Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ooooooooh. Scary!

All Hallow’s Eve. All these years and I can’t remember if I’ve ever been hassled by the little trick-or-treaters. Which means the fresh bucket of pig’s blood waiting beside the door has obviously gone to waste each and every time.

BBC1 shamelessly schedules John Carpenter’s Halloween late at night. Which is certainly not as horrifying as the night they followed a long, sometimes harrowing documentary on life in Berlin, post-World War II, with Where Eagles Dare.

Few horror films do it for me, unless they cross genres like Alien and The Keep. Slashers are definitely out. Especially when they do little more than catalogue ‘inventive’ deaths. Most of the victims are typically so dumb that I can’t wait for them to get what’s coming to them.

In fact I’m invariably cheering on the boogeyman and willing him to pick up his pace as he goes around dispatching the lot of them. Unless of course the killer turns out to be some doughnut, all bent out of shape because mommy didn’t love him or his peers gave him a shitty time in his youth. Then I just want the whole lot of them to get it.

There’s only two instances that I can think of off the top of my head that give me the screaming abdabs. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one. Especially the sense of unease that pervades the film before Nicholson’s Jack Torrance goes completely off his trolley.

The second, which is perhaps one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen on television, comes from the second season of Twin Peaks when Bob appears in the Palmer’s living room, climbs over the sofa and advances right into camera. Because the set had a reversed forced perspective, by the time he arrives in the foreground, Bob just appears fucking huge and looks like he is going to climb right out of the television.

That’s what creeped me out. What did it for you?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Happy Hours

A party weekend celebrating Work Buddy’s 40th birthday. So I’m recovering from too much drink and too little sleep. Only one of which I’m used to.

After the preparation and then the party we’re in recovery mode. And damn the clocks going back one hour as British Summer Time comes to a close!

In the run-up extra pegs were required after the wind tried its damnedest to turn the marquee into a kite, and alternative arrangements had to be made when the meat supplier failed to provide the necessary croc, springbok and roo. But once everything got going it turned into a great night. And nobody toppled over onto the fire pit. Which was a bonus.

Hell, I wasn’t even put out by somebody asking me whether Torchwood was any good. Especially since the query came from H. Everyone should have a friend like H. He’s one of those people who doesn’t seem to have any axes to grind and instead simply gets on and enjoys life.

So when he asked what Torchwood was like, I knew it wasn’t because he wanted to see a rant from the performing monkey. Instead he had missed the opening episodes and, as a fan of the new Doctor Who (which I won’t hold against him), genuinely wanted to know if it was any good.

To cut to the chase and get on with the party, I cited one incident from the second episode to show how staggeringly appalling and utterly juvenile it was. Which even meant not bothering to mention that the plot ‘resonated’ with the second episode of Angel.

To set the scene, there may have been the odd aside about the Torchwood team investigating a meteor that had fallen to Earth. Especially since rather than ploughing into the ground it appeared to have settled gently onto a small mound of earth in what was an incredibly clean and tidy crash site. There were even small floating candles dotted about for mood, although they may have been a cheap way of showing burning debris.

Saying that meant explaining that Team Torchwood walk right up to the rather sizeable lump of rock and chip away at it without bothering with things like hazmat suits. And only after they accidentally crack through the surface, and a purple gas escapes, do they toss gas masks to each other.

Then came a quick mention of how the gas hurried off into town and found a host in the form of a Cardiff slapper who hurried into a nightclub, picked up a callow young youth, who would have had no chance ordinarily, and dragged him into the ladies room for a quick bunk up.

Of course I had to mention the fact that at the point of climax he explodes, even though that wasn’t the worst scene. Nor was the arrival of Torchwood, and the discovery that instead of being spattered all over the walls, ceiling, mirrors and porcelain, all that remains of the kid was an incredibly tidy pile of dust.

This was still all prologue. Because the obvious question they had to ask was, what proof was there that the kid had gone out with such a violent bang?

Luckily for Team Torchwood, the event was captured by a CCTV camera secreted in the ladies room. Unluckily for us, rather than have the club bouncer taking them back to the office and showing them the footage, we were treated to a flashback of the bouncer frantically cracking one off while he watched the couple get it on.

While this kind of thing may appeal to the Doctor Who fans yet to become intimate with female genitalia, we agreed the show couldn’t be more pathetic if it tried. Especially when compared to the scene in the first season episode of Battlestar Galactica where Six offers Baltar relief from testing blood samples only for his 'exercise' to be interrupted by Starbuck. A perfectly judged scene, deftly written and complimented by great acting and directing. Something Torchwood lacked on every count.

But since H hadn’t watched that show either (which I do hold against him), we refilled our glasses and joined the others to talk about something else.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

By The Book - The Sequel

An email from the Designated Author arrived this afternoon. Out of contact for a couple of months, it appears she is back over in LA and making mischief from the sound of it.

She updates me on the publication date of the novel, which was supposed to be, well, earlier this month come to think of it, but has now been pushed back to Spring 2007. A few hiccups had occurred on the legal side that could have got ugly but now everything is back on track.

About a week after the book was delivered, back in early March, the Designated Author had a meeting with the publisher on related business. Although it wasn’t immediately mentioned, staffers had dropped hints that he had been really pleased with the material. So much so that as the Designated Author was leaving he suggested a second book.

