Monday, August 11, 2008

The show that just won't die

Life must be getting tedious for poor old Stephen Moffat. Another Worldcon, another Hugo for Doctor Who. Sigh. Year after year, regular as a clockwork assassin.
 
Congrats to Moffat and all that, but what really caught my attention in this year’s awards, was one of the other entrants in the "Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form" category: Star Trek New Voyages World Enough and Time. Unless I've missed something momentous, and a new Trek series is airing that no-one told me about, then surely this is a fan production? Is there such a dearth of quality SF programing that the Hugo selectors have stooped to nominating amateur, unlicensed dramatic fanfic?

Obviously I'm being a leetle obnoxious here. Downright bigoted, in fact. And clearly I have missed something momentous, but more on that later. The notion of fan made continuations of classic series is not alien to me. I was introduced to the notion when I stumbled on a virtual sixth season of Babylon 5, back in ‘99, and there have plenty more since.They occupy a ghostly no-man’s land: by no means canon, but not exactly fanfic, either. More often than not, enthusiasm turns out to be a poor substitute for talent, and none of these projects could ever be accused of professionalism or, to be blunt, ambition. My evaluation of these projects’ ultimate worth changed when I discovered Big Finish, who I grudgingly acknowledged did a fine job producing new, fan made Doctor Who after the series ended. Some of the audio adventures - particularly Spare Parts, The Holy Terror and Chimes of Midnight - surpass their parent show in terms of quality. But World Enough and Time is a full, hour length, visual presentation. Offered for free on the internet. Surely it has the words train-wreck, clusterfuck and the well worn phrase, apparently now trademarked by Lucasfilms, "raped my childhood" all over it. It had to be watched.

Well, if I did it, so should you. Tomorrow I’m going to run in front of a bus. World Enough and Time is the third episode in the New Voyages series, and can be downloaded from a number of mirror sites, listed here, along with the previous stories.

Now, enough of the flippancy. The truth is, I wouldn’t be linking to it if I didn’t think it was worth an hour of your time. I watched it, and to say I was surprised would be an understatement. Not only did I feel ashamed for expecting so little, I finished it wanting more. Yes, my feeble, uncharitable preconceptions were well and truly smashed.

Star Trek New Voyages’ mission statement is to chronicle:

the continuing voyages of Captain Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701 as seen in the 1966-69 television series, Star Trek. The series was cancelled after its third season. We are presenting the series as if it were in its fourth year. We acknowledge that the visual effects are contemporary, but we work hard within out capabilities to keep the effects familiar to fans of the original series.

Despite some hair(line)-raising eyebrow acting and one appalling Scottish accent, they succeed. This is a well made piece of drama, deserving of its nomination.

The Enterprise, responding to a distress signal from a ship that has strayed into the Romulan neutral zone, arrives just in time to watch it atomised by three Romulan birds-of-prey, packing a powerful new weapon. The Enterprise retaliates against the Romulans, but after destroying them and their weapon, is trapped within an inter-dimensional shield. Sulu, accompanied by a computer scientist, pilots a shuttle into the wreckage to salvage a means of freeing the Enterprise. However, when the docking bay is destroyed, and the shuttle lost, the Enterprise has to try and beam them back. Only Sulu returns, but thirty years older. Having been shunted into a parallel universe, he’s lived through all that time while only seconds have passed on the Enterprise. Now with a daughter in tow, he must try and recall the knowledge of the Romulan device and save the Enterprise. The price he must pay to do this is almost beyond bearing.

The CGI used in the project is decent, and the script rock solid, with excellent characterisaton, a compelling complication, plenty of alarming reversals and a strong moral dilemma at its core. And the denoument is spot on.

That the script was of a high calibre oughtn’t be surprising, given that the writing credits of Michael Reaves and Marc Scott Zicree could probably shame many of us. Episode two, To Serve all My Days, was penned by the legend that is D.C Fontana, and the upcoming Blood and Fire is by David Gerrold (The Trouble with Tribbles).

I’ve never subscribed to, or properly understood, the fanatical devotion inspired by Gene Roddenberry’s creation, famously described as “Wagon Train in space,” but anything that can drive any group of people to create such a high quality, clearly demanding labour of love, and then offer it up for free, has to have been a worthwhile endeavour. Roddenberry, and everyone attached to this series, and its various “sister” projects, can be proud of their achievements, and their greatly appreciated altruism.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Got an X-Box 360? Get Braid.



Braid is the most ingenious, thoughtful, fulfilling game I’ve played since Ico. It debuted on X-Box Live Arcade on Wednesday, after several years in development, and in a matter of days has taken the gaming world by storm. Hyperbole? When you read the game’s description, you might think so:

Braid is a puzzle-platformer, drawn in a painterly style, where the player manipulates the flow of time in strange and unusual ways. From a house in the city, journey to a series of worlds and solve puzzles to rescue an abducted princess. In each world, you have a different power to affect the way time behaves, and it is time's strangeness that creates the puzzles. The time behaviors include: the ability to rewind, objects that are immune to being rewound, time that is tied to space, parallel realities, time dilation, and perhaps more. Braid treats your time and attention as precious; there is no filler in this game. Every puzzle shows you something new and interesting about the game world.


Nothing much original there, you might imagine. Portal was all the puzzle game I need, thanks, and we’ve all seen time go backwards, or haven’t you played Prince of Persia? And anyway - 2D? HDTV might be the source of a sprite renaissance, but no-one who’s serious about games is going to give it a second look.

You may assume that because this is a 2D platformer, downloadable content hosted by X-Box Live Arcade, it’s in some way a less than legitimate game. That if it hasn’t had $100 million spent on development, PR and marketing, it’s no more than a simple product for the casual gaming crowd. But to call Braid a casual game is to miss the point as spectacularly as those who would call Watchmen a comic for people who don’t read comics. It draws from the entire history of a medium to tell a story that can only be told effectively using the tools of the medium, in a way that uses the medium’s conventions to comment upon itself, its audience and the world. Like life, it provides no instructions; you learn the rules by observing the world around you, and its interactions, and then you break them. Braid goes so much further in the way it uses time as a gameplay mechanic than anything that came before it that it’s almost a quantum leap. When you first create a parallel version of yourself to solve a puzzle, I promise you, your mind will be blown.

