Friday, February 29, 2008

Dennis Kelly on writing plays and TV comedy

In The Guardian, Dennis Kelly asks why people find it hard to accept that he writes different kinds of work for stage and TV.
For some people, writing a sitcom seems an odd thing for a playwright to do. My plays aren't comedies, and Pulling isn't theatrical. Neither is it just a day job to pay the rent - I came up with the characters together with my co-writer Sharon Horgan. We write it together, we exec-produce it together: it's ours. And yet telling people from the world of TV that I also inhabit the world of theatre is something I've begun to avoid. Some theatre people seem to conclude that Pulling must be a serious drama, and resolve to ignore anything I say to the contrary. And when a TV executive asked me recently about the plot of DNA, my play, he asked with a big expectant smile on his face. When I'd finished explaining it to him - it's about a group of teenagers who do something very wrong, and then cover it up - the smile was still there, but his eyes were saying, "I don't get it - why's that funny?"

Helen Smith on blogging

The new issue of the Guild's magazine, UK Writer, will be out next week and to whet your appetite we've put one of the articles - writer Helen Smith on why she blogs - on the Guild website.
I like blogging because it gives me an opportunity to organise my thoughts, set down ideas and record little snippets of information or anecdotes about events that interest me – thereby freeing up a larger part of my brain to work on whatever writing project I’m engaged in at the time. It sounds unscientific but it seems to work quite well.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In praise of Red Planet Pictures

On The Stage TV Blog, Mark Wright celebrates the news that Tony Jordan's Red Planet Pictures is developing a new family drama for Saturday evenings on BBC 1.
The in Red Planet we have an independent drama producer that is meeting the challenges of producing modern television drama while casting an eye to the future of the genre. Like Kudos, who Jordan has a very long association with, there appears to be a vibrancy about what they do, and that’s to be applauded.

Fincham replaces Shaps at ITV

From Chris Tryhorn in Media Guardian:
ITV unveiled a bold shakeup of senior management today, hiring former BBC1 controller Peter Fincham to replace Simon Shaps as director of television.

The company has also extended Michael Grade's reign as executive chairman by an extra year to the end of 2010.

And Dawn Airey, the managing director of global content, and Rupert Howell, the managing director of brand and commercial, have been appointed to the company's board with immediate effect.

Writing short film scripts

Given that short films are supposed to be a good entry point for screenwriters there seems to be relatively little advice about writing short film scripts. On his blog, screenwriter writer John August offers his own suggestions as well as a free download of his own short film script, God.
The hero’s fundamental problem/challenge/obstacle needs to occur by the time you get to the 1/3rd mark. So, if your short is meant to be three minutes long, the big event needs to happen on page one. If it’s a 10-minute short, it happens around page three. It’s not that you’re worried about your reader getting bored before then — if you can’t entertain us for three pages, there’s a problem — but rather that if you delay any longer, your story is going to feel lopsided: too much setup for what was accomplished.
Here's some other short film scriptwriting advice, from the BBC Writersroom and The Times.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The ebb and flow of movie receipts

Box offcie revenue graphicFor film industry geeks only, a curiously compelling interactive graphic in The New York Times showing box office receipts 1986-2007.

US writers vote to ratify contract

Having voted earlier this month to end their strike, American screenwriters have now formally ended their dispute with the studios by voting to accept a new contract.

In an open letter to members informing them of the decision, Patric Verrone and Michael Winship, Presidents of the Writers Guild of America West and East respectively, said:
As we close this chapter in our union's history, what we together have accomplished should not be underestimated. The 2008 MBA establishes a beachhead on the Internet and in new media that will guarantee our share of a potentially vast and bountiful future.Writers already are working on new media projects under this agreement and residuals must now be paid for streaming and downloads of our library of films and TV shows.

...We must take our newfound spirit and unity and use it to move our two unions forward. We look to the future and our newly revitalized member engagement to reaffirm writers as the first among equals in the most collaborative art form in history. As the last few weeks proved once and for all, we are all in this together.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ashes To Ashes script

Ashes To AshesKeeley Hawes and Philip Glenister in Ashes To Ashes (Photo: BBC/Kudos)

New this week in the BBC Writersroom Script Archive is Matthew Graham's script for the first episode of Ashes To Ashes. You can download it for free as a pdf.
So ... let’s hear it .. Your wife..?

Mrs Hunt left me.

Another man?

You’re half-right.

A woman?! She’s a lesb -

Don’t say that word! Things like
that ... belong in films not in the
Also recently posted is Tony Jordan's recent episode-long monologue for Dot Cotton (pdf).

Cormac McCarthy profile

In The Independent, Boyd Tonkin profiles Cormac McCarthy who, after the success of the Coen brothers' adaptation of his novel No Country For Old Men, could become as influential in film as he is in the world of literature.
Interpretations of his work will spawn like salmon in the stream. And, for the most part, McCarthy will sit tight, look after his son and read more hard science. It seems plausible to state that, whatever its other qualities, his work poses as tough a challenge to the American ideology of optimism, and "the pursuit of happiness", as any major writer in the national canon. Taking its mood and its words from the Old Testament, that frontiersman's dread has long haunted American culture, a gloomy ghost at the feast. Social trauma, and environmental risk, have given it another lease of life.
Next up for the big screen are, according to IMDB, The Road and Blood Meridian.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Suzie Templeton among Oscar winners

At the Oscars last night, the writing awards went to Diablo Cody (Best Screenplay for Juno) and Joel and Ethan Coen (Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country For Old Men, from the book by Cormac McCarthy).

