Friday, April 28, 2006

Norman Morrill interview

Norman Morrill, creator of TV series Thief (currently running in the UK on Sky One), talks to the WGAw's Dylan Callaghan.
At the very start I said to FX it was going to be a black lead. We all know the challenges with something like that, but it was the story I wanted to tell, and I think it's the story with America right now.

Writers have a lot of clichés in this business like, “I want the city to be a character in the show.” Another one is, “I want to have race without it being racial.” I wanted it to be about the things that are racial without making a diatribe about race. It is what it is. This is America, and you deal with it as it comes. Nick's life is coming apart, but he knows a black man and a white girl in the South going out to dinner draws attention. I don't need to write two paragraphs of dialogue into somebody's mouth to make a point about that.
There's also an article about the show by Fiona Morrow in The Times.

Canongate’s MD to move to Granta

Canongates's MD, David Graham, will become MD of Granta Publications in the summer, taking a lead role in new owner, Sigrid Rausing’s plans to revitalise the Granta business. The new role will involve overall managerial and commercial responsibility for both Granta’s book and magazine divisions as well as at Portobello Books, where he will also become MD.
More from Publishing News.

Goldman is Soho's new artistic director

Lisa Goldman has been appointed as the new artistic director of Soho Theatre, replacing Abigail Morris who left the venue earlier this year.

Goldman co-founded new writing company The Red Room in 1995 and is currently its artistic director. While there she has produced work that includes Kay Adshead’s The Bogus Woman, Anthony Neilson’s Stitching and The Censor, and Parv Bancil’s Made in England.
More from The Stage.

James Patterson interview

In The Daily Telegraph Cassandra Jardine meets best-selling novelist James Patterson.
He considers himself a true thriller writer, unlike John Grisham: "He sets a good hook but then meanders. I set the hook, and keep setting the hook. Every chapter thrusts the story and the character forwards and turns on the movie projector in our heads."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

BBC programme catalogue

The BBC has launched an experimental programme catalogue. Seems to hold mostly pretty basic information, but it does have over 900,000 entries. Are your credits listed?

Young American novelist admits "copying"

We seem to be entering an age of plagiarism scandals. The latest concerns 19 year-old American Kaavya Viswanathan, who has admitted copying portions of her hit novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life.
Ms. Viswanathan, 19 and a sophomore at Harvard, has previously said her copying from two young adult novels by Megan McCafferty, "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings" was "unintentional and unconscious." In the interview, she said she had begun reading Ms. McCafferty's books when she was in high school and had read both books three or four times. She said she had last read Ms. McCafferty's novels in the fall of her senior year; she did not begin working on the manuscript that eventually became "Opal" until months afterward.
More from Dinitia Smith in The New York Times.

Actors might escape smoking ban

Actors may be exempted from the smoking ban if lighting up on stage or in front of the cameras is a key part of their performance, health officials say.
Characters like Absolutely Fabulous's chain-smoking Patsy would not be able to smoke on set or on stage if next summer's ban in England goes ahead.

Theatres also argued they would not be able to portray historic figures like the cigar-smoking Winston Churchill.

Exemptions are now being considered where smoking is integral to the plot.
More from BBC News.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BBC Creative Future

The BBC today unveiled Creative Future, a new editorial blueprint designed to deliver more value to audiences over the next six years and turn the BBC's public purposes laid out in the recent Government White Paper into quality content for the on-demand world.
Plans include:
Create a new teen brand delivered via existing broadband, TV and radio services, including a new long-running drama and comedy, factual and music content

In Drama – create fewer titles with longer runs, find creative space for outstanding writers and cherish the programmes audience love best like EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City

In Comedy – improve the creative pipeline across all platforms, pilot more shows, find new talent and build the big hits for BBC ONE
More from the BBC Press Office.

Guild website and email

We're still having server problems so the Guild website and office email is likely to be down for the rest of the day. Sorry about that. I'll post any updates as soon as we have them.

"I'll have what she's having"

A terrific analysis of the famous When Harry Met Sally fake orgasm scene, by Billy Mernit.
The credible context for this fake orgasm stunt is a New York deli -- in itself a brilliant, necessary choice, in obeying the genre's exploit-all-reversals edict: the original scene was written for an apartment, and according to Ephron it was Ryan who wisely suggested it going public. Rom-com humor's well-spring is embarrassment: things private going public is one of the genre's fundamental comedic reversals.

