Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'I've come t' fix thy oven'

According to a letter from the Authors Licencing and Collection Service, I've been paid £8.30 for a script I wrote called 'Raging Muck'.

I spend some time trying to recall writing an angry, kitchen sink type Northern grumble flick, before I realize the printing's a bit blurred, and it's actually for a Bob The Builder episode called 'Racing Muck'. Which now now I think of it, sounds even ruder.

It does remind me of this though, which I was delighted to find on YouTube:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Questions for The Thick Of It and In The Loop editor Billy Sneddon.

... who was also the editor for Green Wing. We were having a nice emaily chat the other day, and I thought it might be interesting to get him on the blog, what with editing being one of those things that's hugely important in the televisual scheme of things, but one that few people (including writers) actually know much about. So if anyone has any questions pertaining to the arcane skills of editing, put them in the comments here and I'll put them to him shortly.

In the meantime, here are some previous sort-of-interviews.

Drama agent: Matt Connell

Children's author: Alex Williams

Television composer: Garry Judd

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Writing spec scripts

In the 'No Signal' post 'PK' asked:

"My agent has told me not to bother writing screenplays at the moment. "The current climate, blah, blah. No one has any money to make anything..." How do you reckon things are going in the industry in that respect (and why was that previous sentence so clumsily phrased)?"

Hmm, interesting - I suspect it's because my agent recently had another client get a script made recently (it's been in the UK box office top ten in the last couple of weeks) - so maybe he just has a link to the lucky few who do have the ability/contacts/resources to get stuff made, and wants to strike while the iron is hot.

I'm not sure it's ever a bad time to write a screenplay though. Obviously you have to prioritise your work, but a good story is a good story. If you have a great idea that's film-shaped, you should probably find time to write it, because apart from anything else it's always good to have fresh work to show people. And most producers are looking for scripts around the 115 minute mark, so that's only three half hours, which isn't that much to write.

Quite apart from the creative element, that writers get better by writing more, all the spec writing I've ever done ('writing on spec' meaning to write something without having been specifically commissioned to do so) has paid for itself in the end. Either it's shown that I have my own voice when not writing as part of a team, as I had to prove after Green Wing, or that I can write in a different format or genre - my 'Hero Trip' spec screenplay showing I could write a longer form piece with a more dramatic element than my previous work had shown, although it was still a comedy at heart. And suddenly I was having meetings with producers who were happy to talk about me working on their one-hour drama shows, which hadn't been the case before.

I must admit to not having much sympathy these days for writers who complain about being pigeonholed in certain genres, whether that be soaps, kids' television, or animation. You have to prove you can write outside your comfort zone, and if that means finding an extra hour a day to work on something fresh (and as the parent of a one-year-old daughter don't think I say that casually), then so be it.

Dan Bull: Letter to Lily Allen

This is AWESOME:

From: b3ta

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trying to avoid two particular words.

I'm writing a spec horror screenplay at the moment (mainly because my agent said 'could you do a new film script for me? I know they don't take you long to write'), and at some point I'm going to have to find a new way of dealing with what is becoming the cliched line of dialogue of this particular genre:

From Movieline

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dr Horrible at the Emmys

EDIT: balls, it's been taken down - I'll see if I can find it elsewhere. I could describe it, but I think that would take most of the funny in the process.

EDIT 2: Let's see how long this one stays up.

French Midsomer Murders: The Tweetening.

For the puzzled: Patroclus and I are in the South of France. We were about to retire for the evening, when Midsomer Murders came on. Dubbed into French.

Midsomer Murders dubbed into French is no less completely mental.

Now Queen of the Bord (Alice Krige) and Doctor Who (Peter Davidson) have turned up! Both now speaking French! This is MENTULE.

'Queen of the Borg' I meant, although Alice Krige might well be Queen of the Bord as well. Either way, she's TOAST!

Peter Davidson has hands in pockets, and is rocking on the balls of his feet because that is what he does.

Christ, I wouldn't break into Midsomer Museum, like this bloke. Like the Scotland Yard's Black Museum, squared.

@Maudelynn I knew the books a bit, but never seen it before. Certainly not dubbed into French.

French John Nettles is like a cross between a saucy Thieftaker/Savante, and a grizzled Buddha. Like the worlds' Dad.

If anyone wishes to unfollow me for the duration, I quite understand.

