Monday, November 30, 2009

Julia Donaldson interview

In The Independent, Nick Duerden talks to children's writer Julia Donaldson about creating The Gruffalo and writing her first novel for teenagers, Running On The Cracks.
"What I do find frustrating," she says, "is that you can work away for a year on a book like [Running On The Cracks] and still..."

The sentence remains unfinished, Donaldson perhaps aware that she should keep these frustrations private. It sounds, I say, as if she has begun to resent the monster that has made her so famous and wealthy.

Another sigh. "No, I don't really resent it because – well, let's face it, I think any author would love to have some iconic character they can pin everything else on. But all the things I keep talking about these days I've heard myself talk about before. So I'm not learning anything new, am I?"

BAFTA Children's Awards winners

Among the winners at the BAFTA Children's Awards last night were:
  • Writer: Helen Blakemore for Dustbin Baby (adapted from the book by Jacqueline Wilson)
  • Video game: The development team at Media Molecule/SCEE XDev Studio Europe for LittleBigPlanet
  • Animation: Sue Goffe and Philip Hunt for Lost And Found
  • Drama: The Production Team at Boomerang/S4C for Rhestr Nadolig Wil (Wil’s Christmas List)
  • Pre-school animation: Phil Davies, Neville Astley, Mark Baker, Astley Baker Davies for Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom

Robert Holdstock 1948-2009

Novelist Robert Holdstock, best known for Mythago Wood, has died at the age of 61.

There are numerous tributes on his website and Twitter, and biographical details on Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Writers' Guild Awards

The winners of the 2009 Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards were announced earlier this evening at an event in at the Freeword Centre in London.

Photos by Simon Denton for WGGB.

The winners were:

Television comedy / light entertainment: Outnumbered, by Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton

Television drama series: Being Human, by Toby Whithouse

Television soap / continuing series: Coronation Street, episodes written by Carmel Morgan, Chris Fewtrell, Damon Rochefort, David Bowker, David Lane , Debbie Oates, Jan McVerry, Jayne Hollinson, Joe Turner, John Kerr, Jonathan Harvey, Julie Jones, Lucy Gannon, Mark Burt, Mark Wadlow, Martin Allen , Martin Sterling, Peter Whalley, Simon Crowther, Stephen Bennett (Pictured: Chris Fewtrell, Simon Crowther, Mark Wadlow, Joe Turner, Jan McVerry, Jonathan Harvey)

Television short form drama: Criminal Justice by Peter Moffat

Feature film screenplay: Hunger, by Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh

Feature film screenplay newcomer: Shifty, by Eran Creevy

Theatre play: At the Gates of Gaza, by Juliet Gilkes Romero

Theatre play for children and young people: Scarlet Ribbons, by Brendan Murray

Radio comedy / light entertainment: 15 Minute Musicals, by Dave Cohen, Richie Webb and David Quantick and

Radio drama: The Gunshot Wedding, by Katie Hims

Video games: Prince of Persia, by Andrew S Walsh

Outstanding contribution to children's writing: Sir Terry Pratchett

Lifetime achievement: Andrew Davies

Update: Here's a report on the Awards from BBC News.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thompson's BBC predictions

In The Guardian, John Plunkett reports on Mark Thompson's speech to a Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference in London.
Thompson, revealing more about the scope of his strategic review of BBC operations, said the corporation would be smaller in scale, reducing programme and content output in some areas, including its website.

He also promised that, after the digital switchover in 2012, a higher proportion of the licence fee would be spent on original UK content and less on foreign imports.
According to Plunkett, he also "implied [that] digital services such as BBC3, BBC4 and 6Music could face the axe."

What Guild members are getting up to

MARTIN ALLEN wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:00pm on Wednesday 2nd December.

MARK BURT wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on IT1 at 8:00pm on Thursday 3rd Dceember.

PAUL COATES wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Tuesday 1st December.

TIM DYNEVOR wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Thursday 3rd December.

CHRIS FEWTRELL wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Friday 4th December.

BARRY GROSSMAN'S The Attractive Young Rabbi is currently in the midst of a repeat run on BBC Radio 7 on Thursdays at 9:00am and 5:00pm.

DAWN HARRISON wrote the episode of Doctors "Harry - Architect of Fortune" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Friday 4th December.

JONATHAN HARVEY'S series Beautiful People continues with the episode "How I Got My Camp" going out on BBC2 at 10:00pm on Friday 4th December.

LOUISE IRONSIDE wrote the episode of Waterloo Road going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Wednesday 2nd December.

ROB JOHNSTON'S new play Under My Skin is being produced at The Nexus Art Cafe, Manchester at 8pm on 3rd-5th December.

JULIE JONES wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 30th November.

JOHN KERR wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:00pm on Tuesday 1st December.

JANE MARLOW wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Wednesday 2nd December.

RICHARD MCBRIEN wrote the episode of Spooks going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Wednesday 2nd December.

NATALIE MCGRATH'S panto Vixens in the Wood will be performed by an all female cast at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern between December 10th and 19th for Lustre and Bluster Productions as part of a new writing initiative. For further information and booking follow this link:

LIZZIE MICKERY wrote the episode of Paradox going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Tuesday 1st December.

ROLAND MOORE wrote the episode of Waybuloo being shown on CBeebies at 11.30am on Friday 27th November. Is a stick really capable of being magic?

JONATHAN MYERSON'S political radio drama series Number Ten continues on Radio 4 with the episode "A Failed State" going out at 2:15pm on Friday 4th December.

JANE PEARSON wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 1st December.

CHRIS THOMPSON wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Wednesday 2nd December.

MATTHEW WAKEFIELD wrote the episode of Doctors "Food, Love and Money" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Wednesday 2nd December.

JOY WILKINSON wrote the episode of Doctors "Pictures of You" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Thursday 3rd December.

