Monday, March 31, 2008

Stephen Gallagher interview

If you missed it in the most recent issue of the Guild's magazine, UK Writer, we've now put the interview with Stephen Gallagher on the Guild website.
I like genre but I like the idea of genre-busting even better. Which means meeting the demands of a chosen form and then doing your best to exceed them. Audiences don't come looking for big themes or great characters. They show up for story. But it's the big themes and character work that send them away happy, whether they realise that or not.

Skins: new cast and new writers

From Robin Parker for Broadcast (free registration required)
The creators of Skins have confirmed that they are looking for an entirely new cast when the teen series returns to E4 and Channel 4 next year....

Skins will retain its collaborative writing model, in which up to 20 writers contribute to scripts and which nurtures young talent.

Series three will feature scripts by four writers under 20.

Amazon to force POD authors to use BookSurge

On Writers Weekely, Angela Hoy reports that Amazon's print-on-demand (POD) subsidiary, BookSurge, is telling writers that unless their titles are printed by BookSurge, the buy buttons on Amazon for their titles will be disabled.

A petition has been created to oppose what many people are claiming is an abuse of Amazon's market power.
Amazon's Print-on-Demand publishing company BookSurge is trying to strong arm the rest of the Print-on-Demand industry. They are currently threatening to disable a book's buy button if that book's publishing company does not use the Booksurge Print-on-Demand printing service. They have already done this to PublishAmerica. Can iUnverse,, etc. be far behind? Must authors be forced to to as Amazon says?

This is a conflict of interest for Amazon, and a blatant attempt at a monopoly.
Please sign this petition if you want BookSurge to stop enforcing its print service on the independent publishing industry.
Update (01.04.08): From Publishers Weekly, reporting that Amazon have written to interested parties.
In the letter from the books team, the company reiterated that by using machines that are located in its own fulfillment centers, Amazon can have a title ready for shipment quicker than if it needs to wait for a book to be shipped to its facility. The extra time will permit Amazon to “marry” a title with another product that will be shipped in the same box, in most cases hitting Amazon Prime shipping times. “It isn’t logical or efficient to print a POD book in a third place, and then physically ship the book to our fulfillment centers. It makes more sense to produce the books on site, saving transportation costs and transportation fuel, and significantly speeding the shipment to our customers,” the letter states.

Amazon further notes that if publishers do not want to use BookSurge for pod, they can still sell their titles through the e-tailer as part of it Advantage Program, provided they pre-produce five copies of each title that Amazon will stock in its warehouse. Publishers can also use Amazon’s third party marketplace option to list titles. Amazon is not requiring that pod titles be printed exclusively through BookSurge.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Jez Butterworth interview

In The New York Times, Erik Piepenburg talks to Jez Butterworth about his new play, Parlour Song, and his writing career so far.
Screenwriting and playwriting always strike me as like different sports that I can play. It’s like cricket and football; they don’t really have much to do with each other except a lot of strenuous activity. I can go from doing a play to doing a screenplay and it’s like one feeds the other in some way, I’m not sure exactly how. They come from very different places inside of me, I think. I do a lot of screenwriting with my brother John Henry. There’s a lot of craft involved. There are tricks you can employ in screenwriting to get yourself out of trouble that are useless to you in the theater. I wouldn’t say that playwriting comes from a deeper place, necessarily, but it is certainly more unconscious in me. I once had a laptop computer that had half a play in it and half a film in it, and it was stolen. I could recreate the screenplay word for word, and I couldn’t remember a word of the play.

Directors to launch new organisation

TV, film and new media directors, led by Michael Apted, will launch a new organisation in May called Directors UK, reports Lisa Campbell for Broadcast (free registration required).
Directors UK (D-UK) will officially launch in May with director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) as its president, and writer/director Charles Sturridge (Brideshead Revisited, Longitude, Shackleton) as the chair of its board.

Its vice-chairmen are Simon Berthon and Tim Sullivan, and board members include Peter Kosminsky, Brian Hill and Simon Curtis. It is the first time that UK directors will benefit from a single organisation encompassing everything from pay and conditions to content rights.

Sturridge said: "A very energetic and large group of directors have worked over the past 18 months to launch this new and vital organisation - a single, representative voice for all UK film, TV and new media directors."
Campbell reports that Directors UK has been created out of the Directors' and Producers' Rights Society (DPRS). However, no mention is made in either the article or the accompanying editorial of any relationship with the Directors Guild of Great Britain.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tilt - radio sketch writers wanted

Tilt is a new topical sketch show that takes you behind the week’s news. And then mucks about with it a bit.