@GrahamBandage Brrrrrrr. @waxingmoonman No-one is mort yet, as far as I can tell. Perhaps it's a format breaking episode.

A sheep is mort. French John Nettles not investigating yet.

@Fritziii Well who doesn't sound sexy in German, frankly.

Is no-one going to die in this episode? Have the French taken out the morts? Doesn't sound like them.

Apparently all cricket games in Midsomer are accompanied by a lunatic with a 1984 Casiotone (apols to Gary J if he composed this).

Bergerac just accused Doctor Who of cheating, and now the mad Shepherd comes to take revenge for his morted sheep.

Where are the murders? I was led to believe MM- BREAKING NEWS - death on the pitch!

Some bloke I hadn't seen before is dead. The Mad Shepherd is blaming THE MIDSOMER WOLFMAN. French J. Nettles unconvinced - NO FOOL HE.

Now the Secret Service is involved! I am genuinely not making any of this up.

I don't speak French, but I just F. J. Nettles just called his wife a ponce, and said he is storming to Paris to buy double cream.

Note that @patroclus CAN speak French, but it doesn't seem to be making any more sense to her.

Mad Shepherd is now embarking upon his own investigation, on the basis he's two feet taller than anyone else, which seems reasonable.

French Peter Davidson laughs lightly, but French Borg Queen knows something is up and it is not the LEGUMES.

French John Nettles is watching porn on his work computer, which is fine apparently, according to new EU rules.

Cor, French Borg Queen just decked French Peter Davidson! A lone French Dalek cheers.

'Daccor', says French Peter Davidson, which is French for 'Dalek', prob'ly.

All the characters now splitting up to hunt for the Midsomer Wolfman IN THE DARK!


French John Nettles woken, angered by increased workload.

All the other characters wait for French Peter Davidson to regenerate and tell them who did it.

@jamesmoran I HAVE HAD TOW GALSSES OF WINE!!!!!!

French Borg Queen attempts to catch FJ Nettles in his porn lair, but he is too clever for her.

French Colin from Game On now trying to help, because French John Nettles has gone back to porn.

Fake Headlines of our time: "Museum Break in - Nothing Stolen'.


Ooh my avatar's come back - has French Peter Davidson regenerated as me? Bu I don't know who did it!

Oooh, Mad Shepherd has gone missing...

@patroclus and I appear to be crossing the streams. FJ Nettles interrogating someone who up until now I assumed to be his mother.

French Colin from Game On has found a sabre-toothed tiger skull in a bran tub. BEST LUCKY DIP EVER!

Bah, Mad Shepherd doing a runner on a tractor. Quite slowly. French Colin caught him up by WALKING FAST.

Oops, he's French Matt from Game On, not French Colin. French BOrg Queen has chain an 80's yuppie up in a hearse - TO BORGIFY HIM.

Tractor still going on its own, hit a different yuppies Caterham 7, FJ Nettles blithely unconcerned. Yuppie: "INSPECTEUR!"

FJ Nettles now watching a new video of a man polishing a coffin - porn getting a bit specialised now.

FJ Nettles has found incriminating video evidence. I have no idea what of though. Ooh, a secret tunnel under a coffin!

Now a b+w flashback to german soldiers (sorry Fritzee) being nasty to a family. Everyone thinks this explains a lot.

French Matt from Game On does not believe what he is Ecouter-ing!

Nooo, man in coffin (don't know who) is going to be live-cremated, by French Borg Queen!

Man rescued, by FR Nettles and F Matt but has gone mad and singing a hymn (the very definition of insanity). French BQ unrepentent.

French Peter Davidson fails to regenerate in time for finale. 'Wolfman' apparently a file hiding under a chair all along.

Back to Alice Krige growling into a hedge - I must say, this is all tying up nicely now.
about 10 hours ago from TweetDeck

FJ Nettles at cricket, accepting congratulations from either wife or mother, not worked out precise relationship yet.

THE END. My apologies to all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Can Women Have It All In Comedy?"

Ori wasn't sure, but Richard and I knew, because we are Men and therefore Aces, so we helped her with this article, and took out all the stuff about kittens and knitting and that sort of thing, so it would be accepted, then we sent her back in the kitchen etc and so on.

"Oriane Messina was a main writer on the BAFTA award winning television programmes Green Wing and Smack the Pony. Here she tries to understand why so few female writers are working in comedy."

main article

Monday, September 14, 2009

Product Placement then.

