Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The State Within

The young man glances across the table. Behind designer glasses, his gaze is penetrating, analytical. “If I told you that,” he says, quietly, “I’d have to kill you.” A chilling moment, but this is not a line from The State Within, the BBC’s all-crashing, all-exploding new conspiracy thriller. It’s a different kind of “ line” from Daniel Percival, who co-wrote the show with Lizzie Mickery. His annoying phrase is a national cliché, particularly among TV folk desperate not to give too much away too soon.

Percival is referring to the new show’s plot. And the issues it raises. And its themes and preoccupations. The effect isn’t so much chilling as frustrating. When I meet the writers in a Soho café, I haven’t even seen episode one. Getting them to explain what it’s about is like trying to suck juice out of a cream cracker. “It’s set in the British Embassy in Washington, so is it a political thriller like State of Play?” “No.” “A spy thriller — is it a bit like Spooks?” “Not at all.”
More from Paul Hoggart in The Times. The State Within is on BBC One this Thursday at 9pm.

The State WithinJason Isaacs in The State Within, written by Daniel Percival and Lizzie Mickery. (Photo: BBC/Ben Mark Holzberg)

Where have the good new playwrights gone?

In The Guardian, Lyn Gardner laments a lack of new playwriting talent.
A decade ago this week British theatre was enjoying its greatest flowering of new writing since the Jacobeans. Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking had just opened at the Royal Court Upstairs at the Ambassadors, just one of an abundance of new plays written by emerging talents such as Martin McDonagh, David Eldridge, Simon Bent, Nick Grosso and David Greig who all premiered their first major plays during 1996.

A decade on, all those writers are going strong, but where are the emerging talents of today? My guess is that they are clogged up somewhere in Britain's burgeoning playwrighting schemes unable to find their way out. Over the last few years many theatres have put in place extensive play development programmes, yet despite these schemes there has been a tailing off in good new plays by great new writers since the heady days of the mid-90s.

Paul Abbott sounds off

Paul AbbottIn The Independent, Paul Burrell talks to Paul Abbott
Press references that place the word "scriptwriter" ahead of his name are often "pejorative", he claims. "There's one journalist who does it quite often and says 'the scriptwriter Paul Abbott'. I think, 'You can't still be saying that.' I've got five lifetime achievement awards and a better writing style than you."
As ever, Abbott has numerous projects on the go. As well as the new series of Shameless, and various productions through his company, Tightrope Pictures, he is writing new work for stage and screen.
He will shortly ... make a musical feature film about the BNP in Burnley. He won't be asking the locals to contribute suggestions for the script. "I don't want putting off. I'm not going to canvass their opinions - I don't want them to shape my film. If you import too many of other people's philosophies you can't be a writer."

Abbott, whose production company Tightrope Pictures has offices in London and Manchester, is also working on a new project for Channel 4, Mrs In-Betweeny, a sort of transsexual Mrs Doubtfire. "It's about stripping away gender to teach kids that are divorced that there's no superior authority one way or the other," he explains.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tim Kring - the man behind Heroes

On Tuesday, after NBC got the ratings for the latest episode of its new serial drama “Heroes,” Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment, was ready to make it official.

“We have the only real hit of the fall, and it’s growing,” Mr. Reilly said.
In The New York Times, Bill Carter profiles Heroes creator/writer/producer, Tim Kring.
That “Heroes” broke through came as a surprise in some quarters; but NBC, putting more marketing effort behind “Heroes” than any other fall series, had pegged it, Mr. Reilly said, as its best hope.

All of those expectations rested on the slim shoulders of Tim Kring, a veteran writer and producer whose previous credits would hardly have foretold the creation of a show so sublimely in tune with the Internet-television-comic-book nexus that it was the hit of last summer’s Comic-Con International convention in San Diego.

When Mr. Kring and the cast appeared there for a screening of the pilot, the reaction was electric. “The first thing I saw was a guy jumping up and down with a horn coming out of his head,” Mr. Kring said. “The next thing I saw was a 400-pound Harry Potter sitting there with a wand.”
There's another interview with Kring on the NBC website

M.R. James - storyteller

In The Telegraph, Robert Lloyd Parry pays tribute to the storyteller M.R. James.
One hundred and 13 years ago tonight, the Chitchat Society convened their 601st meeting, in the Dean's rooms of King's College, Cambridge. At previous get-togethers, this confraternity of Old Etonians had played poker, eaten anchovy toast and listened to undemanding scholarly papers.

Earlier that term, Dr Waldstein had delivered his thoughts on English sports and pastimes. But the host on the evening of October 28, 1893 had a different agenda. The simple entry in the society's minute book records a cardinal moment in the history of supernatural literature: M R James read two ghost stories.

