30 March, 2009

Preview: "The Wire"

The Wire is the greatest television drama of all time and begins its free-to-air UK début tonight. It will be stripped across the week on BBC2.

I prefer drama that is complex, truthful, emotional, treats me like an adult and says something about the world, so The Wire is perfect for me. It's never preachy or judgemental and always entertaining. If 'entertaining' is the right word. Sure it's often funny but it's also often scary: the kind of fear you get when characters you care about are put in danger.

Co-creator David Simon wrote the source book for Homicide - Life on the Streets and eventually became an Emmy winning screenwriter on the show. Interestingly, the other writers on The Wire come from books too. Which was more than a little annoying as it destroyed my "novelists make crap screenwriters theory" and I really, really liked that theory.

The series had relatively low ratings on HBO but it got re-commissioned each year due to the sheer quality, universal critical acclaim and the increased significance of DVD box-setting.

The show isn't for everyone. Just as ordinary television is called chewing gum for the eyes, The Wire is a five course meal requiring the savouring of every last morsel and that takes a bit more effort. I never watched it live but taped it as there's so much going on, and I didn't want to miss a word.

The Wire,
BBC2, Mondays - Fridays, 11:20pm


David Simon interview
28 March 2009, The Guardian

The key principle of Simon's storytelling was encapsulated in a remark that caused raised eyebrows when he uttered it, late last year, on BBC2's Culture Show: "Fuck the average casual viewer."

When you want to write the truth, Simon argues, writing for those who know nothing sets the bar too low. "


"Tapping the Wire", Charlie Brooker's introduction to the show is at FX and at YouTube (Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 )


The Guardian article (February 2007)

The Observer article (February 2007)

David Simon, Slate interview (December 2006)


HBO site

FX micro-site


Pilot script (via Lee)


29 March, 2009

Script Study: "Heathers"

The Hollywood Interview:

"First there were the John Hughes teen films. Then there was Heathers. To truly understand the impact of Heathers on the teen/high school genre of feature films, it certainly helps to have lived through the 80s. But when it arrived in theaters in 1989, Heathers was like the first blasts of punk demolishing the stale and bloated dinosaurs of 70s rock. It was a black comedy about murder and suicide in a genre where the endings generally featured the nerdy lead winning over their true love at the prom or its equivalent. Heathers, on the other hand, concluded with Winona Ryder trying to stop her romantic interest Christian Slater from blowing up the entire high school. The dialogue was laced with comedic arsenic, and quickly became oft-quoted. Its influences can be traced directly to hits of today like Juno and Mean Girls, along with blatant rip-offs like 1999’s Jawbreaker. Think the Plastics of Mean Girls were totally original? How very."

The story of you writing Heathers while working in a video store is all true?

Daniel Waters:
Yeah, and I was doing it before I knew it was a cliché [laughs]. It was in Silver Lake and everyone thinks it was one of the cool video stores in Silver Lake. I was in the least cool video store [laughs]. There’s a Jon Voight movie called Conrack where he goes to the South and teaches kids. That’s like the video store I was at. Teaching poor children not to rent Zone Troopers just because it’s a new release, and to rent Alien instead. It’s funny, you know, I’ve been talking a lot recently about the importance of naivete. When I came out here, I didn’t read Variety. I didn’t know what scripts were hot and what scripts weren’t hot. I just wrote Heathers because I wanted to see Heathers. And it certainly wasn’t a movie that anyone thought would get made, even though it did get me a lot of attention. Everyone was always like, “Oh, well, what a great writing sample.” But I think the naivete of just writing in the first place was very important. I think a lot of upcoming writers today are just way too savvy in certain ways. They try to think in a manner like, “I hear horror films aren’t hot right now.” Well, my rule is if Variety says something isn’t hot, that’s when you should start writing it. If Variety says something’s hot, then it’s already dead." "

Article in full


Pretty Scary:

"You were a late twenties-er when Heathers was made into a film. What possessed you to write Heathers, and why from the point of view of a girl facing an evil clique instead of the point of view of a guy?

Daniel Waters:
Heathers was written purely out of my own consumer need to see a film about teenagers that had the comical sting of real high school. No offense to John Hughes, but your “heart dies” way before you become an adult. As far as a female protagonist is concerned, adult white men may rule the world, but in high school, they're a bunch of clueless goofballs. The high school power center is female-at that age, boys are checkers and girls are chess. Anybody can do “nerd trying to get laid”. The politics and psychology of a teenage female-now that's an exhilarating challenge!"

Article in full


Heathers - shooting script


Heathers is free with The Observer today

28 March, 2009

Jonathan Nolan, screenwriter, interview

Yale Daily News:

"Considering the most commonly practiced maxim “write what you know” to be a false search for authenticity, Jonah Nolan proposed his own modification to the principle, which is to “write whatever you want.”

“For me, I don’t have a lot of experience to prepare myself for writing about a vigilante, or a guy with no memory,” he said. “But that’s where my imagination took me. I would encourage you to do the same thing.” "

Article in full

27 March, 2009

"The Great Paradox of Creativity"

The Screenwriting Centre:

" When my college creative writing teacher asked me about my sloppy essay, I explained myself in clear terms: “I am a writer. Therefore, I must be completely free to create.” It sounded reasonable then, and maybe you agree with me now. After all, the “right brain”—the inner artist—operates at peak creativity when the “left brain”—the inner critic—is otherwise occupied or relaxed. Thus, it only stands to reason that we writers are most creative when no constraints or restrictions are placed on our writing. Right?

Well...not necessarily.

The great paradox is this: Constraints cultivate creativity.

