Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The jig is up

Wow. My little googlepage just got linked by John August, so there goes what little anonymity I had left. I may be getting some take down notices over the next few days, so enjoy while you can!

Don’t forget, lots of recent pilots are available, including:

Dollhouse (the scrapped pilot)
Harpers Island

Monday, March 23, 2009

A great ending - so say we all. Well, some of us.

The big controversy this weekend: not how Tottenham beat Chelsea, but the end of one of TV's greatest ever space operas.


The internet backlash to the finale of Battlestar Galactica has been enormous, way more than The Sopranos' cut to black, and I will admit to being pummelled into a deathly tedium by the apparently neverending parade of Act Breaks throughout the last forty minutes. Every time I thought the story was good and finished, we faded up on yet more billowing grassland.

However, this is not what has incensed most of the finale's detractors. There are two sore sticking points - the "god did it" explanation, and the decision of the rag-tag fleet to abandon their aimless exodus and settle on "our" Earth sans technology.

I have no problem with either.

God has been a major part of the show since the mini-series. As sci-fi fans we may have wanted a rational explanation for God and God's plan but, actually, there was none. Could be none. It was God's plan, not for us to understand, and in the end these people experienced their fates as he planned them, with no recourse to appeal. Which is very bleak and depressing, but hey, that's BSG.

The show lays out a pretty clear mythology, and never tries to explain all the wierd shit as anything other than God working in his mysterious way. You don't want to accept that's the truth of the situation? Fine, but Battlestar Galactica's God is real, and unknowable, and his existence is proven by the text.

For those who weren't listening, the cycle of Humans beget Cylons beget armegeddon, has been repeating for eons. God, for whatever reason, is fed up of it. When he sees it happening on Earth 1, he sends his angels to avert the catastrophe, but they're ineffective. When he sees it happening on the colonies, he decides to get interventionalist. By the time he's finished frakking with everyone, they're a million light years from home, on a fleet of ships held together by gaffa tape and pessimism.

When it comes to the decision to turn away from advanced technology, the show has already established that these ships are falling apart, and with no means of manufacturing new parts are desperate to scavenge spares from the Galactica. Once that old bird makes its final jump, you might be able to make some pretty bangles from several components, but there’s not a lot left that’s functional. No, having found a habitable planet, they really have no option but to settle there. Bleak, and depressing sure, but hey, that's BSG.

The 30,000 survivors of the 50,000,000,000 strong twelve colonies don't have the knowledge or skills to rebuild and maintain an industrial society. They tried it on New Caprica, and were clearly failing there, despite having more resources. They were never going to be able to do it on Earth. However, the species would survive and have a second chance - through Hera. God wins, barring free-will ruining things again.

Does anyone get a happy ending? Laura dies after leading her people to the promised land; Galen runs off to Scotland because he just can't trust himself to trust anyone else; Kara's bought back to life, relearns how to love, and is then snatched from existence; Lee is abandoned by everyone he loves; Baltar's scorned inheritance turns out to be the only thing capable of keeping him alive; and the whole human race is placed under the care of President Rollo Lampkin. Doesn’t sound too good, does it, but every one of those fates has an undeniable silver lining, and I'll leave it to you to figure out how the end of each character's story was perfect in its way.

The chronology has been puzzling. Why have the colonists land on Earth 150,000 years ago, instead of at a later time when they could have plausibly introduced agriculture (say 9000 years ago - certainly recent enough to hasten the end of prehistory)?

The timeframe of 150,000 years ago roughly coincides with the evolution of modern homo-sapiens and the development of behavioural modernity. From our 21st century viewpoint, we tend to be terribly condescending about our neolithic ancestors, but the truth (as far as we know it) is that they were quite societally advanced. The colonists may have lost a lot when they threw their ships into the sun, but they retained enough to leave a lasting legacy of language, art, cooking, humour, games, distance trading, tools, fishing, music and religion.

Let's not forget that, also within this time frame, the planet has experienced an ice-age, a super-massive volcanic eruption, plagues, and any number of near misses with extinction, that would have left any and all archeology destroyed and any memory of the colonists subsumed into the collective unconscious.

