Monday, July 31, 2006

Getting a thrill from an email address

I'm hard at work revising, expanding and updating THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, the history of legendary British science fiction anthology comic 2000 AD. TPO was originally published in the Judge Dredd Megazine during 2002 and 2003 to celebrate 2000 AD's 25th anniversary. The new version should be out next February as a big, shiny hardback to coincide with the comic's 30th anniversary. I'm estimating the book will contain 50% more material than appeared in the articles, and the original text is being completely rewritten.

As part of my labours, I'm endeavouring to interview all the people who eluded me during the original research. Some I've found, most I've persuaded to talk. Last time round, I didn't cover the Judge Dredd film in much depth. It's a huge topic, worth a chapter to itself, and there simply wasn't time or room to get into all of that. This time round, I'd like to give it a go. In an ideal world, I'd get interviews with the key players in the Dredd film - director Danny Cannon and star Sylvester Stallone. I figure my chances of getting Stallone to talk about the Dredd film are less than zero, so I'm starting with Cannon.

He was a longtime 2000 AD reader while growing up in Britain, and even sent the comic a mock-up film poster for a Dredd film in 1987. [Cannon opted for Harrison Ford as Dredd, Daryl Hannah as Anderson and suggested Ridley Scott should direct it - with Peter Gabriel providing the music.] Since the movie was released Cannon has become a key figure on America's top TV drama CSI. He's a writer, director and executive producer on the original CSI series and has contributed to both its spin-off, set in Miami and New York. Cannon has also continued directing films, most recently the first movie in the Goal trilogy.

I'm hopeful he might be willing to talk about the Dredd movie, now more than a decade has passed since its release. I can't remember how, but last year I tracked down a mobile number for Cannon's personal assistant. I called her on Friday and she asked me to send an email, detailing why I wanted to talk with Cannon and the book project. You know the best part of the conversation? When she gave me her email address at the production office of CSI, a show I love to watch. I've long since past the point of being starstruck, but sending an email to the home of CSI gave me a genuine thrill. It's nice to know something so simple can still make you smile.

For anyone who's interested, I've started a TPO blog to chart the book's progress - you can find it here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hmm, iced fingers...

I adore iced fingers. No, it's not some kind of freakish desert for cannibals, but a finger roll that's been daubed with icing and had dessicated coconut sprinkled over it. They're even better with some spread inside, like butter or pro-activ, accompanied by a cup of coffee. The local baker, Gibson's, sells them for 45 pence each. I have one most weekdays. If the iced fingers aren't ready when I wander in, they'll often make one for me - isn't that nice?

Obviously, using low fat spread on an iced finger is a grand form of self delusion, but I like it that way. Then again, I sometimes to have Diet Coke with a Kit-Kat and call it a balanced diet. Self delusion, or just a little of something you fancy? You be the judge. I'm no expert - hell, I've had a craving for Turkish Delight since I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe thirty years ago. Hmm, Turkish Delight...

Time Trumpet on YouTube: "Come on, Tim!"

Revitalise an industry? Me?

Just finished my answers to a Q&A about the British comics industry for a scribe writing an article for Nude magazine [no, its not that kind of magazine - Nude bills itself as going beyond the counter-culture]. The first question kind of threw. Here's the question, with my endlessly wittering reply below it...
You are credited with revitalizing an industry in decline. What are your memories of the state of the comic scene you were entering and how did you begin to reverse the tide?

I wish I could claim to have revitalised an industry in decline. The harsh reality is that British comics were no better off when I resigned from editing 2000 AD in the summer of 2000 than they were when I became assistant editor on the soon to be launched Judge Dredd Megazine in the summer of 1990. I’d like to my efforts as an editor helped keep the Megazine and latterly 2000 AD going through a troubled decade for British comics.

When I joined the British industry in 1990, there was an upsurge of interest in comics. The hyping of graphic novels like Maus, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns in late Eighties created media awareness that comics weren’t just for kids anymore. There were comics for grown-ups, like Deadline, Crisis and Revolver. American companies started setting up UK branches, while local publishers got excited about the opportunities. There was a bubble of genuine enthusiasm, fuelled by significant investment from the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman. Comics were hip, thanks to characters like Judge Dredd, Tank Girl and The Bogie Man, all about to cross over on to film or TV.

Within five years the bubble had well and truly burst. The Dredd and Tank Girl films flopped, while the BBC’s adaptation of Bogie Man [starring a pre-Cracker Robbie Coltrane] sank without trace. All those British branch offices closed down or were sold off, all those daring new comics for grown-ups got cancelled. The second half of the Nineties was a shite period, which most of the British industry spent hanging on by its fingernails, hoping things would get better.

The Megazine spent much of the Nineties on Egmont Fleetway’s kill or cure list, never more than a few issues away from cancellation – but it survived. 2000 AD celebrates its 30th anniversary in February, something that seemed impossible in the Nineties. A managing director predicted the weekly would fall below breakeven by the end of 1996. Ten years on from that death sentence, it’s still going. I’d like to believe I had a role in keeping the last great British adventure comic alive. But I suspect my greatest contribution was finding and nurturing new British comics talent.

When 2000 AD was launched in 1977, it captured lightning in a bottle. There was a generation of new talent waiting for it, many of whom had been working for underground comics, unable to find an outlet for the sort of subversive, multi-layered stories they wanted to tell. Writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis and Alan Grant could never have transformed US comics without 2000 AD giving them a place to emerge, to hone their craft and let loose their imaginations. Artists like Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill and Simon Bisley became US stars thanks to their time at 2000 AD.

But by 1990, it appeared to many creators that 2000 AD had become a closed shop. My mentor Steve MacManus – who edited 2000 AD during its golden age in the early Eighties – told me when I joined the industry it was my duty to search out the next generation of great British talent. As a consequence, I helped launch and/or nurture the careers of Andy Diggle, Robbie Morrison, Frank Quitely, Trevor Hairsine, Dean Ormston, Peter Doherty and Simon Fraser. I’m happy to say my successors have carried on that responsibility, finding yet more wonderful talent, such as Frazer Irving, Simon Spurrier and Rob Williams.

What if Daleks did Karaoke?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I heart Rocky Balboa

I was a kid when the first Rocky film came out and I fell in love with it: the characters, the fairytale story, the Bill Conti score - everything. I went to see it at the pictures with my grandad and we had a great time. When Rocky won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1976 [beating fellow nominees Taxi Driver, Network and All the President's Men, no mean achievement], it felt like the fairytale was complete. Hell, the first album I ever bought with my own money was going to the Rocky sountrack - until my brothers talked me into getting ELO's New World Record instead. Schmucks.

The success of the sequels - especially Rocky III with Mr T and the Cold War clash of Rocky IV - made a lot of people forget why the original film won three Oscars [it also got the statuettes for Best Director and Best Film Editing] and was nominated for another seven. Rocky is a brilliantly structured movie, with a remarkably downbeat tone. Rocky Balboa is a loser, a legbreaker for a minor Philadelphia gangster. He gets offered the chance to fight the world heavyweight champion - and turns it down. Even when he finally accepts the fight, Rocky knows he cannot hope to win. Ultimately, he decides to try and survive the experience, nothing more. Nobody has ever taken the champ the distance; that becomes Rocky's goal. He loses the fight, but achieves his goal.

