Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bruno Heller

Dylan Callaghan talks to Bruno Helller for the Writers Guild of America, west.
Bruno Heller, co-creator of HBO's award-winning historically dramatic series Rome and son of acclaimed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? screenwriter Lukas Heller, readily admits that his father's successful career likely kept him from the scribe trade for years. “I'm sure there were some good oedipal reasons why I didn't put pen to paper until a couple years after his death.” Heller instead spent years working nearly every other below-the-line job in film, from location manager to clapper loader. “When I'd failed at everything else, I finally had a crack at this.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

BBC launches e-commissioning

From the BBC Press Office:
From March 2007 independent and in-house programme makers submitting programme proposals to BBC Vision will find the system quicker and less bureaucratic.

The BBC is to update its commissioning process through the introduction of a web-based system for managing programme proposals.

The new site will enable the BBC Vision to handle the huge volume of proposals it receives faster and more effectively.

Having submitted their proposals electronically programme makers will be able to track the progress of their ideas online.

The Cowards on BBC Three

Sketch comedy group The Cowards - Tim Key, Tom Basden, Lloyd Woolf and Stefan Golaszewski - are taking over the BBC Three website for the next six weeks.

Staffroom monologues

If you work or volunteer in a school, you're eligible to enter the Staffroom Monologues competition being run by Teachers' TV. The deadline for entries is Monday, 26 February 2007.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Writersroom success

In 2005, Stephen Riley sent his radio script, The Birth and Death of Daylight, to BBC writersroom. A script reader recommended the piece highly and in 2006 it was eventually chosen for The Wire on Radio 3.
Stephen takes up the story himself on the BBC Writersroom website.
To be honest, I originally wrote this piece for radio because I knew radio was a medium that's open to new writing. But I found the whole process to be genuinely collaborative, focused on the story, and extremely supportive throughout.

There were compromises and things I could have done a lot better, but the story is out there, and it was a lot of fun doing it. Now I've just got to try and do it again...

Jim Harrison interview

In The New York Times, Charles McGrath talks to novelist and screenwriter Jim Harrison.
Jim Harrison, author of rugged, outdoorsy books like “True North” and “Legends of the Fall,” is tough on vehicles. His current ride is a much-abused Chevy Tahoe that every day is pounded over terrain most S.U.V.’s experience only in commercials: splashing through creeks, lurching down hills, bouncing over rock-strewn dirt roads in the back country of southern Arizona, where Mr. Harrison and his wife, Linda, spend the winter months in an adobe casita on the Sonoita Creek. The shock absorbers are so overstressed they’ve gone a little spongy.

Mr. Harrison, who is 69 with a lot of miles on his tires, is not much kinder to his own chassis. He is half-blind in his left eye, which gives him a wild, cockeyed look, and a pack or two of American Spirits every day have left him with a voice like gravel. Mr. Harrison was once a legendary eater and drinker, the sort of iron-livered, barrel-chested trencherman who could hold his own at the table with Orson Welles and John Huston and who thought nothing of a 10- or 12-course lunch at Ma Maison followed by Champagne and a gross of oysters for supper. But that was back in his days as a part-time Hollywood screenwriter, when Mr. Harrison also befriended Jack Nicholson (whose watercolor of Mr. Harrison and four nude dancers at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris hangs on a wall of the casita) and both made and quickly blew through a good deal of money, much of it spent on meals.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Online video theatre promos

On The Guardian Theatre Blog, Karen Fricker looks at how theatres are promoting themselves using online video. Examples include TAG Theatre's interview with Ewan McGregor.

Parsons and Naylor's Pull-Out Sections

Andy Parson and Henry Naylor begin recording their ninth series of Parsons and Naylor's Pull-Out Sections on 9th February. They're looking for topical gags to go into the "stand-up sections" that link the sketches, to be delivered by Andy and Henry. The show is made for Radio 2 and so subject matter needs to be relevant to the Radio 2 Audience.

Full details are on the BBC Writersroom.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rocliffe New Writing Forum 21 February

Hosted by BAFTA at 195 Piccadilly in London, the next Rocliffe New Writing Forum will be held on 21 February 2007. The deadline for script submissions is 30 January.

The forum works as a development workshop, enabling writers to test extracts of new material with professional actors and receive feedback from an established industry guest.

Five Days - Gwyneth Hughes

Five DaysIf you've enjoyed the first two episodes of Five Days this week, a reminder that there's an interview with Gwyneth Hughes, who created and wrote the serial, on the Guild website.

Can short plays survive?

