Friday, August 31, 2007


Don't know why this made me laugh so much - perhaps it's hysterical relief at the (for now) final draft of Hero Trip going off to the film council, but I came across this on a Secret Comedy Forum I hang around, and I had to ask the guy behind it if I could quote and link. Clone Army, he say 'yes'.

Clone Army says:

"My brother and I have a long-running game whereby we try and surreptitiously poke the face of our opponent without actually moving. This can be achieved by any means other than direct contact but the favourite is waiting for someone to turn their head then holding ones finger close the cheek until they turn back. This game has been going on for 2 years now and we are currently even. It is also hopelessly stupid and has confusing and largely intuited rules."

Video demonstration:

It might just be the mood I'm in. Yesterday I also bought a lego cargo lifter specifically to make a diorama in which a viking loads a crate of other vikings into my lego longship. I laughed for an hour, then realised I'd left my camera behind in London, and went into a massive sulk.

It's probably best I stay away from people for a bit (apart from Alex, who I'm meeting for a drink later, who understands the importance of small plastic bricks).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Comics Britannia (starting September on BBC4)


A three-part documentary series covering Britain's contribution to the world of sequential art, narrated by Armando Iannucci.

Boingboing has already mentioned this, but I've actually seen it (thanks to BBC4's innovative and far-sighted marketing strategy of chucking free DVDs at me, woo hoo), so am just that bit cooler.

The series starts with 'The Fun Factory': pre and immediately post-war children's comics such as the Beano and Dandy, moves with 'Boys and Girls' to the search for an older readership (with an excellent dissection of girl's comics such as the Jaqueline Wilson-titled 'Jackie') and ends at 'Anarchy In The UK' with the blood spurtin', laser-shootin', The Man-defyin' titles of 2000AD, Warlord and Deadline.

Early fears the series would include a parade of celebutards calling out the catchphrases a la 'I heart 2004' can thankfully be laid to rest - the talking heads involved range from industry luminaries Leo Baxendale and Alan Moore to informed commentators Stewart Lee and, er, Frank Skinner. Who isn't as annoying as you'd expect, and someone has to talk about Roy of the Rovers.

The only slight criticism I would have is that getting various people to read out bits very very slowly and then chuckling to themselves is a bit annoying actually, as the captions are on screen, and we wouldn't be interested in a documentary about comics IF WE COULDN'T READ FOR OURSELVES, but otherwise it's a really excellent piece of work, clearly put together by people who actually give a toss about their subject.

Anyway, it's jolly good, and well worth a look - one sure benchmark of quality is that gf Patroclus, not, shall we say, legendary for her knowledge of the interior layout of Forbidden Planet, took her favourite quote 'Oh no, not another quarry' as her new business motto.

The two Desperate Dan writers recalling wistfully the days when their hero 'could kill and eat a lot of endangered species' was a further highlight.

BBC Comics Britannia site

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Peter Serafinowicz Show

That does look really quite good. Also a bit sinister, which makes it gooderer. A worrying lack of Alan Alda impersonations in that trailer though.

UPDATE: Starts on BBC 2 this autumn in October. GW's very own Ori had a (small) hand in the writing apparently.

ALSO: ooh, ooh, I can do my story that the only sketch that Peter Serafinowicz did on Smack the Pony was one that I wrote, which was pretty much from life, which means I have been portrayed on screen by Darth Maul.

Think on't.

ANOTHERT UPDATE: an insider informs me that the Alan Alda impression will indeed be making an appearance, hurrah!

Friday, August 24, 2007

It's a bloody good logo actually, I just can't work out how to save it as a jpeg.

A quick meeting yesterday with an Important Person about my Teen Drama thing: they want a second episode script, and maybe a quick rejig of the first according to the thoughts of the Important Person. There is also discussion of how many episodes it will theoretically be: probably between six and ten. I've been planning it out for eight: it's easy to shorten to six, but if things start going mental a la Green Wing and eight starts to turn into 8A and 8B and then 8B turns into another two episodes when then squish into a single hour and forty five minute Christmas special (some of the details may be wrong on this, I didn't have two weeks of aversion therapy* for nothing), you can pretend you planned it all along.

