Tuesday, January 31, 2006

BBC Northern Exposure event in Leeds

Northern Exposure is hosting a free public Q&A on writing popular drama for television in Leeds on 16 February 2006.

The event will take place at Leeds College of Music , featuring top television writers Debbie Horsfield (Cutting It, Born to Run) and Ashley Pharaoh (Life on Mars, Down to Earth). Kate Rowland, Creative Director of New Writing for the BBC will chair the discussion, followed by a drinks reception.

More information from BBC Writersroom.

The Last Laugh - on the frontline

In The Stage, Anthony Cooke talks about what it's like being a semi-finalist in the BBC's Last Laugh sitcom writing competition.
Like most of the 36 shortlisted writers this is our first stab at sitcom, many have never sold a snippet of script anywhere, and for some this is their first ever sniff at comedy. I sheepishly admit to having “had some comedy stuff on Radio 4, y’know sketches”, and the comment seems to send fellow finalists Reg, Geoff and Trudy into a bit of a spin.

TV drama takes centre stage

Celebrity Big Brother may be the programme everyone's been talking about, but drama has been identified by the three main commercial broadcasters as the key genre of 2006.

ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five today pledged to pump millions of extra pounds into new drama as part of their statements of programming policy for the coming year.
More from John Plunkett on Media Guardian (free registration required).

Monday, January 30, 2006

Mamet on writing for TV

At 58, the hardy Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright [David Mamet] continues to turn out scripts for stage and film at a relentless pace, while still finding the time to train occasionally with an expert in knife combat, just to keep in shape. But until now, he had never seen a television series of his creation reach a network's schedule. To make that happen, he had to undergo an education of his own.
More from Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times.

Graham Linehan - The IT Crowd

Graham Linehan's new sitcom, The IT Crowd (update: you can watch the show online now), starts on Channel 4 this week. He's interviewed by Jasper Ress in The Daily Telegraph.
It's hard to regard a man who was a stripling of 25 when he co-wrote a surreal sitcom about the Irish priesthood as a traditionalist. But that is the role in which Linehan is defiantly, almost seditiously casting himself. "I feel like I'm going to be carrying around Mary Whitehouse's handbags here. I really want to try and buck against current trends. Things that 10 or 15 years ago would probably have been in video nasty trials are now the stuff of eight o'clock viewing. Imagine if Last of the Summer Wine had loads of references to periods. That's what comedy seems to be like at the moment."
Linehan also turns up on tomorrow night's BBC documentary about the state of the sitcom, part of Alan Yentob's Imagine series (Tuesday 31 Jan, BBC ONE, 22.45pm).

Horror film script competition

Golconda Films and the Script Factory are looking for horror film scripts from new screenwriters who have not already sold or had a feature film screenplay optioned.

Your script should be roughly 100 pages long and submitted in an acceptable screenwriting format. You can submit digitally or in hard copy but must fill in an application form correctly to be accepted. Closing date: March 17.

There's more background in The Times.

Directors' copyright

Mark Shenton on The Stage Newsblog reflects on a New York Times article about the possibility of directors claiming copyright stagings of plays. In America, apparently, some directors are starting to resent seeing their productions ripped off by others.
But there are two sides to every story, and as the directorÂ’s art is interpretative rather than a primary creative one, playwrights are anxious not to have a director assert too much control over their contribution: as playwright John Weidman, president of the Dramatists Guild of America, commented, '“if a directors'’ copyright is ever established, it will drastically limit a playwright'’s ability to control the work which he creates.'”

Friday, January 27, 2006

US comedy pilots

Ken Levine reveals the torture of American sitcom development.
This conference call features eleven people – one more David and three Katies. These are the network notes but the lower tier (development department) notes. Once these are done to all eleven peoples’ satisfaction it goes up the ladder, usually to the middle tier VP’s. Writing a pilot is like playing Super Mario Brothers.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

BBC Soup to launch in March

The new BBC comedy site, Soup, will launch in March according to a BBC press release.
Based on the same principles as the hugely successful Film Network, Soup (bbc.co.uk/soup [url not yet working]) provides a virtual stage for both comedy amateurs and aficionados.

