning department of interesting links.

Lots of stuff up at the BBC Writers Room site for Survivors: an interview with series (re)creator Adrian Hodges and another with series writer Gaby Chiappe.

Elsewhere on the BBC site, a fascinating (well, if you're into SF and telly) archive of Doctor Who development notes from 1963, including a report into whether the BBC should be getting into SF at all (conclusions: the Americans have all the suitable material, and SF isn't actually as popular as Westerns anyway), and some audience reports on Who's pilot episode 'An Unearthly Child'. This focus group stuff goes further back than anyone had ever suspected. I'm too scared to look at it just now, in case the word 'aspirational' is in there.

UPDATE: pilot script now up for download.

Monday, November 17, 2008


The first two episodes of my Teen Drama Project, which I can now exclusively reveal is called 'Rock', and is about the small north cornwall town where every year posh kids get into punch-ups with the locals (that was pretty much the pitch right there, although rest assured there will also feature such delights as The Owlman Of Mawnan Smith, a Hugh Grant lookalike, and some Lovecraftian ferrymen), have finally been given an enthusiastic thumbs up by the BBC Heads of Fiction, Development and Serials, and are winging their way to what may well be the last desk they will ever lie upon: that of the Controller of BBC 3, whose wisdom, I am assured, is akin to that of Solomon on one of his more thoughtful days. If he likes them, he will be commissioning a series. If not, then... I don't know really.

So this is either the end of a process I've been wittering about for blimmin' ages (start at the bottom to read the complete collection), or the the start of something beautiful. Oi just don't know.


Disappointed he didnt manage to get Thatcherism in there somwhere though.

I really liked Rafael's article on Strictly Come Dancing, summing up just exactly what it is I find so distasteful about the whole 'never mind the quality, feel the backstory' attitude a lot of these shows seem to have, making them cheap drama in more ways than the obvious.

Quoth Rafael:

"The Sergeant Doctrine appeals to the public's urge to stick two fingers up to authority for the sake of it (by rewarding stubborn ineptitude). It is the difference between democracy and populism. Sergeant is not really an underdog but a skilful renegade, appealing directly for voters to spite the judges. 'The public will save me,' he asserts. His survival depends on opposition to the principles of the programme - the worse he dances, the better he does. Like all populist rebels, his role is ultimately destructive."

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Yes, well, that'll teach me to try and set up an Out Of Office email reply thing, you know, like grownups with proper jobs use, because I'm away in Scotland until Monday 17th. It seems to have caused some kind of feedback loop that could easily have consumed the entire interweb until I shut it down (I had to use welding goggles and thick gloves, it was great). Anway, apologies to anyone I may inadvertantly have spammed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Conversations with:

While I try to line up the script editor interview, here are the earlier Q&A sessions from this here blog:

Agent: Matt Connell
Children's Writer: Alex Williams
Composer: Garry Judd

Other people I'll be trying to get some goddam answers from at some point: Producer, Lighting Person, Director, Professional Killer.

ALSO: ooh, 'Survivors' trailer! Ninety minute opening episode goes out, I believe, 23rd November.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aaaaaaaaand relax

Something I would never have expected when I started out in The Job That Mostly Involves Sighing: having a drama script rejected (or judged harshly, or basically receive anything other than total adulation) is way more painful than having my comedy writing shat on from a great height.

I suspect this is because comedy provokes, or at least aims to provoke, a visceral, physical reaction. You either laugh at it (or maybe smile thinly, whatever), or you don't. And if the writer has written something he really, truly, considers funny, then he has to accept that not everyone has the same sense of humour. So if someone reads one of my sitcom scripts and just plain doesn't like it, then... no harm done. No two people quite have the same sense of humour. You can't really take it personally.

Last year, I had a comedy script works its way up through the various levels of the BBC Comedy department, culminating in a meeting with the then-Head of Comedy Jon Plowman, which was, you know, fun, in its own way. He eventually turned the script down, on the grounds that 'ultimately, it didn't make him laugh', and as reasons to turn down comedy scripts go, that one would seem to be fair enough. Obviously, a small and bitter part of me was muttering 'wait, My Hero did make you laugh?', but it was an honest and straightforward kind of rejection, way preferable to the standard commissioning behavior of keeping you waiting for six months while they wonder if they want something more primary coloured.

Drama, however... well it's a strange thing. When producers, or commissioners, are reading a script, they're unlikely to react to the drama with the same intensity they would to a comedy script. They have to intellectualize it, try and picture the finished product, view it from the point of view of the 'average viewer', as if such a creature existed. And in order to help the producer or commissioner process the script intellectually, they need a toolkit. Hence the utter fracking tyranny of Robert McKee's 'Story'.

Not that books about scripts, and structure, and story, are automatically bad. I'm actually quite partial to 'Story', which does as good a job of explaining story 'beats' as any handbook I've come across, and I highly recommend Christopher Vogler's 'The Writer's Journey' if you have any interest in films as modern myth, Joseph Campbell, and all that Jungian-style archetypal larking about.

No, the problem comes when people who aren't writers pick up these books, and make the fairly basic error of assuming that any script that follows all the rules of 'Story', second act curtains, story beats and all, must be solid. It ticks all the boxes, follows the same rules as highly-produced Hollywood blockbusters, therefore must be watertight, Grade-A narrative product.

When I wrote a while ago about Stephen Moffat not using outlines, I left something out. Or rather, didn't update it appropriately. You see, a couple of days later, I was chatting with a couple of story editors employed by a large broadcasting company.

'Did you know', I said in the breathless tones Russell Brand must have had after discovering a secret directory of the home numbers of Britain's most respected comedic actors, 'Stephen Moffat doesn't use outlines!'. At which point the temperature dropped noticeably, and one of the script editors audibly harrumphed.

'Yes, well', said the other script editor 'Frankly you can tell'.

Only later did it occur to me that this was the equivalent of the work experience guy interrupting a record company meeting with exciting news about this whole 'downloading' thing, or perhaps one of the smaller mammals enthusiastically pointing out the increasingly bright light in the sky to his dinosaur mates.

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, other than I'm sort of killing time at the moment while I wait for any of up to four different projects to either get the chop or move on to an interesting and exciting new stage, involving me being given amounts of money to make up stuff. And if the main one comes off, my new rule is that I'm going to attempt to work exclusively with people who, when given a choice between the average piece of weak-ass Saturday night television that ticks every box in the 'Story' checklist, but still manages to clunk along with leaden dialogue, two-dimensional characters and utterly predictable stories, or something like Blink, are capable of picking the latter.

ALSO: in other news, Brooker responds to Pegg re rahhhhhh zombies versus uuuurrrgghhh zombies.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I see a Mister S. Pegg is weighing in on Jayne's side of the debate over at the Guardian blog: Simon Pegg argues for a return to traditional zombie values

"...the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable."

