Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Or you could (just about) make it as a scriptwriter AND waste away the years.

(Note that I'm defining 'making it' as 'being able to just about pay the mortgage eleven months out of twelve AND THAT'S NOT BAD)

Loved this bit of advice from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for parents whose kids have come home to roost:

"Yes, some people will make it as actors and scriptwriters, but many just waste away the years."

Full article here

Thing is, of course, sitting about on your arse all day is perfect training for career in writing scripts (less so for acting, sadly). Further useful skills you could learn in this valuable period:

1. Sighing heavily.
2. Looking things up on Wikipedia, getting distracted, finding yourself spending an entire afternoon on the history of Transformers.
3. Trying various condiment combinations for toast (peanut butter plus brown sauce = yes, cheese, marmite and sliced raw onion also = yes, but with repercussions).
4. Watching a lot of Lady Gaga videos, and starting to think she really might be a lot smarter than that Poker Face song initially suggested.
5. More sighing.
6. Buying stationery, until you have an entire shelf of A4 notebooks, all of which have only the first three pages written in, but which can't be thrown out, because there's also some AMAZING D&D maps scribbled in one, can't remember which.
7. Looking for spare change down the back of the sofa.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Liverpool Daily Post article on product placement:

Gary Bainbridge writes in the Liverpool Daily Post:

"There ought to be a clear distinction between editorial content and advertising. This newspaper often prints features which have been paid for by advertisers. These features are clearly marked “Advertising Feature.” If we started to sneak endorsements of particular products into regular news stories because an advertiser had crossed our palm with silver, we would be betraying your trust.

And this isn’t just a matter of the occasional shot of a box of Oxo in the foreground... "

Read the rest of article here

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Because the problems television has won't be solved by product placement.

Less than a month to go until the government ends its consultation period on whether to lift restrictions on product placement on television (consultation ends January 8th).

The junk food aspect of product placement (big companies hoping to use shows like X-Factor to push their wares to child viewers in a way that would be forbidden on shows aimed specifically for kids, for example) is something I've become increasingly concerned about - there's an article about it on Comment Is Free here

I've already stated my objections to the idea, and have now placed those objections, in writing, to the address below. I would urge anyone who agrees to do the same, if they have even the slightest concern about UK television getting even worse, while people like Peter Bazalgette find new and imaginative ways to trouser even more cash off its rotting cadaver than was ever thought possible.

Stewart Gandy
Product Placement Consultation
5th Floor
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street

Dear Sirs,
I am a television scriptwriter, with about ten years of experience writing for such shows as Green Wing, Bob The Builder, Shaun The Sheep, Smack The Pony and others, with a number of other projects currently in development.

Like any industry, one always hears about the Golden Age that apparently ended just moments after one entered it, but times in the television industry have become noticeably harder of late, with the drop in advertising revenue being a genuine problem.

So please don’t think I take the matter lightly when I say that loosening restrictions on product placement in british television is a terrible idea that will serve only to enrich a few individuals, at the expense of a general lessening in quality of output, which will impoverish viewer and creator alike.

Here are my central objections to loosening restrictions on product placement:

1. Product placement is a very effective way for manufacturers to get round restrictions stopping them marketing directly to young children, who would normally be protected from aggressive promotion of unhealthy items such as high-sugared drinks, or salty snacks during child-centred programming. By pushing these products on shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, or Coronation Street, which have many young children amongst their viewers, manufacturers can easily circumvent these restrictions.

2. There is currently a clear line drawn between advertising, and programming. As a scriptwriter, I am free to mention a particular brand name if I wish to do so, but neither myself or the production company will receive any financial benefit for doing so, and great care will be taken that if I mention a particular brand of chocolate bar, for example, rival brands will be depicted at other points in the program, so no bias has been shown. Without this, the lines will begin to blur, breaking the contract of trust between the creators of a program and that program’s viewers.

3. If restrictions on product placement are lifted, the amount of pressure that will be put on scriptwriters and lower-level producers to depict promoted brands as having certain values or characteristics will be immense, to the detriment of our integrity as writers and creators. In America, for example, particulars makes of car are often inserted into shows, and depicted as highly desirable items, by characters who in real life would never be able to afford such items. As a writer, it's bad enough having to run storylines and dialogue past script editors, producers, lawyers, broadcast company (or network) executives and legal departments. But having to also run them past PR departments and advertisers is a very different matter indeed.

4. There is some question as to whether the ‘extra’ income from product placement could go anywhere near making up for lost advertising revenue - bearing in mind this money would have to come from advertising budgets, which are already moving away from television altogether.

5. There appears to be no guarantee that this ‘extra’ money will actually make its way into production budgets. Without careful safeguards, there is nothing to stop producers moving this money into the production company’s (and shareholder’s) own coffers, leaving the production budget to now make up an extra shortcut, through even further cuts.
These are just some of the issues I, and many other television writers have with the idea of loosening the restrictions upon product placement in British television.

I am, of course, available for further discussion of these and other points, if the Committee feels they would value the input of someone from the creative side of the industry.*

Sincerely yours,

James Henry

*I'm worried this bit sounds either sarcastic or pompous, but there we go.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Patroclus and I have written a sitcom!

(sometimes the classic JonnyB opening is the only one that will do).

Because I don't really live in what is tiresomely known as 'the real world', I was under the impression that programmes like 'The Apprentice' and 'Dragon's Den' were an accurate, and if anything, underplayed representation of Big Business. This was until I started to realise P (who has been a professional copywriter for umpty tum years AND has set up her own business, which is doing very well, thanks for asking) would squirm in her seat while these things were on, and murmur gentle admonishments like 'THIS IS BOLLOCKS' and 'THAT'S NOT HOW BUSINESS WORKS!' &c.

Which came as a shock to me, because apart from anything else, television DOES NOT LIE. If television is ever caught lying, Ant and Dec have to come round your house to apologise, and they're busy people, so everyone works hard to make sure this doesn't happen. But apparently on this one occasion (being where it covered business, I'm lumping it all together), television had lied.

PATROCLUS: I mean, cuh, if you actually thought business worked like this and went around shouting about giving a hundred and ten per cent, and blaming everyone else whenever something went wrong, you'd just get stared at. People would think you were mad.

ME: OH TO THE EM TO THE GEE! We should write a sitcom about exactly this, using my years of comedic experience, and your knowledge of the business world, and the absurd jargon within, particularly in the IT industry, and it should be about two guys who quit a secure office job to start up their own company working on the next Facebook or Twitter or augmented reality, or whatever nebulous thing is hovering on the horizon!



Us doing something else.



A producer I know mentions she's looking for a few lines of dialogue for a couple of actors we already know. P and I suddenly realise they would be perfect for our sitcom. Nine symbolically important months later (we both wandered off for a bit in the middle), we have finished the sitcom. It's far too late to be useful to the producer, and the characters have changed a bit, to the extent the original actors wouldn't work, so in terms of fulfilling the brief, it's something of a bust, but on the other hand: BRAND NEW SITCOM SCRIPT.

What was particularly fun about this was that though I've written as part of a team, or on my own, I've never written with one other person before. And I am married to P! Which suggested moments like this:


The sun goes down over Penryn harbour, yachts and bronzed millionaires frolicking in the pink dusk (note: can yachts frolic? Get script editor to research).

P and I, wearing Fifties style matching pyjamas, are on the veranda. I am sitting carelessly on a chair, next to a lovely battered old lovely old typewriter (battered). P stares carelessly out over the water, where a squadron of dolphins frolic carelessly in the lovely battered water.

P.: (carelessly) Dearest heart, I cannot but wonder if on page eighteen, line nine, we could add the phrase 'realistic pigmentation of raptor perspicacity'.

ME: (carelessly) Sweetie pumpkin, what a marvellous notion. I shall action it henceforth.

Slight pause.

ME: Let us never fight like this again.


Actually it was a bit like that. Anyway, we finished it (it's called 'Outside The Box') and it's just now being sent off to various production companies. Woo!

* or possibly EXT, it's hard to tell with verandas, they're liminal.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ah, how pleasant it is... be at that stage of a project just after completing the first draft, but before one's agent has sent it back with comments like 'Why did you think p.27 was a good idea YOU R-TARD!?' and 'Did you forget to send me the ending?' and 'Dude, forget what I told you, hip-hop space operas about giant robots are SO out now, ABORT ABORT!'

What happened was, in September I met Agent Matt for a lovely dinner where he said he'd quite like to have a new screenplay to send out to people, and I agreed this would be nice, and then realised he meant from me. And he went on to say he wouldn't normally suggest to a lot of his clients that they tootle off and write a new screenplay on spec, but he knew it wouldn't necessarily take me that long.