British animator Suzie Templeton won the best animated short film with her version of Peter And The Wolf (co-written with Marianela Maldonado). She told BBC News about the challenge of writing the script.
"Writing to music meant the script was incredibly difficult to write. For me, it felt like writing backwards. Normally you have a concept and it all grows from that one place, it find its own shape, but a piece of music like that has its own complex shape already.

"Prokofiev's story is actually very simple, which is great in a performance with a narrator, because so much is left to the imagination. But in a visual piece everything needs to be told, and you don't want to fill it with just padding. Everything needs to make sense and have meaning. It was the hardest thing I have ever written in my life."
If you've not seen Templeton's film (shown on Channel 4 in the UK), it's well worth seeking out.

Update (26.02.08): In The Times, Ronald Harwood (nominated for his script for The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) gives his impressions of the ceremony.
The theme on the red carpet this year was bosoms. I've never seen so much décolleté. Bustlines were slashed to the navel. I saw a lot of Heidi Klum, for example. Her stylist complimented my wife Natasha on her Armani outfit. Many actresses might just as well have been nude.

ITV1's new drama travails

In Media Guardian, Maggie Brown and Stephen Armstrong ask what has gone wrong with ITV1's recent run of new drama launches, none of which has enjoyed ratings success.

The conclusions seem to be contradictory. On the one hand:
"ITV viewers expect certain things from their Friday night drama," explains Chris Curtis, news editor at TV trade magazine Broadcast. "They like cars and explosions, and shows they know."
And on the other:
"Creating vanilla drama for the masses is no good because the mass audience doesn't exist any more," warns Steven Hesse, managing partner at Orange and Mercedes agency Weapon7.

He thinks the problem is that ITV has to become more experimental. "Create content that connects, entertains and informs the viewer, then embrace new technologies that allow for more targeted distribution."
Perhaps the most telling point is one that adds some context:
An ITV network executive who has recently left says that veteran former drama controller Nick Elliott tended to ignore the contemporary themes and high-concept dramas pioneered by [Jane] Tranter at the BBC. So the channel had a lot of catching up to do.
Update (25.02.08): It's not all bad news, however. Many existing dramas continue to thrive - for example, Taggart has just been recommissioned for another ten 60-minute episodes.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Guild goes to Downing Street

On the WGGB website, Guild TV Committee Chair, Gail Renard, reports from a reception for women in trade unions held at Number 11 Downing Street.
Olivia Hetreed reported that the Film Council did research on why there are so few women scriptwriters in film - proportionately less than in TV, which is far from equal. The research showed that more women than men go to the cinema in the UK and therefore talk of not writing for the audience is misguided. Indeed films written by women do better at the box office than films by men. But Olivia pointed out “the film business is a tanker that's slow to turn and because of the money involved, decision makers are understandably if regrettably unwilling to try any new writer, regardless of gender. “

Fiction will win at the Oscars

In The Independent, Boyd Tonkin points out that whoever picks up the statuettes at Sunday night's Oscars, literary fiction is likely to be the biggest winner.
Whoever makes the teary speeches at the Oscars on Sunday, this year – as every year – fiction will win. With the Best Picture category staging a tussle between Ian McEwan (Atonement), Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) and Upton Sinclair (There Will Be Blood, but in 1927 simply Oil!), Alice Munro joins their company in competition for script and acting awards. Her New Yorker story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" became Away from Her. Under other headings, the novels whose celluloid offspring will vie for glory range from Marjane Satrapi's graphic tale of growing up in revolutionary Iran, Persepolis (animated feature), to Ron Leshem's soldier's tale from Israel's front lines, Beaufort (foreign-language film).

Cynical insiders have a simple explanation of why movie moguls so love the plot of a good book. The studio lawyers will know who made it, and who owns it. Far better to pay the odd fat cheque to writers or estates for rights to unmade movies than risk stepping in the snakepit of lawsuits that can surround an "original" storyline.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Format war victory for Blu-Ray

As The Hollywood Reporter notes, victory for Blu-Ray in the High Definition DVD format war was completed yesterday when Paramount became the sixth and final major Hollywood studio to adopt the Sony-backed standard.

The news followed Toshiba's announcement on Tuesday morning that it would cease the development, manufacture and marketing of its own HD DVD players by the end of March.
Janet Murray, director of Georgia Tech's masters and Ph.D. program in digital media, said a single format supported by all six major studios has a much better chance of success than two rival ones that each take only a chunk of Hollywood.

"It's a big victory for the consumer," she said.

Now that the studios are no longer battling each other over which format is best, Murray said, they can focus on generating awareness among consumers of the many benefits of high-definition media. Murray predicts "a standardization of extras" now that everyone's releasing films on a single format rather than two, each with its own set of capabilities. "This will lead to a much richer experience for viewers," she added.
Whether Blu-Ray is actually any better than HD DVD remains unclear. Perhaps it just had a cooler name.