I still think it's (dead) horses for courses myself, but I look forward to Gordon Brown picking a side.

Anyone playing Fable II? Rather enjoying it myself (my character's a foxy gunslinging chick who seems to live almost entirely on celery), and there's an interesting interview with game creator Peter Molyneux over at Gamasutra,which includes a bit about the use of script editors to refine the storyline (about page three, I think).

"We had a real problem, because we wanted to tell this story that you would remember. Normally, when we did Fable I, for example, the story actually didn't come together till the last three months, because you didn't have the regions. And you had to have the regions to have the voice stuff in.

And this was our problem. If we were to tell a truly great story we need to get script writers and directors, and gosh knows, and actors involved way before our world was even started.

So we did something which I think you are going to see more of, in this industry, called staging. What we did: We wrote the story. We got a script writer in. He wrote the script to the story."

Full Peter Molyneux interview

Friday, October 31, 2008

Not Still Alive

The best song about zombies ever, 'Re: Your Brains', now available as a free mp3 over at Jonathon Coulton's blog.

I think he might be a teensy bit of a genius.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dead Set: Episode One

It does say something that the bits I was going 'oooh', and closing my eyes at were the opening scenes of straight Big Brother stuff: contestants in the diary room, and people outside chanting stuff and holding up signs and so on. I was really quite happy to watch properly the moment the zombies turned up. Anyway, I thought it was jolly good.

'Survivors' starts fairly soon as well.

*makes improvised crossbow out of garden tools and bungie cord, heads off to deli for some Earl Grey*

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rejection notes

While we're still on jargon, a quick email to various colleagues brought forth the following (genuine) reasons for scripts being rejected:

"We feel the script lacks primary colours." (the writer in question says "My offer to specify in the directions that the main character dresses in a pillar box red pullover throughout failed to retrieve the project from the bin").

"There are too many funny bits, and not enough other bits."

"We like the writing but we're not doing grey" (as Oli has suggested, is there perhaps a glut of execs with synaesthesia?)

"This is too intelligent for an (channel deleted) audience."

"Hattrick is not at home to whimsy."

"It's very very funny, but it begs the question 'why?'"

"It's great.  We love it.  The script made me laugh out loud.  We're not doing it."

Email from one writer to another: "Well we got the notes from ITV and basically they don't want jokes about people, ideas, books, places, history, travel, cars, politics or things.  So far in the script they have approved something about a meat auction."

And from a director about a script that was made: "I don't bother looking at the bits in italics" i.e. the stage directions.

UPDATE: James Moran says:

You can name me, because I still don't know who the guilty party was. When Severance was being sent out to production companies, about a week later some complete stranger returned a copy to the PFD office - they'd found it on a bus. Clearly somebody at one of the companies found it a very gripping read. We never found out who it was, nobody owned up to losing it.

I would add to this, to continue the developing sub-theme of mystery rejection, James's agent rejected my very first sitcom script without me ever having sent it to him. He returned a copy of the script with a very nice note saying it wasn't quite his cup of tea, but I shouldn't let this kind of thing get me down, because everyone has differing tastes, and I was bound to get representation eventually, which I did, awwww. Although I still have no idea who sent him my script.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

They grow them in vats, you know.

While I'm faffing about in a basement on Brick Lane (I got the sleeper back, or I would have bought Jayne that drink I promised her, and maybe seen if Boz wanted to come out as well, although the Great Blue Cat Booze Up will have to wait for another time now), I get a message on my phone from (Unnamed Script Editor), in which he explains his concerns I may have "failed to sufficiently internalize those notes" he had recently sent. I'm not entirely sure what this means. Was I supposed to eat them?

Then another call from Patroclus:

PATROCLUS: That script editor called for you, because he couldn't get you on the phone. I said you were on the train, and then he asked if you were completely peripatetic.


PATROCLUS: (patient) It means you move around a lot.

ME: Oh.

It's true, I do move around a lot, like Mick Jagger.

Later I get another phone message from (Unnamed Script Editor). He wants me to come in for a meeting so we can 'headline some stuff'. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HE'S TALKING ABOUT. I've decided that I will go to the meeting, but will only talk in Cornish. That'll learn them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wibbly Kingdom

More YouTube posts in lieu of actually posting anything - I don't have any strong feelings about Stephen Fry's 'Kingdom' series either way, but I did like Harry Enfield's version, from 'Harry and Paul':

Thursday, October 09, 2008


As sourced by Jayne: 'Take On Me' - the literal version.

Argh, now I want to see the Family Guy version, but YouTube's full of stupid people doing their stupid parodies of a parody. Dammit

UPDATE: Jayne comes up trumps again in the comments thread. Ten housepoints for Griffindor.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Parenthood: a guide for writers


A useful means of networking with female television executives. Note that baby photos can be used as a form of networking currency, with a value roughly akin to that of a well-painted Warhammer figurine to an Aardman animator (quite a lot). HOWEVER: do not use pictures of babies you have found on the internet 'because they look less mental'. Or if your baby is particularly odd-looking, at least take care that selected photos roughly approximate your own child's skin colour/racial origin. Do not attempt to substitute photographs of particularly cute kittens, puppies, baby crocodiles etc - WOMEN ARE TRAINED TO NOTICE THESE THINGS.


When you have a baby, people positively expect you to have odd-smelling stains all over whatever you happen to wearing. If you are a full-time writer, the chances are you would have had odd-smelling stains all over whatever you were wearing anyway, but it's nice to have an excuse.


Note that this only applies to the female babykeeper. Constant snacking to keep strength up 'for the baby' on the part of the male babykeeper/writer will only lead to writerly flesh taking on a flabby, dough-like texture. Referring to this as 'winter bulk' will not convince anyone.


Observations as to the wisdom of Mother Nature in making babies all cute rather than 'being covered in scales and having multifaceted eyes like a wasp, because if they looked like that you'd be less likely to look after them' will not be greeted as a breakthrough in evolutionary theory akin to that of Charles Darwin's 'Hey, what if populations evolved over the course of generations through a process of, oh I don't know, let's call it natural selection'.


Writers may find their dialogue skills drying up a little at this early stage, as most of the day's conversation consists of singing 'Hey now little baby, why don't you stop screaming' to the tune of the 'Ooooh Bodyform' advert from about nineteen ninety two.


A useful phrase to bring out right as soon as you've spotted a nappy change is imminent, as this gives you a useful job to do, whilst simultaneously manoeuvering the female babykeeper into the position of prime nappy-remover by the time you return from the bathroom.


A phrase to be used at the end of the nappy changing process. Take the dirty nappy in a careful, yet firm manner, to suggest that this part of the deal is AT LEAST as onerous as the actual nappy removal and maintainance bit.


