Wednesday, June 30, 2004

BBC Charter Review

Mark Thompson and Michael Grade have set out the BBC's vision for its own future as part of the Charter Review process.

The big idea is that the BBC should be about "Public value" and there is a pledge to making "original, risky, inventive, imaginative" programmes in drama, comedy, entertainment and sport.

In addition there will be "more investment in to BBC Four and give culture a more prominent place on BBC One and BBC Two" and a commitment "to our role on all platforms as a cultural patron."

There is a relatively muted response in today's press. The Guardian calls the BBC's manifesto "an impressive attempt to devise a workable blueprint for its own survival", with particular praise for its innovation in digital broadcasting.

The Times thinks that the challenge for the BBC is "to tackle the institutional smugness of the BBC elite without undermining the morale of the great many staff who do have a concept of public service."

Timberlake Wertenbaker

Interviewed in The Guardian about her new play, Galileo's Daughter, based on the book by Dava Sobel.
There is an ineluctable sense that the process of dragging her work from the world of the imagination on to the stage, to face the public and particularly the critics, causes her acute unease. "If you want to continue being a playwright, you have to learn to accept and let it go," she says afterwards. "Once it is over, I have six months where I suffer from such stagefright that I can't start another play, because the idea of going through all that over again..."

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

New Potter title

J.K. Rowling has revealed that her next book in the best-selling series will be called Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

The announcement was made on her website, scotching rumours that the title would be Harry Potter and the Pillar of Storgé.

Rowling's website is clearly designed to entertain and intrigue her millions of readers. But it makes little sense to anyone not in the know. The announcement about the title was, apparently, found by fans exploring one of the sites many nooks and crannies.

Jennings author dies

Anthony Buckeridge, author of the Jennings series of radio plays and books, has died at the age of 92.

David Rudd, an expert on children's literature at Bolton Institute, said that Buckeridge's work should be reassessed. "I think he is extremely underrated," he said. "He is like a children's Wodehouse. He created excellent characters, brilliant dialogue and inventive slang."

There's an enthusiastic article about Buckeridge's skills on an Australian site, arguing that his writing is "a disguised English lesson about literary devices with the drudgery taken out it."

Monday, June 28, 2004

Emmerdale targets EastEnders

Euro 2004 has meant that, several times, EastEnders has been scheduled head-to-head against Emmerdale. And it's not been good news for the BBC, with EastEnders seeing audiences drop by several million.

Now, in an interview with MediaGuardian (free registration required), John Whiston, ITV Head of Drama, says that he wants Emmerdale to take the position as the nation's number-two rated soap, behind Coronation Street:
"Emmerdale seems to be going from strength to strength at the moment. EastEnders may come storming back, [but] there's also a chance things might spiral further into decline. A couple of years before the end of Brookside you would never have thought it was going to go down the pan. It happened really dramatically."

Writing movies for stars

The Writers' Guild of America, west, has a full transcript of a panel discussion about how to write feature films for Hollywood stars.

Well, we can all dream.

Randall Wallace (Braveheart, We Were Soldiers)claims to have asked three stars what would make them pick a certain script.
Mel Gibson said, "It's when I know I have to be the one to do this thing." I think like in Braveheart, it was when he read the moment when they jerked the sharpened trees up and they stood against the charge of horses. From that moment on, he was already committed in his heart. There's a Persian proverb -- "when the heart is willing you'll find a thousand ways, and when it's unwilling it will find a thousand excuses." And I think that that's the symbol, and my credo is, you've got to get to the heart. And his heart was "yeah, I can feel that, I can do it."

Kevin Costner said, "It's when I read a line of dialogue and I say, 'I have to be the one who says these words.'" Then he'll read great lines...and say, "Yes, I want to say that."

And Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "I can see the poster."

Friday, June 25, 2004

West End needs US stars

Sir Peter Hall, veteran theatre director, has admitted that West End success is becoming almost impossible without a US star in the cast.

Unfortunately, Sir Peter says, not all the star imports are able to cut it.
"There are a lot of people we think of as stars in television who haven't been on the stage and don't know how to cut it, they just don't have the muscle."
Sir Peter has a new series of plays opening next week at the Theatre Royal in Bath.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Patrick Marber interview

Interviewed in the Independent, Patrick Marber explains why he has written a play, The Musicians, for teenagers. The inspiration came after seeing Philip Ridley's Sparkleshark at The Olivier.
"It was one of the best nights I've ever had in the theatre, and I thought, 'Oh, I'd love to write one of those one day.' I thought it was an absolutely beautiful play."
The Musicians will form part of the National Theatre Shell Connections youth theatre season.

