Sunday, April 29, 2007

Party Favours

Yesterday evening I was back in Marylebone for yet another birthday party. This time for the agent with the Actress Client who wants me to write/co-write her autobiography.

The invite had come a couple weeks back through our mutual friend, Henry. Although I didn’t ask, I hoped he was simply doing it on her behalf because she was busy. Having given her a number of business cards over the past months, the excuse that she had lost my number wouldn’t do.

The venue this time was just off Marylebone High Street. With the local restaurants setting tables on the pavement to make the most of the hot weather, just enough of a cool breeze, and that faint burnt gasoline-tinged city scent, it weirdly brought back strong memories of evenings spent wandering around Burbank Village.

After chatting with the birthday girl and being introduced to her family, sampling the buffet, listening to the soul singer providing the music and being dragged onto the designated dance floor by a couple of very feisty ladies who took a shine to me, I stepped out into the night air to have a word with the actress about her book.

Used to contacting the “talent” through their agents or managers rather than leapfrog directly to them, because professionally that’s the done thing, I had been waiting for the agent to make the arrangements. Chatting with her, it immediately became evident that in this instance that approach couldn’t be further from the truth.

Comfortable with me, they had simply been waiting for my call when I was ready. Another misapprehension was that the actress lived outside of the city in the Home Counties. Instead she was based just around the corner from where he were sitting.
Given her telephone number, I promised to call her later this week to meet up sometime next week.

One thing she wanted to discuss was how far to go with it. Her life and career had had its ups and downs, certainly, and there were specific things she wanted to tell. The actress wondered how “warts and all” it should be. Cynically, from a selling point, the more dirt dished attracts a wider audience. Almost together we decided that although we could cross that bridge later, we’d only go to the point where nobody got hurt.

Having finally sorted everything out we went back to the party. When it came time to leave I spent so long kissing the ex-Bond girls in attendance goodbye that once on the tube from Baker Street it was obvious I was going to miss my overground connection at West Hampstead. Bailing out a stop early left me standing on the Finchley Road waiting to get a bus home.

As an addition, this evening a friend called to catch up and mentioned there was some magazine work coming up and would I mind him putting my name forward for it. Be my guest.

Perhaps conforming to this strategy of seeing what comes along and where it goes, where if something happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t – rather than be pushy and potentially coming across as too desperate – is the way to go after all.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Final Score

Okay, so here – finally – are my five goals. Compared to disclosing some of my dirty little secrets, this proved to be a difficult one in terms of coming up with sensible answers.

It didn’t help that the head cold that snuck on me quickly upgraded itself to creeping death. Three days virtually out for the count dealing with rusty water (if you don’t know, don’t ask), an inability to retain my balance or stare at a computer monitor for more than a couple of minutes without my aqueous humor starting to boil, and the kind of whiplash-inducing dry sneezes that, in a world of cartoon physics, would have sent me flying thirty or forty feet backwards through a wall.

At least the time spent virtually flat on my back afforded me the time to decide on my five goals in life. Although I’m still trying to decipher some of the scribbles scrawled down on the scratch pads littered around the flat. Hell, even Bletchley veterans would have trouble making sense of them.

Before I was laid low, the best I could come up with was Make it to the finish line with some semblance of dignity and go peacefully and painlessly. From somewhere in the eye of the fever, one scribble simply read: Get fit. Get focused. Get fucked. Nice and succinct, certainly, although it’s only three out of five.

For a while it seemed that being asked to declare your goals in life is more a young person’s game, especially if you want a flavour of the exotic. Then again, there’s a difference between setting out goals and blind wish-fulfilment. The years give you not just experience but different priorities. So what I have are:

Rearrange my body mass

For anyone my age with a relatively sedentary profession that’s probably first on the list, right? Having logged some of my formative years on a farm I was actually buff for a while with firm meat on the bone. The proof is readily available in a set of alternative Christmas cards a photography student shot while I was at The Esteemed School of Art.

From long hours at the House of Mouse to all the companies thereafter, usually sat at a desk, everything started to soften up and head south. On occasions I got back into the whole exercise thing when I could be bothered, but it still needs more work.

Eating less food is easy but that’s only part of the solution. Filming for the NOF a year or so back we learned that any fat on your midriff means fat around your heart. So it’s more about good health than bullshit narcissism.

Be less scattershot

This is the Get focused part. Or put another way, stop drifting and have my hand on the tiller and the wind at my back. Maybe it’s down to my folks having had a number of different businesses: a hotel, holiday flats and farms, as well as being property developers before they cashed in during their early fifties and retired abroad.

Rather than stick with one profession I’ve tended to bounce about between whatever took my fancy following a “been there, done that” approach. (A tee-shirt I picked up some years back in New Orleans stated Been There Fuck That which, in some instances, was more appropriate).

