Friday, March 31, 2006

ND/NF, Day 2

Man Push Cart

They are everywhere in NYC. After all, thousands of office workers need to get their caffeine fix in the morning and lunch at noon. You don't really notice them unless you're thirsty or hungry. Sometimes it's the sound of halal kebab sizzling on a hot plate grabbing your attention, or a brave soul cranking up the Lebanese pop music on his transistor radio. After 9/11, they've survived by plastering their carts with American patriotic stickers, downplaying their Arab or Muslim roots and patiently enduring abuse. Their silver carts seem to be permanently bolted to the street corners, especially in Midtown.

Few people know that when the donuts are sold-out in the afternoons, these carts are schlepped on foot to a storage space, where they resurface at the break of dawn to cater to the crowds. Man Push Cart reveals the world behind the carts and their owners. Most of them don't even own the cart, but rent them from cart-wholesalers, turning them into the sharecroppers of the 21st century, or recalling the 19th century feudal landlords in their native South Asia.

However, there is no political posturing in Man Push Cart, which is not a documentary, but fiction based on the real story of a push cart man. This impressive feature received its world premiere at last year's Venice film festival and won the FIPRESCI critic's award at the London film festival. It is by far the strongest New York film in this year's ND/NF edition, having sold for distribution to seven countries, including France and the U.S.

Man Push Cart observes the daily grind of Ahmad, a former Pakistani rock star who is mourning the death of his wife and the loss of his son, whom his resentful in-laws are shielding from him. Ahmad is convincingly played by Pakistani Brooklynite Ahmad Razvi , who once pushed a cart himself. One of his customers, a Pakistani yuppie, attempts to take him under his wing, partly out of a macho pleasure in watching a compatriot hustle to make a buck. When he recognizes Ahmad as a former singer, he gets an even bigger kick out of the menial jobs and false hope he throws Ahmad's way.

New York-based director and U.S.-born Ramin Bahrani spent three years in Iran making his feature-length thesis film Strangers and then lived in Paris before returning to the U.S. As a result, Man Push Cart reflects both the preference for minimalist vignettes of daily life as favoured by recent Iranian films and the French existentialism of Albert Camus. As a result, he guides the viewer through Ahmad's hard life without judgement or sentimentality.

Even though New York plays a major part and all of its makers are Newyorkers, the film's understated rhythm and its reliance on images rather than dialogue are a breath of fresh air in this verbose city that fears introspection and pessimism. "You will hopefully care for this [Pakistani] man whom in today's world we have been trained to hate and fear," proclaims Bahrani in his press kit. Although the film itself doesn't feel like it wields such a clearly political axe, you end up feeling you've gotten to know those anonymous Sisyphus's and their push carts a little better, which is typically the first step towards dispelling fear.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

New Directors/New Films, Day 1

Half Nelson

For the past 35 years, spring in New York is usually announced by the New Directors/ New Films series that presents undiscovered or about-to-be-discovered filmmakers from all over the world. For the next six days, Thessa Mooij reports from the screening rooms of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art.

New York City likes to pound its puffed-up chest, fancying itself the capital of the world. But a closer look at the Big Apple's creative output shows a slightly conservative city that likes its modern art to be colourful, pictorial and illustrative; easy on the eye and the brain cells. It takes its music, fashion and design cues from London and Tokyo before watering them down and proclaiming them as their own. As for film, the city's independent filmmakers have definitely suffered from a financing blow after 9/11.

Since films take years to make - especially the good ones - it has taken a while for indie talent to return to the big screen in any significant numbers. The New Directors/New Films series shows a remarkable renaissance of high quality independent films with the city's stamp on them. The 35-year old series is an understated affair by New York's standards - presenting 25 features and five shorts - most of which do not have a distributor in the U.S. and are only screened during this programme. The curatorial choices are adventurous by New York standards, not relying on other festivals hits or hyped-up distribution acquisitions. The selection committee is well known for nurturing talent in the early stages by presenting remarkable short films and inviting some of these filmmakers to return with their first features.

This was the case with the series' opening film, Half Nelson, which was based on the short film Gowanus, Brooklyn that was shown in the programme two years ago. Written by director Ryan Fleck and producer Anna Boden, the film maps out the rough-and-tumble neighbourhood of Gowanus Canal. Surrounded by heavily gentrified brownstone Brooklyn, this semi-industrial area mixes rough-and-tumble kids from the projects and young hipsters who can't afford the brownstones.