Trials on stage

In The Independent, barrister and writer John Mortimer reflects on the differences between trials in fact and fiction.
There is, of course, a difference between achieving success on the stage and in the courtroom. Boredom is fatal to any play, lose the interest of the audience for five minutes and you'll never get them back. It is, however, a weapon available to advocates. You can go on and on at a judge and watch him look nervously at the clock, in dread of missing his last train home to Haywards Heath, and when you have reduced him to a suitable state of anxiety he may do what you want in order to be in time for dinner.

BBC dramas on iTunes

Top BBC dramas are being made available for sale on iTunes for the first time. Episodes of shows including Torchwood, Life On Mars, Spooks and Robin Hood will be sold for £1.89. Recently aired programmes, such as Ashes to Ashes, will be available on iTunes after they have been made available on the BBC iPlayer.

The Guild made an agreement with the BBC to cover such arrangements last year.

Meanwhile, the number of programmes downloaded or streamed on demand via BBC iPlayer (also covered by in Guild agreements) has reached 17 million, up to 500,000 a day.
Ashley Highfield, Director of BBC Future Media and Technology, says: "While it's still early days, early indications are that BBC iPlayer is having a significant effect in attracting new users to

"To build on this initial success, we continue to reach out to audiences wherever they are, and we now have BBC-branded 'channels' on Yahoo! and partnerships with MSN and Blinkx going live soon. These enable you to watch highlights and excerpts of BBC programmes, as well as clicking on a link to watch the full programme on BBC iPlayer.

"In addition, we are introducing new features on the BBC iPlayer homepage, including improved navigation options and programme recommendations."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

EA seeks to reconnect with creativity

In The New York Times, Seth Schiesel explains why video games giant Electronic Arts is abandoning centralisation in an attempt to put power back into the hands of games writers, designers and developers.
“Frankly, the core of our business, like in any creative business, are the guys and women who are actually making the product,” Mr. Riccitiello [EA's chief executive] said. “You can’t just buy people and attempt to apply some business-school synergy to them. It just doesn’t work. The companies that succeed are those that provide a stage for their best people and let them do what they do best, and it’s taken us some time to understand that. In our business the accountant, the guy in the green eyeshade, is like the guy in the alien movie that eventually gets eaten. If you let him run your business, it is neither inspiring or effective.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

European Film Awards to give screenwriters credit

Following lobbying by the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE), the European Film Academy (EFA) board has announced that it will mention screenwriters alongside the directors and the production companies in all outgoing materials.

The pledge, received in a letter from EFA director Marion Döring this week, was hailed as a victory for the FSE's European Screenwriting Manifesto.

Read more on the WGGB website.

Alain Robbe-Grillet 1922-2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet, the master of the 'new novel' and key figure of the French avant garde of the 1960s has died at the age of 85. There are obituaries in The Times and by Douglas Johnson in The Guardian.
From the 1950s onwards, a group of French writers, including Claude Simon, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute, challenged the historical idea of the novel. They were hardly in agreement with each other, and it was Robbe-Grillet who made the most explicit statement of what the new novel was about in an essay, Pour Un Nouveau Roman, published in 1963.

His argument was straightforward - that the time had passed for novels to be about characters and individuals. The idea of telling a story, the novel as a narration, was no longer relevant, and any ambition to write a novel that would support a cause or put forward an argument had become inappropriate. The individual no longer played a part in the world, and the rise and fall of men and women or the destiny of families, belonged to a previous time. It was only possible to write like Stendhal if you were actually writing in 1830, and if a modern composer wanted to produce music exactly like that of Beethoven, he would find that no one wanted to listen to it.

What counted was creation, according to Robbe-Grillet. A novel (or a film) should show imagination at work - it should create a mental world not to be confused with the real world.

Adam Brooks interview

On his blog, Billy Mernit talks to screenwriter and director Adam Brooks about his new film, Definitely, Maybe.
I decided to completely change my writing process for this script. I didn’t outline the story, a first for me, and I had no idea which of the three women Will would end up with. When I started I didn’t even have the idea of the flashback structure. It was a bit scary, like not having a safety net, and it took a lot longer to write a first draft. But it was a very satisfying process and ultimately I think it paid off. Usually I write about 150 pages to get to a 120 page draft. With Definitely, Maybe I wrote well over 200 pages. I wrote sections in prose and then adapted them. I wrote in diary form. And for the first time ever I allowed myself to write badly. By which I mean I didn’t put the pressure on myself to write a good scene, just to write the scene - long, rough, and bad as it might be. It’s what I always tell my students, I decided to follow my own advice.
Definitely, Maybe trailer

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stoppard and Albee - lovers of words

In The New York Times, Ben Brantley reflects on the similarities between Edward Albee and Tom Stoppard.
It is one of the livelier paradoxes of the English-speaking theater today that its two most dazzling wordsmiths are incurably suspicious of the language they ply with such flair. No other living playwrights give (and, it would seem, receive) more pleasure from the sounds, shapes and textures of their lavishly stocked vocabularies. And none is more achingly conscious of the inadequacy of how they say what they say.

This contradiction is not just an element of their style; it’s the essence of it. It’s what gives that distinctive, heady tension to their plays, the friction that sends the minds of receptive theatergoers into exhilarated overdrive. It is also what makes actors say that mastering these playwrights’ ornate, fast-footed language requires the sort of hard study demanded by Shakespeare.