More on Harley Granville Barker

With Granville Barker's classic play, The Voysey Inheritance, opening at the National Theatre this week, director David Farr argues in The Guardian that now id the time to move beyond the theatrical realism that he began.
It is also clear that we must redefine the whole meaning of "new work". Granville Barker relentlessly championed the importance of new work at the beginning of the 20th century. It is time for us to take up his challenge once again at the start of the 21st - but in a new way. New work can no longer be restricted to a conventional writing process. Writers, directors and performers are working as never before to unearth new ways of telling new stories.

I think that far from being threatened by this collaborative way of working, the writer will emerge stronger. We are already seeing this in the relationship between the writer David Eldridge and the director Rufus Norris: their collaboration on Festen was the great hit of 2004 and has directly led to a hugely ambitious new piece for the National, Market Boy. In the autumn the Lyric will present Pool (No Water), a new collaboration between physical movement company Frantic Assembly and the writer Mark Ravenhill. There is an explosion of possibility in our form right now, and what we don't need is anyone pulling us back by the reins.

The economics of publishing

A fascination breakdown of the economics of American publishing, by Anna Louise on Live Journal.

Monday, April 24, 2006

BBC Series Writers Academy

The BBC is inviting applications for the second year of its Series Writers Academy.

In order to apply you must have had a television or radio drama or a short film (not a student film) produced, or a theatre piece performed professionally. The closing date for entries is 15 May 2006.

The training you receive from BBC Drama Series Writers Academy will give you the specific skills required to write for some of the BBC'’s most popular format series such as Doctors, EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty.

Potential writers will have already had at least one film, television or radio drama script produced or one theatre piece performed professionally. The Writers Academy will train up to 8 writers a year, over a period of twelve months.
For an insight into last year's recruitment process, Danny Stack has the inside story of his own near miss.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Guild's website and email

We're switching servers this weekend ahead of the launch of a new-look website. Hopefully any disruption will be minimal but bear with us if there are any problems.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Watson’s Wind-Up

A new opportunity from BBC Writersroom:
Watson’s Wind-Up is a topical sketch show broadcast on Saturdays at 12:35pm on BBC Radio Scotland. The show is inviting unsolicited submissions for the remaining episodes of the current series.

The show has a cast of three, led by the mimicry talents of Jonathan Watson, and ably supported by Tom Urie and Gabriel Quigley. Writers should bear in mind we have a cast of two men and a woman when submitting material and try to tailor their ideas to fit with the show.

We’re looking for anything topical that week, from 10 seconds to two minutes. As the show airs on Radio Scotland the stories should ideally have a Scottish angle, but for the biggest international stories, this isn’t too crucial. For people living out of Scotland and unfamiliar with the show, it is available on Listen Again.

Please submit any material to by noon on Thursdays 20 April, 27 April and 4 May.

Friends writers cleared

Dirty jokes and sexual conversation among the writers of hit sitcom Friends did not amount to sexual harassment of an assistant, a US court has ruled.

The California Supreme Court has rejected a claim by Amaani Lyle, 32, who transcribed the writing sessions.

"Sexual antics and sexual discussions" by the show's writers were not aimed at Ms Lyle, Justice Marvin Baxter decided.
More from BBC News.

Ken Levine also has a take on the story.
If you were ever to be in one of these rooms you would likely be appalled, offended, even outraged…but you would never laugh so much and so hard in your life.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hanif Kureishi Q&A

At the launch BBC Writersroom's new mentoring scheme, Hanif Kureishi took part in a Q&A.
Sometimes when you begin to write you almost begin to feel an enormous sense of self-disgust and great sense of 'oh my god, how could anyone write this rubbish?' All these voices start to crowd onto you as you begin to write - the hardest thing is to carry on writing with all the other voices chattering at you continuously saying 'you're an idiot, this is rubbish, get a proper job' etc.

You need to be able to hold all that off in order to have a clean space to work out what your thoughts are. The hardest bit of writing is to clear out all those interferences.

Downloadable movies

A top producer of hard-core porn will start selling downloadable movies that customers can burn to DVD and watch on their TVs, illustrating how Southern California's multibillion-dollar adult entertainment industry may again set the technological pace for Hollywood.