Because listen, this not just a game that uses time to forestall death, a la Prince of Persia; this is a game about time. About growth, and development, and regret for the things you can’t take back. It’s a game whose design, with its two-dimensional environment, created beautifully in bold watercolour strokes that look glorious on an HDTV, and whose soundtrack, classical and subdued, together generate an atmosphere that transports you to other places, other times, and totally complement the game’s metaphorical and allegorical storyline.

This is not just a game about time, but a game about history. It’s a game that looks back though the medium’s past and synthesises influences to create something wonderful; not merely nostalgia for an eight bit past, but a love letter to the “princess.” WIth an art style that evokes Yoshi’s Island, and levels inspired by Donkey Kong, Braid is an outright paean to gaming’s development.

It’s a game that shows us, through little more than fiendish level design, that we’re always changing, but rarely recognise it. That you have to look back to go forwards. That sometimes, you don’t know how far you’ve come until you return to the start, or that you can be minding your own business when suddenly, something - the scent of perfume, a snatch of music, a bird’s ascent - throws you back in time. Most of all, it reaffirms that the present doesn’t make sense, is a chaotic place, and only coalesces, if we’re lucky, into a narrative based around ourselves when we can look back at it from a point outside time, outside our own lives and experience. Generally, we can’t do that while we’re alive, so we use art to look at the lives of others. We inhabit, temporarily, the worlds of constructs, and seek to extract from them knowledge that can enrich and explain our existence. The very best of these worlds can change the way you look at your own.

Braid holds that honour. You really should experience it for yourself.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ita in vita ut in lusu alae pessima jactura arte corrigenda est

There’s been not a lot of note going on in the world of TV lately. In the UK, plenty of new shows have premiered: Bonekickers (still ludricrous but no longer shit), Harley Street (honestly, was anyone in need of more docs on the box?), House of Saddam (Godfather in Iraq), and Burn Up (trashy polemical); while the altogether higher quality Mad Men, Burn Notice and Saving Grace have returned to American screens. ABC Family have introduced The Middleman, of which I have no idea what to think, but suspect I enjoy. The other ABC have been airing The Hollowmen, which is a tamer version of The Thick of It. Subsequently, it’s a lot less funny, but still fun to watch.

Yesterday, there was a perfect storm of telly news. In the UK, it looks like Holby Blue has been axed in order to maintain the purity of the Holby brand. That the brand was applied by a filthy, hot poker, and is leaking pus all over the nation’s TV screens matters to nobody. Poor old Red Planet - that’s two out of three shows down, now. As long as it stays at that ratio, and Moving Wallpaper gets a second stab, I’ll be happy.

I was convinced its appalling first season would be Robin Hood’s only chance to target the appreciation index, but back it came for season two, despite Budapest being a poor stand-in for Sherwood, and Keith Allen being a terrible stand-in for Alan Rickman; who was himself a pale, mooncast shadow of Nikolas Grace. Season three is on its way, but the news that poor wikkle Jonas Armstrong will be too tired to continue further must surely be the drama’s death knell. Tiger Aspect can’t possibly regenerate Robin Hood, though they might be out there, looking for their Jason Connery, right now. Let’s all move on. Ivanhoe, anyone? Treasure Island? Moonfleet?

Well, that’s my humble nation dispatched with. Over in the States, there’s good news for those who love original and offbeat writing; bad news if you’re of a superstitious nature, and believe there ain’t no-luck-but bad-luck. TV jinx Darin Morgan has been bought onto staff at Fringe, the new JJ Abrams opus. Morgan’s most recent gigs were Bionic Woman and Night Stalker. Better luck this time, sir.

Battlestar Galactica may well be coming to an end in ten episodes – though they might all be seventy minute episodes, the way things are going – and Caprica may be we all get of Ron Moore in 2008. But it looks as though the show intends to live on. Jane Espenson has been announced as the writer of a further prequel, to be directed by Edward James Olmas, which is due to air after the series finale airs, sometime in 2009.

Finally, AMC, having recreated the early sixties in all it’s sexist, entitled glory, are turning their hands to the down-beat, crime-ridden, paranoia-driven seventies, with a series version of Francis Ford Coppala’s inter-Godfather gem, The Conversation. Apparently, NBC tried this in ’95, but got nowhere. I’d love to see someone capture the Easy Rider, Raging Bull film sensibility and whack it onto telly. If this pans out, it could be the greatest series ever. Tip out that sax, Harry!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Payday. Praise Allah!

The Screenwriters’ Festival wiped out my disposable income for July, and it finished on the third. I came home from Cheltenham with £30 in my pocket, and haven’t withdrawn a penny or made a debit card transaction since. My bank manager called mid-month to check I was still alive.

I owe my survival to three things – a well stocked freezer; a big box of liquid laundry sachets, left over from when I converted back to powder (better for the machine); and £50 worth of hoarded coppers and unspent Euros I scraped together. Without any of these I would have died, starving, in dirty, ragged linen. Leaving an unkempt corpse is a terrible fear.

Have I learnt anything from this experience? I can live on very little, and it’s certainly encouraging to know that. I’m probably going to be a lot more thrifty from now on, so that this never happens again, and I know I won’t be spending money on anything unless I need it, or really, really want it. But it would have to be something outrageously special. Like a submarine.

Friday, July 25, 2008

'arvey's 'havin' 'oops

I don't usually have much time for Variety, but in their TV news today comes the staggering information that Colm Meaney is out, and Harvey Keitel is in, as Gene Hunt in the rather troubled Life on Mars remake.

Can't wait to see him make a traffic stop.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A truly horrible week

Act Three of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog was posted last night. If you’ve been ignoring my recommendations, you’re a damn fool. If you’ve been “waiting for the trade,” go see all three acts for free, while you can.

