Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Looking back, looking forward

First off - a happy and peaceful Christmas (or whatever you choose to celebrate) to all of you.

2008 has been a funny old year. I finished my MA with some decent work (hooray), but then got stuck organising the degree show pretty much on my own (boo), which has cost me a lot of momentum with my own writing (double boo).

I also lost my job (boo-ish; I took voluntary redundancy instead of moving to lifestyle-crippling seven-day shift patterns), but made a fairly successful - but time-consuming - transition into freelance writing and editing (hooray).

I also turned 40, which was a definite 'hooray' when we were in New York celebrating it, but then became a 'boo' when I started to slump back into my usual self-loathing meditations on how much time I've wasted down the years, how my brain isn't quite the firework display it used to be and how little time we've actually got to achieve anything here on earth.

Anyway, with the usual good intentions that come at this time of year, I'm planning to get stuck in from January 20 onwards, once the degree show is out of my life once and for all. The phrase 'write my tits off' keeps leaping unbidden into my aching little noodle, so I guess that'll do for a resolution.

Happy 2009 one and all!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

More high-concept/genre drama from the BBC

Ron Livingston to star in Defying Gravity for BBC Two

Ron Livingston (The Time Traveler's Wife, Sex And The City, Band Of Brothers) stars in Defying Gravity, a new adventure drama series from creator and Executive Producer James Parriott (Grey's Anatomy) and Executive Producer Michael Edelstein (Desperate Housewives).

The 13-part thriller begins filming in Canada in January 2009, and will broadcast on BBC Two later next year.

Set in the near future, Defying Gravity revolves around the exploits of eight astronauts from five countries (four men and four women) who undertake a mysterious six-year international space mission through the solar system.

With the eyes of the world upon them – everything they do is monitored and every emotion they feel scrutinised – they soon discover that their real assignment is not at all what they thought...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

For your consideration

As usual, the good folks at Simply Scripts have collated the various award-contending screenplays that the studios have put online as part of their PR push (with links to previous years' nominees and winners).

While we're at it, the Golden Globe nominations have just been announced:

Best screenplay - motion picture:

Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)
David Hare (The Reader)
Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon)
Eric Roth Button (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
John Patrick Shanley (Doubt)

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

One for the completists

In lieu of anything more relevant, here are a couple of things I've written recently for Orange: a vitriolic look at Best Friend Rehab on Fiver and a fairly bland review of the final Spooks.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Oliver Postgate RIP

Another bit of joy has disappeared from the world. Oliver Postgate, the co-creator of some of the most charming and enduring children's programmes in TV history, has died at the age of 83.

BBC Obituary

Oliver Postgate's work was both whimsical and matter-of-fact, magical and mundane.

It was popular with generations of children who loved both its strangeness and the reassuring warmth of Postgate's voice-overs.

With his story-telling skills, his love of found objects and mechanical improvisation, his funny voices and air of eccentricity, the man himself gave a good imitation of everyone's favourite uncle.

And his creations live on, at once surreal and comforting.

Saturday, 6 December 2008


Amid a week of hassly diversions, I finally managed to put a bit of heat under Foot Soldiers on Tuesday, and came up with about eight pages.

However, I've already hit a bit of a stumbling block. After an ambiguous and hopefully intriguing flash-forward opening, we go back to meet the protagonist (Adam, at the moment) in his original state: he is frustrated by the rudeness and aggression of modern urban life, but feels too alienated to step in and do anything about it. Basically, he needs to get his balls and backbone back.

So, everything changes when he sulks off down the pub and meets a mysterious stranger (Lloyd) who is, in effect, his alter ego - assertive, dynamic and not prepared to take a step backwards in his confrontation with the world.

The way the story develops means that Lloyd must have something of the cult leader about him - he is sufficiently charismatic to lure Adam over to his way of thinking and then manipulate him even further. And here's my problem - it's easy enough to stick that in my outline, but how do you then convert that into actions and dialogue.

I know that moving beyond our own outlook and experience is what we do as writers, and getting inside the head of people who are nothing like us is one of the biggest rushes we get.

But how do you go about writing characters who are more clever or persuasive than you are? If I could draw on those qualities at will, I'd be doing it a lot more in real life. I'd probably be lording it up over some Jonestown-style settlement hidden away in a corner of Crystal Palace Park.

At the moment I feel like an actor who's been told that he'll have to run 100m in less than 10 seconds because he's playing Asafa Powell.

