Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Happy Halloween, Kids!

If you head over to Oli’s, the whole site has gone Halloween loopy in a completely professional style. Unfortunately all I can offer is a dog in a hat...


Happy Halloween!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Metlab Update

Those terribly nice folks at Metlab (well, John Sweeney to be precise) have requested the full script on the back of the synopsis I sent in a little while back – which is nice. Plus a ‘meet and greet’ next Thursday: which will be hopefully be enlightening and entertaining.

I sincerely hope it’s not an interview type situation as I tend to come across as either one of the following:

a) a highly enthusiastic version of my usual pessimistic self (I tend to switch to this default for all job interviews), or

b) a tongue tied inbred with a medication problem.

I suspect it will be a combination of the two!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Lawyer or Screenwriter? Hmmm, Tough Choice...

Oliver Burkeman is my favourite pop psychologist (click here for the full article in today's Guardian):

Apart from anything else, the "one focus" belief serves to inhibit action: if you believe you have to give up your job as a lawyer in order to become a screenwriter - because people have to have one job - you'll probably never become a screenwriter. If you spend one hour actually screenwriting, you already are one.

Seems fair enough to me...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Soaps and Responsibility

There’s an interesting interview in yesterday’s Guardian with Lesley Henderson, a sociology lecturer at Brunel University, who has written a book entitled Social Issues in Television Fiction.

Soaps, she says, are hugely significant in shaping public views. "You are talking about a genre that [can] attract around 10 million viewers per episode, and a lot of them are young viewers - people who wouldn't normally sit down and watch a news programme or a documentary about breast cancer or mental illness."

That power, she says, can sit uneasily with "making good telly".

The article reminded me of the (at times) rabid discussion that went on over at Lucy’s gaff a little while back. Many people piled in to state that the only responsibility they had as writers was to the story and nothing else. However, the discussion primarily focussed on horror movies, where creating an atmosphere of revulsion and/or terror doesn’t exactly sit well with a sense of social responsibility. To my mind, soaps are different, if only for the fact that they attract an audience “who wouldn't normally... watch a news programme or a documentary about breast cancer or mental illness." In which case surely the responsibility to get things right is paramount? Or maybe not:

As one experienced scriptwriter told her: "In the end, we are drama. We are not a sociological documentary... and although we try not to go terribly wrong we sometimes ignore the truth in favour of a good story... If we always stuck to the absolute facts we'd have no drama."

The problem arises when you introduce socially realistic story lines (such as mental illness) and expect them to be subservient to the drama. I don’t think that that soap writers and producers can have it both ways. Soap is well known for dealing with everyday issues and on the odd occasion, bringing an issue to the fore that previously, for whatever reason, had not been covered. Throwing a child with Down-Syndrome into the mix, as Brookside did back in the 90s, is of course admirable: however, shuffling that particular child out of the series when it no longer provides for good drama (or leads to a decline in viewing figures) is surely an irresponsible way of dealing with the issue? If elements such as these are going to form part of the dramatic mix, then we should expect that writers and producers should at least have the courage to take the story to its natural conclusion (whatever that may be).

The one thing I can’t stand is when drama (not just soap) attempts to address ‘issues’ to the detriment of the story. However, if you are going to shoehorn in an issue in order to give your drama some much needed contemporary or social relevance, then at least make an attempt to get the detail surrounding the issue right.

At least Emmerdale isn’t considering a story line concerning necrophilia in the near future (but I wouldn’t hold your breath!).

Monday, 22 October 2007

Spooky Spooks

I happen to like Spooks (but no doubt will forget to watch the next nine episodes). Last Tuesday’s opener twisted and turned through an hour of morally dubious decision making before leaving Asnik out on the streets of London, breathing something deadly and American all over an unsuspecting populace. No doubt if this was a movie, we’d arrive at this point after ten minutes, but as we have ten hours of this storyline to get through an hour was perfectly adequate. And very skilfully done it was too.

The only problem I have with it is that it all seems so reactionary.

The heroes of Spooks are members of the Security Services, which is all very well, but I can’t help hankering after the days of Edge of Darkness and Defence of the Realm for something a little more hard edged, subversive even. These well regarded series were informed by nuclear paranoia, and took strident and well considered anti-establishment positions.

Not so Spooks, which is set almost entirely inside the world of government. How much of this is a knock-on effect from 9/11 it perhaps difficult to quantify, but maybe it’s no co-incidence that, since then, we have seen a proliferation of series such as The West Wing and 24, where the machinery of the State is seen as being benign and even overly moral (or, at least, sacrificing the interests of the few for the many).

Where Edge of Darkness and Defence of the Realm explored complex conspiracies that went right to the heart of government, Spooks seems to invert this to give us a wholly new type of paranoia:

Series 5, Episode 10: An environmental terrorist group threaten to flood London if the government doesn't publish a secret document.

