Thursday, November 24, 2011


After a day's hovering between feeling quite sick, then nearly all right, then quite sick again (I am now beginning to suspect my children's nursery down the road of using childcare as a mere research arm of a startlingly successful biological weapons research lab), it was with ENORMOUS bravery that I decided to get the sleeper train into london last night, banking either feeling much better this morning, or dying quietly somewhere on a quiet siding near Exeter.

Fortunately I lived! And turned on my phone this morning to see I had a voice mail message from half eleven last night. Which, as Patroclus had gone to bed about nine-ish could only mean one thing: SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAD HAPPENED.

In fact it meant another thing: someone had accidentally dialed my phone while, it turned out, saying goodbye to someone else. The someone was a lady, the someone else was also a lady, and they were saying goodbye to each other. I didn't recognise either of their voices.

Now broadcasting the results of this illicitly recorded conversation would obviously make me worse than a News International-employed tabloid journalist, but I'm going to do it anyway, because only by listening to real conversations, picking up on their rhythms, subtext, little clues as to the characters involved and so on can you call yourself a writer. If I couldn't work out which one of these female people had called me, or at the very least what they did for a living, my entire career was going to be called into question.

LADY 1: It was lovely to meet you.
LADY 2:And you!
LADY 1:Yeah.
LADY 2:Yeah.


LADY 1: Bye then.
LADY 2: Bye.
LADY 1:Yeah.
LADY 2:Yeah.


LADY 1:Oooh!

(there follows a completely unintelligeable bit of conversation).

LADY 2: No!
LADY 1: Yeah.
LADY 2: Well.
LADY 1: Mmm.
LADY 1: Bye then.
LADY 2: Bye.
LADY 1: Yeah.
LADY 2: Bye.
LADY 1: Yeah.

After listening to this three or four times, I have concluded that Lady 1 is a spy who has just returned from the Baltic States, where she has concluded a tricky bit of espionage involving high-tech startups being funded by shadow corporations with the money being channelled through Estonia. Lady 2 is almost certainly a gardener. Possibly with one leg slightly shorter than the other. My career is safe.

Apologies to various people I was going to meet next time I was up in london, this is a bit of a tightly packed day, and at least two of the people I'm meeting are buying me food of one form or another, and thus have been moved to the top of the queue. UP YOUR GAME PRODUCERS.

EDIT: Ha, the very first thing the very first person I had a meeting with said was: 'erm, I may have accidentally left a message on your phone last night'. She was talking to her neighbour about putting the bins out. CASE CLOSED.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Producer Writes:

Re: the previous post, 'Paul' says:

Just wanted to say that not all producers are alike. On the last three projects I've developed, the writer has been paid more than the producer. FAR more. I'd say I've made 10% of what I've paid writers over the past couple of years. Now that one of those projects is complete and going out to market, I expect to make some back end - but that's after three years of keeping a business open by hook and by crook. So, yeah, some producers skin writers alive, some producers don't. Try to work with the ones who don't, is my advice.

Which is a valid point, of course, and I should say that most of the producers I've worked with have been lovely, and generous, and all that - I certainly wouldn't want to suggest all producers are out to get as much work out of writers as they can for as little as possible, although arguable that is kind of their job. Some just work in big enough companies that they're pretty much divorced from the contracts/finance side, so don't have much influence over that side of things any way.

Today, for example, I've worked on two different outlines for no money, mainly because a) I like the projects, and b) they have a good enough chance of getting made that I'm betting on it paying off. But there's a limit on how far I'm prepared to go with that. The problem is, if you had a very strict 'never work for a producer who doesn't pay you every step of the way' policy, you'd be out of work pretty quickly, I'm afraid.

Have you considered a smaller desk?

An article I wrote appeared in this week's Broadcast, but they didn't pay me for it, there doesn't seem to be any facility for comments, and it's behind a (not terribly effective to be honest) paywall, so I may as well put it up here.

One thing comedy writers in particular quickly get used to is hearing how little money there is at the start of a project.

We’re constantly being told by production companies that if we do a treatment right now, they’ll find “money for development” (they won’t); that if we do a little script polish/total rewrite, “money can be moved around to pay for it” (it can’t); or this from a producer sitting behind a desk slightly bigger than my house: “Your script shouldn’t be a sitcom, it should be a film and I absolutely have money for this right now” (he didn’t).

However, in the past few years, I’ve moved from fairly regular, if relatively low-paid, gigs in comedy and kids’ telly to developing fewer, bigger, drama projects.

Lots of these I’ve been lucky enough to develop in-house with the BBC, where people do seem to talk to one another and money arrives fairly quickly – apart from one incident where it went to another writer with a similar name, quite possibly the estate of Henry James, whose custodians I think occasionally write confused letters asking why they’re getting Bob The Builder residuals.

Sadly, Gillian Anderson never came round to my house to ask for tips on House of Mirth (or if she did, I was out).

Tragically, because not all of my projects can rely on a vast and chilling corporate behemoth dedicated to breaking the backs and minds of innocent licence fee payers, I currently have a number of drama projects in development with those efficient and nimble free-market agents known as ‘independent production companies’.

This means that although on paper I’m doing far better than I was a few years ago when I was writing for Shaun The Sheep and Green Wing (effectively a sketch show, remember), and I handed in a script in March, I’m writing this with mounting overdraft fees on a laptop whose screen only works when it’s at an angle of exactly 60 degrees to the keyboard, and a rubbery nipple where an ‘M’ key used to be.

I can’t afford to replace my laptop because the increasingly insanely detailed contracts my agent is having to deal with, often including all-in format deals for outlines that are just a couple of pages long, mean that although the money is definitely there, my relationship to it is worryingly similar to that of a Dickensian urchin to his inheritance.

Of course, the producers themselves are often scrabbling for cash (although I can’t help feeling smaller desks would help). The problem is, fewer, bigger projects means bigger gaps for writers to fall down while they wait to get paid.

