Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Weight Of The World

Years back I was loitering around the offices of Klactoveesedstene*, the animation studio set up by Oscar Grillo and Ted Rockley. I’m not sure how we got onto the subject – maybe some showreels had recently come in – but Ted went off on one about how so many of the bright young things, fresh from the animation degree courses, didn’t know squat about defining a character’s centre of gravity.

Dick Williams, one of our greatest contemporary animators, echoed his sentiments, making it clear to the fresh meat that defining the weight of any particular animated character is important because it defines their characteristics. Not being one of these graphite-smudged pencil monkeys, I could only commiserate with them and agree that it was utterly shocking.

Nowadays there isn’t much 2D animation around. There’s The Simpsons, obviously, and the output of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, thankfully. And whatever else is being mass-produced, cheap and colourful because they are “you know, for kids.”

Instead the trend is for 3D because... well, it works for Pixar. The only problem is that not every company has the same wealth of talent as Pixar. Even though pixels have replaced pencils, the most noticeable defect in the lower end of the scale computer-generated animation is, still, the lack of weight in the characters.

Although the trailers from the new TMNT movie had the occasional decidedly dodgy moment, in recent years, the biggest offender by a country mile has been the new Captain Scarlet, which pitched up on ITV. In this instance replacing puppets with pixels, both the characters and vehicles used had so little weight to them that they could have easily had guy ropes attached to them and floated above the Macy’s Day Parade.

Catch the first episode and you’ll soon notice that the characters show no signs of exertion when interacting with various heavy ‘props’, that vehicles taking part in an extended chase make no effort to hug the ground. Most surprisingly was discovering the show used motion capture in the animation process.

Without someone like Andy Serkis, who literally threw himself into the part to create the basis for Gollum, the MoCap crew employed for Captain Scarlet probably brought in a few extras to simply go through the motions with Styrofoam or cardboard props. The data was passed on to animators, possibly fresh from a Maya or Lightwave course, who routinely failed to extrapolate the information and put more emphasis into the actions.

Animation isn’t about simply making characters move, it’s about bringing them to life. There is a big difference, believe me. It distinguishes between the good and the bad, the adequate and the exceptional.

Think about how that affects your writing.

* Yes, Oscar is a huge fan of Bird. And I don’t mean he’s a twitcher.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Save The Bunny, Save... Er...

It’s been a busy week this week. Which is my rationale for the lack of posts. In fact, the last five days have been very strange indeed what with work, and women at work.

And every time I’ve tried to write a new post things have got in the way. First there was the third season finale of Battlestar Galactica, which was just fucking awesome.

And then there was this from some crazy cloggies which became infuriating and strangely addictive.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

B For Blameless

I suppose I should apologise to everyone who flicked over to Thought Wad yesterday expecting the Adrian Mead Workshop notes or, at the very least, some new content. But I’m not going to.

Obviously it wasn’t my fault nothing new was posted. Nothing is my fault. I am completely blameless. You see, this morning I caught sight of the Metro, the free newspaper handed out on the Underground by London Transport to help distract passengers and stop them going ga-ga and completely wigging out over the usual delays and shoddy service.

One of the lead stories concerned a 29-year-old woman who is suing her landlord over injuries sustained from falling through a skylight in a garage roof after a night’s partying. Apparently, see, the landlord should have warned her not to dance on the roof after drinking. Of course.

Never mind that the garage was not part of the property she rented. Never mind that to reach the roof she had to climb out of a window because there was no proper access. Oh, and it happened five years ago as well.

According to the report, the outcome of the hearing could affect the warnings landlords have to give their tenants about the dangers in an around their properties. Obviously. Because no way is the woman to blame.

As a member of the new culture of victims who sue councils because they trip off a curb or look for someone other than themselves to blame when they tumble down the stairs because they didn’t tie their shoelaces, she deserves everything she can get.

Although the preferred result would have been that back when it happened, she went head first into a concrete floor with such force that her tiny pea brain ended up wedged in her sphincter.

But then if everyone took responsibility for their own lives... what kind of bizarre world would we be living in?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Better Than Monkeys!

One of the many things that winds both me and Work Buddy up is science fiction that blithely disregards the science part. Obviously a few liberties have to be made in the name of dramatic licence but really, there’s no excuse.

So when people announce their undying love for the horrendous hackery from the 1970s through to the present TV SF dramas that simply don’t give a fig, our reactions range from twitching muscles under the eyes for the odd transgressions to full blown rage descending upon the worst offenders. These are the ones who, for undramatic, dramatic purposes, settle on having their characters suffer from “space sickness”. Or “space idiocy”. Or from being a complete “space cock”!

Somehow, from out of all this, came the idea of space monkeys! Magic, eh? The more utterly stoopid the show, the more space monkeys it obviously needed to fly in and fuck things around.

Which brings me to the series of Doctor Who, which starts next weekend. I assume it’s being heavily trailed on the BBC right about now but somehow I’ve managed to miss them. The only way I found out was in The Sunday Times’ Culture section where it was chosen as the television Pick of the Week, explaining:

‘He has to go to the moon and back, outrun “space rhinos” (scaley, sweaty and no social skills) and vaporise a “slab” (a motorcycle-courier lookalike that is leather all the way through), but the Doctor (David Tennant) finds his new sidekick...’

