Monday, July 31, 2006

Mashing it

Finally, today, I get to mash through the edit. Which turns out to involve writing more notes that splicing scenes together. We’ve got one last day of interviewing coming up and need to figure out what links, if any, are required to join the sequences together.

Before all that was the catch up.

A couple of days back our boy had sent us the second of his book proposals to read through and comment on. Normally I would have dived in and re-written the thing rather than list suggestions but given our time constraints the latter took effect.

Three pages of notes and a gander around related internet sites and that was sent off. Given that he had been at the birthday party we had to cry off from attending I doubted I would get a reply today, or even possibly tomorrow. But it was out the way.

After that a nose through the Sunday papers online because I just couldn’t be bothered to walk up the road and physically get them, and a sit down to some inept rolling news spewing from the television.

Certainly not unaware of current events around the world, it had been more palatable when I had a hammer or a power tool in my hand because I could wallop nails and screws. Without that option I was just left to grind my teeth and grip the chair until my knuckles showed white through the tan.

Back in the early 1990s I worked for a short while at a documentary company set up by some ex-BBC ass-clowns. In fact BBC Pebble Mill, which made it worse.

The couple were also Jamaican, which meant that as soon as their next round of documentary proposals were turned down they blamed the commisioning editors for being racist. The fact that the proposals were rubbish simply never came into the equation.

Which brings us to the Israelis. I sympathise with the plight they have been through, and the horrors that befell them during the Second World War but... what the fuck is wrong with these people, and why is everyone letting them get away with it?

Time for a UN declaration that says once this mess is eventually cleaned up, if the Israelis ever find themselves on the receiving end and attempt to play their Holocaust card again, they get the living shit beaten out of them. We’re sorry about the centuries of persecution. We’re sorry that when Moses crossed the Red Sea he turned left instead of right, which meant the Arabs got the oil and the Jews were left with the orange juice. But for fuck’s sake!

Talk about the abused becoming the abusers. It’s a classic transference*. Since Israel has America by the balls, and therefore Britain by default, they can get away with murder. I’m not flying the flag for Hezbollah, but you don’t get terrorists by systematically flattening the country they are hiding in. The Americans should have told them that. Although they’re too busy rearming the Israeli army.

So much for a relaxing Sunday. Although there was some comic relief in the news reports of the 007 stage at Pinewood burning down, again. Obviously there weren’t enough people working on site to be interviewed so a couple of real munters from a visual FX studio who had nothing to say and took a long time saying it.

Still, the reportage proved better than some of the websites. Even after the original news items were expanded upon as the day wore on, they didn’t get any better. The same witness cropped up on the Sky News site (explaining “It was a very big fire,”) and the BBC website, announcing that the stage had been “completely on fire.”

As precise as the comments were in describing a big building on fire, it obviously wasn’t quite enough to fill out the story. Which mean that the weekend staff rolled into action.

According to the Sky News report:

‘It is not the first time that a James Bond set at Pinewood Studios has been damaged by fire.

In 1984 an explosion ripped through a corrugated steel building built in 1976 for The Spy Who Loved Me and also used to shoot four Bond movies.’

The corrugated steel building in question would be the 007 stage, burnt down during the filming of Legend.

The BBC article proudly announced:

‘Pinewood - which began life in 1935 - has a long association with the Bond films, starting with the first movie Dr No in 1962.

It merged with Shepperton Studios in 2001 and attracts a range of films of varying budgets.

Together with Ealing, the three studios have formed the backbone of the British film industry for 70 years.’

Which would actually be Elstree. Still, it began with the right letter of the alphabet. Bless.

And after all that I got down to some work.

* Although specialists are eager to point out that transference is common, in fact it is not always the case. Not everything works the way it’s supposed to. They say that women sexually abused as children become frigid. One of my ex-girlfriends had been interfered with when she was a child. She was absolutely gagging for it.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Shedageddon – The Final Hammering

Only doors and windows were left. How simple could it be? I figured a half-morning out in the garden and then I’d be back in front the computer in next to no time, furiously mashing through the edit.

Except... There had been times, erecting the walls and roof, when it appeared that the component parts delivered to the door had been hand-tooled by tools in whatever dark and grimy factory the pieces had been tipped out of, up north.

It soon became horribly apparent that these few remaining pieces must have been walloped together by shitty-shoed shitters with shit on their shoes. The sort of mouth-breathing stumps who live with their parents and every morning are told to get their dicks out of their sister and go to work. Usually by their father, and only because it’s his turn to throw a shot in her.

As you may gather, I didn’t think highly of the level of “craftsmanship” involved. Good old British industry. No wonder we’re so far in the crapper when it comes to making... stuff. What few instructions there were, printed on the double-sided sheet of A4 had run out by now, apart from some vague mention of where to put the door.

It failed to mention that the hole for the lock, drilled to the same size as the hole for the door handle, was so large that when the keyhole cover was placed in position there was nothing for the screws to drill in to. A quick look at the shed at the bottom of the neighbour’s garden showed that they had dealt with the same problem by simply leaving the hole exposed. We instead improvised. Which took time.

During which time the unrelenting sun happily baked my arms, legs and neck the colour of Ribena-flavoured HP sauce. So I was squirted with sun screen, factor: Ground Zero, Nagasaki, and went back out to fit the windows. For these there were no instructions whatsoever and brackets that required screws being drilled through in three different directions. Marvellous.

With the amount of hammering that had gone on, I suggested we name the finished shed Dun Nailin and get one of those nasty back oval plaque with the name in white lettering and flowers painted either side. I first thought of Dun Screwin but figured I still had a few more years with a breeze in the old windsock. And with the two-tone flesh I could try the old pick up line of “Hey girlie, wanna see the white bits?” on the off chance that one day it might eventually work.

