Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Best wishes for 2007. And remember what Rodin said:

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

CS Oh!

Yesterday the Freeview channel Five US held a special CSI Night. It included two episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and a CSI: Miami, but bizarrely no CSI: NY. Sandwiched between the first two episodes was the hour-long documentary CSI: The Inside Story.

I came to the CSI party late. When Five started up in 1997, as Channel 5, I couldn’t get a signal, even though I was living virtually within spitting distance of Alexandra Palace. (Instead they were broadcasting from the Croydon transmitter, which was why I was shit out of luck).

Looking at the initial listings I figured it was no great loss, and only eventually began to take an interest when Five started to buy up US dramas like The Shield and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation along the rest of the franchise as it came off the production line.

So it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really had the change to catch up. While there are shows I like better, the Vegas-based CSI is certainly entertaining enough. (CSI: Miami I’ll occasionally catch, CSI: NY I generally don’t bother with).

Sitting down to the documentary last night seemed like a good way to discover how the show had become so phenomenally successful so soon out of the gate. How did Anthony Zuiker, a one-time ticket collector on Las Vegas’ trams with only one screenwriting credit, end up on sitting on top of a franchise so successful that, were he to run out of toilet paper tomorrow, he could probably switch to wiping his arse will $100 bills for the rest of his life and not worry about it?

What about Jerry Bruckheimer’s involvement? Obviously he has an incredibly successful film career, but up until putting his name to CSI, his sole involvement in television was the late 1990s Soldier of Fortune, Inc. Now he has his own little TV fiefdom.

CSI: The Inside Story may have seemed like a good idea in the planning, but when it came to the actual production the budget must have come out of what was left in petty cash at the end of the month. All the major players in front and behind the camera got some face time, but ultimately the show was just a shuffled deck of superficial soundbites and clips.

We did learn a few interesting tidbits, like CSI is apparently shown in every country in the world except for six. And the actual crime scene investigators in Las Vegas that Zuiker hung out with during his initial research were called Field Services. Except that now, on the back of the shows’ success, they have actually changed their name to CSI. But everything else barely dipped below the surface.

Outside of the cast and crew, there was commentary from good old Dick Fiddy from the BFI, who is an absolute must when a TV historian is called for. But, bizarrely, he was accompanied by the increasingly smug Jon Culshaw – solely because they eventually showed a clip from Dead Ringers that spoofed CSI; Five’s main news anchor, Kirsty Young, who had nothing interesting to say; and a couple of the UK’s media journalists who, as the programme progressed, managed to make spectacular tits of themselves.

While the US interviews were slickly done (though in some instances had the suspicious whiff of the EPK about them), the UK material was real bargain basement. No make up for the interviewees. In some cases, more shockingly, no proper lighting. It really had the feel that, by the time these filming days came around, the production was running on loose change. Which was a shame.

I’d have been happy just to find out about how, and why, they chose the red, yellow and blue colour palettes for the three shows. But nobody said nuffink about them.

The creation of the CSI franchise and its impact around the world would certainly make for an interesting documentary. Unfortunately CSI: The Inside Story wasn’t it.

Maybe it’s best to wait for the inevitable book. And in the meanwhile, start coming up with ideas for new shows that, with luck, will make an even bigger impression.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Box Stupid

Though not one for New Year resolutions and other such bunk, for 2007 I’m thinking it might be an idea to be less critical and disparaging in some of my observations. Especially concerning television. Or rather, British television.

After all, weren’t we taught if you haven’t got a good word to say about anything, don’t say anything at all? But given it’s not yet 2007, there’s time for one last grumble.

I’d planned a post of my Top Ten television shows of the year, particularly since I could do a list of films due to a growing lack of enthusiasm for the cinema. It would have been up already had I not decided to wait until after Christmas, just in case something wonderful leapt out of the schedules at the last minute. Which means I’ve either been infected with a modicum of blind optimism or gone utterly demented.

The answer, unsurprisingly, is of course the latter. Because this year Christmas television has been especially cock. Of course television over the holiday period isn’t supposed to be good. It’s there to serve as a time-out for the nation between gorging itself immobile, tiresome games and escalating family feuds.

Even so, when a showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which has been available on DVD for three years now, scores the highest rating on Boxing Day with 10.1 million viewers, it’s pretty obvious something is incredibly wrong. In fact the screening came third overall over the two-day period.

Top, inexplicably, was The Vicar of Dibley on Christmas Day. 11.4 million people watched. Frankly I’d prefer to have my genitals pressed against an industrial sander coated in bleach for an extended period of time.

Apparently one of the plot threads involved the gormless idiot-girl in the series becoming convinced she was the last living descendant of Jesus after deciphering the clues in Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. What is that book, three years old now? That’s writing with its finger firmly on the pulse. And a thumb firmly up the butt.

The remaining comedies were either a litany of trite catchphrases in place of jokes and grotesque caricatures instead of character, or tired family sitcoms. With their obvious chuckles and casual racism, they wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1970s (or at least from a time when Dawn French could still see her vagina). Repeats of Porridge and Dad’s Army were once again on hand to show how desperately unfunny this current crop is.

In terms of drama, The Ruby in the Smoke was good. I love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy but never got around to the Sally Lockhart quartet, which he describes as “old-fashioned Victorian blood-and-thunder”. Any story when the innocent young heroine has to inhale opium to unlock her past is all right by me. But ultimately it lacked something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Then there was the new version of Dracula, which managed to be even more irritating than Coppola’s 1992 version. Described in Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel as a ‘tall old man’ and certainly an imposing figure in all the previous adaptations, this time around the Count was anything but. Marc Warren, who specialises in playing weasels lacked any real presence. The silly wig didn’t help either.

And finally there was, of course, the Doctor Who Christmas episode. (Calling it a special would just be plain wrong). All the critics that jabber on about how brilliant this show is and how it has revitalised television drama really should be hung upside down and beaten around the face and neck until their heads come loose.

Useless, lazy rubbish, this was the fairy on top the Christmas Tree of Stupid. Anyone over the age of twelve who raves about the show is either officially retarded or in need of an MRI.

To keep with tradition, all the familiar elements were once again in place: piss poor pacing, a stupid storyline capped off with the obligatory deus ex machina, a nasty intrusive soundtrack and none too special effects. Darkness in Legend, already appropriated in the previous series, was referenced once again for the villainess, along with healthy dollop of Shelob added to the mix.

