Thursday, December 21, 2006

Well, Merry Friggin Christmas Then

A post bourne out of the fact that I'm sitting in a motel about 40 miles South of Glasgow and I've just shelled out for an hour of internet time because my phone buzzed me that I had 7 e-mails.

One of those must be important, right?

Nope. Every single one was a round robin Christmas greeting from a producer or editor. So I have 57 minutes to kill.

Bah, humbug. Maybe I should invest in one of those Dangleberry's?

I though I was dead smart not flying up to Scotland but driving, as Heathrow is socked in and every domestic flight has been cancelled. Then I discoverd my first 200 miles of driving were in a pea soup fog surrounded by Mr McGoo's relatives on their way to a family gathering.

I managed 400 miles before the old bones began to creak and I sought comfort in several large Vodkas. So here I be. I believe it is called Abingdon. I really didn't fancy the dreaded Death Race 3000 known as the A9 to Inverness tonight, so a good night's kip is in order.

The A9 for those who don't know is a notorious killer of Boy Racers and tourists because it keeps switiching from dual carriageway to two lane and people ....well......forget.

This is my first Christmas without my son, who is spending it with his mother. Probably why I'm so crabby.

So to put things back in perspective I would like to wish a sincere Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone on the scribosphere. Your wit, good sense, boundless enthusiasm and selfless help have given me many hours of enjoyment over the last year.

Long may it continue.

Peace to all.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Stornoway Sunday

That time known in the writing world as deadsville is upon us. Yes it's Christmas [or every Sunday if you live on Stornoway]

No point trying to phone any Biz contacts. They are either recovering from, preparing for or in the process of lunches, dinners, cocktails, office parties, wrap parties, and probably a few Anne Summers parties. And that's just the guys.

Well okay......some are actually busy as they frantically try to put the lid on various ongoing projects before the pain in the arse 2/3 week shutdown .

There's enough of the kid in me to still like Christmas. Despite the double whammy of the expense plus no movement on projects. Not that anything is galloping down the final furlong anyway.

I used to get annoyed when I was told 'Oh she's in Cannes, he's in Toronto, she's at Sundance, he's off for two weeks to nurse his sick mother'

Now? Meh. As my aged parents used to say. And probably still do. ''If it's for you it won't go by you.''

I think that must be the Presbyterian version of fatalism. Unless you live on Stornoway in which case it is called Heresy. Cue the smell of burning peat, roasting flesh, cries of angry villagers and Christopher Lee in there somewhere.

Can you tell I'm going up North for Christmas?

I kid. I am going up North. Because come Hogmany that is the place to be. I'll be 'first footin' ' with the best of them.

Anyways, I have hopefully just finished my last piece of 'stuff I have to do' for the year. I can look forward to a few guilt free weeks of no deadlines, no panicked phone calls, no sweating late at night wondering how the hell I'm going to make this piece of shit scene work.

And 'They' are feeling the same way. It's time to chill. This is our Stornoway Sunday. Those aspiring writers with full time jobs can think about maybe stringing two or three days together of full time writing. Those full time writers can think about stringing two or three days together of uninterrupted spec time.

'Tis indeed the season to be jolly.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Sale Of Two Titties

So I got some interesting feedback on a spec project today from someone I've never heard of at a company I have heard of. The gist of it was they liked the basic idea but could I make it more post watershed and sex it up. Get some T&A in there.

Now, AT A PINCH, JUST MAYBE, I might force myself to include nubile naked lovelies bonking their brains out. In fact you'd have a hard job stopping me.

But in this particular case I'm not inclined to do so. Firstly, they ain't paying me. That's not necessarily a big objection. If I wholeheartedly agree with the note. In this case I don't. I think it limits the potential audience and makes it less attractive to networks on what is already a reasonably big budget proposition.

Secondly, I don't like having different versions of the same project out there. And that's what I'd end up with. Especially when you are dealing with smaller companies.

The big boys can afford to take a punt on something. Option and develop to some extent and then take it to the networks. But some of the minnows well, they can't afford to take a punt on an outside chance, so a lunch here, a call there, and they get a sniff of whether the networks are maybe interested or not. I'm not saying they all do that, and of course they shouldn't, but in the real world it happens. And if they pitch the show they want rather than the one you want and they say no, you are dead in the water.