We admired our handiwork, cleared up, and ordered in. It was almost midnight before I even got sight of The Times' Samurai Su Doku. After Friday night's after dark cacophony of police helicopters, arseholes over-revving their cars and youngsters acting like fucknuts, a brass band could have been marching up and down the street while people stuck fireworks up guinea pigs and lit the blue touchpaper last night for all I knew. I was out like a light.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gone Native

10:30pm. And this is the first time all day that I’ve turned on the computer. Yesterday wasn’t much different either. This long away from the screen I’m surprised I haven’t got the shakes and gone completely wugga-wugga! Especially since there hasn't been a newspaper or any Su Dokus either.

Back up at Work Buddy’s. Not just because the external hard drive has proved useless hooked up to my machine, but because with the slabs down (and level) the shed needed assembling.

Up went the walls, on went the roof and its felt cover. By the time we were done I was a collection of pan-fried bones and vital organs held together with dried sweat and dirt.

It may seem like a frippery, but having the component parts of the shed joined together into a shed shape is vital because it means that all the storage cartons stacked in the studio and office now have somewhere to go and we can have more space to work in. We can also walk about in the garden without tripping over big slabs of wood.

So in the final analysis it is a good thing. The downside is that since the external hard drive started playing up, the final edit I was supposed to start on Tuesday still hasn’t progressed any further. Which is not a good thing.

With just that deadline alone looming, it means that going out on Saturday night isn’t going to happen now. Which is unfortunate. Because Saturday night our Short Film Writer is having his 40th birthday. And now we can’t make it.

Already it has been suggested that we’re blowing him out because we gave the second draft an initial thumbs down. Which isn't the case. Simply because we’re all growed up now and don’t live our lives by the rules of the playground. Unless I hear different, we’re all still in the same gang. Wizz! Super!

The real excuse is that the deadlines are about to take us by the throat and shake us like a rat unless we do something about it. So scooting down to West London, where SFW is having his do in a pub practically across the street from his home – so when he falls down drunk he doesn’t have far to fall – really isn't the best thing for us to do right now. Sorry.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

High and Dry

Thames Water. You’ve got to love the useless scum-sucking sons of bitches. Millions of gallons of water leaking out of their pipes on a daily basis and what do they do? Send out a bunch of over-fed drones to loiter around the ticket hall at Piccadilly Circus handing out little sachets with ‘Let’s beat the drought together’ stamped on the cover. (Obviously the plan is we don’t use water so they can continue to waste it).

In the summer months London Underground is such a sweatbox I always expect to find Alec Guinness sitting next to me. Rather than sort out some kind of air conditioning to alleviate the situation, LU's way of dealing with the extreme temperatures is to warn passengers to carry a bottle of water with them and get off at the next station if they feel faint/before they pass out. Which means if you can’t stand the heat; fuck right off!

Having travelled four stops from the mainline station on two lines, I took the sachet offered expecting to find a richly deserved moist towelette. It seemed the obvious thing to expect. Walking up to street level, I ripped open the packet and pulled out... a freaking tea bag!

On the back of the packet was written “Fill the kettle with just enough water to make a cuppa, saving water and the environment.” What?

Just what I needed in the midday heat, standing in the middle of central London. The tea bag came with a string, so at least women could find a use for it. But what the hell was I supposed to do with it?

Thames Water. Got to love them.

Back home I found time to read through the rest of the short film script. I’d been tetchy about the writing to begin with, but felt it deserved to be read. Although by the time I got to the last page - Page 69! - I still wasn’t sure what the hell I had just read.

I knew what it was about, but it still didn’t make sense. At 69 pages it failed as a short film. Instead, given the content, it felt like an episode of one of the useless, mumbo-jumbo, supernatural dramas that polluted the television schedules in the 1970s, usually on ITV. The sort of thing that was supposed to be spooky and creepy - and at the time probably was - but over 30 years later looks like charmless, flawed tat. The sort of thing that Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace mercilessly took the piss of a few years back.

Work Buddy mentioned that we need to sit down and decide whether to work on it. Maybe we can do something with it. But if it looks like we would simply be polishing a turd, then we might as well concentrate on our own work.

Meanwhile I am hoping to get a job in the colonial service somewhere.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fit To Burst

Since I’m used to sitting in front of a computer almost every waking hour, the great thing about doing some real physical activity is that it’s a perfect wake-up call for how bloody unfit I’ve become.

Work Buddy’s girlfriend’s parents had come over from the Nether-regions. Although the mother understood/spoke some English, her father did not. So working together was a good way of communicating with him.

When we moved her possessions over at the beginning of the year, I had helped with the move. Carrying bulky white goods down a stairwell helped me learn the Dutch for “right”, “left”, “up” and “down” pretty darn quick. After that smiles and a thumbs-up were good enough.

Work Buddy and I had initially laid the slabs some months ago as the base for a shed, blaming the curvature of the Earth for the bodge job we had done. With the father over, things were going to be done right.

Raising the slabs and piling them up out of the way, I started swinging a pickaxe into the dry-mixed concrete and sand base and almost passed out. But as the morning progressed, and my muscles woke up, I really got into it. Even soaked in sweat and becoming a walking smorgasbord for the mosquitoes, which favoured the back of my knees for some reason, I wanted to get the job done.

Two paving slabs were left to complete a row when we were called in for lunch. I wanted to get them laid before we ate but contented myself in getting them down before I showered and we headed off to film the interview.