Screenwriters' Festival podcasts

Podcasts from last summer's first Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival are now available (mostly for £2.99 each). Be interesting to hear from anyone who buys one.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Arriaga versus Iñárritu

BabelA battle seems to be raging between screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and director González Iñárritu, says Terrence Rafferty in The New York Times.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Mr. Arriaga, in May, had been forbidden to attend the Cannes Film Festival premiere of the latest movie he had written, “Babel” (opening Friday in New York) — forbidden, that is, by his principal collaborator, the film’s director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, with whom he had previously worked on “Amores Perros” (2000) and “21 Grams” (2003). The director, according to the article, was “apparently miffed that Arriaga claimed much of the credit for the critical success of ‘21 Grams.’ ”

Although the Cannes embargo makes Mr. González Iñárritu look petulant, it should be noted that Mr. Arriaga has, since the success of “Amores Perros,” been a vocal and remarkably insistent promoter of the importance of screenwriters. “People go to films for the stories,” he has said. “They remember the films for the stories.” And he has been known to claim personal responsibility for “95 percent of the structure of ‘21 Grams’ ” and “almost 99 percent of the structure of ‘Amores Perros’ ” — both films, of course, having been widely praised for the ingenuity and complexity of their narrative construction. Healthy debate? This is shaping up as something more like one of those ugly, acrimonious rock-band breakups. Or a dogfight.
Photo: Brad Pitt in Babel, written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by González Iñárritu.

The Nolans

Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, the sibling writing team behind the new magic-centered period piece The Prestige, are a bit like doppelgangers from different worlds. As like-minded as they claim to be, Christopher, who also directs the duo's films, (Memento, Insomnia ), is six years older and was born and schooled in England -- a fact evidenced by his distinctly posh accent. Jonathan was raised in a suburb of Chicago and sounds as American as a John Hughes film.
More from Dylan Callaghan for the Writers Guild of America, west.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Austin Film Festival

Only at the Austin Film Festival can legendary director-actor-producer Sydney Pollack wander through the 120-year-old Driskill Hotel's grand lobby entirely unmolested while "Mystic River" screenwriter Brian Helgeland gets mobbed by fans. As one repeat attendee put it, "This is the only festival where writers are treated like rock stars."

The lively event, which will close its 13th incarnation on Thursday, remains the only major screenwriter-focused festival on the circuit. The weeklong array of panels, pitch competitions, parties and screenings is all about honoring the ingenuity and allure of the screenplay and the writers who craft them (well, it's also occasionally about drinking, but that goes with the territory).
More from Jay A. Fernandez in The LA Times, including the best overheard stories.
Most deadpan studio anecdote: Jessica Bendinger ("Bring It On") was once brought in to adapt a dark coming-of-age story about a girl with anorexia who suffers through a date rape, among other things. The major studio head who owned the book rights pitched it by saying, "We think it could be like 'Bridget Jones.' "

Jimmy Carr calls for more radio comedy

Jimmy Carr has warned that original writing and performing talent is struggling to break through, and has called for more opportunities for comedy on radio.

The controversial stand-up and TV host said that there was a lack of comedy being commissioned on BBC radio networks, which would create problems in the long term.
More from Liz Thomas in The Stage.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Shameless gets its own home

The hit Channel 4 drama Shameless [created by Paul Abbott] is to be given a Coronation Street-style, purpose-built home.

The producers of the programme are building a permanent set of council estate streets in Wythenshawe, Manchester, in preparation for extending the series.

The new set will allow the number of Shameless episodes to double from the current eight a year to 16 a year by 2008.
More from Maggie Brown in Media Guardian.

Phony agents

Beware 'agents' asking for cash up-front - a cautionary tale from Richard Lea for The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog.
Earlier this month a number of authors who had signed contracts with the Hill and Hill literary agency, supposedly based in Edinburgh, received an email telling them that the agency's operations had been "frozen", blaming adverse coverage in writers' forums such as Absolute Write.

These writers had all paid upfront fees of about £100 to an agent calling himself Christopher Hill, who promised to submit their work to major publishing houses and send bi-weekly reports on their progress. And at least some of them were doing rather well - or so it seemed ...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Russell T. Davies interview

As his new Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, starts on BBC 3, screenwriter Russell T. Davies talks to Cathy Pryor in The Independent.
The name Torchwood is already familiar to fans. Apart from being an anagram of Doctor Who, it's been referred to on Doctor Who several times in a mysterious manner. In fact, Davies rather likes repeating names and references. He's used the names Harkness and Tyler for characters several times, something he says helps him get a grip on the blank page. He also does that with concepts, and not always his own: for instance, the first episode of Torchwood features two obvious steals - a prison cell straight out of Silence of the Lambs and an "amnesia pill" that will seem familiar to anyone who's seen Men in Black. But Davies defends this as simple storytelling. "It's all there for the taking, I do it gladly. The ending of Doctor Who, where we had to separate the Doctor and Rose, that was unashamedly taken from the Phillip Pullman novels. They're brilliant, and every child reads them. So that creates a resonance, when they've got a story in one part of their minds and they see Doctor Who and think, 'Oh right! You can change stories!' If you want to get pretentious about it, it's exactly what Shakespeare did. As long as you put yourself into it I think it's all there for the grabbing."
Pic: Indira Varma as Suzie in Torchwood, written by Russell T. Davies (Photo Steve Brown/BBC)

Helen Edmundson interview

Playwright Helen Edmundson tells Brian Logan in The Times why she has become master of the adaptation.
Her style has also been defined by the exigencies of adapting sprawling literary epics for the stage. “If I’m doing an adaptation,” she says, “and I have to have the Battle of Borodino in the middle of it, or somebody has to die in a flood, that pushes me to be more daring and more theatrical.” For Edmundson’s first adaptation, Anna Karenina in 1992, Nancy Meckler told her to “think about how I would do it if I were doing an opera or a ballet. To free myself from naturalism and go somewhere beyond that.” She hasn’t looked back since, she adds.

