Wednesday, September 26, 2007

They fuck you up

'.... your prod and ed.
They may not mean to but they do.'

Apologies to P Larkin lol. Full poem below.

Philip Larkin - This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself

One of the most ironic poems of all time. Because everything a writer does should be a kid to them. Something that means the world to you. If it doesn't then get off the fucking bus.

The poem itself? meh. Love the first act.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who's inda house?

I've been thinking over the writer implications of ITV or rather Michael Grade's aim to take 75% or production in-house with a view to how it might affect commissions.

And the more I think about it, the less sure I am of the implications. Obviously there are potentially huge implications for indie prodcos, but the writer? I mean we the jobbing writer, not the 'A' list prodco owning ones. I'm not all that sure it affects us much at all.

Unless those at ITV productions are a bunch of twats in which case it definitely does. I've never really dealt directly with them, not the London ones, Manchester yes and they are great.

Okay the temptation will be to submit directly to ITV for an ITV skewed project rather than go to indies. Because the corporate world being what it is, aims become targets, and targets are the watchword of industry. There is a danger that you option a project to an indie, who take it to ITV and ITV say - sorry not interested in a co production - we're only running at 65% in house at the moment, I'm getting heat from above to get that up and my job is on the line.

That is a very viable scenario.

But I would still submit to the indies anyway, a calling card is always a calling card. If ITV and an indie want to slug it out over one of my projects then great. That can only be good for me. I might just not be so quick to take an option with an indie on an ITV skewed project, if I knew what that was, unless they really made it worth my while.

The down side is that there are some indies I'd like to work with, because I think they do good quality work and are writer friendly. The two often go hand in hand. ITV is an unknown quantity, and judging by their recent output they have a lot of people to convince.

The indies are bullish at the moment, saying this move won't really affect them. But they would wouldn't they? ITV in house production is currently running at 54%. It's a heck of a hike to 75% and a heck of a bite out of indie producers bottom line. Okay, that's just one network, but most of these indies are already barely scratching a living.

So will more ITV in-house production be a good or a bad thing for writers as far as commissioning is concerned?

I'm still not sure. I guess it depends who's inda house.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Life is sweet

I've just handed in the draft I was on deadline for. I've got a spec going that I really like. My bank account has been significantly bolstered this month. Gorgeous blonde phoned to arrange a steamy weekend and I've just cracked open a cold one mid-afternoon.

Does it get any better than this?

Pretty sweet. No wonder writing appeals to so many people.

Now before too many people say 'Fuck off you smug git' let me paint a slightly different picture.

I call it 'What the hell do I do now?' Oil on canvass. Note the brush strokes tinged with a hint of desperation. The artist is clearly staring into that singular inferno known as the valley of commissions.

In a nut shell, I have no idea where my next commission is coming from. That happens on a fairly regular basis. Okay thus far I've survived for 10 years or so, made a good living even, but is this the time when the work suddenly dries up? When those big cheques you were used to disappear leaving you with a mountain of commitment and a teaspoon full of cash?

It can happen. So, so easily. And perversely, it seems the longer you are in this game, the more you think about it. At least until you make the 'A' list where you can actually make 'fuck you' money.

I've heard would be writers say stuff like ''I want to write cos I hate my job and want to be my own boss''

Then seriously, I'd say write novels. That's possibly the nearest you'll get to it. Screenwriters always have bosses. The guys with the power and cash who dictate what gets made. Films and TV are incredibly more expensive than book publishing.

or ' I love the idea of working from home'

Ain't all it's cracked up to be. And I refer to ''I hate my job'' above.

This job, for the VAST majority of writers tends to be feast or famine. If you are someone who wants or needs a regular paycheque then you really should think about doing something else for a living.

Sweetness in life is all relative. Writing has it's great moments. But also involves a lot of self doubt, financial uncertainty and possibly a degree of insanity.

But after all that, what is actually foremost in my mind right now is a promised scenario involving gorgeous blonde and a couple of silk ties. Because to me, for a writer it's not about the money, or success, or fame [fame?] Though I'm not daft enough to crap on how to get there. Deep down, where it really matters, it's about taking the infinite experiences of life and trying to make some sense out of them.

Those may involve silk ties.

Or the death of a loved one.

