Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is drama safe at the BBC?

In The Guardian, Gareth McLean asks if BBC drama's poor performance at this year's BAFTAs is indicative of a serious malaise.
"There are so many cooks involved in any new project now that any distinctiveness is being throttled," says another, Bafta-winning writer. "Such is the lack of courage of commissioners and the climate of fear in which they operate, the commissioning process is ossifying."

The only opinion that these writers and producers say matters is that of Jane Tranter, the BBC's head of Fiction. One writer, who like the rest asked to remain anonymous, claims that trust between the BBC and writers and producers who deliver the goods has evaporated.

"They commission an episode, you write seven drafts, probably with input from four different BBC producers - all of whom contradict one another - and then, instead of making a decision, they commission a second episode and then often a third, even for a second series. They're so scared of getting it wrong, they'd rather play it safe. There is only one question in everyone's head, whether it be writer, independent producer or BBC exec - what would Jane think?"
McLean puts these concerns to BBC Ben Stephenson, head of drama commissioning.
"Ultimately the decision on what is made is made between me, Jane and the channel controller, but in terms of what's developed, there's a genuine diversity of voices which there wouldn't be if Jane and me developed things ourselves ...[Jane] isn't the taste-maker, she really isn't. My feeling is 'thank God we have a lot of commissioning editors' because that genuinely means that one person doesn't rule."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Quiet times on this blog

...but not in my household!

Apologies for the recent blog silence - a new arrival has been somewhat distracting, but in a very good way, obviously.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Moving from long running series...

Moving from long running series to taking the next step - Thursday 24 April 2008, arrive at 6.45pm for a 7pm start

Following the success of the Guild event on long running BBC series last year, we’re delighted to announce a sequel from John Yorke: 'Moving from Long Running Series to Taking The Next Step'

John Yorke is Controller of Drama Production Studios for the BBC and over the last three years, has been committed to putting writers back at the heart of EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty. He has also been responsible for introducing and implementing the new BBC Code of Conduct, in response to our members’ complaints and suggestions about long running series.

We are pleased to announce that John will be accompanied by a cornucopia of BBC production talent. Members will be able to get advice from:

Hilary Salmon - Executive Producer, Drama Production. Hilary has Exec Produced some of BBC drama's most prestigious recent dramas including Criminal Justice, House Of Saddam, Five Days, Silent Witness, Soundproof, The Line Of Beauty, The Long Firm, Babyfather, Nature Boy, Gormenghast and Madame Bovary.

Claire Armspach - Producer, Waking The Dead. Claire also helped set up the writing team for BBC Scotland's River City. Produced for Holby City and assistant produced Rough Diamond for World.

Ellen Taylor - Development Executive, Drama Production. Ellen has produced and written for Casualty and Dream Team. Currently developing two new teen dramas for BBC3.

Ben Evans - Exec Producer with special responsibility for BBC 4. Ben Exec Produced the recent BBC4 Curse of Comedy season and also produced Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than me, Most Sincerely: Hughie Green. Also produced Fear of Fanny and Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! for BBC4.

Ceri Meyrick - Producer. Ceri runs the BBC Drama Writers Academy and other Training Academies for Directors, Scripts Editors, Producers and other writers' schemes.

This is a golden opportunity to speak to the powers-that-be of the TV industry. Please come along and join us. This can be just what your career needs.

The event will once again be chaired by Gail Renard, Chair of the WGGB TV Committee.

Tickets for this event will be £5 for Guild members and £7.50 for non-members. If you would like to book for this event, please email moe@writersguild.org.uk or call the Guild office on 0207 833 0777.

South Park and the internet

South ParkIn The L.A. Times, South Park co-creator Matt Stone talks to the Web Scout blog about the show's ongoing relationship with the internet.
Among "South Park's" oft-cited strengths -- and no doubt a reason for its popularity online -- is the show's perpetual relevance. "The Internet and YouTube change the way you think about your characters interacting with the world," Stone explained. "If our characters don't live in that world, all of a sudden it's like, 'What are they, in the 90s? What is this show? Is this "Happy Days"?' "

Earlier this season, Stone and Parker took on another headlining topic with their episode about the writers strike, in which a misguided Canada fights an ultimately losing battle against the rest of the world, its main demand being "more money." The Internet made another cameo here, as the most ridiculous YouTube stars (Star Wars Kid, the Chocolate Rain Guy, the Sneezing Panda, etc.) were waiting in line at the Colorado Department of Internet Money, which pays in large denominations of "theoretical dollars."

