Thursday, July 31, 2008

Indie filmmakers distribute for themselves

As John Anderson explains in The New York Times, independent filmmakers are increasingly looking to distribute their films for themselves.
With their hopes for conventional movie deals increasingly dead on arrival, more and more indie filmmakers are opting for a do-it-yourself model: self-distribution, once the route of the desperate, reckless or defiant, has become an increasingly attractive option for movies otherwise deprived of theatrical exhibition.
A recent blog post by screenwriter and director, John August, offers further insight into the economics of independent filmmaking in the USA with his reflections on making The Nines.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have made the same movie but completely rethought how it went out into the world. I would have challenged a lot of the standard operating procedures, which seem to be part of an indie world that no longer exists. The Nines would have likely made just as little at the box office, but could have made a bigger impact on a bigger audience. Ultimately, I think that’s how you need to measure the success of an indie film’s release: how many people saw it.
This post was followed by another, and then a guest article by filmmaker Todd Sklar about self-dsitributing an indie feature.
Along with some of my cast and crew, I accompanied the film on the road for 3 months in order to help market the film in each city. We basically set the whole thing up like a band would do for a tour, supplementing the screenings with intensive grass-roots marketing and also using social networking sites to create a viral buzz prior to our arrival.

Our entire model was conceived around the concept of using the theatrical release as a tool for the ancillary benefits it can provide: building a fan-base for future projects, acting as a platform and catalyst for DVD and download releases, and providing a ton of press exposure and validation for the film to name a few.

Derby Playhouse saved

From Alistair Smith for The Stage:
Derby Playhouse will reopen this September after creditors voted in favour of proposals put forward by the board to take the company out of administration.

The result represents a remarkable turnaround for one of the UK’s major regional producing houses, after it was forced into administration last Christmas when Derby City Council refused to advance the organisation part of its annual grant. Its future looked even bleaker when Arts Council England removed its regular funding status as part of the recent spending round.

Arts Council England - lessons learned?

Arts Council England (ACE) has published a "Review of Arts Council England’s regularly funded organisations investment strategy 2007-08 - Lessons learned" (pdf), a report by Baroness McIntosh into the funding cuts last year, along with a communications review and a response from the ACE chief executive, Alan Davey.

The report includes a series of recommendations and concludes that:
ACE...needs to recognise that while it must have its own strategic priorities, these should be based in a proper understanding of what artists want to create. As one witness remarked: “nobody makes art in response to Arts Council policy”. Such understanding can only be gained from placing the arts at the centre of everything ACE does, which may seem blindingly obvious, but needs restating nonetheless. This will require everyone involved, including senior officers and council members, to maintain a more direct and visible connection to the work they fund. Responsibility for reasserting this core purpose lies primarily with the national leadership team, both executive and non-executive.
In the report Alan Davey responds to each of Baroness McIntosh's recommendations in turn, as well as to the recommendations of a review of the organisation's communications. He concludes:
...if we are truly to have excellent publicly funded art in this country, we need to do our job with the highest levels of knowledge, skill and judgment we can, applying the same degree of rigour in our own processes as we expect of those arts organisations and artists we fund. We are an organisation that wants to learn and to improve: with the help of Baroness McIntosh's report, we can and will do so.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blinkx online TV search

By Jemima Kiss for Media Guardian:
Video search specialists Blinkx will roll out a web search tool today that aggregates all the British TV shows legally available free online.

Blinkx Remote indexes all the current shows from the broadband catch-up services including the BBC iPlayer, Channel 4's 4OD, and Demand Five, allowing users to sort by genre and title or through a search field.

Dad's Army online archive

Dads ArmyA new online archive has been set up to celebrate TV series Dad's Army (created and written by Guild members Jimmy Perry and David Croft) at 40.

As BBC News reports, it includes correspondence about the opening titles.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

“Ebooks suck etc”. Yawn.

digitalistOn the digitalist, a blog by the digital team at publishers Pan Macmillan, Michael Bhaskar considers the visceral response to developments in the market for ebooks.
. is worth re-iterating: calm down, books are not going to go away, ebooks are [a] channel that will exist side by side with them, there is nothing to get so worked up about, no one is trying to kill books or end a culture, rather the reverse, to rejuvenate and contribute to that culture.

Strangely ebook’s biggest haters are often those who will crow most loudly about their imminent and monumental failure. Why bother hating them so much then?

As a bibliophile I can quite understand people’s passion for the printed, crafted artifact, but surely its time to get over the sheer level of knee jerk, violent invective ebooks attract. Surely?

E3 game industry conference

In The New York Times, Seth Schiesel gets excited at the E3 videogame industry conference in Los Angeles.
For a gamer or someone who is merely curious about the future of interactive entertainment, there is still no place better than E3, the annual game industry conference in Los Angeles. The business is surging both financially and in cultural relevance, and over four days at E3 last week it was obvious why: the level of creative talent in games has never been higher, and publishers around the world have finally come to realize that it makes far more sense to spend a few extra millions to create a top-notch game than to rush a subpar product out the door.

There was little at E3 that a hard-core gamer would call a major announcement, but the sheer depth of quality — in design, art, writing, emotive power — of the games at E3 made a case for the argument that only now are video games moving into their true golden age (sorry, arcade fans).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rewrite the Future

Save the children bannerSave the Children, as part of its Rewrite the Future campaign, is inviting writers to sign up to a joint letter, demanding that world leaders take action to ensure all children have the opportunity to attend school.

Nearly 200 writers from 45 countries have already signed up to the letter, including well-known British writers such as Philip Pullman. The joint letter will be published in world press in the days leading up to 25 September, when world leaders will meet in New York to discuss how to accelerate action towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

To sign up to the letter please email

George Pelecanos interview

In The Observer, Amy Raphael meets crime novelist and co-writer of TV series The Wire, George Pelecanos.
I ask Pelecanos if he's conscious of his novels creating an oral history of modern America. 'Sure. I want to leave a record. Hopefully if you read a book set in 2004 after I'm dead and gone, it will provide you with an accurate picture of the way DC was in 2004. Down to the way people speak and the slang. I'm obsessed to the point where if I have a character walking down the street in April 1968 and there's something playing in the movie theatre, you can believe the movie was playing that week. It's a small detail that would pass most readers by, but if it's wrong then someone's going to know and they'll call bullshit.'

