Thursday, September 30, 2004

BBC Get Writing

The BBC's new writing initiatives can sometimes be hard to keep tabs on. One of the newest is Get Writing.
Get Writing is produced by BBC Learning which aims to help people get back into or start out in creative writing. It’s not aimed at those who want to be professional writers, but should certainly help you improve your chances of getting published.
At the heart of the site is the Read and Review section where site users critique each other's work. There's also lots of articles and advice.

Worth checking out the copyright section before submitting anything to the site, however. By agreeing to the terms and conditions of the site you grant the BBC "a perpetual, non-exclusive licence" to your work.

It's not entirely clear how Get Writing fits in with the BBC Writers' Room, that carries a lot of similar information but is aimed more at people wanting to submit scripts for TV or radio.

Matthew Friday's diary (5)

On 5 October Matthew Friday's first play, Che Guevara's Motorbike or How I Found My Father, which he is also directing, will open at The Rosemary Branch in London. You can read the background on the Writers' Guild website and follow his trials and tribulations here each week.

Week 5

Now we’re at the Rosemary Branch theatre, rehearsing in their ‘Pink Room’. The theatre is a wonderful blend of period furniture, theatrical posters and pictures from long, long ago, all of it set in a very old pub which has been on the site for hundreds of years.

Today was all about developing the on-stage relationship of ‘Alberto’ and ‘Sarah’. We started by practising their tango sequence and moved on to all the scenes they share. It follows a fairly conventional romantic-comedy structure in which boy meets girl, boy and girl don’t like each other but have fallen in love, and then boy and girl work this out over the rest of the story. Only with Che Guevara, a missing father, a dodgy landlord and an eccentric pensioner thrown in.

The rehearsal went well. We smoothed out of a lot of the scenes and got a real snappy buzz about them. I had a chat with a journalist from the Hampstead and Highgate paper for an article about the play, and I got the theatre’s consent to offer concession rate tickets to Guild members for the entire run of the play.

So far so good.

A day of mixed emotions. We got to rehearse in the theatre space for the very first time. Admittedly, it was around the set of Making Dickie Happy, but at least we were able to get a feel for the space, fix the blockings, decide upon the exists and entrances and plan our set.

The scenes we worked on were long and hard work. Some of them felt snappy and entertaining, but others seemed to drag. There comes a time in any rehearsal when everyone gets a bit fed up of doing the same thing over and over again. I think that time has come. We haven’t got long to go, but then the nerves haven’t kicked in for anyone.

If I think about it, I do get nervous. But there is too much to do first.
I made the bold decision to cut the Tango sequence. This is not because my cast aren’t capable of doing it. It’s because I don’t think we have the time to make it effective enough to convince the audience that these characters can really do the Tango. I need a budget so I can pay the actors to take lessons. In the absence of money we shall have to be inventive. I won’t say what I’m replacing it with – you’ll just have to come to the play and find out.

I was very pleased with the work today. We were in the theatre space again and did a run-through.

I was pleased with seeing the play in its entirety and relieved there were not any serious problems. A couple of the scenes need further work, but that's completely normal at this stage. And, of course, we'll run the play many more times before opening night. I say 'many more times' but there is only just nine days to go before we open.

Are we ready?


But we will be. (Fingers crossed...)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Mal Young leaves the BBC

Head of Continuing Series, Mal Young, is leaving the BBC at the end of the year to become Head of Drama for Simon Fuller's 19 TV.

Young joined the BBC as head of drama series in 1997 and has overseen several programmes including EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City.
"I've had the happiest and most fulfilling seven years at the BBC, but when Simon approached me about he and I working together, it was a no-brainer.

"We both aspire to make 'talk about TV' for big mainstream audiences and the time feels right for us to take advantage of the many exciting opportunities, both in the UK and the States.

"I wasn't actively looking to leave the BBC, but this felt like the perfect fit."

American writers are striking back at producers on a new website,

Open only to American Writers' Guild members, it is a message board where writers can vent their fury about forced re-writes, development delays and lack of credit.

As the LA Times reports, there are plenty of postings giving positive comments about Hollywood execs, but the grumbles tend to be more eye-catching.
One writer groused about executives who took it upon themselves to rewrite scenes or even rework a movie's climax: "He'd changed the antagonist to one of the minor characters as a cool twist — that made about as much sense as revealing that Toto was really the Wicked Witch of the West."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Mal Young to leave the BBC?