Unless they're by Pinter or Beckett, playlets rarely get a look-in on our main stages. It doesn't have to be this way. Festivals and double bills are simple solutions to the argument that short plays aren't commercially viable or value for money unless they star Michael Gambon or Harold Pinter, yet such events are relatively uncommon.

The truly short play is in danger of becoming a neglected form. Still seen as inferior and limiting, it's not afforded the kudos of, say, the short story. I'm not arguing against large-scale work or the admirable monsterist movement, just against losing the art of brevity, of finding the epic in the miniature and of making every word count.
More from Maxie Szalwinska on The Guardian Theatre blog.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Life On Mars trailer

Trailer for series two of Life On Mars (created by Mathew Graham, Tony Jordan and Ashley Pharoah).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

2007 Oscar nominations

The writing categories often get overlooked in the Oscar coverage, so in case you don't see them elsewhere, the nominees for Best Original Screenplay are:
  • Guillermo Arriaga - Babel
  • Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis - Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Michael Arndt - Little Miss Sunshine
  • Guillermo del Toro - Pan's Labyrinth
  • Peter Morgan - The Queen
The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are:
  • Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer and Todd Phillips - Borat Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan
  • Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby - Children Of Men (based on the novel by P.D. James)
  • William Monahan - The Departed (based on a screenplay by Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong)
  • Todd Field and Tom Perrotta - Little Children (based on the novel by Tom Perrotta)
  • Patrick Marber - Notes On A Scandal (based on the book by Zoe Heller)
The Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, February 25. Who will you be rooting for?

Joel Surnow - 24

Joel Surnow, co-creator of hit TV series 24 (starring Kiefer Sutherland, pictured, right), talks to John Patterson in Media Guardian (free registration required).
Right now, Surnow, his co-creator Robert Cochran and the writing team are writing episode 19 - with no idea as yet how the show will wrap up this season. They work a merciless schedule, necessitated by 24's pioneering non-stop format (other shows have two-month-long hiatuses per season, 24 runs for 24 consecutive weeks). After writing the four-episode block already aired, they had no idea what would be happening by episode six. If the writers aren't perpetually surprising themselves, says Surnow, how can they expect to keep surprising the fans?

"I don't know how we'll get Jack back in a good place so we can pull the rug out from under him all over again - but we'll try! It's brutal, it's rough. 18 scripts from July to January, six from January to June. So it starts to feel about now that we have the ending in sight - even though, of course, we don't know the ending."

Save the Theatre Museum

The Writers' Guild has signed up in support of the campaign to save the Theatre Museum.
On January 7 the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden in the heart of London’s Theatreland closed its doors to the public. It will, however, continue its valuable work in education and outreach until at least August 2007.

This is as a result of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s breaking its commitment under the Heritage Act 1983 to set up and maintain a separate Theatre Museum. The Guardians want to make the V&A keep its word and re-open the Russell Street site to the public. Otherwise we face the prospect of having no equivalent Theatre Museum at all for at least two to three years, and probably a lot longer. It seems completely unacceptable that we should have the Museum building and all its exhibits available, to say nothing of its potential for stimulating further activity, and not keep it open until a replacement is provided.

The vast majority of the UK’s major theatre organisations are backing our campaign. Will you join us?
Find out more about the background to the campaign, write to your MP and sign up as a 'Guardian' of the Museum.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bryan Elsley - Skins

SkinsIn The Telegraph, screenwriter Bryan Elsley tells Stephen Pile how showing a draft script to his son, Jamie, led to the creation of teen drama Skins (pictured, above).
Jamie was not impressed. "It's all turgid, middle-aged bollocks, dad," he said, and suggested writing about teenagers instead. "But don't do it in the usual way. Let me help you do it properly."

...In no time Elsley had set up a talented young writers' group with 16 members, all in their teens and early twenties. "The rule is that everyone gets paid for their ideas and writing in the group, but all the material discussed or written at the meeting can be used by the designated writer of the episode."

In this series, five episodes were written by Elsley and four by the twentysomething writers, including his son. "We have a mentoring system where the more experienced writers, the 23-year-olds, help the 17- and 18-year-olds. The 17-year-olds have written six-minute spin-off films for the website, but if we get a second series we want them to write their own episodes supported by the group."
Skins starts on E4 on Thursday.

Screenwriters' Festival 2007

swf bannerIt's been confirmed that the Screenwriters' Festival 2007 will take place from Tuesday 3rd to Friday 6th July 2007 at The Manor by the Lake (at Cheltenham Film Studios).

