Friday, September 30, 2005

Games writers, blow your own trumpets

A report on the Writers' Guild website by Andy Walsh on a meeting between members of the International Games Developer's Association and the Guild. The meeting called for games writers to register themselves and their games on sites like and Imdb.

By the way, we're still having technical problems with the Guild's site. The site is now up, but images and downloads still aren't available. We're working on it...

Channel 4 comedy winners

Channel 4 issued the following press release (the web link is registration only, so I've pasted it in full).
29th September 2005


Today Channel 4 announced the winners of its new Comedy Writing Initiative 2005. The standard was so high that the judges took the decision to award an additional two entrants a joint-second prize. Team writers Helen Keen, 28, and Miriam Underhill 29, who are both currently working as office temps, won first prize. Second prize went to duo Henry White, 26, and Andy Sissons, 27, who run an animation production company together, and to Kevin Winch, 30, a paramedic.

The competition, launched in May, asked entrants to submit a three-minute topical monologue for a quintessential C4 show of their choice, and three non-topical sketches of no more than three minutes each in length. Since the initiative was announced, the supporting website had over 36,000 hits and over 1,500 entries were received.

The winners will now be given the opportunity to write for a range of Channel 4 comedy and entertainment shows. A £10,000 commission has been awarded to Helen and Miriam and a £5,000 commission each to Kevin Winch and writing team Henry White and Andy Sissons.

Helen Keen from Bridlington, East Yorkshire and Miriam Underhill from Twickenham, Middlesex, are currently temping in London. They met at Cambridge University; Helen studied English, and Miriam read Philosophy. They started writing comedy 18 months ago because they were ‘scared they were going to spend the rest of their lives as temps doing photocopying’. Their diverse influences include Brass Eye, Friends, Bob Monkhouse and The League of Gentlemen. Helen is also a keen stand-up comedian, and this year she was a finalist in the Funny Women competition held at The Comedy Store.

Runners-up Henry White, from London, and Andy Sissons, from Doncaster, also met at University and began writing comedy almost immediately. Before completing their degree in Media Production at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle, they set up an animation production company, which they continue to run. They began publishing their work on-line and now make animated content for Web and TV. Their comedy favourites include Big Train, Vic and Bob, Chris Morris and Peep Show.

Joint runner-up Kevin Winch is married and from Chatham in Kent. He works as a paramedic and has previously worked as a postman, a specialist care worker and security guard. Kevin cites his work as a paramedic as his inspiration for his writing and his favourite shows are Scrubs and Peep Show. His keen interest in the genre has led him to write his own scripts as a leisure pursuit. This is the first time he has entered a writing competition.

Authors, publishers agree on rights

From Publishing News:
An agreement to improve the distribution of secondary rights royalties between publishers and authors has been made between the Publishers Licensing Society and the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society. Authors stand to benefit significantly from the formal agreement, which contains terms for the next five years, and will increasingly recognise writers’ contributions to magazines, serials and academic journals.
Jane Carr, CEO of the ALCS said, “This agreement provides a sound foundation for writers and publishers to work together to raise awareness and improve the understanding of the benefits of copyright and respect for creativity. Along with publishers, writers must be recognised and rewarded for the economic contribution they make to the ‘knowledge economy’.”

Comedy - Religious hatred

Comedians have been more worried about the religious hatred bill than most writers. The Ship of Fools which documents 'disorganized religion' recently hosted a night where religious jokes were tested on a live audience, though it took them quite some time to find anyone willing to perform it. The site's regular visitors voted to determine the top ten religious jokes.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Guild theate committee awards

I was going to write this up myself, but The Stage has beaten me to it - the first winners of the Guild's Awards for Exceptional Encouragement of New Writing.
National Youth Music Theatre artistic director Jeremy James Taylor, Lorrie Sheehy from First Look Independent Productions, Richard Lee, director of Alec French Architects and Traverse Theatre’s literary manager Katherine Mendelsohn all picked up the accolades for supporting new work.

David James, chair of the union’s theatre committee, congratulated all the winners at an informal ceremony held at the Old Vic. He said: “So much of what we do is focused on battling the negative, we put this together because we wanted to celebrate something positive.”