Managing expectations better would help. We know this isn’t a normal job, and all self-employed people learn to manage for gaps in their income, but if producers don’t start making the prompt payment of writers a priority, I foresee a dark future where all television scripts are churned out either by people who live in bins and thus have no outgoings, or the JulianFellowesBot 3000. And I really don’t want to see any more series about footmen.

➤James Henry has realised with a dark and terrible irony that a) he has possibly written this for no money; and b) he is currently working on a BBC4 project that includes footmen

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Have you got any production company addresses I could send spec scripts to?

Lyvit asks:

"Hi James, Have you got any production company addresses I could send spec scripts to? I've tried the Writersroom but would like to give my work a better chance."

Hmm, I do have some production company addresses, but nothing you couldn't get by using Google. Also, it depends what kind of scripts you're writing - are they comedy, comedy-drama, animation, children's drama? There are literally ONE BILLION production companies, whose addresses range from Death Star-like edifices of chrome and glass, to a bloke in his flat who uses his cat as a PA and script editor. Bigger doesn't mean better, by the way. Nibsy is renowned as the best in the business.

So here's a thing to do: look for a show that's along the same sort of lines as the script you've written. IMDB it, look for the production company, and the name of the producer (don't worry about the exec producer, who usually operates on a higher spiritual plane, and often can't even see writers, on so high a level do their molecules vibrate).

The producer is the person to send it to, usually via the address of the production company on their website, although double check this, as Working Title didn't update the address on their website for about a year, which caused some bewilderment last time I went for a meeting, although it did lead to a hilarious Richard Curtis-style last minute dash by taxi, which I had to share with some posh bloke whose surname was Bumme, a man with no sense of smell, and Julia Roberts. No I didn't.

DO NOT send your script to a load of people who work in the same building, thinking 'well, at least one of them will read it', as the chances are, eventually all the people will read it, mention it to each other, then realise they haven't all discovered some interesting new writer on their own (the best case scenario), and be cross.

The difficulty isn't so much in getting your script read, although if you are expecting to hear back by the end of the week you will be disappointed. Most producers are desperate to find new talent with their own individual voice, even if the first thing they try to do is try and bend that voice into some totally unsuitable new show they've devised about a nineteen thirties milliner who travels though time to solve hat-crime. The difficulty is in getting it to a producer who isn't actively evil, who likes your voice, and appreciates you can a) tell a proper story, and b) tell it in a matter that is wholly your own. And c), has some money, but I can't help with that.

Make sure you take some biscuits for Nibsy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New sport.

Conversation with daughter, who is now three years old, with a badge to prove it.

ME: How was nursery today then?
DAUGHTER: DYLAN PUSHED ME OVER! And then Henry pushed me over.
ME: Did you push them over back?
ME: Okay then.
DAUGHTER: And then I pushed over some babies.

Slight pause.

ME: Hmm.

Daughter thinks about it.

DAUGHTER: Actually it was only one baby.
ME: (relieved) Oh okay, fine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lana Del Ray - 'Blue Jeans'

Good LORD do I like this song (via the Guardian's Tim Lusher). I only hope her plain looks don't count against her, the music industry can be a harsh place.

EDIT: annoying, the video's off the side a bit, and altering the 'width' bit in HTML doesn't seem to help.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fewer, Bigger = Hungrier, Poorer?

Turns out you really should be careful what you write on Twitter, if for no other reason that after whingeing about the perilous financial implications of being a self-employed scriptwriter, I've now been asked to write a short piece for Broadcast Magazine, which just goes to show.

Here's the thing though, after moving back home to Cornwall after a brief excursion to Canterbury and then Shepherd's Bush via the estate of @Patroclus, my portfolio seems to have drifted from multiple, small commissions in the arena of comedy and kids' telly, to larger, but fewer development commissions along more drama-ish lines. So the former = writing lots of little scripts for already-established shows that have a good chance of making it onto the telly, while the latter = fewer but longer scripts that may never see the light of day, but are at least about characters and settings I devised myself.

Now on paper, the latter move should be making me slightly more money, which is to say about two and a half grand per year more than I was making behind the counter at a bookshop, with about the same proportion of staring into the distance and sighing.

But it's not working out that way, mainly because of the huge lag between handing a finished script in, and it being accepted/greenlit for production (for the non-scriptwriters, script payments are broadly broken down into two stages: first half when you accept the job, second half when the final draft of the script is accepted by the person who commissioned it). And the lag is getting longer and longer, which leads to situations like my being owed approximately eleven grand for a script I handed over in March, but with no sign of any cash on the horizon. And although I have plenty of other projects on the go, most are spending a lot of time stalled at similar stages. Sadly, and I've checked this, there are no charities specifically set up to pay writers' overdraft charges while they wait for cheques to come in, so although I might be owed enough money to cover three months, say, of writing outlines, concepts and even entire scripts on spec, I actually seem to be losing money, which is almost entirely the opposite of my business plan.

Traditionally, writers like to blame EVIL PRODUCERS for this sort of thing, or LAZY AGENTS, but I don't think this is the case. It seems more like a case of broadcasters being very careful with their budgets, with a lot of production companies chasing fewer and fewer slots. So.... dunno, any other writers having the same problems? Or producers or agents who'd like to give a bit more context? All comments gratefully received, and may help me write a better short article without looking like a tit.

Right, I'm taking the chiddlers out for a walk now. I expect your answers ON MY DESK.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

OK Go vs Muppets

I quite like this, although I reckon if I'd done the video, I'd have started with the Muppets nicking various bits of OK Go videos then being caught in the act, leading to a chase through all the other videos (and maybe lots of other famous pop videos). But no-one ever asks me how to do ANYTHING.

Via Bleeding Cool

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Two Marks archive footage

As sourced by the ever-magnificent Louis Barfe, here's some lovely archive footage of Mark Heap (Green Wing's 'Statham' and Spaced's 'Brian'), in a previous incarnation as fifty per cent of double act 'The Two Marks' (along with Mark Sagan, who is now, if Dan Owen is to be believed, a 'Jungian therapist and analytical psychologist'), on gameshow '3-2-1' in 1987. The man can juggle.