Act Three is classic Whedon, and totally broke my heart.

Damn you, Whedons.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's Horrible

At last, the internet has recovered from the assault of the Whedonistas, and Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog can now be viewed by pretty much anyone with a broadband connection. And view it you should.

Act One was released yesterday. Act Two will be out tomorrow, though most likely inaccessible until Friday, and the thrilling Finale will be released on Saturday. From Sunday, you’ll have to pay to watch it, so get a move on.

Here’s the trailer:

                                

Now go and see the first thirteen minutes. You’ll like it, I promise. It’s funny. And romantic. And tuneful.

UPDATE - blimey, Act Two is available NOW.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

If this is what it takes to write like Paul Abbott, I'll pass, thanks

Parental abandonment, raped at thirteen, prostituted himself for a typewriter, multiple suicide attempts before his sixteenth birthday, bi-polar disorder, institutionalised, and repeatedly scammed by members of his own family; it’s an incredible tale, told to Media Guardian today.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dancing

If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen this yet, and there must be one or two because I hadn’t until five minutes ago, this will put a smile on your sour, winkled face.

                                


And maybe a tear to your eye? It’s okay, you can admit it without fear of prejudice here. I think we’ve established I’m not as miserable as I look.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bonekickers

Alas, after twenty minutes, Crucifixion seemed an appealing alternative. Fewer thrills than Time Team, less instruction than Relic Hunter, Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham’s new series Bonekickers - Indiana Jones meets CSI - is an outright turkey.

At a pace that can only be described a geologic, Gillian Magwilde’s team of clueless, sexist, and, oh yes, maverick archeological investigators guff their way through a dig in Bath, doing nothing for forty minutes other than uttering eye-rollingly bad lines such as:

"Do you know what history is, mate? It's layers."



and coaxing trenches to:

"Come on, give up your secrets."




SPOILERS.

Well, I say spoilers, it would be hard to ruin this, to be honest.

Eventually, after a spot of Three Detectives level deduction and a round of breaking and entering, they dash off, looking in completely the wrong place for answers. A kindly yokel asks them if they want to check out his dovecote instead of the closed-for-renovation-chapel. For no particular reason, they decide to do just that, and, finding six hundred and sixty-six pigeon-holes within, investigate further. Lo and behold, yay, BEHOLD: hidden beneath the rural countryside, a gigantic chamber, stuffed with crucifixes, one of which presumably held the suffering body of Our Lord.

The acronym W.T.F. was invented for this sort of lunacy.

To sum up: Bonekickers began its hour as a fairly undistinguished forensic drama of the Waking the Dead school, before taking a sharp left into toontown as it began to offer up ancient mysteries, a beheading, miracle cures, insane flaming cultists, magic swords, a spot of foreshadowing, burning crucifixes and a good old singalong.

I couldn't decide how to respond, so settled on howling with laughter at the outright preposterousness of this piece of train-wreck television.

Best of the Fest

I am thoroughly hopeless at taking notes. I’d rather let a speaker’s general meaning gently wash over me than sit, furiously scribbling throughout a speech. Of course, I later forget everything they've said. Luckily, I have Jason “The Sten” Arnopp, and others, on my team. Armed with notepads, cameras and other tiny, secret recording devices, they smuggled priviledged info out of SWF08 to assist those of us who either couldn't make it or have tiny attentio...

If you’re already getting sick of seeing this stuff across numerous blogs, well, then you’d better make sure you go next year, hadn’t you?

Adadinsane

Fiesta!
Fiesta! #2
Fiesta! Bonus Pics #1
Fiesta! #3 (It's A Wrap)
Fiesta! Bonus Pics #3
Fiesta! Take Away

Jason Arnopp:

Hors D'oeuve
The Scribeomeet
Tony Jordan
Exorcists and Arachnid Attacks
Barbara Machin
Julian Fellowes

The Dark Arrow
Don'ts and Don'ts

David Bishop:

Notes and Stuff

Dom Carver:

My Name is Mike
Mike Leigh

Tim Clague:

Epilogue
Barbara Machin on What Makes a Great TV Series

James Moran:

SWF Report

Jon Peacey:

Neon Dream

Danny Stack:

Screenwriters' Festival 08
SWF Day One
Day Two - Part One
Day Two - Part Two
Day Three

Dan Turner:

Screenwriters' Festival 2008

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Michael Bay's The Dark Knight

I don’t mean that Michael Bay is the Dark Knight. No, that would be ludicrous. What is only slightly less ludicrous, though, is that Bay wrote an early draft of the script for this year’s sequel to Batman Begins.

Ultimately, Warners took the flick in a different direction.

Jane Tranter's speech to the RTS

Jane Tranter, Head of Fiction for the BBC, gave a great speech at The Screenwriters’ Festival, a mere three days after speaking at the Royal Television Society. Many of the points raised were, naturally, identical.

In the RTS speech, Tranter lists eight things she has learned about drama. Here is the abridged version:


... there's an odd tendency in our business to pretend finding successful drama is all a complete mystery. David Picker, the legendary Hollywood executive who headed up both United Artists and MGM, once said to me that if he'd commissioned everything he'd turned down, and turned down everything he'd commissioned, his success rate would have been about the same.
 
And as everybody knows, William Goldman once famously said "in our business nobody knows anything", by which he meant that in our business nobody knows what will work.
 
Over the years I have learnt not just to live with but to occasionally enjoy the process of not knowing anything, of being surrounded by the unexpected and surprising. And if I took David Picker or William Goldman at their word it would cosily abdicate me of a great deal of responsibility.
 
But I think they are both being pretty disingenuous. David Picker didn't greenlight the first James Bond movies by accident and William Goldman didn't write Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid because he didn't understand great storytelling and its visceral grip on audiences.
 
And to be honest it would be a bit tricky, wouldn't it, if I stood here and told you that after eight years in the job I still hadn't the faintest idea how to do my job.
 