There are those, however, who turn their noses up at literary adaptations. Who believe that the novel (an interior, psychological medium) and the theatre (an external, dramatic medium) are incompatible, and that a staged novel can never be more than a compromised version of its source. Edmundson gives this school of theatrical thought predictably short shrift. “These days we make very strong distinctions between adaptations and original work. But they’re all plays, and they all have to tell the audience a story with a particular voice behind it. Shakespeare plundered other people’s stories shamelessly. And people didn’t say, ‘That’s not a play, it’s an adaptation’.”

Theatres for writers

On the Writers' Guild of Great Britain website, Richard Bevan talks to the people responsible for new writing at the Soho and Hampstead theatres.

Friday, October 20, 2006

NBC restructures

NBC Universal on Thursday outlined a sweeping restructuring plan that will cut 700 jobs throughout the company and save $750 million annually in an effort to remake the company in the digital world.

NBCU 2.0 is an effort to not only respond to NBC Uni's changing fortunes after its fall from longtime dominance on broadcast TV but also to successfully navigate the shifting media landscape in a company that executives said was built on an old business model.

Plans include moving most high-cost scripted NBC dramas and sitcoms away from 8 p.m
More from Paul J. Gough and Nellie Andreeva in The Hollywood Reporter, including the depressing news that scripted drama and comedy will be reduced in favour of cheaper reality shows.

Over on Media Guardian (free registration required), Jason Deans wonders if the announcement signals the beginning of the end for American network TV.
Network audiences have been shrinking for 20 years or so, as the growth of cable TV channels such as HBO, Showtime and Discovery ate into their ratings. But even with annual audience shares for each of the main channels falling to around 10% in the last few years, network TV remained a profitable business.

Now, with the growth of broadband and digital rivals such as Google, Yahoo! and YouTube, it seems a tipping point has been reached.

This will have repercussions in the UK - for one thing, if the supply of US drama and comedy begins to dry up.

And for ITV. If NBC, for years the most successful player globally in the ad-funded network TV business, cannot make the sums add up anymore, how long before ITV's owners follow its lead and cut back on news and entertainment programming investment?
Meanwhile, spare a thought for comedy writer and blogger Ken Levine who will today be trying to pitch a new show to NBC.
Putting my own little needs aside, eliminating 8:00 comedies seems to me like a really short sided idea. Remember the last time NBC was in last place? What show completely saved their ass? Hint: it wasn’t THE WEAKEST LINK. COSBY in the 80’s and more recently FRIENDS became the saviors of the network.

In this new “reorganization” I question whether NBC will even need a comedy department. Perhaps those duties could just be added to the Facility Manager’s responsibilities.

Does "European literature" exist?

What do European writers share in common? And, to hoist the stakes from the speculative to the metaphysical, does or could such a beast as a true "European literature" exist?
In The Independent, Boyd Tonkin reports from the Writing Europe conference in Amsterdam.
The cities of liberal Europe, said Abdelkader Benali, a fast-rising star of Dutch literature, are "wonderful places to doubt. You start from an assumption and at the end of the evening you have chaos - because chaos means liberty." James Meek, from Scotland, doubted so deeply that he - rhetorically - denied the existence of any shared Euro-culture or history. True-Brit scepticism? Not really, but a post-Enlightenment skit in the vein of Voltaire, or even David Hume.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Screenwriting by computer

A lengthy but thought-provoking article by William Gladwell in The New Yorker looks at how computerised neural networks might be used to analyse screenplays, predict their likely box office return and modify them accordingly.
The way the neural network thinks is not that different from the way a Hollywood executive thinks: if you pitch a movie to a studio, the executive uses an ad-hoc algorithm —perfected through years of trial and error to put a value on all the components in the story. Neural networks, though, can handle problems that have a great many variables, and they never play favorites which means (at least in theory) that as long as you can give the neural network the same range of information that a human decision-maker has, it ought to come out ahead.
Apparently such approaches are starting to take hold in the music business. But, as Gladwell's article goes on to illustrate, a 90-minute screenplay is rather more complicated than three minutes of music.

Thanks to Billy Mernit for the link.