COLIN WYATT wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Thursday 3rd and at 8:00pm on Friday 4th December.

KARIN YOUNG wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday 4th December.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Anthony Minghella's last script

In The Guardian, David Thompson explains why he feels that Anthony Minghella's work on Nine, probably the last script he wrote (with Michael Tolkin, based on Arthur Kopit's book for the musical of the same name) before his death last year, is a fitting tribute to his talent.
I found Nine a very moving film. I'm not sure if the public will take it to their hearts. Oh, the women are dazzling and then tragic. There are brilliant musical numbers. Director Rob Marshall has served the project admirably. This is not an attempt to assign credit. Tolkin did the first script, then Ant did a revision – handed in shortly before he died. The film belongs to all three men, and to [Daniel] Day-Lewis, who has a mixture of charm and the sinister that is unique. Still, this is a film about the soul-searching of a privileged, spoiled man – it is hardly a dilemma that is widely shared.

Anthony Minghella has been dead getting on for two years – the anniversary will be close to Oscar time. Ant may win another award. Plenty of you will find great pathos and energy in Nine – as well as astringent humour. It is a film for showbusiness people, I suppose, and I only wish that Ant could still be reached by phone and told that the message came through, truly, madly, deeply – if you recall, his first film was the story of a couple separated by death, but defiant.
Nine will be released in the UK on 18 December.

Three paths to self-publishing

On the Writers' Digest website, Jane Friedman sets out what she calls 'The 3 Self-Publishing Paths You Should Understand'.

It's an American perspective, but seems to me to apply pretty well in the UK too - in essence she says you need to think carefully about what you want, what you can do yourself for free and what it makes sense to pay for. She also links to some other interesting self-publishing information sites.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Simon Nelson, BBC Multiplatform

In Broadcast, Lucy Rouse talks to Simon Nelson - BBC Vision controller of multiplatform and portfolio about'bite-sized' comedy online and new developments in online drama.
In drama, Nelson’s biggest project is E20, the online spin-off being created around EastEnders. “That’s completely different to comedy, where instead we’re taking a TV brand into a new environment with new characters, and investing in young writers and actors to develop the talent base of EastEnders,” he says. He hopes the new online storylines will mean the online drama can be enjoyed in its own right or together with the established BBC 1 soap. A lot will depend on how people choose to interact with the developing drama online.

William Miller 1934-2009

William Miller - editor, publisher and literary agent - has died at the age of 75. There's an obituary in The Guardian by the novelist David Peace.
I met William 12 years ago in Tokyo and – as agent, editor, teacher and, most of all, friend – he changed my life, and turned my world upside down; for he truly was, in all he did, in how he lived, a radical.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dustbin Baby wins International Emmy

The BBC production of Dustbin Baby, adapted by Helen Blakeman from the novel by Jacqueline Wilson, has won an International Emmy Award in the category for Children and Young People. (Although, in the Emmy's press release, neither writer gets so much as a mention)

Agents and publishers could face licensing bills

The Digital Economy Bill, published on Friday, will bring in unexpected registration requirements and government control over authors' agents and some publishers, according to copyright experts at national law firm Beachcroft LLP. Such agents - along with certain picture libraries, software resellers, record companies, film distributors and publishers - may need to register with the government, pay annual registration fees and be subject to codes of practice, backed up by criminal sanctions, if provisions regarding the control of 'licensing bodies' are brought in.

Jack Thorne - Cast Offs

Cast Offs, created by Guild member Jack Thorne and written by him, Tony Roche and Alex Bulmer, starts on Channel 4 tonight.

You can read an article by Jack about how he created the series on the Writers' Guild website.
It’s been an amazing process. Joel Wilson (our brilliant producer), Judy Counihan, (our amazing exec) and I decided early on that the only way to really make it work was to get the casting done as soon as possible. Writing and casting at the same time we wouldn’t be limited in the choices we made by saying – well, the writers have written a script about a deaf man, a deaf man is what we need. We wanted to get the best actors we could possibly get and then build the show around them, and I think we’ve got them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Zadie Smith: Essays versus fiction

In The Guardian, Zadie Smith considers the arguments presented by David Shields whose new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
argues passionately for the superiority of the messy real – of what we might call 'truthiness' – over the careful creations of novelists, and other artists, who work with artificial and imagined narratives.
Smith is not convinced:
In these arguments the new received wisdom is that all plots are 'conventional' and all characters sentimental and bourgeois, and all settings bad theatrical backdrops, wooden and painted. Such objections are, I think, sincere responses to the experience of reading bad novels

Jerusalem wins Best Play at Evening Standard Awards

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth was named Best Play at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards this afternoon. Its star, Mark Rylance, won Best Actor.

The Charles Wintour award for most promising playwright went to Alia Bano for her play Shades which, like Jerusalem, was produced by the Royal Court in London.

BBC Writersroom - unsolicited scripts

From the BBC Writersroom blog:
Writersroom is updating the policy on what we do and don't accept, and compiling all our guidelines into one set of Terms & Conditions for anyone sending a script in to us. This is where it lives: Terms & Conditions. They will come into effect as of 1 December 2009.

We will now refer writers wherever possible to this information regarding any questions about submitting a script and how the system works. Much of this is brought together from what already exists on the website. But there are some new changes, the main ones being:
  • We will no longer accept unsolicited adaptations
  • We will no longer accept short films - only scripts of at least 30 minutes
  • We will no longer accept scripts from overseas

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oren Peli: Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity, written and directed by Oren Peli, cost just $15,000 to make and has taken more than $100m at the American box office.

So how did he do it?

In interviews with The Guardian and with Peter Hall on Cinematical, Peli explains his approach.
What was your approach to maintaining tension and the audience's interest with just 2 people and 1 camera?

