Monday, April 30, 2007

Liza Marshall is new Channel 4 head of drama

Channel 4 has restructured its drama team, promoting commissioning editor Liza Marshall to the role of head of drama.

The move follows news that senior commissioning editor for drama, Francis Hopkinson, is leaving the broadcaster.

Marshall will report to Julian Bellamy, Channel 4’s new head of programmes, when he starts next month.
More from Matthew Hemley in The Stage.

From screen to stage

In The Telegraph, Jasper Rees explores the fashion for adapting films for the stage.
It's possible to take the long view, like Tom Morris, associate director of the National Theatre who has co-adapted A Matter of Life and Death, that the vogue for film adaptation is part of a theatrical continuum which goes back millennia. "The idea that it's in some way better or more valuable to have no visible source for a story I don't think holds any kind of historical water," he says. "Every classical Greek play was very clearly a reworking of an existing story and therefore technically a literary adaptation. All of Shakespeare's plays are in that sense literary adaptation."

Collective Writing - Action Transport

From Jessica Egan at Action Transport theatre:
Action Transport Theatre present Collective Writing – a successful recipe: a new writing event including a performance of Action Transport’s next collectively written play Night Train, followed by the launch of The Skeleton Key.

Are you interested in learning how to write plays collectively? Do you work with young people and want to find out more about creating plays from true stories and real experiences?

Action Transport are hosting Collective Writing – a successful recipe; an afternoon new writing event which will explore the secrets of writing collectively for, by and with young people.

You will have the chance to see Night Train – Action Transport’s latest experiment in collective writing; working with actors who want to write and will be performing their own work. You’ll meet the actors and see how collective playwriting could work for you. Night Train will go on to re-tour in spring 2008.

The event will be held at Dukes Theatre, Lancaster on Friday 18th May 2007 between 12.30 - 5.30pm – followed by the launch of The Skeleton Key at 6pm.

The cost of the event is £35. Please contact Jessica Egan on 0151 357 2120 or by email at to book your place by 30th April 2007.

Friday, April 27, 2007

What could replace Neighbours?

The BBC is threatening to withdraw from negotiations to renew the contract for Australian soap Neighbours, as the fee is reportedly rising from £25,000 per episode to £75,000.

I've always been a fan of Neighbours - a daytime soap that is well-written and well acted and actually has some wit - but its loss will free up a slot in the schedules. Might the BBC commission something homegrown to replace it?

The most recent attempts to launch new daytime soaps have not been very successful. In 2003 ITV dropped the relaunched Crossroads and the more innovative Night And Day after just two years.

Doctors has been a success for the BBC at lunchtime, so what would be the key to a successful teatime soap?

Talawa writers' group

Talawa is seeking experienced playwrights passionate about writing Black British drama to join its 2007 Writers' Group. The Group, now in its third year, provides a superb opportunity for experienced writers to polish their skills, network with key industry leaders and present their work in a showcase of play readings in Spring 2008.
More from BBC Writersroom.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New theatre rates

We've had a few problems with uploading documents on the Guild website, but they're fixed now and the new rates (as of 1 April 2007) for writers working in ITC theatres (pdf) and TNC theatres (pdf) are now online.

Links to Members' blogs

Following the Guild Website For Writers event last week, I've now added all the new blogs members have set up under the Guild Members' blogs heading on this blog.

Tom Smith, the main speaker at the event, has also set up a single page that shows all posts on Guild members' blogs. You can bookmark the page or subscribe to it using an RSS Newsreader.

If you weren't at the event but have a blog, contact Tom Smith to let him know that you'd like to be added.

Thanks for everything Tom.

So You Want To Be A Writer?

The deadline is tomorrow, but there's still time to apply for West Yorkshire Playhouse's So You Want To Be A Writer? scheme.

Writers of all levels of experience are welcome. Thanks to BBC Writersroom for the link.

Kyle Ward - Hollywood's newest hot writer

A Hollywood success story to inspire (or make you sick with envy), from Jay A. Fernandez in The LA Times.
As recently as three weeks ago, Kyle Ward was just another assistant at DreamWorks. Until he sold his first screenplay, "Fiasco Heights," to Universal Pictures for Michael Bay to produce. Four days after that, Creative Artists Agency signed him as a client. Last Thursday, Lionsgate hired the 27-year-old to adapt "Kane & Lynch," a video game launching in September about two death row escapees.