MediaGuardian (free registration required) is claiming that BBC's Controller of Continuing Series, Mal Young, is poised to leave the Corporation to join Simon Fuller's 19 Management.
A deal has not yet been signed but it understood that Fuller, who made his name with the Spice Girls, has made him an offer that is difficult to refuse - potentially worth more than £600,000 a year.

Mr Fuller is believed to have persuaded Mr Young that he has a big future at the company developing drama formats for the UK and US market.

The deal would allow Mr Young to create drama formats for terrestrial and cable TV and a major commission for the US market is already on the cards.

Teaching writing

Lilian Pizzichini in The Independent looks at creative writing courses at the Skyros Centre in Greece.
I was tempted by the idea of staying on an island in the crystal-clear Aegean. But I was reminded of an old joke about two journalists. They are sitting in a pub. "I'm writing a novel," says one. "Neither am I," says the other. There are sceptics among us who don't believe writing can be taught. You just have to sit down and slog it out with the computer. And what's worse, you have to do it alone.

Monday, September 27, 2004


Posting these for the main website, which we are having problems with.


Public Awareness of Science and Engineering (PAWS - they don't seem to have a website) are holding a free seminar for writers about the challenges of combating biological hazards.

It will take place at 7pm on Wednesday 13 October 2004 at The English Heritage Lecture Theatre, New Burlington Place, London W1.

For a free ticket send an email to:

Ian Rankin

Interviewed in The Independent, Ian Rankin defends the crime novel.
"Literary critics still have that knee-jerk reaction that the crime novel looks pre-planned, geometric, everything's worked out, everything's tied up at the end," he argues. "But that's an old-fashioned thing, I like open endings, I leave mine as open as possible. The crime novel is supposed to be structured but it has a mind of its own, and that's why it often attracts literary writers too, like Martin Amis or Julian Barnes. Plenty of them are intrigued by the form."

Writers' deadlines

Having trouble meeting your next deadline? You're not alone, says Jonathan Mahler reports in the New York Times (free registration required).
Novelists are prisoners of their own freedom, a paradox that leads to situations like the one so memorably described by Grady Tripp, the narrator of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys: "It. . . stood at 2,611 pages, each of them revised and rewritten a half-dozen times. And yet for all of those words expended in charting the eccentric paths of my characters through the violent blue heavens I had set them to cross, they had not even reached their zeniths. I was nowhere near the end."
As Mahler points out, finishing a book can become almost traumatic.
Letting go is not always easy. Working on a book can provide authors with a sense of security. It confers on them the sense - illusory though it may be - of being employed, a comforting thing to someone who wakes up every morning without a compelling reason to put on a pair of pants. And a book is more than a job; it's a colleague, too.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Damazer takes over Radio 4 & BBC 7

Mark Damazer has been appointed Controller of BBC Radio 4 and BBC 7, succeeding Helen Boaden, who is now Director of BBC News. Speaking after the news was announced on Friday, Damazer said:
"Being Controller of Radio 4 is the best job in broadcasting and I am privileged to be given the opportunity of working with so many talented and creative people.

"Radio 4 is in terrific shape and my challenge is to cherish it, sustain it and make sure it remains the home for intelligence, flair and wit.

"BBC 7 has already made a name for itself and I hope to see it become a must for those who value the BBC's storehouse of drama and comedy."
Damazer's previous job was as Deputy Director of BBC News.

Donnie Brasco

Two new scripts are available to download from the Screenwriters' Store -Blood Work by Brian Helgeland and the excellent Donnie Brasco by Paul Attanasio.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Emmerdale beats EastEnders

Following the resignation of its Executive Producer, there was bad news for EastEnders this week, with overnight ratings showing that it lost out to ITV1's Emmerdale on Tuesday.

Unofficial ratings showed that the BBC show was watched by 6.2m compared to 8.1m for Emmerdale's hour-long special.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Matthew Friday's diary (4)

On 5 October Matthew Friday's first play, Che Guevara's Motorbike or How I Found My Father, which he is also directing, will open at The Rosemary Branch in London. You can read the background on the Writers' Guild website and follow his trials and tribulations here each week.