It was very difficult to begin with having just two characters and one location, so I knew it would be a challenge. We just had to be sure the nights were progressively creepy and that there are enough interesting things happening during the day that actually contribute and weave threads into the plot that progress it so that the following nights have new meanings, particularly to what happened the previous day. It was very tricky, which is why it took so long to edit the movie.

Paranormal Activity opens in the UK on Wednesday.

Michael Moorcock on writing new Doctor Who novel

A few months ago Mark Gatiss wondered on Radio Four why there were no more Doctor Who novelisations.

Now his wish has come true, and Michael Moorcock has been signed up to write one.

However, writing in The Guardian, Moorcock confesses to some misgivings:
When I was first offered the chance to write an original Doctor Who novel I hesitated. I felt I'd had enough fun and should settle down to the autobiographical stuff I'd mapped out for the next year or two. Then I realised that not only might I enjoy writing an original adventure, I could also take a look at what a character who has become part of our national folklore has come to mean. I could do, in fact, what SF does best for an intelligent, knowing audience. So I told my agent to go ahead and draw up the contract.

Now the vast potential of what I can write is beginning to dawn on me. Far from thinking in terms of fun I've become a little scared. All time and space is open to me. I have to mix comedy and melodrama while telling an epic adventure story featuring a complex protagonist capable of ranging across the entire multiverse. I'm increasingly overawed as I consider what I must live up to. Hardcore fans are already questioning my qualifications. I can only hope I'm equal to the job.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Guild members are getting up to

JESSE ARMSTRONG co-wrote the episode of The Thick of It going out on BBC2 at 10:20pm on Saturday 21st November.

RAY BROOKING wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Monday 23rd November.

GUY DUCKER'S short film Missed is having a screening at 00:25am Sunday 22nd November and at midnight Monday 23rd on the BBC HD channel.

GREGORY EVANS'S radio play Shirleymander is going out on Radio 4 at 9:00pm on Friday 27th November.

PHILIP GOULDING has written the libretto for Wonder: a scientific oratorio about the origin of the universe (composer Alan Williams) - performed by BBC Philharmonic/BBC Singers/Salford Choral Society at Maxwell Hall, Salford on Friday 27th November 2009 and Saturday 28th November 2009.

JONATHAN HARVEY wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Monday 23rd November. The third episode in Jonathan's second series of Beautiful People "How I Got My Water Feature" continues on BBC2 at10:00pm on Friday 27th November.

JAYNE HOLLINSON wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Monday 23rd November.

MARK ILLIS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 23rd November.

LIZ JOHN wrote the episode of Doctors "New Dawn" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Monday 23rd November.

DARAN LITTLE wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Friday 27th November.

GARRY LYONS' new mainstage adaptation of The Secret Garden, with music by Tim Sutton, opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on November 28th and runs until January 23rd.

JONATHAN MYERSON'S radio drama series Number Ten continues with the episode The Visigoths Are Coming" going out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Friday 27th November.

JULIE PARSONS wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 24th and Wednesday 25th November.

SUE PIERLEJEWSKI wrote the episode of Doctors "Hurt" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Thursday26th November.

CHRISTOPHER REASON wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 7:30pm on Thursday 26th November.

HEATHER ROBSON wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Monday 23rd November.

PAUL ROUNDELL wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday 27th November.

TONY ROCHE and JACK THORNE co-wrote the episode of Cast-Offs a new series starting on C4 at 11:05pm on Tuesday 24th November.

KATHERINE WAY wrote the episode of Doctors "The Perfect Face for Radio" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Wednesday 25th November.

PETER WHALLEY wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Friday 27th November.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The British Comedy Awards

By Gail Renard

It takes more than controversy to keep the British Comedy Awards down. The event will be returning to ITV with a new look on the evening of December 12, following X-Factor. Jonathan Ross, who was missing from last year’s ceremony, returns in all his glory and the WGGB is once again happy to be associated with the awards.

The jury met a few days ago and included comedy commissioners from all the TV companies, along with three judges from the Guild: Steven Moffat, Jonathan Harvey and myself. The nominations have been posted on the Comedy Awards website and it promises to be a show well worth watching.

The Guild will also be honouring an outstanding comedy writer on the night, as we do annually.

Anything can happen at the awards and usually does. In past years, Spike Milligan referred to Prince Charles as 'the little grovelling bastard', Julian Clary expressed a familiarity with hand puppets, and Professor Stephen Hawking presented a comedy award to Homer Simpson.

Roll on this year’s Brit Coms.

Comedy judges: (left-to-right) Steven Moffat, Gail Renard and Jonathan Harvey

Digital Economy Bill

In yesterday's Queen's Speech, the government outlined its Digital Economy Bill.

Perhaps the most eye-catching proposals are, as Broadcast reports, those to reduce online piracy and a requirement for Channel 4 to invest in films.
“Including film in Channel 4’s remit for the first time is a prize the UK Film Council has been chasing for many years,” [UK Film Council chief executive John] Woodward said. “Channel 4 has backed some great British films over the years, and strengthening its role in film production even further can only be good for the future of the UK film sector and UK film culture.

“For as long as Channel 4 has not been required by legislation to make films, Film 4 has remained on a knife-edge. The new legislation will finally embed film at the centre of Channel 4’s public service remit.”

UK Film Council consultation

The UK Film Council is consulting publicly on its policy and funding priorities from April 2010 to March 2013.
The proposals in UK Film: Digital innovation and creative excellence include:

* a new £15m Film Production Fund which has four distinct creative gatekeepers, is focused on the pursuit of creative excellence and puts more emphasis on first- and second-time filmmakers;
* a new space and funding stream to support experimental filmmaking;
* a producer equity position in all UK Film Council-funded feature films;
* a minimum 25% target for non-London originated film production;
* a new £5m Innovation Fund, to promote new business models and ensure UK film's successful transition into a fully digital age;
* sustained investment in the BFI, to support the conservation of UK film heritage and improve access to film culture;
* a renewed emphasis on attracting inward investment to the UK film sector and underlining the continued importance of the Film Tax Relief;
* prioritising skills training for new technologies and post-production;
* additional funding to support the industry in combating film theft;
* continued support for film distribution and audience-focused initiatives; and
* an ongoing commitment to achieving a more diverse and inclusive workforce and film culture.