I knew because a text arrived almost immediately asking me if I wanted to write a second one. Because of the time limit first time out – which meant having to write close to 70,000 words in under three weeks – there were some elements that hadn’t been properly resolved. A follow up could fully address them. It seemed like a good idea. I had agreed on the condition of more time and more money. And a clear indication of when the deadline is. Which seemed fair enough.

Now that everyone is happy and it’s smiles all round, the new plan is to make it a trilogy. Two more books instead of one.

Well, if I have to, I suppose that would be all right.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bitter Glue

Late one night, some years back, after a meal in Soho, I cut through a surprisingly deserted Chinatown to get to the nearest tube stop. On the way I came across members of a police armed response unit in helmets, vests and automatic rifles raised, edging toward the mouth of an alley between two of the restaurants.

Although eager to get the last train home, since this wasn’t something I got to see every night, I stopped to watch the action unfold. Whereupon one of the rozzers, catching me out the corner of his eye, turned and yelled, “Hey, you, FUCK OFF!” Which I did.

To show that Torchwood has adult credentials, it starts with a crime scene and a copper saying “It’s a fucking disgrace.” Which, coincidentally, was exactly what I said some forty-odd minutes later.

Other drama writers bust their humps to get everything right, whereas Doctor Who, and now Torchwood, is just hack work of the highest order. Like the wince-inducing The Outsiders a couple of weeks back, Torchwood is just so utterly fucking juvenile. It’s a teenager’s ill thought out idea of what adult drama is. The end result is a shit soufflé that instantly collapses under the weight of its own pretensions.

So, rather than beating around the bush, what did I really think? If you’re wondering why Bitter Glue, well Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who and Bitter Glue is an anagram too. Whoever guesses right wins a cookie.

Foaming at the mouth over, what’s the problem with it?

Maybe I find the shameful self-promotion annoying, with Writer/Producer Russell T. Davies popping up everywhere in print to bang on about how brilliant he is. In The Times’ cultural guide The Knowledge, he wrote:

...I’m not a hack, I’m not a new boy, I’m a very, very experienced and successful TV writer and there’s no way I could have got there without understanding character.

I’m not against self-promotion. But I don’t remember the likes of Dennis Potter, the Kennedy Martins, Paul Abbott, Anthony Horowitz, David Milch, David Simon, Aaron Sorkin, David Simon, Ron Moore ever banging on about how bloody brilliant and talented they were in interviews. The only one I can think of who does is Joss Whedon, but that’s because he’s taking the piss of himself. Davies’ talk sounds like Sean Bean’s character, Spence, in John Frankenheimer’s Ronin: all mouth and no actual talent for the job.

Davies can certainly write very good character-driven drama, but plots seem to escape him. In the same article, discussing his approach to Doctor Who, he writes:

I always wanted there to be some ordinariness in there; some mundanity with the extraordinary. These days there are 500 shows, good and bad, which have fleets of spaceships and monsters all creeping on what what used to be Doctor Who’s preserve. So, in looking for scripts, you have to think, well, Battlestar Galactica’s got the big spaceships and Buffy’s got the fantasy and the vampires, what have we got that’s unique? And it’s the real world.

Well, certainly on the surface, Battlestar Galactica’s about spaceships and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about fighting monsters. But there’s a whole lot more to them than that, I think you’d agree.

With Doctor Who and Torchwood, instead of allegory we get juxtaposition. But the real world elements, instead of just establishing time and place, they more often that not incongruously intrude on the stories, eating up precious time that could be better served on plot. Which is probably why the two series of Doctor Who regularly rely on deus ex machina come the episodes' hurried denouements.

Then there are the lumpen plots themselves. To mix the fantastic with the ordinary you need believability. Verisimilitude. [There’s that word again. It’s almost like the last few posts have been leading up to this. How about that?]

The opening scene of Torchwood’s first episode takes place at a murder scene. The victim lies dead in a side alley. It is pouring with rain. Now, I’ve seen enough dramas and documentaries to know that in such instances a plastic tent is erected over the body to preserve the crime scene.

Except here the victim lies exposed to the elements letting the rain obliterate whatever evidence there is. Why no tent? Well, because if the body was covered, then from her vantage point the inquisitive cop wouldn’t be able to see the Torchwood team bring the corpse back to life.

Which then brings up the fact of how come Torchwood is supposed to be a secret organisation when they go around telling everyone who they are? And should they be doing their weird shit in public? I mean, get a tent!

The titles are barely over and the dominoes start to fall: But that’s not the half of it. The clumsy way the Torchwood team are introduced almost made we piss myself laughing.

Here’s something courtesy of Lee over at The Light, It Hurts. Unfortunately, due to the unique way The Independent run their website, if you don’t read a feature the day it is published then they only give you the opening paragraphs and charge you for the rest. But he’s snatched the relevant text from a Russell T. Davies interview in the newspaper:

It's all there for the taking, I do it gladly. The ending of
Doctor Who, where we had to separate the Doctor and Rose, that was unashamedly taken from the Phillip Pullman novels. They're brilliant, and every child reads them. So that creates a resonance, when they've got a story in one part of their minds and they see Doctor Who and think, 'Oh right! You can change stories!' If you want to get pretentious about it, it's exactly what Shakespeare did. As long as you put yourself into it I think it's all there for the grabbing.

Lee calls the post There's another word for that, you know and quite rightly so. Didn’t Shakespeare dramatise historical events. (Aside from using Christopher Marlowe’s suggestion that he change Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter to Romeo and Juliet, obviously).

