Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Nothing says ‘Happy New Year’ Quite Like a Dog in a Hat.

It’s suddenly occurred to me that there have been no ‘dogs in hats’ posts on this blog since April. And what better way to wish you a Happy New Year than with a photograph of a chihuahua in a Santa outfit (which isn’t technically a hat, but you get the idea).
Happy New Year!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas TV Lowlights

At the best of times, my television viewing is random – and Christmas is no exception. Even when broadcasters unleash their promotional battering rams of endless trailers, I just simply forget to watch (it’s the same when my wife wants me to tape her something – she often has to physically write the name of the programme on my hand in felt tip, and even then I usually forget, leading to many a recriminatory bloodbath). Spooks? Caught the first one, forgot about the other six. Wallander? Two out of three wasn’t bad, I thought (forgot about the last one). Doctor Who? Clean forgot. Wallace and Gromit? Nope, sorry. Britannia High? No comment (was I hallucinating when I saw the trailer?). Even with the crazy voodoo magic of SkyPlus with its series links, I forget to record stuff all the time.

All this means is that when I do sit down and watch something, I often end up watching stuff that I wouldn’t choose to watch in a million years as all the good stuff has just passed me by. So, here are a few examples of what I’ve ended up watching over Christmas:

Tom Chambers’s expression on Strictly Come Dancing: the definition of Christmas cheese (that said, I’ve seen bits of cheese that can act better than Tom Chambers).

Murder She Wrote – The Celtic Riddle: the very definition of random TV. Guaranteed, when you switch on the TV and you can’t find anything to watch an episode of Murder She Wrote will be on (either that or Diagnosis Murder, which seems to be some sort of job creation scheme for the Van Dyke family). There’s something strangely fascinating/watchable about Angela Lansbury, inasmuch as she doesn’t do subtle. It’s all mugging, pantomime moves and SUDDEN REALISATIONS. The added bonus with The Celtic Riddle is that it’s set in Ireland – which means a whole skip full of comedy Irish accents! Hooray! Nothing cheers me up more. However, when Lansbury (unintentionally) weighs in with the comedy accent, you know you’re in trouble. Time for the adverts:

That Tractor advert: every year at this time, about a thousand ‘part works’ are unleashed upon the unsuspecting British public who had no inkling that what they really need in their lives is a magazine about farming with a model tractor attached. I mean, the countryside is great, but it’s nothing that a bit of concrete and the odd NCP couldn’t sort out (what exactly are you supposed to do with two dozen miniature tractors? Open a miniature farm?).

Finding Neverland: am I the only person in Christendom who finds this film just downright disturbing? In the same way that animated squirrels freak me out, films about Victorian authors with peculiar notions about childhood tend to give me the screaming ab-dabs. That said, it does feature Johnny Depp doing another comedy accent (Scottish this time), so it’s not all bad.

And er, that’s it. Having to deal simultaneously with a crap memory and manically depressed relatives on Boxing Day (something to do with Indy 4, the poor saps) rather put paid to a lot of my viewing this year. However, one series I did manage to record was Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, which contains a clip featuring Andy Nyman talking about the Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson – along with The Great Rupert, this has to count as the most disturbing (and funniest) TV I’ve seen this year (watch in wonder as Albert Herrmann’s ear falls off and Mr Nyman’s near hysteria about halfway through).

(Sorry, I seem completely incapable of adding this clip, so watch it here - you won't be disappointed).

On reflection, I seem to have spent the whole of Christmas in a permanent state of freak out. To immediately remedy this, I’m off to watch Black Christmas, so pip pip.

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Great Rupert

And the prize for the least festive picture/post goes to... Chip! Yay me!

Signing off for Christmas now, but not before I share the most disturbing Christmas movie (or any movie, come to that) ever made. Presenting The Great Rupert, (or A Christmas Wish), starring the late Jimmy Durante. Most of the commentary on this film would have you believe that it’s perfect Christmas fodder, a modest, inoffensive little movie that the whole family can enjoy.

Except that... it isn’t.

The film begins with washed-up vaudeville performer Joe Mahoney playing the accordion and singing a song about "Rupert", while Rupert the squirrel (dressed in a plaid kilt) dances on a table.

There’s no doubt that the blend of stop frame animation and puppetry was innovative for its time (1950), but there’s something just downright strange about this opening sequence. It’s akin to something from a Jan Svankmajer animation, but presented within the innocuous context of a family movie. Not that it’s meant to be disturbing, mind you – which, in a strange way, makes it even more disturbing. I lasted all of five minutes before I had to turn it off. Brrr (then again, I find Bagpuss vaguely disturbing as well). Perhaps it’s the jerky stop frame animation that does it. Add a touch of taxidermy to the mix however, and The Great Rupert will give you nightmares for months.

I couldn’t find any clips of the opening sequence, but there are a few stills here.

More old bullshit after Christmas – until then, have a good one.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I Bin Bizzy

I’ve neglected the blog for nearly a week now, but I have some absolutely sparkling excuses:

* It’s Christmas – which means I have to do a lot of obligatory last minute shopping (have you any idea how difficult it is to buy a hat for a dog?), and then get bladdered at a variety of respectable locations. The best was a couple of years ago, when I got completely soused on free Champagne here (rumour has it that if the Champagne is good enough, you won’t get a hangover – a rumour that, I can report from extensive personal research, is a complete falsehood).

* Last night I found myself here. Why? Difficult to say really. As I tried to figure out exactly why I was surrounded by 3,000 hippies, Hawkwind came on. I was still none the wiser.

Here’s a picture of Huw Lloyd Langton, possibly the skinniest support act I’ve ever seen.

* Man flu, which as everyone knows, is probably the debilitating disease on the face of the planet.

* This.

* Trying to decide what to finish watching/reading first: the first season of Homicide, or the book Homicide by David Simon. That said, I have the first season of The Shield to watch, plus Dexter and the fourth season of The Wire. There’s just too much good stuff out there that needs to be watched right this very minute.

* Inbetween all this assorted nonsense, trying to find some time to rewrite my Red Planet misfire following some stellar script notes from Script Doc. The problem now is that – even after going down the route of writing a detailed step outline – two of my characters have now decided to sleep together, the bastards. How dashed inconsiderate of them.

What with shopping for dog hats, the odd bladdering, a bout of man flu and standing in huge rooms full of hippies, I’m all tuckered out. Time for another episode of The Shield.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A Bit on the Slow Side

Contains spoilers for Survivors

I was going to wibble on about Survivors for a bit, but Rob Stickler has beaten me to it here (and in typically erudite fashion as well – I quote: “The apocalypse has been a slight inconvenience mainly manifesting in an inability to text.” Arf!).

Even so, there were a few things that bothered me, not least the issue of what appeared to be a weird structural decision on behalf of the programme makers. Survivors is of course a TV show, which means it should have different structural concerns than film. Arguably, TV should provide a broader canvas, which means that everything has more space to breathe, for characters to develop, for themes to expand; after all, a ninety minute opening episode is a lot of televisual space to fill up.

So, how did Survivors choose to do it?

Mostly by elongating twenty minutes worth of story into ninety minutes.

If Survivors was forced at gunpoint to shrink its six and half hour running time into a ninety page screenplay, then no doubt the first episode would be concluded well inside the twenty page mark. And if it was, would you have lost any significant scenes from the remaining seventy pages?

I don’t think you would.

It’s not that Survivors was particularly slow as such; it just took its own sweet time in getting to the point – probably a consequence of the realisation that there was ninety minutes to fill (I haven’t seen the original series, so I have no idea how the respective first episodes stack up against each other). A case in point was when Abby awoke after being in a coma to find her husband dead in the front room. If this scene had been designed for film and not TV, it probably wouldn’t have been longer than a page. Such as it was, we saw Abby do a huge variety of things before discovering her husband’s body, none of them particularly interesting or essential to the narrative. But then, don’t forget: there’s a lot of time to fill here. And if you’re not going to fill it up with honest to goodness story, you’ve got to fill it up somehow: watching characters eat, take showers and wander around deserted suburban streets is probably as good a waste of time as any.

The other strange phenomenon that came to mind watching Survivors was the fact that it’s essentially a re-make (yeah, OK, so the BBC describe it as a ‘re-imagining’, but that still makes it a re-make in my book). Add to this news that Day of the Triffids is to get a makeover next year, and you have to start to wonder what’s going on in TeeVee land at the moment (even Wallander was in effect a remake – BBC4 handily showed the original Swedish series for comparison the other night).

