Tuesday, May 30, 2006

All Blacks fight with hangbags - literally

Fisticuffs on the rugby pitch is often referred to by TV commentators at 'handbags', indicating the plays are fighting in an effeminate fashion. Judging by the news story quoted below, New Zealand's mighty All Blacks have no problems getting in touch with them softer, gentler personas [italics are my own]:
All Blacks flanker Chris Masoe was fined NZ$3,000 (£1,000) after being found guilty of hitting a man during a scuffle in a Christchurch bar.

The New Zealand Rugby Union fined Masoe after the incident which also involved ex-All Blacks captain Tana Umaga. Masoe reportedly punched a man in the jaw after tripping over his legs at about 7am on Sunday in Christchurch.

Umaga then grabbed a woman's handbag and hit Masoe twice across the head, at which Masoe allegedly burst into tears. The two players were out in the city after their Wellington Hurricanes' side lost Saturday's Super 14 final to the Canterbury Crusaders.

In the studio: BBC Radio vs Big Finish

So, a couple of weeks back I went to the studio BBC Radio Scotland currently uses to record a lot of its drama. Pencaitland is a converted schoolhouse in a lovely little village south of Edinburgh, complete with plush sofas, cream cakes and a studio booth that puts the Starship Enterprise to shame [at least NCC-1701]. The task for the day was recording all the dialogue for three 15-minute plays, plus some pick-ups left over from the previous day. For that the director, cast and crew had nine and a half hours, including lunch.

By way of comparison, Big Finish aims to tape all the dialogue for a 60-minute audio drama in eight hours, including lunch. But Big Finish devotes a lot more time to post-production, particularly the creation of suitable incidental music and sound. The BBC opts for a simpler soundscape and feeds most of its sound effects into the studio on the recording day, either by creating them on the spot or using pre-recorded sounds, effects and music.

At a Big Finish session, the actors are usually kept in separate, soundproof booths. This makes post-production treatment of the voices much easier, something that's particularly important when you're making predominantly science fiction. The voices of robots, computers and aliens are much easier to create in post, using human speech samples recording in the studio. But the BBC groups all the actors together in an open plan studio and records them simultaneously, allowing more interaction between them and freedom of movement.

It was fascinating to see the differences between how the BBC records its radio plays and how Big Finish Productions tapes the dialogue for its audio dramas. I haven't been to BFP's new home in west London, but must say the Pencaitland studios currently used by BBC Radio Scotland certainly trump the old Moat Studios near Stockwell tube station in South London. Of course, BBC Scotland is having a swanky new home built for it in Glasgow and, I imagine, will be recording its radio drama there soon.

Which method works better? to be honest, I think it's horses for courses. The nature of BFP's material tends to require much more in the way of post-production. The exception to this was the recent Cyberman mini-series, where director-writer Nicholas Briggs deliberately aped the BBC Radio method to achieve an urgency of performance [and foreshortening of post-production!] the usual Big Finish process doesn't always get. I'd love to have been in the studio for those sessions...

The irony of my day at Pencaitland was I got to hear all the recording sessions for two of the three plays tapes that day - but no my own. I had to leave after only the first take of the first scene, to rush back to Biggar for the opening of Sweet Charity. [Boy, does that feel like a lifetime ago!] But I did have the chance to hear the read-through and make some comments. Frankly, I had nothing of import to say - it's not my job to tell the director how to do his job [especially when he's vastly more experienced than me!], nor did the actors need my help to find the essence of their characters. Having now heard the finished play, I'm very happy with the results of that sunny day in early May.

My script, Ronald, went through four drafts and numerous tweaks along the way. There's not many lines of dialogue that survived from the start to the finish, and entire characters came and went during the writing process. But, most importantly, the theme of my story, the idea that got me the commission in the first place, did not change or alter. Producer-director David Ian Neville pushed me to find the best way of telling the story, but he never tried to interfere with my play, or turn it into a story that he wanted to tell.

I learned a hell of a lot from the experience over the past five months. Hopefully I'll get another chance to learn even more. For now, all I can do is wait for the finished play to be broadcast. It's only a 15-minute segment, one of five in its slot, one of more than a dozen dramas being broadcast on radio in the next week or so, so it's not going to get reviewed or drawn massive attention, but it's a real milestone for me, a step forwards in my career. For that, I'm more than grateful.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Making a rod for your own back

So I finally figured out a way to plot my putative next novel, what marketing types would call a brand extension. [The Guardian newspaper once called a comic strip I created as the work of an 'opportunistic marketing spiv'. Then again, the New Zealand Herald described me as a 'jaundiced misanthrope' when I was 23, so my card's been marked as a born cynic for quite some time...] The novel is a juggling act of real events, invented characters, historical facts, and the outrageously unlikely. Trying to blend all those seamlessly together in a compelling narrative while hopscotching my way through eight months of the Second World War was challenging, to put it mildly. But I finally cracked the best way of doing it last Thursday. Of course, that necessitated buying two more research books and skimming them for a few last details. Then it was a mad dash to complete a 5000 word proposal, complete with teaser text, dummy back cover copy for the book and a comprehensive cast [including descriptions of their traits, backstory and physical appearance].

A year or two back I was commissioned to write a 95,000 word novel based on the horror film franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street. I wrote the pitch in September 2003 and it went off to New Line for approval. Eight months later Suffer the Children was given the greenlight and Black Flame contracted me to write the novel. I printed out my plot synopsis, confident it would give me a comprehensive roadmap of how I was going to write the story. There's nothing like a detailed plot synopsis to guide you towards that wonderful day when you type THE END. Now, I'd never written a 95,000 word novel before. I'd written a Doctor Who novel called Empire of Death that ran to 99,000 words in its first draft, but I cut nearly a quarter of that verbiage in rewrites and it was only ever intended to be 75-80,000 words long.

So, imagine my surprise and dismay when I discovered my 'comprehensive roadmap' for Suffer the Children was more like the instructions of a confused dyslexic with Tourette's Syndrome after too many beers. The synopsis was all of a thousand words, if that, not nearly enough to help me fill nearly 100,000 words. The first thing to do in that situation is panic - you might as well get it out of the way, as you won't have time to panic later. I started having flashbacks to my last History exam, when I had four facts with which to write three comprehensive essays. Time to flannel.

So I printed out a large sign and stuck it to the wall beside my computer, as a way of reminding myself what I needed to achieve. The sign's still there - nien words, 48 letters and one question mark. It broke down into three simple instructions:-


I suspect I'm not a natural novelist, despite my capacity to produce a first draft in a few weeks. Certainly I'm no literary novelist. Long, languid passages of purple prose describing the characters' surroundings sit badly with me. I like the race to the finish, the pulse-pounding plot, the thrill of the chase. My tomes are designed to be page-turners, designed to drive the reader onwards, desperate to know what happens next. For Suffer the Children, I had to suppress that instinct and delve deeper into the thoughts and feelings of the characters and their world. I'm particularly bad at remembering to write about how things smell.

