Wednesday, May 31, 2006

14: My mind on higher things

After waking up this morning it took me over half an hour to remember what day of the week it was. I couldn't even remember if I'd come to work yesterday.

I'm a little bit obsessed at the moment.

Category: Meatspace

Saturday, May 27, 2006

"I. AM. TALKING"

After the painful to watch and over-ambitious mis-fires of the last two weeks, it was a relief to find Doctor Who get back to good, old fashioned story-telling tonight.

In stark contrast to Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel, The Idiot’s Lantern revelled in punchy dialogue, enviably tight plotting and memorable characterisation. An ostensible romp, this showed hidden depths, and successfully punted Tom MacRae’s lumpen, po-faced, unsophisticated Cyberman “epic” from my memory.

All in, it was great fifties fun - who couldn’t fall for Tennant’s quiff, the Union Flag, “Watch With Mother” face-sucking aliens, men in black and a showdown at the Ally Pally?

Congratulations to Mark Gatiss for penning such an infectiously enjoyable episode. Next week’s is the start of another two-parter, and looks like right old-school Who. Written by Matt Jones, it provides further ammo for my “TV drama is controlled by Children’s Ward alumni” conspiracy theory.

Category: Movies and TV

Monday, May 22, 2006

The angel on my shoulder

Shuffling along in line for the cash machine, trying not to peer at everyone else's balance, I get to the front and notice the last man at the helm has wandered off mid-transaction, leaving his card in the machine, and me with the option of a free £200.

What to do, what to do? My long history of shop-lifting and theft from employers fought against all the moral lessons I've ever been taught, and eventually my natural impulses were overcome. I removed the card and followed a stranger down the street until I could do him a good turn.

And was he grateful? Was he?

Well, yes, as it happens. He said "Oh, thank you. How kind." And I replied "It's my pleasure."

Then I came back to work, unable to account for my behaviour.

Category: Meatspace

14: T-Minus 12

Only twelve days to go, no time to re-read and memorise McKee, Field, Vogler, Aristotle et al.

So instead, here's a useful link for all the novitiates taking part in the fourteen day extravaganza, kindly provided by the folks at Celtx:

A Crash Course in Screenwriting.

Category: Writing

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bastards

My boiler threw an eppy on Tuesday and since then I’ve had no hot water or heating. Now, I don’t mind being a little bit skanky and unwashed, but my work mates have started keeping their distance over the last couple of days, so I finally called a local service engineer to come and take a look.

He left defeated, a broken man. I’ve since heard he’s thrown his wrenches into the furnace and gone to run a bar in Majorca.

I called the manufacturer. They promised to send someone today to take a look. I haven’t left the house all day. I couldn’t play football. I couldn’t go to my parents for dinner, although, bless them, they did bring me my grub on a big plate so I wouldn’t have to fend for myself.

No-one came. Poor Lee’s a-cold.

Still, my confinement had benefits. Today I have:

        • put a new hard drive into my long dead iMac, resurrecting her as an iTunes jukebox and bedroom DVD player.
        • read the scripts for Bad Boys and An American Werewolf in London
        • done around 400 sit-ups
        • watched a couple of episodes of Rome that I missed last year
        • made excellent headway on my fourteen day screenplay pre-planning
        • had fish-finger sandwiches for tea

They were delicious.

So, not a waste of time.

Category: Meatspace

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

For the kids

Hot on the heels of BBC director general Mark Thompson’s outlining of the BBC’s future, ITV chief Simon Shaps used his speech to the RTS on Thursday night to make some remarkable concessions to the network’s critics, and to lay out his plan to appease them (links go to mediaguardian - you need to register to see them).

First off, ‘umble Shaps openly admits to some of ITV’s faults:

I am going to hold my hands up and say we actually agree with some of the criticisms levelled at ITV over the last few years. ITV came late - or largely missed - the revolution in lifestyle programming. We watched in awe and envy as some vastly ambitious specialist factual series hit the screens and gathered large audiences. The BBC has recently hit a rich seam of adventurous, mould-breaking drama. And then there's comedy or rather and then there isn't any comedy - that is outside of comedy drama where ITV has excelled for a number of years.


Now stop reeling from that admission, pick your jaw off the floor and chew on this:

Back in October I sat down with Nick Elliott, who has probably commissioned more successful drama than anybody on this planet, and discussed the next couple of years.

At that time there was in force at ITV a "no classics policy." That struck me as strange. The greatest stories in the English language which are reinvented every ten or twenty years for a new generation of viewers were no longer wanted. It must have been a good lunch - actually it always is with Nick - because by the end of it we had commissioned three Jane Austen films.

But in a way, that's the simple bit. More tricky is to convince a generation of writers who think ITV is not a place for them to work, that they're wrong. We are making good progress here although the fruits of this will not be seen on screen for a little while yet. We have in the last few months, commissioned new work by Sally Wainwright, Kay Mellor, John Fay, Andrew Davies and from Paul Abbott's company Tightrope. In the autumn we have a new Cracker penned by Jimmy McGovern and we have issued an open invitation to writers to bring us their best work, the more original the better, and to producers to start thinking about ITV as a place that wants more than cop shows and period detectives. Nick, together with Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes, are clear that the £300 million pounds a year we spend on original UK drama has to feel more contemporary, less predictable. We should not be afraid of ideas or complexity and we should not be afraid of experimenting with the shape and format, and the subject matter, of television drama...