I’ve always (probably naively) assumed that the BBC doesn’t have to chase ratings in the same way that their commercial rivals do, which surely means the Beeb is able to indulge in a certain amount of risk taking. What you seem to have is the opposite: remakes aplenty (wasn’t there a rumour recently about a Reginald Perrin remake? Yikes!), Andrew Davies writing every costume drama in christendom and ‘single drama’ relegated to the seldom watched margins of BBC2. In comparison, ITV looks like a veritable hotbed of originality. And that’s a scary thought.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Wallander Again.

Contains spoilers for Wallander

Bearing in mind that at the moment I’m attempting to outline a 60 minute detective TV pilot (effectively an attempt to resuscitate my sadly flatlined Red Planet script), I tuned into Wallander on Sunday for some inspiration: how does our eponymous hero keep the narrative moving? Given that even most basic screenwriting ‘advice’ states that your protagonist should be above all else proactive, how does the genre address this when all your hero is doing is essentially reacting to events? Notebook in hand, I settled down on my chaise longue with my novelty pipe and deerstalker.

Wallander is an anomaly in detective fiction inasmuch as the protagonist doesn’t really do anything you could readily describe as Poirot-like 'pure' detection. He follows up leads, interviews witnesses, talks to people, tits about with his PC, mopes around his house, forgets to shave, and glares intently at the odd corpse or four. Even Wallander’s modus operandi consists of following a series of leads that tend to go nowhere. In fact, it was this bit of the narrative make-up that I was most interested in: if you’re heading down a potential dead end lead-wise, how do you make the protagonist do a swift 180 about face, i.e., how do you make him take control of proceedings, instead of being sidelined by a bunch of unreliable witnesses and his uneventful personal life?

Uh, you don’t. And I’m not entirely sure that you need to.

If you’re looking for a detective with a serious case of the smarts, Kurt Wallander is not your man. An internet date quizzes him on details of his current investigation, and he’s more than happy to tell her what he knows – which isn’t a lot, but still. Just to rub it in, the grand conclusion to Wallander’s case comes by way of a flash of intuitive realisation; nothing to do with any elegant piece of deduction or intelligence on Wallander’s behalf.

So, all in all, Wallander didn’t really give me what I was looking for. In fact, the detective work it features is probably a lot like real life detective work: dull, time consuming, occasionally random, plagued by elementary mistakes and IT disasters – which is of course the whole point. And with that in mind, Wallander was by far and away the best thing I’ve seen on TV for a while. I wasn’t massively enamoured with last week’s episode, but Sunday’s was a real improvement on a series that’s shaping up to being a right little cracker by doing everything you’d least expect.

And my script? Back to the drawing board with it. At the risk of upsetting Paul Abbot, perhaps I need a maverick cop after all.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Writersoom in Brighton

Thursday evening at the Sallis Benney theatre saw Paul Ashton from the BBC Writersroom essentially presenting all ten of these – Paul is a brilliantly engaging speaker, and the love for what he does was more than obvious to everyone present. Lots of frantic notes were scribbled, and someone in front of me even videoed the whole thing. There wasn’t a huge amount of time left at the end for an extensive Q&A, and part of this was taken up by two questions on copyright (sheesh!). Suffice to say, the BBC will assume all copyright in your work once your script has been sent into Writersroom.*

Afterwards I went here with the beautiful and talented Michelle Lipton, the insanely personable Sheiky, and the always entertaining Mister G, who regaled us with tales of writing for The Bill and getting a sitcom commission. Yowsa! At this point you may well ask what I’m doing hanging around with such talented people when all I have to offer is a Uwe Boll story. Well, ask away; I haven’t a clue either. All I know is that the likes of Ms Lipton cannot escape, as she now owes me cake. Quite a lot of it, in fact. So there.
* This is a lie, for which I apologise. I am a bad person.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Are There Any Cops Out There Who Aren't Mavericks?

Contains spoilers for Wallander.

Fifteen seconds to nine pm on Sunday and things are not shaping up well:

And now on BBC1, Kenneth Branagh brings a maverick detective to life...

I’m immediately reminded of a Guardian interview with Paul Abbot:

We make a police series, with a bit of a maverick copper as the lead. I say, 'Is he called Maverick?' They go, 'No, he's called John.' Why not call him Maverick and let's get it over and done with.’ I mean, you might as well. It's derelict, it's fucking derelict.

Four minutes in: what a fantastic opening. A disturbed teenage girl empties a can of petrol over her head and sets herself on fire whilst Kurt Wallander (our eponymous maverick detective) watches on, powerless to act. Like, wow. I’m hooked.

Eight minutes in: ah, it’s set in Sweden. Nice move, not going for Swedish chef accents all round. I like.

Thirty minutes in: why is it that pathologists always seem to arrive at the scene of crime well before any detectives? One explanation could be is that there’s absolutely no traffic in Sweden; lots of brand new Volvos, but no traffic to speak of.

Forty minutes in: ooh, look: it’s that kid from Skins, Nicholas what’s-his-face. I bet he did it. Guilty as sin. Case closed. Detective Chip: have the night off. You did good, son.

Seventy minutes in: if this was on ITV, we’d have an additional thirty seven bodies and another thirty minutes to look forward to. Thank the lord for small mercies.

Oh, all right then: I’ll stop being such a grouch and admit that I quite enjoyed Wallander. There’s no doubt that it looks absolutely gorgeous; the cinematography is lush, almost hyper-real, hallucinatory. There’s an overhead shot of a field of rape that looks simply stunning. Ken Branagh is fantastic, as is David Warner and Nicholas Hoult.

But try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it all before. What exactly is different about Wallander? Is it simply the fact that it’s set in Sweden (and is a partial remake of this)? I’m struggling to think of anything else that distinguishes it from the competition, unless you discount some pretty heavyweight acting performances. It’s not exactly cosy in a Midsomer Murders style, but neither is it The Wire. So, what is it exactly? Another show about a maverick cop? I think we’ve got enough of those already, thanks. Looks nice tho'.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Skins vs Old Gits

My nineteen year old nephew stayed at Chipster Towers over the weekend, and it was a whole lot of fun. Honestly – it was. Well, for some of us at least.

On Friday evening, he went out in Brighton with a couple of friends, the intention being that they were going to stay in a seafront hotel for the night (I don’t have the room here you see – the east wing is currently being remodelled). Problem was, it didn’t quite turn out like that. The friend my nephew was supposed to be meeting went AWOL when his mobile died – not that this put a dampener on anyone’s evening. My nephew ended up getting hammered and crashing on a friend’s sofa, getting to sleep at about 5.30am. The morning after, he got the lowdown from his friend (mobile now back up and running), who remembered nothing from about 6pm the previous evening; the one thing he did know is that he shared his hotel room with a work colleague (what kids these days don’t discuss via text isn’t really worth going into – suffice to say, UFP is a fine upstanding pillar of the blogging community and I know what delicate, sensitive souls you all are ;-)).

Why am I bothering to mention this? Well, my nephew’s life over the course of any given twenty four hour period reads like an entire series of Skins on fast forward (every time I see him, he’s got a new tattoo or a piercing: the latest looks a bit like this – ouch, and double ouch) – which brings me very neatly to the recent ‘debate’ on the Shooting People screenwriting bulletin where various old gits have been complaining about this opportunity.

The fact that the upper age limit for entry into this competition has been set at 23 has caused a right load of wailing and gnashing of teeth, with accusations of ‘ageism’ being gleefully bandied about. I’m not a subscriber to that whole ‘write what you know’ ethos, but in this case I think the producers of Skins have a point. Skins is a show that is aimed at the 16-25 demographic (plus a few dirty old men I suspect), so it’s no wonder that the producers want to enlist younger voices – you know, for ‘authenticity’ and what have you. I’m sure the majority of parents out there would be horrified if they knew what their teenage darlings got up to of a weekend, and it’s precisely this experience and mindset that the producers are seeking out. Nothing wrong with that in my book. There are enough old codgers out there in TV land, so what’s wrong with giving the kids a break every now and again? God knows they need it.

So: how about my Friday night? My nephew was having problems with a 2,500 word essay on Roland Barthes, so in a crazy fit of munificence, I said I’d help. Turns out it was easier to write the damn thing myself (Barthes is a whole load of fun, isn’t he? I got to the 2,000 word mark before I realised that I hadn't got a flippin' clue what I was on about).

Like I said, some of us had some fun, but it sure wasn’t this old codger.

Friday, 28 November 2008

A to B (And All the Way Back Again)

Once upon a time, I wrote a script. In chronological order, this is what happened to it:

1) To start with, read about Terry Illot and the Hammer Films episode here.