Being sicked up on would have been more entertaining. The only reason we stand for this kind of nonsense is... it’s Christmas! But even that excuse is beginning to wear thin.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Malt or Milton

I make an absolutely dreadful drunk. The problem is I simply don’t drink enough.

Back at art school it may have been a different story on a couple of occasions. But even, in the throes of youthful exuberance, there were many times when I’d end the night virtually stone cold sober while everyone else was stumbling about and tipping arse over teakettle. No more so than a first year day-trip, life-drawing in France, that turned liquid even before we reached foreign soil.

Writing at the desk on Boxing Day, I finished off a bottle of ginger ale*, forgetting that I had bought it specifically to make Moscow Mules by using up the rest of the vodka that had been sitting in the fridge for... how long? Six or maybe seven years is probably a conservative estimate.

Also on the shelf, being kept chilled, is a bottle of champagne. It was a going away present when I left an animation studio back in 1990. I liked the people I was with and the work I was doing. The animation director, one of the best in the business, was someone I had the greatest respect for.

I left because he had finally got finance for a film he’d been trying to get off the ground for something like twenty years. Just from his way of working, and where his priorities lay, I knew it was going to be a train wreck. Ultimately, it was a train wreck. I left because I didn’t want to be there to see it fail.

I went travelling and came back to working on documentaries. The bottle stayed chilled. I decided to open it when I had a good enough reason. In the late 1990s a girlfriend expected me to crack it when she got hired by Dreamworks. She was seriously put out when I declined.

Work Buddy and I still have a way to go with the projects we’re trying to set up. You know what they say; Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light. But we’re putting our shoulders to that big rock, always moving forward.

It may well be premature, but I think next year the wire will come off the bottle and the cork will finally get popped.

[* If you're about to say "Hey, muppet, it's ginger beer that goes in a Moscow Mule," you're too late. I've already had my knuckles rapped in the comments. The thing is, it was ginger beer I was drinking. I just didn't pay attention to the label. Hopeless!]

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sale Away

After a day being pumped full of turkey and other stodge, overdoing it on the alcohol intake, and arguing with as many family members as possible, part two of the great holiday tradition is to dive headlong into the post-Christmas, pre-January January sales. Unless, of course, you’re out in the countryside watching a fox being torn to pieces, which is the other alternative.

Boxing Day, I couldn’t be bothered. It was only discovering I was short on essentials, and ketchup, and a trip to the supermarket was required, that I decided to head into town today.

Now it’s the time for people to buy for themselves and get what they didn’t get for Christmas. The thing is, I don’t want a new throw rug or a kettle or golf clubs or whatever goddamn else there was up for grabs. Even at half the RRP.

While it’s the only time of year that bookstores have a proper sale, the stock they’re trying to shift is pretty damn dire. DVDs are on sale all year round now. But even then it’s also stock they can’t pay people to take off the shelves.

The films I’m interested in aren’t mass appeal and mass produced so they tend not to be seriously discounted. I ended up with a copy of Hitchcock’s The Man Knew Too Much – the remake with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day – for three quid. And the first season of the US version of The Office for a fiver.

At least it gave me a chance to see my fellow countrymen in action. Across the aisle from me on the tube home was a glum-faced, gum chewing, goth with long black hair with coloured extensions woven in, purple lipstick and crimson eyeshadow. She wore pink and black striped tights over leopard print tights, a zebra print miniskirt, black calf-high platform PVC boots, and a black overcoat with patched for The Exploited (presumably a band), and lapels covered with buttons like Eat Shit and Die and Bitches Rule! Shame it was only four stops on the Northern Line and not a long haul flight.

Almost home with the groceries, a small family saloon screeched up to the kerb ahead of me. Hazard lights blinking, the back door flew open and a wide-eyed young lad leapt out. He was followed immediately by his much younger brother who, bent double, coughed a mouthful of vomit onto the pavement.

Thankfully it was all very unspectacular. Passing the car, just as the dazed looking mother climbed out, I glanced inside to see I had missed the main event. Either the young lad had overdone it at an afternoon party or suffered from travel sickness. Either way, he had booted up in transit. The back seat of the car looked like someone had dropped a grenade in a trifle.

God, I’m going to miss these bright days of celebration.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Look Forward

I hate to come across as a real grouch but thank goodness that’s over and done with for another year.

Just for a brief moment on Christmas morning I felt a twinge of guilt about not going home for the holiday. Then I called up to wish everyone there a Happy Christmas and they seemed to be getting along just fine without me, which was good.

After breakfast I turned on the computer and continued writing our episode treatments for the big idea. Work Buddy and I had been emailing more ideas back and forth the day before, so I just got on with it, breaking for a sandwich for lunch, and making it an enjoyable and productive day.

Come the evening, I threw together the stir-fry and tried my best to watch the Christmas specials – extended, awkward editions of popular (brain-dead) television dramas and comedies. God, what I saw was utterly dreadful. What it did was drive me back to watching The Wire. Still genius.

With Christmas only just out the way, there’s barely time to draw breath before everything 2007 has to offer is being thrown in our faces. So we get tempted with pictures like this:

And then there’s this:

For a long time, working in animation put me off watching the stuff. I made an exception for the Pixar movies, and WBFA’s The Iron Giant, which was simply magnificent. I did go to see The Prince of Egypt because a bunch of mates worked on it, but fell asleep about a quarter of the way in and woke up to the credits.

Finally catching up with a few films from that time, I’ve found I really didn’t miss much. Shrek was a winner because it ripped the piss out of Disney on a massive scale. The sequel wasn't that bad either, which made a refreshing change. But like everything, a lot of it can be very hit and miss.

Still, Bee Movie might be worth a punt. The trailer is an absolute hoot. And by simply making you aware of the title and nothing more, much like the trailer for Seinfeld's previous film, Comedian, it doesn’t give away any of the main reveals or plot twists that seem to be part of the current trend in film trailers.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Mithras

The kitchen is stocked with enough food to see me into the New Year. Still to decide whether to cook a chilli or a stir-fry come the day, but all the ingredients are there, ready and waiting. There’s even a present waiting for me. Since there isn’t a tree to put it under, it’s beside the television.

Everyone I can think of, whether they have been naughty or nice, has been wished a Happy Holiday. Typically, when I decide to stay in London for the first time in years, an absolutely delightful actress I haven’t seen in over a year just texted to say that she will be down in Devon and wondered if I wanted to meet up for a drink the day after Boxing Day. Hopefully we can arrange a date when she returns to the capital in the New Year.

In the meantime, we celebrate... Mithras Day?