It’s true that your inner artist may grow frustrated by intrusions from your inner critic, but outside parameters are just the challenge your right brain relishes. Imposed parameters can be inspiring! "

Article in full

26 March, 2009

BBC College of Comedy

The BBC invites comedy writers to apply for a place in its College of Comedy. The scheme will run for 12 months, and six successful applicants (writing pairs will be treated as a single applicant) will be attached to an existing production, and will also be mentored in the creation of original work.

The scheme is open to writers of half-hour narrative comedy, and to sketch writers from the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland.

Applicants will have had their work broadcast; had work commissioned for development by a broadcaster or production company; or had their work performed professionally, either as a writer or a writer/performer. Applications which do not meet these criteria will not be considered.

Writers applying to the College should submit the first ten pages of a narrative comedy script, or a portfolio of no more than six sketches, together with a CV.

Applicants may indicate in their application whether a DVD or CD of their work is available, which may be requested during the selection process. They should not be sent unless requested. Links to online examples of work should be included in the CV.

Only one entry per applicant will be considered, and the deadline for submissions is noon on 24 April 2009.

A short-list of no more than 12 writers will be invited for interview in the week of May 25. Applicants will be notified as to whether or not they have been successful by the end of the week.

The successful writers will attend a residential workshop in the course of the programme, be attached to a production (with expenses paid), and be mentored in the development of an original script, which will be showcased at the end of the scheme, and for which a fee will be paid.

As a condition of the scheme, original work by the writers must be submitted to the BBC under a 'first-look' deal, which will run for 12 months from the scheme's end in April 2010. The BBC undertakes to decide within three months of submission whether or not it wishes to commission the work.

Submissions should be sent to collegeofcomedy@bbc.co.uk, which will be acknowledged by email. If candidates have not heard from the college by 18 May 2009, then they will not have been shortlisted. It will not be possible to enter into correspondence in relation to individual entries. (BBC writersroom)


The scheme is run by Micheál Jacob, who says:

"For me, the major criteria are: does the work make me laugh; does it offer an original viewpoint; can I see this writer's work on television (as opposed to radio or film)."

Here are his blogs from the writersroom blog (there is also useful advice and discussion in the comments):


Micheál Jacob:

What do I look for in a comedy script?

I want to laugh. It's as simple as that. But what works in both sitcoms and sketches is humour from character rather than jokes. So it's characters, their actions and words which make things funny. Every character should have an individual tone of voice, and an individual take on life. I read a script recently which began with an endearing rant against modern life in a coffee shop. The character was clear, the rant was true but very well expressed, and so the scene was funny. The script then moved away into a morwe conceptual realm, with jokes distributed among the characters rather than stemming from them, and never reached the heights of that first scene. So character is the key.

Anything to be avoided? Anything that's sought after?

There's nothing really to be avoided, because a good writer can take an idea with which many have failed and make it work. So one can never say never. For new writers, low concept ideas are preferable to high concept - eg, a family show is easier to write than one about extra-terrestrials working in Primark, since with a high concept, the central idea needs always to be served. The most sought-after ideas are those which will work for the particular needs of a particular channel.

Dos and Don'ts

Do make your script legible, but don't worry too much about formatting. We just need to know where a scene is taking place and who is speaking.

Do set out to write a comedy about characters, don't set out to write a sitcom. By which I mean, new writers often try too hard to be funny and come up with'comic' lines and situations which feel artificial rather than organic.

Do write from inside yourself. Don't write conceptually.

Do start work on another idea when you've sent a script out into the world. Don't sit back and wait for a response, because it will take three months or so to hear back.
It's okay to send scripts to more than one organisation when you're seeking to establish yourself, but don't send the same script to several people in the same organisation.

Do listen if you're given feedback, even if someone appears to have misunderstood your script. They may have misunderstood it, you may not have made yourself clear. But don't slavishly follow advice - it's your work. If someone has problems with a script, listen to what the problems are, and see if you can solve them your way.

Do pay attention to the market, and have an idea of where you're aiming your script. Don't copy something that's on already.

Do have a sense of perspective - very few people sell their first script. Be prepared to work at the craft. Don't be disheartened by rejection, keep plugging away. Although if your scripts keep coming back without any comments or notes, then you should probably think about trying a different form.

Do read your scripts aloud with some people you know to get an idea of timing. Don't take the laughter of friends and family as an indication of how good the script is. They're biased.

Do try and get your work performed. Even bad actors help to give you a feel for how your lines flow, and how your story is progressing.

Writing Exercises

The better you know your characters, the better the piece, and doing some character studies will help you to create individual tones of voice and get to know your characters thoroughly.

I'd suggest writing character biographies in the first person. Take one, two or three characters and put them under pressure. They might be stuck in a lift, stuck at an airport with a major flight delay, arrive at a hotel in the early hours and discover there is no record of a booking. Put two characters with opposing agendas and desires in a situation. Explore hierarchy - character A is more powerful than character B. But character C is more powerful than character A. Explore relationships - parent as child, child as parent.

As well as developing character, exercises like this can also suggest potential story avenues.

Article in full at More Writing messageboard


Comedy Writing Links

Preview: "The Mentalist"


I wanted to do a procedural with a lead who would break the procedure. I've always been fascinated by mentalism and that area of magic. These people claim to be mind readers or psychics ... but being able to actually convince others of that is more impressive. They have very aggressive psychological insights into people, and it seemed natural for someone chasing criminals to have those kind of skills.

The heroic nature of the character is that he's lived through tragedy, but he doesn't let that show, and the job he's doing is a direct result of it. He's seeking atonement and redemption.

If there was one word that I think Simon brings to the character, it's grace. The way he moves, the way he interacts with other people. He has a smile that you want to see. You want to draw it out of him. That's one of those things that mentalists understand, those basic physical responses; when you see someone smiling and it's an infectious smile, it makes you slightly happier. It's a puppies-and-sunsets thing, but hey, that's what TV's about, to some degree.

