Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bergman and Antonioni

Both dead in the same week? That saddens me. When I was a kid I thought they were the two most boring fuckers on the planet. When I was a teenager I could just about stand them if some hot brainy chick dragged me to the movies. Long as I got some heavy petting.

In my twenties I actually started really watching their movies.

In my thirties I understood them. Might not have liked them all but understood them.

Poets and masters, both. God speed.

The Sequel

Just musing here. Was Godfather Part 2 the first time Hollywood made a sequel as good or better than the original rather than being just being a cynical cash register opening exercise?

By sequal I mean a continuation rather than a series of movies with the same characters but in different and non connected situations.

I feel I've forgotten about something here but can't put my finger on it. Any help would be appreciated. I'm not talking about The Thin Man or Sherlock Holmes or Airport or Carry On films, or Bond, but more about the ''saga'' type sequal.

''Blockbuster'' films with numbers in the title seem to have started in the seventies. Damn near forty years ago. I'm racking my brains to come up with those that to me were equal to or surpassed the original, but there have been some.

I think Spiderman 2 was as good as the first. I think The Two Towers was actually better than the first. Scream 2 was pretty much just as good as the first. T2 was as good if not better than Terminator. Empire Strikes Back was as good as the first. Indiana Jones? Meh, patchy but worth seeing. Austin Powers? One movie too many but liked the first two for different reasons. Then I'm struggling.

Alien - Aliens and all that followed? Different genres. Can't compare them. Liked most of them but can't compare them to the original.

Rocky? Same story each time. A soap with fisticuffs.

Jaws? Don't get me started. Sequals to make you puke with the cheek of those making them. They give entertainment a bad name.

POTC went slightly downhill after the original but I think the original was one of the most perfectly constructed movies ever, so bettering it was not really on the cards. But who gives a shit. They still took squillions.

I started this post as I do most. Not really knowing what I was trying to say. But I think I'm trying to say that unless a sequal is as good or better than the original the audience will damn you to hell. One of the reasons you rarely see a writer of the original movie on a sequal or series of films.

Unless that writer has the clout to try to make it better. And that doesn't happen very often. LOTR and POTC apart. What does that say? Mmmmmmm don't know. Still musing.


If, on a movie script you get feedback saying it is Episodic then that isn't generally a good thing. In a couple of the scripts I've been sent that I've so far read I've noticed that trait in what were otherwise well written pieces.

In life things happen one after another. In movies they happen BECAUSE of each other. Call it narrative drive or story engine or whatever.

In these particular scripts there were scenes where X happened and characters reacted. Then Y happened and characters reacted. But X and Y weren't connected nor advanced the story individually.

No matter how well written these scenes were you were left wondering why they were actually in the script. Yes they perhaps gave more insight or flesh on the bones of a character. But good structure would have been to construct the scene so that if that was the intention then it came about in a scene that was a direct consequence of story and leads on to another consequence of the same story.

Of course some scripts are more Episodic than others by the nature of the piece. Kevin Smith movies tend to be Episodic more than story driven. But the scripts I'm talking about were action thrillers.

In this genre, pace is vital. Pace will be helped by a strong narrative drive. X leads to Y leads to Z.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hype and Glory?

In Media Guardian, Owen Gibson talks to TV writer, Tony Jordan.
Sometimes, says Jordan, you have to wait for the climate to change before a show can get made. "I was born for this era. I'm 50 next week, but I wish I was 25 again. Because I was born for this era of high-concept, bold ideas. The six ideas I pitched this week I would never have got made or even got through the door before," he enthuses.

Well I hope that's true. Okay I know a new prodco needs a steady earner, so I can see the sense in Red Planet pushing Holby Blue as a flagship show. And okay new soap Echo Beach as a back up. And new drama Moving Wallpaper, a show about behind the scenes on Echo Beach as ........ well I'm not really sure what that is. It's a bit like Aaron Sorkin doing a behind the scenes drama about the people making the behind the scenes drama of Studio 60. Out of the three I would perhaps count that as ''bold'' because I have absolutely no idea whether it will be a complete bomb or a hit. I have reservations but it will be down to execution in the end.

