Saturday, June 30, 2007

Give Us The Credits We Deserve

Screenwriters are asking for the credits they deserve in a manifesto to be debated at the International Screenwriters' Festival in Cheltenham next week, reports Dalya Alberge in The Times:

Thousands of screenwriters around the world have signed a manifesto demanding greater respect for their work from producers and directors. When the credits roll, they want their names in bright lights, along with those of the actors.

Screenwriters feel so strongly about the issue that they are staging a debate at the International Screenwriters’ Festival in Cheltenham, which runs from July 3 to 6.

William Nicholson, who scripted the Oscar-winning Gladiator, and Jeffrey Caine, nominated for an Oscar for The Constant Gardener, are among leading British writers who are calling for recognition of their rights over their films.

They claim that producers often employ production lines of writers. Nicholson was brought in on Gladiator after two writers had been sacked.

He told The Times yesterday: “The writers contribute to the end product, like the director, actors, cinematographers. But we writers are not asked for our own vision.”

Caine is also dismayed by how low the screenwriter is regarded. He said: “You’re invited on set on sufferance. If your lines are being shredded by an actor, you mention it to the director, who may or may not say something to the actor.

“Some actors don’t even acknowledge that they worked from a script. To listen to their Oscar acceptance speeches you’d think they improvised the dialogue.”

The manifesto, backed by guilds representing 9,000 writers, states that the screenwriter is a film’s “primary creator”. This is in conflict with Hollywood companies, which assert that the studios are the author and own the work.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Purnell takes over at DCMS

James Purnell has replaced Tessa Jowell as Secretary of State at the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). Ben Russell in The Independent writes:
Mr Purnell was head of corporate planning at the BBC between 1995 and 1997. Bright and personable, he is spoken of as a rising star of the Labour Party. He is a Blairite member of the up-and-coming group of young Labour MPs which has found favour with Mr Brown's inner circle.
Update: More on James Purnell from BBC News.

ALCS and your money

A guest post from the Chair of the Guild's TV Committee, Gail Renard.

I'm forever urging members to register all of your broadcast and published works with ALCS. The secondary royalties collected are your money, and should rightly be in your pocket.

I've had queries from members lately asking if they should register their animation credits with ALCS as well. The answer is a resounding yes. You can do this easily on-line or by letter. Or if you have any queries, phone them.

ALCS are truly writer-friendly. And when you have time, visit the ALCS website and make sure all of your works are listed.

If you ever have any problems getting your ALCS money, please let the Guild office know and I or another of the Guild nominated ALCS directors will happily help you.

So why are you still reading this? Register now!

Texts Don't Grow On Trees

A new campaign, Texts Don’t Grow On Trees, has been launched by the European Writers’ Congress (EWC) to raise awareness of authors’ rights across the continent.

The campaign asserts five principles:

  1. Authors must never be pressured into waiving their rights to be named as the authors of their work;

  2. Authors must never be pressured into allowing their works to be treated in a derogatory manner;

  3. Authors need to be free to make a choice on licensing their works for reproduction communication, distribution, interpretation, and modification in any form and medium of their choice without pressure or interference from others;

  4. Authors must be rewarded by a conforming and timely execution of the licenses by their licensees;

  5. Authors must be remunerated in fair relation to the profits arising from the licensed exploitation of their work.

To support these principles, the campaign will:

  • Underline the eminence of authorship by promoting the uniqueness of individual creation;

  • Highlight the integrity of original works by denouncing misappropriations and derogatory treatment

  • Promote the authority of creators over their works by educating them on the powers of licensing agreements;

  • Advance the control of authors over the execution of licenses by proposing model statements for licensing contracts;

  • Require licensees to fairly remunerate the authors who create the one crucial ingredient for success.

"The idea behind this campaign is to educate and inform the reading, viewing and listening public; not criminalise them,” said EWC board member and former Chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Graham Lester George. “Our ambition is to get them to see us as workers too, with all the same basic living problems: homes, children, bills, mortgages etc., and that taking our work without payment deprives us of income.”

The EWC is encouraging authors to sign up to support the campaign.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hollywood copyright battles

In The L.A. Times, J.A. Feranandez reports on a spate of copyright battles as documentary makers accuse feature film writers and producers of ripping off their material.
Last Wednesday, L.A. attorney John Marder filed a copyright infringement and breach of implied-in-fact contract suit in federal District Court against Warner Bros., screenwriters Cory Helms and Jamie Linden and others on behalf of filmmakers John Witek and Deborah Novak.

Witek and Novak's Emmy-winning documentary "Marshall University: Ashes to Glory" details the same incident of a West Virginia town struggling to find redemption after most of the members of the university's football team die in a plane crash (Novak grew up in the town and was present for the major events depicted in both movies).