On my side: the producer, the assistant producer, the script editor, a head of development, another head of development. You don't usually have that many people with you, even for a development meeting with an Important Person, so I asked assistant producer why this was.

Assistant Producer: Because they're feeling very very protective of your script.


God bless Team Meat-Shield.

Buzzwords that are In:

'Itchy', apparently.

Buzzwords that are Out:

Whimsy (I chose to reassure them on this point by saying 'ain't no motherfucking whimsy in this town' for reasons that still escape me. At least I left 'bitch' off the end.

The Hardy Perennials:


At the start of the meeting I took out my sexy new notebook, what is all stripey and has a logo I made up myself for the Teen Drama Series and then sellotaped to the front, but under the plastic bit so it looks like it was always there.


Producer, the assistant producer, the script editor, a head of development, another head of development: 'Wow that is brilliant'/'You have thought this through on every level'/'Let's get that logo down to the girls at Marketing'/'The depths and passion you are bringing to this project never cease to amaze me James'.


Producer, the assistant producer, the script editor, a head of development, another head of development: 'Awwwwwwwww.

Anyway, in conclusion: Wheeeeee, meetings are fun.

* I didn't like it.

UPDATE: which means that last year's posts about buzzwords (follow the labels at the bottom), and taking into account that was a Comedy Meeting and this was a Drama Meeting, are pretty much bang on. Go me.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I've been thinking of setting up my own anarcho-syndicalist commune for some time actually.

Craig Mazin writes about the (potentially) upcoming writers' strike in the US. Worth a read if just to see how the utter lack of any kind of business model for downloading material off the internet* is causing utter and amusing chaos across the television and film industry.

While I'm Craig Mazining, he also writes about the new writers' collective set up with Fox, in which a group of screenwriters have agreed to nine original scripts over four years and be paid slightly less than the usual kajillion dollars upfront in exchange for more creative control, including not letting the scripts be rewritten without the writers' permission. At which point I made a sort of 'oooooooh' noise.

It's all (if you're a writer, or interested in film-making) interesting stuff. It's perhaps worth noting that the films these writers have already been involved with (the Pirates of the Caribbeans, the first Shrek, most of the Scary Movies and a metric shitload of Adam Sandler creations) have generated more money than actually exists in the world, which gives them a certain amount of clout. Handily, most of the writers involved have blogs, so it's been possible to watch the story brew for a while now.

In fact, and I only thought of this, what with writers being naturally drawn to blogging, and the internet making it increasingly easy to self-organise, was the very technology that created the issue in the first place (by making a whole new secondary market of downloadable material) the same beast that could bring about a solution (facilitating writers coming together in a way that previously been neither practical, or, bearing in mind most writers smell a bit and have weird facial twitches, desireable)?

If so, this all goes to support my theory that the internet is the Best Thing In The World, and that if it is all heading towards reaching some kind of Singularity whereby it achieves collective consciousness and starts organising our society for us from the bottom up, we should probably just let it.

In case that was all a bit dry, here's a music video with a little dancing robot.

*er, apart from iTunes, obviously. You idiot, Henry.

Where I done went last week.

where I went

S'nice, innit?

Anyway, the young promising writers did very well. It's quite unnerving to see that there's already a generation gap re pitching: whereas I would have shuffled in and mumbled 'dunno, something about monsters?', they're quite happy to illustrate their pitches with slide shows, music, videoing their mates acting out little scenes, and in one case, making a cardboard dog.

One interesting thing is how, when developing their ideas, they all started with a big dramatic image, then struggled slightly to find the narrative to back it up - not all that surprising when you've grown up able to flick between a hundred different channels, YouTube, mobile phone clips and computer games. You quickly become utterly adept at picking and choosing visual styles, referencing different genres and knowing what soundtracks to back up your idea - with the downside that the realisation that you have to come up with a narrative that will sustain (say) eight hour-long episodes is a bit of a shock.

They all did it though, and at the end of the week presented their pitches to an Important Channel Controller, who looked increasingly taken aback, and then impressed as flipcharts/video montages/cardboard dogs were shoved in front of him.