2) After that, Marchmont Films got their grubby little hands on it – you can read the full sorry lowdown here.

3) More or less at the same time, this happened (hello Yellow UK!) (I never got those script reports done, incidentally).

4) November 2007, and the script is selected by METLAB for development and eventual pitching to a cabal of investors. After a meeting in January 2008, I launched upon a month’s worth of rewrite and whizzed the new draft over to the truly gorgeous Lucy Vee for comment (Lucy is/was METLAB’s script editor of choice). Notes came back: super! At this stage, I was hoping to get another meeting with both Lucy and John Sweeney (METLAB head cheese) as per the original ‘calling notice’ to discuss potential ways forward. For whatever reason, the meeting never materialised. Wary of putting a lot of work in for no discernible gain, I turned my attention elsewhere (I was mid-way through a tricksy collaboration/treatment; stay tuned for more fun and games on that one at some point). Over the next few months, I waited for a meeting and a plan of action from John Sweeney, but nothing turned up. By now, I was starting to get the feeling that nothing was going to come of this (my sixth sense by now is quite well attuned to episodes of this sort). The project sat on the backburner for several months until I e-mailed John asking him what was going on (and giving him an ultimatum of sorts). I received this in reply. Game over.

5) In February 2008, I got this from an agent at United Agents:

...I absolutely loved it. It is smart and witty and unsettling.

...I’d love to read anything else you might want an agent to sell and I’d love to meet, if you’re still looking for representation.

Er, let’s think about this for a second – yes please!

Then: complete and utter silence for months. I chased up Mr Agent on a couple of occasions - he was always politeness and charm personified, but still nothing doing. Is it worth another chase? Probably not.

(Apropos of nothing at all, United Agents represent Henry Naylor: a couple of friends of mine were on the same Cambridge Footlights revue as Mister Naylor, and had a frankly uncalled for rhyme whenever his name arose in conversation: “Henry Naylor, Henry Naylor; about as funny as Vlad the Impaler.” Honestly, there’s just no need for it (*chortle*)).

6) “Notable Producer X”: I am wary of blogging too much about this at the moment, as I might say something I'll regret (as if that's ever stopped me before).

7) BBC Writersroom: a couple of months ago I got a lovely letter from Writersoom with a couple of pages of notes saying how much they liked the script and inviting me to send my next grand opus in (which I duly did, only for it to come back a month later – they’d already read it, you see. Oops).

Strangely enough, I wrote this in a post on 30th July 2007:

... if you want to know where NOT to send your speculative scripts, then stay tuned – I seem to have an almost supernatural knack for ferreting out production companies for whom procrastination is a profitable pastime...

In a bizarrely circuitous fashion, over a year later I’m back to where I started from - which really does go to show that if you want a successful screenwriting career, keep one eye permanently glued on Unfit for Print. Whatever I do, do the exact opposite: you really can’t go wrong.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

I'm a Loser, Baby...

So the scores are on the doors for the next round of Red Planet. And as Paul Campbell points out, the entire Scribodome and its dog are through – everyone that is, except me.*

As Chester Babcock might say:


There – that feels better already.

Huge congratulations to everyone who made it through (too many to mention here, but you know who you are, you lucky swines!), and commiserations to me. I suppose I ought to start on that supernatural period piece I’ve been planning for the last couple of minutes (dystopian sci-fi being hopelessly outré this year, of course) ;-)

Ah well – time for a beer.
*And Lucy and Elinor and Rach, of course. Commiserations, guys – I feel your pain. *sob*

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

METLAB Gets Credit Crunched!

Things have been very quiet on the Metlab front for the last few months (what with me being busy elsewhere with Red Planet, Sharps and that unnameable treatment), so I thought I’d give John Sweeney a prod. Got the following e-mail today:

Thanks for your thoughts. I have given the matter a lot of thought and because of the changes brought about by the current economic situation, our potential investors no longer being available, I think it best that we do what you suggest and draw a line under this episode of Metlab...

So there we have it.

I think the next step here is to write a post about the many and varied hoops that my poor ickle METLAB script has jumped through over the last couple of years – it ain’t pleasant reading, but at the least it’ll be entertaining...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Dude, You Won!

Stevyn Colgan directed me here to a Six Word Story Contest, which I duly entered with the following:

Second coming: Jesus descends from mothership.

And it won!

The prize? Free books! Huzzar!

As you were.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Scenes from The Wire

I’m currently re-watching all five seasons of The Wire via the gift of the DVD box set (I’m generous to myself like that). Problem is I get all obsessive-compulsive about it and watch an entire season over the course of 48 hours, which means I forget to do essential household chores such as watching Apparitions or anything currently emanating from the Jungle (saints preserve us).
My favourite scene from season 2 comes in episode 8, Duck and Cover. After being thrown out of the marital home, McNulty (since demoted from detective to harbour patrol) goes on a monumental bender. After promising a bartender that he has no intention of driving home, he does just does that. Swinging round a corner, McNulty completely misjudges it, and slams his car into a concrete underpass support. He gets out, and drunkenly tries to figure out how he didn’t make the corner. He gets back in the car, backs it up, and has another go. This time he hits the concrete support with much greater force than before, smashing the passenger side window and cutting his hand.

If all the scene did was to demonstrate McNulty’s pig-headedness, it would still be great – but it does so much more than that. It almost serves as an overarching metaphor as to exactly how McNulty lives his life: first time round, McNulty can’t help but fuck things up. Second time round, he simply repeats his previous error, which makes his fuck-up even greater than before. The metaphor is underlined by the fact that this scene sits slap bang in the middle of an attempted reconciliation between McNulty and his wife and a drunken shag with a waitress. This is superlative writing (by George P Pelecanos) that makes its point without resorting to heavy handed exposition or even a great deal of explanatory dialogue. The sequence of events spells things out just enough.

I love The Wire – then again, it’s a hard show not to love.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

My DVD Shelf

I nabbed this from Scott the Reader:

I visit your house/apartment, and you spot me looking at your DVD/VHS shelf.

1. What's on there that you instantly force me to borrow, because it's a great movie and you figure I haven't seen it?

2. What you do also lend me, because even though it's not considered a classic, it's a personal favorite?

3. What movie is on there that you have no rational explanation for owning, and which you try to slide under the couch while I'm distracted?

1. Last Year at Marienbad – directed by Alain Resnais from a script by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Not to everybody’s taste I suspect, but the script is a masterclass in opacity and ambiguity, i.e., how far can you take a narrative and still make people say, ‘Huh?’

2. Halloween III – with a script by Nigel Kneale (that he eventually disowned due to the amount of violence in the finished product), this is outlandish and demented with the best ending of any film ever in the history of everything. So there.

3. Hard Cash – the only reason I can think of for owning this is because it came free with one of these DVD player deals, where five godawful straight to video flicks are thrown in as some kind of enticement. Honestly, it’s so awful it’s not even funny. Not so much straight to video as straight to the recycling bin.

Right - your turn. Yes, you, over there. No use hiding, I can see you (and for god’s sake take your finger out of your nose - it's really not very becoming).

Sunday, 16 November 2008

I'm Confused (So No Change There Then)

At the risk of sounding like a doofus, didn’t Apparitions seem, well, you know, a little bit complicated?

Perhaps it might help if I tried to summarise what the devil (see what I did there?) was going on:

A young sufferer of leprosy, Vimal, prays to an image of Mother Theresa at the same time as the little saintly nun shuffles off this mortal coil. And whaddya know, hallelujah, he's cured! At exactly the same time in London, Liam and his wife conceive their daughter, Donna, who, ten years later, seeks out the exorcist Father Jacob (Martin Shaw). Liam is nuts, a fervent atheist who just happens to be possessed. In turn, Liam believes his daughter is also ‘possessed’, but by the spirit of Mother Theresa, which makes Liam froth at the mouth a bit. Meanwhile, Vimal has now ended up in the same seminary as Father Jacob, where he is taunted by a homeless man, who informs him that it wasn’t Mother Theresa who cured him of his leprosy – it was Satan. Cripes! Vimal is eventually relieved of his skin in a sex sauna after helping Jacob with his exorcism of Liam.

Got that? Good. ‘Cos I didn’t.

It’s not as if the basic premise is difficult to understand. It’s just that the two main narrative threads – Jacob’s run-ins with Liam and Vimal desperately trying to hang on to his Devil-donated skin – didn’t really seem to be related. In fact it was like watching two distant cousins in blindfolds blundering about and occasionally smacking into each other. It didn’t help that Apparitions started with Vimal’s story, which was little more than a sub-plot. Still, it gave an excuse for a truly gruesome skinning at the episode’s conclusion.