Week 4


A difficult one today. We did the full play for the first time. It wasn't a proper performance, or anything close. The actors are still working from the script, getting to grips with the new lines and the more complex blocking. And I'm still making changes. Little ones, of course. You can't make dramatic changes to dialogue at this late stage and expect the actors to remember. It would be like trying to spell a word which kept changing its letters.

We discussed what the right tone of the play was. Do we go all-out for entertainment, or do we try and develop the dramatic through-lines and character motivations? It's a difficult one. Being a comedy, the main criteria for the play is to entertain them for two hours. Anything else is a bonus.

This is not to say meaningful drama cannot be achieved in comedy. A great comedy has both. It depends a lot on how much the audience believes in the characters and whether they care for them or not.

So, will they care?


Much better today. We really got stuck into the scenes. I was pleased to see bigger emotions and reactions coming out.

Simone - who is exhausting herself with other work - developed her character well. Joan brought along some of her costume and that helped bring out her character. We got some really nice moments between 'Gary' and 'Alberto' at the end of the play, though I won't detail them as it would spoil the big surprise.

The highlight of the day was Paul's birthday party, in a Thai Karaoke restaurant in Turnpike Lane. Paul went home early to prepare. Joan gave us a lift back to her lovely flat in Tottenham, where we spent an hour chatting and drinking mead - the genuine and ancient alcoholic honey drink. A first for me.

As was singing Karaoke.

Paul is a consummate singer and the audience could not get enough of his rocking voice. Then Kevin and I stepped up. We opted for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - William Shatner style. That is, speaking the lines, not singing them. Kevin and I performed the lines, like the talented entertainers Kevin is.

I did it very, very badly.


Kevin ended up at the Rosemary Branch theatre, when Simone, Joan and I were at Goldsmiths. Not sure what happened there. It was my mistake for not providing a written schedule, with locations and dates. Kevin may have drunk too much or wanted to avoid me after our 'singing' together.

Still, it was worth the few hours we had.

On the way home I worked out a strict time table for the next (and last two weeks), listing exactly which scene would be rehearsed when and where. We will be moving to the Rosemary Branch next week. Goodbye Goldsmiths and the Goldsmith Coffee Shop.

It's time to get intense.

Berridge quits EastEnders

EastEnders executive producer Louise Berridge has quit the BBC One soap after two years in the role, reports BBC News.
She left after ratings fell from an average of 13 million at the start of the year to 11 million in June. "I've loved every minute of my time on EastEnders, but felt it the right time to move on to new challenges," Ms Berridge said. She will be replaced by Kathleen Hutchison, currently executive producer of BBC One hospital series Holby City.

Booker shortlist

Drum-roll please.

On this year's Booker Prize shortlist are:
  • Bitter Fruit - Achmat Dangor
    The Electric Michelangelo - Sarah Hall
  • The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst
  • The Master - Colm Toibin
  • I'll Go To Bed At Noon - Gerard Woodward
  • Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

You can read more on the Booker Prize website (once they update it)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Arthur Miller

"You do what you can do, and the rest is up to the zeitgeist,'' he [Arthur Miller] remarked cheerfully. "I'll probably be forgotten completely. Most of the work in the world is forgotten completely; 99.99 percent of all artwork is forgotten. There have been so many writers who dominated a period and then slipped off. History is like some gigantic beast -- it simply wriggles its back and throws off whatever is on it."
Arthur Miller is now 89, and still writing. His new play, Finishing The Picture, is based, apparently, on his experience working with wife Marilyn Monroe on The Misfits.

As Deborah Solomon writes in The New York Times (free registration required), the public fascination with Miller's relationship with Marilyn remains, but it is his work that will endure.

Prix Italia for Abbott's Shameless

Paul Abbott's Channel 4 drama Shameless has won the Prix Italia for best Drama.

The jury, made up of broadcasters from around the world, described the series as "irresistibly funny, unpredictable and true."

HBO dominates Emmy's

It was a night of triumph for US cable channel HBO at the Emmy Awards on Sunday night, reports BBC News.

Its Aids drama Angels in America, written by Tony Kushner, won seven
prizes at the ceremony.

And HBO also won best drama for its mobster series, The Sopranos, denying NBC rival The West Wing a record fifth win.