Letting people burn downloaded movies is considered key to the growth of online distribution. Despite the proliferation of fast Internet connections, most people still want to watch movies on television but lack an easy way to get them off the computer. Plus, hard drives can store only so many space-hogging movies.
More from Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claire Hoffman in The LA Times.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Author of The Graduate faces eviction

The author behind the film The Graduate faces eviction from his home in East Sussex because of rent arrears.

Novelist Charles Webb, 66, and his partner have only days to pay two months' overdue rent, totalling nearly £1,600, on their flat in Hove.

Mr Webb wrote the book on which the 1967 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft was based.

The Californian author accepted a one-off payment of £14,000 for the novel, while the film made £60m.
More from BBC News.

Wired magazine on videogames

The April issue of Wired magazine is a videogames special, including an article by guest editor Will Wright.
In an era of structured education and standardized testing ...[the] generational difference might not yet be evident. But the gamers' mindset - the fact that they are learning in a totally new way - means they'll treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption. This is the true impact videogames will have on our culture.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Craig Mazin interview

One of the writers of Scary Movie 4, Craig Mazin, interviewed by Dylan Callaghan for the Writers Guild of America west.
Because I was raised in the era of the personal computer, everything I do is typed. I have a very odd mechanic to my writing. I call it “ebb and flow.” My wife says when I'm writing, she hears constant typing, but I'm not always moving forward. A lot of times I'm whacking the delete key. It's about steady motion.

Muriel Spark obituaries

There have, of course, been obituaries for Muriel Spark in all the main papers over the weekend, including The Independent. There have also been tributes from, among others, AS Byatt.
One of my favourites [of Spark's stories] is 'The Driver's Seat'. It is about a woman who decides she's going to get herself killed. At the beginning she is buying garish clothes to attract a murderer; at the end she has found him and is dead. The character devises and executes the plot, and it says something very odd about who is "responsible" for evil. The murderer is a kind of victim.

It was the originality of the idea that I admired. You had the feeling that it wasn't Spark the writer who was judging the characters, but some unchanging Divine Justice. This allowed her to have her detached, even flatly sardonic tone. She was a very moral writer, but in a wicked sort of way.
More tributes from:David Lodge, Mark Lawson, Allan Massie.

Mike Leigh interviews

With his play Two Thousand Years back in repertoire at The National Theatre, Guild member Mike Leigh is interviewed in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
"To be honest, the way I work, which involves sharing and being open, to a great extent derives specifically from the open, healthy democratic and creative environment of the kibbutz," he says.

Resurgence of the short story

A few years ago short stories were commonly seen as a safe and unexciting form, says Annie Kirby in The Guardian. But the mood has changed, helped by several major new short story prizes.
Far from being safe, the short story is hazardous territory for writers, the degree of risk inversely proportional to the word count. There is room for forgiveness in a novel, but botch a sentence in a 500-word story and there is no space to recover. There is also risk in the necessary ambiguity of short stories. The writer, with so little time to tell the tale, must trust the reader to take responsibility for filling in the gaps.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

How to be a good showrunner

Advice from Ken Levine, a man who should know better than most.
People ask me what’s it like to be a showrunner. I tell them “did you see the end of BONNIE & CLYDE?” It is a constant barrage of problems coming at you from all directions. It can be overwhelming…which is why I’d take the show runner from any well run series and replace Bush with him immediately.

Blogs and plogs

Spike Magazine has a round-up of some interesting literary blogs, including Ian Hocking's experiment with Amazon's new author blogging tool.
AmazonConnect is a newish scheme launched by, who else,, in which authors can contribute to a blog whose entries then appear on the personalized pages of readers who bought their book. Apparently, entries also show up on book searches, so we authors can reach readers who have yet to wallow in the muddy delights of our fiction.
They're called "plogs", apparently.

Rejection letters

When editors and agents reject a manuscript they tend to use a tried and trusted formulation: 'Thank you for your submission, which I read and enjoyed. Unfortunately I don't feel it is quite right for us.' John Howard's children's book, The Key to Chintak, garnered so many of these identikit responses that he suspected the editors and agents weren't even bothering to turn the title page.

So he sent in a new manuscript, The Tin Drum, not his own words this time but extracts from a washing-machine manual.

After a delay the replies started to arrive. You've guessed it: 'Thank you for your submission, which I read and enjoyed. Unfortunately…'
More from Mark Sanderson in The Daily Telegraph.

