26 April, 2006

Q & A: Marc Pye, TV Writer For Jimmy McGovern's "THE STREET"

Q & A: Marc Pye, TV Writer For Jimmy McGovern's "THE STREET"


This is a traumatic time of year for me. I admit my writing output tends to slow down during the football season (priorities, you know) but the relegation situation my beloved Blues faces has brought my scribbling to a complete stop.

And to add insult to injury I had to suffer a rare defeat by our lesser neighbours Aston Villa – although they did need considerable help from the referee and his assistants to get their victory. Oh, and as for that so-called ‘wonder’ goal they scored – when the ball is in the air you head it like a normal person, you don’t do some fancy acrobatic volley. Is it football or gymnastics? Eh? Eh? OK, I admit I might be coming across as a bit bitter. But wouldn’t you be?

Anyway, it’s occurred to me recently that I should combine my interests and write about football. Not just have football supporting characters but write some state of the nation thing about the beautiful game.

It is sometimes quite difficult to find a subject to write about as we can’t help thinking about the market and what will sell. Ideally we should write about subjects that interest us and we care about so our scripts are more passionate and interesting. Some writers pluck subjects from the zeitgeist because they are current or fashionable forgetting that by the time the development process ends, it would be years before it hits the screen. Trying to predict what will be fashionable in three years so you can write about it is an idea I suppose but that way madness lies. It’s maybe best to start trends rather than follow them or predict them.

There are personal themes and subjects I’ve noticed I keep going back to like child abuse, family and redemption. Rather than accept it as a failing of my limited imagination, I believe acknowledging it and working with those themes consciously rather than sub-consciously makes for a better script. What do you want do say? Love is good? People are people? Vengence is cool?

So what do I want to say about football? Well, I think the Premiership is over-rated and I would much rather my team played in the lower leagues where it is about real football and not just making money for fat cat directors and corporate sponsors. That is perhaps, I acknowledge, a fairly unusual position for a football fan to take but it would make an interesting story: a football fan sabotages his club so they get relegated from the premier league. OK, that obviously needs a lot of work with character and story to fully convince but it’s a start.

My footie film would be about footie, obviously, and will be a devastating critique on the modern game that will force the FA, UEFA and FIFA to hang their heads in shame and reform. However, it’s also about that one man who wants to turn back time and his reasons for doing so. They can’t just be the ‘bring back real football’ reasons but personal ones which everyone in the audience can identify with.

Rather than watch films and sub-consciously getting the theme, it’s an idea to try and work it out consciously. Seeing how other screenwriters develop theme and use the main plot and sub-plots to bolster and contrast that theme has been helpful to my own learning. The best writers ensure that there is nothing in the film at all that isn't connected to the theme.

Before I embark on this task, I think it’s a good idea to just see a few football films to get in the mood. However, the screenwriters of Pirates of the Caribbean, Elliott & Rossio disagree and claim they didn’t see a single pirate film while researching and writing their movie. It’s true there is a danger of being too overly influenced by other screenwriters but on the other hand if there is a cliché which occurs often in those genre films, then it’s useful to know so you can avoid it or subvert it rather than, unknowingly, replicate it.

One footie film I've loved since I was a kid was Escape to Victory and I've never understand the hostility towards it. Seriously, what is that about? Except maybe snobbery and anti-Americanism. While it isn’t perhaps part of the realist school of Ken Loach, I don’t think it intends to be and is just good old fashioned entertainment.

A recent favourite of mine is There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. An excellent British film which follows a bullied boy who finds some old football boots which imbue him with silky skills. Its strange combination of realism and Boy’s Own fantasy actually works very well and its football sequences are still the best I’ve ever seen on film.

My fellow brummie and bluenose Al Hunter Ashton did excellent work in The Firm, although football was just the background to that tale of scrapping hooligans.

In the past year we have seen Goal, the first part of a trilogy written by Clement & La Franais which, while following convention for sports movies, managed a variance to keep it interesting. The football stuff was predictable enough but the characters and relationships were fresh.

Still on general release is fun-filled She’s the Man which is a teen-beat gender-swap rom-com inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. OK, it doesn't sound promising but it's very well done. Although I should warn there are some scenes which might cause nausea: the dorm room has posters of Chelsea players.

