Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Finding The Right Time

Work Buddy and I have been a bit lax on one of the projects. Not good. We’ve planned to sit down and get back up to speed but the stuff that brings money in has got in the way every time.

Driving back to London yesterday, we discussed what still needed to be done. Top of the list is neither of us like the opening scene.

It had been written late in the day to elevate the mystery and give the audience sight of a character whose later actions would set the story in motion. Then the title would kick in and we concentrate on setting up the main character before the shit hits the fan.

The scene wasn’t brilliant. At a page and a half there wasn’t really enough there but we hadn’t put in the time to come up with anything better. And neither of the industry people who had read the script off the record had flagged it up as being shit.

“Let’s not worry about it now,” I said. “Its time will come.” When there isn’t an immediate deadline, it helps to let these things gestate until they’re ready.

This morning, when I woke up, I reached for the note pad. Obviously today was the day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Holding Pattern

It has been one of those days that felt like one step forward, two back. Or one-and-a-half back. Let’s not be too pessimistic about it.

There are projects in the air that we’re waiting to hear back on and... nothing. So it leaves us twiddling our thumbs, distracted from doing anything else.

The Delightful LA Actress and her colleagues had their meeting yesterday. Part of it would be to work out the additional information we need for the website pages. Obviously because of the time difference we’re way ahead of them in the working day, and it is early, but it still means we’re waiting on the results.

Last week I mentioned picking up a tip that there might be a way of weaselling my way into something new coming up. The only concern was that getting my snout anywhere near the trough would require tact, sensitivity and guile on my part. Which is by no means an easy feat. Will Dixon helpfully suggested I try some ‘acting’. But before I could draw on the urbane charm that lies deep within me, I just found out that some noddypeak simpleton had beaten me to the punch. So that was that.

It also looks like I won’t be getting to sit down with the Agent whose Actress Client is looking to write her autobiography. At least not in the next couple of days. So I sent her a letter outlining a possible course of action, beginning with a preliminary extended Q&A with the Actress Client that I can mould into a sample chapter. That way everyone can see early on if we’re on the right page, and help sell the project. (If it can happen sometime in the next three weeks they can have it by New Year and I’ll have an excuse to stay in London working rather than spend the festivities down with family).

And I’m waiting on directions of where to go with the next stage of the pharmaceutical reports as the deadline creeps closer. Still, on the bright side, I got home to find the first season DVD of Boston Legal, which was a runner-up prize in a Radio Times website competition, waiting for me. Never seen it, hope it’s good. But first I'll have a game of Perfect Dark to let off steam.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pain In The [Expletive Deleted]

At the beginning of November the Designated Author emailed from LA to see if I was interested in writing some ‘erotica’ (porn). As the month rolls to a close, and with her now back in the UK for a while, she emailed over an example.

Luckily this morning there was a sudden rush on to collate material on neurological conditions, additional to the debilitating diseases. Which meant that I didn’t get to look at it until mid-afternoon. By which time I had eaten.

I read the first dozen pages then skimmed the rest. Never mind the dry-humping, girl-on-girl action, and rape-revenge that it leads to, I was still trying to get my head around the opening act where a woman satisfies a guy who is lying under a tree with a broken leg.

Remarkably every bone is my body has remained intact through the years, at least to the best of my knowledge. Work Buddy, who has mangled a leg in the past, noted that in that situation you tend to scream for drugs to dull the pain as a first priority rather than get some action, no matter how short the nurse’s shorty skirt is.

The writing of course was bad, but that’s the Designated Author for you so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Blame the publishers for lapping it up. But then when it comes to watching porn people tend not to complain about the lighting and camera angles when there are writhing bodies tangled up on screen.

Used to writing 3000 words a day when I have to, I could easily pound this stuff out. Which would be better than the present daily grind. The money being offered is good but not great, only because of the exchange rate right now.

All I have to do is come up with a pseudonym. Maybe I should use the names of kids who pissed me off at school? Suggestions?

A Brum Do

Friday afternoon, Work Buddy had been sent a text from the Bubbly Blonde who was putting in an appearance at the NEC over the weekend, wondering if we going to swing by and say hi. At last a weekend away from the computers. And God help us, we went to Birmingham.

The National Exhibition Centre is a barn. Or rather a conglomeration of barns surrounded by acres of parking spaces. Various trade shows were taking place which meant that all manner of people were waddling about, loaded down with bulging plastic bags that had become as distressed as their owners.

The collectors fair was bright and shiny and difficult to miss. I’ve always thought that the best way to dispose of disposable income is on hookers and blow. Or books. But I suppose buying a three-foot high plastic Yoda will make do if that’s your thing.

The Bubbly Blonde was signing along with a whole bunch of other showbiz sorts. Checking the bill we had discovered another good dozen people we knew from corporate work, other assorted projects, or had simply met through friends. As it turned out, most were pleased to see us as well.

Maybe it’s a sign of how far we’ve come already in the business but there were also a selection of poltroons, mountebanks and slubberdegullion druggels we steadfastly wanted to avoid. And on the whole succeeded. The talent wasn’t as lucky.

While happy to meet civilians, and make some cash on the side, a few of the avid fans they encountered were too obsessive or just downright weird. Some actresses sat with rictus grins in response to bluntly asked inappropriate questions. A few we knew took our appearance as an excuse to break for the bar and sanctuary or simply hid behind us until the coast was clear. Happy to be used (as long as it doesn’t make my eyes water too much) I still preferred the option that involved vodka and cigarettes.

A few more hours after our arrival and the event began to wind down. After the long trek back to the car the Bubbly Blonde suggested we go to the movies. Which was a better idea that what we had planned. So off we went, stopping at her hotel first. Which was a mistake.

This was my second visit to central Birmingham. The first was a few years ago when a comedy writers’ annual conference held at one of the city hotels had a spare ticket going at the last minute. And I almost got there at the last minute.

Birmingham has a unique one-way system that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, traffic lights timed to cause maximum congestion, ring roads circling the very centre of the city that branch into underpasses and overpasses, and, most irritatingly, virtually no direction signs or actually street signage.

Eventually we found the hotel, albeit by the scenic route, that took in a number of bland landmarks, repeatedly. Some I had already seen, repeatedly, the last time as well.

The three of us went to “the pictures” to see Casino Royale because it was the sort of ”boys’ film” that BB’s girl friends wouldn’t want to go and see with her. Thinks were looking up when the cinema turned out to be exactly where we were told it would be. Even more surprising was the ticket price of £5.50. For an inner city cinema? In London, if we had gone to Leicester Square it would have easily been double that.

With some time to spare we ducked into the tiny fast food outlets that littered the street, strategically placed between the bars and nightclubs that lined the strip, like the stalls at a theme park between the rides.

Just as tasteless as theme park food, it ended up stuffed into the waste bins that were just as strategically placed along the pavements. Which meant stocking up on so much popcorn, hotdogs and drinks back at the cinema that people had to open the doors to the auditorium for us.

The price we paid for the cheap ticket was a projectionist who wasn’t bothering to keep the film in sharp focus. While it was never blurred, as the credits rolled I still had to ask if it looked soft to everyone else to check that my eyes weren’t playing up. Or maybe I was still in a daze from discovering they still served Westlers hotdogs. Even with those mild distractions Casino Royale was still skill!

