Monday, January 30, 2006

Linkage and video

Okay, couple of quick links before I get on with some work:

Don't wear a seal-shaped hat when going to see the polar bears (video) - self-explanatory, really.

The history of the Wilhelm scream - an in-joke of sound designers, the Wilhelm scream sound effect has been used in Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Batman Returns, Reservoir Dogs, Toy Story, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and many, many more. Go here to watch a video compilation showing the scream being used in many movies. Once you know the scream, you can listen out for it in future, if you're a movie nerd like me. Thanks to the page for the video links.

And finally, here is the video of the New Year celebration at my sister's house this year. The clip shows two rockets - the first goes up perfectly normally, the second one hits a powerline, and lands right in front of us... and then explodes. I'm holding the camera, which is why the screen lurches to the side in panic when the thing blows up. When fireworks go wrong:

Cheers to One Slack Martian for pointing me to, it's really handy. I uploaded a video into Google Video on the 3rd January, and a month later it still hasn't been verified yet. I love all of Google's other stuff, but YouTube beats their video service hands down.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Boxes! Cardboard boxes!

Life On Mars keeps getting better and better. Episode 3 kicked off with Hunt and Tyler in a speeding cop car in an alley, reversing the wrong way down a one-way street. Blocking their path, for some reason, was a carefully stacked pile of empty cardboard boxes.

Car. Alley. Boxes. Good lord! Surely they're not going to...? I think they are!

I sat up, screaming "BOXES! HIT THEM, HIT THEM!" - and when the car ploughed through them, I screamed "YESSSS!" It was so much fun, the episode could have ended right then, and I'd have been satisfied. If you don't understand the appeal of grimy 70's cars driving through piles of empty cardboard boxes in alleys, I can't really explain it. It's something primal. Of course it makes no sense - if they've driven into the alley, how did they get past the boxes already, why would someone leave a stack of empty boxes in the road in the first place - logic doesn't enter into it. If this doesn't fill your heart with joy, nothing can:

Click here for cardboard box action

Car. Alley. Boxes. It doesn't get any better than that.

Friday, January 20, 2006

There! Are! Eleven! Hours!

I don't know who flicked on the quality switch in UK telly recently, but I'd like to shake their hand. First Life On Mars, and now Eleventh Hour (Thursdays, 9pm, ITV), a science thriller starring Patrick Stewart, written by Stephen Gallagher. It was great stuff, intelligent, funny, with a dark shadow looming over it. Well done to Ashley Jensen (from Extras) too, more than holding her own on-screen with Stewart. Looking forward to next week's Hour, which features a deadly virus and lots of shouting. Top stuff. And yes, I'm going to use a variation on the joke in the post title *every* time Patrick Stewart is mentioned. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The Curfew outline is finally ready - it's 18 pages long, and kicks ass. Should be going off to the Important People today, so keep your fingers crossed for me. If they like what they see, hopefully it'll go to script, and I can have even more fun with it.

After what feels like a year of not having any good ideas apart from Curfew, I finally came up with something the other day. My agent liked the sound of it, so I did a 2 page outline, and gave it to him yesterday. He then sent it straight out. I couldn't believe how easy and quick it was. Normally, I have an idea, write a paragraph, send it to him, he tells me it's shit (but very politely), and I go back to the drawing board. He's harsh, but a great quality filter, making sure that only my very best stuff gets sent out. This one is for a children's TV series, but is something that could work for adults too, depending on the way it's handled. I really like it, so cross your other fingers for that one.

The tax stuff is all sorted. The accountants came back with my tax return, all done and dusted, and managed to save me some money. Because I count as self employed, I can reduce the amount I have to pay tax on by subtracting any expenses incurred during my writing - like electricity, stationery, computer gear, DVDs, cinema tickets, travel, etc etc. Or rather, *they* reduce the amount; I just wait until they're finished adding things up, then I sign bits of paper, and hand over a cheque for my tax bill. I wouldn't even know where to start with that bloody self assessment form, so I'm very impressed that Danny did his by himself - you're a braver man than I am. I hate filling in forms. In one of my previous jobs, the stationery cupboard was kept locked, and if you wanted anything - even a pen - you had to fill out a requisition form. And get it signed by your manager. Who would then get it signed by the company director. And then you would take your form to the Holder of The Key, who would come and unlock the cupboard, stand there while you took your pen, and then lock the cupboard again immediately. A fucking pen. I left before they started putting coin slots on the toilet doors, it was surely only a matter of time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Weird headlines

I collect weird headlines. I only have a small collection, I'm fussy. I posted two of these in a comment over at James Henry's blog, but I have to share them with the rest of you. Partly because unless you see them, you won't believe them. Headlines from newspapers that are so bizarre, you have to rip them out and keep them, just to make sure you haven't gone mad.