Remember: the phrase 'ooh what a shiny bum!' IS ONLY TO BE USED INDOORS.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why pasty British writers shouldn't be allowed guns

Or visas. Although to be fair, he did hit the target bang on.

Mmm, it's always entertaining to see a fellow writer get injured. More details about Jimbo's trip to see the Texanians here.

And while we're on the adventures of Moran and Arnopp, I was most tickled by the Illustrated Guide To Taking Feedback over at over at Danny's.

Monday, September 29, 2008

He did the music for 'Octopus Volcano' you know

I'm starting to realise just how little I really understand about how television is put together, mainly because if you're a writer, your involvement in the process tends to end just as everyone else's starts. So I thought I'd maybe start asking a few people at the more technical end of things some questions, and put the answers up here.

Chat One: Garry Judd, a composer who has scored for over one hundred television programmes. He knows his onions and was cajoled into revealing them thusly:
What you done music for then? Anything me and the missus would have seen?
Trinny And Susannah Undress, Highland Rescue, All About Me, Robbie Coltrane’s B-Road Britain...over 120 TV shows (oy!!!) and my library stuff has been used on...Gardeners’ World, Dalziel & Pasco, That 70s Show etc...
How did you get into composing scores for television shows? Is there a recognized career path, or is it something you sort of wander into?
I always wanted to do it whereas others can fall into it between writing pop music and stuff like that. My brother and I teamed up about 14 years ago and started from scratch...He is my agent and gets me most of my TV work.
What's the job of a composer exactly (and is that the right job title)? Is it one of those annoying jobs where, if you do it right, no-one notices you were even there?
I like 'composer'...I write, arrange, record and get the music into the edit/dub. If I’m lucky, I can use the occasional real musician, so I have to organise them, or get a fixer to do it for me and book any extra studio time that’s needed. Mostly though, it’s just me, my computers and my instrument collection!!! Yes, really good music helps rather than sticks out, although there can be moments where the music can be enjoyed in its own right.
What particularly annoys me at the moment is that a lot of music in television dramas seem to simply underline every emotion, telling the viewer what to feel all the time. How do composers get round this sort of 'swannee whistle' problem? Or am I just being picky?
Yes, there’s really too much music in each show in my opinion. I do a lot of wildlife/Discovery-type docs and they’re about 99% music. There’s no need for it all...I think it’s lack of confidence really.
Do you tend to get pigeonholed in certain genres, or can you skip across different types of show like a mad thing?
Yes, I’m typecast as a light entertainment/documentary/reality composer, whereas I’d love to do dramas and films.
Why, in stuff like Doctor Who, does the music often seem louder than the dialogue? Something wrong with my telly? Or have my ears gone mad?
It’s probably bad mixing...I watched the Ocean’s 11 etc... films recently and the music was mixed far too loud so I had to watch it with one finger on the remote.
What kind of brief do you get given? Do you get briefs on specific scenes, or is it more 'here's a finished episode of telly, go on stick half an hour's worth of music on it'? 
The far extremes are writing lots of pieces in various moods specified by the director which they can then put where they want to writing everything to picture. If I do it that way, then I usually get to either watch it with the director (spotting) or I get notes on each scene where they need music.
If a producer actually knows a bit about music themselves, does that make them harder, or easier to work with?

If they know a little about music, then it’s a recipe for disaster, because they can put you off track by using the wrong technical words. If they know a lot about music, then...Well, I’ve not worked with one like that, but I can imagine it would help up until a point.
Are there briefs/instructions you dread being given by producers?
“We’d like something totally different...Something that you’d never expect on this type of show”, or, “We’d like something that we could release as a single.” Negative instructions are the worst “I don’t like the fuzz guitar.” Doesn’t give you anywhere to go.
What briefs/instructions do you like being given by producers? What makes you think 'ooh I'm looking forward to this one'?
I’m happiest doing orchestral stuff. I did an online drama for the BBC recently (Signs Of Life) and it was great working with a proper drama director who wanted the music to reflect character motivations etc... I loved all that!!!
Are there any shows that from your point of view have particularly good score (is it a bit insulting to call it 'background music')?
I particularly liked the music for Kid A. There wasn’t much of it, but it was very effective.
Any film scores you think do a particularly great job?
Just about anything by John Barry, Quincy Jones, Bernard Herrman and James Horner, John Williams, In particular, Midnight Cowboy, The Ipcress File, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Psycho, The Italian Job, The Indiana Jones fillums etc...
What are the cool gigs to get, that make all your composer mates jealous?
One that has lots of parts and lots of repeated music, because of the royalties!!! Personally, I get HORRIBLY jealous of anyone doing a drama, particularly if I know of a bit of politics that got them the job while I wasn’t in with a chance.
Do you get to pick the top three indie tunes to play over the emotional bit in a episode of Skins or whatever, or is that someone else's job?
No...The writer or director will usually do that with the help of a music clearance expert.
What would you like to be doing in the future?
Dramas and films.

Do you ever have proper shouty fights with producers?
No, I am English, so I am charming and lovely to their face and I then go away and plot to kill them in various painful ways in my leisure time.

Many thanks Garry.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The other 43 minutes and 50 seconds of Merlin

UPDATE: I quite liked the rest of it, stilted dialogue and REALLY ANNOYING MUSIC (Here's a sad bit! Here's a happy bit!) aside. Perfectly good young person acting, which isn't always the case, and sets up the relationship between the young Arthur and Merlin nicely. When the blue kitten's a bit older, would I be happy to watch this with her? Yes, I think I probably would.

Did like the bit spotted by Boz though:

He went down about ten steps to get into that cellar - WITH THE HUGE CAVERNOUS ROOF GOING UPWARDS

Yes. Entire sessions of Dungeons and Dragons have been scuppered by less.

I was about to have another rant about the CGI dragon looking, as most CGI dragons look, like badly-lit plasticene. But then I remembered I'm currently writing two episodes of a thing with a CGI dragon on it, so I'd better not say that. I think I'm just always going to be biased towards animatronics, and knowing a couple of people who do CGI effects,they've often done wonders with an extremely small budget, so having a go at them seems rather unfair. And to be fair, this could also apply to composers, couldn't it? Hmm, it's tricky, this criticism lark.

People reading this who have kids themselves: how does it go down when you lay older, CGI-free stuff like Labyrinth, Robin of Sherwood or Jim Henson's The Storyteller on them? I've heard horrid reports that some children, blinded by the CGI toyfest that is the new Star Wars films view the originals as being in some way 'inferior'. But that can't be true, as surely in those cases, the child would be simply given away and the matter hushed up, so how would the story get out? Doesn't make sense.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Five seconds into that new BBC Merlin thing

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I really have watched hardly any of Merlin so far; the voiceover and score instantly made me so cross I needed to get it out of my system. I thought it probably wasn't fair to watch the rest of it while I was in such a bad mood, so will get back to it later. TREMBLE IN YOUR BOOTS BBC.

