Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ah, how pleasant it is... be at that stage of a project just after completing the first draft, but before one's agent has sent it back with comments like 'Why did you think p.27 was a good idea YOU R-TARD!?' and 'Did you forget to send me the ending?' and 'Dude, forget what I told you, hip-hop space operas about giant robots are SO out now, ABORT ABORT!'

What happened was, in September I met Agent Matt for a lovely dinner where he said he'd quite like to have a new screenplay to send out to people, and I agreed this would be nice, and then realised he meant from me. And he went on to say he wouldn't normally suggest to a lot of his clients that they tootle off and write a new screenplay on spec, but he knew it wouldn't necessarily take me that long.

This is because the mistake I'd made was in once telling Agent Matt about writing my first screenplay over a bank holiday weekend, because I'd read that Sly Stallone had written Rocky over three days, and decided this sounded like something that could fit into my busy schedule of a) sighing a lot and b re-reading old role-playing game rules systems. In fact I later found out Sly had written Rocky over the space of an entire week, looooooser, but it was too late, I'd written HERO TRIP by then, which got picked up by the Film Council for development which meant actual money, woo. And then floated off into limbo, cuh, but never mind, I'd been paid.

(Agent Matt occasionally reminds me that the end objective is to get my scripts acted out by actors and put up on a television or cinema screen at some point, but to be honest I regard this as a lofty and near-unattainable ideal that would only come to annoy me, because the FX wouldn't be as good as they were in my head, and I wouldn't be allowed to do all the voices).

But anyway, after I'd swept off all the crockery off the table and shouted 'HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST I AM ANYTHING OTHER THAN AN ARTISAN-TYPE-STYLE CRAFTSMAN WHO MUST SPEND DECADES ON HIS CRAFT HONING BUT A SOLITARY PERFECT BON MOT GOOD DAY TO YOU SIR, I SAID GOOD DAY! I remembered I'd already had an idea for a horror film, that starts off like a J-Horror type film, all ghosts of girls with long hair looking spooky, but then the story turns into something else instead, and I'd already done a ten-page outline, so I thought, cuh, if I do like two pages a day, I'll have it finished by the end of November. Which is what happened, and no-one was more surprised than me.

And in the meantime, me and Patroclus have co-written a pilot sitcom about two blokes who try to start their own software company, of which I am enormously proud.

The good thing is, these are both from outlines I had already sent out, to people who looked at them and said, but I can't see how that would work exactly, so now I can plop the spec scripts on their desks and say 'LIKE THIS, FUCKOES!' although I probably won't use exactly those words after what is now referred to by Agent Matt solely as 'The Incident'.

So, erm, yes. If you've been thinking 'cuh, if I write just two pages of script a day (and remember that scripts are mostly white space, so it's not even like proper writing) I'll have my screenplay finished in three months without feeling like it was a massive amount of effort, and might even have to keep opening the file on the laptop to look at it in a surprised sort of way because it feels like someone else wrote it and sent it to me as a present', you would be absolutely correct.

Eventually of course, I'll start to get what is know as 'feedback' on said scripts, which will make me say things like 'yes, but', and 'WELL YOU CLEARLY DON'T GET IT THEN', and so on, but at the moment it's just a nice glowy feeling, because like most writers, I actually find the actual writing thing a bit tedious, but the feeling of having written is a very special and glowy feeling indeed. Woo.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Just had an email from Aardman:

"Hi James,
Hope all is well with you. Just to let you know we’ve finally finished your Shaun episode (playfully re-titled Frantic Romantic) and this will be going out on BBC1 at 4.20 on Tues 11 Dec, with a repeat the next day at 4.25 (plus it’ll be on BBC iplayer for a week)."


UPDATE: hmm, an independent observer (Richard) has pointed out that the 11th December is a Friday, not a Tues. AARDMAN IS MESSING WITH TIME ITSELF. I shall investigate.