Monday, July 11, 2011

'Tone' part 5 - Writers

Couple of writers have been kind enough to get back to me on 'tone'.

James Moran (Severence, Doctor Who, Primeval, Torchwood) says:

I always treat it as "what *kind* of horror/scifi/chicken-snuff story is it" - for example, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica are both TV science fiction shows. But Firely is a fun, action-adventure show with plenty of laughs and witty banter amongst the dangerous situations, whereas BSG is a dark, gritty, serious show with parallels to the recent war in Iraq. Basically, is it a funny show or a serious show. Or both. Or whatever. I usually put a line or two in near the start to make it clear what sort of thing it is, and usually mention a couple of shows that, while they may have different setups and live in different genres, will have a similar tone or feel to this one. Innit.

And Ben Teasdale (Coming Up, Spine Chillers, Twisted Tales) says:

Isn't it also somehow a kind of CONTRACT between the writer and the audience? You set up in the first few scenes the kinds of flavours and emotional notes you're going to be playing with - like the emotional DNA of the piece - and then the audience know "where they are" with it. It's like setting out your stall - people know what they're signing up for.

And then, while people want and expect to be "surprised" in terms of the actual Things What Happen, they DON'T, as a rule, want to be surprised by a sudden change of "tone". It's like changing the RULES of the thing - the emotional equivalent of gravity suddenly working in the wrong direction, or people whipping out blaster guns in the middle of a historical scene. If you've set that up as part of the "rules" up top, people are fine with it - but not if it's late enough to cause a disjunct.

For me the prime exemplar of how to lay down tone swiftly and elegantly is the pre-credits tease of the first ep of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Boy and girl break into school at night - some sexual goofing around - he's pretending to scare her, it's funny but with an edge that there MIGHT be menace lurking there somewhere - then boom, switcheroo, she bares her fangs and it turns out she's the vamp and kills him. Pretty much all the flavours of the next seven seasons of it are right there in those first few minutes, so we trust it whenever it cleaves to them, and when it doesn't - it requires work to win our trust again (cf. the Spike/Buffy rape stuff).

You CAN do jolting things with tone, but it tends to put you in the territory of arthouse stuff - eg. the end of There Will Be Blood, where it all comes down to *SPOILER ALERT* a guy smacking another guy's head in with a bowling ball. For me that's a gear shift - like going from 2001: A Space Odyssey to A Clockwork Orange - but it kind of works because it's a self-consciously arty film, and the THEME (violence and power) holds it together.

Friday, July 08, 2011

'Tone' part 4 - a BBC script editor speaks

Had this email from Madeleine Sinclair, BBC script editor on South Riding and Robin Hood, as well as, in another incarnation, Primeval. I've also been working with her for some time developing my BBC4 eighteenth century comedy/drama thing.

Maddie says:

"I'd say tone is really the feel of the piece - it's what sets expectations really. The tone of the script helps you to understand what to expect from it - and so when something leaps out that feels unexpected (and not in a good way), it's often because it's tonally not a fit.

(An example that springs to mind for some reason... is when I found myself watching Deathproof at a festival in Amsterdam... I sat down in the midnight hours, a little worse for wear, thrilled to be treated to an outdoor rom-com watching experience with all my pals... I saw Kurt Russell (and was hoping for Goldie Hawn) in a rednecky sort of bar, flirting with a barmaid who I think may have been wearing his cowboy hat. He offered to give her a ride home... So far, so good. She even satin the back of his car... All very chivalrous... He asks her if shewants to go left or right... She makes the mistake of giving the wronganswer and before you know it, her brains are dripping down the window.

As the colour drained from my face and I reached for a sick bag, I realised I had made the error of misjudging the tone of this film! All the signals were there for rom-com fun and suddenly, I was inhorror-ville. (Yes, I'd got the genre and style wrong too - but it feltrom-com like in tone if you ask me (for those few minutes anyway)... And then suddenly blood and guts a go-go).

However, if I'd been aware of the title, my expectations would have been set... and had I not been so inebriated, I probably would have questioned why a field full of blokes were so eager to watch it! Guess the point I'm trying to make is how important tone is in setting expectations - and what can happen when you misjudge it!

Establishing the tone of something is crucial really in defining what it is and how it should be executed - before every drama begins shooting, there's always a big tonal meeting where the director (informed by the writer of course!) sets out his vision and all the HoDs talk about how they're going to achieve this... (Sure you know all this but just thought it might help in your exploration of what the flip 'tone' really means).

Tone is the defining characteristic of a piece really - you can have two very different dramas about the same subject that are differentiated by their tone... Bad example but Waterloo Road vs. Teachers... Same territory, very different shows, very different attitudes. In fact, attitude is probably another useful way to think about tone - you can have two cop shows (same genre, same subject) but their attitudes can differ hugely and that, I'd say, was down to tone."

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

'Tone' - part 3

I can't comment on my own blog at the moment, as Opera seems to be playing up, so here comes another comment turned into an actual blog post.

gillpea said...

"One thing is niggling me about your cooking analogy. You're employed as a scriptwriter so the comparison should really be on a professional level. If I went to a restaurant I would expect the chef to be able to say their dish is 'delicious' or 'exciting', because it's their job to make it that. I think you writing a spec is closer to the chef deciding what dish he wants to try to perfect, before he starts trying different ingredients/methods etc. And at that point, it's rare for most chefs to be working without support from previous chefs. Which is like you saying 'this spec is Spooks crossed with Animal Hospital'."

I quite like the 'X crossed with Y' setup, as a means of selling your idea, although I think it's a bit frowned upon if you do it too blatantly. Maybe it's best to try and subtly lead the person you're pitching to come to that conclusion themselves. Like 'Inception'.