And then Saturday night he strode into Guy's Bar on Beverly Boulevard straight into the excited embrace of a handful of industry strivers who were throwing a celebratory party in his honor.

Why Hollywood neglects women

In The New York Times, Sharon Waxman asks why relatively few Hollywood films target a female audience.
Tom Ortenberg, the president of Lionsgate, said he did sense a gender divide in Hollywood fare. “In general, female markets have been underserved, and the over-25 female audience is one that’s dramatically underserved in the marketplace,” he said. “I don’t know why that is. You could speculate that it’s because this is a male-driven world, with people greenlighting the movies they feel most close to.”

BBC plans producers' academy

An academy aimed at training up and coming producers to work across the BBC’s slate of drama series is being developed by the corporation in a bid to bring fresh talent into the industry.

The academy would sit alongside the BBC’s existing ones for writers and directors, which give new talent the chance to work on returning series such as Holby City, EastEnders, Casualty and Doctors.

BBC controller of drama production John Yorke, who is the brains behind the existing academies, said the idea was in its early stages.
More from Matthew Hemley in The Stage.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

BAFTA for Peter Morgan

Peter Morgan has won yet another award - this time it's the Best Writer BAFTA (part of the BAFTA TV Craft Awards) for his Channel Four drama Longford.

Morgan's fellow nominees for the award were Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect), Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (Extras), and Matthew Graham (Life On Mars).

An Evening with David Nobbs

There are still some tickets available for An Evening With David Nobbs at the Guild on Thursday. To reserve your place, email Moe Owoborode at the Guild or call her on 020 7833 0777 (ext. 204).

To provide information about upcoming Guild Events there is now a special section on the Guild website.

Upcoming events include:

UK Film Council - 25 Words Or Less

The UK Film Council has launched its latest 25 Words Or Less competition for scriptwriters.
The next round of 25 Words or Less brings a new approach to the initiative, in partnership with 3 of the UK’s low budget production financiers: Warp X, Vertigo Films and Slingshot Studios. The production partners and the UK Film Council’s Development Fund will jointly select three writers to develop a first draft script inspired by each of the production partner’s chosen genre. Involvement of these partners will provide access to their expertise and experience of developing for low budget features, in an environment where a primary focus is moving rapidly to production.

Funding of £10,000 will be awarded by the UK Film Council to each successful writer. The Development Fund will assign a script editor to each project – the cost of which will be attributable to the project but met by the UK Film Council.
The three genres are: “Lo-Fi, Sci-Fi”, “A comedy involving a case of mistaken identity” and "Teen Hitchcock".

Applicants must either have an agent or be a Full Member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.

The closing date for entries is 10am on 13 July 2007.

Ofcom says soaps are too violent

TV soap operas have been criticised by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom for showing too much violence on screen.

The regulator warned that a number of programmes have reached "the limits of what is acceptable" and noted that complaints from viewers are rising.

Ofcom made its comments to broadcasters as it upheld complaints about a kidnapping story on ITV soap Emmerdale.

It said a scene where a character was shot in the stomach was "unsuitable" for broadcast before the watershed.
More from BBC News.

Read the full Ofcom bulletin (pdf).

Monday, April 23, 2007

Uncrushed diaries

See how Guild members are getting on with their blogging following last week's website event...

Dick Vosburgh 1929-2007

Comedy writer Dick Vosburgh has died at the age of 77. There are obituaries in all the major papers, including The Independent.
Dick Vosburgh was an immensely talented writer, broadcaster and lyricist who provided material for virtually every leading comic performer in the UK, plus such American superstars as Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Carol Channing and Peggy Lee. He also wrote sketches for revues, and book and lyrics for musical comedies, notably A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine - which won the Evening Standard and Plays and Players awards in 1979, and the following year won two Tony Awards for its Broadway production, which ran for nearly two years.

Vosburgh's quick wit and invention put him much in demand as a gag writer, and stars for whom he provided sitcoms and sketches included Stanley Baxter, Frankie Howerd, Bob Monkhouse, John Cleese, Ronnie Corbett, Lenny Henry and Roy Hudd. He contributed to film scripts for Frankie Howerd (Up Pompeii and Up the Chastity Belt) and Bob Hope (Call Me Bwana), as well as Carry On Nurse.

Carnegie Top 10

To celebrate its 70th anniversary, the organisers of the Carnegie Children's Book Awards are inviting people to vote for the best winner of the past 70 years.