On demand book printing

More on in-store printing, from Richard Brooks and Shiv Malik in The Times.
In October, the first British store will install a device called the Espresso Book Machine, nicknamed the ATM for books. Shoppers will be given a choice of more than 1m books - many rare or discontinued - to download and print in shops to take home as ready-bound paperbacks.

Some publishers are making plans to digitise their entire catalogue of titles, in or out of print. This will mean they can be printed either through the machines or on demand by the publisher.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What Guild members are getting up to

Taken from the Guild's weekly e-bulletin. Guild members wanting work to be included should contact Erik in the Guild office.

MARTIN ALLEN wrote the episodes of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm and at 8:30pm on Friday 1st August.

SONALI BHATTACHARYYA wrote the episodes of Silver Street, airing from the 21st July to 27th July, and 28th July to 1st August, at 1.30pm every weekday, with a Sunday omnibus at 4.30pm.

TILLY BLACK’S radio play Sand is going out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Friday 1st August.

TONY BURGESS wrote the episode of The Visit going out on BBC1 at 10:40pm on Wednesday 30th July.

RICHARD BURKE wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Friday 1st August.

DAVID CROFT co-wrote the episode of Dad’s Army, High Finance, going out on BBC2 at 8:30pm on Saturday 26th July.

ARNOLD EVANS wrote the episode of Doctors, Hunky Dory, going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Monday 28th July.

JONATHAN EVANS wrote the episode of Doctors, Old Green Eyes, going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Friday 1st August.

ADRIAN FLYNN wrote the episodes of The Archers going out on Radio 4 at 7:00pm from Sunday 27th until Friday 1st August, with each episode being repeated at 2:00pm the day following its original broadcast.

JULIAN FRIEDMANN, editor of ScriptWriter magazine, has now launched it as an online magazine at

JONATHAN HARVEY wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Wednesday 30th July.

ANTHONY HOROWITZ wrote the episode of Foyle’s War, A War Of Nerves, going out on ITV1 at 8:55pm on Saturday 26th July.

STEVE HUGHES wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 28th July.

MARK ILLIS wrote the episode of Emmerdale: Risky Business going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 29th July.

JESSICA LEA wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Tuesday 29th July.

PENNY LEICESTER abridged Jennie Roonie's Inside the Whale, The Absolute Beginning of Things, going out on Radio 4 at 7:45pm on Monday 28th July.

DOMINIC MINGHELLA co-wrote the episode of Doc Martin, The Family Way, going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Tuesday 29th July.

DEBBIE OATES wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Monday 28th July.

PHIL REDMOND was recently appointed as Chairman of the National Museums and Galleries of Liverpool.

PAUL ROUNDELL wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Wednesday 30th and Thursday 31st July.

MICHAEL RUSSELL wrote the episode of Midsomer Murders, The Magician’s Nephew, going out on ITV1 at 8:00pm on Sunday 27th July.

DIANE SAMUELS’ new play, Calais, is part of a programme of six short plays specially commissioned as part of the Everyword new writing festival at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre on the evening of Saturday 26th July. The play was inspired by the elopement of Mary and Percy Shelley in 1814, accompanied in true free-love fashion by Mary’s stepsister.

A.C.H. SMITH has written the book and lyrics for a new musical, Doctor Love, with music by David Lyon. Based on Molière’s L’Amour Médecin, its première will be staged at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol for five nights, July 29th-August 2nd, by an ensemble of 30 performers, musicians and dancers. The MD is Christopher Northam, the stage director and choreographer Vicki Klein.

Barry Stone's story, The Event Of The Nose, has been published online by Byker Books.

ALAN WHITING wrote the episode of Kingdom going out on ITV1 at 10:40pm on Tuesday 29th July.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

ITV's drama and comedy priorities

In Broadcast, ITV commissioners reveal what they are looking for from programme makers.

They include Laura Mackie,director of drama commissioning:
The hunt for returnable 9pm series remains Mackie's top priority, with the emphasis on giving familiar genres an original twist.

There are some gaps in non-genre, contemporary life drama, and indies should look again at workplace dramas that could recapture the success of the likes of London's Burning.

State-of-the nation pieces are also on the agenda, though they need to be accessible rather than worthy, and Mackie is happy to take darker themes to balance the glossy glamour of the likes of The Palace and Harley Street.
And Michaela Hennessy-Vass, commissioning editor, comedy:
Sitcoms are the key priority for Hennessy-Vass, who has spent the past year refining what works for ITV in scripted comedy.

Sketch shows are pretty well covered by a handful of development projects and instead the focus is on broad appeal - something that viewers could grasp if it was summed up in one line, such as the package holidays of Benidorm or the call centres of Mumbai Calling.

While she wants universal ideas, they need to be modern - not things that could have worked on ITV 10 or 20 years ago.

The rise of Hulu

Something I didn't mention in my recent article for the Guild's magazine about the future of online drama is the launch of TV streaming site, Hulu.

hulu screengrab
Founded in March 2007 by NBC Universal and News Corp, and currently only available in the United States, it offers free streamed network TV shows (both full length and excerpts) and even full length movies.

Essentially, then, it's along the same lines as the BBC's iPlayer, and the success of both services has shown the willingness of the public to watch TV online.

In The L.A. Times, Scott Collins offers an assessment of Hulu and considers whether it is a threat to conventionally broadcast TV.

There's also a response to the article on the Writers Guild Of America West website.
If Collins misses anything it is in his contrast of Hulu on the computer with the TV set. These are not the competitors he poses, but rather stops along an evolutionary path. For replays of traditional media content, computer viewing is just the first incarnation of Internet delivery and it may not be the most significant one. As Apple TV and the new Roku Netflix set top box demonstrate (with pay television business models), the next step for the Internet is migration from the computer screen to the TV screen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

David Edgar: dangers of the Terrorism Act

In The Guardian, Guild President, David Edgar, explains why the 'glorification' clause of the 2006 Terrorism Act, though not yet explicitly invoked against a work of art, is doing real damage.
Like Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1998, the breadth and incoherence of clause 1 (3) of the Terrorism Act 2006 has contributed to a climate of panic about anything that might be seen to contravene it.

What Guild members are getting up to

Taken from the Guild's weekly e-bulletin. Guild members wanting to be included should contact Erik in the Guild office. (Sorry it's a bit late this week)

NICOLA ALBON has co-written Call Me If You Feel Too Happy a one-woman play about bipolar disorder, celebrity culture and pill popping, which previews at the Landor Theatre, Clapham, London on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd before it premieres at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at Sweet, Teviot Place.

STEPHEN BENNETT wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Wednesday 23rd July.