Back when Doctor Who was on I suggested a spot-the-“lift” drinking game. A blatant Torchwood reference in the second series meant having to drain the bottle, and an added deus ex machina meant smashing the empty bottle over your head. It didn’t catch on.

Torchwood is no different, with the first episode heavily indebted to Men in Black, along with Silence of the Lambs, Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything and the Somebody Else’s Problem Field, except now it’s called a Perception Filter. It all ends with a Captain Scarlet reference, which, unless I’m mistaken, kicks any future dramatic confrontations firmly in the nuts.

Most shocking of all was The Hub, Torchwood’s secret underground base. Aside from the general stupidity, I couldn’t believe the shallow stream running through it and the central column glistening with water trickling down from the Millennium Centre’s fountain. With computer workstations and technology spread around it? As someone who is Health & Safety certified (really), I found that most irresponsible.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The State Of Drama

With Torchwood finally arriving on our screens, the BBC can drop all the annoying teasers and trailers and concentrate on promoting the hell out of The State Within. Which is a good thing.

Finally some adult drama arrives in the form of a meaty six-part conspiracy thriller. While they don’t come around that often, but when they do they’re certainly worth the wait: from Edge of Darkness and the one-off Screen One drama Frankie and Johnnie, A Very British Coup and Natural Lies, again starring the much missed Bob Peck, to State of Play.

With some ongoing dramas going on too long, it’s nice to have a defined beginning, middle and end. Maybe I’m a pessimist at heart, but I enjoy a drama where the characters get the ending they deserve and not everyone rides off into the sunset whistling a jaunty tune. Because when it comes to the state versus the individual, however much their investigations make a dent in the apparatus of government, the state always wins. They may lose a battle or two, but they’ll ultimately win the war.

The problem I had with The X-Files, once it became apparent that there was an ongoing story struggling to get out, was that a constant nuisance like Mulder would have been discredited, ridiculed, and then squished like a bug. Instead it drunkenly veered all over the place long after its sell-by date, trying to come up with an ending that would see good win out. Hopeless!

Perhaps the reason such thrillers don’t come around that often is that in creating believable characters and situations – which brings us back to verisimilitude again – the writers have to put in that extra effort to carefully research the world they immerse their characters in. With Edge of Darkness, Troy Kennedy Martin went to Walt Patterson and Lovelock. Lizzie Mickery and Daniel Percival, who wrote the 2004 drama Dirty War, certainly appear to have taken that extra step with The State Within.

It’s only recently that Work Buddy and I came up with a conspiracy drama of our own. The projects we’re currently working on cover a range of genres. As a favourite of mine, it was only when we thrashed out the initial germ of the idea that I was surprised such a drama wasn’t already on the list. Then again, we didn’t set out to purposely cover every genre.

The story always came first, irrespective of which category it fell into. While we have a powerful opening and know where the story goes, oddly enough, the actual ending only came to me after a friend texted me a joke. For some strange reason half of it was missing but I could work out the punchline. From it I figured out an equally powerful final scene of the drama.

Rest assured, a jaunty tune is not part of the equation.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mundane Mundane

This isn’t about Torchwood, although the title might suggest otherwise. While that premiered last night on BBC3, I was happily watching real drama play out in the last ever Prime Suspect.

There, the final act of The Final Act ratcheted up the tension to near breaking point. After the dull-as-mud return of Cracker, which brought nothing new to the character, Prime Suspect was all about character.

In Jane Tennison, here was someone who had sacrificed family, friends and relationships to put their career first, facing retirement and wondering whether it had all been worth it. In the course of the murder investigation she drunkenly severed relationships or ham-fistedly tried to make new connections, coming close to destroying the case.

Anyway, to business.

I can’t remember what tortuously circuitous route brought us to it, but while I was up with Work Buddy discussing the website requirements we ended up discovering the concept of Mundane Science Fiction. And boy, was that something to behold.

In terms of mundane, we’re talking “of or pertaining to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven”, as opposed to “common, ordinary, banal or unimaginative”. Although the opposite could certainly be true.

Answers.com reprints the list of central ideas fundamental to Mundane SF. In concept, it reminded me of the 1995 Dogme Manifesto, although in this instance, Mundane SF is more along the lines of Dogmess.

It starts with:

Interstellar travel remains unlikely. Warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light magic are wish fulfilment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.


There is no evidence whatsoever of intelligences elsewhere in the universe. That absence of evidence is not evidence of absence -- however, it is unlikely that alien intelligences will overcome the physical constraints on interstellar travel any better than we can.

And ends on:

The most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.

In between are six other points, which you can go and look up yourself if you can be at all bothered.

I may be wrong but to me this looks like what comes from a bunch of SF writers getting together over a pint or four and bemoaning the fact that the science fiction section of a chain bookstore is jammed full of Star Wars and Star Trek tie-ins, space opera tat, and Tolkien rip-offs. Certainly it’s a reaction to the naively optimistic vision of a happy, shiny future conjured up by Gene Roddenberry and the juvenile escapism cobbled together by George Lucas. But it seems to go too far that they’re cutting of their nose to spite their face.

Robert A. Heinlein once described science fiction as “a realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.” Which is something of a mouthful. Ted Sturgeon joined in with “a good science-fiction story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content.” Both of which may, or may not, include interstellar travel or contact with different species.