I don't really like adverts. Okay, I like some, like that Transforming dancing car one for Ford, or that drumming gorilla one for Nestlé, or that one where the man puts on some classical music and runs through a wall then up a tree into space, which was for washing powder, or shampoo, or walls, or trees, or perhaps space, I dunno.

Anyway, the point is, adverts stay outside of the programme itself. They're a whore's bargain that allows television that isn't funded by a license fee, or a cable subscription, to exist, but at least the viewer knows where they are, and they can usually tell the difference between the adverts and the shows themselves.

But that line is soon going to be crossed, and I do not think this will be a good thing in any way.

From this article on the BBC news website:

"Product placement is to be allowed on British TV shows, in a move expected to be announced next week. Independent broadcasters will be allowed to take payments for displaying commercial products during shows.

The change is intended to bring in extra funds for commercial broadcasters. Experts believe it could raise up to £100m a year. There are currently strict rules against product placement and this ban would remain in place on BBC shows.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw is expected to announce a three-month consultation on the changes in a speech to the Royal Television Society next week. An ITV spokesman welcomed the move, which he described as "reforming UK prohibition".

"You have to trust the consumer. If it's overdone or tasteless, viewers will switch off." (Peter Bazalgette, Big Brother creator).

He said: "If the government does decide to permit product placement, it will be warmly welcomed by the commercial broadcasting industry and advertisers alike."

But not, note, by writers, directors, producers, or viewers.

My stance on this is very much in line with David Lynch. He's being asked about product placement in Hollywood, in his capacity as a film-maker rather than a television producer, but he has experience of both, so I think we can take a few seconds to listen to his views. Video not entirely SFW.

Okay, here's a more detailed look at why loosening the restrictions on product placement is a really bad idea, for show creators and audiences alike:

1. It makes for worse television. If you think product placement means advertisers and PR firms come crawling pathetically to the programme-makers, begging to have a scene where the main characters all have breakfast include a jar of their savoury yeast product appear with the label at least half-facing the camera, think again.

These people see their brands as characters in themselves. They want their products to be mentioned as having specific virtues, and as being objects of wild aspiration. Which means scenes like The Cheerleader One in Heroes becoming hugely, yet somehow unconvincingly enthusiastic about her dad giving her what is, to all intents and purposes, a rather dull saloon car (although one curiously out of the price bracket those characters could afford), which she, of course, mentions by name. While jumping up and down excitedly. And she can regenerate from nuclear explosions, so we are supposed to take it this is a very exciting car indeed. Which it isn't.

Meanwhile, the two Japanese blokes get equally excited about being able to rent another car of the same make for their journey - and of course, we know (or should guess) that during that journey nothing bad is going to happen to them in said car, like a breakdown, or a crash, or anything that might reflect even slightly badly on the manufacturers, so there goes any narrative tension for that part of the story.

And as a writer, it's bad enough having to run storylines and dialogue past script editors, producers, lawyers, broadcast company (or network) executives and legal departments. But now we have to run them past PR departments and advertisers? Bleurgh.

2. The people who are claiming product placement is a good thing do not have the interests of the viewer, or even good television, at heart. Let's look at that last quote from the BBC article again:

"You have to trust the consumer. If it's overdone or tasteless, viewers will switch off."(Peter Bazalgette, Big Brother creator)

Note how this has expertly reframed the topic as a matter of trust in the consumer, rather than in the programme-makers. And of course, note also the implicit irony in the qualifications of the person making the quote.

Because people did finally abandon Big Brother, on exactly the grounds of it being overdone, and tasteless, and greedy, and repellent, and exploiting the mentally ill, and eventually just because it was dull television, but it took a while for it to happen, and in the meantime, most of the people involved made quite a lot of money. And a few of the people involved made astonishing amounts of money, and oh look, these are exactly the people who are defending loosening the restrictions on product placement.

3. Product placement kills the trust between the programme-makers and the audience. Now, champions of product placement will claim any detractors as wanting their programmes to show some Neverland, where no brands or recognizeable products exist, which is, like most things that come out of these peoples' mouths, a lie, and I shall prove it thusly:

A while ago I wrote this scene for Green Wing involving mini Mars Bars (not like that):

I didn't write this scene because I was paid by Mars, I wrote it because a friend of mine at the time always had in his house a bag of mini Mars Bars, and would reward himself with one when he managed to snatch a tiny, pathetic, but at least tangible victory in an otherwise quite bad time of his life, which seemed to fit with the sort of emotional turmoil the main characters in Green Wing were going through. But with speedy-up camera bits.

