Friday, September 29, 2006

Seeing like a screenwriter

Writer, teacher and blogger Billy Mernit says that screenwriters should write what they see.
The seemingly heretical (to some) subtext here is that a screenplay can be pre-directed - that instead of "leaving the visuals to the director" (let alone the aurals, thematic image systems, etc.), the alert and imaginative writer can imbue his/her writing with enough use of the medium to hand any director a fully realized vision on a platter - to make a script, in a sense, moviemaker-friendly and/or director-proof.

Guild Theatre Awards 2006

In 2005, the Guild's Theatre Committee initiated awards for the encouragement of new writing. Members were asked to nominate anyone in any capacity who had given them an exceptional experience in new writing.

Today the winners of the 2006 awards were announced. They are:
  • The Watford Palace Theatre (Joyce Branagh, Lawrence Till and Mary Caws), nominated by both Sarah Daniels and Ian Kershaw;
  • Claire Malcolm, Director, and Anna Disley, Deputy Director, New Writing North, nominated by Carina Rodney;
  • Joe Sumsion of Action Transport Theatre Company, nominated by Kevin Dyer;
  • Gwenda Hughes, currently Artistic Director of the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, nominated by Lisa Evans.
Full details can be found on the Guild website.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Arts Council England loses theatre experts

Arts Council England’s theatre department is set to lose two of its most senior figures as part of a radical shake-up, only months before the sector learns of its fate in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

Director of theatre Nicola Thorold and director of touring Elizabeth Adlington are leaving the organisation following a comprehensive restructuring of ACE’s national office, due to come into force on October 31.
More from The Stage.

The irresistable rise of Allan Loeb

There are few bets with longer odds than making a living as a screenwriter. And then there's Allan Loeb. A compulsive gambler since age 10, he's currently riding one of the hottest streaks in Hollywood — screenwriting's equivalent of the "It Boy."
More from Jay A. Fernandez in The LA Times.

Public Service Publisher

The communications industries regulator, Ofcom, has published a new report on Public Service Broadcasting post Digital Swtichover.

The most eye-catching recommendation is that:
Further consideration also needs to be given to the possible role of and funding for a Public Service Publisher (PSP), proposed by Ofcom’s PSB Review as the first provider of public service content rooted in the ideas, creativity and ethos of new media.
The idea would be to have public service content produced by someone other than the BBC, for use through commercial distributors.
In conjunction with a small group of experts from within the new media industry, work is underway to develop a creative vision for the PSP as an entity rooted in the ideas, creativity and ethos of new media (although this will not preclude it from making use of broadcasting distribution where appropriate).
The report also promises that Ofcom will be undertaking a full review of Channel 4's public service provision.

Peter Ling obituary

Script writer and editor Peter Ling has died at the age of 80. There's an obituary in The Guardian by Philip Purser.
Peter Ling, who has died aged 80, was a radio and television writer especially successful in the discipline of soap opera, and one of its first exponents to apply professional guidelines to the maintenance of these popular, in theory never-ending, serials as they took off in the late 1950s and 60s.

Though Tessa Diamond still wrote most, if not all, of her pioneering (1957-66) Emergency - Ward 10, it was becoming apparent that few authors could furnish every script for a twice-weekly show crowded with characters. Coronation Street (born 1960) was a team effort almost from the outset. In the case of Crossroads, which Ling and Hazel Adair devised for ATV in 1964, even a pair of writers would have been hard pressed, for at first this saga set in a Midlands motel went out five times a week.

The customary practice was for each member of a team to be allotted a short run of episodes - perhaps three or four - for which they were solely responsible, as long as the story conformed to an agreed general plot. The trouble was that the fate one writer had in mind for a character might be inadvertently scuppered by the next hand on the tiller.

At the suggestion of the producer, Reg Watson, Ling switched to assigning a writer to each individual storyline as it evolved, whether it was a dawning romance or someone heading for trouble with local villains. The chosen writer would then stay with this strand until it - or his contract - fizzled out. Another innovation of Ling's was to change the writers every six months, to prevent staleness.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Theatre Museum to close

It's been a long slow death, but now the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden is set to close. On The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog, Michael Billington laments its passing.
The V&A have said they will re-house the Museum's collection and ultimately open a new gallery in South Kensington. But it will be impossible to store everything under one roof. And the whole point of having a Museum in Covent Garden was that it was at the very heart of Theatreland itself, and shared in all its glitz and glamour.

