Monday, September 03, 2012

Iconic D&D monsters in papier-mâché No. 1: Carrion Crawler

The Carrion Crawler was supposed to be a project for myself and Small Daughter, although I'll be honest, she sort of wandered off a bit - although she did wander back again to stick the pink jewels on the side and put on the googly eyes.

As soon as the ping pong balls arrive from Amazon we can get on with Iconic D&D Monster No.2: The Beholder.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Alan & Tracy on the #badtrain

Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who tweeted their messages of support yesterday morning while I was on my HELLISH journey that I can't help but notice hasn't appeared in a SINGLE newspaper this morning despite devastation to Paddington Station, many deaths, blatant use of flamethrowers despite owners not having correct tickets for carriages and an appalling mess in carriages E though G.

I imagine Judge Leveson will notice this and maybe make a note in his 'Final Blow' column, that's all I'm saying.

My only real regret is getting @nazihunteralan caught up in the whole thing. He's SEVENTY FIVE, for God's sake.

Argh I forgot my headphones. This is LITERALLY the worst train journey ever. #notliterally.
@Martin_Carr Just put a finger in each ear. Voila.
That could work. I might go 'tsk tsk tsk' just for verasimilitude.
Now the couple sitting opposite are having an argument. IT’S BEEN DONE, GUYS. #badtrain
Good tip! @luftschlosschen put a wet finger in your ear.That doesn't help with the music but you can hear the wind louder.
Aaaaand we’re back into the debate: do they lose privacy if they choose to have mahoosive argument in public space? #badtrain
I’ve thought about it, and yes. #badtrain
But I’m changing their names to Alan and Tracy so they can’t find me and kill me (Tracy looks a bit crazy round the eyes). #badtrain
Urgh, Tracy (business suit) all ‘you don’t respect my personal boundaries’. NOT TRUE. Alan’s burrowing down in his tracksuit to escape.
Oh wait, that’s just the way his head is. Sorry Alan.
@nazihunteralan Yes Alan here, can I help?
@nazihunteralan Sorry, poor choice of name, this Alan's way too young, he's only about fifty.
@nazihunteralan I'm 75, James. 75. Alan.
@nazihunteralan This Alan's not showing Nazi-like tendancies, but will keep you on standyby just in case if that's okay.
@nazihunteralan Is OK. Thanks. Alan Stoob.
Tracy's really muttering at Alan now, I'm having to lean right in to catch anything at all.
So far, Tracy’s done most of the talking. Alan only replied once, said ‘argle bargle gargle’.
Alan’s wearing deely boppers. Feel I should have mentioned this before.
Tracy’s all ‘for god’s sake use your communication podule Alan’. Guys u r so QUIRKY! I bet she has a pet name for his penis. #badtrain
Oh she does. She just said ‘I could easily find someone with a bigger stamen but I want yours Alan’. She wants his STAMEN?
Eurgh, I bet we're all going to end up sitting together at the first class lounge in Paddington. AWKWARD.
Alan’s had his eyes shut this whole time, she’s staring right at his deely boppers.
Alan’s ‘communication podule’ looks like a 2008 Nokia. It has an aerial. AN AERIAL!
Alan just sighed heavily into his ‘communication podule’. His breath smells like violets. S’nice.
Ooh it has a holographic startup sequence. #impressive.
Now Alan’s talking through the podule. That’s coming across as passive aggressive, Alan.
Oh great, it’s at top volume.
MAN I PICKED THE WRONG TRAIN. RT @jackieschneider: @james_blue_cat - what the hell are you mixed up in this morning?
No-one in this carriage knows where to look.
Alans’s now randomly pressing buttons on his phone with his rootlike fingers. Seriously, they’re gnarled and covered with fine white hairs.
Boo Alan's podule volume’s right down now.
Tracy’s crying. I feel bad. Camera on my phone is rubbish or I’d take pic.
Alan’s not crying, but his deely boppers are drooping. Awkward silence in whole carriage.
I hope they make up soon THIS IS COSTING ME FOLLOWERS.
Think Alans' podule has camera-blocking field. :( RT @AngiePyott: @james_blue_cat JUST TAKE THE PIC!
Ticket inspector’s here. Alan's bought about a hundred tickets 'for my many organic components'. Tracy’s all ‘For GOD’S SAKE ALAN’.
Tracy’s still crying. Alan’s deely boppers appear to be leaking- oh they’re his EYES. Durrrrrr.
Alan has reached inside his tracksuit, pulled out what’s either a hankie or large petal. Tracy has pushed it away.
I'm so annoyed at leaving my headphones behind.
@deborahprice1 What's he actually supposed to have done that's so bad? Or is she just accusing him of general twattage?
@deborahprice1 Started with him not respecting her personal boundaries, then I caught 'and your legs smell of mould'. :(