It’s being recorded live every Wednesday night from 26th March til the 1st of May and it’s broadcast on BBC7 the following night at 11:30pm.

Right now they're looking for topical material from new writers to support the core writing team.
Full details are on the BBC Writersroom site.

Seven deadly words of book reviewing

On the New York Times book blog, Bob Harris takes aim at the most overworked words in book reviews.
It’s possible to (mis)use all seven words in a one-sentence book report: “Mario Puzo’s intriguing novel eschews the lyrical as the author instead crafts a poignant tale of family life and muses on the compelling doings of the Mob.”

Howard Brenton on Never So Good

In The Times, David Aaronovitch talks to Howard Brenton about his new play about Harold Macmillan, Never So Good.
Howard Brenton, who once wrote an anti-Thatcher satire provisionally entitled Ditch the Bitch, ended our interview by telling me that Never So Good, far from being a biting attack on the British ruling classes and their disastrous mismanagement of a nation, “is like an apology from my generation, who spat upon...[Macmillan], one of the greatest Prime Ministers we've ever had.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat

In The Guardian, Mark Ravenhill explains how he came to write his series of short plays, first seen as readings at last year's Edinburgh Festival, that will open in London next month as Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat.
My 16 plays seemed to capture a mood in Edinburgh. Presented as readings at breakfast time, they attracted full houses. I was fascinated to eavesdrop on the conversations that took place over the rolls and coffee we were serving. "Oh, you saw plays three and eight? I saw four and 10. What happened in yours? Did you have a headless soldier, too?" It was as if different members of the audience were holding different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and they needed to pull together if they were going to piece together a bigger narrative. I smiled: it was a pleasing metaphor for life, a metaphor that I'd found accidentally.

BAFTA Craft nominations

Nominations for the BAFTA Television Craft awards have been announced today.

The nominees for the Writer award are:
  • Jimmy McGovern – The Street (BBC One/Granada Productions)
  • Tony Marchant– The Mark of Cain (Channel 4/Red Production Company)
  • Steven Moffat – Doctor Who (Blink) (BBC One/BBC Wales)
  • Heidi Thomas – Cranford (BBC One/BBC Drama Productions/WGBH Boston in association with Chestermead Ltd)
Another writer, Mark O'Rowe, is nominated in the Breakthrough Talent category for Boy A (Channel 4/Cuba Pictures), along with the writing team behind Skins (created by Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain for E4/Company Pictures)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

EastEnders storyline criticised

From BBC News:
A scene in BBC One soap EastEnders [episode written by Simon Ashdown] which showed a character being buried alive has prompted 167 complaints.

The episode, shown at 2000 GMT on Friday night, showed character Max Branning being buried alive in a coffin by his wife and her lover....

The BBC said the number of complaints was proportionately small...

Last month, Ofcom ruled that the soap had breached TV regulations in an episode showing a gang attack on the Queen Vic pub.
max BranningJake Wood as Max Branning in EastEnders (Photo: BBC/Adam Pensotti)

Someone who did enjoy it was The Guardian's TV critic, Nancy Banks Smith.
Max is a man who could hide at will behind a spiral staircase, and Tanya, his long-suffering wife, has suffered long enough. She dispatches Sean, her scruffy lover, to buy a coffin, which proves surprisingly simple ("Cash was it? Got your own transport?") and laces Max's wine with barbiturates. No bon vivant, he quaffs the lot.

Simon Ashdown, the scriptwriter, who is clearly enjoying himself enormously, has read Macbeth to good effect. Tanya and Sean's conversation over the body is staccato and nerve-shredded. "What's that?" "Listen!" "I don't hear anything." An owl hoots, for they are now, of course, in Epping Forest, the traditional place to bury an EastEnder body. All the best people, or in Walford's case the worst, are buried here. Tanya, traditional to a fault, even falls into the open grave in the immemorial fashion of EastEnder widows.

Then she hears a sound. Tap, tap, tap. Max's eyes are open. He says: "Ehwah!" (You deeply suspect that this chilling moment will be resurrected on Harry Hill's TV Burp.) Tanya reminds him, perhaps unnecessarily, that he has been afraid of confined spaces since he was a child. "You'll have hours to think about what you did to me. Bye Max!" And she puts the lid on the coffin. It is not a comfy coffin. No unnecessary money has been lavished on purple satin padding. Let us pray Max remembered to take his mobile.

Melvin Burgess on character blogs

In The Times, author Melvin Burgess explains how he has created fictional video logs alongside his new novel, Sara's Face.
Adapting the blogs was not easy. After the first draft, I had something like twenty minutes running time — an average of five minutes each. No good. Users, I’m told, jump around online so quickly that two minutes is the maximum possible length, preferably one.