D.J. BRITTON’S play When Greed Becomes Fear: Safe as Houses is going out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Tuesday 22nd July.

IAN BROWN and JAMES HENDRIE wrote the episode of After You’ve Gone going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Monday 21st July.

JOHN CHAMBERS wrote the episode of Emmerdale: Bye Bye Baby going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 22nd July.

DAVID CROFT co-wrote the episode of Dad’s Army going out on BBC2 at 7:30pm on Saturday 19th July.

RICHARD CURTIS wrote the episode of The Vicar of Dibley going out on BBC1 at 9:30pm on Sunday 20th July.

SARAH DANIELS wrote the episode of Grange Hill going out on BBC1 at 4:35pm on Monday 21st July.

CHRIS FEWTRELL wrote the episodes of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm and 8:30pm on Friday 25th July.

ADRIAN FLYNN wrote the episodes of The Archers going out on Radio 4 at 7:00pm from Sunday 20th until Friday 25th July, with each episode being repeated at 2:00pm the day after its original broadcast.

ROB GITTINS wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Thursday 24th July.

EMMA HARDY is going to be directing a new short play she has written called Eleven as part of the Blue6 festival at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre next Saturday (19th July).

ROB HEYLAND wrote the episode of Foyle’s War, They Fought In The Fields, going out on ITV1 at 9:10pm on Saturday 19th July.

LISA HOLDSWORTH wrote the episode of New Tricks, A Face For Radio, going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Monday 21st July.

NICHOLAS MCINERNY wrote the episode of The Bill, Life Saver, going out on ITV1 at 8:00pm on Thursday 24th July.

PATRICK MELANAPHY wrote the episode of The Royal, To Love and to Lose, going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Sunday 20th July.

HEATHER ROBSON wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Monday 21st July.

MICHAEL RUSSELL wrote the episode of A Touch of Frost, One Man’s Meat, going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Friday 25th July.

MICHAEL STEWART’S play Brood will be performed at The Albany on Great Portland Street, W1W 5QU. From 28th July until 14th August Monday to Thursday at 1:10pm. Tickets cost £6, to book them please call: 0208 384 4762.

RICHARD STONEMAN wrote the episode of Doc Martin, Always On My Mind, going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Tuesday 22nd July.

JOHN SULLIVAN wrote the episode of The Green Green Grass, A Rocky Start, going out on BBC1 at 5:55pm on Saturday 19th July.

PETER WHALLEY’S play The Test is going out on Radio 4 at 2:30pm on Saturday 19th July.

Keating to be Director of Archive

Roly KeatingFrom the BBC Press Office:
Roly Keating has been appointed as the BBC's first Director of Archive Content, with responsibility for maximising public access to the BBC's constantly expanding archive of television, radio and multimedia content.

Currently Controller of BBC Two, Roly is promoted to the BBC Direction Group, and will take up his role in October. He will report to Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision.

In this new role Roly will take the lead across all of the BBC's divisions in developing and implementing a pan-BBC strategy to grow archive access, working across public service and commercial platforms, and with external partners.

He will work with Erik Huggers, the BBC's new Director of Future Media & Technology, to set the editorial and strategic priorities for archive digitisation and public access to programme information.

The Guild at the Birmingham Book Festival

bham book festivalThe Writers’ Guild West Midlands branch is involved in three events as part of the Birmingham Book Festival event this year.

This festival is well-established as not only a modern, urban, eclectic literary festival but as a forum for ideas and a focus for writing developments. Its motto is: Read. Write. Think.

For full details on all events visit the Festival website.

Stage Directions: Michael Frayn in conversation with David Edgar

Tuesday 7 October 7.45pm -9.15pm Birmingham Conservatoire, Paradise Place, Nr Central Library, B3 3HG

Michael Frayn, playwright, novelist and journalist, is recipient of many major literary prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award and the Whitbread Novel Award. His plays include Noises Off, Copenhagen and most recently Democracy, as well as his 2008 production of Afterlife. His 2002 novel Spies is currently being adapted for film. In 2008 he published his latest book, Stage Directions, an account of a career writing for the stage.

David Edgar is a Birmingham born playwright and president of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. His plays include Pentecost, Destiny and Albert Speer of Great Britain. He is the founder of Birmingham University’s MPhil Playwriting course. In 2007 his version of Nicholas Nickleby was revived at the Birmingham Hippodrome to great acclaim.

Michael and David will be in conversation about Stage Directions and lives spent writing plays. Presented in Association with the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.

Tickets £7 (£5) Box Office: 0121 303 2323

The Writers’ Toolkit: A Conference for the Writing Industry

Saturday 18 October 9.30am – 4pm South Birmingham College, Digbeth Campus, Digbeth High St, Birmingham

The Writers’ Toolkit is an ‘industry day’ for emerging and established writers to learn about aspects of the business in greater detail, connect with other writers and those working in writer development. Sessions will include: Pitching ideas for stage and screen, teaching creative writing, becoming a business, publishing and using an agent, working with BBC radio, careers in literature development, producing live literature and many more.

In attendance will be: BBC Radio 4, Birmingham REP, Arts Council England, Tindal Street Press, Writer’s Market UK, The Arvon Foundation, The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, National Academy of Writing, Writers in Prison Network, Write On! –Adventures In Writing, and many others.

Tickets: £29 (£23) (includes lunch) For more information or to book call 0121 246 2770 or email

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain: Writing For Broadcast In The Digital Age

A look at the opportunities and pitfalls of writing in the era of the internet Thursday 23 October 6.30pm -8pm Birmingham Conservatoire, Paradise Place, Nr Central Library, B3 3HG

Developments are coming thick and fast in our current digital age: we have blogs, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, video on demand, printing on demand, not to mention Listen and Watch Again from the BBC.

Here in the West Midlands there are a number of smaller organisations looking to use these new opportunities, as well as regional presence from the big players. Birmingham is also one of the lead commissioning hubs for Channel 4’s new Four Innovation for the Public fund (4IP) which aims to kick start a wave of new investment in public service digital media content for audiences around Britain.

At this event we will discuss the benefits and challenges of these recent and upcoming developments for writers and organisations who either already have some experience in the field or who wish to find out more.

The event is co-hosted by the Writers' Guild West Midlands Branch and the Royal Television Society Midlands Centre. Representatives from both organisations will speak on the topic and Screen West Midlands will talk more about 4IP. This will be followed by an informal discussion.