Confirmed speakers for this, the second Festival, include Jimmy McGovern, Guillermo Del Toro and Julian Fellowes.

The Pitch Factor competition will be running again and, for the first time, there will also be a spec script market.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Guild office email

Following recent technical problems, the Guild's offiice email will be restored by the end of Friday 19th Jan.

Please resend any messages sent earlier in the week.

BBC licence fee settlement

As has been widely reported, the government has announced the level of licence fee funding for the BBC until 2012.

The level will increase, but not by as much as the BBC wants. The Guild has been a strong supporter of the continuation of the licence fee.

BAC funding threat

Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), home to some of the UK's most innovative theatre practice and new writing in recent years, is threatened with closure reports Lyn Gardner on The Guardian Theatre Blog.
Last week BAC's local council, Tory-governed Wandsworth, gave notice that from April 1 it intends to cut BAC's annual grant from £100,000 to zero and simultaneously start charging a commercial rent for the Lavender Hill building of more than £270,000 per annum. If this was to go ahead, BAC could not survive and would have to close.

This would be a tragedy for the people of Wandsworth, whose cultural lives would be so much poorer. It would also be a tragedy for British theatre because it would inflict huge damage on the theatre ecology. The local children and companies watching and working in Wandsworth today should be working at the National and on international stages tomorrow. Without BAC that won't happen.

When will government, both local and national, wake up to the fact that giving money to the arts is not subsidy, but investment - investment which not only has a financial return, but which also brings much wider benefits and improvements to people's lives? The health of the country demands that we invest in the imagination as well as in hospitals.
Update: more bad news on theatre funding.
On January 31 this year Chester Gateway closed its doors after 38 years as a professional producing theatre. At the end of this week (January 20), Leicester's Haymarket Theatre will follow.

The closures will leave Leicester without a professional theatre until 2008, and there is no alternative venue envisaged for Chester until 2010 at the earliest.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bigot Brother

Shilpa ShettyIn a guest post for this blog, Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's TV Committee, argues that Celebrity Big Brother has proved to be a reality show too far.
Okay so if the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross on your lawn and lynch your mother and you don’t actually use the phrase, “Stop that you racist!”; it ceases to be a racist act?

Well, that’s been Channel 4’s inestimable defence in the whole Big Brother debacle. I think they’re confusing it with another well-known series’ catchphrase, “I’m A Crucified Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.” Thank goodness the respected Bollywood film star Shilpa Shetty (pictured, above) finally used the “r” word because it seems that’s what it takes for a TV company to do their moral and legal duty.

As writers have been discussing in pubs for ages, reality shows have already done great damage to television. They are largely cheap-to-produce TV fodder, which don’t use commissioned scripts or writers. These series devour what little writing work is available and devalue our industry.

On the plus side, TV companies have recently sussed that these reality shows bring in no repeats or overseas sales. A television company’s library is one of their greatest assets. I look forward to the companies explaining that to their shareholders and board.

It was inevitable that to maintain and gain ratings that reality shows would have to become more bear baiting and extreme. It’s only because the Christians and the Lions weren’t available (panto season you know) that we ended up with Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty. It’s already become an international incident.

Channel 4, Endemol, Ofcom and the powers-that-be have shamefully let the kicking continue which, to me, makes them as morally culpable as any bullies or racists. How long before the first sniper, on a grassy knoll in Elstree, waits for a celeb to be evicted by Davina and we have our first Celebrity Shooting?

Now there’s an idea for a new series. I’ll get onto my agent at once.

Iris Yamashita - Letters From Iwo Jima

Letters From Iwo Jima Ken Watanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima, screenplay by Iris Yamashita, directed by Clint Eastwood (Photo: © Warner Bros. Pictures 2006).

When Clint Eastwood was researching his film about Iwo Jima, Flags Of Our Fathers, he came across letters from the Japanese commander during the American assault on the island and wanted to use them as the basis for a companion film, explains Jay A. Fernandez in the LA Times.
Eastwood brought the project to his best picture-winning "Million Dollar Baby" screenwriter, Paul Haggis, who was too buried in post-production on "Crash" to write it but who took it upon himself to find another screenwriter. Yamashita's agent at Creative Artists Agency got wind of the open assignment and sent Haggis (also a CAA client) some of her scripts.

"They were very different, very well researched and had a distinct sense of time and place," Haggis says via e-mail from New Mexico, where he's shooting his follow up to "Crash," "In the Valley of Elah," a drama about the suspicious disappearance of an Iraq war soldier.