25 April, 2006

BBC Drama Series Writers Academy

"Outline Proposal

The training you receive from BBC Drama Series Writers Academy will give you the specific skills required to write for some of the BBC’s most popular format series such as Doctors, EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty.

Potential writers will have already had at least one film, television or radio drama script produced or one theatre piece performed professionally. The Writers Academy will train up to 8 writers a year, over a period of twelve months."

Closing Date: 15 May 2006

More details

20 April, 2006

BBC - Entertainment - Writers Room - Opportunity

BBC - Entertainment - Writers Room - Opportunity:

UPSTART call for plays - Deadline: April 30 2006

16 April, 2006

Comedy Day: Writing for Television

Comedy Day: Writing for Television
Saturday April 29th

"A unique one-day course held at RADA to enable aspiring comedy writers and those who work with comedy to g et the inside track on how to break into - and stay in - television comedy.

What makes successful comedy is something even the most popular comedians and comedy writers struggle to explain – so what hope is there for emerging writers and those interested in this key genre?

The decline of new British sitcoms in this decade compared to the 1990s or those before is a growing worry in the industry. Greg Dyke recently said, "The difficulty is finding the writers and artists who want to do more traditional fare," harking back to the days of Steptoe and Son, Monty Python, The Likely Lads and Fawlty Towers .

To combat the downturn, Scriptwriter Magazine has gathered together four comedy giants to give specific advice on different areas of comedy, with the aim of drawing out new talent and helping to breach the walls of the comedy establishment.

The day will start with c hildhood friends and Arsenal supporters, Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran, who started writing together following their attendance at British Drama League's writer's group. They worked on BBC Radio but it was ITV's acceptance of Holding The Fort that launched them into television comedy. They penned various sitcoms before launching Birds of a Feather, one of the longest running sitcoms on British TV, and later Goodnight Sweetheart. Marks and Gran will be discussing the centrality of character in comedy.

Brother to Oscar-winning Anthony, Dominic Minghella script-edited the first series of Hamish Macbeth , and wrote episodes across all three series. He has also written radio drama ( Matt Black and Chrome), sitcom (Holding the Baby), adaptations ( e.g. The Prince and the Pauper for Hallmark) and wrote and created ITV's hit comedy-drama series, Doc Martin. Dominic's current project is the BBC's ambitious Robin Hood, a 13-part series he has created for Tiger Aspect. From drama dwarf to comedy giant, Dominic will be charting his own journey and sings the praises of American-style showrunning.

Paul Mayhew-Archer started out by writing plays in school and later at Cambridge University. "I wrote shows for mental homes, prisons and hospitals, anywhere where the audience couldn't get away." His big break came when he won the job of BBC Radio comedy producer (replacing Griff Rhys Jones, who had left to do Not the Nine O'Clock News ) making seven comedy series a year. He has worked on Spitting Image and co-wrote The Vicar Of Dibley with Richard Curtis.

Currently a consultant to the Head Of Comedy at the BBC, Paul will examine the idea that the key to comedy is simplicity, as well as the pitfalls you should avoid when creating a sitcom.

Ending the day on a light note with Raymond Allen! Born on the Isle of Wight, Ray was originally a reporter before joining the RAF. After 15 years of mixing part-time jobs with midnight writing, 40 rejections had almost killed off his dreams, and he was cleaning toilets for a living when he got his big break. The BBC accepted his situation comedy, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em , which has since been shown in over 60 countries. He's also written material for various comedians including Frankie Howerd, Dave Allen, Little & Large and Jimmy Cricket.

Ray's talk is entitled: Are You Trying to be Funny? Or How I Escaped from the Toilet and Nearly went Round the Bend.

ScriptWriter Comedy Day Masterclass: Tickets £90.
Date: Saturday 29th April 2006.
Address: RADA, Malet St, London WC1E 7JN.
Time: 10am-5pm (9.30am registration).
Book now at RADA Box Office 020 7908 4800.

10% discount for Scriptwriter magazine members

For more information: www.scriptwritermagazine.com

For queries: Janice Day on 07748 652 194 "

13 April, 2006

Feature Film Scripts wanted

"White Lantern Film is searching for a feature film script to develop and take into production. We are looking for groundbreaking, boundary pushing scripts which will standout in the minds of the audience. We like to develop and produce contemporary films exploring unrepresented narratives, inspiring and broadening horizons. Genres we are not interested in include horror, gangster or sci fi.