A novel is almost the only place you can easily awaken the olefactory senses of your audiences. Film, TV, computer games, radio drama, even plays in the theatre - these all tend to engage the other four senses, but you struggle to make the audience smell what the characters are smelling. In a novel, if you write well enough, you bring alive the odour of the moment in the reader's nostrils. If you want a good example of how to do this, try the fiction of Andrew Cartmel, a scribe who makes you smell every moment of a novel. More famously, pick up Patrick Suskind's Perfume, a novel all about the sense of smell, a book suffused with aromas like no other.

Anyway, I learned my lesson from Suffer the Children and now ensure any synopsis I write has enough juice to fulfil the needs of its intended audience. When it comes to story, you don't want to be caught short with 100 pages of prose, 15 minutes of screen time or one episode of comic strip to go...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

On My Radio (Play)

A nice surprise arrived in the post yesterday - an advance copy of my radio play Ronald, which'll be broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday June 7th. It's the third in five linked plays set at a remote spiritual retreat, directed by David Ian Neville. He devised the Island Blue concept and invited five writers to create 15-minute plays to suit the setting. Poet Vicki Feaver leads off the week with Brave New World, followed by Stephen Potts' story Grandmother's Footsteps. Thursday features A Place in the Rain by Jules Horne. She's got a play called Outrageous Avatar being toured round Scotland at the moment by the Traverse Theatre [paste the URL below into your browser to find out more]. Finally, Louise Ironside provides the script for Friday's play, Looking After Billy. Louise is another theatre playwright, but she's also joined the writing stable of Scottish soap River City and had several episodes broadcast.


I feel humbled to have been invited to join such distinguished company, especially as I was a late substitute for whomeveer was meant to be writing the Wednesday Island Blue play. I've now loaded all the plays into iTunes and listened to mine a couple of times. Crawford Logan replies captures the bluff Northern character of Ronald, although he doesn't use the Liverpool accent I'd imagined in my head. Rose McBain is both sympathetic and prim as April, not an easy combination to pull off. Lesley Hart shines as Shonagh and Lucy Patterson doubles up as two characters, Dorothy and Tracy - not easy when they share a scene together.

I've no idea if my script hangs together, having lost all objectivity during the many and various rewrites and tweaks along the way. Certainly it's had a few nips and tucks during editing and post-production to achieve the required length. The script ran to 15 minutes and 56 seconds at the read-through, while the finished version is 13:44, and most of that 44 seconds is intro and outro music. But the edits have been done sympathetically and don't harm the plot. I spent most of my time at the recording finding sequences that could be snipped or topped and tailed for brevity. If all the different scenes I'd written during the drafts had been included to their full length, the play would have been closer to an hour than to quarter of an hour.

The next milestone will be on Tuesday, when the listing for Ronald and all the Island Blue plays appears in the new Radio Times. Come eight on Tuesday morning I'll be stood outside the newsagents, proudly reading and re-reading my name in print. You'd think I'd be used to it after 16 novels and nearly as many Big Finish audio dramas. But this is my first broadcast credit and it means a lot to me. Hopefully, it'll become the first of many, not merely a fluke.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Radio Times online listing for Island Blue: Ronald

Island Blue
7:45pm - 8:00pm
BBC Radio 4
Five plays set on a remote Scottish island. 3: Ronald, by David Bishop. Retreat leader April finds one of the guests particularly challenging. Why is he there and how can April get him to stop disrupting the other guests? With Crawford Logan, Rose McBain, Lucy Paterson, Lesley Hart.

The Shat sings to Geroge Lucas

What is says on the tin. No, really. Click the headline, you'll see...

Blade Runner DVD: Final Cut is the deepest?

Variety reports that Blade Runner is getting a series of DVD releases over the coming months [see below]. Apparently Ridley Scott felt rushed when creating the Director's Cut that hit cinemas in the 90s and has been at work producing a definitive version, known as the Final Cut. [Pay attention at the back, there's be a quiz on all of this later.] Anyway, here's the guts of what Variety reported:
The restored "Director's Cut" will debut on homevid in September, and remain on sale for four months only, after which time it will be placed on moratorium. "Blade Runner: Final Cut" will arrive in 2007 for a limited 25th anniversary theatrical run, followed by a special edition DVD with the three previous versions offered as alternate viewing: Besides the original theatrical version and director's cut, the expanded international theatrical cut will be included. The set will also contain additional bonus materials.
So, can you wait until next year for the definitive, all-in-one version? Or will you be shelling out for an interim Director's Cut? At least Warners is being honest enough to tell everyone in advance it's plan, rather than duping people into buying one version before releasing a superior iteration within a year.

The Slowest Band in All the World

I can't believe it - there's a new Scritti Politti album due out in the next few weeks. For anyone who loved music in the mid 1980s, Scritti Politti was synonymous with ecstatic pop and lyrics that required a degree in philosophy [and a weighty dictionary] to decipher. Songs like Wood Beez [Pray Like Aretha Franklin] and Perfect Way were huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Scritti main man Green Gartside was collaborating with the likes of Miles Davis and Chaka Khan. But the Scritti story had much humbler beginnings, starting with a post-punk agit-prop collective. Early songs like Skank Bloc Bologna were not your typical pop confections, more impossible tracks to dance with that secured the group a lot of headlines and attention from the redoubtable John Peel.

The first album, Songs to Remember, eventually appeared in 1982 on Rough Trade. The big breakthrough came with Cupid & Psyche '85 on the more mainstream Virgin label, followed by Provision in 1988. It was another 11 years before Green got off his Gartside and released Anomie and Bonhomie, an album besotted with rap and hip-hop. That alienated anyone old enough to remember Cupid & Psyche with fondness, but failed to secure a new audience. [There was also a run of hit singles in the early 90s, including collaborations with the likes of Shabba Ranks, but these are now very hard to find]. After the relative failure of Anomie and Bonhomie in 1999, Scritti Politti slid off the radar again, apparently relegated to being a mid 80s phenom, fodder for VH1 nostalgia weekends.

The comeback started last year with a return to Rough Trade and Early, a compilation of those hard to find singles and EPs from the late 70s and early 80s. Now Green Gartside returns with his first album of new material in ages, called White Bread, Black Beer. Can't say I'm not excited - think I'll drag out all my old Scritti CDs and load them into iTunes today. The band's not exactly prolific: counting the new material, Scritti has released five albums [and a compilation] in 28 years since the group's first single came out in 1978. That's not what you'd call a Calvinist work ethic by any stretch of the imagination. The only outfit to match that elephantine gestation tendency is The Blue Nile, another group that rose to prominence in 1985. They've managed four albums in 21 years - turtles beware.