Waterstone's and Ottakar's

Author Tracey Chevalier explains in The Guardian why she is worried about Waterstone's proposed takeover of Ottakar's.
Judging by their windows - the most important showcase of a shop's ethos - Waterstone's is publicising value-for-money, while Ottakar's caters to people's interests. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with either approach, but both are needed if the consumer is to have the best possible book-buying experience. Competition is not just about providing products at the lowest price, but about offering choice as well. When I want to buy a book I am looking for two things in a bookshop - a fair price and a wide range of books to choose from.

BBC online TV trial

Trials off the BBC's new online TV player, iMP (integrated Media Player) will begin this week. Five thousand volunteers have been selected and their viewing habits will be monitored until the end of the year. iMP will provide a chance to view recent shows, doing for TV what the online RadioPlayer does fo radio.

More details from the BBC press office.

Middle-sized theatres

Mark Shenton is in New York and, as he writes on The Stage Newsblog, he is struck by the number of medium-sized theatres.
One of the ongoing problems - or challenges, depending on whether you see the glass half-empty or half-full -— of London as against New York theatre is the nearly complete absence of a commercial middle-ground in London between the high-cost (to audience as well as producers) West End and the low-rent (in every sense) fringe.

While New York theatre can healthily embrace a happy spectrum with a plethora of houses of 499 seats or less (to qualify them as off-Broadway) where producers can actually make money without the crippling risks of Broadway, London has little to offer inbetween the two extremes, though various initiatives - like the Trafalgar Studios and, when it finally gets built, the Sondheim Theatre above the Queen's - are intended to plug that gap.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

CBBC's new commissioning structure

Guild Children's Committee Chair, Andy Walsh, reports from a meeting on the new submissions and commissioning process for CBBC drama.
One Rule for All
CBBC’s new commissioning structure

Monday morning, 26th September and Jon East sets out the new submissions and commissioning process for CBBC drama.

The talk was a mixture of creative and commercial talk, a reminder that television is first and foremost a business. Jon East’s plan is aimed to drain what he termed the ‘swamp of development’ and streamline the commissioning process to aid both writers and the BBC’s own strategic aims. Gone then is the rolling commissioning process which is now replaced by a one date for all. Come the 16th January all in-house, indie produced and writer produced submissions will be judged together.

The Submission Process
All submissions must be made to the department on (or for up to approximately two weeks after) the 16th January. Six weeks after submissions close, a letter will be sent either accepting the idea for development, or rejecting it outright. No discussion, or further development will be entertained after a rejection. At the moment 2007/08 is partly commissioned and 2008/2009 is virgin territory. There are seven slots per year and each of these will only have around three to five ideas per slot taken forward from the first round of submissions.

No support will be given to writers during this stage and no pitching meetings will be sought. Writers may still go in to meet BBC personnel and discuss slots, but staff won’t be available for pitches.

Summary – single page submissions only (+covering letter and c.v.), submitted once per year on January 16th.

Stage 2 – A paid process (as are all subsequent stages) taking the successful one page ideas and expanding them into treatments. The requirements for each treatment will be discussed on a project to project basis.

Stage 3 – Survivors from Stage 2 will be asked to develop a bible and detailed story outlines (six pages per episode detailing each story beat).

Stage 4 – Will see a pilot script being written for submission to CBBC’s controller for commissioning and production.

Any project rejected at any stage will be returned to the writer, possibly with the copyright returning to them as well. No further development work will be done on any of these projects.

The Slots
Gone too are age specific requirements. Now all projects must fall into a 6-12 age bracket (centring on the 10 year olds) with a generic ‘U’ classification feel to them. Submissions may be in any style but should meet two main requirements (outside of the usual budgetary constraints) –
1) They must provide the audience with emotionally ‘nourishing’ material (tell good stories in plain language).
2) They should employ innovative visual strategies.

Further to this the stories should fall into either 10 x 27min or 20 x 27 mins series (this meaning either series or serial but with an emphasis on one ep stories with some serial elements). CBBC retains one slot per year for larger projects appearing as either a 1x 90 or, 2 x 60 minute format. They should, of course, all be child centred. Bonus points are available for projects that have a possible interactive element.

Team Writing
Meetings will still be taken and writing samples read for team writers on projects.

Existing Development Projects
Will learn their fate as soon as possible but definitely before the 16th January.

This process is still to be decided. Books may be sent to the BBC before 16th January for consideration to see if they will accept them in a one page pitch in the 16th January submissions round.