If you have a script for a feature film please email a treatment or synopsis only (no scripts) to creative @ whitelantern.co.uk - if we are interested in your submission we will request more details but we can not guarantee a response to everything we receive.

Please check the appropriate section of our web site www.whitelantern.co.uk for more information."

Imagine - BBC Drama Competition

Imagine... What would happen if you met your music hero?

In collaboration with BBC writersroom, BBC Radio 2 has launched a national competition for new drama, asking writers to imagine an encounter with their music legend and use it to create an imaginative, original drama.

You can meet anyone, be anyone, go anywhere, do anything... Turn your dramatic ideas into a radio drama between three and ten minutes long and it could be broadcast on the Mark Radcliffe show.

There are a number of Q&A sessions being held nationwide for people to get tips on writing radio drama from a BBC producer and an experienced writer.

To sign up for a session and get more details on the competition, visit the Radio 2 Imagine website

12 April, 2006

101 Greatest Screenplays

The WGA sent ballots to its members asking them to choose the greatest screenplays. The results are in. It's nice to see my favourite films and screenwriters get recognised, especially those not doing 'serious drama' - which is the easiest genre to write.

I think reading and/or watching the films on the list would be both a fun and educational project. What is it about them that have endured for so long? What is it about the newer screenplays, like Charlie Kaufman's, that have attracted the attention?

11 April, 2006

I find your lack of faith disturbing: Words, words, words

I find your lack of faith disturbing: Words, words, words

For those not in the know the last line refers to this.

The Da Vinci Code Trial

"Even if the central themes were copied, they are too general or of too low a level of abstraction to be capable of protection by copyright law." Judge Peter Smith

"(It) shows that this claim was utterly without merit. I'm still astonished that these two authors chose to file their suit at all. A novelist must be free to draw appropriately from historical works without fear that he'll be sued ... This is a good day both for those who write and those who enjoy reading." Dan Brown

As predicted the Da Vinci Code plagiarism trial ended with Dan Brown's acquittal and a huge sigh of relief from writers everywhere. Considering the many millions Brown has earned, I can imagine the frantic mining of history books now taking place hoping to dig up some nugget like Brown - or rather his researcher wife, Blythe - managed to.

However, having the research is one thing but it's what you do with it that counts and that comes down to character and story which has to be our own invention. Too often writers find a great idea and think the idea is enough to sell the script so not enough time is spent developing character and story. It's those characters - the people - that the audience will latch on to and relate to and use as guides through the story. That's the hardest part and we neglect it at our peril.

There's a screenwriter phrase called "The Macguffin", it means something that motivates the characters and advances the story. That thing could be an ancient secret or a statue of a black bird. The Macguffin could be literally anything but it's main role is as an inciting incident or catalyst. The Da Vinci Code is about Robert Langdon (the character) and his reaction to that Macguffin and what he chooses to do about it (the story).

Historians Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, can fairly claim that their Macguffin helped the Brown's story be successful but at the end of the day it is still just a Macguffin. On its own it is interesting history but without a cracking made-up story attached it will never shift 20 million copies.

07 April, 2006

Knowing the Ending

Following my recent questioning of going into production on a script you haven't finished the ending for, I came across this quote from TV A-lister Stephen Gallagher:

"It's good practice to know your ending in advance. This means knowing where you're going, what point you ultimately plan to make, before you start. Every story has a point; not necessarily a message, but a point. How to define the point? Put simplistically, somebody learns something they didn't expect to learn. "

from his article "The Spine".

Stephen has also generously posted the pitch document to The Eleventh Hour , the now cancelled ITV drama series on his website

05 April, 2006

Oscar Moore Screenwriting Competition - Result

After careful consideration of all 154 entries, the Judges of this year’s Oscar Moore Script Writing Competition have concluded that no prize should be awarded this year. In a first-time decision for the Foundation, it has announced that the requisite standards for winning were not surpassed though some entries were notable for specific reasons.

Chairwoman of the judges Anne Marie Flynn said in a statement:

“As judges as well as trustees of the Foundation, the final panel has the responsibility of ensuring that the good standing of the Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize is maintained and its judgements are consistent with the qualities of previous winners.