For anyone who missed the Christmas edition of QI last night:

The Roman God Mithras was a saviour, sent to Earth to live as a mortal, through whom it was possible for sinners to be reborn into immortal life. He died for our sins, but came back to life the following Sunday.

He was born of a virgin on December 25th in a manger or perhaps cave, attended by shepherds, and became known as the light of the world. He had twelve disciples with whom he shared a last meal before dying. His devotees symbolically consumed the flesh and blood of him.

Because Mithras was the sun god he was worshiped on Sundays. He is often depicted with a halo around his head and Mithrasists gave each other gifts on December 25th.

Whichever deity you follow, or whether you’re simply just celebrating surviving the Winter Solstice, have an enjoyable Christmas.

May god be between you and harm in all the empty places you walk.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Down The Wire

Back from a two-day brainstorming session with Work Buddy. While everyone else was winding down in preparation for the holiday season, we were ramping it up to get the series bible and supplementary material ready to be sent out in the New Year with the already written pilot script.

This has been casting a very long shadow over us for a while now. With the corporate filming finished for the year and everything else tucked up and put away, we finally had the time to sit down and put all the pieces together.

The blitz was on to make sure we had all the descriptions down for the main characters, supporting characters and the key recurring characters. Using spreadsheets we made sure everyone had relevant parts to play in each episode and satisfactorily developed through the course of the series. In tandem we tied down the individual episode stories that laid the trail of crumbs for the overall series story arc, playing characters off against the action.

While I was away, I’d left the computer on to transfer files. I came back to find that the power lead to the external drive had crapped out so that nothing had come down the pipe. Typical.

After all the years out of animation, I’d gotten lax and forgotten to check the connections before leaving. Depending on how tight the schedules used to be, if there were compositing scenes queued up to be rendered overnight for the next day, I’d go home for a couple of hours in the evening, wash, grab a bite to eat and a change of clothes before returning to the studio to watch over the data transfer.

There had been times, starting out, when errors would occur in a scene and stall the outputting, leading to either a mad rush the next morning and hell to pay. Not to repeat the experience, I’d sleep better for just a few hours on the couch in reception than a full night at home, stretched out in bed wondering whether the computers were behaving themselves.

Really Magic Realism

Are you stuck for a last minute present?

Have you read the previous blog entry and are trying to figure out which titles would top the list of films classed as culturally relevant to Britain?

Find the answer to both these worries in the films by the celebrated partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

On DVD from The Criterion Collection, the films come with audio commentaries - some featuring Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese - along with a variety of behind-the-scenes documentaries and galleries of rare publicity and production stills.

Also available is Powell’s extraordinarily daring Peeping Tom, made after the partnership was dissolved. Coming in February is a new high-definition digital transfer of their wartime thriller 49th Parallel.

Buy one for a friend. Realise they don't deserve it. Keep it for yourself. Get them a book token instead.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Testing Times

Interesting piece in The Times today about the new tax breaks that will apparently revive Britain’s film industry.

Typically, the tax relief offered to both local and international filmmakers arrives just as the current exchange rate makes high-budget US spends in the UK unattractive. That however isn’t stopping Walt Disney International from making Prince Caspian in Great Britain.

There is, however, a catch to this atypical generosity from the Treasury. To qualify for the tax relief the filmmakers must pass the so-called Cultural Test for British Films to prove their movie is culturally relevant to Britain. Marvellous.

So here it is: Gordon Brown’s Culture Test for UK Films

Films must score at least 16 out of 31 points to qualify for the tax break.


01. Are the lead characters British?

Four points if two or more of the three lead characters are British citizens or residents. One point if one is.

02. Where is the film set?

Four points if at least 75% of the film is set in Britain.

03. Is the film based on British subject matter?

Four points if it is, or is based on a story by a British citizen or resident.

04. Is the dialogue recorded mainly in English?

Four points if at least 75% is in English; three if 66%, two for 50%; and one point for 25%.


Up to four points for the development and promotion of British culture.

Where is it made?

Up to three points according to how much of the film is made in Britain.


There is one point available if each of the following are from the European Union: the director, scriptwriter, producer, composer, lead actors, key staff, majority of crew.

Right... And following all these guidelines will result in either a garish 90-minute commercial for the English Tourist Board or the kind of irritating little parochial film that doesn't have a hope in hell of getting a distribution deal.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Honoured Dead

The end of another evening which led to yet another pointless browse through the television listings looking for something entertaining to watch. Surely a futile exercise if ever there was one.

Something I always used to look forward to were the short seasons of films that played over the holiday period. Usually they were late at night and mostly they were in tribute to actors and filmmakers who had carked it in the previous twelve months. Which is one of the things that seems to be missing this year.

Maybe the broadcasters stopped the practice a while ago and I wasn't paying attention. That's really a pity because it usually meant that films that hadn't been seen for a good while were taken out of the vault and given a welcome airing.

Of course yesterday we lost Joseph Barbera.

I did like the item on last night's ITV News celebrating the life of Barbera and his working partnership with William Hanna, which explained that The Flintstones was specifically created for a family audience after surveys showed that more than half of Huckleberry Finn's audience were adults.

Oh dear. Especially since it wasn't a slip of the tongue by the newscaster, but part of a prerecorded report.

Christmas List Addendum

And to add to the list of things to do over the holiday period, I've just been given this to read:


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas List

The old dear called to tell me which nights she wouldn’t call to see how things are coming along. Go figure.

Reeling off the list of bowls and croquet club parties, local theatre parties, and lunches with ladies who lunch, it seemed more like a gentler reminder that their social life in the Westcountry leaves mine in the dust.

I had the drinks last week and that was it. But at least it was with people I liked. Which made a change from what I was used to with the studio parties. The year I joined we all went off go-karting for the afternoon, which was great. Since then the annual Christmas do came down to mediocre meals in expensive restaurants with everyone, rather boringly, on their best behaviour.

My evening of spreading Christmas cheer done with, today I got around to sending off the cards. In the next couple of days or so I need to head into London and pick myself up a present. It won’t be a surprise, obviously, but at least it’ll be something I want.

Now all that’s left is to decide what work needs to be done in the holiday period’s downtime:

Finalise the series bible to go with the written spec pilot

That’s really the big one and there are a lot of ideas that Work Buddy and I need to nail down and finish structuring. There’s also the script of the second episode that needs to be finished off.

Teach myself Flash for an upcoming short I’m animating

Luckily the designs mean that lip sync doesn’t enter the equation, which is a good thing. Making things move is easy, getting the timing right and bringing the characters to life is the thing.