After filming, I stayed in London to work on the second project at home so that it wouldn’t be two people stuck in the hot studio while the computer here sat idle. Things would have gone to plan if the external hard drive with a copy of the project on hadn’t thrown a wobbly this morning and become useless.

So I’ll have to go back up to Work Buddy’s to complete it. Which is great, because all the slabs are down and we can put the shed up!

After all the work my chest feels lighter and I didn’t eat as much today. Although the thigh muscles are aching from the exertion, the best part about it was, no matter how hot it was last night; I had a great night’s sleep.

Start The Week

Never again will I complain about sitting at a desk in front of a computer. Spent this morning and half the afternoon helping to relay some paving slabs. In this hot weather, by the time I was done, I was sunburnt and my clothes were soaked through with sweat.

After that, the filming scheduled for late afternoon went like a dream. The journey into London wasn’t delayed by stalled traffic. We cut through Regent’s Park and parked right across from the location.

The Agency Woman was great. The Clients were great. And the Specialist interviewed was superb. Even after a day that had seen him wake up at five in the morning, travel first to Oxford then Edinburgh before returning to London.

Surprisingly the short film script we had been expecting actually arrived. After eight pages I gave up. Emailed SFW with a couple pages of notes that culminated in two questions:

01. Have you read through this?

02. Have you read the dialogue out aloud?

Because if the answer to either or both of the above is no, then:

03. I’m not wasting my time reading it.

Two whole months waiting for this? Jesus!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Art For Arse's Sake

It would be fair to say that the UK animation industry and I more or less came to the decision that we best not work together.

I had been in and out of the business since 1987 and quite frankly, by the time we called it a day I had pretty much had it. If the studio had had a water tower on the roof I would have been up there with a bolt action rifle blasting their gurning melon heads apart with glee.

There were some good people in the industry but they tended to be tiny islands of intelligence and personality in a vast ocean of ass-clown pencil-monkeys, screaming squirrels and major league arseholes. Into this final category fell most of the clients, naturally.

One in particular, a producer for the production company we did the last major job for, was such a useless, clueless, skanky brass, so in love with the fact that she was in "the media", that the only way she could have been elevated to such a position of responsibility was either the people she replaced were even more useless, or she worked her way up on her knees. (I suspected both, and kept looking for the telltale bump on the back of her skull from years of repeatedly knocking her head against the underside of all the desks).

Around their desks animators tend to have little cartoon sketches, joke postcards, and other mildly amusing tat. On the wall above my work station I had pinned up a page from a trade magazine. Dominating the page was this one photograph:

Clomping into the studio's digital department, already at full-tilt "blah, blah, blah!", wearing the sort of clothes that ideally suited someone ten years younger and three sizes smaller, she took one look at it and, eager to display her full range of ignorance, asked me why I had a picture of Salman Rushdie on the wall.

Words failed me. Which meant that for once I pleased the studio producer, who was accompanying the bloated Soho cum sponge around the departments, no end. Instead of using the tools at hand – a Wacom tablet stylus, as opposed to to going out and hiring an industrial sander and blowtorch – to see how long and how loud I could have made her scream, I muttered, "I think you might find that it's not Salman Rushdie" and returned to my work.

If I had known then that within a year I would be sitting through her embarrassingly lame thanks-to-the-troops speech at the low-rent wrap party, I probably would have turned off the computer and tried to swallow my own tongue. Or repeatedly punch her in the face.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Something For The Weekend

After getting as much of the editing done in the tail-end of the week, it came down to filming the final linking sequences that would tie the second project together. Get that done and we can get on with the final few nips and tucks, record the voice over, author the thing, get it out the door and... Next!

Filming was set for Saturday early afternoon. Saturday morning we drove through a welcome lighting storm that didn’t last as long as we hoped. Pitched up, unloaded the camera and kit. Discovered that the room we would be using wasn’t what we had expected. In fact, if we had shot there it would have given viewers the wrong idea. Unless of course the scenes required nervous farmyard animals, whips and chains, butt-plugs, and a pile of spare cash to pay a hefty fouling charge.

So it didn’t happen. In any case, the schedule The Lead Participant was working to threw up a few suprises that nobody had counted on leaving us with no time. Waiting around we got to talk about upcoming projects and renew old aquaintances with bods we hadn’t seen for an age.

For some reason, the overriding question running through my head for the latter half of the afternoon was:

Do Superheroes have masked balls?

Which certainly stands as proof that if you sit infront of a computer for too long it all goes liquid.

Taking a break this morning, I discovered that the National Film Board of Canada’s animation website have 50 of the NFB’s animation shorts available for viewing.

Ages ago I was introduced to a lot of their output and found a good portion of it typically consisted of the sort of artsy-fartsy wankfest material that made you want to stick your head in a bucket of boiling tramp’s piss.

Until I was eventually introduced to The Cat Came Back directed by Cordell Baker and the masterful The Big Snit from Richard Condie.

After watching those we listened to a couple of Winston Churchill’s greatest speeches. Then got back to work. The WC is an exceptionally good motivator.

One more day until the revised script comes our way, supposedly. Already we’ve started trying to figure which bullshit excuse will be trotted out this time.

The favourite so far is: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh.... red wine!”

Thursday, July 20, 2006


So yesterday was the hottest July day in Britain since... ever. Streets melted. People were being broiled alive in West End theatres. And in an electrical appliance store in London somebody bought an electric blanket. There’s always one.

The apparent temperature taken down in the London Underground, on a Piccadilly Line train at Leicester Square, was 38.8˚C. And that was just shy of an hour before midnight. Which is still 10˚ above EU guidelines for the maximum allowable temperature for transporting cattle.