BBC TV drama series set for longer runs

The BBC have lined up a 12-episode second series for conspiracy thriller The State Within (written by Lizzie Mickery and Daniel Percival) before the show has even broadcast, reports Liz Thomas in The Stage.
There has been a shift away from the traditional format of six or eight episodes for programmes, with big budget shows such as Doctor Who, Rome and Robin Hood already running to 12 or 13 shows, a move that was recommended as part of BBC director-general Mark Thompson's Creative Futures policy blueprint for the Corporation's future. It stated it was necessary to consolidate the number of titles broadcast and invest in fewer quality dramas that make an impact.

Online residuals

In a digital free-for-all, Hollywood trumpets another round of ventures nearly every week making TV series and films accessible on the Internet.

But with each splashy announcement, resentment builds among writers and actors who believe studios are ducking the issue of how to properly pay them when their work is viewed via the Web. With major labor contracts expiring over the next two years, fears are growing that digital distribution will become such a contentious issue that it could prompt a strike.
More from Richard Verrier in The LA Times.

Of course, the WGGB has been grappling with similar issues in this country. There have been initial agreements but discussions and negotiations are bound to continue as the online market develops.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lucilla Andrews 1919 - 2006

I have to confess that I'd never even heard of 'hospital fiction' as a genre. But Lucilla Andrews, who died last week, was, it seems, the leading exponent. There's an obituary by Julia Langodon in The Guardian.
Lucilla Andrews, who also wrote under the names of Diana Gordon and Joanna Marcus, was a founder member of the Romantic Novelists Association (which honoured her shortly before her death with a lifetime achievement award). Her first novel was published in 1954 and her last in 1996. She is regarded by today's contemporary authors of romantic fiction as having set a standard, and many of her books now sell for hundreds of pounds in the second-hand trade.

Peter Fincham on the future of TV

Peter Fincham, Controller of BBC One, delivered a speech on the future of TV to the Royal Television Society earlier this week.
YouTube's great. Google's great. It's all great. But if the conclusion you draw – and some people love drawing it - is that television is over, I think you might just be wrong.

Agatha Christie's legacy

In The Guardian, writer Frances Fyfield looks back at Agatha Christie's mysterious disappearance in 1926 and argues that she transformed the public's perceptions of female crime writers.
She established a fascination for the female crime-writing species that has stood others, such as me, in good stead. She inadvertently created the idea that women are ideally suited to the writing of murder mysteries, even though this talent means that they are possibly intriguingly warped, manipulative and unfeminine personalities to do it in the first place. She gave all who followed an edgy mystery and the suggestion of hidden depths. It's a wonderfully helpful slander. Her disappearing act contributed to the allure and the status. There will always be queens of crime, but rarely kings.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New partnership for BBC and S4C

The BBC Governors and the S4C Authority have announced a new strategic partnership for the development of programming and services for Welsh language television audiences.

The governing bodies described the settlement as a "significant milestone" in the relationship between the two public service broadcasters.

As part of the settlement, annual funding for S4C programming will increase from just under £22m in 2006/07 to just over £25m by 2008/09.

More from the BBC press office.

Axe falls on Where The Heart Is

ITV has axed long-running drama Where the Heart Is [created by Ashley Pharoah and Vicky Featherstone], it has been confirmed.

Set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Skelthwaite, it has proven a reliable ratings draw with viewing figures regularly topping 6m.

ITV has not commissioned a new series to allow programmes aimed at a younger audience to air in the so-called Sunday evening "golden slot".
More from BBC News.

Peter Hepple 1927 - 2006

The former editor of The Stage, Peter Hepple, died last week at the age of 79.

As The Stage's Mark Shenton writes.
It is difficult to imagine the paper without him. Absolutely one-of-a-kind, he had a passion for journalism and the theatre industry rooted in an affection for being there every night. He died on Wednesday night and was in the office only the day before. When I ran into a West End press agent yesterday, she told me that Peter reviewing a show that she was handling next week; I had to tell her the news that Peter would not, after all, be there. But I know he will be there in spirit – he never missed an opening if he could help it.
There is also an obituary by Michael Coveney in The Guardian.
Hepple may not have been a dazzling critical writer, but he was a first-rate journalist, someone who took as much pleasure in Ken Dodd or Tony Bennett as he did in the latest new play at the National Theatre or the Bush. He emerged from the postwar twilight of nightclubs and vaudeville - his real stomping ground was the old Talk of the Town at Leicester Square, the London Palladium, and the West End clubs such as the Embassy, the Pigalle and Quaglino's - to embrace the new theatrical realities of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the far-flung London fringe and regional pantomimes. He regarded the latter, unfashionably but correctly, as the lifeblood of the nation's theatrical tradition and prosperity, the place where popular art could be seen at its best.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Jerry Belson 1938-2006

Ken Levine remembers American comedy writer Jerry Belson who died last week.
Jerry was truly an original. His work was always a little daring, verrrry dark, his comic voice was always strong. Satisfying the mainstream was not his goal. He’d pitch a joke and Garry would say, “Jerry, only four people will get that,” to which Jerry would say, “More than enough.”
There's also an obituary in The LA Times.