Or a conversation on a bus.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shomebody Shtop Me

So I've been belting out a new spec without the aid of a safety net. No outline. Unusual for me, but great fun.
Now I have to take a step back. I know roughly where it's going but I'm not sure I've done the prep work in the first 40 pages to justify the proposed ending. Mostly from a tonal point of view.

I have a feeling I've been so interested in the characters I've lost sight of the goal. Maybe I haven't, but I think I need time away to decide.

Fortunately I'm being forced away by notes on a draft due for Friday. That and a weekend away will let it all filter through for a while.

I always try to listen to these instinctive doubts. Usually there is a reason, though perhaps not the reason I first thought. And sometimes it takes time for those to come to the fore.

All writers have doubts. Is this a piece of crap? Am I so into it I can't see the faults? This is compounded when you get feed back.

A mate of mine has what I think is a great spec he's just put out. It's an ensemble piece along the lines of Auf Weidersein Pet. Completely different subject matter, but in that vein.

He's had a couple of comments back along the lines of 'Who is the protagonist, who do we root for?

I guess there are three answers to that.

1. It's an ensemble piece. There is no protagonist.
2. Oh shit I need a protagonist.
3. The audience will have their favourites to root for depending on the story of the week.

It's odd that the writers having read the spec think it is great. They see it for what it is. The editors/producers who have read it so far, only 2 I hasten to add, had the protagonist comment.

Now if you were really paranoid you'd at this stage think 'hell, 100% of producer response is that I need to change this to have a main protag. Clearly they are all looking for 3 act structure, protag and antag.'

I know that is not what this project is about. So does the writer. But at what stage does the writer then try to reshape the project to fit the percieved market? Should they even try?

Well certainly not after 2 responses. And in my view only at all if it doesn't rip the heart out of the piece.

I had a meeting with a big independent. They wanted to do a project of mine providing I didn't have the same premise. Same characters but in a different work environment. I didn't do it. The characters were to me, the embodiment of the original premise. Taking them out of that environment would take the heart out as far as I was concerned. Sometimes you have to make those difficult choices.

'Love nothing' is an old pro writer's adage. Meaning don't get so attatched to something that you pass up a sale because you won't agree changes. But it's not quite as simple as that. You have to love what you do to make it work. The rest comes down to the state of your bank balance at the time.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What do they want?

I was chatting to a writer mate earlier and Michael Grade came up in conversation. I've stated previously that I have a lot of time for this bloke. A very media savvy guy.

He gave an interview recently, I believe it's on the ITV corporate site, where he said something like ''Over the last 5 years or so ITV has played it safe, and made some 'orrible programmes as a result.


He went on to say it's all about content and they have to take more risks.


Do I believe that ITV are going to become THE cutting edge risk taking channel? Not for a minute. The economics of advertising don't stack up for a megolith like ITV to take too many risks.

Do I believe they are going to be more approachable with more risky non-cop, Doc, Legal, Relationship drama. Absolutely.

Here's why. It's not because of words, it's because of deeds. I've heard the words many times.

But ITV recently announced that they plan to take 75% of production in house. The stated intent was so that they retained a greater share of ancilillary rights.

But there is another bonus in there too. Instead of having to commit to Indies for a series, if they make it in house, while that show is in production, or even pre-production, if it's not working they can pull the plug a lot quicker.

And that is a good thing. Too much of TV is underperforming, and should and would have been cancelled if it weren't for the ongoing contractual commitments. Witness the BBC gaff with 'New Street Law'' where they committed to 2 series without a shot being filmed. I think it scraped along at about 3 million. Piss poor for a prime time drama.

Leaving these programmes on screen, eeking out a meagre audience is bad for the general health of TV. Too many nights of tuning in and thinking'there's nothing on' means audiences tuning out in droves.

No writer worth their salt should complain if the show is zipped because the audience stay away. There may be many reasons why the audience stay away - The premise, the characters, the writing, the scheduling - some fixable, some not. But there is always a reason. Sometimes things just don't work, and much better for everyone if the death is swift rather than lingering. This move by ITV gives them that ability and the ability to take more risks with more control.

So what do they want? I haven't got a scooby. But I think it bodes well when deeds as well as words point to execs realising that content is the last word.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Best Laid Plans

One of the immutable truths of being a writer is that deadline is king. Obviously not for the writer, where story, character and theme get together and form a Government. But for the rest of the industry, especially TV, deadlines rule.

