Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The golden age of TV drama is... now?

The golden age of TV drama is... now? Discuss...

Grim, gritty realism was all the rage in TV drama in the 90s - think Cracker, Prime Suspect, Between The Lines, Cardiac Arrest, NYPD Blue, ER. But the noughties (terrible phrase - does anyone have anything better?) is more about high concept, glossy escapism, fantasy, adventure , fancy camerawork and effects, flashbacks and other non-linear narrative techniques - last night's final episode of BBC1's Life on Mars being a prime example.
Join the debate with Hason Deans on The Guardian's Organ Grinder blog.

Rob Long's Martini Shot podcast

Former Cheers writer Rob Long is producing weekly podcasts about life in Hollywood, Martini Shot.

Thanks to Patrick Goldstein in The LA Times for the link.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie postponed Off Broadway

A potential Off Broadway production of "My Name Is Rachel Corrie," an acclaimed solo show about an American demonstrator killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home, has been postponed because of concerns about the show's political content.

The production, a hit at the Royal Court Theater in London last year, had been tentatively scheduled to start performances at the New York Theater Workshop in the East Village on March 22. But yesterday, James C. Nicola, the artistic director of the workshop, said he had decided to postpone the show after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work.
More from Jesse McKinley The New York Times.

Update: In The Guardian, Katherine Viner, one of the people who adapted Rachel Corrie's writing for the stage, attacks the Theater Workshop's decision.
It makes you wonder. If a young, middle-class, scrupulously fair-minded, and dead, American woman, whose superb writing about her job as a mental health worker, ex-boyfriends, troublesome parents, struggle to find out who she wanted to be, and how she found that by travelling to Gaza and discovering the shocking conditions under which the Palestinians live - if a voice like this cannot be heard on a New York stage, what hope is there for anyone else? The non-American, the non-white, the non-dead, the oppressed?
Further update: New York Theatre Workshop's Artistic Director, James Nicola, denies the allagations, on the company's website.
When we found that there was a very strong possibility that a number of factions, on all sides of a political conflict, would use the play as a platform to promote their own agendas, we asked a rather routine question, or so we thought, to our London colleagues about altering the time frame. Our intent in asking for the postponement was to allow us enough time to contextualize the work so Rachel Corrie’s powerful voice could best be heard above the din of others shouting for their own purposes.
Thanks to Mark Shenton for the link.

Update: the rebuttal of the rebuttal (if you're interested).

Science in plays

In The Financial Times, Chris Wilkinson looks at how playwrights tackle science and maths.
The best example of how a play can communicate a particular scientific idea is London's Soho Theatre's recent production On Ego. Born of a collaboration between its director Mick Gordon and the neuropsychologist Paul Brok, it seeks to explain "bundle theory". This is Francis Crick's "astonishing hypothesis" that we are "nothing but a pack of neurones". Or as Alex, a character in the play puts it, our consciousness is made up of "nothing but material substance: flesh and blood, bone and brain. . . There's no one there, no essence, no ego, no 'I'." The play works, not simply because it explains these ideas, but rather because, in the relationship between Alex and his brain-damaged wife, the huge implications of this theory are graphically demonstrated for us. The very structure of the play reflects the emotional and psychological dilemma that such an apparently counterintuitive theory poses for us as human beings.

Glorification of terrorism

This afternoon the Lords have to decide whether to defy the Commons and vote to remove the glorification clause from the terrorism bill for a second time. Artists - particularly in the arts which involve representation - will be hoping they'll do so.
More from Guild member David Edgar in The Guardian.

Monday, February 27, 2006

David Chase and James Gandolfini

With the final series of The Sopranos due to air in America next month, Bill Carter in The New York Times talks to creator David Chase and star actor, James Gandolfini.
Mr. Gandolfini and his imposing physical presence influenced Mr. Chase's understanding of the character from the very first days of filming. Mr. Chase recalled that in the pilot script, originally written in the late 1990's for the Fox network (one of the great misses in TV history), he had conceived a scene where Tony's nephew, Christopher, reveals that he is thinking of selling his story to Hollywood. In the script, Tony responded by cuffing Christopher behind the ear.

After HBO finally agreed to shoot the script, that moment remained in the pilot. When they got to the scene, Mr. Chase, who was directing, called "Action," and instead of that affectionate little cuff, he remembered: "Jim picks the guy up and just throws him. I can still see Michael Imperioli. He was just sitting there with a beer bottle in his hand and the next thing I know there's like this blur of movement and the beer bottle is rolling along the ground and Michael is up off his feet." Mr. Chase laughed, remembering the impression Mr. Gandolfini's move left on him. "Of course, this is how you lead people," he said.