Hang on, back up a bit. Space rhinos..? Space rhinos?

We’ll have to set out sights higher from now on.

One show that we can’t find fault with is Battlestar Galactica, which concentrates on drama first, genre second.

Yesterday, at the party, I had to break the news to Work Buddy that the Sci Fi Channel had withdrawn it’s order for a further 13 episodes, following the third season which comes to an end tonight. [dramatic pause] Instead it has renewed the show for a full fourth season, commissioning 22 hour-long episodes.

Huzzah! Trebles all round!

After The Party

There were a number of things I had planned to do today, not least go through the notes from Adrian Mead’s Insider’s Guide to TV Drama class, held last weekend, and see if there was anything other bloggers had missed out in their posts about the day. As it is, today has so far seen me coping with the clocks going forward to herald the start of British Summer Time, as well as recovering* from celebrating Henry’s birthday party last night.

Last year I posted:

Everyone should have a friend like H. He’s one of those people who doesn’t seem to have any axes to grind and instead simply gets on and enjoys life.

and it still holds true.

He had hired both floors of a charming little pub in Westmoreland Street, sandwiched between Marylebone High Street and Harley Street with a buffet and a free bar provided for his very wide circle of friends. There were people there from his first job over twenty years ago, from his current job, all mixing with friends and family. From his media work there were the usual writers that congregate when he meet up for the odd drink or two, our friends from the BFI and Granada, along with actresses from the Carry On films and a couple of Bond girls, making it a very eclectic mix.

Amongst the guests was the agent whose Actress Client still wants me to help write her autobiography. They’ve been trying to find a window when the three of us can get together. Hopefully it’ll be soon. Also present was the delightful Julie Stevens** who recently decided to sell up and is in the process of moving to Provence. So this was something of a farewell, at least for now. After saying her goodbyes late in the night, she mentioned to one of the other guests that she was “sad to leave her boys behind”. Having given us her new address in France, it means there’ll be cards and flowers waiting to greet her at her new home.

* Having drunk two pints of lager shandy before switching to soft drinks... What a lightweight.

** Known to fans of The Avengers as Venus Smith – who alternated with Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale as Steed’s partner in the early episodes of the show’s second series – and as a presenter of Play School and Play Away to everyone else of a certain age.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Into The Woods

And I’m back! Although I can’t guarantee how lucid this is going to be. The end of a long and very busy week; putting in more hours and getting home later each day until, by the time I stumbled in the door this evening, I was tempted to simply crawl straight into bed and not surface until Monday morning.

Unfortunately there are things to do, like finally have my haircut so Lucy can’t describe me as having “a croissant” on my head. Also, tomorrow evening, there’s a birthday party to go to. The actress I couldn’t meet for drinks over Christmas will be there and hopefully a couple others I need to have words with. And of course the usual suspects, whom I haven’t seen in a while. It all depends if I can decipher the directions through Marylebone.

One of the staffers at the company left midweek to take up a position elsewhere, hence the increased workload all round. Four weeks down and four left to go before I’m done there myself, the boss took me aside the next day and asked if I’d like to work for the company full time. Which was something to think about. Rather than put on an act and pretend to mull it over, so as not to hurt his feelings by turning him down flat, as the afternoon progressed I actually found myself giving it some consideration.

It would certainly be different. But then I’m not sure I’d want to sign up for something which leaves me nodding off watching a Girls Only DVD, given to me by a completely bonkers American actress who insisted I take it home with me, and billed as, “An All Girl Muff Fest”. Which is what happened a couple of nights ago. I mean...

What I did manage to stay awake for was the arrival of Shark on Five, which was programmed directly after the new season of House. Good old five. They must have decided if you like one, you’ll like the other. Both follow a similar format with a curmudgeon tutoring a handful of relatively green assistants. I imagine it would be easy to fall asleep during the former, wake up well into the latter, and only figure out something was different when you come to your senses.

What we really needed in television is another lawyer show. But then the real draw of Shark is, of course, James Woods as lawyer Sebastian Stark. Whether he’s playing outright weasels like Richard Boyle in Oliver Stone’s Salvador or intense characters filled with such balled-up rage you expect them to explode all over the screen, Woods has always good value for money. Having first seen him playing a bit part in Night Moves, I’d forgotten how long he’d been off the screen until he turned up as the guest-star in an episode of ER.

Putting in terrific turns as Haldeman in Stone's under-rated Nixon, Maximilian Bercovicz in Sergio Leone’s magnificent Once Upon a Time in America, the sleazy Max Renn in Videodrome, and an inspired Hades in Disney’s Hercules, one of my favourite Woods roles is the typically intense and hard-boiled Lloyd Hopkins in Cop. Adapted from James Ellroy’s novel Blood on the Moon, it has one of the greatest last lines of any film.