I’m not sure about this. Surely the aim should be to get people to linger? An on-going story is a good way of doing that. And how accurate is this stat? If it’s an average, does it tell us much about the people we want to reach? But that’s for another time.

David Lemon blog

Guild member and screenwriter David Lemon has started a blog.

David's first feature, Faintheart, will be playing at Cannes in May.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The new Famous Five

From The Press Association:
Enid Blyton's Famous Five have been reconstructed for the 21st Century.

A new Disney TV series features the offspring of the original ginger beer-loving adventurers - and their dog.

But the Famous Five's children are now multicultural, their enemies include a fake environmentalist, and they are armed with modern gadgets.

The TV series, Famous Five: On the Case, features 12-year-old Anglo-Indian Jo, whose name is "short for Jyoti, a Hindu world meaning light". Countryside-dwelling Jo is the team leader and like her mother George in the original Famous Five - who was thought to be modelled on Blyton herself - a tomboy.

Other characters include Allie, a 12-year-old Californian shopaholic who enjoys going out and getting "glammed up" but is packed off to the British countryside to her cousins. Her mother was Anne in the Famous Five, the reluctant adventurer who has now become a successful art dealer.

Minghella in his own words

As well as the numerous tributes to the writer and director Anthony Minghella (see The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The New York Times), The Guardian today has a selection of his own thoughts about his work.
The first idea I had for Truly Madly Deeply was the image of a Bach duet, because I thought that people coming together to make music was very interesting. A friend of mine had been very sick. He was a pianist and he would meet once a week with a clarinet player to play a duet. I've never experienced the same kind of joy as when you are able to play music with other people. It's such an intense, egalitarian and wonderful experience to sit down and make music with somebody else. So, the first idea was not about a relationship. It was not about bereavement or ghosts. It was about music.
Update: An Anthony Minghella blog has been set up to allow people to post memories and tributes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anthony Minghella: 1954-2008

Anthony Minghella, a WGGB member for the past twenty years, has died at the age of 54.

Although he won an Oscar for directing The English Patient, Minghella always said that he saw himself, first and foremost, as a writer. Indeed, he adapted the screenplay for The English Patient from Michael Ondaatje’s novel.

He began his career writing for the stage, and went on to write plays including Whale Music, Two Planks And A Passion, Love Bites and Made In Bangkok.

Minghella first worked in television as a script editor before writing for shows including The Storyteller series and Inspector Morse.

His most celebrated TV work was Truly Madly Deeply which he wrote and directed. Although intended for BBC Two, it went on to receive a cinema release, winning a BAFTA for best screenplay and kickstarting Minghella’s career in feature films.

In 2000 he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Talented Mr Ripley (from the novel by Patricia Highsmith), which he also directed.

Minghella recently completed directing and co-adapting (with Richard Curtis) The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency from the books by Alexander McCall Smith.The film is due to be shown by the BBC over Easter.

Olivia Hetreed, Chair of the Guild's Film Committee, writes:

I first noticed Anthony Minghella’s writing in a dazzlingly well-observed TV drama about failing relationships called What If It’s Raining in 1985 for the new Channel Four. He had been working for Grange Hill as a script editor and writer and soon went on to write the Storyteller series for Henson, produced by Duncan Kenworthy.

Duncan told me what a brilliant writer Anthony was and what a delight to work with. His tremendous talent was confirmed for me by his West End play Made in Bangkok a couple of years later. At the same time he was writing some of the best episodes of Morse. Of course I wasn’t at all jealous.

Truly, Madly, Deeply was one of the first films to break out from TV and hold its own cinematically. Funny and deeply romantic, if rather rough-looking nowadays, its warmth of heart reflected its creator and the performances of Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman, both better known then as stage actors, attested to his ability with performers. He created characters who were fallible, impassioned, sometimes absurd but never less than human and lovable.

Anthony then went on to have a glittering career and achieved tremendously in what is a tragically curtailed life. As a writer, director and producer he was always courteous, humane and passionate. He was generous to other film-makers, a mentor and an inspiration, both in the public domain as Chair of the BFI and in person.

The last time I met him he was preparing to shoot his Precious Ramotswe pilot in Botswana and enthusiastically grappling with the challenges that threw up. His company seemed to have the same mild-mannered, deceptively quiet style as the man himself, while becoming a significant player in the market. His loss is a real blow to cinema and the Arts in this country.