Tickets: Free to Guild members. Non-Guild members £5 (£4). Box Office: 0121 303 2323

The Birmingham Book Festival runs throughout October. For details of all events and to join their mailing list go to

Monday, July 21, 2008

Guild Awards

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is delighted to announce that the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards will be held on Sunday 23rd November 2008.

Nominations for the Writers' Guild Awards 2008 have now been received and the full shortlist will be released on Friday 19th September.

Tickets are now on sale for the ceremony, which will be held at BAFTA No. 195 Piccadilly, Central London.

100 tickets are available for sale at a cost of £50 for members and £100 for non-members. Tickets will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. If you wish to book, please send a cheque with your name and membership number (if applicable) written on the back.

Please make the cheque payable to the Writers' Guild, and address it to the 'Writers’ Guild Awards Tickets ', Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 15 Britannia Street, King’s Cross, London, WC1X 9JN.

Please also include a covering letter detailing any special requirements you might have for the event. If you miss out on the 100 tickets for sale but still wish to attend, we will be able to add you to the waiting list for spare tickets. In this case, priority will be given to Guild members.

Special guests and presenters of awards will be announced shortly.

Awards will be given in the following categories:
  • Best Short-form Drama (TV)
  • Best Soap (TV)
  • Best Drama Series (TV)
  • Best Comedy / Light Entertainment Series (TV)
  • Best Screenplay (Feature Film)
  • Best Radio Play
  • Best Play (Theatre)
  • Best Play for Children and Young People (Theatre)
  • Best Videogame Script
  • Outstanding Contribution to Children's Writing
If you have any questions, please call the Guild office on: 0207 833 0777 or email on:

Tracy Letts interview

In The New York Times, Patrick Healy talks to American playwright Tracy Letts about winning a Tony Award for August: Osage County, and his new play Superior Donuts.
Countless American playwrights have mined pain and pathos, but Mr. Letts, who also won a Pulitzer Prize this year for “August,” is today’s most explosive extractor. He has written just five plays in 18 years, yet those five contain enough damage for a lifetime oeuvre.
August Osage County will run at the National Theatre in London later this year.

Alan Ayckbourn interview

Life And BethIn The Times, Robert Gore-Langton speaks to Guild member Alan Ayckbourn about his new play, Life And Beth, and his determination to keep on writing.
“Two things I live for. One is being in a rehearsal room. The other is writing a new play. As soon as a new play comes out there's a terrible moment of post-partum emptiness - and then another idea comes in, sometimes two or three. I just can't imagine being alive without a play in me somewhere,” he says, getting up, pregnant with play No 72, his Christmas show.

Authors working the web

On, Sramana Mitra tells how American writer Elle Newmark created a virtual buzz for her self-published book.
Newmark is a former advertising professional whose real passion is writing. She went through four different agents in New York over four separate book projects but never really got where she wanted to go.

At 56, she said, "I don't have time for this anymore," and self-published her new book, a historical fiction tome, through print-on-demand provider iUniverse last year (see interview with iUniverse CEO Kevin Weiss).

But getting a book out in print is only 5% of the battle--getting it read is a whole different ballgame. So Newmark looked to the Internet to build a readership. She decided to throw a virtual book launch party and sent out 500,000 e-mail invites to agents, editors and reviewers. It worked: Her book became a best-seller on
Quite how she found 500,000 relevant email addresses is not revealed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Reality writing

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

Further to the story below, our TV Committee is also looking into this problem in Britain, at the request of the WGA, whose slogan for the campaign is: REALITY IS WRITTEN.

And wherever there are written television shows, there should be Minimum Term Agreements from the appropriate Guilds protecting the writers... and it doesn't matter if the programmes call them researchers, script associates or Chief Poohbahs of Joy.

We'd like to hear from any writers who have worked on reality shows. Please contact the Guild office.

And have a look at the WGA’s website. Let’s get real about reality!

US writers target American Idol

BBC News reports that the Writers Guild of America West is targeting the new series of hit talent show American Idol to highlight the poor working conditions for writers who fall outside current agreements.
The WGA has sought to represent reality show workers since 2005, arguing the work they do is a form of writing.

Many reality TV shows are not covered by WGA contracts, unlike scripted dramas and comedies.

But the union alleges that employees, such as production assistants and editors, write scenarios and outlines.

"All these shows, they're well-structured," said David Weiss, vice-president of WGA West.

"You can't sit through an hour of television that is the result of random footage being strung together."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ITV wants "surprising" dramas

From David Wood for Broadcast:
ITV is calling for more "surprising" ideas for contemporary dramas, with edgy family and relationship-led programmes top of the agenda.

Director of television Peter Fincham outlined his vision for ITV's reinvention in meet-and-greets with indies in Manchester and London last week, his first since joining the channel.

He encouraged his commissioners to make "brave" decisions but emphasised that new variants on traditional ideas were top of his agenda.

Scott Sigler - Digital Dickens

Scott SiglerIn The Independent, Guy Adams meets Scott Sigler, pioneer of audiobooks.
In a one-bedroom flat above a noisy San Francisco street, Scott Sigler is plotting a revolution in the world of books. Sigler is a science-fiction writer with a host of fans, who are described as "junkies" on his website. His work is gripping, pacy, and often stomach-churningly violent. He tells stories that are, as the saying goes, hard to put down.

But what makes Sigler groundbreaking is that most of his novels have never appeared in print. They are broadcast via a small cubicle containing an Apple Macintosh and some recording equipment. That is pretty much all Sigler has needed to become the world's most famous podcast author.

Variety's ten screenwriters to watch

In Variety magazine, ten screenwriters to watch - including British writers Joe Penhall and Paul Webb.
Screenwriting is the third career for Paul Webb, the 60-year-old British rookie whose scripts about Martin Luther King and the Russian oligarchs have got Hollywood buzzing.

He spent 10 years as a high school teacher in the drab commuter town of Reading, where he still lives, and then another 15 years as a communications consultant for the petro-chemical industry. But when he got bored with visiting construction sites in China, he quit to pursue his dream of becoming a writer.

The result was "Four Knights in Knaresborough," a play about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in 1170, which was staged in London in 1999. Harvey Weinstein picked up the film rights, hired Webb to write the adaptation and gave him a first-look deal.

"It all happened so quickly, I thought that's the way it works," laughs Webb, wryly acknowledging that he hasn't managed to get anything produced since. Yet he's become one of the U.K.'s hottest screenwriters, thanks to half a dozen scripts that have caught the attention of such talent as Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt and Michael Mann.