In the filing, they claim that the producers saw the documentary, actively solicited participation from Witek and Novak and offered them a contract before communication abruptly ceased. The studio then went on to make the fictionalized film.

Rock novels

In The Times, Tom Cox assesses thirty years of attempts by authors to write novels about rock music.
What novelist with a big record collection wouldn’t be excited at the prospect of writing about rock’n’roll life: the internal politics, the heartbreak, the potential for myth-making? Nonetheless, the rock-novel genre contains some of history’s most misguided books. Bad fake music journalism disguised as fiction for people who don’t read fiction? Literary slumming from writers who really should know better? Overexcited fan-boy ramblings? It’s all here.

The new sci-fi

In The Guardian, Gareth McLean investigates the resurrection of TV sci-fi.
It can't be a coincidence that Lost, Heroes and Battlestar Galactica are laced with paranoia and suspicion - of government, of others, and, in Lost, of the Others. Just as Invasion of the Bodysnatchers in 1956 played on fears of reds under the bed, these are the times in which we live. [Tim]Kring [creator of Heroes] points out that heroes emerge in popular culture at times of crisis in the real world: Superman, for example, was born from the depths of the Depression. As Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies notes, albeit while emphasising the optimism of his own show: "We live in a time of terror."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Plowman to leave BBC

By Ben Dowell for Media Guardian:
The BBC head of comedy, Jon Plowman, whose credits include Absolutely Fabulous and The Vicar of Dibley, is leaving the corporation after 27 years.

Mr Plowman said he had decided to "return to the coalface" of programme-making as a freelance producer, after 13 years as a comedy commissioning executive, but insisted that he hoped to continue his relationship with the BBC. He will leave the BBC later this year.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

In The New York Times, David Itzkoff talks to screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci about how they went from a shared love of the French New Wave to writing the new Transformers film.
In Hollywood Mr. Kurtzman and Mr. Orci have become the go-to screenwriters for mega-budget fare like “Mission: Impossible III” and “The Island,” as well as this week’s film adaptation of “Transformers,” based on the Hasbro toy franchise. And they have recently completed a “Star Trek” prequel intended to rejuvenate that venerable science-fiction franchise.

Yet while these screenwriters concede with laughter that their careers may have strayed somewhat from their youthful auteurist tendencies, “that spirit,” Mr. Orci said, “lives on.”
Transformers trailer

Monday, June 25, 2007

Let's make a Story bonfire

In Media Guardian, playwright Mark Ravenhill reveals his fears about the growing influence of script-writing guru Robert McKee, author of Story. Ravenhill quite likes the book itself, he says, but worries about how it is being used.
Writer delivers script, goes in for meeting. "I'm missing the initiating incident on page 23," is a note that you're very likely to hear in our Story-centred world. Rarely, "Why are we making this?" and certainly not, "Are we challenging any ideas about form?" Recently, a playwright told me that he was advised by one major theatre to read McKee's Story. This is a book about writing a Hollywood movie! It's frustrating for us writers. But it's disastrous for you as an audience member or reader. Gradually, our culture is turning into the equivalent of the McFlurry. And that's got to be bad.

So here's the solution. A book burning. It's not something I'd normally advocate and not something the Guardian would, I imagine, endorse. But I think we have to do it. Writers, producers, editors, if you have a copy of Story - get in touch. We can make a lovely bonfire in my back garden. We'll imagine a richer, more exciting culture. And that's good for everyone, isn't it?
Judge McKee for yourself: take a look on YouTube at his take on Citizen Kane and Chinatown.

High Court backs critic

From Roger Pearson in The Press Gazette:
An Evening Standard theatre critic who did not like British composer Keith Burstein’s opera about suicide bombers, calling the tone “depressingly anti-American” and finding the notion that there was anything heroic about the bombers “a grievous insult” was entitled to give her honest opinion, London’s Court of Appeal ruled today.

In a milestone ruling which strengthens the legal position of newspaper reviewers and critics, Lord Justice Keene, sitting with Lord Justice Waller and Lord Justice Dyson, backed their rights to give “fair comment” in their reviews.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Eddie Braben interview

In The Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish talks to Eddie Braben about what it was like to write for Morecambe and Wise.
As Braben recalls now, when he was first summoned by Bill Cotton, then Head of Variety, to meet the pair, he had the effrontery to tell them: "There's something missing from your comedy."

"What we never saw," says Braben, "was the genuine warmth that existed between them. I always felt Ernie was too hard, too abrasive. He had this charming innocence but you never saw that in the act. He was the typical feed."

Braben tilted the balance of the double-act towards a more engaging equilibrium.

