Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mark Thompson announces MyBBCPlayer

In a speech in Edinburgh, BBC Director General Mark Thompson has announced the next stage in the BBC's plans to expand programme delivery online.
In 2006 - of course subject to scrutiny and approval from our Governors and all necessary consents -– we hope to launch a new offering with the working title of MyBBCPlayer, a window through which licence-payers will be able to access a host of BBC content. The last seven days worth of programmes from BBC Television and Radio. A bigger range of international, national and local news content than we could ever get into a single bulletin. And an ever-expanding proportion of the BBC's sound and video archive.

Sue the bastards!

A reminder that critics, simply because they are invited to give their opinions, are not immune from the laws of libel when they do so comes from Edinburgh, where opera composer Keith Burstein is reported to be attempting to bring a legal action against the Evening Standard following the Standard’s Edinburgh critic Veronica Lee’s damning assessment of his show Manifest Destiny.
More from Mark Shenton on The Stage Newsblog.

Equity's first fringe contract

Equity’s first ever contract for fringe theatre, launched this week, will require managements to spend half their income on staff salaries, pay the national minimum wage and guarantee a maximum 40-hour week for performers and creative teams.

The document, which was unveiled at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, also insists companies put all their profits towards wages until the minimum rate of £4.85 an hour for adults over 21 is met.

Many managements were sceptical, however, about the union’s chances of persuading the sector to accept a uniform contract.
More from Nuala Calvi in The Stage.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Life on the Fringe

John Fleming reports for the Writers' Guild from Edinburgh.
Until the last weekend of this year's fun fest, the most un-remarked-on development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the bottom of the Pleasance Hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and the new Smirnoff Underbelly. Seldom visited by Armani-clad media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used to have naff shows you wouldn't want to see even when drunk and wearing a thin tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage & Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed of interesting acts - some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped and some just plain bizarre.

Last year, the Holyrood Tavern's Wil Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for Kopfraper's Syndrome while, with less of a fanfare, their Desperately Seeking Sorrow (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated for the new Malcolm Hardee Oy Oy award.

Paperback Writer

Every Saturday a novelist writes in The Guardian about writing. The feature is called Paperback Writer.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hollywood's slump

The American film industry is facing up to a box office slump, reports Sharon Waxman in The New York Times.
Multiples theories for the decline abound: a failure of studio marketing, the rising price of gas, the lure of alternate entertainment, even the prevalence of commercials and pesky cellphones inside once-sacrosanct theaters. But many movie executives and industry experts are beginning to conclude that something more fundamental is at work: Too many Hollywood movies these days, they say, just are not good enough.

American reality writers sue Fox

The Writers Guild of America, west announced today that ten reality-TV writers and editors, with the assistance of the WGAw, have filed a class-action lawsuit charging Fox Broadcasting Company and Rocket Science Laboratories with violations of California's labor laws governing payment of overtime, wages, and meal periods. The suit was filed Tuesday, August 23, 2005, in the Superior Court of Los Angeles.
More from the WGAw.

ITV commits to more drama

ITV will broadcast more drama in the early evening and on Saturdays, in an overhaul of how the genre is presented on the channel.

Controller of drama Nick Elliot has promised a move away from the network’s traditional topics and time slots as part of the bid to boost flagging viewing figures. He told The Stage: “There is a lot of police drama and detective drama, which is fine, but we have started to look at a wider range of subjects or new ways of presenting old ones.

“We have a lot of good returning series, such as Doc Martin or Foyle’s War, that people come to the channel for but ideally we will mix new programmes into the schedule at different times, both single dramas and series. We spend around £1 million a day on drama and we have got British stars, British productions and British talent in way that no other channel can really match.”
More from Liz Thomas in The Stage.

Mike Leigh sells out

How many writers could sell out the National Theatre in advance despite no one knowing what their play is about, or even what the title is? Guild member Mike Leigh for one, as BBC News reports.

Too many novelists

It is quite wrong to portray publishing as an impenetrable cartel, argues Tim Clare in The Guardian - if anything it's too open to unknown writers.

The truth is a disproportionate number of publishers are wide-eyed idealists with a frightening propensity for chucking good money after bad. As much as agents and editors may feign a cool professional insouciance, most dream of stumbling across The Next Big Thing and securing their place in industry history. While veteran authors languish in the mid-list doldrums, jammy first-timers rake in vast advances on the promise of long and lucrative careers, which frequently fail to materialise. Publishers act with one eye on posterity, leaving their accountants with ulcers the size of kumquats, and the UK book market saturated with newcomers brawling over a limited readership.