At the time, Yamashita, who declines to reveal her age, was working full time as a Web programmer and had yet to sell a spec or get a paid assignment. But during their second meeting, Haggis suddenly decided that she was right for the gig and told Yamashita, "OK, now you can quit your job."

When a sitcom sings

It's probably best to avoid in spec scripts, but 'the musical episode' has a long history in American sitcoms. As Edward Wyatt reports in the New York Times, it can be the sign of creativity flagging but for hospital sitcom Scrubs, it seems to have energised the show.
“Most comedy writers are tall, jocky types,” said Bill Lawrence, the creator of “Scrubs.” “But they don’t like being stuck in the comedy closet. Secretly they have arguments about Sondheim.”
Elsewhere in the New York Times, the episode is reviewed by Ginia Bellafante.
The episode revolves around the arrival of a female patient at Sacred Heart who imagines that everyone around her is not speaking but singing. For the entire show, all heard through her ears, the hospital staff converses in show tunes created by the songwriters of “Avenue Q,” Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. (The gambit produces moments like this: “Hello I’m Dr. Kelso!/I’m delighted that you came!/The doctors said you fainted and you don’t know who to blame!” Or: “We’re running a test that’s a waste of our time!/But at least she’ll accept that she’s medically fine!”)
Scrubs Donald Faison (left) and Zach Braff in Scrubs, created by Bill Lawrence.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Joost: the future of TV?

In Wired magazine, Spencer Reiss discovers how Joost, a company from the men behind Kazaa and Skype, could be the future of TV.
The vision: universal TV, running on a hybrid P2P platform - millions of exquisitely networked PCs fortified with traditional video servers. Free to viewers who download the player app. Friendly to content owners, thanks to industrial-strength encryption. Delightful to advertisers, adding pinpoint targeting to their all-time favorite medium. Everyone's a winner!

Illustration for Wired by Paul Willoughby

Has fiction lost its power?

In The Times, Rod Liddle explains why he no longer reads novels.
[Fiction] has become so broad, so general, so eager to please, so self-satisfied, so anxious to make itself relevant and attuned to the times, so shamelessly — and again, forgive me, I can think of no better phrase — middlebrow. In other words, exactly like journalism, except with some made-up names. And we have journalists for journalism, don’t we? Literary fiction, it seemed to me, had stopped doing what literary fiction does best: getting beneath the skin of a subject, to the viscera, without even always intending to so do. It had started being like every other form of mass entertainment, aiming wide and broad, hoping to alienate nobody.

Michelle Buck to leave ITV

ITV Productions drama controller Michele Buck is to leave the company, prompting a restructure of its London drama operations.

Ms Buck is expected to join her former ITV colleague Damien Timmer's new independent production company, Mammoth Screen.

Following her departure, the ITV Productions director, John Whiston, has decided to merge the London drama department with the comedy and drama unit run by Andy Harries.

Mr Whiston will be hiring a new ITV Productions London drama controller to run the merged departments.

Mr Harries will not be renewing his ITV contract when it ends in December and is not expected to continue as head of an in-house production department.
More from Leigh Holmwood in Media Guardian (free registration required).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Guild office email problems

Due to technical problems the Guild's email will be down for the next few days. If you need to contact the office please be patient, since the phone lines are likely to be very busy.

Greg Garcia interview

In Script Magazine (pdf file), Debra L. Eckerling talks to My Name Is Earl creator, Greg Garcia.
Garcia was on vacation with his wife’s family in North Carolina when he came up with the idea for My Name is Earl.

“I didn’t really start with anything in particular, other than the fact that I believe in karma, I like stories about people starting fresh later in life, and I’ve always been attracted to the world of trailer parks. So, I guess I took those three things and came up with this idea.”

Garcia pitched the idea to Fox, and they turned it down. He took two weeks to write the pilot anyway. Fox and the rest of the networks turned Earl down, so it sat on a shelf for a year and a half.

“Then I was having lunch with NBC, and they mentioned they had read Earl and wanted to do a show with me,” Garcia explains. “I was like, ‘Let’s just do that show.’ They thought about it and said, ‘Yeah. Why not? Let’s give it a shot.’”
Find out more about Script Magazine.

My_name_is_earl Ethan Suplee in My Name Is Earl, written by Greg Garcia.