The future of Bristol Old Vic

On The Guardian Theatre Blog, Lyn Gardner expresses concerns about the approach being taken by the Bristol Old Vic in its quest for new funding.
If the money isn't raised then the theatre has no future, but the danger is that in securing those funds it sells its birthright for a temperature-controlled auditorium and seats that all face the stage (some of them don't). Clearly under [Simon] Reade, the theatre did not win the loyalty or affection of Bristol audiences. But if the theatre's refurbishment and closure had been conducted in an orderly fashion, there would have been time for widespread consultation to find out what the people of Bristol would like from their theatre and where that might fit within wider theatre activity in the south west and a national strategy for regional theatre and touring. Instead, an attempt is being made to raise money before anyone knows what might go on inside the building.
As Gardner mentions, Theatre Bristol is facilitating a meeting to discuss the future of the Old Vic on 21 July.

Face2Face with Tony Jordan

BBC writersroom in association with The Royal Court Theatre are holding an open and free event on 11 July 2007 where Tony Jordan will talk with Kate Rowland, the BBC's Creative Director of New Writing, about creating, writing, and sustaining popular television drama series.

Get full details from the BBC Writersroom.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Alan Plater in Orkney

Former Guild President, Alan Plater, has become a regular visitor to Orkney in recent years, reports Alfred Hickling in The Guardian. His latest community play from the St Magnus festival is Tales From The Golden Slipper, with music by Peter Maxwell Davies, based on the life of notorious Orcadian, Willie Farquhar
"This place lives and breathes stories," says Plater. "Anyone who wants a part, I write one for them. You only have to shake a copy of the Orcadian [the weekly local newspaper] and ideas for plays fall out." Even so, Plater takes issue with the paper's account of Farquhar's appearance before local magistrates, which described him as Orkney's Al Capone. "I think he was actually closer to being Orkney's Sir John Falstaff," he says. "He was more of an old-fashioned lord of misrule than a hardened criminal. And people really adored him - he was, as Shakespeare's fat knight says, 'not only witty in myself, but the cause of wit in other men'."

Geekspeak

On the Guild website, Henry's Cat writer, Stan Hayward, explains the joys of search.
It would not surprise me if Google or Microsoft offered to buy the Writers' Guild for a billion or so. As the service it offers is 100% information, and as most of its members process information, it probably has access to more fields of information than any other group in the UK.

LoveHoney story competition

Adult shoppping site LoveHoney.co.uk have launched an erotic short story competition, with a first prize of £500. All stories must feature a LoveHoney product.

The closing date for entries is 30 November 2007.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Play & Record

Play & Record is a composite broken comedy show for BBC7, made up of sketches, characters, songs, and other odds and ends from a wide range of writers and performers. It's intended to introduce new talent to BBC7, so one thing we are definitely looking for is writers who have yet to have material performed on the radio.
More from BBC Writersroom. The deadline for submissions is 16 July 2007

Kem Nunn interview

For the Writers Guild of America West, Denis Faye interviews Kem Nunn about his forthcoming collaboration with David Milch for HBO, John From Cincinnati.
When you're creating a bizarre, cryptic world like the one in John from Cincinnati, do you, as a creator, need to know the “why” of the weirdness, or are you just flying by the seat of your pants?

That occurred to me earlier on in putting this show together. If you were doing this as a feature or if I was doing this as a novel, it would have to have the old beginning, middle, and end. If you're going to turn the thing in and get your check from the publisher, you've got to nail some things down.

Take an imaginative movie like Being John Malkovich. I thought the first half of that movie was enormous fun, but eventually you get to the part where you have to explain it -- and my interest falls off. The imaginative part was fun because it kind of invites you into a dialog with the piece -- you're trying to think ahead of it, you're trying to think about what's going on and that can be an enjoyable process. But the filmmaker, because he or she is compelled by the form they're operating in, has to give you an answer. They have to tell you what's happening, what it's about and it often ends up like the old '50s sci fi movies where it's scary as long as you didn't have to see the monster, and then the monster comes out and it's James Arness in a rubber suit -- it all goes out the window.

In a way, episodic television is a perfect forum to explore some of these "paranormal" -- for lack of a better term -- themes and ideas and the stuff we hope to engage within the show because you can do the first part of that equation. You invite the audience into a kind of dialogue with you about, “What does it mean that this guy's floating up in the air? What's truly miraculous? Is that the miracle or is the miracle in one character discovering his love for another character?” It invites a certain dialogue between the piece and the audience.

But from a practical point of view, when you determine that someone is going to float off the ground, is it just a case of, “Let's make this guy do this just for kicks,” or do you decide ahead of time, “He floats in the air because of reason X”?

I don't really enjoy weirdness for the sake of being weird. I want it to be driven by something, even if I'm not sure exactly what it's driven by. It's not just, “Wouldn't it be cool if this happened,” but sometimes, as a writer, you have a sort of intuition. I'm not quite sure why it should happen yet, but I think it should and I think it makes sense in faith that if I continue to address myself in the proper way to this material, this will be further revealed not only to me, but to the audience.
The series started in America last week - there are (lukewarm) reviews in The New York Times and The LA Times.

