Sunday, 31 August 2008

Room Meme

About seventy-four years ago, Sir Jason of Arnopp he done memed me, to post a picture of my work area. Now my computer is all fixed, I can post it. Some points of note:

1) Creative mess = genius.

2) Hint of further large number of DVDs just out of shot gives an inkling of exactly how much money I've wasted over the years.

3) Ergonomic desk and seating desperately required (all donations welcome).

4) Lack of impressive board on the wall adorned with many Post-It note plot points. I was going to prepare one for the photo, but I was too busy writing.

5) That's "Life Support" on that screen there, that is.

6) My valiant attempt at redecorating my study has stalled at the 'strip wallpaper' stage, and proceeded no further. We moved at the end of November 2007.  There's no excuse...

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Reward Based Learning

I am motoring through the script right now, but it's only by the grace of DVD shop clerks not being literal that I'm getting any writing done at all.

Looking for a suitable birthday present for me, my better half ventured into town to buy a boxset without the use of the internet, and found herself in HMV or Zavvi or some such place. Knowing that I have watched all but one of the available seasons of The Wire on DVD, she asked in three separate establishments for "the most recent season of the Wire on DVD". Oh, the vagaries of the English language! For, to a one, each of them said "It's not out until September".

Due to this confusion, my better half decided not to risk it, and got me something else instead. Of course, I haven't seen series 4 yet, and that is ""the most recent season of the Wire on DVD" because - as they so rightly stated - season 5 isn't out until September.  Never mind. As I say, I'd have never got anything done if I was glued to new Wire episodes (it really is that compulsive) so I shall save it as a reward for getting my entry into Red Planet next month. 

And I most defintely won't buy it tomorrow. No siree.  I am strong.

Must... prevent... self... from ordering... The Wire...

Friday, 29 August 2008

Life Support Progress Report, and sad news

I'm surprised at how very energised I'm feeling to be working on a TV project. Maybe this is vindication for my decision to concentrate on non-film work from now on, or maybe it's just the freedom of working just for myself (for now) on spec work; whatever it is, I'm enjoying myself.

Progress so far: my computer is fixed, I've developed lots of background material on characters and world, and I've plotted out my pilot episode.  So, finally, I get to do what I've been putting off, and start producing some pages.  Sitting down and writing a draft can be fun, as Jason and Danny have posted about, most informatively and entertainingly, recently.
And, as part of a writing challenge with a group of other writers, I'm going to complete the first ten pages (and one page series outline) by the end of August, and get feedback from the group, as well as give feedback on other people's scripts.  To be honest, it's probably a bit early for my script, but a challenge is a challenge; and all notes can be useful, one way or other.
ADDITIONAL: I've just read the very sad news that Geoffrey Perkins has died in a car accident at a ridiculously young age.  I'd never met him, but his name was on the credits on pretty much every comedy programme that meant anything to me in my youth. A terrible shock.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Character Options

I'm doing something in the development of 'Life Support' that I've never done before: I'm casting it. I don't mean that I'm organising a table read (although, thinking about it, that's a bloody good idea). No, I'm putting an actor to each of the regular characters in my head. 

I know I'm late to this party, and everyone probably already does this: with feature scripts, I've often been asked 'Who do you see playing this part?' and I've never before been able to answer definitively. But now, if asked, I could tell you my whole cast.

I haven't cheated either: I've refrained from using Hollywood A-listers, or casting myself, or anyone dead or otherwise unavailable. It's a plausible ensemble, with one role written for a non-famous actor friend, and the rest going to TV actors of whom I'm fond. One cameo has been written with a legend in mind. But it's only a day or two's of filming, and a vital and interesting role, so it didn't stretch the bounds of the possible.

Of course, when it gets made (well, why not?) I will probably not be consulted that much, and even if I were, I wouldn't get my dream cast. For this reason, I'll be superstitious and not name names. 

It has certainly proved a very useful exercise in helping me to find a unique voice for each of my characters, and I've tried to avoid the obvious pitfall of limiting any creative choices based on whom I've got in mind. But anything that concentrates on character, to my mind, can't be going too far wrong.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Two year retrospective

It's my birthday today, and I'm now closer to 40 than I am to 30, so forgive me if you find me in contemplative mood. I'm currently in the middle of a course; it's nothing to do with screenwriting, it's for the day job. But it's being held in a training centre in Holborn that I attended another course at, almost exactly two years ago. And it was at that course where I took a call telling me my script had been picked for the Film Council's digital shorts programme.

I don't want to blow the event out of all proportion - before that I'd had lots of encouragement from industry professionals, had done lots of courses, written reams and reams, and made many, many no-budget short films. But that phone call meant proper recognition. And budget. So, I mark that day as a starting point of sorts.

Two years later, and I'm reflecting on what I've achieved in that time. I haven't stopped working - up to and including today, I've always had some contracted screenwriting on the go, as well as a healthy amount of spec work, which is good. Conversely, I haven't stopped working at the day job either - the screenwriting I've done has not paid well enough up front for me to reduce my hours toiling in the big smoke. But that's the UK film industry, and I knew what it was like before I started.

It comes down to a question of why one has chosen to write in the first place. I do it, and I don't think I'm a special case, because I'm arrogant enough to think I have something unique to say that might entertain people. I don't do it for the chance of money. Although that would be nice, because something else has happened in those two years - I've rather wonderfully got a family and a mortgage and commitments. And these commitments do impact on the screenwriting, there's no way they could not.

So, I have decided for now to concentrate on developing broadcast opportunities, which will mean trying radio plays and getting a script on Doctors for starters. I have one ongoing short film commitment, which the director and I hope will turn out to be a TV project of sorts too (very exciting - watch this space!). 