Is it so hard to imagine that, even if the remaining colonists had built homes with plumbing and running water, chicken coops and vegetable patches; that even if they had continued writing letters to each other, in the end their population simply wasn't large enough to exist, in the long term, on more than a subsistance level? Humanity's history is a cycle of dark ages - civilizations fall, and technologies are invented, forgotten, reinvented, over and over again. Over the generations they would have regressed - as a result of their low numbers and inability to transmit information. This was inevitable: whether they threw their ships into the sun or not, they would eventually forget, if not how to use them, how they worked. A population needs to reach a certain level before it can maintain a certain quality of life. The oncoming deterioration reminds me of the conclusion to Earth Abides, where in the end, bows and arrows prove more useful than rusting sidearms.

We now find ourselves at the same point the Colonies were (minus the spacefaring) about a century before the first Cylon war: on the verge of the singularity. The question is: are we going to end up on a distant planet, reduced to a fraction of our numbers, traumatised and debased, doomed to regress to the stone age, or are we going to break the cycle?

Daybreak was, most fittingly, a challenging and polarising ending, but one that I think was consistent with everything that’s gone before in Battlestar Galactica. The story was always about the characters, and in the flashbacks to Caprica before the fall, the journey was completed by showing us the beginning,. With this structural trick - the beginning is the end, the end is the beginning - Moore completes the circle. The cycle is broken, and whatever happens next is new.

A great show, a great ending.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Huggable James Moran's Big Writing FAQ

The title says it all. Moran answers all the common questions people toss at him. Just don't ask him for John Barrowman's autograph, or he'll seal your fate.

Very nice.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Celtx v2

Version 2 of Celtx, my favourite free screenwriting app, was released today. Many of the improvements, such as the move to the Firefox 3 codebase, are under the hood, and the end result is an application that looks and behaves pretty much the same as the last version, only a good deal snappier. Which is what you want, really.

The biggest change is server side, and is a whopper. Taking a leaf out of Apple’s studied playback the Celtx team have taken features that were once free, given them a polish, renamed them from Web Services to Celtx Studios, and decided to charge for them. Frankly, I don’t blame them at all.

If you were using Celtx’s free web services to collaborate on projects, each member of your team will now need a $50 annual subscription to a Celtx Studio instead. You can still email scripts around for collaboration, of course, but Celtx Studios offers a tidy, organised online workspace for sharing and back-ups. It’s actually pretty neat, and available as a free beta until March 24th, so you’ve plenty of time to try it out before making the move to Zhura or Scrippd or Scriptbuddy or Fivespockets.

The other major change is support for extensions and other add-ons, that will be part of the Celtx Toolbox. Not sure how this will be used, as very little info has been posted so far, but I imagine we’ll soon see lots of gimmicky random name generators and so forth sprouting up.

Can’t wait for that.

Celtx 2.0 is available for Mac OS 10.4 and above, Windows something or other, and Linux.

Being Human will return

BBC Three have declared Being Human a triumph and ordered an expanded second season. The show will return with eight eps, up from six, and promises

some very exciting, very dark new stories.

Being Human has been an iPlayer hit and its website has become one of the best performing on the Beeb’s site.

The final episode of Being Human is this Sunday.

The script for the first episode is here.
The website is here.
Press release here.

I’ve enjoyed the series a hell of a lot, but feel it could benefit from a forty-five minute running time, rather than the full sixty, which sadly tend to sag in the middle. Still, a second season is certainly something worth waiting for, and thankful for, as this season so nearly didn’t happen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The long arm of the Law & Order franchise

Monday night at nine is becoming uninterruptable telly time for me - what with Unforgiven and Moses Jones, I've been glued to the screen for the last six weeks, and could well be for the coming thirteen.

ITV may have had the knives out in the last couple of months - for Heartbeat, The Royal, Wire in the Blood, Passage to India, but at least they're still trying new things (even if they don't always work, cf Demons and Britannia High).

Their latest attempt, as we wait for the new seasons of Moving Wallpaper, The Fixer and Primeval, is Law and Order UK. Dick Wolf has figured out a novel way of getting another twenty years out of his cops and lawyers tag-team franchise - remake the entire series for a different market. Genius!

Last night's premiere, "Care," was penned by Chris Chibnall, and based on "Cradle to Grave," a second season Law & Order episode from 1992, with added mobile phones.

Admittedly, it's easy to scoff at the notion of remaking a seventeen year old episode of TV; easier still to raise a cynical sneer at the headline grabbing subject matter of a suffocated baby chosen for this opening episode.

With Kudos at the helm however, one has to expect at least a solid hour of television. This was - no more, and no less - an episode of Law & Order, set in London. Whether or not you think that's a good thing depends on your own preferences.

The format is exactly as we've come to expect - for half the episode, the police look for someone to arrest, in the second half the CPS figure out how to prosecute them. It's a classic formula, one which works well in the US and transfers well to the UK, despite differences in our legal systems.