The role of government is now to protect us from an ever present array of long haired, loon panted left wingers and other assorted crazies with evil agendas.

Series 4, Episode 10: Ruth is asked to procure evidence that Harry was responsible for the assassination of Princess Diana.

Harry wasn’t responsible for any such thing of course – he’s merely been the target of another crazy person whom MI6 is duty bound to stop at all costs.

No doubt if a crusty old peace campaigner dared show his/her face in the world of Spooks at the moment, they would get a swift garrotting.

The current series of Spooks is a bit of a concern for precisely these reasons: we’ve already discounted the (now benevolent) Iranians as being behind the plot to let loose a deadly chemical agent on the hard working people of Britain (Copyright Gordon Brown), so I guess that leaves the old ‘splinter militant group’ fallback (Albanians? Disgruntled Russian business interests? It really doesn’t matter at the end of the day). What this does is to ensure that no-one is offended – a cop out in other words (didn’t The Devil’s Own do something similar?). Instead of taking some left field narrative choices to inspire some meaningful debate (like: what exactly is it that MI5/MI6 do that the police can’t?), I suspect that Spooks will focus entirely on just such a plot strand, but I hope (against expectation) to be corrected.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Off on a Tangent (Part 6 of Many) - Koko Times Two

The Koko in dirty old Camden is a venue so good I had to visit it twice:

Battles, 12th October – also see here. What a superb venue the Koko is: a thirty second walk from Mornington Crescent, a beautifully refurbished interior, air conditioning, a glitter ball the size of a mobile home – what more could anyone want?

Battles kicked up an absolute storm and looked far happier than they did at the Concorde a couple of weeks back. John Stanier celebrated by sweating through his clothes and not taking off his shirt. The sound was so loud as to be fucking PUNISHING – even the pre-show DJ (playing what sounded like mash-ups between Battles and Jennifer Lopez) had the volume cranked up to eleven. The support band – Parts and Labor – even had a few decent tunes – if only they would calm down a bit and stop pretending to be a hardcore band, I would sleep a little better at night.

Broken Social Scene play Spirit If... by Kevin Drew, 19th October – back to the Koko (have I already said what a fab venue it is?)

Kevin Drew musters a few Broken Social Scene cronies and heads out for another marathon tour to promote his (rather excellent) solo record, all mixed up with a few gems from the mightily impressive BSS back catalogue.

That said, they got off to a very slow start – even Cause=Time couldn’t get the audience suitably roused, not that it was entirely anyone's fault. The stripped back BSS looked a little lacklustre, a little too organised – along the lines of a really good support band, but hardly headlining stuff. That is, until Frightening Lives – the band dug in Somme-style and the atmosphere began to hum.


video

This is a band that thrives on a certain degree of randomness, of spontaneity. Kevin Drew is comfortable spending an entire song sat on the floor fiddling with an effects pedal, and it's this type of organised chaos that the band is so good at manufacturing. By the time BSS had torn through a blistering Superconnected and an extended version of Lover's Spit, the crowd were lapping it up. I haven’t been to many gigs where band and audience have had a weird symbiotic relationship with each other, but this was one of them. Emily Haines came on for Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl and a gloriously thrashy Almost Crimes - time for everyone in the place to go spaz.


video

One chaotic sing-song later (crap mobile phone footage above), BSS had done it – a stupendous gig rescued from the brink of averageness by sheer willpower alone.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Inktip Opportunity - Low Budget Sci-Fi

This just in from the good folks at Inktip:

London Pictures Ltd ~ Low-budget sci-fi

I am looking for completed sci-fi screenplays. The only criterion is that the budget for shooting the film will be about 200K. My credits include: 'Burning Light' (2006) and 'Blinded' (2004).

To submit to this lead, please go to:http://www.inktippro.com/leads/ Enter your email address. Copy/Paste this code: dmfzwsr98z

NOTE: Please only submit your work if it fits what the lead is looking for exactly. If you aren't sure if your script fits, please ask InkTip first.

Check this link out as well regarding London Pictures' policy on scripts and payment (i.e., don't expect to make your screenwriting fortune out of this one!).

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Two Little Beauties, Babel and the Back Story Four

No, nothing to do with Jordan’s oversized attributes, but two superb films coincidentally directed by men called Paul (plus Babel and a crap sequel but you can’t win ‘em all).

Warning! This post contains spoilers for Black Book, Babel and The Fantastic Four – Rise of the (Crap CGI) Silver Surfer.

Black Book – directed by Paul Verhoeven. Black Book clocks in at well over two hours, but it moves at such a terrific pace, you hardly notice. The narrative is tightly wound around an act of betrayal, but there are so many different shades of grey that, come the end, your moral compass is spinning all over the place like an epileptic windmill.