TV drama and comedy funding news

In The Stage, Matthew Hemley reports that Five is reviewing its strategy for original comedy and drama. They plan to move away from scripted comedy and one-off drama.
“Over the last two years we have invested significantly in a number of single dramas and mini-series, but irrespective of their merits, none has gained a significant audience. We concluded that viewers will not come to Five to watch one-off original dramas, because we are not able to establish a reputation for them on the basis of occasional productions.”

The broadcaster said it was looking to commission long running drama series instead of single dramas and mini-series, claiming these will have “sufficient shelf life to attract and build and audience over time”.
Elsewhere in The Stage, Hemley reports that Sky are planning to invest in more high definition drama.
The channel has announced an undisclosed eight-figure commitment to HD drama in 2008 and 2009, which it claims is the one of the largest from any UK broadcaster and is the biggest in Sky’s history.

As part of its slate of new programmes, the broadcaster has announced a six-part series based on Chris Ryan’s book Strike Back, which will be made by Left Bank Pictures, the company formed by award-winning producer of The Queen, Andy Harries.

Sky One will also be bringing the works of author David Almond to the screen for the first time, with a dramatisation of his children’s book Skellig.

Theatre for toddlers

In The Guardian, Mark Fisher explores the boom in theatre for toddlers.
"Children learn and explore through touch," says Heather Fulton, creative artist with Starcatchers, a Scottish company specialising in early-years theatre. "Everything they hold will go in their mouth. So we've been using a lot of food in our work. Tomatoes have a big part."

Arthur C. Clarke: 1917-2008

Arthur C. Clarke, the legendary science fiction writer, has died at the age of 90.

His most famous work was 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he developed along with director Stanley Kubrick. One of the most important science fiction films ever made, its influence can be seen from the fact that the Apollo 13 command module was called Odyssey.

As well as novels (such as Rendezvous With Rama) and numerous short stories, Clarke was also credited with the idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays. Though he said that he never expected it to happen in his lifetime, this concept has, of course, become central to modern communications technology.

The news of Arthur C Clarke's death came too late last night for many of the British newspapers to include full obituaries today, but there are lengthy tributes in The L.A. Times and by Gerald Jonas in The New York Times.
Mr. Clarke’s influence on public attitudes toward space was acknowledged by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, by scientists like the astronomer Carl Sagan and by movie and television producers. Gene Roddenberry credited Mr. Clarke’s writings with giving him courage to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of indifference, even ridicule, from television executives.

In his later years, after settling in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Mr. Clarke continued to bask in worldwide acclaim as both a scientific sage and the pre-eminent science fiction writer of the 20th century.
Update (20.03.08): There are now numerous obituaries and tributes online, including in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and by Anthony Tucker in The Guardian.
Apart from his huge output of fiction and scientific books, Clarke left us his Three Laws. These are touched by the kind of eternal practicality which make his science fiction so effective and reveal his inner convictions:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The limits of the possible can only be found by going beyond them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology may, at first, be indistinguishable from magic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nick Green's Cat tale

On The Guardian Books blog, Ann Giles explains how children's author Nick Green responded to being dropped by Faber by self-publishing using Lulu.
Nick Green's first novel, The Cat Kin, was published by Faber last June and went on to garner a glowing review from in The Times and a wave of enthusiasm on Amazon. Six months later, the publisher decided not to bring out the second of Green's proposed trilogy due to poor sales. Poor sales? With a book as good as The Cat Kin, you've got to ask what kind of marketing support the publisher had given it.

Caroline Williams - Miss Guided

Miss Guided trailer

In The L.A. Times, Maria Elena Fernandez talks to Caroline Williams about her new TV comedy series, Miss Guided, that debuts in America this week.
In the brutal TV production world, it's rare for an unknown writer to pen a script at home, show it to a few people, land a United Talent Agency agent and a full-time gig on a hit show [The Office] within a month and have her own series within a year. But that's what happened to Caroline Williams, the creator of ABC's "Miss Guided," a single-camera documentary-style comedy, starring Judy Greer as a woman who returns to her high school to work as a guidance counselor.

"Every step of the way, I was like -- oh well, they'll buy it, but they'll never make it," said Williams while lunching on a turkey sandwich at Bloom Café last week. "Well, they'll make it, but they'll never pick it up. Then, no, they'll pick it up, but they'll never put it on the air. Every step of the way, I was convinced it was dead and I was ready to become an assistant again."

March ALCS payout

A guest post from Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's TV Committee.

The latest Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) pay-outs should be nestling in your bank accounts, and the print-out of your statements should be plopping onto your door mats now. Approximately £15 million has been paid out to writers of all genres, from TV and radio to books and journals, and is very welcome.