Then there is the speculative fiction, the satires that reflect today’s society with all its foibles and shortcomings, and something now called slipstream fiction, which seems to be magic realism by another name. But to produce science fiction that takes us to where we will be in one hundred years or one thousand years or ten thousand years takes a lot of thought, theory, and hard work. It involves looking at where he are today with advancements in science, and seeing where that could lead. It involves thought and reason and understanding. And most of all, it involves hard graft putting all the elements together, something not everyone is prepared to do.

Having grown up reading the likes of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy, along with the likes of Bug Jack Barron, The Forever War and Ringworld, I left science fiction literature behind in my late teens, virtually ignoring it until I was recently given The Reality Dysfunction, Peter F. Hamilton’s 1200+ page doorstop of a novel to read.

The Reality Dysfunction adheres to both Heinlein and Sturgeon’s edicts and buzzes with ideas and intelligence. Hamilton has certainly used thought, reason and an understanding of science to produce the novel. Which is something some contemporary writers don’t do, can’t do, or just can’t be bothered to do.

There is a website for Mundane SF: www.mundanesf.com. My browser steadfastly refuses to open it, which seems about right. As for Mundane SF’s premise, both Work Buddy and I agreed, it just sounds frankly dull.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Mentioning the animation studio a couple of posts back brought memories. Some good, some bad. Rooted in traditional animation techniques, the introduction of the computers was seen as an anathema to many of the staff.

Some of them got it. The Head FX Animator understood that if we got the character levels first, we’d drop everything, scan them in and then they were his to do with as he pleased. The Head of Clean Up on the last large project grasped that we’d prefer part of a scene, get that in the system and then have the rest when it was done, rather than be kept waiting or have to send back levels that were rushed to be fixed.

But trying to get through to the dyed-in-the-wool Animation Directors that it would make their lives easier was a Sisyphian task that would test the mettle of even the most determined. From the start I tried to make them understand that the new Animo software would make everyone’s life easier. But for us to help them, they had to help us.

It didn’t demand radical changes to their working process. All we needed was the pencil line to be dark and consistent. Nothing too difficult. But there were times it became obviously apparent that help us, help you became help us, fuck you.

I tried to get one of the more stubborn Animation Directors to produce work the way we needed it, and, for one brief shining moment, he did exactly what was needed. On the next job he quickly reverted to his old ways. When I flagged this up, his excuse was “Oh, I thought that it was just for that job.”

It was trench warfare with our own side shelling us! I always made sure my department did its best, no matter how much the budget and schedule (and staff) worked against us.

I haven’t talked much of late about the projects Work Buddy and I are developing. The writing is still ongoing even though more immediate work has elbowed its way in.

Weaving together the plots and realising the characters for each one, every idea is still being wrestled to the ground and only allowed to stand back up when it makes perfect sense. It would be much easier to slap any old thing that was close enough to what we wanted down, but plausibility, authenticity and credibility are key. If you haven’t got that, what’s the point?

Which brings me to Robin Hood. Three weeks into its run, I finally managed to watch an episode. And... what the fuck? Although labelled ‘family entertainment’, within a couple of minutes it was obvious the series was for young children and people who had suffered severe head injuries, and not survived.

Actually, I should say a full episode, because I caught about five minutes last week, which was more than enough. The producers may have set out to make a Robin Hood for our times but then realised it’s “you know, for kids,” and thought fuck it!

Aiming to reach the dizzy heights of simple, the scripts have settled for predictable stupidity. While the Sheriff of Overacting samples his speeches from BBC News 24, the motley band of good outlaws (not bad outlaws, mind) posture and prance about in the greenwood like a bunch of twats. Steals from the rich, gives to the poor? What a bore.

The most ridiculous thing was that the chav Robin of Locksley, who looked like he would be more at home swaggering around housing estates doling out tabs, and the slack-jawed village idiot that trails behind him like a simpering puppy, were supposed to have been at the Crusades. What were they, Knights Caterers?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Shit. Sherlock. No!

The Delightful LA Actress emailed to say that all the copy written so far for her website was right on the money and the remaining material we requested would be dispatched shortly. Which was good. If I can get the rest of the coy that needs to be written, written over the weekend everything should be on schedule.

Out last night meeting up with colleagues. Pubs and bars are too damn noisy and restaurants generally insist that you pay up and bugger off once everyone has finished eating, so, for what is turning into a regular get together, hotel bars have become the most viable option. They may have sniffy waiters and outrageous prices but you can hear yourself think and are always great for people watching.

The location this time was across from The British Library near Kings Cross, which meant the clientele was... interesting. It was only when I was heading back home that I had the opportunity to read the paper, whereupon I came across:

Jonathan Pryce is to make his return to British TV, playing Sherlock Holmes in a new two-part adaptation for BBC1. The actor, 59, whose last lead role on UK television – blah, blah, okay, lets skip to the end – It is part of a bid by the BBC to create more flagship “family viewing.”

Sherlock Holmes. Again?

A writer friend in LA once told me that to be a successful writer, read Conan Doyle’s canon of Sherlock Holmes stories. Think he’s blowing me off? Here’s his reason why:

The Sherlock Holmes stories are founded on the concept of deductive logic. That you don’t just look but you see, you perceive. What do I see? What do I know? What does something tell me? The way someone dresses. The way someone speaks. Their body language. The angle of their body when they speak. This can provide for you massive amounts of knowledge and information. The more information you have, the smarter you are, the more you control your life.