So I included a brand name not because Channel 4 or Talkback would get extra money from chocolate manufacturers to make the show, but because that scene was based on truth - a real physical truth (my friend and both really liked mini Mars Bars) and an emotional truth - that in times of stress, you have to take comfort where you can, even if it's in a knowingly crap, but self-aware sort of way. And, you know, I do quite like mini Mars Bars (please don't send me any though, people from Mars the company not the planet, because they are essentially quite bad for you, and I'm trying to lose weight).

To return to the central point, it's almost as though, if people made products that were good, and people formed an emotional attachment to them, ascribing them certain virtues and aspirational qualities, those brands would be written into shows without advertisers even having to pay for them. Imagine that.

In fact, BBC shows quite often show recognizable brands, in the form of cars, whose manufacturers frequently supply vehicles to productions for free. Rank hypocrisy of the kind that cause people like Jas. Murdoch to go into a frothing libertarian coma? Well, it wouldn't be terribly reasonable to expect the BBC to develop their own range of un-branded vehicles, as I'm fairly sure that's not the sort of thing the license fee was invented for. So real cars have to be used. But in this case, because the programme-makers haven't taken any money from the car manufacturers, they are obliged to neither mention the brand name in as many lines of dialogue as possible, or are told they can't have scenes where the car breaks down, or is involved in a crash, or is slightly damaged in a way that would imply the vehicle is made of anything less that refined adamantium (the stuff Wolverine's bones are coated in), so I think that's an acceptable compromise.

And if you doubt the lengths manufacturers, or their PR companies will go to to protect their brands, consider the following quote from the wiki page:

"Emerson, makers of the InSinkErator brand in-sink garbage disposal sued NBC for the use of their clearly branded product during a scene where Claire's hand is badly mangled after she places it in a running garbage disposal (Genesis). Emerson claimed NBC misrepresented any risks or potential injuries posed by the InSinkErator on the show, while portraying the brand "in an unsavory light, irreparably tarnishing the product." The company settled with NBC out of court on Feb 23, 2007."

These people take the representation of their products on television, and in film, very very seriously.

4. It makes it even harder to make shows that don't take place in the present. Battlestar Galactica got by without product placement, unless you count the manufacturers of toasters. Or the makers of 'Frak', if it exists. But you can bet no possibility of product placement made the show even harder to get off the ground in the first place. And product placement is sneaking in even here, the recent Star Trek film having a couple of spectacularly clumsy mentions of mobile phone brands and weak American lagers that really didn't do an otherwise excellent bit of smart entertainment any favours.

5. We've already seen how it poisons other cultural forms. Product placement acolytes will argue that films already contain plenty of 'brand exposure'. In fact, Bazalgette goes on to say:

"And it's rife in British television anyway. There's product placement in movies that go on television and in imported American TV shows and dramas."

Yes, American shows, and big noisy, rubbish Hollywood films, often involving Will Smith, for some reason, often do have lots of product placement. And sometimes, living in Cornwall, I drive past a muck spreader. That doesn't mean that having been exposed to muck spreading, I then desire to roll around in freshly-sprayed fields, shouting 'spray me big boy, I want every pore covered! WOOOO-arglesplurgh*coff*". Not since they started to crack down on that sort of thing. So I don't think that stands up as an argument, frankly.

6. Finally (hurrah!) where is this extra £100m a year even going to come from? The problem commercial television is having is a lack of funds from advertising - the same companies aren't going to suddenly find millions of extra pounds they didn't have lying around to use for... advertising their products on television. So I'm confused about that.

So taking all things into consideration, in this thing, as in so many others, I'm with David Lynch.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Bah, I didn't get anything into the new series of Armstrong and Miller in the end, although they were good enough to commission me for a full five minutes, so I did get paid and everything, hurrah.

Looking back, I think the problem with most of my sketches is they tend to just peter out. I did quite like this one below, but it doesn't really go anywhere. I also feel a bit guilty about the oohing and ahhing in the dialogue, but worried it wouldn't come across West Country enough otherwise. Ah well.