Afterwards we walked BB back to her hotel, scything our way through local nightlife made up of groups of girls still dressed for summer, whose aim appeared to be getting liquored up and ending the night with their legs in the air, and packs of boys being led by their erections towards the nearest available warm hole.

Then, as much as it is impossible to find anywhere in the bloody city, getting out was just as tricky. It reminded me of the Disneyland parking lot at Anaheim. Show us a feckin’ exit sign for Chrissakes! Obviously they don’t want people to find the way out of Brum because the trickle would turn into a raging flood.

Of course, to round off the day, the real icing on the cake didn’t come until we got out to the dual carriageways and eventually found the signs for the M6 (south) and discovered that the M1 – or at least a good portion of it - was now shut for the night. Right.

It took a day to recover so Sunday was wiped out. Come the evening, after the ticks and tremors from going north went south, we trotted off to see The Prestige, which was skill and ace. Two for two, who’d have thunk it?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Two Cents On The Fountain

I have to admit, of late there haven’t been that many films that I’ve wanted to race out to see. A few certainly piqued my interest, but ultimately, away from the computers, I’ve preferred to watch new television dramas rather than spend two hours catching a film where I pretty much know what’s going to happen.

Instead, for a change, I’d prefer something that’s different and so out there it doesn’t conform to any conventions or fade out having ticked every box and wrapped the story up with either a pat or tidy resolution. So step forward Darren Aronofsky and The Fountain.

It’s not released in the UK until mid-February, 2007, but it opens in the US today. Which meant last night, after stepping out to look at the stars, I read the reviews online.

I think everyone would agree that there are a lot of films you can either take or leave. Sure, it was okay, now get on with life. Reactions to The Fountain so far seem to be a little bit more extreme with such divided opinions. The commentators have been turning on each other with so much vitriol that I hope to God the film isn’t played to Sunni and Shia audiences.

A spiritual triptych that interweaves the stories of a 16th Century conquistador, a 21st Century research scientist, and a 26th Century cosmonaut, each on their obsessive quest for eternal life, you’ve got to congratulate Warner Brothers for putting up the $35 million budget, even if they had baulked at the original figure that went north of $60 million, back in 2004 when Brad Pitt was up for the lead, and then blew another $18 after getting cold feet a second time.

From the reviews, and the over-simplified synopsis, it looks obvious that some civilians taken along to see The Fountain by their other halves without forewarning are going to come out scratching their heads. So, no hot, sweaty bedroom action that night.

Carina Chocano, a staff writer on The LA Times, called The Fountain, “bloated and logy, and art-directed within an inch of its life.”

Ann Hornaday in The Washington Post declared it, “an earnest, magnificent wreck,” while USA Today decided that while The Fountain, “attempts to explore mystical truths and probe mythic dilemmas, it emerges as a murky saga that obfuscates rather than illuminates.” Call me perverse, but that makes me want to see it even more.

Which left The New York Times to become the flag waver for The Fountain. Providing a pretty decent interactive feature alongside the review, A.O. Scott reports “[Aronofsky] seems to be trying, with a seriousness of purpose that few American filmmakers attempt, to subvert the essentially sequential nature of film.” After which he likens the film to a story by Jorge Luis Borges, which is good enough for me.

Now that films have not just a rating but a brief description of what to expect, The New York Times review ends with:

The Fountain is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has some gory combat scenes and some sexual activity in a bathtub.

Without sounding glib, I’m sold. By the way, do they both take place at the same time? ...Just asking.

So there we go: 96 minutes of cinema that doesn’t come with compulsory spoon-feeding. Could this be the beginning of the end of Western Civilisation as we know it?

Isn’t it nice that once in a while a film comes along that leaves it to the audience to make up their own minds about what they’ve watched? Movies like this are few and far between.

I mean there’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, obviously, and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Soderbergh’s marvellous remake of Solaris, and...... ah, you’ve got to help me out on this one people.

And let’s keep the verbal fisticuffs to a minimum. At least to begin with.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Odds and Ends, Middles and Beginnings

Finally, a long term project that was becoming something of a millstone around our necks is gone for good. Though the content and box artwork had already been signed off on, there were still a number of advance copies we were required to burn to disc and package ready to go out the door.

Late morning and they were done. And not a moment too soon. Which leaves...

The website for the Delightful LA Actress. Which is completed, but not one hundred per cent. She’s more than happy with the results, I’m not convinced and want to add more pertinent information to the content.

While I’ve begun to correspond with one of the business’ two other co-founders, so as not to put the onus solely on the DLAA, neither has managed to find time in their schedules to supply us with what I need.

It came down to me suggesting I write a list of what is still outstanding, email each of them the document so the responsibility of sourcing the material can be shared equally. Which seemed fair. Informed of a meeting early next week, it seemed the ideal time to get it done. Since it’s Turkey Day in LA and across America, it gives us the extra time we need to compile the list and send if off in advance. Especially because...

In the next couple of days I should be seeing the agent whose Actress Client is looking to write her autobiography. We’ve crossed paths briefly since the initial discussion. This time there’s the opportunity to properly sit down and discuss it. Which means compiling notes and ideas to show I’m showing willing. And come up with a relatively simple hook to twist her story around so it doesn’t simply kick off with “I was born at an early age...” and then run chronologically. On top of which...

A day or so ago I picked up a tip that there might be a way of weaselling my way into something else coming up. Although it may require tact, sensitivity and guile on my part. Which means, given my track record on such matters, means that I’m fucked. But it may be worth a punt. Which only leaves...

Episode four of The State Within. So what if the viewing figures are down. If you’ve given up on this you’re a fool and I discard you! After three weeks of willingly following the circuitous trail of tantalising clues, the pieces are beginning to come together as the drama heads toward the home straight.

This is the equivalent of rolling onto your back and having a tummy rub. It is just so damn good that I’m already worrying about what the withdrawal symptoms will be like.

Oh, and Work Buddy’s girlfriend had missed last week. Which meant with only minutes to go before tonight’s episode started she asked me to clue her in on what had happened. Right. Ah...

Holy Crap!

It lost a quarter of it’s original audience in the first four weeks, but by God they’ve gone and given it a second series.

Forget the rapture. This is a sure sign it’s headfirst into the pools of boiling monkey vomit for us all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Brief Recounter

Not feeling in the mood for another helping of Mother Superior’s Forbidden Donkey Love or more commentary on Michael Richard’s stand-up meltdown while browsing the internet, I found myself reading Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay for The Hospital, which would win him the second of his three Academy Awards for Best Screenplay. It’s great, but boy is it wordy.

I mean...


Dark. Just a bit of moonlight streaking through the not quite closed bathroom. The hallway door opens, and a young woman, carrying a top coat, slips quickly in giggling like hell, followed by Schaefer, who is likewise giggling and admonishing her to be quiet. Her name is SHEILA. Sheila notices the other patient in the room sleeping away and looks questioningly at Schaefer, who reassures her as he removes her coat. After which he strips off his own white jacket and trousers and hangs them in the armoire. The girl asks in a hoarse whisper if they're going to get totally nude and wonders if that's such a good idea. For an answer, Schaefer fondles her crotch. They both giggle, they both shush each other, they giggle again; they're both stoned. The girl unzippers her dress. The dark room is filled for the moment with the flurry of undressing, flung garments, elbows, legs and arms, bumpings into each other, and Sheila saying between giggles, "Boy, I sure hope nobody walks in."