That one gesture changed the show. "He was always going to be a tough, hard person for most people to love," Mr. Chase said. "But that is what a gangster is. "
Thanks to Alex Epstein for the link.

Da Vinci Code copy case begins

A claim that Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code copied the ideas of two other authors is going before London's High Court.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh claim Mr Brown stole the idea that Jesus had a child from their 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

They are suing publisher Random House, which also published their book. Random House denies the allegation.
More from BBC News.

Poetry collections

In The Independent, Hugo Williams reveals the secrets behind publishing poetry books.
When putting a book together I always think of what Philip Larkin told his publisher when asked if there might be another book in the offing. "In the past I've always had 10 good ones and the rest were fillers. Well, I've got the fillers.'' Not all of us are so rigorous. We go ahead and publish our fillers and are damned. Larkin said he always liked to put a good one at the beginning and at the end of a book. I always look there before buying anyone's new book. If the last poem's no good they're in trouble. Another consideration might be to sprinkle your "good ones'' throughout the book, to give an impression of quality, or at least to spread out your "fillers'' so they don't gang up on you.

Danny Stack's spec script challenge

Guild member Danny Stack was aiming to write a spec script over the weekend. Find out how he got on.
[Saturday:]I'm on page 32. I thought I'd get drunk tonight and plough my way through twenty more pages but I've had my drinks and am now too tired, so I'm going to bed.

Small publishers

The UK's small publishers are making a comeback, reports Tara Mulholland in The Herald International Tribune, thanks to people like Alessandro Gallenzi, founder of Alma Books.
...for now things look hopeful. Asked about the future of the British independent publisher, Gallenzi resorts to the image of Medusa: "You kill an independent publisher and the next day there will be five coming back again - good publishing comes down to independent thinking."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Venues for new plays

The nominees for this Sunday's Olivier Award for Best New Play comprise three plays premiered in the last year at the National, and one at the Royal Court: while it's a particular accomplishment that the National has managed to put itself at the centre of new writing, as well as much else, now (and a pity that the Royal Court, which styles itself as a writers' theatre, above all, should be lagging so far behind), the eternal quest (and question) for new plays remains what opportunities there are to develop them elsewhere.
Mark Shenton on The Stage Newsblog says that, with several prominent new-writing theatres struggling, competitions are becoming an increasingly important source of opportunity for playwrights.

Jean-Claude Carrière

Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (who has worked with directors including Milos Forman and Luis Buñuel) has just completed a book, Please Mr Einstein, that brings the famous physicist back to life. He talks to Peter Forbes in The Independent.
Carrière's Einstein project has fulfilled several goals. It has ensured that he won't (on his own reckoning) die an idiot, and a conscious purpose was "to seduce young people into science".

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Richard Price and Len Blum

Two new writer interviews from the Writers Guild of America, west. With Richard Price (who has just finished adapating his novel Freedomland for the screen
People have this illusion that, If I write the script I can control the movie, and that's not true. It makes it even worse that you have that illusion. I think it's much more difficult to adapt your own stuff because you don't have the distance to be as ruthless as you need to be to make this thing work at a hundred and twenty pages. It's not even a hundred and twenty pages of prose; it's like a singing telegram. You've gotta throw so much stuff overboard. If you own every sentence of a book and you're in charge of gutting it, that doesn't make it easy. Just because you're a dentist, doesn't mean you should do your own root canal.
and Len Blum (one of the writers of the new Pink Panther remake).
My primary goal at this point [when a script is first submitted] is to give the reader a really good read and then have them reach for their checkbook saying, “I want to commit $60 million to making this picture.” If I wanted to make a really good movie, I might be specific about all kinds of other things, but that's not my goal. The reader who's going to commit $60 million just wants to have an excellent time reading. He's not going to make the movie; other people are going to make the movie. He just wants to have a good time, so I'm not too worried at this point about translating it to the screen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

BBC and Film Council announce new partnership

The BBC and the UK Film Council, two of the biggest stakeholders in British film, have joined forces to put film and broadcasting at the centre of a brand new partnership.

The BBC and the UK Film Council will work in tandem with a range of collaborative projects designed to give audiences more choice, develop and support creativity and skills across the industry and encourage public participation in film.

