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.