William Corlett dies

Novelist William Corlett has died at the age of 66. He is probably best known for his Magician's House novels which were adapted by BBC Television in 1999.

There are obituaries in The Guardian and The Independent.
A leading children's writer, in his novels for older readers William Corlett constantly pushed at the boundaries still existing between teenage and adult fiction. Original but always readable, many of his stories often reached a wider audience after he had adapted them for television. Unafraid to write about male attraction to other males before this became a more acceptable theme in teenage fiction, in his later life he came out as an openly gay writer with a devoted following in America as well as in Britain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

WGGB & List Magazine Fringe Awards 2005

The winners have been announced for the Writers’ Guild and The List magazine Edinburgh Fringe Awards 2005.

They are:
  • Dan Tetsell - Best Comedy Writer
  • Jason Manford - Best Comedy Newcomer
  • Mark Doherty - Best Theatre Writer
  • Martin J. Taylor - Best Theatre Newcomer

National Short Story Prize

The world's largest award for a short story will be unveiled at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week.

The winner of the National Short Story Prize will receive a windfall of £15,000 with the runner-up pocketing £3,000.

In what organisers hope will one day grow to the size and prominence of the Booker Prize, the competition aims to honour the country's finest writers of short stories so is only open to authors with a previous record of publication who are either UK nationals or residents.
More from William Lyons in The Scotsman.
The shortlist of five stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 next March ahead of the winner being announced in May. The winning stories will be published and distributed free by Prospect magazine.

The new award will also be the centrepiece of a UK-wide campaign 'story' that will be launched in conjunction with the prize. The campaign is a joint venture managed by Booktrust and the Scottish Book Trust, the national agency for readers and writers.
I can't yet find a web link for the Award itself - but will post any further information as soon as possible.

Update: Thanks to Scott Mathewman (see comments) for finding the link.

Also, there was an interesting article about short stories by Aida Edemariam in The Guardian yesterday.
The British attitude to the short story - that it is somehow lesser, a practice space for the real thing, which is, of course, the novel; that you can perhaps start out writing a collection of stories, but you have somehow failed if you don't graduate to a minimum of 200 pages - has always baffled me. I cannot comprehend the underlying assumption that a particular kind of stamina is somehow better, of more value. It's like privileging the marathon, or the 1,500m, over the 100m.

Writer sues over Lost

A writer is suing ABC Television for allegedly stealing his idea for its hit show Lost, according to reports.

Anthony Spinner filed a legal action in Los Angeles claiming he was contracted in 1977 to write a script for a show called Lost about a plane crash.

He alleged he was hired to produce and direct the programme which was to be produced by ABC.

The action cites ABC and Touchstone Television, according to Hollywood Reporter. Both declined to comment.
More from BBC News.

Amazon Shorts

As predicted, online retailer Amazon has expanded into publishing short fiction.

Stories from a wide-rage of authors can be downloaded from Amazon.com/shorts for 49 cents.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Agents for game developers

Talent agents are a common sight in Hollywood but a rarity in the video game industry. However, as the size of deals with game publishers inflate - especially for next-generation console titles - development companies are coming to realize that representing themselves may not be as lucrative as having a really good agent.
More from Paul Hyman in The Hollywood Reporter.

Nighty Night previews online

In a first for the BBC, clips of Nighty Night by Julia Davis are being made available for video-enabled mobile phones and online.

Festival succession row

Next year will be Sir Brian McMaster's last Festival as director, but critics are not intending to wave him off kindly into the sunset.

The director of the Edinburgh International Festival was forced to defend himself as his programme began yesterday after he was accused of running the event “like a Mickey- Mouse operation”.

Sir Brian McMaster, who will retire after putting on his fifteenth festival next year, has dismissed critics of his management as “opportunists” who want to succeed him.
More from Jack Malvern in The Times.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

ITV to launch children's channel

ITV will launch a children's channel on the Freeview digital platform within the next six months, reports
The Independent. The schedule will be made up from existing programming. The company said the new channel will feature ITV's existing slate of children's programming.

Some have questioned whether there was room for ITV to enter this sector, given that the BBC already has two dedicated children's stations available on digital television platforms.