It offers them a virtual stage on which to learn their art and perform their material, including tips from Soup's expert guides and BBC video, audio and images to help them create and perfect their work.

Users create a profile on the site, to which they can they link material, effectively creating an online portfolio for talent-spotters.
There's more background in a post on this blog last November.

BBC closes Fiction Lab

The BBC's drama department has abolished its Fiction Lab unit but has kept the unit's head, Richard Fell, who will now work for drama as an executive producer.

Fiction Lab was set up in 1999 in a bid to invigorate drama on the corporation's then fledgling digital channels but the BBC has now decided it does not need a specially named department.

"The unit was important when we were launching new channels but we don't need that any more," a drama source said. "Also the title does sound a bit naff, a bit 'Dramarama'."
More from Ben Dowell at Media Guardian (free registration required).

Royal Court 50 readings

If you live within striking distance of London, check out the Royal Court's series of 50 readings of classic plays, part of the celebrations for the theatre's 50th anniversary.

It started on 16 January and runs through until 24 March.

They're selling out fast, but you can still get tickets for £7.50 (or 4 readings for £20) for rehearsed readings of plays such as My Night With Reg, by Guild member Kevin Elyot.

British and Irish indie films on BBC THREE

BBC THREE celebrates some of the best of independent British and Irish cinema with a season of television premieres starting on 10 February 2006.

A raft of recent cinematic gems will be shown every Friday night for six weeks.

Steve Jenkins, Head of Films, BBC Programme Acquisition, says: "In the blockbuster world of UK successes like Harry Potter and James Bond, it's hard for many small but striking British movies to make the mark they should.

"This is why BBC THREE is showcasing six recent examples of films from the UK and Ireland which, with the talent on display in front of and behind the camera, definitely deserve wider exposure.
More from the BBC Press Office.

British Short Screenplay Competition (BSSC)

There are just 78 days to go until the early deadline (14 April) for the 2006 British Short Screenplay Competition (BSSC), run by Kaos Films and the National Film and Television School. There is an entry fee of £35.

Ops stops

American screenwriter John August reveals how his proposed new TV series, Ops, went from conception to rejection via three pilot scripts and an awful lot of meetings.
When a pilot is announced, it shows up in Variety. Everyone knows about it.

When a pilot dies, it dies quietly in the corner.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cooke to replace Rickson at Royal Court

Dominic Cooke has been appointed artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre, replacing Ian Rickson at the end of the venue’s 50th anniversary season.

Currently associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Cooke will take up the post in January 2007.
More from The Stage.

Mensah to head up BBC drama in Scotland

The BBC has promoted executive producer Anne Mensah to oversee a drive to increase drama production in Scotland. Mensah is currently at BBC Drama North. Her credits include Bodies and Sweeney Todd. In her new position she will head up drama production from Scotland, both for network and local audiences. Her appointment comes two months after director of television Jana Bennett pledged to increase network production in the nations by 50% over the next seven years. She also said the corporation plans to spend half its drama budget outside London by 2012.
More from Research Centre.

Westway protests

Frank Dobson, Joan Ruddock, Peter Bottomley and Gregory Campbell are among 22 MPs voicing their concern over the cancellation of BBC World Service medical drama Westway.

The twice-weekly soap, which boasted more than 150 million listeners worldwide, was dropped after eight years to make way for more news and current affairs programming. Labour MP Ann Keen tabled an early day motion in objection to the move and has garnered support from across the political parties.
More from The Stage.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Kushner defends Munich

In The LA Times Tony Kushner defends the new film Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg, for which he wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth.
I think it's the refusal of the film to reduce the Mideast controversy, and the problematics of terrorism and counterterrorism, to sound bites and spin that has brought forth charges of "moral equivalence" from people whose politics are best served by simple morality tales. We live in the Shock and Awe Era, in which instant strike-back and blow-for-blow aggression often trump the laborious process of analysis, investigation and diplomacy. "Munich's" questioning spirit is an affront to armchair warrior columnists who understand power only as firepower. We're at war, and the job of artists in wartime, they seem to feel, is to provide the kind of characters and situations that are staples of propaganda: cleanly representative of Good or Evil, and obedient to the Message.

