Friday, January 30, 2009


Finally got BBC3's verdict on m'teen drama, scripts for the first two episodes of which they've had for a while now, and the answer cometh back.... negative.

Bah. I was reasonably braced for it, to be honest, when I hadn't heard anything by New Year, but it's never nice to have stuff turned down (although always nicer than not hearing anything at all, until you just assume it hasn't worked out). Early indications seem to be that Echo Beach (what was also about Cornwall, and beaches, and teenagers) loomed just a little too large in the recent past. What a ghastly and blighted shadow that show has cast. Although of course there are always plenty of reasons you just don't know about, and the more experienced you get, the more you realise how astonishing it is that any television drama gets made at all, so I take these things a lot less personally that I might have done a few years ago.

Other reasons not to despond:

1. I have a meeting on Tuesday to talk about a brand new BBC project I've been asked to write, what is an actual bona fide literary adaptation, and isn't a one-off, hour-long special as I initially thought, but is now being talked about as six half-hour episodes. I will say no more about this for now, lest I jinx it right up the wazoo, but still, hurrah!

2. The BBC Drama people I worked with were incredibly generous and supportive. The scripts got championed at a very high level by people who were also good enough to let me pretty much do my own thing with the characters, which was much appreciated. Some of them actually seem more upset about ROCK being turned down that I am, which is nice.

3. The scripts themselves seem to have gone down very well with those who've read them (which is how 1. came about), so I'm getting put up for writing jobs that wouldn't have happened before.

I might put the scripts themselves up at some point, although that might not be allowed, because the BBC have, you know, paid for them and everything, so I'll have to check that out. Still, here's the Teen Drama Saga in full:

The commissioning meeting
Prevaricating with Lego.
Heading the one-page document
Accents and beach parties.
Second episode commissioned (that's what that one was all about).
Logos and buzzwords.
Solo writing versus team writing.
Echo Beach.
A dramatic meeting.
Going from comedy to drama.
Cutting to length.
The Timeline.

Le sigh.

Pedro And Frankensheep

Aww, I was asked to maybe do some work for this CBBC project last year, but unfortunately I was all booked up with other projects. None of which actually went anywhere, which is often the way. And a shame, because it's turned out to be really rather lovely.

Title credits here:

Full episodes available here. Worth four and a half minutes of anyone's time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Note to self:

When attempting to make coconut macaroons, best to check you haven't let the cookbook slip a couple of pages while your back is turned. Otherwise, you get to the bit about piping the mixture out on to a backing tray and think "arse, I don't remember that, and I haven't got a piping thing" and just spoon it onto the tray in dollops instead. Also, make sure you've enough eggs, or you'll have to use one, where it says two.

That way, when you finally put the thing in the oven, you'll be spared looking back at the unopened bag of dessicated coconut on the worktop and wondering how they didn't make it into the list of ingredients.

All this also reminds me of working at Waterstone's, when one year I got really bored, and decided to make coconut squares for everyone. Cue me handing a small bag of coconut squares to the new girl, who was Irish, and had a large mole on her top lip.

ME: hello, I made some coconut squares.

MOLEY-LIP IRISH girl takes the bag and peers in it doubtfully.

MOLEY-LIP IRISH: So are you gay then?

ME: (feebly) No.


Update: THE RESULTS ARE IN. Oh blimey.


I arranged a couple rather prettily on a plate, and brought them upstairs for my loved one.

PATROCLUS: They look like-


Friday, January 23, 2009

Spooky Coraline Trailer

The most interesting one, I think - seems closest to the spirit of the book so far:

Adam and Joe on the new series of Skins

Audio only - I was really hoping someone might have put in some footage from the bit Joe is describing, but it's still worth listening to if you haven't heard it already.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Teen Drama Project Timeline

Because a lot of people seem to think that television programmes get made about a month before they're due to be screened, by someone going 'Ooh Christ, we're supposed to making a buddy cop show/thing about mismatched paleontologists/a thing that's like Star Trek only with fish' and then renting a big room and sticking a camera at a load of people larking about (well, all right, that's what I used to think), I reckoned it might be, if not exactly interesting, at least salutary, to work out just how long it takes to develop the first two scripts of, say, a teen drama series.