It wasn’t always a smooth ride, but the strategy meant that the goals I had twenty years back have pretty much all been achieved – which is nice. But there are a couple outstanding, still to be ticked off the list, that I need to focus my efforts on. I guess I have to decide not only which one to try and tackle first but, with my priorities gradually changing, whether they are actually worth pursuing.

Stick with sticky situations

I think it was Mark Kermode’s interview with Steven Spielberg for The Culture Show that the director referenced The Greatest Show on Earth as one of his influences. I don’t want to sound at all cynical but working in various divisions of the entertainment industry has seemed like taking part in a three-ring circus without a circus master. In fact the scene in DeMille’s film where the train carrying the performers and livestock has a head-on collision pretty much sums it up.

Having worked with, or encountered, a good number of artists, writers, screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, and other arty types, a good few of them were decent, honourable hardworking individuals. Quite a lot were horrible self-centred ass-clowns, fuckwits and self-aggrandizing scumbags who, in any other profession, would have been shot feet-first out of a cannon.

The point? Of late there have been instances of giving up on leads, deciding, “fuck it, it’s not worth the aggravation.” It would be nice to get something we’re writing up on the screen but Work Buddy and I have figured it’s not the be-all and end-all. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I guess it would be nice to get a few more credits on my IMDb page – apart from the existing ones that aren’t listed.

Only write right

There are a few times when I’ve been a complete and utter whore and did it solely for the money. But not when it comes to stringing words together. Being a hack writer is something I find completely abhorrent, which has meant there have been times I’ve spent longer than necessary searching for the perfect sentence when deadlines are looming. (Work Buddy can fill you in on a time I virtually drove him to distraction waiting for my copy to arrive).

It’s nice to be inside, writing in the warm. And it’s a whole lot better than being outside, digging ditches in the rain. But to simply do it for the money and not really give a shit about how the text turns out really isn’t the done thing. Even when I had to write over 3,000 words a day when I ghost-wrote for the Designated Author they were very long working days with every word considered.

There are things I still want to write and hopefully get some return from. I guess the thing is to do them on my terms rather than simply finger-cuff. I mean, if you don’t get it right, what’s the point? (Hopefully this doesn’t sound too completely and utterly fucking prima donnaish).

Together or alone?

Years back I worked part of one summer in a grubby little studio (long gone) in some particularly ratty building on Wardour Street. Every Monday morning the particularly useless PA would plonk herself down behind her desk and call up a succession of friends until she had made arrangements for every night of the week.

Sometimes she would get quite desperate when it looked like some evenings she would be left to her own devices. This was a woman who simply couldn’t bear being in her own company. I’m her polar opposite. Having grown up in parts of the Westcountry where it wasn’t convenient to meet up with friends after school, I indulged in books, comics, television and movies to keep myself entertained, which in turn lead to the writing.

But there are times when something’s missing. I’ve already written about past relationships. A couple of girls in particular I loved more than I realized but in the end I have a habit of pissing people off in one way or another. Obviously the older you get the more baggage you bring to a relationship, which isn’t always a good thing. I’m wondering whether to keep trying or realize I gave it my best shot.

So, there you go. Finally, my goals in life. Or, ignoring all of the above I could have simply merged them into:

Figure out what I want to do when I grow up

That one speaks volumes.

I know right about now I’m supposed to pick candidates to carry this on but this time it’s up to you. Want to take a shot at it? Be my guest and knock yourself out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sick Dog

Still waiting to know what my five goals in life are? Me too.

For a starter, my primary goal is to get shot of this damned head cold that is squeezing in my skull, playing merry hell with my sinuses, and generally fogging up my brain.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Own Goals

Along with Will and Brian, I’ve been tagged by Work Buddy to come up with my five goals in life.

I’m still thinking about them, honest. Give it some thought too. It could be you next.


Yesterday was my final day working for the company. The eight weeks flew right by. But then that might be an age thing. Either way, they didn’t want me to go.

Earlier in the week, the company’s Head of Recruitment had been on the phone to me twice outside working hours. The department’s boss is looking to find money in his budget. My direct superior was virtually clinging to my leg to stop me from leaving the building, bless her.

Like the best performances, you want to come in, do your magic, and then, rather than outstaying your welcome, leave them wanting more. My problem is I’m easy to guilt. Only contracted for the eight weeks, I still feel like I’m leaving them in the lurch. Of course with the continually ongoing work there never is going to be an end.

The animation studio producer soon figured out how to push my buttons. Whenever the schedule was looking dodgy, she’d wander into the kitchen while I was making a coffee and do the whole “Woe is me, we’re not going to get the work finished on time” routine. And I’d fall for it every darn time.

Even though I knew the routine inside and out, it would still end with me assuring her the work would be finished on time. And then I would go through hell figuring out the process to get it done. Every. Damn. Time.