As The Times somewhat breathlessly reports:
The Top Ten, put together by an expert panel and published today, does not include C. S. Lewis, Arthur Ransome or Walter De La Mare. Enid Blyton, J. K. Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson are also notable by their absence. Instead, the selection includes contemporary novels such as Melvin Burgess’s Junk, which realistically depicts the lives of young heroin users.
The Top Ten are:
  • Skellig - David Almond (1998)
  • Junk - Melvin Burgess (1996)
  • Storm - Kevin Crossley-Holland (1985)
  • A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly (2003)
  • The Owl Service - Alan Garner (1967)
  • The Family From One End Street - Eve Garnett (1937)
  • The Borrowers - Mary Norton (1952)
  • Tom's Midnight Garden - Philippa Pearce (1958)
  • Northern Lights - Philip Pullman (1995)
  • The Machine-Gunners - Robert Westall (1981)

Robert Harris interview

In The Telegraph, Elizabeth Grice talks to novelist Robert Harris.
Harris has just turned 50, a tall man with an easy, thoughtful manner and no delusions of celebrity. His children tell him with fearsome logic that he cannot be middle-aged because he won't live to be 100. His epiphany about novel-writing came one wet Monday in October when writing Pompeii was like breaking rocks, yet he knew he'd far rather be grappling with the Roman water supply system or vulcanology than writing a 1,000-word newspaper column.

"There is nothing like the ecstasy of relief when a book is finished," he says. "I go slightly mad; buy things. I tell Gill I'm going out to buy a book and I come back with a car."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blogs for writers

By the end of last night's Websites For Writers event at the Guild, it was clear that we'd got the title wrong. It should have been called Blogs For Writers.

Tom Smith

"The web," said Tom Smith, the opening speaker, "is not a publication - it's a conversation." And, while websites tend to be static and one-sided, he argued, blogs are the perfect medium for online interaction.

Blogs - journal-style websites where entries are dated and appear in reverse chronological order - also have the advantage of being free and very easy to set up and manage. As Tom demonstrated, using Blogger, you can be up and running in less than a minute and don't need any technical knowledge or previous experience.

Taking us through the key components of a blog, Tom highlighted the blogroll which is where you list links to other sites you think are interesting. "Links," he explained, "are a real currency in blogging, so it's good to link to other people and, hopefully, get links back in return." He also showed how tagging posts with categories can help people navigate your blog and build up a picture of its content, and how you can use RSS feeds to manage reading other people's blogs.

Encouraging everyone at the event to start a blog, Tom pointed out how good they are for increasing communication. He even offered to build a site that would bring together all the Guild members' blogs into a single location.

Danny Stack

Proving Tom Smith's pudding, as it were, was the next speaker, Danny Stack. "Two years ago," he said, "I knew nothing about blogging. But when I discovered the huge range of American screenwriting blogs I decided to create my own, with a UK focus." At that time, apart from James Henry very few writers were blogging in the UK.

Drawing on his experience as a script reader and screenwriter, Danny's blog includes advice to writers and reflections on his own experiences. It has become well known in the writing community and, as Danny explained, has brought him into contact with a wide range of other writers and people in the industry. "You don't have to be confessional or too specific about projects you're working on," he said. "The key thing is to be genuine, honest and regular with your posting."

Sophie Nicholls

The final speaker, Sophie Nicholls, began by pointing out that blogging can even be good for your love life - it was how she met the person she currently lives with (a certain Tom Smith). Sophie runs a blog and wiki called Lots Of Big Ideas, featuring stories by refugees and asylum seekers.

The fact that people can be published online and get their voices heard has been incredibly valuable, she said and, while some have been reluctant to post on the blog, putting stories on the wiki has allowed others to add comments.

Wiki's are normally used for collaborative writing, and, though that's not really the case on Lots Of Big Ideas, the site shows how blogs can work well with other online tools.


Reconvening after a glass of wine the writers in attendance fired questions at the panel. Most seemed surprised and excited about how easy it was to begin blogging, although some worried about whether they could find them time. Tom Smith back-tracked slightly on his earlier contempt for traditional personal websites (he'd characterised them as being full of pictures of cats) and said that blogs can work very well in conjunction with a more static site.

How, though, do you get people to visit your blog?