Having finally cornered the man responsible for a slew of brutal attacks on women in Los Angeles, and eager to bypass the legal process and dispense his own brand of justice, Hopkins tells the murderer:

“Well, there's some good and there's some bad news. The good news is you're right - I'm a cop and I've gotta take you in. The bad news is I've been suspended and I don't give a fuck.”

With that the film cuts to black as Hopkins pumps a round into the chamber of his shotgun. Now that's an ending!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Yesterday too busy reading to write. Today busy writing about what I read.

Things to say but there isn’t the time so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow when normal service will resume.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Something To Do With Death

David Bishop at Vicious Imagery has flagged up an article in Broadcast magazine in which director Jon Sen tries to put his finger on the reason the British viewing public still plumps for US drama over the spate of recent home-grown successes.

Apparently set off on his own to track down the answer after members of an earlier fact-finding mission went over to America and returned with the amazing answer: “they've got more writers and they shoot on 35mm film”. Marvellous.

Sen puts one reason down to American programme makers understanding that their audience is loyal to characters over plot. That may be a sensible answer but I think there is something more to it than that: regular bloodshed.

Flicking idly through the pages of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly (issue 925 with the Ugly Betty cover to be precise), I came across a brief article about the TV networks’ recent sweeps in the US. Will Dixon can obviously explain this a whole lot better, but the sweeps weeks is when the networks pull out all the stops to grab as big an audience as possible. And it’s all to do with setting advertising revenue for the next year. Or something.

For instance, years ago while The X-Files would spend episodes noodling around with their creature-in-the-crapper scenarios week after week, come the sweeps they’d liberally spunk money all over the production and come up with another big multi-part instalment of their ongoing illogical alien invasion saga. This year the dramas from CBS opted for a ratcheted up body count.

Ignoring the episode synopses – because they won’t have played over here yet – during February sweeps The Unit came out top with a body count of 63. Criminal Minds, starring Mandy Patinkin, racked up a reasonably impressive 32 bodies. Cold Case came third with 17, closely followed by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation with 16.

With CSI:NY, CSI: Miami, NCIS, Numb3ers, Ghost Whisperer (no observations about shooting your load any week of the year permitted), Close to Home, Shark and Without a Trace getting in on the act, the total number of homicides amounted to 191! (The report happens to mention, for anyone wondering about these things, that the total of actual homicides in Los Angeles and New York so far this year only comes to 112).

We know that over here the likes of Waking the Dead live for regular, gruesome deaths, and the abiding colour scheme of Messiah is claret. But writers should go that one step further by taking, say, the thermometer out of the nurse’s hand in Holby City and replacing it with a Sig Sauer SP2022.

In fact, for full bullet-blasting action, liberally hand out the Heckler & Hocks across the whole schedules. (Blunderbusses, of course, for the period dramas). We may even find out that there really is a place in a man’s head that if shot will blow up.

To make full use of this post’s title, the new mantra should be: When in doubt, go Sergio! Lock and load!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Behind the Curtain

Exactly a month to the day after we bowled up to Leicester for De Montfort University’s one-day Television Scriptwriting Workshop, Work Buddy and I headed into Bloomsbury for Adrian Mead’s Insider’s Guide to TV Drama class.

A one-time hairdresser with a second job as a nightclub doorman, Adrian has the build of the latter and the demeanour of the former. Having gotten into the business, writing for television drama and writing and directing short films and his first feature Night People, he’s eager to see other people have the same kind of success.

In the classes he’s not there to talk about script format and structure but the business of writing, taking his audience behind the curtain and showing them the workings of the great and mighty Oz. Unlike other professionals who guard the shrinking borders of their own little personal fiefdoms turning away all intruders or dole out dribbles of advice on a quid pro quo basis, he’s confident in his own abilities enough not to fear the competition.

His first order of business was to get everyone to communicate with each other, which we certainly did, meeting new friends and strangers. Sitting at a nearby outdoor café prior to the event, Work Buddy and I were joined by Lucy and Lianne, who I had only recently met a couple of weeks back, and Lara (who should have come for lunch that Saturday but bailed). Arriving in their wake came Dom, followed by the effervescent Potdoll.

Once again there was the bizarre moment of, upon meeting someone you’ve corresponded with through their blog, reconciling the face to the name and P Dolly wasn’t what I expected. Then again, she thought I’d have glasses. Okay.

The thing everyone should know is that they don’t know everything. There are always things to learn as well as suspicions to be confirmed. In hindsight, some of Adrian’s insights may have seemed pretty obvious, but the thing is, you only realise that well after the fact. It may have been hiding in plain sight but someone else had to reveal it to you.

A very personable and entertaining guy, Adrian just wants everyone to succeed and is happy to help them avoid the pitfalls and mistakes he encountered on the way up. If you missed this class, keep an eye out on the MeadKerr website for future events.

Face Up To The Past

Late last week, straight from work, I popped into Central London to nose around the displays of shiny discs and see if there were a few bits and pieces to pick up.

Atypically, London Underground was running a spectacularly efficient service. Which meant that, after virtually rocketing through the tunnels with no delays, I got there earlier than expected and arrived at street level just as some of the smaller stores were closing up and the nearby offices emptying.