We live in challenging times – a major economic downturn is adversely affecting film financing and we are experiencing rapid technological change and the collapse of traditional business models.

In addition, the UK Film Council needs to find savings of £25m over the next three years to help pay for the 2012 Olympic Games, so we've had to make some tough decisions. UK Film: Digital innovation and creative excellence therefore sets out the most significant revision of our activities since the UK Film Council was set up in 2000.

Our priorities are to protect production funding, to support filmmakers, to safeguard film culture and to promote digital innovation.

Entirely separate to this public consultation on our activities is the Board's decision to reduce the organisation's overheads by 20%. The UK Film Council has already run on a capped overhead for five years – but we must now cut deeper again in order to push as much money as we can in to front-line film activity.

We would very much welcome your views on what we propose in UK Film: Digital innovation and creative excellence. You can contact us by clicking on and completing an online questionnaire.
Link via @edlebrosnan on Twitter.

Mark Lawson on BBC censorship

In The Guardian, Mark Lawson asks whether, one year after the Brand-Ross-Sachs 'scandal', BBC caution is restricting drama and comedy output.
Rumours from the drama department suggest that an increasing number of directors are pitching improvised or semi-improvised work – another way around compliance: if there is no script, the checks are automatically reduced.
See also, recent comments from Stephen Poliakoff and Tony Marchant.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guild attacks Silver Street axing

Following the announcement by the BBC that they are axing the BBC Asian Network soap opera, Silver Street, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain has issued the following press release:
The threatened axing of the BBC Asian Network soap opera Silver Street would lead to a significant reduction in opportunities for writers and actors in the West Midlands and beyond, says the Writers' Guild of Great Britain. The ending of the programme next March would also further undermine radio drama production in Birmingham.

Launched in 2004 as a 10-minute-a-day radio soap set in a diverse community in a fictional West Midlands city, the 'Asian Archers' was cut from 10 to 8 minutes in 2008, and from eight to five earlier this year. Having axed Silver Street, the BBC proposes substituting ten 30-minute plays per year – fewer than one a month – representing a cut from over 21 hours a year to five hours of drama on the Asian Network.

Past writers for Silver Street include Sonali Bhattacharyya (now writing for EastEnders, Doctors, Casualty and Holby City) and Tanika Gupta (whose stage plays include Gladiator Games for Theatre Royal, Stratford East, and Sugar Mummies for the Royal Court, London). The ten writers currently working for the soap include Amber Lone and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, both of whom have had work presented by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Writers' Guild President David Edgar, who is a member of the Guild's West Midlands Branch, commented:

'The axing of Silver Street would represent a significant loss of opportunity for talented writers from many backgrounds – as well as actors and producers – in the West Midlands. The decision represents a further threat to radio production in Birmingham, which has already suffered from the loss of one of its two dedicated drama producers. Birmingham's state-of-the-art radio studio is great for the Archers, but it should also create work which reflects the wide diversity of the region. New half-hour drama from the Asian Network is a highly welcome idea, but it should be in addition to rather than instead of Silver Street.'

The BBC should retain its commitment to drama which reflects the diverse communities it serves, says the Guild, as well as maintaining drama production across all regions.
Update: Here's how Broadcast is reporting the story.

Candadian Guild campaigns for home-grown TV

From the Writers Guild of Canada, a campaign to defend Canadian TV production.

Fox TV's low-cost model

In The LA Times, Joe Flint reports on Fox TV's drive to pay less for scripted drama:
When it comes to making scripted dramas, Fox Television Studios has hit the reset button: Actors and writers are paid less, 11-day production schedules have been crammed into seven days, and costly digital effects are often replaced by old-fashioned stunts.
Link via @piersb on Twitter

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ALCS backs Google Book Settlement

The Authors' Licensing and Collection Service (ALCS) has expressed support for the Google Book Settlement, reports Murad Ahmed in The Times.
The ALCS said that more than 20,000 British authors, whose books formed part of the service, could profit. Authors will receive a lump sum of at least $60 for allowing digital copies of their books to be made. They will then receive the majority of proceeds from any online sales via Google Books and also get about two thirds from other online book sales. Google will take the rest.

Rights holders will be able to set the price for the book on the service, but if they do not, Google said that it will use a “pricing algorithm” to calculate the cost of the book. The ALCS said that the move will provide “an important source of revenue” for out-of-print authors.
However, ALCS Honorary President (and former Writers' Guild President), Maureen Duffy, has stressed that only the revisions to the deal won by the American Authors' Guild have made it acceptable.
She said that as the author of over 30 books, she “know[s] authors want their works to be read widely; it’s also important that they receive a fair payment for this. It is after all through these and other payments that writers are able to write and create more works for you to enjoy. I believe the settlement will deliver this and furthermore, it will give writers control on the pricing and availability of their work through the Book Rights Registry - a body that will be governed equally by authors and publishers in partnership.”
The Writers' Guild has already published advice to members likely to be affected by the deal and is interested in working with other writers' organisations to see it extended to the UK.

A dispute over the Settlement is still progressing through the American courts.

Update: There's a good summary of some of the issues relating to the Google Book Settlement on the BBC blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Enid Blyton's BBC rejections

If you've ever had scripts rejected by BBC radio, you're in good (or, at least, famous) company. As BBC News reports, newly released BBC memos reveal that Enid Blyton had work rejected seven times by the Corporation.
A memo about a short story stated: "Not strong enough. It really is odd to think that this woman is a best-seller. It is all such very small beer."