When they weren't looking I trapped petal with empty coffee cup, copy of Times. Putting that on ebay later.
Alan just shouted EXCUSE ME TRACY I MUST EXTRUDE WASTE. Top half of body climbed across top of seats to loo. I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO LOOK.
CYNICAL MT @Kcsunshine73: is this Alan and Tracy stuff all REALLY going on or are you embellishing?
Ooh Tracy’s on her podule to friend, someone called Znerdfarglina.
She’s worried Alan might have impregnated her. I’m worried his legs (still on seat) can hear whole conversation.
Tracy’s on phone to mate, she's all ‘I think I wiped off all the spores, how many does it take to get you pregnant?’ URGH SPORES GROSS
i KNOW ITS TOTALLY MINGING! RT @nellbelleandme: @james_blue_cat oh YUK! SPORES?!
Oh shit I think Tracy's mate Znerdfarglina's is on Twitter, she (Tracy)'s looking at me really suspiciously.
A thinks they were together, but T not sure. RT @arranskyelewis: out of interest, are Tracy & Alan actually together or strangers on a train?
Recap: Alan's gone to loo in huff, he's left his legs on the seat. Tracy's on phone to mate, think she's sussed I'm putting this on Twitter.
Tracy's all 'are you putting this on Twitter?' I'm all ME NO SPEAK ENGRISH ME FROM CORNWALL.
yus, got away with it.
Znerdfarglina's telling her if she used bacterial wipes, that should get them (the spores)
Alan’s back from loo now. He looks younger. Top half of body rejoined with legs, makes squelching noise. Someone just tutted.
To be fair to A and T, we're not in the quiet carriage.
@Kcsunshine73 I am TOTES reliable! Wait, Alan's got more arms that he left with. #weird
@jackieschneider Trains' coming into Paddington soon REALLY hope this resolves.
Alan’s all ‘Sorry for communication breakdown Tracy perhaps I can explain in song of my people’. HIS FACE JUST OPENED SPORES EVERYWHERE.
Thank FUCK I brought antibacterial wetwipes, am frantically handing them out to whole of carriage.
Awww, Alan's tendrils are tenderly caressing Tracy's face. Whole carriage is applauding, also coughing up spores.
Tracy shouting I WILL BEAR YOUR YOUNGLINGS ALAN! #awwww Train coming into Paddington now. Ooh, troops with flamethrowers!
Troops won't let us get off first HOW RUDE.
Alan shouting I MUST PROTECT MY YOUNGLINGS! Blimey she's ALREADY pregnant? Alan is well fecund.
Alan has burst forth into rootlike tendrils, broken top off train, troops everywhere. More tutting from other end of carriage.
Troops are trying to flank Alan via quiet carriage, have been forcefully ejected by ticket inspector QUITE RIGHT TOO.
Troops told they can't use flamethrowers in *any* carriage, must also buy appropriate tickets.
Train has stopped in Paddington, Alan has grabbed Tracy with his tendrils, escaping via roof. Eurgh that FUCKING Boris announcement.
Hard to tell, interior of train signs, covered in spores. RT @illustratedtypo: Are you still in the Quiet Carriage?
OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE - troops were TOLD they can't use flamethrowers INSIDE the coach. *moves down a carriage*
Blimey, Tracey has given birth to Alan's younglings already. Paddington station now swarming with violent saplings fighting troops.
Luckily Alan bought those tickets earlier, so they can escape through ticket barriers into Underground.
Right, got to get to Westfield (Shepherd's Bush)
Paddington station on fire, many dead, even more pregnant with Alan's spores. Off to buy more antibacterial wipes. xx
Should still be able to make Westfield Costa by 9, hurrah.

Friday, June 22, 2012


This short film's been around for three years apparently, but I've only just caught up with it. Take twelve minutes out of your day to watch it, as it's fantastic, and demonstrates just how much you can do with supposedly mundane locations when you bring in a hugely imaginative voiceover.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Five reasons television commissioning editors have my sympathies.

No-one made me write this, I promise. But here's the other side of the coin, as I would have gone on to write if I'd had a bit longer than 550 words for the original article. This is mostly about comedy commissioning, but a lot applies to drama as well, I suspect.

1. Over-Communication. Television commissioners (of all stripes) only have to make the slightest comment/gesture, whereupon it instantly gets picked up on by every media site/social network, then handed down from producers to writer as though channelling the word of God. Commissioners, as much as writers, are in a difficult position. After all, it's not as if they DEMAND this stuff, they're really just saying what they're a bit short of (and remember, the BBC at least have a duty to try and satisfy every part of their audience) and then everyone goes nuts trying to satisfy the perceived demand.

