Wednesday, November 28, 2007

International Day of Solidarity

The demo went really well, it was a fun gathering of lots of like-minded people. I turned up with friend-of-the-blog Amanda, and bumped into Piers who recognised me from my mugshot. We put on our WGA strike t-shirts, grabbed placards, and waved them around politely but firmly. Look how firmly we waved them:

Ooh, the waving! The firmness!

There were several speeches using the quietest megaphone in the world, so while we couldn't hear what they were saying, we thoroughly agreed with them. Whatever they said. Lots of cheering and applause ensued, and quite right too. Press were in attendance, cameras, interviews, it was all very civilised, and it felt great to be actually doing something. It's a gesture, and we gestured with all our might.

I've never held a protest placard before, I felt strangely empowered. As soon as I held it up, I got the sudden urge to beat up "the Man" with it, but there were no greedy studio fatcats passing by at the time. There was a frisson of danger when a police car screeched towards us, sirens blaring - we all tensed up, gripping the placards tightly, ready to fight the fucking pigs for trying to come down on us - but the car just went straight past, on the way somewhere else. Cue lots of muttering about how they were "lucky" that they didn't try to start any shit with us. Okay, it was just me muttering.

There's a full report over on the WGGB site here - and if you look closely at the third photo, you can see the side of my head in the bottom left corner. But come on Uncle Jimbo, you're saying, I want to see a proper pic of you, holding a placard, wearing the t-shirt, looking a bit mental, and giving the heavy metal hand gesture. Where can I see a picture of *that*? Oh, okay then - don't say I never give you anything:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Demo for the WGA strike

This Wednesday 28th is an International Day of Solidarity for the WGA writers' strike, a day of support and demonstrations around the world, including London. From the Writers' Guild of Great Britain blog:

"British writers and trade unionists will hold a public demonstration on Wednesday 28 November 2007 in support of the American screenwriters’ strike.

The demo, which is part of an International Day of Solidarity, will take place at 12 noon outside the Trades Union Congress HQ in Great Russell Street, central London (link to StreetMap)."


If you would like to show your support, come along and take part - everyone is welcome. I'll be going, so hopefully I'll see some of you there. If you can't make it, why not put something on your blog - messages of support, photos, links, or even a photo of yourself holding a homemade sign (if you do post something, feel free to link to it in the comments). Send the WGGB link to your local press, tell them what's happening. Or just tell other people about it.

Let's get out there and show that we're all together on this one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Nostalgia, negotiations, pencils, tools, and scaring tourists

Blimey. The CIN special took me by surprise, I knew I'd enjoy it but didn't realise that I'd, er, get something in my eye towards the end... Really lovely, and hilarious too, it was like a great big nostalgic bucket of ice cream, but special ice cream that you can eat loads of and it just gets you fit, or something. Anyway, you know what I mean, and The Moff gets more than enough praise on this blog, the talented swine, so I won't go on and on. But while I'm at it, big congratulations to the entire DW writing team of season 3, who done good at the Writers' Guild Awards yesterday. Probably by making sure they didn't use phrases like "done good". Kudos, props, and big "ups" to all of you.

Good to hear that negotiations will start again next week in the big strike, let's hope things are resolved and everyone gets what they deserve. Apparently a "clutch of agents" were pivotal in getting the talks up and running - so *that's* the collective noun. I thought it was "an obfuscation of agents", or possibly "a percentage of agents". Anyway, check the article out, it's very interesting.

But we all need to keep the pressure on until then - just because the studios are talking, doesn't mean they're not trying to stick pens in your eye when you're not looking. So why not throw some pencils back them? Yes, you can send a box of pencils to the big, mean media moguls. The idea is that if everyone sends one box each, the studios get truckloads of pencils delivered to them, as a big, pencil-shaped symbol. They're just a dollar a box, and come with instructions on how to pass them on to schools, so the studios get the message, and then kids get some free pencils. Everybody wins. Except the pencils, who get YANKED out of their boxes, CUT WITH BLADES, and RUBBED on pieces of paper, repeatedly, until there's nothing left of them. Won't someone please think of the pencils??

No response to my email to Broadcast yet. I don't even know if it reached anyone, it took so long to find an email address that didn't bounce back. But there are plenty of other "opinion" ranters fighting the good fight and writing idiotic bullshit, like Toby Young of the Grauniad. I won't link to the article, it'll drive up his traffic and just make you angry, but here's my rough summary: "Duh, duhhhhh, they're all millionaires, I don't get paid for extra stuff, I do lots of work for free cause I'm a massive tool, duhhh, duhhhhhhh, I shit my pants again, duhhhhhhhhhhhh". Okay, I'm simplifying (and making stuff up) somewhat, but not much. He lists all the extra work he does for other people, including giving free ideas to TV production companies, and complains that he doesn't get any money for it. Don't fucking do it then, you muppet. I'm amazed to see that he also moans about not getting paid for doing email interviews - "a good 50% of the finished pieces are written by me". Yes, that's because it's a fucking INTERVIEW. I would hope that a bit more than 50% is by you, really.

Speaking of interviews, next month's Doctor Who Magazine will have one with me, with photos and everything. It's issue 390, and will be out around the 16th December, but I'll post again closer to the time. Hey, that means it'll be mostly "written by" me, because I spoke the words out loud - I bet those words make up well over 50% of the "inteview". Naturally, I'll be invoicing them at once...