Sarah Ruhl profile

American playwright Sarah Ruhl, profiled by Dinitia Smith for The New York Times.
Jockeys have the Triple Crown, hockey players have the three-goal hat trick, but there is no equivalent in the theater for what has been happening to Sarah Ruhl lately. Her highly praised 2004 play, “The Clean House,” is finally having its New York premiere on Oct. 30 at Lincoln Center, one of nine productions of it scheduled this year around the country. Another of her plays, “Eurydice,” a version of the Greek myth, has been winning outstanding reviews at the Yale Repertory Theater. (“Devastatingly lovely,” Charles Isherwood wrote of it in The New York Times, “and just plain devastating.”) Then, last month, Ms. Ruhl won a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” award, $100,000 a year for five years.

John Morrison's theatre blog

Guild member John Morrison has started a theatre blog, not as a critic but as a regular playgoer. Or non-playgoer, given his experiences last week...
Tonight, Friday the 13th, was the night I should finally have seen Terry Johnson's Piano/Forte at the Royal Court. Third time lucky, perhaps? Alas, I had what I can only describe as a Ryanair experience. You know how angry you feel when your flight is cancelled at the last minute, after you've checked in, and there's no proper explanation or apology, just a few low-level checkin staff who have to bear the brunt? Of course, this was Sloane Square, so good manners were observed all round without Sturm und Drang, but there was quite a bit of Brechtian alienation in the air.

The Screenwriters Network

Any of you who are members of Shooting People will have received this email message on Friday.
From Monday the American and British networks are merging into what will be called...

The Screenwriters Network!

There's going to be a new editor too -– please welcome Andy Conway. He's based in Birmingham in the UK and he's been a Shooter since 2002. His job is to host one big transatlantic talking shop. There is lots we can learn from each other and we are keen to open up new collaborations between directors and writers on opposite sides of the pond.
It's quite a big step to join up the two networks, and there'll be no more posting by email - you'll now have to log-in to the website. Plus:
The new Screenwriters Bulletin won't carry any Script Pitches. The existing UK Script Pitch Network is now the.. Script Pitch Network and will be the place for ALL script pitches for all our writers. This bulletin is already read by directors and producers in the UK but will now be promoted to US based ones as well.
I have a slightly love-hate relationship with the daily Shooting People screenwriters email. Some of the 'debates' can get very tedious and there's a lot of advertising but the network has also helped me rent out a room in Cannes and get a play staged. It will be interesting to see how the new transatlantic tie-up works out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nobel Prize for Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk has won the 2006 Nobel Prize For Literature. The Academy said: "In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, (Pamuk) has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."

BBC News has an overview of Pamuk's career so far.
Turkey's best-known author has also clashed with his country's government and Turkish nationalists.

He has been outspoken about Turkey's treatment of its minorities and its record on human rights.

"We have to be able to talk about the past," he has said.

Last year he faced charges of "insulting Turkishness" that could have seen him jailed for up to three years. The charges - which drew international condemnation - were dropped in January.

Damazer wants returning radio drama

Mark Damazer, Controller of Radio 4, has told The Stage that he wants to develop high profile returning drama for the station, the radio equivalent of Cracker and Our Friends In The North.
“My aspiration is to have a number of big pieces that we can run across the year on top of the singles that we do already. We are talking six or eight pieces with big story arcs but which also work so that each episode can stand alone in its own right.

“I want productions where listeners know the characters and know their strengths and weaknesses. What I want is the radio equivalent of Our Friends in the North, Cracker or Prime Suspect. This is an obvious gap in the station’s portfolio. We do a lot of single plays and that isn’t going to change but I do think we need to try new things.”

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Writers' rituals

In The Times, eight writers, including William Boyd, reveal their routines.
I tend to write in the afternoons, between lunch and cocktail hour. I used to feel terrified about the house burning down and my manuscript being destroyed, so I kept it in the fridge. A fridge will protect anything, even an atomic bomb blast apparently.

I belong to that pre-computer generation, and a lot of my contemporaries still write in longhand — Julian Barnes, Martin Amis. I think there is something special about the brain-hand interface, certain cadences. I do notice a difference in prose style from stuff typed on to a screen. There is something about preserving that old connection. I am sure I will never let it go.
There's more in a similar vein from blogger and writer, Billy Mernit, about having music on while writing.
Some prefer caffeine. Some have (infamously) depended on alcohol, others even a toke or a toot. But out of all the stimulants I’ve ever heard of writers using to help practice and sustain their craft, the overwhelming drug of choice appears to be music.

J. Michael Straczynski's struggle

J. Michael Straczynski's "Changeling" is one of those blessed and doomed screenplays that periodically floats around Hollywood: a truly gripping read that actors and directors respond to with passion but that nonetheless has a hard time getting made. For a screenwriter, this can be an excruciating reality that only gets more painful when an A-list director is among those flirting with it.
More from Jay A. Fernandez in The LA Times.

YouTube and copyright

Having taken over the online video company, YouTube, Google must now wrestle with the fact that much of the content infringes copyright. So far copyright owners have rarely complained but if YouTube starts to become profitable, content owners (including writers of shows that get illegally distributed) are likely to want a share.