As this is a new process Jon East was at pains to point out that there would be no exceptions to the 16th January except the exceptions. As with any new system, time will be taken to iron out the kinks and to see how it works in practice. This is an attempt to remove many of the pitfalls of the current commissioning process and to foster a new creative atmosphere at CBBC.

Dubplate (Interactive) Drama

A gritty television drama series set around Britain's urban music scene aims to push back broadcasting frontiers by letting its audience choose how the plot will develop.

The six-part Dubplate Drama, to be shown on...Channel 4 in November, will invite viewers to vote via telephone text message for one of two possible outcomes at the end of each week's 13-and-a-half minute episode.

The drama will be the first series to exploit modern television viewers' enthusiasm for audience participation, said youth marketing agency Livity, which is behind the show.
More from Reuters.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Literary festivals

Literary festivals are growing in number and significance, says Geordie Greig in The Times.
Authors love doing the festivals as they exchange the loneliness of their word processor for fans who give them feedback and adoration. Unlike film or pop stars scurrying away from their fans, authors bask in the attention, as it is often so rare. Jonathan Coe charmingly confessed that it was the nearest that writers got to know what it was like to be a rock star.
Elsewhere in The Times, Selina Walker visits the Bouchercon crime writing festival in Chicago.
“Crime writers are the most supportive, friendly, welcoming writers in the world,” insists [Dennis] Lehane. And to judge by the crowds in the bar that evening, by the mix of fans taking photos of their favourite authors, the publishers buying wine and the authors swapping the latest forensic information, he is not wrong. There’s no hiding out in an authors’ yurt for these guys, no matter how famous they are.

Advice for playwrights

In The Independent, David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, sets out his view of what makes a great play.
The key to dramaturgy is conflict. From Oedipus to Ayckbourn, at the centre of a play is a suffering human being. We may be appalled by the horror (Titus Andronicus) or cry tears of laughter (A Flea in her Ear). As Kenneth Tynan put it, "Whether in a farce like Charley's Aunt or a tragedy like King Lear, the behaviour of a human being at the end of his tether is the common denominator of all drama."

Sioned William - ITV Comedy Controller

ITV's Comedy Controller, Sioned William, talks to Jason Deans in Media Guardian (free registration required). Her main success so far has been single comedy dramas, of which there will be plenty more, but she also wants to find good sitcoms and sketch shows.
"I'm obsessed with finding the great sitcom. It's hard though, I'm not going to lie," she says. "The Office is one of the greatest comedy pieces ever, but not everything can be on that note. What I really need for ITV is not The Office, but I need The Likely Lads, I need a Porridge, a Fools and Horses, a My Family. They are more accessible, they are richer shows."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Writrers and directors

An interesting piece about the sometimes strained relationship between playwrights and directors by Susan Dominus in The New York Times.

She talks to writer Richard Greenberg who is working with director on two new plays.
"I used to be quite deferential, and maybe not as useful as I could have been," said Mr. Greenberg, sitting in the upstairs lobby of the American Airlines Theater, where his latest play, "A Naked Girl on the Appian Way," will open Oct. 6. "I didn't want to tread one anyone's toes, and as a result, some things didn't bloom as fully as they might." Then, years later, when a few productions of his plays went awry, he became, as he put it, "monstrous." In the middle of one particularly painful rehearsal process, he said, he actually forbade the director from talking to him for the duration of the production. "It turned out that was equally ineffectual and much more unpleasant," said Mr. Greenberg with a laugh.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Soderbergh keeps experimenting

The movie business is "out of whack," director Steven Soderbergh says. "The studio model has to be rethought."

Never one to talk idly about such things, the national vp for the Directors Guild of America has banded with dot-com entrepreneur-turned-movie mogul Todd Wagner to try out some radical new ideas. This month, they are showing their first collaboration -- the digital movie "Bubble" -- to receptive film festival audiences and critics at the Venice, Toronto and New York events. Shot for $1.6 million, "Bubble" is a far cry from "Ocean's Twelve."
More from Ann Thompson in The Hollywood Reporter.

The Bard of Basra

When fighting dictators and censorship, Arab directors have one playwright they can fall back on: Shakespeare. So says Kuwaiti writer and director, Sulayman Al-Bassam in The Guardian.
It is in this game of cat and mouse between theatre and the thought police that Shakespeare's texts come up trumps. The texts are dicey, metaphorical, slippery; they say and they don't say, they offend without offending, they are the perfect simulacra, the ultimate mask.