So I may be back there. But not just yet. Typically, it’s only when you’re really busy that work starts to roll in. Work Buddy outlined the next round of pharma work that is coming up, starting with him off on a jolly to Paris on Monday.

Just for today, before anything new kicks off, I got to put my feet up and just laze. A package arrived in the post with Arctic Monkey’s excellent second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, and a pile of upcoming singles, including Marilyn Manson’s Heart-Shaped-Glasses. (Thank you Mr C).

So I blasted them out as I tore through today’s Samurai Su Doku. Tomorrow I’ll probably run the London Marathon. In my head.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


In their own uniquely perverse way, UK new programmes ran items admonishing the American network for broadcasting the video from that doughnut from Virginia Tech and then played portions of the whiny ramblings while doing so.

What a cock-knob to bleat about how it was other folk’s fault that he had turned into the sick twist he was. That way he could lay the blame at someone else’s doorstep rather than stand up and take responsibility for the abhorrent acts he was about to commit. Twat!

After the attacks on the World Trade Center towers by another bunch of butt weasels, The Onion wrote about they would hopefully be “...hollowed out and used as prophylactics by thorn-cocked Gulbuth The Rampant”.

Fingers-crossed that little sparky is being added to the rota.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Out Of The Woods

Talk about life imitating art. I was watching Johnny Sacramoni get the prognosis from his oncology specialist when the telephone rang. Last week my father had been in for yet another round of tests. This morning he’d seen his specialist for the results. Now my mother was calling to pass on the news.

Early last year he’d begun complaining about getting up in the night to take a piss. I bellowed at him down the phone to get it checked. It took a while before he finally did. When you’ve lived on a farm, going to the doctor doesn’t happen unless you’ve had a limb torn off or barfed up a vital organ. Anything less is just girlie.

Even broken bones aren’t considered urgent. On holiday in New England some years back my mother slipped on some loose shale in the Vermont countryside. After a restless night, she eventually went to the hospital to discover her ankle was broken.

While it’s easy to put it down to folk in their mid–seventies simply being set in their ways, I’ve run about with torn ligaments in my foot for a week and still get twinges in my arm from untreated tennis elbow. Which is either down to ingrained plain bloody–mindedness or just being a doofus.

So the old man eventually went in for the tests and the results came back the day before his birthday, just less than a year ago. Which was a real treat for him. The first thing he said on the phone was “Well, I’m buggered!” Stoic at first, it hit him pretty hard. The cancer was identified grade 4 to 5, meaning it was an active and aggressive little fucker, and on the verge of taking up shop in every vital organ it could muscle into.

Luckily he could afford to go private rather than be subjected to the utter joke that is the NHS. Initially given barely enough time to read a decent sized book, that estimate was cautiously revised to three years after they bombarded the living crap out of his prostate with radiotherapy, then nine years. He had told my mother that he’d be happy to make it top their Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary in four years time. Isn’t that the sweetest? Deep down he’s a big softie after all.

Today’s update, thankfully, confirmed the treatment had managed to catch it in time. While clear on that score, he’s still not skipping in the meadows just yet. Monthly injections that started pre-treatment now leave him short of breath – which means only playing nine holes instead of a full round when he heads off to the golf course at seven in the morning.

Next week he goes back in the metal tube for another full scan. Coming off the injections may sort the fatigue out, but they don’t want to chance the cancer taking root again. As inconveniences go, we all agree it’s better than ending up in an urn.

Coming close to something like this, it’s good to know the internet can be used for a whole lot more than getting a peak at Lindsay Lohan’s vagina.

No Kidding

Kidnapped finished its run of Channel 4 last night and if you didn’t catch it, shame on you. It was an absolute treat.

Pulled by NBC after it broadcast only five episodes, in the UK we saw the full 13 episode run. Channel 4’s idea of splicing two episodes together proved to be inspired, even though, after a couple of weeks, the show was bumped back an hour in the schedule.

Of course, being an odd number of episodes, the final three episodes were run back-to-back, ending at 1:30 in the morning. Perhaps not a great time for a show viewers seriously had to pay attention to, but even after a long day and another early start to look forward to, I was still riveted to the spot as it played toward the final denouement.

Told to wrap up the show quickly by the network, the writers still managed to do it perfectly. The multiple twists woven through the various plot threads made absolute sense. Originally planned to feature a different kidnapping each year, with the running time ultimately reduced it meant the drama picked up the pace to almost breakneck speed. Running just over half the length of a full season, Kidnapped, which played like Kurosawa’s High and Low meets 24, wasn’t allowed to outstay its welcome.