"His name's not John and he's not from Cincinnati" - series promo


Monday, June 18, 2007

Two screenwriters with no complaints

In The New York Times, Michael Cieply talks to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely [The Chronicles Of Narnia, The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers] .
Sometimes, lore to the contrary notwithstanding, it is good to write for the movies. Especially if you are sipping a soy latte or an Arnold Palmer on a sunny day in the Los Feliz district (a place up the street sells “vibrational bliss”), with a partner who can grab your thoughts in midair, bobble them around and hand them back before you finish the sentence.

“I like movies fine, but we’re not film school people, so this isn’t —— ” Christopher Markus began, to which Stephen McFeely added, “A route to director or going to parties,” because, Mr. Markus concluded, “I really want to write, and it’s the only thing I’m good at.”

Kudos moves into film

From Owen Gibson in Media Guardian:
Kudos, the television production company behind the hit series Life on Mars, Spooks and Hustle, has revealed ambitious plans for a fledgling film unit. It has three British films already in production and 10 more in development, and separate deals to turn many of its hit television shows into cinema releases.

The company, which was recently acquired by Elisabeth Murdoch's production company, Shine, in a deal worth around £35m, claims its hallmark is "quality populism"

Friday, June 15, 2007

Southwark Playhouse looks to Elephant move

From Nuala Calvi in The Stage:
Southwark Playhouse is to relocate to a new, purpose-built theatre in Elephant and Castle, under plans submitted to Southwark Council.

The company has been homeless since the owners of its Southwark Bridge Road base announced that they would not be renewing its lease.

It will now be included in a major redevelopment project by First Base on the site of the former London Park Hotel, being designed by Millennium Dome architect Richard Rogers.

The plans include a 250-seat theatre shell at the base of the 44-storey tower block, with “significant” front of house and backstage facilities and an additional education and community space.

Stoppard season on BBC radio

The BBC have released more details of the season of Tom Stoppard plays to be broadcast on Radio 3, Radio 4 and BBC 7 from 29 June.

There will be a mix of new adaptations of stage plays and original radio plays, as well as a documentary about Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead.

ITV1 to focus on 9pm dramas

ITV Chairman, Michael Grade, has said that he wants ITV1 to reclaim its position as a home for quality drama, reports Leigh Holmwood for Media Guardian.
Speaking at the Rights Lab conference, organised by producers' alliance Pact, Mr Grade again reiterated that the time when ITV would copy other broadcasters' ideas was over.

"Priority number one is for ITV1 to regain its ground in 9pm drama," he said.

"[ITV director of drama] Laura Mackie and her team are raising our ambitions in this area so if you think that we're only interested in detective dramas or psychological thrillers, think again," Mr Grade added.

"Mobile, Fallen Angel, Kingdom, the Jane Austen season and Talk to Me have done well for us, but we need more, particularly more returnable series.

"We want the next Life on Mars, the next Spooks and, yes, we're still in the market for the next Morse, the next Foyle's War or the next Doc Martin. Not copies, you understand.
Easier said than done, of course (and Grade himself has said it several times already since he joined ITV).

Meanwhile, as Maggie Brown reports for Media Guardian, long-time head of ITV drama, Nick Elliot, threw his farewell party earlier this week.
He was responsible for 8,000 hours of drama and scores of series while at the Network Centre: Cracker, A Touch of Frost, Midsomer Murders, Cold Feet, Foyle's War, Miss Marple, Prime Suspect, to name but a few - and always tried to mix in the spiky one-offs with the more routine.

The final move at his leaving do was to invite onto the stage with him the ITV drama commissioning team who have taken over. A younger generation, all female bar one lone male, led by Laura Mackie, Sally Haynes and Corinne Hollingsworth.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Casualties

A guest post from Guild member Gregory Evans:

I had mixed feelings when I heard Casualty had "triumped" (to use the word, and spelling, from the show's official website) at the recent BAFTA Television Awards. The BAFTA for Best Continuing Drama, as I understand it, is awarded for a particular episode submitted by the producers (in this case it was the Christmas two-parter), but is also in recognition of the overall high quality of the series throughout the preceding year.

Part of me was pleased Casualty won its BAFTA - because I think it's a great show; because I know quite a few of the team who worked on it in 2006 - I know how hard-working and talented they are, how genuinely nice, how deserving of the honour - and also because I wrote two episodes last year, so I feel I played a small part in its success.

But another part of me (the meaner, nastier part) didn't give a shit about the award because that's how Casualty has treated a lot of its regular writers over the last few months.

I was one of those writers. I've written Casualty scripts (among other things) for the past five years, usually about three episodes a year, and I was considered one of their "core writers".

I delivered my last script in December. It went through smoothly, as usual, and everyone was pleased with it – especially the director, who did a superb job, and the producer, who was making her final episode after being with the show for about four years.