Tom Smith pointed out that search engines like Google are well-disposed to blogs because of their format and the fact that they tend to have regular new content. More importantly, though, was to write something good. Do that, he said, and people will find it.

In a response to a question about getting work via your blog, Danny Stack said that he regularly got contacted about different projects and, while most of them were unpaid, he had picked up lots of useful connections.

Other hints and tips:
  • Find a 'friendly geek' who can help you tweak the code on your blog to make it look just the way you want it
  • Use search engines to get help with technical queries
  • Try not to repeat what other bloggers post about
  • Always attribute and content or links you get from another blog
  • You can point a blog at a different domain name
  • It's easy to add pictures to a blog, or video (especially via YouTube)
  • You can link a blog to a commercial site like eBay to give more information about a product
  • For self-publishing, try using, and blogging to promote the book
  • You can put adverts on your blog using AdSense from Google
  • Tom Smith's reading list: The Cluetrain manifesto
And remember, anyone at the event, or any other Guild member who has a blog or sets one up over the next few weeks, should email Tom Smith so that he can create the central site.

Mackie to take up ITV role next month

ITV director of drama Nick Elliott will step down from his role next month in a move that will see the broadcaster’s controller of drama Laura Mackie take up the post.

Elliott was initially scheduled to retire at the end of 2007, but an ITV spokeswoman said an earlier departure date would make it more “straightforward” for producers looking to pitch ideas to the drama team.
More from Matthew Hemley in The Stage.

Libretto writing

In The Times, Sarah Urwin Jones investigates what it takes to write a good libretto.
The path to a good libretto is piled with literary bodies who thought that they “could” and then rapidly discovered that they really shouldn’t have. Even W. H. Auden, who peaked with The Rake’s Progress for Stravinsky, couldn’t flog his wordy Christmas Oratorio.

So where did it all go wrong? Some blame it on loquacious Wagner, while Meredith Oakes, librettist for Thomas Adès on The Tempest (a rare contemporary success story), blames it on a 20th-century obsession with “a Beckettian sense of futility”. Everyone else blames Sophie’s Choice , the well-meaning but dramatically disastrous 2002 Royal Opera House adaptation of William Styron’s Auschwitz novel.

“What was Nicholas Maw thinking of, writing his own libretto?” asks Philip Hensher, novelist and librettist of Adès’s first opera, Powder Her Face . “And how could the opera house let him? All we seem to get now is tiresome intervention from opera houses who want more input than they deserve.”

Roy Williams interview

In The Guardian, Maddy Costa speaks to playwright (and Guild member) Roy Williams.
Williams' latest play takes him back to the past, to 1950s London, when race riots broke out between white teddy boys and the growing population of Caribbeans. It's an adaptation of Colin MacInnes' novel Absolute Beginners, one of the most vibrant depictions of teen life ever written. Williams first came across the story in the derided 1986 movie starring Patsy Kensit and David Bowie; though he admired its style ("the way they filmed Soho, it's obvious they spent shitloads of money on it"), he soon discovered it wasn't a patch on the original book. Set in 1958 and narrated by an 18-year-old photographer who is already feeling disillusioned by teen culture, MacInnes' story captures London in all its seedy glory, not to mention the tensions between teens and adults, old and new Britain, blacks and whites, that still exist today.
Absolute Beginners opens at the Lyric Hammersmith, London, on 26 April.

How to be a greetings card writer

In The Independent, Emma Jayne Jones looks at how to get work as a greetings card writer.
The market is mainly served by a lot of smaller publishers - over 800. Source the ones who are looking for freelance writers. Visiting trade fairs is a good way to do this, or subscribe to the industry magazine Progressive Greetings.

Most publishers buy work outright and you will be expected to sign over copyright, losing ownership of the piece.

The amount and style of payment varies with agreements being per line, per verse or for a group of ideas. Verses are usually paid from 50p a line to £25 a verse, whereas punch lines need special skill and can earn up to £150 per idea.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Websites for writers

Hope to see many of you at the Websites For Writers event at the Guild tonight. We've got about 50 people booked, so there should be lots of interesting discussion in addition to the main speakers.

For those of you unable to make it, I'll be posting a write-up on the Guild website at some stage tomorrow.