So the Museum's impending closure, as it reaches its 20th year, is devastating news. A reminder that, although the British have a genius for making theatre, they have little desire to celebrate it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Murakami wins Short Story Award

Haruki Murakami has won the second Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award for Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, his third collection of short stories to be published in English.

The €35,000 (£23,000) prize, which is awarded to new collections published in English during the last 12 months, is the world's richest short story prize. The prize will be shared between Murakami and his translators, Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin.
More from Richard Lea in The Guardian.

Diane Setterfield tops US bestseller list

Diane Setterfield, a former French teacher from Yorkshire whose first novel - a book that she spent five years writing - has just been published, is embarking this week on a promotional tour of the United States buoyed by the remarkable news that The Thirteenth Tale has gone straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
More from Louise Jury in The Independent.

Ofcom blocks ITV's children's retreat

The broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, has blocked ITV's plans to reduce children's programming.

ITV had been hoping to cut its weekday afternoon CiTV shows on ITV1 and replace them with adult programming that would be more lucrative in terms of advertising.

The Ofcom ruling comes after a campaign from a number of groups, including the Writers' Guild, who felt that it was vital for children's programming to remain on ITV's flagship channel.

ITV ceased in-house production of children's programmes in June and has so far made no new commissions from independents. A spokesperson said that they would announce plans for 2007 later this year.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dylan Thomas award shortlist

Six young authors have been named as finalists for the first Dylan Thomas £60,000 award, the world's largest literary prize.

The shortlist includes UK authors Rachel Trezise, Nick Laird, James Scudamore and playwright Lucy Caldwell.

They are joined by American Liza Ward and Zimbabwe-based Ian Holding in the running for the prize, which will be announced in October.

The judges said they had been "blown away" by what they had read.

The six writers - all under 30 to comply with the rules of the award - have been selected from a 14-strong shortlist unveiled in July.
More from BBC News.

Paul Schlesinger interview

In their latest Face2Face video interview, BBC Writersroom talks to the BBC's Head of Radio Entertainment, Paul Schlesinger.


The BBC has launched BANG! (British Asian New Generation), a new writing competition for people living in the North of England.
What is BANG?
A new writing competition for writers based in the North of England.

You could win a BBC bursary of up to £1000, a writing mentor, and the chance to have your work produced for the stage.

What are we looking for?

A short drama of up to fifteen minutes for the stage. It will be either a complete piece or an extract of a longer piece. We’d like to see compelling and original stories about the British Asian Experience with great characters, strong dialogue, imagination, an arresting beginning and a satisfying ending.
The deadline is 8 January 2007. For full details visit the BBC Writersroom.

Tennessee Williams premiere

The conventional wisdom about Tennessee Williams, especially among politically correct detractors and gay-liberation activists, is that he was a self-loathing gay man. His homosexual characters are cloaked in heterosexual disguise, the argument goes, and so their humanity is distorted.

Now a premiere of a once-lost work, “The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer,” [playing as part of the Tennessee Williams festival in Provincetown USA] provides more evidence that Williams wrote freely about his sexual desires. Completed when he was 29, the play details his own emotional crisis after being dumped (for a woman) by the first great male love of his life, a young Canadian draft dodger named Kip Kiernan.
More from Randy Gener in The New York Times.

The inscrutable Mr Barnes

In The Daily Telegraph, Jasper Rees attempts to uncover the real Julian Barnes.
Of the golden generation of British novelists now within hailing distance of old age, Julian Barnes is much the hardest to pin down. Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan – you know where you are with them, and have done for years.

But the unifying theme of Barnes's work? The through line? If there is such a thing, it's an elegant unknowability, a distaste for the business of sifting through the contents of his own navel.

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's all gone quiet...

On The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog, Lyn Gardner describes the experience of having her first book published.
It is two weeks since my first novel, Into the Woods (David Fickling Books) crept quietly out into the world to a resounding silence. There were no fireworks, no glittering launch party, and no column inches celebrating its arrival. It feels a bit like having been pregnant for a monstrously long time only to discover that nobody takes a blind bit of notice when the baby finally arrives. It's when you announce the pregnancy or, rather, sell your book that the congratulations and the champagne flow. Eighteen months on, all interest has evaporated.

New BBC independent drama execs

As the final part of the a major restructuring, the BBC has announced new senior appointments for independent drama commissioning.
Julie Gardner is appointed Head of Drama Commissioning with special responsibility for implementing a cohesive independent drama strategy across the UK.

In addition to her new role, Julie will continue to executive produce Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures with Russell T Davies.

