31 January, 2006

New Screenwriters Festival launched

The Screenwriters Festival will take place from Tuesday 27 June - Friday 30 June in Cheltenham. There will be a public event with the same speakers on Saturday 1 July.

Festival director and Arturi Films producer David Pearson said, "It will be a unique opportunity for writers to share experiences and ideas." Screenwriters who have committed to the event include Cracker writer Jimmy McGovern (this blogger's hero) and Gosford Park's Oscar-winning Julian Fellowes.

The keynote for last night's launch was delivered by William Nicholson - the Shadowlands, Gladiator and Nell scribe.

"Why is it that that everybody I know wants to be a scriptwriter but producers are always asking 'where are the writers?,'" he said.

"The problem is often in the solitary nature of the trade which can eat up those unprepared to deal with the culture of the film business, particularly in Hollywood," he added.

He thought that the festival could prove an important support for those serious about the business.

A full programme of events will be announced in the spring.

Oscar Nominations

I always complain that newspapers and websites never include the screenplay nominations but now I just go to the source, the official website, rather than put up with editoralised 'highlights' from morons who don't understand that without a screenwriter there wouldn't be a film in the first place. Grrr, they make me mad.

It's a shame 40 year Virgin didn't make the shortlist as it did the Writers' Guild awards. Nominations are made by screenwriters but the entire academy gets to vote on who wins.

At first glance I wouldn't bet against Brokeback Mountain and Crash. While the others might be good they won't be able to stop those particular juggernauts of powerhouse writing.

Adapted screenplay

Brokeback Mountain” (Focus Features)
Screenplay by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana

Capote” (UA/Sony Pictures Classics)
Screenplay by Dan Futterman

The Constant Gardener” (Focus Features)
Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine

A History of Violence” (New Line)
Screenplay by Josh Olson

Munich” (Universal and DreamWorks)
Screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth

Original screenplay

Crash” (Lions Gate)
Screenplay by Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, Story by Paul Haggis

Good Night, and Good Luck.” (Warner Independent Pictures)
Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov

Match Point” (DreamWorks)
Written by Woody Allen

The Squid and the Whale” (Samuel Goldwyn Films and Sony Pictures Releasing)
Written by Noah Baumbach

Syriana” (Warner Bros.)
Written by Stephen Gaghan

New BBC site for writer-performers

BBC website develops comedy talent
Geoff White
31 January 2006 07:59

The BBC is to create a comedy performers' website with a view to grooming future talent for its channels.

The website, called Soup, will allow budding comic actors to create a profile and put video and audio clips of their work online. Other users of the site will be able to browse the clips, and BBC television producers will have access to it, to help them find future talent.

Soup will also feature advice from successful comedians and clips to help new comedians brush up on their material and delivery.

"The BBC can be a bit difficult to get into, and this is about trying to make it less of an ivory tower," said site editor Vicky Dolan.

The site has already signed up dozens of comedians to put their work online. It is edited by staff in the drama, entertainment and children's division, which hopes to create a show for BBC3 using the best talent from the project.

The site, which can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/soup, will be operating from mid-March.

Source: broadcastnow.co.uk (subscriber only access)

29 January, 2006

The IT Crowd

Channel 4 has premiered Graham Linehan's new comedy The IT Crowd online before it makes its debut on TV. The series follows a trio working in the IT department of a large firm.

"Premiering the show online a week before its television transmission is a first for Channel 4 and what better show could we start with than this?" said Andy Taylor, MD of C4 New Media. "The IT Crowd is a surreal look at the underclass of a company and we're giving people the chance to see it first." This follows BBC3 who first started online premieres of its comedies with The Mighty Boosh in July 2005.

The series is created by Graham Linehan, co-creator of modern classic sitcom Father Ted. In a Chortle/Channel 4 interview, Graham Linehan said: "It was originally set in a travel agents, and had one joke to do with being a travel agent, which was he's on the phone to someone and he says 'No, no, I wouldn't go to France, France is very rude at this time of year'. That was really as good as it got. I couldn't think of any more jokes to do with travel agents, and I didn't want to do the research, because it bored the hell out of me. So I decided to turn it into something I was interested in, which was technology, and how it affects our lives. Oddly enough, although it's about technology and modernity, it's a very old-fashioned sitcom."