With the pavements of the main streets clogged with people shuffling along like fat in an artery, I ducked into Soho, looking for a shortcut that gave me freedom to move, and almost immediately ran into an old friend. We hadn’t seen each other for going on eight or nine years – the last time was probably at an event at BAFTA I’d snagged tickets for.

We had a brief catch up. He had a handful of labelled discs from a facilities house around the corner and was on his way back to the office. Since we were standing directly outside the front of a production company I hadn’t had a happy experience with, I didn’t want to be out there when people left the building. We exchanged cards just before his mobile started buzzing and headed off in different directions.

Minutes later, turning onto Broadwick Street I spied one of the old studio’s animation directors heading in my direction. Head down, only looking at the empty pavement in front of him, I stopped still directly in his path and waited. Only when he eventually sidestepped to get around me, and I copied his moves to block his path did he look up.

My age, he had joined a competitor when the studio closed and stayed in the business. A pain in the arse at times, especially when it came to interpreting deadlines, he was a talented sonofabitch, that was for sure. He still looked the same. Perhaps there was a bit more flesh around his face, although maybe it was the beard that made it look fuller.

The biggest difference over the intervening years was his hair, which had gone from brown to dirty shades of grey. It made him look far older than his years, especially combined with his pale complexion – the typical pallor of animators stuck in doors day after day, hunched over the light-box desk.

We talked for a while. I told him what I was up to, with him it was “same old, same old.” Of the two of us, I was the only one who sounded at all enthusiastic. At one point I blurted that I was really glad to be out of the business.

It had been fun; I can’t deny that. But looking back on the years in animation, there had been plenty of times when I hadn’t been particularly happy. During the crunch times, with deadlines looming and me having to do the work of up to three people, I doubt I had been much fun to be around either.

In the run up to the studio closing down, after the producer let me go but kept on my cheaper assistant to help wind everything up, it wasn’t particularly the best of times for me. Although the job had virtually consumed my life I can’t say I was exactly skipping in the clover, and if the owners had changed their minds and kept going I’d probably have been back there like a shot.

Standing, talking with the animation director I actually was glad to be out of the business. The different jobs at the different studios had taken up a huge chunk of my working life. It was only seeing him again I realised how happy I was to be working on something that wasn’t paid off with a packshot.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Easy Watching

It’s probably obvious from past posts that when it comes to my viewing habits, meaty, complex dramas are the things that float my boat. (Of course I’m talking television here, as opposed to those times I peer over my neighbour’s hedges, watching them through the night vision goggles).

Still, there are the odd occasions when, tired from working long hours or ploughing through a heavy workload and just managing to come out the other side, my little brain feels too feeble for something too demanding. Case in point, the latest episode of Lost where I just completely lost track of what was going on and who some of the characters were. Brian Sibley’s comment on the previous post was “Bring back Dr Richard Kimble and the one-armed-man, I say! You knew precisely where you were EVERY week!” And there are times when something a little less exacting is exactly what we need.

This was just what I wanted this evening. After a long and pretty exhausting week, a welcome lie-in was put on hold in favour of another early start to get down into Central London for Adrian Mead’s completely ace and skill Insider’s Guide to TV Drama class. That was followed by a couple of hours in the pub, getting acquainted with most of the folk who turned up.

By the time I got back home it was a welcome relief to simply slump down on the sofa and relax with something a little less demanding – in this instance, a repeat of NCIS. Should this actually be categorised as a guilty pleasure? It’s not too taxing on the brain, whether it’s feeling pin sharp or utterly feeble. Like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, it’s the easy charm and interplay between the characters, rather than the plots, which attracted me to it. And, it finished just in time to switch over to BBC2 for Götterdämmerung, which rounds off Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Although I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay up for the whole five hours - and I’ve still got the Samurai Sudoku from The Times to do – it’s still a better option to watching Patriot Games on Channel 4. Especially in the final hours of St Patrick’s Day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Caught Napping

It may be more than a little premature for a Spring Clean, but all of a sudden the UK television channels, as one, are rooting out space in their schedules to blow off the now-cancelled US dramas everyone had high hopes for when they handed over their cheques.

Daybreak and Smith have already started their brief runs on Bravo and ITV4 respectively. BBC One put out 3 lbs at close to some ungodly hour on Sunday night and then last night Channel 4 premiered Kidnapped.

I started watching 3 lbs simply because of Stanley Tucci. I first became aware of him when he briefly appeared as Karl Draconis in thirtysomething, years before he chewed up the screen as the flaky Richard Cross in Murder One. After such a powerful turn it seemed like he was in danger of thereafter simply being cast in “the Stanley Tucci role”, which was why it was great to see him cameo as Stanley Kubrick in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and give a blistering performance as Eichmann in HBO’s Conspiracy, which dramatized the infamous Wannsee conference.

I gave it twenty-odd minutes, which was more than generous. 3 lbs had Stanley Tucci in a tailor-made “Stanley Tucci role”. Even if it hadn’t appeared in the shadow of House, which it was so obviously modelled on, I still wouldn’t have seen it through to the end.