I can appreciate that many narratives might sound daft when reduced to a summary, but Apparitions truly is completely bonkers. Is it frightening? Not really. And that’s mostly because I found it too complicated, due to the fact that there was too much flippin’ plot. If you’re going to saturate a 60 minute drama with two significant narrative strands, it would be handy if they actually ran into each other every now and again.

Or maybe I’m just a doofus, who knows?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Friday Night Muzak - The Go! Team

Just about to go and watch Apparitions (good old Sky Plus). Wish me luck.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Memery Goodness

I got tagged by the bloggingly prodigious Stevyn Colgan – it’s a good one, but I can’t guarantee to stick to the thirty word limit (perhaps the meme police will come get me – here’s hoping, I love a good scrap).

Sod Richard and Judy. Sod Oprah. What would you advise people to read? Name your favourite:

(a) Fiction book
(b) Autobiography
(c) Non-fiction book
(d) A fourth book of your choice from any genre.

Explain why the books are essential reads in no more than 30 words per book.

a) Fiction: Jonathan Meades, Pompey: “the sleaze epic”. A great, big sprawling rambunctious romp which takes in Portsmouth, the origins of HIV, and an insane sojourn in Belgium; one of the most inventive novels I’ve ever read. In addition, Jonathan Meades has written one of the best short stories ever: Filthy English, at turns enticing and repellent. Read it and be appalled.

b) Autobiography: John Lydon: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. Forget the gurning loonpanted fruitcake of Jungle and butter advert fame. In his day, John Lydon was at the forefront of a huge sonic revolution – and I’m not talking about the Sex Pistols here.

c) Non-fiction: Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine. Some sections of this book – in particular the parts regarding the South African banking system and its part in apartheid, will literally take your breath away. If you thought that post-apartheid South Africa was somehow finding its feet, think again. Super scary.

d) The Fourth book: JM Coetzee: Disgrace. I prefer my ‘entertainment’ to be served up with a large side order of shock and awe (or a shovel round the back of the head, whatever you prefer). Just when you think you’ve got Coetzee taped, he pulls a series of unexpected narrative left turns that leave you wondering why all literary fiction can’t be this good. The ending is sad, profoundly unsettling and bleak in a way that no film could ever match.

Right, I tag Lawrence (what is it about Lawrence’s blog? Every time I go there, I always end up finding something both hilarious and genuinely demented), Rachel (honestly, Rach, you gotta calm down on the project front: Doctor Chip suggests more time on Lolcat and perhaps the odd Airfix kit), Potdoll (who I’m glad to say now addresses her readers as ‘Happy Knickers’) and Lucy (in need of a relaxing post after taking great big chunks out of Shooting People for the last couple of weeks).

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Race Against Time

After having read Rachel’s and Lawrence’s current project list, I’m starting to seriously ponder two things:

a) In order to find the time, they have obviously made some sort of pact with the Great Satan himself (Noel Edmonds, in case you were wondering)

b) I am a lazy, unmotivated arse.

How do they do it? Jiggered if I know. Suffice to say, I’ve spent the last three months or so writing and rewriting my Red Planet entry. Even if it doesn’t get through the first cut, it’s something I want to keep working on (I’m even considering writing a second episode, fer chrissakes).

The timescale for this year’s Red Planet suited me quite well, as it happened – I rewrote the first ten pages about half a dozen times before I had something I was happy with, which I did in parallel with a rough first draft. By the time the deadline loomed, it was ready for a good kicking courtesy of Adrian Reynolds. To be fair, Adrian offered up more in the way of what he terms ‘coaching’ than a strict reader’s report which again, suited me just fine. A couple of Adrian’s suggestions really resonated, and I’ve used his sage words as fuel to inform a second draft, essentially a page one rewrite. Let’s face it, first drafts are crap: mine are always overwritten, chock full of exposition, static conversations and weird, jerky pacing. In any rewrite, I can usually zero in on these types of occurrences and start to pull apart and put back together scenes with a more focused eye. Now, at the end of the second draft (it’s taken about a month), I’ll go out again for another read with a different reader. Then another rewrite probably. And then it just might be bordering on the ‘OK’. You get the idea. Just as well I prefer rewriting to the grunt work of getting a first draft down on the page.

There we have it: four months work essentially. I’ve been tinkering with that treatment a little bit as well, but I’m not doing anything further on it until I get something in writing (an MOU would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath). But that’s another story...

So tell me guys (I’m looking at you, Rachel and Lawrence): how do you do it? Do you share some sort of fancy machine that somehow elongates time? If so, do you want to swap it for mine that seems to do exactly the opposite (on a trial basis, of course. I’ll let you have yours back if you ask nicely). ;-)

Monday, 10 November 2008

Swish Meeting Room

Day job wise, I’ve had meetings all over (Miami, Paris, Amsterdam, Swindon), usually in so-called “meeting rooms” where the overriding colour scheme is beige. So it made a pleasant change to go to a meeting here last Friday - the café at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Nice, innit? They do a mean sandwich as well, by the way...

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Below is a list of Google search phrases that for some reason bring people to this esteemed blog (I haven’t done one of these for a while now, but these were just too good/random/borderline demented to pass up):

Second hand octaver pedal in Bournemouth – what’s an octaver pedal? And the last time I went to Bournemouth was to see James Blunt (don’t ask).

Super scary things to print – happy to be of assistance! Try this, or this, or even this.

Pic of Bruce Forsythe wife – doing what? Knitting? Rinsing out Bruce’s rug? Watching old age creep up on her? ;-) Honestly, people: you have to be more specific.

Genre is rude word – you know something? It probably is. However, ‘arse’ is much ruder and can be used to greater effect.

Pictures of Anna Torv in underwear – I had no idea that Anna Torv was Rupert Murdoch’s niece. Not that it matters in the search for pictures of her in her underwear of course, but I just thought I’d mention it (thank god it’s Anna Torv underwear pictures that bring people here rather than ones of Rupert Murdoch *shudder*).

You are a tit – I think that’s enough search items for one day.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

War on Reality

Contains spoilers for Spooks, Series 7, Episode 1

Don’t get me wrong, I love Spooks – I love it so much I’ll even watch it in French (and my French is notoriously rubbish). But as Adrian Reynolds has pointed out in insightful fashion, there’s something a bit ‘smoke and mirrors’ about the new series - and I can see what he means. This resides predominantly in the ever-so-slightly clunky plot mechanics. Hmmm – thinking about it, perhaps that’s a little unfair: ‘clunky’ is the wrong word. When you consider the way that writers Neil Cross and Ben Richards handle the various thorny problems that a Spooks narrative throws at them, you start to realise what a finely tuned machine the whole thing really is. It may well all be smoke and mirrors, but you don’t actually realise until way after the closing credits – which in my book, makes it a pretty major achievement.

Let’s face it, most narratives are going to contain some stray thread of implausibility or lapse in logic that, once worried and pulled at, means that the whole thing is going to unravel like a demented cat’s cradle. However, Spooks seems to be a special case. Last week’s opener started from a point that could have easily been totally implausible, but - due to some superlative writing - didn’t feel artificial or contrived: well, not that much.

Private Andy Sullivan is kidnapped by an al-Qaeda cell and threatened with a spot of decapitation unless Remembrance Day is cancelled. In a show of ballsy Brit bravura, Sullivan refuses to read out his captors’ pre-written statement, forcing them to read it out themselves. Once in receipt of the offending broadcast, the Spooks team is able to match the voice pattern of one of Sullivan’s captors against ones they have on electronic file – this inevitably puts them on the trail of the cell and its nefarious backers.

Taking this at face value, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with it – and indeed, there isn’t. But the logic Nazi that resides deep in my psyche couldn’t quite shake the thought that it just seemed a teensy bit contrived. The fact that one of Sullivan’s captors is forced to read out his own written statement direct to camera is the conceit that essentially sets the narrative in motion – without the voice to match to a suspect on their spiffy CGI database, the Spooks team would have been on a hiding to nothing straight from the off. I’m not a connoisseur of kidnap videos by any stretch, but I can’t imagine there’s any way on god’s green earth that any self-respecting al-Qaeda member would read out his own list of demands on a video which every security service in the western hemisphere would be queuing up to analyse with one of those weird toothcomb things.

Like I said – I’m a logic Nazi. It’s a problem – unfortunately not one that can be treated with any known medication (I’ve tried the odd anti-psychotic, but they don’t work either).

However, all credit to the writers – at least they get this little implausibility out of the way quickly.