My usual mantra (all together now): this is your money earned from your work, all of which has a value in the commercial marketplace. This is not a gift from the writing gods. So if you have any queries, then please contact ALCS who will be happy to help you, either via email at or by phone on 0207 264 5700.

And enjoy your money!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition

The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition is now open for entries. The closing date is 13 June 2008.
The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition is a unique opportunity for anyone, aged 18 or over, to enter their original, full-length stageplay in a competition which aims to reward the best plays by writers across the country.

You can be anyone, of any experience, living anywhere in the UK and Ireland. You might never have written a play before. Or, you might have written lots. The key thing is, that entry is totally anonymous, so the competition is absolutely fair and inclusive to everyone.

The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition will offer awards of £15,000 as a First Prize and a following Second Prize of £10,000 and third prize of £7,500. There will also be a special Bruntwood prize of £5,000. This competition represents one the world’s biggest awards for playwriting.

John Wirth interview

For the Writers Guild of America West, Tara de Bach talks to John Wirth, the lead writer on the TV series Terminator: The Sara Conner Chronicles.
How were you able to combine the films' storylines with the television construct?

You have to have rules. I love the Warren Beatty version of Heaven Can Wait, and I'll tell you why -- it has a clearly defined set of rules. Early in the film, Joe Pendleton is in the bathroom looking at himself in the mirror and talking to Mr. Jordan, and he says something to the effect, “So, when I look in the mirror, I see me, but when everyone else looks at me, they see Farnsworth?” Mr. Jordan responds, “That's right, Joe.” It's simple, it's clear, they laid out the rules for the audience and stuck with them throughout the film. With The Sarah Connor Chronicles we are trying to do the same thing. The films abided by a set of rules, a mythology, set out by James Cameron, and we try to abide by them as much as possible. But as the show progresses, and we grow the characters, we're adding to the mythology.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles trailer

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tom Stoppard interview

In The Independent, Ciar Byrn talks to Guild member Sir Tom Stoppard following his receipt of a Dan David Prize, a $1m award from Tel Aviv University.
He finds it difficult – and unnecessary – to analyse his writing in great depth. He does not believe that his personal history and circumstances affect his work: "I write out of my intellectual experience." As a young man, he was much influenced by parody – treasuring a collection of Max Beerbohm parodies called A Christmas Garland, which he found on a barrow on Portobello Road.

Channel 4 plans new teen drama

From Robin Parker in Broadcast (free registration required).
Channel 4 has ring-fenced £10m to spend on programmes for 10-to 15 year-olds over the next two years - with a flagship drama series set to take centre stage.

The broadcaster plans to commission cross-platform content that is "publicly valuable" across a range of genres. Setting aside the cash is an explicit response to Ofcom's concerns that broadcasters are not sufficiently targeting older children and forms part of C4's plan to emphasise its public service credentials to help secure more public money.

C4 wants a pre-watershed drama for the age group for the second half of 2009. The aim is to combine the cultural impact of the BBC's Grange Hill in its heyday with the slick, multi-media approach of C4's older-skewing Hollyoaks and Skins.

AOL buys Bebo

Bebo, the social networking site that has pioneered the development of short online dramas such as Kate Modern, has been bought by AOL for £417m.

In The Guardian Jemmima Kiss considers the implications of the deal.
It is, perhaps, the end of a cycle - the end of the era of the major league social networks. They will increasingly have to both diversify and differentiate their communities from their rivals; MySpace is already looking increasingly unfocused and is not innovating fast enough. The new players are increasingly niche, whether that is Saga's site for the over-50s, the business community or restaurant reviews.
Jeff Jarvis is more pessimistic.
If history is any guide - and in AOL's case, it certainly is - I fear that Bebo's talented, visionary founders will leave in frustration or firings; AOL will bury the service inside its outmoded portal; and AOL will treat the people inside not as people but as ad inventory.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The end of The Wire

Hailed by many as one of the finest ever TV dramas, The Wire, created by David Simon, came to an end in the US this week with the finale of the fifth and final series.

In The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley reviews the episode (spoilers, obviously) and assesses the show as a whole.
“The Wire” ended at just the right time: too soon. And it’s not that Mr. Simon’s series was the only intelligent drama on television. The difference is that most smart shows try to dazzle viewers with what they don’t know: “House” on Fox throws out the rarest diseases and most far-fetched diagnostic tools to update Sherlock Holmes and “Numb3rs” on CBS twists every crime to fit an advanced mathematical formula.