Having to use London Transport was intolerable, but at least it was in motion. Mid afternoon I arrived at Kings Cross to find no trains running. Some completely inconsiderate bastard had gone under the train at Hitchin – one station before where I was heading to – and everything had ground to a halt.

“Can’t you just scrape the sonofabitch off the track with a spatula and get the trains running?” I asked a fat controller who looked like he could have done without me being there. It was an option that appeared popular with the least-appalled of the sweat-soaked commuters around me. And what the hell were they doing there, heading back home at that time of the day?

But, no. Apparently plod had to be called to the scene and investigate the big steaming pile of innards and generally fanny about. That was not good. Especially since I was lugging around a bag with external hard drives and references book. Still, it did give me something to swing into the legs of the munters who wandered about the packed station concourses looking dazed and confused as they got in the way. Frankly, I've seen cattle come out of the lorry and trot into a slaughterhouse faster.

My folks had the right idea. They phoned to say they were off on a cruise around the Norwegian fjords. When they came back depended on whether they liked the ship or not. If it got the thumbs up they would stay onboard for a trip around the Baltic, stopping off at St Petersburg and a performance of the Kirov at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Quid Pro Quo To Go

I’ve never been one of those guys that says “I’ll do something for you but only if you do something for me.” If someone needs help, I’ll help them out.

Back at art school I was always working on other peoples’ projects. It wasn’t like I wanted a gold star or a shiny medal for it, or expect anything in return. Some of the little loves, away from home for the first time and a little trembly at best, needed help and I’ll help them out because it seemed the decent thing to do.

College is one thing. You’re shielded; closeted. It doesn’t matter if you can’t walk and chew gum. Out in the real world it’s something very different. Suddenly everyone is “The Competition!” If people say they’ll help out they’ll only go so far, so that ultimately their effort, such that it is, is borderline useless or deeply detrimental.

If they’re working in more or less the same field, forget it. Maybe folk feel threatened, as if you’re going to take work from them; take food off their table. Ultimately it’s not fear but insecurity.

Much as I disliked the bullshit involved in working in animation, there was a certain camaraderie involved. With not that many studios in London producing high-end commercials, everyone pitched for more or less the same jobs. But if we were busy and a job came in that the producer didn’t think we could give our full attention, she suggested another studio for the agency to approach. And in return there were times when other studios put work our way. Sure, we were all in competition. But people looked out for eacch other.

While I’d like to take the moral high ground and still be ready to give someone a hand, I think I’ve reached the point where, for the time being, enough is enough. Anyone heads my way asking for a bucket of help and I’m going to tell them that the well is dry. Or, in plainer terms: “Tell your story walking!”

Because it seems that the ‘help’ I’ve had from people of late – I could have got more out of a four-year-old mong with special needs.

Time Management

Back home long enough to write the new proposals before heading back out of London to get back to the editing. Work Buddy at his work station ploughing through one project, me at the other work station putting together the second.

The clock is ticking. Not just the imminent deadlines but those further down the line. We’re mapping out the rest of the year and there’s a lot of work involved. The sooner we start, the easier it will be. Especially if we start taking on more work than what’s already planned.

A writer friend in LA once told me that he always gets people coming up to him at book signings and the like, saying, “Oh, I have a great idea for a book. If only I had the time to write it.”

Here’s the secret. If you want to write a book, make time. Get up an hour earlier and you’ll have an hour to write before setting off for work. Write in the evenings and weekends. If you really want to write, nothing will stop you.

This is why I think SFW isn’t serious about his short film script. If he wanted to get it done, he’d have done it.

“Ready in two weeks!” he announced on the way out of the pub after the NFT screening. (“He told me it’d be a month!” someone piped up behind him). As far as I can tell, SFW works a straight nine-to-five. So what about the evenings and weekends?

Well, that night he was in the pub. Couldn’t do it last Sunday because he was out at an outdoor concert. So that’s that day down the tubes. Shame to think he’d have to make some kind of fucking sacrifice and interrupt his social life to get it done.

“Two weeks!” is next Monday. Well, we’re out filming that evening so let’s be generous and give him until Tuesday. Who wants to lay odds?

I’m particularly looking forward to it because after his announcement he blathered something about the fact that I may have to do a polish on it. Oh, gee thanks. Can’t wait.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Wrong Write Stuff

Back home, the one thing I was looking forward to was continuing re-reading James Ellroy’s The Cold Six Thousand. A hardback edition, it’s a 600-odd page brick. Having to take the external hard drive off with me, there wasn’t room for the book as well.

Of course now that I can read the novel, with a book proposal to put together, there are other books piled up on the edge of the desk that need my attention instead.

In the meantime, Work Buddy and I are waiting for a short film script that a pal is writing and wants our help in the making. One of our circle of drinking buddies, our Short Film Writer would go on about this script he was writing, promising/threatening to show us each time we met. This went on until Work Buddy stepped up and said: Okay, let’s see it.

After about a month or so it finally turned up. We read it. We made notes. 20 pages of notes for the 40-page script. I missed the meeting when the notes were presented to our Short Film Writer. Instead I had to catch up with the Designated Author. From what I heard, SFW expected a few comments on the material before knocking some back. Instead he faced scene-by-scene, sometimes line-by-line comments.

Finally he went off with our material, ready to knock out the second draft.

And that was just over two months ago. And we’re still waiting...

We heard from SFW that it was almost done. We heard from SFW that it needed to lose ten pages.

Why it needs ten pages gone, we don’t know. Short films are like short stories. Given the restraints it needs scenes that are right, rather than less scenes than a normal feature.

SFW told us the descriptions were better. Which is nice. Nothing about the plot or the dialogue being ramped up a notch or two. Which... well, we’ll see. I hope to be hopeful.