So here are some of the things I've worked out along the way. Some of them will be familiar to some of you. None of them are rocket science. But they are some of the things that I know about commissioning drama. That I've learnt. And that I've grown to trust.
 
Just so you know how to pace yourselves, I've picked out eight of them. I would have liked to go for 10 but life's too short, we've all got dinners to go to.
 
So: The Thing I Know Number One. You don't move forwards by constantly looking back.
 
Now nothing pleases me more than a good debate about television drama, but I am beginning to lose the will to live over the continual conversation about how wonderful television drama used to be, with particular reference to Play For Today....

So The Thing I Know Number Two is this: stop underestimating the creative potency of the returning drama series.
 
The returning series is far riskier, more exposing and more complex to crack than any other form of television drama. The collaborative and long-term creative experience that series television offers writers and actors, producers and directors should be embraced rather than dodged. It should be applauded rather than seen as a second class genre useful only for making money or securing ratings....

That said, let's not forget The Thing I've Learnt Number Three. Always remember that there's more to great television drama than a great script.
 
It's true that, yes, the script is at the heart of everything, but we can be strangely slow to recognise that directors and the execution of the script are utterly vital to the entire process....

The Thing I Know Number Four. Only make what someone is passionate about.
 
Contrary to popular belief BBC drama isn't about my passions or even my personal tastes (it might look different if that was the case).
 
But good drama has to spring from the passion of somebody. It can be the best idea in the world but if it in some way doesn't come from the heart – as opposed to intellectual curiosity, interest or financial gain – then the drama will fail....

Thing Number Five. Don't forget the audience.

Francis Ford Coppola gave a wonderful quote about the making of Apocalypse Now. He said that in making the film he wanted to be like Proust – but he also wanted to be like Irwin Allen (for those of you too young to remember, Irwin Allen was a great popular fim producer in the 70s, the man behind those huge and crowd pleasing disaster movies, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure etc)....

The Thing I Know Number Six. When budgets are going down and audience expectations are going up, you need to be very smart to square the circle (so no pressure there, then).
 
We all know that budgets in television drama – like budgets everywhere – are going down. Somehow we've got to find a way of coming to terms with this. Get used to it. Treat it as a creative challenge – not easy, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it....

And talking of risks – The Thing I Know Number Seven is: nothing is a bigger killer of risk than the fear of not succeeding.
 
Over the years I've tried if not to learn to love failure (think that would be going too far) but at least to learn to live with failure.
 
Nothing breeds success like failure. If we can learn to understand – as opposed to judge – what worked and what didn't about a drama, then we will have wasted neither the audience's time nor money. And nor will we have wasted all that creative blood, guts and energy....

And finally, The Thing I Know Number Eight. Never forget why television matters.
 
Russell T Davies said something the other month in an interview he gave that really struck a chord with me. He said "I think it's really hard to say you love television. It's easy to stand up and say I love opera, I love film, I love theatre. And people say 'Oh marvellous, it's quite right.' But it's hard to say you love television. If you do, you sound trivial, superficial, and I'm not. I'm clever. And I know what I'm talking about, and I think it's monstrously unsung as an art form..."

The full text of this very interesting speech is on the BBC’s site.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A few photos from SWF



Bigr at Flickr.

Good news, bad news

Back from Cheltenham - the Screenwriters’ Festival was marvellous, and I’ve returned home with a new appreciation for the subtleties of croquet.

Driving through Cheltenham was hellish. I only almost crashed twice, though, so I must be improving. Once I was back on my country roads, I floored it and made it home in no time. After four days with no internet access, I was a bit upset to find that my ISP had shut down my free webspace, which means that anyone looking for scripts listed on tvwriting.googlepages.com wouldn’t have found a dratted thing, thanks to Turner taking umbrage at my possession of one their scripts. After a few phone calls, and some backing down of which The Dark Arrow would be proud, things are back up and running again.

PDF screenplays, on the other hand, has been raped by traffic, and is having a hard time providing scripts. I’ve got nothing to do with the site; no affiliation at all, but since I’ve mentioned it a couple of time, I figured I should clear up what I could.

There will be many photos soon of several bloggers misbehaving.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

PDF screenplays is back

If you didn’t check it out in its previous incarnation, revel in its resurrection.

www.pdfscreenplays.net.

I own the web



On checking my email this morning, I saw a contact of mine had sent me a script. We’ve been swapping back and forth for a few months, and he thought I might like this one.

I already had it, but I opened it anyway, and was very surprised to see how familiar it looked. Why? Because it was a script I had converted to PDF from a shoddy text file, and sent to someone else!

My contact had got it from a friend in LA who had it from a friend, who’d got it from a friend, and so on, all the way back to me.

What goes around, eh?

Friday, June 27, 2008

We are three!

The Light, It Hurts


27 June, 2005 -



Three years.

WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING WITH MY LIFE?!


Meeting lots of fab people, of course.

Here’s to you guys.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The decline of youth

Yesterday was my young stalker friend’s 19th birthday, which meant, as well as getting to feel really old and having to explain who The Velvet Underground were, I actually went to the pub for the first time in months.

I walked in with twenty quid, bought six drinks, and left with two pounds. Lot to pay for a good time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

IT LIVES

For five glorious weeks in May and June, Sheridan Cleland ran one of the finest script resources ever hatched by the internet: pdfscreenplays.net.

Hosting only scans or original digital copies of movie and TV scripts, it quickly became an essential daily stop known only to a few, until one particular script turned it into a cause celebre.

If you’ve read the Darabont draft for Indy 4 (Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods) in the last week or so, pdfscreenplays is the site that put it out there. And suffered for it.

Happily flying under the wire, building up an incredible screenplay library, Sheridan’s house was ultimately blown down by a link on AICN. How’s that for a mix of metaphors? Alerted by a huge spike in traffic to the City of the Gods script, within no time at all, his hosting company decided he was violating intellectual copyright and shut the site down.

So, the hosting company has taken the site offline because the Darabont draft of Indy IV "was found to be consuming an inordinate amount of processor time, to the point of degrading overall system performance".