Kidnapped I did watch. I mean, for starters, it had a cast filled out with Dana Delany, Timothy Hutton, Delroy Lindo, Linus Roache, and whoever the kid is who plays the kidnapped kid. Kidnapped I actually liked. Did I mention it starred Dana Delany?

Channel 4’s decision to splice episodes together and show them two at a time initially looked they were just doing their damnedest to get it over and done with. But it worked. After the forty-odd minute mark, where the join obviously was, I actually wondered if I would have come back for a second helping if it was shown an episode at the time.

Perhaps one failing of some of the new breed of dramas with continuing stories – probably most notably attributed to the ones that actually failed - is that they make absolutely no concessions to casual viewers tuning in late in the day. It certainly isn’t a new occurrence.

By the time someone convinced me that there was more to Farscape than the Muppets in Space the show was so far along in its run, and the storylines so utterly convoluted, that it was utterly impenetrable (as well as silly).

Obviously, by going straight into part two, the second episode was shorn of an opening “previously on...”, but it certainly looked like if they weren’t there at the start line viewers were going to be left in the dust. Anyway, it got my attention, which will have me back next week. After all... Dana Delany.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Take Five

Usually this time of year there’s always something going around that has everyone coughing and spluttering and looking down in the dumps. Luckily, in this instance, what's come around isn't that harmful at all.

Brian Sibley, having been blog-tagged to pony up five things about himself that nobody – or at least most people – don’t know about him, then had to tag five more people to keep it going. Having been named, I’ve been debating whether to reveal any dirty little doggy secrets that might shame me, or come up with a list that is more fun – and probably more palatable for the more gentle readers of this blog.

I suppose I could mention that years ago, while travelling around American on the Greyhound bus during a bus strike, a number of replacement drivers new to the routes relied on me to give them directions in cities I had never been in before. Maybe it was the English accent. It was fun, but really not that interesting.

So, how about the time I was chased my security guards in Chicago? But then that wasn't as exciting as it sounds either. They guys didn’t even draw their guns, and everything was cleared up even before the tubby one could get his breath back.

Anyway, I think these might help reveal a little something about me.

I sang vocals on Smile, Darn Ya, Smile, for the finale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Only the lead animators were supposed to participate in the recording, prior to the UK animation wrap party, but I had gotten to know one of the producers very well and he hustled me into the room. I signed the waiver, was given a lovely and shiny one pound coin for my efforts and sang in the “cartoony style” of a pooch that had just had his knackers removed.

I still have the lyric sheet. So, altogether now...

Smile, darn ya, smile
you know this old world
is a great world after all.

Smile, darn ya, smile
and right away watch lady luck
pay you a call.

Things are never black
as they are painted.
Time for you and joy
to get aquainted.

Make life worthwhile
come on and
smile, darn ya, smile.

Doesn’t that make you feel better? Well, suit yourself.

The one major regret in my life

They always say look forward not back but occasionally I can’t help glancing over my shoulder into the past. Years back a girlfriend broke up with me. Younger than me, and getting stressed out with the end of her degree fast approaching; she couldn’t factor in a relationship. So that was that.

I started working long hours to fill the void. Coming home one Sunday evening, the phone was ringing. On the other end of the line she told me she’d made a big mistake and would I come over. Exhausted, I said no. Where would a yes have taken me? Almost twenty years down the road I still stop and wonder.

After that I think we deserve another verse:

Life is really only what
you make it.
Stand right up and show
that you can take it.

Make life worthwhile
come on and
smile, darn ya, smile.

Yeah, that’s better.

Of course the telephone also factored into the time the secretary from a studio came around for dinner. Bored with her hubbie, she asked me if I wanted to handcuff her to the bed, just as the telephone started ringing. Being an absolute doofus I actually went and answered it. Can you believe it? Now I let the machine pick up every time.

I was invited to take part in a croquet tournament held in the garden court of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House (Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd)

Unfortunately I was scheduled to be up the coast in Seattle at the time so no roquets or pegging out for me that day.

Revealing something that didn’t happen, wow, that’s really interesting. But then if I mention things that I did participate in, you get this...

In the 1980s I appeared in a pop video

Unfortunately it was for Russ Abbott’s Atmosphere. And yes, I am hanging my head in shame as I write this. I was young and foolish, and it meant I had a day off from The Esteemed School of Art along with most of the other first year students. The tutors were pissed that we had legged it, but we got to fanny about in the background and raid the bar of the nightclub it was shot in – which was a whole lot better than the scheduled typography lessons. Two months in the UK Top 20, every time that bloody song appeared on Top of the Pops we seriously got the piss taken out of us. Ah, we deserved it.

And lastly

I've discovered the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

At least I think I have. Recently turned 42, and getting a different perspective on things from doing this fill-in work, I think I’ve finally figured it all out. Maybe sometime when I can fully articulate it, I’ll put it in a post.

So there you go. Dolly, I’m sorry there probably wasn’t enough sleaze to satisfy you, but that’ll have to be another day.