Back in the distant past I was writing a script for a stop-motion animator who had won a competition that gave him the funding to go off to Germany for a year and make a short film.

Maybe its because English animators are used to working on commercials, producing 25-odd seconds of pretty pictures before the pack shot is slapped on the screen. There has to be a reason why most of the ones I’ve encountered have had such a slim grasp of narrative.

They get caught up in the pretty pictures and think that will satisfy the audience. I catch more than two minutes of their abstract shit and want to pour bleach in my eyes.

Working for The Animator, I can’t remember how many copies of the script I went through. They’re in the back of one of the filing cabinet drawers never to see the light of day.

Being pre-internet, scripts were faxed went back and forth from here to Germany. I would get notes from the animator saying “You have to incorporate this set!” Why? Because he had built it already.

The Animator’s way of editing the scripts was to lay out the individual scenes and rearrange them into a different order. When he eventually put the final scenes first, I accused him of being a premature ejaculator. Instead of building to a climax, he came straight away. Which didn't go down well.

I gave up and got out while I still had my sanity. He made a different film altogether, went on a self-improvement course and turned into a major league arsehole.

Find your own moral to this story, I’ve got work to do.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Friendship Costs

Another week gone. I’m inclined to look around and scratch my head, trying to figure out where it went. I know I was here for it, I just can’t remember much about it.

This is what happens if you slack off on Monday. The rest of the working week makes you pay. Which can be a pisser when the “working week” seems to be almost every hour or every damn day.

Out of London. Selecting shots for a promo for one of the projects we’re working on. Have some input on the other current job as well.

On this second job we alter the graphics incorporated into a sequence, based on the client’s notes. Apparently the original was too dark in places and, given the subject matter, bummed them out.

Altering the material shows that we’re adaptable and pay attention to the client’s wishes. And if we do it near the beginning of the edit, we can ignore any stupid ideas they come up. If the client really wants to help they should hurry up and approve the interview clips and tell us which ones we can use.

The project is going to miss the deadline. It wouldn’t have missed the deadline if they hadn’t been fannying around and did what they were supposed to do. But then fannying around seems to be the primary function of clients.

Thursday we had a friend coming up to join us. His latest book published, our boy seems to be drifting rudderless. Before his arrival, Work Buddy and I turned from the computers and threw some book ideas around for his benefit.

The first idea seemed so good that I decided to keep it for myself. Feeling guilty about it, once he was settled in, I retired to the garden with our boy and threw about half a dozen ideas his way, adding more as we went.

Even before the session was over I wished I had kept a second idea for myself. Especially since, after some of the recent filming and interviews, I had a much better in on the project.

If Our Boy doesn’t push this particular project, I think I’m going to nab it back for myself. So that means more guilt is already waiting in the wings ready to pounce at some future date. Can’t wait.

The promo locked this morning, I actually get to come back home. Bread in the kitchen cupboard was a healthy shade of blue. Messages clogging the machine, a pile of post on the mat. Being Sunday, I decide to ignore it for the rest of the day of rest.

Too much to do transferring files from the external hard drive anyway.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Buckling That Swash

At the National Film Theatre yesterday evening for a screening of an episode of Adam Adamant Lives! from 1966, courtesy of the very fine Mr Dick Fiddy.

Normally I don’t rewatch old television shows. The rule usually applies to series from my childhood because they’re obviously not as satisfying now. What did it for me as a kid simply doesn’t float my boat now.

I can’t understand how people in their thirties and forties can still sit down to the likes of Thunderbirds and the original run of Doctor Who, or the stable of old ITC adventure series, while ignoring contemporary adult dramas. Talk about arrested development!

These folk obviously didn’t get enough tit-time when they were kiddies. It would be like deciding to go back and read the old Janet & John books or the Ladybird series handed out at primary school.

In this instance, I was too young to have seen Adam Adamant Lives! the first time around, so what the heck! Stars Gerald Harper and Juliet Harmer were there to talk about the show. Shame the interviewer spluttered and shook with talking-infront-of-an-audience nerves. It might have been an idea to send Juliet a copy of the DVDs beforehand to help jog her memory.

Some of the questions asked were strange bordering on outright creepy. Avid TV fans are a special breed. Although there was an episode of A for Andromeda afterwards but everyone decided they prefered A for Alcohol, so we decamped to the pub.

Since I had to be in town, I snuck out early to catch an afternoon performance of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest beforehand. Any film that has the line “Undead monkey! Beat that!” has my vote. Damn, an opening weekend just shy of $136 million in the US.

On Saturday the BBC News website had already reported that the sequel had taken £2.3 million at the UK box office. Various facts and figures followed before they rounded the piece off with:

A third movie is in the pipeline, starring rocker Keith Richards in a cameo role as the father of Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp.

Some observers have drawn comparisons between Depp's performance as the pirate and the 62-year-old Rolling Stones guitarist.

No shit Sherlock! Stop the presses on this one!

Obviously everyone wants the BBC to be busy hoofing Blair and his cronies right in the works for their despicable behaviour. For shallow entertainment news, head over to ITV. But if the BBC are going to report on the media they should either keep up a bit and not leave it to the work-placement spaz.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Pace Right Off!

Doctor Who sputtered to a close with a perfect example of how off the pace the series is.

Daleks vs Cybermen, with the humans stuck in the middle, was probably the fanboys’ ultimate wet dream. Shorn of the usual useless pop-culture references, the episode should have been a rollercoaster ride of excitement and adventure.