For the foreseeable future she will continue as Head of Drama, BBC Wales.

Lucy Richer is currently on sabbatical, and in order to enhance London-based independent drama commissioning, Sarah Brandist and Polly Hill are appointed as Commissioning Editors, Independent Drama, across all BBC television channels.

Their responsibilities include the development of new independent drama, alongside the continued development and production of the existing independent drama slate.

In addition, these positions will have special responsibility for developing independent teen drama and drama for the BBC THREE audience: this will include exploiting all opportunities for 360 degree drama commissioning, building on recent successes - with Spooks games available online and on mobile phones.

Following the announcement earlier this year of an in-house drama board, an equivalent board for independent drama commissioning will now be established, to be chaired by Julie Gardner.

Sarah Brandist and Polly Hill will be joined on the independent drama commissioning board by Patrick Spence, who will continue in his role as Head of Drama, Northern Ireland; and Anne Mensah, who will continue in her role as Head of Drama, Scotland.

Between them, Spence and Mensah oversee a dynamic slate which includes Murphy's Law, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, Sea of Souls, and Waterloo Road.

Ben Stephenson is made Head of Development, Drama Commissioning, reporting to Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner.

New artistics directors for Theatre 503

Directors from two of the West End’s most successful recent plays - Journey’s End and Rock’n’Roll - have been appointed to head south London fringe venue Theatre 503.

Paul Robinson, who is also artistic director of Treatment Theatre company, and Tim Roseman will succeed Paul Higgins, who left the Battersea theatre earlier this year to pursue a freelance career.
More from The Stage.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

WGAw rally for reality writers

About 800 Writers Guild of America west members joined a rally yesterday in support of reality show writers in dispute with producers over union recognition, rates and rights, reports Carl DiOrio in The Hollywood Reporter.
Top primetime scribes Marc Cherry ("Desperate Housewives") and Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") were among those addressing the gathering in midtown's Pan Pacific Park, which was followed by a march by the hundreds in attendance past CBS' nearby Los Angeles headquarters.

"The truth of quote-unquote reality shows is that some of them require people to write them," Cherry told a reporter. "I know the networks would like to avoid that reality because it costs them money. But to me, it's just a simple matter of fairness."


In The Daily Telegraph, Vicky Frost explores the world of machinima, "the hybrid child of computer games, film and 3D graphics ("machinima" is a portmanteau of machine, cinema and animation."
Using features built into some popular computer game engines, you can "direct" characters and record their movements as if they were actors in a mainstream studio – you can even choose your camera angles. The film is then edited, a smart voice-over added and the finished product uploaded to the internet for the machinima community to view. There are games, such as The Movies, made specifically for this purpose. Many games have the necessary technology, even if it was included for different purposes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Elif Shafak's characters on trial

Uncle Dikran, Grandma Shushan and Auntie Zeliha may be figments of the novelist Elif Shafak’s imagination but they will all be in the dock this week in a bizarre trial that has become a test for Turkey’s European ambitions and commitment to freedom of speech.
More from Suna Edrem in The Times.

Update: Elif Shafak has been acquitted, reports BBC News.
The proceedings lasted just 40 minutes and ended in utter chaos, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports.

The judges said they based their decision on lack of evidence to prove that Ms Shafak "denigrated the Turkish national identity" in her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul.

Guild member John O'Farrell has launched a new comedy website, He explains the thinking behind the site on BBC News.
There are two dozen items up there at the moment and a new lead story will hit the front page every day.

If you don't log on for a few days you can catch up by looking through the archives. There is no subscription charge - this is a completely free service paid for by the bailiffs who will be coming to my house a week on Thursday.

Maybe I'll get back some of the cost of running it from ads or the wildly optimistic link where readers can "donate to keep NewsBiscuit running". (And maybe all the soldiers will stop all their wars and skip around picking wild flowers.)

US networks back "the writer's vision"

At the annual meeting of the Television Critics Association (TCA), held in July at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, the CEOs of all the major broadcast networks proclaimed there are no longer any pre-conceived structures or themes guiding the planning of a primetime fall television season. It is an open frontier.

“What we've come to learn is, it is all about the writer,” says Nina Tassler, President, CBS Entertainment. “We're aggressively developing projects year round. We tell writers, 'Bring us your passion projects; bring us the project that excites you.' So, if they bring us something that's serialized, if they bring something that is closed-ended, if they bring something that is unorthodox and unusual, it doesn't matter. If we at the network respond to the quality of the storytelling, and it's a great opportunity for us, we're going to move forward on it. We don't preclude development of any one form over another. The point is: it's about the writer's vision. How does he or she best feel the story is serviced.”
More from Julio Martinez for the Writers Guild of America, west.