Thirty years on, there is a sixth film in the series being prepped for a cinema release this December, called Rocky Balboa. The days when it was cool or fashionable to like Sylvester Stallone and his movies has long since passed. Can Stallone make one last comeback? Will his greatest creation [Stallone wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the first Rocky film] revive his career? I've no idea. But the trailer for Rocky Balboa is now up on the internet and it feels like an old friend is coming to visit. Frankly, I can't wait to see him again.

Sith City: Attack of the Revenge of the Hope

I don't know which of these two came first, but they're both fun. First, a mashup of the trailer for Stars Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, interpolating the music from Sin City's trailer into the mix...

Now, a new trailer for Stars Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, rendered in the style of Sin City. Enjoy!

Friday, July 28, 2006

What a difference a year makes for ITV drama

Here's an extract from a July 2005 report in The Stage:
Drama to flourish as ITV gains £20m programming boost
Drama will dominate ITV’s autumn schedule, with 12 new productions and more than five returning series, following an extra £20 million investment in programming by the Network.

The additional cash has been made available following last month’s announcement by industry watchdog Ofcom that the broadcaster’s annual licence payments will be slashed by £135 million. Nigel Pickard, ITV’s director of programmes, has decided to invest more in high-quality drama and star-led productions in order to win back dwindling audiences.
Now, here's an extract from a July 2006 report in The Stage:
ITV1 plans massive drama budget cuts
Drama on ITV1 is facing budget cuts of around £20 million over the next year as the network’s latest clampdown on costs begins to take effect.

However the network’s director of drama, Nick Elliott, was confident that the reduction in cash flow to £300 million a year would not have an impact on the quality of programming. He said: “It is just a matter of being smarter about what you commission. That’s not a bad thing.”
When it comes to drama, it seems ITV giveth and ITV taketh away...

Beware the Power of the Dark Bishop!

You Are 80% Evil

You are very evil. And you're too evil to care.
Those who love you probably also fear you. A lot.
I knew growing that demonic facial hair would come in handy. 80% evil, huh? I always pegged myself as at least 82% evil, maybe more...

'Who' exec to head BBC Drama?

The mediaguardian website reports BBC Drama controller Jane Tranter looks certain to be made head of the new BBC Fiction department, becoming one of the three super commissioners in BBC Vision. Tranter will have overall responsibility for all forms of fiction on the BBC - drama, comedy, films and programme acquisitions. If Tranter does vacate her current post, the woman tipped to replace her is Doctor Who's executive producer Julie Gardner.

Gardner and showrunner Russell T Davies successfully revived Doctor Who last year, turning a fondly remembered BBC series into a BAFTA-winning ratings smash that recreated the notion of family viewing. If Gardner does succeed Tranter, she will have power over a reported BBC Drama budget of £260 million. Her star has risen rapidly while head of drama at BBC Wales, thanks to Doctor Who, Casanova for BBC3 and her participation was crucial in rescuing the Kudos hit Life on Mars from years of development hell.

Tranter have overseen a revival in BBC Drama and Gardner's shows have been some of the most enjoyable British TV of recent times. Given the fact I'd one day like to be write TV drama for the BBC, the predicted change sounds like good news to me...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ninja reviews Pirates of the Carribean: DMC

This is priceless - savour the lunacy here.

Kiwi music care package

Got a package of New Zealand music in the post today from the lovely people at Marbecks. Inside was the new Dimmer album, There My Dear [can't recommend Dimmer highly enough - they've got an inevitable MySpace presence now, check them out here; Jenny Morris's acoustic set Clear Blue in Stormy Skies; the special edition of Bic Runga's most recent album, complete with a bonus DVD of her performances at the Civic in Auckland last year [already got the CD, but we've off to see her Edinburgh concert come September, so consider that prep]; the Katchafire Dub and Remix double album [because you can't go wrong with Pacific reggae in summertime]; and what I suspect must be Don McGlashan's first solo album, Warm Hand.

He's been a stalwart of the New Zealand music scene since the days of Blam Blam Blam in the early 80s, when I first starting going to gigs [yes, I'm that old, folks]. AFter that he was involved with quirky pipe hitters From Scratch, crafted some stunningly moving songs amid the comedy capers of The Front Lawn, and was a key figure within The Muttonbirds [they sing Don't Fear the Reaper over the closing credits of Peter Jackson's pre-Rings horror comedy The Frighteners]. Still giving Warm Hand a first listen, but I'm loving it so far. How can you resist an album where the second song opens with these words...
Here's Bart Simpson, with his arms all melted and twisted
And here's one of Big Bird, with his feathers all matted and black
And here are the rows of young women
Wrapped up in bolts of white nylon
And the families from the countryside come to take their daughters back

Find out more about Don and his music at this website.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Approaching milestones, busy working

Here's a frightening thought: I'm fast approaching my 300th posting on this blog is less than a year. Guess that once a day habit has turned into something else, something more... addictive. Sigh. Being a writer, you need to be a little in love with the sound of your own thoughts and sometimes they need an outlet - hence this place.

Vicious Imagery will be welcoming its 10,000th visitor in the next week, judging by the pace of visitations in recent times. Not sure who they'll be but thanks for dropping by, one and all.

Happily, I finally managed to make a start on writing THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD yesterday. I'm not sure which is easier: writing a non-fiction tome from scratch, or revising an existing work by trying to incorporate vast swathes of new material. Actually, nothing's easy when it comes to non-fiction. With fiction, you can literally make things up as you go along. For some reason people expect non-fiction to be accurate and truthful, or at least a balanced representation of memory and opinion.

I've got a long way to go on the TPO tome, but it's great to have made a start after weeks of preparation and procrastination. I've secured interviews with several creators who eluded me when I was researching and writing TPO as a series of articles for the Judge Dredd Megazine. Peter Milligan finally found time in his fiendishly busy schedule to answer my questions. Paul Kupperberg send me some helpful thoughts about his sole contribution to 2000 AD, an early 90s series called Trash. And Hilary Robinson gave me one of her first ever interviews about working for the Galaxy's Greatest Comic. All good stuff and all worthy additions to the narrative.

So, if it seems a little quiet here over the next few days, hopefully that's because I'm hard at work on the opening chapters of my magnificent octopus. Wish me luck!

What's on my desk?

Ever noticed all the things you keep on your desk? Ever wondered why some of there are still there? I've just down a 55-second stocktake and this is what I found...

My iMac G5 and its paraphenalia.

The phone.

Two hole punchers.

Box of used mini-discs from past interviews.

A stapler with a sticker of the Tellytubbie Po on it [a leftover from my days as an office drone, when all useful gear had a tendency to go walkabout - nobody ever dared steal Po].

Parcel tape and sellotape.

Playing cards.

Business cards I've been given, in a handy plastic business card box.

Cheque book.

Paying in card for council tax.

Old cheque book of stubs.

Local bus timetable.

16-year-old Filofax.

Seven different notebooks.

A ruler.

Three 2000 AD Micro-Gudies from 1992.

Two old desk diaries.

A plastic ruler.

My wallet.

Two pen tidies full of pens, highlighter pens, nail clippers, scissors, box cutters and pencils.

A digital camera.

Two boxes of two-piece metal file clips.

A pile of blank index cards for plotting.

A boxed scale model of Inspector Morse's Jaguar car.

Two pads of square, yellow post-it notes.

Old receipts from cash machines.

My business cards.

My coffee mug.

Interview transcripts.

