Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Euro box office blues

A dearth of strong, local films severely dented box office revenue in most of Europe this year, with only Britain holding steady thanks to a stream of homegrown favourites such as "Pride & Prejudice" and the latest "Harry Potter."

German film executives expect a decline of as much as 20 percent even with end-of-year help from blockbusters "King Kong" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," while France, Spain and Italy could end the year down more than 10 percent, according to industry estimates.
More from Jeffrey Goldfarb and Karin Strohecker at Reuters.

Theatre bemoans shortage of backstage workers

They dream of seeing their name in lights. They do not, it appears, fancy the graft and grime of life backstage. Young theatre recruits are so dazzled by the prospect of fame and fortune that many staff fear that essential behind-the-scenes skills are in danger of being lost.

In the face of a national shortage of skilled technical staff, one leading regional theatre has launched a more traditional apprenticeship scheme to train the wig makers and lighting designers of the future.

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre is giving six people, aged 16 to 21, training for 18 months in many departments including sound, lighting, make-up, wardrobe and stage management.
More from Louise Jury in The Independent.

Changes in the panto landscape

On The Stage Newsblog, Mark Shenton reflects on the seven (!) pantomimes he's seen this season.
...though my sampling may not in any way be definitive, each have been very handsomely produced; I did, however, spy a certain homogeneity between the two separate Cinderellas I saw, which may have had different writers credited to each, but seemed to oddly share some of the identical jokes and topical references.

Arts Council England peer review published

Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have received a stern rebuke from the independent assessment body led by Genista McIntosh for allowing their relationship to deteriorate, creating a “climate of mistrust” that requires “urgent attention”.

The comments are contained in the so-called Peer Review report into the workings of the council, chaired by the baroness, who previously ran two of Britain’s leading flagship arts companies, the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House. It concludes that repairing the breakdown in communications between ACE and the DCMS following the 2004 Spending Review remains crucial if any progress is to be made in restructuring the council.
More from Alistair Smith in The Stage.

You can download the full Peer Review from the ACE website.

TV on mobile phones

TV on mobiles is being touted as the next big thing, with supporters predicting it will offer a new genre of programmes.

While some have expressed doubts about whether people will want to watch TV on their mobiles, handset giant Nokia and leading independent TV producer Endemol are convinced it will be a winner.

Initial signs, both say, are that mobile TV will be a huge hit with consumers, a big money-spinner for content providers and mobile operators as well as a means of transforming TV as it currently exists.
More from Jane Wakefield on BBC News.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Screenplay copyright in Hollywood

An interesting exposition of American copyright law from Craig Mazin at Artful Writer. Mazin is looking at "chain of title" - ie how the ownership of copyright is affected as a project in development moves from studio to studio and from writer to writer. Mazin also looks at the differences in copyright for a screenwriter and a playwright.

Friday, December 23, 2005

262 BBC execs earn more than £100,000

The number of top-level BBC executives earning six-figure salaries has more than doubled in the past five years, the corporation has confirmed.

A total of 262 executives are paid in excess of £100,000, compared with 122 in 2001. The BBC has attributed this rise to market forces and inflation.
More from BBC News.

WGGB office closed for Christmas

The Guild Office will be closed until Tuesday 3rd January.

If you have any urgent enquiries during this time, please contact the office by email. Guild staff will be checking regularly for messages. I'll still be updating this blog...if there's anything worth posting in the festive lull.

From everyone at the Guild, have a great Christmas and New Year.

Written Lives

The other day, a rather beautiful little book dropped onto my desk. Written Lives is a short collection of potted biographies of famous writers by the Spanish novelist and essayist Javier Marías. Ranging from Faulkner to Nabokov, Joyce to Rimbaud, each life story is no more than 10 or so pages, concentrating on a particular period or aspect of the subject’s life. Thus we find Oscar Wilde bloated and listless in his life after prison, and a posturing James Joyce comparing "the mystery of Mass" with his own work. Each piece mixes a little anecdote, some biographical fact and a brief explanation of the chosen writer’s greatness.
More from Paul Hamlos on the Culutre Vulture blog.

Work to begin on new NFT

Work on turning the redundant Museum of the Moving Image in London into a revamped, extended home for the National Film Theatre is to start next month after delays of more than a year.