Only a few years ago there were murmurings from the BBC that could really do with something in the way of a sketch show for people in the thirty something bracket - at which point at least three production companies sprang into action to plug that gap (I got to write for one of them). Nine months later, BAM, suddenly there's a glut of unfortunately rather similar shows, not all of which you could entirely describe as 'inspired'.

2. Commissioners can't just commission material to their own tastes. For the Beeb at least, this goes back to the public service thing. I kind of wish they did, because commissioners tend to be reasonably bright, and often like the same sort of thing I do: smart, self-aware comedies like 'Community' or 'Arrested Development' from the US, '15 Storeys High' in the UK or 'Dat Limmy's Show' which only plays in BBC Scotland (although you can get a DVD of series 1, buy it buy it buy it).

Sadly, this kind of comedy often seem to struggle for ratings, although I always wonder if this is just a lack of commitment by the people supposed to market this stuff, who fear it's simply too clever for normal people.

Here's my favourite Limmy Show sketch:

Would 'Limmy's Show' be a huge success if the schedulers put it on in the rest of the UK at pretty much prime time? I happen to think it would, but we'll never know, because no scheduler's got the balls/ovaries/clout to try it, so there's kind of a self-defeating circle here.

3. The days when a commissioner could give a writer a sum of money and say 'there you are, don't fuck it up', have pretty much gone. There are layers of exec producers, producers and script editors between commissioner and writer these days, and plenty more execs standing in the way of the commissioner throwing his or her cash around willy-nilly (lol, 'nilly').

4. I do suspect all commissioners have, at an early stage of their career, championed some script they absolutely love, ushering it gently through the entire production process, only to see it stuck on at stupid o'clock, where it's trounced in the ratings by a repeat episode of some reality show starring people called things like 'Z-Wow' and 'The Happening'. This must have some sort of knock-on effect to morale, surely.

5. They occasionally have to deal with comedy writers. And comedy writers are AWFUL PEOPLE.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

[Insert joke here] formula is no laughing matter

I wrote this for 'Broadcast' magazine, but as you need a subscription to read it online (and they didn't pay me, I wrote it out of the goodness of my heart), I've put the full article here:

Word on the street is, well, not my street, but 'comedy' street, which is a grim place, paved with the bones of the fallen, word on that street is that comedy commissioners from Sky and ITV have been given increased budgets and told to look the BBC comedy department right in the face and just go for it. In a time of recession, viewers want laughs, and they want them right now.

When you bear in mind that as a consequence, BBC comedy types have almost certainly been told to up their game and take all the comedy writers they can think of that aren't dead out to dinner to be schmoozed and tickled up and ruthlessly pumped for ideas (actually may as well try the dead ones too, you never know), this would seem to usher in a golden age for the comedy writer - assuming commissioning types aren’t just intent on paying actors to write their own material. But actors can't write everything, they get distracted too easily by boobs - often their own - so surely some of us (I'm a comedy writer, you can tell because I'm behind on the mortgage and my wardrobe door just fell off) can reap the rewards.

Although the consensus does seem to be that what the massed hordes of money-hurling commissioning editors really want is 'traditional comedies packed with jokes', which makes me slightly suck my teeth and make a worried face. Not because I don’t like ‘traditional comedies’ (whatever those are) or jokes, I love jokes, but because this often translates to commissioning editors wanting scripts packed with what they recognise as jokes, i.e. a constant stream of leaden one-liners. And nothing else. Because a worrying number of people in the television comedy world only read the talky bits of the script, the nicely-centred bits the actors will be reading out loud, and ignore all the other stuff, which the director will probably deal with.

‘Here is a script,’ they will say, proudly waving some paper in the air, ‘that is a proper comedy script, and you can tell because there are three jokes on every page!’ And they know, because they forced the producer to force the writer to go back and make sure characters amusingly insulted one another, or made a comedic observation, or a snappy comeback, and there we are, done. Objectively, 3 x wisecracks per script = funny.

(Actually, exec types get moaned at whatever notes they give, and often unfairly, because they can sometimes nail very concisely what’s wrong with a script. Stephen Fry has complained about getting a note that one script needed to be ‘ten per cent funnier’, but I must admit, that seems to me to make perfect sense, although it would be cheating to just say that every time).

But if you look at the best comedies, they aren’t just people cracking wise with one another. My current love, ‘Community’, is crammed full of wordplay, and slapstick and rich observations of characters, and have at least three of what our PM would call ‘lots of love’ moments per minute.