A key element of the BBC’s renewed commitment to film is a new BBC film strategy for broadcast across all its channels and platforms, supported by a minimum 50% increase in the BBC’s budget for film from £10 million a year to £15 million a year and an increase in the proportion of the BBC’s acquisition budget allocated to British films with a guaranteed £50 million over the next charter period subject to the outcome of the licence fee settlement.
More from the UK Film Council.

RTS nominations

Dramas by Guild members Paul Abbott and Andrew Davies lead the field in nominations for the Royal Television Society Awards 2005.

Shameless (Abbott) and Bleak House (adapted from Dickens by Davies) have both received four nominations.

The awards will be presented on 14 March.

Playwrights and war

In The Guardian, Adam Thorpe asks if contemporary playwrights are shying away from depicting violence on stage.
If anything, modern theatre prefers the bleak emptiness of the post-nuclear warscape to the chaotic fury of conventional battle.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Charley Says

BBC News is featuring classic public information films including the fabulous Charley Says animations. (I've been trying to see who is credited for these but can't find any names - does anyone know?)

Users are also invited to make and submit their own public information film.

More on digital books

Following the launch of the Sony Reader, here's more on why some people see a bright future for digital books, from Business Week.
Portable devices are becoming lighter and more appealing. Books are being scanned into digital form by the thousands. The most important step forward may be in "digital ink," the technology used for displaying letters on a screen. A small company called E Ink has created a method for arranging tiny black and white capsules into words and images with an electronic charge. Because no power is used unless the reader changes the page, devices with the technology could go as long as 20 books between battery charges. The text also looks just as sharp as ink on a printed page, since each capsule is the size and pigment of a grain of laser-jet toner.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Save Peep Show

Peep Show (written by Guild members Jess Armstrong and Sam Bain)is one of the funniest and most original sitcoms of recent years. That must be why Channel 4 are, apparently, considering axing it.

If you'd like to campaign for its survival you can sign an online petition.

Thanks to The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog for the link.

Coronation Street cleared by Ofcom

Ofcom, the independent media regular has ruled that Coronation Street was not in breach of the Broadcasting Code for an episoide on 16 January. 502 viewers complained about a character using the phrase "poor white trash." Here's the full text of the Ofcom decision(pdf file).

ITV 1, 16 January 2006, 20:30


In this episode, single mum Sunita is struggling to keep her head above water with her new-born twins. Her brother Jayesh suggests the possibility of her going back to live with their parents. In the course of the conversation, he suggests that such a move would be preferable to living like “…poor white trash”. 502 viewers complained that the expression was unacceptable and racist.


In drama it is often the case that characters will say challenging things in order to propel storylines and, indeed, raise issues - sometimes of a controversial nature. Such characterisation, in terms of freedom of expression for writers, producers and actors, is an important right. It is important that modern day dramas are able to
reflect the society they seek to portray. Coronation Street often handles controversial issues, including race, from different angles.

Against this has to be balanced the possibility of offence. Rule 2.3 of the Broadcasting Code requires broadcasters to justify the inclusion of potentially offensive material through the context in which it is broadcast. Relevant contextual elements in this particular scene were that:
  • the character of Jayesh has been established in previous episodes, when, it is clear, he is unhappy with the life and the life-partners Sunita has chosen. He is not necessarily a sympathetic character;
  • Jayesh, although a man with traditional views, does not necessarily represent any one particular group or community;
  • Sunita’s response to her brother clearly showed that his comments were unacceptable. She retorted “… some of my best friends are what you would call poor white trash”.
  • Very soon afterwards, because Jayesh persisted in his attitude, Sunita threw him out telling him never to come back.
While the term “white trash” has obvious racist overtones, it can also be used in context to describe those from a low socio-economic group. It was clear throughout the dialogue and characterisation that the programme was not condoning the attitudes displayed by Jayesh. However, it is also clear that the programme, dwelling as it often does on contemporary social issues, has a right to reflect the fact that some people do hold such attitudes. By portraying them in dramatic form, in our view, the programme took a legitimate approach to exploring such matters.

Not in breach

Is theatre too sexual for young people?