But here's the good news:

"In addition to the technical issues surrounding the site causing high load, there is the legal issues around redistributing other peoples work. Screenplays are a form of expression and protected by copyright law. Fanfiction is a fairly clear area - while it is a copyright violation, most copyright holders do not care to enforce their copyrights regarding fan-fiction. However, for the actual screenplays for major Hollywood movies that have been produced, the story differs considerably. Even without a complaint, we can't allow you to host or link to unauthorized copies of such works.

I'm aware that this information is freely available on the internet, but I can also easily download the movies that these scripts are for from other sites on the internet. This does not affect the legality of the situation.

I'm sorry, but we won't be able to continue hosting the pdfscreenplays.net."


Good thing they shut it down; imagine if copies of the script had broken lose and reproduced themselves all over the internet. Thank heavens they stopped that happening, and made the script impossible to find.

Will these fools never learn?

Anyway, a quick look at the site today no longer reveals the hosting company’s brush-off, but rather something far more interesting:
 

 
 
Great news for script freaks.
 
Finally, old hand at this sort of thing as I am, I can pat myself on the back for having the sense to download the whole site before it went away, including the exclusive, members only, in-production section. Caprica, Nottingham, State of Play, Shutter Island, Burn After Reading, World War Z, The Changeling, Infiltrator, I Want to _ Your Sister, Jennifer’s Body – all great reads. Hancock was shit though, looks like that’s been through a lot of changes.

Friends, send me your want lists and I’ll see what I can do (sorry, Bill, no Green Hornet. John Carter of Mars, though, and At the Mountains of Madness)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is it next week yet?

It’s only Tuesday, and I’m absolutely shattered. My right hand woman has been away from work for three weeks with huge gallstones, and I’m struggling to manage everything myself. The whole business will go down the toilet next week, because even I won’t be there. I’ll be thirty miles away, in hoity-toity Cheltenham, enjoying the dual pleasures of Travelodge and the Screenwriters’ Festival. And getting absolutely smashed with many fellow bloggers.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Meme slapped

This one’s been going around for a while, and at last it’s come to me, all other bloggers having been exhausted. I’m flattered anyone remembered I’m still here! Thoughtful old Good Dog has roused me from my stupor, and instructed me to list 7 songs that have had me foot tapping, eyebrow raising and wig flipping recently. This is harder than it seems, because my iPod is on permanent shuffle and I have no idea what I’m listening to half the time, but I’ll play. 

Arcade Fire - The Well and the Lighthouse
from an album that gets better every time I listen to it.



Flight of the Conchords - Robots
binary solo! Great Flaming Lips pastiche, narrowly out-parodying Inner City Pressure, their fine homage to the seemingly beyond parody Pet Shop Boys.



Diamanda Galas - Autumn Leaves
Sadly untraceable on YouTube.

So listen to it instead

Tegan and Sara - Back in Your Head
one of my most listened to albums from last year, still getting regular play.



Jonathan Coulton - Still Alive
triumphant and legendary victory song from Portal. Visit Coulton’s web site for more free tunes.



Hazmat Modine - Lost Fox Train
hella harp.



World’s End Girlfriend - Birthday Resistance
another from 2007 still on the playlist. Crazy and original Japanese classical techno freakout. Again, too weird for YouTube.

Play it play it

Friday, April 25, 2008

Second guessing the day

Do you ever know, before you even get out of bed, that you’re about to have a truly shitty day?

I did this morning.

And I was completely wrong.

So much for that!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I thought it only happened in sit-coms

Just had an unfortunate ketchup shaking accident. A vigorous flourish or two, and suddenly there’s fierce red Heinz ejaculate all over my kitchen wall.

D’oh! as the Ood said to the rep.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Goodbyes

In a week that the world lost Anthony Minghella, Arthur C Clarke, Paul Schofield, Mr Barraclough and Captain Birdseye I also learned of the death of my old university friend Tim Hogbin.

I hadn't seen Tim for about six years - that's life - but always thought that one day, next time I was down in London, I'd give him and a few people a call and catch up.

Too late.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Time for humble pie

Oh, feck. Tonight’s Torchwood (the one on BBC Three, not the carnie one) was really, really good. There may even have been a tiny tear or two.

Damn you, Torchwood, and your vexing inconsistency!

Thoughts on recent telly

Now that The Fixer has had two episodes to show me its stuff, I’ve concluded I like it. It's apparent that Ben Richards has had to comply with some idiotic network notes, which leads me to worry that maybe all is not well behind the scenes. If one season is all we end up getting of this enjoyable action show, then that would be a shame. Kudos have successfully updated the classic ITC formula, and tried to bring some quality hour long drama back to ITV. I really, really want it to succeed.

For those that haven't seen it, which seems to be quite a lot of you, judging by the ratings, The Fixer focuses on a group of extra-legal operatives, headed up by the modestly intimidating Lenny Douglas. An ex-copper, Lenny claims to be secretly funded by the State and tasked with controlling and manipulating the criminal underworld. Our window into his operation is John Mercer, an ex-soldier who murders his aunt and uncle in the teaser and then calmly calls the police. Mysteriously granted early release from prison, he soon learns that liberation comes with a price - that he join Lenny’s team as an assassin. Having swapped one sentence for another, Mercer now needs to find a way to enjoy the few freedoms he's granted. So far those include playing with his sister's kids and shagging beauticians. Such an unhappy lot he has!
 
It could all be very good stuff, as long as ITV leave it well enough alone.
 
Sticking with ITV for the moment, the second season of Primeval ended a few weeks ago, and if there was ever a show whose reach exceeded its grasp, this is it. It's nonsense. I really can't bear to watch it, and yet I do anyway, if only to see how they're going to throw away their premise this week. Season Two tried to come back BIGGER, BOLDER, BADDER, but limped its way through six episodes, desperately trying to prove it was actually about something other than it’s unconvincing CGI, by throwing in a half-assed conspiracy plot. Douglas Henshall looked more angst-ridded on a weekly basis, and Hannah Spearitt didn’t prance around in her pants enough. Season Three is already a goer,and is bound to be more of the same.
 