New CBBC drama commissions

Jon East, CBBC's new Head of Drama, has commissioned a raft of stunning new series which are set to mark a new, more ambitious era of children's drama on BBC Television.
More from the BBC press office.

Pamuk case dropped

A Turkish court has dropped a case against the country's internationally renowned writer Orhan Pamuk, who faced charges of "insulting Turkishness".

The move came after the justice ministry refused to issue a ruling as to whether the charges should stand.
More from BBC News.

US Guilds announce documentary screenplay contract

The Board of the Writers Guild of America, west (WGAw) and the Council of Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) announced today [18/01/06] the first low-budget contract for writers of theatrical documentaries budgeted under $1.2 million.

"Unlike reality television where programs are produced by multi-billion dollar media conglomerates, most documentary films are made on a shoestring budget by passionate filmmakers who often max out credit cards and take on second mortgages to complete their work,” said WGAw President Patric M. Verrone. “This contract gives these important writers and creators the opportunity to receive the same guild protections and benefits long enjoyed by writers working on productions with deeper pockets.”
More from the Writers Guild of America, East.

Six TV writers

Unlike acting or directing, writing is a private activity - 'As writers, we almost never get to meet each other,' says veteran scriptwriter Paula Milne - so how would six powerful egos cope gathered in one room?

In The Observer Liz Hoggard speaks to six leading British TV writers.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Guild members nominated for BAFTAS

Congratulations to the Guild members who have been nominated for BAFTA Awards.

Martin Sherman wrote the screenplay for Mrs Henderson Presents - nominated for Best Original Screenplay

Jeffrey Caine adapted the John Le Carre novel, The Constant Gardener. It's been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film and The Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year

Deborah Moggach adapted Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It's been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and The Alexander Korda Award

Mark Burton and Bob Baker - Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit - nominated for Alexander Korda Award

The Orange British Academy Film Awards will be held on Sunday 19 February 2006 at the Odeon Leicester Square in London.

Friday, January 20, 2006

BBC Last Laugh (continued)

Almost nine months after the deadline closed, the next stage of BBC's Last Laugh Competition will start again tomorrow night. There's not much information on the website, but the first of eight programmes following the selection of the winning writers, will be screened at the not-exactly-prime-time of 11.10pm on BBC Three.

Last Laugh was an open competition where entrants were invited to finish a pilot episode started by an established sitcom writer. The winning show will be broadcast on BBC Three.

From the BBC Press Office (pdf)
The Last Laugh is the UK’s largest-ever sitcom-writing competition and celebrates the comedy classics that have made us laugh, cry and challenge our perceptions.

Launched last year, The Last Laugh dared the public to complete sitcoms started by some of the best names in the business. People who penned the first 20 minutes of brand-new sitcoms included the creators of The Peep Show, Bain and Armstrong, Marks and Gran – of The New Statesman and Birds of A Feather fame – Carla Lane and Paul Mayhew-Archer, co-writer of The Vicar of Dibley.An amazing 5,000 people rose to the challenge and may be in line to have their scripts turned into a comedy pilot for BBC Three.

Comedian Dara O’Briain reveals the winners in an eight-part series that also celebrates comedy as a vital cog of British life.

Tonight’s first episode focuses on the work of Marks and Gran, and in particular their razor-sharp political comedy, The New Statesman. While Rik Mayall and others pay tribute on how to take comic pot shots at politicians, the episode conversely looks at politically incorrect comedy, from Little Britain to Bottom.

In the company of Dara, the judges also give their opinions on the top four entries, who completed Marks and Gran’s sitcom Last Quango In Harris.

Emma Thompson's diary

Guild member Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay for Nanny McPhee (and also took the title role). She kept a diary of how the project developed - published in The LA Times.
I can safely say that with the possible exception of doing stand-up comedy on Nelson's column to 60,000 hot, tired, angry people for a nuclear disarmament rally in 1984, this has been my most difficult assignment. You try writing something that pleases, delights and intrigues children without boring their parents. Go on, try it.