With his new play for young people, Citizenship, soon to open at the National Theatre, Mark Ravenhill in The Guardian argues that a recent directive from the Welsh Assembly is seriously misguided.
In a new directive - which, it's feared, might soon be applied in England, too - the Welsh assembly states that kissing in school productions should be replaced by "a peck on the cheek or an embrace", and that characters should "hug each other in friendship". If this were applied to Citizenship, it would reduce the play to a nonsense. And how chilling the Welsh assembly's advice to teachers not to rely on "arguments about the artistic integrity of the text". It's vital to the production of Citizenship - and, yes, the artistic integrity of the text - that young people kiss and touch each other in a way that is sexually charged. Only through doing so can the young performers and their young audience make sense of the world and themselves.

Language of love

In The Daily Telegraph, Amanda Craig stands up for romantic fiction.
Dorothy Parker dismissed "lady novelists": "as artists they're rot, but as providers they're oil wells; they gush." D H Lawrence was equally sneering: "What's romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything As You Like It, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose and it's always daisy time." Few serious readers of romantic fiction would recognise the latter, and the former, while it may well encompass some writers of chick-lit, is so sweeping as to be ridiculous.

New plays in the West End

Is it still possible to succeed with a new play in the West End, asks Richard Brooks in The Times.
Though musicals are much more expensive to produce than dramas, which themselves cost about £350,000 to stage, they have a better chance of surviving and making money; hence, half the theatres in the West End are now staging musicals. Typically, however, a successful drama revival is likely to be of a play perceived as “classic”: they are known quantities and attract star players. So the West End can currently boast Kathleen Turner in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Woody Harrelson in Night of the Iguana, Martin Shaw in A Man for All Seasons and Edward Fox in You Never Can Tell. The same rule applies to the few examples of new work. Embers, previewing now, is a novel-adaptation by a “name” writer, Christopher Hampton, and comes armed with a heavyweight star — Jeremy Irons. Ditto with a newish play, Honour, starring Diana Rigg, which premiered at the National three years ago. Pretty safe bets for their backers.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Movie short-cuts

In films nothing can be allowed to slow down the action, says Larry Williams in The LA Times. But sometimes movie short-cuts are just too clumsy.
When the customer pays for the beer, he never wants any change. I'm not talking about leaving it on the bar but pointedly refusing to take it: "Keep the change." That phrase is all over the movies, for it eliminates change-making, which might slow down the story for 10 seconds. For me, the story stops when a guy tells a 7-Eleven cashier to keep the change.

That is the problem with movie shortcuts. Sometimes they're so glaring that they snap you out of immersion in the movie. That happens to me whenever a driver in a car chase looks over his shoulder at his pursuer. Why is he not looking in his rear-view mirror?

The Pitchers

If you don't read The Guardian on a Friday you might not have met Chet and Foley. They're The Pitchers - two Hollywood screenwriters in a comic strip created by Berger and Wyse.

The state of British film

As the BAFTAs approach, BBC News invites producer Michael Kuhn and Film Council Chief Exec John Woodward to hold forth on the state of the British film industry.

Unlike their European counterparts, broadcasters in Britain have never really seen it as part of their duty to support film and that is one area where I would like to see change.

It is not a matter of their duty, it is a matter of the opportunity they are missing. Channel 4 came in and set up Film Four with £10m back in the early 80s - and that transformed the British Film Industry. A little money made a tremendous difference.
Britain loves the movies and the world loves the British film industry.

It's true the film production sector has gone through a very bumpy patch over the last 18 months, but we are now poised to reap the rewards - with nothing to fear except the British disease of talking ourselves down!

Duncan Tucker - Transamerica

With his Oscar-nominated film "Transamerica," screenwriter-director Duncan Tucker is the latest exemplar of a little-known show business truism: If you want to rise out of obscurity really fast, write a screenplay with a great part for an actress.
More from Anne Thompson in The Hollywood Reporter.

Literary translation

Recommended on The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog, a site from the British Council all about literary translation.
To discuss the art of literary translation is to a large extent to mystify it if we disregard the unruly manner in which it has been practiced throughout history. For although writing between two different languages has always been integral part of national literatures and the exchanges between them, the most striking, the truly captivating thing about it is its variations rather than any single characteristic or aspect.
Lots of feature articles, online workshops and information about funding and prizes.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Self-publishing put to the test

In The Guardian, Victor Keegan tries out a couple of different self-publishing services.
Are books about to go the same way as music and videos, with everyone able to publish from their back rooms, cutting out all the agents in the middle? Demand is certainly there from the legions of frustrated writers unable to interest an agent, let alone a publisher, in their musings. The technology to self-publish, using print-on-demand facilities, has been around for years but is now getting cheaper and easier with the publisher doing everything from the ISBN number to placing your tome on Amazon. Judging by the number of self-publishing websites, it may not be long before we reach the tipping point of mass adoption.
The big revelation for me is that if you use Lulu.com books have to be posted from America, adding a significant amount to the cost.

