Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guild study shows gender split in radio and TV

After Vamps, Vixens and Feminists and Emily Glassberg Sands' report, here are some statistics produced by the Writers' Guild office (pdf). They looked at the TV and radio writers listed in the Radio Times over six weeks from 23rd May - 3rd July 2009.The bias towards men varies from 80%-20% one week to 65%-35% another. The average is well over 70% in favour of male writers.

Now it's time to ask what you think.

I'm narrowing it down a bit for the moment to TV, theatre and radio as those are the areas that have been discussed most so far. And I'm restricting it to the UK. Feel free to discuss discrimination in books or video games, or any other aspects of the subject, below.

So, do you think female writers in the UK (in TV, theatre and radio) are discriminated against? (See poll, right)

NB Emily Glassberg Sands' thesis about gender discrimination in American theatre is now online. Its conclusion is striking:
Scripts bearing female pen-names are deemed by artistic directors to be of lower overall quality and to face poorer economic prospects than otherwise identical scripts bearing male pen-names. In addition, artistic directors believe cast and crew will be less eager to work on a female-written script. Female artistic directors, in particular, deem scripts bearing female pen-names to be poorer fits with their theaters, and to face not only worker discrimination, but also customer discrimination. The severity of the discrimination against female playwrights appears to be more pronounced for women writing about women than for women writing about men.

Facing facts in theatre

On The Guardian Theatre Blog, Paul Allen looks at the rise of verbatim theatre in the north of England.
What does factual drama do that factual journalism or fictitious plays can't? Well, it can make you feel a personal tragedy or social injustice rather than simply understanding it. Whether it changes anything is hard to say, but as you leave the theatre you may certainly feel it should do.

Scene & Heard - Jumping For Joy

In The Times, Dominic Maxwell goes behind the scenes of Scene & Heard, a mentoring project that partners the inner-city children of Somers Town, London with volunteer theatre professionals, including playwrights.
In a Camden community centre, child playwrights aged 9 to 11 sat watching their work being performed for the first time. And I sat there moved to laughter and even the odd tear by bizarre yet beautiful playlets that keep on cutting to the dramatic chase. Animals and inanimate objects are the protagonists, but get over that device and you’ll find characters who are full of refreshingly straightforward human emotions. The writing is about love, loss, family and aspiration.
Scene & Heard's latest production, Jumping For Joy is at Theatro Technis, London NW1 (020-7388 9008) from Thursday 2nd July to Sunday 5th July. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance.

Is free the future?

A few months ago, Chris Anderson, who coined the concept of the long tail, publihsed an article on Wired.com explaining why 'free' is the future of business.
The rise of "freeconomics" is being driven by the underlying technologies that power the Web. Just as Moore's law dictates that a unit of processing power halves in price every 18 months, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. Which is to say, the trend lines that determine the cost of doing business online all point the same way: to zero.
Now in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell considers Anderson's argument and decides that things aren't quite that simple.
The Times gives away its content on its Web site. But the Wall Street Journal has found that more than a million subscribers are quite happy to pay for the privilege of reading online. Broadcast television—the original practitioner of Free—is struggling. But premium cable, with its stiff monthly charges for specialty content, is doing just fine. Apple may soon make more money selling iPhone downloads (ideas) than it does from the iPhone itself (stuff). The company could one day give away the iPhone to boost downloads; it could give away the downloads to boost iPhone sales; or it could continue to do what it does now, and charge for both. Who knows? The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Guild members on Twitter

About time we had a list of Guild members on Twitter as well as the list of blogs.

So, if you're tweeting, post a comment here and I'll start to make a list.

Feel free to recommend other writing-related twitter-ers, too.

Update: The Guild is now on twitter: http://twitter.com/TheWritersGuild

Habib Tanvir 1923-2009

Indian playwright, director and actor Habib Tanvir died earlier this month at the age of 85.

I've not ben able to find many English language obituaries, but Wikipedia has a reasonable biography.
In his exploratory phase, 1970-73, he broke free from one more theatre restriction, he no longer made the folk artists with whom he had been performing all his plays speak Hindi, and instead switched to Chhattisgarhi, a local language, they were more accustomed to. Later, he even started experimenting with 'Pandavani', a folk singing style from the region and temple rituals, making his plays stand out amidst the backdrop of plays which were still using traditional theatre techniques like blocking movements or fixing lights on paper. Soon spontaneity and improvisation became the hallmark of the new style, where the folk artists were allowed greater freedom of expression.
As this article in ThaiIndian news makes clear, he was a hugley important figure in Indian theatre,

What Guild members are getting up to

SIMON J. ASHFORD wrote the episode of Robin Hood “Something Worth Fighting For” going out on BBC1 on Saturday 27 June and 6.45 pm.

SARAH BAGSHAW wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Friday 3 July at 7.00 pm.

SAMINA BAIG wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 on Monday 29 June at 8.00 pm.

PERRIE BALTHAZAR wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 on Wednesday 1 July at 6.30 pm.

JOHN BASHFORD'S new play The Hop Garden" is having a staged reading at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms on Saturday 27th June at 2:30pm. For more information please visit www.ludlowassemblyrooms.co.uk

LEN COLLIN wrote the episode of The Bill going out on ITV1 on Wednesday 1 July at 8.00 pm.

RUPERT CREED'S new drama, Every Time It Rains, draws eyewitness accounts from some of those in Yorkshire whose lives were turned upside down by the floods of 2007. It will be performed at Hull Truck Theatre until 4th July. An article about the making of the play appeared in the Guardian last Friday:

DECLAN CROGHAN wrote the episode of Waking the Dead going out on BBC1 on Wednesday 1 July at 9.00 pm.

SIMON CROWTHER wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 on Friday 3 July at 8.30 pm.

RICHARD DAVIDSON wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 on Tuesday 30 June at 7.30 pm and Thursday 2 July at 7.30 pm.

CLIVE DAWSON wrote the episode of The Bill going out on ITV1 on Thursday 2 July at 8.00 pm.

KEVIN DYER'S Baghdad Zoo, part of the Playhouse Project is on at Dundee Rep and Polka on Tuesday 30th of June and York Theatre Royal on Wednesday 8th July and Plymouth Theatre Royal on Friday 17th July.

CHRIS FEWTRELL wrote the episodes of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 on Wednesday 1 July at 7.30 pm and on Friday 3 July at 7.30 pm.

ADRIAN FLYNN wrote next week's episodes of The Archers going out on BBC Radio 4. Ambridge gets a new resident.

DAWN HARRISON wrote the episode of The Royal going out on ITV1 on Sunday 28 June at 7.00 pm.

JONATHAN HARVEY is really is big down under. Beautiful People got the highest viewing figures.. like, ever.. for a show on ABC2 in Australia!

MARK ILLIS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1on Monday 29 June at 7.00 pm.

DAVID LANE wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 on Monday 29 June at 8.30 pm.

Congratulations to Guild member KAY MELLOR who has received an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List (pdf) for services to drama. She is back at her desk now working on a new drama for ITV called Women of a Certain Age.

CAROLINE MITCHELL wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Wednesday 1 July at 7.00 pm.

PAUL PARKES wrote the episodes of Noddy "High Tide" and "The Goblin Express" going out on Five on Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th June at 7:45am.

JULIE PARSONS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Thursday 2 July at 7.00 pm.

HEATHER ROBSON wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 on Friday 3 July at 6.30 pm.

PAUL ROUNDELL wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Tuesday 30 June at 7.00 pm.

CHRIS THOMPSON wrote the episode of Emmerdale that went out on ITV1 on Thursday 25th June at 7:00pm.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Best Picture Oscar nominations doubled

The chances of your new feature film being nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture have just doubled - the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that ten films rather than the previous five will be up for the main gong next year.

Feeling confident?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Female playwrights 'discriminated against' in US

Last week Tracy Brabin blogged from the Vamps, Vixens and Feminists conference in London about issues around sexual equality on TV and the stage.