Multi-tasking for writers

On The Guardian Books Blog, Niall Griffiths explains how the advice of Saul Bellow has helped him move forward with his novel.
...Saul Bellow once advised a friend to work on two projects at the same time; he found that switching from one project to the other constantly refreshed him, inviting new perspectives, new enthusiasms, new solutions. To avoid similar gestalt blindness, Jackson Pollock used to have a number of paintings on the go. When he returned to unfinished work he'd go through what he called his "getting acquainted" period - he wanted to see the statement rather than the composition.

Simm attacks Mars scheduling

Last week, the final ever instalment of Life of Mars was broadcast. It's a measure of [actor, John] Simm's importance to television drama that, at 36, he feels emboldened to speak exactly as he finds about the episode's scheduling opposite Champions League football on ITV.

"The mind boggles," he says. "It's one of the best hours of TV I've ever done. They've just p***ed a surefire ratings winner right up against the wall."

The grumbles of a leading actor are rarely edifying, but we should make an exception for Simm. After the first series of Life on Mars was delivered on time and on budget, BBC Drama tightened the purse-strings for the second.
More from Jasper Rees in The Telegraph.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vonnegut's eight rules of writing

Following the recent death of American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, many bloggers have been rediscovering his "Eight rules of writing fiction".

I particularly like number 8:
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Entwistle appointed acting Controller of BBC Four

Head of TV Current Affairs, George Entwistle, has been announced acting Controller of BBC Four for six months, from the beginning of May.

Current Controller, Janice Hadlow has requested a sabbatical in order to focus on writing her book on George III. She will also spend some time consulting on the wider BBC Vision strategy.
More from the BBC Press Office.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BBC Writing Academy

Further to yesterday's post, the BBC are now accepting applications for their Writing Academy.

Applicants must have already had at least one film, television or radio drama script produced, or one theatre piece performed professionally, or will be graduates of Skillset-approved screenwriting courses.

The deadline for applications is 14 May.

The inner life of the super-villains

VenomJames Franco as New Goblin in Spider-Man 3, screenplay by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi and
Alvin Sargent, story by Ivan Raimi, from the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

In The LA Times, Sheigh Crabtree reports on how the team behind the forthcoming Spider-Man 3 film, have tried to ensure that the audience will care about the villains as well as the hero.
"[Producer] Avi Arad said to me in one of our first meetings: 'In Marvel, there are no bad guys,' " [Topher] Grace [who plays Venom] explains. "I took it to mean that unlike other comic book companies, where someone falls into a vat of acid, then wants to rule the world, we can understand the source of their anger. Blurring that line can be a dangerous thing, but when it's done right it can also be a lot more rewarding for the audience."
Spider-Man 3 is released in the US and the UK on 4 May.

Update: thanks to Dan Owen (see comments) for a correction to the caption.

Kureishi accuses BBC of censorship

The author Hanif Kureishi accused the BBC of censorship last night, after it dropped a radio broadcast of his short story describing the work of a cameraman who films the executions of western captives in Iraq.

Radio 4 cancelled a reading of Weddings and Beheadings, one of five nominations for the National Short Story prize due to be broadcast this week, after concluding the timing "would not be right" following unconfirmed reports that kidnapped BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston had been killed by a jihadist group.
More from Owen Gibson in The Guardian.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Adapt or die

In The Independent, Dunta Kean explains why having their book adapted for the screen can be such a painful experience for novelists.
Authors-turned-screenwriters are in for a shock. It can seem like everyone including the tea boy has more input into the adaptation. Harder still, for the author precious about their work, is the slash and burn aspect of adaptation. Screenplays are a third of the size of novels, and adapting books means wielding the axe: out go timescales, characters and sub-plots. What films want is not the novel, but according to Deborah Moggach, "the short story in the book".
The full-length version of the article is in the new issue of Mslexia.

Inside the Writers' Academy

In Media Guardian (free registration required), Gareth Maclean talks to Abi Brown about being on the BBC Writers' Academy course and writing her first episode of EastEnders.
"It undoubtedly kills your social life, and I couldn't have done it without the love of a good man, but I learnt so much and have gone from nought to EastEnders in a remarkably short time," says Brown, the amazement evident in her voice.

Indeed, Bown, 41, only started writing seriously some seven years ago, and her background was in theatre. She had also written some short stories but nothing to match authorship of an episode of a soap which, despite the continuing parlous state it apparently finds itself in (at least according to the tabloids), still pulls in hefty audiences.

"They're filming it at the moment," she says, "and it's amazing watching actors saying your lines. Like nothing else, in fact."