This is because the mistake I'd made was in once telling Agent Matt about writing my first screenplay over a bank holiday weekend, because I'd read that Sly Stallone had written Rocky over three days, and decided this sounded like something that could fit into my busy schedule of a) sighing a lot and b re-reading old role-playing game rules systems. In fact I later found out Sly had written Rocky over the space of an entire week, looooooser, but it was too late, I'd written HERO TRIP by then, which got picked up by the Film Council for development which meant actual money, woo. And then floated off into limbo, cuh, but never mind, I'd been paid.

(Agent Matt occasionally reminds me that the end objective is to get my scripts acted out by actors and put up on a television or cinema screen at some point, but to be honest I regard this as a lofty and near-unattainable ideal that would only come to annoy me, because the FX wouldn't be as good as they were in my head, and I wouldn't be allowed to do all the voices).

But anyway, after I'd swept off all the crockery off the table and shouted 'HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST I AM ANYTHING OTHER THAN AN ARTISAN-TYPE-STYLE CRAFTSMAN WHO MUST SPEND DECADES ON HIS CRAFT HONING BUT A SOLITARY PERFECT BON MOT GOOD DAY TO YOU SIR, I SAID GOOD DAY! I remembered I'd already had an idea for a horror film, that starts off like a J-Horror type film, all ghosts of girls with long hair looking spooky, but then the story turns into something else instead, and I'd already done a ten-page outline, so I thought, cuh, if I do like two pages a day, I'll have it finished by the end of November. Which is what happened, and no-one was more surprised than me.

And in the meantime, me and Patroclus have co-written a pilot sitcom about two blokes who try to start their own software company, of which I am enormously proud.

The good thing is, these are both from outlines I had already sent out, to people who looked at them and said, but I can't see how that would work exactly, so now I can plop the spec scripts on their desks and say 'LIKE THIS, FUCKOES!' although I probably won't use exactly those words after what is now referred to by Agent Matt solely as 'The Incident'.

So, erm, yes. If you've been thinking 'cuh, if I write just two pages of script a day (and remember that scripts are mostly white space, so it's not even like proper writing) I'll have my screenplay finished in three months without feeling like it was a massive amount of effort, and might even have to keep opening the file on the laptop to look at it in a surprised sort of way because it feels like someone else wrote it and sent it to me as a present', you would be absolutely correct.

Eventually of course, I'll start to get what is know as 'feedback' on said scripts, which will make me say things like 'yes, but', and 'WELL YOU CLEARLY DON'T GET IT THEN', and so on, but at the moment it's just a nice glowy feeling, because like most writers, I actually find the actual writing thing a bit tedious, but the feeling of having written is a very special and glowy feeling indeed. Woo.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Just had an email from Aardman:

"Hi James,
Hope all is well with you. Just to let you know we’ve finally finished your Shaun episode (playfully re-titled Frantic Romantic) and this will be going out on BBC1 at 4.20 on Tues 11 Dec, with a repeat the next day at 4.25 (plus it’ll be on BBC iplayer for a week)."


UPDATE: hmm, an independent observer (Richard) has pointed out that the 11th December is a Friday, not a Tues. AARDMAN IS MESSING WITH TIME ITSELF. I shall investigate.

I have investigated. According to Wikipedia:

"Frantic Romantic" 11 December 2009
The Farmer trying to impress his new date by cooking a romantic dinner. Unfortunately, the Farmer can't cook and Bitzer is a useless maitre d'. Can Shaun and the flock save the day when they take over the catering behind the scenes?[1]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Product Placement: More Ways To Sell Sugar To Kids

I've already nailed my colours to the mast about product placement in television (I'm against it) In fact, since I wrote that post, I've found even more reasons to be against it, not least that it's all too easy for production companies to take this 'extra' cash (which isn't necessarily extra cash at all) and... fork it over to the shareholders/executives, leaving production budgets even worse off than they were before.

But here's another reason to feel really quite uncomfortable about it.

The Childrens' Food Campaign want to improve young people’s health and well-being through better food – and food teaching – in schools and by protecting children from junk food marketing. They are supported by over 300 organisations and 12,000 members of the public, and have this to say:

"The Children’s Food Campaign is not alone in being alarmed by the recent announcement by Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Ben Bradshaw to lift the ban on product placement on British made TV shows . If this ban is reversed the result could be junk food brands appearing in programmes popular with children such as Britain’s Got Talent and Coronation Street."

So not only are loosened restrictions on product placement being aggressively pushed ahead to enrich a few people at the expense of, well, pretty much everyone else who works in, or watches television, it's also yet another means by which large corporations can peddle their deeply unhealthy wares to children.

Childrens' health is just one aspect of this deeply worrying proposal to lift the strict limitations on product placement, but an incredibly important one, and there's only eight weeks to act, so please consider taking a moment to register your objections here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

50 Worst Videogame Voice Acting Moments

This is truly astonishing stuff. I don't normally get the 'so bad it's good' thing, but after this, I'm wavering...

I want to quote them, but you really need to hear each for yourself. I do think whoever did the main voice for the first Assassin's Creed should have got in there though.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Q&A with BBC Drama script editor Joe Donaldson

I’ve been working with BBC script editor Joseph Donaldson for four or five years now, starting with my teen drama project ‘ROCK’, which sort-of-morphed into a Cornish-set crime drama series called ‘BANDIT COUNTRY’, the outline and series bible for which have just gone off to important BBC people to see if they fancy commissioning a pilot script.

Not many people know how drama script editors work (and script editing is even murkier in comedy, which get brought up below), so I thought I’d get him to do a bit of a Q&A for the blog (click on the 'sort of interviews' tag at the bottom of the post if you want to read the other ones, although I'm SURE I don't have to tell you how these things work. But just in case).

Here ‘tis:

Joe, how would you describe your job to someone who has no idea how the television industry works?

I help writers to produce the best script they can by providing them with advice and constructive criticism on their work at every stage of the writing process. I also act as a filter for the feedback which comes from the producers, executives, and commissioners, all of whom are very important and have different thoughts on what the writer is doing right and wrong – their notes must be taken into account but can be quite blunt and sometimes contradictory so it helps to have someone to collate and translate and them for the writer.

What shows have you worked on?

I worked on the first two series of Lark Rise to Candleford and on Survivors, for which we have just finished the second series. I’m also working on lots of projects in various stages of development.

The title of 'Script Editor' tends to suggest someone who comes in at the end of the process - but that's not exactly the case, is it? How do you edit a script that hasn't been written yet?

No, most shows in our department will have a script editor assigned as early as possible, usually when the idea is first being discussed.

Editing script that doesn’t exist: this can happen in two ways.

If you’re working on an existing show then you already know the characters well and should understand the sorts of stories that work best for that show and which are best avoided for whatever reason. Therefore I can talk to writers before there is a script about what direction they would like the show to go in, episode ideas, potential new characters, etc.

With a new idea, my job is to talk to writers who have a story to tell and as well as giving them the usual constructive feedback, I’ll help them figure out things they may not have considered. This might be the length and number of episodes, which channel it might go on, how much it will cost, who they might cast, what the tone of the show will be (eg serious, funny, gritty, camp, etc). Thinking about all these things informs the way the idea develops and really helps us to pitch the show to the right people in a way that gives it the best chance of getting commissioned.

What are the classic mistakes first-time writers tend to make? Or come to that, what are the classic mistakes more experienced writers tend to make?

I find the worst scripts from first-time writers read like they have just taken one long rant, about something they are clearly passionate about, and divided it between Person A and Person B without giving any consideration to who the characters are what story they are trying to tell. That shows a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of drama.

Usually a new writer will have natural ability in writing either characters, stories, or dialogue. If they are lucky they might have a knack for two out of three. If they’ve got all three then they don’t really need my advice. A first-time writer will do the things he/she is good at well, but their script may be let down because they don’t understand the other elements. If they are given good advice they can improve on their weaknesses which will allow their natural abilities to shine.

I’ve found that writers who have been doing it longer are more aware of their key strengths and confident in their ability, they are therefore comfortable discussing their weaknesses and accepting help.

How did you start out as a script editor?

I was a runner in the BBC Drama department, which meant I kept a contestant supply of tea flowing and trekked back and forth from reception collecting guests. In my spare time I read scripts for projects in the department and wrote script reports on spec. I was lucky enough to have bosses that would read them and give me advice, and ultimately promote me.

Is there a recognized career path for script editors? Do they tend to stay in the same job but work on bigger and bigger shows? Or can it be a gateway to a production role?

Some do it long term and become highly experienced and sought after. Some become producers as the job does allow you to learn a bit about that production because so many elements of program-making are connected to the script. Some will take more senior roles in development, looking after drama slates in BBC departments or independent production companies.

Do many Script Editors have any interest in writing themselves?