Now in the New York magazine, Winter Miller reports on a new study, Opening The Curtain On Playwright Gender, by Emily Glassberg Sands that shows discrimination against female writers.
In three separate studies...across 170 pages, Sands finds gender bias on the part of both men and women in script selection and production, and shows that it hurts theaters economically.
You can read more on Emily Glassberg Sands' blog, including the slides from her presentation. Update: As well as Tracy Brabin's report for us, there's now also a piece by Matthew Hemley in The Stage.

Update (29.06.09): You can now download the full text of Glassberg Sand's thesis, with it's striking conclusion that:
Scripts bearing female pen-names are deemed by artistic directors to be of lower overall quality and to face poorer economic prospects than otherwise identical scripts bearing male pen-names. In addition, artistic directors believe cast and crew will be less eager to work on a female-written script. Female artistic directors, in particular, deem scripts bearing female pen-names to be poorer fits with their theaters, and to face not only worker discrimination, but also customer discrimination. The severity of the discrimination against female playwrights appears to be more pronounced for women writing about women than for women writing about men.

Why levies make sense (II)

By Edel Brosnan

Here's the full text of Professor's Patrick Barwise's address to the Federation of Entertainment Uinion's lunchtime conference on Monday (with thanks to Professor Barwise for permission to reproduce in full):

The invitation to speak at this event presented me with a dilemma.

I care passionately about public service broadcasting, by which I mean: a mixed economy providing a wide range of high-quality, universally available programmes, including a high proportion of UK-produced programmes, free-to-air at the point of consumption.

This system is now under threat for reasons we all know: one of its funding sources, TV advertising, is in slow, long-term structural decline and, right now, sharp cyclical decline. The three commercially funded PSBs – ITV, C4 and Five – are therefore having to reduce programme budgets. Meanwhile, the other funding source, the BBC licence fee, is under constant attack and the BBC too is making deep cuts.

At the same time, people like Steve Morrison at All3Media and Kay Withers at ippr have pointed out that there’s a fairly straightforward solution to this problem, by introducing new funding sources – especially industry levies - to complement advertising and the licence fee.

So why did the invitation to speak here in support of these sensible ideas pose a dilemma for me? The reason is the political and ideological context.

As things stand, neither main political party appears even to have considered industry levies as a way of ensuring the survival of PSB, although – as I’ll show shortly – once one starts looking at the numbers, it’s clear that such a levy ought to be a large part of the answer.

The closest either main party has come so far is the Digital Britain proposal of a 50p/month levy on fixed phone lines. But the aim is to earmark that to cover part of the cost of universal, or near-universal, superfast broadband. The benefits of superfast broadband are, in my view, highly questionable, but that’s another story.

The mood music from the Conservatives has so far been no more positive about industry levies, although my hope is that this will change as they come to realise how the Government is missing a trick.

Certainly, the Conservatives have been saying all the right things about the importance of the creative industries. Labour having, so to speak, shot its bolt with Digital Britain, the Conservatives now have the chance to respond with something better – if they can put aside their preconceptions and, to be fair, their justifiable concerns about placating certain newspaper proprietors.

The dilemma for me was therefore as follows: some type of industry levy is – once one looks at the numbers – obviously the right way to go. But by lending it my support in the current political climate, will I lose whatever very limited influence I have among those who determine policy for the communications industries?

Obviously, I’m here today, which means that, after thinking about it, I decided “To hell with that”. I’m an emeritus professor – it’s from the Latin. It means unpaid and fire-proof, and in my case politically independent. If someone in my position can’t speak truth to power, we’ve come to a pretty sorry pass.

So I’m going to make the naïve assumption that the politicians – regardless of what they may have said in the past on these issues – will open their minds and listen to the facts.

The most important of these facts is that the total revenue of the consumer telecoms and technology industries – including fixed and mobile telephony and broadband, internet advertising and hardware sales – is hugely bigger than the whole of broadcasting.

If you take nothing else from this talk, I hope you’ll take this. It explains both the solution and, unfortunately, much of the problem.

To put some numbers on this, in 2007, the total revenue of UK broadcasting – all TV including pay-TV, plus radio – was £12.4 billion. The revenue of consumer telecoms and the internet – in other words, excluding all the revenue from businesses and other organisations – was £27 billion, more than twice as much as the whole of broadcasting. In addition, UK consumers spent a further £15-20 billion on communications hardware.

Note that – to varying degrees – the growth of all these industries relies on the continuing supply of high-quality PSB content. In most cases, that reliance is increasing.

Note also that, even today, telecoms and the internet are much more expensive for the consumer than broadcasting. Even if we exclude the cost of hardware, and despite huge improvements in price-performance, the cost per person per hour of consumer telecoms and the internet in 2007 was still £1.20 – more than ten times the 11 pence per hour for TV and 100 times the 1.2 pence per hour for radio.

That 11 pence per hour for total TV includes pay TV. If we look at just public service television, the cost per hour is even less. Pay TV channels are still watched less than PBS channels but pay TV revenue is now much higher than advertising revenue, which is, in turn, still significantly higher than the proportion of the licence fee that goes to BBC television.

Yes, you did hear that right: despite all the talk of an “imbalance” in favour of the BBC, right now - in the depths of an advertising recession - TV advertising revenue is still significantly more than the proportion of licence fee revenue that goes to BBC Television. If you include the pay TV revenue of Sky and Virgin (which are also commercial TV companies), total commercial revenue – from subscriptions and advertising – is about three times the licence fee revenue of BBC television. So yes, there’s an imbalance, but it’s the opposite of the claim that BBC Television has more resources than commercial TV. Of course their situations are very different, but let’s get the facts right.

The second key fact is that over 90% of the investment in UK production is by the BBC and the commercially funded PSBs. What Ofcom has shown – and is not, I think, in dispute – is that the pressure on budgets means that that investment by these four PSBs is decreasing, despite the fact that people are watching, if anything, more TV than before and the total revenue going into the communications industries is growing.

Of course, other traditional media are also suffering, none more so than local newspapers, because the internet is killing classified advertising. The wider challenge is to ensure the continuation of both public service broadcasting across all genres and professional journalism across all media.

Now I said that the huge scale of the consumer telecoms and technology industries explains both the solution and much of the problem. This is even more the case if one includes pay TV in the equation.

The positive implication is that, if the net is spread widely, even a very small revenue levy can generate enough to fill the PSB funding gap.

Others such as Steve Morrison, Kay Withers and Mark Oliver have looked at the options and the numbers more closely than I have. But for a rough idea: consumer telecoms, technology and pay TV have combined annual revenue of roughly £50 billion. A simple 1% levy on that would therefore generate about £500 million per annum. To put this in perspective, the funding gap for C4 in 2012 is roughly £100-150 million per annum. That’s all we need to ensure continuing plurality in PSB.

Of course there will be many executional issues if we take this route: fierce debates about the right combination of levies, spending priorities, market distortion and state aid, accountability, and so on. But don’t let anyone suggest that a levy is inherently difficult or impractical.

For instance, as Steve Morrison has pointed out, only five of the 27 countries in the EU don’t have a levy on the sales of new recording equipment. In alphabetical order, these are Cyprus, Ireland, Luxemburg, Malta, and the UK. Five years ago, Germany already collected 146 million Euros and France 168 million Euros from this source alone. The impact on hardware sales seems to have been minimal. We could probably solve the C4 funding gap if we did this and nothing else.

Are we really so arrogant as a nation, and is Europe now such a dirty word, that we feel we have nothing to learn from the practical experience of Germany, France and the rest of Europe?

When it comes to dubious propaganda about the so-called “race” towards universal fast broadband, I note that we’re all too keen to learn from Johnny Foreigner. But that seems to apply only when he’s throwing money at fat pipes.

And incidentally, when it comes to PSB and TV production, Johnny Foreigner has far less to lose than we do.