It got even better though, when Important Channel Controller asked them what sort of things they thought their age group (nineteen to mid-twenties) wanted to see on television. Did they feel their own lives were sufficiently represented in television drama? Should shows become even more specific to their age group/social demographic/postcode? (he didn't say the last bit, but that seems to be where it's all going)

YPW's: We don't want to watch stuff that is marketed to us. We want to see the same shows our parents and younger siblings want to see, i.e. West Wing, Life On Mars, Arrested Development. We don't care where it's set, who the characters are or what the soundtrack is. We just want to watch Things That Are Good.

I was so proud I could shite.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Although later I did stamp on some wasps for them.

I am currently out in a farmhouse in kent with a group of young writers who have been head-hunted by the BBC as being 'young' and 'promising' and sent out to do a week-long residential development course. From the first half of the email the BBC sent me, I thought I was being asked along as being 'young' and 'promising' as well, but in fact they wanted a 'working' and 'more experienced' writer to act in a 'mentoring capacity'.

Last year I was invited on exactly the same course on the 'young' and 'promising' ticket. Clearly in the space of twelve months I have become a grey-bearded and grizzly authority figure.

The groups on this course divide thusly: writers and BBC people. The writers' ages range from nineteen to twenty-four, which means that the oldest one is ten years younger than me.

Still, as a tribe, we shall stand shoulder to shoulder as writers, creative forces ranged against the uncaring and creatively stifling forces of the BBC, against whom I intent to arm my fellow writers with the tricks and ruses picked up on the battlefield of pitching rooms and meetings with uninterested Department Heads. In fact, I see myself in a modest sort of way as a leader: a bit like a young King Arthur. A few years after pulling the sword out of the stone, but before bezzie mate Lance started hanging out with Gwynnie just a little bit too much.

On the first afternoon, I wander out to the large tree under which the young promising writers are huddled, smoking in a young, promising way.

'All right?' I say, in a (to be honest) slightly Athurian timbre. Not too much, I don't want to over-awe them.

They all shrug. At the bottom of the garden appears a figure we haven't seen yet - a BBC executive, in her (at most) early forties.

'Who's that then?' I ask.

'One of Your Lot', a young, promising writer says.

I leave, quietly.

Later, I start hanging out with the BBC executives instead and we discuss property prices. I am much happier.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The one where I almost get closure.

How I got into the whole scriptwriting thing, right, Channel Four set up a sitcom-writing competition in 1999. I entered it, won the younger age group section, and as a prize got to pick a US sitcom. They'd fly me over, I'd see a real sitcom being filmed and get to hang out in the writers room.

I chose 'Friends'. Fine, said Channel Four, we'll fly you out in a couple of months. I arrange a week off from the electronics factory at which I work, and may, or may not, have a) told everyone I was going to be mates with Matthew Perry now, and b) had had a dream where I went on a skiing holiday with the cast (not the crew note) of the show and we all got along famously and mostly hung out in the apres ski bar. Rachel let me share her mug.

A few days before I go, the tickets arrive with a small note. Channel Four regretted they were unable to arrange getting me backstage with the Friends writers, or seeing an episode being filmed, but they had arranged for me to hang out with the cast of crew of 'Suddenly Susan' instead.

I wondered, as I sat in the factory flicking small bits of resin off data recording heads designed for the Turkish Underground (the transport system, not the political revolutionaries*) what had happened behind the scenes. Had the Friends producers been worried about a spy in their midst, a Limey fifth columnist who would have taken all their best stuff, made off with their women (Rachel again) taught them how to swear properly and mocked their pronunciation of the word 'aluminium''? Clearly they held their nerve until the last minute, then some kind of residual fear of the forces of King George had kicked in, and they'd bumped me to 'Suddenly Susan'.

I decide to go anyway, and getting to LA, immediately discover that the hotel I've been put up in is a few hundred miles from Burbank, where Suddenly Susan is filmed. I do not have enough money to to both a) travel to the filming/script meetings every day, and b) eat.