I have investigated. According to Wikipedia:

"Frantic Romantic" 11 December 2009
The Farmer trying to impress his new date by cooking a romantic dinner. Unfortunately, the Farmer can't cook and Bitzer is a useless maitre d'. Can Shaun and the flock save the day when they take over the catering behind the scenes?[1]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Product Placement: More Ways To Sell Sugar To Kids

I've already nailed my colours to the mast about product placement in television (I'm against it) In fact, since I wrote that post, I've found even more reasons to be against it, not least that it's all too easy for production companies to take this 'extra' cash (which isn't necessarily extra cash at all) and... fork it over to the shareholders/executives, leaving production budgets even worse off than they were before.

But here's another reason to feel really quite uncomfortable about it.

The Childrens' Food Campaign want to improve young people’s health and well-being through better food – and food teaching – in schools and by protecting children from junk food marketing. They are supported by over 300 organisations and 12,000 members of the public, and have this to say:

"The Children’s Food Campaign is not alone in being alarmed by the recent announcement by Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Ben Bradshaw to lift the ban on product placement on British made TV shows . If this ban is reversed the result could be junk food brands appearing in programmes popular with children such as Britain’s Got Talent and Coronation Street."

So not only are loosened restrictions on product placement being aggressively pushed ahead to enrich a few people at the expense of, well, pretty much everyone else who works in, or watches television, it's also yet another means by which large corporations can peddle their deeply unhealthy wares to children.

Childrens' health is just one aspect of this deeply worrying proposal to lift the strict limitations on product placement, but an incredibly important one, and there's only eight weeks to act, so please consider taking a moment to register your objections here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

50 Worst Videogame Voice Acting Moments

This is truly astonishing stuff. I don't normally get the 'so bad it's good' thing, but after this, I'm wavering...

I want to quote them, but you really need to hear each for yourself. I do think whoever did the main voice for the first Assassin's Creed should have got in there though.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Q&A with BBC Drama script editor Joe Donaldson

I’ve been working with BBC script editor Joseph Donaldson for four or five years now, starting with my teen drama project ‘ROCK’, which sort-of-morphed into a Cornish-set crime drama series called ‘BANDIT COUNTRY’, the outline and series bible for which have just gone off to important BBC people to see if they fancy commissioning a pilot script.

Not many people know how drama script editors work (and script editing is even murkier in comedy, which get brought up below), so I thought I’d get him to do a bit of a Q&A for the blog (click on the 'sort of interviews' tag at the bottom of the post if you want to read the other ones, although I'm SURE I don't have to tell you how these things work. But just in case).

Here ‘tis:

Joe, how would you describe your job to someone who has no idea how the television industry works?

I help writers to produce the best script they can by providing them with advice and constructive criticism on their work at every stage of the writing process. I also act as a filter for the feedback which comes from the producers, executives, and commissioners, all of whom are very important and have different thoughts on what the writer is doing right and wrong – their notes must be taken into account but can be quite blunt and sometimes contradictory so it helps to have someone to collate and translate and them for the writer.

What shows have you worked on?

I worked on the first two series of Lark Rise to Candleford and on Survivors, for which we have just finished the second series. I’m also working on lots of projects in various stages of development.

The title of 'Script Editor' tends to suggest someone who comes in at the end of the process - but that's not exactly the case, is it? How do you edit a script that hasn't been written yet?

No, most shows in our department will have a script editor assigned as early as possible, usually when the idea is first being discussed.

Editing script that doesn’t exist: this can happen in two ways.

If you’re working on an existing show then you already know the characters well and should understand the sorts of stories that work best for that show and which are best avoided for whatever reason. Therefore I can talk to writers before there is a script about what direction they would like the show to go in, episode ideas, potential new characters, etc.

With a new idea, my job is to talk to writers who have a story to tell and as well as giving them the usual constructive feedback, I’ll help them figure out things they may not have considered. This might be the length and number of episodes, which channel it might go on, how much it will cost, who they might cast, what the tone of the show will be (eg serious, funny, gritty, camp, etc). Thinking about all these things informs the way the idea develops and really helps us to pitch the show to the right people in a way that gives it the best chance of getting commissioned.