(Washington Post)


The premise of Bruno Heller's show is "what if Derren Brown decided to work with the police?" Patrick Jane is also a mentalist, or psychological manipulator with great powers of observation, who used to make a living at pretending to be a psychic (as they all pretend) until tragedy strikes. Although I was the first person on the Interweb to big up last season's best new network show Life (I'll pause for your applause) it's only when the creator writes it that it truly shines. Also it's still hampered by a boring complicated conspiracy story which detracts from the murder of the week.

This season's best new network show The Mentalist is a similar quirky police procedural and while I can also tell when it's the creator writing, the other writers on his team are quality enough to get pretty close to his voice. And while Jane has a recurring personal storyline, generally anyone can watch any episode and won't be confused or bored.

Not that it's a competition or anything but The Mentalist wins by a mile.

Normally a quirky classy show would be perpetually at the brink of cancellation and moved round the schedule to find a good slot but the audience responded and it was the biggest freshman hit of the season.

I'm only patriotic when it comes to football but I can't help feeling a twinge of pride that Bruno Heller is a limey. I do wonder if that outside perspective is what gives it that originality and edge. Apparently he didn't even bother watching other cop shows, which is astonishing. It makes me wonder whether genre research is probably procrastination.

The Mentalist is very highly recommended.

Thursdays, 9:00pm, Five, starting today

CBS official site

Five official site

Bruno Heller interview (Read Scott Myers comments on the interview: "how a writer must know their characters on an intimate level")

Pilot script (via Lee)

25 March, 2009

Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter-director, interview

The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Il:

"Kaufman didn’t care if he failed as a director because “in my writing I came to the sort of conclusion awhile ago that the only way to do anything interesting is to not see failing as a negative thing.”

The only way to avoid failure is to do something that you know how to do already, he ways, “which is, as a writer, completely uninteresting.”

“I always take projects that I don’t know how to do. I always go in and say, ‘This is what I’m going to try to do; I haven’t done this before.’ And I accept the fact that it may not come out well. And this is a continuation of that.

“I think we see failure as a negative thing in our culture, and I don’t see it as a negative thing. I think failure is a sign that you tried to do something that is challenging and you didn’t know how to do, and that to me is a good thing. That’s bold, that’s adventurous ... you can actually come up with something new and interesting, which you can’t if you keep doing the same thing over and over again.”

To him, “success and failure are irrelevant” — which is why “I don’t write for an audience in mind, ever. I don’t ever think about an audience, because then I’d be writing what I think they want me to write, so that I can be successful, as opposed to writing what I feel, which is brave and risky.”"

Article in full

24 March, 2009

RTÉ web drama series finalists

RTÉ is launching its first drama series for the web, giving the public the power to decide which of nine drama pilots it wants to see developed.

The pilots are now being webcast on www.rte.ie/storyland and viewers are being asked to vote on which of the dramas they think should be commissioned for second and subsequent episodes. The closing date for voting on the first episode is Monday 30 March. The least popular dramas will then be eliminated as the audience continues to vote on the drama they would like to see third and subsequent episodes of. The winning drama will be the only series to have all six episodes made.

The nine dramas were selected from an open competition in which programme makers were invited to make pitches for a six-part drama series to be webcast on RTÉ.ie. A panel chaired by genius Irish scriptwriter and actor Mark O’Halloran (Adam & Paul, Garage) decided on the drama pilots to be webcast on www.rte.ie/storyland.

23 March, 2009

"10 Steps To Writing A Horror Screenplay"

Proof Positive:

"A horror movie has certain rules. If you break too many the audience will be disappointed.

This is a very short, no fluff, blueprint of how to write a horror script.

1. The Hook. Start with a bang. Step right into a suspense scene. (”Scream” opens with a terrifying sequence with Drew Barrymore on the phone with a killer)

2. The Flaw. Introduce your hero. Give him a flaw. Before you can put your hero in jeopardy we must care for him. We must want our hero to succeed. So make him human. (In “Signs” Mel Gibson plays a priest who has lost his faith after his wife died)

3. The Fear. A variant of The Flaw. The hero has a fear. Maybe a fear of heights, or claustrophobia. (In “Jaws” Roy Scheider has a fear of water. At the end he has to conquer his fear by going out onto the ocean to kill the shark)

Article in full

22 March, 2009

"Post-Mortem: ‘ER’ Is Remembered Fondly"

New York Times:

"There are so many versions about what happened at the pilot screening for NBC, but this is what I remember. Warren Littlefield [the president of NBC Entertainment] came out and said, “We’re never going to put it on the air.” Les went crazy and started yelling, saying we were going to test it ourselves. We called NBC after we tested it, and they didn’t believe our results. So we suggested a focus group. That went so well they then tested it. I was shocked at the results. It was the best-testing show they’d ever had." John Wells

Article in full

21 March, 2009

Tony Gilroy, "Duplicity", interviews

New Yorker:

" Today, the film industry considers adult-oriented drama a small target, and one that is getting smaller. Middle-aged Americans don’t go to the movies; young adults and teen-agers do, and they prefer action to talk, in part because they believe they know every possible movie character already. A screenwriter interested in human behavior can find himself ignored by big-studio executives looking for movies propelled by spectacle and superheroes. “The trend is making movies that don’t need screenwriters,” a top Hollywood screenwriter explained to me by e-mail. Gilroy is a canny player, though. He says that he’s “not into building blueprints of buildings that will never get built.” His movies follow two fundamental rules: “Bring it in within two hours” and “Don’t bore the audience.” Sitting in his office at the Brill Building one day, while his brother edited “Duplicity” in the next room, Gilroy picked up a copy of his script and riffled it. “It’s all white space,” he said to me. “It’s all about not writing.” "

Article in full


Daily Telegraph

" "The writing is really hard. You're alone. It really pulls it out of you. You pull it out of your head. But when you're a director, you're shopping – you're picking this actor, you're picking this scene. It's like the most intense kinetic high-speed shopping of all time. You sit in a chair and it will all come rushing at you like a wind tunnel.