The future of British bookselling

The unromantic truth is that British chain bookselling - with Waterstone's as its battered figurehead - now looks suspiciously like a murder victim who has decided to speed up his demise by committing suicide. The pincer movement executed by the likes of Asda and Amazon has made the cut-throat discounting of a few sure-fire bestsellers the norm - with all of its risks to future diversity. Far from resisting this assault, the retail chains - and the corporate publishers whom they now bully - have opted to act as their own Sweeney Todds. At Christmas, stores worked frantically to teach shoppers that the true value of a much-publicised new book with a cover price of £18 or £20 is, let's say, £6.99. It amounts to voluntary death by a thousand cuts.
More from Boyd Tonkin in The Independent.

Random House addresses future with agents

[Publisher]Random House is holding a series of meetings with agents to discuss a wide range of issues pertaining to the current and future state of the industry. CEO Gail Rebuck has instigated the initiative, which Gill Coleridge of Rogers, Coleridge & White describes as “admirable – sharing information like this is very helpful”.

Although confidential, it is likely that the polarisation of the industry between the big-name, front list authors, and mid-list or second-rung writers, will be among issues discussed, as well as the implications for all players of an increasing reliance on sales data, something that was ever thus but which is now more important, given the current obsession with market share.
More from Publishing News.

WGAw launches showrunner scheme

With support from major television networks and studios, the Writers Guild of America, west (WGAw) kicked-off the first session of its inaugural Showrunner Training Program on Saturday, January 14, 2006, at the WGAw headquarters in Los Angeles, launching its six-week program for senior-level writers and writers with pilot scripts to develop the skills necessary to become successful showrunners.
More from the WGAw.

Disney to widen online TV shows

Paid-for online delivery of TV drama is set to grow...
Walt Disney has said it has sold more than 1.5 million episodes of shows such as Lost and Desperate Housewives via online music and video store iTunes.

The company has now said it will look to offer its TV content to more online stores and be "platform agnostic".

The programmes are currently available to US households only and cost $1.99 (£1.13) per episode.
More from BBC News.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cumper and Nichols take over at Talawa

Talawa, the UK’s flagship black theatre company, has appointed Pat Cumper as its new artistic director and Joy Nichols as its new chair.

Cumper, who was one of Jamaica’s leading playwrights before she moved to Britain, has established herself in the UK as a writer for theatre, television and radio. In 2002, her play The Key Game was produced by Talawa and her Radio 4 drama series One Bright Child won the RIMA radio drama award.
More from Alistair Smith in The Stage.

2006 Olivier Awards nominations

The nominations for the 2006 Olivier Awards have been announced.
Nominees for Best New Play are:
  • Corum Boy, adapted by Helen Edmundson from a novel by Jamila Gavin
  • On the Shore of the Wide World by Simon Stephens
  • Paul by Howard Brenton
  • Harvest by Richard Bean.
Writer Laura Wade has been nominated for Outstanding Achievement In An Affiliate Theatre for her plays Breathing Corpses and Colder Than Here.

Film-maker caught in legal web

Nick Cassavetes is loath to label his new movie - "Alpha Dog," about a group of suburban, teenage gangster wannabes who corner themselves into committing cold-blooded murder - a mere cautionary tale about wayward youth and missing-in-action parents.

At the very least, though, it's a cautionary tale for writer-directors thinking of tackling a breaking news story as their next subject.
More from David M. Halbfinger inThe New York Times.

A few good words

Billy Mernit lists some of the most memorable movie quotes of three words or less. For example:

Hello, gorgeous. (Funny Girl)

Yo, Adrian! (Rocky)

Bond. James Bond. (Goldfinger, et al)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Superman Returns

Geoff Boucher in The LA Times talks to Superman Returns director Bryan Singer (who also shares the scenplay credit) about refreshing a famous franchise.
Today's cynicism and expectations of darker hero tales are reflected in the plot of "Superman Returns." A huge crystalline spaceship (again a nod to the original franchise) crashes near a Kansas farm — but this time, instead of an infant, the passenger is a grown man. Superman has been gone from Earth for five years on a failed quest to learn more about his origins. And in his absence, his adopted world grew sour toward its hero. That's exemplified by Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), now a single mom engaged to a new man (played by James Marsden, a veteran of both "X-Men" movies) and riding high in her journalism career after an award-winning Daily Planet series critical of the missing Superman.