So, am I saying commissioning editors are all idiots who don’t even know how to read scripts properly? Of course not! I’m saying most of them are, which is very different.

James Henry wrote for ‘Smack The Pony’ and ‘Green Wing’ and has no comedy scripts currently in development, although plenty of drama scripts, so in your FACE comedy commissioners. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Probably won't call it 'Art Bastard' actually.

… although it'll do for now.

(FIRST NOTE: won't be restricting it solely to apps - will also be a website you can follow whole thing from if you don't have an iPad - which I don't, for example)

Already had some useful feedback on the original post, which I'll filter in below. I've been thinking about how this idea could work on a practical level, and thus far, it seems like you'd need people to purchase an app which works on two levels thusly:

1st level is for people who want to read interesting new comics, from already-known (but underemployed) illustrators and writers.
2nd level is for illustrators and writers who are interested in collaboration.

Now you could have two separate app, or pay more for the second stage, but it seems simpler and more efficient to have one app that does two things, like when you buy a printer that also has a scanner. You may not have thought you wanted a scanner, but one night you wake up in the middle of the night and think 'Scanner!' (note to advertising bods: don't use printer/scanner metaphor).

The actual process then seems to break naturally into a number of stages, each of which are insanely difficult in their own right, but why not list them as though each one was the easiest thing in the world thusly:

1. Using the app, writer and illustrator find each other, agree on a project and start work
2. Finished project is published digitally for the iPad, available to all app subscribers to read for free, with Art Bastard (or whatever it's called) retaining limited rights.
3. If readers really like what they've read, they can order a physical copy via a style outfit.
4. Writer can then use either the digital or paper copy to take to producers, who then have an already-existing property to pitch to their higher-up bods.
5. If the script goes to production, Art Bastard (or whatever it's called then) can sell its limited rights, or stay involved as a co-producer. Writer will have to give some of the rights to the illustrator, but then these scripts got a second life via the illustrator anyway, so only far to share the credit.

EASY. Well no, but that's the rough idea. I'll go into more detail on these various stages later, in separate posts, but thought it was worth putting the main body up first, for feedback.

Speaking of which, here are first bit of feedback to earlier post:

DM from someone (so I won't put their name)
"Actually had that idea awhile back and have tried to get illustrators/animators on board - trouble is, most have their own ideas/scripts".

Yes indeed, and while a few of these are great, most… aren't. Illustrators aren't automatically going to be great at story structure, which has to be learnt as a craft, just as illustration does. And even if they are good at story, sometimes it's good to take a break by working on someone else's story, just as a scriptwriter can often find a fresh challenge in adapting a novel, for example.

Also… if this gets off the ground, if an illustrator has a piece they've created themselves, there's no reason that couldn't go alongside the other projects.

jeremy cole
"Even though I'm outside the industry looking in, like a puppy in the rain, I can see quality assurance issues. Who vets this?"

Hmm, I guess that would be me. Although I wouldn't be getting involved on a page-by-page level, just making sure the final result is of a publishable quality. HE SAID NAIVELY.

"In terms of people getting paid: artists and writers who hook up to work on a project should consider crowd funding to fund the initial work before digitally selling the project or indeed covering printing costs."

Yes, this is something I'm considering. If a writer and an illustrator 'click', there should maybe be some process whereby peers/fans of both creatives have a chance to pledge some cash before the process starts - they'd then get a physical copy as soon as it's finished, and the creatives get more cash to work with.

Jason Arnopp
"That is a good idea, sir. One thing to bear in mind, is that a regular script (general, loose description of each flowing scene, obviously) needs to be converted into a comic script (pretty precise description of each panel/'snap-shot' within the scene). An illustrator could do this, of course, if they (a) can write; and/or (b) magically have a feel for how a script would/should convert, but it's worth remembering that this conversion might be a fairly involved stage of the process in itself."

Yes, this is a very good point. And all I have to say about that at the moment is: hmm.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

I'm thinking of calling it 'Art Bastard'*

Here's a thing I realised recently: showing a production executive words on a page is perhaps the single least effective method there is of trying to get a film or television series made.

This is because no exec in their right mind likes taking the leap from turning words (bleurgh) on a page (eek), into thought pictures in their headbrain. They want to know what the series/film will look and feel like RIGHT NOW, which is why 'Actor X' in a thing that is a cross between 'Thing Y' and Thing Z' will always be a easier, safer commission that a load of pages stapled together, or, if you want to be more 21st century about it, a Final Draft document that's been turned into a pdf file.

Even if the executive does instantly and totally get it, he or she still has to convince the bigger executive with the keys to the safe to see the script in the same way. It's really no surprise that more and more film and television projects are being made of 'existing properties': books, films, plays and graphic novels.