So do I want to take that chance in this case? Like I said, I don't know the guy. Never heard of him personally. Therefore he's still out to make a name for himself. Therefore I suspect he's not adverse to bending a few rules.

Paranoia? Maybe. Doing him a complete disservice? Probably. But my writer/business instincts tell me that isn't the way to go on this project.
So thank you, but I'll pass!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pirates of The Studios

So Pirates of the Caribbean 2 has just sold over 10 million DVD's. Wow. One of the fastest sellers ever.

Some Disney exec's Christmas trees will be loaded with designer baubles this year. Assuming the wholesale price is around $10 [just a guess] that's a cool $100,000000 in revenue and around $66 million gross profit.

And this is where HW really makes it's money. Take the world wide figures for year 2004 for the six major studios. [IN $ BILLIONS]

Theatrical Release - 7.4 / [2.2]

DVD/VIDEO - 20.9 / 13.95

Wowser. They actually made a loss of 2.2 Billion on theatrical releases. Not surprising when you factor in the cost of making a movie, the P&A costs and the frantic book cooking studios indulge in to make sure no one on the soft back end [net profits] ever sees a dime.

But look at that DVD baby go. Almost 14 Billion dollars profit. Nearly DOUBLE the entire theatrical revenue.

And guess what? Even that isn't the most profitable sector for the studios. The most profitable sector for studios is............TV.

Here's the figures for 2004.


TV Sell Through - 17.7 Billion / 15.9 Billion

A gross profit of 90%. Un-fucking- heard off apart from prostitution.

But here's the kicker. If the writers Elliot and Rossio are on the WGA standard 1.5% of 20% of DVD sales, from that $100, 000000 , they'll be lucky to see a hundred grand apiece. [They will see more because their super smart agents will have negotiated built in bonus fees]

But still. Studio makes 66 Million. Writers make 200K. Mmmmmmmmm? Sound reasonable?

I've heard all the arguments that studios take the risk and that is why as a comparison to total film budget the writer's fee is almost miniscule. And to some extent that's a fair point. But here we're talking post risk. And the place where the writer could really be rewarded.

1.5% of 20% is piss ant money. Just my take on it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A World of Shed Shed Productions want to take over World Productions. Not the sound of something I like for a number of reasons.

As Dave Bishop points out, World are one of the few majors who actively encourage new writers. Okay they've had a few ratings hiccups recently with shows like Goldplated and Perfect Day, but they are also responsible for gems like This Life. The Cops, Cardiac Arrest, Sharman and Buried. Tony Garnet is very writer friendly and this is reflected by the producers who work there. Almost all of whom I've dealt with in one way shape or form over the years.

Shed.......well I don't know that much about them. I know they produce Footballers Wives, and Bad Girls and Waterloo Road. People obviously have their own opinions on those.

But the reason I don't know much about them is that I have never met them. The reason I've never met them is that my agents refuse to send them any original material or put writers forward for any of their shows. That doesn't sound too good does it?

They became cautious about doing it when some of their writers had nightmares working on Shed shows. To say Shed are 'hands on' is apparently an understatement. Think 'in house,page one re-write on your script . '

They flat out refused to have anything more to do with them when it came to light that Shed paid a writer HALF the PACT rate for an episode of Waterloo Road. Bear in mind that Ann McManus, one of the head honchos at SHED sits on the board of PACT? Perhaps the reason they didn't get their arses kicked from here to China.

Apparently the excuse was that the writer was desperate for a credit and volunteered to work for that money.

So WHAT???????? . That stinks no matter which way you try to cut it. Minimums are there for a reason. To stop writers lowballing each other and being exploited by companies who want scripts on the cheap because they know they'll re-write a lot of it themselves in house.

It devalues writing and writers. The writer who took that deal should be just as ashamed as Shed should be. And by the way, the chances are that particular begged for writing credit is pretty meaningless because most people in the business know exactly what went on and who was involved.

First meeting with another prodco - 'Oh you're the schmuck who took half fee just so you could get a credit'

Because make no mistake, a lot of prodco's are up in arms about this as well. Why should Shed get a commercial edge by ignoring PACT regulations when they all play by the book?