"In a sense, the movie is about what happens when an old romance returns unexpectedly and also the anger we all have toward people that let us down or leave us behind," Singer said. "This is about the obstacles that befall an idealistic man. It's about an old-fashioned hero in a modern world that isn't sure it wants him."
Superman Returns will be released this summer. The full list of writing credits are on IMDB.

Guild adds voice to Arts Council of Wales protests

The Writers'’ Guild of Great Britain has called on Welsh Culture Minister Alan Pugh to reconsider his decision not to reappoint Geraint Talfan Davies as Chairman of the Arts Council of Wales.

In a letter to the Minister the Guild warned that independence and arm's-length principles are vital to a healthy arts culture and to safeguarding artistic freedom of expression. The Guild praised Mr Davies for making the ACW "“a far more open and democratically accountable body".

BBC News has more background on the story, and The Stage reports on Mr Pugh's response.

Carol Ann Duffy wins TS Eliot prize

Poet Carol Ann Duffy has won the TS Eliot Prize for Rapture, her latest collection of verse.

The Glasgow writer beat poets including Polly Clark, David Harsent and Sinead Morrissey to the £10,000 prize.
More from BBC News.

Home-grown films take 34% of UK box office

Film production spending in the UK totalled more than £559 million in 2005 while home-grown films accounted for 34% of UK box office revenue, the highest in 10 years.
More from the UK Film Council.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Abigail Morris leaves Soho Theatre

After 13 years with Soho Theatre, Abigail Morris has left her post as Artistic Director.

In a statement (Word document), the Chair of Soho’s Board, Nicholas Allott, said: “We are enormously grateful to Abigail for her contribution to the Company over a long period of time and I would particularly like to pay tribute to her vision and tenacity at a crucial stage in the theatre’s development.”

Mark Godfrey remains Executive Director and Jonathan Lloyd is currently acting Artistic Director. The Company has begun the process of recruitment for a new Artistic Director and the post will be advertised next month.

Can content owners fight back?

Can publishers and other content owners fight back against the power of the search engines, asks Jon Fine of Business Week.
What if 2006 is the year big media players take aim at Google's kneecaps? No, not with more lawsuits... Rather, picture this: Walt Disney, News Corp, NBC Universal, and The New York Times, in an odd tableau of unity, join together and say: "We are the founding members of the Content Consortium. Next month we launch our free, searchable Web site, which no outside search engines can access." (A simple bit of code is all it takes to bar all or some major search engines from accessing a site.) "From now on we'll make our stuff available and sell ads around it and the searches for it, but only on our terms. Who else wants to join us? Membership's free."

Head of drama Reeks to leave ITV

ITV’s head of drama Jenny Reeks is leaving the broadcaster due to ill health.

Her departure ends a ten-year partnership with the network’s controller of drama Nick Elliott and comes at a time when the broadcaster’s commissioning team is undergoing a radical overhaul.

Reeks and Elliott have worked together since 1995 and since then have commissioned hit drama productions such as Bad Girls, Doc Martin and Cold Feet.

Elliott, who has been promoted to the new title of director of drama, will shortly begin the search for Reeks’ replacement.
More from The Stage.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Politicians in fiction

In The Guardian, Mark Lawson reflects on why certain politicians turn up so frequently in fiction.
The reason that Blair, Thatcher and Clinton sparked so much drama is that each represented a significant departure (in either gender, youth or ideology) from the typical leadership of their times. Their impact on the political landscape was so great that, to adapt a phrase from Richard Littlejohn, one of the dominant newspaper columnists of the political era they span: you couldn't make them up.