TV schedulers

An interesting look behind the scenes at the people who decide what's on when, by Maggie Brown in MediaGuardian (free registration required).
Behind the scenes at every television channel there is a small bunch of anonymous yet powerful people, typically in their 30s or early 40s, who draw up schedules. On their computers are stored precious trade secrets, mapping schedules three years ahead. They spend their time worrying simultaneously about 2006/7 and what's going out that night. They constantly ask questions such as "When is the next I'm A Celebrity starting?" And at 9.45 each morning, when the "overnights" - Barb audience data - are released, they will all be glued to their computers.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Ken Loach and Paul Laverty

Director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty talk to Sukhdev Sandhu about the third part of their 'Glasgow trilogy', in The Telegraph (free registration required).
"Film critics never talk about what my films are about," [Loach] complains. "It amazes me that they pay so little attention to the subject matter. They're always more interested in style and technique."

Children shun books

A new survey appears to confirm what many will feel they already knew - children prefer TV and computer games to reading, reports The Guardian.
The survey conducted earlier this month by Nestlé Box Tops for Books, which asked parents about their children's reading habits, found that half of UK children spend less than two hours reading per week. A further one in 10 had not read a book in the past month, and of those who do read regularly, one in four avoid non-fiction titles. More than half of the parents surveyed believed their children should read more non-fiction books.

Friday, September 17, 2004

BBC radio for all?

Ofcom chief executive Stephen Carter has raised the prospect of the BBC having to make its radio archive available for purchase by commercial stations. In a speech to the Social Market Foundation, Carter asked:
would non-discriminatory, non-exclusive access – for a fair payment – to the BBC sound archive allow commercial services to enhance their offering to the listening public; and, crucially, do so without damaging the BBC’s ability and commitment to offer a strong digital radio service proposition?

BBC News has a good round-up of the issues.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Matthew Friday's diary (3)

On 5 October Martthew Friday's first play, Che Guevara's Motorbike or How I Found My Father, which he is also directing, will open at The Rosemary Branch in London. You can read the background on the Writers' Guild website and follow his trials and tribulations here each week.

Week 3


Another rehearsal day. Paul couldn't make it, being at work. So we did the scenes in which his character (Gary) does not appear. We worked from about 11am to 5pm and it went well.

This rehearsal was about doing a lot of focused work on small sections of the play. Simone was late as she was waiting at home for a Fedex parcel and then Waterloo station was closed because of a 'security' alert or, as was most likely, a lack-of-staff-alert.

We did some good work, changing some of the scenes to make them faster and funnier. The whole rehearsal was most beneficial for Joan because, as the new member of the cast, she is still getting to grips with her character and the play.

As ever, it was a lunch of tea and sausage sandwich in the Goldsmith Coffee Shop, recently upgraded from an above-average Greasy Spoon café to a rather posh café, complete with a new flat screen television and plush reception counter.

The highlight of the day? Organising a special deal on tickets for all the Saturday Matinee shows - now only £5. What a bargain.


Another good rehearsal day. We worked on the second half, performing for the first time the new scenes at the end of the play. The scenes flowed fairly smoothly, and we tightened a lot of the dialogue with cuts.

It was good to see that the changes I had made for 'Gary' worked well and it really developed his dysfunctional relationship with 'Alberto.' Another bonus was the continuing improvement of the Goldsmith Coffee shop. Now it has plush new chairs and tables. It's the restaurant transformation equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde. I am hoping there are no more experiments and the restaurant does not revert back to its monstrous self.

In the evening we all went to our patron theatre, the Rosemary Branch, and watched the entertaining show before us, Making Dickie Happy. The show was sold out. They had a brilliant set which really filled up the stage space. It looked and felt like the famous 1920's hotel on Burgh Island, Devon.

I sat there making furious notes about the stage layout and design, and how different our play will be. I got looks from various members of the audience, thinking I was a reviewer. There was one in the theatre: Michael Billington of the Guardian. No, I'm just the director of the next show. The one that is so radically different from a very well executed period comedy featuring Noel Coward, Lord Mountbatten and Agatha Christie.

I am beginning to get nervous.

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Traverse puts new writing on hold

The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, the centre for new writing in Scottish theatre, is to produce no new plays until next March, artistic director Philip Howard has announced.