They eventually wind up on the unoccupied bed, and the scene ends looking ACROSS the sleeping profile of THE PATIENT in the other bed as Schaefer and his girl thump away at each other with much creaking of springs, moans, groans, giggles and the white-limbed patterns of fornication.

That’s a whole lot of words.

Maybe it’s the playwright in him being overly specific to detail, or maybe, when it was written, the “rules” for screenwriting were different. I don’t know because back in 1971 I wouldn’t have been paying that much attention to be honest. But I do know that anyone going into that much detail would be in a hiding they’d remember the rest of their life.

I criticized our Short Film Writer friend for putting in far too much information some months back. Other unproduced screenplays I’ve recently read in passing have also mistakenly gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing far too much information when it comes to describing given scenes.

Having written short stories and magazine articles, set word counts pretty much dictated how long each piece would be. So there was no room for over-descriptive descriptions. Instead I trimmed the fat and got down to the meat of the story.

The lesson I learned, which was passed on to SFW was, go ahead and write a description. If it comes in at, say, twenty words, rewrite it using fifteen words. Then ten words. Then eight. Or less.

As long as you can still convey the same message, make sure everything extraneous goes. Until, I suppose, you get down to Walter Hill and David Giler’s revised draft of Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay for Alien which is at the other extreme...


Empty, cavernous.


Circular, jammed with instruments.
All of them idle.
Console chairs for two.

Of course there’s still the genre to consider. A taut thriller should look lean and hungry on the page and read at a pace. A romantic comedy or character piece, not so much. There’s a difference between stripping the fat and seeing the bones glisten.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Detecting Common Ground

Dragging out the viewing figures for Torchwood to sneer at unfortunately opened up a whole different can of worms. While it may be a series that I turn my nose up at, the dramas that I do watch aren’t faring any better either in the ratings.

The conspiracy thriller The State Within initially garnered 5.2 million viewers. By the halfway point the ratings are in serious decline. It could simply be folk gave up on a conspiracy thriller that demanded they pay attention to what they’re watching. But it’s still depressing to think that it started out with only slightly higher numbers than ITV’s recent spy thriller The Outsiders, which wouldn’t have strained the intelligence of someone with the IQ of an aubergine.

MI5 drama Spooks spent its fifth year wobbling between 5.5 million and 6 million, which is slightly down on last year when the fourth series was broadcast on Thursdays instead of Monday. The supernatural thriller Afterlife which I caught sporadically hung around the 4 million mark.

All of them trail behind the BBC’s sluggishly-paced hospital dramas Casualty and Holby City which should have had a DNR note posted years ago. Then had a pillow pressed over their faces to hurry up the long overdue demise. They work because they’re more soap opera than drama and inoffensive, by which I mean bland.

The same can be said for ITV’s nostalgic drama series like Heartbeat, which has been on air for so long it should, by rights, be covered in moss by now. Shows like that are the equivalent of comfort food. For an audience that eats their meals through a straw. They leave their audience with a warm fuzzy glow and a yearning for a lost Albion where nobody chewed gum with their mouth open or spat in the streets. The BBC are guilty of having one or two shows in the same vein which are scheduled for Sunday nights so that everyone can have a good nights sleep and then be up, fresh and early, for work the next day.

There are always the American imports. But Channel 4 have lost Lost but kept hold of the increasingly desperate Desperate Housewives. They gave up on Homicide: Life on the Streets and NYPD Blue, which was unforgivable, giving up on the former and finally scheduling the latter on their digital channels after a gap of however many years. Having bought CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY, Five might as well rechristen themselves CBS-UK.

The first part of Prime Suspect – The Final Act grabbed 7.9 million. The figure rose to 8.5 for part two, but that could have been because, given the advance publicity, armchair rubberneckers tuned in to see if Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison would go out feet first. Cracker brought in 8.8 million simply because it was the return of Cracker after all these years, where it was good or not. It wasn’t and I’d suspect any future episodes would gradually lose numbers.

So what do audiences like?

A couple of years back I interviewed Anthony Horowitz for an article on Foyle’s War. Beginning his television career writing episodes of Robin of Sherwood in 1986 before graduating to Poirot, Horowitz talked about why he had written little else except murder for the last decade.

I like puzzles and I like riddles. I like deception. I’m very much part of the English tradition of murder mystery. I very much like the way it slots into our national character. English country houses, English summers, bodies on lawns. Croquet mallets used as weapons and that sort of thing. It reflects the eccentric side of the English. It’s something very special and unique to our country.

He isn’t alone in his love of murder mysteries as the viewing figures for the likes of Inspector Morse, Foyle’s War – which was commissioned to replace Morse, and Midsomer Murders, which Horowitz created for television from the books of Caroline Graham attest. Is this what draws people together - mysteries with central characters that are more like old style gentlemen detectives than modern day police officers? Yes, there is still A Touch of Frost that touches on more contemporary social subject matters and is much more rough around the edges, but its popularity comes from the ongoing public veneration of David Jason than the content.

So what should writers look to write that has any hope of getting an audience?

Adapt the crime novels of a writer who isn’t Agatha Christie, PD James, Colin Dexter, Reginald Hill, Elizabeth George, RD Wingfield, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and whoever else has gone from page to screen. Or write something they want to write rather than write something they think the audience want to see. And hope for the best.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I Have Sinned

Confession time. I watched Torchwood last Wednesday.

I know, I know, after catching the first couple of episodes I would have preferred radioactive pubic lice to seeing any more. And it was the one with the freaking evil fairies from the bottom of... er, the wood, which doesn’t make it any better.

My excuse was PJ Hammond wrote the episode. As writer of the 1970s children’s adventure series Ace of Wands and creator of the enigmatic and atmospheric Sapphire & Steel almost a decade later, I was interested to see how it would play out. While the episode wasn’t great, within the puerile story parameters laid down, it wasn’t that bad.

I met Peter Hammond some years back. Whereas Russell T Davies turns the spotlight on himself every chance he gets, Hammond is quiet and unassuming, happy to let the work speak for itself. While it may be purely coincidental, some time later his next episode of Midsomer Murders featured a family of characters with my surname. Although I think they turned out to be nerdowells as I recall. What that says about the impression I made on him is for you to decide.

Judging from the recent BARB figures it looked like Torchwood could do with an additional viewer. Shown on BBC3, the first episode grabbed 2.52 million viewers. Episode two, shown immediately afterwards, dropped 21,000 viewers.

Only 1.76 million came back the next week for episode three. By episode four the figures were down to 1.39 million, which is quite a rate of descent. Even the BBC2 repeats, which followed the same pattern of screening episodes one and two the same night, started with 3.03 million viewers then lost over half a million by the next week.

The fall is pretty obvious. The stories are just bad. Flicking channels the previous week I caught a snippet from the episode with the fanboy wank-fodder Cyberwoman.

In the scene, the team discovered security cameras discovered security cameras had been disabled. Luckily the ‘computer expert’ on the team retrieved the missing data from the memory (or something like that). It turned out the cameras had been switched off by the guy who cleans up after their little adventures. Right. So wouldn’t he have wiped the memory as well? Of course, but it would have meant putting more thought into the story.