But instead of really kicking off and delivering the goods, the series finale meandered and sputtered and faltered its way through to the final denouement. Whether the problem is in the writing or directing or editing, or a combination of all three, the story, like the previous episodes in the run didn’t have a satisfying, codifying, rhythm to it.

Conversations went on too long between the action set-pieces, hampering the momentum. Then, in the scene where Rose’s mother meets her husband from the alternate Earth, the show just grinds to a dead stop. Everyone is running from Cybermen, the clock is ticking to thwart the Daleks’ plan and... they stand around and chat.

Obviously such a scene is necessary, but why not stage it with everyone still on the move? Set it in the stairwell with Jackie stopping at each turn to react to his statements and having to be dragged forward. A simple change would not only stop the pace from flagging but would include The Doctor, Rose and Mickey in the scene rather than have them stand in the background like lemons.

Chat, of course is cheap to stage and film. Shows like this are always hobbled by budgetary restrictions. In which case you have to be more inventive. Instead of producing less scenes, you create the right scenes. Sucked back into the vortex, the Daleks and Cybermen from around the world had clear air between them and the void. It was a shame they didn’t show Cybermen with tree fragments stuck in their joints or a Dalek slamming into one of the Canary Wharf towers and come shooting out the other side.

In parts the episode got it right. Especially towards the end, where it managed, on the whole, to pack an emotional punch after cleverly engineering a way of getting rid of all the secondary characters that came with the companion at one fell swoop. Although the Torchwood leader-turned-Cyberman rebelling against her programming and weeping oil was risible at best. And the hokey way of putting Rose in final jeopardy was hokey.

As for the homages/references/blatant rip-offs... In this episode the Cybermen adapting to the weapons fire was very Borg, and, at a stretch, the vortex opening and pulling the Daleks and Cybermen into the Void/”Hell” was similar to the season two finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Angel/Angelus is sent packing.

Although this time the main steal was not from television or cinema but of a literary bent. It’s ironic that Billie Piper has gone on to star as Sally Lockhart in the BBC's adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Ruby In The Smoke when so much of Doomsday was lifted from Pullman’s award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy.

Specifically, the bridge between two worlds created by Lord Asriel - although in this case we have our very own Mrs Coulter at Torchwood; the Dust (which at least reveals that instead of just looking like a twat wearing 3D glasses, The Doctor has a reason for looking like a twat wearing 3D glasses; and of course The Doctor and Rose being separated between the two worlds like Lyra and Will at the end of The Amber Spyglass.

At least I’ll be spared from watching the Christmas special. If there’s one thing worse than Doctor Who it’s that unfunny, sour-faced chav, Catherine Tate.

Series one kicked off with guest appearances from the likes of Simon Callow and Penelope Wilton. The second series rolls to a close with turns by Peter Kaye and Catherine Tate.

Talk about being on a downhill slide.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Oh, Shut Out!

The Emmy nominations were announced yesterday. Supposedly there are new nominating procedures to bring in a lot of new faces, but even to the casual observer it still looks like the usual suspects have made the final line-up in the main categories.

With so many shows ending their runs or cancelled, the ceremony is in danger of becoming a swanky retirement party with the statuette becoming the equivalent of a gold watch. Some are deserving; The West Wing getting a seventh consecutive Best Drama Series nod, and nominations for Martin Sheen, Alan Alda and Allison Janney.

Others you just want to see the back of. Will & Grace (thankfully not nominated for Best Comedy Series) replaced comedy with stunt casting long ago and with Debra Messing channelling Lucie Ball and the rest acting like boorish tits, it really is a case of “Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out!” Out the door and head-first into the wood-chipper!

More interesting are the no-shows. No Lost, the big winner or last year, or Desperate Housewives, bizarrely listed in the comedy category before. I’ve got no problem with the latter. It always struck me as a show that so desperately wanted to be on HBO. No Hugh Laurie, who surely should have been nominated for House.

HBO once again came top of the networks with 95 nominations, even without nods for James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, or Deadwood, whose third season had premiered too late to be in with a consideration. Maybe next year it’ll be given its due. Hopefully the same can be said for Battlestar Galactica which only appeared in categories for Best Costume, Sound-Mixing and Special Visual Effects. Hopefully by the next ceremony the voters will see fit to have included Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell in the relevant categories.

In the meantime the BBC/WGBH-Boston production of Bleak House got 10 nominations. Huzzah! And Channel4/HBO’s Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren racked up 13 nods.

The BBC news website ran an online poll to discover who makes the best TV; the US or the UK. Last I checked, 18102 votes had been cast with 67% in favour of the UK, which put me in mind of James Donald walking across the exposed sandbank in the River Kwai muttering, “Madness! Madness!”

I can understand the lead when it comes to natural history - Planet Earth illustrating just how it should be done - and documentary series like Horizon and the Timewatch strand. But in terms of comedy and drama, on the whole America beats us hands down.

They have The Wire and The Shield, we have The Bill and... Dalziel and Pascoe? The one with the posh bloke and his scruffy assistant who looks like she takes cocks for money? They have ER and House, we have Casualty and Holby City. Although Bodies helps redesss the balance.

Okay, the UK produces Spooks and Shameless. But the US has The Sopranos and The West Wing. Deadwood. Curb Your Enthusiasm and Scrubs and My Name is Earl, which craps on the likes of My Family and the rubbish in-house productions BBC Three and Channel 4 soil their schedules with.

The US resurrects Battlestar Galactica. The UK resurrects... Doctor Who.

Of course, that’s why we win! Oh, good grief.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

First Timers

Got Work Buddy’s girlfriend reading Dennis Lehane’s novels. In particular the five marvellous Kenzie & Gennaro books, from A Drink Before the War to Prayers for Rain.