Niraj Kapur

On the Writers' Guild of Great Britain website, Guild member Niraj Kapur explains how he has fought expectations about the subjects a British Asian writer should choose.
The biggest misconception producers have about Asians is that we are only capable of writing Asian projects around the ethnic clichés of curry houses, corner shops, Bollywood, arranged marriages, terrorism and racism.

I was born and educated in Northern Ireland. Sixteen challenging years in England followed, including drama school, two years on Income Support, marriage, fatherhood, being a regular game show contestant, joining the Chocolate Tasting Society, collecting rock music and doing unique office jobs. My experiences have been wonderful and varied. Why would I want to limit myself to writing stories about depressing racism or clichéd arranged marriages?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Harman criticises EastEnders scripts

Actor Nigel Harman has expressed his pleasure at performing Harold Pinter (at the Crucible in Sheffield) rather than being 'Little Den' in EastEnders, reports The Stage.
“I’ll be working on a classic piece of literature, where every word, every comma, every piece of punctuation is sacred, and coming from two years where I was basically making up my lines as I went along on EastEnders, it will be amazing.”
Earlier this year, continues The Stage, Harman had another pop at EastEnders scripts.
“How can I put this politely? You’re not always guaranteed a good script at EastEnders. I’ve watched a couple of people deliver lines that were so spectacularly bad, so spectacularly well, it’s bowled me over.”

Robin Hood reinvented

Guild member Dominic Minghella has created a new Robin Hood for the BBC, as Garry Jenkins reports in The Times.
“We wanted Robin Hood to be on the cusp between man and boy. We need to believe he has been off to war and is a leader of men, who has got past his youthful instinct to go off and fight and arrived at a more cerebral, intelligent position. But by the same token we need him to be someone who can hang out with the lads, backflip off the top of a building and snog a girl for the fun of it, too”

Peter Morgan profile

Yet more on Peter Morgan - a profile in The Observer by David Smith.
That was one of the highlights of my life.' Peter Morgan recalls the big impression he made on David Frost during breakfast at Claridge's when researching his first stage play, Frost/Nixon. 'He introduced me to Robin Cook and Madeleine Albright and told them, "Here's one of our promising playwrights, Colin Morgan." Better still was the late Cook's response: "Oh yes, of course."'

Friday, September 15, 2006

Frost/Nixon and Low Winter Sun

I saw Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan at The Donmar Warehouse last night and was, like the critics, impressed by the skill of the writing, acting and staging.

It was slightly strange to have David Frost portrayed as some kind of hero, however. I wonder if Peter Morgan originally intended this characterisation. Or was it the case that, for the sake of the drama, one of the adversaries had to be triumphant. It couldn't be Nixon, so Frost - not someone, in my opinion, it's easy to care much about - had to come across as a more significant person than he ever actually was. (Maybe I've just seen him too many times on Through The Keyhole.) Low Winter Sun

One person who I'm sure wasn't at the theatre last night is screenwriter Simon Donald. The first part of his well previewed drama for Channel 4, Low Winter Sun, was on at 9pm. Unfortunately that was the same time as the new series of Extras (written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant) - probably the most heavily promoted series of the year. Donald must have seen enough of Ricky Gervais this week to last him several lifetimes.

Photo: Brian Maccardie and Mark Strong in Low Winter Sun written by Simon Donals (Amanda Searle/Channel 4)

Man Booker Prize shortlist

Several of the favourites failed to make the Man-Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist yesterday, as Louise Jury in The Independent reports.
The selection surprised commentators. John Sutherland, last year's chairman and author of How to Read a Novel, said it was a "bizarre" list that might signal a changing of the literary guard. "If you compare it with last year, the average age is five or 10 years younger. What we may be seeing is a turning of the tide, the older generation giving way to the new."
The six shortlisted books were chosen from a longlist of 19 and are:
  • Kiran Desai - The Inheritance of Loss
  • Kate Grenville - The Secret River
  • M.J. Hyland - Carry Me Down
  • Hisham Matar - In the Country of Men
  • Edward St Aubyn Mother’s Milk
  • Sarah Waters - The Night Watch
The winner will be announced on Tuesday 10th October.

Can men write good romantic novels?