The £4.5m project to refurbish the NFT on the South Bank, which is run by the British Film Institute, is due to be completed by autumn in time for the 50th anniversary of the British Film Institute's London Film Festival.
More from Louise Jury in The Independent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Playwright Gary Mitchell in hiding

One of the most talked about voices in European theatre is in hiding - and his extended family have been forced to flee their homes - after a campaign of death threats and bomb attacks by loyalist paramilitaries.

Gary Mitchell, whose political thrillers have arguably made him Northern Ireland's greatest playwright, was told that every "Mitchell had to get out or be killed in four hours". His home was attacked by men with baseball bats and petrol bombs.
More from Angelique Chrisafis in The Guardian.

There is a lot of discussion about the story on Northern Irish politics blogs, such as Slugger O'Toole.

Update: Mitchell talks on BBC Radio 4's Front Row.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

XXL Film Forum

Guild Film Committee Chair, Hugh Stoddart, reports from the XXL Forum in Vienna and from the recent Film Parliament in London. (Word document)

Where have all the howlers gone?

Just last summer the air was filled with anxiety about an apparent box-office slump, as journalists and studio executives alike wondered why fewer people seemed to be going to the movies. The most obvious explanation - or at least the one I favored at the time - was that the movies just weren't good enough. But now that the season of list-making and awards-mongering is upon us and the slump talk has quieted down, I find myself preoccupied with a slightly different, not unrelated worry: What if the problem with Hollywood today is that the movies aren't bad enough?

Which is not to say that there aren't enough bad movies. Quite the contrary. There is never a shortage, and there may even be a glut. The number of movies reviewed in The New York Times - those released in New York - grows every year; in 2005 it will approach 600. Given that so much human endeavor is condemned to mediocrity - like it or not, we spend most of our lives in the fat, undistinguished middle of the bell curve - it is hardly surprising that many of these pictures turn out not to be very good. But the very worst films achieve a special distinction, soliciting membership in a kind of negative canon, an empyrean of anti-masterpieces. It is this kind of bad movie - the train wreck, the catastrophe, the utter and absolute artistic disaster - that seems to be in short supply.

And this is very bad news. Disasters and masterpieces, after all, often arise from the same impulses: extravagant ambition, irrational risk, pure chutzpah, a synergistic blend of vanity, vision and self-delusion. The tiniest miscalculation on the part of the artist - or of the audience - can mean the difference between adulation and derision. So in the realm of creative achievement, the worst is not just the opposite of the best, but also its neighbor. This year has produced plenty of candidates for a Bottom 10 (or 30 or 100) list, but I fear that none of the bad movies are truly worthy of being called the worst. And this may be why so few are worthy of being considered for the best.
More from A.O. Scott in The New York Times.

There are some interesting reflections on this article from Billy Mernit.
Teachers of writing ... are always telling students to "dare to be awful." So I say that now's the time -- for the courage of convictions, for the taking of leaps. Maybe you'll interest the next Ed Wood... maybe you'll attract a James Cameron. Just know there's currently a slowly dawning awareness on the studios' part that the mainstream, that mythical beast, is shifting in its unconsciousness and changing up the rules. You've got them at a rare moment of vulnerability, a time when the William Goldman edict (Nobody knows anything) is more applicable than ever.

Friday, December 16, 2005

WGAw awards nominations

The nominations have been announced for the 2006 Writers Guild of America, west Awards.

On his blog, Ken Levine gives some tips to nominees.
Congratulations to all my colleagues nominated for Writers Guild Awards. Note to nominees: wear a tuxedo. David Isaacs and I were nominated several times, rented tuxedos and lost. We always noticed there were a few people in dark suits and felt even more like schmucks. So one year when we knew we’d lose we just went the dark suit route. And of course we won. We sheepishly walked up to the podium and David said, “Sorry, we dressed for nomination only”.

Later we took pictures with our presenter, Jimmy Smits. Click click and he was gone. A few minutes later the photographer wanted to take a few more shots. They said Smits had left so the photographer said, “Okay, then never mind.” Jesus, writers get no respect even at the Writers Guild awards.

Orhan Pamuk trial adjourned

The trial of best-selling Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk was adjourned on Friday amid mounting concern in the European Union that the case could challenge freedom of expression.

A judge in Istanbul said the trial would restart on February 7, 2006, to give the Justice Ministry time to decide whether the case was in line with judicial procedures.