Amazingly, both Scritti Politti and Blue Nile frontman Paul Buchanan are out on tour this summer. If you enjoy either band, it's probably your last chance to see them before Halley's Comet returns in 2062.

Phew! Studio 60 saved from slot of doom

NBC has blinked first, shifting the new series from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin to a different night in the autumn 2006 TV schedule. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was originally scheduled for Thursday nights on American TV at 9, pitting it against the hugely popular but familiar CSI. Then another network upped the ante and pitched its sudsy medical drama Grey's Anatomy into the same hour, creating the televisual equivalent to a World Cup Group of Death.

Against CSI, Sorkin's new comedy drama could expect to finish a decent second. Up against CSI and Grey's Anatomy, the show faced almost certain doom, with pundits doubting it would still be on air come the crucial sweeps season in November when ratings determine future advertising spend - and survival. So Studio 60 has been shifted to Monday nights at 10, where it'll face CSI's Miami iteration. That's still a strong show but the competition is not nearly so cutthroat as Thursday night. With any luck [and assuming the show's any good], Sorkin's new creation has a chance to being round long enough to generate a DVD boxed set...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Incoming! More blazin' battle action

After two scintillating days of preparing my accounts for the last tax year [that sign I'm holding up? It's my Irony sign], I spent yesterday watching archive footage from the early months of World War II in the Pacific. That's prep for a proposal I've promised to deliver tomorrow, a putative franchise extension for Fiends of the Eastern Front. I always find it strange trying to mix and match historical fact with pure fiction. Yes, you want to get all the little details accurate - what unit fought in which battles, what sort of weapons they used, what they wore, ate, drank, did. But then you're injecting a supernatural element into that setting and the line between realism and the fantastic gets well and truly smudged. Ultimately, it's all too easy to get bogged down with research, blindng yourself with facts and military trivia.

I figure readers want a gripping story with a driving narrative. They want viewpoint characters with whom they can empathise and, ideally, care about. If readers start caring about your characters, they want to know what happens to those characters next. In a war story, that's all about who lives and who dies, the price of victory and the cost of failure. But you've got to keep it personal, keep it tight and taut. Hell, the first Star Wars film [the first released, that is - let's not talk about the prequels, okay?] is the story of a galactic rebellion, but essentially it's the story of a farmboy trying to figure out what to do with his life. All of us have wondered sometimes what we're doing with our lives, what is our purpose, right?

So that's the question I'm trying to keep at the front of my mind today. What are my characters trying to achieve, what are their goals and what are the obstacles to those goals? Two quotes stayed with me from all the material I watched and read yesterday. The first was a four word credo about fighting in the Pacific: "Survive. Win. Get home." The second was a short poem by an unknown US Marine:
When he gets to Heaven
To Saint Peter he'll tell
Another Marine reporting, sir,
I've served my time in Hell.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why so few TV dramas set in newspapers?

Having enjoyed the first series of Life on Mars via the magic of DVD, the John Sim season of televisual entertainment has been extended by now watching State of Play. This six-parter by Paul Abbott was first broadbast on BBC 1 in 2003, but sadly passed me by at the time. Still, I've heard several students raving about it on my MA Screenwriting course, so decided to give the series a whirl. Bloody hell, it's good, isn't it? Not just gripping, but funny, intelligent and really makes you care about the characters. I've not convinced by John Sim's facial hair [he said, the pot calling the kettle black], but that's the only thing that jays in this TV drama masterpiece.

However, it raises an obvious question: why are so few TV dramas based in the world of newspapers? Cops and docs are the default setting for more TV drama, or variations thereupon. Some sad sod recently counted all the different medical dramas on British television in a week - 14 of them. From the cops side of the coin you also get all the legal dramas, such as New Street Law. You even get cross-polination: nostalgic cop show Heartbeat begat nostalgic medical show The Royal; Casualty and Holby City are getting their own law enforcement spin-off.

It's probably my background in daily newspaper journalism, but I've always felt there was a good TV drama to be had from the world of scoops and hacks. Lou Grant did this on US TV in the late 70s and early 80s, but there's surprisingly few other examples I can recall. The Standard was a short-lived series set in a Scottish newspaper, broadcast around the same time. Other than that, I'm struggling to think of any other obvious examples.

TV execs want settings and characters that can generate dozens, even hundreds of storylines full of conflict and drama. That's exactly what journalists are looking for, it's the nature of their job. Then there's the back-stabbing, tooth-and-claw competition for a story between hacks; the frustration of being deemed of secondary importance to TV and radio journalists; the rising challenge of online journalism; the long hours, stress and dubious personalities of those who work in papers. Sounds like strong material to me, but maybe I'm biased.

Anyway, can anybody recall other examples of TV dramas set in the newspaper world?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

According to the BBC, I'm an "Emerging Writer"

Here's the advance publicity blurb from BBC Radio 4 for the quintet of plays that includes my story, Ronald:

Woman's Hour Drama – Island Blue
Monday-Friday 10.45-11.00am BBC Radio 4

Nestled on a remote Scottish island, the Island Blue centre offers a total retreat from the pressures of modern life. Inside an old converted Victorian mansion, there is space to relax, meditate and soak away the aches and pains of stressful living. Outside, the windswept, bracing landscape of one of Scotland's most northwesterly islands is guaranteed to blow away the cobwebs from visitors' souls. The centre is non-denominational but encourages visitors to explore their spirituality and lifestyle.

This week's five plays tell the stories of some of the people who visit and work at the retreat. They are written by emerging writers new to radio and performed by an ensemble of talented actors based in Scotland, including Robert Softley, runner-up in the Norman Beaton Fellowship, in his first major role for radio.

Producer/David Ian Neville

Fiends 3, Rest of the World 0

Author's copies of the final book in my Fiends of the Eastern Front trilogy have arrived [see above]. Twilight of the Dead isn't officially published for another couple of months, so the book turning up with an unexpected bonus. Bizarrely, it completes my big publications for 2006 - and we haven't even finished May yet. I've got plenty of comics work coming out over the next few months - Fiends: Stalingrad in the Megazine has another seven episodes, and several issues of The Phantom scripted by me will see print later in the year. But in terms of books and audios, that's me done for 2006.

This year I've got three novels published [Fiends 2 and 3, my third and final Nikolai Dante novel], my Inspector Morse guide book and four Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas. The work on most of these was done last year, but they're all been published this year. So what have I got lined up next? My first radio play is now only two weeks away from being broadcast, but I'll be nagging you all to listen to that when the time comes.