This leads me to the negative implication of the huge scale of the telecoms, technology and pay-TV industries, which is that, because of their size, they have enormous resources and lobbying power. In addition, I don’t think you have to be a Marxist or a paranoid schizophrenic to note that the dominant pay-TV operator is controlled by Rupert Murdoch and that this might, at the margin, influence politicians’ willingness to introduce a levy on pay TV, however small and however great the benefits for the British public and the creative industries.

All of this is in an ideological climate which, despite the banking crisis, the Metronet fiasco, and other examples, still insists that the free market is the answer to almost everything.

A further problem is that the power imbalance between public service broadcasting and the big battalions of telecoms, technology and pay TV is also reflected in Whitehall and the Cabinet. The creative industries are represented by DCMS under Ben Bradshaw, who’s been there for just a couple of weeks. The big battalions are represented by the new BIS under Lord Mandelson. Who do you think has more influence in the corridors of power?

So there we have it. The key fact is that consumer telecoms, technology, and pay TV are vastly bigger than public service broadcasting.

On the plus side, this means that even a tiny revenue levy on these industries would generate enough resources to fill the funding gap for PSB and, indeed, local media. The bad news is that it also means that the big battalions’ vast resources and influence seem likely to prevent the introduction of any such levy, however small, unless those in power show the vision and leadership to do what’s right.

Ultimately, it will be up to the politicians, but if enough of us make enough noise about this, reason may prevail despite the powerful forces marshalled against these ideas.

Why levies make sense

By Edel Brosnan

Instead of top-slicing the licence fee, why not fund quality digital content with a levy on ISPs and telecoms companies?

From the NUJ website, on Monday 22nd of June :
The UK government must move the focus of its Digital Britain strategy from infrastructure to quality content.

That was the message delivered to a conference of academics, campaigners and industry representatives, organised by the Federation of Entertainment Unions.

Leading academic Professor Patrick Barwise of the London Business School raised concerns over the government’s focus on pipes rather than people, calling on ministers to look at how small levies on telecoms and technology companies could raise large sums to support the quality content on which they depend.

In particular he highlighted the failure of the Digital Britain report to properly investigate the use of alternative funding models for public service broadcasting outside of the BBC.

He said: “As things stand, neither main political party appears even to have considered industry levies as a way of ensuring the survival of PSB, although – as I’ll show shortly – once one starts looking at the numbers, it’s clear that such a levy ought to be a large part of the answer.

“The closest either main party has come so far is the Digital Britain proposal of a 50p/month levy on fixed phone lines. But the aim is to earmark that to cover part of the cost of universal, or near-universal, superfast broadband. The benefits of superfast broadband are, in my view, highly questionable.”

Mind the funding gap

By Edel Brosnan

No man is an island, and no trade union acts entirely on its own. The Federation of Entertainment Unions is the umbrella group for trades unions in the creative industries, and represents the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, the Musicians' Union, BECTU, the NUJ and the PFA.

For an incisive summary of the future of public-service broadcasting - the problems and some well thought-out solutions, check out this recent report from the IPPR and the Federation of Entertainment Unions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Polly Toynbee on Digital Britain

By Edel Brosnan

Polly Toynbee had a very good piece in Saturday's Guardian on Digital Britain and the thorny subject of top-slicing the BBC's licence fee. That is: allocating a slice of the licence fee to organisations outside the BBC, to pay for services that are being squeezed out of the media marketplace, like regional news. Up to now, I have been pretty agnostic about the idea of top-slicing - I think it's vital that we protect and promote high-quality public service programming and I also think that Channel 4 is a vital part of the public-service ecosystem.

But in reality, once you look at the figures, it's clear that, in a recession, top-slicing would be a disaster for quality broadcasting and for the BBC. The good news in Digital Britain is that Channel 4's future is a lot more secure than it was even twelve months ago - and there are some interesting ideas about how the Channel 4 funding gap can be filled. But top-slicing is not the solution - other ideas, such as levies, would add new money to the pot, without undermining the BBC.

Ask not what Digital Britain can do for you...

Edel Brosnan presents the first in a series of posts about the Digitial Britain report:

... the big question is what you - and the Guild - should do next, now that Lord Carter's wide-ranging review has been published.

The government hopes that the Digital Britain report will future-proof Britain's creative industries by improving the infrastructure for digital communications and protecting and promoting talent and innovation in the creative industries. So far, so uncontroversial - but while the report is bursting with ideas about improving broadband speeds across the UK, the digital content that people will actually be reading or watching or playing or listening to barely gets a mention. Yet we all know that in any technology, content is king. Ask anyone who works in computers: they'll tell you that software sells hardware, not vice versa. Mobile phones struggled to break out of the early-adopter market till teenagers discovered the joy of texting. There's nothing wrong with the idea of high-speed broadband for all. But a souped-up and speedy 21st-century cart will have trouble going anywhere, if the cart-builders forget that a cart needs a horse.

Today, all content is digital: from guerilla blogs to - well - government reports. You can watch Casualty or The Culture Show on the iPlayer, or listen to shock jocks and Women's Hour on a podcast. You can read Ulysses in ebook form, or download the latest Johnny Depp or Jean-Luc Godard film from a download-to-rent or download-to-own service. (For obvious reasons, the Guild has a zero tolerance policy towards illegal peer-to-peer downloads). Even theatre performances can be streamed live or recorded for YouTube. So if you care about good writing in any medium - as a writer, producer, director, actor or punter - then the Digital Britain report affects you.

More to the point - you can have a real effect on what happens next. Lord Carter's team at the department of Business, Innovation and Skills are looking for reactions and comments on Digital Britain. The deadline for responding to the report is September. Don't be shy: let them know what you think.

Read the full text of the Digital Britain report here (there's an executive summary too): http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/broadcasting/6216.aspx

Doctor Who novelisations

An enjoyable programme on Radio 4 this morning - On the Outside it Looked Like an Old Fashioned Police Box - in which Mark Gatiss, Doctor Who writer and fan, explores the Doctor Who novelisations of the 1970s and 80s published by Target books.
In an age before DVD and video, the Target book series of Doctor Who fiction was conceived as the chance for children to 'keep' and revisit classic Doctor Who. They were marketed as such, written in a highly visual house style. Descriptive passages did the work of the TV camera and the scripts were more or less faithfully reproduced as dialogue.

The books were as close to the experience of watching as possible, and were adored by a generation of children who grew up transfixed by the classic BBC series. Target Doctor Who books became a children's publishing phenomenon - they sold over 13 million copies worldwide. From 1973 until 1994, the Target Doctor Who paperbacks were a mainstay of the publishing world.
You can listen again online for the next seven days.

The cost of TV drama

With ITV announcing the dropping of Primeval and Demons last week, in The Guardian, Stephen Armstrong looks at the cost pressures facing the TV networks.
Despite ITV performing well in drama this year - it has broadcast the five highest-rating new dramas, Whitechapel, Above Suspicion, Unforgiven, Law & Order: UK and, ironically, Demons - rating success is clearly no longer a measure of survival at the broadcaster. But if ITV is getting rid of relative successes, what will it have left?
Armstrong says that ITV's top rate for primetime drama is now £700k an hour, while the BBC will spend around £400k per hour for BBC3 and BBC4 and £900,000 for BBC1. In America, by contrast, networks will spend up to $5m per hour (about £3.6m at current exchange rates)
"You need to develop the show with budget restrictions in mind from the very beginning - smaller cast, fewer locations - you have to think like a sitcom," says Robert Cooper, the co-founder of Great Meadows, the indie behind Margaret Thatcher - The Long Walk To Finchley. "Then you spread the cost with co-producers - which can be a problem as the British audience can smell a Europudding at 100 paces.

"So far we are on the edge of it having a cultural effect," Cooper believes. "If it does start limiting the subject matter and ambition of TV drama makers then I think we are in trouble. We're looking at a book adaptation, for instance, and that has certain creative demands you simply can't avoid. It may be that TV versions of books are no longer possible."


