Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Zero For Three

Just finished the third of a trio of DVDs passed my way late last week.

Constantine, V For Vendetta, and Tim Burton’s remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Boy, was that the kind of threesome I never want to be involved with ever again.

I had already been warned that I might not find the stories up to much, but the visuals were pretty impressive, which is what I should look out for. Which, if it was something I wanted, would either result in me meandering around a gallery or watching a half-decent porno.

I don’t really care if a film was made for hundreds of millions of dollars or just three farthings and extensive bartering. The important factor is that the story is engaging.

In my lifetime, I’ve read four Hellblazer comics. Well, I bought four. I can’t remember if I actually read them all. So I didn’t care a hot weasel’s toot that John Constantine wasn’t a bleach blonde Liverpudlian... or, whatever. The problem was I didn’t really care at all.

After sticking Constantine in the DVD player late at night, within about ten minutes I was on the computer, vaguely paying attention to what was occurring on the screen. Rachel Weisz was as reliable as ever (although it made me want to swap the disc for The Mummy), and it’s always good to see Pruitt Taylor Vince (ditto Beautiful Girls). But the film itself was just so monotone and so what. Certainly less-than-super supernatural.

By the time I decided to turn in, I checked the counter on the DVD player against the running time of the film printed on the box and found there were about twelve minutes left. Any other film I would have stayed up for the end. Instead I turned it off.

With V For Vendetta, I’d read the series of comics back in the late 1980s when they were reprinted by DC and found them more clever, at times too clever-clever, than entertaining. But then I’d already been subjected to writing essays about The State Versus The Individual in English Literature classes, which included Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although V For Vendetta may have reversed the roles to become The Individual Versus The State (Versus The Individual), I’d had enough lectures, thank you.

It might have helped if I hadn’t fallen asleep, albeit briefly somewhere in the middle. But I doubt it. The late Adrian Biddle’s cinematography was exceptional, but the film was so badly, blandly directed. I’ve seen low budget television programmes that use the camera more inventively.

Watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was like being wheeled around an art installation. Very, very, very slowly. It was so utterly monotone that my finger was almost constantly hovering over the remote control with the urge to speed the bastard up.

And then it just ended. Without any discernable build-up to a dramatic climax, the film stopped. I’d never read the book, only seen brief clips of the earlier Gene Wilder version, and none of them made me want to see the rest.

Maybe it’s because, as a children’s film based on a children’s book, I’m not the target audience. But I’m sure that even if I had seen it as a wee kiddie I would have been left feeling unsatisfied. Then again, I don’t think I’ve seen a Tim Burton film that hasn’t irritated the shit out of me either a little or a hell of a lot. Enough with the man-child shit!

Thinking about it, one thing all the films have in common is that they’re adaptations. Which only goes to show that some material should stay on the printed page.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tuesday And Confused

After the weekend, and then recovering from the weekend, back to the tasks at hand. Back to the desk and chair. Back to the computer. Back to the work at hand, in a room that seems extraordinarily quiet.

Before beginning work today, there was a conundrum to solve. Last night, once the computer I was turned off, I grabbed a notebook to write the project character descriptions, taking it with me when I retired for the night.

Usually there are about three notebooks floating around. Everything written down is usually preceded by an acronym to identify the project it relates to. New ideas are simply labelled NEW.

Waking up this morning, flipping back through the pages, I came across:

I thought I was sawing but then I realized I was punching a monkey

Judging from the material on the previous pages, the book hadn’t been used for a while. Shifting papers on the desk had simply brought it back up to the top of the pile. Where this came from, I have no idea.

It may have been something overheard that I scribbled down. I hope to God that it was.

I thought I was sawing but then I realized I was punching a monkey?

Please don’t say that it came out of my head.

Monday, September 25, 2006

True To My Word

Although awake before the alarm, my bones felt like rubber and my brain seemed to be sloshing around like a motor-function bisque inside my head. By the time I stumbled to my feet and tottered through the flat, I prayed that I had got the days mixed up and today kicked off the weekend and not the working week.

My fault really. If an idea fires my imagination, it bugs the hell out of me to have to sit on it. Through all the various stages of a project, I love the research phase. It’s the enquiring mind, wanting to find new things out.

The first book I can remember seeing was an atlas at my grandparents’ house. It was a slender volume compared to the tomes available today. But every visit I would reach up and take it down off the shelf. The cover had a photograph of a locomotive on the Canadian Pacific Railway. I would sit and pore over the pages, learning the names of countries and capital cities.

Working at the animation studio, before the internet was widely accessible, animation directors would come to me for reference. Whatever they needed, whether it was raw information or simple visuals, I normally had it for them the next day.

So the discussions Friday and Saturday fired me up. It would have been easier to push everything else aside and concentrate solely on them. Except it doesn’t work that way. So time has to be afforded to add them to the list. Which, over the last two days has cut into sleep that the body wants.

Some years back I came across the hunting phrase “A good dog will run until his heart explodes.” Which seemed about right. Something piques my interest that I can get my teeth into, I’m not going to let go.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Train Of Thought

Yesterday, Work Buddy and I took the same journey, at the same time, as Friday’s little trip toward Shepperton for part two of our conversation with the Delightful LA Actress about the project in hand. With sunshine and weekend traffic on the road it took less than half an hour.

Today, I took the train. From the station across the street here in North London I could go straight through the city to Wimbledon. There, one of the major chain bookshops opened before midday, meaning I could get Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy for DLLA and reference books for myself, and then get a train toward Shepperton.

In theory, it worked out perfectly. What I hadn’t counted on was the ‘essential engineering work’, which would only get me three stations south. From there, a tube to Waterloo. From Waterloo, a train to Wimbledon. Two extra journeys, but amazingly the connections lined up so there were no frustrating loitering around on platforms, willing a train to appear on the track.

Even the return journey, without the required interlude, expertly joined the dots. Which meant I didn’t mind when, on the first down escalator at Waterloo, a woman behind me pulled loose change from her pocket that rained down on me like shrapnel.