I started with A Scandal in Bohemia and gradually understood what he meant.

On film, Sherlock Holmes for me was always Basil Rathbone, with Nigel Bruce as the faithful Dr John Watson, even though the films typically strayed far from the source material, which in some instances were so slight that there was little to dramatise. On television, Jeremy Brett probably came closest to the definitive Holmes in four series made by Granada TV from 1985 to 1994.

Which makes me think, why remake them? What can a new adaptation provide other than a different actor under the deerstalker?

At the same time ITV was transmitting Jeremy Brett’s Holmes, the BBC was showing a series of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple dramas starring Joan Hickson. After appearing on stage in Appointment With Death in 1946, Christie wrote to Hickson saying, "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple."

In the twelve murder mysteries, Hickson created perhaps the definitive screen version of Agatha Christie’s amateur sleath. Which meant that when ITV screened their Marple series in recent years, Geraldine McEwan played the character as a mischievous pixie, while the stories, co-produced by Granada and WGBH Boston, were spiced up with sex and overpopulated with an all-star cast with turned it into overblown pantomime.

Both Holmes and Marple are safe options that fit perfectly into the English tradition of murder mystery. Having been done, wouldn’t it be better for the BBC to take a chance and opt for original drama instead?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

One Night Stand

There’s an exchange in a classic episode of The Goon Show where Eccles announces that he is wearing a Cambridge tie. “I didn’t know you’d been to Cambridge. What did you do there?” Neddie Seagoon asks. “I bought a tie,” Eccles replies.

Back in the early 1990s I spent a week at Cambridge on a computer course. The studio had brought in the new Animo computer system and I had to learn how to use it. And quickly.

Mention computers in animation and everyone immediately thinks of computer-generated animation, like Toy Story. With Animo, animators were still employed to draw the animation. Then every drawing would be scanned, processed, coloured, timed and composited into the finished scenes.

It saved time. It saved space. Traditional Ink & Paint Departments which traced and painted the drawings onto cel disappeared. Rostrum cameras became surplus. Dreamworks used Amino for The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado before it gave up on 2D animation. Before it imploded, Warner Brothers Feature Animation used it for Quest For Camelot and The Iron Giant.

The beginning of the year the system was installed, I sat down with the user manual to figure out how it worked. The producer had booked me on the course run by Cambridge Animation Systems who designed the software. The course wasn’t for a couple of months. Before then there was a commercial scheduled.

One thing to know about the studio: instead of producing simple ‘cartoony’ animation, the end result was more ‘arty’, with levels of coloured pencil shading adding definition to the characters. Animo was specifically designed for clean, dark, sharp line drawings. The upcoming commercial was, of course, heavily rendered. The manual warned not to have any shading at all on the drawings.

I called the Animo helpdesk and explained that I needed to scan and process rendered levels. They shook their heads, telling me it wasn’t designed to handle that style of drawing and couldn’t be done. Which was the last thing anyone should tell me.

Gathering together some archived levels from a previous job, I began scanning them in, modifying the scanner’s brightness and definition values each time. By the end of the week I called the helpdesk back and said it could be done. Did they want to know how?

The first commercial done, by the time I was due to take the course, I was confident, as well as a little cocky. While mentioning the odd shortcut or work-around I had discovered to the instructor, I wasn’t stupid enough to think that I knew everything already.

The hotel the studio producer booked me into was nice. I got a nice certificate instead of a tie. And that was my time in Cambridge. The city was virtually off the radar until last night when I went to see Robin Soans’ A State Affair.

Put on by Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club at the ADC Theatre, England’s oldest university playhouse, the play was a marvellous example of Verbatim Theatre. The words taken from real conversations conducted by Soans and director Max Stafford-Clark when they travelled to Bradford in 2000, the seven cast members sat at the front of the stage, leaping-frogging over each other to recount their personal history.

Grim certainly, but incredibly moving and leavened with a streak of gallows humour, the play was part of CUADC’s One Night Stands season. It began at 11:00pm, which, for a school night, was kind of late. But it meant there was time to have a drink and then grab a bite to eat beforehand, even after being held up in slow-moving traffic on the M11 out of London.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Odds & Sods - An Interim Post

A couple of quick asides because there is work to plough through before I head off to the theatre.

Something I forgot to mention. Friday morning, after the new downloads had been downloaded, we had watched Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the external drive was plugged in and we were ready to go... the Lead Participant called.

Yep, there was another change to the damn DVD. It was minor and really stupid. What she wanted done treated the potential audience like imbeciles. But what the hell. At least we'll know we're not the only fools in this one.

Work Buddy on the phone to her: "Yes. Yes. Yes. Okay. Yes. Okay." Even he just wants it DONE.

Travelling back from where we were on Saturday, conversation got around to finding the right name for Fish & Chip shops.

Mine was for miserable customers who feel life has it in for them:

Wanted Goose. Haddock

It was the end of a long journey.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday Mind Mess

This really is from The Department of What The Fuck?

Back in September, shortly after being introduced to the visual awfulness and utter pointlessness of MySpace, the Breakfast News portion of BBC News 24 came to the mound and with great excitement pitched Second Life at me.

Having barely got over what is possibly the most laughably tepid way imaginable for people to escape from their shitty, unfair lives, this appeared on the BBC News website this morning. I always thought, if you don’t encourage them they’ll eventually go away. But obviously not.