On the BBC Writersroom site, a question and answer with children's writer Elly Brewer, Steven Andrew (Head Of CBBC Drama and Acquisitions), and Paul Ashton (development manager for the BBC writersroom).
Steven Andrew: The best ideas for me always come from writers who have a really clear sense of wanting to explore something, a particular genre, character, or something about that. And that's what you hang onto. They really know what it is they're trying to do and then you've got a handle on that.
Reminder: the deadline for the CBBC writing competition (New Stories for the Next Generation) is 1st July.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rupert Creed on Every Time It Rains

In The Guardian, Paul Allen talks to Rupert Creed (playwright and current Guild Treasurer) about his new play, Every Time It Rains, which examines the experiences of those caught up in the Hull floods of 2007.
While the playwright is anxious about doing justice to the experiences of the victims, the theatre's management is concerned about the play's legal content.

Among more than 150 people who responded to Creed's appeal for stories are Michael Barnett, whose son died after being trapped in a 6ft culvert as flood water poured through, and policeman Richard Clark, who was the first person from the emergency services to get to him on 25 June 2007. A former water engineer who wants to preserve his anonymity has also offered his expertise to uncover what exactly happened to the city's drains that day. "Were they simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of rain," asks Creed, "or were there shortcomings with the infrastructure?"

Bill Gallagher on The Prisoner

On the Writers' Guild website, an interview with screenwriter Bill Gallagher about his new version of The Prisoner (originally created by created by Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein).

Here's the first trailer for The Prisoner. It will be broadcast in America in November but no UK release date has yet been announced by ITV.

Bill also talks about showrunning Lark Rise To Candleford and the rest of his writing career.
Although I learnt the craft of TV writing on fairly conventional series like Casualty and Soldier, Solider my own series have always had a certain strangeness about them. Wokenwell used rather unconventional storytelling and Conviction was about a man coming to terms with his own reality melting down. I like to write things that are mainstream but also a little bit odd. Even Lark Rise To Candleford, which might look very conventional, has quite a few rather unusual storylines.
Photo: John Rogers/BBC

Beyond 'narrative exhaustion'

In The Guardian, screenwriter Paul Schrader looks at how writers can adapt to a world in which people are subject to an ever increasing number of fictional and reality TV narratives.
Writers have always known there are a limited number of storylines. Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plots popularised the number seven, but others have argued for three, 20 and 36 basic plots - Rudyard Kipling said 69. That's not new. We do tell variations of the same stories over and over. That's not what I mean by the "exhaustion of narrative". What is new is the omnipresence and ubiquity of plot created by media proliferation. We are inundated by narrative. We are swimming in storylines.

Lucy Lumsden is Sky's new Head of Comedy

Lucy Lumsden, currently Head of Comedy Commissioning at the BBC, has been appointed Head of Comedy across the Sky TV channels. Stuart Murphy, Sky's director of programming, said:
Comedy takes time to get right, and it's an art not a science, but with Lucy at the helm it feels like we are giving ourselves the best chance of generating hits which our subscribers will love. I loved working with her before, and can't wait to start working with her again."
Sky certainly seems to be taking original programming more seriously since Murphy's appointment and getting lots of positive media coverage - for example, for the current adaptation (by Neil Biswas) of Martina Cole's novel The Take. Lumsden's appointment is being seen as a real sign of intent in a bid to become a serious force in original comedy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Guild members are getting up to

RYAN CRAIG wrote the episode of Robin Hood going out on BBC1 on Saturday 20 June at 6.45 pm.

SIMON CROWTHER wrote the episodes of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 on Friday 26 June at 7.30 and 8.30 pm.

ALISON FISHER wrote the episode of Eastenders going out on BBC1 on Friday 26 June at 6.00 pm.

ADRIAN FLYNN wrote next weeks episodes The Archers on BBC Radio 4. Family loyalties are tested at the Stables.

CHRISSIE GITTINS will be reading from her book of poetry, 'I'll Dress One Night As You' at the Yumchaa Cafe, 45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W1 for the Ride the Word series; with Vincent de Souza, Sue Hubbard, Richard Bardsley and Jay Merrill. Free event, nearest tubes Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.
Wednesday 24th June from 7.00 - 9.00 pm. All welcome.

DAVID LANE wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 on Monday 22 June at 7.30 pm

JANE MARLOW wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 on Thursday 25 June at 6.30 pm.

ANDREW McCULLOCH co-wrote the episode of The Royal going out on ITV1 on Sunday 21 June at 7.00 pm.

JONATHON MYERSON’s play Qualms airs on BBC Radio 4 at 2.25pm on Thursday 25 June. When a teenager is diagnosed with a terminal condition and his operation is refused financing, he and his parents know exactly what his life is worth.

PHILP PALMER’s drama The Art of Deception begins as part 1 of 5 airs on Monday 22 June at 7.45 pm on BBC Radio 4. Notorious art forger Daniel Ballantyne has agreed to collaborate with a journalist on a book about his life and crimes. So begins a game of cat-and-mouse that will have deadly consequences.

MARC PYE's drama Bully, part of the Moving On series originally shown on daytime TV, and Executive Produced by JIMMY MCGOVERN, gets an evening screening on BBC 1 on Monday 22nd June from 10.35 - 11.20pm.

GILLIAN RICHMOND wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 on Monday 22 June at 8.00 pm.

BILL TAYLOR wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Friday 26 June at 7.00 pm.

NICK WARBURTON’s four-part radio play, On Marble Fen continues on Friday 26 June at 2.15 pm on BBC Radio 4. In Episode 4, Silver Ribbon, Warwick challenges Jack to a race, and the winner is the first man to reach the cathedral.

GRAHAM WOOLNOUGH's creation, Tea With The Old Queen - The Secret Diaries of Backstairs Billy will be performed at The Barn, West Farm, Southerndown CF32 OPY on Friday 26th June at 7.30pm. Narrated by Hugh Futcher, Produced by Jill James. Free Admission but please RSVP 01656 881 068 to book your seats.

KARIN YOUNG wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Tuesday 23 June at 7.00 pm.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can screenwriting be taught?

A guest post by William M. Akers, author of Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways To Make It Great

Can screenwriting be taught?

Aw, hell yeah! It better be; I’ve been teaching it at Vanderbilt for 15 years. If I say it can’t be taught, they’re gonna stop paying me.

However, I actually do believe it can be taught. You can’t teach someone to be talented, of course, but you can show them a lot about screenwriting. If they listen. If they do what you say. Amazingly enough, a lot of baby writers already think they know all there is to know, and consequently learn very little. Listening, I daresay, can’t be taught.

“There is no one more arrogant than a beginner” - Elizabeth Ashley


What can be taught in screenwriting?

Format can be taught. How to separate character’s voices. Words to avoid that will shout “I’m a bad writer!”. How to construct a character. Stupid mistakes that will sink your script for the reader. How to use outlines. Structure, to a degree. Why cutting dialogue is a good thing. Not to give up. Tricks to get you to generate ideas. How to avoid / deal with writer’s block. How the business works (not that that’s writing, but it is fully half of the success equation.) Methods in rewriting: ways to approach a script, a scene, and a piece of dialogue. Being professional.

A lot can be taught. What can NOT be taught in screenwriting?

How to think up a great idea! An ear for dialogue! How to construct a character an actor will be dying to play! How to have a voice! The correct structure for your story! What genre you’re good at! How to be lucky!!

The difference between what can be learned and innate talent is the tough thing. You can do a lot in a classroom, but the alchemy is up to talent, luck, and sweat.

After I’m done pounding them for a while, my students’s scripts look like scripts, sound like scripts and are not embarrassing. Some are good. A few, over the years, have been great. When they come to me, they know nothing about writing screenplays. I can’t teach someone how to write, but I can teach how to write a screenplay that will pass muster.

A good teacher can get a student to the starting line. That is a lot, by the way. Getting someone to the door, and opening it for them, is a good beginning. What they do in the race is up to their talent and perseverance.