List all the sources for the facts in the pharma document

They should have been listed while I was producing the material but in the end there wasn’t the time. If I don’t do it now it’ll be a nightmarish last-minute rush.

There’s always more but pile on too much and nothing will get done to satisfaction. So there’ll be notebooks and paper lying around to scribble in. And I need to tidy up the desk while I’m at it.

Write a treatment for the Gumball 3000 feature film

I’ve never been a great one for scriptwriting competitions. Rather, I’d prefer to write my own material to actually sell. I didn’t pay much attention to the Gumball’s call for entrants. It was only on the day of the deadline that I lifted a page from an existing script and sent it off with the CV. A week later I heard I was one of the 100 people invited to advance to the treatment stage.

In between I’ll catch up with some TV. I missed the opening episodes of The Story of Light Entertainment documentary series the first time around. Over the holiday the eight episodes are being repeated.

I’ve heard very good things about the BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke, which was previewed at the NFT earlier in the month. And of course there are the typical festive entertainments. On Christmas Eve, for instance, ITV1 is showing... Van Helsing?

Surely some mistake.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Not So Dumb Fun

Ah, the countdown to Christmas. With a week to go, peace on Earth and goodwill to all men, along with all the other baloney, appears to be in short supply.

Shopping for gifts in Central London means entering the seething cauldron of the stresses and strains this time of year brings. Unless of course you’re opting out of the festivities, whereupon it provides really excellent spectator sport. While there were no real knockdown drag-outs on show, heated exchanges warmed the cold December air as people are pushed close to meltdown in a bid to show their love for one another. One woman looked like she was about to punch a bus for getting in her way.

Before the television schedules are choked full with dumb Christmas specials of reasonably mundane fare, the channels are starting to mix it up by shoehorning in a selection of movies to replace the typical programmes. Growing up, this used to be a big deal but with the availability of films on DVD, nowadays not so much. Although, it does mean I can catch up with the sort of nonsense I wouldn’t have seen at the cinema or rented, let alone bought.

Last night Channel 4 showed The Core. I had meant to catch something else but the film was so bad it was hypnotic. Once I started watching, I couldn’t look away. There’s fun and then there’s dumb fun. The Core was just dumb. After the success of Armageddon and Deep Impact, some spark obviously decided that putting the Earth in danger brought its own rewards. But instead of the threat coming from out of the sky, it came from underground.

So in this instance, the planet’s magnetic core was fucked up and if it didn’t get sorted out, bad things would happen. You can imagine how utterly awful it was just by reading the last line back. I’m all for a journey to the centre of the Earth. But only if a Scandinavian with a duck under his arm goes along. Otherwise I’ll get my kicks from Steve Buscemi wigging out on an asteroid.

With all the money thrown at The Core it would have been good if the producers had employed a scientific advisor to shoot down the really stooped. Obviously crazy talk like that is worthy of heresy, but there are still some clever ideas around that can be wrapped up in entertaining ways.

Although I only made a few trips out to the cinema this year, there were still movies that I caught up with once they appeared on DVD. One of them was The Da Vinci Code. Which, I was surprised to discover, I actually liked. I still haven’t read the book. Some folk I know found it a real page-turner. Others were less than impressed. Either way, Dan Brown still wakes up every day smiling.

Watching the film there are certainly problems with the plot, especially when the characters manage to conveniently escape when they find themselves in a tight corner. And Tom Hanks’ pronunciation of “[Knights] Templar” is certainly ripe for debate. What The Da Vinci Code does extremely well is take a collection of ideas and beliefs and bind them together to create a narrative.

For all the criticism, the film does at least make you think. Which is something you’ll find lacking in a lightweight romantic comedy, or a dumb slasher flick that has people fannying around in the woods until its their turn to be bumped off in a grisly fashion. I’m certainly not blind to the almost ludicrous way the code, hidden for centuries, is cracked in a couple of days by Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon. But that’s the necessary compression of cinema for you.

In fact, it’s a shame The Da Vinci Code was made into a movie. Surely it would have worked better as a miniseries.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Name Check

I had had my ups and downs with the studio producer back when I was working in animation. But I have to say the working relationship seriously went downhill fast the day she called me a c*nt.

Here’s the thing. Amongst the studio staffers, the producer was not the most technically minded. There was also the producer’s assistant. The best word to describe that useless twatbomb was utterly incompetent. (Which is two words, but goes to show how completely useless she was).

For instance, we were getting ready to pitch for a live action/animation combo. The live action was supposed to take place in front of typical Norman Rockwell Americana of clapboard houses with picket fences.

The PA found reasonably ideal locations. I think they were in Turkey of all places, but that was about as far as the budget would stretch. She came to my department with a printout of one of the houses asking if we could scan it in and make a jpeg image for her.

I looked at the printout. The quality was pretty crappy. I handed it to my assistant. We exchanged glances. I asked the PA where she had got the picture. I could understand if it was out of a magazine, put this was from the printer downstairs.

Worked it out already? Yep, the PA had printed up a photograph she had found on the internet. She wanted us to scan the image, turn it into a jpeg so she could attach it to an email to send to the agency. My assistant handed back the printout. We exchanged glances.

Then I asked her why she didn’t save the image from whatever web page it was and attach that. She asked if she could do that. Jesus fucking Christ! So that was the kind of people we were dealing with.

We didn’t get that job, but one of the last major commercials before I went out the door was for a sports car. The spot was for Europe. Again, live action and animation.

The director hadn’t worked with animation before and went ahead and shot all the live action without any consultation. No big deal but it meant there were a few kinks to iron out. Especially when he couldn’t decide on a final lock until over a week after we started work.

All the animators had to do was create elemental effects chasing the sports car through the desert landscapes. We had to print up every frame and register them for the animators to work over. Easy. Except...

There are a handful of major post-production facilities in London: The Mill, which was where we did all our compositing and grading, Framestore-CFC, Moving Picture Company and Smoke & Mirrors.

The live action had been graded at a facilities house that wasn’t The Mill. Work with these places after a while and you soon discover they really think they are full of themselves. The producer was constantly under their spell and rhapsodised about how brilliant they were. All I saw was bullshit and a vast waste of money.

The commercial was produced at the time everything was switching over from 4:3 ratio to 16:9. All the freelancers had already gone home happy with free boxes of old-sized paper we couldn’t use any more. Everyone got their heads around it apart from the producer and PA who muddied the waters worrying about 14:9.