Taxi for Mr Merchant

If you're near a radio tomorrow morning, you can listen to Taxi For Mr Merchant on Radio 4 at 11.30am. If you miss it, try the online Listen Again service.
With its haunting music and credits depicting an endless journey across the Brooklyn Bridge, Taxi was never the most conventional of TV sitcoms. But it brought together a collection of writers and performers who went on to be extremely influential in the worlds of film, TV and even opera. And yet, for all its influence, it's never really been afforded the reputation it deserves.

Stephen Merchant tells the story of show. As well as great writing, it assembled a stellar cast, and discovered Danny De Vito, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kauffman, in addition to showcasing the terrific acting skills of Judd Hirsh.

Featuring original interviews with former cast members, director James Burrows and sitcom writer Rob Long, and a plethora of clips, Taxi For Mr Merchant is an insight into the history of the American sitcom.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Mark Of Cain

The Mark Of Cain Gerard Kearns in The Mark Of Cain, written by Tony Marchant, directed by Marc Munden (Photo: Nick Wall)

Few TV dramas in recent years have been as controversial as The Mark Of Cain by Tony Marchant, finally screened last night after being postponed so as not to harm the prospects of the British naval personnel held in Iran until last week.

Critics, such as Gerard O'Donovan in The Telegraph, were mostly full of praise.
It confronted viewers – in parts graphically – with difficult but valid questions about how our troops, and their commanding officers, might behave in the pressure-cooker environment of insurgent-ridden Iraq. It did so with a sympathy and humanity that leapt off the screen in Matthew McNulty and Gerard Kearns’s performances as the two young squaddies at the centre of the storm. It explored the pack loyalty that the Army instils for the sake of discipline and control but which renders fine ideals like individual “moral courage” (ie the right to disobey a bad order, or report wrongdoing) redundant in practice. In such situations going against the group is always perceived as betrayal.
Sam Wollaston in The Guardian agreed.
It is brilliant drama, bleakly beautiful, and horrifying. It perfectly captures the banality of war, the boredom, the bullying, and then the blind terror and confusion of battle. There are fantastic performances wherever you look, but especially from Gerard Kearns (of Shameless) as Mark, the young lad with a poster of Avril Lavigne on his wall at home, suddenly thrown into a very different world, a world with blood on the walls, and excrement. Mark ends up dead in the bath with a bag on his head, a gruesome nod to the Iraqi captives whose abuse he played a part in.
Both critics, however, shared some of the reservations expressed by Ian Johns in The Times about the drama-documentary mix.
...the opening caption — “This film is based on extensive research but is a dramatic work of fiction” — kept gnawing at me. Of the events before us, what had been taken from definite events and what from rumour or suspicion? Marchant had clearly been inspired by documented cases, even prefiguring a six-month court martial covering similar abuse charges that delayed the film’s original transmission last year. So why didn’t he come up with a straight drama-documentary that would have clarified the division between fact and dramatic licence?

Patric Verrone profile

In The New York Times, Michael Cieply profiles Writers Guild of America West President, Patric Verrone, ahead of the crucial TV contract negotiations.
As his wedding neared, some 19 years ago, Patric Verrone, now president of the Writers Guild of America West, joined his bride-to-be in a ritual common to show business types. The couple formed a company, one with a clever name: Calloo Callay.

“It’s what you say when you slay the Jabberwock, which is what we were attempting to do in Hollywood,” said Mr. Verrone, referring to Lewis Carroll’s verse about a mythical monster.

Mr. Verrone will come face to face with the beast in its corporate form this July, as his union and its East Coast counterpart begin what are expected to be exceedingly difficult negotiations with the conglomerates that own the networks and studios. Whether the entertainment business continues to operate as usual over the next year will depend in no small part on how he handles the encounter.

Arts Council must be a partner, not a parent

On The Guardian's Theatre blog, Lyn Gardner, who has been doing a great job in highlighting problems of arts funding, reports from the latest Devoted and Disgruntled meeting of theatre practitioners.
At Shunt's Devoted and Disgruntled meeting last night, it was clear that artists are prepared to back the Arts Council - but only if there is a genuine change in the relationship between the bureaucrats and the artistic community. Artists must know who is making the decisions and on what basis. The Arts Council must also stop trying to dictate the work it wants made and let artists decide for themselves. Instead of the current relationship, which often seems like that of weary parent and fractious toddler, there must be a relationship of equals. Remember: art would continue if there was no Arts Council; an Arts Council cannot exist without artists.