BBC Decades

BBC Two is set to commission 30 single dramas from different writers for a landmark series called Decades. Making the announcement, Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, said:
30 single films, scripted by 30 of the best British writers - Decades will chart the last 35 years of our social, political and cultural history, providing an incredibly rich picture of our past through the individual voices of 30 British writers.

We are in discussion with a number of writers, and ideas are still being formulated, but the ambition at the heart of this project is to capture the essence of the last four decades which will resonate with our audience on a very personal level.
More from the BBC Press Office.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dream Team to finish

Dream Team, Sky One's long-running drama about Harchester football club, has been cancelled after 10 years by the channel's new director of programmes, Richard Woolfe.

Jane Hewland, the programme's creator and executive producer, said today the 10th series of the Sunday night drama now in production would be the last.

Ms Hewland, who makes Dream Team through her independent production company, Hewland International, added that she had probably made a mistake by killing off a lot of characters at the beginning of the current series, which had led to a collapse in ratings.
More from Maggie Brown in Media Guardian (free registration required).

BAFTA TV Craft Awards

Nominations have been announced for the 2006 BAFTA TV Craft Awards. Up for the writers' award are Andrew Davies (Bleak House), Russell T Davies (Doctor Who), Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (Extras) and Peter Kosminsky (The Government Inspector).

The awards will be presented on 19 May.

Imagine - Radio 2 competition

In collaboration with BBC writersroom, BBC Radio 2 have launched a national competition for new drama, asking writers to imagine an encounter with their music legend and use it to create imaginative, original drama.

Be funny, be bold, tell a great story in less than 10 minutes.

You can meet anyone, be anyone, go anywhere, do anything... Turn your dramatic ideas into a radio drama between three and ten minutes long and it could be broadcast on the Mark Radcliffe show.
More form BBC writersroom.

ITV2 to develop new comedy

ITV2 is to plough millions into boosting its comedy output in a bid to become a breeding ground for big-hitting shows that can transfer on to the main channel.

The network is keen to use its digital channels to increase audiences in the genre, into which ITV has found notoriously difficult to break. It is hoped the move will enable the broadcaster to develop projects over time and help it emulate the success of shows such as Little Britain, which aired on radio before transferring to BBC3 and later BBC1.
More from Liz Thomas in The Stage.

Up Jimmy's Street

Guild member Jimmy McGovern interviewed by Carol Midgely in The Times ahead of his new TV series, The Street, which starts on Thursday.
Jimmy McGovern suggests meeting in The Grapes, a working man’s pub near his home in Liverpool that has an abundance of fruit machines and the TV racing on at full volume. I had expected him to pick his local, another traditional pub called the White Horse, but it turns out that it’s non-smoking now, so that is that.

“Smoking and drinking are the tools of the trade,” he says slightly ruefully, lighting up a fag. “Do you want another glass of lager?” Human weakness in the face of temptation is, of course, McGovern’s stock-in-trade. Alcoholism, gambling addiction, adultery, rape and, ultimately, guilt and death are the engines that have driven his dramas from Cracker to The Lakes. Other writers use these themes, naturally, but nobody does it quite like the Master. McGovern is renowned for having zero squeamishness around ugly subjects.

Harley Granville-Barker

He ushered in contemporary drama, drew up the blueprint for a national company, and wrote gripping, complex plays, yet Harley Granville-Barker is little known today. Richard Eyre, former director of the National Theatre, pays tribute to a forgotten hero.
More in The Daily Telegraph. Granville-Barker's play, The Voysey Inheritance previews at the National Theatre from 18 April.

Jason Smilovic interview

Screenwriter Jason Smilovic (Lucky Number Slevin), interviewed by Michael O'Sullivan for The LA Times.
"Now, as a working writer, I know that writing is torture. Writing is work. Writing is hell. I hate those writers who say that writing isn't work and that it comes easy and that they think that everything that they write is great. Let me be very clear: Writing is very much work for me. And I hate everything I write."