Kenneth Ewing 1927-2008

Kenneth Ewing, a leading agent with Fraser & Dunlop (later Peters, Fraser & Dunlop), died on 14 April at the age of 81. There's an obituary in The Times.
By the mid-1960s many of his clients were providing the bedrock of ITV comedy and drama. Vince Powell and Harry Driver, Roy Bottomley and Tom Brennand were the men behind such huge (and in retrospect less than politically correct) situation comedy hits as Bless This House, Love Thy Neighbour and Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, while other clients, Peter Eckersley and John Finch, were members of the powerful Group North writing team that provided Granada Television with some its most enduring drama series, including Finch’s A Family at War and Sam.

The torrent of situation comedy classics continued into the 1970s with another Ewing-nurtured team, Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, whose many series for Thames Television included Man About the House, George and Mildred and Robin’s Nest — series that dominated the British ratings for a decade. And Ewing was instrumental in negotiations to make American versions of all three series — if not the first, certainly the biggest “format” deal of its kind and a coup that made a substantial contribution towards Thames Television’s Queen’s Award for Export.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Writers complain about crowded British Library

Leading authors are complaining that the British Library's new admissions policy - far less stringent than in the past - means that it's increasingly difficult to find peace, quiet and place to sit down, reports Dalya Alberge in The Times.
Although there are 1,480 seats in the library, the author Christopher Hawtree was last week forced to perch on a windowsill while the historians Lady Antonia Fraser and Claire Tomalin have swapped horror stories of interminable queues. Library users complain that the line to enter the new building in St Pancras, central London, has recently been extending across its enormous courtyard.

Speaking to The Times yesterday, Lady Antonia said: “I had to queue for 20 minutes to get in, in freezing weather. Then I queued to leave my coat for 20 minutes [at the compulsory check-in]. Then half an hour to get my books and another 15 minutes to get my coat. I’m told it’s due to students having access now. Why can’t they go to their university libraries?”
In The Guardian, however, Stuart Jeffries argues that things might not have been much better in the past.
Novelist AS Byatt recalls working at the library in the British Museum, which housed part of the collection until 1997. "In the afternoon, there was no oxygen. Everyone fell asleep. It was the haunt of mad old women. Angus Wilson [novelist and superintendent of the reading room] once told a woman that it was forbidden to eat oranges. 'Mr Wilson,' she replied, 'I'm not eating oranges. I'm squeezing them into the books.'"

The 50 greatest crime writers

The Times has compiled a list of the 50 greatest crime writers, with Patricia Highsmith coming in at number 1, followed by Georges Simenon, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard.

There are several articles published alongside the list, including Jeanette Winterson on why crime fiction needs a sense of morality.
Let's say there are only three endings to any story, discounting happy endings as too Hollywood: Revenge, Tragedy, and Forgiveness. Crime writing feeds our feelings for tragedy and revenge, and we can fool ourselves that there is also such a thing as justice - that the end is just or that justice has been done, or that justice has been avoided, but we know what it is.

Monday, April 21, 2008

BAFTA TV Awards winners

The official writing award might have been shifted to the lower-profile BAFTA Craft Awards, but writers were, nonetheless, very much to the fore at the BAFTA TV Awards in London last night.

Writers Peter Kosminsky (Britz - Drama Serial), Tony Marchant (The Mark Of Cain - Single Drama) , James Cordon and Ruth Jones (Gavin & Stacey - Audience Award), Tony McHale (Holby City - Continuing Drama), Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong ( Peep Show - Sitcom) and Jimmy McGovern (The Street - Drama Series) all accepted awards.

Ruth JonesRuth Jones, co-writer (with James Cordon) of Gavin & Stacey

It was a good night for Channel 4, picking up awards in categories including Single Drama, Drama Serial and Sitcom.

The full list of nominees and winners is on the BAFTA website.

Lee Mason joins Shed

Lee Mason has joined Shed productions to head up its development slate, reports Leigh Holmwood for Media Guardian.
The Shed managing director, Brian Park, said: "We are looking to expand our development slate and there are new opportunities arising all the time.

"Lee will bring experience in children's and youth drama and will be involved across the board.

"We have developed a lot in-house but we are looking to develop new relationships with writers and that is where Lee will be taking a key role."

Mason added: "My job is to come in and build on what Shed already have and develop relationships with new and establish writers."