So now it's clear. The reason Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary were such unromantic flops is because both books were written by men. Big mistake.

There was nothing wrong with the writers. They were good enough in their own ways. It's just that the balance of their chromosomes wasn't up to the job.

If only Sadie Tolstoy or Sharon Flaubert had done the writing, instead of Leo and Gustave, the entire history of Western literature would have been completely different.

And how do we know this? Because Daisy Goodwin, the presenter of Reader, I Married Him, a new BBC4 series on the novel, which will be transmitted this autumn, just about tells us so.

"You can't have a really seriously romantic book written by a man," she says, dismissing in a sentence the murmuring hearts of half humankind. If you're a male writer, Daisy goes on, you lack insight into the ways of women.
More from Ray Connolly in The Daily Telegraph.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York

In The LA Times, J.A. Fernandez kicks of his new weekly Scriptland column with a scoop.
I have the new Charlie Kaufman screenplay on my desk.

I've read it — no, lived it. I've been moved and astounded by it. And I'm tortured by the dilemma of what I should or should not say about it here. I feel a bit like Frodo palming the One Ring.

Conor McPherson interview

In The Guardian, Maddy Costa talks to playwright Conor McPherson.
There's a distinctive sound Conor McPherson makes when he describes how he writes plays: a sort of viscous, splurting noise, like something gooey landing, splat, on a table. Plays come "very much from the unconscious for me", he says. "I describe it as coming from the body and your brain is catching up." It starts when an image arrives unprompted in his head; slowly the people it contains start to move and talk, then splurt: there they are on the page.


Channel 4 have launched a new comedy sketch writing competition in association with Amnesty International.
Using Human Rights as inspiration, we want you to pitch us a funny idea. It might be an animation, sketch, stand up, sitcom or a slapstick routine.

The catch - you have 160 characters to pitch your idea to us.
But be quick. The contest closes at 12 noon today.

lonelygirl15 is YouTube drama

If you're a regular on video upload service YouTube then you're probably familiar with cult favourite lonelygirl15.

She hit all the right buttons. Pretty. Naive. Geeky. Frank. And, it emerged this week, she was not a real person as (most) people had believed. In fact, she was the creation of film-makers Ramesh Flinders, Miles Becket and Grant Steinfeld and was played by actor Jessica Rose.

A glimpse into the future of scripted drama?

Read the full story on Virginia Heffernan's blog for The New York Times.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Midwives attack EastEnders plot

Midwives have attacked the BBC soap EastEnders for its portrayal of the birth of a baby with Down's syndrome.

The Royal College of Midwives said the plot, involving the characters Honey and Billy Mitchell, was unrealistic and would worry expectant couples.

The RCM is angry Honey was shown being refused an epidural when in pain, and being told about her baby's condition without her husband being present.

But a BBC spokeswoman said the scenes were based on real-life experiences.
More from BBC News.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New York Summer Plays Festival 2007

Submissions are now being accepted from writers anywhere in the world for the New York Summer Plays Festival 2007.

Leonardo Padura interview

Leonardo Padura, a 50-year-old journalist-turned-author, has recently won his third Premio Hammett (the International Association of Crime Writers award) for his latest Mario Conde novel. And yet, he says, what he is writing now, with its references to misbehaviour and unconventional sexuality, would never have been published in the stricter Cuba in which he grew up.
More from Duncan Campbell in The Guardian.

Scottish electronic archive plan

The National Library of Scotland has revealed a plan to create an archive of blogs, journals and e-mails written by leading Scots.

Curators insist these could become the manuscripts of the 21st century and have secured a £1.8 million grant for the Scottish Executive to set up a "digital repository".

Blogs and e-mails by leading cultural figures such as JK Rowling, Ian Rankin and Alasdair Gray are already being touted as prime exhibits for the scheme when it is launched in 2008.
More from Angus Howarth in The Scotsman.

John Le Carré interview

In The Sunday Telegraph, John Le Carré revals how a research trip influenced the writing of his new novel The Mission Song.
It was the strangest journey of my life and it always will be. I was looking for fictional characters I had invented, in a country I had never visited. The distant town of my imagination was Bukavu in the eastern Congo, known formerly as Costermansville and built in the early 20th century by Belgian colonialists. It stands at the southern end of Lake Kivu, at 1500 metres the highest and coolest of all Africa's Great Lakes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Venice award for Morgan

Writer of the moment Peter Morgan has won the Best Screenplay Award at The Venice Film Festival for his script for The Queen.