Guild website

The Guild website is currently down due to technical problems. We will have it up and running again as soon as possible.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

TMA Awards nominations

Nominations have been announced for the 2005 Theatrical Management Association Awards, reports The Stage.

The nominees for Best New Play are:
  • Bashment by Rikki Beadle-Blair
  • Pyrenees by David Greig
  • Talking to Terrorists by Robin Soans.
The Awards will be presented next month.

Novels depend on women

When Ian McEwan tried to give away some surplus books, only women were intrested.
Cognitive psychologists with their innatist views tell us that women work with a finer mesh of emotional understanding than men. The novel - by that view the most feminine of forms - answers to their biologically ordained skills. From other rooms in the teeming mansion of the social sciences, there are others who insist that it is all down to conditioning. But perhaps the causes are less interesting than the facts themselves. Reading groups, readings, breakdowns of book sales all tell the same story: when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.

More in The Guardian.

Authors Guild sues Google

The American Authors Guild is suing Google, claiming that its plan to digitise books and put them online (Google Library) is a "massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers."
"“This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law,"” said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. "“It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied."
There seems to be some confusion here.Google's policy, as set out on its website is that:
If the book has no copyright restrictions and is considered public domain, then you can browse through the entire book. For library books still under copyright, you'll only be able to see a few sentences. Books that are from publishers will allow you to view a limited number of pages. In general, Google Print is designed to help you discover books, not read them from start to finish. It's like going to a bookstore and browsing -– only with a Google twist.
Has this changed?

Update 22/09/05: The Guardian Online blog has some more on this, including a statement from Google:
"We regret that this group has chosen litigation to try to stop a program that will make books and the information within them more discoverable to the world," the statement said. "Google Print directly benefits authors and publishers by increasing awareness of and sales of the books in the program. And, if they choose, authors and publishers can exclude books from the program if they don't want their material included. Copyrighted books are indexed to create an electronic card catalog and only small portions of the books are shown unless the content owner gives permission to show more."
And more from Wired, which seems to get to the heart of the matter:
Google argues that it strictly limits how much of any given book it will show to consumers and thus meets copying exemptions provided under the fair-use doctrine, among others.

But Google is copying entire works without permission in order to place books in its database in the first place. And it plans to make money by selling ads. That combination that could get Google in trouble.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Yahoo's global internet TV ambition

Terry Semel, the chief executive of Yahoo!, said yesterday that he wanted to develop a global internet television network, and invited British broadcasters to provide programmes that his company could distribute.

The American wants to start commissioning his own programming, and work with broadcasters in unlocking their archives as part of a strategy to be “not a product company but a major distribution platform”.
More from Dan Sabbagh in The Times.

Springer tour saved

The national tour for Jerry Springer: The Opera by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas has been saved, reports BBC News.
The show seemed doomed when 30% of theatres pulled out after a Christian group said it would picket venues.

Arts Council England then refused a request to fund the tour.

But the [21 regional] theatres have agreed to pool marketing costs and producers Avalon will put £650,000 into the tour. The show now opens in Plymouth in January.

Monday, September 19, 2005

WGAw attacked over royalties

The Writers Guild of America, west (WGAw) is under attack from legal action over undelivered royalties, reports Dennis MacDougal in The New York Times.
Interviewed before the suit was filed, guild representatives said that the surplus funds - which mirror a similar buildup at the Directors Guild of America...simply reflected a surge in collections, matched by an unintended delay in the process for finding those due it.

"I have been doing a good job finding money," said Robert Hadl, a former MCA/ Universal general counsel who is now a consultant specializing, among other things, in foreign issues for the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. "We're just not fast enough on the other end."

Poliakoff wins Emmy

British Writer/Director Stephen Poliakoff won an Emmy Award last night for his BBC-produced series, The Lost Prince. Shown in America on PBS, The Lost Prince was named Outstanding Mini-Series at the American TV awards.