But then again, Verhoeven is good at this sort of thing. Look at Starship Troopers (Look! It’s Doogie Howser dressed as a Nazi! Pure entertainment) – Black Book is similar inasmuch as the narrative subverts our assumptions about who is supposed to be the good guy, but does it in such a way that by the time we realise who’s who, it’s too late to switch allegiances.

There’s an extraordinary scene near the end of the film where the drugged up heroine jumps out of a window into the waiting arms of a cheering crowd past the man who has just tried to kill her. Do yourself a favour and see this film.

United 93 – written and directed by Paul Greengrass. The Bourne Ultimatum was, as everyone in the civilised world knows, unmitigated flapdoodle. United 93 is altogether different. You can tell it’s the same directorial hand at play, as the same edgy camerawork and off-centre framing are all present, but here it serves a dramatic purpose. Screenplay wise, United 93 is a masterful exercise in mounting tension – coupled with a defiantly documentary style (a lot of scenes look improvised, but from the actor’s and director’s point of view), this approach packs an huge emotional punch without being manipulative in the slightest. I guess that Greengrass is working with a story that we all know the ending to, but even so, this is a very skilful piece of writing that, whilst not necessarily rejecting the usual three act structure, goes a little way in showing that there’s more than one way to tell a story like this (in comparison to the atrocious made for TV Flight 93, United 93 is a masterpiece).

Babel – directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Maybe I’m just being bloody minded but I quite enjoyed this, if only for the fantastic visuals and the relaxed way the narrative seemed to unfold. I’m not sure if there was any point in the scenes that featured a schoolgirl flashing her bush at all and sundry, which reflects just how opaque (and unnecessary) the Japanese section of the story is. The film may have pretensions at being truly global, but if that’s the case, it would be nice if this disparate strand actually linked back into the wider theme in a more convincing fashion.

I’m going to stop moaning now, because if I go on long enough I’ll talk myself out of liking this film at all (if you look at the film essentially as brainless arthouse, you can’t go wrong).

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. What a load of arse. Even though this is a sequel, there is an absolute landfill of back story that we’re made to sit through before anything remotely interesting happens (a classic case of starting your script too early, as the Dragon Lady might state). A rubbish CGI Silver Surfer presides over a storyline that threatens to drown everything in a tsunami of utter nonsense. Sub-plots breed like rampant bunnies all over the shop only to go nowhere fast. Three villains (two entirely CGI generated) – why isn’t one bad guy enough any more? Come the end, I was more than happy that the world was going to be destroyed, if only for the fact that if it was there wouldn’t be a second sequel to this franchised pile of old dog toffee.

On the menu for the new few days:

Ring (the remake – this may sound like heresy, but I prefer the American remake to the original) – The FrightenersHidden (again) – Shooter (got to watch it I’m afraid, if only to get the damned thing out of the house) – The Marine (WTF? Has anyone apart from my nephew heard of this film?)

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Carla Lane Goes Off On One

Continuing with our series ‘Famous Playwrights and Screenwriters Sound Off’, Carla Lane (author of hit sitcoms The Liver Birds and Butterflies) is the latest to step up to the plate. In this week’s edition of Latest Homes (which is essentially a Brighton based estate agent’s flyer with dreams of one day being a ‘proper’ magazine – you know, one that people actually pay for) Carla complains that the BBC didn’t want her latest two scripts, and that they rely on a ‘clique’ of writers rather than the talents of the fifteenth most famous Liverpudlian in the country. “I sent them two scripts three months ago,” she grumbles, “and they sent them straight back.” (I wonder where she sent them? BBC Writersroom perhaps? My commiserations – we’ve all been there).

It’s a well known fact that Carla Lane now devotes most of her attention these days to her animal sanctuary, and good luck to her; no doubt the two scripts that the BBC passed on were efforts to rustle up some funding to keep the sanctuary running – nowt wrong with that (or maybe she needs the money for things like this). I was just amused as to exactly who is in this mysterious ‘clique’ of writers the BBC now relies upon – is there some sort of satanic ritual you have to undergo before you can join (if so, count me in, but go easy on the animal sacrifice – Carla might get upset!).

Any idea who might be in this clique? Answers on a postcard please!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Hare Puts the Boot In (Or Does He?)

Genre has almost destroyed cinema. The audience is bored. It can predict the exhausted UCLA film-school formulae - acts, arcs and personal journeys - from the moment that they start cranking. It's angry and insulted by being offered so much Jung-for-Beginners, courtesy of Joseph Campbell. All great work is now outside genre David Hare

I’m not quite sure what Mr Hare is on about here: does he perhaps mean that ‘formula’ is destroying cinema, rather than genre? In that case, I agree, but 'genre'? I think Dave's got a screw loose. I mean, Stanley Kubrick was an immensely talented writer and director, but certainly someone who almost exclusively made genre films. I think what Mr Hare meant to say is that the application of formulae has almost destroyed cinema. And besides, I don’t think that Joseph Campbell had the film industry in mind when he wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, so perhaps it’s a little unfair to single him out for particular criticism.

