Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reality Check

I'm confused. I came into the room and my son was watching some tosh about picking Joe Public off the street to play Joe and his Amazing thingy. I swiftly left. Twenty minutes later I came back in and heard them singing songs from Grease. And I didn't recognise the same judges. Obviously this is a novel twist on reality shows. Vote for the judges? I'm assuming that was what it was because it surely couldn't have been that the two major channels had virtually identically formatted reality shows on at the same time. Could they?

Oh dear. Of course who can blame the networks as long as those phone lines keep ringing and making the programmes self financing. A bit like those £1.80 phonecalls to GMTV competitions. Does no one realise that web voting is free?

Did anyone watch the C4 programme about 2 journalists starving themselves to death? What was it Hero to Zero or something? There was definitely a zero in it somewhere. Possibly the viewing figures. As an antidote I saw C4 trail a doc about a really fat guy standing outside MacDonalds with a sign saying I'm The Burger King. So at least no bias there as far as the weight issue is concerned.

Thank goodness the next season of Strictly Come Dancing on Castaway Idol on Ice will be back soon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Writing is like sex

A lot less fun when you're being paid for it and .......youth has the energy but age has the experience. Write what you know is a well worn adage but still true. And it stands to reason by the law of averages that an older person has ''lived'' more emotional situations that they can draw upon, even if just by dint of being longer on the planet.

You hear a lot that writing is a young persons game, and maybe that's true in some areas, ''yooof'' movies and TV maybe? But it is not a prejudice I've ever encountered. I have probably worked with upwards of 60 0r 70 writers on various shows and by far the vast majority were in their thirties and forties. In fact there were easily more at 55 than 25.

Probably the major reason for this is that it generally takes a long time to break in. So most are in their late twenties before they start to make any headway at all. I read the other day that one of the writers on the BBC Academy thingy is in her forties. And I'm not surprised. Personal experience brought to bear on a scene gives it that ring of emotional truth rather than hackneyed cliche or best guess.

So for all you oldies out there [like me] it is never too late. And remember there is always Viagara!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Get On The Bus, Jonathan

If you can get a hold of this book then buy it. It's a work of genius by Tony Mulholland. If you want to know what it's like to be a pro writer in the UK then this nails it. Essentially it is a series of ''fictitious'' emails from a writer to producers, agents, friends and lovers and it is hilarious , poingnent and absolutely true.

Ace producer friend gave it to me to read but it may be available on Amazon or

I'm not a shill by the way. I really did love this.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A refreshing change

Had lunch today with a producer and heard music to my ears. Not work unfortunately, not yet anyway, but her plans blew me away. I've known her for a few years and she is sharp as a tack and very writer supportive. In fact she's marrying one soon.

So she and hubby to be have set up a prodco with a view to - and here's the kicker - giving writers the benefits of having their own prodco but without the headaches of running one! Holy fucking Jesus. That's right. A say in casting, director, editing, and - a large chunk of the back end. She's also bringing a tough motherfucker agent on board to negotiate it into any deals.

She reckons the pyramid is inverted in the current system. Creatives should be at the top and production underneath supporting them. I have appealed for her Sainthood.

Will it work? Who knows? But I admire her bollocks. So much so I'm waiving any option fee. That kind of attitude needs all the support it can get.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I'm warming you!

If I see many more news stories or drama docs or movies on Global Warming I'm going to throw up. I'm sick of them. And judging by BBC 1's lowest ever Sunday ratings so are a lot of other people.

Not really the fault of the TV and Movie makers. The current fare was probably commissioned when it was the zeitgeist. Heck politicians were racing each other [usually by air or motorcade] to proclaim their green credentials.

But now it's getting to the stage where you watch the news and everything from coffee drinking to having a crap are somehow then linked to your 'carbon footprint' God I HATE that phrase.

I feel like I did with my ex-wife ' Pardon me for fucking breathing!'

Anyway, from now on, anything looking remotely like a green related programme will get no eye space chez ED. Not very PC admittedly. But PC is anathema to writers who want to challenge rather than report. Big up for Rowan Joffe for his upcoming Paedophile drama told from the point of view of the paedophile and to C4 for commissioning it. Don't know if it's good or not but I admire the bollocks.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Writers write

You know it is true. It is something inside you that forces it's way past domestic problems and professional problems and heck even the geo-political problems that you face in your daily life.

You have to write.

And that is your starting point. Then you have to learn the art. The bad news is that you will never stop learning the art. The good news is that you will never stop learning the art.

By the art, I simply mean what works. What blends together in character and story and pace and tone and action and dialogue to give that magical mixture that really comes alive on screen and holds an audience spellbound. Okay maybe not so simple. And nothing that can be worked out with a formula despite the contentions of the gurus.

Book learning is fine up to a certain point. It's how I started. It gives you the basics and that is a good thing. It means you have made the effort to present a script in a professional manner. But unless you have that inner drive to write no matter what, book learning is like the guy who studied Medicine because he thought doctors scored with hot nurses.