More strike reflections

In The Guardian, Stephen Armstrong considers the implications of the resolved US writers' strike, including for British productions.
On the upside, Britain will become increasingly important in US TV. British producers own roughly half of the world's reality formats and are already rubbing their hands at the prospect of future deals. The sale of ITV's Secret Diary of a Call Girl to CBS's cable station Showtime marks the first time a UK programme has gone out in its original form on a US-owned station.

Friday, February 15, 2008

US writers go back to work

In The New York Times, Brooks Barnes speaks to American TV writers going back to work after more than three months on strike.
Facing his writing staff on Wednesday for the first time since the end of a 100-day strike, Shane Brennan, the co-executive producer of the CBS drama “NCIS,” asked a question that drew blank stares. “Can anyone remember what we were working on three months ago?”

Meet Jeremy Howe

Writers' Guild meeting with Jeremy Howe, Commissioning Editor for Drama at BBC Radio 4 Venue: The Birmingham Rep, 12 March 2008, 7.30pm

The Writers' Guild invites you to a writers' meeting at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (centenary suite) on Wednesday 12 March at 7.30pm to hear and question Jeremy Howe, Commissioning Editor for Drama on BBC Radio Four.

The event will be hosted by our President, David Edgar. We do hope you'll join us for this FREE event and stay afterwards to enjoy a glass of wine with fellow writers.

Part of the purpose of this event will be to explore the possibility of establishing a Midlands branch of the Guild. All writers welcome.

Please RSVP to: or on 020 7833 0777, ext. 204

Publisher offers free online books

In The Guardian, Richard Lea reports on an experiment by publisher HarperCollins to release free online version of certain books for a limited time to see how it affects sales.
With Neil Gaiman and Paolo Coelho lined up to be among the first clutch of six titles, it seems as if the publisher is only beginning to catch up with their authors' enthusiasm for free distribution. Coelho, who has promoted free copies of his own work online since 2000, has signed up for HarperCollins to provide an entire book for download every month for one year.

"I believe that online reading helps increase book sales," the author said. "I am very pleased that HarperCollins is able to make my titles available online for my fans to read."

Neil Gaiman, who offers readers free stories on his website and has been running a promotional blog for seven years, is convinced that tasters are "enormously useful". He's running an online vote for readers to determine which of his titles will be given away - a poll currently led by his mythical American fantasy, American Gods.

The Revival of the Audience Sitcom

On the Guild website there's a report on Tuesday's event, The Revival of the Audience Sitcom.

Lucy Lumsden, Controller of BBC Comedy Commissioning, revealed that she was keen to see many more audience sitcom ideas coming up through the system. Far from being an outdated form, it is one, she said, that the BBC attaches enormous importance to.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Evaluating the US writers' strike

As the dust settles following the decision by American screenwriters to end their 100 day strike, commentators are assessing the deal (pdf) which Writers Guild of America members seem likely to accept later this month.

The crucial element, most people agree, is not just that the WGA has gained jurisdiction over new media work, but that there will be a residual payment made.

The press are certainly presenting the strike's resolution as a victory for the writers that will have longer term ramifications. Here's David Carr in The New York Times.
By taking a reflexively hard line in the negotiations from the start, the studios more or less invited the strike, calculating that the writers, a disparate group with varying interests, would quickly splinter. They guessed wrong: despite constant suggestions that cracks were appearing, the center held.

One of the longer-term consequences of the strike that studios will now have to deal with is a group that is remarkably united — from the show runners in possession of lucrative deals to mostly unemployed writers fighting to get into the business.
In The L.A. Times (free registration required), Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier find the argument stated in even stronger terms.
"It [the strike's success] was a defining moment," said economist Harley Shaiken, a professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in labor issues. "It showed that a very disparate group of individuals could act with real solidarity -- and that packed real economic power."

… "They successfully faced down six multinational media conglomerates and established a beachhead on the Internet," said Jonathan Handel, former associate counsel for the Writers Guild of America, West and an attorney at TroyGould. "When you consider what they were initially offered and the enormous odds they faced, that's quite an achievement."
Of course, many writers have suffered during the strike and there may be more short-term pain. However, elsewhere in The L.A. Times, Patrick Goldstein aruges that the residuals provision for new media is key for the longer term: "big triumphs begin as little victories".

Goldstein points out that the Directors' Guild has also emerged with some credit.
With so much historic bad blood between the WGA and the DGA, it wasn't easy for writers to acknowledge how much the DGA's deal set the tone for a successful strike outcome, just as it wasn't easy for the directors to admit that much of their leverage came from the studio's desire to settle with them as a way of undercutting the WGA solidarity. As one of my sardonic screenwriter pals joked: "It's the auteur theory of labor negotiations - we do all the work and the DGA gets all the credit."
Finally, here's writer and blogger Ken Levine's view of what now for writers.
For TV writers on say goodbye to your family and friends for the next two to three months. Once you enter the studio you will never leave. You might as well be checking in to the Hotel California. Round the clock writing sessions seven days a week to catch up. For the first few days it’ll be great. You’ll be rarin’ to go. By week two you might be looking back nostalgically to those halcyon days when you just picketed in the rain for four hours.