Far be it for me to make heretical suggestions, but maybe if The Hours had been made with an eye towards a consideration of genre, perhaps it would have been a little more entertaining.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

BBC Invent New Genre!

Bruce in Vegas, BBC1 – 5th October 2007.

Synopsis: Bruce Forsyth heads to Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World, in search of the stories behind such legendary entertainers as the Rat Pack, Elvis Presley, Liberace and many more.

For the sweet love of baby Jesus, nooooooo!

Suffice to say, Bruce does nothing of the sort. He takes his wife to the Venetian where he attempts to serenade a gondolier with toe curling results. He does a bit of a tap dancing, and looks flabbergasted when people stare suspiciously at his syrup and say, ‘Bruce who?’ Bruce and the wife renew their wedding vows. An Elvis impersonator makes a predictable appearance. Bruce meets Barry Manilow and attempts to steer the conversation round to himself. Bruce visits the Liberace museum and has a tinkle on an old Joanna. And on it goes. Where’s Songs of Praise when you need a bit of hard edged television?

However, rather than asking what the flaming arse the point of the whole thing was I think it’s tempting to surmise that the BBC has actually invented a whole new genre here. I mean, it can’t be classified as a travel show – we get shots of Vegas of course, but it doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know about the place (i.e., it’s a got a few hotels, the odd casino and an Elvis impersonator on every street corner). It doesn’t really tell you anything about the personalities that Bruce purports to interview, as the old duffer is too busy tap dancing/reminiscing/being irritating to pay much attention to whatever people might be saying.

No, what it is is an hour devoted to Bruce Forsythe: vanity television, TV’s equivalent to the vanity publishing industry (with the major exception that Brucie didn’t have to pay for it). As the programme served no real purpose, this has to be the only conclusion.

So, where next for this new genre? Well, the malevolent evil that is Cilla Black has been away for a while (save the odd spot of funeral advertising) – there’s got to be a few miles left in the old dear yet.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Update, 15th October - Censored by the Muppets! Sad news: I have been blacklisted by muppetcentral.com, so you'll have to put up with Bruce's gurning visage from the BBC website instead of the rather fetching pic I had of him and Fozzy Bear.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Off on a Tangent (Part 5 of many)

The problem with Sonic Youth is that they get right on my tits.

There – I’ve said it. The fact that one of the most supposedly coolest bands on the planet is a frustratingly inconsistent grab-bag of scratchy guitars and half-arsed can’t-be-bothered ‘tunes’ is probably not a popular point of view, but screw it – I’m fed up with half baked, mediocre albums such as Sonic Nurse, and have decided that all four of them need a good slap round the back of the legs (and it looks like I’m not the only one).

Consider, if you will, the evidence:

Daydream Nation – one of my favourite albums of all time (except for the half-arsed feedback noodling, of course). However, once you consider that the whole thing is really an elaborate piss take on the concept of the ‘rock album’ (i.e., a seventy minute running time, each band member being represented by a symbol a la Led Zeppelin, a song cycle entitled Trilogy, self-consciously dumb ‘rock’ lyrics – “You got it, ride the silver rocket, can't stop it, burning a hole in your pocket”), then it starts to take on a slightly different hue. Daydream Nation is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but it’s Sonic Youth both paying homage and taking the michael out of what they consider to be the bloated American rock record. I’m sure the band look upon as some type of high falutin’ art/conceptual as well as a damn good rock record, but it isn’t really. Subsequent Sonic Youth releases have returned to their more experimental roots, which do not make for great records – that means that their greatest ever release is in essence part piss-take, which can only means that’s very little mileage in their more left of field recordings. This is highly unfortunate, as everything else they have ever recorded fits neatly into this latter category.

Every Other Sonic Youth release – in stark comparison to Daydream Nation, most of Sonic Youth’s recorded output verges dangerously on being hugely disposable. Goo has its moments, but once you discount boring, pointless fillers such as My Friend Goo, Scooter and Jinx and Mildred Pierce, what are you left with? Six three-quarter decent songs, and one that outstays its welcome very quickly (Tunic (Song for Karen)). Sonic Nurse? No thanks. Washing Machine? Passable, I suppose. A Thousand Leaves? Zzzz.... Murray Street, the supposed return to form? Plastic Sun is another rubbish Kim Gordon song (see below), and as for Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style – sheesh. A collection of random words that supposedly pass for lyrics – and they took eight months recording this?

Kim Gordon – I’m sorry, but Kim Gordon is ever so slightly rubbish. In my humble opinion, she can’t play bass for toffee, and she doesn’t so much sing as breathe heavily – which is all very, you know, punk rock and all that, but surely you’ve got to mix it up over the course of a career, not stay in the same rut for twenty flippin’ years. When it works, it works brilliantly (Drunken Butterfly from Dirty) – when it doesn’t, you want to chisel your ears off in protest (My Friend Goo, Plastic Sun).