I think plenty of them do, yes.

Do only the BBC employ script editors? How does it work outside of the Big British Castle?

All dramas in Britain have script editors as far as I know, different genres may work differently. Do they have them in comedy James?

(Quick interruption by me: there are a lot of credited ‘script editors’ in comedy, but it’s a much looser term. It can mean someone ‘polishing’ the script by chucking a couple of extra jokes in, or pulling apart and rewriting a script altogether. Big names can be brought in to give a script a once-over as a way of getting their name on the credits too, although it’s very hard to quantify exactly what work they did. So it can range from an equivalent to ‘additional material by’ to ‘executive producer’, which makes it practically meaningless, to be honest.)

I know they don’t have them in the US because they usually have a writer’s room and therefore the editing is done by other writers and producers in big group discussions – that’s my understanding anyway.

How many shows are you working on at any one time?

Between five and ten. Usually one big one that is greenlit and will definitely be made or is being made, and several others at different stages of development.

How do you see your role in relation to the writer? And do you have pretty much the same sort of relationship with each writer, or is it different with each one?

The script editor is the person who works most closely with the writer on a production and has probably read the script more times than anyone else, this can often give us the clearest picture of what the writer is trying to achieve and what they are capable of. I try to be an ally to the writer throughout the script developing process, which can get pretty brutal the closer you get to filming when budgets, bad weather, and a million other unforeseen things can force you rewrite the whole script at a moments notice.

Relationships vary quite a bit. I hope that every writer I work with has enough respect for my judgement that they can rely on me for useful feedback on their progress, but that respect has to be earned and it is hard to work well together without it. Then it depends on the personality of the writer. Some find lots of discussion fruitful and like to have their ideas constantly challenged, some are very self-sufficient and I won’t hear from them until they deliver a new draft, some will pick up the phone whenever they are at a fork in the road or if they’ve got a risky idea they are thinking of using in the script and they want to quickly bounce it off someone to check they’re not crazy before committing to it fully. Every writer has a slightly different process and as long as the standard of their work is good then I’m usually flexible about how we work.

How does it work with a really experienced writer, like Andrew Davies- does he get assigned a script editor, or is he left to get on with it?

They all need an editor no matter how experienced. The more experienced writers will often deliver a more complete first draft and may have nailed it by the third draft but they still need someone with a different perspective to tell them where the script could be improved.

What are the warning signs that a project is going to need some serious hands-on time?

I was taught to always do my first read without a red pen in my hand, so that you are just absorbing the work at first without analysing it too much. On that first read I’ll know in my gut if something is wrong, either because I can’t follow the story, or I don’t believe the characters, or I’m just left cold by the script. If you really struggle with the first read for whatever reason then you know there is work to do. I’ll then read it several times over and start making notes on what I think the problem are – if I’ve scribbled on every page then it probably means a lot of work for me and ten times more for the writer.

What are the fun bits of the job?

Reading a first draft of anything is fun because an idea only has so much life as an outline, it is always exciting to see the characters and the world expanded. Then seeing the first footage is always thrilling because the people and the places that you have been sitting in a room chatting about for years are suddenly real. That’s a cheesy answer. My real favourite thing is seeing which actress is cast in the ‘sexy young blonde’ role and then nervously shaking that actresses hand at the read-though.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Anyone hasn't seen the first episode should go over to iPlayer now, because Miranda Hart's new sitcom 'Miranda' is a thing of complete loveliness.

Miranda Ep.1 - 'Date'

It's also a smashing old-fashioned sitcom of the kind I didn't think they made any more - and frankly the sort of stuff that normally gets done really badly - lots of looks to camera, laughter track, bits shot outside - and yet it works really well, possibly because there's a lot of sharpness amongst the cosiness that stops it nudging into something like 'My Family'. Also lots of proper pratfulls, which are a hard thing to do well. I've never even tried.

Miranda wrote the thing herself, as well, so kudos all over the shop, frankly.

PS: I was trying to find her 'I've got a castle' bit from Smack The Pony, but can only find one that's, er less appropriate. Still, here's the (NSFW) video:

'Miranda' is on BBC Two, 8:30pm Mondays.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

No Signal

Just in case anyone tries to get me on the mobile this week, it's switched off, because there practically no reception in this part of the Highlands. Which did lead to this slightly frustrating answerphone message:

PHONE: Hello, this is (static) from BBC Drama, (static) to say that (static) commission! So that's good! Let's (static) and then- (phone cuts out entirely).

Finally worked out it was a commission for a second script for my 18th century adaptation thing, three huzzahs! I suspect it being a second script commission rather than an entire commission meant they looked at it and thought 'I like it, but it's not necessarily what we were expecting, so let's give him another go to show he's not making it up as he goes along'. But oh, I am NOT making it up as I go along! (unusually). And the second episode is going to be meaty and awesome like a lovely Beef Steak Stew from Cawdor Tavern (highly recommended).

Sleep now.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Campus then.

Hmm. Felt a bit weird about it - seemed a lot colder than Green Wing, and as ever, there's a period of mourning for all the funny stuff in the script (I don't mean mine necessarily) that didn't make it in. Although the second half worked better, as the story kicked in, and some of the characters got a bit more breathing space.

I should probably say though, this is the whole thing about airing pilots - if it does get a series, you do have a chance to regroup, have another look at the material and decide what worked and what didn't. The whole point of the Comedy Showcase, really, is to experiment, and push things in a direction you wouldn't necessarily take in a series.

Anyway, what did you think?

*braces self*

Sam Wollaston reviews 'Campus' for the Guardian

Caitlin Moran in the Times

Friday, November 06, 2009

'CAMPUS" Comedy Showcase tonight, C4, 10pm

So, yes, 'Campus' on tonight. For those few I haven't managed to annoy via Twitter, this is the Comedy Showcase myself and some of the other Green Wing writers were working on, being a one-off half hour comedy set in a university, produced (and I think directed) by Dame Victoria Pile. If it goes down well, it might get a series.

Most of the previews seem to be writing it up as 'Green Wing in a university', which we're supposed to tut at, but at this stage it pretty much is Green Wing in a university. If we get a series, we can hopefully evolve it a bit more.

I'll be watching it for the first time tonight (possibly with in-laws, eep), which is always a bit of a nerve-shredding experience, but I think it's better to watch these things in context rather than at a screening, because you can be a bit more objective. As far as I know, I've only got one scene in it (from the previews, it sounds like it might even be the very first scene*), but other than that, I don't really know what'll be in it, as like Green Wing, the scripts contained about an hour and half's worth of material, and some of the cast are improvising a bit as well, so when it's all cut down to twenty-three minutes, the chances are very little of it is recognizable.

So anyway, yes, Channel 4, 10pm tonight.

*gnaws fingernails*

*Fay and Ori have the first scene apparently. Cuh.

UPDATE: because people were asking, I'm pretty sure it will be available on 4oD after the event. Will put up details when I find out, because then people could, if they wanted, watch it again. Four or five times. Also I accept that some people actually go out on a Friday night, MAD THOUGH THIS SOUNDS.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"150 Things Every Man Should Know"

I always knew it was just a matter of time until my name appeared in the 'grateful acknowledgements to' section of a book, but that these acknowledgments are in a Modern Manual of Masculinity IS ONLY RIGHT AND PROPER.

EDIT: Patroclus is also in the acknowledgements, but as this is the second set of acknowledgements she has been in this year, I think that's less exciting news, frankly.

Continuing the theme of 'people I know what have got books out this Christmas', Young Gareth May, who I first knew as a tiny wee student on Falmouth College's Professional Writing M.A. is having his first book published this Christmas, and it is a good 'un.


"Do you know how to change a tyre? Give a speech? Or shave without leaving a nasty rash? How about ironing a shirt? Urinal etiquette? Or how to know if you are falling in love? Neither did 24-year-old author Gareth May until he started to gather centuries-old male wisdom for the 'metrosexual' generation.

Stuck on the verge of a major motorway with a punctured tyre after swerving to avoid a low-flying pigeon, Gareth was confronted with the fact that he had no idea how to mend his puncture and get back on the road. Later, after the excoriating diatribe and accusations of uselessness from his father, he reflected that it wasn't just practical, manly skills - tying a tie properly, wielding a power drill, changing a leaky faucet - that had passed him by. Gareth was clueless about just pretty much every skill perceived as the key to coming of age as a modern man. Sophisticated stuff, like how to hold a baby or how to end a relationship without being a complete git...

While girls share magazines with dog-eared problem pages, the modern boy has no such manual, no instruction leaflet to ease their transition into manhood. Until now. Gareth May has written the essential manual for young men across the world. From stubborn spots to slow dancing dos and don'ts, the perfect fry-up to putting on a condom in less than ten seconds, witty, brilliantly honest and down-to-earth, "150 Things Every Man Should Know" tells you all those things your best friend can't."