While there is no word yet of a DVD release over here, Kidnapped is released as a Region 1 3-disc set next week. Nab it if you can.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Foyled By The Shitstorm

I should have sat down to watch Foyle’s War last night but the lure of the bonkers Superstorm on BBC1 was too strong. (At least I didn’t succumb to a second helping of Grey’s Anatomy, so I should get some points for that).

With aeroplanes flying into swirling cloud masses and academics blathering “silly science,” it edged dangerously towards the SciFi Channel’s increasingly loopy miniseries The Triangle, which starred Sam Neill, a bunch of other actors, and Catherine Bell’s magnificent breasts trying to discover bonkers goings-on in The Bermuda Triangle.

In situations like this you need to go so totally out there that there’s absolutely no chance of ever finding a way back. The science part is always the boring bit, even when it’s sexed up with Jennifer Aniston. The scientists brought together to downsize the super-sized super storms, didn’t have enough personal demons gnawing away at them to help make it interesting.

Part one ended with the first team casualty. Bizarrely it wasn’t the most utterly annoying American character I’ve ever seen. He was even worse than people I’ve met in Cleveland, or the waiters in Chicago’s Ed Debevic’s on N. Wells. Every time I flicked back I was astonished to find that the rest of the gang hadn’t circled around him and repeatedly beaten his face flat with baseball bats.

Caught in short bursts, it reminded me of the series of BBC docu-dramas that began in 2004 with If... The Lights Go Out, predicting what would happen if the UK’s National Grid went on the blink. It was followed by a roundtable discussion to make the whole premise appear as FACT!

Thought provoking at first, the topics gradually became more and more barmy, finishing up with If...The Generations Fall Out. That may have ended with Malcolm McDowell above The Quad with a Bren gun, but I had stopped watching by then. Superstorm had it’s own special, The Science of Superstorm, following hot on its heels which presumably explained the real attempts to curtail extreme weather. I gave it a wide berth.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Funny, How?

Another weekend, another list from Channel 4. On the heels of The 50 Greatest TV Dramas came The World’s Greatest Comedy Characters.

Whereas the former was voted for by industry professionals, this latest list was compiled through “a combination of viewers voting on [the Channel 4] website, industry experts, and critical opinion.” Right.

I dipped in and out as the evening progressed, typically viewing the results with more and more despair. Larry Sanders at 43. Captain George Mainwaring from Dad’s Army only reaching 29. Porridge’s Norman Stanley Fletcher coming ninth.

The top five were, in reverse order: Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office’s David Brent, Edmund Blackadder, the wonderfully grotesque Alan Partridge and, on top of the pile, Basil Fawlty.

Once again, it was the omissions that proved to be more interesting. In case I had missed them during the channel hoping, I checked Channel 4’s website for the full results to see who I’d missed. They hadn’t been posted. But I did discover the A-Z of Nominees that people had cast their votes from.

Although the title didn’t give it away, it was comedy characters on television. Which explains the absence of Stan and Ollie. While Jerry from Seinfeld was amongst the nominees and made the list at number 24, where was George Costanza? Or Hank or Artie from The Larry Sanders Show?

More importantly, where the fuck was Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko?

In the end, the biggest jokers had to be the complete and utter ass clowns who compiled the nominations.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Disc Cuts

A couple of days back Sony Pictures sent me an email trumpeting the DVD release of Spiderman 2.1 on Monday. Not only was I completely uninterested, I wasn’t at all surprised either.

A few years back, just before the release of the sequel, they pulled this stunt with the first Spiderman film, repackaging it as a 3-disc Deluxe Edition DVD by adding a few additional bits of old toot scraped from the bottom of the barrel, along with an all-important peek at Spiderman 2 – which was obviously the main selling point.

With the third film now only weeks away – Oh, frabjous joy! – Sony is at it again. Except this time, rather than simply gussying the previously released Spiderman 2 DVD with “a sneak peek of the highly anticipated Spiderman 3”, the film now has “8 minutes of never-before-seen footage!” incorporated into it, including “extended fight sequences!” Well, hurray for that!

This is obviously a wonderful thing to behold if you’re an utter uber-geek itching to see Spidey and Doc Ock trading even more blows. For the rest of us, eyeing the news with utter distain, the arrival of Spiderman 2.1 is just the latest example of film studios abusing the shiny disc market in their efforts to get every last penny out of our pockets.

Of course Sony isn’t alone. 20th Century Fox are bringing out a new disc of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later to happily coincide with the cinema release of the Juan Carlos Fresnadillo-directed 28 Weeks Later.

I came relatively late to DVD. It was really only because I was getting TV boxsets to review that I had to take the plunge, which meant I was pushed before I could jump. Having witnessed the VHS vs Betamax debacle, I wanted to make sure DVD wasn’t simply a stepping-stone fad before the next format – which we know will be either HD or Blu-Ray.