Nigel Pickard, director of programmes at ITV said: "This is a great opportunity for ITV to reinforce its position as a valued and trusted provider of children's programming in an increasingly competitive market and to bring ITV to a new generation of viewers."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Economic benefits of theatre

Theatre in the West Midlands creates £264 million for the local economy every year, more than a tenfold increase on its initial public investment, according to a survey by Arts Council England.
More in The Stage.

The Stage news blog

The Stage has supplemented its already excellent website with a news blog. Lots of comment and analysis, and well worth bookmarking.

Monday, August 15, 2005

BBC Writersroom in Edinburgh

BBC Writersroom, the new writing initiative, will be hosting an open session for writers on 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. Full details are on the Writersroom website.

Literary Ventures Fund

In America, reports Alex Beam in The Boston Globe, venture capital has come to publishing.
Here's the idea. [Jim] Bildner wants to apply venture capital rules to book publishing. LVF will make small investments, and thus own portions of, promising novels, nonfiction works, and even book series. It's the spread-your-bets-and-hope-for-a-hit VC model. If one out of 10 investments pays off big, you get rich. In this case, the LVF [Literary Ventures Fund] gets rich, as any gains will be plowed back into the nonprofit for reinvestment in future projects.

Publishing - the long tail

Chris Anderson on Wired.com examines the phenomenon of "the long tail" - whereby online book retailers find that more than half of their sales come from books that would normally struggle for space on the shelves of high street stores.
This is not just a virtue of online booksellers; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries, one that is just beginning to show its power. Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it in service after service, from DVDs at Netflix to music videos on Yahoo! Launch to songs in the iTunes Music Store and Rhapsody. People are going deep into the catalog, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what's available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, the more they like. As they wander further from the beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a lack of alternatives, and a hit-driven culture).

WGGB anti-censorship committee

This week the Writers' Guild of Great Britain revived its anti-censorship committee which had been closed down some years ago.

"Writers are finding themselves in a very difficult situation," said Lydia Rivlin, Chairman of the new committee. "Religious pressure groups have recently started to use increasingly belligerent tactics to stifle expression, as can be seen by the riot which closed down a play in Birmingham in December. The police do not seem to have done very much to pursue the ringleaders and the writer is still in fear for her life.

"This phenomenon is by no means confined to ethnic minorities, either. A radical Christian group forced the cancellation of Jerry Springer - The Opera in at least one provincial theatre and has even compelled a charity to return the money donated by its producers. In this atmosphere, the Government intends to push through Parliament the Religious Hatred Bill, which we believe was formulated purely for short-term political gain.

"Whatever the reassurances, it will put writers under the threat of causing someone offence and finding themselves in the iniquitous situation of having to prove their
innocence. Whether it results in a prosecution or not, the experience will be unpleasant and the tendency will be to avoid it by playing safe. The effect on writing and entertainment and even our ability to exchange ideas could be calamitous. We are calling upon all writers and media workers to join us in resisting this attack on freedom of speech."

Graham Lester-George, Chairman of the Writers' Guild, explained: "The Writers' Guild started an Anti-Censorship Committee in the 1960s but when politicians stopped setting themselves up as our moral guardians, it was deemed surperfluous and wound up. It is to our great regret that we find ourselves compelled to reopen it."

Scenes Of A Sexual Nature

A-list actors including Ewan McGregor are taking a fraction of the fees they can command in Hollywood to star in a low-budget film by a writer and a director who have never made a feature film before.

Every actor approached by Edward Blum and Aschlin Ditta, whose careers have been limited until now to Crimewatch reconstructions and television dramas, wanted to be involved with Scenes of a Sexual Nature. They included Sophie Okonedo, the Oscar-nominated Royal Shakespeare Company actress who starred in Dirty Pretty Things and Hotel Rwanda, Dame Eileen Atkins, whose films include Gosford Park and The Hours, and Adrian Lester, the Olivier award-winner.
A British film success story in the making, reported in The Times. Blum's big break in film came when he won a pitching contest at Cannes.

Stuart Murphy interviewed

Stuart Murphy, Controller of BBC Three, interviewed on BBC News.
Mr Murphy denies that BBC Three is just a comedy lab for BBC One and Two.

"What was clear six months after we launched was that we were never going to have any real breakthroughs unless we concentrated on a specific genre. And so we absolutely piled into comedy.

"We have had a real run in drama and because the quota is less people don't clock that yet."