Re. the 'delicious' or 'exciting' thing - see, I think it's a bit presumptuous to give that sort of description before the actual script has been read (bear in mind we're talking about outlines here, where the actual script is yet to be written. It's a bit like when dads say 'I know a joke, and it's a really funny one!' Because that's up to the listener to determine once they've heard it. More specific descriptions of how you see the final product, be it script or meal, are probably more balanced and helpful.

MEAL: I wouldn't say 'this meal is going to be delicious!' But I might say 'this meal is going to be a bit more coriander-y than most people like, but the sauce is a bit richer/darker than I normally do it. which should balance things out a bit'.

OUTLINE: I wouldn't say 'this crime drama is going to be really exciting and dramatic!' because, well, you'd hope it would be anyway. But I might say 'the show has a murky, noirish feel, although its rural setting allows a fresh take on the old noir tropes'.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

'Tone' - part 2

Interesting and useful comment from Phill Baron on the previous post, which I thought deserved promoting to a post of its own. Phil says:

"Is the tone not the limited range of emotions you sell to people in order to get them to watch/commission?

So the genre might be Western, but the tone is a lighthearted comedy - you expect to chuckle along without having to really think about it. If it was described a hilarious comedy then you'd expect to laugh out loud most of the way through. Gentle comedy means it's not that funny and might be a bit sad or just sweet ... and so on.

For me, not being able to understand the tone usually means the events of the story require you to lurch wildly from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.

So if you were chuckling along to a Richard Curtis comedy and suddenly a bomb goes off and there's 20 minutes of weeping while people pick bits of Hugh Grant out of their hair in graphic, unpleasant, nauseating detail, then it goes back to a gentle posh-English rom-com ... it's a bit weird. Tonally, what is it? How are you supposed to react? How do you explain that to people?

"It's a warm-hearted, gentle comedy about a struggling, family-owned Yorkshire biscuit factory." lets you know what kind of emotional range you're going to appeal to.

"It's a warm-hearted, gentle comedy about rape." doesn't.

Thinking about it, does the tone then help place the show on a channel at a specific time/day?

I might be completely wrong about this (and I'll happily admit I don't know nothing about nothing) but maybe if producers can't see the tone it's because there are two elements which don't sit comfortably together or perhaps aren't integrated properly?

You know, like 'Sean of the Dead' is funny first, horror second with the comedy poking fun at the horror bits so there's nothing really scary in it. It doesn't go funny, scary, funny, scary in random bursts.

Not saying your outlines are doing that, of course; but maybe it's worth looking at?"

Which might be it, actually. I think the outlines I've been suggesting have relying heavily on the producer being easily able to see how all the fun stuff (stories, basically) can flow naturally from the clash between the two conflicting elements - whether they're comedy and horror, as with the 'Sean of the Dead' example, or, dunno, supernatural and romance, say. Not that these are elements that have never gone together before, but I've probably been expecting producers to connect the dots themselves to too great an extent. Realistic if they're familiar with genre, and a pleasing number are, but most aren't.

Also, I think yes, the 'tone' thing is very much about what time/place in the schedules the proposed show would have. I used to think 'why can't I just write the show how I want, and you work out where to put it?' - well actually I still think that, but I suppose that's not terribly helpful for the person who's trying to help you put the thing together.

Hmm. Cheers Phill.

Monday, July 04, 2011


Here's part of an email I got last week from a producer, about an outline I've been working on for a supernatural themed show set here in Cornwall:

'While I love the combination of spooky and funny and there’s absolutely no reason they can’t be combined (and have been successfully before) I feel that the tones are just too conflicting.' 

Which is a note I get wayyyy too often. Tones are either 'conflicting' or (worse, I think), 'confusing'. Often I'll meet a producer, having worked on an outline that defines a series' format, genre, central characters, future episodes and so on, and be met with the question 'yes, but what's the show's tone?'. And sadly, the response 'I don't know, I haven't written it yet' doesn't seem to be acceptable, which is a shame, because I like to write the way I cook: have a rough idea of what you want to make, find an appropriate playlist to bliss out to while you get on with, chuck in soya sauce/coriander/jokes about eighteenth century words for 'prostitute' and see what you end up with. So I tend to avoid describing a prospective show's tone altogether - which doesn't really work; in this case, the producer had just picked it up from my brief descriptions of how I saw the main character, the sort of stories I wanted to tell and so on. So not directly mentioning tone isn't going to get you out of it - you're still going to be asked. And in fact, whilst I was writing THIS VERY POST, I had another email on the same subject about a different outline. WELCOME TO MY WONDERFUL WORLD OF REJECTION:

Thanks so much for this.  I've had a good think about it and after lots of head scratching I've decided I don't think it's a goer.  So sorry to do this to you again.  It's partly because I know there are at least two other (REDACTED) ideas going about - including one by (MORE FAMOUS WRITER THAN ME).  So it's a competitive area but I also can't quite see the tone.

One problem is, I'm not entirely sure what they mean by 'tone' in the first place. Part of the problem is that 'tone' seems such a nebulous term; is a genre, or style? So I asked various telly people on The Great Hivemind Twitter what they mean when they talk about a script or outline's 'tone'.

@rosyposymagosy Interesting topic b/c I like(want) to write things where the subject and the tone clash (sad comedy) so wording becomes key. Exp: Meandering sentences, words out of Jane Austen era = more serious. Jaunty exclamations and obscene adj.'s =comedy.

@EddieRobson I think "tone" is a consistency thing. Is it all going to feel of one piece? I do think it's an issue with comedy-drama, where some scenes may be light, others heavy.

@EllardEnt (Andrew Ellard, Red Dward associate producer, IT Crowd script editor) Tempted to say "Whatever suits them at the time"! Depends on context but mostly the same as the rest of us, I guess.

@msmaddiep I suspect it's not dissimilar to when tone is used for voice. Is it bitchy? Snarky? Optimistic? Naive? Although that gets into another question of how you convey the voice of a whole show. Think it's often the cumulative voices of the lead characters, particularly the protagonist.

@ScriptwritingUK (Danny Stack) re: tone. I'd say they're talking about genre: "what is this thing? a crime drama? It reads like a Cornish dramedy!"