Which then neatly leads on to the next teensy tiny problem:

Even though Spooks is grounded heavily in an instantly recognisable world, it’s almost as if that world is too real. So Spooks compensates for uncomfortable reality by giving everything an overwhelmingly positive spin, and throws in a bit of wish fulfilment to boot as well: kidnap victims are rescued unscathed, terror plots are successfully foiled with no civilian casualties, and MI5 agents have the public’s best interests at heart. Reality itself is far more horrific, random and mundane than anything Spooks could throw at us. But then again, it’s just fiction - right? Why would anyone want pesky reality playing a part in proceedings?

At least Spooks has the good sense to up the ante every now and again and kill off one of its main characters - which sort of begs the question: how much reality can we really take? I love Spooks, but every now and again, it would be nice to see how the team deal with the fall out from a full-on terrorist outrage (inasmuch as terrorist outrages can ever really be described as ‘nice’) ;-)

Friday, 31 October 2008

Dead Good

Contains spoilers for Dead Set, Hammer House of Horror

Over the last ten days or so I’ve been catching up with various episodes from the Hammer House of Horror series currently airing over on ITV3 – and what a treat they are. The three I’ve caught so far – Charlie Boy, The Thirteenth Reunion and Silent Scream (see here for further details on the series) – have been grim, desolate fun (although they may look a little hokey by modern standards). However, the one thing that these three episodes have in common is that they are all unremittingly bleak, which is a quality I don’t think you see often enough in modern horror.

A little while back I read something (probably on a blog somewhere, I forget) that suggested that all narratives needed to possess a certain degree of hope to make them meaningful and worthwhile experiences, as if drama is some sort of route to 'self-improvement' – this is something that the Hammer House of Horror holds no truck with whatsoever. Each episode ends on a decidedly downbeat note, where hope is taken outside and given a good kicking on the basis that that is where true horror lies: to witness the protagonist of Charlie Boy die through no real fault of his own is both disturbing and unsettling, which is surely what any respectable horror narrative should be aiming for. The Hammer series does this with a frightening regularity, and mostly without any unnecessary gore (which usually isn’t scary in the slightest).

One of my favourite films is My Little Eye, which has an ending so bleak that it made me feel physically unwell – which I think is a good thing. Throw in Session 9 and Blair Witch, and you have a triumvirate of some of the bleakest, most morbid films ever made (is it simply a coincidence that all three films are all shot on video? Maybe there’s something about the everyday, ‘homemade’ nature of the medium that makes these films genuinely unsettling).

So with these films in mind, it gives me great pleasure to announce that bleak is back with a vengeance, in the shape of the Charlie Brooker penned Dead Set, showing on E4 at the moment (last episode tonight). The pilot episode was terrific: unnerving and, above all else, genuinely frightening (again, shot mostly on digital video by the look of things). Like the Hammer House of Horror, Dead Set’s milieu is contemporary Britain, a recognisable scenario to anyone who’s seen more than ten minutes of Big Brother. However, Dead Set doesn’t go out of its way to satirise reality TV – if you’re looking for satire, then no doubt you’ll find it, but there’s more to Dead Set than simply putting the boot into Big Brother and its ilk. Even before the zombies show up (sprinting this way and that in true 28 Days Later stylee), the studio setting is bleak enough: a kind of claustrophobic maze where stressed out producers bark orders at interns, who are only too happy to be involved in the subterranean hell of TV production.

Also, Brooker seems to have got the tone just right – in today’s Guardian, Anne Billson says this:

Because horror movies tend to approach their themes more obliquely than other genres, they often succeed in getting under our skin where more self-consciously "serious" mainstream treatments of contemporary issues fail to cause a dent. Horror films draw on metaphors that are not polished and hermetically sealed, but misshapen or amorphous, like the monsters themselves, which leaves all the more room for individuals to interpret them on a personal level.

Brooker understands this all too well, and that’s what makes Dead Set such powerful viewing. Its narrative doesn’t labour the point with regards to reality TV, but at its core there’s something dark, twisted and nihilistic: witness the treatment of Davina McCall. Rather sportingly, Davina gets bitten in the throat early on by a member of the undead, and spends the first two episodes banging her head unthinkingly on a door in an attempt to get at Patrick the producer. Of course there‘s a certain glee in doing this to a well known TV celebrity, but at the same time, Brooker uses Davina’s familiarity to paint something bleak and ultimately hopeless. Hope be damned - when TV is as good as this, who needs it?

Monday, 27 October 2008

Guilty Pleasures, Part 6 - 60 Minute Makeover

Terri Dwyer (the posh bird of Hollyoaks fame) presents a show on daytime TV entitled 60 Minute Makeover*, which does exactly what it says on the tin: a swarm of builders, painters, decorators, chippies and sparkies (and that bloke from Big Brother) descend upon a house deserving of a little interior design TV magic. The property on Thursday’s show looked like an MI5 safe house; by the time the team had finished, it looked like Joe 90’s crash pad, all dizzying optic wallpaper and retina scorching fluorescence.

Ordinarily, I try and avoid shows like this as they’re all essentially the same: moving wallpaper, I suppose you’d call it. However, what made Thursday’s edition so riveting was that the recipient of the makeover (Umar) had absolutely no idea who Terri Dwyer was or what the hell the show was all about. Terri and her enormous team greeted Umar with a huge banner that screamed ’60 Minute Makeover’ in foot high letters. As Terri gaily proclaimed what they’d all been doing with themselves for the past hour, Umar looked completely baffled: “It’s a programme, right?” he said, wondering who the hell all these people with the cheesy grins gathering round him were. Even when he was treated to a tour of his own made over house he looked as if he’d just stumbled out of a war zone.

Perhaps we are now getting to the point where there are simply too many celebrities. Half the point of a show such as 60MM (which sounds like a sequel to 8MM) is that there should be at least some flicker of recognition as the recipient realises they’ve been ‘had’: much hilarity and realisation ensues. In the good old days of Changing Rooms, this was a given. Nowadays, nobody has a clue who these presenters are.

However, watching good people like Umar struggle to figure out what the devil is going on and who the hell Terri Dwyer is is superb entertainment in my book; it’s similar to the feeling I get when I inadvertently catch CelebAir – I mean, Michelle Marsh? Dan O’Connor? Amy Lamé? Who are these people? Maybe I need to start watching more daytime TV to catch up.
*Note to self: for Christ’s sake, stop watching so much daytime TV.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Length

I’m not sure if I like Silent Witness or not. For the most part, it’s the older brother of Bonekickers, inasmuch as it spins stories out of a seemingly sedentary occupation. Pathology and archaeology both deal (mostly) with the dead, and there’s your challenge: how do you make a drama where your plot is partially driven by people who can’t answer back? Bonekickers continually wrestled with this question, and didn’t altogether do a massively convincing job (mostly because it seemed unsure as to what it wanted to be: teatime romp, or post-watershed ‘issue’ drama). Silent Witness is more assured, as it figured this question out a long time ago. Rather than simply popping up to proclaim foul play and chewing on the obligatory pathologist’s sandwich, Dr Leo Dalton’s team usually find themselves right in the centre of the action – mostly due to the addition of the hard-nosed, no-nonsense copper, DI McKenzie.

Next problem: you’ve got two hours of prime time TV to fill – does a story such as the recent Judgement penned by Christian Spurrier need two hours to tell its story?

I don’t think it does.

It’s been covered elsewhere of course, but Jane Tranter’s parting shot before heading off to LA (which can be found here) seems a hugely strange way in which to talk about the BBC’s ‘single’ drama output:

An audience doesn't think “great, a single drama's on tonight”.

(For an alternative view on this, see a David Hare rant here).

Rather than taking issue with the ‘fetishisation’ of the single drama, perhaps it might be opportune to talk about the fetishisation of the series itself – or, for the purposes of this post, the two-parter. Many ITV dramas (Midsomer Murders, A Touch of Frost) wind up their stories in a single evening – granted, it’s still two hours of prime time hitched to a drama ‘brand’, but at least you don’t have to give up two evenings to catch the whole damn thing. That said, perhaps it’s worth pondering why a drama such as Silent Witness is shown in two halves. News at Ten occupies an immoveable place in the BBC schedule, which means that everything else has to gravitate around it, and the many gruesome autopsy scenes means that Silent Witness is not exactly pre-watershed fare. Regardless of the fact that a lot of TV drama mentioned here doesn’t really justify a two hour running time, this must put programme makers in a bit of a quandary. Judgement certainly didn’t need two hours, but the schedule *sort of* demands that it does. What’s the alternative? An hour one night, followed by thirty minutes the next? That wouldn’t work. Two hours seems to be the default setting, so two hours is what you get, whether the drama deserves it or not.