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

American comic book writer and playwright, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, interviewed by David Cote in The New York Times.
"One of the best things that happened for me as a playwright is becoming a comic-book writer," said Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa, who was a devoted comic-book collector growing up in Nicaragua and Washington, and who likes his characters to have a theatrical bent. (In one issue, the Human Torch snags tickets to "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.") "When you tell people you're a playwright, their eyes sort of glaze over," he said. "But when you say you write the 'Fantastic Four' or 'Spider-Man,' they perk up. It's a touchstone that has gained more credibility as artistic expression."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Andrew Crumey interview

In The Independent Scarlett Thomas talks to physicist and novelist Andrew Crumey.
"To me, a novel is made up; it is a fiction. But it's the paradox of being unreal and real at the same time that interests me. F Scott Fitzgerald talked about the importance of being able to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time. It's a very child-like way to be as well. Even as grown-ups we go to a magic show and we can be impressed by the illusion and we don't want to know how the trick is done. That's what novels are like."

Da Vinci Code case implications

What are the implications of Dan Brown's successful defence for breach of copyright?

Jon Silverman has a good summary for the BBC.
Since there is no copyright in an idea, any claim for breach of copyright must rest on the way that the idea is expressed.

In this case, it was described as the "architecture" or "structure" of the work, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

The plaintiffs claimed that this structure - the central theme - had been lifted by Dan Brown for the Da Vinci Code.

The judge rejected this claim even though he said that Brown had copied some language from the earlier book.

But to suggest, as Gail Rebuck, the chief executive of Random House, did outside court, that the judgement represented a significant victory for creative freedom, is probably going too far.

The judge himself acknowledged that nothing in the plaintiffs' case would have stultified creative endeavour or extended the boundaries of copyright protection.
There's comment from most of press, including The Daily Telegraph. A summary of the judgement appears in The Times.

Bryony Lavery interview

Playwright Bryony Lavery tells Lyn Gardner in The Guardian about how she has recovered from the accusations of plagiarism that threatened her career.
"The only thing to do was to write my way through the dark times. And I discovered a joy in it. I had always taken a pleasure in writing, but the joy became deeper, perhaps because what had happened had made me more serious and more rigorous and made me realise just how important every word is." She laughs. "I suppose you could say that I drew on the pain creatively." She raises an eyebrow. "That's writers for you. We use everything."
Lavery was accused of lifting arguing passages for her play Frozen from an article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker in 1997. The case never came to trial and many people, including Gladwell himself, supported her.

"I have changed the way I write. I make sure that I've left any research that I've done a very long way behind," she says. "What happened has made me much more careful and that's a good thing. I think, writing Frozen, I was immensely naive and very stupid. Frozen's subject matter was so thorny I wanted it to be completely accurate, but that meant I wasn't as careful as I should have been. It is typical of me: if I was going to make a mistake, it was going to be a big one."

101 Greatest Screenplays

The two American Guilds have announced the results of their members' poll for the Top 100 Screenplays of all time. No great surprises, but it got some press coverage even in the UK, which should help people realise that films do actually have writers.

The winner was Casablanca, written by Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein and Howard Koch based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Court rejects Da Vinci copy claim

The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown did not breach the copyright of an earlier book, London's High Court has ruled.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who wrote 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, sued Random House, publisher of both books.

Mr Brown said the verdict "shows that this claim was utterly without merit".

"I'm still astonished that these two authors chose to file their suit at all," he added.
More from BBC News.

Mark Barty-King tributes

In Publishing News, Patrick Janson-Smith remembers publisher Mark Barty-King. There's also an obituary by Mike Shaw in The Guardian.
Against the apparent modern trend, the publisher Mark Barty-King, who has died aged 68, believed that "the author is the most important person on the block". He understood the importance of personal relationships. His authors were often surprised to find that the receptionist knew who they were, that their books had been widely read throughout the company and that high hopes were not confined to their editor.

Is there such a thing as feminine writing?

Caroline Phillips in The Independent reports from The Hindustan Times Kitab Festival in Delhi.
One topic that has already got feathers flying is the subject of women's writing. For a start, there's the category itself. "Woman writer!" exclaims [Githa] Hariharan. "It's not a terribly useful label if it just becomes lazy, a way to ghettoise." [Deborah] Moggach says: "I don't really like separating women from men novelists. Most female novelists of any calibre are not writing novels that remotely suggest that they're written by women."

Kapoor hotly counters this view: "Of course women's writing is different from men's," says the best-selling author of Difficult Daughters, and professor of English at Delhi University. "It's bound to be. Our experiences are different."