Also, it occurred to me that if ROCK does get commissioned, it looks like I'm whining about how long it took, and if it doesn't get commissioned, it looks like I'm... whining about how long it took. So while ROCK hangs in the weird Schrodinger's quantum thingy state of being Not Dead, but Not Exactly Alive Either, let's see just how long these things take to at least get to the point where you're seriously starting to think about what actors might be good in it.

ROCK timeline

First meeting: 5th August 2006

One-page outline commissioned: 9th September 2006

Pilot script commissioned: December 2006

Pilot script first draft completed: 7th January 2007

Pilot script fifth draft accepted: 12th December 2007

Episode 2 script commissioned: 20th March 2008

Episode 2 script draft three accepted: 20th July 2008

Pilot script and second episode sent off to BBC heads of Fiction and Serials: mid-August 2008

Pilot script and second episode okayed by BBC heads of Fiction and Serials, passed on to controller of BBC3: 20th October 2008

Final decision of whether to commission series or not: Pending.

Monday, January 19, 2009

You're allowed to do one of these a year, I've checked.

I thought I might turn my hand to answering some of the many questions I get asked every day. Not questions about scriptwriting or anything, just the weird stuff people put into Google that accidentally brings them here. These are all genuine Googles that have somehow brought the enquiree to my blog.

"Is there another word for 'euphemism'?"


What does it mean when banter is insulting?"

It means the tide of the conversation has turned, not necessarily to your advantage. Are you in a pub? Think about breaking off a chairleg which which to defend yourself.

"Are Ricky Gervais and James Corden friends?"

I don't know. Although I do occasionally see Mr. Gervais wandering down Newman Street, so next time, I'll stop him and ask. I suspect on the whole, though, not.

"Setting up a commune?"


[deleted, but involves teens and certain acts]

Hmm, why do all the really pervy ones come from Dubai?

"How book table at Fat Duck?"

Only number one commenter cello know how do this.

how pronounce david mamet"

It's "david" and then "mamet". Hope that helps.

"what's going on in Home and Away?"

No-one knows.

"why is my cat shrieking?"

Because of your constant bloody mispronunciation of "David Mamet".

"wind up butterfly"

Call it a moth.


I can't believe I don't know the answer to this. I am ASHAMED.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It helps if you've seen a few too many Razorlight videos

By Thomas Nelstrop. And from now on, that song will always be "All my life, I've needed a colander'.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

'Bubbleicious' - Rex The Dog

More videos, while I GO OUT OF MY FRIKKIN MIND waiting to hear if my teen drama thing gets commissioned. Sourced by the ever-reliable PopJustice, this is an utterly charming stop-motion sort of thing. Wasn't sure about the actual song at first, but it picks up about the halfway mark.

Bubblicious from Rex The Dog on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You know when you find something good on YouTube...

... and get really excited, then realise it's six months old, and then you look at the creator's website and realise they've already written more comedy than you have, but then you decide to embed the video anyway, like you're doing them a favour or something? Well anyway, I thought this was very good.

"I'd Like To Have Been At That Meeting When.... LOST", by The Dawson Bros.

It helps if you remember Doogie Howser M.D.

Back from London, and this is the first thing I find on the Interwebs. I think the sublime silliness of this, combined with the Dr. Horrible's Blog thing, might push Neil Patrick Harris into being my new GBF.*

* things I found out in London: one major broadcaster apparently on the lookout for a 'gay Columbo'.


Just one more thing....

(pauses dramatically)

.... I'M GAY!


Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Patronising Bastard Effect

Patroclus and I are wheeling the Blue Kitten into Falmouth, as is our wont most mornings. The Kitten is even Bluer than usual this morning*, as it really is particularly cold.