This year, though a number of scripts were deemed notable either for the quality of writing or originality of premise, it was our final opinion that none reached the requisite quality to merit the prize.

Only by reserving the award on occasions where the requisite standards are not achieved can The Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize continue to be a mark of high attainment and a competition worth winning.”

It is noted that ‘comedy’ is often claimed as one of the hardest genres to write for.


Well, they make the same point I did in awards season, how the comedies were neglected for nominations when they are hardest to write.

I think the next category is going to be drama, although it may be thriller. I'm not sure whether that result is an incentive to try or not to bother. My problem is that even when they do announce a winner, we don't get to read the script. Obviously, it's still in development and there are commercial considerations but in the history of the competition has there ever been a chance to turn up at your multiplex - or even arthouse - and see the winner?

I can't help thinking that with Project Greenlight, you could read all the scripts and then eventually see the movie so there are ways around it. Of course I couldn't take part in PG and read all the scripts as I'm from outside the US and would not dream of pretending to be American so I could. Like, that would be way bogus, dude - like totally.

The standards of judging for the competition seems quite high and the irony is the money is meant to fund development but most film-makers in the UK don't seem to believe in development and just rush their first draft to production. In fact the process is so quick you could probably send your script to a production company by the competition deadline and it be in the can and unable to get a distributor before the competition results are announced.

I guess what I'm saying is that the more work that is done on a script to improve it, the more chance it will win competitions and the better the resulting film is likely to be. Shane Meadows has the opposite view and to his credit he has managed to get an appreciative audience - albeit a very small one. However there are numerous plotting and logic flaws in Dead Man's Shoes, his most acclaimed film, which killed the word of mouth from ordinary members of the public. It was written in a week and production started before he knew how it was going to end. Why the big rush? The ending he came up with was laughable. I just think you owe it to your potential investors and potential audience to write the best film you can.

Of course the answer to the question "is it worth entering the next Oscar Moore comp?" is "yes". If you place or even win, that's going to look quite good on your CV. It forces you to think about the genre - which is crucial. And most importantly it's a target and a goal to finish a screenplay. We shouldn't need targets, we should be constantly writing but we all need a kick in the arse sometimes.

03 April, 2006

Friends Like These

Womens Hour Drama are running a themed week of two-handers featuring comedy double-acts. There is Oriane and Fay from Bearded Ladies/Green Wing on Monday, Adam and Joe on Tuesday and Steve Steen and Jim Sweeney on Thursday.

They're part of Women's Hour in the morning and repeated at 7:45pm. You can also listen to them for a week after the broadcast online.

Life on Mars

The best new popular drama series in a while, for my money, is 70s throwback cop show Life on Mars.

What certainly helps is that it was created by three A-list writer-creators: Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan and Ashey Pharaoh. They were locked up in a hotel by the production company Kudos until they had come up with some ideas for new shows. They were determined to avoid doing just another cop show but as Graham told the Radio Times, "we realised that was what people actually wanted. So we talked about our ideal cop show and we agreed it was The Sweeney. We agreed we couldn't really do The Sweeney again, so that was when we came up with the idea of taking a cop from today and throwing him into that programme." Rejected by Channel 4, it eventually found a home on BBC1.

I personally also like the fact that while it is accessible for an audience, it also challenges us at the same time - something too few shows do. While you have the strand of traditional police procedural, there's also the sci-fi strand of how Sam got there, his coma and the people trying to communicate with him. There's also another strand relating to the differences between the 70s and the 00s in terms of police, ethics and morality - which also manages to be a source of plenty of good gags. And for those members of the audience old enough, there is of course the nostalgia strand: "I had one of those!" And of course there's the obligatory "will they-won't they" relationship between the PC DI and the WPC.

Graham said, "Paul Abbott gave this lecture recently where he said, for God's sake, television has got to start thinking out of the box a little bit and and taking some risks. What we've tried really hard to do is make a show that's accessible. It's not a weird show. it's odd but it's never Twin Peaks; we just wanted to do something different. What's great is that the BBC have utterly supported us. They've said all along, 'To hell with it. We're not going to compromise.'"

Ashley Pharaoh interview

Life on Mars is being repeated this week on BBC4 as part of its 70s theme week.