HBO under fire

In The L.A. Times, Mary McNamara evaluates the state of pioneering cable channel, HBO.
David Milch's "John From Cincinnati" wasn't just irritating and bewildering, it was also seen as an inferior replacement for his cultishly adored "Deadwood" (and, for some, the even more abruptly discontinued "Carnivale"). Final seasons of "The Sopranos" and, on a smaller scale, "The Wire" naturally evoked doomsday predictions of a Downward Spiral. Never mind that "Big Love," though ruptured this season by the writers strike, is both a critical and ratings hit or that people still love "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Never mind that "John Adams" has done well, especially considering that it's a historical drama composed, mostly, of men in waistcoats talking politics. HBO is perceived as being in full-blown midlife crisis, with the recent decision to replace Carolyn Strauss with Sue Naegle as chief of entertainment as its attempt at marriage counseling (the inexplicably low numbers for "In Treatment" notwithstanding).

Friday, April 18, 2008

London Book Fair round-up

All the big deals and debates summaries in Publishing News.
At the end of a busy but rewarding Fair, Group Exhibition Director Alistair Burtenshaw told PN: “The last three days have been action-packed - from a hugely busy International Rights Centre to a sizzling Cookbook Corner to a fantastic seminar programme. As if that weren't enough, we were also delighted with the presence from our Arab friends celebrating our Market Focus on the Arab World this year.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Moving from long-running series: new speakers

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

Not only will the Guild be welcoming John Yorke, Controller of Drama Production Studios for the BBC to this event at 7pm on 24 April, but John also will accompanied by a cornucopia of BBC production talent. Members will be able to get advice from:

Hilary Salmon - Executive Producer Drama Production
Ellen Taylor - Development Executive Drama Production
Claire Armspach- Producer Silent Witness
Ben Evans - Executive Producer with special responsibility for BBC 4

This is a golden opportunity to speak to the powers-that-be of the TV industry. Please come along and join us. This could be just what your career needs.

Tickets for this event will be £5 for Guild members and £7.50 for non-members. If you would like to attend this event please send a cheque payable to the ' Writers' Guild' to, Television Event , Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 15-17 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JN. Or please email: moe@writersguild.org.uk or call 0207 833 0777.

Sofia's Diary bought by Five

From Chris Curtis in Broadcast (free registration required)
Teen drama Sofia's Diary will become the first major web show to air on British television after being snapped up by Five in a ground-breaking deal.

The broadcaster has bought the show from rights owner Sony Television Pictures International (SPTI) and will screen it on the soon-to-launch Fiver, formerly Five Life.

Sofia's Diary debuted on social networking site Bebo in March, racking up five million views in its first two weeks, and now averages around 500,000 views per episode.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Harry Potter copyright case

Lots of coverage of the Harry Potter copyright case this week - J.K. Rowling and her publishers are seeking to block publication of Steven Vander Ark's The Harry Potter Lexicon and are seeking damages for copyright and federal trademark infringement.

Rowling says she'd planned on writing a similar book herself, with the profits going to charity.

BBC News has a report on Vander Ark's turn in the witness box.

Update: In another high profile copyright case, BBC Worldwide has today seen off a challenge to its use of the Daleks in books, reports Paul Lewis for Media Guardian.
The Daleks, famous for their "exterminate!" catchphrase, were the creation of the late Terry Nation, who wrote the second Doctor Who serial, The Daleks.

Paul Fishman, the son of one of Nation's friends, had claimed at the high court in London that his company, JHP, held the book copyright to dalek stories and that a new publication about the characters by BBC Worldwide had infringed that copyright.

But a judge ruled today that although JHP held a licence to publish several books by Terry Nation about the daleks in the 1960s, it did not own the copyright.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hollywood and Silicon Valley

In The New York Times, Laura M. Holson wonders whether the movie business could learn lessons from the high tech industries.
A particularly salient difference, of course, is how each culture approaches failure. Silicon Valley, to a point, celebrates it, while entertainment creators in Southern California cannot distance themselves fast enough from anything that might be a bomb. And Hollywood talent likes a success story; but only if it is their own.

“If a successful director has a flop, his peers and colleagues question whether he has lost his touch,” [venture capitalist] Mr. Kvamme said. “By contrast, in the Valley, if you have a failure, that usually means that you have learned something. There are very few successful serial entrepreneurs. Failure is almost a rite of passage.”