Howard is quoted in The Stage as saying:
“Every year I seem to get more and more good plays arrive on my shelves and then they take longer to get produced, because there just isn’t the money. At the moment I have four plays waiting to be done which don’t even have slots pencilled in next year.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Fantasy fiction for children

Fantasy fiction, once scorned by the literati, is the new big thing in publishing, says Nicholas Clee in The Independent.
Worldwide sales of countless millions of Harry Potter novels by that one-time struggling writer, JK Rowling, have persuaded publishers to revise their opinions. Now they are throwing the kinds of advances once associated with high-concept thrillers or chick-lit at children's novels, particularly ones with elements of fantasy. Film companies are responding to the trend, and the media are suddenly taking an interest in authors who, a few years ago, would have been regarded by most journalists as entirely uninteresting.

Morris to step down

Arts Minister Estelle Morris is to leave Parliament at the next election, reports the BBC.

In a statement, the Birmingham Yardley MP said she had not lost her appetite for politics but wanted to pursue challenges outside the Commons.

Women's Watershed Fiction

Woman's Hour invites you to nominate the novel which has spoken to you on a personal level. It may have changed the way you look at yourself or simply made you happy to be a woman. As a man, it may have affected your understanding of the women in your life. Your selection can be written by a man or a woman, in this country or abroad, as long as it touched your life in some way.
An initial survey has suggested the following top-five:
1.Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre
2.Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
3.Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
4.George Eliot – Middlemarch
5.Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice
Toni Morrison – Beloved

However, the final list will be based purely on the public vote.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Nancy Banks-Smith

If you're not a Guardian reader then you probably won't know Nancy Banks Smith's TV reviews.

She sometimes gets crticised for going off subject, but she's often more entertaining than the programme itself. And she has a keen eye for drama.

Take a look at today's review (free registration required) of Blue Murder (ITV).

NB She's also good at actually mentioning the writer (in this case John Fay).

Monday, September 13, 2004

Leigh wins in Venice

Guild member Mike Leigh has won the The Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival with Vera Drake. The star, Imelda Staunton, won Best Actress.

Speaking after the screening Leigh said: "I felt very strongly that it was time to deal with the issue of abortion directly, though in a way that poses a moral dilemma for you, the audience, and doesn't draw simple black and white conclusions."
The Independent


Self-publishing is getting an increasing amount of coverage in the media, with several self-published books having won awards or gained high-profile deals.

Danuta Kean in The Sunday Telegraph (free registration required) profiles the latest success story, Peter J Murray, who has gone on to sign a big deal with Hodder.
Murray's debut, Mokee Joe is Coming, which was inspired by stories he told to his own children, was self-published last autumn and sold 12,000 copies after he promoted it in local bookshops and schools.
You can find out more about self-publishing on the Writers' Guild website.

Fred Ebb

Fred Ebb, the man who wrote the lyrics for Chicago and Cabaret has died, reports the BBC. He also wrote the words for New York, New York.

Richard & Judy

Millions of people daydream about becoming novelists and writing the next bestseller. Many of these take the next step of putting pen to paper but only a very small number will ever be published. So how does an aspiring writer go about turning a hobby into a career?
The Richard and Judy programme has followed in Oprah's footsteps by running a "book club" whose recommendations can send sales through the roof. Now they're running a writing guide feature and a competetion.

You can find all the details on their website.

As is often the case with these competitions, the small print has some nasty clauses.
By entering into this competition the entrants agree to permit Pan Macmillan without charge to reproduce their entry or an edited form of their entry in any form or format for advertising, marketing or point of sale material as Pan Macmillan shall determine.

Hare & Hytner

Interesting Radio 4 interview with David Hare about his new Iraq play, Stuff Happens. Also features National Theatre boss Nicholas Hytner on the new significance of political theatre.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Plater: I used to be cool

Matthew Sweet interviews Guild member and multi-talented writer, Alan Plater, in The Independent.
"I like having a whack at things," he says, flicking his thumb on the wheel of his recalcitrant cigarette lighter. "The phone rings, somebody asks me to do something, and I say yes. I never really meant to do anything. I've never had any sense of career. I've just gone from one gig to the next. You don't get better at writing by not doing it. And it's still a compulsion for me."

Shakespeare online

The British Library has put 93 copies of the 21 plays by Shakespeare printed in quarto online.

It's a good site, with plenty of useful backround, but reading images of the books on screen is not quite the same as holding them...

Matthew Friday's diary (2)

On 5 October Martthew Friday's first play, Che Guevara's Motorbike or How I Found My Father, which he is also directing will open at The Rosemary Branch in London. You can read the background on the Writers' Guild website and follow his trials and tribulations here each week.