Update on Lulu.com: see comments.

Welsh Drama Awards

Congratulations to Guild Member Gareth Miles (who serves on the Guild's EC and is Chair of the Welsh Committee). Wales Theatre Company's production of his translation of Hamlet, directed by Michael Bogdanov, has won the Welsh Drama Award for best Welsh-language production of 2005.

The future of the Arts Council

What are the government's plans for the Arts Council, wonders Rupert Christiansen in The Daily Telegraph.
After a quiet start as Culture Minister, David Lammy has fired his first shot across the bows. At the Association of British Orchestras' conference last month, his speech made rumbling noises about that old bugbear, the Arts Council, an agency funded by his own Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

"We must reform the Arts Council," Lammy said. It's got "to slim down", "get smarter" and prove that it is "more than a passive cash machine". Most significantly, he thinks that there is a strong case for "loosening the reins" between the council and many companies that have "reached a sufficient level of organisational maturity to merit autonomy".

In praise of Google Book Search

Google's new Book Search promises to save writers' and publishers' asses by putting their books into the index of works that are visible to searchers who get all their information from the Internet. In response, publishers and writers are suing Google, claiming that this ass-saving is in fact a copyright violation. When you look a little closer, though, you see that the writer/publisher objections to Google amount to nothing more than rent-seeking: an attempt to use legal threats to milk Google for some of the money it will make by providing this vital service to us ink-stained scribblers.
More from Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing.

For previous articles about the same subject see posts on this blog in January 2006 and September 2005

The last taboo

In The Guardian, Mark Lawson looks at the growing number of films and plays tackling the subject of child abuse.
This coincidence of projects on the topic suggests a lessening of the contentiousness around the subject matter. In fact, though, these pieces demonstrate - like Harrower's Blackbird - that, while no longer unofficially banned from mainstream dramatisation, pederasty remains a storyline that raises unusual difficulties for writers, performers and audiences.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Laura Wade

Award-winning playwright Laura Wade is the next big thing, says Ian Johns in The Times.
Laura Wade wasn’t sure which would be more nerve-racking: being interviewed or having her picture taken. But the 28-year-old playwright will have to get used to both. She has just won the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright, and earned an Olivier nomination for “Outstanding Achievement”. “I can’t get my head round it. I’m overwhelmed,” she admits.

MPs criticise BBC for buildings spending

The BBC has been criticised by a group of MPs who say a major building project went over budget by £60m to £270m.

The Commons public accounts committee said the White City 2 offices, in west London, showed the need for the BBC to be more accountable to Parliament.

The report said the extra money went on the technical fit-out and furniture.

The BBC said the development had been completed on budget and within time and that its governors had fully approved the budget in two stages.
More from BBC News.

Text offender

On The Stage Newsblog, Mark Shenton reveals the strange reluctance of The Gate Theatre, Dublin to promote their new show (I guess Ralph Fiennes in Brian Friel's The Faith Healer doesn't need much publicity) and remembers a surprising mobile phone incident.
...this is a theatre whose personnel clearly play by their own rules: at the first night of Uncle Vanya, Sam Mendes’ final production as artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in September 2002 – in a version coincidentally also by Brian Friel – proceedings were constantly interrupted for spectators seated in the circle by the constant pips of arriving text message alerts. The offender was then seen to reply; which of course only meant another pip arriving a minute or so later when a further reply came to him. Confronted afterwards by an angry colleague of mine, he answered: “Chekhov is robust enough to withstand the intrusion”. The offender was subsequently identified as Michael Colgan, artistic director of, yes, you’ve guessed it, the Gate Theatre, Dublin.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Stephen Gaghan interview

In The Times, Brian Appleyard meets screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana).
I’ve met some wired people in my time, but I’ve never met anybody quite like Stephen Gaghan after his third triple espresso. In his room at the Soho Hotel in London, he has made — and talked at some length about making — a perfect little pile of the sweets that came with the coffee; he has checked and rechecked his BlackBerry; he has bounced off the walls; run shrieking round the room with his hands in the air to demonstrate a typical crane shot of the Martin Scorsese school of film-making; crouched in a corner to demonstrate the way he prefers to make films; and talked rapidly, brilliantly, but not entirely connectedly, about drugs, politics and, when he was 14, getting trapped in the snow in Colorado with a girl he really fancied, but couldn’t quite bring himself to kiss.