Then there was Perfect Partner – a film and rock concert ‘mash-up’ that, whilst admirable in ambition, was 98% unmitigated tosh (the factt that it was backed with Arts Council money should speak volumes) . I saw it at the Brighton Dome and the place was half full (the people who stayed away obviously knew something I didn’t). After the ‘gig’ (which spanned 50 minutes and was completely atmosphere-free, much like a Russ Abbot party), my brother asked why none of the musicians backing Kim Gordon (including Jim O’Rourke, who looked as if he was daydreaming about cream cakes) had been in fits of laughter when Kim started to writhe under a silver blanket (the sort of thing they give marathon runners at the end of a race). We could only assume it was because they were being paid too much.

Sonic Youth live at the Forum, 1996 – a while back, I saw SY perform at the Forum, promoting their Washing Machine album. One of the support bands was called Descension, who came on and made a godless, ear grating, wholly improvised racket for no apparent reason. In protest, someone in the audience threw a glass at the drummer, whio took umbrage and waded into the crowd, fists flailing. Someone else threw a glass full of water at the guitarist, but it missed and hit his amplifier, which promptly went up in smoke. Two security guards the size of Hampshire later, the water-throwing muppet was out on the pavement, leaving Descension to rumble on, much to the chagrin of the audience, who absolutely bloody hated them.

A little later, Sonic Youth come on to frenzied applause. They then start to make exactly the same noise as Descension – a trademarked scree of feedback and high-end ear shredding. But instead of rushing the stage and giving the band a collective Chinese burn, the audience stroked their collective chin and nodded in time to the ‘music’.

I have absolutely nothing against bands who want to come on stage and make a godawful racket for no reason – if that’s their bag, give them some respect and above all, don’t chuck stuff at them! However, if the headlining band starts doing exactly the same thing, why should you even give them the time of day? Thurston Moore made a comment about Descension, along the lines of ‘the band who would not be denied’ – it got the biggest cheer of the night, which only goes to show that all rock audiences are stupid.

(The episode at the Forum seems to have become infamous in music circles for being a ‘riot’ – it was nothing of the sort. A few people down the front threw bottles, but certainly not the ‘rain of glass’ that Stefan Jaworzyn seems to remember. I think this is a better description of what really happened. And yes, after Descension, Sonic Youth were incredibly boring).

Lee Ranaldo’s ‘artwork’ – ahem.

The piece consits (sic) of a bare speaker wired to a piece of the physical gallery, in this case a steam radiator. The tape loop plays a 5 second hi volume burst of sound every 6 minutes. Otherwise the piece remains silent.

This sounds like an analogy for the entire recorded output of Sonic Youth to me...

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Google Is Your Friend

It’s early days for this crappy little blog, but some of the Google searches that bring people inadvertently spinning here are starting to become worthy of comment (all courtesy of the good folks over at Statcounter).

Alan Yentob Blue Peter Tortoise: what?! Alan Yentob implicated in yet another Blue Peter scandal, this time involving a tortoise? What kind of sick freak reads this blog?!

Incidental music on X-Factor: glad to be of service, sir and/or madam.

Stitched Back Foot Airman: my sole mention of this late 80’s indie band must have been a bit of a disappointment to whoever searched for them, so here’s a SBFA anecdote for you:

Years and years ago, I saw Stump at the Escape Club in Brighton, supported by Stitched Back Foot Airman (who were by that time going under the moniker Stitch). I went with a couple of friends, one of whom – Lester – was a stick thin psychopath who stood six foot four in his socks (ones with little grinning skulls all over them no doubt). Halfway through Stitch’s set, during a break between songs, Lester stood up and screamed, ‘FUCK OFF!’ As heckles go, it wasn’t big and it wasn’t clever, but hey – it made me laugh. Stitch looked mortified. They mumbled something about dancing and launched into another song that sounded like the wheels were going to come off at any second. Stump were brilliant, of course.

Michael Winterbot: I can only assume this has been searched for by someone who can’t spell ‘bottom’ (either that or a censorious born-again Christian).

Review of last night's BBC Best Elvis with Vernon Kay: I am proud to announce that this blog is a Vernon Kay free zone, much the same way that Manchester is a nuclear free city. I take Charlie Brooker’s line, inasmuch as his ideal video game is something for the Wii where you incessantly punch Vernon Kay in the face for two hours. Take that, you whey faced, no-talent twerp!

Blue Peter Pussy Socks: not again. I’m sick of Blue Peter now (thereagain, Pussy Socks sounds like a good name for a punk band to me).

Dench Arnold response: the answer to this query? Very, very slow.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

London to Brighton – The Ubiquity of Ideas

Warning! This post contains spoilers for London to Brighton.

First off, let me say that I have absolutely nothing against London to Brighton – all round, it’s a pretty decent film (with one major lapse of narrative logic, but you can’t have everything).