The struggle to get published

On The Guardian Books Blog, Jean Hannah Edelstein reports from a masterclass at The London Book Fair on 'How to get published'.
The masterclass might have been more accurately entitled, "You Will Probably Not Get Your Book Published: Writing Is More Difficult Than You Think and Publishing a Capricious, Cruel Industry (Unless You Pay Author House to Do It For You, Representatives of Our Kind Sponsor Are Standing By"). Or perhaps "Publishing: A Defensive, Crumbling Industry (We Hate E-books)". But I guess that's not a brilliant way to sell tickets.

Ashley Highfield moves to Kangaroo

Ashley Highfield
Ashley Highfield, one of the BBC's new media pioneers, has left his job as Director of BBC Future Media and Technology to become chief executive of Kangaroo, the working title for the new video on-demand service from BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 that's set to launch in the UK later this year.

Ashley Highfield said:
"This is a fantastic opportunity. Kangaroo is a historic partnership with a combination of innovative technology and terrific content and I’m looking forward to transforming the way audiences watch television."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Armstrong & Bain

BAFTA Academy Television Screening and Q&A: PEEP SHOW followed by Q&A with writers (and Guild members) Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain

Tuesday 22 April @ 20:00
Princess Anne Theatre (BAFTA)

20:00 Drinks reception
20:30 Screening of Peep Show episode 1, Series 5 followed by Q&A
The BAFTA-nominated and critically acclaimed comedy starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb returns for a fifth series.

Mark (David Mitchell) is the conventional one seething with inner rages and desires. Jeremy (Robert Webb), the loose cannon full of expressed rages and desires, but seething with even more rage on the inside.

Series four left Mark having just gone through with a disastrous marriage ceremony to Sophie (Olivia Coleman), after all but jilting her at the altar. Now, Mark faces the horror of having to face his estranged wife at work. Meanwhile Jeremy has a rude awakening when the money he's been subsisting on finally runs out and he's forced to try and find a new source of income.

This series sees Mark and Jeremy still sharing the same flat, but both entering their 30s with failed marriages behind them, few prospects, and a sense of impending crisis. Time is running out for them to sort out their lives. Jeremy's mother appears on the scene and it soon becomes clear why he's ended up as he is. Mark goes speed dating, and discovers money can buy you love. Jeremy and Superhans (Matt King) play at a Christian Rock Festival; the flat suffers multiple burglaries and the boys endure their worst ever night out - at the theatre.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with writers Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain, chaired by Andrew Newman, Head of Entertainment & Comedy, Channel 4.
Booking: Tickets can be booked online via www.bafta.org.

Academy Members: Free
Non Members: £10

Guild AGM

Motions for the Guild's AGM must be received by the Guild office before Friday 18 April. Motions for debate at the AGM, including proposals to amend the Guild rules, may be tabled by any two Full Members who are in benefit. Please contact Anne Hogben, the Deputy General Secretary, if you have any queries about this: anne@writersguild.org.uk.

The AGM will take place on Wednesday 4th June from 10.30 am to 5.00 pm at the Writers’ Guild Centre, 17 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JN. Closest underground station: King’s Cross. All members are welcome to attend. A light lunch will be served, free of charge. Please contact the office to let us know if you will be staying for lunch: 020 7833 0777 or email erik@writersguild.org.uk

Alan Davey interview

In The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins talks to new Arts Council England chief executive, Alan Davey.
Davey, speaking in his first major press interview, naturally denies that the winter's funding settlement, in which 185 companies lost their entire grant, was a mess - though he admits the "timing could have been better", and has asked Labour peer Genista Mackintosh to look at what lessons can be learned from the debacle. He says senior staff have been "laying bare our souls" to her. He was evidently taken aback by the force with which the arts world turned on the council. "One of the things that shocked me about that was how little credit we had in the bank [with arts practitioners]. We've got to rebuild our credit," he says. "One of the things that hurt me a bit was that we were portrayed as a lot of faceless bureaucrats."

The 100 Most Powerful People in British Culture

These 'Most Powerful' lists are always pretty dubious, but it's good to see two Guild members near the top of the Daily Telegraph's rankings - Sir Tom Stoppard is the highest ranked writer (eleventh) with Richard Curtis one place behind.

BBC Drama Writers Academy

The BBC is inviting applications for its Drama Series Writers Academy 2008.

Entrants must have already had at least one professional drama commission in film, television or radio drama script produced or one theatre piece performed professionally.