ManBooker International 2007 - nominations

The nominations have been announced for the ManBooker International Prize for Fiction. They are: Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, John Banville, Peter Carey, Don DeLillo, Carlos Fuentes, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Harry Mulisch, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Amos Oz, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Michel Tournier.

The inaugural Prize, in 2005, was won by Albanian novelist Ismail Kadaré.

The competition, worth £60,000 to the winner, is open to all living writers whose work is available in English, and is won on the basis of a body of work rather than a single book. Many of the nominees for the 2007 Prize, were also on the list for 2005 although neither Milan Kundera nor John Updike, notable names in the first selection, have been chosen this year.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in June.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Late payment - writers' rights

On the Guild's website, Andy Walsh offers some practical advice to help you get paid on time.

Matthews appointed ACE theatre strategy director

Former Theatrical Management Association president Barbara Matthews has been appointed as the new director of theatre strategy at Arts Council England.

The move follows the restructuring of ACE’s national office at the end of last year, in which a number of key staff, including director of theatre Nicola Thorold, took voluntary redundancy.
More from Alistair Smith in The Stage.

Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007

The American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, author of books including Slaughterhouse Five, has died at the age of 84. There are obituaries on BBC News, in The LA Times and by Dinitia Smith in The New York Times.
Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.

Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?

He also shared with Twain a profound pessimism. “Mark Twain,” Mr. Vonnegut wrote in his 1991 book, “Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage,” “finally stopped laughing at his own agony and that of those around him. He denounced life on this planet as a crock. He died.”

Danny Cohen is new Controller of BBC Three

The BBC have announced that Danny Cohen will be the new Controller of BBC Three. Cohen, the current head of E4, will replace Julian Bellamy who has returned to Channel 4.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Have I Got News For You? to launch video podcast

Have I Got News For You? is to launch a video podcast as part of a six-series deal with the BBC.

The three-year deal with HIGNFY producer Hat Trick, announced today, will take the BBC1 panel game up to its 38th series and 19th year. The 33rd season begins this Friday with regular team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton.

HIGNFY's podcast will feature specially produced material not seen on either BBC1 or BBC2, which broadcasts a weekly repeat of the show with 10 additional minutes.

"Have I Got News For You, as a topical comedy show, is ripe for spin-off viral programming," said Hat Trick's recently appointed head of interactive, Jonathan Davenport.
More from John Plunkett in Media Guardian (free registration required).

BAFTA TV Awards nominations

The nominations have been announced for the 2007 BAFTA TV Awards. The winners will be announced at the ceremony at the London Palladium on 20 May 2007.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Armstrong and Bain's guide to comedy

With the new series of their sitcom Peep Show about to start on Channel 4, in The Guardian, Guild members Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain offer their guide to writing comedy.
Devise An Innovative Shooting Style That Makes Filming Incredibly Difficult And Alienates The Majority Of Your Potential Audience

"We like the point of view filming style and internal monologues in Peep Show but very occasionally we wonder what it would be like if we shot the whole thing normally. Perhaps it would have more mainstream appeal and be considered less of a cult. The style makes the show appear edgy even when we're writing quite traditional comedy. We could probably write a scene in which a vicar was coming round for tea and a character was struggling to get his trousers on but still retain a sense of reality to the situation because of the camerawork! Certainly, we did a scene in series three where Mark's boss turns up at the flat and sees him sitting on the toilet."

Sir Michael Lyons is new BBC Chair

Sir Michael Lyons has been appointed as the new Chair of the BBC Trust (the Governors as were). For BBC News, Ian Youngs looks at what his role entails.
...his new job does not require practical TV and radio skills. The BBC Trust is intended to be an arms-length regulator.

It will set the corporation's general strategy, approving major changes, keeping an eye on the budget and calling executives to account to make sure they deliver quality and value.

The Martian Child goes straight

The Martian Child, by David Gerrold, has been turned into a film (screenplay by Seth Bass & Jonathan Tolins - but why is the hero no longer gay?