Gareth's website also contains a number of videos showing the in-depth research done for the book. Here, he spares no expense on stunt coordinators, lighting or direction to show how best to defend yourself in a pub fight:

In the interest of full disclosure, although at the risk of shattering the coolly macho facade he has painstakingly built up for himself, I should state that Gareth is also a regular attendant of our regular Monday night Dungeons and Dragons game, where he plays the unfortunately-named Shergar, a human wizard. And yet UNACCOUNTABLY, his book specifically recommends not using phrases like 'I play Dungeons and Dragons' on a first date! IT MAKES NO SENSE.

Any-old-way, you can order Gareth's book (I'm sure the target demographic is obvious, but just in case, t'would be idea for a young male teenage relative) from Amazon here:

"150 Things Every Man Should Know: Telling You the Things Your Best Friend Can't" Priced £15.00£9.74.

ALSO: for reasons best known to himself, Gareth has been recording our most recent sessions and edited them into podcasts, now available for free, ob'sly, on iTunes thusly: Cornish D&D Podcast. I suspect they make little or no sense even if you do understand the rules of D&D, but if you've ever wondered what a D&D game sounds like, WONDER NO FURTHER. Personally, I'm slightly freaked out at how much I sound like Mark Lawson (the sound's a bit quiet though, so you need to listen with headphones).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Campus Clip Online!

Soooooo, 'Campus', what is the thing me and some of the other Green Wing writers have done as a Comedy Showcase (meaning it's just one half-hour episode, but enough people like/watch it, we may get a full series commissioned), goes out this coming Friday, 6th November, 10pm Channel 4. And I've just found out there's a couple of preview clips up, so was going to embed, when...

'Embedding Disabled By Request'

Well of course, wouldn't want people to be able to put in on blogs or anything YOU DUR-BRAINS.

UPDATE, hurrah, Todd from Twitch has made them embeddable, cheer Todd! There's another clip as well, but it's just a plotty moment really, so a slightly odd choice to put out, but there we are.

YouTube:'Bit Of A Wind-Up

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I see him as quite a calm person.

A secret correspondent writes (I've filed all the serial numbers off to make sure no-one gets into trouble:

I don't know how common knowledge this is- in radio scripts the term OMNES is used to mean 'all,' as in everyone speaks the same line. But in radio land everyone knows what it means. Or certainly should do.

A friend got a script turned down by Radio Four with one of the script reader's comments being "I am not convinced the character Omnes has been sufficiently developed in this script, and seems rather incidental to the story."

Which made me LOL.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eddie Green's Horrible Rom-Com Marathon

Pity poor Mister Edward Green, for he has chosen to raise some money for charity via the most soul-destroying, physically arduous method known to man. Not for him a simple marathon, a laughably easy limb amputation, or the willing sacrifice of all his loved ones.

Noooo, Edward Green is going to attempt something so dark, HP Lovecraft would think about writing it up as a story, and then think 'oooh, it's a bit dark'.

On THURSDAY 29th OCTOBER 2009 from 9AM - FRIDAY 9AM, Edward Green is going to spend 24 hours watching the worst, most saccharine romantic comedies known to man.

Pity him.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

'Enemy of Chaos'

I think there are only two ways of doing a contemporary 'choose your own adventure' style book. One is to really have a crack at the whole 'predestination vs free will' thing, a road taken by Kim Newman's criminally under-read Life's Lottery, which ties into his various literary universes, weaving in villains like the devilish, and fascistic, yet oddly fragile Dr. Shade, and frankly makes a very good fist of it.

The other is to make it properly funny, which is the path taken by Leila Johnston's Enemy of Chaos

Disclaimer: I very vaguely know Leila from yer internets, although we've never met, and I got a free preview copy of the book - fortunately, having worked in a bookshop for many years, I see free preview copies of books as a right rather than a privilege, and thus my critical faculties will emerge unscathed.

Anyway, I genuinely enjoyed it, even after scouring the pages for the traditional five pound note, which according to tradition really should have been tucked in there somewhere (future preview-senders please note). It's quite fantastically geek-friendly, with references to twenty-sided dice, jokes about poor choices of passwords, zombies (of course), Zooey Deschanel, and quite a nice dig at Gok Wan. It's a little bit Douglas Adams, if Adams was younger, very slightly girlier, and had just been on an expresso bender watching the '28 X Later'films, and it filled the train journey from Truro to London nicely, and you can't ask more than that.

I will admit that after a while, I did what I always do with choose-your-own-adventure books, and start skipping about reading pages at random, but it works perfectly well under those conditions as well, hurrah!

Ideal for: slightly geeky younger brother, anyone who is still hanging onto their lead Warhammer figures, zombie completists.

PS: there is a bit of predestination vs free will in 'Enemy of Chaos' as well, to be fair. I think. Unless I was reading too much into it. But I don't think I was.

Enemy of Chaos website.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview with Billy Sneddon, editor of "The Thick Of It" and "In The Loop'.

NOTE: Series 2 of The Thick Of It starts Saturday 26 October on BBC TWO

I've known Billy Sneddon, editor of In The Loop and The Thick of It (amongst many others) since his work on Green Wing, where he was one of the many shifts of off-line editors who traipsed in young and fresh, only to emerge bitter broken husks of men (they were all men, I did check).

As a writer, you tend not to see editors until many months after your own participation in whatever project it is has finished, and you pop back into the office because you forgot your favourite pen or whatever, and there the editors are, hunched and mumbling, pressing random button and slurping ultr-strength coffee while they blink in the reflected glow of monitors where the actors are busy saying all your words in completely the wrong way.

Basically, editing has always seemed something of a dark art to me, so I thought I'd ask him some questions about how it actually worked. Most of the questions sourced by you, the kind readers of the blog.

How does one become an editor?

There aren't any hard and fast rules about this. I have a degree in Botany but absolutely no qualifications relevant to the job! Although TV and Film is a more difficult industry to break into than most, it's all about how much effort you are willing to put in to make it happen. The first step is to try and get a position as a runner, which is the most junior position in the industry, basically a general gofer/tea-maker. For editing, the best places to try for are post production companies. They'll barely pay you enough money to stay alive, but you'll get to make lots of useful contacts. The important thing is to try and find yourself somewhere you can have access to equipment, which is mainly Avid based, and to a lesser extent Final Cut Pro. Then you want to use as much down time as you can to learn how these systems work. I taught myself how to work an Avid Media Composer, just by sitting in front of it, poring over the manuals for several months. Once you've done that, you can get work as a digitizer/assistant. This is the person who comes in late at night when the editor has finished and loads all the footage from the previous day onto the system.

How does one approach being considered for an editing position?

Funnily enough I've never done any self promotion, ever! I don't even have an agent...

I think, because I have specialized in a particular area (comedy) most directors/producers network with each other about who's worth hiring. I'm so old I know everyone already anyway! Occasionally I get 'interviewed' but must be rubbish in that situation because I've never got a job that way. I've been told a good thing is to research what productions are coming up using things like imdb pro, and then contacting the principles. Also, if you've seen something you like why not write them a groveling letter? Everyone loves flattery...

Does one have to use the video editing in-house, or can one do it from elsewhere? (i.e. on a laptop or from a home PC)

I have my own system which is Avid Media Composer Adrenaline, so I always try and use that, but it could go anywhere, I've done jobs in my spare room before. It depends on budget, but generally there's a professional level of equipment you need to have, and Avid is pretty much the industry standard. As to where you do it, that depends on the preference of who you are working for. Most of the time I get given a room in the production company offices, or they rent me a room somewhere in Soho.

How does one approach editing TV rather than Film? What difficulties/advantages are there to each one?

The longer a piece is, the more challenges come up in terms of things like structure and pace. Most tv comedy is half an hour, so you don't have the luxury of too much characterisation or exposition, you have to hit the ground running. For In The Loop we decided to tone down the handheld camera work and jump cuts etc, in case it might be slightly nausea inducing on the big screen! Wide shots have a greater variety of uses on a big screen. On tv they tend to be used mostly for establishing shots. Also, because TV schedules and budgets are tighter, you don't get as much time to finesse it, so you are more likely to go with first instincts. Of course in film you have more time to get sick looking at it too. Now i know why Woody Allen never watches his films again after they are made...

In TV, is it common for editors to be on set or strictly banished to the editing room?

It varies actually, but the last few jobs I've done have involved having a makeshift cutting room on set, so that any problems can be addressed quickly, and they can check how things are coming together more easily. I actually don't like being on set much, as you get a never ending torrent of people sticking their heads round the door wondering how it's looking! i'd much rather be tucked up in a warm soho office than a field in god knows where.