Dear British Television People,

Look, you fucks, stop insisting every last bloody series has to have a voiceover on it! You're only doing it because the Americans do it. Yes, alright, sometimes a voiceover brings something extra: in Dexter, for example, there's a whole level of irony generated by contrasting Dexter's outward appearance (neat, clean, polite) with the reality (smirking serial killer), as well as bringing some of the flavour of Jeff Lynsey's original novels (in fact I reckon adaptations get a free pass for use of voiceovers generally).

In Arrested Development, Ron Howard's narration allows focus to shift between a large number of characters with the minimum loss of momentum. The narrator himself also starts to become a character in his own right as the series goes on, although not all the viewers approved.

The rot started though, with Pushing Daisies, the start of which went something like this:

A boy runs across a field.

NARRATOR: This is a boy running across a field.

The boy's dog dies. He brings it back to life.

NARRATOR: The boy's dog died. But look, then he brought it back to life!

ME: Yes, I can see that. Because it just happened.

NARRATOR: I wasn't sure if you were looking.

ME: I was looking.

NARRATOR: But what if you blink? OH GOD, WHAT IF YOU BLINK!

ME: You're going to do this all through the entire episode aren't you?

The boy grows up and opens a pie shop.

NARRATOR: And then the boy grew up and opened a pie shop.

I decide never to watch Pushing Daisies again.

ME: I decided, right then, never to watch Pushing Daisies again.


This happens, you see, because the American networks are all too horribly aware that their show is just one of five hundred alternate distractions, and that if at any moment you get confused about what's happening on screen, you'll just wander off and fall down a mine, and never watch any television ever again. Consequently, just seeing what's happening on screen isn't enough; the viewer needs it laying out in black and white at the same time, in case they become confused, freak out, and fall down that mine again.

Which means, if you're working on television series over in the States at the moment, and increasingly, it seems, over here, the chances are you'll be asked to work a voiceover into at least the pilot episode. Which completely fucks over the whole point of screenwriting, which is to show, not tell. You may as well retitle The Sixth Sense: 'OMG He's Dead'. Voiceovers also give those screenwriters who are frustrated novelists (most of us) the chance to use all the pompous verbiage they've had stored up since sixth form. The results aren't pretty.

So here's the new rule: if there's a valid, story-enhancing reason to use a voiceover, then by all means, go mental. If the only reason you're putting one in is because some suit is worried stupid people won't be able to follow the action, tell him or her you don't want to make television for stupid people. And if fact, those stupid people mostly exist on the suit's imagination anyway. And then PUNCH THE SUIT IN THE FACE.

Right. *puts Merlin back on*

Almost immediately:


*passes out*

Still, that's ten seconds further than I got with Bonekickers.

The Parade Organisers Are Very Strict

Just wanted to surface from the daze of sleep deprivation and bouncy-walking* that is the first ten days of parenthood to put a shout out (as I believe the young people say), for the makers of the (organic, oh yes) re-washable nappies the blue kitten seems to be getting through at a rate of knots. People laughed when we said we wanted to use washeable nappies, laughed and pointed and called us names and pulled our hair.

But they reckoned without cool Cornish nappy technology, or 'Kernow Nap-Tech' (as I reckon it should be called), the company being called One Life, and it's working really well. You buy a job lot of about three hundred, which come in a wicker basket with a load of extras (including liners made of coconut matting something nice and soft, which you just flush away), and then you're done and don't have to buy nappies again. Just bung the used ones in a plastic bucket (provided) and wash them all together when it's full. I think the only disadvantage is they're a bit hotter than the disposeable ones, so you have to take that into account with blankets and stuff.

Blue Kitten and I have come to a pleasing arrangement that on the rare occasion I physically do the nappy changing, there's nothing nasty there, which is working well so far. My role is mostly to sit next to Patroclus as she does the real work, saying things like 'do you want a wipey thing?', 'you missed a bit', and 'hurrah! Princess Pooeypants has turned into Princess Cleanypants and is now ready for the Penryn Clean Bottom Parade!'. Not sure where the last one came from.

* You sort of have to say this. Actually, it hasn't been too bad - I've had time to play Bioshock again from the beginning, for example and get three hundred pages into the new Neal Stephenson, in which, so far, Nothing Has Happened. I shall stick with it though, ho yuss.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Radio Show That Launched A Thousand Writers

Originally uploaded by jamesandthebluecat
Hurrah, friend of the blog Ian Greaves' book on Weekending is out!

"In the spring of 1970, BBC Radio 4 premiered a new late-night topical sketch show. Initially an unassuming antidote to the week's events, Week Ending grew to become the nerve-centre of new writing in British comedy. It existed in part as a place for scriptwriters to learn the ropes, before graduating to Not The Nine O'Clock News, Spitting Image and beyond. It also provided an early platform for Britain's best-loved performers, amongst them Steve Coogan, David Jason and Tracey Ullman. However, by its eventual demise in 1998, Week Ending had become a neglected and much-maligned programme. What caused it to lose ground as the respected entry point, and how did it sustain itself for so long?"

Available to pre-order at Amazon, or you order straight from the publisher (and slightly more cheaply) here.

UPDATE: my attempt to Flickr the cover are laughably poor, so I should probably add that it's called "Prime Minister, You Wanted To See Me?" - A History of Week Ending.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thanks for all the lovely comments.

All much appreciated. My Mum came round last night, saw Blue Kitten grizzling in her cot, and swiftly had her in her arms, gently bouncing her gently up and down. Grizzling stopped in about half a second. Cue astonishment from me and Patroclus, who'd are still worrying about how you pick her up without her head falling off. However, we have now adopted the practice, and are thinking of starting a series of workshops set in the South of France to bring this wise old folk remedy to the masses.

Next Week: Babies like shiny things, apparently.

Stephen Mangan is already trying to set up Blue Kitten with his own infant son, although there are some complications about the dowry. I've had to explain that I'm considering a wide range of portfolios, including Blue Kitten going into indentured servitude to Steven Moffat until 2026, when she will be playing the first female Doctor Who. Anyway, it's early days yet.

Note to casual readers whose attitude to babies are that they're all pretty much pink bags of shite, so why go on about them : yes, I'm afraid this blog will go off the boil for a bit. Probably come back in a couple of weeks, when the novelty has worn off, and I'm back to whinging about producers again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blue Kitten

blue kitten

Patroclus knackered, but did very well. We made a blog baby!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cross blog pollination.

As t'were. Currently it's all happening over here.

Earlier I went out to get some raspberry teabags.