A couple of weeks later, I asked the series editor when I might be commissioned again. A lot was changing in Casualty around that time: the executive and series producers were both being replaced, along with several script editors and episode producers. It was more than the usual job-churn you get in any long-running tv show, it was a change of management.

In light of this, the series editor told me she couldn't say for sure when I'd be commissioned again - it was likely the new producers would want to bring in "new blood", would want to "reinvent" the show - but she assured me I was a "valued writer" and that I'd be commissioned for an episode some way into the new series, which was just about to go into production. "Several seasoned Casualty writers are understandably unhappy about this," she wrote.

Actually, I wasn't unhappy at all. I was busy with other things, so I was in no hurry to start another script, but I wanted a rough idea. She told me I'd probably get an episode sometime in February, and I left it at that.

That was the last I heard. Since that email early this year, no one from Casualty has been in touch with me, or my agent - either to offer me a job, or to tell me they don't want to work with me any more.

A while ago, on the advice of another writer, I emailed the new series editor (who I knew when he was a researcher) to find out what was going on. I didn't get a reply.

It's some small consolation to know I'm in excellent company: the new management at Casualty seem to be treating all their "seasoned" writers in a similar way.

Shortly after the BAFTA was announced I had an email from a fine and vastly experienced writer, who wrote four superb episodes of Casualty last year. He wrote to me: "I appear to be persona non grata with Casualty these days. I did think when they won their BAFTA I might have got some acknowledgement but not a peep." And he ended up: "I watched the BAFTAs and heard Andy Harries' advice to producers: Treasure your writers. If only!"

I had a similar email a couple of months earlier from another Casualty casualty, also a "core writer", who's written some of the finest episodes over the past few years (including several in 2006). He told me that, since the arrival of the new management, no one had bothered to tell him what was happening: "I haven't even had the courtesy of an email," he wrote. "Any loyalty I had to the show is now gone. In fact, I think that being so loyal to them was stupid. [...] I don't think they realise how priceless it is to have a bunch of experienced writers on hand to guarantee quality."

Another writer, who I met at the leaving do for the executive producer, had recently been fired from his episode after the second draft, something that had never happened to him before in a long and distinguished career.

Like these writers, and others, I once felt enormous affection and loyalty towards Casualty. Whenever I stepped into the warehouse in Bristol where it was produced, I felt included and valued, part of the team.

I'm not complaining about what has happened at Casualty. Producers can use the writers they choose, of course; long-running series need reinventing from time to time; "new blood" is a good idea (we were all new blood once). It's how it's been handled that's been so crass. For a show that's all about sympathy and professionalism, it's been heartless and unprofessional.

Gregory Evans is currently writing for The Bill

Chinua Achebe wins Man Booker international

Chinua Achebe has won the 2007 Man Booker International book prize - an award for a body of work rather than a new book.

The description of Achebe by some commentators as 'obscure' has riled Maya Jaggi in The Guardian.
The question arises, obscure for whom? Achebe, aged 76, is revered across continents as a founder of the modern African novel in English. Things Fall Apart, his 1958 debut about the devastating impact of Christian missionaries on Igbo culture amid the scramble for Africa in the 1890s, is one of the most widely read novels of the 20th century. Nor was Achebe obscure to the galaxy of writers - including Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer - I heard pay birthday tributes to him at Bard College in upstate New York, where he has taught since a car crash in Nigeria 17 years ago left him in a wheelchair.

Yet making the case for profiling Achebe in this paper in 2000, I was struck anew by how towering figures in world literature can fall beneath the radar in the west, or slip from memory. It may be worse for those not writing in English, as I was reminded by the death on Sunday of Senegal's Ousmane Sembène, aged 84, a francophone novelist and founding father of sub-Saharan African cinema. Hardly a household name - though, like Achebe, he deserves to be.

Blurb coming to Europe

San Francisco-based Blurb, a site that enables users to print as few as one copy of a book on demand, on Wednesday announced plans to expand its business to Europe.

The company plans to begin printing books in the Netherlands in three weeks. Europeans can now order books with a shipping time of 5 to 7 days (instead of 7 to 10 days) at a lower shipping rate.
More from Miriam Olsson for Cnet.

I've never heard of Blurb, but it sounds like competition for Lulu.com.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chase comments on Sopranos finale

David Chase, creator of American TV series The Sopranos, has responded to criticism of the final episode, reports BBC News.
"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," he said of the drama's end...

"People get the impression that you're trying to mess with them, and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them. No-one was thinking, 'Wow, this'll tick them off," he added.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dedication dilemmas

By Edward Docx in The Daily Telegraph.
There are some novelists who will tell you that it's the characters or the plot that cause all the trouble, or the research, or the pacing, or managing point of view, or controlling tone; but you would do better not to believe them. All of these are exasperating. But the thing that really screws you up is the dedication.