Pamuk faces a possible three-year jail term for "insulting Turkish identity" by saying that a million Armenians were killed in massacres 90 years ago and 30,000 Kurds in recent decades -- issues he says are taboo in the country.
More from Reuters.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The future of books - online

Technology, often declared the enemy of literacy, has been called upon to save it. With hints of optimism and anxiety, publishers are counting on the digital text and digital channels to win over a public drawn to other media.
More from Hillel Italie on Yahoo.

Comedy Award for Abbott

Shameless, created by Guild member Paul Abbott, won Best Comedy Drama at the Comedy Awards last night. The Writer of the Year Award was won by David Walliams and Matt Lucas for Little Britain.

Update: forgot to mention that Guild member Victoria Wood, along with Julie Walters, won an outstanding achievement award.

Alfred Shaughnessy obituary

The Guardian has today published an obituary of former Guild member Alfred Shaughnessy, who died last month.
Alfred Shaughnessy, who has died aged 89, achieved his greatest success in 1970, when he became script editor and chief writer of the television series Upstairs, Downstairs. What he contributed was, literally, a class act. His stepfather, the Hon Sir Piers "Joey" Legh, was equerry to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and master of the household to George VI; Shaughnessy could boast that when staying at Windsor castle, he had entertained the king and queen and the young princesses, Margaret and Elizabeth, with an impromptu cabaret.

In praise of older playwrights

In The Guardian, Guild Theatre Committee Chair, David James, refutes David Mamet's argument that "Playwrighting is a young man's ... game."
The purpose of theatre is to illuminate people's lives, to bring a mirror to our own experience, our society and our reaction to that society - often to our discomfort. And that self-examination should never stop. It is as necessary at 80 as it is at 20. Of course young talent must be nurtured, but there must also be a place for the writer of life experience, maturity and wisdom, who burns to communicate his or her own prejudices of anger, outrage and heartbreak.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"The Myth Of The First Martyr...I Mean...Writer"

I’ve talked before about an apparently intractable schism in the professional writing community—one on side you’ve got so-called “first writer advocates”, and on the other side, you have so-called “rewriters”.

Putting aside the relative sloppiness of those names, I’ve decided to lower my lance and tilt firmly at one of the most persistent and inaccurate myths of screenwriting.

The “first writer” does not necessarily do anything special or more difficult than subsequent writers on a project.

Going first isn’t harder. Going first isn’t special. Going first doesn’t earn you a halo or a special place in writer heaven for your sacrifice.

Going first is just…going first.
More from Craig Mazin at The Artful Writer.

Blackpool nominated for Golden Globe

BBC TV's Blackpool, written by Peter Bowker, has received a nomination for the prestigious Golden Globe Awards. It will compete in the category of "Best mini-series or motion picture made for television", with the winner to be announced on 16 January.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Danny Stack accentuates the positive

Guild member and blogger extraordinaire Danny Stack, hates whingers...
It's sometimes surprising (and disappointing) to read the posts on Shooting People where people moan and gripe about how crap the system is here in the UK and that there are no opportunities or not enough support (or script competitions) to help identify new talent.
Danny suggests a list of competitions and organisations that do in fact provide opportunities in the UK.

Drama on BBC ONE daytime

Details of upcoming daytime drama on BBC ONE, including a new Afternoon Play from Guild President, Alan Plater.

Jermyn Street and the New Players to produce

Two of London’s leading Off-West End venues, the Jermyn Street and the New Players theatres, will relaunch themselves as producing houses in 2006. More from Alistair Smith in The Stage.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Coming soon: 101 Greatest Screenplays

The Writers Guild of America, East and the Writers Guild of America, west are pleased to announce a partnership with Premiere magazine to unveil the 101 Greatest Screenplays this spring, spotlighting the best of screenwriting in the history of film.

The guilds' 101 Greatest Screenplays will honor the greatest scripts ever - and the talented writers who wrote them - by compiling the ultimate ranking of best-written films as voted upon by guild members. The Writers Guilds' first-ever best-of-list is slated to be announced April 2006, with gala events scheduled on both coasts to fete influential writers and unforgettable screenwriting.

Premiere will feature the 101 Greatest Screenplays in a special editorial section in the May 2006 issue of the magazine, hitting newsstands April 2006. The WGAw, the WGAE, and Premiere will partner on several levels, collaborating on special events, radio/online promotion, and other projects, to bring the results and analysis of the guild's prestigious member poll to the public.