Street stories

Has Coronation Street fallen foul of politically motivated storylining? David Liddiment investigates in Media Guardian(free registration required).
The recent Claire Peacock do-gooding storyline is the culprit. Claire - taxi-driver and wife of Ashley - got involved in clearing the Red Rec (Weatherfield's version of the green belt) of the detritus of modern inner-city living, namely abandoned shopping trolleys and dumped sofas. In the spirit of good citizenship, Claire recruited the Street's residents to join in with, as they say, hilarious but ultimately uplifting consequences. Just another slice of life down Weatherfield way. But hang on. At the end of each episode viewers were invited to find out more about volunteering by contacting ITV's Britain on the Move campaign. This, apparently, is the Year of the Volunteer. So Claire's storyline was really a bit of social action working undercover in Britain's most popular show.

Ravenhill on American culture

Guild member Mark Ravenhill found himself consuming almost exclusively American culture. Could he survive a month without it?
As the first Monday of the diet approached, I wrestled with my conscience. Wasn't this just a little-Englander gesture against "cultural imperialism" in our shiny new global world? Then I remembered writing my play Some Explicit Polaroids. In it there are several scenes set on an Aids ward: the Russian toyboy Victor sees his lover Tim die. These scenes were almost autobiographical for me. I wanted to write honestly from my own life. Instead, the Aids plays of Tony Kushner and Larry Kramer, and the films Philadelphia and Longtime Companion, came rushing towards me. I found my characters talking in mid-Atlantic accents; suddenly there were Hugs and Learning and Meryl Streep sitting on the bed. I was angry, furious with America for colonising my experience of Aids. I had to rip up draft after draft of those scenes until I could get something that was free of the American shadow.
More in The Guardian.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Poliakoff speaks

Writer and director Stephen Poliakoff interviewed by Richard Brooks in The Stage.
Write first for the theatre and only then try TV and movies. This was the advice that Stephen Poliakoff was given as a young man and today he believes it is just as valid. “In fact, I reckon it was the best bit of advice I was ever given,” says the 53-year-old writer, even though in the past decade he is much better known and more highly praised as a television dramatist.

Screenwriting credits

Mark Lawson looks at screenwriting credits, in The Guardian.
Anyone going to see the Jane Austen adaptation [of Pride And Prejudice] this weekend will be given one answer: the screen says "screenplay by Deborah Moggach". Certainly, Moggach worked on a substantial version but it's on the record that Lee Hall, the Billy Elliot scriptwriter, contributed further drafts and the whisper from behind the arc lights is that Emma Thompson (credited screenwriter on the movie of Austen's Sense and Sensibility) contributed a dialogue polish.

What seems to have happened is that the Writers Guild of America (the screenwriters' union, which decides whose names roll past as the cinema empties) judged that Hall had not achieved the 33% alterations necessary for a credit, while Thompson wished her contribution to be anonymous.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Doctor Who on the radio

With Doctor Who having recently re-established his presence in the national consciousness on TV, Big Finish is now transmitting his adventures on BBC7’s airwaves.
More from Scott Matthewman in The Stage.

What do you want to watch tomorrow?

Guild member Katriel Costello saw Paul Abbott’s speech in Cambridge yesterday. Here’s her report:
Bland, inoffensive, or just crap – TV drama exists because the industry doesn’t think its audience can handle complex storytelling, said Guild member Paul Abbott, who gave The Huw Wheldon Lecture at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge on Thursday 15 September.
In a speech called ‘What Do You Want To Watch Tomorrow?’ Abbott pointed to the ambition and diligence of the American series Lost, whose creators, he said, had the willingness to renew what counts as modern TV drama. While in the UK we spend as much money making Footballers’ Wives as we did on Cracker.
The Shameless and State of Play creator told broadcasting executives: “We need more drama that unpeels society, that roots through the cubbyholes to fetch us nuggets of human behaviour that opens our eyes a bit. Not just the dark stuff. Wondrous fragments of ordinary people that can take our breath away.”
“Most people in the industry will quietly admit they don’t watch much telly. Why not? Well, probably because they’ve yet to make anything they’d actually want to watch themselves.”
Paul Abbott doesn’t want a bloody revolution. He just wants the many talented writers, actors and production teams to believe in their audience and for people to believe in their ideas.
“The audience deserves, and I believe craves, much more protein in their diet. Only by giving the viewer a workout, making them join the dots, use their imagination, can we reclaim television drama as the challenging, exciting, life-changing medium that I and many others have known it to be.”
Media Guardian (free registration required) also has a report. And there is comment from Maggie Brown in The Stage.