The book may be good, bad or both, but once it is finished you can dodge it, stand by it, disown it, move on, say you did or didn't mean it, point out that you made it up, insist that it has nothing to do with you or anything that has happened in the past. The dedication, on the other hand, is where you have to say exactly what you mean. The dedication is where you can balls up the rest of your life.
Docx gives some great examples, including this by J.D. Salinger for Franny and Zooey:
"As nearly as possible in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean, I urge my editor, mentor and (heaven help him) closest friend, William Shawn... lover of the long shot, protector of the unprolific, defender of the hopelessly flamboyant... to accept this pretty skimpy-looking book."

The Croak - Action Transport

An intriguing writing opportunity called The Croak, from young people's theatre company, Action Transport, courtesy of the BBC Writersroom. The initial deadline is 24 June 2007.
The Croak will bring together experienced writers, aspiring writers, and new writers. It is a learning experience, the chance to write your own play supported by one of the UK's leading companies for young people. Experience is not required; wanting to write is the only qualification.

Michael Rosen is new Children's Laureate

Michael Rosen succeeded Jacqueline Wilson as Children's Laureate yesterday, reports BBC News.
"I see my job as Children's Laureate being an ambassador for fun with books. I hope that I'll be able to boost all children's reading for pleasure but also to give a special lift to the wonderful diverse world of poetry for children."
In The Guardian he is interviewed by Simon Hattenstone.
The trouble is, he says, educationalists and government ministers have tried to take the fun out of poetry. They have reduced it to a question to be answered in a Sats test, and that is one thing he is keen to change.

"The question is, how d'you encourage it, not how d'you say, 'Uh-uh, no sorry, what we're going to do now is look at The Owl and the Pussycat and count the adjectives.'"

Monday, June 11, 2007

On location with Debbie Horsfield

In The Times, Daphne Lockyer goes behind the scenes on the new BBC TV drama True, Dare, Kiss, written by Debbie Horsfield.
True, Dare, Kiss centres on Phil (played by Dervla Kirwan, of Ballykissangel fame), who returns to Manchester for her father’s funeral and is reunited with her siblings – Nita (Pookie Quesnell), Beth (Lorraine Ashbourne), Alice (Esther Hall) and Dennis (Paul Hilton). After an absence of 20 years, she finds it unchanged from a fateful night in the 1970s when a cataclysmic event shattered the family’s life.

“It’s as though the house has been preserved in aspic,” says [producer, Marcus] Wilson, who also co-produced Life on Mars and has brought his expertise of all things 1970s to this set, too – the preponderance of Formica and swirling carpets here are just the tip of the iceberg. “We wanted to present the idea that whatever happened on that night caused the clock to stop.” The exact nature of the secret, which stalks the very heart of this dysfunctional family, will be revealed, eventually, in the six-part drama. “But unlike Cutting It, where an audience could dip in and out, True, Dare, Kiss requires them to stick with the ride throughout,” says Horsfield. “I hope they will want to.”

Wikibook = wikibomb

From The Globe and Mail:
For some reason, the hunt for the great Internet novel is still on. The hunt, of course, isn't for a book about the Internet; the object here is a book written by the Internet, in the same collaborative spirit that cooked up Wikipedia.

The results thus far aren't promising. But the "wisdom of the crowds" is in these days, and so we watch as one well-meaning website after another tries to make a go of having the mob write fiction. One large attempt recently ended in glorious disarray, but others are still ongoing. Unsurprisingly, the less ambitious they get, the more successful they become.

Tony record for Stoppard

Tom Stoppard's play The Coast Of Utopia won a record seven Tony Awards in New York last night, including Best Play. As BBC News reports:
The 69-year-old, who won his first honour in 1968, said: "I feel a bit nostalgic actually because this year it's 40 years since I first came here with a play...It was a different planet in 1967, the Broadway theatre. It had a little ashtray clamped to the back of every seat and the author got 10% of the gross."

Friday, June 08, 2007

ITV.com ready for relaunch

ITV.com has long been one of the worst media websites around, impossible to search and bereft of content. Hopefully, that will all change - a relaunch is set to go live next Tuesday. As Mark Sweeney reports for Media Guardian, the main innovation included in the £20m revamp is the broadcasting of shows from ITV1, ITV2 and ITV3 live online.
A staged rollout of ITV.com's video streaming will see the 30-day catchup service and programme archive activated for different programme genres on a week-by-week basis.

Soaps such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale will be the first genre to launch, followed - on subsequent Tuesdays - by broadband games, drama, lifestyle, sport, entertainment and news.

