30 October, 2009

Linkage - 30/10/2009

Why Britain can’t do The Wire
"The critically acclaimed US television drama could not be made here. We have writing talent in abundance, but its output is controlled by a stifling monopoly—the BBC. Plus, an interview with The Wire's creator David Simon"


We must embrace failure to find great success in drama
"It’s worth the risk if we find the next great British drama series, says Ben Stephenson."


Can the writers change the script?
"On paper, these cash-conscious times look particularly tough for screenwriters. But, as Geoffrey Macnab reports, the sector is also developing a powerful sense of collective identity which may help to redefine the writers’ role in the film-making process"


10 Story Techniques You Must Use to Sell Your Script
Truby's Take
"The key question that all screenwriters should ask themselves is: how do I write a script that Hollywood wants to buy? Most writers mistakenly think that success is all about connections and star power. Not so. The real trick to writing a script that will sell is to know and use Hollywood’s central marketing strategy. And that can be summed up in one word: genres."


The Three Fundamental Problems of Screenplay Development
Fast Screenplay
Link to video
Link to reports


The art of pitching
"Television needs to take the art of pitching more seriously, especially in today’s winner-takes-all media environment, writes Paul Boross."


Storytelling is Eternal, Great Stories are Timeless
"Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms. We can surmise that storytelling was an integral part of our standard repertoire when our primitive ancestors sketched their hunting exploits on the walls of caves. "


Screenplay Tips Archive (101 articles)
Life Tips


Acts or reels?
"If you’re like me, from your genesis as a screenwriter, from the very first screenwriting book you read, you were exposed to three-act structure – or from your first playwriting book, if you come from the theater. And if you’re even more like me, you felt even then that something was lacking. And if you are me, you’ve always had a nagging feeling there must be a better approach to story out there."


Hey Screenwriters, Enough With The Backstory-Rationing Already!
AV Club

Hey Jealousy
Julie Gray
"Ah, jealousy among writers. I know it well. Believe me, I’ve felt that green-eyed monster rise up with me more than once, and I’ve both seen it affect writers I know personally and infect anonymous writers on message boards like a veritable 28 Days Later. Why, my former writing partner recently experienced some wonderful news and (along with some congratulations, to be fair) was attacked on a message board by a few jealous/angry sorts who didn’t think the good news qualified as actual good news and couldn’t let it go"


Where Do Ideas Come From?
"What separates the creative from the not-so-creative isn’t so much the ability to come up with ideas but the ability to trust them, or to trust ourselves to realize them."


Creating a Biopic Brings Peril, Pitfalls
"The trick to writing or making a biopic is: Don't make a biopic. Meaning, it has to be something else that's bigger than the life that you're writing about. The details of someone's life are just not that interesting. You really have to cut the line between making a compelling drama and being truthful to what actually happened. Facts are boring; the truth is fascinating."


Download "Turing's Test": an exclusive new radio play


Links to 80 literary magazines
Virginia Quarterly Review


Nice writing assignments via competition
Scifi Scanner


50 Essential Web Apps for Freelancers


29 October, 2009

Moviescope relaunch

"movieScope Magazine, Issue 14 has arrived!

We've made some major changes to movieScope Magazine to make it
even more relevant to you, whether you're a screenwriter, director, producer, or independent filmmaker.

movieScope now includes 80 pages of pure screenwriting and filmmaking insight and opinion from some of the most respected names in journalism and filmmaking... Michael Gubbins (former editor of Screen International), Mick Southworth (Managing Director of The Works UK), Julian Friedmann (see below), Michael Brandt (co-screenwriter of Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma), Roberto Schaefer (cinematographer on Quantum of Solace), Bill Martell (screenwriter of over 20 produced films), James Mottram (freelance journalist for The Independent, MailOnline, The Daily Express, The Mirror, The Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Herald) and many others.

So go on! Give the all-new movieScope Magazine a try and support an independent voice in UK filmmaking. Try a sample issue for just £2.99... that's less than the price of a large cuppuccino (and better value too! Or take the plunge and SUBSCRIBE for just £20.79 + postage

SUPPORT an INDEPENDENT VOICE - Read movieScope Magazine!