When 16:9 images are shown on old 4:3 television sets there is a slight cut off either side. The resulting image is 14:9. The only time to worry about it if titles and supers are involved. Which certainly wasn’t the case here. But they kept bringing it up even after I explained everything in a two-page guide.

The facilities house sent over discs with the first scenes. On inspection, we discovered each frame was squashed to a 4:3 format. We set up a series of actions in Photoshop to convert them to the correct ratio and add registration marks.

Still worried about the 14:9, the producer invited the head of the facilities house over for an informal chat. He asked if there was anything we needed. I asked for the remaining scenes to be in 16:9 format.

The next day new discs arrived. The frames were 4:3. The producer was heading out to a meeting. Before she left she wanted to know if they were all right. I said no. Someone in their machine room had fucked up and they weren’t in the promised format.

The producer wanted exact confirmation so she could tear somebody off a strip. Though not technically minded, the producer always had to be the one that discussed any technical problems with the facility houses. Which meant I’d explain everything to her, as best I could in layman’s terms, and then stand by with a mop and bucket and clear up the mess.

The frames looked like they were still squashed. The producer phoned to complain before we realised they were 4:3 cut offs. Which meant they were worse than useless because we only had something like the middle third of the whole frame. I went down to tell her that their machine room had really fucked up. She listened, and then blamed me for giving her the wrong information before she made the call.

Embarrassed that she would have to phone them again, she told me I was a c*nt. In fact I had made everyone in the studio look like a bunch of c*nts. I stared her down until she went out. It was the last major job there I worked on.

Ah, good to get that one off my chest...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Go My Own Way

Back from Christmas drinks with the circle of friends. It was good to get together but... I don’t think I was really in the mood for it.

I don’t want to sound like I’m antisocial. I’m not really a party person. I prefer smaller groups where you can actually talk about real things. If that makes me some kind of a killjoy... like I care.

At least our friend Dick from the BFI stopped by. While everyone else was goofing around we discussed the state of television for a while before we had to head off.

Another end of year tradition is choosing your best films of the year. My top five should be easy, because I’ve only been to the cinema five times: The Jacket, Inside Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Casino Royale and The Prestige.

There were other films I meant to see but didn’t get around to because either we were too busy or in the end I couldn’t be bothered. I’ll see them at some point. Having watched the trailers I can pretty much guess what happens.

Years back it used to be lots of movies and little television. Of late they’ve been flipped around. I’d prefer to sit down to a couple episodes of Battlestar Galactica or Heroes or The Wire than schlep into town, sit on some dried up kernels of popcorn amongst a room full of twittering twerps and leave two hours later vaguely disappointed.

I’m not saying the five I saw left me disappointed. I actually enjoyed them, even though in The Jacket there was a logic point they sidestepped – testing for gunpowder residue - that would have smashed the rest of the film over the head with a snow shovel. What puts me off is the incessant badgering and bombardment in the media and everywhere else to see a film.

After the British Comedy Awards on ITV1 I watched the marvellous Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. The DVD had been on the shelf for a while and I realised I hadn’t seen it. A lot of the DVDs are older films.

Rather than buy new releases, I tend to pick up older films nowadays. These are the films that I was allowed to discover myself. These are the movies by the likes of Powell & Pressburger, Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and Preston Sturges, and their contemporaries, that I caught up with when they were screened on television or shown in repertory cinemas dotted around the capital.

With Peter Boyle’s passing every talked about his turn as the monster in Young Frankenstein. My strongest memory is seeing him in The Friends of Eddie Coyle, watched on the old B&W set I had in my bedroom when it was part of a late night season of American films shown on BBC2. It might have been around that time that I first saw Night Moves, Prime Cut and Point Blank as well.

Here’s the prime example of finding a movie for myself. There was a VHS rental outlet in Devon I’d go to when I was doing my arts foundation year prior to my degree. Scanning the shelves one Saturday afternoon I came across this:

Violent Streets isn’t the kind of title that would inspire me to grab it with both hands. But it starred James Caan. And I liked the graphic illustration.

I later found out that Violent Streets was the UK release title. Just about everywhere else in the world saw it under its original name: Thief. It’s the first feature by Michael Mann. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to. A couple of years later when I was working summers in studios and money was coming in I bought a copy in a sale, still in the same big plastic packaging.

That one I came to blind. Since then, I’ll read a review in a broadsheet maybe. But to discover a film for myself is much more rewarding. It’s like finding treasure without a map to guide me. One of the next perfect examples that comes to mind is Whit Stillman’s sublime Metropolitan.

I don’t want the side of a bus or some fast food tie-in or words coming out of the empty head of some boob who has got themselves on television to tell me to watch a movie. I’ll make the decision myself.

Throwing it out to the gallery, what's your self-discovered treasure?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

No Laughing Matter

The end of the year means the start of the awards season. Or annual self-congratulatory circle jerks, depending on how you see it.

As a youth I used to follow the Oscars religiously. At least until Terms of Endearment beat Philip Kaufman’s magisterial The Right Stuff to the Best Picture Award. I mean, what was all that about? Anyway, tonight we had the British Comedy Awards.

Two years ago, I was getting the train back to Devon for Christmas and discovered that across the table from me was one of the actresses from Channel 4’s innovative Green Wing. The British Comedy Awards for that year had been the night before and we discussed the event.

That year, bizarrely Green Wing hadn’t been nominated in any of the categories, (although it might have been up for the audience vote Award. Instead the usual suspects in the same tired old shows had their names on the ballot. And Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders were given the Outstanding Contribution to Comedy Award, which was like making Heydrich humanitarian of the year.

One of the things we talked about was Johnny Vegas who had presented one of the awards. Vegas is the English Flounder who never paid heed to the advice that “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”

He can do drama pretty well, and was particularly fine as Krook in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Bleak House, but on the night of the awards he was back to doing his increasingly tiresome drunken idiot shtick that has become the signature act of his career.

Acting like an attention seeking cock-knob is fine if you’re doing it on your own time, but this was at the beginning of the ceremony and went on for so long that all the further awards and acceptance speeches had to be hurried along. The official consensus appeared to be: Johnny Vegas – Unfunny Twat!

Of course the actual awards aren’t really that important to the viewers. After Julian Clary claimed he had been killing time backstage by fisting the Conservative politician Norman Lamont and then Spike Milligan called Prince Charles a “grovelling little bastard,” people watch the ceremony to see who’s going to be the most outrageous.

Just like British comedy this year, the show was utterly piss poor. Courtney Love wasn’t outrageous. The ceremony ran behind schedule after a massive fucking snake was brought on stage for some apparent reason.