But serious congrats to Tony Jordan on his fecundity. Pitching six bold, high concept ideas in a week is pretty good going. If they are being seriously considered that must be good news for us all. I just hope they weren't Holby FireBrigade, Holby Postmen, Holby LateNight, Holby...........

I kid. Tony Jordan is a very savvy guy. We all know that bold high concept isn't exactly a recurring feature of current UK TV. So what he's really saying here is - the times they are a changing. Or - in coded message to execs - the times they better start a changing and you better start a listening.

Studio 60

I saw the first ep on more4 last night. And ....... I thought it was excellent. I know it has had mixed reviews in the States and has been cancelled or put on hiatus or whatever. But it will be required Thursday night viewing for me.

It seems to me that a lot of the negative reviews were to do with the qualityof the comedy routines performed on the 'live show'. There wasn't much of that in the opener anyway but I can't see that bothering me even if it does feature in later episodes. The show isn't about how to make a comedy sketch show in the same way that ER isn't about how to perform a liver transplant.

I think Aaron Sorkin was always on a hiding to nothing with the critics. How do you top The West Wing? And self referential tv with in- jokes and barbed criticisms biting the hand that feeds you makes some, I think, believe that Sorkin is getting too big for his boots. More power to him I say.

He set his stall out in the first five minutes with that brilliant homage to Network. Judd Hirsch's rant was painful, passionate and true. That was Sorkin shooting from the hip.

Dialogue was smart without being smart-alec. Story was a bit predictable but had to be really. The main thing is I want to spend time with these guys. And for me that is always the true test. I was slightly surprised to read it was only the 10th in the channels all time ratings list. That is unfortunate because it gives execs ammunition for that old chestnut that the audience aren't interested in seeing movies and TV about movies and TV.

And a special mention to Heroes, which helped BBC2 wipe the floor with BBC1.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Such a blast

.......... reading these scripts. I forgot how much I enjoyed script analysis and am getting quite a buzz. I've got about a weeks work ahead of me out of my three week window so if anyone else is interested please feel free to contact me on english.dave@hotmail.co.uk

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I've had some interesting sounding projects sent my way for reading, so thanks guys I'm really looking forward to it. Because in every case so far, even if it is just a title, I can tell it has an appealing concept.

And that is sooooooooooooo important. Because concept sells. Of course story and character are vital. But concept gets you read. And when you are starting out, getting read is the most important thing. Perhaps not so much when you are established, especially not in TV.

Here are two recent TV shows. Both 9pm one hour series. True Dare Kiss and Time of Your Life. Both written by established writers.

To me True Dare Kiss doesn't have much of a concept. It is a relationship drama pure and simple. It also managed just 2.8 mill viewers last episode. That may have nothing to do with the quality of the show and everything to do with the fact it has no 'attractor'' to make it required viewing. The ''attractor'' doesn't have to be concept. It can be a ''difference'' factor. Like ''This Life'' Not a huge concept but a show of its time. It was different from the standard fare yet hit a collective nerve for the time and place we were all at. That is down to good writing. Real writing. Because a writer should be ahead of the pack. Reflecting universal truths that resonate on a much deeper level than the obvious story.

Time of Your Life does have a strong concept. A woman wakes up after 18 years in a coma. But it got 4 mill viewers. Better than True Dare Kiss obviously but still the lowest figure for the series, and it was the final ep! My theory on that is that it is a strongish concept, but more for a movie or a one or two parter. Six hours is a heck of a stretch for the way that story was told and I think that's what the audience thought.

So concept isn't just about the idea. The concept has to fit the medium. In mainstream movies concept is king. Wedding Crashers, Forty Year Old Virgin, Liar Liar, etc etc. They do what they say on the tin. They are specifically designed to get the prospective audience saying 'hey that looks interesting' from a twenty second trailer. Interested enough to get off their arse on a wet Thursday night and shell out hard earned pesos.