The art of ghostwriting

Everybody loves a literary ghost story - not the kind with floating shrouds and rattling chains, but tales of late-night liaisons over a hot tape-recorder, unfairly divided advances, and the sad plight of the hidden helpers who flit behind a famous name. In publishing, ghosting recalls 1950s sex: often practised, seldom discussed.
More from Boyd Tonkin in The Independent.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sioned William leaves ITV

Sioned William has left her role as Controller of Comedy at ITV, reports Ben Dowell for Media Guardian (free registration required). As recently as September 2005 she was talking about her ambitions for comedy on ITV, but she is now one of several executives to resign following the restructure of the network's management by the new director of television, Simon Shaps.
Ms Wiliam's job will be subsumed into the new entertainment and comedy department, which will almost certainly be run by the Granada USA boss, Paul Jackson... It is widely believed that these latest departures will not be the last of the changes at the top of ITV as Mr Shaps continues to reshape his commissioning team.

Dangerous ideas

From David Honigmann in The Financial Times:
Every year, the literary agent John Brockman invites 100 or so scientists and other thinkers to answer the "edge question". This year it was: "What is your dangerous idea?" In particular, respondents were asked for an idea that would be dangerous if it were true.

The results (collected at www.edge.org) give an insight into how philosophically minded scientists are thinking: the result is somewhere between a multi-disciplinary seminar and elevated high table talk.

Fifty years of the Royal Court

In The Telegraph, Aleks Sierz charts 50 years of the Royal Court and Dominic Cavendish asks what has happened to rage in today's theatre writing.
...couldn't [Kenneth] Tynan's scathing description, back in 1956, of the drama of his day - "theatre that seldom ventures more than a toe into the water" - be applied to the fare that fills our stages far more easily than many would care to admit? Quietness and restraint, compassion and subtlety, have become the dominant features of the new writing landscape. British theatre is alive, but it's not exactly kicking. A new exhibition at the Theatre Museum, commemorating the '50s and Look Back in Anger, is entitled Unleashing Britain; society has undoubtedly changed, but why, decades on, does British theatre feel so tightly tethered?

Ken's reasons why not to watch

American comedy writer Ken Levine assesses two new comedies.
I see that EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT (worst title since MANIMAL) and JAKE IN PROGRESS bombed in the ratings Monday. Gee. Wonder why? Could it be that no one gives a shit about the dating woes of incredibly good looking people? Poor Heather Graham can’t find the right man. Poor John Stamos has commitment problems. He has to juggle three beautiful women. Oh the humanity!!

You don’t feel sympathy for these people. You don’t root for these people. You want to KILL them.

Sky delivers movies through broadband

Sky have announced that their digital TV subscribers can now download films (and sports coverage) via broadband.
Sky by broadband is a new service exclusive to Sky digital customers. It allows you to enjoy hundreds of films on your PC, including a mix of Hollywood blockbusters and classic movie titles available on Sky Movies.

Robin Swicord interviewed

In The Guardian, Jeremy Kay speaks to Robin Swicord whose adaptation of Arthur Golden's Memoirs Of A Geisha is released in the UK this month.
Golden's book is characterised by streams of inner thought and was never going to be a straightforward adaptation. Fortunately the author was on hand to help. "Adapting is always an interpretive work," Swicord says. "Some parts are original, but you're always in service and collaboration with the author. This book was written in the first person, has a long, interior, ruminative monologue and moves around a lot in time. So I had to create a chronology. There's so much complex detail about the life of the geisha and the village that would have slowed down the story on the screen. This is by necessity a distillation. Arthur was very generous and brought us his own research notes and materials, including his unedited manuscript, which was invaluable. He was supportive when we departed from the text and didn't have that reflexive, protective instinct. When it was all done and we were at the press junket he came up to us and thanked us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Online books next for Google?

After its recent announcement of plans for an online video store, Google is considering selling book downloads online, reports Alfred Hermida for BBC News.
Sony is also trying to invigorate demand for e-books. At CES, it launched a new portable device to read e-books and announced deals with major publishers to sell them online.

Asked if Google would consider doing something similar, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: "Subject to permission from the copyright holder, yes. I want to be clear on that."