Nell Leyshon interview

In The Telegraph, Charles Spencer talks to playwright and novelist Nell Leyshon about her burgeoning career.
It wasn't until after the birth of her second son 12 years ago that Leyshon started to write seriously. "I just thought, right, I'm going to write a novel. So I literally sat my six-month baby on my lap and wrote one. I got to the end of it, and thought, it's not good enough. So I wrote another one. And that was terrible. And then I did another one. And that wasn't good enough either." So with reckless pluck, she burnt them in her vegetable patch. "Dom kept asking me if this was what I wanted to do, and I said yes, it felt so good to get rid of it all."
Leyshon's new play, Comfort Me with Apples, is at Hampstead Theatre, from Jan 18-27, then touring until March 31. Her adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now is at Sheffield Lyceum from Feb 22-March 10, before transferring to the Lyric Hammersmith.

Golden Globe for Peter Morgan

Screenwriter and playwright Peter Morgan has won a prestigious Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for his script for The Queen. The award puts him in pole position for both the BAFTAs and the Oscars in the coming months.

Elizabeth I, written by Nigel Williams, won the Golden Globe for Best mini-series or film made for TV.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Hollywood Standard

If you've got script formatting concerns (and want to make it in LA), screenwriter and blogger John August has a new book to recommend, and a few points to clarify.

Has radio comedy had its last laugh?

"The problem is that Radio 4 hasn't developed a really huge zeitgeisty show since Little Britain," says radio critic Will Hogkinson. "That's what Radio 4 is all about. I love shows like Ed Reardon's Week, but it could have been on air at any time in the past 10 years. They're still struggling to find that great of-the-moment comedy troupe."

"There's a very cosy, middle class, middle-aged feel to a lot of what's on air at the moment," says Vanessa Haynes, who develops comedy for production companies such as Celador. "Talent who get a show on Radio 4 tend to soften around the edges a bit."

Some argue that it is all about the dosh - "broadcast comedy would suffer if Radio 4 went away," says one agent, "but it pays so little that it's impossible for a writer or performer to focus without another income stream, so I see it as an intermediary level rather than an end in itself." Others think the industry has changed and Radio 4's role is unclear.
More from Stephen Armstrong in Media Guardian (free registration required).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Jacqueline Wilson at the Writers' Guild Centre

Date: Tuesday 6 February 2007, 6.30 - 8pm

Venue: the Writers' Guild Centre, 15 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JN

Children’s Laureate Jacqueline Wilson will give a talk at the Writers’ Guild Centre on the evening of Tuesday 6 February from 6.30pm – 8pm. The author of the popular Tracy Beaker series will discuss her experiences of working as a children’s writer.

Free refreshments will be provided before and after the event along with the opportunity to mingle with fellow guests.

Tickets for this event are £10 for Writers' Guild members. Tickets for non-members will be £20 but priority will be given to members of the Writers' Guild on this occasion. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Places are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

To book your place, please contact Moe Owoborode at or on 020 7833 0777. Cheques should be sent to the Writers' Guild, 15 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JN and made payable to the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.

Rehearsed reading: Leaving

You're invited to attend the first rehearsed reading at the new Writers’ Guild Centre. It will take place next Wednesday, 17th January at 8.00 pm (please note: not 7.00 pm as previously advertised).

The play is called Leaving, a comedy by Guild member Stanley Price. It tells the story of Carol who, after 27 frustrating years, finally walks out on Brian, a trumpeter in a symphony orchestra. Brian tries, rather loudly, to win her back….

Come along and enjoy the show and join us for a glass of wine afterwards and mingle with the cast and other members of Equity and the Writers’ Guild. We hope that rehearsed readings will become a regular event at the Writers’ Guild Centre and that members will be encouraged to put on their own shows right here.

Tickets: £6 (members of the Writers’ Guild and Equity), others £8.

To book a ticket please contact Anne Hogben 020 7833 0777 ext 201 or email

BAFTA nominations

The nominations have been announced for the 2007 BAFTA Film Awards. They include:

Best original screenplay
  • Guillermo Arriaga - Babel
  • Michael Arndt - Little Miss Sunshine
  • Guillermo del Toro - Pan's Labryinth
  • Peter Morgan - The Queen
  • Paul Greengrass - United 93
Best adapted screenplay
  • Neal Purvis/Robert Wade/Paul Haggis - Casino Royale
  • William Monahan - The Departed
  • Aline Brosh McKenna - The Devil Wears Prada
  • Peter Morgan/Jeremy Brock - The Last King Of Scotland
  • Patrick Marber - Notes On A Scandal
The awards will be presented at a ceremony in London on 11 February.

Gwyneth Hughes interview

After two high profile true-life dramas for ITV (Cherished and Mysterious Creatures) Gywneth Hughes is one of the hottest TV drama writers around. Her new five part serial for BBC and HBO, Five Days, which starts in the UK on 23 January, looks set to confirm her status. I spoke to her earlier this week about Five Days and how her background as a documentary maker has informed her writing.
Can you describe your approach to writing an original story? Do you plot it all out first?