I share these six items from a talk I give called 'Fatal Errors Beginning Writers Make.' Will Aldis is a staggeringly talented writer and I love his list:
Number One: trying to write what you think the biz wants you to write.

Number Two: writing for the cash only.

Number Three: writing to get laid.

Number Four: writing a screenplay because you think it sounds like a cool, hip thing to do. It isn’t.

Number Five: writing about something, anything, other than yourself.

Number Six: taking a screenwriting class from someone who doesn’t fully grasp the horror.

Will Aldis, screenwriter, (Stealing Cars, Keep Coming Back)
Keep Number Six firmly in mind when selecting a teacher, because the very last thing you want is a teacher who gives you any hint that this foolishness is easy.

It isn’t.

William M. Akers blogs at yourscreenplaysucks.wordpress.com

He'll be running a workshop on 'Fatal Errors New (and experienced!) Writers Make!' at the Met Film School in London on Thursday 2nd July 2009

East Midlands Branch event

To all members of the Writers’ Guild based in the East Midlands

‘Guy Hibbert in conversation with David Edgar’

Nottingham – 6.45pm Friday 3rd July 2009

The Writers’ Guild cordially invites you to a special event at the Broadway Media Centre, 14-18 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG13AL on Friday July 3rd between 6.45pm and 8pm.

From 29th June 29th until 5th July Broadway Nottingham is playing host to ScreenLit – an exciting new festival celebrating film, television and writing (see www.broadway.org.uk/festival for more information). The Guild is delighted to support the festival, stay in touch with existing members and also encourage the recruitment of new members.

The event will start with a conversation between playwright David Edgar (President of the Guild) and the award-winning screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Five Minutes of Heaven, Omagh), about writing for the screen. This will be followed by a questions and answers session and a reception that should offer a great opportunity to network with fellow writers from the East Midlands region over a glass of wine.

Our event is FREE but will be followed at 8pm by a ticketed event – a screening of Guy’s new film ‘Five Minutes of Heaven’, winner of the world screenwriting award at the recent Sundance Film Festival. Those interested in purchasing tickets for the 8pm screening of ‘Five Minutes of Heaven’ (£6.20) and/or for the 3pm Paul Schrader Masterclass (£20) can contact Broadway by telephone (01159526611) or book on-line at www.broadway.org/festival

If you are intending to come to the event, please RSVP to Erik Pohl in the Guild office at erik@writersguild.org.uk . Numbers are limited so we will deal with requests on a first come first served basis.

We look forward to seeing you,

Phil Nodding

Guild Executive Council representative for the East Midlands Region

West Midlands Branch meeting

Monday 6th July 2009, 7.45pm, Belgrade Theatre in Coventry

Come and meet Hamish Glenn, Artistic Director of the Coventry Belgrade Theatre who will talk about the theatre since its recent re-opening and plans for the future.

This is also a networking and forward planning event. Discussions will include:

  • Feedback from the Writers' Guild West Midlands questionnaire and issues arising - read a short report on the findings here (pdf)
  • Ideas for future events and activities.
  • The current structure of the West Midlands Branch and opportunities for involvement.
This event is free for Guild members. Not a member? Join now!

Please let us know you are coming by emailing Jenny Stephens at: WMidWritersGuild@aol.com

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TENacity training in the Midlands

Script, the regional development agency for dramatic writers in the West Midlands, is running a programme of workshops for writers across the West Midlands over the summer.

Delivered across the Midlands region, TENacity will draw on the experience of professional playwrights, screenwriters, producers and theatre practitioners, to offer a unique focus on the creative process. Where possible tying into local productions of new work, Script will give writers the chance to learn new skills and ways of working in a practical, dynamic environment.

Full details are available on the Script website.

Graham Greene: screenwriter

Not exactly news, but an interesting article by Terrence Rafferty in The New York Times looking at Graham Greene's approach to adapting his own novels for the screen.
It’s worth noting that Greene’s participation in the making of the film [Brighton Rock] carries at least a faint whiff of corruption too. Seven years earlier, near the end of a stint as the film critic of The Spectator, he had cheekily reviewed a movie called “21 Days,” on which he was himself one of the credited writers. He panned it, concluding with these ringing words: “Let one guilty man, at any rate, stand in the dock, swearing never, never to do it again.”

So in helping bring “Brighton Rock” — one of his favorites among his books — to the screen he was breaking an oath. And he compounded the sin by softening the story’s memorably cruel ending. He appears to have had no compunction about either his perjury or the necessity of doing a little violence to his own novel. Greene compromised gladly and seemed in later years almost to relish the cynical professionalism with which he had done the dirty work of turning literature into film.

Science fiction and fantasy books yet to be screened

On The Guardian TV and Radio blog, Jonathan Wright considers some science fiction and fantasy classics that have yet to adapted for the screen.
Foundation (Isaac Asimov, 1951)

What? A space opera, influenced by Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and built around the concept of psychohistory, the idea that the broad swathes of what's to come can be predicted.

Why? If only because Asimov's idea that humankind's actions en masse are susceptible to socio-mathematical study seems increasingly prescient, although admittedly this in itself may be a point that lacks dramatic impact.

Why not? Because Roland Emmerich, the creative powerhouse behind the idiotic 10,000 BC, Godzilla and Independence Day is already in the frame to direct. Nooooo!

On the basis of Emmerich's risible American Revolution epic, The Patriot, anyone but Mel Gibson.

William Jones (1953–2009)

On the Guild website, a tribute by Rob Gittins to Welsh scriptwriter William Jones who died earlier this year.
I first met Wil 31 years ago. Over those years we were to spend thousands and thousands of hours together, in offices, in cars, on trains, on ferries, on planes. We probably spent more time together – family excepted – than with anyone else. And what we did for those thousands and thousands of hours was to talk, almost exclusively, about people who didn’t exist. We talked about lives that weren’t really being lived. We made up stories.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Vamps, Vixens and Feminists

By Tracy Brabin

A big thank you to the Sphinx Theatre Company who put in place a fantastic conference yesterday at The National Theatre - ‘Vamps, Vixens and Feminists’, to discuss the Gender Equality Duty that came into force April 07.

A feisty full house of women and men discussed the issues around the biggest change in sex equality legislation since the Equal Pay Act.

The Equality Duty has two main responsibilities:
  • to promote equality of opportunity between men and women
  • to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination and harassment, including against transsexual people.
Giving due regard to proactive promotion of gender equality within their organisations, public bodies now have a legal obligation to promote equality between men and woman. Something we know – as writers, actors, directors, cinematographers and choreographers etc just doesn’t seem to be happening on the ground.

And there we some galling statistics. Sphinx crunched the numbers and discovered that...

Out of 140 theatre productions, 98 were written by men, 13 by women and the rest mixed collaborations. Of these 140 productions, 97 were directed by men. Out of 1100 roles for actors over the same period, 677 were for men and 423 were for women. And out of the films produced in one year – 250 - 12% were by women writers with only 9% directing them.

However, the most shocking statistic came from Dr Katherine Rake, the Director of the Fawcett Society. She explained that the pay gap between men and women is still so great that compared to men’s salaries, on average, women are, over a year actually working for free from October 31st . If you’re a part-time worker, it’s even worse and you can expect to work ‘for free’ from the end of June.

The Writers' Guild TV Committee added their numbers. Looking at one month’s Radio Times, they discovered out of 179 programmes listed, 129 were written by men and 50 by women - 28% female and 72% male. In radio it was even worse with 37 male writers and 12 female writers – 24% women, 72% men.

To examine how we change this status quo, Baroness Prosser of Battersea OBE (Deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Committee) introduced the event with Oona King (ex MP and Head of Diversity for Channel 4) chairing.

There we several exciting sessions, broken down into disciplines.

Director Lucy Pitman-Wallace (Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2003) was in a director’s discussion with Giles Croft, (Artistic Director of Nottingham Theatre) and Janet Suzman (award winning actor and director).

Dr Katherine Rake talked to Beatrix Campbell (the acclaimed journalist and playwright), Kate Kinninmont (Chief Executive of Women in Film and Television) and Jean Rogers (Equity’s Vice President).