Carrying out Brian’s final instructions, the five I now nominate to fess up are: Lucy, Lianne, Potdoll, Sal, and Lee.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Right Enough

Non-fiction rarely gets a look in during discussions of book-to-screen adaptations. When it comes to choosing the best, an obvious contender has to be:

Unless of course you’re asking William Goldman.

For everyone who continually carped on about how, prior to this year’s ceremony, Martin Scorsese didn’t get the love from the AMPAS, can you explain exactly how The Right Stuff was beaten to Best Picture by Terms of Endearment?

If you have an answer, write it down on a piece of paper, wrap that around a brick, and lob it through the front window of your nearest Academy voter. You know it makes sense.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Keep Changing

After discussing the different styles of adapting novels for the screen, Lucy rounded up by asking people to name their favourite adaptations and say why it made the cut. I answered the first part but failed to give a reason amongst all my blather, so now seems a good time to readdress it.

It may seem like a perverse choice (and I’m not choosing it to be a contrary little bugger), but my favourite is Michael Mann’s adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s novel The Keep. Saturday night, waiting for BBC2 to broadcast Siegfried from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, I sat down to watch it again.

Set in 1941, both the film and the source material begin with a detachment of the Wehrmacht arrive in the Carpathian Alps’ Dinu Pass to take command of a strategically placed keep. Their commander, Captain Woermann, observes that the structure has been put together with the smaller stones on the outside, the larger ones inside, as if its design was to keep something in.

Though warned by Alexandru, the keep’s caretaker, that anyone who stays the night is driven out by bad dreams, the soldiers take up residence. When a soldier on sentry duty removes one of the many crosses imbedded in the wall believing it hides treasure, he unwitting releases an unspeakable evil that sets about systematically murdering the men.

Requesting relocation, Woermann soon finds his superiors have sent an SS squad, led by the fanatical Major Kaempffer, to discover who has been murdering his men. It’s at this point the book and the film significantly diverge.

In the book the creature Molasar is revealed to be the sort of uber-vampire that would give Buffy a run for her money, but a vampire none the less. Framed again a war in which unspeakable atrocities were committed, having the evil be something as utterly trite as a vampire makes any right-minded individual scream, “Fuck right off and fuck right off now!”

Interviewed in Sight and Sound prior to the release of The Last of the Mohicans, Mann explained what had attracted him to The Keep:

I was interested in fascisms as a political manifestation of an ethical equation. To me, psychopathology and romance manifested on a political level equals fascism. It’s the disease of the twentieth century. Its sick appeal is best understood within a horrific, dark fairy tale.

Removing the Vamp vs Third Reich scenario and replacing it with a malignant evil, Mann turned it into a study of the evils inherent in the collective German psyches during World War II. Starting out in a gaseous form, Mann’s Molasar gradually gains corporeal form by sucking the life from its victims leaving a blackened, brittle corpse.

“All that we are is coming out in this keep,” Woermann spits at Kaempffer. “You have scooped the many diseased psyches out of the German gutter... You have infected millions with your twisted fantasies. What are you meeting in the granite corridors of this Keep? Yourself!”

Made on a relatively paltry budget of $6 million, Mann’s imagination may have exceeded his grasp. A flawed masterpiece to some, incomprehensible failure to others, The Keep was delayed during post-production by the death of veteran optical-effects wizard Wally Veevers, which left the end result substantially below par.

Fractured and occasionally disjointed, it’s sometimes difficult to decide whether this is due to Mann’s dreamlike German Expressionist-influenced stylings, which reference Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, or the result of a hasty re-edit following preview screenings.

Either way... it deservedly gives the finger to the daft vampire idea. Which is good enough for me.

Best Comic Book (Movie) Ever

There are a lot to choose from – the good, the bad, and the downright dumb as a bag of spanners.

But in the end there is only one when it comes to the perfect blend of innocent goofy fun and high adventure.

(If wet, Hellboy.)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Who Watches...?

Some time back, Lucy at Bang2Write posted on film adaptations. Whereas her post was directed primarily toward literary as source material for movies, there is one other current fad to take into account: comic books.

Since Richard Donner got it pitch perfect with Superman: The Movie in 1978, we’ve had the good, the bad and the utterly stupid! Tim Burton made a dreadful mess of DC Comics’ other mainstay, Batman, kicking off of a positively series of films that got progressively worse until, after a long hibernation Christopher Nolan successfully resuscitated the character.

DC’s main comic book rival Marvel messed around with cheap and cheerless, mediocre television movies before hitting the big time with Spiderman and X-Men. In their wake the floodgates opened, hurling a razzle-dazzling array of characters off the page and onto the screen.

As expected not all of them were good, especially when the movies dispensed with the subtext and simply relied on four-colour spandex-clad super men and women knocking seven shades out of each other. In those instances they relied on an audience of kiddies attracted to the bright and shiny, and fanboys well past college age who still lived with their parents.

This year Ghost Rider has blazed a trail across the screens and 300 is almost upon us. Come the summer the Fantastic Four will be back. After a mediocre origin movie, the sequel is literally going for the bright and shiny with the arrival of the Silver Surfer.

Oooooh, shiny!! But the real treat, apparently, is the soon-to-be-realized Watchmen.