You can watch the speech for yourself on Monday night on BBC2 at 11.20pm

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The National in the black

The National Theatre has announced an operating surplus of £674,000 for the past financial year, reports The Stage Newsblog.
...the financial success was achieved largely on the back of two shows, in particular, that had a long life: The History Boys, that became "a box office phenomenon" (and the National jealously safe-guarded to itself, keeping it in the repertoire for over a year, and even next week hosting its return in an entirely re-cast production that will then go out on an 8-week national tour); and the return of His Dark Materials, that sold out for the second year running but the production costs of which were essentially already paid for.

The Guild at the TUC

Writers have praised BBC One hit sci-fi series Doctor Who at the TUC annual conference in Brighton, in a call for more funding for UK TV productions.

It showed there was "still an audience for quality family entertainment", the Writers' Guild of Great Britain said.

The union said there was no substitute for "well-resourced, home-grown drama and comedy material written, performed and produced in the UK".

But member Hugh Stoddart criticised the BBC for what he called "damaging cuts".
More from BBC News.

TV over the internet

TV delivered into living rooms over broadband connections will completely disrupt TV as well as the internet as we know it, concludes a major report.

IPTV (internet protocol TV), as it is known, is a budding area that is exciting telecoms and media companies.

Within a decade, says the report from Lovelace Consulting and informitv, TV delivered to sets over the net will be an established way to receive content.

TV will be much more web-like, with millions of shows to download.
More from BBC News.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Frost to replace Wood on Coronation Street

Former Emmerdale producer Steve Frost has landed one of the most important programme-making jobs in British TV - overseeing Granada's flagship ITV1 soap Coronation Street.

Mr Frost, who has most recently been overseeing ITV1's Heartbeat spinoff, The Royal, will take over the reins from Tony Wood at the beginning of next year.

Mr Wood has been in charge of Coronation Street's Manchester-based production operation since the beginning of 2004. He is tipped to move to Mersey TV, the company behind Hollyoaks, as creative director.
More from Media Guardian (free registration required)

The mystery of Agatha Christie

The battle for Agatha Christie's reputation, from BBC News.
...on the 75th anniversary of one of her most famous creations, Miss Marple, the Devon-born novelist and playwright, who died in 1976, is being relaunched in the UK by Chorion, which owns her brand and estate.

A week of Agatha Christie celebrations is under way with a debate on her legacy at the British Library and a campaign to include her on the national curriculum. New television and theatre adaptations are in production.

But is this inflating the importance of what some consider merely a good read? What can modern readers learn from a world where an eccentric private detective unmasks a killer, in a genteel society with a sinister underbelly?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Hall attacks Hollywood casting

Sir Peter Hall has attacked the obsession with Hollywood casting in the West End, reports Monsters and Critics.
He says, "I would be asked by a producer what I wanted to do. Now I'm asked 'Who can you get? Somebody from Los Angeles?' This is the wrong way round. You must start with the play, you really must."

In defence of British TV drama writing

In response to John Birt's recent criticisms, Tony Marchant in Media Guardian (free registration required) argues that British TV drama is as good as American, but does not get sufficient support from broadcasters and schedulers.
Shameless and the others were admirable examples of what may be a new evolution in British TV drama. The writer's voice, only formerly heard with any real force in single drama and serials, is now coming loud and clear in series too. However, such writers are finding themselves beholden to the ratings for their show's continued existence. They may as well be making Rosemary and Thyme. And when broadcasters start applying the same criteria to both kinds of shows, then we lose remarkable work such as Buried (which was as good as Oz) and Outlaws. What starts to look like a really exciting development in TV drama - the authored series - is treated shoddily, moved around in the schedules and finally abandoned. What's wrong with having an outstanding and original returning drama with an audience of 2-3 million? If we are happy to live with such modest figures for challenging one-offs and serials, why can the same faith not be kept for series with the same sensibility? Bad series with good ratings get recommissioned, good ones with modest viewing figures don't. Remember North Square?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Anthony Blair, Captain Of School

Guild Member and UK Writer magazine contributor, John Morrison, is self-publishing his first novel,Anthony Blair, Captain Of School. He tells Greg Harkin in The Independent how his background as a Reuters journalist, gave him the insights that have informed his satire.
"I don't want to give the plot away completely, but there is a very affable chap called Kennedy who ends up getting shot dead and there is another chap who dies called Kelly," said Mr Morrison.