It’s a good thing to introduce people to the books. Any books really, whether its Glen David Gold’s magnificent Carter Beats The Devil or John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Everyone has their personal favourites that they they try to spread around. That done, there is a twinge of envy that the new reader gets to experience these books for the first time.

Films too, which tend to be pre-1970s, and in particular the artistic flights of fantasy conjured up by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger during the 1940s.

After leaving art school in 1987 I took a potential girlfriend to see a new print of The Red Shoes, struck by the National Film Archives, at the National Film Theatre. The screening took place on the evening of September 30th, significant for being Michael Powell’s birthday. The just turned 82-year-old director was in attendance and stood while the whole audience sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

Some years back I put on A Matter of Life and Death for my then-girlfriend to introduce her to Powell & Pressburger. She sits through about half of it before suggesting we got to bed. I’ve got this hottie offering me the pleasures of the flesh, where every hole’s a goal, and I’m saying, “But the big trial scene in heaven is coming up!” I guess you can see why that relationship obviously eventually went south - She didn’t like the films!

Yesterday was my last day of filming on the current project. Typically it was a burning hot. Three actors, two lights, one camera, all in the one room in the building that didn’t have air-conditioning. The only way to cool down would have been to douse myself in petrol and spark up.

If the agency had a clue about what she was doing we would have finished long before now. For a while we waited for actors they wanted to become available. When they were free, the agency couldn’t decide on which dates we should film.

By the time they nailed it down the actors were once again unavailable. Which in the end proved to be a lucky break. The people we got were uniformly brilliant. Once the filming was done we retired for a very late lunch and swapped war stories.

Thankfully, today, the weather finally broke. (Tough break for the commuters whose trains were cancelled because of the lightning, but it makes a change from the usual excuses like leaves on the line. Or spilt ice cream).

It seemed churlish to huddle under an umbrella when I had been praying for rain. Although I couldn’t figure out why most people looked like they been lightly sprayed with water while I looked like someone had turned a fire hose on me.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Out of Time

Monday starts out with a brief autopsy of the weekend’s Doctor Who episode between friends. Some agree with my criticisms, others don’t.

Aside from the show suffering from massive Buffy the Vampire Slayer-envy and the irritating pop culture references, my biggest fault with Doctor Who is that as the series progresses it’s becoming painfully obvious what happens when you let lunatics run the asylum. Fanboys who loved the show when it was first on are now in charge of the revival. Of course you want the writers, producers and directors to love with their show. But not this much. It’s reached the point where you want to scream “Get a freaking room!”

So caught up in Doctor Who that was, they fail to realise what changes should be made to Doctor Who that is. Especially the significant change in the story length. Back in the day, the original stories usually came in four or six or eight half-hour parts. Now they have a 45-minute slot. (Aimed at an international market? Surely not).

And in those 45 minutes they habitually fail to tell a coherent story. Ah, but they have to spend time setting up the story and introduce all the fantastically elements. Well, Buffy did it. The X-Files certainly managed.

Instead of drama we get Tennant acting a twat and gurning like he’s just been violated with an egg whisk, Torchwood references, and a lot of old talk, which means come the forty-minute mark they have to reach for the deus ex machina catalogue and pick one they haven’t used yet.

The end result looks like four half-hour episodes were shot then severely cut down to fit the slot. If that isn’t bad enough, they let a cocking knob loose on the Avid to do it.

And relax...

Once that was done, I e-mailed the Designated Author to find out what the publisher had to say about our/my notes on the editor’s pass. Some of the edits made sense. Others look like he hadn’t taken his medication.

Not sure I want to hear their reply because I know they will have something else for me. Right now I don’t want to do it. Still.

Public Service Section

The internet is great for discovering little film snippets: from Jon Stewart verbally caning politicos in clips from The Daily Show to spoof commercials and all kinds of visual jokes that range from the sublime to the complete crapola.

Once you’re done downloading the new Spiderman 3 trailer and feel like looking for examples of some of the most beautiful and thought provoking animation put on film - you never know, it could happen - check out

The Monk and the Fish and Father and Daughter

The first an Oscar-nominee, the second an Oscar-winner, both films were made by the very talented Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit.

And now back to our normal programming...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

By the Book...

...or How To Write a Novel That Is Guaranteed To Get Published

01. At a media event get introduced to somebody in the business (not previously known for their writing skills) who trumpets their good luck in landing a book deal.

02. Prop up the bar with the Designated Author and listen to them whine about having trouble with the “technical aspects” of the novel.

03. Offer to help with the dreaded “technical aspects” so that they will just shut up about it and everyone can get back to some serious drinking.

04. Take tea with the Designated Author. Listen to their story pitch. Read the existing outline and try not to look surprised when you turn the last page and realise that’s it?!

05. In the nicest possible way, explain to the Designated Author that the story seems “a little thin” and suggest it could do with being beefed up.

06. Submit a more substantial outline (preferably one that actually makes sense) and listen to the Designated Author moan about how they are moving house soon and don’t know when they’ll be able start writing the novel.

07. Hear someone offer to make a start on it. Look around the room to see who has walked in then try not to appear surprised/horrified when you realise it’s your voice.

08. Expand on the main plot and subplots, characters and their back-stories, and the “technical aspects” in the downtime between existing projects.

09. Send the Designated Author the work in progress. Wait to hear them say: “This is great, but I can take over now.” After a long pause realise that rather than helping with the “technical aspects” you are now actually writing the novel.

10. Discover that the expected word-count ceiling is 100,000 words. Enquire about the deadline.

11. Write the novel during the shrinking gaps between already scheduled projects. Enquire about the deadline.

12. Try not to scream/bang your head against the wall when the Designated Author finally gets back with the news that the deadline is in two weeks. Delay/cancel as many existing projects as possible.