PATROCLUS: Ooh look, the river's freezing over!

ME: (kindly) Yes, well, the thing is, that doesn't really happen here, because the Gulf Stream brings warm water up from the equator, which accounts for Cornwall's characteristically sub-tropical climes, when compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. So even when there's a ridge of high pressure off the coast, bringing down Arctic air in a clockwise direction due to the Coriolis Effect (I've been reading the BBC weather site recently), there tends to be enough warm water to counteract this.


ME: Also, the estuary is really salt water flowing in from the sea, rather than fresh water flowing out, so really the salinity levels preclude the kind of 'icing over' effect you're talking about.

PATROCLUS: (calmly) Right.

A few minutes later we get round a bend in the road allowing a clear view of the river.

ME: Christ, the river's freezing over!


*We've now put her in a rather fetching pramsuit, which makes her look like a tiny polar scientist. I'm thinking of fixing a small weather station onto her pram, next to the elephant.

ALSO: what looks like ice in that photo is actually mud, but there totally was ice there as well, take it from me.

I'm off to London now, where I will be discussing flintlocks.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Genre, give up your secrets!

(UPDATE: contains mild spoilers for Battlestar Galactica Series Three. Also, casual reference to Indian bansuri flutes)

ANOTHER UPDATE: James Moran's comments added at the bottom of this post.

I've been trying to work out why I've been left so cold by most of the genre stuff on british telly at the moment (and by 'genre' I mean specifically SF/fantasy, which is how a lot of people in television refer to it, which shows how much they know). It's a truism to point out that it's simply not as good as most of the American stuff, but it's harder to work out exactly why that is.

A large part of the problem, I suspect, is that over here, smart geeks are rarely in control of the production process. In the States, writers work their way up the ladder from humble staff writer, to head writer, to all those weird job titles that are basically avoiding saying 'still a writer but now with a lot more money' ('story editor' and 'co-executive producer' being just two examples - and for more on the Byzantine ins and outs of American television production, you could do worse than subscribe to Rob Long's excellent Martini Shot Podcast).

In this country there's often been an invisible dividing line between writers and producers: partly because of the corporate set-up of the large broadcasters, and partly because... culturally, that's just the way things have been. And I just don't think people with innately geeky tendencies, the kind of obsessiveness that leads them to spend years at a time tracking every last issue of an obscure indie comic book, or finding weird Scandinavian electro bands have the required skillset that allows them to rise high in the world of production, a career that requires the finely honed social skills of a blindfolded Borgia at a 'bring your own dagger' party. And yet in the States, writer/producers are the norm. Once they've proved themselves by bringing in flipping great wodges of cash, these pale feeble nerdlynerds are actually allowed to step back from the typing and start making decisions about shows, and have a 'vision', and bring in other typists to make that vision come true without having to do any of the dull writing business themselves. AKA 'The Writer's Dream'.

Amusingly, many a British television producer (who only got into television in the first place because publishing is too poorly-paid, and the career in the City didn't work out) has gone over to the States to acclaim and backslapping, only for the Americans to suddenly realise said producer is basically just a suit, with no writing experience at all. Brit Producer is then cold-shouldered, and in extreme cases, made to sit next to Eric Idle at the canteen.

(At some point, of course, I'm going to have to write a blog post about the producers I know, and have worked with, who are charming, erudite, know their onions and a few other vegetables aside, and are frankly a little bit gorgeous. Because they do exist, and to pretend all producers are engaged in some conspiracy of mediocracy is a) untrue, and b) letting way too many lazy writers, myself included, off the hook. But that will have to wait for another time).

However, as the more astute reader will already have realised, writer/producers are becoming increasingly common over here. Russell T. Davies began as a writer, then got sufficient clout to work on whichever show he wanted. Except everyone in power at the BBC at the time thought Doctor Who was a load of old nonsense, and doomed, so told him 'no'. Until he refused to consider doing anything else for them at all, ever, at which point they gave up and let him have his way, as head writer, and producer for the show. Stephen Moffat, of course, is taking over in the same capacity. And since New Who and Life On Mars both got the double, with astonishing ratings and outstanding reviews, genre telly has become very much in. Hurrah.