If it's not in you when you write , it won't be on the page when it's read.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's who you know.

Isn't it? I've worked on shows where a friend of a friend of the producer got a writing gig when there was a stack of great specs sitting on the desk. Wankers.

But here's the dirty little secret. if you want a career, it isn't who you know, it is what you write. Because all the 'important' people you know will come about because they love what you write. If you can't write worth a damn then you are soon found out. I worked on a show where the new exec producer brought her sister on as a writer. Handed her the Christmas ep as her first commission. It was a train wreck of a script. I know because I had to re-write it . Exec producer was sacked by that time. Who you know might get you an in. Staying in requires a lot more.

Networking is one of the most important aspects of this industry, but you can never forget that you have to back that up with product. If you are related to, sleeping with or have incriminating photos of producers then that might get you one shot. But to have an actual Gods honest career you have to build up contacts who know and trust you. That means showing them you have talent. And you can't fake that. No producer is going to hire you just because you are a nice guy. It helps. But if you don't perform you are out like K-fed or that C4 womens Sumo wrestling programme. What happened to that by the way? Anybody?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Neverending Story

Thought I would post a little about what it's like writing for episodic TV. I'd been told to expect notes on a draft all week. Today I was supposed to be having lunch with gorgeous blonde. Hopefully followed by rampant rumpy. But I got notes late last night with a deadline for 3 o'clock today.

The notes weren't good. They showed a complete lack of understanding of pace, tone and character motivation. Given the time constraints I blew off gorgeous blonde to get the script done, and handed in the best job I could out of the piece of crap I had been handed.

Half an hour later I get a call saying an entire story strand is being inserted over 12 eps. Two of which I have written and one of which is the one I've just delivered at 3 o'clock. Kinda makes you wonder why there was such a big rush to turn in that draft overnight?

Kinda makes me pissed off I blew gorgeous blonde off to do it.

But that is the nature of the beast. The schedule rules. A mate of mine and I worked out today that on a particular show we both write on there is about six weeks between commission and the script going into production. Fuck knows what production do for the next 3 months. But out of that six weeks the writers have about ten to twelve days of actual writing. The rest is waiting for notes.

And here's why. Very few people in this business understand writing. They understand timetables and schedules and deadlines and have career ladders to climb. That's a difficult thing to do when you have no discernable creative talent. But that it what you as a writer have to deal with. And I mean that seriously. I pray for the time when non arsey writers get together in a writers room and create magic. The BBC should be doing it now. ITV should have been doing it years ago.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

What's the big idea?

Not a bad day on the golf course. And as expected an idea popped into my head. Okay granted it had no relevence whatsoever to the brief I was supposed to be thinking about, but what the heck, I'll take it.

Because for me, good ideas are the hardest part of writing. I mean good ideas as opposed to the brain farts I get quite regularly that get me all excited for a few hours until the fatal flaw in the concept finally hits me. Because good ideas are about as rare as a bacon roll in Baghdad. And any writer who tells you they are constantly coming up with great ideas is either a liar or deluded.

Now comes the other hard part, translating that basic idea into a workable and fresh story, and even more importantly, one that I passionately want to write. I might get a couple of days or weeks in and then decide that passion isn't there. In which case I'll stop and move on to something else. It's a one night stand rather than marriage material. No passion going in means no passion on the page. And at the risk of setting off a semantic argument, to me, that passion translates into that elusive ''voice''.

And that voice can be the difference between that script moving up the chain and getting you attention and sales, or being an also ran. Think about the last time you saw something that was truly original, a one off mind blowing script concept. Pretty hard. Being John Malkovitch maybe?

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was essentially just a who dunnit. But the voice was clearly Shane Black and there were some neat touches. But wildly original? Not really. And if it was wildly original would have had difficulty in getting made. The mainstream film game, and TV to a large extent requires ''the same'' but ''different''. They don't want to scare an audience off with something they just don't get. There is way too much money involved.

Look at the latest big ITV commission. 50 eps of The Royal Today. Which is a spin off of The Royal, which is a spin off of Heartbeat. Not a whole heck of originality there. Holby Blue will be hitting the screens shortly which is a spin off from Holby which is a spin off from Casualty. Torchwood and Sara Jane are spin offs from Doctor Who. City Lights is a spin off from Northern Lights. The Green Green Grass is a spin off from ....... Christ, anytime now I expect to see The Adventures of Friar Tuck being bandied about as a possible series. Or how about Last of the Summer Wine - The Early Years? [Dammit I shouldn't have said that - get ready for Compo and Clegg with 50's quiffs and brothel creepers, perfect Sunday night viewing] And don't get me started on movie sequels and prequels.For a lot of execs familiarity breeds content.