There's analysis across the press and the web, including from Stephen Foley in The Independent.
"What characterises Google is its very aggressive approach to copyright law," said Lee Bromberg, a partner at the Boston-based law firm Bromberg & Sunstein. "My own view, as someone who often defends intellectual property, is that in every area where Google has pushed it has been over the line, but it has an interesting carrot-and-stick approach.

"The carrot is your content gets to be displayed to Google's vast army of users, which increases rather than diminishes its commercial value to you. The stick is that it says it is just going to access your content as part of the plan to control and organise our knowledge, and that it is up to you to opt out. Well, you can't burden the copyright holder with an obligation to demand their content is not used."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jon Plowman interview

BBC Head of Comedy, Jon Plowman, interviewed for the BBC Writersroom.

Kiran Desai wins Booker Prize

Kiran Desai has won the 2006 Man Booker Prize, for her novel The Inheritance of Loss.
Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai was born in India in 1971, and was educated in India, England and the US.

She is the daughter of the noted Indian author Anita Desai, who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times herself.

Her first book was 1998's Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, which won the Betty Trask Award.

The Inheritance of Loss is her second novel. She is currently a creative writing student in New York.
More from BBC News.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tom Perrotta and Todd Field interviewed

Little Children, adapated from Tom Perrotta's novel by Todd Field and Perrotta himself, is one of the most eagerly anticipated films at this year's London Film Festival.

Little ChildrenKate Winslet and Patrick Wilson in Little Children. Photo: Robert Zuckerman

Denis Faye spoke to both writers for the Writers Guild of America, west.
Why did you feel Little Children needed third-person narration?

Todd Field: When I read Tom's book, what initially attracted me more than anything was his voice and his finely-tuned passive observation about these characters. When I started, I found myself really laughing out loud and thinking this is going to be a rip-roaring comedy. Then, slowly, it began to turn and that was through his prose. It wasn't through the characters' exchanges, it wasn't through the settings. It was through his observational skills, so it seemed very natural to do that.

Having said that, in the abstract, if I hadn't read that book, and if you'd asked me would you ever do a film that has some kind of narration, I'd say you're out of your mind.

Tom Perrotta: When I first talked to Todd, it may have been the first thing that he told me that he wanted to do with the film. So I will credit him with the idea. I don't think it's a matter of “needed to do,” I think it was an attempt to capture something about the tone of the book, which is hard to do in movies. At times, the book looks at characters with a kind of clinical, skeptical eye, and at times it gets kind of close into their heads. The effect of the narration is to try to recreate that a little bit. When the narrator's talking, you see the characters from afar in a kind of skeptical, ironic commentary on them -- and when he goes away, you see the characters in their own reality. It gives you a kind of duel perspective on them.

Are there ever times when a third-person narration is just sloppy writing?

Todd Field: Of course, but most of the time it's not the screenplay. They've added it in post because people don't have the shots or something's not understandable. I've been in those films. I started out buttering my bread as a young actor in Roger Corman movies where they bring someone in to say, “And then Bob and Cathy went up the canyon to see the old cave and there was a prospector there. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Grannie's beating off the Indians.”

We all have those things we think of as cinematic truths, the dos and don'ts, what's considered sloppy or hackneyed work and what isn't, but there are plenty of examples of films I admire that use third-person narration that are effective.

Reviews of Bent

Anyone thinking that a revival of Martin Sherman's Bent would be outdated in today's more enlightened times should look at some of the reviews. Most notably shocking are comments from Christopher Hart in The Sunday Times, as noted by Mark Shenton in his blog for The Stage.
Judging the gay lifestyle portrayed on stage to be “seedy, boring – and a little insulting”, he [Hart] asks, “Are gay men always so childishly hedonistic and self-absorbed?” (No more so than the average theatre critic, I’d say) He then suggests, “We’re supposed to see Gay Berlin as wonderfully hedonistic and liberated, a happy place of sexual permissiveness and excess before the beastly Nazis shut it down.” And then comes the killer blow: “There is no recognition that the individualistic anarchy of these solipsistic bores often leads to a tyrannical backlash.”

Hip in Hollywood

BBC America is opening up new opportunities for British drama and comedy (from commercial channels as well and the BBC) to sell in the USA, writes in Stephen Armstrong in MediaGuardian (free registration required).

He talks to the head of BBC America, Kathryn Mitchell, about her plans for growth and the elusive prize of a British-produced show getting a slot on a mainstream network or cable channel.
"The world is so much smaller, technology makes it easier to work internationally, and British TV is very hip in Hollywood," says Jane Featherstone, joint managing director of Kudos Film and Television, the company that makes Life On Mars. "Of course, a format deal doesn't make us huge amounts of money. What we've got is David Kelley working on a script for ABC, which is great, but the real Holy Grail is for a UK company to actually make a primetime show in America. That's where the money is."