Outside, a load of Cornish scaffolders are taking turns to call each other to prayer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tum Te Tum


I have completed the raised seed bed, converted from the old futon base. WHERE'S MY SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT INTERVIEW? Hmm? Although I haven't actually put anything in it yet. In fact, I'm not sure what I'm going to put in it, other than a load of compost from the bin, with a layer of Paid For (boo) compost on top. And then a cut-down shower curtain on top of that, to stop weeds getting in while I look at it, and go 'hmmm' a lot.


I meant to use this calm before the storm as an opportunity to get loads of fiction reading done, as all I've been reading lately are 4E D&D manuals and pop histories about the seventeenth century (Lisa Picard's 'London', v.good). But the new Neal Stephenson doesn't seem to have been published yet, and my ability to read any other work of fiction by anyone other than Nealy or Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman seems to have been wildly compromised. I lose patience with fiction writing incredibly quickly these days. In fact pretty much all my reading at the moment goes like this:

1. I have heard good things about this book, I will purchase it (or at least get it out of the library).

2. Bah, this book annoys me! I will go on Wikipedia to find out what happened at the end.

3. Ooh I quite liked the ending.

4. I enjoyed that, I will read it again. *hits 'Refresh'*

This Wikipedia reliance reached ridiculous heights the other day, when I bought a DVD of that 10,000 BC thing, knowing it would be rubbish, put it in the machine, then within seconds, was on Wikipedia to see what was happening, because I couldn't be arsed to watch it. Madness.

UPDATE: although I am enjoying Charles Stross's 'Halting State', despite the irritiating 'written in second person thing', which I'm sure is supposed to remind you of the Worlock of Firetop Mountain or something (Chez Blue Cat's cultural touchstone of choice), but actually makes it unnecessarily hard to gain any traction with the characters. Some really interesting stuff though, and interesting that all the top SF writers are slowly migrating over to writing stuff that's barely SFual at all. I would also like extra double geek points for knowing that the D&D 'slaadi' monsters one of the characters encounters were in fact invented by Charles Stross himself, back in nineteen tumpty tum, for the Fiend Folio. I ROCK!

Sunday, September 07, 2008


If there's one good thing about the load of old plop currently describing itself as comedy on BBC 3 and C4, it's that it's finally motivating people to get off their arses and do their own thing*. 'Radioface' is a group of people from the Cook'd and Bomb'd comedy forum. Done with a budget of about three pounds twenty, and yet the first video made me laugh more than anything I've seen on UK television in about three years. Something about the sheer confidence of it, added to the great timing, and the fact that none of it lingers too long on any on bit, gives it a zip that 'properly' produced shows with a thousand times the budget can only dream of.

EDIT: no, no sign of the Blue Kitten yet, will of course put an update on the blog when she arrives, unless something more interesting happens, like a new D&D monster, that sort of fing.

* Actually I may be imposing my own agenda on to the creators' motivations there, they haven't said anything about the current state of comedy on BBC 3 or C4.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"Never, ever, under any circumstances, cast an actor unless they've appeared in Green Wing."

I liked this: How To Be A Commissioning Editor, off the E4 site.

Also liked: "Remember, the secret of comedy is not writing or performances. It's about having great meetings." So, so true.

"Presently the proper person arrived from the consignees, but found the gold-dust gone."

Coo, you go looking for more details about the ghostly coach drawn by headless horses that drives through Penryn 'just before Christmas' (when is that? 11:48 Christmas Eve? Some time in October?), and end up reading about Falmouth's great gold dust robbery of 1839.

My nan once saw a ghostly coach at Weybridge, and Pendennis Castle has a ghostly coach that drives past the main gates every now and then. My theory is it's the same one, which means it'll have to comes down the A39 and turn off at Truro, go through Penryn, then up past the 24-hour garage, over the rugby ground roundabout then along the seafront to the castle.

Anyway, "Lost In Austen".

I really liked this opening episode. Well-acted, beautifully-lit (I seem to have become a lighting nerd), the background music isn't overdone, and writer Guy Andrews has completely resisted the opportunity to crank up the pseudo-Austeneque dialogue for laughs. Which isn't to say it isn't properly funny. Favourite line thus far: 'Elizabeth is presently to be found disporting in the otter-strewn thoroughfares of Hammersmith'.

I think the main reason I like it (apart from fancying Jemima Rooper since 'As If'), is that it's a big, pleasingly silly idea, that has been treated with great seriousness, allowing the natural humour of the situation to sort of bubble though, like the stock in a good risotto.

Available to view online here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Charlie Brooker's Dead Set

Mmm, zombies. I'm a sucker for the 'small group of survivors gazing out over a ruined landscape' shot (although it did take me a while to realise you have to click on the eye to get the teaser trailer).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Future fathers, learn from my mistakes.

There probably is a technical term for all the various motions a baby goes through in the womb, before its head engages with the pelvis, and it begins its dramatic entrance into the world.

However, you are under no circumstances, whether you're sitting in the waiting room of a maternity unit or not, to refer to this stage as 'circling the plughole'.

Lesson ends.

Note: Patch hasn't given birth or owt yet, it was just a check-up.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I done played it too much + Friday Music Video

5pm Thursday, August 21st

Your Server was exploring the dungeon and preparing to battle the mighty dragon when it encountered a horde of good-looking, expert Tiny Adventure players.

Your Server made a server load check with a difficulty of 3700 . . . and rolled 1

Your Server was dominated by the exited players and its CPU was trampled. Your Server headed back to the shop to purchase a huge upgrade for itself and will be back tomorrow. The horde of players was thanked again for their enthusiasm and patience.


Please check back tomorrow afternoon (Friday August 22nd)


(emoticons model's own)

To fill the ENDLESS GAP until this afternoon, a video of Ed Harcourt's 'Born in the Seventies'.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tiara Burnyhands for the win!

In Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, Tieflings, as any fule kno, are a race of beings descended from a mighty human empire whose regular interbreeding with demonic beings caused the downfall of their civilisation, and a range of crossbreed demihumans with big horns, pointy tails, and a certain whiff of brimstone.

In a similar story of bravery and foolhardiness, I recently had a go at providing some online content to an upcoming BBC drama series. I wish Tieflings had been around then, because they could have really helped me out.

Wizard of the Coast, the new(ish) owners of the Dungeons and Dragons IP, have just released a Facebook application that allows thee, oh gentle noob, to have a crack at the whole roleplaying game thing. Well, sort of. What it does is allow you to generate a character, then watch as they go on an adventure in (more or less) real time, chewing your nails each time they fall for a flamethrower trap, or are ambushed by drow, and cursing the system mechanics that allow you to spend your discovered gold pieces on potions of healing, but not actually use them until the end of the adventure.

The app is good. Go to it:

D&D Tiny Adventures Facebook App

But how could Tieflings have helped me out in the swampy morass that is BBC 360 degree commissioning?