I don’t plot it out at all. I’m not sure how unusual that is but I do very little storylining. I have an idea about the story and an almost musical sense of what key it’s in and what the emotional temperature will be. But when I wrote the first episode of Five Days I had no idea what would happen in the subsequent four. I can do storylining – I had to when I wrote on The Bill – but I invariably throw it out once I start writing so there’s not much point. Stephen King talks about writing being almost like archaeology, where it feels as though you’re excavating a story that already exists, and that’s how it seems to me.
Five DaysFive Days: written by Gwyneth Hughes, directed by Otto Bathurst and Simon Curtis.

Bernie Corbett: The year ahead

On the Writers' Guild website, General Secretary Bernie Corbett looks at work the Guild will be tackling in 2007.
The most important upcoming work is the renegotiation of the main BBC TV Drama Agreement. The livelihoods of many Guild members are dependent on the minimum rates and terms in this document and, with digital content and new media to be included, the negotiations will be more significant than ever.

Potter fanfic-er gets her own deal

The debut novel from a Chilean writer who shot to fame after writing her own "fanfic" version of JK Rowling's Harry Potter stories has been released.

La Septima M - The Seventh M - is the first of three books that 23-year-old Chilean journalism student Francisca Solar was contracted to write by publishers Random House, following the online success of her unofficial sixth Harry Potter story, Harry Potter and the Decline of the High Elves.
More from BBC News.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Costa winners

Tenderness of WolvesAmong the winners of the Costa Book Awards (formerly the Whitbread Awards) announced yesterday was Stef Penney, as Nigel Reynolds reports in The Telegraph.
The most surprising story thrown up by the awards is that of 37-year-old Stef Penney, a film writer, whose debut novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, won this year's first novel award. A story of mystery, love and murder in a remote snow-bound settlement in northern Canada in the 1860s, it was praised by judges for its description of a deep winter landcsape.

But Penney, who lives in East London, disclosed today that she had never visited Canada. Because she had suffered from agoraphobia for 15 years, she had a fear of travelling and built up her picture of the country by reading the first-hand accounts of settlers, trappers, explorers and men of the Hudson Bay Company, in the reading room at the British Library.

She said: "I didn't like public transport and to begin with I had to go by car to the British Library. But parking was so expensive that I was forced to overcome my fear of travelling by bus."

The book was turned down by "quite a lot" of publishers, she said before it was picked up by the small house, Quercus. She said of her win today: "It's really hard to believe - it's extraordinary."

An end to the longest literary feud?

One of the world's iciest literary feuds, sealed with a punch-up in a cinema 30 years ago, is thawing as Colombian Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Marquez and Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa prepare to publish together.
More from Giles Tremless in The Guardian.

Docudrama rates

All of the Guild's major TV agreements are likely to be renegotiated this year and one subject certain the be discussed is the rates paid for the drama element of docudrama. On the Guild's website, J.C. Wilsher and Isabelle Grey set out the arguments for drama in docudrama to be included in the minimum terms agreements.
Writers of TV drama should be getting TV drama rates and terms, whether they are commissioned by a drama or a factual department. Of course there may be ‘discounts’ from the full original drama rate – the dramatised sequences may only be a portion of the programme’s running time; storyline and underlying source or research material may have been provided.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Guillermo del Toro interview

Denis Faye talks to Guillermo del Toro for the Writers Guild of America, west.
You often give your characters comprehensive biographies before you even start writing. How comprehensive?

I like to know where they're coming from, what the story is with their parents, with their wife, with their children, why they were raised in a certain way. But with some movies I do it and some movies I don't. In Devil's Backbone, I did very extensive biographies. In Hellboy, I did very extensive biographies. In this one I didn't. I really knew who I was using as model for each character. I knew the person very well. I knew who I was targeting, and I just used that base to write them. I mean, I don't know any fascist Captains [like Captain Vidal], but I know people who have the same sociopath impulses as he does.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sobol Award cancelled

The Sobol Award, a controversial new literary contest that offered agentless writers a $100,000 first prize and a contract with Simon & Schuster for the top three winners, has been canceled.

Officials acknowledged that the prize's entry fee and other contractual requirements had deterred would-be participants.

"No further manuscript submissions will be accepted," award organizers announced Monday on the Sobol Web site ( "All writers who have submitted manuscripts will receive a full refund of their entry fee ($85) and our copies of the manuscripts will be destroyed and deleted from our system."
More from Hillel Italie for Associated Press.