Chinese PEN complains about Yahoo

The director of Chinese Independent PEN Centre's Writers in Prison Committee, Yu Zhang, has lodged a formal complaint against Yahoo for its alleged part in the conviction of Chinese journalist and poet Shi Tao.
More from Richard Lea in The Guardian.

Marc Cherry - the man behind Desperate Housewives

Marc Cherry interviewed by Tony Vitale for the Writers Guild of America, west.
“I always thought my mother had this wonderful life, that she had everything she wanted,” Cherry says. “To discover there were these moments of great frustration and desperation for her-that discovery just rocked my world. If my mother had those problems, then there were other women who must have those feelings too.”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Will and Me, by Dominic Dromgoole

Dominic Dromgoole, soon to take over as artistic director at London's Globe Theatre, has just published a book on Shakespeare, called Will and Me.

In a glowing review in the Telegraph, Charles Spencer writes:

"Will and Me is actually less indebted to the mountain of scholarly volumes on Shakespeare than it is to Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch. There's a similarly blokeish tone, but instead of expounding on his love of a football club, Dromgoole describes a lifelong passion for Shakespeare."

New Officers For The Writers’ Guild

From the Writers' Guild e-bulletin (emailed free of charge to all guild members every Friday)

The next Chair of the Writers’ Guild will be Katharine Way, whose work has frequently been seen on The Bill, EastEnders, Casualty, and other top TV series. She has twice been nominated for Writers’ Guild awards for her work on The Bill. Katharine has been elected unopposed and will take up the position at the Guild AGM in London on Friday 19 May 2006. She takes over from TV writer and novelist Graham Lester George, who has been Chair for the past three years. Katharine Way is also a founder and the present Chair of the Screenwriters Workshop.

The two new Deputy Chairs – also elected unopposed – will be Rupert Creed and J.C. Wilsher. Rupert, who has written extensively for the theatre and BBC radio, is returning to a position he held several years ago. John Wilsher, a TV writer best known for The Bill and Between The Lines, is a past President of the Guild.

Full election results can be found in the ebulletin.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

ND/NF, Day 6

Twelve and Holding

After two days in Europe, it's time to get back on the US indie track. Four years ago, commercial director and photographer Michael Cuesta splashed on the scene with his impressive feature debut L.I.E. First shown in the UK at the London Film Festival, the film expressed the loneliness of Long Island suburban teens without the over-eager posturing of American Beauty or the pitch-black humour of Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness). L.I.E. showed to which extent teenagers will go to find love, warm and affection in the absence of caring, focused parents. Much like Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin, the film nudges a lonely teen towards a pedophile without letting the story be about sex, sleaze or sensationalism.

All of these films are about spoilt American adults who are too busy with their own lives to see the needs of their own off-spring. None of them are about sex, because the characters don't have time for that. There are second jobs to be held down, second mortgages to be paid, mistresses to buy jewellery for. Cuesta's follow-up Twelve and Holding returns to the same territory. This time the protagonists are a few years younger than in L.I.E. but the burdens they carry are no less heavy. Cuesta didn't write this film, newcomer Anthony Cipriani did, but he was interested in revisiting L.I.E. territory because as he explains in the press notes, "My own children happen to be young right now, so that's spilling into what I'm reading, writing and how I respond to the world."

In contrast to the low-key subtle tone of L.I.E, Twelve and Holding is blessed with a keen sense of humour. Not nearly as dark as Solondz's, but it does an excellent job in driving home the point that sometimes children are more in touch with their feelings and their place in the world than adults are.

Jacob hides a huge red birthmark behind the ski mask that he wears permanently. He discards it when his twin brother, who was always the brighter, better one, is tragically killed by malicious classmates. His parents go into a tailspin after the death of their favourite one, so Jacob decides to chart a course of his own. His friend Malee is the free-spirited Asian daughter of a white therapist who is very busy listening to strangers who pay her to do that. Malee's nascent awareness of her body puts her on a collision course with one of her Mom's very attractive patients. Finally, their very overweight friend Leonard sees the light when his gym teacher gives him a book on nutrition and exercise. Re-educating his parents, the ones who 'love' him with huge quantities of comfort food, proves to be harder than he thought. Drastic measures are called for.