Sigh, what else? The Last Enemy, the BBC's big polit-thriller for 2008, failed to ignite despite the combined talents of Robert Carlysle and Max Beesley, and was sadly very dull indeed. No-one who writes about it fails to mention Benedict Cumberbatch’s wonderful name, presumably because they can find nothing to say about his expressiveness.
 
Torchwood. Torchwood, Torchwood, Torchwood. After a competent start to the new season, you seemed to be on a roll. Except for Meat, which was rubbish; irredeemable even by a face-tasering Ianto. You killed Owen! Hurray! But then you bought him back from the dead, and I had to forcibly asphyxiate myself because I couldn’t stand it.

Owen the Foul, a creepy rapey twunt who deserved a horrible TV death more than anyone I can think of, is finally done away with. Did you think anyone would be upset? No, we were all cheering! Then you bought him back to life and made him miserable. Did you think we’d care? No, we wanted him to be dead again. And cremated. And nevermore spoken of from this day forth. Then - then, sweet Jesus make this painful storyline stop, you had him come to terms with his unfeeling resurrected existence and thought we'd be pleased for him. No, I have not missed the bitter parallel of Jack living forever and Owen being dead forever, you just made a shitty job of it, you stupid, stupid TV show.
 
Remote control go “click.” And here we are with Kudos again. There's nothing wrong with Ashes to Ashes. I love the production values, and the performances, and actually think the toe-rag of the week storylines are more effective and better integrated into the fantasy than those in Life on Mars, but for some reason, the show can’t connect with me in the same way as its parent. I don't know if it's the locations, the year, the protaganist, or what, but Ashes to Ashes has yet to really strike a chord with me.
 
Like pretty much everyone else, I fell in love with Being Human. I thought it was brilliant both in concept and execution, but don't imagine for a second it will be back. It was just too promising. Although is anyone else shocked by the number of vampires in Bristol? What could possibly be the cause?
 
Ah, so much disappointment and compromise. Thank heavens, then, for Skins; improbably the most perfect show on telly right now. And Cranford, which I missed, but am catching on DVD. It's brilliant!
 
I am also extra impressed with Portal. It may not be telly, but it’s all on the same screen so there. Portal is a triumph of small-scale storytelling. And with me not being able to play Burnout without starting to hyperventilate, it satisfies my game craving like nothing else.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Write-off

Leicester was great, although I am the worst networker ever. I think I spoke to about six people all day. And fell off the smoking wagon. Hard. My chest hurts.
 
The whole day was valuable, but I’ll single out Jed Mercurio’s closing keynote for special comment, because it was so straightforward,  honest, and cynically hilarious. Much like Bodies.
 
An inspirational day.
 
But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about what happened afterwards.
 
I got lost off the Fosse Way on the way home from Leicester. Somewhere between here and there, I hope I never quite remember, there is a Hell Town of Cthonic loyalties called Brinklow. Like Strangehaven, there is only one road in and out. You can take it as many times as you like, but will always find yourself back in Brinklow before the town’s lights have vanished from your rear-view mirror.
 
Driven to frustration and insanity; approaching Brinklow for the fourth time, a DARK POWER forced my car to clip a kerb. The tire burst, the wheel collapsed, the car span across lanes. Moments later, I was deposited in a ditch, surrounded by broken glass and branches, rain pouring through my missing windows.
 
Miraculously, I was unharmed. I called my dad to come pick me up, and the breakdown guys to bear my car away. Throughout the  wait, I was lucky enough to be cared for by three lads on their way to a friend's eighteenth. They kept me warm in their car, and plied me with fags and booze, at the expense of a waiting chip supper. A motorway maintenance crew turned up, and we pulled the car out of the ditch onto the road. I was feeling pretty good, but my soul was in mortal peril. The town was surely seducing me by sending its agents to “help”. At that very moment, my dad was driving blindly around Warwickshire, unable to locate Brinklow or me. I swear I saw him drive right by me twice, and never slow down or look my way.
 
After a couple of hours the breakdown truck arrived, and somehow dispelled Brinklow's eerie hold. In quick succession my dad arrived, and my guardians, Gus, Andy and A.N Other (sorry, I can't remember), melted into the night. Sadly for my dad's car, I was so pumped with adrenaline, I pulled the door handle clean off trying to get in. The reason for his navigational confusion was less sinister than I imagined: he wasn't under an evil spell at all, he was just shitfaced after watching the rugby all afternoon.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Field Trip

At a little after seven o'clock (ye Gods!) tomorrow morning, I will be heading off up the Fosse Way to Leicester, to attend De Montford University's TV Writers' Day.

Anyone else going? If I read this press release, issued on Monday, correctly, there may still be some places left. If you'd like to go and chat-up the likes of Kate Rowland and Jed Mecurio (and meet me, you lucky devils), it could well be worth your while calling 0116 250 6470.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What the frak is going on?

Is the so-called “Golden Age of Television” winding down? With The Sopranos gone, The Wire on the way out, and Lost and Battlestar Galactica quite publicly announcing their planned endings, it seems so.

Galactica’s fourth and final season kicks off on April 4th. Don’t know if the whole repeated four thing was intentional, but hey, it’s a nice birthday present for me.

Sci-fi are running a re-cap of seasons 1-3 on their site, but if you’re not in North America, forget about trying to watch. Instead, just go to YouTube, to catch up on the last five years in eight minutes.

Better still, just hit play:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

You spin me round, round, baby right round.

I got outbid on that PS3 in the end. Rather a good thing to be honest; I didn't really want one. No, what I really wanted was an X-Box 360, so on Sunday I shod the Peugeot and cantered into Oxford to buy a sexy black Elite. I have no shame in admitting that, moulded from Satan's turds as he may be, I would gladly lick Bill Gates' vinegary nerd balls for having birthed this miracle of modern engineering (yes, I can say that with a straight face, and will continue to until lassooed by the Red Ring of Death). An unholy love has been consummated this week between man and machine, mostly to the thumping, trance-like strains of RezHD.