Featherstone believes it will happen, probably via HBO, she is just not sure when. Mitchell agrees with her. After all, a long-form drama on network television can pay $3m an hour. "I'm not going to say who I think will win this race," says Mitchell, "but the Americans love our writers and our actors so much. There are some cultural considerations producers should remember, though," and she grins. "Like the drama Blackpool - I had to rename it Viva Blackpool because Americans thought it was about a deadly, haunted lake."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Literary editors

In The Independent, Jo Lo Dico profiles the editors of literary pages of UK newspapers.

Pinter in Krapp's Last Tape

If you've managed to get a ticket to see Harold Pinter in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape at The Royal Court this month, congratulations. In The Daily Telegraph novelist Colm Tóibín looks forward to what is sure to be a memorable performance.
The idea that now, having won the Nobel Prize and when his reputation as a playwright is higher than it has ever been, he is going to perform Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape is a testament to his bravery and his need, like a gambler needs chance, to put his life and his happiness in the uneasy hands of an audience.

Outlaw writers

As Dominic Minghella's Robin Hood begins on BBC One, Dewe Matthews in The Guardian looks back to the 1950s series on ATV, The Adventures Of Robin Hood, that was scripted mostly by American writers who had been blacklisted following the McCarthy hearings.
The ATV version was conceived, written and produced as a means of employing communist scriptwriters who had been blacklisted from the Hollywood studios by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy. For this reason, the scriptwriters wrote under pseudonyms, so the first episode, "The Coming of Robin", for example, is credited to Lawrence McClellan. "McClellan" was really Ring Lardner Jr, a member of the Hollywood Ten who refused to give up the names of communist comrades to the HUAC. (Lardner was hustled out of the Washington hearings in 1947, after he told the committee: "I would answer that, but I couldn't face myself in the morning if I did.")

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ed Richards takes over at Ofcom

The media industries regulator, Ofcom, has appointed Ed Richards as its new Chief Executive.
Ed Richards joined the Ofcom Board in March 2003. In July 2005 he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer, in which role his responsibilities included strategy, research, consumer policy, business planning, finance, human resources and OfcomÂ’s functions in the Nations and Regions.

Prior to his appointment to Ofcom, Ed was the Prime MinisterÂ’s Senior Policy Advisor on Media, Telecoms, Internet and e-Government. Before that he was Controller of Corporate Strategy at the BBC. He also worked in consulting at London Economics Ltd.

Ofcom Chairman David Currie said: "Ed has played a critically important role in the establishment of Ofcom. He has a profound understanding of the markets we regulate and is ideally placed to lead the organisation into the future."

Ed Richards said: "This is a fascinating job in a fascinating and fast changing area. We have a strong organisation, committed people and a track record that we intend to build on. I am thoroughly looking forward to the challenges."
Media Guardian (free registration required) has a profile and assessment of the challenges he faces.

BAFTA Video Games Awards

The winners were announced last night of the BAFTA Video Games Awards, with the prize for best screenplay going to Psychonauts (Majesco/DoubleFine) . The team behind the development of the game was led by Tim Schafer and the main credited writer seems to be Erik Wolpaw.

The prize for best game went to Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (Ubisoft/Ubisoft Paris).

Steven Zaillian interview

Screenwriter and director, Steven Zaillian, interviewed by F.X. Feeney for the Writers Guild of America, west about his adaptation of All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren.
“There are six main characters,” observes Zaillian, “and I don't think you can tell the story if you drop any one of them. That's a testament to the brilliance of Robert Penn Warren-to have no extraneous main characters, yet have enough of them to tell a rich, complicated tale that's extremely simple and elegant at the same time-like a Chinese box. The book is so well constructed that the writing went quickly-just under five months, which is very fast for me. Structure is often the most time-consuming part of writing any script, I find. The biggest challenge was to fit the whole thing into a two hour time-frame.”
All The King's MenJude Law and Kate Winslet in All The King's Men, written and directed by Steven Zaillian.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tinniswood and Imison radio Awards

This year's Tinniswood Award for the best original radio drama script broadcast during 2005 has been won by Guild member Nick Warburton for Beast. The play, , directed by Peter Kavanagh, will be repeated on Radio 4 on 23 October at 14.15.

The Award is jointly administered by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and The Society of Authors and a year’s free membership was given along with PURE Digital’s latest digital radio, the PURE One.

Dead Code: Ghosts of the Digital Age by Jeff Noon (directed by Nadia Molinari) was highly recommended. He received a year’s free membership of the Writers’ Guild and the Society of Authors.

Gordon House, Jury Chair, said that Beast was:
"A beautifully understated play with real emotional power that creates strong and believable characters, and reverberates in the mind long after you’ve finished reading it. A play totally conceived for radio; it would be diminished by being performed in any other medium."
At the same awards ceremony in London on Tuesday, Guild member Nazrin Choudhury was presented with the Imison Award, administered by The Society of Authors, for best original radio drama script by a writer new to radio, for her play Mixed Blood. The play, directed by Naylah Ahmed, will be repeated on Radio 4 on 24 October 2006 at 14.15.