Bizarrely, the ceremony was sponsored by Highland Spring mineral water, which obviously nobody was drinking. On the bright side, Catherine Tate, the UK’s official harridan, wasn’t there to pitch up on stage. And neither was Vegas.

More interesting, the BBC website posted news of the British Comedy Award winners before the ceremony was over and some of the awards had even been presented. The page has since been revised, but either they didn’t give a fig about any press embargo or the live event wasn’t that live after all.

Good As Gone

Typically, after sending off the pharma report on Monday I came across some new information, so that was emailed separately.

Expecting feedback on the document, I was surprised to receive an email to say that, with a few tweaks made and it removing some details that may be too complicated for the intended readers, the report has already been forwarded to the client for approval.

There will probably be more to add after the holiday. The information has to properly laid out for the eventual case pack pages, and the references listed. But for now I got a big thank-you for the hard work and the lightning quick turnaround.

If there's one thing I’ve learnt over the years – actually it’s probably the only thing I’ve learnt – it’s laugh in the face of insane deadlines, and keep your client happy.

Which means that now I've only got to learn to be more sociable and less antagonistic; learn to lose a battle if it means winning the war; and especially learn to never find myself in a position where a producer calls me a c*nt. At least not again...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dead Weight

A few years back, after fierce competition, Sky secured the UK broadcast rights to five new American dramas. Unfortunately three of the five were Tarzan, Skin and Fearless.

The updated Tarzan ran for eight episodes on the WB before it was abruptly cancelled. Skin was yanked off the air by FOX after only three of the eight episodes were shown. Fearless, meanwhile, never got beyond the pilot stage. Which left Sky frantically rescheduling their primetime winter schedule.

In their place, the company acquired The Handler from CBS and UPN’s Jake 2.0. Neither went to a full season. Obviously it’s a crap shoot buying the new dramas from the US. If a show is generating advance heat the buyers have to get in and snatch it from the grasp of their rivals. Even then the fate of the show, beyond the pilot, is left in the hands of.... oh, shit, the American viewing public.

The BBC haven’t shown much American drama of late, other that miniseries like Band of Brothers and Rome which they put money into and, just recently, Into the West. In fact, the only series I can think of are Murder One, which is going back a bit, and 24. Even then, after two years on BBC2, Jack Bauer was poached by Sky.

Obviously the BBC has better things to spend their money on. Okay, bad example.

In the BBC One Winter/Spring 2007 press pack, along with the welcome return of Waking the Dead and new dramas from Stephen Poliakoff, the Corporation have announced they will also be screening 3lbs from CBS.


Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) and Mark Feuerstein (The West Wing) star in this drama about a team of top New York City neurosurgeons who explore the brain – the core of intelligence, the centre of emotion and spirit and the last great medical frontier.

Doug Hanson (Tucci) is a brilliant neurosurgeon with a sharp wit, who compares the workings of the brain to wires in a box. His thoughtful, highly skilled protégé, Dr Jonathan Seger (Feuerstein), honours the mysteries of the mind.

While Hanson prefers to focus on the intricacies inside people's craniums instead of the people themselves, Seger uses his charm, instinct and intuition to balance the emotional and psychological needs of his patients.

3lbs also stars Indira Varma (Rome) and Armando Riesco (Garden State) and features Cynthia Nixon (Sex And The City).

I’ve always liked Tucci. He was superb in the first series of Murder One and outstanding as Eichmann in Conspiracy.

Maybe audiences in American decided they already had House and didn’t need 3lbs trying to weigh in on the action. Either way, only three of the eight episodes were produced over there. Way to go BBC!

Anyway, the first draft of the pharma report was emailed yesterday evening. All fourteen pages went off to be okayed (fingers crossed).

While my brain is finally firing on all cylinders when it comes to work, there have been a couple of lapses in other departments.

Sunday afternoon I stuck some garlic bread in the oven for lunch. Over an hour later I went into the kitchen to make a coffee and wondered why the room was so warm. The baguette had become a briquette.

This morning the saucepan of porridge left on the stove had turned to the consistency of school dinners’ blancmange. Whether I ever see the bottom of that pan again looks doubtful.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Hopefully everyone is watching what is probably one of the best television dramas ever. Which is of course Battlestar Galactica. If not, I discard you!

Hopefully, as well as watching Battlestar Galactica you’re listening to the podcasts by the series re-inventor, Ron Moore, and various guests.

Rather than taking place in a sterile soundproof studio, the podcasts are recorded either in Moore’s office or his home, which means that at various times in the past helicopters, lawnmowers and anything else passing outside the windows gets in on the act. At the same time ice clinks in his glass and a zippo snaps open and shut as Moore drinks, smokes and swears his way through the commentaries.

Some may not like this down and dirty feel to the commentaries. Well, yaboo sucks! to them. The rough and readiness makes the podcasts sound more intimate than having just a disembodied voice appearing out of nowhere.

While Moore has been commenting on the episodes alone of late, he is, on occasions, aided and abetted by his wife – identified simply as Mrs. Ron, while actors Grace Park and Tahmoh Penikett chipped in for the recent episode Unfinished Business.

In the second year of the series, three eighty-minute recordings from the Writers Room as they break stories for the latter half of the series were uploaded onto the Sci Fi website. This year, just recently, the Battlestar Roundtable was made available.

Joining Ron and Mrs. Ron in their Vancouver apartment to discuss the show are actors Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Henry Wells (a school friend of Jamie Bamber’s from England who happened to be visiting), Tahmoh Penikett, and Mark Sheppard. Sheppard, who played Badger in Firefly, appears later in the third season in case you're wondering what the heck he's doing there.

Together they talk candidly about the third season while answering various questions sent their way. The odd spoiler pops up which means killing the volume or putting your fingers in your ears and singing loudly. But at just shy of three hours, it’s a hoot. And far better than the kind of DVD extras interviews that just tow the party line.

Listen. Learn. Enjoy.

Second State

The Stage has an interesting piece about the uncertain future of BBC conspiracy thriller The State Within.

Call me a crazed fool, but having watched the nail-shredding climax on Thursday night, I was under the impression that it was over. In fact, I distinctly remember trembling with excitement as the tangled web of lies and deceit was uncovered, the true puppet-masters revealed, and the last line of the final scene leaving it on a perfectly poised knife edge.

Of course what the article is actually talking about is the proposed second series. To which my somewhat simple reply is, Huh? It’s over. The story has been told. What do we need, someone to stand by the side of the television and say “Move along now, nothing more to see!”?