At which point I decide to give it up as a bad job, ring the Suddenly Susan people to politely tell them it's not really working out, then spend the week wandering around the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art instead. At the Los Angeles Natural History Museum I meet a specialist in woodlice (only they're called 'pillbugs' over there, awwwww), and at the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art I wander around an exhibition by Richard Serra which slightly blows my mind.

I also walk past a number of Mexican gangs, and am mildly accosted by crackheads (because only Mexican gangs and crackheads walk around Los Angeles, it turns out). Basically, I have a brilliant time.

Back at the factory however, I start to wonder all over again how it was that it all got changed at the last minute. Suddenly (Susan) it occurs to me that maybe it wasn't the writers or producers at all, maybe the whole thing had been bopped on the head by a different interested party altogether...

Had Matthew Perry heard about, and been threatened by my impression of David Bowie that went down very well in the resin-cooling department?

Had Courtney Cox been upset at not being cast in the light operetta I had been working on recently, not uncoincidentally set in a cornish electronics factory - standout musical number for the female lead entitled 'He'll Never Look At Me, I'm Just A Spot Welder'?

Was Lisa Kudrow upset she had never been offered my story about the superglue and the walkman to be worked up into an amusing song and thus kibboshed the whole thing?

I decide the only way to find out is to work my way up the comedy ladder until I stand astride the comedy world like a colosuss, finally able to summon the great and good into my presence and interrogate them under the spotlight gaze of my authority. Quitting the electronics factory, I move to Canterbury, get a job in the world's greatest bookshop and start writing sketches for Smack the Pony.


The other Green Wing writers and I are out boozing up with the Quiet American Producer, although he's not quite so quiet now, I think we just spooked him a bit last time. I decide that It Is Time, and bring up the matter of the competition.

AMERICAN PRODUCER: ... this would be what, the second, third series? Yeah, I was Executive Producer then, sure.

ME: Do you remember, do you have any recollection at all of anyone asking if some lanky british bloke could come and hang around the filming and writers' meetings? And if there were any specific reasons why this had to be cancelled?

American Producer think quite hard for some time. Finally:

AMERICAN PRODUCER: I don't remember anything about that at all.

It was the David Bowie impression. I fucking knew it.

* I have to do that joke every time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Looks like you'll never be a concert flautist"

From Adam Buxton's blog.

Fiight of the Conchords coming to BBC4 in the Autumn, according to highly placed Blue Cat sources (aka Veronica Wyndham).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Happiest Moment Of My Life

Because I'd eaten four or five dried apricots with no obvious consequences after twenty four hours, I threw caution to the (ahem) winds, and ate pretty much the rest of the packet the day before getting the train back to london.

I was not to know that these were the rare breed of dried apricots that took just a little longer to kick in than normal. Hence the slight air of discomfort as I got on the train at Penmere turning into 'ooh blimey that wasn't a good idea' around about Bodmin Parkway, followed by a high-pitched whining sound that could have been coming from any part of me, to be honest. Or the other passengers, thinking about it.

In my self-pitying state, I thought about how cold and lonely life can often be in the big city (London, not Bodmin Parkway), and how rare it is to simply bump into someone you know.

'Ah', I thought 'How pleasurable it is to randomly encounter an old friend, how lifted become the spirits, how gladdened the step.' And if you spend every day knee deep in show business like I do, how much even better it is if you bump into someone you know who's famous, so you can look around at other people with that look that says 'Ha ha! I know this famous person! I must be aces!'.

As the train pulled into Paddington station I clutched myself miserably, trying to avoid the accusing, tear-stained glances of my fellow passengers, and thought of how the one thing that would cheer me up would be if were to bump into someone I knew, who was also quite well-known in their own right. If they were the sort of person who liked nothing better than to discuss the workings of their own and everyone else's digestive system, that would be a bonus, but to expect three such lightning strikes of fortune would surely be foolhardy in the extreme.

And then, as I handed my ticket to the man and waited for the little flappy barrier doors to open, I realised that not ten yards from me, wearing shorts, and staring vacantly into space, was Mark Heap.

Reader, I nearly cried.