Film societies survey

The UK Film Council is conducting a survey of film clubs and societies "as part of a move to provide greater diversity of films on offer to audiences, improve access to archive film and generate interest in film as a whole."

There is funding on offer too, helping clubs to upgrade or buy new equipment.

The Film Council only ever gets publicity when a film it funded flops. So it's good to see some of the work it is doing to develop some of the less headline-grabbing parts of the industry. The work with film societies comes from the Distribution and Exhibition Department, set up in 2002.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Harry Elton

Better late than never, an obituary for Harry Elton in The Guardian.

Elton is the man who championed the cause of Coronation Street - without his backing the show would never have been made.

I detect the help of Guild member John Finch in the obituary - the book he edited on Granada's early years is a fantastic record of the people, the places and the events that shaped British TV drama.

First-time authors

A refreshingly honest account of the realities of the book trade in The Independent.

It's by Simon Trewin, an agent with Peters Fraser Dunlop.
"One author told me that selling her book was rather like 'being courted by an impossibly handsome and desirable suitor. He rings all the time. He writes you emails. He seems too good to be true. Your instincts and all your friends tell you to beware. But he is so flattering and so insistent that in the end you begin to believe that maybe he's telling the truth. So you lower your defences (metaphorically speaking) and just at that point he never rings again. Total silence.'"

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Mark Thompson at the BBC

Mark Thompson has hit the ground running as Director General of the BBC. Management jobs axed, a new role for Alan Yentob as "Creative Director" across all output and major reviews of various aspects of the Corporation's work.

BBC News gives a good, straight-down-the-line summary, while MediaGuardian (free registration required) is fairly comprehensive.

After Birt and Dyke it will be interesting how Thompson tries to impose his personality on the BBC. Perhaps the time has come for slightly less strident leadership...

Adams to appear in new Hitchhiker's

The BBC has announced that the voice of the late Douglas Adams will be heard in the forthcoming radio adaptations of his last three books in the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series.

He recorded the part of Agrajag several years ago but here are not yet dates for broadcast.

Work also seems to be progressing on the long-awaited Hitchhiker's film. There's an official movie blog, that includes a "self-interview" with the screenwriter, Karey KirkPatrick.

Workshopped to death

Excellent article in the New York Times (free registration required) about the danger of the growing culture of theatre workshops and rehearsed readings, leading to continual rewrites but no actual perfomances.

According to the playwright and director Moisés Kaufman"We have nurtured a generation of writers who have learned to write for readings," he said, "as opposed to writing for the stage. The result of this is that plays keep getting smaller."

Monday, June 21, 2004

Open source books

The open source approach has revolutionised software development. The idea is simple: programmers share code and develop products together. The Linux operating system is the most famous example.

Now, it seems, some writers are taking a similar approach. A report on, spotted by Guardian Online, quotes several authors who have put their books online to be edited.

J.D. Lascia, who has created a website where people can edit chapters of his books as he writes it, said:
"I realized the underlying theme of what I'm writing about is that we're entering an era where creative people are sort of losing control of their work, and it's not all bad," Lascia said. "I wanted to experience that. I didn't want that experience of a big media conglomerate where you say `Take it or leave it.'"

Foz Allen joins Tiger

Casualty series producer, Foz Allen, has joined Tiger Aspect.

According to a report on MediaGuardian(free registration required), Allan will be working alongside Jane Fallon, the executive producer of hit Channel 4 show Teachers, which will be returning for its fourth series later this year.

In recent years Tiger has become one the leading independent drama producers, with credits including Murphy's Law and Omagh.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Hit TV profit warning

Hit Entertainment, the company behind some of the UK's biggest animation successes, including Bob The Builder, has warned that this year's profits will be much lower than expected.

This month a leading US retailer removed Hit merchandise from its shops following a slump in sales.

However, in a statement Hit insisted that while profits would be 15-20% lower than expected, they "remain confident about the future".

Family Movie Act

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) has come out strongly against legislation proposed by Congressman Lamar Smith that would allow the sale of software that can edit films to make 'Family-friendly' DVD versions.

The software (ClearPlay is the market leader) allows the removal of content deemed sexual, violent or somehow offensive.

But the DGA argues that this editing infringes the basic copyright of film-makers. In a statement is said that:
"As the creators of films, directors oppose giving someone the legal ability to alter... the content of a film that a director has made, often after many years of work. The proposed exception to copyright protection could have far-reaching implications that cannot fully be comprehended today."
Congressmen are urging Hollywood to make a deal with the software companies so that legislation is not required.