The thing that really intrigued me however, was the ending – despicable gangster Stuart Allen drives tart with a heart Kelly and her ward Joanne deep into the Sussex countryside with the express intention of having them killed by his gormless foot soldiers – Derek and Chum. Whilst Derek and Chum get busy digging a shallow grave, Kelly and Joanne plead for their lives, convinced that they are going to be killed. However, when the moment of truth arrives, Stuart’s cronies’ guns are aimed at Derek and Chum, and Kelly and Joanne are freed. It’s a great scene, full of menace, and the switch is cleverly played out.

There was just one problem for me – it all seemed a little familiar. The reason?

A few years back, I wrote an almost identical scene.

My script was set in south London circa 1974 and focussed on a timid accountant who gets drawn into a violent criminal underworld. The scene I wrote featured the accountant digging what is supposedly his own grave, only for it to become the final resting place for the big bad gangster’s psychotic rival. Without labouring the point too much, the scene in London to Brighton is almost identical.

And what’s more, that’s cool.

I am not for one moment suggesting that plagiarism of any sort has occurred here (my script did the rounds just as the British gangster movie was about to explode messily all over the place, so it got lost in the noise I guess). I think what this episode shows is that some ideas are simply ubiquitous – they possess a weird form of common currency. The fact that I wrote an identical scene a few years back means nothing. And besides, there are so many damn scripts out there all jockeying for attention, at least of few of them are going to share a lot of unintentional similarities.

On the other hand, a friend of mine got understandably upset a little while back when a British feature came out that seemed to borrow entirely from one of his own scripts. To add insult to injury, my friend had actually sent the script to the lead actor’s agent a few years before, only to see the idea apparently recycled wholesale into a starring vehicle. I think he consulted an entertainment lawyer but from then on the trail went cold (the film bombed big time anyway, so a law suit is pretty pointless when no-one has any money available to compensate).

Whether or not this was a similar situation was difficult to tell. There was a certain ubiquity in the idea, and, as we all know, you can’t copyright an idea (believe me, I deal with this sort of crap every day). You could launch an action based on a like-for-like comparison of the two scripts side by side, but if that test fails, you’re screwed. It’s all in the specifics – the idea/concept is obviously important, but what counts in an instance like this is the execution (there are other issues to consider here of course: unless you have a compelling case, try finding a media lawyer who would take this sort of thing on for free, not to mention the damage it would do to any career if litigation was a first port of call).

Anyone can have an idea for a screenplay – it’s not difficult. The difficulty comes when you have to actually write the damn thing. How many times have you seen someone on Shooting People announce that they have a drop dead brilliant idea for a script, but what they really need is for someone to write the thing for (or ‘with’) them? In the next breath they start talking about confidentiality agreements just in case you think their diamond studded, gold plated idea is worth stealing. Pah. It’s the execution that matters.

My solution to this? Be original. What I took from London to Brighton is that I’m not being original enough (must try harder). If nothing else, being original gets you remembered.

And that lapse of narrative logic in London to Brighton? When Derek and Chum happen across Kelly in her friend’s house in Brighton, they order everyone (a bunch of dozy dope smoking slackers) out of the house at gunpoint – the slackers then promptly disappear! Hang on a minute – crazy pimp with a shotgun holding two women hostage? Quick! Call the cops! On second thoughts, don’t bother. We’re all pretty laid back here in sunny Brighton, so when crazy pimps start waving shotguns around, we all go, ‘Meh – been there, done that.’ Besides, I think I’m getting a bit autistic about narrative logic (which in the case of London to Brighton seems to be directly related to how much money was left in the budget). I need to relax a bit, I think.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Code 46 - Postscript...

Leanne commented that none of Michael Winterbottom’s films ever seem to set the box office alight, so I thought I’d have a dig about for Code 46. And whaddya know:

Budget; $7,500,000
Worldwide Theatrical Gross:
$741, 273

Add DVD rentals and sales, and I guess you might be looking at a generous estimate gross of about $1 million.

I think we can safely say that these figures are a disaster.

So who’s to blame when a film such as Code 46 goes tits up with a barely a whimper? Search me, but perhaps The Washington Post sums it up best:

It will almost certainly attract a cult audience - it has the kind of self-serious grandiosity that swindles the young and feckless into believing it's significant - but it could have used a few ray guns and mind melds.

Pip pip!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Money Money Money

Channel 4 have announced this:

PILOT is an opportunity for drama screenwriters to win the chance to have their work produced and screened on Channel 4. We're inviting exciting, talented writers to submit a treatment for a six-part drama series, an outline for a pilot episode for that series, and a script for a sample scene from that episode.

Tell me more...

12 writers will be selected to take part in a packed weekend of industry workshops and masterclasses. They will then be hot-housed in one of three Scottish independent production companies, where mentoring producers and Channel 4 script editors will help them develop their series idea and complete a first draft script.