I love X-Box Arcade. I love how it's made Symphony of the Night available for a paltry £6.80. I love the spruced-up Prince of Persia Classic. I love being able to download HD movie rentals (okay it's not true HD: it's got the pixels but lacks the bit-rate, but it's still a whole lotta lovin better looking than a DVD).

I adore that with a tiny £10 app I can stream photos, music and videos off my iMac straight onto my telly, and that torrented TV shows look ace, upscaled and post-processed.

I haven't yet jumped into the waters of X-Box Live, but my Gamertag is Marston1604, should I ever take the plunge and you're hanging around, looking for a n00b's ass to kick.

I'm happy enough offline though. In fact, with Burnout, I am in Paradise.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

American Gods online

So the result of the poll to put one of Neil Gaiman’s books online to celebrate his seventh blogoversary is in.

The winner is American Gods, which is disappointing, as I recall thinking the book somewhat unremarkable. A re-read might change my mind; however, I won’t be taking the opportunity online, cos Harper-Collins e-reader is atrocious.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Going? Gone.

Sometimes I get the horn so badly, I have to spend a lot of money. Which doesn’t mean what you think it means, but would probably be better if it did. In fact, I’m considering a spot of Amsterdam sex-tourism in the near future, if Chippy can’t start presenting me with options. I’ve even looked at flights.

But that’s not what I’m talking about right now.

I’ve subsumed my aching libido in eBay and Telebids, taking part in dozens of auctions, and spending money on - in some cases quite literally and idiotically - nothing.

Oh, and FYI, FFS, etc, it is auction, and not “oktion.” I don’t care if it is for charity and the auctioneer’s famous.

Shit, I might be about to win a PS3. Oh Gods, what have I done? Why did I bid?

I should have had a wank instead.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Psycho Killer fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa

There can’t be many people reading who aren’t already aware of Michael C Hall’s terrific turn in Dexter, the series based on Jeff Lindsay’s series of novels.

For those not in the know, however, ITV1 begin broadcasting the first season tonight, in about half an hour.

Hall plays the eponymous Dexter, a blood splatter analyst for Miami PD by day, and serial killer by night. The twist: he only hunts other killers, following a code set down by his foster father, ex-cop Harry Morgan.

The show is darkly, very bleakly, comic; satisfyingly gory; and plays neatly with its viewers’ sympathies by getting us onside with a truly twisted, yet undoubtedly lovable, sociopath.

Go on, give it a stab.

Did the earth move for you?

Apparently there was a chuffing big earthquake this morning - 4.9 on the scale; Britain's biggest in thirty years.

I slept through the whole thing - those who were exposed to my snoring last week will hardly be surprised.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ashes to Ashes pilot script

Those darling little monkeys at The BBC's Writers' Room have done it again. Episode One of Ashes to Ashes is now available to download, print, read, sell on eBay etc.

Don't forget the first episode of Life on Mars is also available, as well as scripts from its Kudos stablemates Spooks and Hustle.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Redurn dicket do doddingham, please

I’m back! Actually, I got back on Saturday night, but what with one thing and another, I’ve only got around to announcing it now. Yeah, how do you like them apples?
 
Anyhow, the week was great. In spite of sunburn, a twisted ankle, falls, food poisoning, a wretched cold and deafness over Paris on the way home, it was brilliant! My skiing has improved a hundred fold. No, a thousand fold. My French, not so much. I’d been quite apprehensive about going again, as I didn’t think I managed very well last year, but now I wouldn’t hesitate to hit the slopes again. Love it, love it, love it.
 
However, the legendary cracked ski-heel of doom prevented me playing football yesterday, which I had been looking forward to all week. Got back in time to watch Eduardo’s foot fall off on Match of the Day, though. Mon dieu! And, most mightily, zut alors!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Away

Lucky bastard that I am, I’m off for another free ski. While I’m away, could someone pop in a tape for Primeval (ITV1, Sat), The Last Enemy (BBC1, Sun), Skins (E4, Mon), Torchwood (BBC2, Wed), and Ashes to Ashes (BBC1, Thur)?

Who says there’s never anything on? Cheers.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Funniest/saddest overheard exchange of the day

"I'm sorry, but we only have Dr D-- available for appointments this afternoon."
"He's not a doctor, he's a murderer."

Brrrr.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Out with the old

City of Vice concluded it’s first season on Channel 4 last night. Did it go out with a bang; a rioutous cornucopia of 18th century violence, whoring, disease, swearing and politics? Sadly no. It was the dullest episode of the bunch, an altogether leaden, preachy, cost cutting, on-the-nose docu-drivel affair.

Skins, on the other hand, bounded onto the screen like a breakdancing chiuaua. Take anything, shag anyone Tony got Jason Streeted by a Bristol omnibus last season. Oh, the humanity! Now a stuttering mental wreck who can’t open his own flies or remember where he lives, he stumbles around searching for lost memories while everyone around him dances, and dances and dances.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dott's last tape

The BBC’s writersroom has already had one mention today, from Jane Espenson, no less; but I’m gonna stand up and cheer for ‘em too, ‘cos they’ve gone and got hold of Tony Jordon’s recent script for EastEnders. You know, the one everyone’s going on about – Dot Cotton, a tape recorder, and a thirty minute one-hander.

Loverly.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gaiman Giveaway

In honour of his seventh blogoversary, Harper Collins have agreed to let Neil Gaiman give away one of his books online.

But which will it be?

Ah, that's up to you.

What I want you to do is think -- not about which of the books below is your favourite, but if you were giving one away to a friend who had never read anything of mine, what would it be? Where would you want them to start?

Would it be with “better than Stephen King or your money back” American Gods; the “starts with a songAnansi Boys; the “soon to be a major motion picture” Coraline; the “Phoenix Film Critics’ Society ‘Overlooked Film of the Year’” Stardust; the “should never have been filmed, better as a comic” Neverwhere; or the pot pourris Fragile Things, Smoke and Mirrors or M is for Magic?

