Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The insanity of writing

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting Big Bill Martell in person, get to know him a little on his blog

His latest on 10 reasons not to be a screenwriter is, as usual, bang on the money.
Most writers write because they love to. That is both their curse and their saviour. Yes we can get dicked around by people who have less talent than Jordan. Yes, we can be looked upon as happless chicks who have to be pushed and prodded into being money making machines {for someone else usually} But we can write. And we love doing it. And we'll always have Paris. 'Nuff said.

The 'Business' can be depressing. Okay, soul destroying. Unless you keep it in your head at all times that you write because you are a writer. That's it. No more, no less. Success isn't so much about money or ratings as being proud of what you wrote. Hell, an episode of Casualty I scribed got 10 million viewers. Was I proud? Yes and no. Proud I survived a dickhead script editor [another writer refused to work with him] Proud that the episode was a great achievement in the art of drama and the reason I began writing? Not really. Okay not at all. It paid the bills and gave me another opportunity to excercise my writing muscles to the best of my ability. Do I want that to be a lasting reminder of my writing? Fuck no!

But I gave it my best. And that's what a writer does. Every time. Now, THAT I'm proud of. And in the world of pro writing that's the anchor in the storm.

Friday, May 23, 2008

3 is the new 6

Last night's main channel offerings in the 9pm slot - Midnight Man ITV and The Invisibles BBC, both attracted a shade over 3 million viewers.

Seriously. I kid you not. 3 million. Now, if I was a network exec I'd be crapping my pants at those figures. Maybe they are, But I don't really think so. Because I also just read that The Fixer has got a second series. Okay this show started strongly with 6 million viewers, but by the end of the run had dropped to .... guess what? Yep 3 million.

So why has it been recommissioned? Don't know really. Maybe because Kudos are major players and have about 15 shows in development for the networks right now, and ITV, still miles behind the BEEB in the drama stakes don't want to piss them off? Maybe like with the awful New Street Law a deal was done so there had to be two series? Maybe they really do have plans to make the second series ''bigger and better'' No idea. Unless 3 really is the new 6 and if that's the case then God help us.

I say that because the last bastion of the embattled Tv exec is 'market share'. It matters more to them what their share of the audience is rather than how big the overall TV audience is. Both the producers of Midnight Man and The Invisibles can claim that their shows had a 28% share or whatever. It's a bit like John Terry being happy that only 50% of his feet slipped when he took that penalty.
It's a dangerous mentality because it embodies the 'bald men fighting over a comb' scenario. Short term survival is more important than analysing why and doing something about the fact that the audience are staying away in droves.

I know why they are staying away in droves. It's because there are too many people in the Entertainment industry who know nothing about entertainment.
Simple as that. And as difficult.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ultimate Farce

I notice Ultimate Force returned to ITV on Sunday, helping it to it's lowest Sunday audience in two years, as noted in Broadcast. I didn't see it. And I only mention it for a couple of reasons.

I've only seen a couple of episodes of this. The concept seemed like my cup of tea. Nothing wrong with the concept. Concept is great. Took me two episodes to realise it didn't have the courage or the budget of it's convictions. And that Ross Kemp is much better at documentaries.

Watching Ultimate Force and The Unit back to back is like watching Casualty and E.R back to back. You feel you want to fast forward Casualty to make it keep up. Okay that was my impression given the limited episodes I saw. It may have changed and if anyone did see the new series maybe they could enlighten me?

It seems to me it's just another example where the money isn't on screen. And by that I mean not only the production values but the writing. pay the writers double and give them more time and that show could be really good.

I guess I'm a little ticked off because of a tale told to me recently. A friend was recently on location with Primeval. He was talking about how fantastic the catering was. 5 types of starters, 4 main courses, grapes, cheeses, you name it. Most of which was chucked away at the end of the day's shooting.
That might sound petty, of course people have to eat, but to me it is indicative of the state of the industry. That day's catering probably cost more than the writer was paid for the episode.

And that's where I feel TV is going wrong. Good writing takes time. Time costs money. Money spent prior to production is always money well spent. But it doesn't seem to me that the vast majority in this industry hold that view. 'Get it on, and get it on fast' seems to be the motto. Forgetting of course that the audience aren't stupid. They don't need stuffing and sprouts to spot a turkey.