Hmmm...

One creative team will head home with a £90,000 commission to produce a pilot episode of their drama series, including a fee for the winning writer to complete a final draft script.

Ninety grand is a lot of money. But in the context of TV drama, all it’s probably going to buy is a half hour of Neighbours.

By way of comparison, the BBC drama genre tariff for independents is here.

Borrowing liberally from the BBC website, this is the band under which £90k falls:

Daytime and Low Cost Drama - Indicative Tariff Range: £50k - £500k per hour

Within this range, programmes tend to fall into the following categories:

Drama 1: Up to £375k per hour

This category covers a range of low cost output primarily for Daytime together with long running series for BBC ONE; BBC TWO and BBC THREE.

Producers will use innovative techniques and clever ideas to maximise the funds available especially for BBC FOUR. New talent will launch and grow here.

£90,000 might seem a lot of money, but in an environment where an hour of TV drama can cost up to £900,000 plus (the ‘Drama 7’ category), it starts to look like pocket money – especially when direct comparisons are being made to Skins and Shameless. What ninety grand means is essentially a maximum of two locations, a contemporary setting and a small cast. It can be done of course, but ninety grand seems a ludicrously small budget for any production company to chase after.

And what’s more...

PILOT is a 4Talent Scotland project in partnership with Scottish Screen, supported by The National Lottery, and by Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

The opportunity itself is of course great news, but behind the scenes, perhaps the way it has been funded is the whole point – Channel 4 would be delighted if a high quality drama could be produced from such a low cost base; no doubt this initiative is being looked at as a ‘double whammy’, as it appears that Channel 4 haven’t had to stump up much of the cash at all (thanks to our friend the humble tax payer).

And before everyone in every far flung corner of the United Kingdom steams in, bear this in mind:

Amanda Millen, screen and broadcast industries development manager at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: “Highlands and Islands Enterprise is very excited to be part of this fantastic initiative and is looking forward to discovering and developing some strong screenwriting talent from the Highlands and Islands.”

Not something that is made terrifically clear on the Channel 4 website!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Code 46 - What the...?

Warning! This post contains spoilers for Code 46.

There’s a great blog I happened upon recently by Leanne Smith called Film Flam, which mostly consists of scurrilous takes and diatribes regarding the Scottish film ‘industry’. However, for the purposes of this post, I thought I’d steal her incredibly apt description of any Michael Winterbottom film:

“...it’s by Michael Winterbottom, so it’s bound to be boring and weirdly undirected.”

‘Undirected’ is a word you could apply to the entirety of Michael Winterbottom’s filmed output (do you know anyone who’s managed to sit through 9 Songs? And if so, why?). Code 46 is no exception.

Hmmm... where does one begin with a film like Code 46? How about the opening super?

Article 1

Any human being who shares the same nuclear gene set as another human being is deemed to be genetically identical. The relations of one are the relations of all.

Due to IVF, DI embryo splitting and cloning techniques it is necessary to prevent any accidental or deliberate genetically incestuous reproduction.

Therefore:

I. All prospective parents should be genetically screened before conception. If they have 100%, 50% or 25% genetic identity they are not permitted to conceive

II. If the pregnancy is unplanned, the foetus must be screened. Any pregnancy resulting from 100%, 50% or 25% genetically related parents must be terminated immediately

III. If the parents were ignorant of their genetic relationship then medical intervention is authorized to prevent any further breach of Code 46

IV. If the parents knew they were genetically related prior to conception it is a criminal breach of Code 46.

Got that? Great, ‘cos I didn’t, which immediately put me on the back foot (I know, I’m stupid – I’ll just have to get over it). Things didn’t really improve from that point on...

* The script is by Frank Cottrell Boyce – in any other circumstance, I would no doubt appreciate this, but in the hands of Michael Winterbottom, things get random very quickly. To steal Leanne’s description once again, it all feels curiously ‘undirected’, such as:

a. an interminably lengthy close up of Samantha Morton’s face for no good reason.
b. a completely random flash of nudity which made me go, ‘Uh?’
c. a pile of beautifully composed shots of Shanghai inserted for no other reason than to make people say, ‘Wow, what a beautifully composed shot of Shanghai.’

All of which makes me wonder exactly what FCB’s script might have looked like before Winterbottom got his randomising hands on it – for example, how exactly do you write a ‘scene’ that focuses interminably on an actress’ pained expression whilst Tim Robbins pumps manfully away off screen? Answer: you don’t – you simply hand your script over to Michael Winterbottom who provides a ‘visual interpretation’ that is strikingly at odds with the written word. In any case, I very much suspect the script wasn’t as wildly dull as the end product turned out.