The closing date for applications is May 12th 2008.

Full details are available from the BBC Jobs website.

Friday, April 11, 2008

MySpace commissions online drama

By Leigh Holmwood in Media Guardian:
Social networking website MySpace has signed up the producer and director team behind Bebo's hit online drama KateModern to create a series of its own.

MySpace also announced today at the Mip TV programme market in Cannes that it had signed an agreement with Elisabeth Murdoch's ShineReveille International to develop new TV projects from the original content created for its website.

Big Balls Films and Pete Gibbons will make a pilot of the UK-set I Love Chieftown drama this month, with a full 60-"webisode" series launching in mid-September.

BadAss Wombles

As part of their campaign to "Save British Kids TV", producers' organisation Pact has produced a video, BadAss Wombles.

Screenwriters who direct

On the Guild website I've posted a report on the event earlier this week where a panel of writer-directors discussed taking on that dual role.
Asked about what technical help they had received, [Debbie] Isitt said that when she started she tried to keep things as simple as possible and rely on common sense. “There’s so much mystification of the process,” she said. “It’s hard work, but so are lots of jobs. Directing is about whether you’ve got the mettle to do it. If you’re a wuss, stay at home.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Talkback signs deal with Street producer

From Jane Bainbridge in Broadcast (free registration required):
Talkback Thames has signed the latest in its talent partnership deals with John Chapman, producer of award-winning drama The Street.

Chapman is leaving his role as executive producer at ITV Productions to set up his own label, 152 Productions, which will now come under the Talkback Thames umbrella

Stoppard on Hapgood

With Hapgood about to be revived by Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Tom Stoppard tells Sam Marlowe in The Times about how he came to write the play.
Stoppard's obsession was particle physics, which his son Oliver was studying at PhD level while the play was being written. (Stoppard has four sons, two by his first marriage to Josie Ingle, two - including the actor Ed - by his second, to Dr Miriam Stoppard, née Moore-Robinson). Stoppard saw in physics a metaphor for human nature. Does light operate like a bullet or a wave? The answer is, both - depending on whether it's being observed or not. So too people, who have different selves sharing the one body, which appear or disappear depending on who's looking.

Stoppard alighted on “the world of John le Carré” as the form to accommodate these ideas, he says, “because both quantum physics and espionage relate to the ultimate impossibility of observing the truth of a situation; of ever knowing what's truly happening.” The result was a play that constantly confounds the viewer's expectations, and whose mix of physics and spying achieves what Michael Frayn later took two separate plays (Copenhagen and Democracy) to cover adequately.

WEbook's colloborative approach

From Heather Green in Business Week:
It works for Wikipedia, but can the power of the crowd extend to writing books? A new startup called WEbook is tackling that very question with a new service that's open to anyone who wants to help write a book. Like the open-source software movement and Wikipedia's collaborative encyclopedia entries, WEbook is betting that the "all contributors welcome" approach can bring more creativity and innovation to a book project than an individual or a small group of experts.

If the notion of teamwork sounds a bit counterintuitive when it comes to writing books, WEbook President Sue Heilbronner agrees. That's why the service is emphasizing nonfiction—anthologies, self-help, and essay collections, for example—more than novels, where a consistent author's voice matters more.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Writing, the no-money game

On The Guardian Books Blog, Jean Hannah Edelstein considers the merits of the Macmillan New Writing Scheme, now in its third year.
Macmillan is giving unpublished new writers the opportunity to see their books in print if they are willing to sacrifice the traditional advance. (Does anyone know if these writers still get other perks? Fancy lunches?) When the scheme was launched, there was plenty of frowning, especially among the publishing establishment who assumed that the list would be composed of the stuff we shed from our slush piles. In fact the list is still on the go two years later, with 30-odd titles, which is nothing to sniff at in this precarious industry.
Macmillan New Writing, to which anyone can submit a novel, runs as follows:
Our terms are standard and straightforward: we pay a royalty of 20% on net sales; we retain world rights and share any rights revenue 50/50, and we reserve the option to publish the author’s second novel under the same terms as the first.

The end of the critic?

In The L.A. Times, Patrick Goldstein ponders the future of film critics.
For a generation that lives on the Web, even the most eloquent critics are distant thunder, rarely promoted well on newspaper websites and often reluctant to use blogs as a platform to spread their gospel. Even among savvy journalism students, it's hard to find anyone who knows any critics by name.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

So you want to be a playwright?