There's THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, my history of the galaxy's greatest comic, 2000 AD. That's due for publication next February, to coincide with the weekly's 30th anniversary. I'm still searching for some elusive creators - anybody knowing the whereabouts of writers Tom Tully, Alan Hebden or Michael Fleisher can contact and I'll be remarkably grateful. Several very helpful people have put me in touch with creators and editorial staff who have previously eluded me. Among my jobs for June is interviewing these people, along with some update interviews with key players in the recent history of 2000 AD. Deadline for the book: end of August.

I've got full-length proposals for two new novels to write over the next two weeks, both for tomes to be published next year. I've promised to finished scripting Fiends in Stalingrad - and, quite frankly, my bank account could do with the money they'll bring in. A friend gave me a tip about a potential job, so I need to come up with some good ideas for that. [Excuse the vagueness, but I prefer to shout about jobs once they've been contracted - once bitten, twice shy.]

I've have a short story idea selected for a prose anthology based on popular comics characters The Phantom, to be published by America's Moonstone Books. There's no great money involved, but I've been knocking on the door at Moonstone for a while, so this is a chance to show them what I can do.

I've got a couple of feelers out for potential TV writing opportunities, but remain pessimistic about these. When the inevitable rejection arrives, my hopes are more resistant to crushing if I keep them well subdued. If, by some miracle, one of these chances turns into something meaningful, the surprise will be all the more pleasant.

Having had such a great learning experience on my first radio play, I'm eager to take a crack at another. I've got a good idea and some initial interest has been expressed. Now I've got to turn that into a pitch too good to turn down.

Bearing in mind all of these things, what am I doing today? Collating my receipts in anticipation of a trip to the accountant. He's a lovely chap, but I find prepping for my annual tax return about as much fun as a trip to the dentist.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Creative White Space in screenplays

Back in the days when I was a comics editor, the creatives [art editor, assistant editor and me] often enjoyed a wonderfully combative relationship - arguing amongst ourselves sometimes, but more often arguing with those in power. At the company where I was working then, there was a culture shift during the late 80s and early 90s from it being a creative-led publishing entity to a marketing-led company. Marketing was in charge, ergo marketing knew best - or so we got told. But being able to sell a few magazines didn't instaneously qualify our bosses to get involved with editorial decisions, at least as far as I was concerned.

So we used jargon and psuedo-science to keep the powers that be at bay. One of my favourite terms was Creative White Space - CWS for short. [That's not to be confused with BWS, Black With Stars, a shortform coined by pencillers to tell inkers they have to ink in an outer space background that conveniently saved the penciller from having to expend his time pencilling in some stars for the inker to ink around. BWS also stans for comic art maestro Barry Windsor Smith, but that's another matter entirely.]

Sometimes, often in fact, less is more. In magazine design, fewer coverlines give those you do use more impact. Fewer design elements make for a cleaner, more elegant design, IMHO. And it seems the use of CWS is just as important when it comes to writing screenplays, as demonstrated in a new posting by ICM Executive Story Editor Christopher Lockhart. Click the headline to jump direct to the relevant section.

If you're a wannabe screen scribe like me, you ought to be reading Lockhart's blog The Inside Pitch regularly. It's chock full of intelligent, interesting comments and observations. Me, I'd never heard of Vertical Writing until I read this latest posting. Now I might give it a crack, see if it suits my still-fledgling style...

From Brambostel to Viareggio [via Wakayama]

I heart Site Meter. When ennui takes hold [as Joy Division almost sang], I click the little Site Meter logo on this blog. It transports me to a page when I can find a world map showing the locations of the last 100 people to view the blog. Don't fret, I'm not planning to come round and ask you marketing questions, this is just for fun, kids. I suspect the actual location is more about where your ISP's server is based, rather than your own home town. Anyway, here's my top ten place names from the last hundred people to visit this blog...

10. Concord - cool name, cool plane
9. Round Rock - nicely evocative
8. Invercargill - sounds Scottish, actually at the foot of New Zealand
7. Woking - where The Jam came from
6. Brambostel - sounds like a horror writer
5. Old Saybrook - a random collection of words, masquerading as a place name
4. Viareggio - absolutely Italian
3. Burgos - this just makes me hungry
2. Jyvskyl - no vowels required to live here
1. Wakayama - top name of the day, this tickles the funnybone delightfully

More genius: 10 Things I Hate About Commandments

Another classic remix, superimposing the plot of a high school comedy on to The Ten Commandments. Features Samuel L. Jackson [no, really, it does], so expect swearing.


Pure genius: Must Love Jaws

MUST LOVE JAWS is the latest in a bunch of remixed trailers, cut together with new voiceover and music to create an entirely different movie. This one is a love story about two men and a shark. Click the headline or paste this URL into your browser:


Warning: don't be drinking coffee while you watch thi, otherwise you'll spent hours cleaning your keyboard afterwards...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Are you a child of the 80s?

If so, click the headline above and it should take you to a website chock full of links to 80s pop videos on YouTube. The Milli Vanilli effort is cinge-inducingly bad, but the boys from Freeez singing I.O.U. runs it a close second. Don't get me wrong, I still love the song, but the video? What were they thinking? See also the incredible mullet on the guy from Icehouse singing Crazy - choice, eh?

And there endeth the lesson

For all intents and purposes, the first year of my MA Screenwriting course spluttered to an end yesterday. Full-time students on the programme at Edinburgh's Napier University still have projects to finish for this, the second trimester, and in their final trimester tackle a major piece of work as the culmination of all that's gone before. For the part-timers, trimester three is devoid of, well, anything. No modules to do, no classes to attend, nothing. Go away and come back at the end of September to begin year two. Frankly, it feels a bit like being sent to your room for 19 weeks while the big kids get to stay up late and watch TV. I'm sure that's not the intention, but this tends to reinforce the feeling part-timers are second class citizens on the course, an after-thought in the greater scheme of things. So, how did the academic come to an end for the part-timers? This week we had to deliver the final pieces of assessed work for both our second trimester modules. For Script Development, that meant handing in a revised draft script for a 10-minute film, along with a critique of its development process. I'm pretty happy with my efforts on the script, and the critique's a fair catalogue of the genesis and evolution. I gave myself an advantage over the other part-timers by writing the firt draft of my script back in March, when only the outline was due. I got a P5 for the outline [a high pass but not one of distinction], which was about right. I believe the script has moved on a lot from that loose, initial outline - time will tell if the tutors agree with me...