The other problem is that drama is not immune from branding. Silent Witness is now in its twelfth season and has been on our screens since 1996; in ad-speak, it would be described as a ‘strong brand’, and there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s probably the ‘hook’ that gets people watching in the first place. As with any brand, there are a series of identifying details that should be immediately recognisable: with Silent Witness, this identifier is partially contained within the title itself. The problem is that drama series often seem hampered by their reliance on these ‘signifiers’ – it’s almost as if there’s a checklist of branded bits that have to be ticked off before recognition kicks in. With single dramas such as The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall (strangely enough, another two hour drama but one that fully justified its running time) this isn’t so much of a problem, and the drama seems stronger as a result. However, single dramas probably don’t achieve such a high ‘brand recognition’ as series do, which is a huge shame (but not exactly a problem that can’t be remedied, I think).

Perhaps Tranter’s comments come down to nothing more than the holy grail of viewing figures: David Hare’s My Zinc Bed picked up a derisory one million viewers (about 4.5% of the overall audience) when it was broadcast on BBC2 at the back end of August, despite having a cast that featured Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman and Paddy Considine – all this says to me is that if you don’t have an instantly recognisable drama ‘brand’, you have to rely upon starry name actors, a strategy that simply didn’t work with My Zinc Bed.

Is the solution more single drama? Probably not. Maybe it’s a question of giving writers greater freedoms in the stories they choose to tell without being constrained by ‘branding’ concerns (and also giving writers other than David Hare and Stephen Poliakoff a crack of the whip). However, given the woeful performance of My Zinc Bed, it looks as if the big drama brands are here to stay (that said, a new series of Spooks starts on Monday, which has at least been one series that the BBC seems to get consistently right).

Sunday, 19 October 2008

BBC Mess with Space/Time Continuum

Strictly Come Dancing is doing my head in, but probably not in a way you’d expect...

All filming is obviously done during the course of a single day, but in order to squeeze as much air time out of it as possible, the BBC spread the results of the filming across two evenings (the main ham twirling is done on a Saturday, then there’s the painfully prolonged results show on the Sunday). The only problem is that during Sunday's show, everyone pretends that they've re-convened and that it’s being filmed live (the only non-cunning difference between the Saturday and Sunday shows is that Tess Daly is wearing a different frock).

Now this is hardly a scandal along the lines of last year’s Blue Peter pussy outrage, but it has a peculiar effect inasmuch as it starts to make me doubt my own sanity. That, and the effect it must be having on the space/time continuum. I mean, there are people out there filming a show who are pretending that they’re doing it twenty four hours later than they really are (or maybe they aren’t, in which case I must be mental). Over on ITV, The X-Factor wraps everything up in a single evening, with the results show following hard on the heels on the live show (perhaps the BBC figured that their target audience would all be safely tucked up in bed with their cocoa by 10.35pm, and therefore too knackered to hang about to find out that Gary Rhodes is a borderline psychopath).

The upshot of this is that if the very fabric of the universe is ripped apart in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to blame Strictly Come Dancing (oh, and whilst we’re about it, I’ll blame The X-Factor as well – it gets blamed for everything else, so no-one will notice if we tack the end of the world onto the list as well ;-)).

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Codeword: Demented

Before I recount this story, let me just say that this sort of thing happens to me ALL THE TIME. I’m under no illusion that at the outset of any ‘writing career’, you’ve got to be pretty relentless when it comes to chasing down work, but the big difference with this one was how much it made me laugh (interspersed with a good degree of, ‘Oh, shit! Whatever next?’). I will try and be as discrete and polite as I possibly can be, so apologies in advance if you think I’m being coy – I just don’t want to upset anyone unnecessarily here, but perhaps it’s unavoidable at the end of the day - who knows?

Back in July this year, I responded to a highly unusual script call (through the Shooting People screenwriting bulletin, I think). Four times out of five I don’t even receive a reply, but on this occasion I did. The script I offered as a writing sample wasn’t exactly a 100% fit for the requirement, but it seemed unusual enough for the recipient (who we’ll call ‘Naomi’) to give it a whirl. And she liked it. It wasn’t quite what she had been tasked to find, but still – she stated she would be very happy to pass it on to some producers and directors ‘over here’.

I whizzed over another script and Naomi read that one as well. She liked it, and asked if I had optioned it to anyone? Uh, nope – not since I last checked anyway ;-)

In the meantime, I had a brainwave (a rare occurrence round these ‘ere parts) and plugged Naomi’s name into imdb.com. Turns out she’s an actress based in Los Angeles – a few minor credits, and then a role in this, directed by none than...

Uwe Boll.


It’s a living, as they say.

A couple of days later, Naomi e-mailed me to say she had passed one of my scripts onto the director Pitof. For the uninitiated, Pitof (or Jean-Christopher Comar to use his real name) was the visual effects designer for one of my favourite movies of all time, Delicatessen. He moved into directing with Vidocq in 2001 before re-locating to the States some time later where he directed...



All this really shows is that you have absolutely no control over who reads your scripts – and indeed, why would you want any at this stage? Once the things are out there, it’s all you can do to hope that they’re not being used to prop open fire exits or being used as murder weapons or something.

That said, I’m reminded of a great Adrian Reynolds post here – I’m obviously a long way off from writing treatments set in the world of cage fighting and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, but a boy can dream, eh? ;-)

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Writersroom in Brighton

Many thanks to John Soanes for informing me about this – the last time I was in the Sallis Benney theatre, Steven Berkoff was getting all unnecessary about skinheads (which he used to do with frightening regularity). So, see you down the front for a spot of heckling (joke).

That said, these events usually attract the odd crackpot or two, so hopefully the entertainment value will be quite high!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Return of the X-Files

For all you young whippersnappers out there who don’t remember The X-Files – fear not! JJ Abrams has re-made it for you in the shape of Fringe. He’s also stolen some of the sillier bits of Flatliners as well, but to be fair, there’s quite a lot to enjoy here – explosions! Joshua Jackson! Anna Torv in her underwear (black and functional, in case you were wondering)! A constant recurring sense of refrigerator logic!

However, do we really need a re-tooled X-Files?

The X-Files of course was phenomenally successful, running to over 200 episodes (something I can’t quite see Fringe doing) and still spawning the odd, uneven film (I Want To Believe). Fringe has a slightly different initial focus inasmuch as there’s a great deal of pseudo-scientific babble floating about the place, but essentially it possesses the same DNA as The X-Files, as both narratives share many of the same underlying building blocks.

Perhaps there’s some merit in re-tooling old(ish) TV shows for today’s audience, something that JJ Abrams seems to be doing more and more these days, what with Star Trek due for a 2009 overhaul (perhaps Lost is an exception. That said, check out Jeffrey Lieber’s – the co-creator of Lost – story here; it really is a fascinating read). And whilst we’re on the subject, how about Cloverfield? A real hoot, but essentially a remake of every Godzilla film you’ve ever seen.

In comparison, perhaps it’s more interesting to look at where X-Files writers such as Vince Gilligan have ended up. A couple of posts back I wittered on about Breaking Bad, written and directed by none other than Mr Gilligan himself – to say it’s the diametric opposite of The X-Files would be a drastic understatement. Fringe, therefore, can’t help having a little bit of a retro feel. Sure, it goes ‘Bang!’ quite a lot and it certainly holds your attention – however, its many plot holes are more reminiscent of cinematic narratives rather than a carefully crafted TV drama such as Breaking Bad.

Seems to me at the moment that all JJ needs to do to re-tool a much loved show and/or concept is to give it a great big ‘War on Terror’ spin – which is fine, until you come up against Star Trek. I have no idea what he’s going to do with it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to look and sound strangely familiar.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Sherlock ‘Chip’ Holmes to the Rescue

Over the last couple of weeks or so, there’s been an interesting mini-debate of sorts taking place via the Shooting People Screenwriting bulletin along the lines that exposure to film and TV images can have (supposedly) a corrupting influence.

Here’s Alan McKenna:

It seems exposure to violent images predisposes us to greater tolerance of violence. Not a lot of doubt I'm afraid.

And here’s Allen O’Leary:

I've come across some interesting research lately about TV watching and behaviour. Take a read of this http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/09/25/risky.behaviors.tv.may.be. (...)

Precis: If you haven't had the experience of a risky sexual behaviour and you watch programs that show that risky behaviour you are more likely do it later REGARDLESS of whether the consequences of the behaviour are shown to be bad in the program.