Picking up the coins for her, when I handed them back she simply held out her hand without even looking at me. Without realising that I was close to the bottom, I had to stretch to reach her upturned palm as the steps flattened out, and then almost tumbled forward as the escalator disappeared beneath the concourse.

Even if I had gone ass over tea kettle, I would still have been smiling at the exchange I overhead on the first return leg of the journey. Seated behind me on the way home were a clutch of lads in their early teens. Two sitting, one standing. All part of a large group spread around the front half of the carriage.

I was happy watching the countryside rush past the window while dipping into the reference book, oblivious to them until I heard:

Lad 01: “Where’s Poland?”
Lad 02: “In the Mediterranean.”
Lad 03: “No it’s not. It’s in Europe near Russia.”
Lad 01: “So where’s the Caribbean? I thought the Caribbean and the Mediterranean were together.”
Lad 03: “The Mediterranean’s south of Europe. Italy’s near the Mediterranean!”
Lad 03: “How are you doing on Lego Star Wars?”
Lad 02: “I’ve completed it. But not one hundred percent.”


Slut. Me!

“We’ve just been talking about you!” the Agent from two weeks back said as I bumped into her earlier today. Only good things I hoped. Oh yes.

Her Actress Client, who has had one hell of a life, wants to write her autobiography. It’s still in the very early stages, obviously, but if it goes ahead, would I be interested in helping her write it?

Well... how long do I have to think abou– YES!

I’ve interviewed her Actress Client twice already: years ago in front of an audience, which I stumbled my way through, and then last year for a B2B DVD. Apparently, her Actress Client wants somebody she feels comfortable with.

Although they already know of a few projects I’ve written, I run through the list. The Agent mentioned a few things I didn’t know from her Actress Client’s life just to give me a flavour. I’m sure I casually put my hand to my chin to stop my jaw dropping. OH, HELL YES!!

After they disappeared off for lunch, I went off to make an absolute slut of myself.

There was another actress in the room I also interviewed last year. Back then, as I reached forward to clip on the lapel mike, she playfully thrust her assets toward me, whereupon the microphone popped from my grasp and dropped straight down her low-cut top. (It was an accident!) This time, as I handed over my new business card, her shoulders went back as... you guessed it!

The next actress I encountered was also interviewed last year. As we catch up, she mentions the voiceover work she’s been doing recently. Funny that; we’re going to need a new voiceover artiste for the corporate work. Where did those cards go?

And then there was another actress I first met four years ago. Cards are exchanged as she tells me I simply must write a part for her. In what, I’m not sure. But any more lipstick smudged on my face and I half expected someone to sympathise about my ‘sunburn’.

Slutted out, I retired to spend the remainder of the afternoon with the Delightful LA Actress. We went over the pages I wrote up last night, suggesting the format for a possible drama about the SOE agent. And boy, was she amazed yesterday when I told her I had tracked the woman down.

As the conversation eventually sidled away from the work-related, faces eventually turned our way and, abashed, we dialled it down a little after DLAA described what women want from James Bond on the cinema screen.

Apparently, it’s very different from what men look for.

After watching her playful re-enactment, I so want to be sitting in the same row when she goes to see Casino Royale.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Where In The World?

A long meal, a couple of good bottles of wine shared with friends. Pretty much the ideal way to round off a long week. After the all the brouhaha getting down to Shepperton in the afternoon, the journey back, this time carving our way through Inner London was a doddle.

Getting home around midnight, the thing to do would have been retire to bed. But once again, the computer went on. The Delightful LA Actress had mentioned a book to me the first time we met. In fact, on that first occasion, after some industry talk, it was my mention of a book I was reading that got her fired up. The next day, during a respite in her schedule, we hit a bookstore, picking out titles for each other.

Over dinner the topic of the book resurfaced: the extraordinary life of a woman who had travelled the world and served in France for the SOE after the outbreak of the Second World War, and how it would make a good miniseries, given the wealth of material. Having not gotten around to reading the biography, I started searching background material on the internet. (I know, it’s supposed to be used for hot and hard girl-on-girl action, but sometimes the net comes in useful for other things!)

The DLAA had suggested the possibility that, given she had been born in the second decade of the 20th century, the war heroine had probably passed away. After sifting through all the background material, it appeared that the woman was still alive, had retired to London and was living about five miles from where we had been discussing her distinguished career. A phone call this morning confirmed that.

What are the chances of that?

Late In The Week

The sunshine didn’t come until much later. Instead the raggedy arse-end of Hurricane Norbet (or whatever the hell) decided to wear itself out over London and the outlying counties. Which felt like someone had scooped up the ocean and then dropped it from a great height.

Friday traffic in London is particularly bad as people race to get the hell out of the city the first chance they get. Friday is the day that people who have spent their working week using public transport get behind the wheel of a car and take their sweet time in remembering how to drive. Which means on Friday there’s no point trying to award the day’s Designated Arsehole Driver Award because just about everyone is trying their best to get nominated as the rain hammered down on us.

To get from North London to our meeting south and to the west of London, not far from Shepperton Studios, cutting through the outer boroughs of the city would prove problematic. With schools close to chucking out time, the streets would be chock full of 4x4s picking up their little darlings/spotty malcontents to add to the melee. Instead we went back out to the M25 orbital motorway to scoot around. Great idea!

We should have learnt our lesson by now. Earlier this year we shot a corporate job that required hiring extra lit from Shepperton, filming at the agency offices in Beaconsfield and then shooting exteriors outside Marlow. All this took place over the course of a week. And every day we got royally screwed trying to get around the M25. A plague of weeping sores would have been preferable. But once again, having blotted past experience from our minds, we trundled back out to the M25. There, wedged in on the slip road, we found it packed solid.

I hate being late. With deadlines or appointments, if I’m late, or even close to being late, on either it sends me nuts. Which was really not good for everyone in the immediate vicinity as I worked myself up to being seconds away from an aneurism. If anyone suggested a quick shot to calm me down, it would have to be with a Winchester Black Talon .357 Magnum 180-grain (Supreme Expansion Talon). Nothing less would have done the trick.