The QueenPhoto: Helen Mirren in The Queen, written by Peter Morgan.

Library budgets row

The bestselling novelist Susan Hill yesterday accused senior managers of public libraries of abandoning their commitment to books and manoeuvring to turn library buildings into social centres.

"They have been actively trying for years to get rid of books and introduce almost anything else," she said.

Hill was reacting to an indication that the protection of library book-buying budgets will not be strengthened and may even be diluted in a new government review. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Authority, a government agency, has announced a review of minimum service standards set five years ago.
More from John Ezard in The Guardian.

Product placement in books

Marketers have discovered a novel way to get their word out: embedding products in books.

The latest example is Cathy's Book, a novel due out Oct. 2 about a teen determined to find out why her boyfriend dumps her, then mysteriously disappears.

Procter & Gamble wrote a deal with the authors to include products such as Cover Girl's "Shimmering Onyx" eye shadow and "Metallic Rose" lipstick in exchange for promoting the book on P&G's teen website
More from Laura Petrecca for USA Today.

You might remember that Fay Weldon was the first to pioneer this kind of deal back in 2001 when she was paid to feature Bulgari diamonds in her novel The Bulgari Connection.

Josh Berman interview

Dylan Callaghan, for the Writers Guild of America, west, talks to screenwriter Josh Berman about his new series Vanished.
“With the success of 24 and Lost, studios and networks have been open to more 'out of the box' pitches. Vanished is part thriller, part soap, part mystery. In this new era, I wasn't forced to limit myself to one genre when developing the project.”

Friday, September 08, 2006

World Trade Center

I went to a BAFTA screening of World Trade Center last night and, having read a scathing review in The Guardian ("probably the worst film of the year"), was pleasantly surprised to find it engaging, thoughtful and moving.

As the director Oliver Stone pointed out after the screening, this is not a film about the geopolitics of 9/11 - that might come later. Instead he wanted to make a film about what happened on that day to the people of New York.

world trade center Photo: Oliver Stone and Nicholas Cage on the set of World Trade Center

Unusually for Stone he didn't write the screenplay (he often refers to himself as "a dramatist" rather than a director) - that job was done by Andrea Berloff and, surprisingly, it was her first produced feature. There's an interesting piece about her on Variety that explains how she got the job (as ever, her overnight success didn't happen overnight).
"She'd written two biopics, one on Amelia Earhart and one on Harry (Bing) and Caresse Crosby in Paris, and we'd done those (types of films) successfully in the past," Double Features partner Michael Shamberg explains.

"She was not someone we would have fallen for immediately (for the World Trade Center project), but she came back to us having done an enormous amount of research, all on spec, with an enormous amount of enthusiasm, and we said, 'Sure, let's take a chance on Andrea.' "

Shamberg and partner Stacey Sher encouraged Berloff "to take leaps of chance structurally and narratively, but always within the truth. And she just nailed it," Shamberg says.

Pam Ayres interview

In The Daily Telegraph, Cassandra Jardine talks to poet Pam Ayres.
Ever since she became famous, aged 27, for winning Opportunity Knocks in 1975, she has had plenty of detractors.

They call her the doyenne of doggerel, they mock her hayseed Oxfordshire accent with its long flat vowels, they parody her verses with their "ohs" and "ahs" and "mes", but often they miss the point.

Her verse can sometimes seem a trifle tame but, at her best, she is observant, lightly mocking, gently thought-provoking and never heavy or difficult.

Surgically Enhanced, the title poem from her new anthology, is one of her best.

"I stand before the mirror and I feel my spirits sink," it begins.

"I'm so bored with this old body, it's so normal, round and pink,

It hasn't got the shingles nor a heavy chesty cough,

But it needs a few adjustments; a few sections slicing off . . ."

Penguin markets with a serial

Penguin is turning to publishing's past to help usher the industry into the modern era, releasing a novel in serial form to create a buzz online before the complete work is released next year.

Gordon Dahlquist's fantastical gothic mystery "Glass Books of the Dream Eaters" will be sent to buyers in the mail in 10 weekly paperback instalments, each with a cliff-hanger ending, before publication of the full hardcover in January.
More from Jeffrey Goldfarb for Reuters.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Guild leads the way with video games guidelines

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain has launched the world's first comprehensive guidelines for writers in the video games industry and all those who work with them.

The Guidelines include an outline of the industry and the role of the writer, plus detailed advice on in-house and freelance employment models; rates and payments; royalties, residuals and credits. The Guidelines have been written by professional writers who are active and widely credited in the games industry.