It is something you have to get used to. It doesn't matter that you waited two weeks for notes and get them at 8 o'clock on a Friday night when you were planning a weekend away. If they are shooting next week, then tough titty. Suck it up, find a way to get it done. And done well.

In UK TV there is no job more precarious than the writer. Even on soaps. Directors are hired for blocks of a series. Actors on fixed term contracts. Writers? With a few exceptions, those on guarantees, not many writers know where the next job is coming from. If the phone stops ringing that means you have no work.

So how do you break out of that cycle other than sleeping with the producer? Talent and perseverence. The same things that got you in to begin with. Other than sleeping with the producer of course.
A writing career and a careerist writer can be two very different things. I know a few writers who have done nothing but The Bill or Coronation Street for the last 10 years or more. That is a career. A very hard thing to do. Involving political skills, love of the show, adapatibility to new characters. A whole skill set in itself.

I know other writers who eschew serial drama and plough their own furrow. Some succesful some not. But that is a career too.

If all you want to do is to be paid to write then that is a careerist writer. If you want to write and still get paid for it, when it hits, then that is a writing career. Both are equally valid and equally difficult.

But the most important thing to remember is that after you have broken in, that is when the real hard work starts.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Law Of Cynics

Every pro reader of whatever persuasion with a blog will post that they open every script with a sense of optimism. Searching, ever searching for that blow me out the water script.

And they do.

But by page 5 they realise it is another heap of crap in an ever growing mountain of crappiness. You have got to understand how bad most scripts are before before you start blaming readers for losing interest after the first few pages.

You can whine about how you never got a chance and the second act was brilliant. But if the reader never got there then the second act brilliance is most likely in your own mind.
I generally don't have a lot of time for readers. I was one and I didn't know shit from shinola. Thought I did. Didn't.
Instinctively I knew a dud from a hit. And could waffle. Maybe the best attributes a reader can have. There are some excellent readers. Probably. I thought I was one. I was shit. Because though I could tell a dud from a hit, my advice to the companies and therefore writers, was deeply flawed and mired in my own ignorant preconceptions.

Good learning process though. I just hope out of the scripts I read at the time I haven't discouraged anyone.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Has anyone noticed the number of movie trailers recently showing scenes that aren't in the movie? It's a bit like those adverts for computer games with the small print at the bottom saying ''not actual gameplay'' So what is the frickin point????

The latest I noticed was in the trailer for ''Knocked Up'' In the trailer the girl tells the guy she is pregnant. He asks 'why are you here hitting on me then?''

I thought that was really funny. It isn't in the movie. They play it pretty much straight with a ''You're what??? moment.

I liked the movie, don't get me wrong. But surely that is false advertising.... or something? Still there may be an upside. Next time I see a trailer for a movie featuring a WWF wrestler they might not be in it.

Just to prove my geekiness, in an nice ironic twist did anyone recognise the cheerleader in Heroes as being the main cheerleader in Bring It On 3, All Or Nothing? Wait a minute...I recognised her on the cover, I didn't rent it, honestly! My son reliably informs me that in another ironic twist she also played an adopted daughter who found out her real mother was Ally McBeal. Obviously she has that perfect, adopted cheerleader look that casting directors hunger for.

On a tangent. I forgot I had something on TV this week. I was reminded when the tape arrived a day after broadcast. Having watched the tape I remember why I forgot the episode was on. It was an EEEEK nightmare of a script and to some extent that was reflected in the episode. They happen for a number of reasons. And they will happen. When they do - bury them. Forget about them. You know the reasons and learn from them. Move on. Like scandal, they are yesterday's fish and chip wrappers.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A newbie writer

There are different kinds of newbie writer. And believe me, I don't use newbie in a perjorative sense. Because I know many ''newbie'' writers have much more talent than some of the old hacks dotting about. Myself very much included.

But back to the different kinds of newbie. There are those with talent and business savvy. There are those with raw talent and no business savvy, there are those with business savvy but not so much talent, and there are those with no talent. There are a few more catagories but that about covers it.

Here's one of the junk mails I recently received.