Apparently there are now doubts about whether this second series will now go ahead. When the first episode was broadcast six weeks back, an audience of 5.2 million tuned in to watch. By the second week the drama had dropped out of BBC1’s Top 30 programmes list with less than 3 million viewers.

Maybe it was too complicated for audiences nowadays to follow. Perhaps the fact that it was only screened once a week on Thursday nights, whereas a number of other dramas, such as Spooks, have the next episode already cued up on BBC3 immediately after the broadcast, played a contributing factor.

Whether the audience was big or small, the fact of the matter is that The State Within was spectacularly good drama. The real question is does it really need a second story to shoehorn the existing characters into?

A good number of the best television dramas have a beginning, middle and end, and don’t outstay their welcome. Isn’t this where the old showbiz adage Always leave them wanting more comes into effect?

Would they have been such powerful pieces of drama if Troy Kennedy Martin had been inclined to leave Edge of Darkness open for a sequel or Dennis Potter returned Philip Marlow to the hospital with a relapse for a second go around of The Singing Detective? What about Andere Boot, or More Angels in America from Tony Kushner? While Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was followed three years later by Smiley’s People, both were adaptations of Le Carré novels, so it doesn't really count.

On the back of its success in 2003, Paul Abbott’s State of Play was quickly recommissioned, but three years down the line the sequel is still a no show. Maybe Abbott is taking his own sweet time to develop a new story that is as superior as the original.

And of course there is the small matter of reuniting John Simm, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Kelly Macdonald, all of whom are very much in demand at the moment. If it does happen, I hope Abbott does it justice. With his track record, I suspect he will.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Good To Go

Nothing like a quick slap in the face to pull me out of the stupor and help get my act together.

As a prelude, the Delightful LA Actress had called Wednesday to talk about the website. Then, yesterday the material for the pharmaceutical reports finally turned up.

Within a couple of minutes of talking to the DLAA it became apparent that during their meeting last week they hadn’t got around to addressing any of the points in the document I had sent over. So that will be done next week instead. In the meantime we discussed a few, minor, interim alterations.

The source material for the pharma reports came in the form of word and pdf documents and a trio of powerpoint presentations. The deadline is supposed to be this Monday. Reading through the first couple of documents, highlighting the key facts, I looked pretty straightforward. Until I came to the downloaded document that ran to 244 pages, and is quite a read.

I’ve been instructed that realistically Monday isn't viable. But I should be able to have an initial draft by then, which is what’s only expected at this point. Or more.

In the past I’ve always seen an utterly insane deadline as a challenge. But back then I was fuelled by red meat, caffeine and nicotine.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Blown Away

My mother called to see if I’m still in one piece. I played along with her, suspecting that either she’s finally gone dotty or there’s considerably less sherry left in the bottle this evening.

Then I flicked back to the BBC news and figured out what she was going on about: tornado hits London. Which looked pretty intense. And pretty unusual. Own up, who asked Santa for Twister?

Except it happened in Brondesbury Park/Kensal Rise. Which is at least ten or twelve kilometres due south of me. It may have an NW postcode but really, just west of Central London, Kensal Rise really isn’t North West London. Though I've got an NW postcode I’m as north as you can get in the city before you stumble upon fields and trees. And just a touch to the west.

Still, it’s nice that the old dear’s showing some modicum of concern, however geographically challenged she is. (Although blame really should be laid on the doorstep of the muppet that divvied the city up into the different postal districts). And it meant that I got to drop more hints that I’ll be too busy to pop down for Christmas. Sweet.


Goddamn sonofabitch!

I watched freaking Torchwood last night. I sat through the whole stupid, useless episode. And then, after The Richard Dimbleby Lecture, I started watching a Jim Belushi film that wasn’t Thief or Salvador. Good grief.

This hasn’t been an isolated incident. For the last four days my brain has been turning to mush. In terms of productivity, I could have just sat in the corner with my cock in my hand (optional), my chin on my chest, drooling. And there would have been no difference at all.

And boy I’ve been grouchy. It didn’t help that I was kicking my heels waiting for work to arrive and calls to be returned. Trying to fill the time, I’ve stared incomprehensibly at the daily sudoku and crosswords. The Nintendo was on the verge of being corrected on numerous occasions. When the server went down it almost looked like a Mac could fly.

Without the nicotine kick, I made sure not to compensate for the craving by stuffing my gullet with tubes of Pringles or packets of biscuits or sweets. Instead I’ve stuck to a diet of porridge for breakfast (made with water instead of milk), soup for lunch, and then either pasta with a simple tomato sauce or rice with tuna for my evening meal, followed by a fruit yoghurt.

In hindsight this was a big mistake. Because all I’ve learned about healthy living is that it’s utterly feckin’ boring. One more day and then I’m going to be racing up and down those supermarkets aisles grabbing red meat, pizza and ice cream.

I don’t drink coffee that regularly. Maybe once a month I’ll have a glass of wine or a beer, because I’m not a great drinker. No Class A’s because they turn you into a twat. All I had as a vice were the lovely little paper tubes of tobacco and chemicals and toxins to set fire to and inhale. And now that’s gone.

And without the synapses sparking I’m turning into a shuffling moron who can’t string a sentence together. This is not good. Especially now that the work has finally arrived.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Self Medicating

Start the week off filming at another pharma company with Work Buddy. Once there we found out the filmed sequences were only going to be used for an in-house presentation.

We were surprised to discover they were willing to spunk a load of cash on something that’s solely for staff consumption. But if that’s what they want to do, we’re more than happy to help take it off their hands.

The only real problem was that one of the people interviewed had a very gripping handshake. Just when I thought the pinched nerve around my elbow was getting better it got a good, sharp tug to bring it back to life.

So it’s back on the pills to quell the nagging ache. Which means I probably picked the wrong day to quit the gaspers. With no gum or patch alternative, by late afternoon I wanted to run outside and punch a couple of passers-by in the face just because.

But I should be over that phase in a couple of days. Hopefully.

Good And Bad All Over

The usual crowd of drinking buddies turned up for Missing Believed Wiped. There were a few absentees and last minute no-shows, but most were in attendance.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned how, because our tastes diverge dramatically in places, nights out can lead to lively debate. Or rather they don’t agree with me, whereupon I explain to them that they’re talking a load of old cock. So it wasn’t surprising there were likes and dislikes amongst the selection screened at the NFT.