Dan is caught in the middle of this: junior high school teacher by day, coke-sniffing ladies man by night. The magnetically talented actor Ryan Gosling gets a chance to play the entire spectrum from trying to bridge gaping racial gaps to scoring hard drugs from a family friend of his favourite student Drey. who sees her crush on him evaporate with the sweet smoke coming out of his crack pipe.

Too often, American films, even the indies, opt for a clear-cut battle between right and wrong, following by a soothing redemption that leaves no loose ends untied. Half Nelson (a wrestling term for keeping someone in control, but not pinning them down) is surprisingly fluid in its statements, withholding judgment as much as it can. The film is not about drugs or sex, but about the fragile bond between a charismatic, but weak teacher and a talented student looking for a role model. It's a delight to see Ryan Gosling sparring with teenage actress Shareeka Epps, who played the role of Drey in the preceding short film. She can certainly hold her own with her mix of vulnerability and scowling contempt.

The only false note comes from Fleck's depiction of Dan's parents as wine guzzling, washed out '60s radicals. There is a cowardly hint at a difficulty father-son relationship, but seeing his family in action does nothing to explain his need for a drug induced haze. Considering the non-judgmental tone of the film, it would have been more consistent to let Dan be himself, in the present, without explaining his background or history. But overall, this is an impressive debut, both for the filmmakers and for Shareeka Epps.


The BBC will be producing 60-second 'Tardisodes' for mobile phones to accompany the new series of Doctor Who next month.
Tardisodes co-producer Jo Pearce says: "Our aim, when planning the development of all these projects, is to make the interactive content around Doctor Who series two compelling, exciting and intriguing as well as enticing a broader audience to Doctor Who by positioning it on different platforms."

Absence of a loved one

Sudden disappearance is driving a growing amount of contemporary drama, writes Julia Keller in The LA Times.
Such a theme made hits out of the CBS series "Without a Trace" and "Cold Case," shows that spotlight mysterious disappearances and the strenuous attempts to fill in the blanks.

These aren't standard police dramas; they are rich explorations of the momentous impact of absence. Their power derives from the searing sadness that trails in the wake of vanished loved ones. Episodes aren't cold, abstract puzzles for clever detectives to solve; they are journeys into the heart of loss, a loss that can't be relieved by tracking a killer or thwarting a bank robbery.

Victoria Pile interview

Victoria Pile, creator of Channel 4 comedy series Green Wing, talks to Amy Raphael in The Daily Telegraph.
Pile works with a team of seven writers, but argues that they never set out to imitate the classic American way of writing comedy. "I had a small, hardcore team of sketch writers dating back to Smack the Pony who were interested in writing something with more depth.

"When we started work on Green Wing, we often wrote independently and then pooled ideas. We spent a long time defining the characters and discussing people we knew.

"We had little drawings of the characters so we knew them really well before we cast them."

It's strange to think that when Pile handed in the first series of Green Wing, she was convinced she'd never work in television again. "It's a hard bloody job to make comedy," she says, laughing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Aliens attack critics

In The Guardian, Quentin Reynolds, executive producer of Evil Aliens, says that criticas need a reality check.
I produced Evil Aliens, with my own money, because I saw a talent and an audience - two things so often left out of the equation when funding British movies. I'm not surprised that Evil Aliens isn't getting great reviews: the critics and the UK industry are inextricably linked.

Sony Radio Awards nominations

Nominations have been announced for the 2006 Sony Radio Academy Awards, including for Best Drama and Best Comedy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is, in the words of Forbes magazine, “the most famous author you’ve never heard of”. His 25-year career has always been of a decidedly strange hue, taking in comics, graphic novels and children’s fiction — many of them produced in collaboration with the graphic artist Dave McKean — plus fantasy fiction for adults and screenplays (MirrorMask, which has just been released, and Robert Zemeckis’s long-awaited Beowulf). There is even an unauthorised biography of Duran Duran with Gaiman’s name on it. Supplying the source material for the new National Theatre of Scotland is only the latest feint from a writer more or less impossible to pin down.
More from Jasper Rees in The Times. The National Theatre of Scotland's production of Wolves In The Wall, based on th book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, opens on Saturday at the Tramway theatre in Glasgow.