It's been a while since I've seen anything on TV that gave me that reaction. And more and more in a competitive viewing world that is what I think TV has to do. In fact you are probably pretty sick of me saying that.

I rile against relationship dramas not because I have anything against them but because that seems to be the limit of the execs ambitions. John Yorke was at a seminar recently, with Debbie Horsefield [True Dare Kiss writer] sitting beside him. Someone from the floor asked what he was looking for drama wise. Yorkie beamed and said 'The next Debbie Horsefield' Okay given the normal luvviedom endemic in TV you can take that with a pinch of salt, but given the ratings figures that is maybe a statement that will come back to haunt him. No offence to Debbie Horsefield. A pro writer will tend to write what they think has a chance of being commissioned. If it seems relationship dramas are what the execs want then that is what they will write. To be perfectly honest I don't know of one pro writer who hasn't complained about the state of UK drama. The soap mentality seems to be riding roughshod over just about everything.

On the other hand, I had a twenty something year old dev exec recently tell me she was looking for emotionally truthful, contemporary, four quadrant drama with a USP. I just nodded. What else can you do? Other than say ''ummmmmm isn't everyone but do you actually know what that is and how difficult it is to find, and even if I had it what are the chances of anyone other than you and I thinking it has a chance of getting made in the current climate ?''

Oh and while I remember those of you who now know who I am? I'd appreciate some discretion. It's a small world and I want to be able to pour bile as I see fit! Thankyou.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Reading Services

I have a few weeks between projects and want to keep busy but quite frankly don't feel like writing a spec. It occurs to me that there aren't that many avenues a pre pro writer can go down to get solid professional evaluation, hints and tips on their work.

With nine years as a pro writer preceded by three years as a pro reader for the likes of Pathe, Momentum etc I think I'm in a position to give a pretty good opinion on both the technical and commercial aspects of a script and would like to assist those struggling for a toe hold. I remember what it was like.

I can't do it for free but don't want to make anything more than pocket money so I figure that £60 a script is not unreasonable for the time involved.

If anyone feels this might be useful then post an email addy and I'll get back to you. I have about 3 weeks and will work on a first come first served basis.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Sky's The Limit

I'm off for a week and don't want to even look at a computer so this is my last post for ...well....a week.

Sky 1's viewing figures have fallen by a third since last year. Can't say I'm surprised, for a number of reasons.

Yes they have shows like Lost and 24 ..........The Simpsons ....and.........Futerama reruns and ....I got nothing, mind's a blank.

Those are the only shows on Sky 1 that register with me in any way. 2 Drama shows nicked from the American networks and 2 cartoons.

They do have that Mile High thingy about cabin crew and that football thing whose name always escapes me. Both produced on half a shoestring by Hewland International. But I don't even know if they are still being commissioned such is my level of interest. When Fox cancelled Family Guy. Twice. I realised that quality was not their watchword. It wasn't even their wa.

To me, Rupert Murdoch is BSkyB. And I'm sure he doesn't give a shit that Sky1 ratings are plummeting so long as the platform he owns continues to grow. And it does. Overall ratings for non terrestial TV are about a third higher than terrestial. We are all watching paramount comedy and movies and Hallmark and yes I'll admit FX and of course, the jewel in the crown, Premier League football.

But without showcasing network shows Sky 1 sucks. Maybe they should rethink their strategy. No wait, didn't they do Hogfather? That was supposed to be good. Does anyone know?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bums on Seats

It is partly because due to a bug, that is where my bum currently is much of the time, and partly due to the fact I think I made some sense for a change that I'm taking a comment I made in the previous post and using that as the basis for this one.

''Typical UKTV concept - a family/couple/postalworkers/ hairdressers/ have some interpersonal difficulties.

Typical USA concept - A BattleStar/Serial Killer policeman/ mafia family have some interpersonal difficulties. Set against a background of Universal truth. It's in the hook.