I've uploaded them to my Flickr account, so open this link in a new window, and read on while it's loading (it's big).

From left to right, top line first, they are:

Dope case jockey's baby oil sex romp in tandoori house - now that's my kind of Saturday night
Gay bishops 'may tear Church apart' - with their BIG GAY HANDS
Chicken challenge fails - as chicken fails to eat fifty eggs in an hour
Naked man died in field of horses - sounds like a Guinness ad
Monkey death on the rock - produced by Jerry Bruckheimer

Usually, the story is quite dull, and never lives up to the headline. Except this one, which just gets more bizarre:

Naked man died in field of horses: "A father who was found wearing no trousers in a field of horses died from a heart attack, an inquest ruled yesterday. Police at first thought Derek Carmichael, 56, was murdered. The inquest in Bristol heard injuries to his face could have been caused by a horse. He had severe coronary disease but police could not explain his state of undress."

Exactly what it says in the headline. It's the odd phrasing that gets me. The man was "wearing no trousers". And "he had severe coronary disease but police could not explain his state of undress" - *despite* him having coronary disease, police are still can't explain why he didn't have any trousers on. Where are his trousers? Don't know, sarge. Did he have coronary disease? Yes sarge. And you still have don't know why his trousers are missing? What kind of policeman are you?

The only headline not here is at work, stuck to my monitor, which reads "Unusual ideas for coleslaw arrive". How like life, eh?

I have a much larger collection of one-line movie plot descriptions from one of those cheapie TV guides, they're hilarious. I'll try and put them online someday.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Call me Mrs Bauer

Caught the first Masters of Horror episode (Fridays, 11pm, Bravo) last Friday, quite a low key start, but good fun. Very much looking forward to Joe Dante and John Carpenter's respective efforts, and even if there are supposedly a few duffers in there, how cool is it to have an hour of horror every Friday night?

My Name Is Earl is, as expected, much better now it's got the pilot out of the way. Such a simple idea, but it means they can pretty much do any story they want - they can easily add to the list (and already have done), and take giant leaps of faith. Clever bastards.

I'm a week late with this, as usual I'm behind the times, but I finally caught the first two episodes of Life On Mars tonight. It's brilliant fun, a modern day copper gets run over, and wakes up in 1973, with no mobile phones, no computers, hardly any forensic procedures, and a very different attitude amongst the hardened, boozing cops of the day. It could have been boring as fuck, but it's hilarious seeing how he copes without any of the conveniences of modern life - and discovers that there are some advantages to living in a time where evidence and confessions aren't quite as important as they might be... The Filf! Bovvah! Shootahs! Pint of bitter! You're nicked!

Blimey, 3 cool new TV series. I thought TV had gone a bit rubbish lately - just when you think there are no good shows, etc etc. And 24 starts up again soon. I was just thinking today, that Jack Bauer is the only character I can think of that doesn't have *any* wasteful dialogue whatsoever. He doesn't crack jokes, make idle threats (all threats are delivered upon, and used to get information), he says what he needs to say quickly and efficiently, no beating around the bush (occasionally some slight beating around the face and neck though), and is just a terrorist-stopping, justice-bringing machine. I love Jack Bauer. I love him. If he asked me to pose as his wife for an undercover sting - *deep* undercover, you know what I'm saying - I'd already be trying on dresses. I'm here for you, Jack. I'm here for you.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Tag it and bag it

This questionnaire thing is going round all the screenwriting blogs, and if I hadn't been tagged sooner or later, I'd have felt left out. Thank you Danny for not making me feel like a blog leper. And it's a good procrastination tool - okay, I'm not writing, but I'm *talking* about it, sort of. Here goes:

ONE (1) earliest film-related memory:

The earliest I can remember is being taken out as a treat to the cinema - it was one of those two screen extravaganzas (TWO screens! Luxury!) where you just bought a ticket, and did what you wanted after that. We were supposed to see Pinocchio (re-release number 447), but I didn't fancy it, so I went next door and watched Star Trek The Motion Picture instead. Didn't understand much of it, but enjoyed the pretty lights. Another early one was my sister taking me and my nephew to see Clash of the Titans. We arrived 10 minutes before the end, so we watched the finale, then waited a bit until it started again. In those days, you could just sit in there all day if you wanted and watch all the showings. Madness. Barbaric madness.