The choice is yours.

Inexplicably to this blogger, American Gods has bowled into the lead with a whopping 28% of the vote. Neverwhere’s in hot pursuit at 21%. Both are “typical” Gaiman, but I think if I wanted to introduce a willing subject to Gaiman’s prose, I’d hand them the scary, sentimental YA novel Coraline, an altogether lovely book. And eating everyone else’s dust at 7%. W.T.F?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Screenwriting 2.0

Tip of the hat to Alex for highlighting Scripped, a web-based screenwriting app, along the lines of Google docs, and the 37signals portfolio.

Scripped is, to be fair, pretty bare-boned, but not quite as minimalist as the similarly web-based ScriptBuddy - it at least has an export to PDF function (ScriptBuddy makes you pay for this privilege) and a much more streamlined interface. It also has what looks like a pretty decent draft management system.

Of course, for all their potential networking features, remote storage and platform agnosticism, the downside of all server-side apps is that they can only be used when you’re online: handy in a fi’d up coffee shop, not so useful on public transport. And feature wise, they can never compete with dedicated desktop apps such as Montage (my own preference), Scrivener (superb for organising and drafting documents), and the increasingly capable Celtx (FREE!); and that’s just on the Mac.

Still, I daresay Scripped will find an enthusiastic audience of admirers, and good luck to them. I’m sadly still an old-world paranoid who dreads the thought of his data in another man’s arms, and will remain wedded to my hard-drive apps for as long as they’ll have me.

Friday, February 08, 2008

City of Vice

While we’re on the subject of retro policing, anyone seen City of Vice? Rather immodestly billed by Channel Four as the UK’s very own Deadwood, it is pretty fucking far from being anything of the sort, though it does feature some rather inventive swearing: “fuckster” and “encuntment” being particularly sniggerworthy.

The series documents the attempts of the brothers Fielding (John and Henry – he of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones fame) to institute London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners, seventy-five years before Sir Robert Peel eventually founded the Met.

CoV has a magnificent cast, and is obviously meticulously researched, but it has a budget that would barely cover the cost of christmas decorations in an old folks home. My primary school’s nativity play probably has more money spent on it. We’re told London is a throbbing metropolis where the poor live fifty to a room, but when we visit one of these slums, there’s not a soul to be found. Possibly they’ve all scarpered to avoid five-o, or are hiding under dust-sheets like pre-Christian Jewish revolutionaries; nevertheless, there’s a distinctive lack of life on the patently set-bound streets.

Episodes one and two were much enjoyed by the broadsheet critics, but they were some of the clumsiest cock I’ve ever seen. C4 have had an appalling run with new drama lately, from Meadowlands to Ghost Squad by way of Goldplated, so fortunately I was already expecting derisory nonsense, but I couldn’t believe this crap (I paraphrase):


RUNNER
Where can we find this debauched molly?

PERIWIGGED, POWDERED AND PERFUMED POOF
Sodomite Alley

HENRY (V.O)
We had to go to Sodomite Alley

RUNNER
Right, let’s go to Sodomite Alley

Whizzy 3D 18th Century London A-Z effect, zooming onto a street labelled Sodomite Alley

EXT. SODOMITE ALLEY – NIGHT

TITLE: Sodomite Alley

HENRY (V.O)
Eventually,we made our way to Sodomite Alley

RUNNER
Here we are, then. Sodomite Alley.


Sodomites? In alleys? Never before have I heard of such a thing.

Frankly, if it wasn’t for Ian McDiarmid and Iain Glen, I wouldn’t have given this a second look. Their performances are magnetic. When McDiarmid as Henry Fielding returns to the scene of a burglary, only to discover the home that was cleared out yesterday is miraculously restored, and its owner would rather buy everything back from the thieves than suffer the indignity of reporting a crime, Fielding’s frustration that the victim has the nerve to be “sitting on his own fucking furniture!” perfectly communicates the difficulty of getting people to recognise the authority and utility of an organised police force.

But the performances couldn’t overcome the fact that CoV is a show with an identity crisis, which will commit to neither fact or drama. Is it a docu-drama or period procedual? Entertainment or education? Fish or fowl? Arthur or Martha? Episodes one and two were as thrilling as an Open University segment. It was as if someone had spliced together all the scripted segments from a history doc, edited out all the graphs and talking heads and repackaged it as a drama, forgettng that it ought to be exciting. And then, suddenly, episode three was rather good, and episode four, which was a contination of the story, was even better. Out of the filth and pestilence there was drama, and tension, and conflicting agendas and more swearing, and less hand-holding and hectoring, and fewer expository voiceovers, and so I looked upon it, and saw it was good.

But not as good as Terry Pratchett’s Watch novels.

And anyway, there’s only one episode left, so who knows if we’ll get to see what could be a potentially fascinating show develop any further.

Ashes to Ashes

I was expecting to be disappointed. After all, in a dust up between The Sweeney and Dempsey and Makepeace, there’s only going to be one winner, isn’t there?

But Ashes to Ashes was a delightful surprise. Enough similarities to its parent to be familiar, and enough differences to mark it out as its own creature.

I will continue to watch.

And, of course, Keeley Hawes was lovely.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A day at De Montford, part deux

Last year, De Montford Uni inconsiderately hosted their Getting It Written, Getting It Read event while I was skiing. The day was very well received, and so this year, having been good enough to consult my social calendar before announcing anything, they have now confirmed that 2008’s untitled Television Scriptwriting Workshop will take place on the 8th March.

With a focus on writing for soap operas and television dramas, and Jed Mercurio as keynote speaker, this should be right up many peoples’ street.

If anyone’s still reading, and would like to book a place, contact Hayley Durham, whose email address is pghums at dmu dot ac dot uk.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

NetNewsWire is free

As in, it costs no money. The best newsreader on the planet, and one of the best Mac apps, period, has just become freeware.

Good on you, Brent!