Slightly delayed, but I've put a report on last month's Guild event, So you want to be a playwright?, on the website.
The next questioner wondered, “Writing aside, what do you value in a playwright in order to build a working relationship?”

“Initially it is the work,” said Sudha Bhuchar. “Then it’s being open to changes in the rehearsal process.” Purni Morell [Head of Studio at the National Theatre] said that she had a similar outlook. She wanted writers who accept “the idea that we’re embarking on a joint endeavour [with the directors, actors, designer etc] for the benefit of the audience.”

David Edgar argued that this approach represented a huge change from the post-war tradition of British playwriting. The near-contempt for audiences expressed by certain writers in the past might have been excessive, he said, “but there is a danger that the pendulum has swung too far the other way and people are now scared of audiences.”

Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell in In Bruges

Martin McDonagh's first feature film as writer-director, In Bruges, opens in the UK this month, having already attracted attention in the US. In The Times, he and one of the film's stars, Colin Farrell, talk to Ed Caesar.
EC: Brendan Gleeson, who plays Ken, says you’re a genius, because you won an Oscar for Six Shooter without having the first idea what you were doing as a director. How has your education progressed since then?

MM: With the short, I didn’t take control over many of the aspects of film-making that I should have done. I didn’t get involved with the director of photography, or the costume designers, or the production people ... All of those things I really needed to do. If your name is on it as the writer/director, you need to make sure it’s your statement. So I didn’t learn as much as I should have done. I was terrified going into the feature. What made a difference was the three-week rehearsal period. That felt more like what I was used to: analysing a script, people talking about character and getting at the truth of something.

EC: Did the script change much during that rehearsal period?

CF: Not a word.

EC: That’s unusual. Scripts normally change dramatically during a rehearsal period.

MM: That’s a description of a shit script, although it’s probably arrogant to say that.

August Wilson's legacy

In The Guardian, John Lahr considers the life and legacy of American playwright August Wilson.
August Wilson liked to say his plays were "fat with substance". And he was right: his 10-play cycle - Wilson wrote one for every roiling decade of the African-American experience in the 20th century - transforms historical tragedy into imaginative triumph. The blues are catastrophe expressed lyrically; so are Wilson's plays, which swing with the pulse of the African-American people, as they moved from property to personhood.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Kimberley Peirce interview

Stop-Loss trailer

For the Writers Guild Of America West, Tara de Bach talks to Kimberley Peirce about her new film, Stop-Loss.
How difficult was it for you to get this very action-oriented, war genre film made, given the fact that a) you're a woman, and b) this is such a departure from Boys Don't Cry?

Well, I come from the indie world. [Mark Richard and] I decided to essentially do the film on spec. All of the research and development we paid for ourselves. That way you don't have to justify anything. If you feel it's worthwhile, you do the interview and make the effort because it's coming out of your own pocket. We began writing on weekends, and when that wasn't moving quickly enough, Mark quit his job [laughs] against my advice, and he moved in with me for a short time. We literally wrote day and night.

When we were happy with the script, I then cut together a video of many of the soldiers -- truly profound and moving images of what's going on over there -- on missions, in alleys, in Humvees, just an assortment of images. At the end of the day, we had four studios that wanted to buy the script. So when students or aspiring filmmakers ask me for advice, I tell them, “Write a script that moves you, shoot it, and create your own calling card. Just do it.”

If the script or concept had been an open assignment for this film, I think [my credits or being a woman] might have been an obstacle, but after the film clip, script, and presentation, people were confident I could deliver the movie.

Friday, April 04, 2008

NBC buys Merlin

American TV network NBC have announced that they have bought the new BBC family drama Merlin and will run it at peak time in their 2008 schedule, reports Leigh Holmwood for Media Guardian.

NBC have already commissioned another British-made series, Crusoe, to run in prime-time.

Merlin is being made by Shine, with Julian Jones as the lead writer.
Jane Tranter [Controller, BBC Fiction] comments: "The writer Julian Jones and award-winning team at Shine have delivered scripts which are bold and original, entertaining and enchanting, and director James Hawes's bravura vision for this piece is perfectly suited to the adventure we are all embarking upon. Merlin is a wonderfully ambitious and beautifully crafted series which we're sure will enchant families later this year."