Most interesting for me are the random notes or thoughts I've scribbled on to post-its and then stuck round the sides of my computer screen for later reference. Some are ideas for stories, some merely springboards, others defy easy description or explanation:-
quantum: an amount or quantity, esp. a specific amount
my American Express bill for this month, and when it's coming out of my bank account
the name of the new Doctor Who companion
alchemy: "the esoteric brotherhood"
fits and starts
"there are no little secrets"
psychopath who killed his twin in the womb
Snow Patrol
tatterdemalion - a person dressed in tattered clothes
Good plays: Laughing Stock; Women of Lockerbie

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Joy of Specs

In my review of Writing for Television, I said: Grud, I wish I'd read this before I decided to spend a month writing a Doctors spec script several years ago! It wouldn't have made my writing much better, but it would have persuaded not to send a spec script for an existing show to that show. As a result, Paul Crilley asked this: Why would it have convinced you not to write a spec for Doctors? I've been considering doing just such a thing when I finish with current novel deadline.

In American TV writing, one way to break in is by writing spec scripts for existing shows. In his book Crafty TV Writing, for instance, Alex Epstein suggests writing two different specs - one for a character-led series like Gilmore Girls and one for a more plot-led or genre-heavy show, such as Battlestar Galactica or CSI. You use these speculative works to demonstrate you're ability to write for a show readers already know, showing you can script for other people's characters and concepts.

Chances are, your first job in TV will not be on a show entirely of your own creation. [Note: you should never send a spec of, say, CSI to CSI itself - that's bad form, apparently. If your goal is to write for CSI, do a spec for a similar kind of show, such as Cold Case. If you're into medical drama, you could spec House and use it to target Grey's Anatomy, as another example.] Leastways, that's what all the books and TV screenwriter blogs seem to suggest - mileage may vary.

British TV takes a rather more perverse attitude to spec scripts. It seems you should never write a spec script for an existing show. [Grud forbid you should send your spec script to the show you spec'd, like I did with Doctors - that's even worse. Of course, if my writing had been good enough at the time, I'm sure the script editors at Doctors would have forgiven my gauche stupidity.]

Readers want to see your original script, your original ideas, so they can assess your ability to plot and give good characterisation. Most of all, they want to see the evidence of your distinctive voice. Why? So they can hire you to write for an existing series where you'll need to sublimate that voice so you can write somebody else's characters. Hell, write for most soaps and you won't even get to write your own plots, they'll have been carefully handcrafted by the storyliners first.

So, if you want to write for British TV drama, don't labour over a spec script for an existing show. Create your own witty, original and exciting script instead and use that as your calling card. With enough talent, luck and persistence, you might be given a chance to write for an existing show - and get paid for it.

****ing Deadwood: Is Swearing Big and Clever?

Go here if if you want to watch all the swearing from a single episode of HBO's marvellous Deadwood condensed into two minutes and 32 seconds. WARNING: this clip contains, well, swearing. A lot of swearing. More swearing than some people may have heard in their entire lives. If you find swearing and profanity offensive, this clip is not for you. If you think swearing is both big and clever [like me, sadly], prepare to laugh your *** off. Spoiler: the clips are all from the Deadwood season 2 finale, in case you haven't already seen it. Not that you'll be able to glean much just by watching this Al Swear-a-thon.

Separated at birth? Tracy & McKee

Is it just my imagination, or does Thunderbirds scion Jeff Tracy bear a startling resemblance to Hollywood story structure guru Robert McKee? More to the point, would the Thunderbirds film been better if McKee had acted as script consultant on it?

Writing for Television by William Smethurst

Doing the MA Screenwriting course at Edinburgh's Napier University has persuaded of the wisdom to be had from reading. I know, it's a bizarre statement for a freelance scribe and would-be screenwriter to make, but before starting the course I didn't bother reading many guide books about writing for film and/or TV. Frankly, there aren't that many books about writing for TV worth reading, but that's another matter. Obviously, I had my obligatory copy of Robert McKee's Story, but that's a rather dry transcript of his seminar and I did that back in '93 or '94 - the book now works best as a refresher. And I bought The Writer's Journey, after reading a piece about it in the Sunday Times years ago.

Since starting the MA course I've acquired a shelf-load of tomes of varying values. The latest I'd added to the stack is Writing for Television [4th Edition] by William Smethurst, published last year by How To Books [ISBN: 1845280261]. Grud, I wish I'd read this before I decided to spend a month writing a Doctors spec script several years ago! It wouldn't have made my writing much better, but it would have persuaded not to send a spec script for an existing show to that show. The book is full of useful advice about writing for TV and how to break in. There are no magic formula, just a lot of common sense and knowledge gleaned from Smethurst's years in the industry. [He worked on Boon, radio soap The Archers and devised the short-lived BSB space soap Jupiter Moon].

Where the book falls down is the constant use of shows from Smethurst's career as examples, particularly Jupiter Moon. That programme quietly died in 1991, making the text seem dated and behind the times. In truth, this revised edition is sprinkled with far more up to date references, but the constant referring back to Jupiter Moon [all the photos on the blandly designed cover are from that show] becomes wearisome. The book was published in February 2005, and in the fast-moving world of TV events have moved on since then. The rise of younger indies like Kudos and Red goes unmentioned, while including URLs for useful websites in reference books should always come with a caveat about how quickly such info can become out of date.

Despite these gripes, I think Writing for Television is worth it's £9.99 cover price - buy it from an online retailer were you can shave three quid off that price. A useful addition to my bookshelf.

TV Serials: Killer or Filler?

At the American TV Critics' Association press junket, Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori has been fretting over the number of serials coming to US TV this autumn, according to trade paper Variety. Shows like Lost and 24 make for compelling viewing, but happens if similar shows flop?
'I think all of us have to ask the question, 'What do we do if these shows don't work?' Liguori said. 'If, in fact, some of these serialized shows are canceled and there's no explanation, there's no satisfaction, I'd have fear for next year (if) a bunch of serialized shows comes out. Will audiences now be really gun-shy about committing to these shows? This is going to be a really telling television season.'

The 22-episodes per season structure of US network TV drama only makes this problem worse. With the exception of soaps, few UK television shows are launched with a 22-episode order. The likes of Casualty and Holby have grown to the point where they are on virtually all year round, but they are series with ongoing soap elements, rather than serials in the Lost mode. Even 24 can have its plug pulled at the end of each season, if needs be, as it begins a new serial each year - Lost doen't have that luxury.

The simple fact is that Lost clones will wither and die - witness the profusion of shows like Threshold, Invasion and Surface last season on US TV. Viewers are smart enough to grasp the fragility of their favourite show's existence. If there's enough support, a show will survive - be it a drama series or serial. Even if it doesn't, DVD [and, increasingly, legal downloading] means there is a second life for shows that don't fulfil the 100-episode requirement that used to be a minimum for TV programme to get lucrative syndication deals.

Witness the revivals of Family Guy and Futurama, both brought back from cancellation after success on DVD. Even the prematurely cancelled Firefly made a comeback, albeit as a film that failed to find a wider audience beyong the show's hardcore enthusiasts, the Browncoats. Besides, it's kind of ironic to have a Fox exec waggling the finger of warning at other networks, since it's Fox who pulled the plug on shows like Futurama and Firefly.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Colin Wilson: Genius at work

Colin Wilson is a true rarity, a comics artist who's work has been acclaimed in America, Britain and most especially in Europe. What makes that achievement even more impressive is the fact Wilson hails from New Zealand, a nation too small to sustain a comics industry. He now resides in Australia and drew the stunning illustration above to accompany a career retrospective interview in Australian comics fanzine Word Balloons [order your copy here].