The aim is to "promote a writer/producer relationship which will work beyond the short-term with mutual respect, trust and benefit for all parties".

Copies of the Guidelines will be sent to all Guild members. Extra copies are available from the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, free for members, otherwise £2 per copy. You can also download a copy from the Guild website.

The official launch of the Guidelines will be at the Computer Games Industry Forum organised jointly by the Guild and BAFTA, which takes place at BAFTA in Piccadilly, London, at 7.00pm on Monday 11 September 2006. It is sure to be the most significant event of the year for games writers.

Admission is £5 for Guild members and BAFTA members, £10 for others. To reserve a place in advance, please e-mail or call 020 7292 5806.

Shoot The Messenger script

Sharon Foster's script for Shoot The Messenger (shown on BBC Two last week) can now be downloaded from the BBC Writersroom.

BBC to hire three more commissioners

The BBC is set to expand its drama commissioning team, making the genre as accessible as possible to programme makers and writers.

It is understood that Corporation drama head Jane Tranter is keen to hire three commissioners to deal with independents, taking the total number of executives to seven.
More from The Stage.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz obituary

Novelist and screenwriter Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, died at the end of last month at the age of 95. There's an interesting obituary in The Economist.
Great writers often seem to haunt their cities. Joyce and Kafka remain ghostly figures on the streets of Dublin and Prague, and the elfin presence of Borges is still glimpsed, through cigarette smoke and tango sweat, in the cafés of Buenos Aires. In the ancient city of Cairo, it is Naguib Mahfouz who does the haunting.

This is not simply because he was a towering literary figure, and the joyous chronicler of a turbulent Egyptian century. Nor is it just because he populated his works—35 novels, more than 20 film scripts and a dozen collections of stories, essays, anecdotes and dreams—with a cast of memorably strong urban characters. Mr Mahfouz himself embodied the essence of what makes the bruising, raucous, chaotic human anthill of Cairo possible.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

BBC Vision appointments

Peter Salmon and Jane Tranter will fill new leadership roles in BBC Vision, the BBC's new multimedia content, commissioning and channels group, Jana Bennett, who will be Director of BBC Vision, announced today (5 September 2006).

Peter Salmon joins BBC Vision in October to take on the new role of Chief Creative Officer, BBC Vision Studios.

He will lead BBC Vision's in-house production studios, the biggest integrated multimedia production group in the world. With nearly 5,000 programme-makers throughout the UK, across drama, entertainment, comedy and factual, learning and children's programmes, he will spearhead the BBC's in-house drive to create the highest quality content.

Jane Tranter assumes the new role of Controller, BBC Fiction, leading the group which covers Drama Commissioning, Comedy Commissioning, Programme Acquisitions and BBC Film.

She will build connections between comedy and drama and draw up a more cohesive strategy between BBC Films and Programme Acquisitions, making the most of the planned increase in British film investment.

Within the new Fiction commissioning group, Lucy Lumsden, Controller of Comedy Commissioning, will continue to commission the comedy slate.
More from the BBC.

Recap: The creating of the BBC Vision group was announced as part of the BBC's Creative Future restructuring in July.

Lost showrunners

In Written By magazine, Matt Hoey talks to Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, showrunners on TV series Lost (created by Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof).
“So, this thing just happened with J.J. Abrams and they're giving us a shitload of money to write this crazy pilot about a plane crash on an island,” Lindelof remembers telling Cuse in 2004, “and we're going to write it, but they're never going to do it.”

This was during one night in a long-running series of meals at their favorite Mexican restaurant, gossip sessions shared by peers and close friends. They'd been getting together for years. Their relationship began when Cuse read a spec script by an unknown while showrunning his '90s cop series Nash Bridges.

So let's go back: “I was talking to Damon's agent,” Cuse recalls, still amused by the memory of their first encounter. “The agent was saying they have this young writer they were just starting to represent: 'We're very excited about him.' I said, 'Does he have any original material?' and they were, like, 'Let us get back to you.'” Days passed and the agency contacted Cuse again: “Well, we've got a one-act play we can send over.” Cuse immediately responded to Ollie Klublershturf vs. the Nazis: “The pages were funny and well-written, and I was extremely impressed. And then Damon came in and was equally impressive in person, and we just hit it off.” The back story? “Little did I know that Damon wrote this original material for the purpose of the meeting.”
Photo: Walt Disney Company Ltd / Channel 4

The Crack - BBC Radio Cumbria

BBC Radio Cumbria is running a competition for writers either from or resident in Cumbria. Entrants for the contest, called the crack, must submit five-minute plays inspired by classified adverts.