NTL and BitTorrent team up

NTL and BitTorrent have announced details of a new "technical trial" with a view to launching a legal video download service in the UK.

The trial, beginning next month and involving around 100 NTL homes, will feature a "large variety" of licensed content including movies, TV shows and music videos.

The BitTorrent software uses peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, where every downloader of a file also serves as an uploader. The trial will have the added element of technology from Cambridge-based firm Cachelogic, who will accelerate downloads and reduce costs by storing frequently-downloaded files locally on the NTL network.
More from Neil Wilkes for Digital Spy.

More WGGB interest at the Oscars

(Belated) congratulations to Bob Baker, co-writer of The Wallace and Gromit film, Curse Of The Were-Rabbit which has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

BAFTA Craft Awards

Congratulations to all the Guild members who have been nominated for a BAFTA TV Craft Award for writing:
  • Richard Curtis for The Girl In A Café
  • Andrew Davies for Bleak House
  • Kevin Elyot for 20,000 Streets Under the Sky
  • Gwyneth Hughes for Cherished
  • Robert Jones for Ahead of the Class
  • Tom Needham for Cold Blood
  • Peter Ransley for Fingersmith
  • David Renwick for Love Soup
  • John Sullivan for Green Green Grass

Friday, February 10, 2006

A writer at the Grammys

Not many screenwriters get nominated for Grammy Awards. John August did (for a song in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory).
Having been to quite a few premieres and fancy shindigs, I can say that the Grammys were the most consistently entertaining. The musical performances were good, the groan factor was low, and every celebrity had to walk by my seat at least once.

Our seats were on the floor, next to the aisle. Whenever a performer and/or presenter needed to go from their seat to backstage, they were walked by us. Even better, running across the aisle next to our seats were thick cables covered with a floor mat. Although marked with white tape, this hazzard was very easy to trip over. Many celebrities did.

Can games make you cry?

In The Guardian, Aleks Krotoski calls on video games makers to engage our emotions.
Videogames are played by people, not machines. There is room for emotions in entertainment. Films do it, why can't games? It's not impossible, but developers may need more experienced storytellers to harness their emotional impact. The challenge is to capture the truth in the turmoil surrounding death that goes beyond the need for revenge.

Library users turn to crime

Britain has traditionally been a nation with romantic reading habits, but new figures show that readers are turning to crime.

The gritty forensic novels of American writers such as Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson have gained popularity in British libraries, compared with previous years when romantic fiction dominated the charts. More than half of the most popular titles borrowed in the year to June 2005 were crime tales or thrillers, according to the latest Public Lending Right statistics.
More from Louise Jury in The Independent.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Linehan has faith in IT Crowd

Despite disappointing ratings for the start of his new sitcom, The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan remains upbeat. BBC News reports.
As yet a follow-up series has yet to be commissioned, although according to Linehan "the initial signs are good".

"I think we've created something pretty special, but I'm too close to it to know if I've succeeded.

"And anyway, you only really know how well a show is doing when it's repeated."

Graham Duff

Graham Duff, writer of BBC3 sitcom, Ideal, talks to BBC Writersroom.
I've never seen a cure for writers block as an option. Write anyway. If I get stuck on a project, I'll write something else. For me, I think the main thing is to write. Not everything travels in a straight line - so just write.

Comedy North online

BBC3 is joining forces with the CorporationÂ’s Talent and New Media departments to find the next generation of comedy writers.

The campaign is to begin in March and is being overseen by Comedy North, headed by Kenton Allen. Upcoming comedians will be invited to submit their sketches or showcase material via the BBC3 website, where it can be viewed and rated by producers, commissioners and other comedians.

The writers/performers of the best sketches will be invited to attend comedy workshops in Manchester given by leading comedy talent. If the campaign is successful in uncovering a diverse range of new talent then it is envisaged that a half-hour comedy pilot could be produced for transmission on BBC3.
More from Liz Thomas in The Stage.

Comment: I don't know if this is entirely correct - surely people will be pointed to the new Soup website rather than the BBC3 site.

Update: it appears they are going to use the BBC3 site. Although the initiative is "supported" by Soup. Hmm.