What is surprising, however, is the lengths that people will go to to accommodate this: some producers have actually taken scripts they love (see, producers are capable of love, I'm not saying they're bad people), commissioned someone to make a comic, or write a manuscript, bought the rights to the 'fake' property, then gone to the finance people and said 'Hey, look at this great original property I found! And as part of a package deal, I already have a script adaptation of it! Totally not the other way round!' I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

Then here's the other thing: recently, I was looking at the Forbidden Planet International comics blog recently, awed at how many talented, but apparently underemployed illustrators and comic book artists there are. Go and have a look now - here's a sample post

… which is when a thing occurred to me. I don't know a single screenwriter who doesn't have an script in their pile that they love, that may well have been through the development process only to have been spat up and chewed out. Or they were never quite able to get anyone to take that conceptual leap with, because even if one exec got it, there was no guarantee that the next exec along was going to get it, and anyway, no-one wants to take a leap on something that isn't an existing property.

So, if you can see where I'm going with this, on one hand we have talented but underemployed illustrators and comic artists, and on the other, actual name writers who have great scripts that simply aren't able to break through.

*makes the 'I am The Weaver' gesture*

So this is what I'm thinking of doing: setting up some sort of website/company that lets writers make scripts available for illustrators to turn into comics that could then be subscribed to and read via an iPad - with the further possibility of the creators then taking these finished original properties to studios and production companies for development IF THEY WANT. But with the comics being an end in themselves, the further development stuff just being a bonus. But an important bonus, one that's certainly worth thinking about really quite seriously.

Now obviously, plenty of illustrators and comic artists are more than capable of creating their own stories. But some like collaborating, or just want a break from working on their own stuff. So it strikes me there should be a way of matching up writers who have scripts that more than deserve a second chance (or maybe a first) with artists who could do a great job of turning scripts into real sequential art: comic book stories that could go straight onto, say, an iPad. If by the end you have a finished piece in the perfect shape for a studio or production company to pick up, then great, but I think the comic should exist in its own right, anything beyond that is a bonus.

There's a tonne of stuff to work out. Nobody should have to work on anything for free: illustrators and writers get too much of that already - which isn't to say that a writer couldn't put the first five pages of a script out there and let illustrators play around with it if that want - but the model shouldn't rely on that. If a project did get picked up, the matter of exactly how the rights get split between the writer and illustrator is going to get tricky very quickly if things aren't nailed down at an early stage. And also I'd have to work out how to effectively run a online comics publisher crossed with the development side of a production company and find time to write my own stuff at the same time.

Oh, it would be all digital, so no printing costs, and I think some sort of crowd-sourcing to start with a few small projects - maybe take an option on the script and pay the illustrator to work on first ten pages or something along those lines.

But, erm, somehow this really seems like a good idea. So I would like to tell me why it isn't. Or if there's something really obvious that I've missed. Or if someone else has a similar idea already in development, because I can't hear that enough. Anyway, whatever, I WANT YOUR THOUGHTS PEOPLE.

* already having doubts about the name, to be honest.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I've been noticing lately how many UK television comedies seem to have been written by writer/performers rather than 'straight' writers. Obviously, this puts the likes of me, who despite having MASSIVE charismas to spare have never quite got round to treading the boards and so on, in a bit of a bate. But it does make sense, and rather than having a big old sulk about it, I think it's worth purestrain writers like myself taking a moment to think about how mixed-craft Mudblood writer/performers (spit) have a number of natural advantages over us, and how we might learn from their nasty sawdust and greasepaint-stained sneak-ahead advantages what are thus:

1. Performers have usually read a lot of scripts as part of their job, so they know how a script is laid out, what a good script reads like and, just as importantly, what rings the alarm bells in a poor script.

2. A lot of comedy performers are already writers as well, durr.

3. Performers are more than happy to get off their arses and arrange readings, get people in to see them, and generally promote themselves I DON'T MEAN JUST HAVING A WEBSITE WITH A MOODY PHOTO OF A HAND HOLDING A BIRO.

4. Whilst hanging around reading other peoples' scripts, they meet other performers in the same boat, so there's a built-in support community there, unlike writers, who like to noisily applaud each other on blogs or twitter, but if they actually meet in a real location like a pub, tend to stare jealously at their own feet, hoping no-one is going to one day become more successful than they plan to be.

5. Even if a performer is in a successful show what is going out and such, there's a lot of time hanging around waiting for their turn to say words/swordfight/whatever. Many actors use that time to have sexual intercourses with one another, but the smarter ones will ensure further work/sexing opportunities for themselves by writing their own scripts, thus ensuring their wretched ways will continue like some kind of twisted perpetual motion machine.