Literature world tour

On The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog they've started a series of discussions on the best literature from different countries. Finland is the first.

Monday, January 09, 2006

CES Las Vegas

Bobbie Johnson reports for The Guardian's Technology Blog from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
What was interesting, I think, is that every single big player agreed on their vision for the future: delivering "content" (a word I dislike more with each passing day) to the public through the internet, and feeding it across devices.
Update: More information about one of the main announcements, Google Video Store.

Forgotten plays

In The Guardian, Philip Hensher asks why theatres have such a restricted repertoire.
At present, most theatres seem to exist on a diet that alternates between the established classic and taking a punt on the occasional "novelty" that, once seen, will disappear. Whenever a new production of something rarely staged surfaces, like the Sheffield Romans in Britain, it's worth applauding it. But there ought to be some means, particularly in the subsidised theatre, to back up the undoubtedly adventurous spirit that so many artistic directors feel unable to indulge.

At the moment, wherever you go, all the theatres largely seem to be putting on the same plays.

Paula Milne on The Virgin Queen

In The Daily Telegraph, screenwriter Paula Milne describes how she researched and wrote the upcoming BBC ONE series, The Virgin Queen.
The BBC offered to put me in touch with various TV historians to help my research process, but I instinctively declined the offer. If the job of a historian is to interpret history, my ignorance made me vulnerable to any theories they might want to promulgate.

Instead I talked to history teachers in secondary schools, knowing that they were probably rooted in empirical historical fact rather than imposing their own interpretations.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sony Reader

Sony have launched Sony Reader, a new handheld device for digital books.
Reading from the Sony® Reader is unlike reading from any other digital device you’ve ever seen. Its breakthrough electronic paper technology provides clarity and resolution that rival paper itself. The 6-inch screen is as easy to read in full daylight as indoors, and can be viewed from nearly any angle. Forgot your reading glasses? Enlarge text up to 200%. It’s the way on-screen reading was always meant to be – book-like.
The Reader will go on sale in America in the Spring, price $349.

Hallam Tennyson 1920-2005

The author, scriptwriter and radio producer Hallam Tennyson has died at the age of 85. The Guardian has an obituary by Angela Pleasance.
Hallam joined the BBC World Service in 1956, later moving into BBC radio drama, where he achieved a very distinguished career as assistant head of drama to Martin Esslin during those golden years of radio. Throughout his time with the BBC, he adapted many classics; scripted programmes on Verdi, Mozart, Gerard Manley Hopkins and so on; and produced works by Shakespeare, Stoppard, Beckett and Pinter.

Thomas Meehan interviewed

Long-time Mel Brooks collaborator, Thomas Meehan, interviewed by Dylan Callaghan for the Writers Guild of America, west.
What's it like to be sending The Producers back to its original home - the big screen?

I feel that this is Mel's screenplay. He wrote the original and won the Academy Award for it, so I'm just an assistant here (laughs). I did an awful lot of work with him on the Broadway show, had a lot of input and wrote a lot of it with Mel.

When we went back to the screenplay the summer before last out in the Hamptons, we went back to a lot of the stuff from the original movie, in terms of taking it outside and having stuff happen in Central Park and Fifth Avenue. It was more reshaping the original movie to fit in 16 songs, so you had to do a lot of cutting and reshaping.

It's a unique screenwriting experience because it's not writing a screenplay from the ground up; there was the original screenplay and then there was the book of the musical Mel and I wrote together. We had to mold it all into a new screenplay. It was tricky.