Our Pal, who had turned up for the event, is a fan of Patrick McGoohan and enjoyed the episode of Rendezvous from 1961 that the man starred in. My opinion of McGoohan is that from everything I’ve seen him in I get the impression he learnt his acting style from watching German Expressionist cinema. And if the Oirish accent he was affecting in the drama we had just watched had been any more extreme, by rights he should have had a pig in one hand and a pint of Guinness in the other.

Differences like that aside, as the talk idled its way around to current television, it turned out that the one thing we were all completely in agreement on was that the current Robin Hood was an utterly rancid barrel of flapdoodle. Which, I have to say, certainly surprised me. Especially bearing in mind that these guys are less than picky when it comes to choosing their entertainment. Hell, one freely admits to still watching Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who. Yet even he thought that all the twatting around in the Green Wood was an abject failure.

After that bombshell came the even more surprising revelation that they all loved Casino Royale. Most of these guys have their little favourites which they clutch to their chests having carried them along from childhood: the old ITC adventure shows like The Prisoner and The Persuaders!, the “comedy gold” that is the Carry On series and, perhaps all too predictably, James Bond.

To them they are hallowed idols to be revered, and occasionally stroked. My opinions are less... reverential. I was expecting some frothing about how Daniel Craig wasn’t right for Bond or there weren’t enough gadgets or whatever. In fact, I was rather disappointed that I didn’t have to argue its merits. Damn!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Missing The Point

At the National Film Theatre yesterday for Missing Believed Wiped 2006, the annual round-up of recovered television episodes and random clips from programmes previously thought lost after the broadcasters fervently wiped tapes back in the 1960s and early ‘70s.

I’m never that keen on watching old programmes. I don’t understand people the mentality who still watch shows from their childhood – as in the mangy rascals who still steadfastly watch old episodes of Doctor Who. While I enjoyed them as a kid, who didn’t know any better, there’s adult drama to watch now that I’m an adult.

But Missing Believed Wiped screens programmes that I would have been too young to watch at the time of their original broadcast. The production values may be basic and some of the younger actors, obviously new to the medium, seem to be projecting their lines to the gods at times, but it all adds to the innocent charm.

After watching the two different presentations, I have a few confessions to make. I’m of the age where I missed the original Quatermass trilogy, the BBC adaptation of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and just about everything else written by Nigel Kneale, apart from the 1978 ITV Quatermass. Which means there is this revered figure of English television drama that I have no knowledge of. In the first presentation – Nuclear Threats – Missing Believed Wiped screened the 1964 drama The Crunch, written by Kneale. I fell asleep.

The other thing is, I don’t find Douglas Adams’ work at all funny. This is like speaking ill of the dead, part two, but there you go. I liked The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when it was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4, not so all the various incarnations since. It tried to be Oxbridge clever. The comedy came across as an afterthought.

Part Two: Comedy Plus of Missing Believed Wiped included the pilot of Out of the Trees. Co-written by Graham Chapman, Bernard McKenna and Douglas Adams, it felt like we were watching sketches rejected from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. For thirty minutes I sat stone-faced.

That aside, the forty-year-old Level Seven from the anthology series Out of the Unknown was interesting, even if it was a real downer. Most remarkable was a 3-minute BBC News Extra from November 22, 1963. Reporting on The Death of President Kennedy, it presented all the facts of Oswald’s involvement in quite astonishing detail.

Any sensible person might have thought it had already been prepared for the news outlets in advance.

Friday, December 01, 2006

It's A Start...

This is the new pre-title piece. (Would have posted it earlier but I seriously got into watching Boston Legal and forgot about this whole blogging thing).

OVER BLACK: We hear a deep sigh then the soft click as an angle-poise light is switched on.

The cone of light illuminates an OFFICE CUBICLE.

Sat in the swivel chair, EDWARD ROYCE pulls the angle-poise down to the keyboard. Mid-30s, dressed in an expensive suit, the light accentuates his sickly pallor.

He rises up out of the chair, peers over the partition wall to check he has the room to himself.

Forty identical cubicles, divided by wide aisles, fill the available floor space. All are dark save one by the wall.

Royce turns on the computer. As the screen flickers to life he cranes his head forward until his chin touches his chest. His hands grip the desk as he takes a deep breath, then another.

Composed, Royce sits up straight. Eyes closed, his fingers twitch involuntarily, replicating keystrokes without touching the keys.

Finally he jerks his hands up. A smile spreads across his face.


Below the user name SARACEN III the prompt patiently waits for the PASSWORD.

Royce confidently types in a seven-letter password that the computer promptly rejects. Not the result he expects, Royce is taken aback. His forehead wrinkles into a deep frown as he quickly tries again, eliciting the same result.

Out of options, Royce sags in the chair. His head tips forward, jaw muscles twitch.

Royce looks up at the screen. Defeated, he logs off the computer. His head jerks toward the aisle. He fumbles for the angle-poise, quickly turns it off.

In the darkness a faint blue glow PULSES briefly from the cubicle then goes out as

A door opens. A switch is flicked. One strip of ceiling lights blink to life.

DANIEL KEMPER walks down the aisle with measured steps. Late 40s, dressed in a dark suit with thinning grey-flecked hair, he stops midway down the room, swivels on his heel to face a DIFFERENT CUBICLE.

Edward. Here you are.

Royce sits quietly with his head in his hands.

(looking up)
Kemper. I was just resting my eyes.

If you’re ready, we’re about
to begin the next session.


Royce raises his arm to check the time. His wrist is bare with just the impression left by a watchstrap.

He grins, embarrassed.

Old habits.

It’s time.

Royce stands. He wipes sweat from his forehead, runs a hand through his hair.

Well, I wouldn’t want to
keep everyone waiting.

Kemper takes Royce’s jacket from the back of the chair, folds it over his arm.

You won’t.

Kemper steps aside, indicates for Royce to go first.

A HEAVY-SET MAN stands at the end of the aisle. Royce walks towards him. The shirt sticks to his back enough to make out the ugly pattern of welts and contusions.

A couple of paces behind Royce, Kemper stops at the cubicle where Royce tried to access the computer, MOVES the angle-poise light back to its original position.

Heavy-set Man opens the door as Royce approaches.

Ahead of them is a long darkened corridor.

A door at the far end opens. A SILHOUETTED FIGURE stands waiting, arms folded.

Light plays on the wall behind him. From the far room we hear what could be loud moaning, chanting, muted screams. Or a mix of all three.

Royce steps into the corridor, keeps walking. Heavy-set Man follows.

Kemper smiles. He flicks off the lights, closes the door behind him.

The room is plunged into darkness. The growing sounds of pain and pleasure remain.


Does it make you want to know what happens?