What are the classic mistakes first-time writers tend to make? Or come to that, what are the classic mistakes more experienced writers tend to make?

I find the worst scripts from first-time writers read like they have just taken one long rant, about something they are clearly passionate about, and divided it between Person A and Person B without giving any consideration to who the characters are what story they are trying to tell. That shows a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of drama.

Usually a new writer will have natural ability in writing either characters, stories, or dialogue. If they are lucky they might have a knack for two out of three. If they’ve got all three then they don’t really need my advice. A first-time writer will do the things he/she is good at well, but their script may be let down because they don’t understand the other elements. If they are given good advice they can improve on their weaknesses which will allow their natural abilities to shine.

I’ve found that writers who have been doing it longer are more aware of their key strengths and confident in their ability, they are therefore comfortable discussing their weaknesses and accepting help.

How did you start out as a script editor?

I was a runner in the BBC Drama department, which meant I kept a contestant supply of tea flowing and trekked back and forth from reception collecting guests. In my spare time I read scripts for projects in the department and wrote script reports on spec. I was lucky enough to have bosses that would read them and give me advice, and ultimately promote me.

Is there a recognized career path for script editors? Do they tend to stay in the same job but work on bigger and bigger shows? Or can it be a gateway to a production role?

Some do it long term and become highly experienced and sought after. Some become producers as the job does allow you to learn a bit about that production because so many elements of program-making are connected to the script. Some will take more senior roles in development, looking after drama slates in BBC departments or independent production companies.

Do many Script Editors have any interest in writing themselves?

I think plenty of them do, yes.

Do only the BBC employ script editors? How does it work outside of the Big British Castle?

All dramas in Britain have script editors as far as I know, different genres may work differently. Do they have them in comedy James?

(Quick interruption by me: there are a lot of credited ‘script editors’ in comedy, but it’s a much looser term. It can mean someone ‘polishing’ the script by chucking a couple of extra jokes in, or pulling apart and rewriting a script altogether. Big names can be brought in to give a script a once-over as a way of getting their name on the credits too, although it’s very hard to quantify exactly what work they did. So it can range from an equivalent to ‘additional material by’ to ‘executive producer’, which makes it practically meaningless, to be honest.)

I know they don’t have them in the US because they usually have a writer’s room and therefore the editing is done by other writers and producers in big group discussions – that’s my understanding anyway.

How many shows are you working on at any one time?

Between five and ten. Usually one big one that is greenlit and will definitely be made or is being made, and several others at different stages of development.

How do you see your role in relation to the writer? And do you have pretty much the same sort of relationship with each writer, or is it different with each one?

The script editor is the person who works most closely with the writer on a production and has probably read the script more times than anyone else, this can often give us the clearest picture of what the writer is trying to achieve and what they are capable of. I try to be an ally to the writer throughout the script developing process, which can get pretty brutal the closer you get to filming when budgets, bad weather, and a million other unforeseen things can force you rewrite the whole script at a moments notice.

Relationships vary quite a bit. I hope that every writer I work with has enough respect for my judgement that they can rely on me for useful feedback on their progress, but that respect has to be earned and it is hard to work well together without it. Then it depends on the personality of the writer. Some find lots of discussion fruitful and like to have their ideas constantly challenged, some are very self-sufficient and I won’t hear from them until they deliver a new draft, some will pick up the phone whenever they are at a fork in the road or if they’ve got a risky idea they are thinking of using in the script and they want to quickly bounce it off someone to check they’re not crazy before committing to it fully. Every writer has a slightly different process and as long as the standard of their work is good then I’m usually flexible about how we work.

How does it work with a really experienced writer, like Andrew Davies- does he get assigned a script editor, or is he left to get on with it?

They all need an editor no matter how experienced. The more experienced writers will often deliver a more complete first draft and may have nailed it by the third draft but they still need someone with a different perspective to tell them where the script could be improved.