"I hope that in 18 months' time people will get the same sense about our drama as they do our comedy - that we do cutting edge British drama."

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest deadline is October 1. Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler will judge and award a top prize of $1,000, second-place prize of $500, and third-place prize of $250. Past finalists include Jonathan Safran Foer and Pauls Toutonghi. Winners and seven honorable mentions will be announced at the website December 1, 2005, and in the Spring 2006 issue of Zoetrope: All-Story.

All genres of literary fiction accepted. Entries must be: unpublished; 5,000 words or less; postmarked by October 1, 2005; clearly marked "Short Fiction Contest" on both the story and the outside of the envelope; accompanied by a $15 entry fee per story (make checks payable to AZX Publications). Please include name and address on first page or cover letter only.

Multiple entries welcome ($15/story) and entries from outside the U.S.; please send entry fee in U.S. currency or money order. Entrants retain rights to their stories.

Mail entries to:
Zoetrope: All-Story
Short Fiction Contest
916 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

More info: contests@all-story.com

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Iron mask - a critical massacre?

“Ferocious critics kill off show put on for dying wife,” trumpeted London’s Evening Standard last Friday when, just three days after the opening night of Behind the Iron Mask, it was announced that the show would close.

The headline contains two interesting ‘facts’ but only one of them actually helps to explain why the show has failed so spectacularly. It was not due to the alleged ferocity of the reviews - we were only reporting what we were seeing, and would be failing in our duty if we did not do so before our readers might have been tempted to spend up to £43.50 a ticket to see it for themselves.
Mark Shenton in The Stage defends the critics.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Comedy - Terrorble Puns

A few weeks ago I entered a Channel 4 comedy writing competition. You had to submit three sketches and a topical monologue.

I decided to leave writing the monologue until shortly before the deadline hoping it would still be fresh when the judges looked at it. Five days before the deadline for entries the 7th of July London bombings happened.

Being a Londoner I was left in a difficult position. Should I play safe and talk about other issues? Or should I tackle them head on? It seemed to me it was more offensive to figuratively plug my fingers in my ears and say "oh, I haven't noticed the bombings, here's my monologue about Sebastian Bloody Coe."

I decided, instead, to write something that makes a bit of fun of Al-Qaeda (not Islam, mind) and - I hoped - would get people to have a nervous giggle in the face of adversity.

Here's an article from the Sunday Times about Edinburgh Fringe comedians facing the same kind of decision.

Speaking of The Fringe, a dedicated radio station, Festival FM (available, streamed on the web), will be broadcasting from tomorrow.


Britlitblogs.com is a new blog aggregator, bringing together posts from six British literary blogs in one place.

Editors cut out

Blake Morrison in The Observer laments the declining role of the editor, and argues that the quality of novels is falling as a result.
Perhaps I've been unusually lucky, but in my experience, editors, far from coercing and squashing writers, do exactly the opposite, elucidating them and drawing them out, or, when they're exhausted and on the point of giving up (like marathon runners hitting the wall), coaxing them to go the extra mile. And yet this myth of the destructive editor - the dolt with the blue pencil - is pervasive, not least in academe. Perhaps the antipathy stems from the perceived difference between the publisher and the scholar: for whereas a scholarly editor, appearing late in the day and with the wisdom of hindsight, seeks to restore a classic, the publisher's editor is the idiot who ruined it in the first place.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Broadcast Freelancer

Broadcast magazine are launching a new work-finding service for the TV industry, Broadcast Freelancer.

Freelancers, including writers, can register for free weekly freelancer news alerts and a free 3-month free trial worth £45 starting when the service launches fully in October.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Behind the Fringe

This year the Writers' Guild is organisingAwards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in conjunction with the List magazine.

We've joined forces to set up a blog so that you can follow all the news and gossip as it happens.

Green publishing

It's not easy being green, but a small and growing number of authors are asking publishers to print their books on environmentally friendly paper.

While no one keeps count, well-known writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker, are part of the trend.
More from USA Today.

Note: Greenpeace is running a campaign to encourage publishing on recycled paper.

The People's Play Award

BBC Writersroom has details of The People's Play Award, a competition for North East-based aspiring playwrights. The winner will receive an award of £2,000 and a studio run, courtesy of New Writing North and The People's Theatre Company.

The award is open to writers who have not yet received a professional production of their work on stage and who live and work within the Arts Council North East region (Tyneside, Northumberland, Tees Valley and County Durham).