This time I just want to repeatedly punch myself in the eyes. With a knuckle-duster. Wrapped in barbed wire.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Recalibrating My Taste Buds

Last week, in The Sunday Times’ Style section, the restaurant critic A.A. Gill wrote:

Rome is one of the places I go to recalibrate the critical scale. If you make judgments on one thing for a long time, slowly your taste and opinions slip, usually into equivocation and benefit-of-the-doubt compromise. Five disappointing dinners in a row can make the sixth seem not so bad. It’s difficult to notice, because the change is incremental. So, every six months or so, I need to go and eat to remind myself what’s really, eternally great.

Which is exactly how I get watching television. Not one who feels the need to be constantly glued to the box, and for the most part choosy about what I watch, usually there is more than enough to sate my viewing appetite. But inevitably the time comes when the run of programmes reach their conclusion, or break between seasons, and quietly slip from the schedules.

Left with want remains on offer, as the weeks pass I unavoidably become infuriated with myself when I realise how quickly I’ve become inured to the pungent stench wafting out of the television and allowed my standards to fall into decline in a vain attempt to eke out a modicum of viewing pleasure.

There are interim programmes I’ll dig out just to keep me going. The two first season episodes of The West Wing that introduce Roger Rees’ Lord John Marbury, for instance, provide a temporary quick-fix that allows me to carry on that little bit further. But when I need to dig myself out of the hole and remind myself of what great television can produce, there is one show I turn to time and again.

Possibly the finest drama ever made, Edge of Darkness starts on a personal level, with a policeman unofficially investigating the cold-blooded murder of his daughter, before flowering into a full-blown, labyrinthine conspiracy thriller than intertwines the nuclear industry with environmental politics.

Written by Troy Kennedy Martin, who in the introduction to the published screenplay stated: “Edge of Darkness is the product of the years 1982 to 1985. These were the days before détente, when born-again Christians and cold-war warriors seemed to be running the United States,” the six-part serial began life as Magnox, which focused on the potential dangers that could arise from union problems in the nuclear industry.

Encouraged to develop the series by the then Head of BBC Drama, Kennedy Martin found himself reacting to both the growing political pessimism and positive responses that emerged from the heated Cold War rhetoric. A further influence appeared in the form ex-NASA scientist James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’ Gaia hypothesis, which postulated that the planet was a single living system and self-regulating mechanism built to maintain the optimum conditions for life of which humanity was only a small part.

Having evolved into a battle of wills between Man’s destructive technology and the ancient power of Nature, Edge of Darkness was first shown on BBC2 in November 1985. Almost universally applauded by both critics and audience alike, Edge of Darkness justifiably became the fastest repeated series, appearing on BBC1 as three double-length editions only ten days after the final episode was first broadcast.

At the 1986 BAFTA award ceremony, Bob Peck deservedly won Best Actor, Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen were rewarded with the award for Best Music, while Andrew Dunn won for Best Photography, Ardan Fisher and Dan Rae shared the award for Best Editor and Dickie Bird took Best Sound. Rounding off the night, Edge of Darkness took the BAFTA award for Best Series.

Nearly twenty-one years old, Edge of Darkness still does it for me when I start to lose faith in the medium.

What shows do you turn to when it looks like the flame of creativity is dimming?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What's Funny About It?

An email from the Delightful LA Actress awaited us this morning to say she had received the website structure document, design layout and written copy that had been sent over for approval. The issues that needed addressing and additional material we had requested should be dealt with before the weekend is out.

Leaving the computers behind and taking off for the day, the timing of our return meant that I missed the second episode of Robin Hood. Damn. And blast. Instead I watched the third season premiere of Lost. Damn! The teaser alone, referencing the openings of both season one and season two, was completely inspired. Right after that, I went for the second episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Damn! redux.

Still can’t see the justification for giving it the critical mauling from certain quarters. If they’re giving it the stink eye for not being funny, I think they’re missing the point. After all, Studio 60 is a drama about a comedy show. Though really it’s a look behind the curtain at the making of a television show.

Choosing a comedy/variety show doesn’t mean that comedy has to always enter into it. Instead, choosing light entertainment over a more genre-specific drama to go behind the scenes of offers far wider-ranging subject matter to address and discuss.

If the performed sketches aren’t all that funny, then its nailed the likes of Saturday Night Live as far as I’m concerned. Along with most of the current sitcoms.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Clarity Moron Alert!

Out of London, up with Work Buddy, ready to design the main sections and sort out copy requirement for the Delightful LA Actress’ new website. Before diving right in and getting down to business, new software update were downloads, afforded us the time to watch the pilot for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

I had already watched it before, broken up into tiny bite-sized pieces and loved it already. But here it was in one big lovely and shiny HD gulp, which made it better than ever.

Now, I know that Studio 60 has been getting some serious jip from within the industry because there’s a certain unreality attached. I can’t say that I was particularly perturbed by the fact that The West Wing wasn’t Beltway vérité. If it raised a few eyebrows and elicted chuckles amongst the politicians in DC, that didn’t matter a damn to me. Studio 60 I treat in much the same way.

Certainly, based on the folk I’ve had contact with within the industry, I don’t think I’ve met that many lucid/educated/interesting people in total, let alone working on just one show. Given a previous post (back there in the Fetid Old Words dust) which talks about a series producer who could have only attained her position by taking cocks for promotion, I’m not sure I would want to see useless, useless characters whose career trajectory had left them with 66% of their bodies made up of jism.