I understand that World are not yet commenting on the proposed take over. Hopefully the eventual comment will be a rousing Fuck Off!

Oh and before I forget. Shame on the BBC for passively endorsing that shoddy deal.


I've just heard from the horse's mouth that the report in Broadcast about Shed in talks with World is completely unfounded. Spitting feathers, no chance and never in a million years were mentioned.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Plagiarist...... a writer of plays.

Damn you Paramount Comedy. Damn you and your weekend of double Scrubs and Two and a Half Men.

I've wasted at least 8 hours on you.

Well....not really. I mean I did probably watch about 8 hours of it, but as a writer I believe nothing is wasted. Except sleep maybe, if it doesn't result in a fertile dream or an alert mind the following morning. I'm like a sponge. Lot's of stuff gets soaked up . Most of it seemingly useless. And a few droplets leak back out. Again, mostly useless.

But the more that gets soaked up the more chance one of those leaking droplets will be the gold nugget in the sand. The career starting script [or career continuing script, it's a hard game]

Here's how my weekend panned out. See what I did there?

Woke around Watched a re run of a God awful Jerry Springer type show because it fits something I'm developing. Fell asleep again. Woke about 7.a.m. Watched News 24 till Sponge Bob Square Pants came on. 9.30 to 10.30 thought about a recent idea because I need to nail both tone and format. 10.30 - 12.30 - Paramount comedy. 12.30 to 4pm took my son to lunch and shopping. I bounce ideas off him and disect various shows and films because he is a 14 year old fricking genius and we really enjoy that kind of thing. 4pm-6pm, sat and thought and made a few notes. 6 to 8pm Paramount Comedy. 8-9pm checked out a few of my favourite blogs. Rest of the evening TV. Match of the Day obviously.

Woke around 6.30.a.m. Watched News 24, Sponge Bob and Andrew Marr's programme. 10-12- Paramount Comedy. 12-4 pm. Lunch with my son followed by a long walk with him discussing TV and movies, the state of the world and whatever else came to mind. Including me embarrasing him by asking a passing stranger for the name of the TV hypnotist Paul something [McKenna, as it turns out] whom both of us had inexplicably forgotten his surname and it was driving us crazy. Thank you passing stranger whoever you were. 4.30 to -6.30 pm, bowling with friends. And now blogging.

Not exactly the kind of weekend to have you quiverring with excitement perhaps? But to me it was golden.

Because almost everything I did helped me with current projects. Though that was far from my intention when I did them.

Watching Paramount - Scrubs is fantastic for showing you how to hide the fact that the stories in each episode are almost entirely themed towards JD's monologue V.O at the end. Nothing is telegraphed so when JD ties it all up at the end you go 'Ahhh yes, of course' 2.5 men is great for making Charlie, who is a skirt chasing booze hound, a hugely empathetic and entertaining character. Both shows are spectacularly well written. You can't help but learn. And something I'm working on has to have that kind of vibe to it.

News 24, or any news is always a potential source of ideas. And keeps you grounded with what is going on in the world rather than just inside your head.

Sponge Bob Square Pants is just cool. Great storytelling on very different levels.

Spending time with my son is always the greatest pleasure because I love him dearly. But he is also as sharp as a tack in knowing what is 'lame' and doesn't hesitate to tell me. Even the long walk we took was useful because it was in quite possibly the 'whitest' part of London, and I'm working on something that involves subconcious racism.

And reading blogs? There are some extraordinarly smart pro writers and looking to break in writers out there. I'm computer illiterate so I don't have any of them listed on my blog, but I have at least 20 in my 'favourites'.

So when I let these influences soak in, am I copying? Cribbing? Stealing? Nope. I'm hoping that the water, hops and yeast that went in comes out as a beautiful glass of beer.

It's not plagiarism, it's trying to focus your experiences into something worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Innocence Project

So the BBC are taking the unusual step of pulling this show mid season? Was it really that bad? I have to admit I haven't seen it, for reasons I'll go into later.

On the face of it, it would seem to tick all the boxes. Young people thumbing their noses at the establishment. Miscarriages of justice overturned. Exec produced by the mighty Paul Abbot and made by his prodco 'Tightrope' What's not to like?