"On the flip side, there is no day of directing that is as exciting as writing. The day you break something wide up, and you know that you have it and nobody knows that you have it and it's yours and it's in your head. You go home, or you go to a party and nobody knows that great feeling that you had. I've never had that feeling as a director." "

Article in full

20 March, 2009

"Half the Rules You Learned are Wrong"

Billy Mernit:

"Tonight, I show a group of students how a cleverly crafted series of setups in a script's first act is the key to effective pay-offs in a credible, contrivance-free climax. Tomorrow, I spend a day doing notes on a script that's a credibility-free contrivance-fest that has no climax... and has already been bought by the studio for half a million bucks."

"Your spec doesn't have to suck. But it helps to acknowledge that it is a sell. It's not a work of art, it's not a priceless pinnacle of writing perfection, it's a draft of a story that wants to be movie. And if letting go of some rules you were taught is what it takes, to get people to see the movie you see in your head... have at it, I say. You have nothing to fear but another rewrite."

Article in full

16 March, 2009

Preview: "Missing"

"We took the idea of a Missing Persons Unit, collated mountains of research built up from the factual series and workshopped the concept with the BBC executive producer Gerard Melling. Writers Roy Boulter (The Street), Matt Leys (The Street and The Bill) and Karen MacLachlan (New Tricks) provided their own take on procedural and relationship dramas. Anne-Marie di Mambro (Casualty and Taggart) joined us for the final episode. We had seven months to deliver a five-part series from scratch within the discipline of a daytime budget. Producer Julie Press created tight storylines with myriad twists and turns within the parameters of a main precinct, limited locations per show, four central cast members and five visiting cast."
Article in full

BBC Drama

BBC1, Monday 16-Friday 20 March at 2.15pm

15 March, 2009

"The Art of Screenwriting" videos

Narrative and Structure


Dialogue and Description


13 March, 2009

My Red Nose Day Baked Beans Bath Marathon

Updated - 12 midnight

Happy Red Nose Day!

Comic Relief asked us to do something funny for money and so I am going to lie in a bath of baked beans for 24 hours, which is the whole day! Wacky or what?! And I might even end up in the Guinness Book of Records again - but this time it will be on purpose!

I will be taking my laptop in the tub with me in just a few moments so I can listen to music, watch TV and also update you throughout the day.
Although I might be having such a good old fun time, I might forget.

But I'm not doing it for nothing. Please give a little or a lot but at least a little to Comic Relief. Thank you.

Make a Donation

I am now in the bath of baked beans! Wha-hey! It's squishy! Perhaps I should have worn clothes, these bloody beans are getting everywhere. No, clothes are for wimps, I'm glad I'm naked. Plus I'm sure it's a special thrill for some, if not all, of my readers to know that I'm blogging in the buff, oh natural and completely stitchless. Yeah baby...

I shall try and get more pictures up during the day but after that first one above, my digital camera has been playing silly buggers. Not literally, obviously. I'm not that bored.

I'm going to try and sleep now and I'm not having second thoughts already. This is great fun! Only 23 hours and 48 minutes to go!


Tonight on BBC1, from 7pm onwards, you will see short harrowing films of suffering caused by poverty, war and disease. That's nothing compared to what I'm going through with this stupid fundraiser.

I woke up starving but had forgotten to bring any food up to the bathroom. Michelle pointed out in the comments I could always eat the baked beans but I can't stand baked beans. And they're cold. And I got them cheap because they were way past their sell by date. In retrospect it should have been a bath of chicken tikka balti, peshwari naan and pilau rice instead. Mmmm...I just need to hold on until midnight. You can do it, Robin!

If those HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa that Comic Relief helps had laptops and Internet access and could read English and were reading my blog right now, I am sure they would be cheering and jumping up and down with joy that I am prepared to do without food for so long.

What is slightly worrying me is that the beans are turning me orange, is that normal? I'm beginning to look like the Tango man. It had better not be permanent.

Of course I could end the marathon now and go and get some food and wash the stinky beans off (in that order, I really am starving to death here) and no-one would know but I would know. I have hundreds of visitors a day and I'm sure every one of you is donating to Comic Relief only because I, your hero, is supporting it. There is an unbreakable bond of trust between us and I promise I won't let you down.

Now my bloody mobile won't upload the pictures of me in the bath. Typical.

Michelle asked if I'm allowed to leave the bath to go to the toilet. I think not but I haven't checked with the Guinness Book of Records yet. Luckily I've only needed a number one so far and, not to brag, but I can reach the toilet from where I am.

Make a Donation


Yes! I've done it. I've been in a bath of baked beans for 24 whole hours. I have raised millions of of the 41 million raised so far, at a guess, and I've set a new world record. Actually, what was the old record? Bear with me a moment.

Guinness tastes like shit! And the book is shit too with it's stupid pointless so called facts. I've just found out that the so called new editor of the so called book "Craig Glenday" (what a stupid so-called name) said this: "I've removed things like the longest time spent sitting in a bath of baked beans as there are much more worthwhile things to do with your time."

Well, thank you very much. Thank you very much indeed, you jumped up arsehole! How dare you? How bloody dare you? 24 hours I've been in here, that's equivalent to a day,
you patronising get.

Anyway, thanks to my loyal readers and their generosity in donations I don't think it's been a waste of time. So there.