The closing date is 14 November 2005.

Alfred Fagon Award

Entries are invited for The Alfred Fagon Award, open to any playwright of Caribbean descent, resident in the UK, for the best new Stage Play in English, which need not have been produced.

Each entrant may submit only one play. (Television, radio and film scripts will not be considered). The first prize is £5,000.

Closing date: 30 August 2005.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Pub theatre award in memory of Dan Crawford

A new award has been created for pub theatres in memory of the founder and artistic director of the King's Head theatre in Islington, Dan Crawford, who died last month. As The Stage reports, The Dan Crawford Pub Theatre Award, which will be presented at this year’s Empty Space Peter Brook Awards, is open to venues nationwide, with the winner to be decided by a panel of theatre critics.

Theatre discounts for Guild members

The Hampstead Theatre in London has become the latest theatre to offer discounts to members of the Writers' Guild.

Current members can book at the main concession rate, which is currently £6 off tickets for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday matinees. They will need to show their membership cards to qualify.

There is a full list of theatres offering concessions on the Writers' Guild website.

Five axes Family Affairs

Five has axed home-grown soap Family Affairs, which is believed to be the last surviving show from its launch schedule in March 1997.

The long running soap, which is made by Talkback Thames, will come off air at the end of the year, after eight- and three-quarter years on Five.

Axing Family Affairs will provide Five with a saving of more than £10m a year to invest in other programming.

But its director of programmes, Dan Chambers, will have to find other programming to run in Family Affairs' 6.30pm weekday slot and midday repeat berth.

The Family Affairs crew, based in Merton, south London, were told about the decision last night.
More from Media Guardian (free registration required)

Gus Van Sant interviewed

Director and screenwriter Gus Van Sant talks to Dylan Callaghan on wga.org about the relative merits of scripted and ad-libbed dialogue.
I think the overriding interest is to make something that resembles the way we live or think. There used to be all these rules of how to do things that slowly get eaten away by innovations that usually make the experience "life-like." It's all part of trying to get something that's more representative of our lives. That's usually what guides me. There are conventions that we stick with almost stubbornly because we also want it to be like a movie. We don't want it to be too real.

Monday, August 01, 2005

London residency

A three-month moving image residency opportunity for London-based visual artists interested in developing film based projects, acquiring techniques and learning technical processes.
The residency will take place at no.w.here, in partnership with Artquest and Film London, culminating in a showcase event.
There are three places available – information on application process and forms available next month. To be notified of the deadline and submission requirements, please sign up to e-bulletins at no.w.here, Film London or Artquest.

Updating fairytales

Jeanette Winterson in The Sunday Times questions the need to bring fairytales bang up to date.
Relief, unease. Familiarity, strangeness. Art trades in these paradoxes. The art of the fairytale does the same, and it does it best in its own language. The carpet flies, the solid hillside reveals a door, statues speak and puddings multiply. Who needs tonight’s TV and a telephone?

Pratchett versus Rowling

As BBC News reports, Terry Pratchett has hit out at J.K. Rowling for saying she did not realise Harry Potter was fantasy until it was published.
In a recent interview with Time magazine, Rowling said she was "not a huge fan of fantasy" and was trying to "subvert" the genre.

The magazine also said Rowling reinvented fantasy fiction, which was previously stuck in "an idealised, romanticised, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves".

Pratchett, whose first fantasy novel was published 34 years ago, wrote to the Sunday Times saying the genre had always been "edgy and inventive".

"Ever since The Lord of the Rings revitalised the genre, writers have played with it, reinvented it, subverted it and bent it to their times," he wrote.

"It has also contained come of the very best, most accessible writing for children, by writers who seldom get the acknowledgement they deserve."

Mark Ravenhill interview

Playwright and Guild member, Mark Ravenhill, interviewed by Miranda Sawyer in The Observer.
It's almost a decade now since Mark Ravenhill's blistering first play, Shopping and Fucking, was first unleashed at the Royal Court. Yet as he says himself: 'I might as well have it on my passport. Name: Mark 'Shopping and Fucking' Ravenhill.' Though he's written nine successful plays since (two about to be performed), including the ambitious National Theatre musical Mother Clap's Molly House, Mark is still defined by his debut. 'It's like,' he muses, 'being Kylie. She had I Should Be So Lucky, and it took her 15 or 20 years to match that with Can't Get You Out of My Head, even though she was having hit after hit after hit.'