Bill & Exchange ManagerMR SALAM YUSUF & DR AHMED KARIMAUDITING AND ACCOUNTING OFFICER. FOREIGN REMITTANCE DEPT. (BIB) BANK OF AFRICAN OUAGADOUGOU BURKINA FASO. My private telephone number 00226-70-39-86-89 My private email ( ) All the pleasure is for me to write this message to you in order to request your invaluable partnership for the realization of a very important business which must be treated in greatest discretion. I consequently ask you to take note, without you to astonish by the choice which I carry on your person by seizing this happy opportunity to make contact of you. I ask you from the start to excuse yourselves for all the nuisances which my mail could have caused you. But same if we do not know each other personally and that we never meet, I believe firmly that a true confidence can be born from our communication and this support a true partnership between you and me. I am officer in-charge of auditing and accounting in bank of Africa in the foreign remittance department here in Burkina Faso, I have be working in this banking institution for more than 11years. The late customer MR ANDREAS SCHRAMMER was appointed ambassador to New York in 1993 to 1999; and a Minister for businesses and foreign affair in its country. He was a member influencing in the mediation of the relations between the United States and Iraq in the years 1980. It found death on Friday July 5, 2003 at New York in the centre commemorative of cancer of Sloan-Kettering of the continuation of a crisis cardiac. During my investigation in the bank I discover that the deceased customer deposited the sum of $49,850,000 dollar (forty nine million eight hundred an fifty thousand dollars) And I notice in the file that during the deposition of this money with the bank he did not indicate is true next of kin to the board of directors in is paper work with the bank of Africa, after all intensive routing investigation I find out that no body have ever come to put claim for the released of this money. It is upon this I am now seizing the privilege and opportunity to contact you as to apply to the bank as a relative to the deceased customer. As a foreign partner which this money will be transfer into you account, you are entitle to 40% of the total money why 55% will be for me as the moderator of this transaction and 5% is been mapped out for measeallanouse expenditure that may be incur during the course of this transaction. I will urge you to go through this proposal properly and let me know if you are willing to accord me this assistance for us to achieved this golden opportunity for the betterment of our life, I also want to let you know that this transaction is 100% risk free there is nothing for you to be afraid off, all loophole have been properly taking care before contacting you. Anxiously waiting for your prompt response ro your call TEL 00226 -70-39-86-89 . My private email ( )Thanks and God bless .Bill & Exchange ManagerMR SALAM YUSUF & DR AHMED KARIM

This guy is a newbie in the worst possible way. Everything he writes shows an incredible lack of understanding of motivation and story and scene building. He has one hook. Which is if you are really stupid your greed will make you respond. He may hit on some Alzheimers sufferers and make a few bucks. But long term? As a career? Nah. Opportunists make a quick buck, careerists care about what they do.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Why We Care

Some shows we care about, some we don't. It's a subjective decision. But here are some of the shows I care about and why. And it's all to do with character.


Love Hiro. Love Peter Petrelli. Love the cop who I can never remember the name of but reads minds. Love Mohindher. Kinda okay with the cheerleader because of her backstory. Only interested in the black dude who walks through walls and the blond with the split personality because of the kid. Lots of dramatic tension with him. The rest, meh not so much. Isaac well I can tell he dies. He jumped the shark when he took the drugs again. Peter's brother? Don't give a monkey's. Four loves and an okay? I'll watch.

Studio 60

My heart laid bare with much more talent. Okay so it's an in joke series but it works for me. Honest characters saying honest things about network tv. Why do you think it was cancelled?

Everybody Loves Raymond

A flawed central character who reflects the flaws in us all. As said in 'Knocked Up'' This show is about real life without the one liners and everyone still hates each other.

Two And A Half Men

Charlie Sheen is the Joey of Friends without having to do Joey. He's got big issues. But rather than sit down, gaze at his navel and analyse them he lives the dream in a largely unrepentent fashion. The male fantasy.

I love those characters and that's why I watch.

Some people might sniff derisively at my choices. Some people might sniff at yours.

Sniffing is good. If no one sniffs then you are in trouble.

Pavarotti RIP

Sad news. Though I must confess I've never been to an Opera in my life. Having thought about it that's not quite true. I was actually in one! I was sixteen or seventeen and a touring Opera company arrived to put on productions in schools using any pupils who didn't set dogs howling when they warbled.