Week 2

I'm tired out. Exhausted. Knackered. And we've only done one rehearsal.

It's the early starts. Every day for a month at 7am. That's because I have to get up that early for my part-time job as well as rehearsals.

The first part of the rehearsal was dedicated to line cuts and editing of the play. Everyone was very patient with me, and it at least meant that we were all agreed about the script. Of course, there will be many minor changes ahead. I must have made twenty further small alterations when the play was rehearsed and that will happen right up to and usually into the first week of performance.

It's not until your hear your words said out aloud that you begin to understand if they work or not. Some pieces of dialogue become less or more functional depending on the way they are acted, and, of course, the response of the audience can change it all.

For now we rehearsed the first half of the play. This involved setting out the room like a stage, establishing the exits and entrances, and performing the play within that space. Being in a classroom, there are limitations to this. The stage is an artificial environment at the best of times, but a crude reproduction of an artifice can never be as effective as you plan.

Because the actors are still reading from their scripts, you can't properly direct the physical use of space. This early part of the process is more about getting a feel for the characters, establishing the tone and pace of the play, and laying down the foundations for the characters' actions and interactions.

Promotion is the hard part. The part that can make or break a play. Of course, packing out the theatre one night and putting on a bad show won't keep the audience for long, but if no one knows about a play no one will come to see it.

I made a grand total of £3 when we did the preview run. Not bad, considering I personally paid for the theatre-hire and we were sorely let down by promises of promotions from our sponsors at the time. I did get an article in the local press, but it got the dates and actors names wrong. If you take away friends and family, I think we got eight complete strangers of the proverbial street. So, a profit of £3 is pretty good.

This time must be different. The financial commitment is greater, but this is balanced with the Rosemary Branch being a recognised and respected member of the Fringe theatre community.

Obviously, I want the show to get the best promotion, reviews, and word of mouth possible. I also want my writing and directing to get some recognition.

That is for the future. Right now, I have to get on with working through my list of important theatre critics, national publications, local papers, listing organisations, etc, etc.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

New American TV drama

New from the Writers Guild of America, west, writers discuss their upcoming shows.

Lots of bouncy optimism that will, of course, turn to bitterness as the autumn ratings battles claim their inevitable victims.

City-wide book club

A city-wide book club has been launched in Liverpool to get more people interested in reading, reports the BBC.

Book shops and libraries have stocked up on Holes, by Louis Sachar, the book chosen for Liverpool Reads 2004.

The city's residents are being encouraged to read the book and talk about it with family, friends and even strangers.

There will be a city-wide read every year until 2008, when Liverpool becomes European Capital of Culture.

National Theatre 91% full

National Theatre shows achieved 91% audience capacity during the 2003/4 season - an increase of nearly a third over the figure for three years ago, according to the venue’s annual review.

Its success has been attributed to the popularity of subsidised tickets available from initiatives such as The Travelex £10 Season, says The Stage. The scheme offered 150,000 seats at £10 each and audience figures for the four productions at the Olivier averaged 95%, with Henry V attracting a third of first-time bookers.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Variety Night

The Writers' Guild held its first ever Variety Night at the end of August. A chance for Guild members (and a few welcome interlopers) to strut their stuff, it was a resounding success.

There's a review on the Guild's website.

If you were there, as a writer, performer, or member of the audience click on the comments link below to give your own opinion. (Instructions on registering a user name for comments can be found at the top right of this page)

Monday, September 06, 2004

Radio opportunity - Broken and Blue

BBC Radio 3 and BBC writersroom are looking for original, entertaining and diverse music dramas for radio.

Radio 3's first writers' competition, Broken and Blue is an ambitious project for writers who would like to extend their body of work into this under-explored area. It is about rethinking the role of music and song in radio drama.

Full details from the BBC's Writers Room.

Radio opportunity - Parsons & Naylor

Radio 2's Parsons and Naylor’s Pull-Out Sections starts recording its seventh series on 8th September 2004. If you are interested in submitting sketches and topicals go to the BBC Writers Room for details.
The Pull Out Sections has a very distinctive style, therefore, there is absolutely no point in submitting sketches unless you have heard the show. Nothing you have written for other shows would fit Parsons and Naylor.

Top 10 films

The training organisation Skillset asked the Guild to compile a list of the top 10 films of all time, according to Guild members. The list, along with those from other industry professions, will help inform a recommendation for 'required viewing' for film students.