"Westminster... is very much like a boarding school environment."

Roots of humour

Comedian Ian Coburn discusses the roots of humour on The Screenwriters' Store website.
Scripts mimic real life. One day I'll write a scene in which a close loved one has died. Click. I'll take out the mental image and have the characters laugh about something before crying or hugging. If humor is a bandage in reality, it needs to be one in my script. This will make it more real, more accurate; make the emotions of the characters honest and help the reader feel them. I may even show some coldness in one of the characters by not having him laugh; perhaps he feels it is inappropriate and it disgusts him. Or, maybe, on a deeper level, he simply can't face the death. I can have him laugh alone later and finally begin the healing process.

BBC Writersroom - Off Script

Gil Adams is the latest writer to be featured in the Off Script section of BBC Writersroom.
What annoys me most about the industry is when you have to take a piece to several more drafts than you envisaged or budgeted and made time for. The funds have usually dried up by this stage and your other projects tend to mount up, therefore causing a knock on effect which drives you mental. It would be brilliant to be paid more research dosh! And the research didn't eat into the time given to write the first draft. Also getting into TV development hell is very unfair, and often not really understood by us mere writers.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Indies says writers must be nurtured.

British television drama production is being threatened by a failure to nurture new writing skills, executives from leading independent production companies are warning.

Key figures from companies including Carnival Films, Red Productions and Wall to Wall are calling on the industry to do more to attract people who can write long-lasting contemporary drama at a time when the genre is more popular with broadcasters than ever.
More from Liz Thomas in The Stage.

Shot by the writer

An American screenwriter has moved into the realm of visual art by shooting his scripts. With a gun.
After 20-plus years of a middling career as a Hollywood screenwriter, Mr. Benedek, forging a new path in the field of fine arts, using the raw material of his past failures for a canvas. Having shot the "Ivory Joe" script, which he wrote in 1992, Mr. Benedek will make it into a bronze sculpture, or take photographs with a special camera for striking jumbo prints. He will show these and other pieces this month in an exhibition at the Frank Pictures gallery in Santa Monica titled "Shot by the Writer - Works on Paper: 1982-2004."
More from Sharon Waxman inThe New York Times.
After two more rounds, Mr. Benedek reels in the script, now puckered and swollen by the force of the bullets. He flips it over to shoot the other side. "I feel like I'm creating something new from something old," he says, refilling the clip.

But is he still a screenwriter? Mr. Benedek hesitates before answering, as if weighing how prospective employers will perceive his response. Finally, he answers glumly: "Yeah. I just got a call to go to a meeting."

ITV and BBC to launch "Freesat"

ITV today announced a new service that will further strengthen its position in
the digital environment.

ITV and the BBC are working together to develop a new free digital satellite
service - project title "Freesat" - to complement the hugely popular Freeview

Freesat will enable viewers to access subscription-free digital television via
satellite and will be aimed primarily at people in the UK currently unable to
access Freeview.

As part of the development of Freesat, ITV is also announcing that it intends to
start broadcasting ITV channels unencrypted - 'in the clear' - within the next
few months on digital satellite television. ITV has consulted all relevant
rights holders.
More from the ITV press release.
The BBC has also issued a press release.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Arts Council - Grants for the arts

The new Arts Council England Grants for the arts application pack is now available.

Individuals can make applications as well as organisations.

Houellebecq versus the critics

From the Observer:
When the celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq launched his latest novel in circumstances of extraordinary secrecy last week, he enraged some of France's most eminent literary critics by witholding copies from them to stave off bad reviews.

Now they appear to have struck back by circulating an embarrassing rap album featuring the tuneless voice of the controversial author in an apparent effort to dent his reputation as the bête noire of contemporary French writing.
Only in France...?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Grey's Anatomy

Shonda Rhimes, the writer behind the new American hit hospital drama, Grey's Anatomy, is profiled by Pamela K Johnson in Written By.
She got the folks at Touchstone intrigued about Grey's Anatomy by playing up the angle of newly minted surgeons who have to practice on somebody. Rhimes told Touchstone, "There's this saying in the medical community, 007-License to Kill, and it's everybody's worst fear." It played out in her pilot, when one of the interns, George [James Pickens Jr.], gets his first crack at wielding the knife, chokes, and nearly sends his patient straight from the O.R. to the morgue. Afterward, he slinks out, plunks down in a wheelchair, nervously rolling back and forth. His fellow interns call him 007 as he considers becoming a geriatric doctor, because "then no one minds if you kill a person." That's when a colleague delivers the speech that could be the credo for Grey's: "Surgery's hot. It's the Marines. It's macho, hostile, hard core. Geriatrics is for freaks who live with their mothers and never have sex."
The first series of Grey's Anatomy is being shown in the UK on Living TV.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