The Peggy Ramsay Foundation donated the £1,500 prize-money and Nazrin was given a year’s membership of the Society. Naomi Gryn, Jury Chair, commented:
"The play had great humanity, a clear plot and emotional depth - both in terms of a young woman escaping from the shadow of her late mother and the backdrop of arranged marriages and mixed relationships. Skilfully propelled by dialogue the story seemed wholly authentic, with not a false line anywhere, and which also had the effect of creating characters you could easily identify with. You cared about them."
Nick Warburton and Christine ParisTinniswood Award winner Nick Warburton with Guild Assistant General Secretary, Christine Paris (Photo: Anne Hogben)

Moe, Nazrin Choudhury, BernieImison Award winner, Nazrin Choudhury (centre), with the Guild's Acting Membership Manager, Moe Owoborde and Guild General Secretary, Bernie Corbett (Photo: Anne Hogben)

Forward Poetry Prize winners

The £10,000 Forward Prize for Poetry has been won by Robin Robertson for his collection Swithering.

Robertson, 50, from Scone, Perthshire, is the first poet to have won both the best collection prize and the best first collection prize.

The first, A Painted Field, was a winner in 1997. Swithering is the third collection he has released.

Indian-born Tishani Doshi, 31, won the £5,000 best first collection prize for Countries of the Body.

Sean O'Brien won the £1,000 best single poem prize with Fantasia On A Theme Of James Wright.
More from BBC News.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tony Kushner on film

Not many writers have been the subject of feature film documentaries, so maybe Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, directed by Freida Lee Mock, will start a trend.

In The New York Times Kushner tells Sylviane Gold why he ageed to be followed by cameras over the course of the past three years.
Why, exactly, would someone who is often described as shy, who is palpably “anxious” (Mr. Kushner’s term) and “self-flagellating” (Ms. Mock’s term) and whose work, when he’s not being what he calls “delinquent,” often entails sitting alone in a room, agree to be the central figure in a documentary?

Mr. Kushner, 50, who is also famous for his garrulousness, has a number of answers, one of which has to do with the appeal of “Project Runway.”

“I can’t sew two dishcloths together,” he said. “Watching these people actually make clothing is fascinating to me. I think most people are interested in how people actually do the things that they do. The life of a working playwright is maybe something people have some curiosity about.”

Martin Sherman interview

Thirty years after its first production, Martin Sherman's play Bent is being revived in London. In The Times he tells Tim Teeman why the play still matters.
In a strange way, says Martin Sherman, he wishes — “quite against my own wishes for financial stability” — that his play Bent wasn’t being performed again; that gay life had fundamentally moved on from nearly 30 years ago when it was first performed. But his story of two men fatefully falling in love in a Nazi detention camp is being revived in a new production at the Trafalgar Studios in London. Back then it shocked because it told of horrors we knew nothing about; today, he hopes, it might shock gays out of complacency.

“In the Seventies we thought we had progress but gays were being discriminated against,” Sherman, 67, says. “There were bars, clubs. There was commercial progress, a lot of people were making money out of gays, but not social progress. When I wrote it I remember seeing gay men wearing Nazi uniforms in Greenwich Village which shocked me. I wanted to say, ‘Don’t you realise what you’re doing?’ Beneath all that talk of liberation there was such self-hatred. There was no real freedom or real inner joy about who we were.”

There is a concordance today, he claims.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Writing Peter Pan: The Sequel

Peter Pan In Scarlet
Some commissions come with more pressure than others. Imagine, for example, being asked to write a sequel to one of the world's best loved children's books. In The Guardian, Geraldine McCaughrean explains how she tackled the challenge after winning a contest to write the sequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.
I only discovered the extent of Peter Pan's popularity when my win was announced in the press. It is a Pandemic, you might say: he is the darling of countless fans; big business; the subject of raging controversy. There are Tinker Bell fetishists and Hook aficionados, Wendy worshippers and Neverland neophytes. How could I possibly satisfy them all? My other 140 books have not warranted - or have not attracted - large-scale PR. This one will.
Peter Pan in Scarlet, by Geraldine McCaughrean, will be published by Oxford University Press on October 5, price £12.99.

Will Mobile TV catch on?

In recent months a number of new TV services for mobile phones have been launched. But, asks Ian Young for BBC News, will anyone actually watch?
Escaping into a bit of comedy or catching up on last night's TV on the way home is an attractive option. But regularly whiling away my bus journeys this way could become an expensive habit.

Snacking is a word often used when describing mobile TV viewing habits, and "snackable" shows are considered by many in the industry to be the way ahead.

Commuting and lunch breaks have been popular times for people to tune in on their handsets, while some also use them as back-up TV sets at home.

Getting angry with age

Mark Ravenhill, who has just turned 40, argues in The Guardian argues that writers don't necessarily mellow with age.
...the idea that the older you get, the less angry you are is clearly wrong. Very wrong. Look at pensioners on buses - pushing, grumbling, snarling at the driver - and you see a whole generation who are definitely not reconciled with the world. And having experienced some very alarming internal shifts - huge doubts and anxieties about myself and my place in the world as that 40th birthday loomed - I can safely say that you don't become comfortably reconciled to yourself after 30.