Now as I've said, not having seen it I don't know if it was good or bad so I can't comment on quality as an issue. But this show struggled to find and audience from day one. As far as I'm aware the figures have hovered around 3 million from the pilot onwards. So it seems to be a case of if you can't attract a big enough audience from the outset, unless word of mouth prevails pretty damn quickly, you're not going to attract an audience down the line. It seems not enough viewers were attracted in the first place.

Why is that? Okay, here's why I didn't tune in. Some of the reasons might seem a bit subjective, but they are my genuine reasons.

A] The show is based on 'The Innocence Project' running in several US universities where law students attempt to save innocent people from Death Row. That's right. DEATH ROW. As far as drama is concerned we are talking huge jeopardy and ticking clocks. As far as the UK is concerned it's nice when an innocent man gets released. But it ain't exactly heartstopping drama.

B] I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to care about the guy in prison. I don't know him. So unless we have a lot of him in prison and lots of interviews with our heroes then it's unlikely I'd get to know much about about him. So does the show concentrate on the investigative side? Don't know, Did't watch it. Didn't care enough about the goal.

C] I didn't like any of the trailers. A bunch of smug overacting newbies trying to make everything sound so terribly important.

D] I pitched almost exactly the same idea about 5 years ago except it was a human rights lawer trying to free Brits under sentence of death in various countries around the world. I was told it would be too expensive. See what you get for being cheap?

Okay so the last reason was schadenfreude, but the other three are really why I think it didn't attract substantial enough viewers. Because contrary to what seems to be the belief of some execs, the audience are not dumb.

A lot of them may not consciously think of reasons. But they can see a trailer and almost instantly decide yes or no. Probably because subconciously they've gone through similar thought processes [ though probably not the same reasons] as I did. They just don't have to think about the reasons. Why should they? That's our job.

Let's hope someone at the BBC is going through similar thought processes rather than pulling The Innocence Project only to replace it with more of the same.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Angry Indignation Dollar

Apropos of my last blog I've just come across this great post in Jim Henshaw's

Listen to the Bill Hick's rant. It's a hoot. Then read the post. Cutting and incisive.

And it kind of ties in with my 'Least Attentive Viewer' post. Because to marketing men [because they know no better] making a programme accessable to the least attentive viewer means a bigger audience so bigger bucks.

From the quality of programming at the networks, especially ITV of late I suspect the bigwigs are more about marketing than programming. Not realising that you can't polish a turd.

Perhaps Michael Grade will make a difference. He's a TV man through and through. I don't think, like the previous head of ITV, he'll be bleating about a loss in advertising revenue [which is linked to ratings by a formula]. Ratings are going down because you are making crap, dummy! Where's your next job mate? Manager of Charlton Athletic? Captain of the Titanic?

I'm sure Michael Grade will do a hell of a better job but if he is going to turn ITV around he needs to give a clear signal to network centre, prodcos and writers what kind of programming he is actually looking for.

I posted before about what they recently said they were looking for. Ground breaking talked about drama. Apart from the obvious 'isn't everyone', does anyone know what the hell that is? I mean really? Big budget? Low budget? Genres? Target audience? I could write about a man with a talking testicle. Or that thing with Martin Clunes about a testicle with a talking man. Same difference. But at least my talking testicle might get a laugh in between the mournful dirges, pointless stories, boring premises, and overwrought melodrama that the networks seem to be filling our screens with. And make no mistake. It is their fault. They give the signals to the prodcos and the prodcos respond and commission accordingly.

People having difficulties conceiving children? So what? A gang of postmen at a sorting office have a few problems? So what? A female bus driver has love life difficulties? So what? And on and on and on.

They talk about getting the 16-35 age group back to TV. Here's a few clues for you network bods and marketing men -

Keep soap in soap operas. If that age group wants to see soap they'll make an appointment at that time. Outside of that appointment they are not interested.

If you want that age group to commit to something, then give them something they want to commit to. Don't just throw shit at the wall and hope some of it sticks.

Make them want to watch with high concept ideas well trailed [high concept is not a dirty word by the way] and then deliver on the promise.

It ain't rocket science.