Setting out two hours before our appointment, we eventually pitched up almost an hour late. But were quickly forgiven. The Delightful LA Actress outlined her business plan and what was required for the website. We got a budget and a deadline and discussed all the options and possibilities available.

After that, dinner. Not long after we were seated, a Scandinavian model/actress friend of DLAA and her husband arrived at the nearby table. After they were introduced, the MA mentioned that various publishers had approached her for writing projects. But fear of the blank page has so far forced her to decline.

When DLAA started writing magazine articles this year and showed concern, I told her the best way to avoid “page fright” was to buy a Dictaphone, set it down on a table, and walk and talk. It’s a much more liberating experience that sitting down at the computer, watching the empty Word document taunt you to fill it with words. Obviously the transcription would need so work, but it got you over the first hurdle.

I mentioned this course of action to the MA. Soon I was bigged up for my ghostwriting earlier this year, and the daily word count I had to tear through, by Work Buddy and DLAA. Then MA’s husband pitched in with an idea for a book he had been harbouring. As they retired for the evening, we exchanged business cards.

Having got a new set of business cards within the last few weeks, the first card was handed out to a London solicitor we met after a recent meeting. The card I received after dinner topped that, easily: Superior Court Los Angeles County, Judge.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Something New For The Weekend

The Delightful LA Actress returns to the UK tomorrow. She emailed yesterday to say she loved the ideas we sent her and wants Work Buddy and myself to create the website for a completely new company she is setting up as well. Which is good.

This is one of the things we’ve been trying to get into the heads of some of the drinking circle. Rather than roll around drunk, becoming completely incomprehensible, get out and meet people. It doesn’t mean cynically exploit everyone that crosses your path. Unless, of course, you've been elected to Parliament. But, show an interest, be positive, and who knows where it leads.

In the meantime, the treatment for Project Five is growing in both detail and dialogue. Losing yesterday because I was out and about, it should still all be done before we head off for our dinner meeting on Friday evening. Of course, I say that now...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Character Building

Writing the profiles for the three main characters of Project Five on The List, to precede the treatment. Physical description doesn’t matter. What interests me with character is working out where they stand on the fuckup-o-meter.

Failures and frailties are obviously a darn sight more interesting that achievement. Success doesn’t mean a damn unless there are personal odds to overcome. The conflicts they face internally are just as important as the physical manifestations they have to stand up to.

Knowing where the characters are likely to stumble, what support they are going to need from each other to keep standing tall, leads me into the treatment. Based on the few lines that encapsulate the story, the piece is practically writing itself. Which is good.

As the story spills out onto the page, I can already see the looks on their faces, every gesture they make, and hear the words coming from their mouths. (A second document is open on the screen to let me quickly type up dialogue before it disappears).

As it stands, Project Five still lacks a title. Because the story begins in Northern Italy, inspiration struck. The Inspiration Pixie farted in my general direction and I snatched Two Gentlemen and Veronica out of the vapours.

It’s amazing how quickly a self-inflicted crack on the back of the head with a baseball bat lets you see the error of your ways.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Next Step

With the dozen log lines for the projects on The List written up, time to move on. Reconsidering the descriptions of projects already developed, allowed us to look at them in a new light. Over the weekend, final tweaks were made to get them in focus.

Now comes the hard part. Picking which projects to work on first. One that’s near to completion seems the logical choice. But it appears too easy. Even then, certain elements still need addressing and it’s better to give it a quick spruce up further down the line after having given it some thought.

One that has very little material already collated will take too much time to put together. It’s better to have the titles pinned up with notes made along the way, gradually building to towards them.

Which means taking a stab at something between the extremes. Which means the project that I worked on late Thursday night. Especially since making notes yesterday elicited a further two pages.

So that’s the one. Character backgrounds still need working on, but the essence of who they are is already there. The backbone of the story is in place. The few questions I had, that previously hadn’t been addressed, have been sorted out over the weekend.

So, that’s number five on The List. In a day or so, pulling together all the information into a cohesive whole, the outline will be done.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

State of Recovery

After alluding to an almost bereft social life, I immediately went on a date. Typical. It also means that after a night out, bouncing from bar to pub to restaurant, today I’m suffering.

Not from the alcohol, or the rich sauces on the food. Nor from missing the mainline train home, which left me squeezed into a crowded tube train that pitched me up miles from home and, with no buses or taxis in sight, having to walk back.

Having had the cold night air freshening me up, instead of retiring to bed once I got back to the flat, on when the computer and, reviewing the existing notes splayed out around me, I worked for a couple of hours.

Which has contributed to the delicate state I found myself in today. With my brain still fuzzy around the edges, there was only one thing to do. Popping in to see Virgin Girl before she got off work, I treated myself to State of Play on DVD.

With the bright sunlight drilling in to my head, and staring at the monitors not an option, I put my feet up and watched all six parts of Paul Abbott’s award-winning political thriller.

Purely for ‘research’ purposes, of course.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Tools In The Trade

Last night I made the mistake of taking a notebook to bed with me. Which gives some indication of my heady social life.

After writing a couple of lines of copy for each of the projects on The List, one piqued my interest and I wanted to sort out the relationship between three of the four main characters. It started out as notes, but ended up as what would become the dialogue for the opening scene between two characters, written as a solid block of text on a ruled scratch pad.

Typed up this morning, still with most of the description missing, it ran to almost three pages. All done without Final Draft, or the other softwares of that ilk. Using Word for Mac, the formatting for character names, dialogue and every other pagination, can just as easily be set in the Styles Palette.

While predictive smart type functions may float some people’s boats, having learnt to type on a manual typewriter, long before it ever needed to be plugged in, I still find it quicker to write out a word than work out which keyboard shortcut will give me that word. Rather than have a laptop, for when I’m out and about, 6x4 ruled record cards and a pen do the job just as effectively, and more quickly. Sure, handwritten notes then have to be typed up. But the time allows a brief rethink that can enhance the material.