For the record, the first DVDs I bought were the 2-disc editions of Big Trouble in Little China and Black Hawk Down in HMV’s virtually permanent two-for-the-price-of-one offer. Since then I’ve steadfastly refused to buy a DVD at full price on principle; waiting instead until they have a sale price sticker slapped on the cover, or simply waiting.

Some folk just want the film. I like the extras and commentaries as long as some effort has been put into them. With special editions already making an appearance, if a big film was released as pretty much a bare-bones disc, I’d put off buying it and wait for the full bells and whistles version to eventually arrive.

And then there are the directors’ cuts. “8 minutes of never-before-seen footage! Including “extended fight sequences!” smacks of cynical corporate manipulation rather than a different version of a film presented by a director who has fully embraced the format.

DVD allowed Peter Jackson to turn The Lord of the Rings trilogy into a spectacular achievement with the extended editions. Although he played no part in the transfer, the 2-disc edition of Alien 3 afforded viewers an idea of David Fincher’s vision before he was beaten down by studio interference.

For my money, Ridley Scott is the one person to use DVD to its fullest extent. His position on the A-list of directors allows his commentaries to be honest, without having to tow the party line. He’s open about his own failings, whether bowing to studio pressure to make the film more commercially viable or, in the case of Legend which was restored on the Region 1 2-disc edition, losing his nerve after test screenings and unnecessarily re-editing the film. While, with its reinstated 45 minutes of footage, the epic Kingdom of Heaven – originally emasculated to provide 20th Century Fox with a more commercial running time - will be rightly be looked back on as his masterpiece.

For budding filmmakers on a budget that doesn’t stretch to film school, Scott’s commentaries are also a one-stop-shop master class on movie making; whether it’s location scouting for Thelma and Louise, making the most of props in The Duellists, or reusing sets in Gladiator. This year sees the definitive Blade Runner, which comes as the 25th Anniversary Final Cut.

While we wait for that, Warner Brothers seems to be in the mood to make up for past transgressions. Payback – The Director’s Cut allows Brian Helgeland, to finish the film he was originally kicked off of during post-production the way he intended.

There is a danger of these revised versions becoming little more than curios. Perhaps none more so than Superman II – The Richard Donner Cut, which I watched this afternoon while the horses and their tiny riders were jumping over fences.

The director of Superman – The Movie, Donner was fired by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind before he could finish filming the sequel and replaced by Richard Lester, who previously directed The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers in the same back-to-back fashion for the Salkind’s and so obviously enjoyed a less fractious relationship with them. So this is the first time Donner’s name appears on the finished film.

With not all of his footage shot, one key scene early on in the film exists only as a screen test that was luckily filmed with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. In other sequences Marlon Brando is reinstated, after originally being replaced by a smaller-salaried Susannah York, as is Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, after the actor sided with his original director and took a walk following Donner’s dismissal.

With Lester’s slapstick elements ditched, this Superman II obviously plays as a better companion piece to the first film. Rather than watch the originally released version which comes as part of the package, I played it again with the Donner/Tom Mankiewicz commentary which was quite illuminating, although the light of recall had been dimmed somewhat by the years.

Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s a reasonable enough film. For film students and writers alike it gives a pretty decent indication of seeing how two different directors approached and then shaped more or less the same material.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Man of Iron

With only weeks until the arrival of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 3, followed later in the summer by Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - which surely can’t suck as badly as the first film, the flood of comic book movies continues from the studios’ gates.

Currently in production is Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr as industrialist Tony Stark along with Jeff Bridges and Terrace Howard. Favreau may have been responsible for Elf but he also made Made, which is an absolute gem of a movie. Two of the writers, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, worked on Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, and are now co-writing the script for John Carter of Mars, adapted from the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which can't be a bad thing.

Not in the cinemas until next year, Paramount Pictures has released the first image of the Iron Man armour to get the expectant fanboys hot and bothered. Created for the movie by Stan Winston Studios, this is obviously the clunky, grey Iron Man Mark I suit and not the later, more familiar, red and gold version.

I betcha Lucy is already camped outside her local multiplex, waiting in eager anticipation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tell Your Story Walking

It’s not a stunning surprise to say that public transport in the capital sucks big time. No matter how often Transport For London blows its own trumpet, the Underground simply doesn’t compare to the IRT/IND/BMT, the El, Metrorail, and especially BART.

Yeah, there’s probably more miles of track and blah, blah, blah, here in London. It might have been a good idea not to wait until everything was on its last legs before trying to fix it up with a lick of paint and a fresh lightbulb.

While working at the animation studio I lived in East Finchley. With the studio on Goodge Street I could, theoretically, go door to door in just over half an hour. In practice it was very rarely the case.

Even if some deadlines hadn’t required early starts, after a couple of journeys being shunted down a tunnel, scrunched into a carriage with someone’s armpit shoved in my face, it was better to get in before the morning crush hour. It gave me time to have a coffee and sort out what needed to be done that day.