Another simply said "reject".

American sitcom writers come to UK

In Broadcast, Robin Parker speaks to American sitcom writers who are working on commissions from UK broadcasters.
British TV comedy is preparing for an American invasion, with Stateside comedy kings David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik and Arrested Development star David Cross crossing shores to make shows for UK broadcasters.

Unfazed by the lukewarm reaction to Friends producer Adam Chase’s BBC3 comedy Clone, the writers hope to bring the verve and high gag ratio of the best US sitcoms to shows with strong British appeal.

Their solution? Fish-out-of-water situations involving Brits in the US and vice versa, and strong back-up from British writers.
As the article mentions, this model of an American-led British writing team, has experienced considerable ratings success with My Family (created by Fred Barron)

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Guild members are getting up to

PAUL ALEXANDER wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 16th November.

JESSE ARMSTRONG co-wrote the episode of The Thick of It going out on BBC2 at 10:10pm on Saturday 14th November.

RAY BROOKING wrote the episode of Doctors "Once Upon A Time" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Thursday 19th November.

SIMON CROWTHER wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at7:30pm on Monday 16th November.

DAVID EDGAR'S radio play The Shape of the Table produced by Peter Leslie Wild goes out on Radio 4 at 2:30pm on Saturday 14th November. Tim McInnerny, Henry Goodman and Jeremy Clyde among the cast.

STEVEN FAY wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Wednesday 18th November.

JEREMY FRONT has adapted Vaclav Havel's latest play, Leaving for BBC World Service Drama, starring Simon Russell Beale, Hugh Bonneville, Joanna Scanlan and David Haig. Broadcast Saturday 14th November 2009 at 8:00pm

MARK ILLIS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday 20th November.

IAN KERSHAW'S radio series Pick-Ups concludes with the episode "Heroes and Villains" going out on Radio 4 at 11:00pm on Thursday 19th November. His radio comedy Alan and Jean's Incredible Journey is also going out on Radio 4 on Thursday 19th November at 2:15pm.

CAROLYN SALLY JONES' Victorian mystery in five parts Shadow Play is being repeated on Tuesday 17th November at 11.40am on BBC2.

JONATHAN MYERSON'S radio series Number Ten continues with the episode "And Drugs Won" going out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Friday 20th November.

JOHN O'FARRELL'S new book An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain has just been published by Doubleday.

JESSE O'MAHONEY wrote the episodes of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th November.

HOWARD OVERMAN wrote the episode of Merlin "The Sins of the Father" going out on BBC1 at 6:05pm on Saturday 14th November.

STEPHEN RUSSELL wrote the episode of Garrow's Law: Tales from the Old Bailey going out on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Sunday 15th November. He also wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Friday 20th November.

BILL TAYLOR wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at7:00pm and 8:00pm on Thursday 19th November.

JOANNA TOYE wrote the episodes of The Archers going out on Radio 4 at 7:00pm from Sunday 15th till Friday 20th November with each episode being repeated at 2:00pm the day following its original release.

JOE TURNER wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Monday 16th November.

MIKE WALKER'S adaptation of Our Mutual Friend goes out on Radio 4 at 7:45pm on Monday 16th November.

Adapting Money

With the BBC announcing that it will be screening an adaptation of Martin Amis's novel, Money, next year, Tim Martin in The Telegraph considers the prospects for a screen version of book that has often been considered 'unadaptable'.
The novel is unlikely to be a wholesale failure as an adaptation. It's stuffed with good dialogue and the plot, though almost dementedly unclear at times, has a sound tragic skeleton of disappointment and betrayal. But it is a baffling choice for an adaptation, as so much depends on the book's textual form.
The adaptation will be written by Tom Butterworth and Chris Hurford (neither of whom are mentioned in the BBC press release).

Martin Amis's high media profile is evident from the fact that in The Guardian, Mark Lawson also considers the prospects for the new adaptation.
Filmed literature works best when the content of an old book chimes with the times and Money fits this dollar bill: a character caught in financial fantasy and learning that wealth can be a form of fiction feels apposite. More gloomily, though, the central plot of Money involves the terrible failure of a US-UK movie co-production. Perhaps I'll end up wishing they'd made another sodding Sensibility instead.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Report from the World Conference of Screenwriters

On the Writers' Guild of Great Britain website, Gail Renard reports on the first World Conference of Screenwriters, which concluded in Athens last week.
We were reminded that the WGA strike two years ago enhanced the status of writers worldwide, and taught producers and broadcasters that writers mean business. We need to build upon that. As Lowell Peterson, the executive director of WGA East said, ‘No one will give you anything you haven’t the strength to take for yourself.’

Bebo halts online drama commissioning

From Mark Sweney and Mercedes Bunz for Media Guardian:
Bebo is cutting jobs at its UK operation and freezing commissions from its web TV production arm, which has been responsible for groundbreaking shows including KateModern.

The social networking website has been forced to make cutbacks to its UK, US and Australian operations following an announcement by its parent company, AOL, that about 100 employees from across its total operation would be cut.

Camilla Campbell is new C4 head of drama

From Matthew Hemley in The Stage:
Channel 4 commissioning editor for drama series Camilla Campbell is to replace Liza Marshall as the broadcaster’s head of drama.

Campbell, who joined in 2004 and whose credits include Shameless, Teachers and No Angels, will report to Channel 4 head of programming Julian Bellamy.