13. Wake up. Turn on the computer. Write a minimum of 3,000 words a day. Go to sleep. Repeat.

14. Go off and film part of another projects for two days. In no way will this help making the deadline.

15. Email the Designated Author and suggest that the finished chapters are sent to the publisher (just in case).

16. Race to get the last couple of chapters done. Send them to the Designated Author to pass on to the publisher.

17. Turn off the computer. And... relax.

18. Two hours later turn the computer back on and add another three hundred-odd words. Send the revised final chapters to the Designated Author to pass on to the publisher.

19. Start to spend the advance.

Ice Cream Sunday

Over a week of stifling hot weather has meant the virtual disappearance of the Ice Cream Girls.

The first blistering hot, sunny summer day brings people out of their houses. The sense of urgency only is compounded because due to the fickle English weather, the first hot sunny day of summer may be the only hot sunny day of summer.

Endeavouring to change from pasty white to pasty brown, they stay out far too long, getting burnt instead of bronzed. As the hot weather continued, the girls who initially wore scoopneck tops before opting for something more low cut and revealing, display newly uncovered, pale white skin, below the inflamed red shoulders and chest.

For girls with brown hair, the white, red and brown makes them look like a block of Neapolitan ice cream.

Doctor Who Self-Indulgent

In the dream I am Miles Bennell, dishevelled and distraught, running for my life through the hills above Santa Mira as the townsfolk chase after me. But instead of escaping to the nearby freeway, I stumble and fall.

As I try to scramble to my feet the townsfolk close in and surround me. Their blank staring faces loom over me as I cry out: “It’s not my fault. I just don’t get why everyone is so worked up over this new Doctor Who!”

I don’t get why such a ratty piece of tat deserves such blanket promotion and hysterical jubilation.

Still, one more episode and then it'll be over and done with for another year. In the time between normality will hopefully return.

This penultimate episode, setting the scene for a Dalek/Cybermen dust-off which must have the fanboys rolling about creaming themselves over, perfectly illustrates how utterly wrong and hopeless the show is.

As drama it fails miserably. Where the situation should tease, it comes right out and blows the suspense. Why identify the complex as Torchwood in the first few scenes? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until the right moment? The same with showing the Cybermen, well before their appearance en masse. The finished product is the equivalent of a premature ejaculator at work. Someone who in this instance knows where they want the story to go, but doesn’t know how to get there.

Still, hopefully this will be the end of the Torchwood references, which have appeared throughout the series with all the subtlety of projectile vomit. What could have been a sinister corporation was filled with imbecilic chob-lobbers who deserve everything that’s coming to them. As soon as possible. (If it was Deadwood references, with Al Swearengen on at 7.00pm, that would be something to watch!)

Catching only the occasional episode, its perfectly obvious that Russell T’ Doofus so wants to be Joss Whedon writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it makes his sack ache. Trying to emulate the subtle blending of action, horror and comedy, the Doofus falls far short of the mark. But the references keep coming.

Torchwood turns out to be nothing more than a blatant rip-off of The Initiative (from BVS’ fourth, least successful, season). Whereas that had a high-calibre actress like Lindsay Crouse playing it straight, Torchwood turns out to be run by an ex-soap actress who turns an authority figure into someone who deserves to be punched continually in the face well after her head is knocked clean off.

That aside, the genre references continued apace. After borrowing heavily from Alien, Aliens, The Keep, Event Horizon, Quatermass and the Pit, Outland and Legend in The Satan Tit two-parter, here we had asides to Independence Day, The Terminator, and The Circumference from Alias, painted black. And this continued obsession with feckin’ EastEnders.

We know already that Rose is going out with a bang next week. The opening was quite poignant (although that kind of narration works better when the character is lying face down in a swimming pool). Maybe, come the finale, they will reference 1980’s David Cronenberg and she’ll be fucked to death, every which way in a three-way with a Dalek and Cyberman, embracing the new flesh.

And once that is played, all that's left is one last Doctor Who Self-Indulgent on BBC Three, where the smug, self-satisfied gits can ooze into the camera with a final bout of congratulatory circle-jerking, and then go away.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Talk

Back home. Finally.

The week ended as it began. With an interview.

Instead of a medical specialist discussing progressive illnesses, it’s an actress reminiscing about the television series that made her famous.

Instead of a cramped hospital examination room with no AC, and light boxes illuminating films showing MRI scans adding to the heat, it’s in an airy front room.

Instead of operating the first camera while the specialist is quizzed first by the wet-behind-the-ears agency woman and then a useless sack of skin from the pharmaceutical company (who ultimately gets the specialist steamed by getting him to re-explain the points Mr Drug completely fails to grasp), once the camera is rolling I ask the questions.

Or rather I suggest topics, she embellishes, and we get on so well that the tape eventually runs out.

After that we took a sledgehammer to a PC to round off the working day.

The suburb here turns into a veritable ghost town as England play. True to form they spectacularly bollox it and go out on their feckin’ arse.

Aaaah-Haaah! Losers!

Will the St. George flags flapping from the cars fly at half-mast? Will these bloody flags get torn off in disgust? Will the frustrated owners take a sledgehammer to their cars?

A bubbly young shop assistant tried to sell me some flags a couple of weeks back. When I told her to stuff them she looked like I had slapped her in the face with my cock and then stuffed it in her mouth.

Didn’t I like football? she asked incredulously - obviously still not getting it. Hell, no! I played croquet. Suddenly everyone in the shop is glaring at me.