AGM 2007 report

A report on the Guild's 2007 AGM is now available on the Guild's website.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Knocked Up

Blogger, writer and romantic comedy specialist Billy Mernit isn't afraid to put the boot into films he doesn't like. But this week he's found one to rave about: Knocked Up, written and directed by Judd Apatow. And, as ever with Billy's posts, there are useful insights for writers.
Knocked Up proves what should be the present-day romantic comedy screenwriter's maxim: don't write a "Romantic Comedy."

No, write a story about two fascinating, funny people who irrevocably change each other's lives, and leave all that Same Old Shit (e.g. the Bad Date Montage, et al) out of the picture.
Knocked Up trailer

The Royal Tapes

BBC Radio Five Live has launched a new competition open to all writers, The Royal Tapes.
We want you to submit scripts of up to three minutes in length featuring two characters, which capture a moment, an extraordinary emotional idea inspired by the role that the monarchy plays in our lives, a microcosm of the drama that surrounds the royal family.

It can be funny, surreal, poignant or challenging. Your drama can be about anyone and be set anywhere – be original, be provocative, be dramatic. The scripts are from your perspective and don't have to contain a royal character.
Entries must be received by 12 noon Friday 29 June. Thanks to BBC Writersroom for the link.

Six words that sold a script

From Jay A. Fernandez in The LA Times:
It's rarely a good idea to greenlight a movie off of a title alone (unless it includes the words "Pirates" and "Caribbean"). That's like falling in love with a MySpace photo.

But when Harvey Weinstein pulled the trigger on the latest raunchy comedy idea from "Dogma" and "Clerks II" writer-director Kevin Smith after Smith had written only six words of it, Weinstein's $15 million looked like a pretty good bet.

The title? "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Guild signs new TNC Agreement

From the WGGB website:
The first-ever minimum terms collective agreement for playwrights was negotiated between the Writers' Guild and the Theatre Writers' Union and the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court (collectively, the TNC), and signed in 1979.

In 2004, both the Guild and the theatres felt that a complete revision of the agreement was necessary. The Guild met with the PMA to draw up our bid in June of that year and negotiations with the three theatres began in September 2005.

The Guild negotiators (David Edgar, Nick Dear, Paul Sirett and Olwen Wymark) were advised by a PMA delegation (Alan Brodie, Diana Franklin and Mel Kenyon). Negotiations were concluded successfully on 26 March this year and the agreement was signed on behalf of the Writers' Guild by David Edgar, our new President, at the Guild's AGM on 1 June 2007.

The headline gain is an increase in the up-front fee for writers (the combined commission, delivery and acquisition fees) from £8,467 to £10,000, in all RSC, NT and RC spaces except for the Theatre Upstairs. The £10,000 play achieves a long-lasting ambition for playwrights, and will serve as a benchmark in negotiations with other companies.

In addition, we have removed loopholes in the rehearsal payment system, ensuring that playwrights are paid for all the days they attend rehearsals (and readings and workshops outside the rehearsal period), for conducting other production related business (like interviews and programme compilation), and for those days on which it is mutually agreed they should not attend.

We also made sure that the playwrights' right to casting approval was safeguarded in the new agreement.

For the first time, we have guaranteed writers' hotel and accommodation expenses (within the terms of the theatres' expenses policies), both during rehearsals and during workshops, auditions and research.

Concerned about the implications of granting theatres automatic rights to include extracts on their websites, we insisted that website rights be granted under a separately-signed agreement for a limited period.

We have reduced the option periods that theatres may purchase for the United States and the English Speaking World from eight months to six, and given playwrights greater influence over third party productions licensed by the TNC companies.

In addition, many clauses were revised to reflect best current practice and to accommodate changes in the production environment over the years.

Inevitably, we made some concessions. However, we are convinced that the resulting agreement and model contract improves the original in form and content, and will improve the pay and conditions of all playwrights working for the TNC theatres.

You can download the Full Agreement from the Guild's Rates and Agreements page.

A writer's entourage

In Written By, the Writers' Guild of America West magazine, David Hoag looks at the rise of literary managers and the other roles in Hollywood writers' growing entourages.
“Primarily, for me, the manager is very hands-on in development of spec material, which is really what I have him for,” says screenwriter Keith Domingue, who has written feature assignments for Village Roadshow, Dimension Films, and MGM, among others. “I look for someone who will become a development partner. I need that because it allows me to take more creative risks with my spec material.” As a result, Domingue will work through multiple drafts with his manager, something generally not possible with an agent. “From my experience, few agents have the time for that,” he adds.

Fever Pitch at the Screenwriters' Festival

The Screenwriters' Festival (3-6 July 2007) have launched their Fever Pitch competition in association with 4Talent. Entrants must submit a 25 word pitch for a film or TV drama along with a 150 word synopsis. Writers of the best ten will invited to attend the Festival and pitch live in front of an audience who will pick the winners.

The closing date for entries is 22 June 2007.