Best wishes,
movieScope magazine/
The Screenwriter's Store

26 October, 2009

"My journey with 'Doctors', so far"

David Bishop:

"Nobody wants to read a spec script for a UK show. You get invited to write a trial script, but that's a later stage in the process. First you have to impress somebody with your own, original writing. Sending a Doctors spec script to a Doctors script editor? Pure amateur hour. Unsurprisingly, it got ignored for months. But I wasn't giving up on it, not just yet. [I'm nothing if not persistent.]"

Article in full

22 October, 2009

Writing Film - a good practice guide

Writers' Guild:

"A new good practice guide for screenwriters produced by the Writers' Guild and to be launched at this year’s Screenwriters’ Festival, calls for writers and producers to be partners not enemies.

The comprehensive 'how-to' document aims to bridge the gap between the art and the business of screenwriting. It stresses that to be a success in the industry you need more than just a great script. Careful collaboration with other key players is imperative to ensure a script’s successful completion and financial viability."

Article in full

20 October, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Murderland"

Nancy Banks Smith, The Guardian

"There was something of Alice in Wonderland about Carrie in Murderland (ITV1), a psychological chiller by David Pirie. Carrie (Bel Powley) finds her mother murdered, spilled on the kitchen floor like ketchup in a sexy, scarlet, sequinned dress. Fifteen years later, unable to rest until she solves the murder, she walks away from her own wedding, abandoning her wedding dress, a virginal shift, like a pool of milk. It feels like a dream.

Wide-eyed Carrie (a quite extraordinary performance if, perhaps, better-spoken than you might expect from a child on a sink estate) is inquisitive, persistent and eager to help DI Hain (Robbie Coltrane) catch the killer. Very much like Alice who, finding herself in a hole, tries to make sense of it all by closely interrogating every creature she meets, most of them mad and at least one of them murderous.

The night of her mother's murder is an exercise in tension. Everything seems ominous to her. The man trying to take her photograph, the drunk at the bus stop, a strange pair of trainers she sees on the stair, the glimpses of sado-masochist behaviour, drink and drugs. Only dishevelled DI Hain feels friendly and somehow familiar in this frightening world. Her mother's funeral is bleak to the point of comedy, with prostitutes on one side and police on the other, until Hain arrives radiating human warmth like a storage heater.

But even his own colleagues – particularly his own colleagues – do not like him. As Carrie squirrels among press cuttings and clues, they coalesce into a sudden revelation and an accusation: "You knew her! It was you!"

Each episode will show the same events from different perspectives. This week, the child. Next, the detective. Finally, the murdered woman."


Andrew Billen, The Times

"The title of the writer David Pirie's new thriller, the one marking Robbie Coltrane's return to ITV, should have given its makers a clue about which way to go with it - if, that is, they wanted to avoid it becoming a Coltrane-fest. “Murderland”, it was explained on Murderland, is the zone a bereaved child enters after a murder: he or she becomes “crime obsessive”. One could see the possibilities, dramatically speaking, for Carrie, the 13-year-old who discovers her prostitute mother killed and catches a fleeting glimpse of her killer. She might distrust the adults trying to help her, devise deranged theories about who did it, or want to kill someone herself.

Yet Bel Powley, the 17-year-old playing Carrie, did not convince us that she had truly entered this new territory. If she was crime obsessive, she was so in a rather gauche Nancy Drew way. Maybe this is how we were meant to read her Saturday stage-school performance. For the structure of the three-part drama demands us to believe that Carrie has repressed the unsolved murder for 15 years.

We meet her on the eve of her posh wedding, by which time Carrie has grown up into Carol and Powley morphed into Amanda Hale, who, at least, shares her cut-glass vowels (so different from her prozzy mother's). On her big day she flees her country hotel, running through a field like Debbie Reynolds on The Debbie Reynolds Show, and abandons her Vera Wang wedding dress beneath a tree. “The memories won't stop but if I look hard enough they'll tell me what really happened to her,” she voice-overs. At this point Murderland succumbed to a severe case of the flashbacks. Enter, at last, Coltrane.

As the dodgy, boozy DI Douglas Hain, the Scotsman tries only moderately hard not to recreate his performance as Fitz in Cracker and who cares if he fails? He was still the most interesting figure in the piece even if he had only a little to do in episode one, which was told from Carrie-Carol's perspective. Whenever he did have something to do, he did it compellingly, even if it was just cadging a sweet off Carrie. His two-line speech denying her suggestion that he could not have children - “Lost a wee boy. Lived a few hours” - was the best moment in a generally unabsorbing hour."