The good news is the final product will be terrific, probably even better than early season episodes when you had more time. Why? Because you won’t have time anymore to address endless notes. There’s a lesson in that of course but those that need to learn the lesson won’t.

With feature writers the amount of interference depends on whether your script is on the fast track or slow. If it’s fast they’ll want the draft TOMORROW. No time for them to say “What if we changed the drugged out rock star to a nun?” But if they’ve been sitting on your draft there’s no hurry then look out. They’ve had four months to obsess over the script. They’ll want you to change the rock star to the nun even if a rock star is not in your screenplay.

Belfast Meets Wales Literary Conference - Day tickets

Day Tickets to the Belfast Meets Wales conference are now available. This Academi conference in association with the Guild’s Welsh Committee will be held in Belfast over the weekend of Friday 29 February – Sunday 2 March 2008.

Speakers will include renowned journalist Peter Taylor; esteemed poets Ciaran Carson, Gwyneth Lewis and Gwyn Thomas; popular and controversial playwrights Gary Mitchell, Ian Rowlands and Martin Lynch; and new stimulating novelists Lucy Caldwell, Glenn Patterson and Catrin Dafydd.

View the full conference programme.

The full conference package costs £210/£190 but Academi is also offering Day Tickets especially for those people living, working and studying in Belfast.

The prices for these tickets are:

- Friday Night (including 3 course evening meal) £30 / £27

- Saturday all day (including lunch and evening meal) £50 / £45

- Sunday morning £12 / £10

Concessionary rates are offered to: students, unwaged, Academi members and Associates. Discounts are also available for large group bookings.

US writers vote to end strike

The membership of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of lifting the restraining order and ending their 100-day strike. 3,775 writers turned out in Los Angeles and New York to cast ballots or fax in proxies, with 92.5% voting in favor of ending the work stoppage.

“The strike is over. Our membership has voted, and writers can go back to work,” said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West.

“This was not a strike we wanted, but one we had to conduct in order to win jurisdiction and establish appropriate residuals for writing in new media and on the Internet. Those advances now give us a foothold in the digital age. Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as TV migrates to the Internet and platforms for new media are developed.”

“The success of this strike is a significant achievement not only for ourselves but the entire creative community, now and in the future,” said Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

“The commitment and solidarity of our members made it happen and have been an inspiration not only to us but the entire organized labor movement. We will build on that energy and unity to make our two unions stronger than ever.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WGGB in the USA

As American screenwriters vote on whether to accept their new contract, WGGB member Brendan Foley has submitted this picture of himself with Doug Molitor, Shelly Goldstein and Carl Gottlieb (photo by Glenn Camhi) taken last week on the picket line outside Paramount.

Brendan writes:
I'm a member of the WGGB and NUJ, but sometimes work in LA and most of my writer friends here are WGAw, including those pictured. So I decided to show a bit of support for our colleagues on their long, tough strike. It was essentially about digital distribution rights so ultimately the future for most writers was up for grabs. The WGA held together well and have won some significant gains.

They were strongly supported by the actors union SAG, who start their own negotiations soon, and the Teamsters among many others. Many WGA members expressed their thanks to me that WGGB members did not write for the studios during this important dispute. It was also good to hear how highly thought of Bernie Corbett and our own leadership were by our US colleagues.

On a lighter note, since US pickets have to keep moving by law, walking in circles, picketing in California is much better exercise than at home, where we tend to huddle in the damp. Otherwise a strike is a strike, with or without the palm trees.
Meanwhile, Guild General Secretary, Bernie Corbett, has sent his best wishes to the WGA and congratulated them on their achievements.
The Writers' Guild of Great Britain Executive Council met today (Monday) and members were delighted that a deal is being recommended and the strike is likely to end within the next few days.

We salute the WGA, east and west, on the unity and discipline shown throughout a long and tough strike, resulting in a settlement which makes historic progress in the most important areas. You can be proud of your members and negotiators and of the deal you have reached.

The action by the WGA has inspired screenwriters and other trade unionists all around the world, and has had the excellent spin-off of increasing the profile and status of screenwriters everywhere.

We congratulate you and send you our warmest regards.

Bernie Corbett
General Secretary

Writers' Guild of Great Britain

Free screenplays with The Times

The Times is giving away free screenplays this week, and to go with the offer they're talking to writers about their scripts.
With Billy Elliot I was involved with every detail, arguing for hours with Stephen. He had come from theatre so the atmosphere was very collegiate. It wasn’t a case of making big changes but small things to alter the emphasis. We didn’t get the broader political context of the miners’ strike in – frustrating, but we did get it into the stage play – because of the emotional balance of the film. Your screenplay will inevitably be f***ed up, but something good may come out of that f***ing up.

Andy Harries interview

In Broadcast (free registration required), Liz Thomas talks to former Granada man, Andy Harries about his new role with Left Bank Pictures.
"ITV is still searching for a big, new thumping hit and that is really hard to pull off, but what a fantastic challenge," he says with genuine enthusiasm. "There is no point being a drama producer and not being excited by that. You can't fault the production values and skill on the BBC's period productions, but I suppose what we need is a contemporary drama.