Behind the scenes at The News Quiz

On BBC News, Stephen Robb goes behind the scenes at Radio 4's The News Quiz.
Over two days up to the Thursday evening recording of The News Quiz, the writers each produce about 40 jokes - 10 for each topic.

"People say, 'How do you think of jokes?' but it's like asking a lorry driver, 'How do you drive a lorry?' It's automatic after a while," says Rhodri Crooks.

"The deadline seems to focus your mind," adds Simon Littlefield.

But the writers do admit to rituals that help them think, with Crooks disappearing for long walks, and Littlefield stepping out on to the balcony to smoke and gaze over central London rooftops.

Monday, June 04, 2007

President Edgar

At the Guild's AGM on Friday 1 June, David Edgar was confirmed as the new President of the Guild for a three-year term.

David Edgar is one of this country’s’ leading playwrights, having worked in the theatre, TV, film and radio. He is perhaps best known for his large-scale dramatisation of Nicholas Nickleby for the Royal Shakespeare Company and for television.

Other key works have included Pentecost, which won an Evening Standard award in 1994; The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs; Albert Speer, based on Gitta Sereny's biography of Hitler's architect; and Playing With Fire. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has at various times served as Resident Playwright at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Fellow in Creative Writing at Leeds Polytechnic, Professor of Playwriting Studies at Birmingham University and Literary Consultant for the RSC.

For the Writers’ Guild he has recently led the negotiating team creating an updated Minimum Terms Agreement covering the RSC, Royal National Theatre and Royal Court – which he has officially signed today, the first day of his Presidency. As President of the Guild he will speak for writers on public issues and will have a non-voting seat on the Executive Council.

David Edgar’s appointment continues the Guild’s tradition of choosing leading writers as its President – he takes over from the TV writer and novelist David Nobbs, while previous holders of the post have included J.C. Wilsher, Ian Curteis, Rosemary Ann Sisson and Alan Plater.

You can hear David Edgar in conversation at a Guild event on 7 June.

Meeting the agents

For those of you unable to make it to the Guild's Meet The Agents event last week, there's now a report up on the website.

Update: Guild member Frances Lyn has posted her impressions of the meeting.

Media Predict

Media Predict is a new online game from America that creates a stockmarket for media talent. Players register, get a virtual $5,000 to spend, and then back the projects or people they think will succeed.

As The Economist reports, the people behind Media Predict plan to charge companies to have projects listed.
This year was kind of a bloodbath for new [television] programmes,” says Brent Stinski, Media Predict's founder, “so we know that their systems need improving.” Advertising could provide another source of revenue. But laws against online gambling will probably foil Mr Stinski's hopes of turning the exchange into a real-money stockmarket. Traders will probably have to settle for prizes, which will be introduced later this year, and the warm glow that comes from knowing that they are the secret arbiters of public taste.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Future Perfect 2008

Paines Plough theatre have launched their Future Perfect scheme for young playwrights. Thanks to BBC Writersroom for the link. The closing date is 11 June 2007.
Future Perfect is a once in a lifetime opportunity to stretch your ambition as a theatre writer.

A year long attachment, Future Perfect aims to create a space for writers to explore their individual voices. Playwrights are inspired to develop their vision and confidence through challenging practical writing projects.

Alongside these projects writers will develop a full-length play with the support of Paines Plough's literary and artistic team.

We are looking for six writers between the ages of 18 and 30 to become Future Perfect 2008.

Will Ferrell - FunnyOrDie.com

American comedian Will Ferrell has a new online venture that is proving as successful as his feature films, reports Laura M. Holson in The New York Times.
For Will Ferrell, who commands up to $20 million for movies like “Anchorman” and “Blades of Glory,” starring in a short Web video may not seem like the best use of time.

But one afternoon in early March, Mr. Ferrell walked to a guest cottage at his Los Angeles home with a small crew that included Adam McKay, who is his production partner and the director of “Anchorman.”

With a camcorder rolling, Mr. Ferrell improvised a sketch as a down-on-his-luck tenant being harassed by a foul-mouthed, booze-sodden landlord. The actor playing the landlord was Mr. McKay’s 2-year-old daughter, Pearl.

“The Landlord,” which took 45 minutes to shoot and cost next to nothing to produce, was posted on the new Web site FunnyOrDie.com on April 12.

As of yesterday, the sketch had been viewed about 30 million times, and the newly posted outtakes have been watched more than 1.6 million times. (This being Hollywood, Mr. Ferrell and Pearl have already shot a sequel: “Good Cop, Baby Cop.”)

Doctor sells screenplay to Hollywood

From Dalya Alberge in The Times:
A doctor is swapping medicine for Hollywood after learning that her first screenplay is poised to go into production with an A-list cast.

John Malkovich, Peter O’Toole and Darryl Hannah are among the stars lining up for the period epic, Love and Virtue, written by Mia Sperber, who is a consultant radiologist in Liverpool.