Frank Cottrell Boyce - writing for radio

Having shared his screenwriting rules a couple of weeks ago, Frank Cottrell Boyce, whose new series of plays One Chord Wonders is running on Radio 4, explains the appeal of writing for radio.
Writing for radio turned out to be really punk. I'm more used to writing for films. Film culture is extremely conservative. Even "indie" films follow a formula and there are executives who are employed to help you stick to that formula.

[Director] Toby [Swift] just let me do what I wanted. Although the characters in the plays overlap, they are all have different tones and different kinds of storytelling. One play is a series of internal monologues, another is a fairly straight situation comedy, another is quite a dark prison drama, and then there's a road comedy that lurches into something surprisingly sad for the last ten minutes.

If I'd been doing it for telly, say, they would have wanted me to settle on a "house style" and stick to it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Joss Whedon's Dr Horrible

Buffy creator Joss Whedon is premiering his latest creation, Dr Horrible's Sing-Along blog, online for free.

The musical is available to stream on the website for a limited time, but can also be bought from iTunes or as a DVD (yet to be released).

Whedon explains that the project started life during the recent US writers' strike :
Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kings and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tearing Puccini to pieces

On the Guild website I've posted Darren Rapier's article from the most recent issue of the WGGB magazine UK Writer about a writing project he led with young offenders in London.
I know some people in these situations like to have a notion of what they’ll do if the thing doesn’t happen – a back-up idea that they can feed in to the play and paper it over with a few ‘street’ phrases here and there – but I believe the participants should do the work. I simply steer them in the right direction: no preconceptions, no limitations, no backup. It means they have ownership and pride in the piece. You just have to believe it will work, eventually.

Paul Makin obituary

In The Guardian, Laurence Marks remembers comedy writer Paul Makin who has died at the age of 54.
[His series] Nightingales was the closest British TV comedy ever came to giving its audience the theatre of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, with perhaps an ample sprinkling of Spike Milligan thrown in - yet it was hugely original and remains as funny today as it was in the early 1990s.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What Guild members are getting up to

Taken from the Guild's weekly e-bulletin. Guild members wanting to be included should contact Erik in the Guild office.

BENNETT ARRON will be headlining the Leeds Jewish International Performing Festival with his critically acclaimed show It Wasn't Me, It Was Bennett Arron on Monday 14th July and on Tuesday 15th July at 9pm.

SARAH BAGSHAW wrote the episode of The Royal, Slings And Arrows, going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Sunday 13Th July. She also wrote Emmerdale: You’ve Been Framed going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 15th July.

PERRIE BALTHAZAR wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Monday 14th July.

IAN BROWN and JAMES HENDRIE wrote the episode of After You’ve Gone, When She Came Back, going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Monday 14th July.

PAUL COATES wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Thursday 17th July.

SIMON CROWTHER wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Friday 18th July.

RICHARD CURTIS wrote the episode of The Vicar of Dibley going out on BBC1 at 9:30pm on Sunday 13th July.

LOL FLETCHER wrote the episode of Doctors, Stranger on a Bridge, going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Wednesday 16th July.

JULIA GILBERT wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Thursday 17th and Friday 18th July.

TONY GREEN wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Tuesday 15th July.

ANTHONY HOROWITZ wrote the episode of Foyle’s War going out on ITV12 at 9:00pm on Saturday 12th July.

MARK ILLIS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 sat 7:00pm on Thursday 17th July.

TERRY JOHNSON’S TV adaptation of his stage play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick renamed Cor, Blimey! is going out on BBC2 at 9:00pm on Saturday 12th July.

ALEX JONES’S play Minger! is being previewed at the Arts Theatre on Monday 14th July & Tuesday 15th July before moving on to the Latitude Festival on Friday 18th July & Sunday 20th July. It then goes on to the Theatre 503 on Monday 25th until Saturday 30th August at 8pm with a Saturday matinee at 3pm.

JESSICA LEA wrote the episode of Grange Hill going out on BBC1 at 4:35pm on Monday 14th July.

BILL LYONS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Wednesday 16th July.

DOMINIC MINGHELLA co-wrote the episode of Doc Martin, Aromatherapy, going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Tuesday 15th July.

JESSE O’MAHONEY wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Friday 18th July.

BRENDAN O’NEILL’S One Driver Escaped Uninjured has been named as the ABCtales Poem of the Week.

JULIE PARSONS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday 18th July.

STEVE TRAFFORD wrote the episode of The Bill, Gun Runner: Firefight, going out on ITV1 at 8:00pm on Wednesday 16th July.

MIKE WALKER wrote the episode of Dickens Confidential “Why Are We in Afghanistan?” going out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Monday 14th July.

MARTYN WADE’S adaptation of The Ring and the Book (Part 2) is going out on Radio 4 at 9:00pm on Saturday 12th July.

PETER WHALLEY wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Monday 14th July.

Guild e-bulletin

If any Guild members failed to receive the weekly e-bulletin on Friday, it can be downloaded from the Guild website (pdf).

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

In The New York Times, Mark Harris talks to X-Files creator Chris Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz about the new film, The X-Files: I Want To Believe - released in the UK on 1 August.
“We had tried very hard to think of something we had not done before,” Mr. Spotnitz said, “and we came up with an ‘X-File’ that was very creepy and disturbing. But that was in 2003. By 2007 we realized that the Mulder-and-Scully aspect of the story had to be different because of the passage of time. The movie” — which acknowledges that several years have elapsed — “is more about them and their relationship than anything we would have done in the series. We never would have spent that kind of capital in an episode.”

The demise of the book editor

On The Guardian Books Blog, Stuart Evers laments the changing role of the book editor.
These days, experience of shaping, honing and bringing out the best in an author is unnecessary to land a high profile role [as an editor]: all you need to be able to do is identify the product.

There has always been an element of this, junior editors and freelancers charged with doing the dirty work while the commissioning editors went to lunch and did the deals. But over the last few years the role of the editor has become even more diluted - almost as though anyone one can do it.

Chuck Palahniuk interview

In The Independent, Matt Thorne talks to Chuck Palahniuk about his new novel, Sunff, his home town of Portland and his writing group.
Unusually, Palahniuk road tests almost everything he writes by reading it out to this group, which meets every week. Vladimir Nabokov famously wrote that showing early drafts was like passing round samples of one's sputum, but for Palahniuk, it's an essential part of the creative process. For his latest novel, this mainly female writers' group helped Palahniuk ensure that his book wouldn't repel women....