Making games from movies

As news is announced that Desperate Housewives will be launched as a video game later this year, Julie Tamaki in the LA Times wonders why the King Kong game has had such disappointing sales.
Part of the reason is...the fundamental difference between movies and games: Games are interactive, movies are passive. Movie-based games that succeed often use the film as a starting point for new stories that cater to the strengths of interactive entertainment.

Monday, March 27, 2006

BAFTA TV Awards 2006

Nominations have been announced for the BAFTA TV Awards 2006. Leading the pack is Andrew Davies's adaptation of Charles Dickens's Bleak House with four major nominations, including for Best Drama Serial.

Zombies are back

If you haven't been paying attention — and if you haven't been paying attention, heaven help you — zombies are back. In films, books and video games, the undead are once again on the march, elbowing past werewolves, vampires, swamp things and mummies to become the post-millennial ghoul of the moment.
More from Warren St John in The New York Times.

Jane Smiley

An interesting article by author Jane Smiley in The Guardian about inspiration and what happens when you lose it.
When I sat down at my computer, though, and read what I had written the day before, I felt something new - a recoiling, a cold surprise. Oh, this again. This insoluble, unjoyous, and unstimulating piece of work. What's the next sentence, even the next word?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Verb

BBC Radio 3 programme, The Verb, has launched a competition for first-time novelists.
Listeners are invited to write the opening first 800 words of a first novel. The prize will be an Arvon course for first time novelists, taught by award-winning writers Tim Lott and Matt Thorne, with special guest, Sarah Waters, of Fingersmith fame.
The closing date is 1 July 2006.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Jason Reitman interview

Jason Reitman, writer/director of Thank You For Not Smoking, is interviewed by Dylan Callaghan for The Writers Guild of America, west.
Are you very disciplined when it comes to writing?

I'm very undisciplined. I never really write treatments, I just start writing. I'll get to page 60, realize I should be at page 40, cut it back, keep on writing, get to page 80, realize I should be at 60 [and] cut it back. I write a lot. I usually write three times as much as I need. If I think of a scene and it's not where I'm at with the script, I'll write the scene by itself. The film finds itself.

Do you find treatments and outlines stifle you?

Yeah, if I do that I tend to overthink. Often I don't know where the story needs to go when I start writing. I don't mean to sound airy-fairy, but I find that a film decides what it wants to and needs to be. It happens in the writing and the shooting and the cutting.

Understanding Failure's Success

Romantic comedy guru Billy Mernit dissects hit film, Failure To Launch (written by Tom Astle and Matt Ember).
Apparently the success of Failure lies in the studio's savvy understanding of what some women really want: the malleable himbo with a McConaughey grin.

Looking back at Look Back In Anger

Fifty years after its opening night, The Independent looks back at John Osborne's Look Back In Anger, with Osborne's own reflections and a selection of the first night critics.
Kenneth Tynan in 'The Observer', 13 May 1956: 'Look Back in Anger' presents post-war youth as it really is, with special emphasis on the non-U intelligentsia, who live in bedsitters and divide the Sunday papers into two groups, 'posh' and 'wet'. To have done this at all would be a significant achievement; to have done it in a first play is a minor miracle.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Film Council welcomes new tax relief system

The UK Film Council has welcomed the Chancellor's budget announcement yesterday of a new system of tax relief for films made in Britain. It's all rather complicated, but if you're interested there's lots of detail on the UK Film Council website.

David Halliwell obituary

David Halliwell, who has died aged 69, was a dramatist and director destined to be remembered for his first and most successful play, Little Malcolm and His Struggle against the Eunuchs. But, although he never repeated this initial triumph, he was a highly influential figure in the burgeoning fringe movement of the late 1960s. He pioneered the idea of lunchtime theatre and multi-viewpoint drama and left his mark on several close collaborators, including Mike Leigh.
More from Michael Billington in The Guardian.