Filmfour coming to Freeview

The good news, as reported by Digital Spy.
Channel 4 has confirmed that premium movie service FilmFour will become a free-to-air service from July.

The move will coincide with the channel's launch on Freeview and will takes its reach from 300,000 homes - subscribers currently pay £7 a month for the service - to a potential 18 million.
Now the bad news. There will, of course, be advert breaks.

Ordinary jobs in plays

Why do so few playwrights depict ordinary people doing ordinary jobs, wonders Philip Hensher in The Guardian.
In recent years, occasional dramatists have made an attempt to get away from the general tendency of English drama. Rather than setting a play in a domestic setting among the leisured, educated classes with not much else to do but swap epigrams and fall in and out of love, dramatists have sometimes tried to evoke a professional world. Influenced, perhaps, by more hard-nosed American dramatists like David Mamet, playwrights started to put major economic institutions on stage.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Romans In Britain

With the first revival of The Romans In Britain opening at The Crucible in Sheffield this week, Aleks Sierz in The Daily Telegraph, talks to the play's author, Howard Brenton.
Brenton adds: "I came out of the experimental theatre of the 1960s when it was almost shocking to go to shows when people kept their clothes on." So when he wrote for the National Theatre in the 1970s, "there was a kind of culture shock".

Judd Apatow and Steve Carell interviewed

Judd Apatow and Steve Carell, creators of the hit film The 40-Year-Old Virgin, talk to Lisa Rosen for the Writers Guild of America, west.
When it came time to figure out the ending of the movie...the writers were stumped. They knew it would involve Andy finally having sex and that the audience would know it too, but how to best convey the scene emotionally? Garry Shandling, whom Carell had worked with on The Larry Sanders Show, came to a table read and articulated the matter perfectly: Somehow they had to show the audience that the virgin’s sex was better than everyone else’s sex because he was in love.

“It was a simple idea,” says Apatow, “but it was really hard to crack because how do you show that? I didn’t think we could figure it out. One day, Steve said, ‘Maybe I should just sing a song.’ Carell was certain they wouldn’t end this movie with a big song and dance, “but I threw it out there because in my opinion there was no other way to end the movie. It was the complete and ultimate expression of his experience.”

Monday, February 06, 2006

Deverell appointed Controller of BBC Children's department

Alan Yentob, BBC Creative Director, has announced the appointment of Richard Deverell as the new Controller of BBC Children's. In a simultaneous appointment, Anne Gilchrist takes on the new role of Creative Director, CBBC.

Alan Yentob said: "These two key appointments are designed to put creative renewal and a visionary strategy at the heart of our offer to children, across all services and media."
More from the BBC Press Office.

Tessa Ross interview

In Media Guardian (free registration required) Owen Gibson meets Channel 4's head of film and drama, Tessa Ross.
Ross refuses to be tied down to a specific direction. "If people come and ask what we want, I have to tell them I don't know. I mostly think I'm wrong. I spend most of my life worrying that I'm wrong. I can only think in terms of colour and music, which sounds really pretentious. What you want to do is paint a big, broad, colourful picture of lots of different shades," she says.

The 'lost' CHEERS

Inspired by an uninspiring Super Bowl, Ken Levine digs out a special scene of Cheers he wrote with David Isaacs back in 1982. It seen by 80 (eighty!) million people.

Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival

The first Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival will take place from 27 June - 1 July.
The International Screenwriters' Festival is dedicated to the art, craft and business of writing for the screen. Bringing together professional industry delegates, high profile guests and new talent from around the world, the Festival provides a unique forum to debate and discuss writing dramatic scripts for film, television and new media.
There's decent people behind it (mostly development execs) but there's not a lot of other information available yet. We'll keep you updated.

A theory of screenwriters

In the LA Times David Kipen challenges the idea of film directors as auteurs.
To enter a parallel universe, just dial (323) 782-4591. A blithe female voice speaks the titles of half a dozen or so current movies, the dates and times they will screen at a certain private auditorium in Beverly Hills and, finally, the names of the filmmakers responsible. The titles are largely familiar. The names, to any but the most uncommon cinephile, are not. Lately, the recording has alerted callers to showtimes for such pictures as Tony Kushner and Eric Roth's "Munich," and Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan's "The Producers."

Hasn't there been some mistake? Didn't Spielberg direct "Munich"? Didn't Susan Stroman direct "The Producers"?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they did. They just didn't write them. And to the Writers Guild of America and its Film Society, whose number you've just dialed — if to practically nobody else in the filmgoing world — directing isn't everything. As for whether there's been some mistake, in fact there has, and too many people have been making it for far too long. It's called the auteur theory.