Growing up in New Zealand, I used to read a lot of imported comics. Mostly they were Marvels from America, probably because they were full colour. At the time, DC Comics were being reprinted by an Australian outfit called Planet Comics in glorious monochrome, which never quite tickled my fancy so much. I did pick up the occasional issue of 2000 AD as well, little realising how much of my working life would become associated with it in the future. But in the late 70s something astounding happened - a full colour comic was published in New Zealand!

Captain Sunshine was apparently created as a promotional tie-in to a new solar-powered watch. I couldn't have cared less about that, all I wanted was more Captain Sunshine. At last, a Kiwi comic and in colour, too. I bought the first issue [the only published issue, it proved to be] from a corner shop in Auckland's Blockhouse Bay suburb. I was captivated - if only I'd had the sense to hang on to my copy. [What I wouldn't give to get a copy again!] Little did I realise Captain Sunshine was drawn by Colin Wilson, nor that I'd end up employing him on 2000 AD 20 years later. [The credit for that goes to Andy Diggle, who sought Colin out and persuaded him into working for the comic again after a 17-year hiatus. Clever bloke, that Diggle.]

About the same time as Captain Sunshine appeared in my life, my elder brother Phil was heavily into Toy Love. Toy Love was an anarchic, post-punk Kiwi band fronted by career iconoclast and comics buff Chris Knox. I never got to see Toy Love in concert, but I loved their first [and only] album, nearly wearing a hole through my brother's vinyl copy of it. Recently that album was re-released on double CD, with 16 previously unreleased tracks and all manner of madness. The cover is a remastered piece of artwork originally created for a Toy Love poster by a young New Zealand artist of the time. His name: Colin Wilson, of course. Strange how life leads you around in these friendly circles sometimes, isn't it? You can find out more about Colin and his work by going here.

[Thanks to Mark's bad librarianship blog for the heads-up on this!]

UPDATE - SEPTEMBER 2009: Just had an email from artist Mark Harrison, correcting my faulty memory on how Pulp Sci-Fi got started and Colin Wilson's return to 2000AD> Mark writes...
The way I remember it I pitched the idea of Pulp Sci-fi to you in a hotel room at a comics con and that it would be a great way to get old 2000 AD talent back into the comic that couldn't commit to a full story to do little these little strips and I reeled of a list of names INCLUDING Colin Wilson (who i repeatedly asked Andy to get hold of and mentioned this to Colin when I did the cover for his Pulp Sci-fi strip) and have gone on record as saying the best thing that came out of Pulp Sc-fi WAS getting Colin Wilson back into the fold.

Andy might have done the leg work but I gave him the idea, so clever... hmmm? Resourceful yes. And attentive to artists.

Exclusive: Jock poster art for 'Children of Men'

Neatly tying together two recent postings, British artist Jock has just sent me a poster design he created for forthcoming film Children of Men. The image was given away over the weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con to promote the movie's release. Now Vicious Imagery readers can see Jock's stunning art for themselves...

San Diego a-go-go

The San Diego Comic-Con is over for another year, bringing with it a rash of announcements about new comics projects and fresh creative teams for ongoing titles. Like soap operas, superhero comics are all about the illusion of change. Some characters come and go, but the essentials always remain the same. You can burn down the Queen Vic in EastEnders, but somebody will soon refurbish and reopen. You can have Spiderman reveal his true identity, but that won't stop him fighting crime or slinging webs for long.

San Diego has become a significant event in the media calendar, particularly for certain kinds of TV shows and films. Unsurprisingly, movies based on comics are a big focus at the convention. This dates back 30 years, to when the first Star Wars film got its launch in front of 100 people at San Diego. Variety estimates at least 1000,000 people were at this year's convention. [That's right, Variety reports on the San Diego Comic-Con. My, how times change.] Spiderman 3 only finished shooting a fortnight ago, but director Sam Raimi and most of the cast were in San Diego over the weekend to pump up interest in the film [it doesn't open until Summer 2007]. They even screened several minutes of raw footage, complete with visible wires and green screen. But it's not just about the obvious crossover. Geek favourite Snakes On a Plane was previewed for the crowds, with star Samuel L Jackson hosting a screening of 10 minutes from the much-anticipated creature feature.

San Diego has now gotten so big it's close to becoming unmanageable. Director Kevin Smith missed the panel for his own film, Clerks II, because he was stuck in traffic trying to get to the convention centre. Even if he'd gotten out of the car, I doubt he'd ever have made it through the throng in time. On the two occasions I've attended the convention, it took an hour to get from one end of the main hall to the other. But that was back in '97 and '99, when the event and venue were a fraction of their current size. Grud only knows what it must be like now.

For a flavour of what the con is like, I recommend a column written by Augie De Blieck Jr on the Comic Book Resources website [see it here]. Above is a picture borrowed from that column, which neatly wraps up a little Star Wars thread that's been running in this blog of late for no apparent reason.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

All You Need Is Brains

What do you get if you cross the first Beatles' film with George Romero's zombie apocalypse features?
Why, A Hard Day's Night of the Living Dead, of course! That's right, it's another bizarre movie mashup, courtesy of YouTube.

Friday, July 21, 2006

This looks interesting...

The trailer has just gone online for Children of Men, a film set a generation in the future when mankind has become infertile. It's a classic science fiction concept, but looks like the story is being told on a personal scale - a cosy catastrophe this ain't...

Writing in computer games - WGGB event

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain is staging a computer games industry forum in September, to debate the future of games narrative. The event's taking place at the BAFTA building on Piccadilly in central London, and the Guild is inviting developers, publishers, scribes and all those within the games industry to attend [see more details here].

Among the questions up for discussion: Many publishers and IP brand managers now require professional writers to be involved in projects, but how can you get the most out of your writers? Can writers be a help or a hindrance? How do you find a writer? What does a writer expect from you and what should you expect of a writer? When in the games development process should a writer be employed?

My experience of writing for computer games is relatively limited, but I feel the sooner developers gets a writer involved, the better. Having a professional scribe on board when IP is being initially created and developed can help bring out the best from an idea. I get the impression [and I could well be wrong] that too many games get a long way down the road before they realise their initial inspiration only gets them so far.

They need somebody to put words into the mouths of their core characters and NPC, somebody to help propel the story. But by that point inherent flaws in the story have been built into the game that would be too expensive to retroactively eliminate - flaws that might have been avoided with the involvement of a good writer. As the redoubtable Jim Swallow pointed out to me yesterday, writers work differently from games developers. [He should know, he's contributed to a book on the subject - available here.]

You need a writer at various stages during a game's development, but you don't need them hanging around 24/7. Getting a writer in at the 11th hour to inject some character into your game is akin to hiring an architect to do your interior decorating after the building is finished. Sure, they can make it look better inside, but the basic structure may be fatally flawed - and it's too late for them to help fix that.

You get the best from a good writer by involving them early, not as an afterthought.