6. Some performers are annoyingly well-read, and have naturally good timing, which often translates surprisingly well to the page.

7. Many performers get to hang out with agents, producers, commissioners, runners-who-are-offspring-of-important-people, and in many cases sex them right up. This gives them an opportunity to pass on a script they have written, although hopefully after a discreet amount of time has passed, usually three or four minutes.

8. There is a lot more money in the actings than the writings, so performers will take the hit on the script fee, knowing they will get literally more times the money for acting their own wretched words than typing them.

9. The idea of pitching a series to a number of high-ranking execs will fill a performer, not with an existential horror that could cause him or her to claw out their own eyes, but with a rising realisation that they could not only storm this, but quite possibly end up sleeping with one of the execs to boot if all goes well. THIS HAS LITERALLY NEVER OCCURRED TO ANY WRITER EVER.

10. Performers usually smell nicer, at least before sundown.

So that's why.

UPDATE: Andy RIley (Big Train, Hyperdrive, Black Books) has suggested another one, perhaps the most important of all, thinking about it.

11. "When a writer/performer is pitching a show, exec just has to imagine a rectangle round their face. Makes it easy. With a writer/writer, Exec has to stretch imagination much further. Hard."

Which, durr to me for not thinking of it before, because yeah, when a writer is pitching it, the exec has to think 'but who would I cast for this? What sort of 'tone' would it have?' Is the answer to this every writer putting a note in every script that they plan to take the lead role themselves, thus putting the exec instantly at their ease?


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Based on someone else's idea.

I must admit I've slightly lost enthusiasm for writing feature spec scripts at the moment. I have four scripts at various barely-started stages, with my current plans for completion being to leave them in a special folder on my laptop and hope special Apple pixies finish them in the night, which apparently will totally happen after the next update.

Part of the reason I'm focusing more on telly at the moment is the sheer unlikelihood of a film based on an original script actually making into the cinema. I had a vague idea in my head that original scripts probably make up about a third of finished films, the rest being based on novels or plays, remakes of foreign language titles or television shows.

As research, and a way of putting off writing actual scripts for a bit longer, I thought I'd try an TOTALLY UNREPRESENTATIVE AND UNSCIENTIFIC experiment. Walking past my local cinema in Falmouth, thought I'd have a quick look at what's on/coming up. Here are the contenders (I haven't seen any of them by the way #youngchildren):

Bel Ami
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Woman in Black
John Carter
We Bought a Zoo
The Raven
This Means War

First thing: I tried to write down as many of the titles as I could when I got back without looking them up, which meant three of the films had to be renamed from 'Del Amitri', 'The Great Big Mandarin Hotel' and 'Spy vs Spy'. Which was close, but I digress.

Let's see which of these films is based on an original script.

'Bel Ami' is based on the second novel by Guy de Maupassant, so that's an adaptation.
'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is based on the novel 'These Foolish Things' by Deborah Moggach.
'The Woman in Black' is based on the play based on the novel by Susan Hill, so a double adaptation there (a description I've just made up).
'We Bought a Zoo' is based on a memoir by the same name by Benjamin Mee.
'John Carter' is, as any fule kno, based on the Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
'The Raven' is based on the life of Edgar Allen Poe, but not on a biography, being rather a 'fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life, in which the poet and author pursues a serial killer whose murders mirror those in Poe's stories' (thanks wikipedia). Which means it is based on an original screenplay, by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, hurrah!
'This Means War' it turns out was originally called 'Spy vs Spy, so point to me, and does seem to be an original screenplay, although the fact that four writers are credited (and I suspect a few more lurking in the background without credits) makes me suspect this is based on a high concept by director McG, or an exec producer in the food chain, who had an idea about two spies fighting over a chick, and got a procession of writers to fill in the details. Could be wrong though, I'm happy to be corrected.
'Contraband' is is a remake of the 2008 Icelandic film 'Reykjavík-Rotterdam'.

Which means there's only one film out of the eight, 'The Raven' which I'd be confident as describing as being derived from an original screenplay. What does this prove? Well, studios really don't like putting their cash into unknown properties, and after the apparent tanking of 'John Carter', which seems to have gone the same way as 'Conan the Barbarian', 'Solomon Kane', and to can extent 'Clash of the Titans' (although this does seem to be getting a sequel) they may be looking at redefining what exactly constitutes a 'known' property, at least when the lead role is played by an relatively unknown actor.