“The Wire” worked with primary sources that anybody could grasp if they looked closely out the window on the train from New York to Washington. It’s the same view of Baltimore — abandoned row houses, gutted factories and bullet-pocked store fronts — that McNulty takes in when he parks his car and looks down at the city from afar.

“It is what it is,” is what McNulty and others would say to end a conversation. “The Wire” was what it was, and that was a lot.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Top writers back BBC Comedy College

Top writers including Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais have endorsed the new BBC Comedy College scheme which is launched today.

The scheme, which has financial support from BBC Worldwide, is designed for people who have already begun their careers and can demonstrate some achievement, such as broadcast material, a script commission or performance of their work.

Applicants are invited to submit the first ten pages of a half-hour script, or six sketches by the closing date of 14 April. Twelve writers will be interviewed, and the successful six announced on 16 May. They will then be matched with productions, and guaranteed a script commission.

They will also be given a mentor for original work, which will be showcased when the scheme ends in March 2009. There will be two residential workshops during the year, with sessions from leading writers, producers and directors.

Applicants should email their submission, and a writing CV to:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lisa Bowerman - photographer

In the latest issue of the Guild's magazine, UK Writer, the credit was missing from the photo of Stephen Gallagher (left) on page 25.

Lisa Bowerman was the photographer. She does black/white and colour headshots and is also an actress - playing Bernice Summerfield in the Dr Who audio dramas.

Commissioning online drama

More from Broadcast (free registration required): Robin Parker looks at plans for commissioning original online content.
Having reworked international dramas for the UK, Bebo is now looking to commission original content. Sarah Gavin, the network's head of global communications, says she wants the site to have four or five scripted and reality formats at any one time, ideally pitched at slightly different audiences. Sofia's Diary targets teenagers, while Kate Modern appeals more to twentysomethings. In between these demographics, Endemol's reality format The Gap Year is pitched at students.

"People can come to us with trailers already shot or just the kernel of an idea, but it's important they think about what users are doing and how they can interact beyond the show," Gavin adds.

Mark Freeland interview

In Broadcast (free registration required), Katherine Rushton talks to BBC Head Of Comedy, Mark Freeland.
Freeland's next goal is to develop new talent online: "Online comes up behind radio as one of the most important talent training grounds that we've got. By this time next year, if we don't have the most interesting, dynamic, in-house comedy website out there, I'll think we have ignored a huge opportunity.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Galton and Simpson on Hancock, Howerd and Steptoe

David WalliamsDavid Walliams in Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than Me, written by Peter Harness

BBC Four is shortly to run a Curse Of Comedy season, with new dramas looking at the lives of Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell.

In The Times, legendary scriptwriters Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who wrote for Hancock and Howerd and created Steptoe, say that what they remember most was the laughter.
We are both very suspicious of the “laugh clown laugh” concept, the Pagliacci syndrome that underneath the motley all comedians are miserable bastards. In our experience the most miserable comics were the rotten ones and thus had plenty to be miserable about. For instance Frankie Howerd, off stage, providing he was talking about himself, was the happiest man you could meet. Wonderful company and a genuinely funny man, which is all that matters. His private life had nothing to do with you, us, or anybody else. His demise wasn't sad; he achieved more than his allotted three score years and ten and could have carried on carrying on for years. There wasn't a grey hair in his wig. As Frank would have said, the only tragedy was that it had to come to an end.

Back in the old East End

On the BBC Writersroom blog, scriptwriter Abi Brown gives an inside account of writing for EastEnders.
There’s always so much to cram into an episode of Eastenders, bit like playing Tetrus - all the pieces need to fit smoothly together and move around the square with ease. 5 different stories are playing at any one time in a typical episode - count them next time you watch. Then there’s the added fun of the scheduler’s notes.

For example:
“Only 3 pages in the Vic please, I know it’s Peggy’s story but, Peggy is not available. Stacey can’t be seen with Steven and Bradley, Bradley can be seen with Stacey - but only in the Allotments. You can only use the Minute Mart if there’s an ‘R’ in the month. Wellard is on holiday…etc”

The Last Standing podcast

Guild Member Darren Rapier has been working with Enfield Young Offenders to create a modern day interpretation of Tosca to complement a new production of the opera at The Albert Hall.

You can listen to a podcast about the project courtesy of The Stage (MP3 file).