TV For The Least Attentive

I was watching an episode of Frazier recently, a programme I hugely enjoy. And one line at the end almost spoiled the whole programme for me.

The show was the one where Lillith's con-man brother [I forget his name so I'll call him Bob] arrives in Seattle in a wheelchair claiming he has been paralysed in an accident, has found God and is now a preacher.

Frazier spends most of the show as the only guy not taken in by him. Then after receiving a call from Bob's doctor[whom he has been trying to contact to disprove Bob's story] he has to come to the conclusion that Bob is telling the truth. Riddled with guilt he whips Bob's congregation into a giving frenzy and promises to match their donations.

In the final scene in Frazier's apartment Bob says his goodbyes and wheels himself out the door. Seconds later Frazier opens the door to see....the vacated wheelchair. He'd been conned.

Funny stuff. Almost ruined by one line. Just before he leaves, Bob says to Frazier ''And thanks for making your donation in cash, it's much easier to give to the poor'' or something similar.

And that spoiled it. Up 'til then the viewer had suspicions that it was a con. On that line the suspicion was confirmed. Before the climax. Bad, Bad, Bad.

Bear in mind the previous scene was all about the donations and Frazier coughing up. So

A ] Was there really any point in reminding the viewer of this a scene later?

B] Was there any need to structure the line so that it virtually gave the game away?

To me the answer is ''only if you believe the viewer has the intelligence and memory of a goldfish''

And that happens a lot on UK TV too. Audiences are spoon fed motivations and emotions and plot reminders. I suspect mostly at the behest of execs and editors more than writers. And to me that is both patronising and shows a lack of understanding of what will play rather than what is written.

A few years ago when on a show I objected to some exposition/explanation that my notes asked me to put in. I didn't think it was necessary or desirable. It went as far as the exec producer. Here's what he told me '' People are only watching the show with one eye while they are doing the ironing or putting the kids to bed, it helps to have reminders for them''
I didn't agree with it then and I still don't. Listen mate, if your show isn't engaging enough to hold someone's attention then you ain't making a very good show. In fact constantly repeating and spelling out plot points and motivations is more likely to turn more people into grazers rather than viewers.

Making TV geared mostly for the least attentive is like making pop records geared mostly towards 12 year old girls. Damaging for the industry in the long term.

And by the way, in that same episode of Frazier, he got Bob's doctor's number from directory enquiries and tried several times to phone him without success but left messages. Then he gets a call from the doctor confirming Bob's condition. Fair enough. So.....the call didn't come from the doctor but one of Bob's fellow con artists? The doctor was in on the con?

You know what? I don't care. It's not important. It played! Thank God they didn't feel the need to explain it to us. Though I suspect it probably was until some one with sense cut it out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Change Is As Good As A Rest

I'm been particularly fecund, ideas wise over the last few days. I mean ideas that have real promise not the six a week brain-farts or ones that might slip a sleeping producer by if you cross your fingers and write the crap out of a spec.

I mean honest to goodness cracking ideas.

I put it down to the fact that I've had some weird lurgie over the last three days. Aches and pains just about everywhere at different times. A constant headache, [which I never get] dizziness and a feeling that I'm walking with someone elses legs. It's like being drunk and hungover at the same time. Disconcerting as I haven't had a drink in a week. Maybe that's the problem?

Anyway, the result is that for the last three days I've been pretty much lying down and watching TV or going for long walks, both of which seem to alleviate the headache and pains. [the lying down more than the watching TV] What seems to make them worse is sitting at my computer. Which is what I tend to do for at least 8 hours a day. Mostly not writing.

So the conclusion I've come to is that by not putting pressure on myself to write my mind is free to wander where it will. I try to do that anyway as a rule, but usually while sitting at my computer.

Now, if I were even more paranoid I could begin to think the bastard laptop is posessed and is somehow draining energy and ideas from me for some satanic purpose. But I think I'll go with the 'putting myself under pressure' theory. For now.

The good news is that I'm not really a 'doctor' guy. I might make an appointment if my arm was hanging off or I suddenly went blind. Other than that I tend to believe my body will eventually take care of itself. So hopefully a few more days of feeling like crap but coming up with more good ideas. Woo Hoooooooooo!

Ow. Feeling pain again. Must go. Bloody computer.