As I want to stay based in the UK, it makes sense to concentrate my efforts on an area which has the best chance of providing an eventual income for my family. And the day job allows me to not be in any particular hurry too, as TV's obviously a very competitive arena to break into. I won't be saying goodbye to film forever, and I will obviously revise this policy quick-smart if Steven Spielberg turns up at my door with a shedload of cash to replace Steven Moffat on the next Tin Tin movie. But barring that possibility, it's Au Revoir Cinema for a bit.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

This thing I'm writing... what the hell is it, exactly?

I'm glad to end the radio silence of the last week or two; there was a good reason for it - I was hard at work on my series pilot, which I'm planning to enter into the Red Planet competition. In fact, I don't know why I'm being so coy about it: it's called Life Support, it's a 6 x 60 minute contemporary drama TV series and it's one of those thingummy types of one that there isn't a proper term for, or at least not one I know.

I recently met up with a bunch of writers and bloggers for a few drinks in that London. I canvassed opinions then, and no one there could think of a convincing moniker either. This is my personal view on how the categories break down:

Soap (Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale) - in it's purest form a soap opera has a group of characters, each of whom will take the protagonist role in a running plot line, several of which will be running at one time, overlapping, and they'll never all end at the same time. Programme runs till it gets canned (and if they see it coming far enough in advance there might be closure, like Brookside or Eldorado managed). There are no guest protagonists coming in for one or more episodes. Corrie occasionally doles out guest roles for multiple episodes (e.g. Ian McKellan's stint) but they won't be protagonist of a plot in the same way as the guest(s) of the week in a Casualty episode.

Precinct drama (Holby City, Casualty, The Bill in most of its incarnations) - has running soap plots for its main cast ongoing, but also has guest protagonists coming in for an episode or more. These guest plots might well reflect on or complicate a main character's ongoing soap plot. Can be running all year round, or can run in series with breaks, like Heartbeat for example.

Drama series (Bonekickers, Ashes to Ashes, Doctor Who) - do often tell one loose story over a series, or one story over all their series, but each episode stands on its own merit, more or less. Might have guest protagonists, but will definitely have one or more regular main characters. Obviously it's a broad spectrum - some series' episodes will be more self-contained than others.

Series where one year's run equals a serial (The Wire, 24) - special case of the above, quite popular nowadays. Each episode of a series can't be taken on it's own, but there's closure for some plots every year, and something of a jumping on point at the beginning of any new series. Some UK drama series are experimenting with this form for their latest runs (Torchwood, Spooks).

Anthology Series (Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone) - Diametrically opposite to a soap, I suppose. No running protagonist, new guest plot every week. Not that fashionable on British television at the moment. Unless I've forgotten a really obvious example, which I might well have done. I'll kick msyelf, I'm telling you...

Drama serials (Criminal Justice, Burn Up). One off multi-episode dramas. Could be multi-protagonist, but is the most likely of any of these to be single protagonist, as they are generally shorter and more focused.

Telenovella (the original Ugly Betty) - a long serial with soap style plots for its protagonists, but it eventually will come to a definite end.

But what I'm writing isn't exactly any of these. It's another type of beast, something like The Street, currently, or historically Boys from The Blackstuff as well as many others. It's a series of linked, sole protagonist episodes, based around a connected group of people, one of whom is centre-stage each week. The leads of other episodes might be in the other stories, substantially, or as walk-ons, or not there at all (in Life Support, I've taken the decision that they will all appear in every episode, the continuation of their individual plots still hinted at in the background.)

So, what I'm writing isn't totally unprecedented (phew! I'd be worried if it were) but what's it called? Is there an industry or academic standard term? The best the London Meet could come up with is Character Anthology, but that doesn't encapsulate the connectedness of the protagonists. And does it really matter? Suggestions to the usual address.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Everyone's a Critic

I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes 'Bonekickers'. I've watched four of the episodes so far (not last night's yet), and read a lot of hostile reviews on the internet and some in the press too. But I love it. I thought I was missing something obvious that was wrong with what seems to me to be a fun adventure series. But I've asked other people (a lot of them writers, but some normal people as well) and they were all positive about it. And it's figures have been pretty solid, too.

The latest copy of the Radio Times (I buy it for the articles) has a piece laying into the series by their TV editor - and presumably no relation to Matthew or Julie - Alison Graham. (Oh, Alison Graham. My mother taught me that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, so here's my thoughts about Alison Graham: .) She trots out examples of the show's 'terrible' dialogue, such as "Don't mess with me, I'm an archaeologist". Excuse me? Isn't that line, well, fab?! Maybe it's just me.

This all got me thinking about critical reactions in general. I remember asking Matthew Graham when I met him at the BBC writers' room event whether he was still (or ever?) brave enough to visit any 'Life on Mars' online forums. The worst he'd ever spotted was someone claiming he should "die" for something he'd done in a LoM script. He stopped looking upon finding that. I didn't ask what had prompted this reaction, but this was on a fan site for goodness sake. With fans like that...

Still, Matt can take anything in his stride: he had earlier told a very funny anecdote at that same session about having a very famous producer feign a heart attack during a recent pitch he'd done(his reaction - to persevere to the very end of the pitch, as the guy might think it got better, you never know).

I don't know if I'd be able to resist taking a peek if it were me, though. And I'd probably be paralysed with fear an unable to write for weeks upon seeing the first page of bile. God bless the internet. Luckily I've worked mostly in UK film, so my work is generally unmade and/or unseen. God bless the British Film Industry. So double kudos to Piers for putting up his recent short film Fatal online, for all to see and form an opinion upon. Go see it, and comment if you like, but try to be polite and constructive. Spewing forth rabid reviews online or in the pages of the RT does not necessarily equate to having discerning taste.