Not long out of the Esteemed School of Art, while working on the big animated extravaganza, I met up with a guy from my year who had got in at one of the fledgling facilities houses that were sprouting up in Soho. After congratulating each other for successfully scaling the sides of the playpen and escaping into a decent job, he ultimately bemoaned the lack of imagination in some of the projects he was working on. In fact, some had no imagination at all.

On an almost regular basis, the designers from one of the London Independent Television companies would pitch up with a bucket of money, explain the nature of the programme, and ask for a title sequence. Mainly it would be for some wretched little Light Entertainment show, and invariably the facilities house would put together smiley faces of the presenters bouncing around the screen, trailing stars and other graphics in their wake, before the show’s title mercifully put a stop to all the nonsense.

Why? The facilities house had installed Quantel’s Paintbox. Who needs to have a lucid idea when technology can vomit up something lovely and shiney at the touch of a button?

Amongst the various people Work Buddy and I have consorted with over the last year or so, there have been a couple of potential Norma Desmonds-in-waiting, here in England, looking to expand, creatively at least. Before even writing a word, both proudly announced they had installed Final Draft on their computers. Yet the work we saw from one was execrable, the other still talks the talk.

It’s just like people who think signing up for a gym membership will shed the pounds. Or folk who buy the top-of-the-range rod, nets, waders, and every other accoutrement, and then go down to a pond to fish for guppies.

Sculptors managed to get by with a hammer and chisel, artists seem happy using brushes to daub paint onto canvas. With such basic tools, the results are still utterly startling. The softwares may be beneficial for the final stage of the process, but it’s a long road to get there.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's All Over!

Earlier this afternoon I was sent this

So that’s it!

Move along now, there’s nothing else to see. Follow the instructions and go about your business!

Making The List

With the corporate filming, editing and authoring, it’s easy to leave the projects we’re developing to stubble about, dazed and confused by the wayside, until we remember where they are and grab hold of them again.

On Monday, after we had finished sourcing information for the Delightful LA Actress, and made preliminary notes on a possible future business deal, I went through the folders transferred onto the external hard drive to see what was there.

Now that Work Buddy and I have got our feet in the door with Grand Lad, we’re going to keep them wedged there until they go black and the toes drop off. The danger of course is selecting a project on a whim and not reaching a point where any of them are in a fit state to pitch. In turn, we examined every document, to see if there was enough information for it to warrant a place on the Projects in Development list.

Typically, it turned out that some projects I thought had had a lot of time invested in them, amounted to little more than two paragraphs sketching out the bare bones of the story. While others, that I hadn’t paid much attention to of late, had reasonably detailed ten to fifteen page story breakdowns. Two-and-a-half are already scripted, but could benefit from another pass. (Especially the unfinished one).

Complicating matters further, I mentioned a few hitherto ignored ideas from way back that sparked an interest with Work Buddy. He came back with previously mentioned ideas I had simply forgotten about that piqued my interest.

To begin with we chose the dozen that had the most potential. Too many and we’d never get anything finished. Too few they may not be what the execs were looking for right now. The dozen also have a broad range; from TV comedy and drama series, short films, radio serials, character-driven films, horror and one unapologetic fuck-right-off, big-budget spectacular.

Before the next corporate project comes knocking, we have to get them ready for pitching. Discussing the projects in person is great in the initial ideas stage, but thereafter there are times when we talk about the work but not all of it gets put down on paper. Working independently, and then emailing back and forth, means that at the very least everything is typed up.

The deadline every week is Friday. Time of day hasn’t been set yet, but each of us has to produce material on one, some, or all of the dozen projects on the list. Tomorrow, the first deadline, requires the log line for each project, accompanied by a brief paragraph explaining it in slightly more detail.

Obviously some already have them. But by starting back at the beginning, it means that we can confirm that, in terms of the overall idea, both of us are starting out on the same page, especially when an older project has been recently improved upon.

Keeping to this timetable means that, in weekly instalments, we gradually build up a kick-ass document to see us through each pitch.

Back in the 1990s, I was invited to pitch to the Head of Development of a major studios’ Feature Animation Department. Armed with a dozen ideas, I pitched up at the offices in Glendale, and did my shtick.

Nothing came of it, but the whole process was educational. And I was pleased that after we had run through the existing ideas, which either wasn’t their thing, or thematically sailed too close to an earlier film that had tanked, when he said “what else?” for the sixth time, I came up with something on the spot. (Which I turned into one of the scripts already completed).

That was just me, back then. Add to the mix, Work Buddy, who is well versed in pitching for the corporate work, and could expertly charm the knickers off a nun.

In fact, come the time, I may just stand on the sidelines and wave pom-poms. But I’m not shaving my legs and wearing the shorty skirt.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Get Another Life

The Breakfast News portion of BBC News 24 ran an item on Second Life this morning. Luckily I hadn’t taken a mouthful of coffee at the time otherwise it would have flowed over my bottom lip, poured down my chin and immediately pooled on the floor. You’ve got to be kidding me, right?

I’m only just recovering from being introduced to MySpace and now I have Second Life thrown in my face. I’m not sure my little brain can cope. I suppose, like MySpace, it allows people who live in isolated communities to reach out and feel like they belong; that they’re not alone out there.

But, also like MySpace, it gives people the chance to be who they want to be. Life can be tough. Life can be shitty. Life can be unfair. Life may have not turned out like you wanted it to. But deal with it; don’t escape from it.

The big thing about the Second Life online community is creating your own avatar. As demonstrated by the avatar of the news presenter reporting the item, you can be thinner, fatter, change you hair colour or your whole appearance.

Which meant that in the brief guided tour of various environs during the report, nobody seemed afflicted by poor diet and lack of exercise. Most of the avatars looked like refugees from a fetish-lite club. Even the avatar of computer developer, who guided the reporter through this virtual world, was certainly an idealised version of his actual self.

After the filmed report was over, and they cut back to the studio to comment on the report, even before he was properly introduced, it was obvious that the overweight, bespectacled chap on the sofa was our man in the flesh.