So why is so much of it just rubbish? Well, even with new writer/producers at some of the helms, most of these shows are being aimed at Who's audience, which means teatime family viewing. Which means slick visuals, diddly-diddly-whee background music to tell you what emotion you should be feeling at any given time, subject matter that's never too controversial and a general sense that if said show looks reasonably close to a DVD spin-off of a Hollywood movie, the job's a good 'un. And if you think I'm exaggerating, I've worked on one UK show with fantasy elements, where I have been specifically told to "avoid nuance and detail', and that supporting characters absolutely had to be two-dimensional, because that's how fantasy works.


Added to which, what a lot of Brit writer/producers often don't have is the knowledge of the genre possessed by the writers/producers of really good American stuff, like Buffy, or Battlestar Galactica, or Dead Like Me, coupled with the ruthless application of one astonishing fact: zombies, demons, vampires, plagues, spaceships, robots and goblins are not inherently interesting.

It's mind-blowing stuff isn't it? Took me ages to get the concept into my head, but eventually, somewhere around Resident Evil Three, it stuck. Zombies are not enough. What the better American shows did was to use genre as a thumping great metaphor engine. Every demon on Buffy, every supernatural occurrence, everything that happened in Sunnydale because of the Hellmouth, they all served as metaphors about growing up as an American teenager in the closing years of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first: Xander being possessed by a hyena demon that led him to temporarily prey on the weak, those bitchy high school girls that really would rip your throat out given half the chance - all metaphors for late 20th/early 21st C. adolescence brought to life. And because Joss Whedon knows genre like other people breathe air, he was able to twist all the cliches we'd seen before: right at the start the trembling female student who gets talked into sneaking onto school property for illicit afterschool romance by the bad boy turns out to be the vampiric aggressor. Buffy herself is of course a subversion of the cliché of "the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie." The working title for Buffy was, at one point, 'Rhonda the Immortal Waitress', a title I just can't see any British television producer going for in a million years.

Battlestar Galactica, of course, is a whole series of metaphors, one huge allegory that doesn't just ask the big questions like 'what are laws for', 'what is mercy' 'why should civilian goverment retain power in a time of war' and 'am I who I think I am, really?', but also tries to make America, and by extension the West take a really hard look at itself. For me, the finest moment in Battlestar Galactica wasn't the gruelling Iraq parallel of Cyclon-occupied Caprica 2, or the two-part space battle that ended up being seen almost entirely from the point of view of one pilot floating in space after ejecting from his spaceship and slowly running out of air, but the moment on the soundtrack when the Galactica's sister ship, the Pegasus, began to reveal itself as an even darker version of the central vessel, with its captain unafraid to use murder and unthinkable torture in the name of a just war. Galactica's soundtrack theme, arranged by the incredibly talented Bear McCreary, has always had a distinctly Eastern influence: Indian bansuri flute, Armenian woodwind, Chinese violins, Turkish lute, Japanese taiko drums to name but a few. But the theme for the Pegasus? A steel slide guitar. The baddies' theme was the most archetypally American, cowboyish instrument you could possibly imagine. Just one tiny element in a fantastic couple of episodes, but one where an already brave show truly showed its mettle.

So, bearing this in mind, what are the current crop of Brit SF shows actually about? Demons, Merlin, Primeval, Survivors, Spooks Code 9, bloody Bonekickers... where are the metaphors? Where are the big questions? What are they trying to say? Because I'm buggered if I know. This doesn't make them bad shows, of course (although some of them are, obviously), but it makes them rather disappointing ones speaking as a viewer, and frustrating ones from the point of view of a writer, as I've spent years trying to get to the point I can pitch for my own genre show, only for the schedules to be so clotted with monsters and CGI shiny objects it's become incredibly hard to come up with an idea that doesn't on first glance sound like three other shows either on the screen now, or already in development.