Update: see comments for details of commemoration service.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Understanding Beckett

There has been a rash of articles celebrating the centenary of Samuel Beckett's birth, with many critics suggesting that he should be considered the greatest playwright of the twentieth century. Terry Eagleton, however, while asserting Beckett's greatness, believes that the symbolism of his work has been overstated, as he writes in The Guardian:
...he was not some timeless spirit but a southern Irish Protestant, part of a besieged minority of cultural aliens caught uneasily within a triumphalistic Catholic Free State. As Anglo-Irish Big Houses were burnt by Republicans during the war of independence, many Protestants fled to the Home Counties. The paranoia, chronic insecurity and self-conscious marginality of Beckett's work make a good deal more sense in this light. So does the stark, stripped quality of his writing, with its Protestant aversion to frippery and excess.

Martyn Hesford interview

Fantabulosa, based on the diaries of Kenneth Williams, scored BBC Four's highest ever ratings last week. The writer of Fantabulosa, Martyn Hesford, talks about his career to Leah Stoker for Broadcast Freelancer.
I started out in TV as an actor. I tried my hand at writing a script and sent it to every agent and every production company but nobody agreed to it. I then entered it into a Radio Times competition for unsolicited scripts and it won. Then everybody wanted to make it...
Thanks to Guild member Richard Bevan for the link.

Peter Shaffer interview

When the National Theatre announced plans to revive a play (The Royal Hunt For The Sun) by Peter Shaffer this year some people might have wondered if the great playwright was still alive. He is. It's 21 years since he last had a play open at the National, but as Robert Butler finds out in The Daily Telegraph, at the age of 79 Shaffer, the author of plays including Amadeus and Equus, is still writing.
Shaffer still works on a manual typewriter and possesses only a single copy of each of the two plays in progress. He tries to write every day to keep his dramatist skills in good nick.

"Things rust, you know, like the heart. My cardiologist said, 'It's a pump, use it, that's the sole advice I've got to give you.' It's the same in playwriting. Don't theorise about it. Do it."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Too many words

Today's animated films rely too much on dialogue, says Charles Solomon in The New York Times. Walt Disney often made his artists prepare their storyboards with only pictures; dialogue was added at the end of the process, when they determined how few words were actually needed to tell the story. In 2001, Joe Grant, who did key story work on "Snow White," "Pinocchio" and other Disney features, said in an interview: "Walt was a great advocate of pantomime. He would stand in front of the boards and re-enact the scene. You could see the reflection of him in the film: his pantomime was beautifully followed through. Today it's all talking heads."

The Chatterley Affair

The Chatterley Affair by Guild member Andrew Davies is on BBC Four tonight, and in The Times, Paul Hoggart recalls his father's role in the famous indecency trial.
The introduction to the drama of the affair could easily have been naff, especially when the couple start to use the book as a rather preachy sort of Lovers’ Guide. In fact it is handled with great wit and sensitivity. Davies, then a teacher, recalls the era clearly — he was “a bit miffed” by the acquittal, having paid one of his sixth-formers about £5 to bring him an unexpurgated copy from Paris which he could now get for 3s 6d (about the price of two pints). He uses the jurors’ reactions to provide a subtle exploration of the ways in which attitudes to sex and authority were starting to shift.

Friday, March 17, 2006

US Google copyright case dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that Google Inc.'s Web search systems infringe on a publisher's copyright, a minor victory for the company which faces numerous suits charging that its services trample on the rights of authors.

In a ruling issued last Friday and made known on Thursday, Judge R. Barclay Surrick of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania rejected eleven allegations contained in a civil complaint by plaintiff Gordon Roy Parker of Philadelphia.
More from Eric Auchard on Reuters.

New Writing Ventures

The Booktrust has launched the 2006 New Writing Ventures aimed at idenitfying emerging talent. All the winners and short listed writers will receive a place on the year-long Ventures Development Programme, which includes individual mentoring, workshops and professional advice.

New Writing Ventures is one of the programmes delivered by the New Writing Partnership,supported by Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council, the University of East Anglia and Arts Council England, East.

Paul Farrell - script to screen

Paul Farrell's long and winding road to getting a script commissioned and made for BBC TV's Silent Witness, as told to BBC Writersroom.
Steve [Matthews, script editor] rings up and invites a real post mortem - in Southend. I travel there with Emma, Assistant Script Editor and Researcher, and Christian, another commissioned writer from the scheme. We gab all the way there but on the way back we are all silent.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tony Marchant

Award-winning TV writer Tony Marchant, interviewed by Jasper Rees in The Daily Telegraph.
The common denominator of all his urgent modern parables - even his adaptations of Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment - is the flawed hero who journeys towards some form of redemption. In America they schmaltzily call it the learning minute. It's a bit more visceral with Marchant.