When editing comedy (especially stand-up), is the question of what jokes are cut left up to your judgment as editor? If so, is your sense of humour one of the reasons why you tend to get hired for these things...?

It's a collaborative process, but of course I don't have final say over a producer or director, but part of the job is to be gently persuasive. It's rare to have a major disagreement though, the idea is to understand what a director/producer is looking for, and then give them something better than what they were expecting. Often as an editor, you can bring a fresh perspective, your point of view isn't affected by how difficult the shooting circumstances were etc, in a way you are representing the viewer and should find it easier to make the often brutal decisions that have to be made. Billy Connolly is fascinating to edit, because no two shows are the same, he really does make it up as he goes along, so you end up with a huge supply of material to choose from.

When you tell people what you do for a living, do they think you use big scissors? Do you, in fact, use big scissors?

They either think i work in a newspaper, or else just glaze over completely and go and find someone more interesting. (Billy leaves the question of his 'big scissors tantalizingly unanswered, note. Ed.)

What was the ratio of rushes to finished film for In The Loop? Were you wading through loads of options or was it quite tightly laid out?

It was huuuge. The first assembly cut was four and a half hours long. We could have made about 6 different films out of the footage. It was a great challenge though, because you are basically making the film in the edit in a situation like that. It's the same approach as the thick of it, each episode of that can start out at anything up to an hour and a half, boiled down to 30 mins in the edit. The trick is to get the story/jokes balance just right. You've got to get the blinkers on and zone right in on what's important...

During editing did you show the movie to other people to assess how it was playing? Professionals or punters? What did you learn?

We had a screening for some industry people, and another test screening for regular punters.
These things are very useful for discovering what's clear in the story, because you get very close to it very quickly, and can miss things or assume too much. 

You can learn a lot just by sitting in a cinema with an audience, you suddenly can feel areas that are slack in pace, or jokes that fall flat. For the punters screening they were given forms to fill out afterwards and my favourite was one guy who answered the question 'Was there anything about the film that you didn't like?' He said 'Yes, the cinema was too cold.'

Has the success of In the Loop been good for your career?

Well I got  another film straight away, but I think that was coincedence, like waiting for a bus, 2 come along at once. There is definitely a degree of snobbery from the film world towards tv, but i think that is changing, there's more crossover in both directions these days so hopefully I'll get to work on more films in future. It was brilliant to see Chris Dickens blaze a trail from 'At Home with the Braithwaites' all the way to this years Oscar. There's hope for the rest of us!

Is there is a sort of editing leitmotif for In The Thick Of It (or In The Loop); a decidedly characteristic editing style that accompanies each character (e.g. frantic and choppy for Malcolm, static and repressed for Glenn etc.), or if it is entirely reliant on the nature of the scene?

There isn't any predetermined style that is character related, but of course  a lot of Malcolm's material can be a little more energetic! That means we have more license to do unconventional things with him in the edit, like jump cutting him around the room etc. Most of the attention in the edit is focused on trying to include the very best performances available, on a line by line basis. In the first instance I will often try to achieve this without paying as much attention to  shot composition or trying to create smooth cuts.  I've found that if the performance is authentic and you get the rhythm and pace right, how it actually looks becomes less important.  I suppose the old cliche about timing being everything in comedy is only a cliche because it's true. Before we started the first series Armando made it clear he wanted to get away from the traditional sitcom feeling and go for that stripped down uncompromising look you get in the dogma films. After watching a few I started to realise that whilst jump cuts and energetic cutting techniques were used to create an effect, often it seemed to be fairly random as well. In a nutshell it became clear once we started that if the only way to join the best two bits together without using a reaction shot or a cutaway is to make a jump cut, then that's what we should do. It goes back to the thing about pace, often you see a jump cut simply because we've cut out a pause, nothing more.

And last from me: one thing I really enjoyed about In The Loop was that it didn't feel like an awkward transition from television to film: in the start, at least, it didn't seem all that different in style from The Thick Of It. But then as the story progressed it did start to feel weightier, more cinematic, part of this being due to a musical score being introduced, which I'm fairly sure has never appeared in the television series. Was the addition of music decided from the start, or something that was added later in the day? Is working with musical scores a big part of your job? And do you have any say in the music, or is that really the decision of a producer like Armando, and you have to find a way to fit it in?

The only thing that was planned about the music was that James Smith's character, Michael, would always have classical music playing in his office, as that's actually part of the script. There wasn't going to be any other music, as Armando didn't want to move too far away from the formula that made the tv version work.  It was only as the edit progressed that we started to explore whether if music was introduced in the U.N. it might help the urgency and highlight the feeling that things were coming to a climax in the story. Also, in the tv version there is virtually no time where people aren't talking to each other at 100 miles an hour, but there were a few opportunities in the film where music could do a job, like in the travelling to Washington sequence. So what happened was the musician Adem Ilhan came up with a piece that he broke down into individual elements, so I had percussion tracks, strings tracks etc etc, so I could edit them and place them in pretty precisely. Normally you would edit with a guide track and the music would be written and placed after picture lock, so it was great to have a high degree of input at an early stage.

The process was quite similar to Green Wing actually, where lots of tracks were provided up front so we could work with them in the edit. Music is usually a big part of the editors job in tv, because they don't have the budget to employ specialist music editors like they do in filmland. As far as who's decision it is, it's the same as with every other decision, I do it the way I think it should be, and the Director decides if I'm right or not!

Thanks Billy!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I recently had one of those 'if you could adapt anything, what would it be?' sort of conversations, with someone in the position of actually being able to make it happen (i.e. a BBC drama producer).

This doesn't actually mean I've been handed the keys to the drama warehouse or anything, because it's now an incredibly lengthy process of finding literary properties to which a) the rights are available, and b) sound even vaguely like the sort of thing the BBC would want to make in the first place.

Sadly, my number one dream literary adaptation: PG Wodehouse's 'Psmith' novels have already been crossed off the list. Annoyingly, the rights to the main novels are available, but someone's got the rights to the character from a minor appearance in the Blandings novels, which makes it a bit fiddly, mainly because if one major Wodehouse adaptation is in the works, no-one's terribly keen on another starting up for the time being.

Hollywood, meanwhile, has bought the rights to pretty much every British children's classic from the last fifty years, so farewell my idea of doing the 'Dark Is Rising' books properly. Same for John Wyndham's 'The Kraken Wakes' (although I would have needed to come up an ending for that one).

Still, what with my mum having been a librarian, and my having worked in a bookshop for a good few years and having spent my formative years with books rather than people, there's still a list of, ooooh, approximately one jajillion titles to work though.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME. What's the one killer title you'd love to adapt/see a good adaptation of, for film or television? Includes comics, as the BBC seem much more open to that sort of thing nowadays (man, a decent BBC version of 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Hellblazer would have been AWESOME).

Thursday, October 08, 2009


UPDATE: Anonymous reminds me it's a comedy 'showcase' not a comedy 'lab'. Channel 4's comedy 'lab' is that one that commissions a script, gets me to rewrite it three times then never contacts me again, the rest of my money turning up eight months later with no explanation or anything.

I had a meeting with my agent the other week, which went like this:

AGENT: So...
ME: Yes.
AGENT: You haven't had anything on telly for aaaaaaaaaages

Except I hadn't really been thinking about it, to be honest, because I've been having a jolly old time writing scripts, the last couple of which have got to the response of 'well, we like it, and will pass it to Top Important Person', and gawd knows what he or she will decide, but in the meantime let's get something else off the ground'. Which is good, because it's work, and money and stuff, but sometimes it's easy to forget the objective of the exercise is to actually get live actors reading out your words in the right order, pulling the appropriate acting faces at each point, on television.

Also a couple of things that were going to be quite solidly on television didn't go as planned, one being a kid's fantasy thing that, don't get me wrong, looks awesome, but the final result was quite far removed from the thing I'd set out to write, and the idea that had got me excited about in the first place. It was still good, but despite numerous attempts to change gear to accommodate the new version, I never quite meshed. So in the end, after quite a lot of rewrites, I decided the only honest thing to do was take my name off the script, and let someone else crack on with it. The other thing was a quite slick BBC show that got cancelled just as I was about to crack on with my episode, bah.

Fortunately, the remaining projects, which were completely mine, are still ticking along quite happily, hurrah, and Campus, the Comedy Lab pilot I co-wrote along with my lovely Green Wing chums and a couple of new people, who we all bullied at first, but eventually learnt to grudgingly respect, is coming out in November some time, hurrah!

Campus is a one-off comedy, set in a university. If it goes down well, we hope to get a series. Then, a couple of days ago, we discovered there was another one-off comedy doing the rounds, that was set in a university, and hoped to get a series. And this one stars Ian McKellan.