Which may seem obvious but how many of us have started to create series without thinking about how much we know about the subject or want to research the subject or care about the subject? It's going to help in the writing if you are genuinely enthused about the subject and have something you want to say rather than saying, 'proctologists - that hasn't been done before'. Although, obviously, if proctology does float your boat as a subject, get stuck in.

In his Daily Telegraph interview, as well as some fascinating insights in how TV executives think, Linehan says: "Because I've written so many sitcoms, the structure of them is very simple. They start in a situation and then something upsets that situation and then you get them back to the start again. You also need a location they can't really get out of, like the bar in Cheers. It may look like a bar but they're all trapped there. It's a sitcom trap."

The IT Crowd microsite

Quality unofficial site

Filming of the IT Crowd

The Observer asks its own IT Crowd for comments

28 January, 2006

Introduction to Screenwriting (Oxford)

Oxford Film & Video Makers

This 22 week course was designed by the UK Film Council to give a comprehensive introduction to screenwriting for the short film. The course is aimed at any budding writers and filmmakers who want to write for the screen.

Cost £210 (Those on state benefits & non-EU international students see FAQ)

22 January, 2006

Windsor Fringe Drama Award 2006

Amateur playwrights are invited to submit unpublished one-act plays for the third £500 Windsor Fringe Marriott Drama Writing Award. Three winning scripts will be selected for performance during Drama Nights at the Windsor Fringe in September/October. One of the three scripts will be chosen for the £500 prize.

Submissions must be received by 02 March 2006.

Eligibility: Only amateur playwrights are eligible; only one script per author will be accepted. Each play must be an original work by the entrant, and submitted scripts must not have been previously published or performed.

Criteria: Each play must be no more than 30 minutes long, have a cast of no more than six actors, and be suitable for staging in a studio theatre.

Submission guidelines: So that each script may be judged anonymously, the author’s name must appear on the cover page only, not in the script. Writers should submit two copies of their plays, printed on loose sheets of A4 paper with no binding or stapling. Pages must be numbered. No submissions will be accepted by fax or email; no scripts will be returned. The cover page must show the name of the play and the author’s name, contact details and signature. A £5 reading fee will be charged per entry. Please make cheques payable to Windsor Fringe Festival.

Scripts should be sent together with the reading fee to:
Windsor Fringe Marriott Drama Writing Award
Suite 640, 24-28 St Leonard’s Road, Windsor, Berks. SL4 3BB U.K.

Selection process: All submissions will be evaluated by reader groups, and the final selection judged by our judges The Windsor Fringe Marriott drama award will underwrite the staging of the three plays with selected directors.

For additional information contact:
Ann Trewartha tel: 01753 863218 fax: 01753 867877

The Windsor Fringe web site is at www.windsorfringe.co.uk/

20 January, 2006

Dare to Succeed

A typical new years resolution is to get that script finished but, from experience, it's difficult to achieve without setting some firm realistic goals.

I was reminded of the phrase 'daring to succeed' recently which I feel is a good one. The problem with daring to succeed is that it involves risk; it could also be called daring to fail.

A vague promise to yourself to 'try and do some writing this year if I can' while it's a start, isn't really risking anything. By setting yourself a clear target to achieve then as well as the potential for success there is also the risk of failure.

However if we want to learn and develop we need to set targets and goals. Although I'm talking about writing primarily, being able to take considered risks is something that can help in our day-jobs, relationships or other aspects of our lives.

I came across a positive affirmation which may help those writers blocked to get going, if it were perhaps attached to the monitor:

"Dare to dream, dare to try, dare to fail, dare to succeed."

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Bafta 2006 nominations in full

BBC NEWS Entertainment Bafta 2006 nominations in full

18 January, 2006

Ripped from the news

Nick Cassavetes, in a New York Times interview, discusses the problems with getting inspiration from real life news. His movie, "Alpha Dog" is about a group of suburban, teenage gangster wannabes who corner themselves into committing cold-blooded murder.