After all, it is just entertainment. And well-made entertainment at that. Which, after a week or so of piss-poor new dramas thrown up on the BBC and ITV, makes it a breath of fresh air.

As already mentioned, I missed the first episode of the new, but possibly not improved, Robin Hood. Even if I had been home at the time, based on the trailers alone, I probably would have looked down my nose at it. Especially since it falls into the category of family drama.

My problem with family dramas is that they are either designed to be so inoffensive they appear utterly useless and wet, or have been designed as dramas for children and adults rather than adults and children. (And if you need to ask what the difference is, I discard you!)

Whichever box is ticked, they generally fall between two stools and still manage to land in the shit. But I guess if I was a family man my priorities would be to make sure the kiddies were entertained by whatever was slopped into television’s trough before they scooted off to fire up Warrior Death Match 4.

With the second episode Robin Hood less than a day away, I sniffed around a couple of other blogs to check out the comments and see whether I should give it a shot or not waste my time on it. Oh dear.

Was I ill the day everyone got the memo instructing them to have low expectations and accept everything they’re given? Excuses for the poor quality of the opening episode appeared to be built around “it’s early evening Saturday telly.” One post applauded Robin Hood for essentially being cliché-ridden, and then championed it over the kind of post-watershed dramas that suffer from “insufficient explanation”.

Insufficient explanation. Which is obviously the crossing point between having low expectations and being a native of Dumbfuckistan. I’m not saying this guy was standing in the wrong line when they were handing out cocks and charisma, but that is the most piss-poor explanation I’ve heard in a long while.

Okay, dramas with a touch more complexity might not be right for him. A functioning cerebellum and nothing else may be all he’s looking for in life. It probably won’t be long before we have dramas like Beryl is the One that Dunnit, The Man in the Grey Sweater over by the Window is the Killer, and, just so nobody has nightmares, Hey, It All Turns Out Right In The End! Or maybe they’re already here.

Watching Sorkin’s new drama, I was struck by Wes Mendell’s opening tirade on the Studio 60 set:

[Television] just throws in the towel on any endeavour to do anything that doesn’t involve the courting of 12 year old boys. Not even the smart 12 year olds, the stupid ones, the idiots...

Sure, the channels are guilty of commissioning and then broadcasting such lowbrow fluff. Maybe in part because a portion of the audience has indicated that’s what they want.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wet Work

There was a girl in the year below me back at the Esteemed School of Art who believed she had to put the hours in whether they were productive or not. Even if the ideas were snagged on a synapse, she would steadfastly remain at her desk until the Inspiration Pixie shook them loose with a swift steel toe-capped kick in the head.

While I clocked in at eight in the morning, and wouldn’t pack up and go home until twelve hours later when the caretakers were locking up the building, a good portion of the day would be spent out and about in central London. Especially when the tutors took my desk away in my second year, but that’s another story.

While I don’t entirely subscribe to the theory of Writer’s Block, there are times when staring at the white expanse of the Word document doesn’t do any good. With our dozen projects in various stages, from simple outlines to finished scripts, there’s always the opportunity to switch over to something else if I’m drawing a temporary blank.

Still no joy and the only alternative is to take a break, during which time I could:

Sit back and watch The Wire, Battlestar Galactica or Deadwood on the second monitor. By which I mean a whole season rather than a few piddling episodes.

Re-read Dennis Lehane’s five Kenzie & Gennaro novels. Which usually take a day apiece, maximum.

Play Goldeneye or Perfect Dark straight through, from the first to last level. Time wise, that depends on whether I’m on my game or playing like dog toffee.

While these are all viable options, they can be rather time consuming. Which means the best bet is simply to get up from in front of the computer and go for a walk.

After a brainstorming session with Work Buddy, I’ll invariably wander out into the garden for a gasper to sort out any weak areas or get the motivations locked down tight. Tough nuts to crack are invariably remembered as two- or three-cigarette-solutions.

This was all fine and dandy in the hot summer sunshine, but the past couple days or so, someone’s forgotten to put a coin in the meter and the season’s come to an abrupt end. Wandering around, allowing the idea to percolate away, loses its appeal when hard driving rain is raking the pavements.

I was all ready for a stroll yesterday morning but was stopped in my tracks when a thick blacket of dark cloud spread over North London and hastily unburdened itself. And it’s going to get worse as the year runs out. Which is a good incentive as any to keep the ideas coming.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

DVD Be Gone

I hoped I had heard the last of the Lead Participant and her Albatross- around-our-necks DVD. I’d tried to blot it out since last mentioned at the beginning of last month – that long? – when the interviews were stitched together and my part in the process was done.

After that it had been turned over to Work Buddy to sort out a couple of Easter Eggs, author it and... well, fire it out of a cannon for all I cared. The reply from the Lead Participant had not been immediate, even though there was a time factor involved. In fact, Work Buddy only mentioned her eventual response last week while my internet service was taking a break.

After whining that she had felt left out of the final stages of the creative process – intentional on our part because she had proved to lack any creativity – the Lead Participant’s chief concerns centred on the interview segment. Rather than congratulate us on expertly salvaging material that she had done her very best to bugger up with her lamentable interview technique, she bemoaned the fact that specific clips had been omitted from the finished piece.