The Trial Of Tony Blair

In the dock: Robert Lindsay as Tony Blair

The Trial Of Tony Blair, written by Alistair Beaton, will be the latest current affairs based drama to hit our TV screens when it appears on More 4 on Monday. There are interviews with Beaton and executive producer David Aukin in The Telegraph and Media Guardian (free registration required).
"The drama focuses on Blair's psychic disintegration because he can't silence his conscience over what happened in Iraq. It's based on the assumption that Blair is a man with some remaining decency and conscience and that the death of people in Iraq must haunt him," says Beaton. Indeed, the film's first scene finds Blair at confession (did I mention that he's recently, and to Cherie's delight, become a Catholic?), telling the priest: "I feel as though I have sins to confess. Mortal sins."

Monday, January 08, 2007

The slow birth of Lilies

Lilies, which begins on BBC One on Friday, spent almost a decade in development - as the series creator Heidi Thomas tells Paul Hoggart in The Times.
"The series is really a mosaic of oral history," says Thomas, and proceeds to itemise the origin of the colourful details with which the script is stuffed. Dadda’s hostility to his daughters’ priest, for instance: "My grandmother was Catholic and my grandfather was Protestant. When the priest called round every Friday, he would make him stand on newspaper just to show he didn’t approve of him being in the house. One of his daughters married a Catholic and he was just referred to as ‘the Fenian’. It was only when a cousin took up genealogy that we found out what the poor man’s name was."
Catherine Tyldesley, Daniel Rigby, Brian McCardie, Leanne Rowe and Kerrie Hayes in Lilies, created by Heidi Thomas, written by Heidi Thomas, Kate Gartside and Jonathan Harvey. (Photo: Matt Squire for BBC/World Productions)

Second productions

In The Guardian, Mark Ravenhill reflects on the difficulty of getting a second domestic production for a new play.
This absence of second productions is in some ways a good thing. It reflects the confidence of theatres outside London - and of arts organisations in general. Recent research, carried out by the TV channel Artsworld, found that London was only the ninth best city in the country for the arts, with Newcastle top. A few decades ago, theatres would have looked to see what were this year's hits in the capital, then dutifully produced them - but not now. Theatres in Liverpool, Southampton, Plymouth, Manchester or Birmingham have their own commissions and produce their own premieres. Every week sees a slew of new plays appearing across the country, often sparsely reviewed in the national press.

We have now created a situation in which there is a demand for hundreds of premieres across the country every year, often in studio theatres. But there is no promise of subsequent productions. Writers - realising there is very small financial reward for this, and small audiences - are soon lost to television and film.

Books by committee

Working Partners, a company that uses teams of editors and writers to create series fiction for children, is moving into the grown-ups market, reports Brandon Robshaw in The Independent.
Like it or not, this appears to be the future of commercial fiction. It's linked with the growing professionalism of writing, a trend that has seen degree courses in creative writing mushrooming in universities all over the country, with the Open University joining in last year.What is wrong with giving the reading public what it wants? Working Partners isn't perverting or corrupting public taste, but providing well-crafted, popular commercial fiction.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Do non-American writers have to join the WGA?

On his Artful Writer blog, Craig Mazin advises non-American writers who are working in the USA.

Kimberly Lofstrom Johnson: Curve

Woman-in-jeopardy thrillers have long been a popular staple of cinema. The terror the audience experiences while watching a vulnerable woman suffer through a horrible situation — "Wait Until Dark," "Alien," "High Tension," Emma Thompson in "Junior" — provides just the kind of visceral (and often perverse) pleasure we want from the movies.

Since these suspenseful films are almost uniformly written by men, though, the scenarios tend to play out as fantasies of either the malicious male subconscious or a romanticized version of a besieged woman's fortitude under extreme duress. Screenwriter Kimberly Lofstrom Johnson hopes to challenge this convention with her recent addition to the genre, "Curve." Her script doesn't veer from the genre's essential plot elements but lurches through a stripped-down narrative invested with both a specifically feminine mind-set and a harrowing, if unintended, subtext.
More from Jay A. Fernandez in The LA Times.

Agency prize for MA students

Students on City University's MA in Creative Writing (Novels) course are being offered the chance to win £1,500 and representation from the Christopher Little Literary Agency (CLLA) in a new competition.

CLLA are best known for picking up JK Rowling's work after it had been turned down by several other publishers and agents. So they probably have £1,500 to spare.