While it would be quite easy to write it off as just another form of fantasy role-playing, without any dungeons, or even dragons for that matter, commerce has sniffed out Second Life and started to make inroads. The world has it’s own economy and currency. According to a box on the home page, in the last 24 hours, over $327,000 was spent in transactions. So it's certainly working for some people.

While exposure on MySpace brought Arctic Monkeys to the attention of the public, the news item reported that Duran Duran are going to premiere their new album with a concert in the virtual world. With resident-created Second Life videos on the website’s media page, how long before film studios premiere new releases in this world. If people don’t want the hassle of going to actual cinemas to watch a new movie, instead preferring to wait until it is made available on DVD, will they pay to watch it in a virtual movie theater?

So far Second Life sounds like a perfect world. Unless of course you like to feel sunlight on your skin or the wind blowing through your hair. Unless you like to meet real people face to face.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Idiots. Proof

Carrying on from the fun and frolics at the Esteemed School of Art, here’s a good for instance to show the kind of teaching methods the Laurel Loungers employed.

In the first term of the first year, one of the briefs given to the students was to design a cereal packet. Using only three colours. (While I may be misremembering the actual objective and the set parameters, for the sake of argument it’s near enough, so let’s stick with it).

As a project, it seemed fair enough. Everyone gets to work. Project over, it comes time for the crit, where everyone is brought together and the work is evaluated. Oh, frabjous joy!

I would probably be stating the obvious to say that it got quite colourful when it was my turn. I wound one of the tutors up so much, toward the end of the first year, when prospective students were arriving for their interviews, that he screamed at me to go downstairs and explain to the applicants how I got onto the degree course and they won’t.

In this instance, we went around the room and eventually got to the first of a couple of students who had, it turned out, ignored the specific parameters and used just about every frickin’ colour imaginable. There might have even been glitter involved.

The only way to have had less colour would have been to wrap the packet in an outrageous Hawaiian shirt, eat a scarlet macaw, feathers and all, and then projectile vomit that onto the box as an encore.

And the tutors’ response? They absolutely loved it! They applauded her for her originality by thinking outside the brief. Which is probably not something to put into the enquiring minds of these young lambs.

I sat there thinking; pull this stunt out in the real world, where budgets dictate strict parameters, and your boss and the clients won’t be best pleased. Still, that was a lesson for them to learn later. Right now, everyone had an open invitation to frolic like lambs in clover. Enjoy the sunshine before the slaughterhouse beckons.

Sunday's Sunshine

The Delightful LA Actress was over in England this weekend on business and she brought the sunshine with her.

Work Buddy and I travelled to see her yesterday. Even after getting tangled up in a one-way system more demented than the surrounding architectural monstrosities, we finally find our way there.

The timing was just right. We walk in to find an agent we’ve met professionally and socially at the bottom of the staircase. As we catch up, I glance up the stairs and there is the Delightful LA Actress making her way down toward us.

I looked up and smiled. She looked in my direction. No reaction. I kept smiling as she got closer. Still no reaction.

It had been a while since we last met, but since then there has been a semi-regular email exchange. The last one was only five days ago.

“Hey, honeybun!” I say (or something similar), being very businesslike. “How are you?”

Which does the trick. Her face lights up. She apologises for not recognising me. The weight loss had thrown her. I get a long compensatory hug.

I should point out that I have staggering lapses when it comes to putting names to faces and faces to names. The whole Friends Reunited phenomenon seemed like a great idea until I realised most of the names, listed under the good number of schools I went to, rang absolutely no bells whatsoever.

Luckily, after a brief engagement, the Delightful LA Actress discovers she has a two-hour gap in her schedule that allows us time to find a table in the lounge bar, sit down and order coffee.

Simply categorising her as an Actress is disingenuous. It’s one of many strings to her bow, although perhaps the one she is best known for to the wider public. And she’s aces.

She hit a rocky patch earlier this year with one of her businesses. When I found out what had happened, discovering that it was similar to something that had befallen me some years back, I was apoplectic. Work Buddy and I offered our services to help her get back in a commanding position by creating a strong web presence.

We discussed that and other opportunities peeking above the distant horizon, and everything else in between. In the business almost all her working life, the Delightful LA Actress is anything but one of these wretched Norma Desmond-in-waiting types that I have had the misfortune to meet, work for, or work with. Far removed from the horrible narcissists of frankly limited ability who have bought into this world-revolves-around- me routine, instead she’s witty, fiercely intelligent, and sharp as a tack.

When I write the female characters for the projects we’re starting to put together, I usually have her in mind. If there were more like her around, our work would be a breeze.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Meet. Not So Great

So, I had the Deranged Maniac accost me one afternoon in Soho, wailing about how he had reached out for the Great Graphic Design Dream and been sent tumbling back to earth. It hadn’t quite worked out for him and, gee, that was tough.

In another instance of a chance meet, perhaps I was the bozo. Although in my defence, I have to say that the consumption of alcohol played a factor.

The Producer of the animation studio liked to be liked. It’s nice to be liked, I won’t argue with that, but it doesn’t bother me that much in the workplace. Foolishly, I think it’s all about getting the job done, on time, within budget and to the very best of your abilities. Follow those simple rules and in my experience more work tends to come along.

(There are obviously other ways of getting ahead, but they tend to involve putting someone’s penis in your mouth. So I stick to what I know. And like).

Treating the animators as artists to be cooed over and coddled, The Producer came out and suggested that there were times where I would have to be the Bad Cop to her Good Cop. Which was all right for her. Actually, it was pretty good for me.

Obviously I didn’t enforce draconian rule in such a way that I would more than likely have ended up hanging from a lamppost if we had gone on any longer, but I didn’t take any excuses. But boy, did the ass-clown pencil-monkeys get in a snit. Which created some tension. And some times, quite a lot of tension. Especially on the last big project before the studio folded.

Once that happened I had some time off. A relationship had just ended, so things actually weren’t terribly great for a while. Still, I gradually picked myself up, dusted myself down, and started writing about television for a website. Which involved getting invited to programme launches and the like. So it gave me something to do and got me out of the flat, which was starting to fill with preview tapes.