"I'm a very lapsed Catholic," he says. "I suppose my interest in redemption must be a bit of me that I can't quite get rid of. Plus there's the very prosaic reason that if you are going to put people through three hours of shit, you need to give them something at the other end."

An interesting new initiative for unpublished authors, YouWriteOn is a website backed by the Arts Council.
The aim of is to help new writers develop and to help talented writers get noticed and published. We are funded by Arts Council, England - the UK’s largest grant giving body for the arts.

The premise is simple: you review and rate another members opening chapters and then your chapters are randomly sent to another member to review and rate in turn. Each month, the three highest rated new writers enter our Best Seller Chart and receive a free critique from one of our literary professionals, who include established authors and a literary agent.

The completed book of the highest rated opening chapters of the year will be awarded our Book of The Year Publishing Award – the author’s book will be published by YouWriteOn, available to order as a paperback through booksellers such as Amazon, W.H.Smith, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waterstones and most US and UK bookstores. The winner earns royalties, and sales made through booksellers such as Amazon will feature on Amazon’s own book charts.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hath not a playwright bills?

Join a debate about the difficulties facing new/young playwrights on The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog.

BBC White Paper

A "unique solution for a unique organisation" with measures to put the licence fee payer at the heart of everything the BBC does, were set out by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell today, as she published a white paper on the future of the corporation.

The white paper, A public service for all: the BBC in the digital age, confirms that the BBC will be overseen by a new Trust that is separate from its management and will actively work to ensure the interests of the public are paramount at all times.

Central to this will be ensuring that the cycle of Charter reviews can't dictate the BBC's approach to its services.

In addition, the white paper sets out in further detail how the BBC will be expected to reach a more consensual relationship with the media industry, providing transparency, certainty and clarity where its activities could have an impact on the wider market.

Ms Jowell also urged the BBC to "continue to take fun seriously" in the future, stressing that high quality entertainment remained a vital part of the corporation's mission.
More from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

There's lots of comment in all the newspapers, of course (e.g. MediaGuardian, The Times, and The Daily Telegraph) but most if not all of the contents of the White Paper were widely anticipated.

The common theme in most of the comment is that broadcasting is changing fast. As Torin Douglas says on BBC News: "Many in broadcasting find it hard to predict the next 10 months - let alone 10 years - so rapid is the pace of change in communications." Keeping pace with this change is and will continue to be the BBC's biggest challenge.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bill Hays obituary

In The Guardian, Alan Plater remembers film and theatre director Bill Hays.
Bill organised a meeting of pitman-turned-writer Sid Chaplin, songwriter Alex Glasgow and myself - all native sons of County Durham - in Sid's front room, and together we made the musical Close the Coalhouse Door, which opened triumphantly in Newcastle in April 1968. Later that year, it reached London's West End, where it played to rave reviews and minute audiences at the Fortune Theatre - or "the graveyard of champions", as we christened it.

BBC Last Laugh winner

James Donohue has won the BBC's Last Laugh competition.

In the contest to write the second half of sitcom scripts by established writers, Donahue chose to finish The Old Guys, started by Guild members Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong. It will be shown later this year.

It's been a strange competition. Getting eight half-completed sitcom scripts from writers as famous as Marks and Gran is quite an undertaking but, as we reported in January, the BBC never really gave the contest much publicity.

Harold Pinter interviewed

Having won the Europe Theatre prize, Harold Pinter was interviewed in Turin by Michael Billington - their discussion is printed in The Guardian.
I'm not aware of my consciousness working in that way at an early stage of writing. After it's got to a certain point, I then work very hard on the text, quite consciously. In other words, I just don't live in my unconscious the whole damn time. I keep an eye on it. But one of the most exciting things about being a writer is finding the life in different characters whom you don't know at all. To a certain extent, you've got to let them live their own life. But there's also a conflict constantly going on between you as the writer and them as the characters. Who's in charge? There's no easy answer to that. I suppose, finally, the author is in charge. Because, whether the character likes it or not, all I've got to do is take out my pen and do that (a gesture of erasure) and he's lost a line. It may be one of his favourite lines of dialogue [laughter]. But I've got the pen in my hand.
There are lots of references to Pinter's Nobel lecutre, which you can read online if you missed it first time round.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Lionel Shriver on success