Dr Viv Rogers (Professor in Theatre Studies at University of Manchester) also talked to Bea Campbell about female stereotyping and much lauded actor Kate Buffery discussed the lack of complex roles for women.

Commissioning drama from women writers, ensuring complex, exciting and challenging parts for women was discussed by BBC Executive Producer Hilary Salmon and Head of Drama at ITV Laura Mackie.

Myself, Tanika Gupta (White Boy, Sugar Mummies) and Colin Teevan ( How Many Miles to Basra, The Seven Pomegranate Seeds) talked to David Edgar about the difficulties that writing for women can entail.

The whole event was at turns depressing, uplifting, empowering and hilarious and I really hope something positive will come from the fabulous energy created by so many intelligent and sparky women and men who know the only way to change anything is to shout out and be heard.

And looking around the packed theatre, thinking of all the experience and talent in the room, I wondered why we didn’t just all collaborate to make shows we want to watch with people we want to work with. As the old saying goes…if the lobster was smarter, she’d know that if she collaborated with the other lobsters in the pot, they might all stand a chance of getting out alive.

Norman Lear on the state of sitcom

For the Writers Guild of America West, Denis Faye talks to Norman Lear, creator of influential American sitcom All In The Family (based on Johnny Speight's Till Death Us Do Part).
Did you ever reach a point with your shows that the networks said, “He’s Norman Lear, just let him do whatever he wants?”

It was much more “Nobody fucks with success.” That’s an old American adage.

Big grant for Perfect Pitch Musicals

From Arts Council England (ACE):
Arts Council is pleased to announce that it is investing in the infrastructure and grassroots of musical theatre, most recently with an award of £188,860 to producers Perfect Pitch Musicals...

Perfect Pitch Musicals is an organisation committed to developing contemporary British musicals by working with writers to develop and showcase their work. Initially the organisation started as a one-off showcase event organised by Andy Barnes, then he received a small Arts Council grant which helped take the project further. This has now developed to an organisation managing a professional network that works with and develops writers and their work, as well as providing performance showcases.
There's some discussion about the grant on The Guardian Theatre Blog, with one comment querying the wisdom of putting so much of the ACE funding for new musicals in the hands of one producer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Digital Britain report published

The government has published The Digital Britain Report, its "strategic vision for ensuring that the UK is at the leading edge of the global digital economy."

There don't seem to be too many surprises, but I'd not heard before about the plan to switch off switch off existing analogue radio stations by 2015 (pdf). The idea is that everything and everyone will have migrated to digital, making room for new local radio services, but I'd expect some opposition.
Digital Britain measures include:
  • A three-year National Plan to improve Digital Participation
  • Universal Access to today's broadband services by 2012
  • Next Generation fund for investment in tomorrow's broadband services
  • Digital radio upgrade by the end of 2015
  • Mobile spectrum liberalisation, enhancing 3G coverage and accelerating Next Generation mobile services
  • Robust legal and regulatory framework to combat Digital Piracy
  • Support for public service content partnerships
  • A revised digital remit for Channel 4
  • Consultation on funding options for national, regional and local news

Comedy College winners announced

From the BBC Press Office:
Following last year's successful College of Comedy scheme, the BBC has recruited six brand new writers to take part in its development programme over the next ten months.

Once again the writers will be mentored to produce original work, attend a residential workshop where they will explore technique and craft with established writers and producers, and be attached to a current series to learn how production works...

The six candidates selected are:

Donna Harle, based in London, who has contributed to a forthcoming BBC Three sketch show pilot;

Gerry Howell, a London-based comedian and writer, who was a finalist in Channel 4's The Play's The Thing competition and is preparing his first Edinburgh fringe show;

Rosemary Jenkinson from Belfast, an experienced theatre writer, who has published short stories and poems, as well as receiving a number of writing bursaries;

Colin McQuaid from Scotland, who is on the writing team of BBC Scotland's Ellis & Clarke Show, and has written comedy for BBC Radio Ulster;

Dale C Phillips, from Hull, a novelist, screen and sketch writer, and a finalist in the BBC Bang! Theatre Play writing competition for new generation Asian writers;

Henry White, from London, who has won a number of animation awards, and contributed to several sketch shows. His pilot, The Site, was transmitted on BBC Three in 2008.


Further to last week's post about the ScreenLit Film, TV and Writing Festival in Nottingham 29th June - 5th July, on the Guild website Andrew Cooper gives more details about what's on offer.
Broadway Cinema in Nottingham is hosting its first ever ScreenLit Festival - dedicated to Film, TV and Writing - from 29 June to 5 July this year.

Conscious of the strong relationship which has long existed between writing and film in Nottingham - exemplified by Alan Sillitoe’s masterpieces on page and screen Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – as well as the currently very strong colony of screen and other writers living and working in the city, Broadway very deliberately set out to create a Festival which privileges the role of writers in film and TV.

Monday, June 15, 2009

ITV to focus on post-watershed drama

From Kate McMahon in Broadcast:
ITV has axed Impossible Pictures’ dinosaur drama Primeval [created by Tim Haines and Adrian Hodges] to focus on drama aired after 9pm.

An ITV spokesman confirmed there were no further plans for a fourth series as the broadcaster looked to extract “maximum value” from its programming budget.

“Our current focus is on post-watershed dramas,” he said, although it is understood that ITV will not rule out commissioning or airing pre-watershed dramas entirely.

Zoë Heller: from columnist to novelist

In The Independent, Christina Patterson talks to Zoë Heller about her transition from newspaper columnist to bestselling novelist.
"Nobody talks any more about that Victorian sense of the edifying purpose of literature, but I think it does exist, and it is precisely that, to broaden our moral imagination. A trend in modern popular fiction is big-heartedness on the part of the author, and I think it's fair to say I think there is a heart somewhere about my person, but it's not necessarily on my sleeve."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

OBE for Kay Mellor

Congratulations to Guild member Kay Mellor who has received an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List (pdf) for services to drama.

Kay's TV series include Band Of Gold, Fat Friends, Playing The Field and The Chase.

Former poet laureate Andrew Motion has also been honoured, receiving a knighthood for services to literature.

British screenwriting dream team for new Bond film

It's only a rumour...but I like it. Apparently Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen, Last King Of Scotland) is teaming up with top duo Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Quantum Of Solace, Casion Royale, Jonny English) to write the next Bond film.

Their challenge, of course, is not just to come up with a great story, vivid characters and cracking dialogue, but to create those memorable Bond moments (preferably involving swimwear).

Update: Apparently it's true.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What Guild members are getting up to

Congratulations to ALAN AYCKBOURN who won Best Revival of a Play a the 63rd Tony Awards in New York this week for his comedy The Norman Conquests.

KAREN BROWN's powerful drama, The Rain Has Stopped, part of the Moving On series originally shown on daytime TV gets an evening screening on BBC1 on Monday 15 June from 10.35 - 11.20 pm.

MARK BURTON dramatised the episode of May Contain Nuts, based on the satirical novel by JOHN O'FARRELL. It goes out on ITV1 on Thursday 18 June at 9.00 pm.

RUPERT CREED's new play 'Every Time it Rains' about the Hull 2007 floods will be premiering at Hull Truck's new theatre from Thursday June 18th to Saturday July 4th. Based on over 150 local people's flood stories and experiences, it tells the story of what happened on the day of the great deluge and the longer term impact on the community.

DAVID CROFT and JIMMY PERRY wrote Dad's Army. The episode The Recruit goes out on BBC2 on Saturday 13 June at 7.

KEVIN DYER's new play ‘The Monster Under The Bed’, a play about friendship and facing your fears is on at Polka Theatre, London SW19 from 6th June to 25th July. Info @ www.polkatheatre.com

TIM DYNEVOR wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Tuesday 16 June at 7.00 pm.

MATTHEW EVANS wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 on Tuesday 16, Thursday 18 and Friday 19 June at 7.30 pm.