@kmpharwood (Kate Harwood, BBC, Controller, Series & Serials) Is it how you want it received? Luther is a crime show with a operatic tone; Silent Witness is a crime show with a gritty tone.

... all of which narrows it down a bit, suggesting that 'tone' in this context is really a further definition of something that's already been placed in genre, that helps the people commissioning it work out where and when the final result can be broadcast. So it's the partly style, partly sub-genre. Fine, you've outlined an idea for a spy thriller, but is it glossy, glamorous, fast-paced (Spooks), or subdued and downbeat (Smiley's People)?

I've always thought it was a bit presumptuous to describe a script's tone before it's completed - to continue the cooking analogy, you wouldn't tell people you're making something 'delicious' and 'exciting', because, well, it might not end up that way. But you should probably have some idea where your meal is going to be on the scale between, say, 'comfortingly bland' and 'spicy', and your description of tone should probably encompass this. So it's a question of refining exactly what I mean by tone, which I can do.

Or I could just stop doing outlines altogether and write everything on spec.

ADVANTAGES: the tone is right there on the page, and everyone knows where they stand. Also, writing is, kind of, you know, what you're supposed to be doing.

DISADVANTAGES: writing for no money is almost exactly the opposite of my business plan. Also, you can spend a month writing a spec pilot for a series about, say, modern-day witches, only to find every bugger and their cat is doing the same.

SO IN CONCLUSION: I was financially and emotionally better off when I worked in a bookshop. And there was free coffee.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Because my parents are SELFISHLY away on holiday, I find myself looking after two small children for the whole of Tuesday. On closer inspection, both chidren turn out to be mine, which rules out putting them on ebay, small wicker basket down the river Fal river etc.

Instead, I drive to Kimberley park, which is a good park, and park the car right next to the park (Editor's not: too many 'parks' please amend before publishing).

Heaving both children into double pram, I put my keys into my fleece pocket temporarily, which turns out to be more temporary than I anticipated when they slither out and straight down a drain.

'Ooooooh! says the Girl One interestedly.

I DO NOT PANIC, because on closer examination, the keys are just within arms' length. Although sadly, the grille is too narrow for me to get my big calloused writer's hand through, and the Girl One's head is too big for me lower her down, then meet me where the drain meets the sea. I actually did consider this.

I STILL DO NOT PANIC. Instead, I walk calmly to the garage round the corner, procure from them a piece of wire, return to the drain, fashion end of wire into hook, retrieve keys, return wire to garage, give them a sum of money equivalent to a working class 'pint, and continue calmly on my way.

Conclusion: I AM BATMAN.

Monday, June 06, 2011

You can use the first class lounge though, which is nice.

On Tuesday night, I will be getting the sleeper train to the capital for a bumload of meetings Wednesday, for which I have assured my agent I will be 'the charmingest motherflipper in London'. Note that I have been rewatching The Wire recently, and also that I didn't actually say that.

It's been a soiled dove's age since I was last in London (I don't know why all the swears, sorry), mainly because the Boy One has only recently started nursery all day Weds like his sister, making that the day I can go away and not leave Patroclus trying to run a copywriting agency whilst simultaneously looking after two small children who are constantly doing poos wees and sicks. I mean, she does have employees, but they are perfectly capable of sorting out their own poos wees and sicks, it's in their contract.

Anyway, I like getting the sleeper up, although you have to bear in mind the whole thing when the conductor person politely asks if you want a wake-up call at 7am is completely pointless, as the train gets in at about 5,15am, to the following station tannoy announcement:


... which works as a perfectly serviceable wakeup call all on its own, I find, in the sense that I scream 'ARGHWHATWAS THAT?!' and roll off the narrow bed onto the narrow floor, by which point I am almost completely awake. Then: meetings.

(I would be arranging to meet lots of lovely London people for coffees, but sadly it's looking my schedule leaves me about ten minutes in the middle of the day, then I have to get straight on the return train home again, booooooo)

I was going to write some stuff about pitching ideas, but my son has just done a big poo and REFUSES to sort it out himself.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I done wrote a spec sitcom script

'Spec' is short for 'speculative', which means no-one commissioned you to write it, or probably even showed the slightest amount of interest in it as an idea, but you went ahead and wrote it anyway, because you're a writer and THAT'S WHAT YOU DO. Also I need to keep my agent happy, and giving him a shiny new spec script every now and then is a cheap way of doing this, like when I give my son a ricecake, and the slow smile that spreads across his face melts my heart as I think 'hahaha you fool, they were in a 3 for 2, and probably stale!'

Anyway, the last time I wrote a spec script (actually co-wrote with @Patroclus), I punted it up to various London types, then got the next train up to see how it had landed (this is how scriptwriters talk when we get excited, it's sad really).

PRODUCER 1: We loved it!
ME: Really?
PRODUCER 1: Seriously, we thought it was great. Timely, smart, funny (those were all @Patroclus's scenes). We'd love you to leave it with us, and maybe we could start sending it out to a few people.
ME: Hurrah!
PRODUCER: Although, erm, we haven't actually got any money at the moment.

I love it when producers say 'we haven't got any money'. When they say it, I like to take a long lingering look around their expensive London offices, the various members of staff in expensive glasses scurrying around with their iPads, and the gold-plated water coolers that dispense only Icelandic glacier juice, and then look back at them, with a cold, Paddington Bear-style stare.

Next meeting:

PRODUCER 2: It's not really working for us.
ME: Ahem, I think you mean 'we loved it!!!!!!'
PRODUCER 2: Not really, In fact, for a comedy, we couldn't see where the comedic element was supposed to be.
ME: Right, fine.
PRODUCER 2: At all.
PRODUCER 2: We still love you though. Kissy kissy.
ME: FINE. Kissy kissy.

Producer 2 is, genuinely, lovely, and it's far better for someone to tell you outright that your script doesn't work for them, than to show polite interest, then faff around for weeks trying to think of a nice way to say 'no'. The nicest way to say 'no' is just to say 'no'. Nicely.