Adding a comment a couple of posts back, JD reminded me of what turned out to be my favourite journeys into work. They happened a summer of pretty regular tube strikes.

The animators could work from home just as long as they had a desk on site. Overseeing a digital department with about a half-dozen workstations, multiple scanners and a separate edit suite, working from home never entered into the equation.

Buses would be okay, if I lived near the start of a bus route. But where they passed my way, even a little further along at Muswell Hill, they would already arrive crowded and then probably get fouled up in traffic the closer they got to the centre.

Instead I walked. The only part of the route uphill was Bishops Avenue, which always turned out to longer than it appeared. Then, once I crossed the Heath to Hampstead, it was all downhill. Down Haverstock Hill, veering toward Primrose Hill so I could avoid the obscenity that is Camden High Street, then along Tottenham Court Road.

Most times, wandering through the lanes off Heath Street and checking out the bookshop windows, I had to remind myself I was walking to work. Along the way I’d pass people pacing, frustrated, at the bus stops, and wonder why they were waiting there.

At a gentle pace, I’d leave the house just after seven o’clock in the morning and get to the studio around nine. The amazing thing was, I’d never felt more relaxed arriving at work.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cop Out?

Caitlin Moran, writing in The Times on Saturday, obviously forewarned us:

The final episode of Life on Mars is imminent and rumours have been abroad that two endings have been shot. In the event, this turns out to be correct. There are two endings. One for clever people, in which the show... ends with a satisfyingly dark and complex twist. And then there’s an ending for stupid people, which has been tacked on immediately afterwards, and leaves the show looking like the I Love 1973 retrotrash it always had to fight so hard to avoid being.

I wasn’t a big fan of the show from the offset. This year I did make a point to watch the episode with the all too brief Camberwick Green-puppet sequences and last week’s episode written by Mark Greig, which had Gene Hunt disguising himself as Tufty the Squirrel.

Like it or not, the last episode obviously had to be a must-see to find out how the drama resolved itself. For the first thirty-odd minutes I loved it. Especially when they started to suggest that in fact the modern-day sequence that opened the very first episode was actually the “dream” and everything had to be viewed from a completely different perspective.

That would have been an excellent way to go: completely pulling the rug out from under the audience by way of Jacob’s Ladder and the sixth season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Normal Again. That would have had me leaping off the sofa cheering.

Instead they pulled back to cater for the clever and the stupid. I ended up staring blankly at the set, feeling utterly deflated, and simply muttered “oh.”

And when it came to the final shot... 1973 it may have been. But were the producers looking back to 1968 and aiming for the final, enigmatic, and still discussed finale of The Prisoner?

Monday, April 09, 2007


Not particularly interested in either organised religion or chocolate eggs, the arrival of Easter in the calendar amounted solely to a very welcome long weekend. After last week it was good to set aside some of the work I had set aside for this weekend and just simply relax.

Late Thursday, I had been sent out to try and conciliate a rather inconsonant client. Even using my considerable charm we still failed to resolve matters. I ended up out on the street wanting to kick something a very great distance. The upside was I was in South Kensington on a beautifully sunny afternoon.

In a big city there are boroughs you never have a chance to go to, never want to go to, or used to go to but haven’t been back for a long time. My first year in London, back when I enrolled at The Esteemed School of Art, South Kensington was my local tube stop.

First year students for the London art schools were placed in various halls of residence dotted around the capital to help then acclimatize to the bright lights of the big city. I was assigned a room in the hall just south of the Thames overlooking Battersea Park.

The first Sunday there, armed with the A-Z, I walked to Hampstead Heath via Hyde Park, Regents Park and Primrose Hill. Thereafter, every morning I’d walk across the Albert Bridge and cut up through Chelsea to South Kensington underground station.

After a while I figured that getting into a crowded metal tube and being shot down a pipe wasn’t the best way to the see the city. Instead, leaving the hall earlier to factor in the additional travelling time, I’d get a bus on the King’s Road. Sitting on the top deck as it travelled up Sloane Street to Knightsbridge, then along Piccadilly to Shaftesbury Avenue, I soon discovered the beautiful architecture of Central London.

After seeing the client I went for a walk. My working day was just about done and I needed some air before travelling home. The office got to hear the bad news before I reached the tail end of the Cromwell Road, which means that this week at work will start off sweet.

Knowing it could wait, I stood in the sunshine outside the V&A to wind down. And then I got a bus up to Piccadilly to remind myself, by which time I didn’t care a jot.

Grey Matter

After the continual bombardment of trails on Five, I succumbed to this evening’s double bill of Grey’s Anatomy. Well, they were promising someone blowing up, which isn’t your typical, everyday experience in the hospital corridors!