Make a Donation

12 March, 2009

Short scripts wanted

" The Small Storytellers are looking for the next EPIC short film script.

We are on the look out for animation (under 5 minutes) and live action (under 15 min) scripts to produce and transform into a reality.

We are looking for scripts with potential to shine in festivals around the world so If you think you have written one and this sounds interesting to you, email us at: info@ smallstorytellers.com

To find out more about us and what we’ve been up to recently visit www.smallstorytellers.com

Competitive Deadline: 01 May 2009, 11:59PM "

11 March, 2009

Plotting rant #1

I was reminded of Showcase/Five dramedy Californication recently and realised I forgot to have a rant about it on my blog last year. So imagine it's a year ago: McCain was going to be the next President of the USA, the economy looks strong and Birmingham City was going to stay in the Premier League.

As I watched the first series, I enjoyed the quality dialogue and frank sexuality but the hack plotting began to wind me up each week until the daft last quarter .

Hank has long-term writers block. While away from home he plays around with an old typewriter and ends up writing a novel on it in a couple of weeks - the best thing he's ever written. And yet he doesn't bother to photocopy it. Predictably, the book gets stolen and to cut a crap story short, the ex-girlfriend publishes it as her own.

That plot is an old one and there's nothing wrong with using old plots - recycling is good - but what annoyed me was how the writer didn't make the effort to update it to incorporate new technology and instead pretended they don't exist.

Rather than ignoring a problem, inconvenient technology like computers, photocopiers, mobile phones, etc gives us a chance to make more of an effort and avoid hack writing, should we want to. By going beyond the easy and most obvious solutions we may find stronger and more truthful stories. TV Guide called the plotting "absurd" with "more logic-holes than a hunk of swiss".

The thriller/horror with people trapped in an isolated place with no landlines to call for help is harder to do in the present day as everyone's got a mobile. It doesn't mean we can't still do that plot but we have to deal with the mobiles. Hence my impression from the movies that the USA must have the worst cellphone coverage ever. Even in the middle of cities, they can't get a bloody signal! But at least they've made the effort to deal with the problem and it stops the audience asking the question: "Why don't he use his mobile?"

The example with Californication also shows suspect if not bad characterisation. Would any writer - just out of a long writers block - really not safeguard their manuscript like a newborn child and photocopy it several times like a newborn child? Although, saying that, I knew one writer who sent a typewritten spec script to a prodco for an existing show ages ago and the company lost it. He sued and got a considerable settlement out of court. While he was complaining about the prodco in the pub, no-one wanted to ask the question hanging in the air, "You mean you sent them your only copy?"

So script loss clearly does happen in real life but up until then Hank, as a character, was just very self-destructive, not very stupid. He had to act stupid for the plot to work when maybe what was needed was a cleverer plot.

I did give Californication a second chance with the second series. TV Guide called the set ups "mechanical" and the characterisations "improbable". But to be fair while I agreed with the critics and gave up on it, enough people stayed watching it for it to get a surprise third season.

Actually, Monday night's Heroes (UK pace) has another more clear-cut example of bad characterisation which I'll attempt to rant about next.

10 March, 2009

"River's Up" by Alex Jones

Originally produced by Alan Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre In Scarborough; River's Up has since been produced by the Swan Theatre, Worcester, had a critically acclaimed BBC Radio production and two sell-out productions in Rome, where it is called Effetto Serra.

Tom and Sally Millington’s house is about to be flooded yet again! Sally is worried and blames the icebergs, though Tom seems more concerned about the drunken Brummie revellers he has to sail up the Severn every weekend on his disco-boat. But this time the water level shows no sign of retreating, and before long they’re drifting around a watery Worcester searching for the Malvern Hills. Perhaps the resourceful Darren has made it to France with Caroline and little Sean and Jessica - but how will they cope with French toilets!

The irrepressible Millington's begin to realise they are witnessing the results of a global cock-up. Join them on their poignant journey in a dilemma that pits them against cataclysmic odds in a comic-tragedy of epic proportions.

On tour with Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Company until 24 April. Details/dates

Alan Ayckbourn stole my sex-swap play, writer claims

09 March, 2009

"The Genius of Bad Writing"

Living the Romantic Comedy:

"Good screenwriting is supposed to appeal to a reader's intelligence. Be clear, be precise, and they'll get what you intend in a given scene. Your prose should be as spare and smart as a Raymond Carver story.

But as a writer who's been a story analyst and script consultant in the studio system, and thus has read something like 6,893 screenplays over the past 17 years, most of them agented, many of them since sold and developed, I say:


Article in full

08 March, 2009

"Research is the Enemy of Cliché"

"Pro screenwriter Jonathan Fernandez talks about how research can elevate a script. "


Radar Bros. - "Brother Rabbit"

Kanye West - "Heartless"

07 March, 2009

Vince Gilligan, "Breaking Bad", interview

Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan talks about his AMC dark comedy-drama about what happens when a mid-life crisis collides with a life of crime.

Writer Vince Gilligan is probably best known for his long stint on The X-Files, where he was responsible for such memorable outings as Bad Blood, a sort of comic Rashomon with vampires, and Pusher, which taught viewers why cerulean blue is an inherently evil color. Since Mulder and Scully went into retirement (on the small screen, at least), Gilligan has kept busy penning episodes of the short-lived series Robbery Homicide Division and 2006's revamp of Night Stalker, as well as rewriting Vincent Ngo's spec Tonight, He Comes into last summer's Will Smith superhero flick Hancock. His most recent accomplishment, however, is also the one he's most proud of: AMC's Breaking Bad, which tells the story of high school chemistry teacher Walter H. White (Malcolm in the Middle's Bryan Cranston), who, after learning his imminent death from lung cancer will leave his family in dire financial straights, begins cooking and selling crystal meth with a slacker ex-student (Aaron Paul). But while Walt's knowledge of chemistry may help keep him alive in the grimy underworld of drug trafficking, there's no magic formula to save him from the collateral damage done to his life.