What are the warning signs that a project is going to need some serious hands-on time?

I was taught to always do my first read without a red pen in my hand, so that you are just absorbing the work at first without analysing it too much. On that first read I’ll know in my gut if something is wrong, either because I can’t follow the story, or I don’t believe the characters, or I’m just left cold by the script. If you really struggle with the first read for whatever reason then you know there is work to do. I’ll then read it several times over and start making notes on what I think the problem are – if I’ve scribbled on every page then it probably means a lot of work for me and ten times more for the writer.

What are the fun bits of the job?

Reading a first draft of anything is fun because an idea only has so much life as an outline, it is always exciting to see the characters and the world expanded. Then seeing the first footage is always thrilling because the people and the places that you have been sitting in a room chatting about for years are suddenly real. That’s a cheesy answer. My real favourite thing is seeing which actress is cast in the ‘sexy young blonde’ role and then nervously shaking that actresses hand at the read-though.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Anyone hasn't seen the first episode should go over to iPlayer now, because Miranda Hart's new sitcom 'Miranda' is a thing of complete loveliness.

Miranda Ep.1 - 'Date'

It's also a smashing old-fashioned sitcom of the kind I didn't think they made any more - and frankly the sort of stuff that normally gets done really badly - lots of looks to camera, laughter track, bits shot outside - and yet it works really well, possibly because there's a lot of sharpness amongst the cosiness that stops it nudging into something like 'My Family'. Also lots of proper pratfulls, which are a hard thing to do well. I've never even tried.

Miranda wrote the thing herself, as well, so kudos all over the shop, frankly.

PS: I was trying to find her 'I've got a castle' bit from Smack The Pony, but can only find one that's, er less appropriate. Still, here's the (NSFW) video:

'Miranda' is on BBC Two, 8:30pm Mondays.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

No Signal

Just in case anyone tries to get me on the mobile this week, it's switched off, because there practically no reception in this part of the Highlands. Which did lead to this slightly frustrating answerphone message:

PHONE: Hello, this is (static) from BBC Drama, (static) to say that (static) commission! So that's good! Let's (static) and then- (phone cuts out entirely).

Finally worked out it was a commission for a second script for my 18th century adaptation thing, three huzzahs! I suspect it being a second script commission rather than an entire commission meant they looked at it and thought 'I like it, but it's not necessarily what we were expecting, so let's give him another go to show he's not making it up as he goes along'. But oh, I am NOT making it up as I go along! (unusually). And the second episode is going to be meaty and awesome like a lovely Beef Steak Stew from Cawdor Tavern (highly recommended).

Sleep now.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Campus then.

Hmm. Felt a bit weird about it - seemed a lot colder than Green Wing, and as ever, there's a period of mourning for all the funny stuff in the script (I don't mean mine necessarily) that didn't make it in. Although the second half worked better, as the story kicked in, and some of the characters got a bit more breathing space.

I should probably say though, this is the whole thing about airing pilots - if it does get a series, you do have a chance to regroup, have another look at the material and decide what worked and what didn't. The whole point of the Comedy Showcase, really, is to experiment, and push things in a direction you wouldn't necessarily take in a series.

Anyway, what did you think?

*braces self*

Sam Wollaston reviews 'Campus' for the Guardian

Caitlin Moran in the Times

Friday, November 06, 2009

'CAMPUS" Comedy Showcase tonight, C4, 10pm

So, yes, 'Campus' on tonight. For those few I haven't managed to annoy via Twitter, this is the Comedy Showcase myself and some of the other Green Wing writers were working on, being a one-off half hour comedy set in a university, produced (and I think directed) by Dame Victoria Pile. If it goes down well, it might get a series.

Most of the previews seem to be writing it up as 'Green Wing in a university', which we're supposed to tut at, but at this stage it pretty much is Green Wing in a university. If we get a series, we can hopefully evolve it a bit more.