For the past 13 years ER has my medical drama of choice, with House now running a close second. I mentioned a while back that Casualty never made the grade because, given the pace of the stories, a patient was more likely to die on a trolley in a hospital trolley while the regular characters shuffle blankly about.

In Grey’s Anatomy patients are likely to die on the operating table while the doctors and nurses look all doe-eyed and lovey–bloody–dovey at each other. Obviously I’ve got the wrong genitalia to truly appreciate the show – which made it seem even odder to have the episodes scheduled between screenings of Spiderman 3 and The Punisher. Which is a pretty odd choice for Easter itself.

Still, exploding people! Although I had to wait close to one hundred minutes for a scene had been shown over and over in the promotions, no more no less. Good grief.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Showing Their Age

I know we should be all looking forward to a summer of Spiderguy and assorted supervillains bouncing off the walls and rooftops of Manhattan while trying to tear each other a new asshole, a massive pirate mashup that travels far beyond the reaches of the Caribbean, and even John McClane back on the terrorist trail. And that’s just for starters.

Trawling around the Apple site, checking out the films hoping to excite an audience eager to be served up a diet of popcorn and carnage, I came across two new movies catering for people who want more than just the empty spectacle of things blowing up real good.

The Savages, written and directed by one-time performance artist Tamara Jenkins, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as obsessive-compulsive college professor Jon Savage, and Laura Linney as his self-medicating playwright sister Wendy, having to face up to familial responsibility when their ailing father starts to lose his marbles.

That could be a real downer, right? Not according to the trailer. And anyway, Hoffman and Linney are always good value, as is Philip Bosco who plays their old man.

Away From Her, stars Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie as Grant and Fiona, whose fifty years of wedded bliss is fractured by the onset of her increasing memory loss. Moving her into a nursing home specialising in Alzheimer's disease and giving her time to adjust to the new surroundings, when Grant next sees his wife he discovers that she has all but forgotten about him and turned her affections to Aubrey, a fellow patient at the facility. Visiting her daily, and eager to see his wife happy, Grant has to bear witness to the special bond growing between Fiona and Aubrey.

Based on Alice Munro’s short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain, Away From Her was written and directed by the 28-year-old Canadian actress Sarah Polley, who starred in Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Sure, we all want to know the eventual fate of Jack Sparrow, that’s probably a given. But looking for a more fulfilling experience, shouldn’t we care more about Jon and Wendy and Grant and Fiona and - depending on their release schedule* - make sure they come first?

* Away From Her is set for a release in the UK on Friday, April 27th. The date for The Savages is still to be confirmed.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Inside Drawer B

And this is what’s inside Drawer B. Or rather, this is what was typed up amongst pages of notes and scenes and dialogue and general scribbles that I'm trying to decipher.

Either I was running very fast when I wrote some of them or I was sitting down while an electrical current was being passed through me. In fact I spent ages trying to work out one short sentence only to eventually discover it was a very strange doodle.

Actually, I thought I had more of this one, which has been down in the dark a very long time it has been "entombed" rather than "left maturing in wood". I do have a very strange, and very eerie, final scene. So I guess that just leaves all the bits in the middle to put in order.

And the opening scene is more like a gussied up treatment than anything. I just liked the idea of the archetypical images for a werewolf movie being turned on their head into something different.

Years back I actually pitched this one. The Head of Development listened up to the point I mentioned the reveal of who the werewolf is comes when the character wakes up choking and discovers the fingertip of one of the previous night's victims wedged in their throat.

Right then he asked, “What else?”, wanting to move on. He had a point. It wasn’t the sort of material for Warner Brothers Feature Animation - like I said, it was years back. But we had gone through all my kiddie movie ideas.

Luckily I didn’t mention the preceding scene, which would have looked a bit like the crime scene Dutch walks into in the season six premiere of The Shield.

Anyway, this was what was typed up. I’m still sure there was a lot more, which means it wither wasn’t transferred over from the old computer, or it was printed up and stuffed an unmarked folder in the filing cabinets.

Oh, and I’m not happy with the title either. Once again, all opinions are welcome.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Should I Be Excited?

Working in animation, people always assumed that I watched the stuff as well. That would be like expecting a gynaecologist to come home from a busy day and... okay, possibly a bad example.

Even after all these years that means there is still a heck of a lot of Disney, Miyazaki and, er... other features and shorts that I either haven’t seen or only just caught up with now that they’re on shiny discs.

One area of animation I absolutely avoided like the frikkin’ plague were the television series in the 1980s that were nothing more than badly made, extended commercials for various ranges of toys/plastic crap. I was too old for it, anyway.

So, having not seen the original shows, I’m still wondering whether I should be bouncing up and down with glee at pictures like this...

or this...

because they fold up and turn into things.