The Academy

It does look damn good actually (and I haven't seen ours, only read the script, which traditionally bears the same resemblance to the final result as Hitler's drawings of himself doing number two's in Stalin's office had to the outcome of the WWII). And it's got Ian McKellan in it, as in Magneto and Gandalf. Shiiiiiiiit.

Fortunately, ours stars Andy Nyman, who fought zombies in 'Dead Set', had his leg taken off in James Moran's 'Severance', and is Derren Brown's producer. And a magician in real life.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Oh THAT'S what it is

Had this song on my playlist for ages, but with no title. Turns out it's 'Sleepy Head' by Passion Pit. Me likey.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'I've come t' fix thy oven'

According to a letter from the Authors Licencing and Collection Service, I've been paid £8.30 for a script I wrote called 'Raging Muck'.

I spend some time trying to recall writing an angry, kitchen sink type Northern grumble flick, before I realize the printing's a bit blurred, and it's actually for a Bob The Builder episode called 'Racing Muck'. Which now now I think of it, sounds even ruder.

It does remind me of this though, which I was delighted to find on YouTube:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Questions for The Thick Of It and In The Loop editor Billy Sneddon.

... who was also the editor for Green Wing. We were having a nice emaily chat the other day, and I thought it might be interesting to get him on the blog, what with editing being one of those things that's hugely important in the televisual scheme of things, but one that few people (including writers) actually know much about. So if anyone has any questions pertaining to the arcane skills of editing, put them in the comments here and I'll put them to him shortly.

In the meantime, here are some previous sort-of-interviews.

Drama agent: Matt Connell

Children's author: Alex Williams

Television composer: Garry Judd

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Writing spec scripts

In the 'No Signal' post 'PK' asked:

"My agent has told me not to bother writing screenplays at the moment. "The current climate, blah, blah. No one has any money to make anything..." How do you reckon things are going in the industry in that respect (and why was that previous sentence so clumsily phrased)?"

Hmm, interesting - I suspect it's because my agent recently had another client get a script made recently (it's been in the UK box office top ten in the last couple of weeks) - so maybe he just has a link to the lucky few who do have the ability/contacts/resources to get stuff made, and wants to strike while the iron is hot.

I'm not sure it's ever a bad time to write a screenplay though. Obviously you have to prioritise your work, but a good story is a good story. If you have a great idea that's film-shaped, you should probably find time to write it, because apart from anything else it's always good to have fresh work to show people. And most producers are looking for scripts around the 115 minute mark, so that's only three half hours, which isn't that much to write.

Quite apart from the creative element, that writers get better by writing more, all the spec writing I've ever done ('writing on spec' meaning to write something without having been specifically commissioned to do so) has paid for itself in the end. Either it's shown that I have my own voice when not writing as part of a team, as I had to prove after Green Wing, or that I can write in a different format or genre - my 'Hero Trip' spec screenplay showing I could write a longer form piece with a more dramatic element than my previous work had shown, although it was still a comedy at heart. And suddenly I was having meetings with producers who were happy to talk about me working on their one-hour drama shows, which hadn't been the case before.

I must admit to not having much sympathy these days for writers who complain about being pigeonholed in certain genres, whether that be soaps, kids' television, or animation. You have to prove you can write outside your comfort zone, and if that means finding an extra hour a day to work on something fresh (and as the parent of a one-year-old daughter don't think I say that casually), then so be it.

Dan Bull: Letter to Lily Allen

This is AWESOME:

From: b3ta

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trying to avoid two particular words.

I'm writing a spec horror screenplay at the moment (mainly because my agent said 'could you do a new film script for me? I know they don't take you long to write'), and at some point I'm going to have to find a new way of dealing with what is becoming the cliched line of dialogue of this particular genre:

From Movieline

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dr Horrible at the Emmys

EDIT: balls, it's been taken down - I'll see if I can find it elsewhere. I could describe it, but I think that would take most of the funny in the process.

EDIT 2: Let's see how long this one stays up.

French Midsomer Murders: The Tweetening.

For the puzzled: Patroclus and I are in the South of France. We were about to retire for the evening, when Midsomer Murders came on. Dubbed into French.

Midsomer Murders dubbed into French is no less completely mental.

Now Queen of the Bord (Alice Krige) and Doctor Who (Peter Davidson) have turned up! Both now speaking French! This is MENTULE.

'Queen of the Borg' I meant, although Alice Krige might well be Queen of the Bord as well. Either way, she's TOAST!

Peter Davidson has hands in pockets, and is rocking on the balls of his feet because that is what he does.

Christ, I wouldn't break into Midsomer Museum, like this bloke. Like the Scotland Yard's Black Museum, squared.

@Maudelynn I knew the books a bit, but never seen it before. Certainly not dubbed into French.

French John Nettles is like a cross between a saucy Thieftaker/Savante, and a grizzled Buddha. Like the worlds' Dad.

If anyone wishes to unfollow me for the duration, I quite understand.

@GrahamBandage Brrrrrrr. @waxingmoonman No-one is mort yet, as far as I can tell. Perhaps it's a format breaking episode.

A sheep is mort. French John Nettles not investigating yet.

@Fritziii Well who doesn't sound sexy in German, frankly.

Is no-one going to die in this episode? Have the French taken out the morts? Doesn't sound like them.

Apparently all cricket games in Midsomer are accompanied by a lunatic with a 1984 Casiotone (apols to Gary J if he composed this).

Bergerac just accused Doctor Who of cheating, and now the mad Shepherd comes to take revenge for his morted sheep.

Where are the murders? I was led to believe MM- BREAKING NEWS - death on the pitch!

Some bloke I hadn't seen before is dead. The Mad Shepherd is blaming THE MIDSOMER WOLFMAN. French J. Nettles unconvinced - NO FOOL HE.

Now the Secret Service is involved! I am genuinely not making any of this up.

I don't speak French, but I just F. J. Nettles just called his wife a ponce, and said he is storming to Paris to buy double cream.

Note that @patroclus CAN speak French, but it doesn't seem to be making any more sense to her.

Mad Shepherd is now embarking upon his own investigation, on the basis he's two feet taller than anyone else, which seems reasonable.

French Peter Davidson laughs lightly, but French Borg Queen knows something is up and it is not the LEGUMES.

French John Nettles is watching porn on his work computer, which is fine apparently, according to new EU rules.

Cor, French Borg Queen just decked French Peter Davidson! A lone French Dalek cheers.

'Daccor', says French Peter Davidson, which is French for 'Dalek', prob'ly.

All the characters now splitting up to hunt for the Midsomer Wolfman IN THE DARK!


French John Nettles woken, angered by increased workload.

All the other characters wait for French Peter Davidson to regenerate and tell them who did it.

@jamesmoran I HAVE HAD TOW GALSSES OF WINE!!!!!!

French Borg Queen attempts to catch FJ Nettles in his porn lair, but he is too clever for her.

French Colin from Game On now trying to help, because French John Nettles has gone back to porn.

Fake Headlines of our time: "Museum Break in - Nothing Stolen'.


Ooh my avatar's come back - has French Peter Davidson regenerated as me? Bu I don't know who did it!

Oooh, Mad Shepherd has gone missing...

@patroclus and I appear to be crossing the streams. FJ Nettles interrogating someone who up until now I assumed to be his mother.

French Colin from Game On has found a sabre-toothed tiger skull in a bran tub. BEST LUCKY DIP EVER!

Bah, Mad Shepherd doing a runner on a tractor. Quite slowly. French Colin caught him up by WALKING FAST.

Oops, he's French Matt from Game On, not French Colin. French BOrg Queen has chain an 80's yuppie up in a hearse - TO BORGIFY HIM.

Tractor still going on its own, hit a different yuppies Caterham 7, FJ Nettles blithely unconcerned. Yuppie: "INSPECTEUR!"

FJ Nettles now watching a new video of a man polishing a coffin - porn getting a bit specialised now.

FJ Nettles has found incriminating video evidence. I have no idea what of though. Ooh, a secret tunnel under a coffin!

Now a b+w flashback to german soldiers (sorry Fritzee) being nasty to a family. Everyone thinks this explains a lot.

French Matt from Game On does not believe what he is Ecouter-ing!

Nooo, man in coffin (don't know who) is going to be live-cremated, by French Borg Queen!

Man rescued, by FR Nettles and F Matt but has gone mad and singing a hymn (the very definition of insanity). French BQ unrepentent.

French Peter Davidson fails to regenerate in time for finale. 'Wolfman' apparently a file hiding under a chair all along.

Back to Alice Krige growling into a hedge - I must say, this is all tying up nicely now.
about 10 hours ago from TweetDeck

FJ Nettles at cricket, accepting congratulations from either wife or mother, not worked out precise relationship yet.