BBC 'will use Guild TV guide'

According to a report by Katherine Rushton in Broadcast, the BBC will be making use of the Writers' Guild's new TV good practice guide, Working With Writers.
BBC head of drama series and serials Kate Harwood said her team would use the guide: “It’s always useful for people at every level to be reminded of best practice and I found the guidelines sensible and clearly written.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

'Why Britain can't do The Wire'

In Prospect, Peter Jukes looks at why, in his opinion, British TV drama is lagging behind that from the USA.
In 1994, I worried about the cultural power of four network controllers. Now you can forget Channel 4 and BBC2: they can make decent one-offs, such as Red Riding and Freefall this year, but both have basically dropped out of adult dramas. ITV has fared no better. In the 1990s the powerful baronies of Granada, Yorkshire TV, LWT and Thames had some autonomy. But their amalgamation into one corporation, followed by a catastrophic fall in advertising revenue, has turned ITV drama into a shadow of its former self. Whatever your view of public service broadcasting (and I support it) the near-monopoly of the BBC in drama commissioning is disastrous.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2009

The winners have been announced of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2009:
Commenting on the winner’s books, Michael Rosen [from the judging panel] said:

‘Welcome to Grubtown and a cast of characters crazy enough to wake Spike Milligan from his home on the Ning Nang Nong. Here we have Manual Org who is so repulsive and smelly, Philip Ardagh has to take a several-page break for a bath. There's Farflung Heaps, Constable Gelatine, Acrid Scorn, Mango Claptrap and many more. Noddy and Toytown, it isn't.

'Mr Pusskins is a cat who could turn into a catastrophe but instead, he's a champ. Even though he heads for the toilet instead of the cat-show, and even though he doesn't realise he's wizzing through an obstacle race, he ends up being the winner. If only life was as easy. This is a ridiculously funny book, full of marvellously mischievous cartooning.’

Face to Facebook

On the Writers' Guild website, Amanda Whittington explains why she created a Facebook group for her play Be My Baby.
At certain times of the year, I get daily emails from students studying the play and they all ask similar questions about character, design and research. Often, I’d receive an email from one student and when I’d replied, I’d get five more from the same group all asking about their characters! I’m happy to help but answering each one individually was time-consuming. I also wanted to guide them away from thinking I had all the answers and encourage them to think for themselves. I felt the students could help each other just as effectively and Facebook seemed the obvious place for them to do it.

Poliakoff attacks 'Kafkaesque' BBC

Following the revelation that Tony Marchant had to attend BBC 'Safeguarding Trust' training, Stephen Poliakoff, in an interview with Radio Times, has attacked 'Kafkaesque' BBC committees.

The Radio Times interview doesn't seem to be online, but Poliakoff's comments are widely quoted elsewhere, including in The Guardian.
"It's difficult enough writing drama without being given suggestions and rules devised by Kafkaesque committees, and what's more it's completely unnecessary. I've always felt audiences are far more intelligent than they're given credit for, and are quite capable of realising that when real events are compressed for drama, certain liberties have to be taken...

It's very important that writers in television tackle unfamiliar stories rather than being made to recycle the same ones endlessly. They can't do this if they are artificially restricted. There's a danger we are going to regress into a much safer world and I'm not sure the audience want that."

Monday, November 09, 2009

Jimmy McGovern interview

On the BBC Writersroom site, an interview with Guild member Jimmy McGovern.
You were on Brookside for seven years, were you changed by that experience or were you just ready for the next thing?

Yes I was changed. I met some great people, directors, actors. I learnt my trade, how to mine a story, I could write you a half hour episode about who makes the tea and that becomes a big discussion of sexual politics or the role of a sixteen year old son and it all starts off with who makes the tea. And I learnt a respect for my life and my experiences. I knew they were worthy.
There are still tickets left for the next two BBC Writersroom Q&As, with Miranda Hart and with Stephen Poliakoff and Jane Wright - both at the Soho Theatre in London.

Andrew Motion defends "found poetry"

Andrew Motion has defended his new poem, An Equal Voice, against accusations of plagiarism. As Dominic Kennedy reports in The Times:
The former Poet Laureate yesterday insisted that his use of quotations that he discovered in a history book belonged to a noble tradition of “found poetry” dating back to Shakespeare.

But Ben Shephard, an expert who produced The World at War for television, complained that the poet had been “extracting sexy soundbites” from his painstaking work on military psychiatry.
You can read An Equal Voice on The Guardian website. Here's an extract:
There were some cases of nervous collapse

as the whistle blew on the first day of battle.

In general, however, it is perfectly astonishing

and terrifying how bravely the men fight.

Mike Bartlett interview

In The Observer, Hermione Hobby meets playwright Mike Bartlett:
"We've got to get away from the idea that it's good to go to the theatre," says young playwright Mike Bartlett over lunch at London's Royal Court theatre, where his new play is about to open. "It isn't church. There's nothing innately good about it. Most theatre is still really bad."

Ignoring his plate of pasta, the 29-year-old is on a roll. "It has to appeal to people who do jobs and have lives. Theatre about theatre is the most awful, terminal nonsense."
Cock, by Mike Bartlett, opens at The Royal Court in London on 13 November (but is already sold out).

Saturday, November 07, 2009

World Screenwriters Declaration

The World Conference of Screenwriters has released a Declaration and a Joint Activity Programme. The Conference, the first of its kind, concluded in Athens today.
World Screenwriters Declaration

In the new digitised and globalised world, we screenwriters have today come together, in Athens Greece, to discuss our central role in the creation of the stories that are carried with such impact to the world’s myriad screens and to people’s minds and hearts.

Stories influence our behaviour and shape our culture. They help us understand. Stories can conquer fear. Stories have power. As screenwriters, the storytellers of our time, we are conscious of our role and our responsibility and we have met to make sure that we can continue our work in the new environment.

The creative and financial challenges which we face, can only be met if we join forces and work together. We insist on the individual capacity of every one of the twenty five thousand screenwriters, whose representatives are gathered here, to see and understand the world in their own way and to reflect that unique perspective in their stories. We exult in the knowledge that individual creativity is what brings us together to defend and assert our common rights and goals.

We endorse the ambitions and intentions of the Charter of the FSE, the Charter of the IAWG and the Manifesto of the European Screenwriters.