“For those of you tired of all those '100 Best' rankings, here's a list that goes one better. And what's more, it glorifies the very foundation of any great film - its screenplay,” said WGAw President Patric M. Verrone.
More from the WGAw.

Whitbread to end literary prize sponsorship

One of the literary world’s most prestigious prizes is looking for a sponsor after Whitbread pulled out of the awards it has funded since 1971. The company, once Britain’s best-known brewer, has decided literature does not fit with its status as a wide-ranging leisure conglomerate.

The decision is a blow to the literary world as the Whitbread is rivalled only by the Booker in terms of prestige and influence.
More from Richard Brooks in The Times.

Watch Pinter's Nobel lecture

You can now watch Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture in full, from the Nobel site. A strong argument for watching the video rather than just reading the text comes from Michael Billington in The Guardian.
There was something oddly Beckettian about Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture... It was Beckettian in that Pinter sat in a wheelchair, with a rug over his knees and framed by an image of his younger self, delivering his sombre message: memories of Hamm in Beckett's Endgame came to mind. But if Pinter's frailty was occasionally visible, there was nothing ailing about his passionate and astonishing speech, which mixed moral vigour with forensic detail.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My life as a woman

American screenwriter Billy Mernit has a secret.
It just slipped out. I didn't mean to say it, but...

I met a fellow writer at the Rose Cafe today. Laptop open, she was working on her first novel, and I was telling her about my novel, and she asked me if it was my first. And before I could stop myself, I told her -- a total stranger, about a secret identity I'd been keeping under wraps for years.

I was Leigh Anne Williams: a woman who published 20 romance novels.

US film school students turning to TV

There was a time, and not so long ago, that any talk about television at film school was considered crass — the low road to a higher calling. Film school was for budding auteurs, not TV hacks.

"Television has always been the redheaded stepchild of virtually any university's film program," said UCLA professor Tom Nunan, who produced the film "Crash" but spent most of his career as a television executive. "It's a hard medium to come out and just embrace right out of the gate. I don't know if it's because [television] is in your bedrooms and living rooms, but there's a lot less glamour in film school studying an appliance in your home versus going to the theater."

Then came "The Sopranos" and other TV shows that pushed the pop culture envelope, not to mention a burgeoning job market in the new cable and digital universe, and a downturn in the movie biz and suddenly studying television didn't seem like a bad option.

Nunan, who has taught television development and production at UCLA for eight years, sees a sea change among many, if not all, of his students.

"I've seen a definite trend toward people converting toward an interest in TV as a career, yet every spring there's that percentage that come in with their nose up into the air wanting to talk about their screenplays," he said. "Not only is there a lot more opportunity in television, but the material you get is much more mature and complex."
More from Merrill Balassone in the LA Times.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Songwriters in online royalties dispute

Songwriters and composers face losing 50% of their income from music downloads if a landmark tribunal case being brought by record companies, online music providers and mobile phone networks is successful.

A consortium worth $600 billion, including Apple iTunes, Napster, EMI, Sony BMG, O2 and Orange, is taking not-for-profit royalties collection agency the Music Alliance - formerly the MCPS-PRS alliance - to the tribunal to try to reduce the amount songwriters earn from a 79p download from 5p to 2.5p.

The MA, which represents 44,000 songwriters and composers, responded this month with a counter-claim calling for an increase in royalties to between 7p and 9p per download, which it says reflects the savings made by record companies by online distribution. It claims companies pocket more than 50p for the same 79p download.

The tribunal, which will be held next year, is expected to cost as much as £12 million. Online royalties currently amount to just £1 million a year, although the market is expected to more than double over the next 12 months and eventually overtake offline sales.
More in The Stage.

Comment: Music is a year or two ahead of drama and comedy in terms of online distribution. But is this the kind of battle that all writers could soon be facing?

Sundance Festival - behind the scenes

How the world's most famous independent film festival is run, by John Clark in The New York Times.
Every [submitted] film is seen in its entirety by at least one person, often more. Sundance employs more than a dozen people to go through the features, and then to write a report that rates them on a scale from 1 to 5. (Mr. [Geoffrey] Gilmore [the festival director] says he tries to get these screeners to distinguish between "the weird and the bad.") In fact, programmers will even review a few of the films rated 1 or 2, just to make sure nothing has been overlooked.