On the Writing for Interactive module, all the screenwriting students had to give a ten-minute audio-vidual presentation for their interactive entertainment project. There was a wide range of subjects, style and levels of sophistication in the presentation - everything from the crudest Powerpoint efforts to stunning DVD movies with music, voiceover and copious animation. Me, I opted for Keynote, a piece of software in the iWorks 06 suite that's a Mac-friendlier version of Powerpoint. I find it much easier to work with than the Microsoft programme and was fairly pleased with what I produced. My outline document back in March got a D3 [strong distinction], so that's promising, and I don't think I disgraced myself yesterday. Again, time will tell what the tutors think of my efforts.

If anybody out there is contemplating applying for the next intake on the MA Screenwriting course, I'd have to urge caution before advocating the part-time route. Yes, having only half the workload of the full-timers makes it possible to maintain a steady income the rest of the week. Your earnings will suffer [grud knows, mine have], but it's possible to keep your head above water. How some of the full-timers are getting by, I just don't know. So you have to balance the economic benefits of being part-time against the problems mentioned above. The simple fact is the 2005-2006 MA Screenwriting intake suffered from being guinea pigs for Napier's first attempt at running such a course. At least the part-timers can come back for 2006-2007 and see if lessons have been learned.

Best of all, we should be installed in the shining new Screen Academy Scotland facilities, instead of the dismal dump that hosted our first trimester classes. The current terms has seen us bouncing around the building like refugees, always searching for a room in which to meet. You can sense the frustration of the tutors at having to battle through the situation, but that doesn't solve the problem.

Despite all these gripes and moans, I don't regret applying for the course. I've learned a lot, my attitude to writing and collaboration has undergone a sea change, and I've started to establish a network of contacts - both within and beyond Napier. It's been frustrating a lot of time, but it's also been worth persisting. My first broadcast credit is 19 days away and a significant part of that is due to what I've been learning and experiencing at Napier.

Now I've got the next four and a half months to fill until the new academic year begins. First of all, I need to earn some money. I've just done a countback on my finances. In the eight months since I started the MA Screenwriting course, my gross earnings have plunged by 45% in comparison to the previous eight months. Bloody hell! No wonder I've been permanently skint since Christmas - that's when the cashflow started grinding to a halt, but I hadn't adjusted my spending to take that into account. Guess my target for the next 19 weeks is simple: earn more money. Time to get down and dirty, embrace my inner hack for a while. Such is life...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It's official: Veronica Mars gets a third season

Let joy be unconfined - new US network the CW [created by the merger of the WB and UPN networks] has confirmed Veronica Mars will be getting a third season. Hurrah! Now I have to get back to my Keynote presentation for college tomorrow...

That is all.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blimey! Thursdays at 9pm on US TV - what to watch?

Blimey! Earlier this week NBC announced it was putting the new Aaron Sorkin show Studio 60 at the Sunset Strip in the 9pm on Thursday nights this autumn. Now ABC has said its putting the immensely popular sudsy medical drama Grey's Anatomy in the same time slot. What else tends to be broadcast at the same time on the same day? Only one of America's most popular dramas, CSI. There'll be blood in the water before Christmas, mark my words.

If you want a sneak preview of the new Sorkin show, click the headline above and it should take you to an online transcript of the pilot in draft form. Compare that with the trailer on YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jayIdnWdqLQ&search=studio%2060] and you'll see just how much of the draft has made it into the final show. [Thanks to JC for the tip-off about the transcript - much obliged!]

Thank Grud I don't live in America, as I wouldn't know which show to watch and which one to record [and which one to ignore]. I got hooked on Grey's Anatomy thanks to the wonders of DVD boxed sets, CSI is always good viewing and I can't wait for Sorkin to get back in the game. Decisions, decisions...

Meanwhile, can the CW hurry up and renew Veroncia Mars, already? Rumour has it the show will opt for three separate, intertwining mysteries next time, rather than the huge, over-reaching MacGuffin-fest of its first two seasons. That'll give more people a chance to get on board, but it didn't help the likes of Murder One survive back in the day. But Veronica Mars brings the funny a lot more than Murder One ever did, and it's got the whole youth demographic going on too. Fingers crossed for the Mars girl.

Guys, guys, guys - a classic cock-up

Last Friday a man called Guy Goma went to the BBC in London for a job interview in the IT department. Due to a fearful mix-up, he was somehow mistaken for another guy called Guy who's an internet technology expert. As a consequence, the first guy called Guy got interviewed live on BBC News 24 about a High Court decision in favour of Apple [the iTunes and computer guys] over Apple [the Beatles]. The first guy called Guy was obviously rather flumoxed at being job interviewed on TV, but coped remarkably well - especially since English is his second language.

Now you can savour the madness of this moment by clicking the headlne above - enjoy!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Glowing review for second FIENDS novel

Richmond Clements has lots of lovely things to say about FIENDS OF THE EASTERN FRONT: The Blood Red Army on the 2000 AD Review website. Click the headline on this post to see for yourself, or else paste this URL into your browser: http://www.2000adreview.co.uk/reviews/extra/2006/books/fiends-eastern-front/blood-red-army.shtml

Final episode of The West Wing: blub-a-licious!

Well, I blubbed like a big girl's blouse several times during the finale of The West Wing. Saying goodbye to such well-loved, well-written and well-acted characters isn't easy, but the programme's makers did with dignity and class. The ghost of the late, great John Spencer was never far away to help tug at the heartstrings. In the final scene with newly inaugurated President Matt Santos, I kept wanting him to say the Bartlett catchphrase "What's next?" - and, eventually, he did. Strangely, the flashforward to life after the Bartlett presidency that screened at the start of season 7 was not paid off in the last episode. But it was nice to see the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, make a cameo appearance as one of the guests at the inauguration ceremony. All in all, a classy end to a top class series. Still doesn't oust the M*A*S*H finale as my favourite, but a job well done.

Sigh. Like seems that little bit emptier without any more West Wing to look forward to. Throw in the fact both The Shield and The Sopranos are also approaching their own endgames and many of the my favourite shows in recent years are fading away...

End of an era, in many different ways

The West Wing broadcast its final episode in America last night, closing the book on one of my favourite shows of the decade. Happily, creator Aaron Sorkin is returning to TV this autumn with a new series that sounds promising [and features several alumni from past Sorking productions]. We should find out the fate of Veronica Mars in the next day or two. Will new network the CW pick up one of the best shows on US TV? I bloody hope so, but good sense is not always the first criteria for such decisions.

Closer to home, the amateur production of Sweet Charity I've been directing through four months of rehearsals had its final performance on Saturday. Spent yesterday being depressed and helping to tidy up the theatre. Now need to tidy up the house, as the chaos of recent weeks subsides. Can't actually remembering eating many meals last week, but that's the joy of theatre - adrenalin keeps you going.

I'll need some of that juice to get through this week. The final pieces of assessed work for both modules on my MA Screenwriting course are due in the next three days. Firstly, I need to finish revising my 10-minute script and submit that, along with a critique of the development process. That's fairly well in hand, so no great panic there. More worrying is the need to stand up on Thursday and present my interactive entertainment project for ten minutes.