Reviving Paramount

In The New York Times,Laura M. Holson looks at how Brad Gray is hopping to revive Paramount Pictures.
Mr. Grey believes he has a plan for reviving Paramount, which in 2004 ranked seventh in domestic box-office receipts. ...he will buy good scripts, bet heavily on talented executives and filmmakers and, he hopes, watch the money follow.
Sounds simple, doesn't it?

Highbrow erotica

Barbara Cartland, the grand old dame of English romance, made a career out of leaving her readers outside the bedroom door. A new breed of women writers, however, is inviting them in to swing from the lampshade and anything else that grabs their fancy - wherever and with whoever they fancy - provided it is all in the best possible taste.
More from Jonathan Brown in The Independent.
And...what is the difference between erotica and pornography? One memorable description has it that in erotica you use a feather while in pornography the whole damn chicken gets roped in.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Jeffrey Caine - Oscar nominee

(Belated) congratulations to Guild member Jeffrey Caine who received an Oscar nomination last week for his adaptation of John le Carré's novel, The Constant Gardener.

Fingers crossed for him on 5 March...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Google video

Google Video now offers a variety of paid-for downloads (at the moment, only available in America) - for example, episodes of the Brady Bunch or Star Trek Voyager at $1.99 each.

How movie is it?

Billy Mernit looks at different screenplay writing styles.
Screenplays come in all shapes, sizes and sensibilities. Some read like lean, mean machines, fueled with just enough tight, right detail to make for a vivid ride. Others are almost like novels in movie drag, cramming the pages with observation, philosophy and atmosphere. Most fall somewhere in between, and there are innumerable ways to personalize the form. Sometimes a seemingly overloaded narrative actually gets across a compelling voice; sometimes a "less is more" style ends up conveying merely less.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Writing Curious George

Prepare yourself for a monkey called Curious George, the next big animated superstar. But, explains Robert W. Welkos in the LA Times, his progress from book to screen was not exactly straightforward.
...once you try to take him off the page, a couple of potential problems come into bold relief: George doesn't speak, so other characters have to do it for him by reacting to his antics. And his stories, in the parlance, have no arc.

Legions of imaginations over the years struggled to make a movie that could blossom within those constraints. According to the Writers Guild of America, West, the list includes Brad Bird ("The Incredibles"), William Goldman ("The Princess Bride"), Pat Proft ("Police Academy"), Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz ("A League of Their Own"), Joe Stillman (the two "Shrek" features), and Daniel Gerson and Rob Baird ("Monsters, Inc."). The number who tried was enormous, even by contemporary Hollywood standards.
(IMDB lists 11 writing credits, and that doesn't include all of the above.)

Adamson at the National

Samuel Adamson's first original play for nine years, Southwark Fair, will premiere at the National Theatre this month, reports Jasper Rees in The Daily Telegraph.
Since Nicholas Hytner took over at the National Theatre nearly three years ago, he has directed the new works of three playwrights: Alan Bennett's The History Boys, Stuff Happens by David Hare and Nicholas Wright's adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. The latest addition to that list is Samuel Adamson and his play Southwark Fair. It is a sizeable accolade. Unlike Hytner's other selections, Adamson is neither well over 50 nor deeply embedded in the theatrical establishment.

Mackie to join ITV?

The BBC head of drama series and serials, Laura Mackie, is in talks to join ITV as number two to the drama controller, Nick Elliott.

Mr Elliott is recruiting a replacement for head of network drama Jenny Reeks, who is leaving ITV due to ill health.
More from Ben Dowell on Media Guardian (free registration required).

Update: it's a done deal (see Stephen Gallagher's comment, below).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Arts world hails hate law defeat

Leading British writers and comedians have welcomed the defeat of a proposed religious hatred law, which they say would have stifled freedom of speech.
More from BBC News.

Flogging it

Instead of sending his manuscript to agents or publishers, aspiring novelist Mark Vender took it to the Hay Festival. In Colombia.
Vikram Seth is also at the festival. He talks about the arduous process of finding a publisher for his novel in verse, The Golden Gate, which was rejected 20 times before it found a home. But when I speak to him later, he's inspiringly circumspect. Talking about the plight of unpublished writers, he says, "the world is not against you. It's indifferent."
More in The Guardian.