The comic book for people who don’t read comic books, Watchmen, created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, was first published by DC Comics in 1986 as a twelve-part limited series. Collected into a trade paperback, the “graphic novel” was later selected by Time magazine in 2005 as one of “the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present”.
Set in an alternate America, victorious in Vietnam, where Richard Nixon is serving his fifth term and the United States and Soviet Union are inching toward nuclear war, Watchmen begins with the murder of a veteran government agent and one-time costumed adventurer. The investigation into his death gradually brings together the group of crimefighters, forced to retire by a government Act that banned “costumed vigilantes”, as they begin to uncover a plot that has far-reaching global consequences.

As a movie plot, that’s pretty neat. Without the colourful superheroics, it verges on territory already filled out by Edge of Darkness and Pixar’s incredible The Incredibles. Woven around the central plot of Watchmen is a multi-layered narrative that sees the characters forced to struggle with both ethical and personal issues and their own neuroses. With its non-linear narrative, each issue of the limited series is built around advancing the story from their perspective while using shifting time frames to fill the reader in on their background and motivations - a device now facilitated by Lost.

Whereas Frank Miller’s graphic novels Sin City and 300 have a hard-boiled brutality and visceral urgency to their illustrations, allowing them to transfer relatively easily and recognisably to the screen, Watchmen is much more exacting and precise. While comic book scripts typically run to 32 pages, Alan Moore’s scripts for the series averaged out at 150 pages per issue.

The pages of Watchmen are filled with multiple recurring themes and motifs - beginning with the blood-stained smiley face – recurring secondary characters, and a comic book within the comic book – the pirate adventure Tales of the Black Freighter – which, as post-modern metafiction, acts as a parallel commentary to the ongoing story.

Since the film rights were snapped up the project has bounced about between 20th Century Fox, Universal and Paramount with directors Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass trying, and ultimately failing, to bring what Gilliam called an “unmakeable” project to the screen.

Now the project is at Warner Brothers, owned, like DC Comics, by Time Warner, with 300’s Zack Snyder set to direct. To whet the fanboys’ appetite and get them all aquiver, an authenticated test frame has already been inserted into the latest 300 trailer showing the psychotic vigilante Rorschach.

Which means, hey, it’s a Rorschach test! (Boom-boom! You’ve been a great audience; don’t forget to tip your waitresses).

A masterpiece of storytelling on paper, whether Watchmen succeeds on screen, or ends up as a mediocre film, remains to be seen. As the Doomsday Clock counts down all we can do is wait and see.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Almost the end of the second week doing the fill-in work and I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying it. Last week the woman I was assisting leaned back in her chair, smiled, and asked if I has ever considered doing this kind of work full time. This week, having been invited to have lunch with the boss of this little operation, my responsibilities have increased far beyond the grunt work.

After years of working on deadline-driven projects it was strange, come the end of the working day, to be told I could finish the work I was doing tomorrow. It’s a concept I’ve never really come across before, but one I could get used to.

Maybe because it’s come so soon after my birthday – which obviously gave me a licence to take stock and re-evaluate things, and... Maybe putting my thoughts into words is something for another day.

One of the other assistants currently working there is this absolutely stunning young Asian girl. Early afternoon, while I was discussing some of the work that needed to be done she stood less than a breath away, staring intently at me.

Typically I thought there might be something hanging from a nostril or a dash of mayonnaise from the chicken sandwich dried on my chin. When I finally asked her what it was she said, “You have the most beautiful blue eyes!”

Taken aback by the unexpected compliment, and trying not to blush, I blathered something typically unintelligible just as she was called away. Which meant I was left to do all the work myself.

Speaking of beautiful, back home I’ve been meandering through the NASA website rather than sitting hunched over the computer tapping away furiously at the keyboard. There, I came across pages of the photographs of Saturn taken by the Cassini probe.

Now, this is beautiful.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Piqued Peaked

I had wanted to give it a day before commenting on the results of The 50 Greatest TV Dramas, which was broadcast over the weekend. The delay also afforded me the time to catch The Sopranos, back on Channel 4 for a sixth season.

Watching the first episode it became apparent that while The Sopranos is a good drama, possibly a great drama, but it’s certainly not the best drama. Especially since, now extended beyond the original five-year plan, the show seems to be caught in some drawn out holding pattern, waiting for the end.

Instead it’s the best example of why a number of current ongoing dramas were justifiably omitted from the list, however good they are at the moment, because we have yet to see if their potential will be ultimately realized. That said, I still can’t get my head around the startling omissions of both Deadwood and The Wire, which have transcended their genres to create two startling examples of quality, thought-provoking television.

There were also a few too many worthy dramas that were designed to inform and educate rather than entertain. Ultimately though, the only entry in the top ten I had a real issue with was Twin Peaks. Yes, the series was certainly important in the annals of television for shaking up American network television with its non-sequiturs and non-linear narrative strands, oddities and general weirdness.