Death-Match 2008: James Bond versus Iron Man

James Bond will be going hed to head with Marvel Comics' Iron Man in cinemas, come May 2nd 2008. Variety reports that date has been selected for opening day of the as-yet untitled 22nd film in the Bond franchise. Previously, only one other film had been given a specific release date for 2008 - Iron Man. It'll be interesting to see who blinks first. My money's on Marvel. Iron Man is the company's first fully self-funded feature, so there's a lot fo stake, and the character is hardly known outside the comics industry. That was true of Blade, of course, but everybody knows what a vampire is, don't they? Iron Man's role as a techno-Batman is a tougher sell, IMHO.

Sony and MGM are obviously feeling pretty confident in Casino Royale. The 21st Bond movie doesn't open until this November, but the filmmakers have already contracted Daniel Craig to repeat his starring role as 007. No title for the 22nd Bond film has been announced yet. Having now exhausted all the titles Ian Fleming created for his novels, I suppose Eon could borrow from the Bond short stories. But most of these have already been pillaged, leaving only four original Fleming titles from which to choose. Come 2008, will the cinemas be featuring The Property of a Lady [I don't think so], Risico [probably not], Quantum of Solace [great title, but for a Bond film?] or The Hildebrand Rarity [well, maybe]. Call me old fashioned, but why not call the movie simply 007?

Fox Atomic Comics: Spilling the beans

Comic Book Resources has an interview with Fox Atomic Comics COO John Hegeman, talking about what the company has planned for the future. It's already commissioned Steve Niles to create a graphic novel that acts as a prequel for the forthcoming film 28 Weeks Later, and another adapting short stories by horror writer Thomas Ligotti, called The Nightmare Factory. Best news of all, FAC will be looking at submissions - a rare choice in US comics these days. No doubt they'll be swamped in seconds, so if you've a mind to hit them up for work, don't be tardy when the floodgates open. You can here the full interview here, but this extract describes what FAC is looking to publish:
Fox Atomic in general will be making horror, comedy and action movies - we'll be making all sorts of movies. When it comes to graphic novels, we'll probably be focusing on horror and thrillers. For no other reason than I think they're the ones that work the best and are the most fun to read and the audience for those are the most avid and we think we can build a strong relationship by leading with that focus.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fox Atomic embraces graphic novels

According to Variety, the youth-oriented Fox Atomic film division 'has inked a partnership with HarperCollins to publish and distribute graphic novels under the Fox Atomic Comics banner. Up to four graphic novels are planned for release in 2007. Some titles will be tied to Fox Atomic theatrical releases, others will be based on original content.'

Atomic also announced its initial schedule of releases: Turistas on Dec. 1, The Hills Have Eyes 2 in March 2007 [gee, why didn't they call it The Hills Have 2 Eyes?] and the muc-anticipated sequel to 28 Days Later will reach US cinemas next May. 28 Weeks Later is directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and picks up six months after the Rage virus has decimated London.

Good to see graphic novels being emrbaced as part of a vertical media strategy for film releases targeted at teenagers and young adults. Slowly but surely, the idea that comics don't simply have to be about men in tights and capes hurting each other is seeping out into the broader consciousness.

Princess Kudos Objectives go Wall to Wall?

Broadcast has an interesting article about the likelihood of mergers and/or acquisitions involving four rising stars among British TV's independent programme makers. The companies in play are: Kudos [makes of Life on Mars, Hustle, etc]; Princess [The Friday Night Project, The Wright Stuff]; Objective [Dirty Tricks, Peep Show]; and Wall to Wall [New Tricks, Who Do You Think You Are]. One or more of the companies will probably be swallowed by a super-indie before the end of the year, it seems. Alternatively, the quartet might band together under one umbrella, enabling them to attract greater capitalisation from outside sources than they would standing alone. The four companies had a collective turnover of more than £75 million last year, with Kudos the strongest of the bunch. Interesting times lay ahead for them all.

Then there's the fallout from the BBC's latest organisational upheaval, creating a handful of super-commissioners with much broader remits than commissioners had before. Will this streamline the process of getting green lights for new shows, or make the process even more cumbersome than before? One certainty is that personal relationships with the people holding the pursestrings at the Beeb will become even more crucial than before. Here's a diagram of the new structure, designed to make everything simple and obvious:

See? That's much clearer, isn't it?

Guilty Pleasures: why do you like what you like?

Essayist, programmer and programming language designer Paul Graham has some interesting things to say about how creative people get their start imitating others - and how that often leads them astray. [Thanks to Alex Epstein for the heads-up on this link.] You can read the whole piece here, but the following extract concerns the nature of guilty pleasures:
Another way to figure out what you like is to look at what you enjoy as guilty pleasures. Many things people like, especially if they're young and ambitious, they like largely for the feeling of virtue in liking them. 99% of people reading Ulysses are thinking "I'm reading Ulysses" as they do it. A guilty pleasure is at least a pure one. What do you read when you don't feel up to being virtuous? What kind of book do you read and feel sad that there's only half of it left, instead of being impressed that you're half way through? That's what you really like.

So, what are your guilty pleasures? What kind of novels do you pick up for comfort reading? I know someone with the complete works of Dick Francis, who'll happily re-read them over and over again. Me, I'm addicted to John Irving's The World According to Garp, and All the President's Men by Woodward and Bernstein. Stephen King's On Writing lives in the bathroom. Among graphic novels I'll happy savour Watchmen anytime - but always skip over the Tales of the Black Freighter sequences.

Severance: one bloody, funny trailer

There's a new British comedy horror film coming out in August, written by James Moran. [Visitors with long memories might recall a plug for his excellent blog The Pen is Mightier Than the Spork in recent weeks.] Severance is about a company outing that goes horribly, horribly wrong. The movie is, inevitably, going to be endlessly compared to Shaun of the Dead, the last British film to be intentionally funny and frightening in equal measure. Get a sneak preview of the madness, mirth and mayhem by watching the trailer. If you don't laugh at this, have a nurse check your pulse.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Little Britain stars: how much am I bid?

If British tabloid newspapers had a collective motto, it would be 'never let the facts get in the way of a good story'. Today they've gone all out to trump each other when it comes to disclosing how much the BBC will pay Little Britain stars to develop new material exclusively for the corporation. The Sun starts the bidding with £3 million each for the comic pair's three-year deal.The Daily Star and the Daily Mail call that a £6 million golden handcuffs contract. But the Daily Mirror outdoes the competition by claiming Walliams and Lucas will get £10 million from the deal. They can't all be right, can they?

Today's weather: Scorchio! Scorchio! Scorchio!

Frank Miller to helm film of Eisner's The Spirit

Variety reports that comics creator Frank Miller has been chosen to adapt and direct The Spirit, a feature film based on the legendary strip by Will Eisner. It tells the story of a masked detective believed to be dead, who fights crime in the dark shadows of Central City, using a mausoleum as his base of operations.

'First I said I can't do this and then I said I can't let anybody else touch it,' Miller told Variety. 'I intend to be extremely faithful to the heart and soul of the material, but it won't be nostalgic. It will be much scarier than people expect.' He said his treatment consists largely of panels from The Spirit strip. The project was offered to various studios, but they wanted The Spirit in spandex, not a suit and tie.

This is not the comic book creator's first film project. Miller co-directed Sin City with Robert Rodriguez, adapting his own graphic novels. The pair are currently prepping Sin City 2, while a feature based on Miller's graphic novel 300 is being made by Warner Brothers for a Spring 2007 release.