The Lead Participant wanted them in. It didn’t matter that they didn’t contribute one jot to the carefully structured through-line narrative. What did that matter? They were clips of her talking to camera and the Lead Participant wanted them in. The reason for their inclusion was because they were, in her words, “funny”. In my words, they were funny only in the way that being repeatedly punched in the eyes is funny.

We discussed our options and eventually came to the conclusion that reinstating the footage, even though it didn’t fit and made her contribution to the interview sequence wildly disproportionate, meant that we could just be rid of the damn thing, once and for all.

Calling late this afternoon to clue me in on a potential new client meeting, Work Buddy noted that the revised DVD had been posted off. That was it. Done. Goodbye. Never darken our hard drives again.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Out Of The Past

April may be the cruellest month, but when it comes to seasons, Autumn can be pretty dire. The nights start drawing in, SAD does the rounds, and the new television season begins transmission.

In the wake of endless trailers promoting the new confections ready to excite and entertain, ITV kicked off with the return of Cracker. Which showed what a difference a decade makes.

I was told it was going to be really good. And having watched the show back when it first came out in the 1990s, I expected it to be really good. Once Fitz waddled back onto the screen with the same old vices, it only went to show that ten years is a long time to be away. What seemed new and edgy back then, looked old and tired now.

What made the show interesting when it first arrived were the collection of police officers Fitz butted heads with through the course of the investigation. Dead or disappeared, this time around the DI on the case was played as the clichéd copper by a woefully miscast actor who SHOUTED at every opportunity and did little else.

From the offset, each Cracker introduced the killers, each trying their damn best to get struck off every Christmas card list. Which meant that the show was a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit, leading up to the inevitable confrontation between the big man and the rancid little miscreant who would usually rage about the unfair hand they felt they had been dealt.

This time around regular flashbacks merrily explained the killer’s motivations. Again, and again, and again. And again. America funding the IRA. America’s involvement in Iraq. And 9/11. Obviously. Where would a drama be without one shot of Tower Two with a big smoking rent in the side of it?

So instead of whydunnit, we got polemic. The vital final confront between the two characters was virtually blink-and-you’ll-miss-it compared to the first go around. And there was only one decent joke.

Maybe its because they’re living in the shadow of the Liverpool Poets or the Liverpool Playhouse, but there’s a coterie of Liverpudlian writers who see the television drama format as a soapbox for increasingly tedious tub-thumping. The subjects they choose are incredibly obvious. The reaction to their bleating is usually for the love of God, SHUT THE FUCK UP! Followed by the Off switch.

Still, it was better than The Outsiders which was just plain awful. A spy drama that purported to have its roots in the likes of Danger Man, The Prisoner, and all the other nonsense that looks frankly laughable now, it was so hopelessly useless that it made the likes of Danger Man and The Prisoner look superior by comparison. Hell, even the script by our Short Film Writer looked half-decent by comparison.

The review in The Times summed it up best:

But if you were looking for something on TV last night to really strain your credulity, you could always have turned to The Outsiders (ITV1). Did you watch it? All the way through? You did? Are you related to someone in the cast or on the production team? Thought you must be!

The script alone was the sort of drivel that a teenager would have come up with after watching the stable of 1960s ITC spy dramas while having no knowledge of 24 or Spooks or even Alias. It was leaden and humourless and utter nonsense. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the script was written in crayon.

Allowances could have been made if it had been filmed half decently. Instead we got lame action sequences that had a beginning and end but no middle and a miscast cast virtually sleepwalking through a 90-minute timeslot. What Brian Cox was doing in it is the greatest mysteries of the 21st Century.

Then, on Saturday, came Robin Hood, this time on the BBC, filling the early evening slot vacated by Doctor Who.

The trailers looked abysmal: Robin and his band of Merry Men reimagined as the little hoodie-wearing wankers that scuff their heels around housing estates. And Keith Allen channelling Alan Rickman as The Sheriff of Nottingham. Whereas Rickman, in Prince of Thieves, was the only entertaining character, Allen, in just about everything he does, has a talent best appreciated by someone who is deaf and blind.

The preview in The Times stuck the boot in with:

After all the hype, this looks set to be the biggest disappointment of the year... Instead of being exciting, it is predictable to the point of inertia. It tries to be funny in a knowing, street-smart sort of way, and instead produces lame badinage.

For me, Robin Hood begins with Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and ends with Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian. Everything before, after, and inbetween, is superfluous.

As for the show... I wasn’t one of the 8.2 million viewers. I went out, had a steak dinner and got laid instead. Which was an altogether better option.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Service Without A Smile

Ah, the joys of having a "service provider" who, in the process of upgrading me to super, super-duper high speed internet, kills the ADSL line stone dead.

Luckily they have a helpful support staff who get right on it and endeavour to fix the fault immediately.

I lie! They're all clueless chob lobbers. The longest they've kept me on hold, over the last nine days, to speak to someone about the fault: 50 minutes. And then the excuse was modem problem/filter problem/typical bullshit from someone who hasn't a clue. That was eventually eclipsed by a 75 minute wait, although when I finally rotated around to the front of the queue, the helpdesk mong cut me off.

Any other time, I would say what the hell and get on with my work, free from any distractions. Unfortunately some of the current work requires material being emailed to LA for verification. Marvellous!

And people wonder why Britain is no longer an empire.