So, according to Guild members the Top 10 films of all time are:

1. Citizen Kane

2. Pulp Fiction

3. Some Like It Hot

4. Lawrence of Arabia

5. The Ladykillers (original version)

6. Witness

7. Memento

8. Apocalypse Now

9. The Searchers

10. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Pulp Fiction at number 2? Nothing from outside the UK or America? Feel free to add your own list in the comments...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Play for yesterday

There's a promising line-up of new drama on TV this autumn, but are we still missing the Play For Today, asks The Observer's Liz Hoggard.
Play for today (originally called The Wednesday Play) ran from 1964-84. The brief was to commission more scripts from new writers, using innovative production techniques. While the political slant was to the left, it offered every type of drama. 'People think it was all kitchen sink,' recalls Russell T Davies. 'But it took on all styles from science fiction to musicals.' Of course there were duds. But writers of the calibre of Ken Loach and Dennis Potter recognised TV was the supreme vehicle to reach a mass audience. 'You never knew what you were going to get,' says Poliakoff. 'And audiences loved that. It wasn't just a chance to see buttocks and bare breasts, which The Wednesday Play became famous for, it was about imaginative worlds that stretched people.'
Unsurprisingly, TV executives defend the current system.
Mal Young, BBC controller of drama series, thinks we're being snobbish. 'I love the fact that you can have State of Play , a very authored vision, on a Sunday night and two nights later you've got Holby City - appealing to quite a similar audience but giving them different things within drama. Everyone said we were never going to pull off plays in the daytime but now we're on to our third series of The Afternoon Play. We've never had a healthier time for writers on TV.'

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Elmore Leonard

There seem to be lots of interesting writer profiles and interviews around at the moment - perhaps it's the PR machines swinging into action for autumn.

In The Independent, Sholto Byrnes meets Elmore Leonard.

...after 39 novels, many of which have been turned into movies, including Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Jackie Brown (the last directed by Tarantino, whose association with the writer began as a teenager, when he stole one of Leonard's novels from a bookshop), he still claims not to know what's going to happen when he puts pen to paper. "It's much more fun not to know," he says. "And then to make things up on the spot. I haven't outlined in 30 years or more. When you're plotting, you don't know who the people are, you don't know if they're going to be quirky or odd. So you just have to wait and see how they come out. And get them to talk, that's the main thing."

Friday, September 03, 2004

Doc Martin a hit for ITV

Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes, has given a ratings boost to ITVat the start of a crucial autmumn season.

Written by Dominic Minghella, it got almost 10 million viewers - a rare achievement these days for a comedy drama.

Stuff Happens by David Hare

Documentary theatre is everywhere at the moment, and Guild member David Hare is leading the way.

After his success with The Permanent Way, inspired by the Hatfield rail crash, comes Stuff Happens about the war in Iraq.

The Guardian invited a "panel of experts" to give their reviews.

Matthew Friday's diary (1)

On 5 October Martthew Friday's first play, Che Guevara's Motorbike or How I Found My Father, which he is also directing will open at The Rosemary Branch in London. You can read the background on the Writers' Guild website and follow his trials and tribulations here each week.

Week 1

This is the limbo between being a writer and a director. I start rehearsals on Saturday, and that's the Director's business. Last weekend we did the workshop on the play, which is strictly a Writer's business. This week I'm still tweaking the script and getting phonecalls from the actors asking about individual lines, the motivation for their characters in certain scenes, the meaning behind certain jokes.

Let's go back to last Sunday.

Doing a workshop on any piece of writing is a good idea. As a writer, I am, of course, naturally petrified at the idea of other people reading my work. The fear goes like this: they read, therefore they will hate.

What you have to remember is that blending Descartes with neurosis does not help. You've got to 'put it out there', so to speak. Sure, you're going to get some people give you harsh criticism and inappropriate suggestions. The dance floor of life is filled with many dodgy dancers. (I have a habit of making up proverbs. Spontaneously. Can you tell?) But there's nothing saying you have to work with these people. Try and find readers who respect you enough to be honest but sensitive.

I have my actors and I couldn't ask for a better bunch of creative professionals. Well, I could, but no one will work with me. Only joking. My actors - Kevin Marchant, Paul Brennan, Simone Ashton and Joan Plunkett - joined me last Sunday at Goldsmith College for another argument with the semi-dormant porters who insist that I do not have a room.