The rise and fall of Lionel Bart

The rise and fall of Lionel Bart, who died aged 68 in 1999, is a classic rags-to-riches-to-rags theatre story. Generally credited with being the father of the modern British musical, Bart wrote probably the best loved of all popular shows in the past century - Oliver!- yet died more or less broke, certainly washed up, living in a house in Acton and on subs from friends, notably the royalty on Oliver! which was arranged for him by the producer Cameron Mackintosh long after he had sold all the rights in his own show.
More from Michael Coveney in The Independent.

Bart's career is currently being celebrated in It's a Fine Life! at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch (book by Chris Bond).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Paul Laverty interview

UK Writer Autumn 2006The interview with screenwriter Paul Laverty from the latest issue of the Guild's magazine, UK Writer, is now available online at the Guild's website.
Can you describe your working relationship with Ken Loach?

We’ve been working together now for over ten years now and it’s always been very organic. We’re constantly kicking ideas around. I often prefer to put something down on paper as soon as possible so that it stops being abstract. It could be anything - a rough notion, a premise, a snatch of dialogue or a character idea. Sometimes it’s mostly questions. Somehow on paper it can begin to live, and it’s much easier to talk about something concrete.

We might then spend time talking about the best way to tell the story – there are always so many choices to be made – but when we feel we’re on the right track I’ll go away to write the first draft, though even then it often changes. It’s important to feel free in the moment, and Ken respects that space. If it lives the story should surprise me too.

Keeping racism off TV

Over the past few years, racism has become invisible in television drama. A decade ago, the white characters in Casualty or Corrie would express initial racist hostility to non-white newcomers. Then they would quickly learn that "we are all the same". And, certainly, black characters are now so indistinctly written that this liberal maxim is actually true in soapland.

Sexism, homophobia, a lack of understanding of the disabled - all these prejudices can still be dramatised, and characters educated out of them. But what of the racism that we know exists in our inner cities, our suburbs, our rural villages? No character ever voices it.

There is something dangerous about this. Once a reality is deemed too unpalatable to make it on to our screens, once we make it an invisible force, then it becomes that much more potent.
More from Mark Ravenhill in The Guardian.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Make Your Mark In Film / Cobra Vision competition

Make Your Mark in Film (coordinated by the Make Your Mark campaign - a business-led, government-backed campaign to encourage people in their teens and twenties to have an idea and make it happen) have teamed up with CobraVision to run a screenwriting competition.

The brief is to create a script comprising 10 x 5 minute episodes around the premise of having an idea and making it happen. The competition is open to anyone over 18 and the winner will be paid £3,000.

The closing date for entries is 15 December 2006. Thanks to Shooting People for the link.

Comment: I'm all in favour of competitions, but having read the competiton brief and rules (PDF files) I've got some reservations about this one. It seems you have to submit 50 minutes worth of script - that would be OK if it was a piece that you could use elsewhere (eg a spec feature) but for such a specific brief it's a lot to ask. Why not just one episode and an outline? Also, entrants must sign a release that says:
I hereby give permission that if this screenplay wins the competition, the Competition organisers may make revisions to the screenplay if deemed necessary by the Competition organisers without prior consultation or notification.

In praise of The Sopranos

The Sopranos There's good TV drama, there's great TV drama and there's The Sopranos. Created by David Chase, last night's first episode of the final series was written by Terrence Winter.

As Nancy Banks Smith says in The Guardian, it doesn't get much better than this.
This is the last series of The Sopranos (E4). The first line, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people", is nicely ironic. The opening titles alone are probably the best in television history. The Sopranos assumes a taste for Tom and Jerry, a nodding acquaintance with Gibbon and Mencken and, of course, digital TV.

Photo: WARNER BROS / Channel 4 Television

On the short circuit

It's boom time for short films, says Lisa Rosen in The LA Times.
"There's definitely a feeling that big things are happening for short film, partly because of MySpace and YouTube, but also because of the mobile platforms," said [Shane] Smith [a juror at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival]. "We're very much behind Asia and Europe in terms of downloading mobile content, but the potential is huge.

"It almost reminds me of the Internet gold rush of the late 20th century; there's an element of that, along with the hope that there's a revenue model in this, that filmmakers won't be burned like they were with the dot-com rush."