This writing group grew out of [writing teacher, Tom] Spanbauer's workshop. The participants still follow his terminology when deciding how to meet and present their work, and perhaps more surprisingly, even continue to follow his rules on how to write. "You can't use abstracts, no adverbs, you can't use latinates, because they're just fancy language that makes you look smart... everything has to be unpacked. Always try not to use any form of 'to be' or 'to have'. It's a lesser form of any active verb. Some people in the workshop are writing incredibly commercial chick lit and we can still say 'this is a moment where you need to go "on the body",' where you describe the physical sensations of the character at that moment or you really describe the visceral as a way of cutting. We like ways of demonstrating things that are more filmic.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Norman Hudis: How I Carried On

On the WGGB website I've put up the piece by Norman Hudis (published in the recent edition of UK Writer, the Guild's magazine) about how he came to write the first six Carry On films.

It's an extract from his new memoir, No Laughing Matter.
My major contribution to what, rather pompously, might be called ‘The Concept of Sergeant’ (and, to a great degree, the others of mine) was very simple: Sergeant Grimshawe (the ageless William Hartnell) is about to retire. He has never trained a No. 1 Squad. He’s passionately devoted to mould one aided by Corporal Copping (the rock-solid Bill Owen) out of his last intake. Alas, these National Service conscripts prove to be the Original Awkward Squad - unwilling, uninterested and unlikely to grant him his dream. But, when they hear that Old Leatherlungs has bet his fellow NCOs £50 that he can turn this bunch of dedicated civilians into a unit that even the legendary Guards Regiments would respect, the new soldiers consider: “Grimshawe shouts. Well, that’s what sergeants do. But when has he ever done any of us actual harm? Never.” And so they decide, without fuss, to help him show his fellows he can do it, as well as demonstrate to him that they’re not such a gang of incorrigible misfits after all.

This set the style, to a great extent, of the ones I wrote: the incompetent, the uninterested or the plain unlucky, seen at their worst for most of the story, but triumphing in the end, against all expectation, and to rousing effect, in hospital, school, police force, cruise ship and Helping Hands Agency.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stage directions

On The Guardian Theatre Blog, Chris Wilkinson explores the significance of stage directions in play scripts.
Whilst dialogue is sacrosanct, all the playwright's other notes about a character's actions, emotional state or the setting of a scene are often seen as at best optional, and at worst, things to be actively ignored.

There are a number of reasons for this. It is partly historical - after all it is widely assumed that most stage directions in Shakespeare are not the author's own (though some may have been added by colleagues) and therefore not authentic. And sometimes, as in most Samuel French playtexts, the stage directions in a script are little more than a record of how the play was originally staged.

Yet for many actors and directors, there is a fundamental reason for ignoring these authorial notes - they are seen as an attempt by the writer to muscle in and do their job for them. And some writers even seem to agree with them - Tom Stoppard recalls having spoken with one young playwright at a workshop who described stage directions as "fascist".
Wilkinson goes on to defend stage directions, pointing out that they can communicate a huge amount about an author's intentions and even have a poetry of their own.

Hollywood's 3-D delay

I didn't see Beowulf, but friends who did tell me that the 3-D version was spectacular. So why, given rapid innovation in most forms of media, are 3-D films such a rarity?

In The L.A. Times, John Horn explains that though the cost of converting cinemas to enable them to play 3-D films has held things up, many leading industry figures are convinced that the format will soon take off.
Although it costs as much as an extra $15 million to make an animated film in 3-D, DreamWorks is making all future animated films in the format, as are Pixar and Disney. Next year, Fox is releasing [James] Cameron's “Avatar” in 3-D, as well as the sequel "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

Among the upcoming 3-D releases from other companies are Summit Entertainment's "Fly Me to the Moon" on Aug. 8 and Lionsgate's horror movie "My Bloody Valentine" on Jan. 23.

"We decided we wanted to find new and exciting ways to scare people out of their seats," says Mike Paseornek, who, as Lionsgate's production chief, has overseen the "Saw" and "Hostel" movies. But even though the "My Bloody Valentine" release is more than half a year away, Lionsgate knows it will have to release the film in both 3-D and 2-D in order to get enough screens to reach the entire country.

The return of one-act plays

In The Times, Benedict Nightingale ponders a revival of one-act plays.
[Harold] Pinter's A Slight Ache [running for six performances at the National Theatre from 21 July] should last little more than 40 minutes, but, with Simon Russell Beale and Clare Higgins as the edgy couple at its centre, it's likely to exercise our mental muscles more than most plays three times its length.

I won't call A Slight Ache a playlet, because I once described one of Pinter's later pieces as that, provoking the dramatist to write a pained letter to The Times declaring that even though it was short it was still a play. And he was quite right. Some of our finest dramatists, Pinter among them, have found subtlety, richness, depth and, yes, size in the one-act form. To equate length with quality is to prefer a big dish of sausage and mash to a small one of smoked salmon - or We Will Rock You to A Slight Ache or those exquisite laments for wasted lives, Beckett's Not I and That Time.

Deverell calls for gritty school dramas

From Katherine Rushton for Broadcast:
BBC children's controller Richard Deverell has claimed the corporation should make room for gritty school dramas - less than six months after Grange Hill was dropped after being relaunched for a younger audience.

Deverell said CBBC, which caters to children aged six to 12, was not the right place for a programme which deals with older teenage issues such as A levels, but said there was a need for dramas that reflect children's real lives.

...The BBC Trust is to launch a review of its content for audiences aged 13 to 36 in September

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Channel 5's Milkshake 'Good for kids'

From Maggie Brown for Media Guardian.
Milkshake, Channel Five's brand for the under fives, provides a major boost to the children's TV production industry in Britain, according to a new report.

Research consultancy Perspective found that Five's £6m-a-year investment provided a £15.6m boost to the British production sector – two-and-a-half times the amount invested.

The report says this is because of the flexible way the budget is used. It is stretched across 18 series a year, and in half the cases the money only buys a small 10%-15% stake in the production – enough to get the project started or made to Five's requirements.