Final meeting:

PRODUCER 3: We loved it!
ME: Mmm hmm.
PRODUCER 3: We had a read through, the whole development team went for it, we'd love to pick it up.
ME: Riiiiiiiiiiiight.
PRODUCER 3: If you get your agent to talk to us, we can discuss money!

Pause, while I blink for a bit. Eventually:

ME: (excited) MONEYS!

We have a few more chats, I do a little rewrite, as per their (intelligent, helpful) notes. Later I get word that the head of that particular production company read the script, hated it, and the whole thing is off.

Anyway, I'm sure this time it will all be different.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Ma famille, and the famille of VisualPersist had arranged to go for a picnic! Like all British picnics, our location (a playground near Argal Reservoir) ticked all the boxes of:

1. Being a bit cold.
2. Being near fields that smelled faintly, but distinctly, of manure.
3. Being, after about ten minutes, rained on.

So we upped to Trebah which is a large garden type place with a coffee bit outside but under umbrellas where we could mange our picnic with discretion. All very nice, and then we went back to the car where I found, tucked under my windscreen wiper, A NOTE!

And not just just any note. It was A CROSS NOTE. What I had done, you see, is just park the car in the middle of the carpark. This, I realise with hindsight, aided by THE CROSS NOTE, was the act of a buffoon.


If you can't read the note, I have quoted it below, Note there are two paragraphs, in different handwriting, which I have tried to replicate by quoting one in italics, the other in bold.

great work on Blocking us in thankyou! Could you not see that parking Behind us would not allow us to leave! Whats wrong with the rest of the carpark?

Having to remove the rope to actually leave the car park is not something we wanted to do to such a nice area!!

In short then, I had parked behind a car which had some rope in front of it, and in order to vacate the carpark, after presumably howling and sobbing for an hour, the blockees had been forced to move the rope.

But then it got worse. Because my wife Patroclus who has a far higher Perception skill than me turned over THE NOTE.

THE NOTE had been written on the only writing material the blockees had available, which appeared to be some sort of sexy wrapping paper! Containing words like: Submission Thrill Pleasure Desire Excitement Temptation!

None of which are words you expect to run across in a country garden, no matter how nice the coffee bit with umbrellas. Patroclus then proved her high Perception roll was no fluke by declaring both specimens of handwriting to be 'feminine'. Which means I have a far more thorough apology to prepare than I had previously considered, and here it comes now:


Patroclus does not think that just because you are both ladies, and your cross note has been written on sexy wrapping paper, it follows that you are both sexy lesbetarians. I however am more worldly, and realise you are like Gertrude Jekyll* and Vita Sackville-Baggins (but younger and sexier, probably called Tilly and Eve) and spent a good morning browsing sexy Cornwall boutiques and saying things like 'But I mustn't!' and 'Tilly, you're so naughty! and then decided you just had time to dash to a nice garden place (with a good outside coffee bit with umbrellas) before it was time to go home and be all languid and stuff.

AND THEN SOME IDIOT BOXED YOU IN! I imagine you reacted thusly:

TILLY: A car is Behind us! However can we get out?

Ten minutes later:

EVE (timidly, Eve is probably the timid one, in fact in the early hours of the morning she sometimes doubts she is really a lesbetarian at all, but Tilly seems terribly keen): We could remove the rope to actually leave the car park?
EVE: (wistfully) I do wish they had not parked Behind us and Blocked us in.
TILLY: But they did park Behind us and Block us in Eve, and that is all there is to it.
EVE: Could they not see that parking Behind us would not allow us to leave?
TILLY: (coldly) Clearly, Eve, they could not. You are a goose sometimes.
EVE: (meekly) Yes Tilly.
TILLY: Now what are the words of the day according to our favourite sexy boutique?
EVE: I don't remember, Tilly.
TILLY: They are Submission Thrill Pleasure Desire Excitement Temptation! Honestly Eve, sometimes I despair.
EVE: Is 'Despair' a word of the day?
TILLY: No Eve.

Long pause.

EVE: We're going to have to move the rope, aren't we?

Anyway, again, my apologies.

* I may be thinking of Violet Trefusis.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Development Executives

Recently I had a meeting with a development executive for a medium-size but up-and-coming production company. Development executives are the filter that stop screenwriters leaping into production companies, running up to actual producers and shouting 'Let's do the show right here in the barn!', whilst stealing all the biscuits and trying to use the free wi-fi to look at X-rated Thundercats fanfiction.

The meeting seemed to go okay, unlike the last time I had a meeting with some development executives at a (slightly larger and more successful) production company, where we all got on very well right up until the point where they actually said 'Right, well, are there any of our shows you fancy writing for?' I hadn't really expected this, having gone in specifically to pitch a few ideas of my own, and so quickly looked around at the posters on the walls, only to realise I didn't actually like any of their shows.

'Erm,' I said, 'not really'. Instantly I felt a disturbance in the writing force, as though thousands of agents suddenly looked up and rolled their eyes. 'Hahaha that's okay, obviously!' they said, but the remaining thirty seconds of the meeting were, I remember, frosty.

Anyway, this wasn't like that, this was a good meeting, and I followed up with an email with five or six half-page concepts for series, one of which grabbed the Development Executive INSTANTLY, so that within a week, we'd set up a meeting with a major commissioner at the BBC. One nice sign that we thinking along the same lines was when we simultaneously revealed our choice of actor for the main part - only for it turn out we were thinking of the same person.

DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE: And you say you know him?
ME: (smugly) Let's just say I've written for him, and we're both on Twitter.
ME: Not really, no. But I'm going to ask him on Twitter, and let's see what happens next.

He didn't get back to me, obviously, and the BBC turned the concept down. None of which mattered that much, because Development Executive and I both realised there was enough of a hook in the concept we could muck about with it a bit and start sending it around to other places with a reasonable expectation of at least getting a treatment commissioned.

Then I got another phone call.