We demand the right of screenwriters everywhere to be acknowledged as an author of the audiovisual work which they have written and to be fairly compensated for each and every use made of their work.

In pursuit of these objectives we will engage in active collaboration on campaigns that seek to achieve our common goals.

We pledge to work together to defend and extend the rights of writers for the screen.

Agreed and Signed on Saturday 7th November 2009 in Athens at the conclusion of the first World Conference of Screenwriters :

Christina Kallas
Federation des Scenaristes en Europe/Federation of Screenwriters in Europe

Michael Winship
International Affiliation of Writers’ Guilds

Friday, November 06, 2009

What Guild members are getting up to

JESSE ARMSTRONG co-wrote the episode of The Thick of It going out on BBC2 at 10:15pm on Saturday 7th November.

DAVID BARRY'S children's book The Ice Cream Time Machine, a science fiction adventure, is due to be published on 14th November. Price £5.99 it is published by Libros International. David is doing a book signing and interactive reading from it on the same day at an arts festival in Staplehurst, Kent.

TRACEY BLACK wrote the episode of Doctors "Up the Garden Path" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Thursday 12th November.

RICHARD BURKE wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Friday 13th November.

ANNA CLEMENTS wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Wednesday 11th November.

SIMON CROWTHER wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 8:30pm on Friday 13th November.

PAUL COATES wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Thursday 12thNovember.

DAVE COHEN is performing preview shows of his new one-man show My Life As A Footnote on Thursday 19th November at 8:30pm at Hampstead Comedy Club, Tuesday 24th November at Downstairs at the Kings Head, Crouch End and on Monday 14th December at Upstairs at the Ritzy, Brixton.

World premiere of LISA EVANS' new play Up The Duff, a comedy about expectation and loss set in a rundown NHS ante-natal clinic and a DIY superstore on the ring road, opens at York Theatre Royal on Nov 7th - Nov 28th. Directed by Damian Cruden and produced in association with Fresh Glory Productions. Box Office 01904 623 568

CHRIS FEWTRELL wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Friday 13th November.

ROB GITTINS wrote the episodes of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 7:00pm on Tuesday 10th and at 7:30pm on Thursday 12th November.

JONATHAN HARVEY wrote the first episode of the new series of Beautiful People "How I Got My Groom" going out on BBC2 at 10:00pm on Friday 13th November.

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY'S radio play The Railway Sidling is going out on Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Thursday 12th November.

NICHOLAS HICKS-BEACH wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Monday 9th November.

ALEX JONES' play Canned Peaches In Syrup has been published. This is the American version of his first global warming play Tinned Peaches In Syrup, (River's Up followed) produced to great acclaim at the Pasadena Playhouse LA, it was also produced in Italy, but not yet in UK.

IAN KERSHAW'S radio comedy series Pick-Ups continues this week with the episode "Carpe Diem" going out on Radio 4 at 11:00pm on Thursday 12th November.

BILL LYONS wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Monday 9th November.

CAROLINE MITCHELL wrote the episodes of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm and 8:00pm on Thursday 12th November.

DOMINIQUE MOLONEY wrote the episode of Doctors "Cold Light of Day" going out on BBC1 at 1:45pm on Friday 13thNovember.

SUE MOONEY wrote the episode of Emmerdale going out on ITV1 at 7:00pm on Friday13th November.

JONATHAN MYERSON'S political drama Number Ten is back on with a new series on Radio 4 with the episode "Be a Good Chap" going out at 2:15pm on Friday 13th November.

DEBBIE OATES wrote the episode of Coronation Street going out on ITV1 at 7:30pm on Monday 9th November.

HEATHER ROBSON wrote the episode of Hollyoaks going out on C4 at 6:30pm on Monday 9th November.

A.C.H.SMITH'S Poems are published by Greville Press, selected with a foreword by Tom Stoppard.

DANNY STACK wrote the episode of EastEnders going out on BBC1 at 8:00pm on Friday 13th November.

JOANNA TOYE wrote the episodes of The Archers going out on Radio 4 at 7:00pm from Sunday 8th till Friday 13th November with each episode being repeated at 2:00pm the day following its original broadcast.

Guild Awards update - TV short form drama

Apologies: when we published the shortlists for the Guild Awards last week the TV short form drama category was missing.

The shortlisted works and writers are:
  • The Devil's Whore by Peter Flannery and Martine Brant
  • Criminal Justice by Peter Moffat
  • The Long Walk to Finchley by Tony Saint
If you've not seen them yet, here are the rest of the shortlists.

National Theatre Wales

National Theatre Wales has announced its first year programme (pdf):
National Theatre Wales is all set to create invigorating theatre in the English language, rooted in Wales, with an international reach.

This is the launch programme from March 2010 – April 2011. Twelve new shows, one each month, plus one spectacular finale – in amazing places and unique spaces across Wales.
As Mark Brown reports in The Guardian:
Getting to the launch has been a long journey. Dai Smith, the chairman of Arts Council Wales, said: "We have been putting our toes in the water for too long. It was inexcusable, outrageous, that we did not have a national theatre for Wales. It may be 100 years late, but better late than not at all."
Guild member Gary Owen is among those commissioned for the launch season - his new play, Love Steals Us From Loneliness, will premiere in Bridgend in October 2010.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sesame Street celebrates 40th anniversary

In the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley looks at how the influential children's show, Sesame Street, has evolved as it approaches its 40th anniversary.
The pedagogy hasn’t changed, but the look and tone of “Sesame Street” has evolved. Forty years on, this is your mother’s “Sesame Street,” only better dressed and gentrified: Sesame Street by way of Park Slope. The opening is no longer a realistic rendition of an urban skyline but an animated, candy-colored chalk drawing of a preschool Arcadia, with flowers and butterflies and stars. The famous set, brownstones and garbage bins, has lost the messy graffiti and gritty smudges of city life over the years. Now there are green spaces, tofu and yoga.