Novelist Lionel Shriver spent years struggling for recognition, until last year she won the Orange Prize (for We Need To Talk About Kevin). But, as she writes in The Guardian, success has brought it's own problems.
...the biggest challenge to living in a limelight that has previously swept elsewhere goes to the core of your identity - of not just who you are to other people, but who you are to yourself. Before this last year, I had lived for decades in the literary hinterlands. Locating myself in the cultural margins provided a sense of identity just as geographical as my dozen years of residence in off-the-beaten-track Belfast. I had long thought of myself as an outsider, holding on in the world of letters by the skin of my teeth. Agreeably, I got used to people leaving me alone, and keeping their noses out of my business. Relocating myself closer to the cultural mainstream has upset my interior furniture, much as when you load your country house on to a flatbed tractor-trailer and drag it into the city, the walls can skew, and its accoutrements fall on the floor.

McGovern - ITV drama is "dross"

Top TV writer Jimmy McGovern has criticised prime-time ITV drama as "dross", reports Dave West for Digital Spy.
He said television drama in general was disappointing and singled out ITV and in particular Footballers' Wives, which he described as "dross". The writer was speaking at the launch of his new drama The Street on BBC One.

"A lot of my stuff has been crap but if I see anything on ITV at 9pm, I don't watch it," commented McGovern. "I tuned in to half an hour of Footballers' Wives and people tried to convince me it had a political angle. It didn't, it was dross."
McGovern himself is turning to musical theatre, according to Ben Dowell in Media Guardian (free registration required), working with composer Howard Goodall for a piece set in the 19th century cotton mills in the north of England and in the cotton fields of the American deep south.

BBC teen drama will show online

Wannabes a new BBC drama for teens, is being made specifically for the web.
Using a mixture of streamed video, interactivity, animation and games, Wannabes will encourage its web viewers to become part of the club crowd.

The Wannabes characters will ask for advice on their relationships and life choices and award viewers a rating, depending on how much they value them as a friend.
The show, written by Ariane Sherine and Will Jewell, will launch on in the autumn. As we reported in November, Wannabes follows in the footsteps of the BBC's fictional popstar, Jamie Kane, star of an interactive game for over-14s.

The Sopranos writers

On his always entertaining blog, Ken Levine sings the praises of The Sopranos, created by David Chase, and looks at the writers behind the penultimate series (the final series launched in America yesterday.)
Reprieved from an earlier post – some past credits of the SOPRANOS staff (not saying these are all bad shows, just somewhat different from what you might expect…so I don’t want a lot of comments saying how great Secret Squirrel was.):

The Magician
2 Stupid Dogs
Batman (the animated series)
Cover Me
Swat Kats
The In-Laws
Baby Blues
American Gothic
The New Flipper
The Naked Truth
Living in Captivity
Sister Sister
..... and of course – the Secret Squirrel Show.
As Levine also points out, most of the writers are in their fifties.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dan Brown's saving error

In the latest twist in the legal action faced by Dan Brown, accused of plagiarising another book to write his bestseller The Da Vinci Code, it seems that historical inaccuracy might come to his rescue. As Alan Hamilton writes in The Times:
According to [Brown] the Priory of Sion, alleged keeper of the secret of Christ's wife and children, was founded in Jerusalem during the Second Crusade in the reign of Baldwin II. But according to the authors of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, who are suing Brown for stealing their plot, the Priory was founded in 1099 during the First Crusade, and Baldwin did not ascend the throne of the ancient city until 1118.
The case is a reminder of how difficult it is to make a legal challenge to authorship. Unless something is copied word for word then it seems almost impossible to judge that plagiarism has occurred. A single chink in the prosecution case, (see above) can be enough for the defence to win.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Amazon planning to publish?

Following reports last year that Amazon was planning to publish fiction, there's more discussion about whether they, and the internet in general, are a threat to traditional publishers.

Is Liverpool's Culture dream in tatters?

When it was announced that Liverpool would be the European City of Culutre, there was great rejoicing. But, asks David Ward in The Guardian, will the dreams of a transforming event be realised?
The Mersey waterfront in Liverpool is both a world heritage site and one of the draughtiest places in western Europe; today a biting east wind is bullying the 16 flags that line the path from the maritime museum to the Pier Head.