I'm planning to do it as a Keynote presentation - that's the Mac version of Powerpoint. But I'm struggling to find a house style and need to make some swift creative decisions. Plus we have to produce a five-page document to accompany the presentation, along with scripting the first three minutes of the project.

Fortunately, I'm pretty well advanced with my ideas for the project itself. My nerves are just about doing a good presentation. Standing up in front of a room full of people holds little fear - hell, I did that five nights running last week. But when you're dependent upon unfamiliar technology and fast running out of time to prepare, the bowels start to tighten a little.

Once I survive this week, the highway of life suddenly becomes a four-lane motorway at three in the morning: little traffic, no pressure and plenty of time to reach my next destination. The only major deadline I have beyond Thursday is delivering the manuscript for TPO, my history of legendary British science fiction comic 2000 AD. That's due the end of August, with publication planned for February 2007, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the comic's launch.

I've still got four episodes of my Fiends of the Easter Front: Stalingrad comic strip to write, a feature for the Megazine and several proposals for novels to research and write, but generally speaking life's about to get that bit quieter - probably.

We'll see what surprises reality has waiting for me...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Somewhere, James Garner is smiling

It's official: Britain's TV schedulers have taken the afternoon off. Perhaps they're enjoying the sunshine outside, or mowing the lawn, or washing the car. Perhaps they're watching the FA Cup final between Liverpool and West Ham - or, if they were in Scotland, the Scottish Cup Final between Hearts and second division minnows Gretna [go, Gretna!]. One thing is for certain: the TV schedulers ain't watching TV today.

How can I tell? Because BBC 2 and ITV are both showing episodes of The Rockford Files - at the same time. I guess I should be grateful they're showing different episodes [I think they're different episodes - let's face it, when you've seen one episode of The Rockford Files, you've seen them all], but it still reveal a lack of imagination or effort that beggars belief.

In other news, Big Brother starts on Thursday. Silly season has officially begun...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Notes, music and thoughts of the day

The season finale of Veronica Mars was... jaw-dropping. Despite beginning with an extended dream sequence and only having a running time of 42 mintues, the show still managed to wrap up nearly all of the dozens of dangling plot threads set up during the second season. Blinding stuff. Fingers crossed the CW - a new US TV network being created from the collision of the WB and UPN - has the wit and intelligence to pick up Veronica Mars for a third. Roll on the season 2 DVD collection, too.

Music recommendations of the day: I Hear the Bells by Mike Doughty [check it out at his MySpace site - www.myspace.com/mikedoughty ], as featured in an earlier episode of VM; All 'Cause of You by The 88 [as recommended by Kiefer Sutherland on iTunes]; and She Still Loves Him by Jellyfish [ditto].

Ditto - what a great word. I could say it all. Ditto.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Seen to be believed Dept: The boner crimes

This may be the funniest thing I've seen all year: go now and visit www.superdickery.com - it's a website featuring panels from superhero comics of decades past that dare you to keep a safe face these days. Essentially, there's plenty of Superman being a dick [hence the name Superdickery], but click your way through to the Image Gallery and then select Seduction of the Innocent. Double entrendes like you've never seen before. [You can click the headline on this post for a shortcut to Batman and his problems with the Joker's boner crimes.] Priceless.

[Big thanks to Bex for the tip-off on this one. Pure genius.]

New Inspector Morse book out now!

My author's copies of THE COMPLETE INSPECTOR MORSE: From the Original Novels to the TV Series have just arrived. They look fantastic, as you can see from the photo above, and it gives me a pleasant thrill to hold a copy of my first hardback tome. The new book is an updated and revised version of The Complete Inspector Morse, a reference guide to the stories of Colin Dexter and the smash hit TV series it inspired. Back when the first edition was published by Reynolds & Hearn in 2002, it felt like the final word on Morse. But this year's Lewis spin-off has proven there's still life in Colin Dexter's creation.

Happily, the spin-off gave Reynolds & Hearn a reason to commission a new edition of the book, and me the chance to correct the many errors that crept into the 2002 tome. I did a cover-to-cover rewrite of the exiting material and added a lot of new matter, particularly about the Lewis spin-off. That's been ITV's biggest hit of 2006 and plans are afoot for more stories starring Detective Inspector Lewis, which bodes well for further editions of my magnificent octopus.

In the meantime, you can order THE COMPLETE INSPECTOR MORSE: From the Original Novels to the TV Series from any good bookshop simply by quoting the ISBN: 1905287135. Or you can use the link on the right hand side of this blog to order a copy from Amazon.co.uk, or you can click the headline on this posting if you want to order a copy from Amazon.com.

Why life is like an end to end game of football

The last few days have been crazed, sprinting from one thing to another, like a football match where both sides through caution to the wind and opt for all out attack. Saturday was a 16-hour round trip to Edinburgh for Adrian Mead's Pitching Seminar [see my previous entry, below]. Sunday was consumed by the dress and technical rehearsal for our local musical, Sweet Charity. A sudden bereavement meant we lost a key cast member, requiring the invention of a contingency plan some 48 hours from opening night. Monday was all about painting the set, designing the programmes and getting them printed. Yesterday was a double-header involving driving to Pencaitland for the recording of my first BBC Radio play [more on that in a forthcoming post], getting to hear the read-through and first scene, before racing back to Biggar for Sweet Charity's opening night. We got through the show without major mishap, the cast and crew did me proud. Then up at six this morning to go running with the better half as she continues training for the Run For Life event for Cancer Research UK.

I am utterly, utterly knackered. But I need to get some work today, find time for a bath and gouge out some reserves of energy for tonight's performance. This is going to be a long, tough week.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Adrian Mead seminar on pitching for screenwriters

Yesterday screenwriter [and director] Adrian Mead held another of his occasional seminars in Edinburgh for fledgling and wannabe scribes. I raved about his words of wisdom and experience about Writing for TV Drama back in February and yesterday's session on How to Pitch was just as informative, valuable and entertaining. There's a ton of stuff I could talk about that emerged during the day and maybe I'll upload a few key snippets from my copious notes to this blog, once I finish transcribing it all. [The battery on my iBook started running out of juice towards the end, so I was reduced to pen and paper for note-taking. Alas, I have the handwriting of a doctor without any of the medical training, making interpretation of my scribblings less than simple.]

Two things Adrian said resonated very strongly with me. Firstly, as writers we are physically selling little more than pieces of paper with black ink on them [or the electronic equivalent in these times when most scripts are sent via email]. What we're really selling are our ideas, our skills, our creativity, our grasp of the craft and our professionalism. More than anything else, Adrian hammers home the need to be professional and courteous about everything you do.