CS Weekly's Jason Davis spoke to Gilligan last summer as part of our X-Files retrospective. This week, we present a previously unseen portion of that interview, just in time for Breaking Bad's second-season premiere this Sunday night on AMC.

How did you come up with the idea for Breaking Bad?
Talking to a buddy of mine, a writer friend named Tom Schnauz . He's a fellow NYU film grad, a really talented writer, and I got him his start on The Lone Gunmen. He wrote for us on that show, and then he wrote for The X-Files. Now he's a successful writer on the TV show Reaper. I was talking to him one day about three years ago, and we were bemoaning the business, how hard it is to get a pilot going, how hard it is to get a script sold and produced. Just sort of pissing and moaning about everything under the sun, because writing sucks. The writing itself is great, but all the professional aspects of it stink. So what are we gonna do next? How about being a greeter at Wal-Mart? That looks like a job you don't have to take home with you every night. What about selling crystal meth out of the back of an RV, traveling the country? That kind of hit me, not as a potential career move, but this idea of the character that became Walter White popped into my head at that point. This guy who is not a criminal, but is involved in criminal activities. He's very much a straight arrow, and yet he's "breaking bad," which is an old Southern expression that means to raise hell. He's this otherwise good man, so what reason would he be doing that for? Then it quickly came that he has nothing to lose; that he's dying of cancer and he's trying to provide for his family. They usually don't come together that quickly, but this character just launched himself into my head. I had the luck of my ignorance, because I came up with this character who cooks crystal meth to save his family, and I thought, you know, I've got as good a chance of getting this made as anything. [laughs]

How much research about crystal meth did you have to do?
A fair bit. I read several books on the subject, both from the point of view of the DEA and from the point of view of the addicts. Fortunately or unfortunately, all this stuff's readily available. [X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz's] brother-in-law, Grant, is a DEA agent, and he was very helpful. I got to have lunch with him and his partner and ask some questions about what it's like from the DEA point of view. We have a character on our show who is a DEA agent who is a bit of a cowboy, but a very good cop. We try to show the DEA as realistically as we can, which is an organization of people who really believe in what they're doing and who work very hard.

I knew nothing about crystal meth before all of this started. I just knew it was really bad for you. That's not even the point of the show, for me. The point of the show is about a guy who's having the world's worst mid-life crisis, and who does something terrible in order to do something good. But then the question arises, do the ends justify the means? And I think we're gradually making the point that no, they don't.

I spoke to a MacGyver writer a while back, and he said there was always a point never to show the audience all the steps and all the ingredients in the contraptions he would construct. Is that something you're conscious of, making sure you don't give the audience too much knowledge in the show?
Absolutely. Thermite, in particular. Thermite couldn't be much simpler to make. It's basically just two ingredients. We only really talked about one of them. Your MacGyver writer, I agree with him completely. We want the audience to know that the science exists, and the science itself is fascinating, but we're not a primer for how to make crystal meth or how to make thermite or how to make fulminated mercury. That's not what we're about. MacGyver was a fun show, and we're borrowing from that a little bit in the sense that there is really a MacGyver element to Walt. He is a teacher and a chemistry whiz, and there is that sort of post-modern MacGyver element, where he puts together a bomb or some sort of poison.

Breaking Bad obviously surpasses AMC's limits for profanity -- you mute the F-words when they appear. What was behind the decision to put the language in the show and then mute it when it airs?
This is still an ongoing argument. They really don't want me doing words that they have to mute. I don't want to go backward. To me, the horse is kind of out of the barn now, and we've got characters on our show that are never going to say "freakin'." They're never going to tone down their language. I feel like the audience gets it, the audience does the math. I know some people were expressing their disappointment in the words being dropped out, but to me the alternative is less palatable, which is to change the way people talk. I'd rather have them talk the way they would talk. Even having said that, even last season we'd have the occasional F-word, but we'd only have two per hour that we'd have to bleep. So it's not like we had a string of them. There are very byzantine rules that seem to change week to week. They don't seem hard and fast; they seem kind of arbitrary.

I prefer bleeping, because then you know you're missing something. I think we made a mistake first season to dip stuff, but that was AMC's call. I think the audience gets it, and it feels more authentic that way. You're not having the actual word, but everyone knows what the word is, and then you have value added when you get to the point of a DVD set, because then you can sell the DVD uncut or unbleeped. That's my argument. There's no perfect scenario there, because we're never going to be allowed to be HBO and have the F-word uncut, but the least egregious way to go about it, the smallest sin, would be to have them talk the way they really would talk and then just bleep the objectionable words. I'm hoping to win that battle, but we'll see. [laughs]

What do you look for in hiring writers for Breaking Bad?
I look for good visual storytelling. We take pride in our dialogue, but TV and movies, this is visual storytelling. It's the difference between a play and a screenplay. A stage play is all about the dialogue, and I've seen and read some wonderful ones, but that's not what we're doing here. We're telling a story through the images. I specifically look for visual writing, which is to say not the dialogue on the page, but the action lines, the scene description. How much is the writer getting across through a look, through a bit of body language, the omission of an action or the action itself? Versus a writer who gets everything across verbally. Because in real life, very often we don't say what we mean; very often we say the opposite, or we don't say anything at all.