MARTHA HILLIER wrote the episode of Holby City going out on BBC1 on Tuesday 16 June at 8.00 pm.

PETER KERRY wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Wednesday 17 June at 7.00 pm.

JONATHAN HARVEY is THRILLED that his Beautiful People won Best Comedy at the BANFF Television Festival last weekend. Bodes well for series 2... Well done, Jonathan!

STEVE HUGHES wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 on Friday 19 June at 7.00 pm.

LINDA M JAMES has had three books published this year: How To Write Great Screenplays. [How To Books] ISBN: 9781845283070; The Invisible Piper [Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie.] ISBN: 9781843865087; Tempting The Stars [ Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie.] ISBN: 9781843865094

How To Write Great Screenplays was published in January and is already on the reading list of a couple of Universities, is being sold at Film Festivals and has some great reviews. [An extract from it can be seen on the screenwriters' festival website]

Her two historical novels are being published this month.

More information about Linda's writing can be seen on her website

CHARLES McKEOWN co-wrote the screenplay of The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus with Terry Gilliam, which will shortly be on general release. He has also co-written, with Joe Ainsworth, the episode of New Tricks called Buried Treasure going out on BBC1 on Monday 15 June at 9.00 pm

DAVID IAN NEVILLE wrote the afternoon play, Desperate Measures, going out on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 18 June at 2.15 pm. In an old warehouse by the River Clyde Paul and Mhairi Blaze have built a successful design company. But as the downturn bites they need more than grand designs to save their business - and their relationship.

CHRIS PARKE wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 on Monday 15 June at 8.00 pm.

TIMOTHY PRAGER wrote the episode of Robin Hood called The Enemy of My Enemy going out on BBC1 on Saturday 13 June from 6.45 to 7.30 pm. The series was created by fellow Guild member, DOMINIC MINGHELLA.

HEATHER ROBSON wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on Channel 4 at 6.30 pm on Tuesday 16 June.

ALISTAIR RUTHERFORD has a new full-length play, called Homecoming, in the Leith Festival. It will run from Wed 10th June to Sat 13th June, at 7.30, in South Leith Church Halls, Edinburgh. The show is being produced by BigVillage Theatre Company.

RICHARD STONEMAN wrote the episode of Doc Martin, going out on ITV1 on Friday 19th June at 9.00 pm. Louisa has some new and most annoying neigbours, while Mrs Averill, who's just moved out, decides she doesn't want to leave at all. Doc Martin, now in its third series, was created by fellow Guild member, DOMINIC MINGHELLA.

NICK WARBURTON's four-part radio play, On Mardle Fen continues on Friday 19th June at 2.15 pm on BBC Radio 4. In Episode 3, Old Boggle, chef Warwick Hedges is invited to lunch in a remote part of the Fens and discovers treasure guarded by a ghost-dog.

VICTORIA WOOD joins panellists Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor for the return of the famous antidote to panel games, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, with Stephen Fry in the Chair. The new series begins on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 15th June and repeated on Sunday morning 21st June at 12.04 pm.

Screenwriters' Festival launch

There was a good deal of gloom at the Screenwriters' Festival launch at BAFTA in London last night. Two up-and-coming writers selected for the Festival's Scriptmarket told of their decade long struggle to get their first films made, agents spoke of the collapse in UK TV drama production and even star speaker Christopher Hampton recounted how three of his favourite scripts never made it to production.


It was a thoroughly enjoyable and positive event. Writers know that the odds are stacked against them. Hearing about other people's trials and tribulations is rarely off-putting. More often it's both cathartic and inspiring.

The speakers last night were all excellent and Christopher Hampton lived up to his reputation with an insightful and amusing talk about working in the industry.

If the idea of the evening was to give people a taste of the Festival then it certainly made a good case for heading to Cheltenham in October.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

WGGB Find A Writer

We're looking at ways to improve the Find A Writer database on the WGGB website.

It's a database of Full members of the Guild - who can log-in to add credits, agent information, web links etc.

There were more than 1,000 page views of Find A Writer results last month, so it's certainly being used - either by people looking for writers or for information about a particular writer.

The question is, how might it be improved? What additional functionality or categories would you like to see? It's a real benefit of Full membership, so do have your say in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Screenwriters and the European Film Academy

A message from Christina Kallas, President of the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe:
As you are certainly aware, screenwriters in Europe tend to be conspicuously absent from the limelight, sometimes so generously pointed at the film and TV industry. Indeed, the focus of the media is generally the stars and the directors and the focus of European policy when it comes to film and TV is firmly on the producers.

One of the most positive things to evolve within the realm of the European filmmaking community in recent times is The European Film Academy, founded in 1988 to promote European film culture.

As you can see on their website, europeanfilmacademy.org, the EFA initiates and participates in a series of activities every year, “…dealing with film politics as well as economic, artistic, and training aspects. The programme includes conferences, seminars and workshops, and a common goal is to build a bridge between creativity and the industry. These activities culminate in the annual presentation of the European Film Awards.”

The EFA now has 1800 members representing various aspects of the European film community. It has come to our attention that the number of screenwriters in the academy is symptomatically low. Judging from the members list on the website, only about 40 people who view themselves primarily or solely as screenwriters are members of the EFA. By counting all members who include the term “writer” or “screenwriter” in their description of their profession, the number rises considerably, but only to about 120.

We would like to use this opportunity to encourage our colleagues all around Europe to examine the possibilities of joining the EFA, in order to give the presence of screenwriters in Europe a highly justified boost.

Information on criteria (3 film credits) and cost (€180 pr. year) can be found on the EFA website. You will also need two patrons from the EFA membership to support your application – in case you cannot find these among your country’s members please let us know and we will help. It is worth mentioning, that as a member of the EFA you then receive a copy of almost all the European films nominated for the European Film Awards each year in every category, which is an invaluable way to keep abreast of what’s happening in European film.

Stan Lee's new approach

If you set up your own production company, what would you call it? Whatever you come up with, you'd do well to beat Stan Lee, whose company is called Purveyors of Wonder, or POW! for short.

As an article in The Economist points out, Lee's Marvel Comics superheroes have dominated the box office in the past ten years or so but it's proving difficult for Lee or anyone else to create new characters with similar appeal.
Take Alan Moore, a revered writer of comic books. His works have inspired five ambitious films (the most recent is “Watchmen”), none of them hugely successful. And what goes for comic books also goes for television shows, computer games and other fodder for summer blockbusters. As audiences fragment, there is simply less mass content to throw into the Hollywood recycling machine.

It may be that a more modest approach works better. Next month another creation of Mr Lee’s will be unveiled at Comic-con, a huge San Diego convention that has become an important marketing platform for films. “Time Jumper”, an animated comic about a boy who can travel in time using his mobile phone, will be released in stages on the internet and mobile phones, free of charge. This is a relatively cheap way of testing an audience’s response to a new character. If it is hard to ram a new tale into public consciousness, it might just be possible to sneak it in.

Craig Mazin asks: Is spoof dead?

On his Artful Writer blog, Craig Mazin considers what makes a successful spoof film...
Spoof movies are not satires. They do not use comedy or mockery to comment on social problems, politics or any other serious issues of the day. South Park (and the excellent South Park films) is a satire that often uses parody (a humorous reimagining of something serious) to make a point.

Spoof movies, however, have no point. They do not have any perspective on anything important at all. They are, in a word, silly. They employ parody to make you laugh. There is no other goal.
...and asks whether the genre can recover from its current slump.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Michael Rosen on being Children's Laureate

In The Guardian, outgoing Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen, reflects on his experience working with school-children.
My father dies. He was 89. There seem to be so many layers to his life. To me and my brother he was the bloke on camping holidays singing French folk songs, telling rude jokes, or back home getting in a state about our homework not being done. But as the letters and obituaries are written, we are reminded of him as schoolteacher, as teacher-trainer, as storyteller, as "animator" of study groups.