It's something I heartily endorse from my time as a comics editor. I loved to employ a creative genius, the sort of talent whose work inspired others and won awards, whose gift for innovation and invention made them unique. However, I tended to find in British comics that the greater the level of genius, the greater the tendency towards flakiness and unreliability. That's a generalisation, but it is generally true. When push came to shove, I would choose a reliable, professional artist who could be depended upon to deliver the goods on time over a flaky genius who was more like to let you down than hit their mark.

I've long since come to the conclusion that I'm not a creative genius. [Stop laughing at the back, I know it was always obvious, but a boy can dream, can't he? No? Oh, well.] So when I went freelance in the year 2000, I decided I would be the most professional writer I could be. Never miss a deadline, write to specification, make myself as useful as possible to people who might employ me. That doesn't mean I grind out lowest common denominator hackwork. I strive to do my absolute best, push myself to make each job better than the last. But I also recognise the fact I'm being employed to do a job and if I fail in that task, I might not get that chance again.

So today's motto is simple: act professional if you want to be a professional. Or, as Aaron Sorkin once wrote memorably for an episode of The West Wing: Fake it till you make it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

How I got my first broadcast credit

I’ve been known to do requests, and a reader asked if I could tell the story of how I secured my first broadcast credit, so here goes…

As a wannabe writer, you’ve got to keep your eyes and ears open for every possible opportunity – no matter how tight the deadlines involved might be. Last Spring the BBC’s Writers’ Room website published the following announcement:-
Writers' Mini Lab • Deadline: 27 May 2005

BBC Scotland Radio Drama in association with Dundee REP are hosting a two day intensive workshop for writers in the Dundee area interested in writing for radio.

The workshop will be led by David Ian Neville (Writer & Radio Drama Producer) and James Brining (Artistic Director, Dundee Rep). During the workshop writers will word with actors from Dundee Rep’s Ensemble Company.

Selection Criteria:
• Places on the workshop are limited. All applicants need to submit with their application a proposal for an original radio play. The idea should not be an adaptation of an existing short story, novel, stage play or film script. The proposal should contain the following: a three line synopsis describing the play. Think of this as the “billing” that might appear for your play in the Radio Times or a daily or weekly newspaper

• a short synopsis giving more detail about the play. Tell us who the main characters are; where the play is set; and what the play is exploring; and in brief, the story. There is no set formula for how to write this - it is not a marketing exercise! Just tell us in your own words and own style about the play; and if in so doing you can reflect the tone and humour of the piece, so much the better

• a three minute extract from your proposed play. This could be one or two scenes and can be from anywhere in the play

I found out about this only a few days before the deadline, but decided it was too good a chance to miss. I’m had a couple of previous meetings with David Ian Neville, but never gotten my arse in gear enough to actually submit anything to him – too busy hacking out paying jobs for wads of cash, instead of enduring penury for opportunity. There’s always tomorrow to tackle that idea you’ve always fancied writing for radio or TV, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. But if you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know.

I knew all that, of course, but have the sort of mentality that responds best to deadlines. Having only three days until the closing date for submissions, I dug into my mental file of ideas to be developed later and created a pitch, a sample scene and a plot synopsis.

To my amazement, I got invited to attend the mini-lab. That meant two days away from paying work, funding my travel and accommodation, and fronting up. But it was a step in the right direction, right?

So I attended the mini-lab in Dundee, learned a lot and found out how much I could enjoy collaborating with other scribes in a pressured environment. At the end of it I came away determined to get my arse further in gear and press on with my radio ideas.

A month or two later, I’d done nothing of the sort. I had gotten myself accepted on the MA Screenwriting course, so that was a step in the right direction. But my efforts to crack radio remained non-existent. Happily, various departments within BBC Radio begin offering the chance to pitch for new writer competitions. There was a quartet of 15-minute slots all about Giving and Receiving [short-listed, but no cigar]; a clutch of slots for a 10-minute piece on BBC7 [short-listed, still no cigar]; and the Sports Shorts competition [not sure I even bother to enter that one, lazy sod that I am].

I was beginning to despair a bit by this point, but others hadn’t given up on me, even if I was in danger of doing so. In December 2005 David Ian Neville phoned to find out how busy I was. When that phone call comes, your answer should always too: ‘Quite busy, but I’m always eager for a fresh challenge – what’s up?’ Okay, maybe not quite that crassly stated, but you get the idea, right?

The opportunity was a slot for a 15-minute radio play, part of an inter-linked week of plays for Women’s Hour. All the other writers were already on board, plenty of work had been done on their ideas, but whomever was meant to scripting the Wednesday play had fallen out of the mix. I never asked the reason why, I was too grateful to be asked along. David sent me all the available material, so I could see if it was something I was interested in.

I read all about Island Blue while eating my lunch. By 1.30 I’d scratched out an idea. By two that afternoon I’d turned that idea into a two-page plot synopsis and emailed it to David. By four that afternoon I’d gotten the verbal go-ahead. After months of trying I’d secured my first broadcast credit in the space of a few hours, thanks to being in the right place at the right time, being quick off the mark to grab an opportunity by the lapels and thanks to the good graces of a development producer who felt I was worth persisting with – thank you, David Ian Neville.

Of course, there were four drafts of the scripts and several long, dark afternoons of the soul before the script got signed off, but that’s the job, right? Come June 7th, I’ll have my first broadcast credit and that’s what I’ll remember most.

If there’s a moral to the above, it’s probably this: be ready when the call comes. Know when to say yes. Keep improving your grasp of the craft, so you can make the most of opportunities. I’ve blown good chances in the past, because I wasn’t up to the job or I simply didn’t recognise the moment for what it was.

Sure, you’ll get a lot more rejections than commissions, but that’s the job. If you’re too scared of being turned down to get in the game, you’ve no chance of winning.

Marc Pye TV writing masterclass

By rights, yesterday's session at college ought to have irked - schlepping in and out of Edinburgh takes three or four hours for the round trip from where I live if you have to rely on public transport. So getting in to discover the afternoon's session was cancelled and only getting two hours teaching time should have turned this blog into a fodder for complaint rock lyrics.

But quality trumps quantity when it comes to learning.

Yesterday the MA Screenwriting class at Edinburgh's Napier University was treated to a two-hour session with Marc Pye, a British TV scribe whose star is rapidly rising. He got his breakthrough on Scottish soap High Road, and scripted dozens of episodes for the show. He quickly went on from there to writing for The Bill, did a stint on EastEnders and is now one of the most prolific screenwriters for BBC Scotland's soap River City.