If the writers don’t give a shit, why should the audience?

Servant Of Two Masters

Or When Relatives Are Useful

Back in the 1990s, a job came in that required 2D cut-out animation. It wasn’t the kind of thing the studio I was at usually did.

The guy brought in to do the work, whose reel had helped win the job, had assisted Gilliam with his Monty Python animations. Grey ponytail, dressed it battered leathers from riding a throaty old motorbike in to work, the mothership was obviously long overdue in coming back to collect him.

If Withnail and I had ever required an Additional Arsehole, he would have been a lock. The producer, bless her, tagged me to assist him and keep an eye out. I introduced myself and he emptied his airbrush out in my coffee mug. Yeah, this was going to work.

The three commercials were for an American bank. The idea boiled down to street scenes with buildings growing, and pretty soon it became evident that we didn’t have enough source material to make it happen. Mr 2D came in with photographs of Dutch houses and suggested we use those. New Amsterdam, not Amsterdam dammit! One day during pre-production my lips turned white.

During a meeting I mentioned my cousin in New York. For the price of a meal out as a sweetener I’d have somewhere to crash while I took the requisite shots. It was a casual remark. An hour later the producer swung by my desk and told me the flight was booked for the next morning.

I called my cousin to get the okay. The weather was clear skies and sun, come on over he said. What I didn’t ask was, what’s the forecast? Which was a mistake. I stepped out of the arrivals hall, carry-on in hand, and looked up at a mid-afternoon sky heavy with swollen, bruised clouds. Coming out of a bar later that night I watched the first snowflakes fall.

The first full day I woke to blizzard conditions, which wasn’t good. Wearing a borrowed sweater and overcoat, I swung by the studio’s US agent to call the producer to tell her the news. She didn’t sound very happy. Then I tramped the streets, checking out suitable locations to come back to.

Overnight the skies cleared. The second morning I started taking photos, stopping regularly for coffee when I started to get camera shake, shaking from the cold. Once the light failed I scouted more locations then stopped at a diner to grab a bite with the storyboards spread out around me. The excitement had pretty much worn off an hour into the flight over with the realisation that if I didn’t get what we needed the project was screwed and I was fucked.

I’d managed to put the flight back to make up for time lost. We needed street props, like call boxes and stop signs, as well as ground floor facades without people in the way. My last day, a Sunday, I was up early to get those required shots and whatever else I thought we needed.

The snow returned on the ride out to JFK. On the plane, a couple of minutes before our scheduled departure, they closed the airport. We got the meal and the movie still sitting at the gate. The last hour of our four-hour wait, a ground crew clambered about the wings, de-icing the plane. Even after the all clear, the take off was like a rollercoaster ride, rising and falling as the plane clawed its way into the air.

Back at Heathrow, I grabbed a cab and raced back to the studio. The place deserted. Everyone had gone to lunch. So I sat with the film canisters lined up on the producer’s desk and waited.

What I didn’t know was that an hour after we finally got airborne, a plane tried taking off from La Guardia and tipped into the lake. All they knew was I hadn’t arrived on schedule and a plane had gone down in New York. The studio director was pleased to see me. He was afraid they’d have to take all the photographs again.

The job got done and the clients were happy with the results. Some time later the studio producer called me up to say that one of the spots had even won a Clio.

It was the last job I ever did for the studio. The Head of Department who had initially hired me was pissed that I had been bumped up to be Mr 2D’s assistant. Directly liaising with the agency team on the producer’s behest and getting the trip to New York hadn’t helped either. She found me work on a useless Gerry Anderson project that went in the crapper before ever seeing the light of day.

Serving two masters, the lesson I should have learnt was, pleasing the right people is sometimes more important than getting the job done. Because, a decade on, the same kind of situation would take an even bigger wet bite out of me.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Real Deal

After all the doom and gloom, I figured I needed time off. Especially since my cousin was over from New York for a tournament: The British Open at The Queen’s Club.

Not that namby-pamby lawn tennis, where the object of the game nowadays is to fire that ball over the net as fast as is humanly possible, but Real Tennis; played in England and France in the 16th and 17th centuries by royalty and nobility. Both Henry VII and Henry VIII were proponents of the game. As is Prince Edward today. Okay, bad example.

Played indoors, in a doubly asymmetric court, with the ball served from the service, up onto the roof of the gallery to the hazard end and... Oh, who am I kidding? I still haven’t really got a clue how the game is played.

Years back, I stood in the middle of a court while the world number one seed explained the rules to me and within a couple of minutes I was hopelessly lost. Although that might have been because I had just been told that the first date he went on with his future wife he accidentally knocked her teeth out. He was Australian. Maybe it’s some antipodean courtship ritual. Still, it’s a skilful game and all about gaining a chase. That much I do remember.

As well as residing in the top ten world rankings, my cousin’s the head coach at a very tony racquets and tennis club in Midtown Manhattan. Which is good for him and which, from another perspective, means that visits to New York don’t accrue hefty hotel bills. Although the bizarre thing is, after every time I’ve visited, he’s moved apartments in the Upper East Side. Surely some coincidence.

Anyway, he and his doubles partner won this afternoon, which puts them through to the semi-finals where they play the current champions.

Meanwhile, back home, I came across the trailer for Fincher’s new film Zodiac, which looks just excellent.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Another gloomy day, wading deeper through debilitating diseases without cure. Welcome to my life.

I jest. Although if there is anything bugging me right now, it’s that I’m still waiting to hear on the deadline for this material. That would be good. Then I could go from being a procrastinator back to just being a prick.

Maybe there are times when I just like being told what to do and when to do it. Even if there’s an absurd finish date, I see it as a challenge; step up to the plate and do the best I can to hit it out the park whatever the adversity.

And, to ratchet the pressure up another notch or two, most of the time I like to finish ahead of schedule so there’s time to go back over it some and iron out any kinks. A while back we didn’t get around to a project until the day before the delivery date and it just made me ansty as fuck. If I could have physically gnawed my own head off to curb the frustrations I would have.

Back in the glorious animation days some of the deadlines I worked toward were real ball-busting bitches. The first major project, straight out of college, ended with ninety-hour weeks for the last couple of months. The last major project, before I ran screaming from the industry, timed out with eighty-hour works.

While I could do the time in my youth, on that last job I was struggling to keep all the balls in the air towards the end. Even so, I managed to composite the final scene and get it out the door two days before the due delivery date.

What it all comes down to is being able to thump my chest and say I’ve done right by my tribe, then grab a woman by the hair and drag her back to my cave.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lost & Found

Before everything spirals too far into the bullshit and outright madness of Christmas, the British Film Institute is serving up their annual helping of gems and oddities discovered through the Missing, Believed Wiped initiative.

Set in motion to rectify the ‘cultural hooliganism‘ of the UK’s television broadcasters who wiped shows due to lack of storage space, to save on the then relatively high cost of videotape, or even due to the mistaken belief that, with the advent of colour television, black and white programmes had absolutely no commercial value, since its inception in 1993, Missing, Believed Wiped has doggedly unearthed and restored numerous programmes once thought lost to the ether.