That's very interesting indeed and implies there is a critical failure in programs that supposedly model bad behaviour as an 'educational' device - they could back-fire horribly...

And here’s Elisabeth Pinto:

My conclusion... was it was nigh-on impossible to make an anti-war film even if the film explicitly set out to do so. Not for physiological reasons per se but because of the nature of film narrative (which may amount to the same thing). By giving a sense of control over events (A happens, followed by B, followed by C etc), it is only too easy to project yourself into the action in a positive way. Which you end up doing because film romanticises and mythologises everything. And we all know how human beings yearn for myths...

With all due respect to these good people, I’m convinced that they are all totally, utterly wrong. But instead of merely stating that they’re wrong and leaving it at that, armed with my Psychology A level, I’m going to dig about and unearth some evidence as to why. In the meantime, here’s I.C. Jarvie from his book Towards a Sociology of the Cinema:

While people believed (believe?) that film and television do influence their children, and that if the programming is bad, then their children will be, too. Studies such as those done by Himmelwit (TV and the Child, London, 1958) and Schramm (TV in the Lives of Our Children, Stanford, 1961) reveal that this is untrue. Film may influence us toward good or evil, but if it does, then the way we are is much more complicated than what it seems to be on the surface, and it could even possibly be counterintuitive.

Sunday, 5 October 2008


Contains Spoilers for Breaking Bad

Stevyn Colgan’s blog steered me in the direction of the first episode of Breaking Bad, a new US import currently showing on FX. And it’s utterly fab. But don’t take my word for it – the first episode is available as a free download on iTunes (what a relief that Apple didn’t carry through their threat to shut it down, eh? The greedy, bluffing tossers).

In the same post, Stevyn says this:

Yet again I find that I'm praising an American show when I want to be praising British shows.

Which is when it struck me: there has to be a reason as to why we don’t generally see drama of this quality in the UK, and I’m struggling to figure out why. Perhaps it might be worth looking at Breaking Bad’s narrative for some clues:

* The protagonist of Breaking Bad is Walter H White (an almost unrecognisable Bryan Cranston from Malcolm in the Middle), a fifty year old part time chemistry teacher with an unexpectedly pregnant wife and a teenage son with learning difficulties. Walter’s part time teaching job isn’t enough to keep the wolf from the door, so he also works part time in a car wash, where his extravagantly eyebrowed boss harasses him into working extra hours cleaning cars, which isn’t really Walter’s job.

* After collapsing at the car wash, Walter is informed by his doctor that he has inoperable lung cancer, a fact that he keeps from his wife and son.

* Through his brother-in-law (a dumb, bullet headed cop), Walter becomes intrigued by the money that is made by the town’s drug dealers. Accompanying his brother-in-law on a drugs bust, Walter spies one of his ex-students sprinting from the scene. He collars the kid later and effectively blackmails him into becoming his new partner.

By now, great big fluorescent alarm bells should be ringing. Right off the bat, the protagonist of Breaking Bad is fifty years of age. Fifty! Man, that’s old! Not exactly your key BBC3 demographic there. Is that a significant fact (as an aside, I sat down and watched the superb Dad’s Army last night and wondered if someone would have the nerve to pitch it today)?

If relative old age is a demographic turn off, consider what else could make Breaking Bad a UK commission disaster zone: learning difficulties! Lung cancer! Drugs! Guns! Taken as standalone issues, I’m sure we can all name at least a couple of UK dramas that have taken these subjects as their main dramatic focus, but maybe that’s the problem: perhaps we treat subjects such as old age, learning difficulties and cancer too much as issues that need to be discussed ad infinitum rather than simply as factors that help establish milieu and character. And Breaking Bad is all about character – is that the difference?

Breaking Bad doesn’t do anything tricksy – there’s no intrusive voiceover, no smart ass structure, and its exposition is handled beautifully. Its moral universe is grey at best, as Walter wants to use the gains from his drug dealing to provide a financial cushion for his family, which means that there’s no cosy, Inspector Gadget-like ‘message’ tacked on – with a story this strong, you don’t need it.

It’s not as if the UK doesn’t produce quality TV drama, but the balance has been skewed in recent years in favour of the US. And there’s got to be a reason for that – right?

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Super Scary

This is scary (well, it isn’t, not technically speaking, but you get the idea) (I much prefer the way that Holy Moly reports the same story here).

Glad to see that what I talked about earlier in the year here is all coming true (or not, as the case may be).

Unfit For Print – the blog that’s bizarrely prescient. Whoooo... (cue The X-Files theme tune).

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

In The Crap

There’s an article here by Toby Young that essentially talks about this:

As a reviewer, I always accepted that film is a collaborative medium, but until I started spending time with film-makers I had no idea just how true that is. It is most obvious when it comes to the screenplay. It is fairly well known that the officially credited writers of a film are rarely, if ever, the only authors of the shooting script, but I was still shocked when a famous screenwriter confided he'd been Oscar-nominated for a film he hadn't written a single word of...

I now realise that describing someone as the "director" - or "screenwriter" or "producer" - is completely misleading, in that there are no clearly circumscribed areas of responsibility on a film set. Those official titles are, at best, starting points, guideposts that sometimes point you in the right direction, but equally often lead you astray.

Slogging my way through In The Cut, a single question became immediately apparent: if film truly is a collaborative process as Mister Young states in his article (and I’m not suggesting for a second that it isn’t), then how on earth does something like In The Cut limp its way onto celluloid? Didn’t anyone involved with the making of this film have the presence of mind to say, “Uh, Jane, sweetie – that film you’ve directed? It’s utter guff.” Perhaps everyone was intimidated by the Oscar that Ms Campion no doubt takes everywhere with her, but even so, that’s not really an excuse. If you believe Toby Young, then a film can be made or destroyed in the edit. With that in mind, just imagine the raw material that the editor Alexandre de Francheschi had to work with – it doesn’t really bear thinking about it.

Just what makes In The Cut so toe curlingly bad? Talking about film as a collaborative process is all very well, but if you’re going to start with a script that’s essentially rubbish, then no amount of blood, nudity, swearing and pretentiousness is going to help you. The protagonist Frannie is as drearily passive as a wet weekday morning, where the male characters veer between being either cardboard cut outs or gross stereotypes. Campion can sprinkle the finished product with as many moody atmospherics and pretentious asides as she likes, but she can’t disguise the clunky, paint-by-numbers plot that telegraphs its ending a good hour before it occurs. In other words, you can’t make a skyscraper out of housebricks – and the building that In The Cut most closely resembles is a brick outhouse.

Perhaps the fact that Meg Ryan takes her clothes off might divert attention from the mound of rubbishness clunking about on screen?

Er, nope.

As above, the one thing that constantly staggers me with films such as this is that it has taken a small army of professional, intelligent people with an Oscar winning director (supposedly) at the helm to get the thing made. So why is it so bad? There has to a reason: too many cooks? Or not enough? Maybe there weren’t enough suits involved (Toby Young’s criteria for getting a half decent film made)? Who knows? And more to the point, who cares? All I know is that some collaborations work and others don’t – and you can safely put In The Cut in the latter column.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Fiendish Meme

I got tagged by Rachael on this furiously difficult meme, reproduced below (like Mr Campbell, I was hoping to avoid this one. Curses!)

Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. NB: It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing – whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same (reprint these instructions).

Blimey. The best I can think of is this Mclusky lyric (from Collagen Rock) which just about sums up the plight of the perennial spec monkey:

The little kid pissed on the big kid’s porch
He thinks he’s amazing, he’s rubbish of course.

The only problem with this song is that the lyric above is where the writing analogy grinds to a halt, as it further mentions bands with ‘fake tits’. Ahem.

So I’ve alighted on this from Kevin Drew, which is probably something to do with posting off my Red Planet entry:

Well it’s gonna be really hard when we get to the end
It’s gonna be really hard when we get to the end
Well you love the start but it’s really just to begin
It’s gonna be really hard when we get to the end.

But don’t forget what you felt.

If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t been tagged with this thing, then consider yourself ‘it’.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Friday Night Muzak - Mclusky

There's no better way to end the week than with a smidgeon of punk rock and some ubiquitous instrument trashing cats...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Five Things I’ve Learnt This Week, Part 1

  1. The word ‘edutainment’ (if it really can be classified as a word) shouldn’t be permitted under any circumstance.
  2. Riding a unicyle in an office environment is not the brightest of ideas (especially if you’ve never ridden one before). But then I read this, and everything seemed right with the world.
  3. I now know what a hagedorn needle is.
  4. My resting pulse is 55 and my temperature is 34.4 C. Jesus – basking reptiles have higher temperatures (is there a doctor in the house? I feel a little peaky).
  5. My iPod is possessed, but in a good way – who would’ve thought that songs by Harold Budd, Shellac, Michael Nyman, The Carpenters and Mclusky would sound as if they were meant to be seen in the same room together.