But the job that's gotten him the most attention is writing an episode of The Street, a new series of stand alone [yet interlinked] dramas devised by Jimmy McGovern. Pye's story was broadcast last week and focused on a wrongly accused schoolteacher whose life is overwhelmed by snowballing events. The Street makes for compelling viewing and has already been recommissioned for a second series. The association with McGovern has added a skyrocket to the upward trajectory of Pye's career and he's now swamped with offers.

Despite that, he found time to spend two hours with us, talking about his career path, his enthusiasm for scripting River City and answering a few impertinent questions. Pye is refreshingly candid and unashamed at being a commercial writer. That doesn't mean he doesn't care about what he does, but he talked a lot about the need to embrace collaboration if you want to progress.

I hung round after the session ended and nabbed a couple of minutes with Marc, walking him out of the building and asking a few extra questions. All in all, a top bloke, extremely approachable and well worth listening to if you ever get the chance.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I'm not the Ninth Doctor, I'm a free man!

You've got to love news items like this one from mediaguardian.co.uk...

Sky One today confirmed plans for a big budget remake of cult 1960s classic The Prisoner, with former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston tipped to resurrect another iconic role by taking the lead.

IIRC, The Prisoner's title sequence featured the main character being questioned over and over again about why he resigned from his old job. Last year Christopher Eccleston quit Doctor Who after a single series as the ninth Doctor, generating endless fanboy speculation about the reasons for his departure.

Talk about art imitating life imitating art - or is it vice versa?

Busy, busy, busy

I feel the crunch coming on. College today, final rehearsal tonight for Sweet charity before Sunday's marathon dress & tech rehearsal, Adrian Mead's TV drama seminar in Edinburgh on Saturday, sets to paint, show programmes to create, radio play recording to attend - all in the next six days. Then a week of performances while prepping for final two college assignments of the term. Also need to do some paying work inbetween times, and prep for the book edition of my 2000 AD history. And sleep would be nice.

In short: blog entries may be at a premium in the next week or two...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Maybe I Actually Want to be a Script Editor

There's dozens, probably hundreds, of blogs by professional screenwriters and wannabe scribes. You can get a flavour of a few by clicking the links down the right hand side of your screen: sample the humour of sitcom writing legend Ken Levine; find out about life with Doctor Who and Robin Hood scribe Paul Cornell; have a look among the links on Ken's blog and they'll lead you to dozens more. But there are very few blogs out there written by professional script editors and even less by wanna script editors. [A few by script readers, but that's another branch of the same tree.] Perhaps it's one of the unglamorous jobs to which people don't aspire, they simply stumble into it. That's how I became a comics editor. I was a daily newspaper journalist, used to writing copy that was read by a million people a day. By chance I ended up doing an unofficial apprenticeship [thankfully sans TV coverage or Sir Alan Sugar] to become a comics editor.

Don't get me wrong, I love writing and I doubt the urge to write scripts, stories and fiction will ever leave me. But I also thoroughly enjoy working with other writers, trying to find a better way of telling a story - whether it's my story or their story. It was one of the joys of being a comics editor, working with writers like John Wagner, Gordon Rennie and Robbie Morrison. [Of course, in John's case he'd already been doing the job professionally for 20 years, so hardly needed my help.] Doing the MA Screenwriting course is giving me the chance to collabroate more with other writers, offering them what help I can to make their scripts better.

Maybe that's what I want to do.

Here's a scary thought - maybe that's what I do best.

Unfortunately, there ain't many Script Editor courses out there I can tackle. MA Screenwriting courses may be sprouting at universities around Britain but script editing is one of those arcane disciplines that doesn't have a great academic basis yet. Learn on the job vocational training seems to be the limit, mostly. The BBC does run a two-day introductory Script Editing course for £700 and an advanced two-day course for £1170. Ouch, says my wallet. Are there any other script editing course out there I might like to try? If anybody reading this has any insight to offer, please leave a comment...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New Megazine on sale now - Fiends Reunited!

Fiends of the Eastern Front are making their comics comeback this month in the new issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine. Meg 245 features the first episode of Stalingrad, an eight-part thriller written by me and rendered in glorious monochrome washes by artist Colin MacNeil. Above you can see the first page of the strip, along with the Megazine cover. Speaking of which, I have to hurry up and go write part four of the script now...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Enya on crack - the movie!

For the screenwriters [and, like me, wannabe screenwriters] who read this blog, may I heartily recommend the online musings of Christopher Lockhart. He's Executive Story Editor at leading Hollywood talent agency ICM and has quite the track record for recognising good scripts and great writers.

You can check out his blog by clicking the headline above or pasting this URL into your browser: http://twoadverbs.blogspot.com/ In the meantime, here's a small sample to whet your appetite:

I recently attended the Sacramento Film Festival, where some nice gentleman pitched me a metaphysical drama told through the mind’s eye. It didn’t make any sense but his passion for the project was apparent.

He pitched this in front of 150+ people – none of whom understood the new age rant either. It only got worse when I asked him who he pictured in the starring role, and he answered, “All of us.”

I don’t think even Enya on crack would see the movie potential here.

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith...

Well, Saturday night's episode of Doctor Who felt like a nice full stop for Sarah Jane Smith. The character played by Elisabeth Sladen made a lovely return to the programme in School Reunion, and she finally managed to get a proper goodbye from the Doctor. After a year of working on the Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas, I feel like I can also move on. The last story in the four-part series, Dreamland, is out and attracting a (mostly) positive response. A few people have absolutely hated the unresolved nature of the cliffhanger ending, but they'll get over it - eventually. Should Big Finish ever decide to produce a third series of SJS audios, I'm not sure I'd be involved. I feel I've said all I have to say about the characters of Sarah, Nat and Josh. It feels like time to move on, focus on new projects...

Meanwhile, the crunch is coming on the musical with which I'm involved. We're got a week to get the sets up and painted, the last of the costumes finished, the lighting designed and practised, and a fistful of rehearsals to get the show ready for opening night on Tuesday May 9th. Tickets are on sale and going fast from Bryden's Newsagents - not sure we'll sell out all five nights. In the past we only ran musicals for four nights and we've added 16 seats to the auditorium, effectively pushing our maximum capacity for the run up from 412 to 595 seats. But I'd love us to get good houses the first couple of nights and sell out the rest, as a reward to the cast and crew that have worked so hard for so long getting Sweet Charity ready.

Got official notification of when my radio play is being rehearsed and recorded in a studio near Edinburgh: next Tuesday, May 9th, from 2.45 pm - 7.30pm. Yes, you guessed it, recording is due to finish the exact minute Sweet Charity begins its first performance 40 miles away in Biggar. I'm determined to go to the recording, but have to be back in Biggar no later than 7pm, which means leaving the studio some time between 5.30 and 6pm. Methinks next Tuesday is going to be a rather stressful day.