Which means if you're writing a script based on an original idea that burst out of your headbrain, it probably has a much better chance of being made if it doesn't require an FX budget of eleventy squillion pounds. I know this seems obvious in retrospect, but part of me has been going 'lalala they can do anything with computers lalala' and now I've taken that bit away and shot it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Talk at Courtyard Deli, Thurs 29th March 7.30pm

Over here. Tickets £5 in advance/ £6 on the door.

An informal evening talk with screenwriter James Henry, whose credits include the Bafta award winning Green Wing and Smack the Pony. This promises to be an informative and amusing behind the scenes look at the writing industry and an exciting opportunity for writers to learn about the industry from a Cornwall based perspective.

After winning a Channel Four sitcom writing competition in 1998 with his original comedy Skiffy(1), James’ career has also seen him write for several children’s series including Bob the Builder and Aardman animations Shaun the Sheep. Having recently developed a Cornwall-set crime drama Bandit Country, now under option with ITV (2), he is currently working on several writing projects including an adaptation of James Boswell’s London journals for BBC4 (3). James is also the author of The Curious Cabinet, a fantasy novel for teenagers (4).

(1) Eventually turned down by Channel 4.
(2) Now turned down by ITV.
(3) Now a victim of the cuts to BBC 4
(4) Not available via 'traditional' publishers.

The middle section of my talk 'Coping with Rejection and Disappointment' has now been expanded, at the cost of the originally proposed 'Coping with Excessive Fame and Embarrassing Levels of Wealth' section.

Monday, February 27, 2012

My film-writing career.

Such as it is.

I wrote my first feature script (as we seasoned film-writers like to say) over a long weekend. I'd had a vague idea for a thing about a superhero having to drive across the US in a car with his arch nemesis, and spent a few weeks trying to avoid doing any writing, but thinking up some fun scenes that weren't particularly linked. When I'd finally run out of excuses not to write the flipping thing, I splurged the script out over three days and sent it off to film people, Sean Connery, Kermit the Frog, people like that.

Fortunately I also sent a copy to my agent, who sent it to the UK Film Council, who liked it, and gave me some money to develop it, as in make it read like an actual script human beings, or, failing that, actors, could be in. This process went on for ELEVENTY BILLION YEARS, until finally I had an actual proper script, which someone Universal agreed had actual potential, and they would totally have at least optioned it if they hadn't just committed to HANCOCK with Will Smith, the twats. The giving me of money wasn't a charitable act, by the way, because when the film inevitably became a massive hit, I would have to pay that money back, and more besides, although frankly from my cold dead hand &c.

Immediately after that, the top level of UK Film Council executives were removed in a putsch (like a Yugo crossed with a wheelbarrow) and I never heard from the UK Film Council again. So when recently the Tories had them all killed (I didn't follow the details) you'll forgive me for not weeping big snotty tears.

So I thought I'd do another feature script, and this one would be a horror film about fairies, before Guillermo del Toro did it as well, so go me. I had just finished the script, in which a single parent family move to a remote house in the countryside, only for the mum to be called away, leaving the children to do battle with a series of bizarre but genuinely frightening creatures from fairy mythology, when I heard about this film called The Spiderwicke Chronicles. Best do a bit of research, I thought, and rented the DVD. I very much enjoyed the film, which turned out to be about a single parent family moving to a remote house in the countryside, only for the mum to be called away, leaving the children to do battle with a series of bizarre but genuinely frightening creatures from fairy mythology.

CUT TO: tatters of my script raining down like confetti, while something sad and Sigur Ros-y played.

Then I thought I'd do something closer to home, so I wrote a script about a couple of young people stuck in the remote Cornish countryside who gradually realise they're being invaded by a load of gribbly sea-based monsters. After which I heard about Kevin LeHane's GRABBERS script, which had just gone into production. Kevin was kind enough to let me read a copy of the script, and my worries were soon proved as aught, as GRABBERS was about a couple of young people stuck in the remote Irish countryside who gradually realise they're being invaded by a load of gribbly sea-based monsters. So that was fine NO WAIT IT WASN'T.

CUT TO: tatters of my script raining down like confetti. I no longer had the budget for Sigur Ros, so I had to use Russ Abbot's 'I Love a Party With a Happy Atmosphere' slowed down fourteen times.

Having had my fingers burned, I decided not to overcommit with my next script, and instead planned out a detailed outline for a robot movie, involving giant robots in a movie, that's all I'm prepared to say (it's nothing like Transformers, apart from having giant robots in it).

One meeting with a producer later, and I was assured that although a prospective budget of two hundred million dollars was ambitious, it would be best to scale the actual script down a bit, go for summing twenty five million-ish, DISTRICT 9, that sort of thing. And this I totally intent to do, although this morning I did write the first five pages of a monster movie set in a rundown shopping centre based on the Eagle Centre in Derby. And if I hear on the internets that Tom Stoppard has just started the same project, I swear I will go over and kick him in the special place (Mickleover).