The Martian Child trailer

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sunshine - script (and backstories) by Alex Garland

Sunshine trailer

Sunshine, written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle, is released in the UK tomorrow. On the film's (slightly confusing) website they've posted Garland's backstories for each of the characters. There will also be a novel with the same title, but it has not yet been published. Garland, who had huge success at the age of 24 with his first novel, The Beach, has sounded diffident about writing in the past.
I often find writing a kind of irritating way to spend my one shot at life. I never felt short of things to write about. It was more to do with the will to write. I'd read stuff I'd written and think, "Who cares? I don't. Why should anyone else?"'
But he has always insisted that he does not suffer from writers' block.
Garland was very irritated, however, about reports in the media about him having suffered from writer's block. "I have never said to anyone that I had writer's block. I have never had writer's block." At the time he was working round the clock on the screenplay for 28 Days Later. "I don't understand it. People wanted me to have writer's block."

Michael Dibdin 1947-2007

Michael Dibdin, author of the Aurelio Zen detective novels, died last week at the age of 60. Crime fiction blog The Rap Sheet, pays tribute.
I had the opportunity to talk with Michael Dibdin only once, shortly after the publication in 1997 of The Vintage Book of Classic Crime, a rather curious literary sampler he’d edited. He was by then living in rainy Seattle, after meeting (at a 1993 writers’ conference in Spain) and then marrying local mystery author Kathrine Beck (aka K.K. Beck). I found Dibdin to be a bit gruff at first, delivering clipped responses that he evidently believed would be quite sufficient for an interviewer with no more than passing interest in crime fiction. After we’d spent a good while talking about his work and the genre at a coffee shop in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square district, though, he realized that I was no general assignment reporter, but instead had a longtime interest in the very variety of story to which he had devoted himself. We then carried on for another hour or so, exchanging the names of favorite recent books and talking about some of the acknowledged giants and lesser-known stars of this genre, many of whose work figured into his Vintage collection.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Website event - still time to book

There are still a few places left for the Websites For Writers event - 19th April 2007, 7.00-9.30pm at The Writers' Guild Centre, King's Cross.

We'll be aiming to cover a wide range of topics with something for everyone, whether internet novice or expert. It will also be a great chance to share experiences with other writers about what works best online.

Entry price includes a free glass of wine. Places are limited so tickets must be booked in advance. To book please send a cheque for £5 (£7.50 for non-Guild members) payable to WGGB. Please send the cheque to 'Website event', WGGB, 15 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JN.

An arts funding parable

In the week that the first Olympics-driven cut to cultural grants was announced, here is a revealing little parable from the world of arts funding. Seven weeks ago Sebastian Barker, editor of the London Magazine, was summoned to Arts Council England's literature department. His magazine, which has benefited from public subsidy for decades, is currently underwritten to the tune of £30,000. Mr Barker was told that, despite previous assurances to the contrary, funding would cease from April 2008, and that he was out of a job.
More from DJ Taylor in The Guardian.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Overhaul for BBC America

The BBC's US cable channel BBC America is dropping classic shows including Benny Hill in favour of modern hits like Hollyoaks and Torchwood.

The channel, which is available in 54 million US homes, is planning a "complete transformation".
More from BBC News.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Jonah Nolan interview

In The LA Times, Jay A. Fernandez speaks to screenwriter Jonah Nolan.
As news of Jonah Nolan's hiring to draft a screenplay for the potential Steven Spielberg-directed science fiction epic "Interstellar" rippled through cyberspace last week, Nolan admitted to a little starry-eyed wonder.

"I have a better understanding of what those NASA astronauts feel like as they're about to get blasted off into outer space [when I was] waiting to go pitch ideas to Lynda Obst and Steven Spielberg," Nolan says of his meeting in January. "I'm not even sure if I remember what I told them, but they must have liked something. It was a pretty intense experience."

Indeed they did. Now, as soon as the Oscar-nominated screenwriter helps director-brother Chris finalize prep for the "Batman Begins" sequel "The Dark Knight," for which Nolan penned the screenplay, his next job will entail adapting the mind-bending treatment written by Obst and physicist Dr. Kip S. Thorne into a narrative screenplay for the potential Paramount Pictures tent pole.

Authors' websites

In The Times, Tom Cox looks at how book writers such Jasper Fforde as are using websites to interact with their readers.
The web pages are a kind of after-sales service for readers who only see a new Fforde book ever year,” Fforde says. “I also see it as an extension of the books — allowing readers to dive back into that world for a little longer.” He says the website is an important part of “a reader-writer contract that I hope will induce people to keep reading me year after year”.