"You watch something like Damages and you just wish we were doing something like it - I don't necessarily mean a legal drama, but something that has that kind of ambition and scale. I think 2008/09 needs a drama series that really excites people - a must-watch that reflects the world we live in today. These are difficult times: there is uncertainty about the economy, the government is at the end of its life, the growth of militant Islam and changes in global politics. I'm not saying make it serious, but people do enjoy seeing aspects of their own life reflected back at them. The role of good drama is to entertain and illuminate."

Monday, February 11, 2008

US writers to vote on contract deal

American screenwriters will vote on Tuesday on a new contract with producers that has been recommended to them by the Writers Guild of America.

Guild members met on Sunday to discuss the deal and the consensus seemed to be in favour. Here's the views of two well known bloggers and writers, John August, Ken Levine.

In the L.A. Times, Scott Collins argues that the three months of industrial action have been well worth the effort.
Against formidable odds, some well-earned skepticism and endless carping from nonwriting workers who viewed themselves as collateral damage in a provincial border war, guild officials stuck to their guns and negotiated a contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that, while maybe not a historic win for labor, improves some terms from the recent Directors Guild of America contract, offers a blueprint for future payouts on digital media and even eases some of the pain of the oft-lamented 1988 contract, in which writers failed to achieve their objectives despite a five-month walkout.

"It's the best deal we could have gotten under the circumstances," Howard A. Rodman, a screenwriter and member of the guild's board of directors, told me Sunday. "It accomplished the main goal we wanted when we set out on strike, which was that as the business shifted from television sets and movies to new media, we wouldn't be left behind. And we got that."

BAFTA winners

Several British films and writers were honoured at the BAFTA Film Awards last night.
  • Ronald Harwood took the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (based on the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby)
  • Atonement, adapted by Christopher Hampton from the book by Ian McEwan, won Best Film
  • This Is England, written and directed by Shane Meadows, won Best British Film
  • Matt Greenhalgh, who wrote the script for Control, won the Carl Foreman award for Special Achievement in a first feature film
  • Writer and director Luis Cook won Best Short Animation for his adaptation of Mick Jackson's The Pearce Sisters
  • Best Short Film was won by Dog Altogether, written and directed by Paddy Considine
The BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay went to Diablo Cody for Juno.

BBC plans comedy writing college

In Broadcast (free registration required), Katherine Rushton reports on plans by the BBC to establish a 'comedy writing college' along the lines of John Yorke's BBC drama Writers' Academy.
Every year the corporation will recruit six new writers or pairs of writers and train them on real shows alongside established talent. Armando Iannucci and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps creator Susan Nickson have already signed up as mentors, and the BBC expects "the great and the good of British comedy" to join.

Micheal Jacob, currently creative head of mainstream comedy, is scaling back his development responsibilities to oversee the course. "I'm aspiring to be the Arsène Wenger of the comedy world," he said.

Rehearsed reading - Things Can Only Get Bitter

The latest in the series of rehearsed readings organised by North West London Equity takes place at the Guild on Wednesday.
Things Can Only Get Bitter will be directed by Nick Simons who introduces the piece below:
I was fortunate enough to be selected to direct the first of this innovative series, in October 2005. Robert Ray, a local playwright had written Haven, a hard hitting black comedy, set in a palatial old persons home, sometime in the very near future.

It provided excellent parts for some of our older members, plus making strong comments about care provision for the elderly in this day and age. Casting involved running round to coffee bars from Golders Green to West Hampstead to read all those interested. Final casting was difficult, so much talent around. One of our cast offered their flat for our first read-through, and blocking rehearsal, then we moved into the Studio space at the New Hampstead Theatre.

I was horrified to discover a massive piece of chocolate brown set against the back wall and insisted it be removed, to the disgruntlement of the stage staff. Our one reading was a huge success, 80% audience and a lively discussion.

I’m back again to direct Mike Coleman’s Things Can Only Get Bitter, at the Writers Guild on Wednesday Feb 13th at 7.30 pm. This very hard hitting black comedy deals with the onset of rapidly developing Alzheimer’s and its effect on three family members. A powerful piece!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Death Of Margaret Thatcher

OK, time for some shameless self-promotion: here's me on the BBC talking about my new play The Death Of Margaret Thatcher. If you're really keen, there's also a podcast made by the Courtyard Theatre where's it's playing.

However, probably the best advertisement for the play is this hilarious piece in The Daily Mail. If you see the play you'll realise that, to put it mildly, it's something of a misprepresentation. (What? In the Daily Mail?!)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mark Catley interview

On the BBC Writersroom website, Mark Catley talks about being the lead writer on Casualty and his experience on the BBC Writers' Acadmey programme.
...the greatest thing was learning structure. All of a sudden I was given tools, whereas before you were just trying to work off instinct and, you know, some wankerish writer knowledge or whatever that you think that you're born with. I don't know. But then to actually sit down and learn it in a very mathematical way - which is how John [Yorke] teaches it - looking at archetypes, looking at story structure, character change, and how it's reflected throughout storytelling throughout history.

And then because I'd managed to develop an original voice it was really easy to put my original voice on that structure. And then every show that I've worked on they've really liked the way I've approached their characters. But all I see that I'm doing is making them my characters from the theatre place that I was writing from, sort of trying to melt the two things together.