Actors needed

Two actors are needed for the reading of new comedy play by Gail Renard and John Sayle at the Writers' Guild Centre, King's Cross, on Saturday March 15th from 10am to 3pm. The parts are Sergeant Jensen, a plod; and Imran Ali, a psychiatrist. A fun time will be had by all. Please contact Gail through:

Friday, March 07, 2008

On heists

Daniel Mays and Jason Statham in The Bank Job, written by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais

As British film The Bank Job opens in America, Terrence Rafferty in The New York Times considers the enduring appeal of heist movies.
Although the planning of the crime — the recruiting of the team, the diagrams of security systems, the blueprints, the maps of getaway routes — usually takes up a fair amount of screen time and is often terrifically entertaining, nobody in the audience really wants to see the job go exactly as the thieves have doped it out. That would be kind of redundant, and worse, it would feel uncomfortably impersonal. Heist pictures are all about process, technique, mechanics; the blind accidents are what keep them human.

The return of Gavin And Stacey

Ruth Jones, Joanna Page, Matthew Horne and James Corden in Gavin And Stacey (Photo: BBC)

The second series of Gavin And Stacey starts on BBC TV this month and both BBC News and The Observer have profiles of the comedy-drama's creators and stars, James Cordon and Ruth Jones.
Until the BBC insisted on expanding it into a series, Gavin & Stacey had been a one-hour, semi-improvised drama called It's My Day. Jones shows me the original treatment; based around the friends and families of Gavin West and Stacey Shipman (neither related to mass murderers as far as we know), it shows how the comedy evolved from being slightly crude to the sleek, sophisticated version that finally appeared on television. Jones and Corden had fun writing the treatment but neither took it seriously. 'We couldn't have been more casual,' says Corden. 'It was like playing dress-up,' explains Jones. 'We did all the voices ourselves, we acted out every scene."
Meanwhile, as The Times reports, the series has been picked up for an American remake by NBC.

Theatre Royal Stratford East

In The Guardian, Maddy Costa profiles the Theatre Royal Stratford East.
It's tempting to view the Theatre Royal as Britain's pre-eminent home to black theatre, but mention this to [Kerry] Michael's associate director, Dawn Reid, and she bristles. "We're not: we do black work, as well as Asian work, as well as everyone else. We do it not because we're told to, but because we think it's necessary. And we have a diverse audience that trusts us. Building trust takes time; it doesn't take the one-off black show for the season." What troubles Reid - particularly because she herself is black - is that such labels carry with them the potential to be overlooked. "The more I get labelled, the more I get made outcast," she says. "Why can't I go in the same pot with the mainstream?"

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Power and Gallagher take Crusoe to NBC

Last year it was reported that Power will become the first British production company to make a drama series for a US Network for more than 40 years, after NBC ordered 13 episodes of Robinson Crusoe.
The budget for the 13-episode series is said to be about $35 million. NBC/UMS's portion is estimated to be about $10 million, for which NBC gets domestic rights to "Crusoe."

Power, which will shoulder the rest of the cost, gets international distribution rights.

The deal gives NBC a series for a little more than the price of a high-end drama pilot. (The two-hour pilot of "Lost" reportedly cost $10 million-$12 million).
Now WGGB member and blogger, Stephen Gallagher, has revealed that he will be lead writer on the show.
I don't intend to keep a running production blog and I'm not going to give away any information on how we're tackling it, either. But NBC are buying action-adventure. So don't expect thirteen weeks of a bloke learning to milk a goat.

West End performers "ready to walk out"

From Lalayn Baluch in The Stage:
West End performers are willing to take industrial action if London theatre managers do not agree to a 44% minimum wage hike being demanded by Equity.

The trade union is currently pushing for the existing basic pay rate for actors working in the West End to increase from £381 per week to £550. A new second minimum wage of £650 is also being sought for performers who are required to work on Sundays.

According to Equity president Harry Landis, cast members in shows across the capital have now unanimously rejected a ‘best offer’ increase put forward by the Society of London Theatre

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Springer case dismissed by Lords

From BBC News:
The House of Lords has refused to hear a petition of appeal brought by a Christian activist group trying to prosecute the BBC for blasphemy.

Christian Voice had sought to overturn a High Court ruling that prevented it bringing a case against the BBC for screening Jerry Springer - The Opera.

But the petition failed because it did "not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance".

Public willing to pay for downloads

At the inaugural meeting of the All Party Writers Group last week, the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) announced the findings of their recent survey into consumer attitudes to creators whose work is re-used in the digital environment.

55% of those questioned in the survey into public attitudes to copyright in the digital age, believe writers and other creators of works that are subsequently made available online should be paid fairly for this digital re-use of their work. Of these, 70% said they would be willing to pay a 'reasonable sum' to be able to download such work.