Well, the big thing with drama series at the moment is for them to have an online element, so that in the wasted few seconds that viewers aren't watching television, or iPlayer, there can still be a way for them to do something that involved having the BBC logo hovering somewhere in their vision. And the online content has recently been very good. Some might say that the online content has been, of late, rather better than the shows they're supposedly supporting. I wouldn't say that though. Noooooo.

So, the thing I was working on was for a new BBC Drama series, which by the way looks as though it will kick ass, in a near-deserted, post-apocalyptic Britain sort of way.

Now for me, the draw of all those 28 Days Omega Legend Of The Dead type things is how I, personally, would survive. And I would, ho yuss. Well all right, I wouldn't, but it's fun to imagine how I might. I want to put myself in the setting, actually be there with my home-made crossbow, my carrier bag full of looted fizzy pop, and my ethanol-fueled hillbilly-armoured Hopper Bus. And I was trying to explain in the meeting that a sort of online-roleplaying element type thing would be OMG the perfect accompaniment to the series - you could either put yourself in it, or randomly generate a starting character with a random number of looted health packs, batteries and shotgun cartridges and go from there.

Except it was really difficult to explain, because it sounded like a wanted a World of Warcraft type thing, which needs a budget of kerjillions and a flying aircraft carrier base (Blizzard have three of these, they sound awesome), whereas in fact I wanted something closer to those old Fighting Fantasy books, which of course sounds much less nerdy.

So, having failed my Bluff roll, we eventually settled on a series of video diaries which would interlink with the main action in the series, as overseen by the series creator (an equally cool idea by the way). And then momentum at a higher level seemed to evaporate completely, and I never heard about it again.

Next time I get asked to come with ideas for online content to accompany a drama series though (and who knows, it might even be for my own show), I can point to the D&D Facebook online app and say 'Look! Like that! Only with ninjas/spacemen/architects/whatever'.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to send Tiara Burnyhands some potions of healing, they would be gratefully received, ta.

EDIT: actually, not sure you can do that yet. But if you click on 'Friends', you can send +1 healing points. Thanks Piers!

UPDATE: "Tiara Burnyhands easily dodged the bandit lord's attacks and quickly subdued him, humiliating him in front of his band of thieves. Tiara Burnyhands was hailed as a hero when she returned the village's meager treasures."

In your FACE, bandit lord!

Ooh, I have actually got work to do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008



All right, one ripe and one almost ripe tomato, but it still counts. Endless weeks of rain have turned the new garden into a spawning pit for slugs and snails though, so it's amazing anything has survived.

An early decision to place the compost bin almost directly outside the back door had to be rethought after clouds of flies starting invading on a regular basis, setting the radio to their favourite stations and demanding cups of tea. So it got relocated to the end of the garden, and I built a second tip out of leftover bits of wood and brick thusly:


And I'm finally getting round to taking apart that futon base I've been lugging from house to house for fifteen years and turning it into a raised seed bed (very raised, I'm going to prop it up on a couple of old tea chests, so theoretically I can do gardening without any back-breaking bending down at all).


And with the aid of Jane Perrone's Allotment Keeper's Handbook, I'm going to put the finished bed out in September, which is when the Cornish weather traditionally turns radiant and lovely. Just after all the holiday makers go home. Sorry about that.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Cornish Zombie Movie: A Subgenre of One

Finally found the trailer for 1966 Hammer Horror movie: The Plague Of The Zombies, in which an evil squire forces undead locals to work in his tin mine. I have a feeling actually seeing it will only sully the perfection of its existence, but it does look pretty good, particularly the horseriding poshos WHO HUNT HUMAN QUARRY. Apparently this is EXACTLY what David Cameron was up to on his local holiday in Padstow, but it was all hushed up by the media.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

More outliney stuff

Television's Richard Preddy says in reference to the post before the post before this one (I thought I'd bump it here so it wouldn't get lost):

"Story generally depresses me. i thought maybe I simply wasn't any good at it until we were talking to Adam Chase about Friends and he said that sometimes they'd break a story in an afternoon, more likely in a few days, but sometimes in months.
Stories are hard.

Also: I know the "mind is constantly aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought [...]" quote is from Blazing Saddles but does anyone know if it's original to the film?"

I'm fairly sure it's original to Blazing Saddles, although if anyone reading this knows better, do write in. Mel Brooks was quite fond of a pointlessly erudite reference in his earlier films as well; hence the throwaway 'Prince Mishkin' line in The Producers. It was a time when you could make jokes like that in American films without execs weeding them out, terrified a single reference the audience didn't get would cause rioting in the streets. Le sigh.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Outline 2: The Reckoning

Couple of things from the previous post about writing outlines.

M'colleague in wordsmithery (kill me now) Spacemonkey, said:

"It took me years - YEARS - of endless genius 40-page pitches for things, covering every single aspect of the show, to realise that a deft one-or-two pager does the business far better.

Because Producers and Executives are Not Like Us.


B) they like to feel involved, so you give them something they can imagine themselves into, rather than something fixed and perfect and done.

C) actually, an idea that's really working and has earned its simplicity can probably be boiled down to that magic one-page anyway.

...which were very good points.

Mike said:

"Don't suppose you fancy posting an example of what a good treatment should look like (obviously for a fake project you have no intention of really doing)? All the examples I can find online are American and therefore a bit breathless and excited, which as an Englishman I find off-putting."

So I thought I'd put my money where my mouth is, and make available not only an outline that did get a option (from Hartswood Films), and then a script commission (from Channel 4), but also the final draft of the resulting script, which so impressed Channel 4 they never got back to me again.

Whether the outline's 'good' or not, I'm probably not best placed to tell, but it did at least lead to actual money going into my bank account, which frankly is good enough.

So, here's the pdf of the outline, and here's the final script, which bears not a great deal of resemblance to the original outline other than it's got blogs in it. And I'd probably lose the Sigur Ros opening now, they've become a bit overused.

UPDATE: Patroclus would like it pointed out that the outline was written before we started going out, which would have given me free access to her excellent proofreading abilities. Hence it has almost as mistakes as words, although I reckon she fails to recognise as the hallmark of a true creative who isn't afraid to stick it to The Man and shizz.

Peace out.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Outlines, and sample script pages.

Twice recently, I've written a brief outline for a production company (an outline is a a brief document designed to roughly lay out idea for the series, or film, that thus far exists only in the writer's head), and had it turned down, or nearly turned down, for including too much detail. And I've only just worked out where I went wrong.

Specifically, I not only wrote a four page document detailing characters, plotlines, and tone, but went on to write a few pages of script, some sample scenes giving each character a few lines of dialogue. So the four page Word document was accompanied by a three or four page Final Draft document that acted as a trailer, a teensy snippet of the joys to come. Ha! I thought. My extra time and effort will certainly play out in this instance, ho yuss.

No. Wrong. Bad. Mistake.