Brian Viner, The Independent

"As the alarmingly alliterative hairy Hogwarts handyman, Hagrid, Robbie Coltrane did plenty of acting with children, but none of them, and certainly not the wand-wooden Daniel Radcliffe, could ever have held even an enchanted candle to young Bel Powley. She played opposite Coltrane in the opening episode of Murderland, as Carrie, the daughter of a murdered prostitute, and she was terrific.

This was just as well, because it was a challenging part that in the hands of a less accomplished young actress could have been, pardon the word, slaughtered. Carrie's response to the violent death of her mother was to become obsessed with the crime, inhabiting a psychiatric state apparently known as "murderland". David Pirie's clever script presents each of the three episodes from the perspective of a different character, and Carrie was the first, still haunted as an adult (played by Amanda Hale) by a crime that after 15 years remains unsolved.

The detective who failed to solve it is played by Coltrane, who continues to be stalked by the letter aitch, for here he is called Hain, and he has a heck of a hinterland. The episode, toing and fro-ing between 2009 and 1994, ended with young Carrie, having at first invested all her trust in Hain, deciding that he might actually be the killer. Certainly, there is more to him than meets the eye, albeit that what does meet the eye pretty much fills the screen. And that's not just a cheap gag about Coltrane's vastness; it is always difficult to take your eyes off him. Indeed, I can't think of anyone who entered the nation's consciousness as a funny man yet has stepped so convincingly into serious drama. It's a common-enough career pattern – the world is full of clowns who want to play Hamlet – but Coltrane, on British television at any rate, embodies it biggest and best.

It is also to his credit that Hain, though tramping much the same territory as Coltrane did in Jimmy McGovern's brilliant Cracker, does not evoke his character in Cracker, the brooding psychologist Fitz, too distractingly. He looks and sounds like Fitz, and he's similarly a maverick with no respect for correct procedure, but we don't know yet whether he's one of the good guys. Not that any good guys have yet emerged. I don't often feel the need to stand up for my gender, but I can't recall a drama in which just about every male character was a study in creepiness."

Overnights: 6.3 million/26%

19 October, 2009

Preview: "Murderland"

"One murder told from three perspectives.

Written by acclaimed writer David Pirie (Murder Rooms, Woman in White), and produced by Touchpaper Scotland, part of the RDF Media Group, Murderland is an emotional and passionate thriller that tells a traumatic murder story through the eyes of three central characters: Carrie, the daughter of the murdered woman, Hain (Robbie Coltrane), the detective in charge of the investigation and Sally, the murder victim.

Clever and compelling, Murderland poses the question - can you move on from terrible unexplained events that befall you as a child, and grow up to make a new life? Or will you be forever trapped, haunted, unable to live fully until you know the truth?"

David Pirie, screenwriter:

"Only children can visit Murderland, only children feel the real terror at its heart. And when they return they aren’t children any more.”

As with all scripts, ‘Murderland’ had many starting points. The above quote about how the proximity to murder can affect children and adolescents, ending their childhood, was one. Another was the Roxette song ‘Joyride’ from the 90s, which had always haunted me with its slightly eerie lyrics

“It all begins where it ends / And we’re all magic friends”

And there was an image that stayed with me, the image of a wedding dress abandoned in a toilet stall. The abandoned dress made the cut, the toilet stall and the song didn’t.

But even more important than the above were two sets of discussions. One with the producers notably Kate Croft which led directly to the script and continued throughout development, and through production. The other, with Robbie Coltrane, has been ongoing for years. Both of us shared a passion for film noir and had often talked of the sort of things we wanted to see on TV. But Robbie was always more critical of Hitchcock than I was, feeling the man’s flaw was that he dealt in obsession and not in love. In ‘Murderland’ we wanted to have both.

The story subsequently took shape in three parts with three perspectives, each episode having a singular point-of-view which meant that the same scene often appeared slightly differently and with a different emphasis. This was one of the challenges, making that work dramatically, delivering new and pleasing information and dramatic reveals each time.

At the heart of it was Carrie Walsh a thirteen year old girl who comes close to witnessing the murder of her mother and subsequently puts her faith in the detective investigating the case, the troubled, conflicted Douglas Hain. Carrie is experiencing the heightened crime-obsessed state, familiar to psychologists, that has been chronicled so brilliantly by James Ellroy in his autobiographical book ‘My Dark Places’. And, as with Ellroy, years later the grown up Carrie finds she simply cannot go on until she has discovered more of the truth. But, as almost all definitions of film noir point out, the truth is so often shrouded in moral and sexual ambiguity. And the grown up Carrie has no idea at all of how far she will have to go to reach it…."