Scritti Politti nominated for the Mercury Prize

Every year twelve albums are shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, a prestigious and frequently controversial quest for the best British album of the moment. Winners have ranged from the sublime [Primal SCream] to the ridiculous [M People, anybody?], and the variety of choices in any given year sprawls across most known genres of music.

The winner gets a cash prize of £20,000 [not to be sniffed at], but also gets a massive sales boost from the exposure. For more obscure winners, like 2005's Antony and the Johnson's, the Mercury can see their sales surge by close to 1000%. Best of luck to Scritti Politti, though I don't fancy the chances of White Bread, Black Beer winning. Media pundits are tipping the Arctic Monkeys or Radiohead frotnman Thom Yorke's albums as likely winners. Personally, I think This Is My Demo by Sway might win.

In the meantime, it's only 19 days until I go to see Scritti performing live in Edinburgh. Never thought that'd happen!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2000 AD's tribute to Tom Frame

I'm sure 2000 AD won't mind too much if I reprint in full the text of an online tribute to the late, great letterer, Tom Frame. I've little doubt a future prog will mark the death of this great, unsung hero of British comics. Meanwhile, here's the text:
TOM FRAME 1931-2006

Everyone here at the Nerve Centre will miss Tom terribly. His contribution to 2000 AD spans over two and a half decades, not including his work on the Megazine and sundry other titles, and he was as much a part of the comic as its characters.

Always friendly and professional, Tom's great talent for lettering ensured that every strip his work appeared on was always an effortless pleasure to read. Although letterers are rarely praised, their contribution remains invaluable, and proves that comics is a collaborative medium, each component part essential to the construction of the story. Tom always made sure that his lettering aided the storytelling, never hindered it.

Our condolences go out to his family. If anyone wishes to make a donation to the Marie Curie charity, they can do so here:

Summer in Scotland, winter in NZ

Scotland is having its fourth hot, scorching day in succession - this'll be summer. Enjoy the brilliant blue skies and glorious sunshine while it lasts. Meanwhile, my sister Annaliese sent me these pictures to show what winter is like in New Zealand.

Crafty TV Writing: useful, funny, best for North American scribes

Spent a luxurious hour in the bath yesterday finishing Alex Epstein's new book, CRAFTY TV WRITING: Thinking Inside the Box. The tome is subtitled 'A professional TV writer's real-world guide to getting paid to write great television' and that's pretty accurate. As noted by UK scribe Lee Thomson on his blog The Light, It Hurts, large chunks of the text are simply not relevant to wannabe writers who live outside North America. Epstein's experiences and insights into cracking the US and Canadian TV writing market are fascinating to read, but not much use for people in other countries. Well, unless you plan on moving to Los Angeles or Toronto, you brave souls.

But there is much about the book that's useful, it's all entertaining and Epstein writes with am ease and grace that makes the most complex concepts digestible. Rest assured, you're not simply buying one man's philosophy of screenwriting, as often happens with some tomes [particularly film writing books]. The author peppers his text with pertinent quotes from other industry professionals, agents and story editors and producers as well as many, many scribes.

There are two sections I'm going to pick out, for different reasons. In Moving Up the Food Chain, Epstein writes about how to run a writing room. Frankly, the advice he gives is applicable to almost anybody who has to manage other people - in a creative industry or otherwise. I'll keep this first extract down to the bullet points, in the interests of brevity. [If you don't work with writers, simply substitute the words staff for writers and task for script in what follows.]
• Always Start with Praise. If you can't praise the execution, praise the effort.
• Keep Responsibilities Clear. Make sure it's always clear who's working on which script.
• Keep Your Staff Working. Make sure everybody has something to work on.
• Try to Let Your Writers Do Their Work. Only take a script away from someone if he's really not going to be able to do the job in time.
• Work Toward the Long Term. Remember that show business is small, and how you treat people less powerful than you is how you'll be treated when you need a break later on.
• Pace Yourself. If you're so stressed that you're not having a life outside of work, you're probably working too many hours.
• Keep Up Discipline, but Don't Embarrass Anyone. Never tell off a writer [or anyone else for that matter] in front of other people.
• Don't Hog the Vision. Make sure everyone knows the vision you're trying to put on screen.

It's amazing how much of that is applicable to all the work environments I've ever been in, from washing dishes in a Latin American cafe to managing a hundred freelancers and a creative budget in excess of half a million pounds.

The other piece I wanted to extract is less profound, but I found it funny. Epstein is describing how TV writers often put what the characters are thinking into a script's action description, as a kind of shorthand. Here's the book's example:
Hey, I call the other night...

Oh, my God. He knows! Jill tries to cover:

Yeah, I accidentally kicked the plug out. I'm such a klutz.

Here's how Epstein follows that extract: Telling us what the character is thinking also puts the reader more into the character's point of view. The episode will read better. You have to be careful with this tool, though, and never use it for evil.

All in all, I recommend CRAFTY TV WRITING for all would-be TV scribes, but where you live will impact how useful the book is to you as a whole. It's published by Owl Books in the US and is available from Apparently it'll reach the UK on August 10th, but you can pre-order it from

How will Martha Jones fit into Doctor Who?

WARNING: This posting contains spoilers for series two of Doctor Who! Right, on we go. It's been announced that Freema Agyeman will join the TARDIS for the third series of Doctor Who, to be broadcast next year on BBC1. The new companion is called Martha Jones and I know absolutely nothing more about her beyond that. Everything that follows is merely speculation, okay? Good.

We've just said goodbye to Rose Tyler, the Doctor's council estate companion, plucked from contemporary Earth. Her time in TARDIS also gave the show an extended family, with Rose's mum Jackie, sometime boyfriend Mickey and often dead dad Pete. All of this grounded the show in the here and now, procuring massive audience identification and helping create a family audience for the Doctor's adventures. With a contemporary companion, taking Rose into past or future gave everything a novelty, a freshness.

The question now is how will the new companion affect that dynamic of the show? Will Martha be cut from much the same cloth as Rose, or will the programme makers opt for something more radical? Perhaps Martha will be all ASBOs and attitude, an angry young woman searching for her place in the universe. Perhaps she'll be plucked from the past, so bringing her to contemporary Earth [well, Cardiff, for the most part] will make the commonplace seem new to the viewer, seeing it afresh through Martha's eyes. The same effect could be achieved by having her come from humanity's future, or from another planet - perhaps an Earth colony of tomorrow.

In its first incarnation, Doctor Who ran for 26 years on British TV. During that time, the Doctor's companions were mostly required to ask questions that elicited exposition or fall into jeopardy. The best companions stood out because of their particular qualities. Sarah Jane Smith was an investigative journalist and proto-feminist of sorts, who stood up for herself while asking impertinent questions. Leela was a savage from a human colony, who underwent a Pygmalion-esque transition. Romana was a Time Lady, making her the Doctor's equal - and sometimes his superior. Ace was a troubled London teenager who wanted to escape. More recently, Rose was a bored young woman from Londonn who wanted to escape, but still loved her family - a softened, more nuanced progression of Ace.

So, will Martha Jones resemble any of these past companions, or will she be something entirely fresh and different? What do you think?