"You're name's not on the list. No name, no room."

My name is on the list. You just have to wait for the porters to wake up, turn the page over and look at the right date. Every time.

Our room is one of the identical classrooms in the college and we all spend the day there, pretending we're not back at school. I don't act like any sort of a teacher. My actors are all older and more experienced than me. They've read hundreds of plays and been in just as many. This is just my first.

The workshop consists of reading the play out loud. At the end of every scene we pause and I gather the actors' reactions. From serious plot concerns down to the smallest line, I take note of everything and make almost every change because the actors are almost always right. That's not to say we don't discuss a point made by one person. There's a lot of discussion and I don't always accept a suggestion straight off.

However, I do believe in working collaboratively and developing the script with the people I am working with. Actors have a perspective on characters and plot that writers do not. Having to go on stage and convince an audience that the character is real means they need to understand the logic behind the character. Anything incongruous or ambiguous has to be rewritten. It's hard work. A good actor is very sharp and won't let a single vague line off the proverbial hook.

So, six hours later, it's time to go home and rewrite the play. Not dramatically, this time. Lots of lines were changed and the character of Summer needed considerable development. Her part in the play had become over-complicated in my attempt to make her back-story more convincing.

I've had several more conversations with Joan (who is playing Summer) this week. I won't be happy about the character until she is. Simone is going to read the play again tonight and do a final edit for me. The play was 76 pages long when we performed it at the Colour House, and now it's 83. The plot is slightly more complicated and farcical, but that was necessary. There are also more jokes. I now want to tighten it. If I can retain my plot changes and jokes, and get it back down to 76 pages in time for the first rehearsal on Sunday, I'll be as chuffed as a chough.

Fingers crossed for Sunday.

By the way, as a means of combing research and relaxation I went to see The Motorcycle Diaries. Because I am running out of both words (in my limited count) and time before I have to go to bed, I'll keep my reaction short. It's a cinematic masterpiece. And no, I did not know the film was being made when I wrote my play. It's a case of what I call 'cultural' timing, when a subject or person rises back up the surface of collective consciousness at the same time.

There is, as I write, a play about Che Guevara being developed as well as a musical (can you imagine that?) and a big budget Hollywood biopic. My play is not actually about Che Guevara. It's about a left-wing English journalist who idealises the famous revolutionary while searching for his father.

Please go and see my play before you get tired of hearing about Che Guevara.

Hanif Kureishi

When I was growing up, the idea of anyone writing about my life, or about people like me, was inconceivable. Asians, and particularly those who had migrated to or grown up in Britain, were a kind of anti-subject matter.

We were seen as dowdy and provincial. We spoke in accents that no cool teenager would ever copy. We were invisible, not just to the outside world but to ourselves. We needed someone to show us that we existed.

That person was Hanif Kureishi.
Sukhdev Sandhu meets Hanif Kureishi, in The Telegraph (free registration required).

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

C4 looks to cop shows

Channel 4 are hoping to tread a well-worn path to drama success with a new raft of cop shows, according to an interview with head of drama John Yorke in MediaGuardian (free registration required).

"I don't think there has ever been a homegrown cop show on Channel 4. But I want to see if we can find a Channel 4 take on it, reinvent the genre. We've got a small shortlist, we're developing three or four shows," [Yorke] said.

People may say, 'Oh god, not another cop show'. But if you take that attitude, you'll never get another Hill Street Blues or Cracker," Mr Yorke added.

Screenplay downloads

The Screenwriters Store has some new scripts available for downloand.

They include:
  • Eternal Sunshine by Charlie Kaufman
  • Any Given Sunday by Jamie Williams & Richard Weiner, John Logan, Daniel Pyne
  • Wild At Heart by David Lynch
  • The Addams Family by Larry Wilson and Caroline Thompson

Autumn plays

This autumn will be one of the best ever for theatre, says The Independent.

They also have an interview with Charlotte Jones, who has written the book for the new Lloyd Webber musical version of A Woman in White.

That first meeting didn't go well. Jones's take on Wilkie Collins's 1860 classic is a radical one, and initially she was convinced that Lloyd Webber was appalled. "I think I was still quite hormonal," she laughs. "But I started telling him my ideas, and he just wouldn't look at me at all, and I thought, 'Oh God, this is so, so bad,' but I somehow couldn't stop myself."