Get people watching because of the hook, then keep them hooked with good story telling.

Simple, one would think.''

That was it. Given my normal hyperbole I think that is pretty fair comment by and large. I think UK TV is guilty of thinking it has a captive audience. Demonographers or whatever they call themselves will give execs reams of data about ABC1 viewers at 8pm and the execs will merrily set about continuing to attract that ever shrinking pot.

And lose sight of the fact that it is an ever shrinking pot because nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Most people no longer sit round the telly at night as a matter of course. We have to be drawn there. It is one of a number of different forms of entertainment, of which cable is included as a different form. The best TV from around the world [ok mostly USA] at the click of a button, unless you can't afford it, in which case the marketers aren't very interested in your views on Terrestial TV anyway.

This is a difficult time for UKTV but one of it's own making. Times change. The balance of programming has to change. My belief right now is that there is far too much writer/producer/exec mutual wank festing going on where we end up with a heap of cheapo relationship dramas bereft of any real reason why someone who didn't know said writer/producer/exec would actually sit down and watch it.

Give me a concept I dig. Execute it well. Then I might make an appointment. That's how you get bums on seats.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Meet Bill Martell

An open invitation to join Bill for a few beers tonight MONDAY 9th July.

7,30 pm outside Holborn Tube.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Father Figure Who Does Oral

Wow, this might be an NC 17 post. Or X rated as my generation calls it. Apologies to my writer mate who is nicking the line for a script lol, but my standard joke answer to ''what do women want'' also strikes me as a good, non gender orientated mode of behaviour for writers with regards to their relationship with producers.

A father figure is stable, balanced, circumspect, is willing to compromise and will do what is best for the good of the family/project.

He's also willing to give his missus a bit of pleasure just to make her feel good.

But sometimes the father figure has to say enough is enough. Kids are getting out of hand or his tongue gets cramp.

Knowing when to say enough is enough and actually being listened to depends on the gravitas you have built up and if you can actually enounciate ''enough'' with a tongue cramp.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A rant a day helps you work rest and.......retire

I rant because I am. It's what makes me who I am. I rant against the system in this blog. That is nothing compared to how much I rant against myself. That is what inspires me.

I don't analyse why I write. I write because I do. I despise the politics of TV and Film. Great entertainment generally gets made despite the infrastructure not because of it. My aged teeth help me live with it but not agree with it.

But I keep doing it. I am fit for nothing else. It is a compunction. I've earned a living for a good number of years as a writer. Most of what I've written is shit. Well paid shit but still shit. To someone trying to break in that sounds like manna from heaven.

But here is the downright truth. If you think breaking in is hard then try finding a current blog from a newbie poster in 3 years time. Breaking in is hard. Multiply it by a few factors to get what a career is.

That's not egoism on my part. I don't give a crap about ego. I know any writer is only as good as their last script. That's what I love about it. I know when my last script was crap. And I know it was obviously someone elses fault.


And I need that assuredness to make me a good writer.



Could be?

Ah hell, Popeye said it all. I ams what I ams.

Will the last viewer to leave please turn off the TV

So ITV has lost 5.4% of it's year on year audience in the first half of 2007. That doesn't sound a lot but it is brown pants time for the execs.

I can fully understand the decrease in viewers. Sure they've had some hits like X Factor and UK Has Talent or whatever it's called. But in the drama field? Can you think of any remotely stand out ITV series? Primeval maybe? Any of those 9pm one and two parters have any more resonance than a fart in a hurricane?

Where are the 'Life On Mars' and the Spooks and Hustles? The State of Plays and The State Within's? As for comedy, do they actually have a comedy department?

One of ITV's problems stems from the fact that producers have no idea what they are looking for. Network Centre held a meeting a few months back to try to give some indication. But producers and agents I have spoken to left the meeting more confused than before. The net result is ITV becomes the last port of call when pitching projects.