Matt Groening interview

For the Writers Guild of America West, Richard Stayton talks to Matt Groening about his career so far.
Paramount was looking for Eddie Murphy movies. And I pitched my idea: How about Eddie Murphy being a lover of movies in the South, in the 1920s, but he's a janitor at a movie theater and he wants to be a movie star and he moves to Los Angeles around the beginning of the sound era because he's got fantasies of being Valentino or some leading man. And then the reality of the racism of the time would be that the only parts that he could get are as chefs, in Three Stooges shorts and as African natives in King Kong. You take Eddie Murphy's outgoing personality and put him in that situation, it would be really funny. And I was told that I was an idiot because there were two things very wrong with what I was talking about. One, I was pitching Eddie Murphy as a Black Man and I was wrong to think of that. He's not a Black Man-he's a funny man. And then I was told that audiences did not understand the difference between silent movies and sound movies and they would be utterly confused. ..
With that kind of experience, I thought, Oh, this [screenwriting] isn't for me. I'll just do journalism and cartoons.

ALCS resignation

From the WGGB office:

Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's TV Committee, has resigned from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) Board.

Having served as one of the Guild's nominated Directors for four years, Gail was elected to the ALCS Board in January 2008 with 1750 votes, the second highest vote out of 17 candidates.

The Guild supports Gail's decision and thanks her for all her work on behalf of all writers. We hope that ALCS will address the concerns she raised relating to writers in the broadcast media.

Monday, July 07, 2008


ScriptWriter magazine has relaunched online as

Guild member Julian Friedmann remains as editor and the site promises to provide "members with a wealth of high-quality articles about the craft and business of being a screenwriter. There is also a strong community element, including a discussion forum, pro blog and ‘Ask the Expert’ sessions."

Membership of costs £29 per year - there's a free trial running until 10th July.


Guillermo del Toro on Hellboy II

In The New York Times, David Itzkoff talks to Guillermo del Toro about his new film Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which opens in America this Friday (and in the UK on 22 August).
In the follow-up to his 2004 comic-book adaptation, he imagines a collision of the natural world and a world of magic hidden in the fringes of urban life. “What if tooth fairies were illegally imported in containers to work menial jobs in garbage collection?” Mr. del Toro said. “What would happen if trolls were just bag ladies collecting stray cats for eating?”

The result is a tale of good versus evil in which Hellboy, a heroic demon who works for a secret government agency, squares off against a ruthless elf prince determined to destroy humanity.
Also, in a special interactive feature for The New York Times, del Toro discusses the visual journals he kept during the film's development.

Introducing Bonekickers

In The Times, Terry Ramsey talks to Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah about their new series, Bonekickers.
...beyond the individual episodes, Bonekickers has an overarching plot that falls into place week by week. Pharoah says: “Each episode might seem a bit dislocated from the one before and the one afterwards but there is an archaeological theme that, at the end, will all be revealed.”

It is a tease to keep viewers guessing. “Audiences are very sophisticated now, they enjoy putting puzzles together. That’s what Life on Mars was really, a puzzle. And there is definitely that aspect to Bonekickers.”

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What Guild Members are getting up to

Taken from the Guild's weekly e-bulletin. Guild members wanting to be included should contact Erik in the Guild office.

SIMON ASHDOWN wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Friday 11th July.

STEPHEN BENNETT wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Monday 7th July.

RAY BROOKING wrote the episode of Doctors, Face In The Crowd, going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Friday 11th July.

RICHARD BURKE wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Friday 11th July.

MARK BURT wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Friday 11th July.

KEVIN DYER has written Beauty and the Beast for the Dukes, Lancaster. This large-scale, open air, promenade play opens this Thursday 3rd of July and is on until Saturday 9th of August.

TIM DYNEVOR wrote Emmerdale: Winner Takes It All going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 8th July.

JAN ETHERINGTON hosts an evening with Galton & Simpson, the creators of Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe & Son, on July 11th to launch Sunbury & Shepperton Arts Festival(pdf).

STEVEN FAY wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Thursday 10th July.

CHRIS FEWTELL wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Wednesday 9th July.

PETER FLANNERY wrote the episode of George Gently, The Burning Man, staring Martin Shaw, going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Sunday 6th July.

DAVID GILMAN wrote the episode of A Touch of Frost, Held in Trust, going out on ITV1 at 9:00pm on Friday 11th July.

ANTHONY HOROWITZ wrote the episode of Foyle’s War, The French Drop, going out on IVT1 at 9:15pm on Saturday 5th July.

IAN KERSHAW wrote the episode of Casualty, I Can Hear The Grass Grow, going out on BBC1 at 9:35pm on Saturday 5th July.

JOHANNE MCANDREW co-wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Monday 7th July.

JIMMY McGOVERN is working on a new 5 episode 45-minute week-long series called Moving On for BBC1 that will explore contemporary issues facing Britain.

JAN MCVERRY wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Monday 7th July.

CAROLINE MITCHELL write the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Wednesday 9th July.

ROY MITCHELL and DOUGLAS WATKINSON co-wrote the episode of New Tricks, Spare Tricks, going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Monday 7th July.

CHRIS PARKER wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Monday 7th July.

HAROLD PINTER’s 1975 play No Man’s Land is to be revived in the West End in a new production starring Michael Gambon and Little Britain’s David Walliams.

MARC PYE wrote the episode The Royal, Blood’s Thicker Than Water, going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Sunday 6th July.

MARTIN RILEY wrote the episode of Grange Hill going out on BBC1 at 4:35pm on Monday 7th July.

RICHARD STEVENS wrote the episode of Doctors, Fall Upon Your Sword, going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Thursday 10th July.

CHRIS THOMPSON wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th July.

STEVE TRAFFORD wrote the episode of The Bill, Spray and Pray, going out on ITV1 at 8:00pm on Thursday 10th July.

Thursday, July 03, 2008 coming soon

From Andrew Wallenstein in The Hollywood Reporter:
An online network formed by professional TV and film scribes during the writer's strike unveiled a slate Wednesday featuring contributions from the minds behind the likes of "The Office" and "Die Hard." plans to launch this summer with more than 40 shortform programs, including comedies, dramas and a game show. Some programs will be serialized while others will be standalone; the site has yet to secure advertising.

Participating writers include Lester Lewis ("The Office"), Rob Kutner ("The Daily Show With Jon Stewart"), Stephen E. de Souza ("Die Hard"), Karen Harris ("General Hospital") and Ron Corcillo ("Malcolm in the Middle").

Red Planet Writing Prize 2008

red planet bannerFrom the Red Planet pictures website:

Following on from last year's success, we are now calling for submissions for our second annual writing competition.

The winner of this year's competition will receive:

* A £5000 prize
* Representation by a leading literary agency
* A script commission from Red Planet Pictures.

Runners up will have the opportunity to have their writing mentored by the Red Planet team.