While he managed to get admirable access with the actual lawyer and the fugitive's dad, the core of the story arises from Cassavetes' own background, empathy and understanding. That's what attracted him to that story in the first place and likewise there may be a news story that attracts us more than others because it connects with us. Writers get to grips with issues by exploring them in a fictional context and so we tend to write variations on the same themes in our writing career, whether we are aware of them or not.

Depending on your story, you may not need such good access and research and it's possible you could write your script based entirely on imagination. I haven't seen Cassavetes' film but it strikes me that the group dynamic and the actual crime is a lot more interesting than the fugitive, court case stuff.

Why not consciously go through today's newspaper and see what stories attact you and could inspire you to write something?

Danny Baker’s Sitcom Showdown

On the one hand it's a panel show. On the other hand it's about sitcoms!
On the one hand, it's got Danny Baker presenting. On the other hand, they're free tickets!

17 January, 2006

Golden Globes

(left) Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry pose with their Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for 'Brokeback Mountain'.

The Golden Globe Awards winners were announced today but it comes as a surprise to most people how unprestigious the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who dish out the awards, actually are. The organisation consists of about 80 freelance writers of whom only a third are working foreign journalists with most of the rest living off their pensions. This explains why the forced, tired comedy of Mrs Henderson Presents gets a nod as best comedy or musical but 40 Year Old Virgin did not.

While I expected BBC Breakfast News to focus on what the Brits won or didn’t, I didn’t expect them to completely ignore the television category. Witness the witless reporter whinging that only Rachel Weisz won something when Hugh Laurie had won best actor for House in a very tough category for a show that many millions more people will see than saw The Constant Gardener. Perhaps they were more worred about promoting award-winning Channel Four and Five imports than imparting the facts.

Don’t get me wrong, The Constant Gardener was excellent and I wish more people had seen it but I question the automatic assumption that movies are more important than television. Look at some of the nominated shows this year: Lost, Prison Break, Rome, 24, House, Desperate Housewives and The West Wing. You would be hard pressed to find better writing in the movie theatres amongst the hundreds of films released but the showrunners have to produce that quality week in and week out for half the year in the most competitive market in the world.

And yes, I did deliberately miss out two of the best television series nominees from my list of greats: Grey’s Anatomy and Commander in Chief. I’ll explain why later in the week. OK, I admit that as cliffhangers go that's hardly the opening of the hatch in Lost but it’s all I’ve got.

By the way, can I get some kudos for writing so much about Golden Globes without making a single pathetic, puerile sexist joke about breasts, like "I'd like to get my hands on some Golden Globes" as other lesser writers have done. I'm really rather proud of myself.

06 January, 2006

2006 Writers Guild Awards Nominations

The Writers Guild of America, East and The Writers Guild of America, west have announced nominations for outstanding achievement in writing for the screen during the 2005 season.

There were 195 films eligible for nomination in the categories of Original Screenplay (108) and Adapted Screenplay (87).


Screenplay by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman,
Story by Cliff Hollingsworth,
Universal Pictures

Screenplay by Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco,
Story by Paul Haggis,
Lions Gate Films

Written by Judd Apatow & Steve Carell,
Universal Pictures

Written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov,
Warner Independent Pictures

Written by Noah Baumbach,
Samuel Goldwyn Films


Screenplay by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana,
Based on the Short Story by Annie Proulx,
Focus Features

Screenplay by Dan Futterman,
Based on the Book by Gerald Clarke,
Sony Pictures Classics

Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine,
Based on the Novel by John le Carre,
Focus Features

Screenplay by Josh Olson,
Based on the Graphic Novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke,
New Line Cinema

Written by Stephen Gaghan,
Based on the Book See No Evil by Robert Baer,
Warner Bros. Pictures

OK, I do love the awards season, in a pathetic fanboy kind of way, but increasingly I'm realising it's all a bit stupid. We haven't had the chance to see all the nominations yet in the UK but even choosing between the three in each category we have had a chance to see is difficult if not impossible.