World Conference of Screenwriters

The first World Conference of Screenwriters gets underway in Athens tomorrow, bringing together all of the members Guilds and Unions of the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe – who initiated the project – and the members of the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds.

More than two hundred representatives of more than 20,000 writers from more than 30 guilds will attend the meeting to discuss issues including new distribution platforms, the future role of media multinationals and royalty payments for writers.

You can find out more, and read profiles of participating writers, on the World Conference of Screenwriters blog.

Shooting People campaigns to support 1 Day

From a press release from Shooting People:
Shooting People, the Independent Filmmakers' Networking Community, encourages its 35,000 members to see director and writer Penny Woolcock's '1 Day' film on its Friday 06 November opening after some cinemas withdraw the film on police advice.

'Our independent filmmakers are gravely concerned about the actions of the West Midlands police, who have stepped in to advise cinemas not to screen the small British independent film '1 Day'. We have started a campaign amongst our 35,000 members and call on those cinemas to reinstate the screening of this important film,' said Cath Le Couteur, Co-founder, Shooting People

'On Monday night, Shooting People put on a free screening of its patron Penny Woolcock's film '1 Day'. Penny arrived at the screening very distressed at the news that police were advising cinemas not to screen the film and that it was being pulled from Birmingham, Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Coventry. Independent filmmakers up and down the country are speechless that the police suddenly seem to have new powers to effectively censor films,' said James Mullighan, Creative Director Shooting People
There's a report about the film's withdrawal in the Dudley News:
Odeon in Birmingham were the first to announce they were not showing the movie, which was released last Friday, after taking ‘police advice’.

And now Showcase have followed suit, by pulling it from Midland cinemas.

Karen Fox, general manager of Showcase UK Theatres, said: “Showcase has made the decision not to screen the film 1 Day at its cinemas in the West Midlands region.

“However, we are screening the film in our other UK locations.”
The police, however, deny advising cinemas not the screen the film.

There's an interview with Penny Woolcock on the BBC Birmingham website (published before the controversy arose):
Young men would quite reasonably ask me what the film was going to be about. I’d reply that I didn’t know because I needed them to be open with me, that I couldn’t as a white middle class, middle aged woman write a script about their lives out of my head. “Yes, but what it is about?” “I don’t know yet, I need you to talk to me.” “Yes, but what it is about?” And so it went on and on in frustrating circles.

Eventually, I met a couple of people who actually liked me and things really took off. Dylan Duffus who plays Flash says he knew within 30 seconds that I was not a grass. Through him I met lots of people and heard lots of stories. I asked lots of questions and I made lots of notes. As I got to understand the slang I realised how clever it was – it is intended to keep secrets. Money can also be paper, scrilla, p’s or don’s. Most people speak several languages, school English, street talk, code and patois.

I went home with all my notebooks full and wrote the script. Everything in my script is true although it did not all happen to one person in one day. Very early on I had the idea of containing the story in 24 hours and have Flash chased by his own side, the ‘other’ side, his three baby mothers and his family.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Girl Number 9 - online drama

An interesting experiment in online drama started this week: Girl Number 9.

Written by Dan Turner and James Moran in six short parts, it has a well-known cast including Gareth David-Lloyd, Joe Absolom and Tracy-Ann Oberman and is (I think) a completely independent production.

There's an online forum and Twitter streams for the individual characters - see bottom right of the About page.

In an interview with Simon Brew of Den Of Geek last week, James Moran explained how the Girl Number 9 came about and how he approached the writing.
Did you have to be any more ruthless with your writing given the strict time constraints of the on-screen narrative?

Extremely! We only have a few minutes to hook people, so I have to write incredibly lean, tight scenes. I always had a fairly lean writing style, but now even more so. I kept starting scenes later and later, and ending them earlier and earlier, until they were almost subliminal. We were able to let some of them breathe a bit more while shooting, but even then, it's a really fast paced, condensed type of storytelling. Which really works well for this type of thriller.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Kirkwood to succeed Santer at EastEnders

From the BBC Press Office:
Bryan Kirkwood will succeed Diederick Santer as EastEnders Executive Producer following his decision to step down from the role in February 2010, it was announced today.

He will take over from Santer next year after EastEnders celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Kirkwood comes to EastEnders having spent three years producing Hollyoaks, during which time the show enjoyed awards success and soaring popularity.

Tony Marchant had to take BBC compliance training

An extraordinary story by Chris Hastings in The Times (link via @julianfriedmann @DreamsGrafter on Twitter): Tony Marchant was required to sit the BBC's 'Safeguarding Trust factual drama interactive module' last month.

Nothing strange about that, you might think. Until you hear about some of the content.
[Marchant] now has a certificate that congratulates him on passing the test and provides helpful tips such as: “Don’t oversimplify the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’ ... the truth is rarely as cut and dried as this.”

He is further reminded that “tone of voice and facial expression can significantly alter what an audience infers about a character”.
Marchant, whose new series, Garrow's Law, began on BBC One last night, is a multi-award winning writer with a string of credits. He was not impressed.
“The module is a complete nonsense and proof that the compliance culture is out of control at the BBC. I was baffled when I was asked to do it and still can’t see the point of it.”
Even more worrying is a comment elsewhere in the article from Hugh Bonneville who starred alongside Julie Walters in BBC2’s Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story
“I now detect a creeping self-censorship in the television scripts I am given to read,” he said. “I remember in the light of the Queengate affair the producer of the Mary Whitehouse programme saying the compliance unit wanted him to go through the script pointing out which bits actually happened and which were dramatic invention.

“Whatever next? Do you put up a warning at the beginning of the programme telling the audience that Julie Walters is not Mary Whitehouse?”