Bridge is laid out in the new, deliberately stripped-down way they do this sort of thing these days, on shows like Battlestar Galactica, rather than the slightly camp Star Trek/Blake’s Seven sort of thing. Everything looks at least semi-military – lots of grey fatigues, webbing. Walls have exposed pipes, that sort of thing. All quite serious.

BEN is sitting in the Captain’s chair, looking at a large view screen, where a severe looking WOMAN, also in grey fatigues, seems to be giving orders. BEN stands next to him, a number of crewmembers bent over various workstations.

(very crisp) Commander, we’ve received some worrying reports from the Gamma Sector – a number of mining ship making distress calls, then vanishing from radar. It seems unlike the colonial rebels could be responsible, after their recent setbacks, but the alternatives are worse.

BEN looks at XANDER, his number two. They exchange worried glances.

So we’d like you to make a sweep of the area, search for survivors, but keeping an eye out for… anything unusual. Admiral Veema out.

The woman vanishes from the viewscreen, replaced by a view of stars, twinkling in the blackness.

BEN and XANDER continue to look at each other for a moment, clearly weighing the situation. Finally BEN comes to some kind of decision.

(to crewmenbers, in thick West Country accent)
All right my loves, you all heard the nice lady, let’s get on it dreckly, shall we? Get down that Gamma Sector.

Crewmembers all start tapping buttons. On the screen, the stars start to blur as the ship surges forward.

(also thick West Country hair) So what do you think, the way she done her hair?

Tristan, be honest with you, Oi’m failing to take to it. Don’t know what she’s trying to achieve. (to crewmember) Tamsin Tresiddick, you be careful with them knobs, you’re not trying to win a stuffed monkey!

(also West Country accent) Yes, Captain Eddy, sorry Captain Eddy.

(to XANDER) Stuffed monkey, like down at the fair.

Yarse, I thought, ‘what’s he on, he’s gone maaaad!, then oi thought, ‘oh yeah, stuffed monkey, like down at the fair’.

SFX: grinding noise – everyone jolts forwards, and the stars on the viewscreen suddenly stop moving.

(suspicious) Ello…

A technical type crewmember appears on the screen.

Wozzon, Cap’n!

Wozzon Piran.

Right, what happened was, right, that quantum relay, what done got a bit bashed when we met them raiders? Well it got slightly twonked, like. So me and the lads are patching it up with some bits we pulled out of the shuttle.

(annoyed) You put them bits back when you’re done! (off BEN’s look) Oi bloody loves me that shuttle. Takes it everywhere.

So, short version, like, we’m sitting here for a bit.

The screen goes off. Everyone looks at BEN.

‘Ere, Captain, we’m got incoming.

How many?

Two carriers, about twenty fighters, looks like them colonial rebels that nice lady was talking about before. Be here in about twenty minutes, I reckon.

Right, well, we do seem to be in a bit of a predicament.

He drums his fingers a momet.


Right on.

Monday, September 07, 2009


At a time of ever-decreasing budgets in television production, it's perhaps useful to remember that perfectly good television can be made consisting just of people shouting in corridors.

Don't believe me? Here are the classic television drama genres reduced to their base constituents.

DRAMA: people shouting in corridors.
COMEDY: people falling over in corridors.
COMEDY/DRAMA: people shouting, then falling over in corridors.
GRITTY DRAMA: ugly people shouting in corridors.
POLITICAL THRILLER: people shouting whilst walking quickly down corridors.
SCIENCE FICTION: people shouting at robots in corridors.
MYSTERY: Someone is shouting in a corridor. But who?
PERIOD DRAMA: people in wigs shouting 'Sirrah!' in wood-pannelled corridors.
SOAP: teenagers shouting in corridors, pause at end - TO BE CONTINUED.
SINGLE CAMERA COMEDY: cameraman has to leap back as person falls over in corridor.
STUDIO AUDIENCE COMEDY: fake laughter as people pretend to find it amusing that person is falling over in corridor for third time in row.
'EDGY' COMEDY: blacked-up people shouting 'rape', then falling over in corridor.
PORNOGRAPHY: people shouting sexily in corridors.
JAPANESE HENTAI ANIMATION: woman has unfortunate encounter with tentacle in corridor.
That's enough corridors.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Magnet and Gemma Hayes - 'Lay lady lay'

From a while back, but I liked this cover a lot and just found it again.