With the growth in creative writing MAs, could this be the first of many tie-ups with agencys or producers?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Drama Association of Wales - One Act Playwriting Competition

The Drama Association of Wales have launched their One Act Playwriting Competition 2007. The competition aims to encourage the writing of plays for amateur theatre in English and Welsh.

For 2007, they are seeking plays in three categories; an Open Section, plays suitable for performance by a cast of 16-25 year olds, and the best play in the Welsh language. In addition to cash awards, prize-winning plays will be published. Previous prizewinners have been published and performed as a result of promotion through their New Writing Scheme.

The deadline is 31 January 2007.

More details are available from the BBC Writersroom.

Boxing as art

In The Guardian, Marcel Berlins reflects on why boxing should have inspired so many great novels.
But why boxing? For one thing, a one-versus-one struggle lends itself perfectly to a good-versus-evil theme. It is the ultimate elemental sport, not dependent on artificial appendages like balls, rackets or bats, nor on the help of team-mates. Physical suffering is integral: it is the only sport specifically aimed at inflicting and receiving pain (which is perhaps why you "play" cricket, tennis, football etc but you do not play boxing). In social terms, boxing is the sport that allowed the uneducated poor, the shabby immigrant and the racially discriminated against to rise, not just to the top of their sport, but of their society and nation. And within boxers and the boxing milieu you find most of the emotions and tensions that make stirring literature.
Million Dollar BabyHilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, screenplay by Paul Haggis from stories by F.X. Toole, directed by Clint Eastwood.

ITV2 wants new comedy

ITV2 is launching a £10 million push into comedy and calling for scripted pieces, sitcoms and sketch shows, reports Liz Thomas in The Stage.
Zai Bennett, controller of ITV2, told The Stage: “I want comedy that is right for our viewers - the 16-24 demographic. I want to change people’s perception about what the channel offers. We have done that in part with imported hits such as Entourage and The Office: An American Workplace but we do need original comedy. Right now we are keen to look at scripts, try things out and get more things into development.”
ITV2 has been a quiet success as part of the Freeview platform but has mainly run imported programming and spin-offs from ITV1 reality and talent shows.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Guilt-free pleasures

It's nonsense to applaud acts such as Borat and Little Britain for being 'non-PC', says Stewart Lee in The Guardian.
There's a vast difference between the casual, inadvertent offence prevalent in my childhood and the choices made today by performers and writers of my generation, operating in a post-PC world, where they are aware of the power and meaning of the taboos they choose to break.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Screenwriter Sylvester Stallone

For the Writers Guild of America, west, Dylan Callaghan talks to screenwriter Sylvester Stallone about his new film, Rocky Balboa. He stars in it as well, apparently.
I've read that you like to write fast, so you write fast but you're a big rewriter?

Unbelievable. You have no idea.

Well give me an idea. How many drafts did you do with this film?

I would say like 20. I love to rewrite, I really do. What happens is I'll start just working a scene, and I'll touch up that dialogue and add a little situation here and then it grows. I also ask myself, “If there was no dialogue, what could I do to make this scene more interesting?” An example is the scene where Rocky goes to the graveyard. How do I say he goes there a lot? I don't want him saying, “You know, I go to this graveyard every day.” So I gave him a wooden folding chair that he puts back up in a tree when he leaves. That says that he lives in the graveyard.
Rocky Balboa Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa, a film that he also wrote and directed.

Philippa Pearce obituaries

Children's author Philippa Pearce, whose books include Tom's Midnight's Garden, has died at the age of 86. The Guardian has an obituary by Stephanie Nettell.
To the end, and not only in her fiction, she had an innate wisdom and generous spirit that reached out to life: only last summer she enthralled a west Norfolk primary school ("she had them just where she wanted them", marvelled the teacher) while herself eager to learn about the local carrstone - dark brown sandstone containing grains of iron. She had been visiting the Seven Stories children's book centre in Newcastle when she became ill. She was a star, from that era nostalgically called the golden age of children's literature, whose reputation blazed beyond the passing fads of reviewers or children: to John Rowe Townsend, himself a major influence in children literature, "she was the most brilliant of us all".
There are also obituaries in The Telegraph, The Independent, and The Times.

The Espresso: printing on demand

A machine that electronically stores 2.5 million books that can then be printed and bound in less than seven minutes is to be launched early next year. It prints in any language and has an upper limit of 550 pages. The 'Espresso' will be launched first in several US libraries. The company behind the project - On Demand Books - predicts that, within five years, it will be able to reproduce every book ever published.
More from Rowan Walker in The Observer.