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 I came home from Cheltenham with £30 in my pocket, and haven’t withdrawn a penny or made a debit card transaction since.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.