Monday, July 17, 2006

He Ain't a Heavy, He's a Brother

After the sad news about Tom Frame [see previous post, below], I figure we could all do with some cheering up. so, here's the perfect antidote to those I Don't Like Monday Blues, courtesy of YouTube [and Paul Cornell for pointing out the link]: Nine minutes of Star Wars with all of Darth Vader's dialogue replaced with lines spoken by James Earl Jones in other movies. It's bloody funny, and recasts Vader as a lone groover, babbling about things nobody else understands. By the end, you're on his side, believing the galaxy would be a better place if we all appreciated baseball and the early works of Billy Joel. No, really. check out for yourself...

In other news, I've now officially been commissioned for my first Warhammer novel by Black Library. The Games Workshop omerta forbids me from divulging any details, but the book is due out next year and should be a right riveting read.

The postman has just delivered stats of Colin MacNeil's art for Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad #6. Stunning stuff, even on these murky copies. You gotta love it when an artist takes a scene you imagined in your head and transform that into something far, far better. Hey, anything that improves my writing is fine by me.

Woke up expectig to be incapable of movement after a long afternoon playing cricket yesterday, but am only a bit stiff of muscle and tendon. The Biggar Cricket Club senior team was playing Selkirk at Selkirk on a scorchingly hot day. Selkirk batted first and hit 209 off 40 overs, aided by my usual bumbling efforts in the field. I can't run that fast and can't throw for toffee, but always seem to end up on the boundary. I suspect I need new glasses, as I'm not picking up the flight of the ball as quickly as I'd like, either. Bowled three overs [with only one embarrassingly punk delivery included], but went for 26 runs - far too expensive. The batsmen were hitting it in the air, but never close enough to get caught, or edging it past the 'keeper. Despite that, I was pretty happy with my bowling.

Alas, my dismal run with the bat continues. I planned to block the first over, and have a go at any bad balls. The first delivery was down the leg side, so I left it. By this stage there were a handful of overs left and we were still in with a longshot chance of snatching a victory. My partner shouted at me to have a go at everything. I duly had a go at the second delivery and edged it on to my stumps. Pathetic. If I could get some batting practice or some coaching, I might work my way up to useless, or even not abjectedly awful. But facing two deliveries a week is not doing the job - much like my batting at the moment.

Despite my feeble contribution, the match turned into a thriller. Man of the match Gary carried his bat through the innings, scoring a mammoth 147 not out in our total of 206 for 9. When the last ball was bowled, he needed to hit a four to win the match for Biggar and reach his 150. Alas, it only brought a single and Selkirk triumphed. It's rare that a Sunday afternoon social game of cricket turns into such a nailbiter, and a shame Gary couldn't pull off a miracle, but he did the team proud. We played in good spirits, not taking too seriously and keeping a smile on our faces, even in defeat. If only all teams approached the game with the same attitude...

Right, enough wittering. Today work begins in earnest on THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD: The History of 2000 AD. In 2002 and 2003 I wrote a series of articles for the Judge Dredd Megazine, detailing the life and times of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic. I'm now revising, updating and enhancing that 85,000 words into a 120,000 word for publication next February to coincide with 2000 AD's 30th anniversary. I'm still interviewing people for the book, but need to make a start on the manuscript.

Peter Milligan has promised he'll find a space in his insanely busy schedule to talk about his mighty contributions to the comics, such as Bad Company and Hewligan's Haircut. Hilary Robinson has already supplied with the story of how she came to be writing half the comic in the late 80s, and retained the copyright on her creations. I'm hopeful of tapping the memories of early editorial team members Colin Wyatt and Roy Preston, while current editor Matt Smith has promised to talk about his tenure.

There's a handful of contributors who remain missing in action: Tom Tully, Alan Hebden and Michael Fleischer have all escaped me thus far. Anybody who knows their contact details, feel free to contact me via the comments section on this blog.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Rest in Peace, Tom Frame

I'm immensely saddened to report the death of legendary 2000 AD letterer Tom Frame, claimed by cancer. I worked with Tom for twelve years, on both the Judge Dredd Megazine and 2000 AD. His lettering was as much a part of Dredd as the future lawman's badge or gun. Tom took a great deal of care with and pride in his work, and rightly so. But he wasn't just a letterer.

For a long time in the early 80s Tom coloured the covers and centre-spread of 2000 AD, making the most of the primitive printing facilities used on the weekly. If you ever needed a living embodiment of curmudgeon, Tom was it - but he was kind-hearted grouch, with a face that spoke volumes about a life well lived. He was a demon on the pool table, frustrating his opponents and smiling at their misfortunes. But most of all he was an exemplary professional who cared about telling stories and always strove to do his best, even if he did leave the occasional set of artwork in a curry house after a long night's drinking!

The world is that little bit poorer for his death, and British comics will never be the same now that Tom's gone. Rest in peace.

Anybody who wishes to make a donation to Cancer Research, can do so online by going here.

I say, chaps, it's the Three-Trousered Limbo!

The Chap Olympics is an annual event is hosted by Chaps Magazine - the bible for traditional gentlemen who are against the vulgarity of modern culture. The opening ceremony includes the lighting of the Olympic pipe. These events are for the immaculate of trouser, the frail of form and the fearful of sport. It celebrates panache rather than athleticism. In the Bounders discipline chaps approach a lady, behave like cads and the one who is slapped hardest around the face wins. In the three-trousered limbo pairs share enormous trousers, run to a limbo pole and try to go under it. The trousers must remain at a discreet level, with points deducted for underwear revelation. See more of this madness here.

Mind the chandelier, Hasselhoff!

Be prepared to stab your eyes out with a needle after watching this.

Blimey, this looks good.

The Prestige, the next film from Christopher Nolan, director of Batman Begins, the Insomnia remake and Memento. Stonking trailer - bring on the movie!

Leia Your Love On Me

I challenge anybody to watch this and make it to the end. The first two minutes are merely bemusing, but the stomach-churning, belief-beggaring, mind-swiping madness soon takes over. And then Princess Leia starts singing.

Oh. My. Grud.

Yes, folks, it's the legendary Star Wars Holiday Special. I think this is what the Empire used to torture captives on the Death Star.

Design trash, functioning pancreas and somesuch

Among the many joys of SiteMeter is it lets you see the referring pages that led visitors to your blog. So, when routine bites hard and ambition is low, I go visiting. Today I found myself in a wild variety of strang eplaces. The image above is borrowed from this blog, and seems to be a rejected T-shirt design. Shame, as I kinda like it.

Other blogs I wandered across this morning: Ang-ang, the diary of a fashion model wannabe in the Philippines whose top three goals are 1. No more laziness 2. No more w**king and 3. Exercise regularly; and The Art of J. Pagan, where the groovy picture below originates. All these talented people, all detailing their progress in public. It's like the people of the world pasted pages from their journals in the sky. Or somesuch.

Can multiple scribes write a single vision film?

There's an interesting interview on the Writers' Guild of America West site with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, writers of numerous hit films including Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean [read the whole thing here]. Towards the end they talk about the emergence of a TV-style writers' room approach to developing film screenplays:

Terry Rossio: There's a trend, I want to call it the Pixar model. The WGA especially has promoted the idea of trying to have one writer, or limiting the number of writers on a movie, [but] you look at Pixar films, and they'll have four writers on a movie. They have a process up there of having multiple talents on a movie, almost like a think tank.

I think in the past there were these brilliant directors who held the whole movie in their head and brilliant writers who could conceive of a whole world full-blown. Maybe there aren't as many of those talents around, and in order to satisfy that need for blockbusters, we will be gravitating toward more of a team approach, when needed.