TWO (2) favourite lines from movies:

Bloody hell. So many favourites, how can I just pick two? Okay, first two I can think of:

Kyle Reese: "You still don't get it, do you? He'll find her. That's what he DOES. That's ALL he DOES! You can't stop him! He'll wade through you, reach down her throat, and pull her FUCKING HEART OUT!"

Hans Gruber, reading the note on the dead terrorist: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho... Ho... Ho..."

THREE (3) jobs you'd do if you could not work in the "biz":

To my eternal damnation, I'd probably never get away from technical support of some kind.
One of those bitter, bitter columnists, the ones that hate *everything*, and write about it constantly.
Photographer - it's a hobby at the moment, but I'll pretend that I could get into it full time somehow. Hey baby, are you a model? Come back to my place, I've got my own studio, yeah. Just, er, chuck your clothes on the chair there. Are you about a size 14? It rubs the lotion on its skin, it does this when it's told. It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again. Yes it will, Precious, won't it? It'll get the hose! Now it places the lotion in the basket... It places the lotion in the basket... Put the fucking lotion in the basket!

FOUR (4) jobs you actually have held outside the industry:

Technical support for a courier company. Our office had no windows, crappy air conditioning, a coffee machine that made your breath smell like dogshit, and the biggest fucking arselicker in the world who spent all day writing Excel macros and wanking over them.
Staffing the complaints phoneline for a council's refuse collection service. Because I couldn't say it at the time, if any of those callers are reading this: no, I don't care about your bins, no you can't leave wardrobes on the pavement until they're collected, and no you can't speak to the manager.
Cleaning crew at a YMCA ski-lodge in Colorado. Hotel guests: don't leave wet towels all over the floor, or food trodden into the carpet, and flush the fucking toilet after you, you dirty, dirty bastards.
General dogsbody in the circulation department of an Irish newspaper. Much of this consisted of having to phone delivery drivers and ask if they noticed any missing papers from particular batches, which they interpreted as "I accuse you of stealing newspapers". Sacked for swearing in frustration after one particularly stressful phonecall. Oh, the injustice of it all.

THREE (3) book authors I like:

Only three? Gah. Okay. Stephen King. Douglas Adams. Harlan Ellison. I shy away from anything that I "should" read, I prefer the naughty, exciting stuff. Genre's where the action is, so to speak. Ellison's probably the closest I come to literary respectability. Although it did always make me wonder why my mother kept insisting that I didn't read "proper" books, when she went through 25 Catherine bloody Cookson bodice rippers a week. Just because it's got aliens or possessed madmen in it, doesn't necessarily mean it's not well written.

TWO (2) movies you'd like to remake or properties you'd like to adapt:

I would love to adapt The War Magician, by David Fisher, the story of the magician Jasper Maskelyne - in WW2 he helped the Allies by creating elaborate illusions to fool the German army, like moving Alexandria Harbour at night so the bombers would hit the wrong place, hiding the Suez Canal in a massive lightshow, and disguising tanks as harmless trucks. Pick up the book if you can, it's amazing, top wartime adventure stuff. Sadly, the rights were snapped up years ago by Cruise/Wagner, the Cruiser's production company, and I am a nobody.

Preacher, the collected comics. It's exactly the sort of impossibly ridiculous task that I'd love to fail spectacularly at. Of course, I'm convinced that I'm the guy who could manage it, but the comic's just so gloriously offensive to everyone, it'll probably never happen.

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated:

Larry Cohen - Q The Winged Serpent, Cellular, Phone Booth, among many, many others. His stuff is tight, fast, economical, and leaps off the page. Cellular is one of the best scripts I've ever read (along with Die Hard and Lethal Weapon) - he sets up characters in a couple of well chosen words, only tells you what you need to know, and gets the story going right from page 1. Respect is due.