In the last few years, the annual event has screened rediscovered episodes of cult dramas The Avengers and Adam Adamant Lives!, sketches from At Last, the 1948 Show, The Complete and Utter History of Britain, as well as Morecambe and Wise’s first series for the BBC and even lost animation from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. At its tenth anniversary event in 2003, it screened recently unearthed footage from the abortive launch of BBC2 in 1964. After a power failure affected Central London, the planned schedule was replaced by a news bulletin from the studios at Alexandra Palace. Even then it was dogged by technical difficulties.

Presented by reporter Gerald Priestland, reading from cards and interrupted by telephone calls from the production gallery, the first two minutes of the report were broadcast without audio. The sound finally arrived just as Priestland announced: “Back home again, that Yorkshire bus-conductress who was sacked last week for calling Pakistani passengers ‘stinking wogs’ has got her job back. Union representatives went to see the management and the conductress made an apology.” Which made for a less than auspicious start to the channel.

Offerings this year, in the two programmes entitled Nuclear Threats and Comedy Plus, include:

Level Seven (BBC, 1966) Directed by Rudolph Cartier and adapted by JB Priestley, from a story by Mordecai Roshwald, for the science-fiction anthology series Out of the Unknown. Level Seven is set in an underground nuclear command bunker where an operative receives his final training at the missile launch controls, ready to retaliate in the event of an enemy attack.

The Crunch (ATV, 1964) Directed by Michael Elliot and written by Nigel Kneale for the Studio 64 series. Starring Harry Andrews and Peter Bowles, in The Crunch a disaffected former-British colony holds London to ransom with a suitcase atomic bomb.

Out of the Trees (BBC, 1976) Written by Graham Chapman and Douglas Adams, after the demise of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and before The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this one-off comedy sketch show features Maria Aitken, Simon Jones and Mark Wing-Davey.

The Executioner (Associated-Rediffusion, 1961) Directed by Pat Jackson for the drama anthology series Rendezvous. Starring Patrick McGoohan and Charles Drake, The Executioner is a tense story of betrayal within the French Resistance.

The screenings take place at the National Film Theatre on Saturday 2 December from 3.50 pm. Further details can be found here.

This announcement was brought to you by a whore who will do just about anything for a free ticket. Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Story. Dilemma

What better to do on a miserable, overcast day than trawl through medical and neurological websites sourcing facts on incurable illnesses? Could it get any better?

And yet, bizarrely, a light bulb blinked on. In amongst all the doom and gloom, I figured out how to solve a plot point for a short film script that had been sticking in my craw these past weeks.

Strange, I know. Perhaps, even worrying. But then these things never come exactly when called. For the short, the idea boils down to: A man finds himself in a dilemma. Man tries to get out of dilemma. Hijinks ensue.

That said, I was never totally convinced by how he got into the dilemma in the first place. I knew why he was in a fix, but not how he got into the fix. And suddenly there it was.

To add icing on the cake, a new final line, delivered by a different character entirely, changes the whole slant of the story. Not a twist in the tail because... well, who needs that? It was all a dream! He was dead all along! And now I’m going to swallow my own tongue, thank you! But subtle sleight of hand, which gives a whole new meaning to the title.

How the idea came to me? Carrying a mug of coffee back to the computer to carry on investigating the body apocalypse, I glanced out the window and watched someone park their car. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the story whatsoever.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Male Bonding

The plan was to get together with a bunch of friends and see Casino Royale. The idea had been floated at Work Buddy’s birthday party but nothing more was said until, out of the blue, Our Pal sent out an email seeing who was up for it.

It still seemed like a good idea, until it became clear the day everyone was looking to go was this Thursday. While I’m looking forward to seeing the reinvention of James Bond, I don’t have such a hard on for it that I want to see it on the opening day.

Seeing it then places too much importance on the film and too many expectations. Make that kind of effort and the film has to satisfy our every need. And, in this case, justify its bloody deeds. Which means too much is riding on it to be a piece of good, solid entertainment.

First days for franchise films also get the really avid fans. At least, in this instance, they won’t be dressed up as stormtroopers and Jedi Knights and be grateful to sit after standing in line for weeks on end. But its still the kind of people who fervently applaud the BBFC certificate. Who are exactly the sort of fervent mad-clowns I tend to shy right away from.

And anyway, Thursday night sees the broadcast of the third episode of The State Within. Bond can wait.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Good Filmmaker

Apparently they still do make them like they used to.

Or at least they try.

Bad Timing

I have an unfortunate habit of saying the most inappropriate things at exactly the wrong occasion. It’s obviously part of my genetic makeup, which, as hard as I try to avoid it, I can’t always do anything about.

Looking back at the last couple of entries, I realised that posting one called Bullshit! on Remembrance Day was perhaps not the most tactful thing to do. I did try to swap the order around (because obviously being posted on Remembrance Sunday would be so much better), but discovered that Will Dixon had already jumped in and left a comment.

So apologies to anyone who took offence.

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of interviewing a couple of RAF bomber pilots for magazine articles I was writing. One had flown Wellingtons into the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, or “Happy Valley” as he called it. The other piloted Blenheims in the North Africa Campaign, before transferring to flying unarmed reconnaissance Spitfires.

In the early twenties, they were serving their country at an age when I was goofing around at art school and bunking off to see movies, without a care in the world. Both men were very matter of fact about the job they had to do. It was only when I got to browse through the pilot logs they had kept after all these years that I discovered the extent of their exploits.

The Wellington pilot was shot down over Belgium, and taken down the famous Comete Line, set up by Andrée de Jongh, to Spain where he was traded for his weight in petroleum. Attacked by fighters after one particular raid on Derna, the Blenheim pilot eventually brought the plane home on one engine, with less than a minute’s worth of petrol in the tanks, to find that the rest of the squadron had already raised a glass to him and his aircrew.

Both men survived the war and went of to lead long and happy lives with successful careers and loving families. Too many men and women who served their country weren’t so fortunate. For the sacrifice they made, they should be remembered not just today but every day.

In early April 2003 I had to contact a Wing Commander in the RAF to arrange a time and place to interview him for one of the articles. “Bit busy with the war,” he announced, which threw me, because, having spent the day in London’s Imperial War Museum’s archives immersed in 1939-1945, my initial reaction was What are you talking about the war’s over? But of course he meant the second invasion of Iraq, codenamed “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, which had begun mid-March.

“Call me next Thursday” the WC instructed, “I should have more time to talk.” Next Thursday was April 10, 2003. The day before I turned on the television and watched tanks enter Baghdad and the M88 tank retriever tear down the statue of Saddam Hussein.

Obviously the second invasion had gone according to plan. It’s a great shame the coalition governments hadn’t put as much thought and effort into what was to follow.

What's Up Dex?

The last couple of days I’ve finally had a chance to catch up with Dexter.

Not this one.

But this one.

New from Showtime, the drama stars Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, a forensics expert for the Miami PD who specialises in blood spatter analysis. He’s also a sociopath.

Whereas Will Graham in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, adapted from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, could get into the mindset of the serial killers he was chasing, Morgan Dexter goes one step further by being a full blown serial killer himself: a combination of Graham and Hannibal Lecter, say.

After all, everyone should have a hobby, to stop it all being just being about work, and Dexter’s is to dismember people he doesn’t like. So as not to draw undue attention to his extracurricular activities, he adheres to a strict code of practice instilled by his father, himself a member of the Miami Police Department.