Robbie Coltrane:

"David Pirie and I talked about the idea for Murderland some years ago and making television we’d like to watch - it was as simple as that really.

We talked about what gripped us and what has particularly gripped us about film noir and Hitchcock and all those things. It’s the idea of characters who are in some sort of conflict and appear to be one thing but may in fact be something else, characters who confuse the audience in one sense and then treat them in another. The story throws up enormous moral conflicts."

08 October, 2009


Must see promo from Canal +

Helen Smith)

07 October, 2009

Preview: "Generation Kill"

"Generation Kill follows the highly skilled Marines’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion through the first 40 days of the Iraq War. The 1st Recon Battalion’s mission is to advance north from Camp Mathilda in Kuwait, securing the most treacherous route to Baghdad.

Traditionally, Recon Marines are not deployed for combat missions. Their expertise lies in stealth operations. But in Iraq, they were ordered to race headlong into combat -- in tin-plated open-air Humvees. This misuse of resources is at the heart of the series and provides Simon a through-line that will be familiar to viewers of The Wire: characters futilely fighting the bureaucracy in which they are trapped." Broadcasting & Cable

I was one of the very few who were a bit 'meh' about The Hurt Locker and part of the problem was that I had seen Generation Kill.

It might be a bit unfair to compare a movie with a TV show but I'm going to do it anyway. Both were based on material by journalists who were embedded with troops.

Generation Kill has the reporter in the drama asking questions, learning, being scared and bonding with the troops. It all feels very authentic including the characters and story.

The Hurt Locker uses the experience as background and tries to create a dramatic story. The problem is that however exciting trying to deactivate a bomb is, it's just not enough. The tacked on story and characters were too contrived and predictable for me. But see for youself on DVD at the end the year. (I bet they don't use my quote for the sleeve...)

Generation Kill didn't have any mental real estate with me and so the series lay in my PVR unwatched until I needed the space for Paris Hilton's British Best Friend. However, once I saw the first episode of the drama, the rest quickly followed. Quality writing can make you care about anything.

The series is written by David Simon and Ed Burns (from The Wire) and also Evan Wright who wrote the original book.

See Tom Murphy's review.

'Generation Kill': Everything you need to know about who's who and what's what
Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune

What Generation Kill gets right about the invasion of Iraq.

Ed Burns interviews:

David Simon interviews:

Evan Wright interviews:

David Simon & Evan Wright interview:

Generation Kill,
Channel 4,
11:20pm for 7 weeks

04 October, 2009

"The Great British Screenplay"

Andy Conway:

A little while ago on the Screenwriters' bulletin we tried to come up with a list of British screenplays worth studying for budding UK screenwriters.

I could name a hundred British movies with great scripts but I've tried to concentrate on ones where a draft screenplay is actually available for study. This means I can't really mention a favourite of mine: Michael Eaton's Fellow Traveller, which you can't get anywhere, nor Peter Chelsom and Adrian Dunbar's screenplay for Hear My Song, or Peter Howitt's Sliding Doors, all three of which are strong genre-bending scripts that I love, not to mention Patrick Marber's brilliant Closer.

When I list them like this it becomes clear to me that what I'm seeking in British screenwriting is an escape from depressing social realism. I never knew.

So here goes. These are the ones that do it for me."

Article in full

Also check out Andy's take on True Blood which begins its freeview début this seek.

03 October, 2009

Linkage - 03/10/09

"Where have all the screenwriters gone?" by Phil Parker
Screen Daily
"The decline in UK productions based on original screenplays has been caused by a misguided film-industry culture says development consultant Phil Parker"


The 2009 Brit List

Screen Daily
A list of the top British (and Irish) specs based on the US Black list


Writers & Show Creators Interviews

Archive of American Television


Jane Campion interview
AV Club
"I think that three-act fundamentalism in film culture is a problem"


Adrian Mead - Making It as a Screenwriter - videos
Scottish Book Trust


Guillermo Arriaga interview

Denton Record-Chronicle
“I have been trying to bring literary structure to the cinema. …"