Many people in the industry know how to produce a show. Few actually know how to make it entertaining. Or if they do they cow tow to the marketers and bureaucrats and dumb it down to the bland broth that passes for entertainment nowadays. Invalid food for an invalid industry. These people are the MRSA of entertainment. Killing the already sick patient. And it's full of them. The 'hold on to what we've got' mentality is not going to work. A director friend of a friend said that in 5 years, TV execs will be like bald men fighting over a comb.
Unless things change drastically, I think he's probably right.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More LA Stories

By popular request, and I mean request in the singular, thank you Jaded, another tale from the boulevard of broken dreams.

There are still some characters in Hollywood. Bob Kosberg is one of them. I first met him at a Pitch fest in the Hollywood Roosevelt. It was one of those that stank of desperation from the would be writer and a quick buck for the organisers, but I didn't know this. I was so green then that Carls Jnr could have stuck me in a bun and called me salad.

The guest role looked pretty juicy with some big name prodco's represented. I wasn't aware that mostly they were actually the relative prodco's assistant to the assistant's assistant. The Nodders of Wodehouse lore.

But Bob Kosberg was there in person. A legend in town as the super-salesman. He didn't really sell scripts, mind. He sold ideas. If you had a great idea, He could sell it. In fact even if your idea sucked farts from swans and he had a mind to he could probably sell that too.

The first thing I noticed about him was that he was a dead ringer for Ted Danson in his Cheers years. The second thing I noticed was he gave off a vibe of being a straight down the line guy. He said what he meant and meant what he said. A rarity in Tinsel Town.

He opened up his spiel by saying that if we had a good script or good idea he could sell it.
There's something to warm the old cockles as I grasped my page of log lines. But he then quickly added that if he did sell it we should be under no illusions. Our connection to the project would probably end then and there. No way would a studio trust a newbie to write a draft. The upside was that we could cry all the way to the bank with our 100k 'story by' fee and have a screen credit.

He told us how after years in Hollywood he was still struggling for his first 'producer' credit. The studios took the same line with him. Happy to buy his pitch, but no way were they going to trust him to produce the project. He got his first 'producer' credit by the following means:-

If you want this project I want to be the producer.

Studio Head
Bob, you don't know how to produce.

Ok, I'll settle for co-producer. I know how to co-.

And he got it. Chutzpah!

He once sold an idea called Meter Maids, a story about , well, traffic wardens. Here's how:-

It's called Meter Maids. Barbara Streisand and Goldie Hawn are giving out parking tickets when.....

Studio head

Anyway, if you have a high concept script or idea, check him out. He's one of the good guys.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Hollywood Years

I love P.G Wodehouse. I love all the Jeeves and Wooster stuff. I love his towering metaphors and similies. I love his easy style.
Most of all I like his rabid social comment disguised as comedy. Some of my favourite stories are from his time as a screenwriter in Hollywood. If you want to know what's it's like to be a writer then read 'The Old Reliable' or 'Laughing Gas' because although they were written decades ago, not much has changed.

His description of the nodder in a studio meeting. Two steps below the yes man. The nodder has to wait for the yes man and the assistant yes man to say yes. Then he can nod. Classic. A producer with the brevet rank of brother in law? Pure Wodehouse.
Read him. You'll like him.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Mighty de Fine

Seems to me the best writing defines an era or mood or zeitgeist, call it what you will. The best movies always do this, from Casablanca to Easy Rider to Wall Street . The best TV should hang its head in shame if it doesn't.
It set me thinking as to what defines the current era. It was a pretty depressing thunk. No talent eejits like Paris Hilton are lauded in the media. Someone flashes their tits on Big Brother and becomes a star? The BBC news gleefuly reports on the shennanagins of Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse?

Now I know that's always happened to some extent, since the days of Al Jolson, Twiggy, Simon Le Bon and the aforementioned [except Amy Winehouse has talent]. But now it seems like the only important thing is to be famous. The golden ring being held out for everyone is Warhol's famous for fifteen minutes. Fuck that! It's more like Orwell's 1984. Pop culture to keep the masses happy while they are screwed by those in control.

I'm not a political being but as a writer to me that defines this era. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What would Jesus do?

My thanks to Ben for this, which I missed.

and this

I pissed myself laughing.

It's not too hard to read between the lines.

Gotto love the 12 year old commissioning exec defending his alleged notes to Frank Deasy on The Passion, at the the cruxifiction scene ''is there enough at stake'. Untrue apparently. His defence is that the actual note was ''if the audience didn't know the story of Jesus would they know what was going on?'

You can only shake your head in wonder.