The plot's denouements veer towards the farcical territory of Solondz's latest film Palindromes, which is alright, since by then both Cuesta and Cipriano have invested a great deal in the characters' emotional baggage and they do it in their own way. This is not a film about messed-up teenagers, it's about messed-up 'adults' who think about their own needs first. Like Palindromes, it is a scathing critique of the American soul that wants MORE! NOW! Palindromes had trouble landing an American distributor and the first American reviews of Twelve and Holding are not enthusiastic, but that is probably because most Americans do not take kindly to the reflection in the mirror. Cipriano's warm humour and the children's entrancing performances make the film less of a sociopolitical treatise, but simply another impressive notch on the bedpost of New York indie cinema: the perfect conclusion of this year's New Director/New Films series.

Monday, April 03, 2006

ND/NF, Day 5


After yesterday's successful detour to Europe, I decided to linger on that continent for a while. Texas is not the latest American indie flick shot on a borrowed digital camera by a few college students in Austin. Evoking the wide-open spaces and car culture of Dubya's fair state, the film's narrator describes his small hometown as a sort of Italian Last Picture Show in the semi-rural province of Piemonte.

Italian cinema is not in a good place. Once celebrated, it is still coasting on the international success of 2003's international hit La Meglio Gioventù (The Best of Youth) by Marco Tullio Giordano. In Italy, most cultural organisations are run by political appointees, ranging from film funds and the Cinecittå studio to the Venice film festival. Since Italian politics are in the firm grip of Mr. Berlusconi, he also has quite a considerable influence on the film industry. As a result, filmmakers are not exactly lining up to protest å la Nanni Moretti and his '70s inspired social criticism. In the last couple of years, most of the films shown at foreign festivals have been either introspective documentaries about rural life or introspective features about rural life. To make a film about life in the big city, you end up tackling big issues and that doesn't seem to be possible in today's Italy.

Texas is no exception. Written by the young Italian playwright and actor Fausto Paradivino, it shows a group of young locals in small Piemonte town. They are in their late twenties, early thirties and their rich friend's house allows them to party as much as they want in a desperate effort to stave off adulthood. Of course they are still living with their parents, so they're doing pretty well on that score. When one of them starts cheating on his girlfriend with the local school mistress, the tension in the group rises and rises, until it boils over to the rest of the town. This may be foggy Northern Italy, but the locals do like their drama in this part of the country too.

The teacher is played by a miraculously toned down Valeria Golino, one of Italy's most well-known actresses, who does get to play her trademark sex pot, albeit with very little make-up and frumpy outfits. Her young lover is played by current teen idol Riccardo Scamarcio, who does a believable job in portraying a spoilt male predator, not a very complex role to perform.

The rest of the group is played by young actors and associates of Paradivino. Two main roles within the group are played by his co-screenwriters, Iris Fusetti and Carlo Orlando. Their familiarity with each other is obvious, which helps in creating a believable sense of community. This makes the viewer more involved when the dynamics start to tear the group apart. Their flawed characters make them more interesting than the hot lead characters; it's a pleasure to watch the back-and-forth between them. Paradivino is obviously a actor's director. Most impressive however is the fact that he doesn't go for the shoot-out. The drama whipped up in the usually dormant town does not get played out to fatal consequences, as its characters are ultimately more interested in preserving harmony. This act of tenderness is usually the hallmark of the older, more mature writer, and we can only hope Paradivino and his screenwriting/acting friends go on to do more works like this.

Because of the unique way it's funded....

Interesting comment piece in today's Guardian, about the future of BBC funding. MeidaGuardian editor Emily Bell argues that the corporation's decision to start charging overseas users for access to its popular websites is part of a plan to make the BBC self-sufficient if and when the licence fee is axed. Bell, who runs the Guardian's own online empire, is a direct cyber-competitor of the BBC's.,,1745319,00.html

Waterloo Road recomissioned

BBC1's Waterloo Road has been recommissioned despite lacklustre ratings. BBC drama controllre, Jane Tranter, asked production company Shed to make 12 more episodes for next year, after eight episodes were commissioned for series one.

Shed also produces Bad Girls and Footballers' Wives.

Read the full story in today's Guardian's online:,,1745771,00.html

Sunday, April 02, 2006

ND/NF, Day 4

First on the Moon

After yesterday's disappointing Old Joy, it's time to make a U-turn towards the other end of the spectrum. The Dutch 30-minute 'short' Still World and the Russian feature First on the Moon celebrate monochrome celluloid, photography and genuine experimentation.