One of Channel 4’s new season launches was in a large townhouse just north of Soho, in Cavendish Square. The presentation kicked off midday with a typical speech from the head of programming. While clips ran on the big screens the waitresses started to circulate. Typically there was more drink than food available for the hacks. Which meant the champagne kept coming while the nibbles lagged behind in a distant second place.

Hot food at lunchtime makes me sleepy. Alcohol does the same trick. Especially on a hot day. But when it comes to free fizz, what can you do? Ah, what the hell.

As the presentation wound down, I wended my way back home. By this time I was pretty loaded. I never get to the fall down drunk stage, but I was at the stage that made things just a little fuzzy around the edges. Fuzzy enough for me to cut into Soho. Chiz.

Ambling along one of the side streets I see a familiar face through the glass of a sandwich shop. There, sitting and staring blankly out of the window as he chewed on what was possibly a tuna roll (or something equally as bland) was one of the little pencil monkey’s from the studio that was.

As I came level with his face I waved (or at least jerked my hand around in some flailing motion) and saw a brief flicker of recognition, though no welcoming smile. Ordinarily I would have happily continued on my way. But fuzzy logic was at work. And I went inside. What a dick!

A year or two after finishing his animation course, the little pencil monkey still looked like he should have been wearing his school blazer and tie. There was no real personality to him either as I remembered, although it wasn’t like his mother had been frightened by a donkey.

Although his work as an in-betweener/clean up artist was competent if he tried hard, he compensated by laughing at the right jokes told by the right people, hanging on their every word of every anecdote, and without making it too obvious, puckered up and smooched the requisite amount of arse. At the studio that was, the big butt in question belonged to one of the animation directors, so he was shielded.

There in the sandwich shop I found out that he was working at the studio the Producer’s old assistant was in charge of. And after an awkward silence I mentioned that I was writing now and had just been at a new season launch party. To prove it I breathed alcohol on him. Although since I had removed the name badge, I could have been a liar with a drink problem.

During the next awkward silence his girlfriend, who worked in some aspect of the music industry that allowed her to get free CDs for the animation director, returned from the counter with her lunch, waiting for me to vacate the space I was standing in so she could sit down beside him and eat.

I stared at her. She glared at me. I breathed alcohol fumes on her. What a schmuck!

All I had in common with the kids on my degree course was we spent three years together at The Esteemed School of Art. Apparently, all I had in common with the pencil monkeys at the animation studio was I didn’t want to see them and they didn’t want to see me.

Moving on...

Lies The Liars Tell

Before I forget, here’s one of the Soho meet-and-not-so-great-greets I was talking about before.

In the mid 1980s I went to art school. It wasn’t what I really wanted to do. What I wanted to do, I didn’t have the confidence/guts to do. And it was about the time my parents left home, so it was complicated.

Art school was the final viable option. A friend in the year below once said, “In the 1980s, if you didn’t know what to do with your life, you trained to be a graphic designer.” Which is what I did.

Midway through the arts foundation year, groups of us started checking out various degree courses. I figured London was the place to go. Out of the London art schools we out-of-towners checked out, I chose An Esteemed School of Art, applied and got in. Which was a shock to me. And would soon be an even bigger shock to the tutors who accepted me.

I did the three years. If I remember rightly, it was suggested within the first couple of months that I might like to transfer to a different course. After that they tried a more concerted effort. But I hung in there.

Within a week on the course, I’d figured out their bullshit. The Esteemed School of Art obviously had a good reputation but the tutors were all to comfortably resting on their laurels. I turned up ever day, hunkered down, mainly ignored the set projects and wrote.

Skip forward a couple years after graduation. By then I’d been suckered into animation, got out for the first time, and had spent a summer travelling. Back in London, walking from A to B, I cut through Soho. No sooner am I within the boundary then I see, across the street, this guy who I think might have been in the year below me at the Esteemed School of Art.

There were a shit load of kids taken in each year, and I really wasn’t interested in any of them unless they had long legs and great tits. Though I recognised him from somewhere, it didn’t stop me from carrying on my way. Except... he saw me. His eyes suddenly lit up and he started coming at me like a guided missile.

Pretty soon tourists were staring wide-eyed as they hurried past, watching some poor sap (me) suddenly accosted by this Deranged Maniac (him). Flattened against the wall of a theatre, I was subjected to this near incoherent rambling that spewed out of him about how his life sucked because the tutors had lied to him!

Apparently, as students of The Esteemed School of Art, we were supposed to be the Chosen Ones. Really? I suppose our year was given the same pep talk but I had tuned out.

As students of The Esteemed School of Art we would sail into high-paying and all-powerful jobs upon graduation. We would stand proud with the world at our feet! We were the Chosen Ones, after all. Of course.

Some students had sailed in to top jobs and, perhaps albeit briefly, produced spectacular work. But they were good when they first came through the door at ESA. What the Deranged Maniac hadn’t noticed was how the tutors immediately hitched their wagons to the cream of the crop’s stars, so they could look back and say, “Ah, one of mine, of course.”

The more mediocre students were left to struggle along on their own for three years. Whether they sank or swam was their responsibility. Obviously not one of the star students, the Deranged Maniac had bought into their speech of conquest and glory. And three years down the line reality had reeled back and punched him square on the nose.

From what I could make out he was scraping by doing menial studio work. They might not have been in the right order, but I’m pretty sure those three words surfaced amongst the spit and bile. Around which time I peeled myself off the wall and more or less made a run for it calling out “I sympathise with you. Really. Take care. Don’t be a stranger!”

Nice little sidebar headline in The Times today:

The organisers of Madrid Fashion Week have said they will banish skinny women from the catwalk - and will send those who are too thin for medical treatment.

About. Fecking. Time. Take those skeletons wrapped in skin and get a pie inside them.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Tuesday night, out with Work Buddy and Grand Lad, reminded me how little time I spend in Soho* now. Which is really no great loss.