And there's obviously a difference between multiple rewrites down the line versus working as a team from the start...

Terry Rossio: There's a difference, but the effect is the same. It is actually legit to have a singular-vision movie that multiple writers worked on.

Ted Elliot: If writers end up in a situation of serial collaboration, there are two ways to do it: one at a time, without any interaction, which is the feature model, or to presume serial collaboration where needed from the start, which is the staff model of television.

Terry Rossio: And animation.


By the way, if you haven't already seen it, check out Ted and Terry's wonderful site about screenwriting. The section called Columns is particularly useful, both funny and full of great tips.

More WhoTube madness

A nifty music video cut together from new Who's series one, set to Pink's Who Knew.

And here's a tearjerker. .

And here's Doctor Who done Benny Hill stylee:

Girls Aloud versus Doctor Who. No, really.

In case you haven't already seen this, some scamp has cut together footage from Doctor Who with the Girls Aloud video for Jump. Brilliantly done, even if you can't abide Girls Aloud.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Random media bulletins

Hugh Laurie is getting a big, fat pay rise to stay with hit US TV series, House. Variety reports that the British actor 'will pull down more than $275,000 [about £150,000] per episode next season as part of a just-renegotiated contract with producer NBC Universal Television Studio'. That's £3.3 million pounds for 22 episodes, fact-fans. Glad to see Hugh making a bob or two being snide in an American accent. Just been re-watching season one of House on DVD. Trust me, if you've never seen the show, Laurie [and the writing of his character] is the difference between House being entertaining and not.

* * * * *

HBO is preparing for life after The Sopranos. David Chase's sublime mob family drama is slowing edging towards its final hit, potentially leaving a big hole in the cable network's schedules. But HBO is preparing for that future, yesterday announcing plans for two new series from the makers of Six Feet Under and Deadwood.

SFU creator Alan Ball is readying True Blood, a vampire series he's been developing for the best part of a year. Meanwhile Deadwood supremo David Milch is the person behind John From Cincinatti, a surfing drama set in Hawaii. Both are expected on screen towards the end of 2007. Alas, it was the onsert of Milch's new show that precipitated the imminent demise of Deadwood. All I can say is, John From Cincinatti better be damned good, otherwise this qualifies as a bad, bad trade.

* * * * *

Last night's British TV featured two new dramas, both starting at the same time on different channels. BBC2 had a one-off, 90-minute thriller called Soundproof, while ITV launched a more whimsical series called Jane Hall. I watched Soundproof and recorded Jane Hall as my lunchtime viewing for today. Rather than waste my lunch hour surfing the net, I try to watch an hour of drama I've previously recorded or a special feature from a DVD set detailing the development process of a TV series or film. That way I feel I'm not wasting the hour I spend away from the computer.

Soundproof was an intriguing murder mystery that kept me guessing until the end. If I had to write the logline for the show, I guess it would go something like this: A sign language interpreter and a deaf man become lovers when she helps the police interview him after his flatmate dies. When the deaf man is accused of murder, the interpreter doesn't know what to believe or who to trust. The show was intelligently made, telling a gripping story while offering non-deaf people an insight into what life without hearing. [It showed me how blithely I accept my own hearing. For example, I'd never thought what a boon texting must be for deaf people, how much it must have helped their lives to be able to communicate so quickly with friends in other places.]

Joe Fisher's script was compelling, as were the performers, and the show looked more cinematic than most TV. There was a wonderful moment towards the end where the two leads are talking near the raised embankment of a railway line. As the man storms off, a dark cloud fell across the scene, subtlely underlining the moment. Serendipity, or did the crew stand outside for hours trying to capture that image?

Two of the programme's greatest strengths were its score and sound design. The music was lovely, mournful and touching - wish I knew who'd composed it, but can't find a full list of credits on line. Even better was the sound design, using noises to create the impression of what it is to be profoundly hearing impaired. I guess I should be grateful I've got good enough hearing to appreciate the music and sound design...

* * * * *

Virgin Comics has signed film director John Woo and former 2000 AD comics scribe Garth Ennis to create a series called Seven Brothers. It's the story of seven siblings who leave China and settle on different continents. Half a millennia later, their descendants must unite to battle a global threat. But the bloodlien of the seven brothers has been much changed over the intervening centuries, creating an unlikely alliance. Seven Brothers is due out in October. Can a film version be far away? Congratulations on Garth for this deal, he's a huge movie buff. Now, if only he could get the rights from Peter Jackson for that Bad Taste sequel Garth's long wanted to write.

* * * * *

While I was watching Soundproof on BBC2 and recording Jane Hall from ITV, Channel 5 was showing the 1995 film of Judge Dredd. Our Channel 5 reception is next to non-existent, so watching the film was never an option. Besides, I've seen it as least a dozen times by now and once more wouldn't change my opinion of it much, I suspect.

The biggest surprise has to be how it's rating in the Radio Times has improved over the years. The movie now gets four stars out of five. According to the Radio Times, that means Judge Dredd is on the same level as such films as Cool Hand Luke, Scent of a Woman, Play Misty For Me, The Thin Man and Blood Simple. I wonder what director Danny Cannon would make of that?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Joining the Writers' Guild

So, I've applied to the Writers' Guild of Great Britain for student membership. All you need is twenty quid and a letter from the college at which you're studying that proves you're undertaking significant, academic studies in screenwriting. Napier University kindly supplied the letter and my overdraft did the rest.

Organisations like the WGGB make important breakthroughs that benefit the careers of all writers, not just members, such as negotiating minimum terms and conditions with massive corporations like the BBC. (The Society of Authors does similar good work on behalf of published writers. By comparison, the Crime Writers' Association is more of a social animal.) I believe unions and guilds are a good thing. If you're a writer, support your guild - it supports you! End of sermon.

Crafty TV Writing and other treats

So the postman left me a note to say my shipment from was awaiting me at the local sorting office, because I owed ten quid to customs for importing DVDs. sometimes they'll sting you for importing DVDs, sometimes they don't - seems entirely random. So I trooped down the road and collected my care package from across the Atlantic. Inside was a copy of Alex Epstein's CRAFTY TV WRITING: Thinking Inside the Box [not Thinging Inside the Box, as my Freudian-slip laden fingers just tried to type - that would be a very different kind of book, I suspect]. Already torn through the first 30 pages and the book's as intelligent, witty and droll as Alex's blog about screenwriting, Complications Ensue.

Obviously, some of the advice won't translate to Britain. In America it's commonplace to write a spec script of an existing show to get yourself noticed. In the UK that's not done. Instead, if you want to get a job on a show writing other people's characters, you're expected to write an utterly original script. That hopefully shows you've got talent and you're own voice. Then you might get to write somebody else's characters on somebody else's show, subsuming your voice to the show's voice. Strange but true, it seems. Still, looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Also in the box was the Region 1 DVD release of Deadwood Season 2. Now, these episodes were already available as Region 2 release, but without the extras on the Region 1 release, so I've been patiently waiting for the US version. Now it's here at last. All the mother****ing swearing and people calling each other ****suckers you could possibly want, along with some of the best TV drama being created today. Classy stuff, once you get past Calamity Jane calling everybody ****s. Doris Day would never talk like that, would she?

Classic 2000 AD t-shirts: groovy as ****

2000 AD is launching a range of t-shirts, featuring classic characters in groovy new designs. Let your inner geek fly and be free!