So I'm working on pitches for a new cop show instead. Tragically, my first attempt, 'PC Aragorn Investigates' has received the thumbs-down.


JAMES 'Fires of Pompeii' MORAN comments (and he's probably writing for more British genre shows than anyone else right now, so he knows his stuff):

"So why is so much of it just rubbish?

"I'll tell you for why, sir. The reason is the same as it ever was: people who don't understand genre are making some of the new genre shows. Some of them are jumping on the bandwagon, without knowing or even *liking* genre. Which staggers me.

Here's how it goes down: RTD, who thoroughly understands and loves genre, makes a genre show (DW). Genre show is a huge success. Everyone else thinks, ah, genre is the thing now, they make money, let's make genre shows. They then hire writers/producers/directors who have a track record to make those shows.

The trouble is, they hire people with a track record on *non-genre* shows. Said people haven't seen much genre, and have decided that it is silly and rubbish. *Their* genre show is going to be much better, deeper, more relevant, they say. But they have never seen an episode of Buffy, or The Twilight Zone, or The Prisoner, etc etc. So they come up with stuff that's been done a million times before, or that's just not interesting.

Rinse and repeat. Replace "show" with "movie", and you get the same result. This has been a blight on horror movies for a few years now - "ooh, horror makes money, I know, I'll do a horror movie, it'll be easy, I've seen one or two, and I'll make loads of money, besides, horror is stupid, it's just gore and tits, I can write it in five minutes, job done." No, it's not easy, unless you want to make a shit movie, then mission accomplished. I have been in more than one meeting where the person is being patronising about genre, while attempting to get his genre-based project off the ground. Obviously it's not the case for all shows, most producers are lovely and brilliant, etc etc, but this is how it happens a lot of the time, and why genre was a dirty word on TV for many, many years.

However. It will get better. More people who understand genre are being trusted to create it. It's not difficult, the answer has been staring everyone in the face for years. Successful genre shows are created by people who know and love genre. It's fairly simple, and they'll catch up soon enough."

Thanks James, and yeah, I ended up concentrating on the bad in this post, whereas there is some cracking stuff out there as well - every third episode of Who, and Charlie Brooker's Dead Set are solid proof, I think, that people who know their genres are really capable of turning out the goods. There are also a lot of execs who've been keeping their geeky lights under a geeky bushel for too long, and might finally get a chance to turn out the sort of television they want to see, rather than they're told people want to watch, which could only be a good thing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Moody Scandinavian electropop video ahoy!

'If I Had A Heart', by the really very good The Knife. Brrrrrrr.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


So, a British actor playing a character called Rupert, with a surname starting with G and access to a library of occult tomes tracks down a teenager and tells them they a) have Kewl Powerz, and b) are descended from a legendary line of vampire hunters, and they have to team up and fight half-demons who lurk in the shadows of human society? And all the time nobody said 'erm, chaps, should we maybe... use branches to brush our tracks or something?' Harrumph.

Still, costumes and lighting and general design were aces, and if it actually manages to move past its rather obvious starting point, it could get quite good? Maybe?

*makes wobbly hand gesture*

I dunno, what did you think?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Right, what's going on in 2009 then?

Rob Self-Pierson is blogging walks around Britain by the full moon

DC Comics are giving away a free download of issue one of Bill Willingham's excellent 'Fables' comic.

Swanpool Beach, in the depth of winter, has become home to the "quirky" ice cream (they used the quotes, not me). I didn't get round to finding out the exact scale of quirk used, as I was walking my mum's dogs, and they got bored, but I shall certainly try and find out at a later date.

Ooh, ooh, and I am talking to BBC 4 about doing a literary adaptation, which I am extremely excited about. Only a one-off, but it will involve large cuffs, drinking, rudeness about actors and quite possibly flintlocks. Did I say I was extremely excited? Because I am.