Back in the day, working for the animation studio, post-production would regularly be done at one of the larger – more expensive facilities houses there – even though as our software was upgraded, with a little more time on the schedule, and at far less expense, it could have practically all be done in-house.

When I suggested this to the producer, her response was that the commercials’ agency team/clients liked to go to the edit suite. Right.

I assumed these were the same agency team/clients who would usually turn up late on the last day, concentrate more on the menus provided for something to eat, and then um and ah over how large the pack shot should be. As far as I could see, their appearance simply reinforced what useless bastards they were.

What the producer really meant was that she liked to go to the facilities house, sit in on the edit and entertain the people that would drop by. Bless her.

Sure, it was fun the first day, but the excitement pretty soon wore thin. Most of the time I’d sit there going through the list of scene elements as the editor comped them together and fannied around with tone and highlight percentages. (These were scenes that had been composited at the studio and then stripped down to their separate elements for output).

Usually the edits were where the commercials directors made the choices they couldn’t be arsed to make during the actual productions. It’s then that you discover perhaps the six most expense words in the English language: “We’ll sort it out in post.”

Out of animation, pals have their book launches in Soho – I think there’s another one coming up in October, sometime – and there have been preview screenings to attend in poorly air-conditioned screening rooms. But nowadays it’s simply a cut through, to get from one part of London to another without having to get bogged down on the tourist-stuffed thoroughfares.

Even then I find myself watching which way I go, looking out for people either I was at college with or worked at animation studios, or design companies, or documentary companies with. Not because I’m some miserable git who hates everyone, but because as work colleagues the only thing we really had in common was the work. And the few encounters I have had in the past... haven’t been so great.

* For those who don’t know, Soho is an area in Central London bounded by Oxford Street to the north, Shaftesbury Avenue to the south, Regent Street to the west, and Charing Cross Road to the east. Film companies set up shop in Wardour Street, then in the 1960s the sex trade found a home there.

The area is a mix of production companies, facilities houses, publishers, sex shops, theatres, pubs, private members clubs and nightclubs.

Whereas SoHo is New York is a contraction of South of Houston Street, in London the area was once a Royal Park in the Middle Ages and the name apparently originated from the hunting cry “So-Ho!”

So, you learn something every day. And it’s a good job the cry wasn’t “Spear that cunting deer!” Although...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Setting The Record Straight

It’s not that I hate the new Doctor Who. It just doesn’t do it for me, that’s all.

Breathing new life into what was held up as a Great British institution obviously put pressure was on the production team. Earlier this year, working with one of the actors from the show, he mentioned that the filming of the first few episodes had been certainly fraught. So much so that the director and editor were denied invites to that first series’ wrap party.

Of course, after so much hullabaloo, if the first episode had tanked it would have been a boom time for the nation’s florists. More flowers would have been laid outside BBC Television Centre than the Dead Blonde ever got, and the country would probably still be in mourning.

The reason I bring this up, again, is that the Grand Lad brought the subject up once we were out of the office and ensconced at the bar, and then yesterday Our Pal called earlier to gloat that the series had won a bunch at a recent award ceremony. (Although instead of being voted for by its peers, this one was a public vote where ‘best’ usually means ‘favourite’. But that’s neither here nor there).

There were issues I had with that first broadcast which coloured my enjoyment. First off, I left this show behind long ago; years before it finished it’s original run. I loved it when I was a youngster. Adventures in space and bug-eyed monsters! What’s not to like?

Doctor Who, along with the Gerry & Sylvia Anderson puppet shows, was my first introduction to science fiction. This was long before Star Trek appeared on UK screens. But by the late 1970s I moved on and left it behind. It was as simple as that. There were things happening in my life: other programmes and other priorities.

So I wasn’t frothing at the mouth, wetting myself or having any other kind of zesty emission at the thought of it coming back to the screen. I simply associated it as a programme I watched as a child, not an adult.

When I watched the first show of the new series there simply wasn’t a connection. There were some nice lines of dialogue, and the casting was certainly interesting, but it just didn’t come together. For me.

Obviously made for a family audience, it felt like there were, if not compromises, ingredients missing.

Rather than give up, I’d watch the show when I got the chance. I wasn’t sitting down religiously in front of the television waiting for it to start. But if I was in, and it was on, I’d give it a look, each time hoping it would come together.

While the episodes I saw had their moments, there were enough instances that made me want to yank the plug out of the wall or just throw the television out of the window. Because Doctor Who is a family show, it felt like there were instances of adult drama mixed with utter childishness. Maybe the scripts needed another pass. The two halves didn’t gel.

Of course, having recently watched a few repeats on the BBC’s digital channels, some of the episodes don’t seem as bad as they appeared the first time around. Although, that may be because they haven’t got the pantomime theatrics and childish gurning that infused the second series. At least that’s my opinion.

Hopefully now they’ll read this and that’ll the end of it. Just maybe, when we get together for drinks in the future, the bloody subject won’t come up again. After all, there are more important issues we have to deal with.

For a start... How good a James Bond will Daniel Craig be?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kick Bollock Scramble

One thing Our Pal once said to us, which was of great help, was a tip the writers of The Sweeney has passed on to him when he was writing his book about the show.

Their edict for beginning each episode of the 1970s rough and tumble cop show was “Kick, Bollock, Scramble.” Grab the audience by the scruff of the neck and get right into the action from the get go.

Last night, conversation turned to the best openings in films that hook the audience. For me there’s no better start than David Niven piloting a burning Lancaster bomber.

The interesting thing was, like most of the nominations mentioned, that wasn’t the film’s actual opening scene.

Like most of the other examples brought up, it wasn’t actually the proper opening scene. As I was reminded, Powell & Pressburger’s majestic A Matter of Life and Death actually begins with a no-less extraordinary trip across space, accompanied by a quirky narration: “This is the universe. Big, isn't it.” It’s only when we reach Earth and the narrator points out the glowing light of a 1,000 bomber raid on Germany, and the fog rolling in over the English Channel, that we cut to the interior of the bomber and Squadron Leader Peter Carter’s dilemma.