How did the strike affect your plans for the series?
We had two more episodes we were going to do. We had eight, and we only got through six because of the strike. I'm very sorry the strike had to happen, it was a shame for a lot of reasons, but a bit of a silver lining for us, oddly enough, is that we didn't get to do our final two episodes. We had plotted out all our episodes before the show ever went on the air, and we didn't know how well the show would be received. Not knowing how the public would take to it, you tend to want to be a little more sensational. You want to really keep the show exciting and interesting and keep 'em watching. All of that to say that those last two episodes, because of that, would have been really big episodes, and would have taken the characters into a hugely different realm than that they were already in, and it would have been a hard thing to come back from, coming into season two.

We're not just doing those two episodes coming into season two. We threw those out completely and we're starting somewhere else. We're building more slowly than we otherwise would have built. I think that's really good, because I know we've all had our favorite shows that were really interesting up to a certain point, but maybe they just go too far, and then there's no going back from it. To me, the trick is to do as little as possible with the characters, and yet keep them as interesting as possible. It's a real balancing act. You don't want to be incredibly dramatic week in, week out, you want to bury it. We start off this new season with a couple of really dramatically big episodes, then we want to throttle back a little and quiet things down, modulate it, have some quieter, more character-based episodes, and then the bigger, plot-ier episodes. Mix 'em up, that's what keeps a show interesting.

David Michael Wharton compiled this article from an interview by Jason Davis.


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Breaking Bad official site
Breaking Bad pilot script via Lee

06 March, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Red Riding"

Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"Red Riding is a kind of Life On Mars for grown-ups - dark, desperate and wonderful" "They must be tearing their hair out at the Yorkshire Tourist Board. First of all Heartbeat and The Royal are cancelled, two shows that pointed a camera with a rose-tinted lens at the county. And now along comes Red Riding, Channel 4's trilogy of films based on David Peace's novels, which hardly paints the place in a friendly light. Hardly paints it in any light at all in fact; this must have been a rare production when good weather would have stopped filming. Except that you don't get good weather in Yorkshire, of course. It's grim up north, unremittingly so. Come to Yorkshire, for the relentless rain, and the dark skies, the gloom, and above all for the fear ...

We are in the past, in 1974 in this first one. Rookie reporter Eddie Dunford (excellently played by Andrew Garfield) comes back up north after a failed attempt at making it as a journalist in London. While investigating a series of horrific murders of young girls, he gets caught in a web of corruption surrounding a property developer (even more excellently played by Sean Bean, who has real swagger and menace) and the West Yorkshire police, who are definitely not a force for good.

If you're thinking: the 1970s, badly behaved rozzas, leather jackets and Ford Cortinas, hang about, haven't we done all this recently, then you need to think again. This is Life On Mars for grown-ups. That was more nostalgic, for the music and the clothes; even the corruption was fun. This goes somewhere different. Yes there are some big collars around the place, King Crimson is on the music centre, there's yet another fine performance from a Vauxhall Viva, a car that looked the same going backwards as it did going forwards. But it's more than that - they just help in creating a mood.

And the mood is a dark and desperate one. This is a wonderful portrait of brutality and corruption, a huge and unstoppable machine from which there is no escape.

Where the line between fact and fiction runs is not always clear. By using real events - the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper plays a part in the next one - the writing more than hints at some historical value. I can't quite believe that the West Yorkshire police were quite so institutionally rotten to the core (Abu Ghraib? Ha! That was preschool compared to what went on in Yorkshire cop shops in the 70s). But whether the torture and terrorism are genuine or not, the characters certainly feel authentic.

As drama then, it works beautifully, and maybe begins to answer a call for a new seriousness in television. Perhaps at last someone is sitting up and taking notice of what's going on across the Atlantic. And, like the best TV from America - The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men etc - it captures a time and a place. Even the smoking in Red Riding is up there with Mad Men's. And as this is Yorkshire, it mixes in with the mist coming down from the moors, and the thick fug of cover-ups and corruption ... yeah all right, enough of that.

If I have one tiny criticism - and I'm going to find it hard to put my finger on this - it's that it takes itself a little bit too seriously, tries too hard, almost to the point of self-consciousness. If something is good, it can just be good, rather than jabbing you in the chest and shouting "this is good", which is kind of the impression I sometimes got during Red Riding.

Anyway it is good. Very good. And actually I don't think the Yorkshire Tourist Board needs to worry. In spite of (maybe because of) the murk and the gloom, the concrete car parks and run-down estates, Yorkshire looks amazing - much better than the chocolate-box version in Heartbeat. "


Tim Teeman, The Times

"The first episode of Red Riding may have announced itself as taking place “In the year of our Lord, 1974”, but its doffing of cap to godliness was fleeting and surely sly. Tony Grisoni's amazing adaptation of David Peace's quartet of novels is unremittingly bleak, its canvas distinctly ungodly.

The only thing to conclude at the end of two hours of torture, grey multi-storeys, beatings, torture, child disappearances and moral corruption was that it really is grim up North. Red Riding knocked the stuffing out of you, then, smiling viciously, set it alight. It was astonishing, unbearable, tough, and beautifully written and mounted. Julian Jarrold's direction couldn't have been further from the lush canvas of his big-screen Brideshead of last year. All that grandeur was vaporised. Here the palette was grey, fawn, scrubby clouds, scored skin, starkly lit basements, derelict streets. Everything was a permanent winter of discontent and horribly beautiful to watch.

Andrew Garfield's Edward Dunford had returned to Yorkshire, the young Turk journalist out for his exclusive: the disappearances of some young girls. His friend Barry warned him darkly of police “death squads”, which he laughed off: his friend was paranoid, he supposed. At the start, Garfield was the typical hungry reporter: glib, ruthless, dismissive of authority, wanting the glory. But his cockiness was no match for the mass of primordial slime gathering around him.