Blue Murder replaced the ailing Tycoon but faired little better with a miserable 2.4 million at 9pm. I think it deserves better figures than that but the 9pm ITV slot has become a ghost town with viewers and that is very hard to turn round.

Soap and Reality is what ITV is surviving on at the moment. The danger is it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

To Mars and beyond!

I see a lot of blog buzz about Red Planet's £5000 competition. On one hand I applaud any initiative that offers a way in to the biz. On the other I say to Tony Jordan make it £20,000 so I know it's not just a self publicity gimmick.

No pro writer gets out of bed for 5 grand. And so far if you are not one of Tony's EastEnders mates you have little chance of getting on his shows. That's understandable. And I accept that.

But I hate the crap that goes on on network TV. When a writer with power has a chance to make a difference - then make a difference for fuck's sake. I hope he does.

A summer dip

TV loses about a third of it's audience in the Summer months. Quite understandable really, who's going to stay in on a gorgeous summer night when a BBQ is beckoning. It's why the movie industry also uses the summer months to release all the arty crap they have on their books and save the blockbusters for February. Yoiks! It's also obviously the reason why the networks keep their real goodies for the cold dark winter months as we huddle round our parrafin heaters searching for escape.

Viewing hours per week peak at around 32 in the Winter and dip to around 22 in the Summer. That is a mighty whack and plays havoc with the commercial networks who rely on advertising revenue - linked to ratings. Maybe they should take a leaf out of the movie industry books? Maybe, rather than buying into a self fulfilling prophecy?

It is also the reason why year round shows like The Bill are so important, as is the networks ceaseless search for long running drama. The Holy Grail. Which is why Holby Blue has been given another chance despite not breaking into the top thirty.

But sometimes I think the BBC forgets it doesn't have the same ratings pressure as the commercial channels. Or rather they have a self imposed ratings pressure to prove who's got the biggest swinging dick. I read a quote by Tony Jordan saying Holby Blue was attempting to push back the boundaries of pre-watershed TV.

All credit to him. A creator should always be willing to go in to bat for his programme. And maybe that is what he is trying to do. But I think he has been saboutaged by the BBC doing what they do best. Hugely underestimating the audience.

The crass sacrificing of Holby City to a Thursday night slot pissed off a lot of Holby City fans. Holby is a non-brand, despite what the marketers might be saying. Very few people watching Holby City care that it is supposed to be a spin-off from Casualty.

I honestly think they would have been much better calling Holby Blue a generic cop name and having nothing to do with Holby. But in a land where the marketers seem to have ascendency over the creatives [pretty much all of showbusiness] I am pissing against the wind here. But hell, that's the writers lot.

Net result though - Holby City loses a million viewers overnight and Holby Blue doesn't appear on the top thirty radar.

The audience is not dumb. I am the fucking audience. You good people who are kind enough to read and post here are the fucking audience. I may not be smart but I can spot a phoney move when I see it. And resent it sufficiently to tune out. As many of you obviously have.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Jesus Joney Macaroni

True Dare Kiss ''won'' the ratings with 4.4 million at 9 pm.

There's a headline from Broadcast to chill the soul if ever I heard one.

Location Location Location got 4.8 million.

Enough already with the relationship dramas. WE DON'T GIVE A SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unless maybe it's about a chef buying a house.....abroad...... at an auction......against the clock.....and we vote on it.

TV drama nowadays has to be more than something I can see out my window any day of the week. Talk To Me, The Chase, Waterloo Road, mindless fucking pap. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for mindless fucking pap but only as part of a calorie controlled diet as they say. If that's all you eat you're heading for a stroke. And that's pretty much all that's on the menu it seems.

I watched an episode of ER this morning. It was fantastic. A real moral and ethical question at stake. Innovative writing and production. I caught two minutes of Casualty on Saturday. Nothing happened.

Perhaps I am part of the MTV generation with a short attention span. Or perhaps I am part of the generation not willing to accept space filling dross as entertainment?

I'm plumping for the latter.