Both the producers loved the treatments. And the treatments are designed to be loved. The ideas for both series are big bold concepts that are sort of in fashion right now, but not so much that they're played out. The characters are described as likeable, but not sentimentally so. They're slightly odd, but not wacky. The tone riffs on some of the big recent successes in the appropriate genres, but not so much that there's the whiff of day-old Cornish Yarg producers get when they hear 'like The Office, but more sort of quirky' for the fifth time that day. Fresh takes are balanced with tried and trusted character arcs in a harmonic fashion that would make a Zen master weep. Were a samurai to write such a document as part of his calligraphic workout (samurai had to balance out their swordsmanship with flower-arranging and penmanship, well cool I reckon), whole armies would weep to see the complexities hidden in simple brush strokes. I give good outline.

But then they read the sample script. And both producers said, within a day of each other, 'yeeeeeeeah, you know, I kind of had a different tone in my head, so when I read the samples, they didn't quite.... work'. And there lies the nub of the matter, sitting there like a big... nub.

When you write an outline, you're selling something. Tone, character arcs, soundtrack, whatever, you're trying to build a picture in the mind of the person reading it of what the final result is going to look like. The finished product has to lie shimmering just beyond the horizon, a glorious vision of what could possibly be. At this point, you are basically a big ho, and a big ho does not promise the client the dance of seven veils, then at veil three drop to her knees and... well, you know what I'm saying. You do the dance of the veils, promise worlds untold, then retreat back into the darkness and await the call.

Of course some writers don't do outlines at all. Steven Moffat said in a recent interview with Jason Arnopp:

"I’ve always stuck to this theory, apart from one occasion when I was very tired: you never write a storyline and you certainly never submit one. Or at least, I haven’t had to for years and I rebel if asked! You write the script, and you write it in order. Because if you ever find yourself in a situation where... (thinks for a moment) You want each scene to justify itself and be good at the time. The ride has to be good at every point. You can’t be justifying things because they’ll be interesting later. If that makes sense! You could have the best idea in the world for the second half of the episode, but if the first half of the episode doesn’t have an interesting way of getting there, you’re screwed. So if you write everything in order, you know that it’s good."

Which of course lead to a half hour existential crisis on my part, because I cling to outlines, frankly (there's a blurring here with storylines, which aren't entirely the same thing, but close enough for our purposes), and I don't entirely mind writing them. Am I doing it properly, I thought? Am I some kind of producer's lackey, a Gollum to their Frodo, only taller and with great hair?

Not that S. Moffat was doing anything other than describing his own way of working - and when I walked back out of the sea and read the next sentence:

“It's probably worth adding that lots of brilliant writers... do outlines, and swear by them. I think - I'm a bit hazy - that Paul Abbott is one of them, and he's the very best. Everyone's different, and the 'no outlines' things is just personal preference."

... I chilled out a bit.

In fact, the reason I'm quite happy to do outlines and/or storylines is because my mind is constantly aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention. And I'm not great at structure. Consequently, when I started writing for Bob the Builder (all roads lead back to Bob, mainly because he built them), having to write a detailed outline for each episode so the animators could work out how many puppets could fit in each scene and whether they'd have to build any new props came as a great revelation to me. When I actually came to write the script, no longer would I constantly have to rip up great swathes of dialogue because I had forgotten that the previous scene placed the two characters currently having a nice chat with each other, hundreds of miles apart.

I suspect also that S. Moffat is blimmin' steeped in structure. Just watch episodes of Press Gang, or Coupling, and the larking about with structure is built in at an almost molecular level. Moffat eats, drinks and breathes structure, like a Doozer. Which is, I reckon, why he doesn't need to worry about outlines. But why I do.

Anyway, producer 1 has passed on the outline, producer 2 is sending the other one up the line to development, but without the sample pages. And I will never write sample script pages again.

Of course the other possibility is that the sample pages just weren't very good. But that simply doesn't bear thinking about.

Monday, July 28, 2008

It was the toast.

Kate Beaton's comics are the shizz, and have reminded me that I should start blogging again, even though July and August are weird months for writing, because every fecker is off on holiday, so I spend a lot of those months saying 'tum te tum', and sighing.

Except that in an unprecedented turn of events, I have been given lots of work to do from today onwards! I was so excited I immediately fell asleep. But I will start it properly tomorrow.


Patroclus and I were at the maternity bit of the hospital, having the Blue Kitten scanned.

SCANNING LADY: Well, the brain is very slightly smaller than is usual at this point.

ME: Eek.

SCANNING LADY: However, her legs are slightly longer than is normal.

PATROCLUS: We have made a bimbo.

ME: What if she turns out to be blonde as well? SHE COULD NEVER SURVIVE IN THE REAL WORLD!

PATROCLUS: I'm sure she's fine.

SCANNING LADY frowns at the screen, on which there appears to be some motion.

SCANNING LADY: Now she appears to be punching herself in the face.

We all look at the scanner. Blue Kitten does indeed appear to be punching herself in the face.

ME: Hmm.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tum te tum

It's all gone a bit faffy at the moment, what with waiting to hear back from various people, all of whom have apparently gone on holiday (not you, Agent Matt).

Also, I was at a bbc drama party last week, at which people kept interrupting my conversation with another writer by saying 'Excuse me, but aren't you James? OMG I love your blog!'

Except the person I was standing with was this James. So they weren't talking to me.


ALSO: just noticed that Green Wing is now available from the iTunes Store, hurrah! Out of idle curiosity, is anyone able to tell me if it's also available from the American version of iTunes?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Patroclus and I attend our first ante-natal class.

I have been lied to by every sitcom and mid-range comedy film I have ever seen. There are no plastic models of uteruses, and we do not sit in a circle and practice breathing, while I try not to faint at faint at stories about tearing, and stitches and various bodily functions that frankly don't crop up in games of D&D all that often unless you've done something really wrong.

Instead, the nice lady talks gently about how the needs of the mother must be addressed as well as the needs of the baby. Yawn. I fight the urge to stand up and tell everyone how I got into scriptwriting, which is what I've had to do every time I've been in a room with plastic chairs, bottles of water and more than five people in the past five years. At various points I try to meet the gaze of the only other male parental unit in the room, and go 'cuh', but he's busy leaning forward, frowning studiously, while the nice lady goes 'blah blah blah' in the background. He's not observing what's going on around him at all! His blog post will be rubbish. I am already the winner!

Patroclus gently nudges my foot (ow) and I realise we are being urged to discuss Our Fears About Baby. Well, my main fear that we are moving into a parallel world where the Definite Article has unaccountably vanished seems to have come true without anyone else noticing. I consider asking the 'What if Baby is really really ugly?' for a laugh, but decide not to in the end. In the end I come with something about dropping Baby (argh, now I'm doing it) on a tiled floor, just to keep the meeting moving. I can't remember what the reassuring answer was. Anyway, I have big goalkeeper's hands, it'll probably be fine.