London looks just as I remember it - 'orrible. I can't count the number of times I had to walk to Sadlers Wells from Kings Cross, because the Angel was shut again. It's one of the most depressing routes I've ever paced, and seeing it on the box last night, I was gladder than ever that I never have to do it again. Fortunately, I never stumbled over a corpse in King's Cross; that's the sort of thing you're more likely to find on Kingsway, but recognisable locations always add a spot of verisimilitude to drama.

With the exception of Patrick Malahide's outrageously amoral defence lawyer - a stereotype that surely deserves ten to life, the cast were uniformly strong. I don't know if Malahide's going to be a recurring foil for Ben Daniel's crusading prosecutor, but by Jove, he'll need to dial it down a bit if so.

The show boasts an impressive roster of thespians, to tell the truth: Jamie Bamber (fresh off Battlestar Galactica, and using his own accent again); Bradley Walsh (surprisingly effective in a dramatic role); Harriet Walter; Freema Agyeman; and Bill Patterson, all make a good account of themselves. Whether it's a legacy of the parent show, or Chris Chibnall showing off his chops, each character seems to be drawn with a skill and depth often absent in pilot episodes

The show is perceptibly slower paced than its US forebear, but does have a slightly longer running time. At any rate, it's still got at least three times as much oomph as most UK mystery shows and, along with shows like The Fixer, is another attempt by ITV to move away from the turgid, paint-drying pace of its established crime-solving roster.

The real test of L&O UK is still to come – how will it fare when it stops recycling American scripts, and starts breaking its own stories? The format’s proven, the location’s a goer, and the characters strong enough to carry their own water; I’m pretty hopeful that Law & Order UK will develop it’s own sense of identity and be able to hold its own against the other entries in NBC’s juggernaut franchise.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Your application for the evil league of evil is hereby rejected. Signed, Bad Horse.

THIEVES who broke into a veterinary hospital were caught by police officers who followed their footprints in the snow.

At about 4.48am Tuesday police were called to the Chipping Norton Veterinary Hospital in Albion Street where a burglary was in progress. On arrival, officers followed footprints in the snow to a nearby property where three men were arrested. A fourth man was later arrested following further investigations.

Thames Valley Police spokesman David Paull said: "Officers attended the scene and were able to trace the offenders due to marks that had been left in the snow. Three men were arrested in property on suspicion of burglary. Using further intelligence a fourth man was arrested."

A safe had been stolen from the veterinary hospital. During the same evening burglaries had also taken place at the Co-op and Flowers Etc, which police are linking with the veterinary hospital theft. A 28-year-old man and an 18-year-old man have been released on bail until March 10. A 19-year-old man has been released on bail until March 12 while a 46-year-old man has been released without charge.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Shaped like a lady, hung like a donkey."

Moses Jones: 1.2 million viewers
Whitechapel: 7.1 million viewer

Shame. Last night's Moses Jones gave us political ambition, a dollop of ultra-violence and Dennis Waterman patting a ladyboy's pouch.

In this middle-episode, several characters are put under the spotlight as Moses begins obsessing about his only lead: ex-military leader in exile Matthias, while obliviously putting everyone he speaks to in grave danger. After one particularly horrible reprisal, Solomon lets loose his inner Ben Grimm and dishes out some serious pummelling.

I can't wait for next week's conclusion.

Anyone care to tell me what happened in Whitechapel?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Stranger! Stranger! Stranger!

In my hazy morning state, yet to recall that I shaved the previous evening, I catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror, make a professional double-take, and scream. It's a deep manly scream, completely appropriate for a shock encounter with the rum and uncanny, but a scream nonetheless. Fresh of face, chubby of cheek, naked as the day I was born; for some reason the image just does not compute.

A couple of coffees later and I can again view my reversal without freaking out, but that was an odd start to the day.

An hour after the sudden onset of prosopagnosia, after negotiating the 18 inch snowdrift outside my front door, I meet a man shovelling snow off the steepest road in Chipping Norton. I'm on my way down, he is about half-way up, and I wish him luck with the rest. By the time I get to the bottom, everything he's cleared has already filled in again. Poor bugger, it's going to be a long day.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Being Human script

What's this, another post? I'm surely going to burn out at this rate.

Those fine fellows at the BBC Writers' Room have posted the first episode of Being Human on their website. Not the original pilot, this is the first episode of the current bun. Run. Sorry, snowed in and starving, here. Cannibalism is a mere flurry away, I fear.