ME: OMG! That's awful! How does this affect MEEEEEEEEEEE!

Because development executives are like pets: they're soft and cute, make funny 'yipping' noises when they're happy, and the moment you think you're building up a long-lasting and emotionally fulfilling relationship with one, your emails get bounced back with an attachment telling you your new friend's suddenly had to go and live on a farm with lots of other development executives, where they're all very very happy together, and spend their time focus grouping outlines for comedy dramas written by a team of rabbits and voles.

What I could have done was take the outline back and start sending it to other production companies. But because MY HEART RULES MY HEAD (*makes a face like a Kray Twin*) I said the Development Executive could keep the idea and start sending it around again when she gets back on her feet. In my head it's like giving a drowning man a lifejacket. In reality, it's more like giving a drowning man a pack of tissues and saying 'There you are, these absorb water'.

I haven't heard from her since. She's probably living on a farm now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A True Story

If you happen to be in Turo sometime before April 26th and I see no reason why you wouldn't, there's a shipping container plonked down on Lemon Quay (the main open space where they have farmers' markets). In fact, there are fifteen shipping containers plonked down all over Cornwall, but the one in Truro is special, because it has a poster/short story combination by MEEEEEEE in it, as part of Cornwall Design Season put together by Rob Self-Pierson

Here below is what it looks like, although if you actually go inside the shipping container and point an iPhone style device at it, an actor will apparently read the words aloud to you, in words.

However, if you can't make it to Lemon Quay in Truro before the 26th April, you can read my contribution here It is a short story I wrote about a formative theatrical experience I SHALL SAY NO MORE.

Anyway, loads of time and effort has gone into making my, and all the other bits of writing look quite quite lovely. I like the way with my one, the designer tried to make sure the actual writing took up as little of the space as possible, filling the vast majority of the poster with a single quote mark, which I think is some sort of statement re: designers' feelings towards writers which are apparently comprised principally of hatred. This aside, it still looks nice.

Monday, April 04, 2011

One good reason...

(includes very mild CAMPUS spoilers) get as many spec scripts under your belt as possible is that when you've started to get your name known a bit, at least by the twelve people who might give you work, those producers who have a show in development and are looking for new writers are going to start asking for sample scripts. And they're going to want to see something at least vaguely in the same format.

So unless you want to write exactly the same thing over and over again (and some writers do), it's handy to have a sample scripts, from your own original ideas, that cover at least the basic formats. Of course, sometimes you have to interpret what they want a little, like what I done today.

PRODUCER: Hi, I'm looking for new writers for a new kids' show, which is sort of a half hour comedy thing, with puppets. Do you have a sample script I could take a look at?

I have a quick flick through my recent scripts. The latest is the thing I'm doing for BBC4 is this 18th century adaptation, filled with whores*, booze and slapstick (mainly comprised of the protagonist falling over whilst in the middle of booze). It is wildly unsuitable. But it is also, I reckon, quite funny. And half an hour long.


So we'll see how that goes.

* In other whorish news, I was pleased to discover that a scene I wrote for the Campus pilot which involves a discussion of 18th century terms for prostitutes, but was cut out for length, has made it back into the revised episode one. Huzzah! So a big week for Georgian whores, which is nice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Working at home.

5.00 am: Alarm goes off. THIS IS MY CHANCE TO WORK BEFORE THE CHILDREN AWAKE. I trudge to front room to retrieve laptop.
5.02 am: Cat begins noisily retching outside door.
5.10 am: I open Final Draft, and type first sentence in current draft of 18th century comedy drama adaptation, introducing Zombie Samuel Johnson.
5.11 am: 6 month old son begins bibbling in next room.
5.12 am: Working day ends.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Coo, the 'Canimals' project I was working on with Aardman with some other lovely writers now has a bit of footage up on YouTube! This is the sequence we saw in the first writer's meeting that made us all lean forward and go 'oooooooh'.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Meetings in Television

My two and a half year old daughter has come up with an excellent way of making a sentence, when you're not entirely sure of every specific word you need, by padding out the excess with the words 'WUBWUBWUBWUB'.

Hence: 'want toast and jam WUBWUBWUBWUB warm milk please'. This does make it sound like I'm sharing the house with a tiny dubstep producer, but it's a technique I've started using in my meetings, mainly because my last few meetings have all been WEIRD.

Seriously, writers are always fretting about how to scrub up properly and maintain the illusion of being a functional human being in meetings, but I'm starting to think producers need to work on this just as much.


Producer takes me through achingly trendy office (all exposed industrial space and a Grifter nailed to one wall) to meeting room. Although it's probably called 'WOMBZONE', what with its reliance on organically shaped beanbags and tables that look like melted Airfix kits.

PRODUCER: So hey, read your stuff, like your stuff, think we can work together-

Producer sits down on an organically-shaped beanbag that's clearly about a foot lower than he expected, and very slowly rolls off the beanbag and onto the floor. Fantastically, he keeps his iPad held aloft the entire time.

PRODUCER: -get you a coffee?



I am having a meeting with a comedy producer, to discuss a spec pilot sitcom script Patroclus and I have written together. It is set in the tech industry, although we've been very careful to make sure the tech stuff is at a minimum, you don't really need to know anything about technology to understand it, it's just really about people behaving like dicks. But, you know, amusingly.


(note, this meeting was less than a year ago)

ME: It's, erm.... seriously, how do you not know what Facebook is? I mean, I don't like it particularly, but-

PRODUCER: Is it like Twitter?

ME: (cautiously) Ish?

PRODUCER: The runner uses Twitter. That script you sent me is all about tech stuff, so I thought you might be able to tell me what Face book is.


ME: You do know I came up from Cornwall for this.

PRODUCER: I don't really get all this geeky stuff. You need to take it out of your scripts, I could probably do something with them then.

ME: Right, only the new script I sent you? What Patroclus and did was, we made sure although it is set in the tech industry, we kept the tech stuff is at a minimum, you don't really need to know anything about technology to understand it, it's just really about people behaving like dicks.