David Hare: Obedience, Struggle And Revolt

Hare is too realistic to expect the playwright ever to usurp the brewer, the pop star or the TV soap in the affections of the nation. (He also delights in pointing out that dramaturgy is one of few careers where drinking heavily is no impediment to success.) But he has fought tirelessly to present people with spectacles that might move them with cruel honesty about the world and thereby fight injustice. He has despised theatreland's love of mouldy relics from the classical repertoire propped up with middle-class angst or, worse still, with aristocratic wit. Better outrage than complacency. Better John Osborne than Noel Coward.
Guild member David Hare's new collection of essays, Obedience, Struggle And Revolt, reviewed by Rafael Behr in The Observer.

There are also (less favourable) reviews in The Independent and The Daily Telegraph (free registration required).

David Mamet

David Mamet is America's greatest living playwright, argues theatre director Lindsay Posner in The Observer.
With Mamet, one is instantly struck by the precise demands of his rhythmical dialogue. I remember when working on Sexual Perversity in Chicago, actor Hank Azaria saying he felt like Mamet had turned him into a musical instrument. Indeed, all his plays are clearly influenced by musical ideas, resolution phrasing and terse crosscut exchanges. He has a marvellous ability to capture the rhythms, intonations and idiomatic peculiarities of living speech and then distil them into poetry. His language, like Shakespeare's, has a visceral effect on the audience.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Coming this autumn to the BBC: Rome, a new mega-series co-produced with American cable channel HBO but written by a Brit, Bruno Heller.

Sally Kines in The Times looks behind the scenes.

It started in America last week - The Hollywood Reporter has a review by Barry Garron.
From a production standpoint, "Rome" is simply amazing. Producers strove for and achieved historical authenticity, from the construction of the buildings and streets down to the coins and costume fabric. Even the way in which people got stabbed, crucified and beaten is faithfully re-enacted, combined with a level of sex and nudity appropriate for and expected on pay cable.

The overall series is no less an accomplishment. Bruno Heller's scripts, while somber much of the time, nonetheless deliver compelling stories and memorable characters. A spectacular British cast, headed by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson, transport you back two millennia to a time when Romans, all with consistent English accents, faced a leadership crisis that redefined its governance.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Google Print goes international

Google Print, launced earlier this year in America, has now spread to cover 14 more English-language countries including the UK, reports Publishers' Weekly.

It's basically just like Google, except the search results are all books.
Just do a search on the Google Print homepage. When we find a book whose content contains a match for your search terms, we'll link to it in your search results. Click a book title and you'll see the page of the book that has your search terms, along with other information about the book and "Buy this Book" links to online bookstores (you can view the entirety of public domain books or, for books under copyright, just a few pages or in some cases, only the title’s bibliographic data and brief snippets). You can also search for more information within that specific book and find nearby libraries that have it.
A quick test shows it to be strangely skewed to academic texts. A search on "Money by Martin Amis", for example, doesn't appear to find the novel itself at all.

Thinking big in the theatre

At a time when many playwrights are lamenting the lack of opportunities to do anything grander than two-handers on minimal sets, raise a glass to the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.
At a recent rehearsal in the cavernous auditorium of the Ahmanson Theater here, four teenage boys clambered out of the orchestra pit, all of them dripping, slithering and making a holy ruckus. That's because the musicians had been replaced with 10,000 gallons of chlorinated water.

"I wanted something big, bold, theatrical, distinct, exciting" for the inaugural production, said Michael Ritchie, the new artistic director of the downtown Center Theater Group, which includes the Ahmanson. And he found it in the once-celebrated 1935 play "Dead End," by Sidney Kingsley, which had been ignored for decades, partly because the size of the cast (42 roles) made it prohibitively expensive to produce and partly because having the East River - a dark, oily waterway where the boys frolic - as a central character, may have been daunting.
More from Sharon Waxman in The New York Times.