Or because it's by Michael Bay and he blows up stuff real good?

Inside Drawer A

Looked through the drawers yesterday to see what had been left “maturing in wood”. Time to make a decision on which one to take another pass on...

Hang on, haven't we been here before? Well yes, but somebody - that would be you Dolly - complained that the pages were too darn small to read when they were individually expanded.

Trying to swap the jpgs for larger pngs, I managed to delete the original post. Look, it has been a long week and I'm tired, okay. So, for the second time in three days...

Inside Drawer A was:

All opinions still welcome.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Oh Lords!

At first I thought it was an April Fool’s gag from The Governess who passed it my way.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, if he were to come to McNally Manor on a Saturday evening, he would find the McNally family and perhaps a few of the children from the neighbourhood all gathered with popcorn and other eatables to watch the next edition of Doctor Who? Is that not a reminder that good children’s television is not just a duty but makes commercial common sense and should that not be drawn to Michael Grade’s attention, as I know that he has some experience in these matters?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, after yesterday, I wondered how long I would have to wait for an invitation to McNally Manor, and I am grateful that it has occurred so soon. The Doctor Who programme has been watched by as many adults as children and is an example of a hugely successful television programme that was originally children-oriented but captured the imagination of the whole nation. That is the ideal to be strived for and it requires resources and commitment. I doubt that Michael Grade, who is all too well aware of the commercial implications of good television, is unaware that, if he were able to broadcast a programme like Doctor Who, the position of commercial television would improve significantly.

Turns out it’s verbatim from Lords Hansard on last week’s House of Lords debate about the future of Commercial Television for Children. Or, in the words of Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:

Whether, in view of the significant reduction in programmes for children in the commercial television sector, they have any proposals to amend Section 264 of the Communications Act 2003.

Ah, those crazy old bastards. The House of Lords, what would we do without them?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tail Between My Legs

Back in October, hearing that Jonathan Pryce is to make his return to British TV, playing Sherlock Holmes in a new two-part adaptation for BBC1, I wrote:

What can a new adaptation provide other than a different actor under the deerstalker?

Having watched the wonderful two-part drama Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, broadcast on the past successive Sunday afternoons, I humbly stand corrected.

The original drama found the gang of street urchins, who first appeared in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 A Study in Scarlet, having to solve the mysterious disappearance of two of their own while Holmes is under house arrest and accused of "muuuurrr-DAH!".

Pryce was a terrific Holmes and Bill Paterson was marvellous as Doctor Watson. Even better, not one of the kids overplayed their roles. I even smiled as, in the final shot, an orchestral snatch of Little Green Bag played as the Irregulars walked towards camera. All the more remarkable given that I loathe virtually anything that has the names Quentin and Tarantino attached to it.

Hopefully the BBC will make more in the series because one thing British television desperately needs are more decent dramas aimed at children that can be watched by adults.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Out Of This World

Holy crap, that was fantastic last night! The surprises came from way out of left field. The effects were simply staggering – although of course it was the human drama that came first and foremost. And the last line:

“I know where it is, and I’m going to take us there.”

left me exhausted by it’s sheer audacity.

Oh, I’m sorry... Did you think I was talking about the new series of Doctor Who?

Well I did catch it. But first I watched, Crossroads, Part Two, the third season finale of Battlestar Galactica again in preparation for the inevitable.

Also on last night and worth mentioning, BBC2’s The Culture Show saw film critic Mark Kermode catch up with Danny Boyle to talk about his new film Sunshine. Written by Alex Garland, the movie follows a team of astronauts as they attempt to reignite the dying sun with a massive nuclear bomb.

The pair were filmed in The Sun (oh, tee-hee) on Long Acre, which was one of my locals back when I was at The Esteemed School of Art. Over a game of pool, Kermode asked Boyle how, given the subject matter, he managed to avoid referencing the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Alien, Silent Running and even Event Horizon.

Boyle likened the genre to a narrow corridor filled with these earlier films. His job, as the director, was to negotiate a way down the corridor steadfastly avoiding some while gently brushing up against others in homage. Which explained everything. Watching the revived Doctor Who it's clearly apparent that the writing team found that exact same corridor and have been barrelling down it these past few years, gobbled up everything in sight to regurgitate into their scripts.

As an aside, one thing Kermode and Boyle didn’t discuss was the name of the spaceship in Sunshine, which The Governess brought up in a comment a couple of posts back.

Imagine a meeting with the spaceship designers, mission commanders, payload specialists and everyone else brought on board to reignite the sun. There they all are, sitting around the table planning the finer points of the mission when someone pipes up that the ship should be called Icarus.

Icarus? As in flew too close to the sun and died Icarus? Rather that decide that was an absolutely bonzer idea, wouldn’t they drag him outside and beat him with rocks before getting back to the job at hand?