Arts Council plans 'post-Boyden' report

In The Stage, Alistair Smith reports that, following its controversial recent funding round, Arts Council England are planning a new review of theatre funding in a similar vein to the Boyden Report produced in 2000.
Barbara Matthews, ACE director of theatre strategy, told The Stage: “It seems to me that since the Theatre Review it has only been five or six years, but during that time, demographically, economically and in terms of the art form we’re in a different world. There have been huge success stories over the last few years in terms of bringing other money into the arts regionally - Regional Development Agencies and all sorts of other sources - which makes it a very complex world for our arts organisations to operate in. The extra money comes at a price. It’s something that we need to understand better.

“We’ll be looking at where we’ve achieved what we set out to do following the Theatre Review and whether there are any commonalities, and where we haven’t achieved it, can we work out why it has gone wrong? Then, going forward, we’ll look at what we can do better.”

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Decibel Penguin prize for new writers

From the Arts Council website:
We are calling for entries that explore the experience of having a mixed heritage. The prize is a collaboration between decibel, an Arts Council England initiative dedicated to promoting diversity in the arts, and Penguin Books. The winning stories will published in a Penguin Anthology in November 2008.

The competition calls for non-fiction entries between 400 and 4000 words in length, on the experience of having a mixed heritage, whether it’s the author’s own experience or the experience of another person. Entries are welcome from any UK residents. There is no age limit for the authors, although they must not have had a full-length book published.

The closing date for entries is 7 April 2008.

Making money when copies are free

On his blog, Kevin Kelly ponders how creators can make money now that internet distribution and piracy increasingly means that copying and distribution can be done for free.
From my study of the network economy I see roughly eight categories of intangible value that we buy when we pay for something that could be free.

In a real sense, these are eight things that are better than free. Eight uncopyable values. I call them "generatives." A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold.
Kelly's eight generatives are:
  • Immediacy
  • Personalization
  • Interpretation
  • Authenticity
  • Accessibility
  • Embodiment
  • Patronage
  • Findability

The article is actually more interesting than it might sound...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Grange Hill to end

From the CBBC website:
Grange Hill, one of the longest-running kids' programmes ever, is ending.
The show, which has been on BBC1 for a whopping 30 years, will finish after the 31st series later this year.

Grange Hill is seen as an important kids' programme because it's dealt with some really serious issues over the years - like drugs, Aids and bullying.

A CBBC spokesperson said: "CBBC is bidding a fond farewell to Grange Hill after 30 fantastic years... the gates will close for the last time."

"Of course it's sad to say goodbye to such a much loved institution. The lives of children have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began and we owe it to our audience to reflect this."

Kate Jones obituary

In The Independent there's an obituary by Andrew Franklin for literary agent Kate Jones.
Kate Jones was one of the most brilliant literary agents of her generation, and leaves behind an extraordinary list of devoted authors. At the time of her death, at the age of 46, she was at the peak of her powers and changing the character of agenting in London – by sheer force and warmth of her personality.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Joanna Leigh wins Red Planet Prize

As Danny Stack reports on his blog, Joanna Leigh has won the inaugural Red Planet Prize with her script Sam J.

Her prize is £5,000 plus the chance to work on a Red Planet series.

Tony Jordan, the man behind Red Planet, said "Joanna's script had everything the competition was trying to find, a unique voice, great characters and a remarkable story well told."

From web to TV

On his blog, Guild member Piers Beckley notes that "web series Sanctuary, created by Stargate alumnus Damian Kindler, has just been picked up for 13 episodes by SciFi."

As Piers says, with Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz's Quarterlife also making the journey from web the network TV, this is starting to look like a trend.

American Screenwriter and blogger, John August, also believes the future is online. Although he sees his new show as web-only.
The project is financed outside the studio system, with some of that much-fabled internet money. It has actors you recognize, and it probably could be a TV show — but it won’t. There’s near-consensus that in the next year or two, one of the web shows will really take off and change the game. I can almost guarantee you it won’t be ours. We may never see the light of day. But it’s the right time to be experimenting: with tone, with format, with economic model.

Judy Blume interview

In The Telegraph, Melissa Whitworth meets children's writer Judy Blume.
In just over a week's time she turns 70, and shows no signs of zipping up her pencil case - her latest book, The Pain and the Great One: Soupy Saturdays, is a witty collection of children's stories about sibling rivalry. I must confess, though, that such fragile emotionalism is not quite what I'd expected from the woman whom I, as a schoolgirl, regarded as my rock, the non-judgemental adult who truly understood what I was going through. I'd imagined her as a busty Jewish mamma, dishing out advice in gigantic, homely portions. But in person she's delicate and small, with the body of a ballet dancer. She's wearing a loose-fitting turquoise shirt and black capri pants. Her hair is in a short, girlish bob. With her high cheekbones and wide, easy smile she could be mistaken for Jessica Lange.

ACE 'is destroying literature'

On The Guardian Books blog, Nicholas Lezard says that Arts Council England's funding cuts to publishers such as Dedalus are helping destroy literary culture.
The withdrawal of their entire grant to the London Magazine, one of the best showcases for new (and, indeed, established) talent in the country, has the same frightening ambiguity. The only good news is that ACE's decision is so perverse that it is legally challengeable. Dedalus - and other arts organisations outraged at the treatment - are setting up a joint action under the name Arts vs ACE.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Arts Council announces final spending decisions

After the fury that followed the initial announcement of their draft funding plans until 2011, Arts Council England (ACE) has published the final decisions on who will get what.