Still World by newcomer Elbert van Strien charts a journalist's descent into paranoia through a series of black and white film stills. Shot digitally by one of Holland's most adventurous DP's, Guido van Gennep, the resulting 'film' has been transferred to 35mm. The succession of photos acquires a rhythm of its own, always in tandem with the journalist's voice-over and strategically placed sound effects. The journalist gets a mild case of mid-life crisis when his untalented friend Max publishes a novel. This soon spirals into conspiracy theories and ends in a Paul Auster-like chase.

First of the Moon also relishes the power of the black and white image. Alexey Fedorchenko comes from the Ural mountains, Russia's isolated heartland. Although he trained at the VGIK film school in Moscow, he's been affiliated with the local Sverdlovsk studio. To be at the center of such a vast country must give artists plenty to think about without too many outside distractions.

If First of the Moon has any influences to show for, it is probably the hand of fellow Sverdlovsk-born filmmaker Alexey Balabanov (Brat, War). Balabanov's Of Freaks and Men (1998) is the sepia-toned story of a German photographer's career in 19th century St. Petersburg, where he becomes the city's first pornographer. First of the Moon is a faux documentary about a top secret mission. Apparently, at the height of Stalinist terror, a group of cosmonauts made it to the moon as early as 1938. Just like his more well-known colleague Balabanov, Fedorchenko must have had a ball constructing the fake historical sequences, sepia-toned photo materials and humorous situations. His pleasure beams from the big screen at Lincoln Center, where such celebration of the medium truly belongs.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

ND/NF, Day 3

Old Joy

After seeing two genuinely well-made NY indies, I eagerly rushed into the screening room to see Old Joy by Kelly Reichardt, another New York native. One of the main roles is played by cult muso Will Oldham. It was executive produced by indie star director Todd Haynes and the film had won a Tiger Award at the Rotterdam, which is usually reserved for successful cinematic pioneering.

Unfortunately, the Rotterdam Tigers must have had an off-day, because Old Joy looks remarkably similar to the type of well-meaning, but ultimately not convincing video features spawned by the Land of the Free and the Home of the Shortcut. Shooting on video because you can't afford film is not a great opportunity for undiscovered talent. It's a shortcut that almost never works. Old Joy was shot on 16mm, but screened digitally to save money, something which American critic Dave Kehr claims is not visible. Well, it is. Please people, if you're going to shoot a Hou Hsiao Sien-inspired meditation on the healing powers of nature, don't involve pixels. They are not easy on the eye, the green is too green, the light is too harsh and it ends up looking like a cheap-ass nature program on Japanese TV.

Secondly, like any other U.S. indie, the film contains a great deal of verbal sparring between Kurt (Oldham), a free spirit who drags his old friend Mark (Daniel London) away from his highly pregnant passive-aggressive wife for a weekend of camping in one of Washington State's impressive national parks. Kurt misses the good old days and vies for Mark's attention with exactly the same kind of nagging that poor embattled Mark has to endure from his wife. Oldham's performance is both wooden and smug at the same time, while London's role isn't meaty enough to portray much more than a hotly-pursued pretty boy with soulful eyes.

They go camping in the mountains and find a tucked-away hot spring. Reichardt inserts close-ups of snails and ferns to emphasize the meditative powers of nature, but it feels like a contrived mechanism, not part of the film as a whole. No film that includes huge chunks of dialogue neatly conveying the characters' emotions is suddenly going to turn into an introspective art gem. Man Push Cart is a successful film because it makes the viewers guess about its characters' inner life, rather than have them pour out their hearts to the first available victim. Mark's uptightness finally melts away in the hot spring, where Kurt offers a deep tissue shoulder massage. Reichardt hints at a happy ending by showing Mark's hand with his wedding ring slip into the water when he lets go of his tensions. I'm sure there are more poetic ways to show the delights of a hand job, especially if you are going to emulate Asian masters of visual restraint.

Another American critic, Emanuel Levy, doesn't understand why the Sundance festival put Old Joy in its experimental Frontier section and not in its competition. At the opening night reception in the lobby of the MoMA, a New York Post critic proclaimed that he really likes the film too. It seems people are really hungry to embrace new American indie talent. Well, Sundance director Geoff Gilmore may know something that the Tiger jury didn't. To paraphrase New York's dating manual du jour (He's Just Not That Into You), "the film just isn't that good". But as the ND/NF program shows, there are lots of other homegrown productions to love.