Choosing people who have slipped through the criminal justice system as his victims, he goes about it with such planning that it’s difficult to tell whether he’s a forensics expert who moonlights as a serial killer, or a serial killer who moonlights as a forensics expert. And of course, as we begin to see the hidden secrets and ulterior motives of his friends and colleagues in the world he inhabits, Dexter comes out with the more honest moral code.

Unlike CSI: Miami which drenches the city in honey golden hues, Dexter shows a city coloured with a much more muted palette. Like Manhunter, and Nic Roeg’s supernatural chiller Don’t Look Now, bright reds are used to denote danger. The colour is primarily reserved for the bright splashes from arterial sprays that daub the stark white walls of the murder scenes.

A number of people have wondered how such a show was commissioned. I suspect it was pitched as an exploration of the dual nature of personality and how we put on a public face to hide our true nature. Get the suits interested in that and then drop in the fact that the protagonist is a serial killer. Yeah, that would work.

“Another beautiful Miami day. Mutilated corpses with the chance of afternoon showers.”

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Because Potdoll demanded it – here’s the story about the day I spent getting sprayed with hot cow shit, straight from the horse’s mouth.

There are times when I get a little jaded about the industry, but I soon snap out of it. It’s the self-aggrandizement that gets me. This may be an unpopular thing to say, and may have me chased through the North London streets by angry writers wielding flaming torches and pitchforks, but the entertainment industry isn’t really vital.

It doesn’t clothe us, feed us, or keep us warm. But that said, entertaining and informing people is a good thing. It keeps a good proportion of people off the street and out of mischief. I mean, since the invention of television, the east coast of England hasn’t seen angry Vikings steaming ashore to rape and pillage the locals. So it must be doing something right.

While I have a very low threshold for dealing with the bullshit that sneaks up, working indoors at a computer or out with a camera is still far better than real back-breaking manual labour. Which is something I certainly don’t have especially fond memories of.

Amongst my folks numerous businesses when I was growing up were two farms, about five years apart, on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. Both at a time when I was old enough to be useful, which meant I didn’t have a particularly happy face when school term ended because it meant months of hard work, rather than just the weekends.

The first was purely raising livestock for slaughter, the second arable and livestock. The thing with cattle is they’re inquisitive buggers. And they love a good bonfire, lining up to breath in the sparks and the smoke.

Left to graze, they have to be counted twice a day, morning and evening. Pretty soon I discovered that cattle fall into one of three categories:

Category one cattle want nothing to do with humans and ignore them.

Category two cattle are inquisitive enough to sidle over but don’t have the guts to come right up to humans.

Category three cattle are pleased to see you and come right over, acting almost like a pet. A great big meat and muscle pet.

Category three cattle would stroll over when I had to do the head count. They’d come for a scratch behind their ears, lick my hand with their thick sandpapery tongue and follow me around the field, seriously messing up the count. They’d jostle each other and bump against me to get close while I skipped about, trying to keep them from standing on my feet.

Category three cattle would also stare me straight in the eye come the morning they were being herded up the ramp and into the truck for the last journey they would ever take.

Boisterous great lunks who didn’t know their own strength, the trick I was taught to partially incapacitate a bullock was, put your thumb and forefinger into the nostrils and squeeze them together. Which is what I had to do if they ever came down with a malady and needed them to stand still while the vet gave them a shot. Full-grown bullocks have nostrils like egg cups for ostrich eggs. And when they’re sick, the nostrils fill right up with hot snot. Nice. But at least it’s the front end.

On the second farm, the day came when the small, younger bullocks needed their inoculations. Which isn’t easy to administer, because it needs a strong needle and the bullock standing still. Getting the needle through their hide is relatively easy. Trying to keep the animal stationary is another matter.

Fingers in the nostrils of a bullock is okay in isolated cases, but inoculating seventy-odd head of young cattle posed a different problem. Especially when they can only have one shot apiece.

To stop them mingling and getting mixed up: two pens. The cattle start in one, go through a race one and a time, where they get their jab, and end up in the other. Because the race was temporarily erected there was no gate to close behind. So once a bullock was herded in and held there, some poor mook had to stand right behind it, link their arms around the bars either side and grip hard, stopping the animal from backing back. Guess who was volunteered for that detail?

As a plan it worked pretty well. The only part they neglected to tell me was how a bullock reacts to getting stuck with a needle. Specifically, they shit themselves. It’s brief, but it comes out like a high-pressure hose.

So standing right behind one when it gets inoculated is not a good idea. Standing behind seventy-odd? Luckily they were only youngsters, so it only hit me in the stomach. The first blast came as a shock. Pretty soon I was resigned to it: grab the bars, squeeze tight, take a deep breath and close my eyes.

By the time we were done, and walking back to the house for lunch, it was running down my legs, spattered up my chest and arms, on my face and in my hair. I can’t rightly remember, but I’m sure I didn’t have much of an appetite that day.

I guess I’ve got a low threshold for bullshit because I’ve had my fill.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Work Buddy had a meeting yesterday evening with a potential client. Back from the pharmaceutical briefing, he stopped off with an external storage so I could transfer avi files onto one of my extra drives.

Unfortunately the drive sorely lacked a FireWire connection, which meant it took longer than we expected to copy the material onto the Mac. So Work Buddy pushed off to the meeting, planning to pick it up on his way back home once the transfer was complete.

At least having the computer tied up meant I could kick back and watch the second episode of The State Within, on which I can only heap more praise. Especially since I was so far off the mark with how I expected the story to continue to play out.

Typically, the scheduling of The State Within meant that I had missed Jack Dee’s misanthropic sitcom Lead Balloon, which had been put on after the utterly toxic Catherine Tate on BBC2. Browsing the BBC website, while waiting for Work Buddy to return for the drive, I discovered I could watch all the episodes of Lead Balloon on the sitcom’s website. Oh, technology. What joy you bring to our empty little lives!

By the time Work Buddy texted to say the meeting was over and he was on his way, it was far past midnight and I was four episodes in. When he eventually arrived to pick up the external drive I was into the fifth part, pausing it to discuss the possible future prospects. After he had headed home it seemed a shame to give up now with only one episode left in the series to watch.

It was a good show. Funny, clever, and no gormless laugh track, which meant I was allowed to make up my own mind whether I wanted to laugh or not. That said, I still prefer Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What's Up Doc?

Had the initial briefing on writing material for the pharmaceutical reports. Which meant getting a chance to skim through the source documents, all chock full of marvellous science-speak.

The material was presented in great big chunks of text that went on and on and on, one comma after another, piling on the information with no end in sight, as well as adding lots of acronyms, which made we wonder WTF was going on there, and then putting additional data in brackets (to make the sentences even longer), so that before I got close to the end, I lost track of where I was.

What it has to be turned into is briefing material for MPs. Bullet points. Key facts. Sound bites on paper. On the symptom and the potential cure.

Instead of the science part, they want to know how many of their constituents are affected. They also want the panic points as well, to smack the opposition over the head with.

The strange thing is, since we’ve been filming the corporate/ pharmaceutical work, I’ve seen more doctors than I have in my lifetime. Growing up in the West Country, including spending years living on a farm, we never went to a doctor unless a limb had been torn off or we’d coughed up a vital organ.