Leonard Barras 1922-2008

In The Guardian, Peter Mortimer has written an obituary for Guild member Leonard Barras who died in January.
The Guardian once called Leonard Barras, who has died aged 85, "a disgracefully neglected comic writer", while the Stage referred to him as "a Geordie Ionesco". Yet his talents were little appreciated. This was down to his total lack of ego. He had no desire for publicity and resisted being photographed. His work was also impossible to categorise - a homespun Geordie humour mixed with fantastical flights of fancy and surrealism (surrealism not being that strong on Tyneside). His unusual imagination contrasted with the mild-mannered, quiet man who spent his entire working life at Swan Hunter shipyards. He never lived outside the region.

Kids panel assessing CBBC shows

From Katherine Rushton for Broadcast (free registration required):
CBBC is using weekly feedback from a panel of 1,000 children to help it measure its shows' success based on value, instead of ratings or share.

The panel, which began piloting in February, uses questions such as "Would you recommend this to your best friend?" to find out which programmes its audience feels most passionate about.

The initiative anticipates the shift away from timetabled broadcasts on linear channels to on-demand platforms such as BBC iPlayer.

Children's controller Richard Deverell predicted that audiences will be more discerning. "As you shift from a linear model to an on-demand model, you will depend more and more on viewers actively seeking content out, instead of just bumping into it.

"Increasingly share doesn't tell you that much. We need to shift the emphasis to value as a key measure of success. [Early feedback shows] only a modest relationship between the size of the audience and the number of people who really, really love those programmes."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hollyoaks competition

Thanks to Danny Stack's ever informative blog for the tip-off about a competition run by Channel 4 open to writers of all levels of experience.
As part of Channel 4's new talent month, we're offering you the chance to write an episode of HOLLYOAKS.

But this isn't a fan-fic initiative, this time it's for real.

For the very first time, this is your chance to put words into the mouths of the HOLLYOAKS cast and see your work come to life on screen.

This competition is designed to seek out the best new writers in the UK. To do that, we're asking you to script four scenes, based on an old storyline. From this, we'll pick out our favourite. The winner will then be given exclusive access to HOLLYOAKS' storylines, be commissioned to write an entire episode and work with the production team to see this magically transformed on TV.

Whether you're a fan, an established writer or just looking to take your first tentative steps into the TV industry, this is a unique opportunity to make a name for yourself.
The closing date for entries is 11 April 2008.

Is Kevin Spacey right?

Following Kevin Spacey's criticism of the BBC for promoting West End musicals through talent shows, in The Guardian, Mark Lawson asks whether we really should be harking back to The Play For Today (PFT) as Spacey suggests.
It ...[became] clear that many writers were equivocal about the single, one-off play. Many PFT alumni - Potter, Bleasdale, Stephen Poliakoff - wrote serials as soon as they could, and the major TV dramatists of the last decade - Jimmy McGovern, Paul Abbott, Debbie Horsfield, Russell T Davies, Kay Mellor - have also preferred the longer form. Thirty years ago, Abbott's State of Play or McGovern's The Street might have been one-offs rather than multi-part dramas. Surely the fact that they're not is our gain rather than our loss.

Personally, I would rather have The Street - six or eight politically and psychologically complex dramas written or encouraged by McGovern - than one McGovern in a run of 25 plays of variable quality. If Kevin Spacey wants to see more new plays by young British writers, perhaps he should commission them for the Old Vic.

Moving from long running series - Guild event

"Moving from long running series to taking the next step" - Guild television event: 24 April, WGGB, 15-17 Britannia Street, London

Following the success of the Guild event on long running BBC series last year, we’re delighted to announce a sequel from John Yorke: "Moving from Long Running Series to Taking The Next Step."

John Yorke is Controller of Drama Production Studios for the BBC and over the last three years has been committed to putting writers back at the heart of EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty. He has also been responsible for introducing and implementing the new BBC Code of Conduct, in response to our members’ complaints and suggestions about long running series.

John was Executive Producer/Commissioning Editor of The Street (Series 1), Life on Mars (Series 1 & 2), Shameless (Series 1 & 2), Robin Hood (Series 1), Waterloo Road (Series 1) and New Tricks (Series 3) amongst many others. He’s well placed to give a talk on a subject important to many TV writers: how to progress from scripting long running series to the great television writing world beyond.

The event will take place at the Writers' Guild (15-17 Britannia Street, London) and will once again be chaired by Gail Renard, Chair of the WGGB TV Committee. Early booking is advised for this sure-to-be popular event.