Now, says the nice lady, let's talk about all the positive things. What have you all been looking forward to?

Patroclus and I exchange a look, and it suddenly occurs to both of us that we have been expecting nothing but unrelenting horror for the forseeable future, with the best possible result being that after eighteen years or so, Offspring learns to treat us with a sort of affectionate disdain.

Every one else is looking too shy to speak. Dammit, I could have cleaned up, if I could think of any positive aspect of baby having. Patroclus and I rack our brains. Nothing.

Well, says the nice lady (we lean forward, expectantly) sometimes parents learn to take things at a slower pace. You often find yourself singing little songs to yourself! And making a little commentary to yourself as you go about the house. And when Baby is a little older, a simple five minute trip down the road can take half an hour, as you have to stop and make a story about every leaf and snail you pass.

That appears to be it. Patroclus and I slump back in our chairs. These are all things we do anyway. Bugger.

Finally, the nice lady talks about to juggle both aspects of parenting. She seems to be under the impression that all mothers stay at home, while all fathers go to work! Fortunately, ours is a more modern relationship, where Patroclus works from home, while I sit around the house and turn down work, and play games on the X-Box, and sometimes fall asleep in the afternoon.

This is going to be easy!

On the way out, I sing the Nokia theme song, and stop to look at a snail.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Quote Of The Day

Originally uploaded by jamesandthebluecat
From this piece.

The British Museum has had its most successful year since it started counting visitors - and probably since its foundation in 1753. In the financial year 2007-08, a record 6 million people came through the doors, including 35,000 who visited on a single day to celebrate the Chinese new year.

The museum's director, Neil MacGregor, said: "We had to shut the main gates on Great Russell Street to prevent more people from coming in. It was the first time we did that since the Chartist riots of 1848 - although on that occasion the staff were actually on the roof, armed with stones."


A mighty crowd has gathered at the gates of the museum. Members of staff glare menacingly from the roof.

CHARTIST CROWD: We just want to use the toilets!

The staff begin throwing stones. The crowd retreat a little under the attack, but remain unbowed. A spokesman finally struggles forward.

SPOKESMAN: Look, we'll all buy coffees, how about that!

A small clay Anthony Gormley hits the spokesman in the forehead. He collapses.


A squad of French schoolchildren are pushed in under the gates


From inside, the sound of breakages and theft can dimly be made out. The staff go into a huddle. Meanwhile, the crowd has begun a chant.





After a while, the staff seem to have come to some sort of conclusion. One senior member of staff steps gingerly to the edge of the roof, and holds a rolled poster for the 'Lord John Russell's Toby Jugs: A Retrospective' exhibition up to his mouth.

STAFF MEMBER: (Is this thing on?) We can do a deal! Did anyone bring any antiquities?

The crowd have a think. Eventually a small child is pushed forward. In his arms he bears a bundle of rolled-up papers.

CHILD: I bring charts!




STAFF MEMBER: Bit previous.


UPDATE: when I bothered to actually look up Chartism rather than just make up silly sketches about it, it's actually quite interesting.

Monday, June 30, 2008

It was Rob.

Gah, I spent the morning cutting episode one of Teen Drama Thing down from 76 pages to 72 (episode two is only 69 pages, so the disparity was a bit jarring), and sent it off, only to discover this evening that John August, writer of Go! and Charlie's Angels, has an entire blog post up about How To Cut Pages. I wish I'd known about the Widow Control thing.

Episodes of Teen Drama Thing are actually supposed to be an hour long, so eagle-eyed readers will note that under the 'one page=one minute' rule, they're still running a bit long. This is okay for two reasons:

1) I am extremely pernickety about timing, so like to lay every beat and pause out as clearly as possible, just so the actors and director have no excuse at all for messing it up. This does tend to take up a bit of space, but the final product won't run quite as long.

2) Visual texture is incredibly important to Teen Drama Thing, which is a poncy way of saying there are things going on in the background that might not affect the plot, but will affect the emotional tone of the piece as a whole.

UPDATE: also, 3), they need to run a bit long anyway, as inevitably something has to be cut, and you don't want to have to pad it out to get it back up to length.

Here's an example from HERO TRIP, the superhero/road trip movie I wrote a while ago, the future of which depends almost entirely on whether Will Smith's HANCOCK film makes $50 million next weekend. If it does, 'post-modern superhero movies' are back in a big way, and my script will get moved onto a 'read' pile. If it doesn't, 'post-modern superhero movies' are really really out. Here's the introduction to the real identity of REX, the movie's hero (this is right at the start, so isn't giving too much away).


Hanging in Rex’s wardrobe are an array of costume parts with a slick athletic vibe to them, like neoprene surfwear crossed with American football armor, the same theme as the costume we saw in the credits sequence, but now bang up to date, and clearly working clothes as much as they are a superhero outfit.

REX pulls on the leggings, boots, jacket, utility belt, gloves and a face mask that covers right down to the top of his nose (the costume parts are all a little bashed about, with a couple of carefully-mended tears here and there). As in the comic panels, his outfit is mostly dark blue and white, with a little red in it. On his chest is a simplified logo of a burning torch. No cape.

From a glass display case, REX reverently takes his torch. He looks at it for a moment, then tucks it into his belt, and stands for a moment, gathering himself wearily before he can truly become... THE DEFENDER.

Rex stands for a moment in a proper superhero pose. Then he picks up a control and presses the button - a platform raises from beneath his feet, lifting him up through a hole in the ceiling. Halfway up, it stops. Rex presses the button a couple more times, and it starts working again.

So, you could probably get away with 'REX puts on a costume and a lift takes him up through the ceiling. It get comedically stuck on the way', especially as the whole sequence probably takes around ten seconds. But this is a really important scene - for setting tone and character at least, so I figure it's worth taking a little time to get it right.

You can overdo this of course. One thing to be aware of is that many execs skip all the descriptive stuff and only read the dialogue, so, you know, you makes your choice. Anyway, description is important, and if you care about getting the details right, your script is probably going to run slightly long. And the last reason this is get-away-with-able, is because:

3: When your episode (we're back to telly now KEEP UP) is finally filmed, it will almost certainly be very slightly shorter than the script length suggested. Better to run slightly over the slot length and have to make a few very short cuts, than run too short and have to pad.

Very good article on screenwriting in today's Guardian by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who unlike me has had actual films made (24 Hour Party People, A Cock And Bull Story and others) and thus knows what he's talking about. Go to it.

Oh, also, that thing about not trying to cheat and resize the font a couple of points smaller to make the script a couple of pages shorter without losing any content? Execs know about this, and will totally spot it, apparently in under three seconds. I've never tried it, although I know a man who has. Professional discretion however, means I cannot say his name.