An issue of the English teachers' journal Changing English appears that is entirely devoted to him and his work. Simon, one of his colleagues at Walworth comprehensive school in south London, has unearthed the English syllabus that my father helped to devise in 1958. I read: "Whatever language the pupils possess, it is this which must be built on rather than driven underground. However narrow the experience of our pupils may be (and it is often wider than we think), it is this experience alone which has given their language meaning. The starting point for English work must be the ability to handle effectively their own experience. Oral work, written work and the discussion of literature must create an atmosphere in which the pupils become confident of the full acceptability of the material of their own experience. Only in this way can they advance to the next stage."

I am overcome with feelings of admiration, sadness, regret and anger. I start to scribble a letter to the editor of Changing English, Jane Miller. How did the Thatcher and Blair governments succeed so quickly to wipe out years of such thought, theory and practice? Did my father, my mother and everyone else struggling to figure out how to give every single child the right to speak, write and read not lay out these kinds of theories clearly enough?
Update: And it has been announced today that the new Children's Laureate is Anthony Browne.
It's a great honour to be the Children's Laureate for 2009-11. I know all about the amazing things the five previous Laureates have done, and I'm in awe of their hard work. I hope to encourage more children to discover and love reading, but I would like people to think especially about picture books, and the reading of both pictures and words.

I believe picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. What excites me about them is how often the pictures can tell us so much more than the words. I like the way they can reveal clues as to what a character is thinking or feeling. Picture books are special – they're not like anything else. Sometimes I hear parents encouraging their children to read what they call "proper books" (books without pictures), at an earlier and earlier age. This makes me sad, as picture books are perfect for sharing, and not just with the youngest children. We have in Britain some of the best picture book makers in the world, and I want to see their books appreciated for what they are – works of art.

Newsjack's open call for submissions

Newsjack, the new topical comedy show on BBC Radio 7 presented by Miles Jupp (above), has issued an open call for sketch submissions.
Newsjack is BBC Radio 7's new topical sketch show, which seeks to comically scrutinise the news, views and issues of the day.

It is a showcase for new comedy writing. It looks to be irreverent and satirical, a kind of younger brother to the more "grown up" Radio 4 topical shows like The Now Show and The News Quiz.

The Pilot of Newsjack was broadcast on BBC Radio 7 on 4th June and will be available on iPlayer and Listen Again until Sunday 14th June.

If you are planning to write for Newsjack please listen to the pilot.

Don't feel you have to make all your sketches about the main news story or Westminster politics.

As well as the main news, you might have a great sketch about Advertising, Glastonbury or The Wire, things that people are aware of culturally but don't necessarily make for "hard news".

We'd love to include these zeitgeisty topics in the show too. They're all fair game.
Full submission details are on the Newsjack website.

Guild AGM 5th June 2009

Robert Taylor was named as the Guild's new Chair at the AGM on Friday 5th June in London. Robert, who is standing down as Treasurer, replaces Katharine Way who has completed her term of office. Andy Walsh and Roger Williams were elected as Deputy Chairs, while Rupert Creed takes on the role of Treasurer.

The main decision taken at the meeting was to increase the subscriptions rate for Full Members to £180 and 1.2% of earnings from writing over £15,000.

Introducing the proposed increase, Robert Taylor, still in the role of Treasurer, argued that though Guild membership is at record levels, subscription income has still been falling as fewer members were paying the highest rates. Exceptional payments had supported income in the past two years but this could not be relied upon, so a rate increase, the first for Full Members for seven years, was essential.

The increase in the percentage levy on earnings over £15,000 would, Robert continued, ensure that all Full Members made an additional contribution. A new online system will be introduced to help with calculations and to provide a variety of payment methods.

Robert also noted that the Guild's Welfare Fund was open to applications from existing members facing financial difficulties – including any sudden difficulties in affording subscriptions.

Several Guild members spoke from the floor in support of the motion, while also noting that the recruitment drive should continue.

All three motions relating to the subscriptions increase were carried unanimously.

There were no other motions at the AGM but the Craft Committees and National and Regional Committees spoke to their reports in the Annual Report.

Neil Gerrard MP, Secretary to the Performers' Alliance Parliamentary Group, was the guest speaker. The Group, he explained, was set up to provide a voice within parliament for the Performers' Alliance (of which the Guild is a member).

Current issues of concern include Arts Council England funding - there was a satisfactory increase for three years in 2007 but there's bound to be pressure on all public spending in coming years.

Public Service Broadcasting is another area that the Group has been concerned with. The Carter Report is due out later this month and, Neil Gerrard said, while many things are still to be decided there will definitely be some big changes. The state of children's TV was a cause of particular concern, he added, with new UK programming being cut back dramatically. The Parliamentary Group had been trying to persuade government to take urgent action, such as introducing tax credits as used in film industry, but so far without progress.

Guild member Julian Friedmann has an account of the meeting on his blog.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Writing by committee

Further to the discussions on this blog (also here) about whether TV writers in the UK are, as Stephen Fry suggested, "treated like dirt" (still time to vote in the poll, right), on the WGGB website I've put up the article Guild TV Committee Chair, Gail Renard, wrote in the most recent issue of UK Writer.
Speaking with experienced writers, all agree that writing an episode for a series today means roughly nine or ten times more work than ten years ago; often for worse results.

Doing an episode for a telly series used to involve delivering your script to the producer or, if there was one, the series’ script editor, who would usually be a writer with an impressive track record, if not the actual creator of the series. Believe it or not, these highly experienced professionals would give you one set of notes for each draft. It was rare that a writer would have to go beyond three drafts; the third of which would be tweaking.

Today we have countless layers of management who, in the past, never existed and weren’t needed. The job of script editor is often seen as a way into production as opposed to being a career end in itself. Many production personnel are no longer staff, and are on short term contracts without the experience or continuity that staffers often ensured. Aside from needlessly bumping up the cost of series, suddenly more people have a say in the script than ever before.
As Gail explains, the Guild will soon be publishing a TV Good Practice Guide that will be circulated to broadcasters and production companies across the industry. I'll post a link when it's online.

Billy Elliot sweeps Tony Awards

Billy Elliot, The Musical (book and lyrics by Lee Hall from his film of the same name, music by Elton John) won 10 awards at the American Tony Awards last night including Best Musical and Best Book.

Another British winner was The Norman Conquests by Guild member Alan Ayckbourn which won the award for Best Revival.

A conversation with John Irving

For The New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus talks to novelist John Irving about his new book Last Night In Twisted River, his working method and how he always starts with the last sentence.

Paul Laverty on Looking For Eric

On the Route publishing website, Guild member Paul Laverty talks about writing Looking For Eric (directed by Ken Loach).
Q. Sounds like you talk to lots of people before writing a script?

A. Some writers spend most of their times in their rooms. Each to their own. I spent my formative years in seminary taught by priests where the ‘outside’ world was painted boldly in black and white. It has left me with an incurable curiosity for other worlds, and other ways of looking at it. Grey is the most fascinating colour of all. I love getting out and digging around. A lot of the ground work is investigative - a time of constant dialogue with Ken too, before the very private part, writing the script itself. But you can’t copy a script from the street, and you must be loyal to your characters, as they emerge, even though they are just ephemeral creatures, full of contradictions, fighting for space in the mind.

ScreenLit Film TV & Writing Festival

screenlitThis month sees the first ever ScreenLit Film, TV & Writing Festival in Nottingham (29 June - 5 July). According to the website:
The festival was inspired by the rich, continuing heritage of writing from Nottingham and the East Midlands, but our scope is international and across artforms. Each year ScreenLit will celebrate the writers’ seminal contribution to 21st century culture through the narratives of film, TV, books and the ever expanding range and forms of new media.
Guest speakers will include Paul Schrader and Guy Hibbert, and there's a variety of screenings and events.

Full details are in the Festival brochure (pdf).

Guild members' blogs

Following my post last week, here's a selection of Guild members' blogs now added to the list (right):
Update: And another, Jared Kelly

And one more: Julian Friedmann