In the end, however, it went on too long, ran out of ideas and just filled the void by ramping up the weirdshit-o-meter to 12 while running on empty. In doing so Twin Peaks actually had a negative effect on quirky, quality, sometimes experimental, dramas. By alienating its viewers, the show actually sent the wary networks back to their tried and tested formulas like Murder, She Wrote.

Anyway, it was a list based on opinion. If I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with it, no great shakes. And, at least it was determined by pros. If the great unwashed fuckwits had been allowed to raise their hands, the top spots would have been filled with Doctor Who, Torchwood, Heartbeat and fucking Lewis. And if that happened, right about now I would have exploded with rage after having gone on a nationwide killing spree. So there was a good side to the results after all.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Best Of The Best

Channel 4 just screened The 50 Greatest TV Dramas, as voted for by a number of the UK’s television professionals.

In case you missed it, here’s the list.

01. The Sopranos
02. Boys From The Blackstuff
03. Edge of Darkness
04. The Singing Detective
05. Cathy Come Home
06. The West Wing
07. Cracker
08. Our Friends in the North
09. Twin Peaks
10. Heimat
11. Prime Suspect
12. Pennies From Heaven
13. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
14. I, Claudius
15. Das Boot

16. A Very British Coup
17. This Life
18. Abigail’s Party
19. Hill Street Blues
20. Queer As Folk
21. Sex Traffic
22. Bleak House
23. House of Cards
24. Shameless
25. Talking to a Stranger
26. Doctor Who
27. 24
28. Scum
29. Brideshead Revisited
30. Traffik
31. Blue Remembered Hills
32. Warriors
33. The Naked Civil Servant
34. Bloody Sunday

35. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
36. Talking Heads
37. Hillsborough
38. The Prisoner
39. Shooting The Past
40. Pride and Prejudice
41. GBH
42. Made in Britain
43. The Jewel in the Crown
44. Threads
45. Z Cars
46. Caught on a Train
47. Upstairs, Downstairs
48. State of Play
49. Roots
50. Band of Brothers

Do you agree with the results? Which shows omitted should have made the list?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ground. To. A. Halt.

A Saturday in Central London to have a nice and relaxed lunch with Lucy, Optimistic Reader, and one of Lucy’s ”Metlabians”. It’s always fun to finally put faces to bloggers after months of online correspondence.

Of course the really fun part was getting there to meet them and then getting home afterwards. Just in time for the start of tourist season, London Underground have started planned engineering works across the tube network that will carry on through to September. For today they shut down the Circle Line, the section of the District Line that shared the same tracks, and the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line that goes through the heart of Central London.

Things won’t be much better above ground from Monday when Thames Water start digging up most of Central London to replace 40 miles of pipes. Excellent! Especially since the company has admitted they don’t know where a lot of the pipes that need replacing are.

By September the streets between Oxford Street and Bloomsbury Way in the north down to the Embankment in the south, Soho and Haymarket in the West to Chancery Lane and Aldwych in the east will be dug up. And the projected end date when everything should all be back to normal? March 2010! Oh, good grief.

After seeing Lucy off at Paddington, I caught the Bakerloo line down to Piccadilly Circus and stopped off to see my little Virgin Girl who was feeling delicate after a night out mixing her drinks. Then I got the Piccadilly Line to Kings Cross for the Thameslink back to Mill Hill.

Just shy of Kings Cross the train ground to a halt. The driver informed us there was a signal problem. A few minutes later he came back on the intercom and explained the there was a fault with the points. Forty minutes later he walked back through the train after explaining we would have to reverse to the previous station.

He drove the train as far as he could. Then the passengers had to troop through the carriages, through the front carriage of the train behind, parked in the station and already emptied, and out onto the platform. Getting to the steps leading to the lifts a third empty, stalled train nosed into the station.

A points failure, maybe. But it didn’t explain the dozen police officers waiting on the platform, the officers up at ground level and the vans lining the street.

Sat in the carriage, immobile, I was only concerned that I’d be home in time for The 50 Greatest TV Dramas on Channel 4, and the opportunity to catch tonight’s total lunar eclipse.

So the moral of the story is, if you’re coming to London sometime this year, bring good walking shoes. Because all modes of transport in the city are going to be well and truly buggered.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

On The List

Come Saturday Channel 4 is rolling out another of the lists that eat up the whole night’s schedule. Usually these are the trite The 100 Greatest Tearjerkers or The 100 Greatest Sexy Moments, which are as important in the scheme of things as The 100 Greatest Newts Called Derek.

Worse most of the lists are voted for by the great unwashed – the sort of fuckwits who think the greatest ever film, ever, is Star Wars. (Or as the nerdy little twerps insist on calling it: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Asshats!) Then the programmes themselves are stuffed to the gunwales with empty-headed dorks and media commentators whose credentials for being in front the camera blathering on about not much at all is they once worked on Smash Hits.

This time should be different. It’s The 50 Greatest TV Dramas. Also, the shows that made the list were voted for by television professionals, including writers, directors, producers and network commissioners. It may still be opinion, but this time its informed opinion. Which means the results should be interesting and, for once, relevant.

Hopefully some of these shows should have made the list. Anyone who can name all twenty wins a very big cookie.