Also, the direct to DVD guys out there, like Mr Bill Cunningham, who unfairly get looked down on by the snootier end of the biz. Note to "proper" Hollywood: these guys can't rely on $200 million budgets, huge effects, and big name actors to bail them out, their scripts have to be solid stories with satisfying payoffs and exciting finales. You would do very well to take a tip or two from them, like scripts having a beginning, middle and an end, silly stuff like that.

And of course all us UK peeps, slaving away in the hope that one day we can sell out and go to America to get paid millions to write comedies about people who fuck pies or drink spunk or get explosive diarrhoea. Let's live the dream!

I know it said "one" screenwriter, but I don't care, we don't get props that often, so let's big ourselves up. I don't think I know any other blogging writers that haven't already been tagged, so if you haven't, and you're a blogging writer reading this - you been tagged, beeyotch!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Precious things, and local people

I've just sat down, with Jo, and watched a 90 minute speech by the CEO of a computer and technology company, where he outlined their sales figures, plans, new and future products, and played some new adverts. And we loved every minute of it.


Because that CEO is Steve Jobs, and that company is Apple.

Check. This. Out.

I want it. I want it now. Want MacPr0n. There are also some great updates to their iLife and iWork suites, which I'm looking forward to checking out - when we can eventually justify replacing our existing perfectly good Macs, that is, and when we have several thousand spare quid lying around. I know I go on about Macs a lot, but switching over has saved me so much time and hassle, I just feel like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. They're a joy to use, really powerful, user friendly, and bloody gorgeous too. However, I deny all rumours concerning a sexual relationship between me and my machine, I've never engaged in that sort of behaviour. Except that one time.

In other news, I had a cool evening down the pub with a group of London screenwriters who get together now and again, top blokes every one of them. Matt, who I met last Friday, invited me along, and has allegedly started his own blog, although there is no solid evidence as yet. Hello to you all if you're reading this, thanks for having me along, I'll definitely be back.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Links and updates

Had lunch with two other writers yesterday, Danny (he of the superb blog) and Matt (who doesn't have a blog). A writer without a blog?? Snakes on a plane! Naturally we urged him to get one immediately, otherwise people might talk. We had a great time, chatting about things we've been through, discussing projects that went well or fell apart, and, obviously, bitching about various people. I had planned on doing a big overhaul of my pathetically small links section over there on the right, but have decided instead to just link to Danny's page, as he has a fearsome collection of links to writing blogs, writing sites, and all kinds of useful information. I'd only be duplicating his one anyway, so it's not laziness at all, honest guv. If any aspiring writers come here, you really should check his site out, it's full of opportunities to break into the business. Mine's really more of a sweary travelogue, with occasional snippets of info about the writing game. I'm going to try and make it more informative though, I've been slacking off in that department.

Saw the first ep of My Name Is Earl last night, starring the always brilliant Jason Lee. I really enjoyed it, it's a great concept, and although it can get a bit self-consciously wacky, it keeps the surprises coming thick and fast, and is really quite sweet. Check it out if you get a chance.

Just sent off the latest changes to Curfew, it's really coming along nicely. There are still one or two issues we haven't fully explored, but it works as it is. I've also typed up some notes for a possible rewrite job - the low budget horror project I mentioned a few posts back. I've worked with them before, and they're good guys. They want me to do it, I want me to do it, but I just want them to know what direction I'll take it in first, so we're all happy. I'll finish the notes today, and send them off. It's a really cool story, and I'm dying to get my teeth into it. So I'll finish this post, and get on with that.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Merry nooyeeer!

Every single year, I am compelled to shout that, thanks to Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. Pic was taken about midnight, at the top of a hill in Sowerby Bridge, in Yorkshire, at my sister Fiona's house. Minutes later, we were all nearly killed when one of our own fireworks went wrong. I say "nearly killed", but I mean "nearly slightly singed". I'll post the video soon, it's brilliant - all the other rockets were fine, except for the one that hit the power line and fell right down in front of us, just before exploding.

I'll be posting updates soon, I have two Proper Posts About Writing Stuff to do.