Barry was probably right about the death squads and was beheaded while driving in his car. It was unbearable to watch Garfield - who must surely be nominated for gongs, as must the drama - become aware of the hideous spider's web of inescapable criminality and corruption all around him. He finally knew what right and wrong was - too late. The police were rotten. The puppetmaster, the local criminal big cheese John Dawson (Sean Bean in black poloneck with thugs at heel for menace), controlled everything, as his mad wife muttered darkly of bodies under carpets. Bean snarled at Garfield that the country was at war with itself: the Government had lost it, the “Pakis, wogs and poofs, even the bloody women, trying to turn back the tide”.

The horrific knot of Red Riding was the notion that there was no escape for Garfield, no chance for justice to be done, or to reveal the scale of the corruption around him. His growing sense of powerlessness was pungent: he went from a journalist trying to get a story to a man trying to stay alive. Garfield is an actor who resides in tics and grimaces and Dunford was a rattish hero, hard to really like until it became apparent that he was the best thing in the benighted world of Dawson and his cohorts.

There was one glint of light. Janette, the mother of one of the missing girls, fell for Dunford. He imagined a life away from the mess around them: “They've got sunshine down South.” But cometh the hour, she wasn't there. She had been killed. He was being framed for her murder and then tortured almost beyond endurance by the police and by Bean's henchmen (whatever the difference was). Then, into a grey day, he was thrown, brutalised, from a van.

Numb, Garfield returned to kill Bean and his bullies and then in a final frame, seemed to drive suicidally at a police convoy in pursuit: the screen shattered on his fatalistic face. The cock of the walk had become a wounded, compromised victim. They may have sunshine down South, but it seemed unlikely that he was going to see it soon.

Some have said that this series is too bleak, but Grisoni has remained faithful to Peace's tone. If he had successfully made the unadaptable adaptable, then Jarrold had made the unwatchable watchable. You felt every crack on bone and smelled every overflowing ashtray. The second episode will take us to 1980, and the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders and investigation, so really if you thought this was tough, it was just the aperitif for worse horrors to come. "


James Walton, Daily Telegraph

"You can understand why Channel 4 hasn’t stinted on the publicity for Red Riding. It’s a hugely ambitious trilogy set in the Yorkshire of the Seventies and Eighties. Each of its two-hour episodes is made by a different bona fide film director. The cast includes Sean Bean, Warren Clarke, David Morrissey and Rebecca Hall. According to one of the writers, the overall plan is to create nothing less than a new TV genre, to be known as “Yorkshire noir”.

The series began with 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited). Despite all the advance publicity, it still arrived on screen with an undeniable bang – and has already laid a strong claim to being one of the most darkly powerful dramas of the year. Even so, I can think of several groups who won’t enjoy it much. Among them are anybody with a weak stomach, any retired officers from the West Yorkshire police, and any viewers who’d hoped that these tales of old-school coppers would plunge them back into the cheerfully irreverent world of Life on Mars.

That cheerfulness, mind you, was never very likely. After all, the series is based on the novels of David Peace, which combine fact, fiction and conspiracy theory to explore the Yorkshire of his childhood. If Peace is to be believed, this was an unrelentingly seedy and corrupt place, where the misdeeds of the police went far beyond giving villains the odd slap – and where all the people with any sort of power swigged their whisky, smoked their fags and plotted their crooked schemes together. As one typically psychotic officer put it last night, “This is the North. We do what we want.”

In the first episode, what the schemers wanted was a convenient solution to a series of child murders. To this end, the police followed the traditional path of fitting up the local oddball, Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), and apparently torturing a confession out of him. As often in Peace’s work, there were deliberate echoes of a real story here: the framing of Stefan Kiszko for the murder of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed in 1975. (Like Kiszko, Myshkin was the son of East European immigrants, and had what in the Seventies were certainly not referred to as “special needs”.) The senior officer in the Kiszko case, incidentally, was DCI Dick Holland, who’d go on to investigate the Yorkshire Ripper murders – which feature in the next episode of Red Riding.

Amidst all the corruption and violence, one Yorkshire Post journalist, Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), did eventually come up with the radical idea of trying to do the right thing – partly because he fell in love with one of the bereaved mothers, Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall, trying hard but unavailingly not to look too glamorous). Inevitably, however, his new-found righteousness didn’t do him, her or the cause of justice any good.

Through all of this, Julian Jarrold’s highly atmospheric direction determinedly matched the bleakness of the narrative. As a rule, the relentlessly brown interior shots were broken up only by relentlessly grey exterior ones. The housing estates of Seventies Yorkshire looked alarmingly like Third World shanty towns.

Meanwhile, the fractured story-telling meant that you had to pay careful attention. Yet even if you did, elements of the plot (the love affair between Eddie and Paula, for instance) remained somewhere between sketchy and inexplicable. In such an avowedly revelatory drama, it was also disappointing that the chief baddie turned out to be John Dawson (Bean), a ruthless property developer from central casting, who announced himself by saying how much he hated black people, gay people, Asians and women.

But there’s perhaps another problem too. Peace’s own theory is that his mix of history, speculation, reinvention and pure invention allows him to explore different possibilities without arriving at anything as simplistic as a conclusion about what actually happened. But mightn’t this just be a cunning ploy for having his cake and eating it? On the one hand, the apparently factual stuff doesn’t have to be accurate – because this is fiction. On the other, the fiction can gain extra resonance by seeming to be true. Either way, it means you spend quite a lot of time wondering not merely how much of the dark conspiracy stuff is true, but how much is supposed to be.

Paradoxically enough, though, this ability to make us feel gripped, disorientated and slightly infuriated at the same time only helps Red Riding to achieve its central aim. In the end, the result really is a triumphantly unsettling antidote to everything bland and comfortable on television. "


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