In other news... Jason Arnopp's gulp at the brevity of life might give you the jolt you need to stop wasting time and just get on with 'it'.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

BAFTA Writers: Time Travel in TV Drama and Comedy

The BAFTA website has got about half-an-hour of video from a recent event in Cardiff, chaired by Laurence Marks and featuring Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars) and Maurice Gran (Goodnight Sweetheart).

Time travel drama has become one of the most popular television genres of recent years although it evades easy classification - Goodnight Sweetheart is a comedy, Life On Mars is a drama, and who knows how you categorise Doctor Who...

Be it backward or forward, time travel opens so many possibilities for a writer - nothing is off limits in a world where actions can be undone or revisited multiple times.

Highlighted by clips, these inspirational writers take us on a time travel journey sharing their motivations, inspirations and secrets as to what makes a successful British drama within the multiple worlds of time travel.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, 2 Dec, BBC Four

Just in case you hadn't spotted it already - tomorrow night's Screenwipe is a writers' special. If you haven't got that BBC Four, it'll turn up here on iPlayer for a week shortly afterwards.

2 Dec 2008, 22:30–23:20, BBC Four

Charlie Brooker takes an irreverent look at all aspects of life on the small screen, including capsule reviews of the week's highs and lows.

In a writers' special, Brooker is joined by some of the best in the business to talk about how you make a TV programme actually happen. The people and pens behind Doctor Who, Father Ted, Peep Show, Life on Mars, Shameless and many more lead us through the joys and pitfalls of writing, with the added benefit of some of the best bits from the programmes.

PS. For all you completists out there, here's my penultimate I'm a Celebrity... blog, about last night's show.

Wallander, 30 Nov, BBC One

Sidetracked, written by Richard Cottan, was the first of three feature-length episodes featuring provincial Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, based on the award-winning novels of Henning Mankell. Kenneth Branagh stars as the world-weary inspector, whose investigation into a series of brutal killings takes him deep into a web of corruption.

After Wallander fails to prevent the suicide of a young woman – something that haunts him for the rest of the story – he is called upon to investigate the axe murder and partial scalping of a former minister of justice. Before long, a prominent art dealer, a small-time thug and a financial wheeler-dealer are murdered in the same way.

With the help of an alcoholic ex-journalist, whose career was sabotaged when he came too close to exposing wrongdoing in government circles, Wallander puts the pieces together to reveal a terrible picture of darkness and complicity at the highest levels of Swedish society.

Meanwhile, he also has to deal with his strained family relationships. Living alone during a trial separation from his wife, he is also growing distant from his spirited daughter Linda (played by Jeany Spark) and has a fractured relationship with his father (David Warner), a confrontational artist.

I haven't read any of Mankell's books, so I can't comment on how faithful an adaptation this is. The plot is fairly straightforward, lacking the convulsive twists and turns of CSI/Bruckheimer-style US series. However, this is a perfect match for the rural and slightly dreamy atmosphere of the film. From a screenwriting point of view, I'd say this is the narrative equivalent of “slow food”.

The storyline balances the slow build of the police procedural and Wallander's personal issues perfectly; rather than contriving to twist the story every couple of minutes, each scene – both investigative and personal – builds up another layer on the central theme of parent/child relationships without drawing on-the-nose links. Each of the strands throws light on the other and reveals more about the detective's character and psychological state. As I said in my first post, the writing is almost “fractal”, in that each fragment reflects the whole.

I'm not normally a fan of Kenneth Branagh, but he is perfect as the careworn yet dedicated detective. As his enquiries lead him further into the heart of the darkness, you can sense the increased burden weighing down on his shoulders. Wallander has a very human sense of justice; despite the apparent lack of a crime, he's just as interested in what drove the 15-year-old girl to suicide as he is in the axe murders.

The story deals in moral shades of grey, asking to what degree the police should protect society's institutions even if they're rotten. By the time the killer has been identified and the police set their trap, there seems to be a gap between the law and what's “right”. As Wallander grapples with his sense of duty, we find ourselves sympathising almost totally with the murderer and thinking it wouldn't be a great loss if the final target – the bait in the trap – gets bumped off.

This is classy stuff, beautifully shot – in HD – at a number of captivating Swedish locations. Wallander is an understated but precisely drawn character, and this brief mini-series looks like it's going to be a welcome addition to the ranks of thoughtful detective drama.

(Sidetracked will be available via BBC iPlayer until 20 December, and will be repeated on BBC HD at 22.45 on 3 December)

In other news - here's my latest I'm a Celebrity... blog, from last night.