Budding writers should send in the first ten pages of a 60 minute pilot script with television series potential. The entry should also include a one-page outline about the series.

The first ten pages of a script are the most important. It's in those first ten pages that you have to grab your audience. The series outline should give us a flavour of your own unique voice as well as an idea of your vision for the series.

There are no guidelines or restrictions in terms of genre or subject.

The deadline for entries is September 30th 2008.

Focus groups in the arts

In The Guardian, Emma John considers the use of focus groups in the arts.
Last year, Tom Becker won the Waterstone's prize for children's fiction with his first novel, Darkside; last week he won another award, the Calderdale children's book prize. The talk among agents and publishers has been about his suspenseful prose, his great potential. But few people have been talking about a more salient fact: that the book's concept and story was generated not by Becker, but by focus groups.

The company behind Darkside is Hothouse, a London-based business that aims to give children what they say they want from stories, rather than what adults think they want. Becker's book was the company's first attempt at book-by-focus-group, and it is part of a successful supernatural horror series aimed at boys aged up to 12, published by Scholastic. In April, Puffin books launched a new series, Fright Night, also conceived and delivered by Hothouse.

Guild concerns over product placement

In The Stage, Matthew Hemley reports on the Writers' Guild's concerns about product placement on TV.
...the guild has outlined its concerns to [Culture Secretary, Andy] Burnham...and has suggested that placement could lead to a writer having less control over a show’s story.

“Will sponsors and advertisers purchase the right to have a product, such as a soft drink or brand of clothing, featured in a scripted show?

“Or will they purchase a right to exercise editorial control over the humorous or dramatic content of the show? We would caution against any changes that fundamentally change the editorial decision-making process,” it said.

Writers’ Guild deputy general secretary Anne Hogben added that a “worst case scenario” could see a writer told that a character had to drink a certain product or drive a certain car and said: “It could mean a writer had to act as a free copywriter for advertisers.”

Steven Moffat interview

On his Bloggery-Pokery blog, Jason Arnopp reveals extracts from his interview with Steven Moffat for Doctor Who magazine.
On whether he still writes script outlines:
“No, I never ever do. I’ve always stuck to this theory, apart from one occasion when I was very tired: you never write a storyline and you certainly never submit one. Or at least, I haven’t had to for years and I rebel if asked! You write the script, and you write it in order. Because if you ever find yourself in a situation where... (thinks for a moment) You want each scene to justify itself and be good at the time. The ride has to be good at every point. You can’t be justifying things because they’ll be interesting later. If that makes sense! You could have the best idea in the world for the second half of the episode, but if the first half of the episode doesn’t have an interesting way of getting there, you’re screwed. So if you write everything in order, you know that it’s good."

Screenwriters' Festival

The Screenwriters' Festival concludes in Cheltenham today.

A flavour of the event can be found in reports in Screen Daily (including news of the Guild's Guidelines for Screenwriters), and The Guardian.

Update (4/07/08): Read all of Guild Member Chris Lakeman Fraser's blog posts for The Guardian.

Other Festival reports:
David Bishop on his Viscous Imagery blog (thanks to Robin Kelly for the link)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tranter defends BBC TV drama

At a speech to the Royal Television Society last night, Jane Tranter (Controller, BBC Fiction) delivered a speech about what she's learned in eight years at the helm of BBC TV drama. Her wide-ranging address included a defence of drama series and her preference for a certain kind of story-telling.
In the modern world of endless media possibilities we can help a drama to succeed by encouraging it to be succinct, to declare its intent, to make its premise clear.

This is absolutely not, repeat not, about making dramas that are high concept (hard to think of an aim more liable in TV terms to feel hollow and manufactured and fail). It's about ensuring that the heart of the drama is not only true, but is not opaquely or perversely hidden.

Dennis Potter once said if you can "grab an audience by the hand, you can take them wherever you want". Absolutely. But if you can't grab hold of their hand in the first place because they haven't got a clue whose hand they're holding and why, then the drama will be making its interesting journey of revelation and insight all on its own. In which case it might have been easier, let alone cheaper, to write a novel.
She also defended the role of the executive.
People in our business sometimes say they long just to be "left alone to get on with it" – as if making television drama is somehow a solitary occupation, when anyone who's ever been involved in producing a drama knows that a necessary key skill is crowd control…

Or sometimes they seem to think that making a drama is a secret to be kept hidden from everyone, preferably even the audience.

For me the presence of some kind of objective eye on a drama is essential. Someone to ask "are you sure?" or "I wonder whether...?". Someone to act as a safety net both editorially and financially. Someone to soak up any piece of flak that's flying. And someone who frankly rarely gets to share in any of the credit.
And, finally, she called for TV to be taken more seriously as an art form.
Russell T Davies said something the other month in an interview he gave that really struck a chord with me. He said "I think it's really hard to say you love television. It's easy to stand up and say I love opera I love film I love theatre. And people say oh marvellous it's quite right… but it's hard to say you love television. If you do, you sound trivial, superficial, and I'm not. I'm clever. And I know what I'm talking about, and I think it's monstrously unsung as an art form..."

And not for the first time (and unquestionably not for the last) I totally agree with him. Television drama is an art form and it is frequently undervalued, not by audiences, but by how we write, comment and talk about it.

WGGB Draft Guidelines for Screenwriters

Today, at the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival, the Guild will launch Draft Guidelines for Screenwriters (pdf) and those working with them in the film industry.

Produced by the Guild's Film Committee following wide consultation, the Guidelines set out in straightforward language the functions, obligations and rights of all involved in getting a script from idea through to feature film.

You can read more about the Guidelines (and download them) on the Guild website, where Olivia Hetreed, the Film Committee Chair, explains how they came about.

Andrew Stanton interview

On, Cal Kemp speaks to Andrew Stanton, writer-director of the new Pixar film, Wall-E.
...everything I wanted to do was based on the love story. I wanted the last robot on earth. That was the sentence that we came up with in '94. I have to get everybody off the planet. I have to do it in a way that you get it without any dialogue. You have to be able to get it visually in less than a minute. So trash did that. You look at it, you get it. It's a dump and you gotta move it. Even a little kid understands that. And that makes WALL-E at the lowest of the totem pole and allowed him to sift through everything that we've left on the planet to show you that he's interested in us. So I had to look at everything from the point of view of what will you get visually without having dialogue describe stuff to you.
Thanks to Billy Mernit for the link.

Wall-E opens in the UK on 18 July.