Look closely and you will see that each flag announces that Liverpool will be European Capital of Culture in 2008 - but also that each flag is ragged and grubby. To your right lies an empty Porsche car showroom. By now it should have been flattened to create a spectacular site for the Cloud, a shimmering building designed for this space by the architect Will Alsop. Plans for the Cloud stirred up huge controversy, not least because no one seemed to know what was going to go in the building, but they helped win Liverpool the culture title. Now it will not be built because the money for it has already been diverted to other, less iconic, projects.

Sad flags and failed ambition: inauspicious signs, with less than two years to go, for what is meant to be a year of celebration for Liverpool.

Video games become BAFTA's 'third arm'

The growing importance of video games to entertainment culture has been recognised by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which has elevated the sector to become an equal to those for Film and Television. Champions of the moving image, BAFTA seeks to reward artistic and creative innovation within video games, as one of the principal contemporary art forms.

This newly defined status means The British Academy Video Games Awards are set to confirm their position as the most independent and valued awards in this arena. The British Academy Video Games Awards move to October 2006 to be positioned as the climax to London Games Week, a new set of major industry and consumer events set to be a highlight of the European gaming calendar.
More from the BAFTA press release (pdf file). Sadly there's no award for writing, even though the role of the games writer is getting much greater attention within the industry.

'Blooker' short-list announced

The first short-list for a literary prize that rewards bloggers turned bookwriters has been announced.

Dubbed the Blooker Prize, the contest is for those bloggers who have turned their episodic journals into something more substantial.
More from BBC News.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ivor Cutler

The poet, composer and perfomer Ivor Cutler has died at the age of 83. As The Times obituary notes:
Throughout his career Cutler remained the grit in the oyster of respectability. He did not dispute the description once given to him that he was a rather stupid genius. Such genius derived from his ability to view life from the opposite direction to that taken by society, and his ability to empathise with the implications of that viewpoint, as in his one-sentence poem: “A fly crouching in a sandwich cannot comprehend why it has become more than ordinarily vulnerable.”
There are also obituaries in The Guardian and Daily Telegraph. If you've never experienced Cutler's weirdly funny and sometimes unsettling poems, you can listen to some on his website.

Bond attacks Royal Court

Playwright Edward Bond has launched a blistering attack on modern theatre in general and the Royal Court in particular, reports Alistair Smith in The Stage.
Speaking at the ceremony for Arts Council England’s John Whiting Award, Bond dismissed modern theatre, claiming that “it only pretends to take risks” and “does not deal with the problems it should be dealing with”. He also rejected television and film as “soft fascism”, adding that “it does not really deal with the problems of society”.

However, he saved his final attack for the Royal Court, the venue which staged his break-through play Saved in 1965, saying: “When I began to write, the Royal Court was an oasis in a desert. It is now a graveyard in a desert.”

Pam Gems interview

In The Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish talks to playwright Pam Gems.
'A love letter to the theatre" - that's how Pam Gems describes her latest play, Mrs Pat, recalling a forgotten heroine of the British stage, Mrs Patrick Campbell (1865-1940). It's hard not to smile at this, because all Gems's plays might be summed up thus. From the show that first got her noticed in the mid-'70s, Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi, to the bio-dramas for which she is best known - Piaf, Marlene and Stanley (about Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Stanley Spencer) - an unmissable feature of her work is passion: passion for her subject, and passion for the medium she has chosen, or which chose her.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Are gays and lesbians being Tuned Out?

Tuned Out, a new report from gay rights group, Stonewall, argues that BBC TV is seriously failing gay, lesbian and bisexual viewers.
We monitored 168 hours of peak time TV on BBC One and BBC Two: during that time, lesbian and gay people and their lives were realistically and positively portrayed for just six minutes.
In Media Guardian (free registration required), Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill points the finger at EastEnders as one of the main offenders.
Its last gay visitor, from 2001 to 2005, was Derek. But to satisfy the prudes who appear to run East- Enders, Derek had almost no characterisation. In his tenure in Albert Square, whose other residents rival the Bloomsbury Group as bedhoppers, viewers never got a single meaningful insight into his private life. (The only evidence of his past was a - touch-free - chance encounter with a former boyfriend who turned out to be an entertainments manager in a holiday camp.)