So a good idea doesn't necessarily have to be something we have never seen anything like before, though kudos if you manage it. A buddy cop movie is always a buddy cop movie. But with originality in the actual writing and characterisation and a good dose of passion your script has a much greater chance of success.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


I've noticed a significant increase in traffic on this blog today. I don't recall talking about free sex, teenagers go wild or big n' bouncy so I'm presuming I've been linked to a much more popular site rather than it being random searches.

If so, my thanks and I hope that any new readers get something from it. And feel free to ask any questions.

Life without the boring bits

.........Is one of the best descriptions I've heard about soap. And say what you like, Corrie got a 50.2 share last night for the trial of Tracy Barlow.

A lot of writers turn their nose up at soap - or serial drama as the execs prefer to call it, soap paradoxically becoming a dirty word.

But the figures speak for themselves and while they do, any writer who slanders soap in front of a network exec is not likely to get a Christmas card.

And here's the truth - soap is damned hard to write! Think about it, it eats up story like like a machine. You have maybe thirty characters you have to know inside out, each one some viewers favourite, the time pressures are enormous, stories can change several times through the drafts, and the level of interference/collaboration by others is a constant challenge.

The best soaps pull it all together really well. Production needs versus creativity and the right balance of plot, story, humour and drama. And that's why they can get a 50.2 share. And it's damned hard work.

Without wishing to offend anyone's tastes I think Corrie is probably the most loved of the UK soaps because they most often get that balance right. And I think that is largely because the writing team on Corrie have a large degree of influence. For example I flicked over to an ep of EastEnders the other night. Five seconds in a teenage girl came out with a line that was so jarringly incongruous that I flicked away again. I don't actually believe a writer wrote that line. I think it had to be a script ed or producer. And from what I hear about the power of the writing team I don't think that would happen on Corrie.

And that is one of the main reasons why soap writing is hard. The characters are well known and have been loved/hated by the viewers sometimes over many years. One slip in characterisation and the viewer is scratching their head. They don't care if it was an overnight re-write because a story strand disappeared due to an actor being arrested for kiddie fiddling. You screwed up and ruined their night's viewing. Soap requires a combination of fleetness of foot and deftness of touch from everyone involved. Not an easy thing to do when you are on 4 or 5 nights a week.

And who are some of the biggest hitters on UK TV right now? Paul Abbot, Tony Jordan, Jimmy McGovern, Ashley Pharoh. All ex soap writers. It's not everyone's cup of tea but it's one heck of a training ground and introduction to the realities of TV.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Brief

So I've just been sent a brief for a series of single dramas. Basically briefs can be very prescriptive or very open in that stories have to be either be tailored to a specific theme or about whatever you want. Both have their problems.

A very prescriptive brief might be a turn off straight away because you have no affinity with the subject matter. A very open brief can leave you floundering as to tone and content.
This one is very open. It basically requires ''big ideas and themes'' - but looking at the budget, not all that big! I kid - big ideas and themes are not necessarily expensive - but it means my ''Moby Dick in Space'' is probably a non starter.

So I'm going to play golf. A lot of people will say that writing is more perspiration than inspiration. And that is true while you are in script. But while I'm trying to create something new I find time away from the computer much more productive than sitting staring at a blank screen. In fact some of my best ideas have come when I'm in the shower. Don't know why, it just happens that way.

I have a few days free so I'm just going to be idle and let the ideas come when they want to. [I should mention that none of my existing ideas quite fit this brief, otherwise they'd be going in pronto]

This way doesn't work for everyone, but it's what I've always done and don't feel the need to change. Actually I've done it once, for a police procedural set in Manchester. It was a rush job and I didn't have the luxury of time. So I sat down with pen and paper and forced out a story that involved Manchester's gay villiage. I thought it was pretty good, lots of twists and red herrings and sent it off thinking it was a shoe in. I was told it was too gay! Don't suppose they could really have put that in the brief!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Breaking in and staying in

There's been a lot of interesting chatter here recently, my thanks to those who participated. Here's the skinny on what it take to be a pro writer after you get your first gig.
You will work with people who neither understand drama or realise what it takes to write good drama. You will also work with people who do. They will be in the minority. But in order to continue working you have to satisfy both parties.

I'm working on a show right now where I have a baby script ed who has had no training and a producer who thinks tears and snotters = drama. So what do I do? Well, I argue the points to just before I lose my temper, always the best place to stop, and then when I'm faced with ''if you don't cut that scene we will''
Well, no I didn't. They can cut it but I won't. I've been in this game long enough to know what works and what doesn't. I know enough to know I'm dealing with people who don't really understand what they are doing.
And that is a major part of being a pro writer. Know which battles to pick. I will lose this battle. This draft. But I made my feelings known. I'll write the draft they want and it will be shit. Third draft they will realise it is shit. And I'll write a good 3rd draft. Annoying but par for the course.

You always have to remember that the way things are set up in the UK, producers and script eds can have no idea what the writing process is about. Unlike the writer rooms in other tv cultures for most producers here writing is another country.