"It's enormously encouraging," says Dr Ian Gibson MP, Chair of the Group. "If there is consumer will to make sure writers and other creators are rewarded for the work they create which is then made available on-line, it will be far easier to look after writers and ensure they are given fair recognition and reward for their contribution."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Julian Rathbone 1935-2008

The novelist Julian Rathbone has died at the age of 73. His novels Joseph and King Fisher Lives were both nominated for the Booker Prize in the 1970s.

There's an obituary in The Guardian by Nick Coleman.
Rathbone was an old-school libertarian lefty. His detestation of privilege and the structures which maintain it was profound. His contempt for them was expressed by turn frighteningly, wittily and sexily, and often all at once, but never, ever dully or rhetorically. There are crime novels in his canon and there are thrillers, but he was by no means a genre writer. Rather, he deployed a rampant imagination to conceive of worlds he might intrude on to get to what he needed to say.
And here's an interview where Rathbone talks about a variety of his books.

Met Film School Training Scheme

Some last minute notice courtesy of the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival mailing about the Met Film School Training Scheme.

Met Film School logo
Writers with some professional experience can apply for the scheme that will support the development of a new script and pay "competitive fees" throughout the process.
The Met Film School Skillset Writers' Training Scheme will support ten talented emerging writers to develop a first draft of a feature film script whilst supporting their creative and professional development through an intensive training programme.

The initial six months will include 1:1 support from both a script supervisor and a producer and professional support, bespoke training courses, masterclasses, readings, workshops, and a series of placements designed to familiarize writers with working practice across the value chain of cinema from production to exploitation.

Five of the writers will then be selected for a further six months of development support. The programme will be delivered by a proven partnership of producers, distributors and training providers with an existing track record of developing scripts and delivering this level and type of training. Additional training and placements will be provided by a range of organisations including Hollywood studios.
The closing date is 10th March 2008.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Reflections on The Death Of Margaret Thatcher

Some things I've learned during the run of my play, The Death Of Margaret Thatcher, which finished last night:
  1. There are only two kinds of critics: those who like your play and those who don't
  2. They care about English theatre in Tatarstan (although their translation software doesn't seem to work too well)
  3. Theatres get very little credit for taking the risk of putting on new work - no wonder lots of places prefer to stick with Noel Coward
  4. Someone can cybersquat your play's title (presumably trying to make money from Adwords)
  5. Marxists are long on analysis but short on a sense of humour
  6. When being interviewed try to avoid wearing a jumper that's the same colour as the background (see clip below, courtesy of AFP)

Character studies got the Oscar nominations

In a piece published before last week's Oscar ceremony Jay A. Hernandez in The L.A. Times identifies a common theme in the Oscar-nominated screenplays.
While taut plotting and visual ingenuity were certainly in abundance in this year's crop of nominated screenplays, it is the writers' compassionate, three-dimensional depictions of the flawed and fearsome, the courageous and resourceful, the bereft and bruised, that most beckoned for reward.

It may seem a facile thing to say, for what story doesn't live or die on the relatable nature of its characters and their actions? But at a time when a battered world cries out for an understanding of humans' most troubling motivations, these deep investigations into the jagged and tender parts of us resonated in the collective psyche with perfect pitch.

Robert B Parker interview

In The Daily Telegraph, Sam Leith meets American crime writer Robert B Parker.
"Dialogue is easy and it chews up a lot of pages," he says. "Describing a room is hard and it slows everything down and it doesn't chew up many pages.

"It's a hell of a lot easier to say 'he said, I said, he said', than to say 'the room was of carved oak, with a patina of blah'. Still, Joan [Parker's wife] is always reminding me to make it more full - don't be so spare with just the dialogue. She says some of the best stuff I do is atmospheric background. I'm good with rain, you know…"

He emits a chuckle from deep in his throat. "Heh… hard not to be good with rain…" Parker takes three months to write a novel. "They bring out three a year and I write four a year, so I'm five or six ahead. If I were to drop dead as we speak there would be books being published well into 2009.

"I do first draft. I don't revise. I don't reread. I send it in. They edit it - and it's valuable if they do, or I'll end up spelling 'cat' dee-oh-gee… heh, y'know, sloppy. But they don't make any significant changes."

Theatre's lack of connection

In The Times, Dominic Dromgoole bemoans a loss of connection between actors and audience.
The present landscape offers connection. Boutique theatre events put together elegant packages of stars to play to subscriber audiences of the uber-rich, partaking in an interaction that is as far away from theatre as drooling over a porno mag is from making love. It is an interaction based on acquisition rather than connection. Theatre, which is supposed to make us tremble with delight or with terror, becomes a lifestyle accessory.