CRASH is a big story with a big theme and as a drama will automatically get more votes than FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN but the latter is just as well written. As comedy is harder to write than drama it could be argued that FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN is actually better written.

I've just seen BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and it is an incredible achievement that wrought my emotions but I felt the same after seeing THE CONSTANT GARDENER and THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. The cliché comment that sceptics scoff at is that "to be nominated is enough". Well, I think nominations are enough and they shouldn't bother with a winner. And I won't change my mind when my scripts are nominated. In fact I will refuse to accept the award should I invariably win on those many occasions.

The 2006 Writers Guild Awards will take place Saturday 4 February 2006, in New York at The Waldorf Astoria and simultaneously in Los Angeles at The Hollywood Palladium. For more information visit the websites http://www.wga.org/ (Los Angeles) or http://www.wgaeast.org/(New York)

My Name is Earl

The best, and most successful, new show in the US fall season is the single camera comedy My Name is Earl. It's about an unsuccessful petty criminal who discovers karma and sets out to right the wrongs he's done in his life.

What I like about it is that it has an edge but also heart. They succeed in not only laugh out loud moments but moments of real emotion. I find the funniest shows, with the highest audiences and the most awards tend to involve the audience emotionally.

The Creator, Greg Garcia says in an IGN interview: "When we sit down to break a story, sometimes we don't even try to break a story thinking, 'Okay what's gonna be funny?' because we have very talented writers who are gonna make it funny. We think of 'What's a good story?'"And as long as you have a story that earns you an emotional moment at the end I think you can go all kinds of places on the way there and hit all kinds of crazy and pushing the envelope moments as long as the audience really feels that there's a genuine emotional component that they can latch onto it."

Perhaps the main thing to be learnt from the show is how Earl will start out on a journey to simply do something on the list but something will happen to complicate that and he'll end up somewhere more surprising and less predictable. It's that non-linear story-telling that will impress script-readers but is unfortunately more difficult to do.

Greg Garcia interviews:

WGAw interview

Chicago Tribune interview

IGN interview

Broadcasting & Cable interview


04 January, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Out on Friday (witty and very clever pun intended) is Brokeback Mountain the 'gay cowboys' movie. But Larry David, of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame won't be going to see it. Find out why in his hilarious New York Times article (hurry, before its archived).

Also Ricky Gervais meets Larry David in a Channel Four show on Thursday at 22:15. I can't remember what the show's called.

Simpsons quote

Homer Simpson:

"Yes, tell us your story, but it better have a beginning, middle and end. And you'd better make us root for the protagonist."
(John Frink, "The Italian Bob", series 17, episode 8)

Happy New Year!

It's traditional on a new year's begining to look back on the past year and what we achieved, think about what we want in the forthcoming year and make the appropriate plans to get it.

Is it just me or are new writers getting disillusioned? Is writing professionally now seen as a pipe dream just as the demand for scripts is at its highest?
Is it possible to write for the fun and sheer enjoyment of it and to learn your craft and not worry about the potential lows of rejection or the highs of acceptance?

After a rejection you might wonder if the hour or so a day spent writing is probably better spent reading to your kids or doing drugs. Most writers deal with that rejection by rushing through the writing process as quickly as possible so that when they get a standard rejection letter it won't hurt as much as they didn't waste too much time. Although of course those writers tend to get burnt out and give up as they don't progress much with that strategy.

Some writers take a bit more time creating and get much further along the route to success but, while feedback from networks and production companies and meeting invites are potentially good for your career, it's still, at heart, a rejection and you still need to find the motivation to start from scratch with a new script.

The paradox is, of course, that if we were accepted that we would have to start a new script - if not scripts - anyway. While commission fees are a useful motivator, trying to write as little as possible to get a career where you have to write a lot does seem odd. The more you write the better you get. So what if your script doesn't see the light of day and you don't get to meet the fantasy cast you imagined playing the characters. If you keep going somewhere down the line a script will get produced.

Looking back at 2005, which may not have been successful, it's an idea to re-evaluate our methods and how we work and what we know. To quote Anthony Robbins (the Shallow Hal life coach dude), “If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten”.

Another Robbins quote comes to mind, "You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.”