I think I played a Pearl Fisherman and doubled up as one of the ten pairs of legs in a dragon costume. Where I grew up the only things to do were fishing, fucking and drinking, and in the winter there was no fishing. So, of course 4 or 5 of us did what any shanghied teenager expected to make a twat of themselves on stage in front of their peers would do. Went on a pre-show pub crawl of all the hostelries in town known to serve underage drinkers. You know the ones. Where a gin and tonic is classed as a cocktail.

My abiding memory is that Big Richard, who was the head of the dragon, might have been large in stature but was not reknowned for his ability to hold his ale. The resulting drunken weavings meaning the lead tenor having to sing while frantically dodging a kamikaze dragon intent on putting us all out of our misery. Happy days!

As the years went by I learned to appreciate it more. Okay, I admit, Nessun Dorma was the lead in. And yes I bought The Three Tenors. Though I still think they should have called it 30 quid.

And yes, I only discovered arias. I like all killer, no filler! And that is a regret.

But my biggest regret is that I will never get the chance to see Pavorotti perform in a full blown operatic production. I don't know enough to know if he was the greatest tenor of our times, but those who do say so. They talk about his amazing vocal power and range and stage presence.

Now THAT'S entertainment no matter what the medium. You know what? Before the year is out I'm going to the Opera. My own personal tribute to an immense talent. I may really enjoy it. And if he has that effect on a lot of people then what better legacy?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Why Do You Write?

This is a perennial of the message boards. It is also one of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself.

From a male perspective?

To get laid? Nope, ain't going to happen. You're in a Nightclub and say you are a writer? Blank stares. Most people don't know what writers are or do. Actresses will zero in on the director or male lead, not you.

Because I like doing it as a hobby? Good luck with that. It will remain a hobby.

Because I need to? Yep.

From a male perspective, where constant rejection is not looked upon with great affection, where else is there an industry where emotion plays a key part and where so many intelligent males strive to make a go of it? Ballet dancing aside.

The ''Need'' is the key to why you keep doing it. If you can temper that need and talent with commercial realities the chances are you can become an 'A' lister.

To reach those dizzy heights you have the great opportunity to listen to the writing ''STARS' who actually post. Like John August or Terry Rossio or John Rogers and many others. Listen to people who are not yet household names but are a suit saying yes away from being so like Will Dixon, or Bill Martell or Dennis McGrath or Jane Espenson and many others. People who know what they are talking about. They've been in the trenches. Their advice is far more valuable than the latest guru with not much in the way of credits. And their advice wouldn't have been available before the advent of blogging. Get down on your knees and thank whatever deity you believe in for the internet. I do.

Write because you need to. But recognise not everyone wants to hear what you have to say. And that's okay.

And that brings us to the female

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I set up a hotmail account a few weeks ago. I'd heard all the horror stories of pages of spam and junk arriving, but my inbox has so far remained largely untroubled. Strange, I thought. Then I noticed my junk box had about 40 entries. None of which I'd put there.

I investigated and - Great news! I'm going to be a millionaire many times over. A large number of people, mainly of West African origin, want to transfer millions of pounds to my bank account. The web is indeed a truly wonderful thing.

Yay to hotmail for apparently having a very good junk filter.

It occurs to me what a great thing that would be in a writer's brain. I go through a fairly rigorous process before I start writing. I mull the idea over, time and time again. Has it got legs? Do I love the premise? Do the characters speak to me? If it keeps saying yes, then I write it.

So how come I've got 3 half completed specs in the last 18 months or so, that I have no appetite for finishing?

Junk filter failure. It happens. You get into it and realise that deep down the idea was really just a brain fart, or from hunger, or trying to fill a brief. And you don't really, deep down in your heart of hearts CARE about it.

When I first started out I would have finished those specs and sent them out. Heck. I'd invested time and energy into them. This is a numbers game, and even if I'm not that happy with the final outcome, someone out there might like it. Getting material OUT THERE was the important thing.


That attitude won't help you break in, and it certainly won't help you stay in.

Getting as many GOOD SPECS out there as you can is the key. It is a numbers game, but not on your side. Quality counts way above volume. Don't be afraid to abandon work. If after due consideration and taking into account the normal paranoid 'is this any good?' that all writers go through, if your inner writer core is telling you it is crap, then it is. Maybe in six months or six years you will have a revelation that tells you how to make the spec work and you can always go back to it.

But never finish and send out a spec just because you started it. Finish it and send it out because the love is still there. Not the teenage lust, but the mature love despite the struggles.

And a good junk filter helps.