As BBC News reports, following complaints and appeals 17 organisations who were originally lined up to have their funding axed have been reprieved. These include the Bush Theatre in London, The Northcott Theatre in Devon, Eastern Angles touring theatre and the National Student Drama Festival. The Old Vic in Bristol, which had been hoping for £3m, will at least get £2m.

However, some, such as The Derby Playhouse and The Drill Hall, have not had their grants renewed and others, such as Tara Arts, have had funding cut.

New ACE Chief Executive Alan Davey said:
“This has been the most far-reaching review of public funding of the arts in the history of the Arts Council and the first we have conducted as a single national organisation.

“It creates a real climate for excellence and innovation in the arts and I am excited by the prospect of working with the arts sector to make this vision a reality.”
Many critics and commentators, such as Lyn Gardner, disagree with Davey's positive spin.
Relations between the Arts Council and artists are now at rock-bottom. Even during the dark funding days of the late 80s and 90s, artists felt that they and the funders were on the same side. That is no longer the case. Arts Council bungling, its lack of transparency and dialogue with artists and its inability to take responsibility for its own actions means that instead of celebrating an 8% increase of funding to the theatre sector over the next three years, many feel furious and betrayed.

What should have been a party is being perceived as a bloodbath. And the Arts Council has only itself to blame.

Top writers make PLR complaint

Top writers including Guild President David Edgar, have written to The Guardian complaining about proposed cuts in money spent on Public Lending Right (PLR).
Writers have long been grateful for Britain's excellent Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme, which pays 6p each time one of our books is borrowed from public libraries. Funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the scheme is efficiently run. The payments are especially valuable to many writers whose books do not have large sales but are widely borrowed. The top limit of £6,600 per year ensures that the scheme favours writers on low incomes.

Recently the DCMS achieved a good three-year funding settlement. It was therefore a major blow to learn that it intends to cut the PLR allocation next year and that there will be no increase over three years. At the same time, the government has designated 2008 the National Year of Reading. We are not only extremely disappointed by the fall in PLR, we are also confused: does the government support writers or not?

The plan to reduce PLR, when the arts budget is rising, seems perverse and mean-spirited. We call on the new secretary of state, Andy Burnham, to reconsider it.

Tracy Chevalier
Chair, Society of Authors
David Edgar President
Writers' Guild of Great Britain
Antony Beevor, Margaret Drabble, Helen Dunmore, Philippa Gregory, AC Grayling, Peter James, David Lodge, David Nobbs, Harold Pinter, Philip Pullman, Andrew Roberts and Rose Tremain
The Guild has also written to the brand new Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, and hosted a meeting of the PLR Advisory Committee, which agreed to make efforts to get the cuts reversed.

Phil Collinson to head new BBC drama hub in Manchester

From the BBC Press Office:
Peter Salmon, Chief Creative Officer, BBC Vision Productions, today announces that Phil Collinson is joining the BBC to become Head of Drama, Manchester, returning to the city where he started his television career.

Collinson will be charged with developing links with both on and off-screen talent in the region and contributing shows to the overall slate of BBC Drama Production when he begins in the spring.

The appointment of the Doctor Who producer reflects the commitment of the BBC to grow the drama slate across the UK. Phil will take up his new role after he completes work on series four of Doctor Who in a few weeks time.

Amazon buys

Internet retailer Amazon has bought leading audio publisher,
" offers the best customer experience, the widest content selection and the broadest device compatibility in the industry," said Steve Kessel,'s senior vice president for worldwide digital media. "Working together, we can introduce more innovations and bring this format to an even wider audience."

Friday, February 01, 2008

Pitch your sitcom

Attention budding sitcom writers!

Come along to our event celebrating The Revival Of The Audience Sitcom, and you can pitch your beautifully honed ideas to the biggest gathering of influential people you'll ever see in one room.

BBC Comedy Controller Lucy Lumsden and legendary sitcom producer Beryl Vertue OBE are among the panellists who'll be talking about the continued success of the audience sitcom, in the face of numerous pronouncements of its demise. The event, to be held at the Writers' Guild Centre on Tuesday 12 February at 7pm, will celebrate the growing new audiences for shows like Not Going Out and The IT Crowd, and look at how sitcoms will be developed in the future.

After the discussion you can pitch your ideas to the panel that includes Vertue (producer Coupling, Men Behaving Badly etc) Charlie Hanson (producer of Not Going Out and Extras) and writer-producers James Hendrie and Ian Brown (My Family, After You've Gone). The event will be chaired by comedian and writer Dave Cohen.

The Writers Guild Centre is at 15 Britannia Street, London W1X 9JN, two minutes from Kings Cross tube. Tickets are £10, £5 to members of the Writers' Guild. Further information contact or call 0207 833 0777.

Opportunities for UK playwrights overseas

On the Guild website we've published the article that first appeared in the Autumn 2007 issue of our magazine, UK Writer, about opportunities for UK playwrights to get work produced overseas.