So almost drowning in a grain silo, having a woodpile collapse onto me, nearly getting trampled by stampeding meat and muscle that had broken out of their grazing pasture, or spending a morning getting sprayed with cow shit, were just par for the course. On days when I was I feeling slightly dodgy I was still packed off to school. Although one time it did result in me hurling up all over my desk in second period Latin, so maybe that’s a bad example.

One of the few times I have seen a doctor in the last twenty years it resulted in the nurse (who not only looked, but acted like Rosa Klebb’s ugly sister) taking blood samples from my arm in such a clumsy way that the resulting bruise ran from my wrist halfway up my bicep. And then the local GP at the surgery went to prison for showing an unhealthy interest in some of his younger patients. So I’ve tended to steer clear of medical practices.

Even now, I’ve either chipped a bone near my elbow or trapped a nerve, because it hurts like a sonofabitch when I try to straighten my arm. If I have to see someone, I’ll wait until after the work is finished. Pretty much the attitude we used to have, knowing that it would sort itself out eventually.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Where To Begin

It struck me, writing about the Designated Author’s novel idea, that the preliminary work I put in included one of the few times that I actually began at the beginning with an opening sentence. Hurray for me!

The fact that I wrote nothing more on this one is beside the point. After all, I was simply writing up the character histories and trying to wrestle the out-there plot into submission, and nothing more. But when it comes to my own writing, or the projects collaborating with Work Buddy, on most occasions the first line never comes first.

This could be down to my sometime appalling memory or, ah......... oh, yeah, the fact that when we’re cooking something up, and ideas are zinging in every direction, I try and get them down on paper before they get steamrollered over. Which means I very rarely start at the beginning.

Putting the stories together I tend to start from the inside and work my way out. Writing the book earlier this year, as I started to block out the plot, the first thing I wrote ultimately finished up on page 233 of the finished draft.

While that was an ‘exciting incident’ to fire up my imagination, it’s not simply a case of writing the really fun stuff first and leaving the connective tissue until last because, well, it just ain’t as exciting. True be told, it's the quiet moments between characters that I like the most. So character descriptions, locations and scraps of dialogue all get hurriedly scribbled onto record cards, scratch pads or quickly typed into separate Word documents.

Gradually it all coalesces into a whole. The worry is, if I don’t write it then and there, whether I’m at my desk or out and about, scrabbling for a pen, it’ll be forgotten. Which means that outline, treatment and script leave the gate together, jockeying for position.

As a work habit, it didn’t seem unusual until the Designated Author told me I had a bizarre way of writing. This, from someone who is sometimes just bizarre.

It may not be right, but the results are the same. So is this the way everyone else does it? Or am I writing wrong?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rewriting Wrongs

There are days when I wonder what the hell it is I do to attract the crazies. Maybe it’s my kindly smile and gentle demeanour. Or not.

I reread the Designated Author’s email, railing at the fact that she was being dropped from ‘writing’ the trilogy of books. Obviously I’m not happy about it either. But it was her final sentence that troubled me more.

Unless I’m misinterpreting her, and sometimes that’s an incredibly easy thing to do, the Designated Author is looking to resurrect a project of her own that she waved in front of me earlier this year. Oh dear.

It began as an idea pitched to US producers who were interested right up until the point she delivered the pilot script. Reading it, it was easy to see why. Which is what I didn’t get.

This was from someone who had played a lead in a long-running television series. Well over one hundred scripts had passed through her hands. In all that time hadn’t she paid the slightest attention to the words on the page? Well, the answer to that had to be a blindingly obvious NO!

Instead, the Designated Author had embraced the LA Actor role wholeheartedly and signed up for the full B&B – booze and blow – so everything went in one ear, rattled around for a while, and then went right out the other. (Which is the only viable excuse I can think of).

Her idea now was to pull the festering idea for the television series out of the dumpster, give it a hose down, and turn it into a series of novels. Easier said than done, I thought, based on what I had read. But I said I’d take a look and see what could be done to make it work.

On the journey, I had scribbled notes down the margins of the outline, establishing the non-existent character’s back-stories and motivations.

Of the three central characters, two go off on their ‘adventure’, while one stays behind because of other commitments. I suggested the character that opts out gets taken along for the ride by accident. No way of getting back home until it’s over, suddenly we have some added dramatic tension.

As for the plot itself, that proved a little more difficult because it involves dumb science along with a healthy dollop of hippie-dippie New Age bullshit. Which meant I either had to figure out how to stop it being dumb or disguise it enough that the reader wouldn’t notice.

With that main hurdle still to overcome, I managed to add a couple of smaller obstacles into the narrative that makes the protagonists’ lives more difficult. Her response: The two characters shouldn’t be childhood friends (which they were in the script). Oh, okay. And that was the least stupid one. The rest made me want to introduce her to my own B&B: boltgun and blowtorch! Especially when, after reading the character histories, she decided the book would lose momentum if we began with their childhoods. What?

Luckily, she went off to appear in some indie film. I got on with whatever it was I was getting on with at the time. I’d be happy to forget it ever happened. Except...

Making notes, I wrote down the opening line:

Emma always said it started with the book, but for Kris it began when she saw the leaves turn red.

And I'm still intrigued to see where it could lead.

In the meantime, I'm still undecided about whether to circumvent the Designated Author altogether, and go straight to the source to get the writing gig on the final two books of this proposed trilogy. For now, perhaps, it’s better to bide my time and wait and see what news the publisher passes along.

Just because I wrote the first book, it doesn’t mean I automatically deserve to get a shot at the rest. And my action could queer any other possibilities. You think?

Sunday, November 05, 2006


After I seriously went off on one about the new BBC drama Torchwood, Will Dixon asked what I really thought of the show. At first I figured it was a jocular riposte: a “what did you really think?” after my attempt to tear the series a new arsehole.

By his second time of asking I decided he was serious. And since it would be rude to simply fob him off with a glib reply, here’s why I had serious issues with Torchwood.

First off, the incessant hype didn’t help win me over. I hate hype. Obviously you have to promote whatever it is you’re selling, rather than sit back and expect people to come on their own accord. But there’s a difference between promoting a product and promoting the living shit out of it.

I loathe someone repeatedly telling me I must watch a particular television programme or film. I can make my own decisions, thank you very much. And when the hype reaches overwhelming proportions, as it did with Torchwood, the cynic inside me becomes suspicious of the product they’re hawking.

It’s easy to criticize, far harder to create. Work Buddy and I are currently putting together a number of projects to pitch. One, a television drama, already has the pilot episode written on spec. Working out how to introduce the characters and how much of the plot threads to divulge, had us sweating blood.

It didn’t help that I altered a line of dialogue to make it more logical and then had to change the next twenty pages to accommodate the alteration. Only because, while I didn’t want to over analyse it, I didn’t want to be obvious either.*

The Torchwood pilot looked obvious. Actually, I should correct that. It looked lazy. This idea of making sure the ‘real world’ got a fair shake, meant that too much time was wasted fannying around while the plot, what existed of it, was hopelessly rushed. Compared to the pilots of Alias, say, or The X-Files, it looked positively anaemic.