Monday, January 09, 2012


'Pitching' is when a writer has to try and sell a project (which at that point might exist solely in their mind) to a producer or commissioner by using out-loud words from their voice box.

Most writers have a weird love/hate relationship with pitching, I suspect because pitching seems like the purest possible form of storytelling. With none of that high-tech 'things written down on paper' nonsense, writers are stripped down to their most primal form: a lone bard in a smoky hall, weaving stories out of thin air in the hope their thane won't immediately pull out a sword and behead him because he's realised the story is clearly Beowulf with the serial numbers filed off (which most stories are).

The truth is, most writers are crap at pitching, because if they were easily able to hold a room of execs spellbound with their words, they wouldn't be making a living writing things down for other people to read out loud. And, weirdly enough, telling a gripping story isn't what you need to do in order for a successful pitch - what you're doing is showing the people with the chequebook that you have all the ingredients to make a whole succession of gripping stories if they'd just let you go away and get on with it.

You might think that going in with enormous confidence and giving the execs plenty of detail and colour would guarantee you that they'll at least give you a bit of cash to go away and write a ten page treatment or summat, but you would be this: WRONGO. And here's why.

I reckon, and this is in no way backed up by 'facts' or 'science', that two thirds of the execs you have pitching meetings with have already decided before you came in the room whether they were going to commission something or not. The other third might have a bit of cash floating about, which they're prepared to throw at you in a whim if something you say tickles their fancy. So your job is to not to mess it up, and one way you can do this is to go steamrolling in like Russell Crowe doing a radio interview for a project he REALLY believes in (if you heard him banging on about the Magna Carta for hours on end for that Robin Hood film, over the bludgeoned corpses of various BBC presenters, you'll know what I mean).

There are two kinds of writers who take the 'bludgeoning on for hours on end' approach: starting writers who need to conceal their terror of rejection, and more experienced writers who have a few series under their belts, and thus have become convinced they are storytelling GODS, from whose lips words drip like honey &c &c.

The worst pitch meeting I had was a few years ago with a very nice lady film producer I realised too late had spared me half an hour out of basic politeness. I decided to go in all guns blazing with a Thirties-set semi-historical monster movie that was loosely tied in with my own family history (no monsters in that, sadly). Sadly, this required describing a bit of background first, and I realised too late that there is nothing more boring than listening to someone else's family history, and I hadn't even got to the film idea yet. Also, it turned out the nice lady producer hadn't actually read any of my previous scripts, which meant she wouldn't get the tone I was going for. So I started skipping bits, grimly determined to get the end of my pitch, which, as I recall, ended with me sweating all over my fat face as I recited the deathless phrase 'and then they realise it wasn't the Owlman all along, and the Nazis leave, and, arm, it all works out fine'. READER, I DID NOT GET A FEATURE SCRIPT COMMISSION THERE AND THEN.

The same producer left the company a week or so later, which suggests she didn't have any money to spend anyway, which was of some small comfort.

The best pitch session I ever had was with another lady producer, for television this time, who had read plenty of my previous scripts, hurrah, and who I'd already had a couple of meetings with and knew to be totally nerd-friendly. I only found out later that she'd just sat through a pitch from a VERY distinguished television writer, which had already gone like this for half an hour:

DISTINGUISHED WRITER: … at which point Jake, of course you remember Jake, he's the one with the gammy leg, Jake makes the SHOCKING and APPALLING discovery that Helen, you remember Helen, she's the one with the twitchy eye, Helen is not his mother, BUT HIS SISTER!

Distinguished Writers sits back with a satisfied smirk. Lady Producer manages to drag herself back up from where she has slumped onto the sofa.

LADY PRODUCER: Right, well, that was very-


LADY PRODUCER: (mumbles) Oh my fucksie.

Another half hour later, the Distinguished Writer departs, his PA scattering rose petals before him &c and I bumble in.

ME: Look, I'm completely fucked with a hangover, so can I just give you the gist of the thing in about three minutes? I can ABSOLUTELY give you more details if you need them, but I will need a very nice young lady or young man to bring me quite a strong cup of coffee first.

I give them the gist. THREE MINUTES LATER:

LADY PRODUCER: We'd like a script please.

ME: (puzzled) Are you sure? Don't you want a treatment or anything?

LADY PRODUCER: Nope, go and write a script, we'll talk to your agent.


This is not to say I recommend going in to pitch meetings with a hangover, I totally do not. Unless it works for you, in which case, go for it.