New drama on BBC TWO

BBC TWO has announced it's highlights for Spring 2006, with drama set to take a leading role.
Roly Keating, Controller of BBC TWO, said today: "Strong authorship and individual voices are the backbone of the channel and I'm pleased that we'll be launching the new year with some really bold drama in the heart of the schedule."

Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture

Pinter's Nobel lecture is available in full from The Guardian. You can also watch it on BBC News.
It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Ricky Gervais podcast

Today Ricky Gervais launched his new series of podcasts, available for donwnload from The Guardian.

A giant leap in the development of online comedy?

Bellamy new head of BBC3

BBC Director of Television Jana Bennett has appointed E4 head Julian Bellamy as the new Controller of BBC THREE.

Bellamy, 35, who is also Head of Channel 4's Factual Entertainment commissioning, will join the BBC in the New Year.

Jana Bennett said today: "I'm delighted Julian will be joining us in BBC Television.

"He has fantastic experience of building channels and brands in a multi-platform digital environment, a very strong creative background and terrific relations with talent and the production community.

"His dual experience as both a commissioning editor of factual entertainment and innovative shows like Big Brother - and of running a mixed genre channel - will bring a new dynamic to BBC THREE as it evolves, grows and meets ever-changing audience expectations."
More from the BBC Press Release.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mary Hayley Bell 1914-2005

Playwright, novelist and actress Mary Hayley Bell, best known for her book Whistle Down The Wind, has died at the age of 95. She was married to the late Sir John Mills. There is an obituary in The Times.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Summer Play Festival (New York)

Submissions sought of full-length plays and musicals from emerging writers for the Summer Play Festival 2006 in New York. Entry is free and can be done online. The closing date is 15 December 2005.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bearded Ladies - unsolicited material

Radio 4 is accepting unsolicited material for the next series of its sketch show Bearded Ladies.

Full details from BBC Writersroom.

BBC comedy blog

It's been running since August 2004, but I've only just discovered the BBC Comedy blog. Design and functionality not much to get excited about (e.g. you can't leave comments) but worth a look. It will probably be revamped or ditched as part of the comedy site relaunch mentioned at the recent Guild event.

How to start a screenplay

Some thoughts from Josh Golding at The Screenwriters' Store.
Ernest Hemingway had an interesting method for getting himself started in the morning. At the end of each working day, he’d grab all his pencils in his big fist and slam them down on the desk, breaking all the points. When he came in the next morning, he’d pull out a penknife and start to whittle them. When he’d sharpened four or five – six, if he had a hangover – he’d find himself reaching for one and beginning to write.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pinter unable to travel for Nobel

Harold Pinter has been forced to pull out of the lecture given by winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature due to poor health.

However, the Nobel Foundation said a lecture pre-recorded by Pinter will be shown on a big screen at their Stockholm academy on 7 December.

The British playwright, 75, has been treated for cancer in recent years.

He had already announced publisher Stephen Page will accept the prize on his behalf on 10 December.

"His doctors have forbidden him to travel at this time," the Nobel Foundation said.
More from BBC News.

The battle for free expression

Timothy Garton Ash, writing in The Guardian, meets writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
People are trying to kill her just for saying what she thinks. Last year, he was actually killed simply because he made a provocative work of art. Welcome to our brave new Europe, three centuries after the Enlightenment.

She is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalian-Dutch politician and writer, who wrote the script for the film Submission. He was Theo van Gogh, the Dutch director of that film, who as a result was murdered on an Amsterdam street just over a year ago. After slitting Van Gogh's throat, the murderer pinned a letter to his chest with a butcher's knife. "Ayaan Hirsi Ali," it said, "you will break yourself to pieces on Islam." "You, oh Europe, will go down ... " this rant concluded, "you, oh Netherlands, will go down ... You, oh Hirsi Ali, will go down."

Writers Guild website (update)

Following the major technical problem experienced by our hosting company on Sunday, we have now put up a holding page at

This has all the main downloads for membership forms and Guild agreements.

We're now considering whether to restore the old site or bring forward planned developments and create a new site instead. We'll keep you updated.

Meanwhile, this blog will be the place to find Guild news and announcements.