Anyway, HERE IT IS.

Woooo, woooo,wooooooo.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Moses Jones - Uganda it if you try, BBC2

BBC Two's original drama has been in a bit of a slump recently. Stuck in a rut that has seen them producing "commemorative, " or "worthy" programming - they've not shown anything to really stir my soul for some time.

As a result, while I was committing the error of watching Whitechapel on Monday night, I missed the airing of Joe Penhall's Moses Jones. I caught up with Episode One (of Three) last night and was seriously impressed. Although the mini has been touted as a chance to see the new Doctor Who in action, his role is relatively minor. The story belongs to the eponymous copper and a group of Ugandan immigrants – some in the country legally, others not so much. In fact the story belongs, in a way, to London: to its bustle, its grime, its diffusion, and ambivalence to the fates of those it shelters.

When a brutally mutilated body is discovered in the Thames, Moses Jones is put on the case by his superiors at Scotland Yard, simply because of his ethnic heritage. Paired with DS Dan Twentyman, the two are met with a wall of silence from the local community, until they are offered a clear lead from a very unlikely source.

As with Unforgiven, Moses Jones gets its set-up out of the way as quickly as possible, and spends as little time explaining things to the audience as it can get away with.

Moses, for example, is a cypher. When we first meet him, we don't know who or what he is. Just a man shaving his chest - a seemingly narcissistic act, until it's reframed by a shot of him tearing off a small strip of tape. No further information is given; it's left to our knowledge of crime drama and its tropes to conclude that he's about to wear a wire.

Later, it becomes evident that Moses is a man who tries to distance himself from his background. Born in London, his parents were Ugandan, and it is this tenuous connection that leaves him saddled reluctantly to the case. He gives away nothing about himself. In the only moment we see him alone and off duty, he's swigging vodka like barley water.

Other characters are as swiftly introduced. Consummately drawn, they debut fully-formed. Behaving one way, they nevertheless betray the hints of a conflicting inner life that is private for now, but will shortly be drawn forth as events force them to reveal their true selves.

At one end of the spectrum of the Ugandan community is the mysterious Matthias, who despite being a legal immigrant and doing his best to hold down the capital's most disgusting jobs, is mixed up in some seriously messy stuff. His shadow is Solomon, a musician who, though in the country without papers, is nevertheless an extremely moral man. Caught between them are Joy, an outrageously beautiful prostitute/escort/hostess, whose uncle turns out to be the body in the Thames, and Jo, a charming but naive minicab controller, an unwitting and increasingly desperate accessory to murder.

I can’t give this any higher compliment than to say this was as smart, vibrant and well-plotted as the best of Pelecanos or Mosley. Get to the BBC's iPlayer, or your torrent site of choice asap.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"Gentlemen, welcome to Hell"

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so did I abandon all hope.

Following the ITV commissioning anomaly that was the outstanding Unforgiven, the network were back on more familiar ground last night, with Whitechapel.

120 years after Jack the Ripper terrorised the East End, women are being attacked and killed in meticulous recreations of his crimes.

Hot on his heels are the clueless and by the book (literally - referring to the Murder Investigation Manual throughout) DI Rupert Penry-Jones and a squad of cynical, dishevelled odourous detectives, led by Phil Davis. Penry-Jones has a thing, naturally: OCD, and a habit of rubbing balm into his temples.

Production values were high, London looked suitably murky, and the performances were very good, but overall the whole thing was predictable, uninspired, and a complete load of old cobblers.

Welcome back, ITV.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pilot scripts

If you're a TV lover and script hoarder such as myself, you might want to check out the scripts from some recent new series (that premiered either in 2008, or this year). For your delight, I hereby present:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

De Montford calling

As long suffering readers may recall, last year I gazed into the gaping maws of death while driving home from an event at De Montford University. The event was fantastic, my escape from the hereafter rejuvenating, and my finances crippled by roadside assistance bills.

I later managed to bag a ’96 Almera for £150, to make up for losing the Pug. Less poke, but far more manoeuvrable. And it passed its MOT this month with a clean sheet!

All that’s by-the-by, however, as the De Montford event is back, saddled with the sub-heading Fantastic Writing - science fiction, fantasy and magic: Writing the future, the past and other worlds.

In their own words:

De Montfort University will be hosting the third annual writers day for aspiring TV scriptwriters on Saturday 7th March 2009 at the Leicester City campus.

