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 outrĂ© 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 cafĂ© 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’) ;-)