The characters, perfunctorily introduced – “Toshiko Sato, computer genius, Suzie Costello, she’s second-in-command, and this is Ianto Jones. Ianto cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time” – were barely two-dimensional at best.

“Toshiko Sato, computer genius.” Can we still use lines like that in 2006?

The unexpected violent death of one of the main characters come the episode’s hurried and confused finale, didn’t have the same weight as the pilot of The Shield and the murder of Terry Crowley, because in Torchwood we didn’t know enough about the characters to really give a shit.

Being the pilot episode, it would probably not have had the same time constraints that apply to writing episodic television. Working to deadlines, you do the best you can in the time given. But this was the pilot episode for goodness sake. Which meant that as an introduction to the series, written in advance with more time to get it right, the failings were utterly unforgivable.

These caveats aside, the biggest lie fed to the audience was that it was adult drama. Pull the other one. There was nothing adult about it. Teen dramas out of the States are more grown up in their attitude. Hopelessly juvenile, Torchwood proved that there are times when being a potty mouth isn’t big or clever.

Having mentioned the ‘resonances’ Russell T Davies packs into his episodes, there’s no point in going over them again. Other than to mention that ‘resonating’ other people’s ideas really gets my goat. Still, here’s something I came across checking out other folk’s opinions of the show. This is from the 25th July edition of The Daily Telegraph:

Torchwood was actually the name used as a security measure to disguise preview tapes of the first episodes of the new Doctor Who to stop them falling into the hands of DVD pirates when they were moved from Wales to BBC headquarters.

Davies said: “One of the people in the office had the idea of calling the tapes Torchwood as they went from Cardiff to London, instead of putting
Doctor Who on them. I thought, ‘That's clever!’ I had that taped away in my head for a good six months, and now here it is as a show.”

So, even someone else came up with the fucking name of the show? What exactly does he do?

So there you go. Rather than complain any more, I’m giving the rest of the series a wide berth. Will, I hope that’s answered your question. Here ends my 100th post.

* The spec pilot went off to two people to gauge their reactions. A film producer Work Buddy has worked with absolutely savaged it. Reading his comments, which he tried to make constructive, it became apparent that he was under the assumption the script was self-contained. Still, he made some valid points, even though most of his produced work favours flying monkeys.

The second reader was an actress looking to step the other side of the camera. She thought it was better than two professional scripts her agent had sent for her to audition for, which was nice. Even then, when we laid out the story beyond the first episode, she flagged up a major theme that wouldn’t have been introduced until the second or third episode. Quite rightly, she told us this had to be introduced in the pilot. Left where it was, the audience would feel lied to once it eventually appeared.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

By The Book - The Legacy

And just like that, the opportunity to write two more books seems to have upped and disappeared like a fart in the wind. Apparently everyone wasn’t happy, as I was led to believe, which meant it wasn’t exactly smiles all round.

The legalities sorted, someone in LA now has a say in the matter and, having had a run in with the Designated Author in the past, isn’t happy having her ‘working’ on the project. The publisher’s hands are tied. The trilogy of books is going ahead, but without her. Which means I get dumped along with her.

The lesson here is always play nice, because the past will come back to take a big, wet bite out of your ass the first chance it gets. It’s something I try to follow, and fail more often than not. That’s only because I’ve got an incredibly low bullshit threshold. And which is one of the reasons why I don’t work in animation anymore.

The thing is, I’ve crossed paths with the LA man. A friend over in the Valley has worked with him in the past. So there is an in. And I had to deal with the publisher directly when it came to checking over the edit as well, because the matter was deigned too trivial by the Designated Author.

The great mastermind that she is, the Designated Author didn’t bother transferring the manuscript into a document of her own before sending it to the publisher. Which meant, as soon as Word’s Reviewing toolbar came into use, my name flashed up on every page. So there is enough evidence already that the book isn’t hers.

If I desperately wanted to write the books, I could theoretically leapfrog over the Designated Author, while she lies in the bed she made for herself, and contact the two other players directly. It could work. Or it could blow up in my face.

Decisions, decisions. In the meantime, I’ve just racked up a massive body-count on Perfect Dark. No doubt there will be a few more games before I decide what to do.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rapture Within!

Finally. Densely plotted, grown-up, thought-provoking drama.

After so many broken promises of late... Who would have thunk it?

One Way Or The Other

With the sudden plummet in temperature turning All Souls’ Day into Colder Than a Witch’s Tit day, neither Work Buddy nor myself are complaining about the heat generated from the computers anymore.

After finishing up all the outstanding projects, we’re finally putting together the website for the Delightful LA Actress. With that done, he can head off to the Netherlands for the weekend and I can go home and play Perfect Dark and watch the rest of Das Boot.

While editing the copy to fit on the various pages, a call comes in for Work Buddy, during which he puts me forward for writing pharmaceutical reports. Just about the same time the Designated Author emails from LA to see if I’d be interested in writing erotica.

Okay. Unusual. But, yes to both. Why not? Pile it on! If they both come off I just have to make sure I don't mix up the finished material when I send it back to the source.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Battlestar Wars

Some years back I had some particularly interesting conversations with fans of the original Battlestar Galactica. This was first before The SciFi Channel broadcast the initial miniseries, and then after, by which time I thought they would have calmed done some.

Instead they were even more incensed.

This had me confused. Hadn’t the miniseries stuck close to the three-part opener from 1978? You know; Robot Cylons launch a surprise attack on the human home worlds. Everyone gets the hell out and heads for Earth.

I even thought it had improved on the original by having a more logical through line and ditching the cheese. For instance, this time around the Galactica heads for a weapons depot to stock up and get back in the fight, instead of going to a disco. That’s got to be worth something?

They weren’t having it.

But it ditched the hokey Chariots of the Gods thread, the bizarre selection of names simply became pilot call-signs, and, best of all, the robot dog made out of tin cans and pom-poms went in the crapper. In their place was an enemy who could actually shoot straight, properly presented three-dimensional characters, and, a clear delineation between civilians, military, government and religion, which created its own tensions between the survivors. Surely that counted for something?

Nope, they still weren’t buying it.

Here was a science fiction drama, of which they were obviously fans, that treated the universe that had been created in an adult way. This was grown-up drama that happened to be science fiction. As grown-ups themselves, wasn’t this what they wanted?

Obviously not.

To me, story is always paramount. It became apparent that for these guys the accoutrements took priority. They didn’t like the new uniforms. Too dull. They didn’t like the fact that the characters were not only flawed but had normal names. They weren’t heroic enough. They didn’t like that units of distance and time weren’t called... well, whatever they were originally called. Yahrens? Whatever.

Science fiction to them was all about the tinsel and the glitter that came with it. They wanted the cutesy robots and flashing lights and stupid names and all the rest of the dreadful shit that gets slathered on. All the loopy, juvenile, cretinous, nonsensical shit that got trashed out of the new show to make it stand on its own two feet as drama was what they loved.

Eventually I beat a hasty retreat clutching the preview tape of 33 to my chest.

The first four episodes of Battlestar Galactica’s third season had been transferred to my external drive just before the weekend. But because of the party and the work leading up to it, and generally everything else going on since, I had been very good and abstained.

With Work Buddy down in London today photographing a presentation at the Houses of Parliament, I had the studio to myself. At which point I was very bad. But they were really great.