THE END. My apologies to all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Can Women Have It All In Comedy?"

Ori wasn't sure, but Richard and I knew, because we are Men and therefore Aces, so we helped her with this article, and took out all the stuff about kittens and knitting and that sort of thing, so it would be accepted, then we sent her back in the kitchen etc and so on.

"Oriane Messina was a main writer on the BAFTA award winning television programmes Green Wing and Smack the Pony. Here she tries to understand why so few female writers are working in comedy."

main article

Monday, September 14, 2009

Product Placement then.

I don't really like adverts. Okay, I like some, like that Transforming dancing car one for Ford, or that drumming gorilla one for Nestlé, or that one where the man puts on some classical music and runs through a wall then up a tree into space, which was for washing powder, or shampoo, or walls, or trees, or perhaps space, I dunno.

Anyway, the point is, adverts stay outside of the programme itself. They're a whore's bargain that allows television that isn't funded by a license fee, or a cable subscription, to exist, but at least the viewer knows where they are, and they can usually tell the difference between the adverts and the shows themselves.

But that line is soon going to be crossed, and I do not think this will be a good thing in any way.

From this article on the BBC news website:

"Product placement is to be allowed on British TV shows, in a move expected to be announced next week. Independent broadcasters will be allowed to take payments for displaying commercial products during shows.

The change is intended to bring in extra funds for commercial broadcasters. Experts believe it could raise up to £100m a year. There are currently strict rules against product placement and this ban would remain in place on BBC shows.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw is expected to announce a three-month consultation on the changes in a speech to the Royal Television Society next week. An ITV spokesman welcomed the move, which he described as "reforming UK prohibition".

"You have to trust the consumer. If it's overdone or tasteless, viewers will switch off." (Peter Bazalgette, Big Brother creator).

He said: "If the government does decide to permit product placement, it will be warmly welcomed by the commercial broadcasting industry and advertisers alike."

But not, note, by writers, directors, producers, or viewers.

My stance on this is very much in line with David Lynch. He's being asked about product placement in Hollywood, in his capacity as a film-maker rather than a television producer, but he has experience of both, so I think we can take a few seconds to listen to his views. Video not entirely SFW.

Okay, here's a more detailed look at why loosening the restrictions on product placement is a really bad idea, for show creators and audiences alike:

1. It makes for worse television. If you think product placement means advertisers and PR firms come crawling pathetically to the programme-makers, begging to have a scene where the main characters all have breakfast include a jar of their savoury yeast product appear with the label at least half-facing the camera, think again.

These people see their brands as characters in themselves. They want their products to be mentioned as having specific virtues, and as being objects of wild aspiration. Which means scenes like The Cheerleader One in Heroes becoming hugely, yet somehow unconvincingly enthusiastic about her dad giving her what is, to all intents and purposes, a rather dull saloon car (although one curiously out of the price bracket those characters could afford), which she, of course, mentions by name. While jumping up and down excitedly. And she can regenerate from nuclear explosions, so we are supposed to take it this is a very exciting car indeed. Which it isn't.

Meanwhile, the two Japanese blokes get equally excited about being able to rent another car of the same make for their journey - and of course, we know (or should guess) that during that journey nothing bad is going to happen to them in said car, like a breakdown, or a crash, or anything that might reflect even slightly badly on the manufacturers, so there goes any narrative tension for that part of the story.

And as a writer, it's bad enough having to run storylines and dialogue past script editors, producers, lawyers, broadcast company (or network) executives and legal departments. But now we have to run them past PR departments and advertisers? Bleurgh.

2. The people who are claiming product placement is a good thing do not have the interests of the viewer, or even good television, at heart. Let's look at that last quote from the BBC article again:

"You have to trust the consumer. If it's overdone or tasteless, viewers will switch off."(Peter Bazalgette, Big Brother creator)

Note how this has expertly reframed the topic as a matter of trust in the consumer, rather than in the programme-makers. And of course, note also the implicit irony in the qualifications of the person making the quote.

Because people did finally abandon Big Brother, on exactly the grounds of it being overdone, and tasteless, and greedy, and repellent, and exploiting the mentally ill, and eventually just because it was dull television, but it took a while for it to happen, and in the meantime, most of the people involved made quite a lot of money. And a few of the people involved made astonishing amounts of money, and oh look, these are exactly the people who are defending loosening the restrictions on product placement.

3. Product placement kills the trust between the programme-makers and the audience. Now, champions of product placement will claim any detractors as wanting their programmes to show some Neverland, where no brands or recognizeable products exist, which is, like most things that come out of these peoples' mouths, a lie, and I shall prove it thusly:

A while ago I wrote this scene for Green Wing involving mini Mars Bars (not like that):

I didn't write this scene because I was paid by Mars, I wrote it because a friend of mine at the time always had in his house a bag of mini Mars Bars, and would reward himself with one when he managed to snatch a tiny, pathetic, but at least tangible victory in an otherwise quite bad time of his life, which seemed to fit with the sort of emotional turmoil the main characters in Green Wing were going through. But with speedy-up camera bits.

So I included a brand name not because Channel 4 or Talkback would get extra money from chocolate manufacturers to make the show, but because that scene was based on truth - a real physical truth (my friend and both really liked mini Mars Bars) and an emotional truth - that in times of stress, you have to take comfort where you can, even if it's in a knowingly crap, but self-aware sort of way. And, you know, I do quite like mini Mars Bars (please don't send me any though, people from Mars the company not the planet, because they are essentially quite bad for you, and I'm trying to lose weight).

To return to the central point, it's almost as though, if people made products that were good, and people formed an emotional attachment to them, ascribing them certain virtues and aspirational qualities, those brands would be written into shows without advertisers even having to pay for them. Imagine that.

In fact, BBC shows quite often show recognizable brands, in the form of cars, whose manufacturers frequently supply vehicles to productions for free. Rank hypocrisy of the kind that cause people like Jas. Murdoch to go into a frothing libertarian coma? Well, it wouldn't be terribly reasonable to expect the BBC to develop their own range of un-branded vehicles, as I'm fairly sure that's not the sort of thing the license fee was invented for. So real cars have to be used. But in this case, because the programme-makers haven't taken any money from the car manufacturers, they are obliged to neither mention the brand name in as many lines of dialogue as possible, or are told they can't have scenes where the car breaks down, or is involved in a crash, or is slightly damaged in a way that would imply the vehicle is made of anything less that refined adamantium (the stuff Wolverine's bones are coated in), so I think that's an acceptable compromise.

And if you doubt the lengths manufacturers, or their PR companies will go to to protect their brands, consider the following quote from the wiki page:

"Emerson, makers of the InSinkErator brand in-sink garbage disposal sued NBC for the use of their clearly branded product during a scene where Claire's hand is badly mangled after she places it in a running garbage disposal (Genesis). Emerson claimed NBC misrepresented any risks or potential injuries posed by the InSinkErator on the show, while portraying the brand "in an unsavory light, irreparably tarnishing the product." The company settled with NBC out of court on Feb 23, 2007."

These people take the representation of their products on television, and in film, very very seriously.

4. It makes it even harder to make shows that don't take place in the present. Battlestar Galactica got by without product placement, unless you count the manufacturers of toasters. Or the makers of 'Frak', if it exists. But you can bet no possibility of product placement made the show even harder to get off the ground in the first place. And product placement is sneaking in even here, the recent Star Trek film having a couple of spectacularly clumsy mentions of mobile phone brands and weak American lagers that really didn't do an otherwise excellent bit of smart entertainment any favours.

5. We've already seen how it poisons other cultural forms. Product placement acolytes will argue that films already contain plenty of 'brand exposure'. In fact, Bazalgette goes on to say:

"And it's rife in British television anyway. There's product placement in movies that go on television and in imported American TV shows and dramas."

Yes, American shows, and big noisy, rubbish Hollywood films, often involving Will Smith, for some reason, often do have lots of product placement. And sometimes, living in Cornwall, I drive past a muck spreader. That doesn't mean that having been exposed to muck spreading, I then desire to roll around in freshly-sprayed fields, shouting 'spray me big boy, I want every pore covered! WOOOO-arglesplurgh*coff*". Not since they started to crack down on that sort of thing. So I don't think that stands up as an argument, frankly.

6. Finally (hurrah!) where is this extra £100m a year even going to come from? The problem commercial television is having is a lack of funds from advertising - the same companies aren't going to suddenly find millions of extra pounds they didn't have lying around to use for... advertising their products on television. So I'm confused about that.

So taking all things into consideration, in this thing, as in so many others, I'm with David Lynch.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Bah, I didn't get anything into the new series of Armstrong and Miller in the end, although they were good enough to commission me for a full five minutes, so I did get paid and everything, hurrah.