I'll be watching it for the first time tonight (possibly with in-laws, eep), which is always a bit of a nerve-shredding experience, but I think it's better to watch these things in context rather than at a screening, because you can be a bit more objective. As far as I know, I've only got one scene in it (from the previews, it sounds like it might even be the very first scene*), but other than that, I don't really know what'll be in it, as like Green Wing, the scripts contained about an hour and half's worth of material, and some of the cast are improvising a bit as well, so when it's all cut down to twenty-three minutes, the chances are very little of it is recognizable.

So anyway, yes, Channel 4, 10pm tonight.

*gnaws fingernails*

*Fay and Ori have the first scene apparently. Cuh.

UPDATE: because people were asking, I'm pretty sure it will be available on 4oD after the event. Will put up details when I find out, because then people could, if they wanted, watch it again. Four or five times. Also I accept that some people actually go out on a Friday night, MAD THOUGH THIS SOUNDS.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"150 Things Every Man Should Know"

I always knew it was just a matter of time until my name appeared in the 'grateful acknowledgements to' section of a book, but that these acknowledgments are in a Modern Manual of Masculinity IS ONLY RIGHT AND PROPER.

EDIT: Patroclus is also in the acknowledgements, but as this is the second set of acknowledgements she has been in this year, I think that's less exciting news, frankly.

Continuing the theme of 'people I know what have got books out this Christmas', Young Gareth May, who I first knew as a tiny wee student on Falmouth College's Professional Writing M.A. is having his first book published this Christmas, and it is a good 'un.


"Do you know how to change a tyre? Give a speech? Or shave without leaving a nasty rash? How about ironing a shirt? Urinal etiquette? Or how to know if you are falling in love? Neither did 24-year-old author Gareth May until he started to gather centuries-old male wisdom for the 'metrosexual' generation.

Stuck on the verge of a major motorway with a punctured tyre after swerving to avoid a low-flying pigeon, Gareth was confronted with the fact that he had no idea how to mend his puncture and get back on the road. Later, after the excoriating diatribe and accusations of uselessness from his father, he reflected that it wasn't just practical, manly skills - tying a tie properly, wielding a power drill, changing a leaky faucet - that had passed him by. Gareth was clueless about just pretty much every skill perceived as the key to coming of age as a modern man. Sophisticated stuff, like how to hold a baby or how to end a relationship without being a complete git...

While girls share magazines with dog-eared problem pages, the modern boy has no such manual, no instruction leaflet to ease their transition into manhood. Until now. Gareth May has written the essential manual for young men across the world. From stubborn spots to slow dancing dos and don'ts, the perfect fry-up to putting on a condom in less than ten seconds, witty, brilliantly honest and down-to-earth, "150 Things Every Man Should Know" tells you all those things your best friend can't."

Gareth's website also contains a number of videos showing the in-depth research done for the book. Here, he spares no expense on stunt coordinators, lighting or direction to show how best to defend yourself in a pub fight:

In the interest of full disclosure, although at the risk of shattering the coolly macho facade he has painstakingly built up for himself, I should state that Gareth is also a regular attendant of our regular Monday night Dungeons and Dragons game, where he plays the unfortunately-named Shergar, a human wizard. And yet UNACCOUNTABLY, his book specifically recommends not using phrases like 'I play Dungeons and Dragons' on a first date! IT MAKES NO SENSE.

Any-old-way, you can order Gareth's book (I'm sure the target demographic is obvious, but just in case, t'would be idea for a young male teenage relative) from Amazon here:

"150 Things Every Man Should Know: Telling You the Things Your Best Friend Can't" Priced £15.00£9.74.

ALSO: for reasons best known to himself, Gareth has been recording our most recent sessions and edited them into podcasts, now available for free, ob'sly, on iTunes thusly: Cornish D&D Podcast. I suspect they make little or no sense even if you do understand the rules of D&D, but if you've ever wondered what a D&D game sounds like, WONDER NO FURTHER. Personally, I'm slightly freaked out at how much I sound like Mark Lawson (the sound's a bit quiet though, so you need to listen with headphones).