Although not mentioned last night, the same happens when people talk about Saving Private Ryan and the harrowing beach landing. The sequence is so exhilarating that they forget the somewhat syrupy opening sequence in the Normandy cemetery before it all kicks off. Then again, it’s easy to forget a blubbery old man kneeling at a grave when it segues into a 20-odd minute descent into hell.

Eventually, I came back with the simplicity of “I believe in America”. Although, truth be told, that only came about because I had been re-reading Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween, which, paying homage to The Godfather, opens with Bruce Wayne standing in the dark, stating “I believe in Gotham City,” which is adapted by each character and threads throughout the 13-part story.

Obviously we could be accused of splitting hairs and being complete and utter pedants, but it does raise a useful point. If you can’t sock them between the eyes with a great opening scene, come up with an outstanding second scene that will knock their head clean off.

Meet and... Great

Yesterday we had the meeting with Our Friend In The Know (from now on to be known as our Grand Lad). As we were beginning to suspect, the information Our Pal had tipped us off about, a couple of weeks back, had been fuzzied by his misinterpretation of the deal making process.

Still. We had a long talk about the various properties they were dealing with and the kind of material the company is looking for, so we can hopefully come back and knock on the door in the coming weeks. The outline can have a couple of tweaks applied to it to give it a whole new makeover if required. If we’re lucky, Work Buddy and I can do some business here.

Perhaps the best part of the meeting was actually getting to talk to our Grand Lad away from the usual circle of friends. Usually meeting up in a London pub, any talk of work would regularly get interrupted by the lads getting increasingly loud and obstreperous. Any time they talked the talk it was usually booze fuelled after which they would do fuck all about it. So this time, without distractions, we could cover all the bases.

And after that, with the workday done, we went to a bar. We deserved it. Work Buddy and I had arrived in the centre of London early for the meeting. Looking for somewhere to sit and relax, we discovered that since it was September and some kiddies were already back in class, it meant that air-conditioners had been switched off most places we went. In some it felt like the heating was already on. That would have been good if it was a cold, wintery day. Instead it was still blazing hot. So a drink in Soho was good. At a bar, rather than a pub.

One or two drinks, I thought, then home in time to watch Lost. It was a school night after all. But then it was a good opportunity to catch up with Grand Lad socially, even if I am a lightweight when it comes to drinking. By the time we had been joined by a lawyer friend of Grand Lad, Work Buddy informally pitched him a few of ideas to favourable reaction.

Rarely spending an evening out in the city, I had forgotten the joys of late night public transport. Over-ground trains are suddenly few and far between, the underground trains can very rarely make up their mind where their destination is on the line, and buses are as unpredictable as they are during the day. Although this time, luckily, the combinations and permutations worked out.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Comedy = Tragedy + Time...

...although I'm thinking it means more than a few hours.

But what the heck.

At least it gives a pretty good indication of the kind of things friends have a burning desire to email me.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Clean Cut

There’s work to do, but I figured I deserved a day off. Sitting back from the computer, and having a look at the mess of papers and reference books littering the desk and the surrounding surfaces, there was only one thing for it: a massive tidy-up.

Granted, there’s the thrill in wondering whether the pile of papers, files, and magazines will teeter over and crash down onto the floor when I yank out reference pages from near the bottom. But there are times when it’s nice to see what colour wood the desk is. So that gets cleared up first.

Then there are the shelves with half-filled notebooks of ideas, printed-up emails, script pages and newspaper articles. What doesn’t get dumped has to be wedged into any of the drawers of the filing cabinets – and at some point they have to be sorted out too.

Books can go back on the shelves. Then there are the stacks of magazines. Mainly film magazines. What puzzles me is, not that they have been left lying around, but that they are here to begin with. I hardly ever go to the cinema anymore. So far this year I’ve seen Inside Man and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. That’s it. And I had to think long and hard to remember that I had seen Inside Man.

I’m always tempted by the trailers of the big summer movies. Superman Returns – Oh, yes! Miami Vice – I’ll be there for that! But when the time comes, either I’m too busy, too tired, or can’t face being in a room filled with a mob who left some of their social skills at the door.

While certainly not some kind of crazy shut-in, I guess I’ve reached the age where I prefer waiting for the DVD. Even when it comes to new films by favourite directors. The last Ridley Scott movie I went out to see was Gladiator. Everything since: DVD. The last Michael Mann film was The Insider. I cried off scuba diving practise, during a holiday in Key West, to see it the afternoon it opened. I even like The Keep for Chrissakes! But Ali and Collateral... DVD.

Which means, of course, that the global decline in cinema admission is really my fault.

But it still doesn’t explain what these fecking magazines are doing here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Walk the Walk, Listen to the Talk

A final run through the interview section before starting the Samurai Sudoku, just to make sure everything was done and dusted. It had emailed Work Buddy ahead of time mentioning that it would come in at 20-odd minutes. Final running time was just shy of 22 minutes.

One of the interviewees disappeared about two-thirds of the way through, but there was nothing that could be done about it. I looked through the unused footage to see if there was anything else that could be lifted out, but either the answers were inappropriate or he was giving the occasionally one-word answer, or nod of agreement, while the Lead Participant talked off camera. So there you go.

I was taught interview technique the first year at art school in the complementary media studies lectures. The tutor was a freelance producer for BBC television and radio. Since then I’ve either grinned so hard it felt like my face would split apart or nodded along at such a rate I was surprised my head didn’t fall off. What really makes me perfect for interviewing is that I hate the sound of my own voice.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The End of the Whine

Time to shut up about the Lead Participant and just get the damn job done.

Ordinarily, when a client calls for changes beyond what has already been agreed upon, Work Buddy grins and says “I feel another invoice coming on!”

But this project is a loss-leader, that will hopefully help the business branch out. While it makes a change from the usual corporate filming, we have this horrible suspicion that Lead Participant thinks that we are here to service her every whim. Which isn’t the case. Not by a long chalk.

So, we get this project wrapped up and move on. If something similar comes up in the future, we have a long hard think about it before committing. And we make sure we are working with someone who actually knows what the fuck they are doing.