Dogme 09.8 Manifesto: Ten limitations for better movies
Jim Emerson's Scanners blog


"13 Writing Tips" by Chuck Palahniuk


"Screenwriting: Writing for the Camera" by writer-director John Allen
The Crafty Writer


Screenwriting podcasts
On The Page


The Importance of Being Structured
Cover My Script


"18 Ways to a Sustainable, Truly Free Film Community" by Ted Hope
The Wrap


"Popular fairy tales and folk stories are more ancient than was previously thought"
Daily Telegraph


The problem with positive thinking
Seth Godin


Square one is underrated
Seth Godin


James Hull articles

Stories Exist for One Purpose: Meaning; Of Tragedies and Triumphs; How to End a Movie; Setups and Payoffs and The Lives of Others; The Headline and Heartline of a Story; Every Character Should Have An Arc; The Importance of the Story Limit; A Good Impact Character Makes Things Uncomfortable; The Case of the Missing Heart; A Story is an Argument; The Second Most Important Character in a Film; Consistent Plot Points


The Mobile Phone Cop-out

This brilliant compilation by Four Four highlights one my biggest annoyances with horrors/thrillers and this video shows many more examples than I thought there were.

However some do it better than others. Try and spot the one where the screenwriter knows it's a cop-out and over-sells it. At one point I expected the character to do a PowerPoint presentation on cell coverage in the USA.

But I reserve the right to use this cop-out when I can't be arsed to do it properly.


And finally (via Dean Lines) a must read article unrelated to scriptwriting that is somehow very related to scriptwriting and any art/craft.

"14 years ago: the day Teller gave me the secret to my career in magic."
Brian Brushwood

01 October, 2009

Back Up Your Data Day

It's the first of the month which means it's Back Up Your Data Day (although it should be done day-to-day!).

We can also use this day to delete stuff we no longer need and defragment our hard drive(s) to keep our machine lean and clean, if you know what I mean.

Windows guide to defragmenting
Mac users don't have to defragment, apparently.


How To: Back Up All Your Stuff, For Free


"People don't neglect backing up their computers because it's hard—it isn't, at all. No, people file into the inevitable death march of data loss for one reason: Backing up usually costs money. But it doesn't have to.

When your concerned friends and family insist that you have to back your data up (as anyone who's seen my atrociously beaten-down laptop in the last few months has done to me) they're effectively telling you two things: That backing up your data will save you a massive headache in the future, because more likely the not, your hard drive will fail; and, less bluntly, that you need to buy a hard drive. And who wants to do that? It's hard to lay out the cash for a backup hard drive, since the payoff is uncertain, and (hopefully) far away. It's a good investment—not an easy one.

The good news is, most of us cheapskates can still keep our most important files safe without spending a dime, or wasting more than a few minutes. Here how:

Note: These methods don't give you traditional, full backups—they are ways to keep copies of the files that matter most to you, like your documents, photos, music and videos."

Article in full


A reminder about Matt's simple and effective back-up:

"I have never been able to get the hang of proper backup software and procedures. I always end up getting into a complete pickle about the various full backups, interim backups and how the bloody hell I'd back everything up if my hard-drive became shot with the backup software on it. So these days I just have a complete clone of My Documents on a portable drive and use Microsoft's Synctoy to keep the files up to date."

However I would suggest backing up your entire Documents and Settings folder and not just the My Documents part of it as it which would include emails and favourites/bookmarks. This link has more details.

I asked Lee about the Mac equivalent:

"Things like emails, bookmarks, fonts, templates, RSS feeds, Applescripts - anything used by an application, but not created by it when you hit Save - are kept in your Home folder, in the Library. In Mac speak, that's ~/Library. Apple apps such as Mail, Safari, and iTunes may have their own folders. Non-Apple apps like NetNewsWire, Montage, Final Draft, Scrivener etc, will keep all their stuff in ~/Library/Application Support. The truly paranoid might want to back up their preference files as well. I know I do. These are in ~/Library/Prefences.

For safety's sake, back up the entire Library folder, it's probably only a few hundred megs."

Jason Sutton added:

"Backing up Macs is impossibly easy. Buy an external hard drive and use Time Machine. It's built in to OS X. The best back-ups are the ones you don't have to think about. Brilliant application."

Thank you Matt and Lee and Jason!


Don't delay, do it today. It's Back Up Your Data Day, hooray!