Seeking new sponsors

Could the TV and film industries be persuaded to sponsor book prizes, wonders Boyd Tonkin in The Independent. After all, they rely on literature for much of their inspiration.
More than ever before, the big and small screens both depend on books for much of their most popular - and prestigious - raw material. For millions of contented viewers, the autumn and Christmas seasons will have passed in a long, luxurious banquet of quality adaptations, as cinema and television feasted on the creative flesh of Charles Dickens, J K Rowling, Jane Austen, John le Carré, C S Lewis, Ian Rankin and so, indefinitely, on. If you fancy a promising new movie this month, then Brokeback Mountain (from Annie Proulx) opens today; Memoirs of a Geisha and Jarhead (respectively, Arthur Golden and Anthony Swofford) next week; even, remarkably, A Cock and Bull Story (from Sterne's Tristram Shandy) in a fortnight's time.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Stage 100

The Stage has published its list of the 100 most influential people in British theatre. It's not online, but The Independent has the top 20. The highest ranked writer is Harold Pinter. At number 18.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The diversity pass

Do writers have a responsibility to create ethnically diverse and racially non-stereotypical characters?

Yes, says Alex Epstein.

No, insists Craig Mazin.
Writers have an enormous responsibility, and that is to tell a good story. Let that be our guide. If our movie isn'’t about social justice, put the story first and all utopian visions of what the world ought to be like second.

Anything less is bad writing.
Update: John August has also joined the fray...
Unless it’s important for understanding a story point, I rarely specify a race for a character. But that’s not to say I won’t give some strong hints. I will often make the lieutenant GONZALEZ rather than GOODMAN. The internist is more likely to end up DR. CHO than DR. CHASE. The schoolteacher will be PATEL rather than PETERS.

Is it liberal guilt? No. It’s readability.

Harrogate woman nets £1.3m advance for debut

After a marathon, 10-day auction, Diane Setterfield, a French teacher from Harrogate, has been paid £800,000 by UK publishers and a further $1m from a US publishing house for her debut novel The Thirteenth Tale.
More from Ian Herbert in The Independent, including a run-down of other big debut deals.

Soderbergh's simultaneous release

It's a film that has the industry on tenterhooks. Is it the beginning of the end of the movies as we know them - or does it mark an exciting new departure into an almost unlimited future of digital entertainment?

The subject of this speculation is Steven Soderbergh's experimental new film Bubble, which comes out in the US on 27 January. A low-budget arthouse project, it has been shot with an entirely non-professional cast in and around an Ohio doll factory.

It's not the film itself that has the movie world in a lather but the way it is being distributed, for Bubble will be the first feature released simultaneously in cinemas, on pay-per-view television and on DVD. As such, it is widely being seen as a portent of things to come.
More from Andrew Gumbel in The Independent.

Mark Ravenhill seeks paradise

In The Guardian, Guild member Mark Ravenhill asks if British writers are still capable of creating meaningful visions of paradise.
When I say paradise I don't mean the Christian, snake-and-apple kind of place. Not the CS Lewis Narnia thing. I mean something more like those medieval paintings of the Land of Cockayne, a place where struggle and pain have been banished and all human needs are satisfied immediately and totally. There's plenty of bad genre stuff that does this kind of paradise. Sunday night television drama - "People's Friend" TV - where warm yokels bumble around Yorkshire or the Glens. Or pornography, which in its own sweet way cuts straight to the chase with a fantasy of immediately gratified human needs. But where's the good stuff?

David Edgar on local democracy

This time last year, I was finishing a play about a race riot in a fictional west Yorkshire town. The play was written for the National Theatre's late summer 'topical' slot, but I had no idea how timely it would prove to be.

We went into rehearsal three weeks after the July bombings. The day after the play opened, Trevor Phillips made his speech warning that Britain was 'sleepwalking into segregation'. On the evening of the play's last performance, riots broke out between Asians and Afro-Caribbeans in Birmingham.
More from Guild member David Edgar inThe Observer.

Publishers caught out?

The Sunday Times sent anonymised work by Nobel Prizewinner V.S. Naipul to leading publishers and agents, and it was rejected by all of them.
The Sunday Times sent out the opening chapter of In a Free State to 20 agents and publishers to find out. Only the names of the author and main characters were changed.

None of the agents or publishers spotted the book’s true pedigree. And instead of experiencing Potter’s exhilaration, they all sent back polite rejections.

Typical was the reply from PFD, a major London literary agency. “Having considered your material,” wrote a submissions department reader, “we do not feel, we are sorry to say, sufficiently enthusiastic or confident about it.”