PRODUCER: I didn't understand a word of it, there was all techy stuff in it. You should send me some ideas. Couple of pages, one paragraph each. WE SHOULD TOTALLY DO STUFF TOGETHER.

Later I email the producer some ideas. They don't get back to me. A month later I send some more. I still haven't heard anything.


ME: Right, so, the outline's for 6x60 minutes episodes, it's kind of a crime drama, but not murder of the week sort of thing, more like the crappy investigation jobs real detectives have to do - minor embezzlement, divorce cases, that sort of thing, but the cases always spin off into more elaborate stories, Kind of funny, slightly surreal sometimes. So there's bits of ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN in there, BIG LEBOWSKI, kind of a Chandleresque vibe. But with room to go into slightly spooky urban territory, there's one story where I want to draw on J-Horror, like THE RING, DARK WATER, that kind of thing.

Long pause.

PRODUCER: So this is a sitcom?

ME: Erm... no. Sixty minute crime drama? There will be funny bits in it, but it's really more-

PRODUCER: What's it like living in Cornwall? My partner and I are thinking of relocating.

ME: Is this why you got me up here?

PRODUCER: Partly, yes.

I panic.



This last bit didn't happen, sadly.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Literally Curtains

I have a problem with any element of home improvement/DIY, being as it often involves measuring, which is a mostly reality-based procedure, and therefore something I have great difficulty with.

I tried to measure up and purchase a curtain pole/curtain combo before, and the procedure went like this:

1. Carefully measure width of window.
2. Go to DIY place, realise I have left measurement behind.
3. Guess approximate length of curtain pole I will need.
4. Get home, realise I have bought, essentially, a small piece of kindling. And no curtains.
5. Return to DIY store, with measurements this time, buy much longer curtain pole and strangely short curtains.
6. Get home, realise I have measured width in inches, length in centimetres.
7. Realise that I also wrote down the inches as centremetres, and the centimetres in inches.
8. Buy blind instead.

Yesterday I went into daughter's room, pulled on the blind cord (don't worry, the cord is securely hooked up so no-one other than me can get tangled on it, I watch the CBeebies thing about alpaca health and safety inspectors, it's bloody good actually) and the whole thing collapsed.

After some time spent looking one of our eight tape measures (if I can't find the piece of technical equipment I need immediately, I go and buy another one, hence our home's collection of one thousand Phillips head screwdrivers, I might build an ossuary out of them one day, like that one in Greece, although I'm not sure how I'll fix them into the wall, think about it) I measure up the window. This time I am very careful to use centimetres.

We go to Falmouth's premiere Europhobe bargain department store (no European commissioners are hanging in effigy near the entrance this time, which is nice) and Patroclus buys some curtains. And linings. We have a curtain pole from the last time it all went wrong. I don't know what happened to the curtains.

One the way home in the car:

ME: (quietly) I was in the wrong room.

Indeed. What I had done is walk out of my daughter's room, go downstairs, find the tape measure, go back upstairs into my son's room, and measure the window there. IF YOU SAW THIS IN A SITCOM YOU WOULD SNORT IN DISGUST AND TURN IT OFF.

Anyway, it turned out that despite son's window being half the size of daughter's window, Patroclus had panicked and bought curtains that were way too big, and in fact our combined problems with reality/being outside/doing things had cancelled each other out and it was all fine. THIS IS WHY MARRIAGE WORKS, PEOPLE.

Anyway, I then found a spare bit from the last broken blind that I had carefully put in my man-drawer and thus was exactly the bit I needed (in your FACE McIntyre) so I could in fact mend the original blind, which is now back up until it falls down again, at which point we have all the stuff we need to put the new curtains up, although it looks like I might need a new Phillips head screwdriver.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Script Editors' Notes: A Writers' Guide

Whenever I finish the first draft of a thing, I always send it off, thinking 'This is the one! Finally the only note I will get back is an awed gasp followed by a whispered promise to rush this into production IMMEDIATELY because to deny the world such a heart-rending vision of beauty, hope and truth would be an act so grossly cruel as to be COMPLETELY UNTHINKABLE!'

In reality of course, what I get back are notes. And as you do more drafts, you get back more notes. And the more drafts you do on various projects, the more you start to recognize certain phrases, and learn to decipher what they really mean.

'We think this script has a lot of potential'.
Your script contains basically one good idea, and fifteen awful ones.

'We were a little confused by the ending'. You don't appear to have written an ending.

'We love the new whimsical quality of your writing.' We are concerned you might be drunk.

'We love the increasingly dark quality of your writing!' We are concerned you might be on crack.

'We love the bold new energy in your writing!' We are concerned you might be Russell T. Davies.

'Your script still seems to be running a little short.' Selecting 'Control-A' and changing font size from ten to twelve in order to up the page count has fooled precisely no-one, buddy boy.

'This latest rewrite is a big step forward, but there's still a lot of work to do!' I don't think changing one line of a dialogue makes this a new draft, do you?

'Although your new approach to structure is interesting, it isn't necessarily moving the story on.' You've just put the scenes in a different order and thought I wouldn't notice.

'I feel we may be losing the spirit of the original draft. Why have you set it in space now?

'We're very excited by your choice to introduce tropes from other genres, but a little worried this might be straying from the original remit slightly.' ... and why is the detective hero suddenly a werewolf?

'While scene 27 is a great addition, it might be familiar territory to some viewers' You totally stole that from Grandpa In My Pocket.

'We may have to trim a little of the dialogue for running time.' You don't have to start every conversation with 'Good morning/afternoon, Character (X)! How are you since I last saw you?! I have been well, thanks for asking.'

'We're pleased to see a more hard-nosed attitude to the practicalities of the story.' On the other hand, well done on that two page conversation about how great the main character's Toyota is.

On the other other hand, if the only note you get is 'Thanks (X) all looks fine, will pass on', that means 'Our production company is about to go under and I am about to use any time I have left to work on my CV', so then it's really time to worry.