The one day event will give guests the opportunity to hear from industry professionals in the form of keynote speeches and question and answer panels. Previous speakers have included Jed Mercurio (Bodies, Cardiac Arrest, Frankenstein), Laurence Marks (Birds of a Feather), Tony Marchant (Mark of Cain, Recovery) and Kate Rowland (BBC Writersroom).

The theme for this year’s event will be Fantastic Writing - Science Fiction, Fantasy & Magic: Writing the future, the past and other worlds

Confirmed guests include James Moran (Doctor Who, Torchwood and Spooks), Phil Ford (Sarah Jane Adventures, Dr Who and Torchwood), Stephen Volk (Afterlife) and Graham Joyce - winner of the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Angus Award and the O Henry short story prize. Graham has also written screenplays for Hollywood studios and is currently commissioned to work on the story line for the computer game DOOM 4.

Stephen Volk created and was lead writer of the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife starring Lesley Sharp and Andrew Lincoln, called 'terrific television' (The Guardian) and 'Unmissable' (Mail on Sunday). A BAFTA-winning screenwriter, his TV and movie credits include Ken Russell's Gothic, Octane, Shockers and the notorious, almost legendary, BBC 'Halloween hoax' Ghostwatch.

Event organiser and course leader for the unique MA, Christopher Walker says “This is a rare opportunity for scriptwriters of all levels, from complete beginners through to those who have already had some success in the industry, to hear from industry professionals - there are two keynote speakers and two question and answer panels. Events like this are usually restricted to London so it's a way of giving opportunities to writers from the East Midlands to meet with industry professionals, network and get inspired to boost their writing careers.”


Graham Joyce wrote the most enjoyable novel of 2008: Memoirs of a Master Forger, which I liked so much I was inspired to send a fan-boyish email thanking him for writing it. If you've not read it, please do, it's fantastic.

I met TV’s so-called James Moran at the Screenwriters’ Festival, and found the experience underwhelming. Expecting a crazed encounter with an octo-handed, time-shifting slathering nut, I was disappointed to find him an altogether pleasant chap, who gave freely and generously of his time, talking for hours and hours and forgetting to go to the toilet.

If you think there can possibly be any benefit in watching this man on a panel, then the day costs £65, which includes parking (not too hard to find, and near the event) and lunch (plentiful but cramped). Smokers please note, a big yellow line has been painted around the venue, inside which you must not smoke.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Being Human - tougher than you think

So, after a long, long wait since last February’s pilot, that was the first episode of Being Human. Did you like it? I did. It was creepy and funny; well-written, and unflinching. It was darker than I expected, actually; definitely veering more toward drama than comedy. Nice to see a show debut so strongly, with such a clear sense of its own aims, identity and - crucially - ability.

For those Not In The Know, the basic pitch of Being Human is: a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost share a house in Bristol. All they want is to be normal.

Bloody complications ensue.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Happy New Year!

Have you missed me? I hope not, you should all have much better things to do than worry about where I’ve staggered off to.

I’ve been reading you all in my absence, and it’s good to see you keeping so busy. A spectacular number of bloggers got through to the second round of The Red Planet prize, and those who’ve got the chops to go further should be hearing all about it soon; so good luck, mes amis.

I myself have not been sitting on my hands, but using them to karate chop away at 2009 like a sex-starved Ross Geller, only the sex in this metaphor is...well...damn it, sex.

At least I’m managing to keep one nib inky, as it were. Britain needs better writers, as is clearly evidenced by the likes of Demons and Merlin, to name but two (both shows crafted by the same fair sets of hands, by the way). I was just trying to watch Demons, but no, I’m sorry, I can’t. My IQ is greater than 40, after all.

I despair sometimes, I really do.

At least there is still the occasional ray of intelligence bursting forth. Sally Wainwright’s Unforgiven has been absolutely stellar these last two weeks, so the fact that it’s only a three parter makes me a little glum. Wainwright’s script is so lean, it whistles as it moves. No word is wasted, no scene drawn out; it’s an out and out marvel. Suranne Jones I only know from Vincent and half an episode of Harley Street, neither of which really gave any clue of her abilities, but as Ruth Slater released after 15 years inside after killing two policemen, aged 17, she commands the screen. Monday night’s finale promises revelations and repercussions. and I’ll not be missing it, come Monday night.

Incidentally, the BBC have asked Wainwright to pep up Robin Hood, following what’s sure to be the departure of almost all the cast after the end of the upcoming third season. If they lik her ideas and commission a fourth season, I’ll finally start watching.