Oscar triumph for Guild member

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, co-written by Guild member Bob Baker, has won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Guild member Jeffrey Caine, who was shortlisted for his adapatation of John le Carré's novel, The Constant Gardener, was beaten to the Oscar for Best Adapated Screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for Brokeback Mountain (from a short story by Annie Proulx).

The imitation game

The Dan Brown case sees the collision of two contradictory tendencies in modern culture. On the one hand, more and more ideas are owned, sold, and protected; but at the same time, more and more of what is on sale has been copied with very small variations from other things also on sale.
In The Guardian, Andrew Brown argues that too much copyright is a bad thing.
The real threat to creativity doesn't come from too much copying, but too little. Nothing can be learned except by imitation, and it's hard to imagine any worthwhile writer who did not start off imitating others.
Comment: many writers will have mixed feelings about the Dan Brown case. On the one hand writers' livlihoods depend on the ability to defend their copyright, as the litigants, Michael Baigent and Richard Leig claim to be doing. Yet most writers are also, to some extent, intellectual magpies, picking inspiration and ideas from a variety of sources, often unconsciously.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Gerald Kelsey

Screenwriter and founder member of the Guild, Gerlad Kelsey, has died. The funeral will take place at Eltham Crematorium at 11.45 a.m. on 10 March. Family flowers only, but donations to Woodland Trust or Cancer Research. For more information contact the Guild office.

There will be an obituary in the next issue of UK Writer.

Friday, March 03, 2006

More on self-publising

In The Guardian, Victor Keegan follows up his own previous article about self-publishing and printing on demand.
Self-publishing enables anyone to upload a book in digital form to a website, which then formats it complete with a cover. It costs anything from £4.50 (single proof of one book) to more than £500 for full personalised involvement of the publishing house at all stages, from starting up to getting a link to Amazon.

Print on demand enables unsigned authors to publish their books without having to pay for the first 500 or 1,000 copies, as they are simply downloaded from a database to be printed copy by copy as required.

When actors get fussy

Ken Levine recalls how he and co-writer David Isaacs kept the actors on MASH in line after receiving rather too many pernickety script notes.
The next time it occurred we went back to the room, addressed all of their minor concerns, and then made a one other little change of our own to the script. We made it a cold show.

The next day filming began at the Malibu ranch. Summer temperatures were routinely in the 90's and 100'’s. Now the cast was all in parkas standing over fire barrels delivering lines about how bitterly cold Korea was in the winter.

Ashley Pharoah interview

Danny Stack talks to TV writer Ashley Pharoah.
How did the idea for Life on Mars come about with co-creators Tony Jordan and Matthew Graham?

About eight years ago the production company KUDOS sent the three of us off to a hotel in Blackpool for a long weekend with the brief to come up with some series ideas. We had all just written on CITY CENTRAL and didn't fancy doing another cop show but somehow we got talking about THE SWEENEY and thought it would be amusing to see a techno modern cop in the seventies. It all mushroomed from that core idea.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Elmore Leonard wins Diamond Dagger

The Crime Writers' Association has awarded its Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2006 to American novelist, Elmore Leonard.

Leonard will be making a rare visit to London for the presentation of the award and said: "This is great news, by far the best kind of achievement award, to be recognised by fellow writers for the one thing I have ever wanted to do in my life, tell stories, what I've been doing for the past 55 years. I see the Diamond Dagger giving me a boost of energy, telling me to make the book I'm writing now the best one yet."
More from book2book.

Professionals and amateurs

Text of a (long) speech given by screenwriter John August about the distinction between being an amateur and professional writer.
When we say “professional,” I think what we’re really talking about is “professionalism,” which is this whole bundle of expectations about how a person is supposed to act.

World Book Day 2006

Just in case you didn't realise, today is World Book Day 2006.
World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and was marked in over 30 countries around the globe last year. The origins of the day we now celebrate in the UK and Ireland come from Catalonia, where roses and books were given as gifts to loved ones on St. George's Day − a tradition started some 80 years ago...A main aim of World Book Day is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

BBC to revive Play for Today

The Play for Today strand that helped launch the careers of Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Dennis Potter is to return next year, the BBC has confirmed.
The tentatively titled Evening Play will have a primetime slot on BBC One and will feature work by new writers.

A spokeswoman for the corporation said it was "very early days" and that no scripts had so far been commissioned.
More from BBC News.