..We have already taken the decision that we won't be recommissioning Celebrity Fit Club. It'll Be Alright on the Night will disappear with Denis Norden as he retires from television and we've called time on Footballers Wives and Rosemary and Thyme.

So we are undertaking a painful, but utterly necessary, process - a kind of Clause IV moment for ITV - which is to drop programmes which, by the criteria of most of our competitors are still performing incredibly well. Why? Because we know that that volume without value is no longer enough. Value in terms of viewer engagement, value in terms of audience profile, value in terms of word of mouth and the perception of the channel. This is what we want to achieve for ITV1 and I believe we now have the best team in the industry in place to do it.


This sounds excellent. But what’s the cost? After the speech, when talking about ITV’s public service commitments, Shaps made a peculiar comment:

Over time, it isn't clear to me at what time, in what slot, in what volume, children's programmes will be offered by ITV.



This is outrageous. Both ITV1 and BBC1 appear to be planning on drastically scaling back their childrens’ output. Shaps should be especially ashamed. How can ITV1 really be serious about attracting new writers without the historical training ground of childrens’ programmes which, as a whole, are often more daring, more experimental and more varied in genre than prime time output? This is especially remarkable because if not for the hinterland of childrens’ telly, particularly on ITV, Shap’s feted commissions from Wainwright, Mellor and Abbott may never have happened. That’s right, it’s thanks to the early afternoon kiddie slot that such little known writers as Stephen Moffat, Paul Abbott, Russell T Davies, Sally Wainwright, Kay Mellor and Anthony Horowitz actually had their break in this business, and the chance to develop their craft.

Bugger The West Wing. RIP Byker Grove.

Category: Movies and TV

14

Class swot Danny Stack once wrote a screenplay in 96 hours, just to prove how easy it was. I was actually quite intimidated by the whole display, but have managed to internalise and transfer the trauma in such a way that I have become a foul and malicious bully.

But never mind that. Those of us who are too lazy to complete a screenplay in four days are invited to try their luck and stamina in the fourteen day screenwriting contest instead, organised by Matt Courtney.

Set to run from the 3rd to 17th June, this is a chance to show your speed-writing chops and forge unbreakable, epic friendships. Or, if you prefer to spectate, come watch a whole bunch of writers rapidly spiral into hollow-eyed, clammy-skinned terror. Damaged, we will be; dribbling, voiceless, grunting, masturbating husks.

You can sign up for the event at http://www.14dayscreenplay.com/. I already spend approximately 60% of my time grunting and masturbating, and am becoming disenchanted with both. This is the chance I’ve been looking for to expand my range of nervous tics.

Plus, what better excuse to buy a sleek, black, MacBook?

Category: Writing

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Q&A with Tony Jordan

Danny does it again. Good work, sir.

Category: Movies and TV

Moffat maniac's DVD devotion

Stephen Moffat is of course best known for his work on Press Gang, Coupling and Doctor Who. But in the mid 90’s he was also the writer of a short-lived “feel-bad” sit-com called Joking Apart. Robert Bathurst, now far better known for starring in Cold Feet, played Mark Taylor, a comedy writer whose wife leaves him in the first episode. The show was about him miserably failing to get over his separation and move on with his life. It was very dark, quite manic, absolutely hilarious, and now pretty much forgotten. Despite critical plaudits and a Bronze Rose of Montreux, it lasted two seasons and hasn’t been seen since.

Now you can read here about one fan’s unflagging dedication to get Joking Apart released on DVD, and read you should. Craig Robins decided to buy the DVD rights from the BBC, and master and release the show himself. Absolute madness, and yet the first season will be released, featuring commentary by Moffat and the cast, on May 29th.

Even if you’ve no interest in Joking Apart itself, the article is fascinating – Robins’ odyssey from fan to DVD producer by way of glacial subtitling freeware, £1000 BBFC fees and loathed publicity stills makes quite a story. Programming by fans, for fans. Hell of an achievement.

Category: Movies and TV

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ebdon vs. Dott - Frame 27

Seventy-four minutes. That was one fuck-off long-ass frame of snooker.

Gripping stuff - better than many movies.

Hustle to shuffle off living room coil?

From this week’s Broadcast:

Eastenders’ lead writer set to quit 

EastEnders'
lead writer and chief story consultant Tony Jordan is quitting the soap in January having set up his own production company. Jordan, who created BBC1 hit drama Hustle and co-created Life on Mars, made by Kudos Film and Television, will honour his current contracts but once they have ended will write only for his new indie, Red Planet.   

He plans to make the new company, backed by senior executives at Kudos, a writer-led production company, bringing in top writing talent to work with him. He is already in talks with broadcasters. The indie is likely to be near his home in Bedfordshire.

Kudos joint managing directors Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone, as well as head of drama Simon Crawford Collins and general manager Dan Issacs have all become minority shareholders and will provide support to the new production company.

Jordan, who has worked on EastEnders since 1985 - writing 250 episodes and creating the Slater family - is currently working on the latest series of Hustle. He said: “I am contracted to the end of the year and I think it will be my last year at EastEnders. I will honour the contract and see the rest of the year out.”


Category: Movies and TV