* The casting of Samantha Morton and Tim Robbins just seems wrong - he falls for her during an interview where her character (Maria) comes across as a total arse, which made me wonder why he would fall for her in the first place. But perhaps more importantly is their physical dissimilarity – Robbins is tall, solid, fleshy; Morton is tiny, doll-like. Maybe the vagaries of film financing meant this was the best coupling money could buy, but for me they just don’t synch at all. Their physical dissimilarity is also fatal to their onscreen chemistry (i.e., where is it?). At best, they seem curiously distant from each other. This is obviously something that any script, no matter how good it is, cannot legislate for. Then again, perhaps this lack of emotional intimacy is a vagary of Winterbottom’s directing style: he seems more at home with the other wordly strangeness of Shanghai’s cityscapes rather than with the complex interplay of living, breathing human beings. 9 Songs is all about two dull people shagging – it’s tempting to see Code 46 simply as a sci-fi version of 9 Songs.

* Winterbottom’s visual style is certainly striking, but there seems to be something strangely improvised about the film. The most interesting and intriguing elements – Robbins’ ability to ‘empathise’ with minor characters and read their thoughts, Morton’s recurring dream regarding a train journey that never reaches its destination – are examples of solid screenwriting that even Winterbottom can’t screw up. However, give the director a couiple of skyscrapers and splash of neon and he’s off on a series of wild visual riffs that no amount of screenwriting can redeem. For example, the car crash in the desert that effectively spells the beginning of the end for our mismatched lovers comes completely out of left field – a potentially good thing in any other’s director’s hands, but as Winterbottom films it from a bird’s eye view, it immediately distances us from the action.

There was a recent Samantha Morton interview in the Guardian that doesn’t even mention Code 46, a fact that is remarkably telling - i.e., it’s not very good. I think this is purely down to the collision of a half decent script with a director hell bent on stamping his supposed visual authority on everything he points his camera at.

I think on this basis, I’ll give A Mighty Heart a miss thanks!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

I Can Write Your Blog!

Wow – according to this, you can hire someone to write your blog for you! Only $75 per 5 entries. At current exchange rates, that’s about, er... 38p per entry! All you have to do is send an outline, the topics you want covered, subject matter and keywords, and you’re done. Ace!

Only minor problem is, the rate of $75 is based on writing projects that “do not require any research”. But that’s OK, as I don’t know anything about very much anyway, so it should be a breeze.

38p – that’s a bargain at twice the price if you ask me.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Unsolicited Submission Meltdown, part 2

Here are a couple more prodcos to add to this list:

Masterplan Film Productions - Masterplan Film Productions Ltd operates an open door policy for submissions, however we do ask that you send an initial email introducing yourself and your project before sending any attachments to us; we will then provide you with an unpublished email address to send your files to.

For general queries or to introduce you and your project to Masterplan: office@masterplanfilms.co.uk

Tight Rope Pictures - Unsolicited scripts may be sent to us and we will endeavour to respond as soon as possible. Please note this can take a while – we’re a small company and we don’t use external readers. If you would like us to return your script, please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope with your submission.

It’s all gravy, as someone might have once said.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Down and Dirty with Inktip

I put a couple of scripts up on Inktip a little while back – and all I can say is that the site’s popularity is frightening. In the period January to July this year, the loglines for two of my scripts were viewed approximately 400 times! However, in the grand scheme of Inktip, this means absolutely bugger all – the exceedingly broad brush way in which interested parties can interrogate the Inktip database means that your logline will get thrown up with literally hundreds of others all jockeying for position in what I’m sure is one of the biggest online markets of its kind. It didn’t work for me, but I suspect that’s down to the quality of my loglines – out of these 400 ‘hits’, my scripts were viewed three times! I get a better hit rate hassling UK agents. Ah well.

There was a debate on Trigger Street a little while back that revolved around the fact that a lot of the companies using Inktip are looking for scripts that can be produced for a relatively small budget – that’s absolutely fine by me, but something to bear in mind when you’re uploading your new sword n’ sorcery epic with added CGI dragons. The site is also pretty Ameri-centric as you might expect - however, I did have a few small British prodcos stop by and eye up my CV, but no bites unfortunately (curses to my rubbish loglines).

For info, here are a few of the companies that came up in my profile:

Skeleton Factory
Scar Tissue Films
Graceland Film Company AS
Intrinsic Value Films
Ministry of Film
Spare Change Productions
Thunderball Films
Strangeland Films
Twisted Pictures
Bonsai Entertainment
Indiewood Pictures
Diesel Movie Werks

Loads more where these came from! Other than low budget American indies, for some reason there are a lot of small Dutch outfits searching for material as well.

It also appears that my CV was viewed by someone who was busted back in 2003 by the Plaintiff Securities and Exchange Commission in the US for being an “unlicensed dealer-broker” (i.e., the guy purchased shares from two US companies, then sold them on at considerable profit to investors with the promise that these companies were going public, which never happened). Naughty boy! Which all goes to show that we’ve got to be careful out there – you never know who might be eyeing up your on-line wares (so to speak).