Looking back, I think the problem with most of my sketches is they tend to just peter out. I did quite like this one below, but it doesn't really go anywhere. I also feel a bit guilty about the oohing and ahhing in the dialogue, but worried it wouldn't come across West Country enough otherwise. Ah well.


Bridge is laid out in the new, deliberately stripped-down way they do this sort of thing these days, on shows like Battlestar Galactica, rather than the slightly camp Star Trek/Blake’s Seven sort of thing. Everything looks at least semi-military – lots of grey fatigues, webbing. Walls have exposed pipes, that sort of thing. All quite serious.

BEN is sitting in the Captain’s chair, looking at a large view screen, where a severe looking WOMAN, also in grey fatigues, seems to be giving orders. BEN stands next to him, a number of crewmembers bent over various workstations.

(very crisp) Commander, we’ve received some worrying reports from the Gamma Sector – a number of mining ship making distress calls, then vanishing from radar. It seems unlike the colonial rebels could be responsible, after their recent setbacks, but the alternatives are worse.

BEN looks at XANDER, his number two. They exchange worried glances.

So we’d like you to make a sweep of the area, search for survivors, but keeping an eye out for… anything unusual. Admiral Veema out.

The woman vanishes from the viewscreen, replaced by a view of stars, twinkling in the blackness.

BEN and XANDER continue to look at each other for a moment, clearly weighing the situation. Finally BEN comes to some kind of decision.

(to crewmenbers, in thick West Country accent)
All right my loves, you all heard the nice lady, let’s get on it dreckly, shall we? Get down that Gamma Sector.

Crewmembers all start tapping buttons. On the screen, the stars start to blur as the ship surges forward.

(also thick West Country hair) So what do you think, the way she done her hair?

Tristan, be honest with you, Oi’m failing to take to it. Don’t know what she’s trying to achieve. (to crewmember) Tamsin Tresiddick, you be careful with them knobs, you’re not trying to win a stuffed monkey!

(also West Country accent) Yes, Captain Eddy, sorry Captain Eddy.

(to XANDER) Stuffed monkey, like down at the fair.

Yarse, I thought, ‘what’s he on, he’s gone maaaad!, then oi thought, ‘oh yeah, stuffed monkey, like down at the fair’.

SFX: grinding noise – everyone jolts forwards, and the stars on the viewscreen suddenly stop moving.

(suspicious) Ello…

A technical type crewmember appears on the screen.

Wozzon, Cap’n!

Wozzon Piran.

Right, what happened was, right, that quantum relay, what done got a bit bashed when we met them raiders? Well it got slightly twonked, like. So me and the lads are patching it up with some bits we pulled out of the shuttle.

(annoyed) You put them bits back when you’re done! (off BEN’s look) Oi bloody loves me that shuttle. Takes it everywhere.

So, short version, like, we’m sitting here for a bit.

The screen goes off. Everyone looks at BEN.

‘Ere, Captain, we’m got incoming.

How many?

Two carriers, about twenty fighters, looks like them colonial rebels that nice lady was talking about before. Be here in about twenty minutes, I reckon.

Right, well, we do seem to be in a bit of a predicament.

He drums his fingers a momet.


Right on.

Monday, September 07, 2009


At a time of ever-decreasing budgets in television production, it's perhaps useful to remember that perfectly good television can be made consisting just of people shouting in corridors.

Don't believe me? Here are the classic television drama genres reduced to their base constituents.

DRAMA: people shouting in corridors.
COMEDY: people falling over in corridors.
COMEDY/DRAMA: people shouting, then falling over in corridors.
GRITTY DRAMA: ugly people shouting in corridors.
POLITICAL THRILLER: people shouting whilst walking quickly down corridors.
SCIENCE FICTION: people shouting at robots in corridors.
MYSTERY: Someone is shouting in a corridor. But who?
PERIOD DRAMA: people in wigs shouting 'Sirrah!' in wood-pannelled corridors.
SOAP: teenagers shouting in corridors, pause at end - TO BE CONTINUED.
SINGLE CAMERA COMEDY: cameraman has to leap back as person falls over in corridor.
STUDIO AUDIENCE COMEDY: fake laughter as people pretend to find it amusing that person is falling over in corridor for third time in row.
'EDGY' COMEDY: blacked-up people shouting 'rape', then falling over in corridor.
PORNOGRAPHY: people shouting sexily in corridors.
JAPANESE HENTAI ANIMATION: woman has unfortunate encounter with tentacle in corridor.
That's enough corridors.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Magnet and Gemma Hayes - 'Lay lady lay'

From a while back, but I liked this cover a lot and just found it again.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview with Lev Grossman

"The nerds won, and in winning, we kind of lost. I feel like there needs to be some kind of nerd splinter groups, a hardcore, fundamentalist retrenchment that can reclaim some kind of identity for nerds"

Great interview with Lev Grossman, writer of the really very good indeed 'The Magicians over at The AV Club

Anyone with the faintest interest in writing that's as much about fantasy as it's in the genre of fantasy (see also: Robert Holdstock's 'Mythago Wood', Michael Swanwick's 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter' and John Crowley's astonishing 'Little, Big'), should check out 'The Magicians' right away, best work of fiction I've read for a long time, and I'm not just saying that because of the Dungeons and Dragons bits near the end, although they were great. If I still worked in a bookshop I'd be pushing it to people as 'The Secret History meets Narnia', which is a bit reductive, but not a million miles off.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I think second man was Liverpudlian, but I'm not judging.

Waiting for the train at Turo station, I take a seat next a couple of chaps who are, I realise nanoseconds after my bottom touches the bench, proper actual glugglug alcoholics. The first man is the more together of the two, and looks weirdly like Sean Locke (from Fifteen Storeys High, which is great, and you should get the DVD). The second is further gone, has terrible scarred gouges on his knuckles and what I believe are referred to as 'prison tats'. Second man has no dialogue.

FIRST MAN: (immediately) Hello.
ME: Hello.
FIRST MAN: Got any cigars on you?
ME: I'm afraid not.
FIRST MAN: Cuban? DaMatta? Don Porfírio?
ME: Hahahaha, worth a try.

I decide to fiddle with my iPod for a bit. While I do this, first man and second man go through an elaborate farewell ritual that stalls a bit when first man decides to write down his phone number for second man, only he doesn't have a pen.

First man asks a number of passers-by for a pen, and is soundly ignored, which seems a bit harsh.

ME: I have a pen.

I repeat this for a few times, and eventually first man hears me, politely takes the pen, writes the number down for second man, who lumbers off. First man returns my pen, but is still hanging on to the pen lid! At first I decide this is deliberate, and contemplate calling the police, but then realise that the first man's synapses are probably working a bit slowly, and he probably just hasn't quite worked out that the return transaction is not yet complete.

Five minutes later:

FIRST MAN: I've got your pen lid!

He gives it back to me.

ME: Cheers.
FIRST MAN: So, right, if I just get on this train - where's it going?
ME: London.
FIRST MAN: -London, if I just get on it, do you reckon I could get as far as Plymouth without being chucked off?

I consider this. Finally:

ME: I don't think you could. There are quite a few stops between here and Plymouth.
FIRST MAN: LIKE ST. GERMANS! Why is it called St Germans?

(Note: that train does not stop at St. Germans)

ME: I don't know.
FIRST MAN: Or Saltash. A PLACE CALLED SALTASH! Why is it called Saltash?
ME: I don't-
FIRST MAN: Why am asking you? Although you probably know, you are probably a well-educated man. I can tell you are a well-educated man because of your FOREHEAD and your EYES.
ME: ....
FIRST MAN: I'm off to get pissed.

And off he went.

Then, on the train, I only bumped into OLD SCHOOL CANTERBURY WATERSTONE'S CHUMS Nick and Laura! We talked all the way from Exeter to London! Then at BBC TV Centre (I was up for a meeting about my cornwall crime show which is going very well thanks for asking), I was in the foyer and I only bumped into James Moran who was doing top secret Doctor Who things! At one point I was literally surrounded by Doctor Who writers - but the Dalek in the foyer has gone, they must have written him out.

I did not meet anyone interesting on the way home.

*goes to bed*

UPDATE: LMS informs me in the comments below that "The dalek has moved to the foyer cafe, by the little shop, possibly as a deterrent to shoplifters". Hurrah!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beautiful fan-made video...

... for Grizzly Bear's 'Two Weeks'. I know there are a few animators who read this, so can anyone tell me if there's a technical term for that style where digital animation is used to simulate old-fashioned automata-style puppetry? Also used to lovely effect on a recent Muse video, although I can't remember which one, and the Super Furry Animals' Not The End Of The World video

Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear from Gabe Askew on Vimeo.