And er, that’s it. Move along now, nothing to see here.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


Now that my Red Planet and RISE submissions are out of the way, I can get back to doing what I do best: watching a whole load of really crap TV. Hooray! And first out of the blocks is Hole in the Wall – the ‘gameshow’ where celebrities have to force themselves Tetris-like through a variety of holes or risk being dunked in the drink. I lasted five minutes before I became acutely aware that the show is merely a ploy to drain your IQ so you are mentally unable to switch channels, thereby ensuring that you stay tuned for Strictly Come Dancing (or Celebrity Ham Twirling as it’s known here at Chipster Towers). Shows like Hole in the Wall make you yearn for the golden age of television, where Mr Blobby and the malevolent evil that is Cilla Black presided colossus-like over the Saturday night schedule. As Dale Winton says, “Join me next week for more celebrities and more holes.” Can’t wait.That said, Hole in the Wall wasn’t the stupidest thing I’ve seen on teevee recently – that honour goes to Guy Richie’s Revolver, which wasn’t of course made for television, but hey, who's splitting hairs? The only essential difference between Hole in the Wall and Revolver is that Hole in the Wall is knowingly dumb, whereas Revolver is dumb masquerading as clever, which is in fact even worse than plain old dumb (with Luc Besson contributing to proceedings, you know you’re in for a veritable festival of stupid anyway). Quite what the screenplay is aiming to say is anyone’s guess: characters supposedly inhabit each other’s heads to the point of mind numbing existential tedium, ill-thought out symbols litter the film like so much landfill (twelve dollar bills, half a crucifixion, endlessly boring games of chess), Ray Liotta chews up the scenery (in his underpants mostly, not really my definition of viewing pleasure), and there are swathes of entirely pointless pieces of animation. I was going to mention the long and pointless voiceover and the acres of repetitive dialogue, but I simply can’t be bothered (is it just me, or does the lost art of the voiceover seem to be making a resurgence of late? Most everything I see at the moment features a metric tonne of the stuff: Lost in Austen anyone? The major unifying thread of all the shows I’ve seen recently to feature voiceover is that it’s just not needed).

So, to summarise: Revolver – the only film in living memory that would have been improved with an appearance from Andi Peters in a skin tight Lycra bodysuit.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


My Red Planet and RISE submissions are packed up and ready to go, which means I no longer have to tinker with them until I go all cross-eyed and unnecessary. The script I’m submitting for RISE has been rattling around in my hard drive for a while now, so a week of work to make it ship shape (me hearties) seemed reasonable. However, my Red Planet entry was entirely written from scratch, which meant I had to call on the duumvirate of John Soanes and the still blogless Caroline, who both offered up some decent tweaks (at least they didn’t say it was shite, which is the reaction I usually expect). I also called upon Mr Voodoo himself, Adrian Reynolds, who made a crack about The Bill and the word ‘plethora’, which made me realise I had some rewriting to do. So, thanks to all.

With the first ten pages of my RP entry this year, there were at least a couple of things I wanted to do:

1) Establish the character of my protagonist, and
2) Establish the milieu of the story

However, I wanted to do this in the context of scenes that kept the story moving without becoming bogged down in great big tar pits of exposition. Two films I’ve seen recently helped inform my thinking here – There Will Be Blood, and The Silence of the Lambs. There Will Be Blood's opening fifteen minutes are entirely soundless, and are almost exclusively devoted to establishing the character of the protagonist, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, giving yet another scenery chewing turn). Whilst mining for silver, Plainview falls down a mine shaft, badly injuring his leg. However, this doesn’t stop him from dragging himself to the nearest prospecting office, where the staff assess his claim as Plainview lies on the floor in front of them, his leg shattered. Whilst keeping the narrative moving, this tells you all you need to know about his character – what’s more, not a single word has been spoken.

With that in mind, I looked at the opening twenty minutes of The Silence of the Lambs, which again, is a fantastic example of how to establish character – however, where There Will Be Blood is almost exclusively concerned with the character of Plainview, The Silence of the Lambs is slightly different inasmuch as there’s one helluva lot of potentially labyrinthine narrative that needs to be covered off. As with most films, I find the first twenty minutes or so of ‘set-up’ to be the most intriguing, but with The Silence of the Lambs, perhaps it’s worth taking a few minutes to figure out how screenwriter Ted Tally did it so well:

* Clarice Starling tackles an obstacle course at the FBI Academy (we know she’s at the FBI Academy as it’s printed on her sweatshirt). The fact that Clarice seems to be running the course by herself gives us an early indication of her character: she’s enthusiastic, ambitious, eager to impress, perhaps even a little desperate.

* After being interrupted mid-course with a message that Jack Crawford (her boss) wants to see her, Clarice jogs back to the Academy , where she steps into a lift with nine red shirted FBI trainees – the fact that these trainees are all men is no accident. When Clarice steps out of the lift some seconds later, the men have all gone. This is the milieu that Clarice finds herself in (the scene is repeated some time later as Clarice stands in a funeral home surrounded by male police officers, just in case we didn’t get the message first time round).

* Clarice walks into Crawford’s office, but he isn’t there. Clarice turns and... that’s the end of the title sequence. Five minutes in, and already we have a fairly good indication of Clarice’s character and the environment in which she finds herself.

Subsequent scenes in Crawford’s office and at the Baltimore State Forensic Hospital keep the story moving forward whilst fleshing out the character of Clarice. From her conversation with Dr Chilton, we learn that she is resourceful and quick witted, even when Chilton tries to unnerve her with a lurid account of the serial killer Hannibal Lecter’s extreme violence. In her interview with Lecter, Lecter mercilessly dissects Clarice’s character (“You’re not more than one generation removed from poor white trash, are you?”), which again gives us some valuable background. And then – horrors! – a flashback to Clarice’s childhood, where it transpires that Lecter’s description of her background was not entirely correct, but pretty damn close all the same.

It’s perhaps worthwhile to note that it’s the secondary characters within the narrative that give us the descriptions of Clarice’s background – the qualities of character that will help Clarice later in the narrative are demonstrated by her in her interactions with Crawford, Chilton and Lecter (a combination of guile, intelligence and ambition). Twenty minutes in, and you know all you need to know about Clarice Starling (even down to the type of car she drives, which is seen as another signifier of her many motivations). And what’s more, the narrative is up and running. The two are pulled along together hand in hand – we know that Clarice is ambitious enough not to let her objective slip from view, and it’s this that initially provides forward momentum.

It’s a superb opening – not that I’m saying that my RP entry comes anywhere close, but if you’re going to be inspired by something, it may as well be something exceptional.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Factory/Warehouse, Part 2

More from the Factory/Warehouse chaps below. Caveat emptor, people - not that there's any money changing hands, but you get the drift...
Dear all.

Having various people ask us several good questions, below are various points you should consider to be absolutely clear about what we are offering.

This opportunity is really for any writer but was put out particularly for all new writers who wished to get their work seen by some of the top people in the industry. Myself and my friend/colleague Ben have found ourselves in the unusual position due to previous dealings with some agents to be able to put forward peoples work. Because of our relationship with them we know what projects have interest and that, unlike most scripts that land on their desk, ours will actually be read and considered. They have explicitly not allowed us to mention who the agencies are until further on when it will be important to know who the actors might be so we can try to work toward, what one hopes will be, successful projects.

Once again we must stress that there is no money involved initially. Should the project be packaged then yes of course WGGB payment terms will apply.

The 'Adaption' email states that you should 'think' of these actors when considering writing the Rebecca adaptation. It does not say these 'are' the actors who have agreed to play the part. Any actor would not commit to this unless they have a script to agree upon and this is what this is all about.

Having worked in the business in various capacities and having several writer friends I understand how hard it can be to even get seen despite the level of talent, this is why we wanted to offer the chance to writers. At the end of the day if the writer succeeds then we do, if they don't we don't. We can only offer a couple of guarantees; firstly that if you are a good writer and create a strong script it will get read by the people who are interested in the project and can make a difference, secondly should they approve we then have the ability to package a product and of course offer proper rates. It is doing things back to front, I do appreciate that, but it is a rare chance to put something forward and have it read.

Please have in mind that this is the first time this has been done so all relevant questions and queries are appreciated.

Richard S