Tickets for this event will be £5 for Guild members and £7.50 for non-members. If you would like to attend this event please send a cheque payable to the ' Writers' Guild' to, Television Event , Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 15-17 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JN. Or please email: moe@writersguild.org.uk or call 0207 833 0777.

Gail Renard adds:
Back by popular demand, not to mention too kind for his own good, John Yorke will present a second event for the Guild, "Moving from long running series to taking the next step."

John’s first event on writing for long running BBC series was forthright and informative, answering all the questions writers had been burning to ask. Here’s another chance to find out about how to progress in your career. How does one get from Doctors to Silent Witness? And to writing your own original works?

John will explain the ropes and also be happy to answer any questions in a Q & A session afterwards. For those of you unable to attend, questions can be submitted in advance to the Guild office and I’ll do my best to read them out. Come and join us at this unique TV event!

(New) science for writers

Guild member Doug Iles contacted me via the Guild office about a report in the New Scientist that anaesthetics could be used to block the formation of harrowing memories.
If you don't read the New Scientist magazine, you just might be missing a wonderful source for believable ideas. The one here just cries out to be used by writers of the crime genres. My writing partner and I are useless at those genres. If we were any good at that kind of stuff, we would hug it to our breasts and hope that no other members of the Guild would find it. So, I've pointed the way to the breadbin. It's up to you to make your own sandwich(es).
You need to be a subscriber to read the article online, but Channel 4 News has a good summary.
Understanding how the process works could lead to a therapy for flushing out distressing memories before post-traumatic stress disorder sets in.

Dr Michael Alkire and Dr Larry Cahill at the University of California say low doses of anaesthetic can impede memory while leaving patients conscious. "One popular misconception about anaesthesia is that unconsciousness occurs immediately," Dr Alkire says.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

ITC rates increase

Rates paid to writers under the agreement between the Independent Theatre Council and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain have increased by 4.1% it was announced this week. From 1 April 2008 the fees under this agreement shall be not less than:
  • £6,861.25 for a play over 70 minutes
  • £4,574.50 for a play between 30 and 70 minutes
  • £2,287.30 for a play under 30 minutes
The full list of rates, including for royalties and allowances, can be downloaded from the Guild website.

Hollywood's buying frenzy

From Jay A. Fernandez for The L.A. Times:
For a while there, the spec market was starting to look as undernourished as your average Hollywood starlet. Well, the industry's body of original work seems to be upping the carbs. When Sony picked up Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser's apocalyptic "2012" right after the Writers Guild strike ended in February, it was a good, but unsurprising, sign.

But when 27-year-old unknown Brad Ingelsby recently sold his revenge thriller "The Low Dweller" to Relativity Media for $650,000 against $1.1 million (if it is produced), it announced in flashing neon that Hollywood buyers were still very interested in spending big money on original material.

Arts Council grants ask about sexuality

From Dalya Alberge in The Times:
Theatreland will have to give up its bedroom secrets in the quest for funding, under new Arts Council requirements. Organisations applying for grants are being asked to state how many board members are bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian or whose inclinations are “not known”.

Audrey Roy, the director of grants, said that the council needed to understand who its audience was and to whom its funding was going. “We see diversity as broader than race, ethnicity, faith and disability,” she said. Question 22 of the Grants for the Arts forms, relating to sexual orientation, was not compulsory, she added, although the form states that it must be answered.
Meanwhile, in The Guardian , Mark Ravenhill wonders whether the focus on sexuality, race and disability means that the biggest diversity issue is being overlooked.
A few days ago, I introduced the subject of diversity into a dinner party conversation. "Let's be honest, darling," a friend said. "There isn't any particular issue to do with diversity in the arts, other than the age-old problem of class. As long as you're from a middle-class background, you're fine."

Wine and privacy had loosened her tongue - I suspect it's not a view that many people would align themselves with publicly. But I realised that I almost entirely agreed with her.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

New drama coming to Xbox

From Michael Cieply for The New York Times:
Microsoft, seeking to expand offerings on its Xbox 360 console, has reached an agreement with a company headed by Peter Safran, the veteran Hollywood producer and talent manager, to produce original shows for distribution on the system....

...Mr. Safran said his first round of programs would all be scripted, as opposed to reality shows, and would probably run under 10 minutes. He said he planned initially to focus on genres, like comedy and horror, that appeal to the Xbox 360 audience, which is heavily concentrated from the ages of 14 to 34, and tends to be more male than female. The first shows are expected to be available to viewers by the fall.