I'll do the two bloggy things I've been tagged for, honest, haven't had a chance yet. Finished the first draft of my short story, and have to finish a script and an outline by this weekend. I haven't written a short story for a couple of years, and was a bit rusty at the start - I was shocked at how long it took to do 4000 words. An early draft of Severance contains just over 22,000 words, but somehow seems "lighter", because of the white space and the shorthand you use to describe things. Still, got there in the end, hopefully it's good enough to make it into the Secret Thing I did it for. Ooh! He teases! He excites!

Tomorrow I'm off to Cardiff for something else I'm not sure if I can talk about or not, so I'll hold off for now. I'll be there for most of the day, and will be staying the night. I'm hoping to have a look around the city, as all I've ever seen of it is the train station and the BBC buildings. I want to see the castle, but also want to see the bay, with the big shiny water tower thingy, so I can stride around and shout instructions into my earpiece. And then have sex with an alien. While shouting into my earpiece and saving the world at the same time.

If anyone would like to bail me out of jail once I've been arrested for indecent exposure and breaching the peace, I promise I'll pay you back.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Time Crash! Kids! Wogan!

Nothing strike related in this post, just the usual rambling about myself and some DW and Children In Need stuff. Hey, it's my blog! You blog off, or I'll blog you in the face, you motherblogging nunblogger!

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine is out, and features the Peter Davison and David Tennant special episode for Children In Need. This is a teamup so incredibly exciting, it threatens to destabilise the very fabric of the space/time continuum, and plunge us all into an alternate dimension where poodles rule the world, and everyone looks like Bjorn from ABBA. I mean, come on. The 5th Doctor and the 10th Doctor. Together. Too much! Brain... fracturing...

Speaking of Time Crash - for that is its name - when I was on set for the filming of my episode (report will come when it's been shown, as it's spoiler-tastic), I found a copy of The Moff's script for it. On a chair. Right in front of me. I picked it up, with trembling hands. Knowing I shouldn't, knowing it was wrong. But I opened it. Almost immediately, I had read two of its glorious pages. And then I forced myself to close it, and read no further. There was nobody around. Nobody would have minded, I'm part of the DW gang now, they know I won't tell anyone what's inside, and I could have finished it really quickly. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it, couldn't spoil it for myself. I want to sit down and be as surprised as everyone else tonight. It's on around 8pm, and if you're really careful, you can avoid the Spice Girls desperately trying to drum up free publicity for their reunion tour singing a song.

And it goes without saying, but let's say it anyway: give the kids some cash. Go on. Or Terry Wogan will come round your house and beat you up. He's not the kindly, avuncular figure he makes himself out to be, he's a brutal enforcer for the BBC. I have it on good authority that he was the one who smashed up the Blue Peter garden, apparently they were late with their protection money. So pay up.

Click here if you want to donate online, or you can send them a cheque, or at any bank, building society or post office, or pay by card over the phone, or HSBC customers can pay at HSBC cash machines, or by pressing your red button (on your TV remote, not the nuclear strike button), or by PayPal. Blimey. I think you can also pay by magic, osmosis, and with tiny movements of your eyes. If not, then you will be able to by next year, probably.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Broadcast article

Thanks to DD in the comments for the heads up on Emily Bell's fantastically wrongheaded article in Broadcast (go read it first, but brace yourself). If it wasn't spreading such harmful misinformation, it'd almost be funny. I’ve sent an email complaining about it - yes, I have become that man, the one who writes to newspapers to complain about articles, the line has been crossed. Anyway, I've reproduced the email below just in case anyone else shares the same incorrect view of things:

---

Dear Ms Bell

Your article in Broadcast on the 7th November, "Striking writers are wrong to think they should be paid more", is perpetuating several common misconceptions. Even the title itself displays a spectacular misunderstanding of how things work.

"Try telling that to the Writers' Guild of America, which went on strike for the first time in two decades, as it insists that screenwriters should be paid more money to cover reformatting rights across digital platforms other than broadcast TV. What a truly bizarre prospect this is - and perhaps only on the west coast of America where the relativity of wealth is so insanely out of kilter could it garner any kind of purchase as a basis for a strike."

First of all, it is not MORE money. Writers earn royalties - or, as they call them in the States, residuals - on a piece of work they authored. If a network makes money from the resulting TV show, then the writer is entitled to a share of that money. It's not extra. It's not a bonus, it's not a perk.

Say Doris Writer creates a TV show. The network puts that show on air, with adverts (or on a pay per view channel), thereby earning money. Doris gets a share of that money, as is right and proper, yes? Yes. All fair enough so far. The network then puts the show out on DVD, and Doris gets a share of the DVD earnings - much like an author gets a percentage of every book sold. Again, as is right and proper, yes? Yes. Fair enough again. Now stay with me, Emily, cause here's where it gets really complicated. If the network then puts that show on the internet, with adverts, it is earning money from that internet showing - the same way it earns money from a TV airing, or from a DVD box set. Doris then, surely, deserves to get a percentage of that too, because the network is earning money from an airing of her show. How, in the name of David Hasselhoff, is that NOT fair to you?

Many writers get most of their earnings from repeat showings - but what if that TV show only ever repeats on the net, or as an iTunes download? Under your rules, Doris wouldn't be entitled to any residuals at all. Still fair?

The writers aren't asking for "more money to cover reformatting rights". They want their hard earned residuals, in whatever medium that may be. It's not such a "bizarre prospect", and it's not only "on the west coast of America". Five minutes of research would have revealed the WGGB/PACT TV agreement, which entitles us UK writers to 5.6% minimum royalties on the "multi-media" exploitation of a standard TV episode we wrote. 5.6%. DVD, downloads, on-demand, yada yada yada. Know how much US writers get on DVDs? 0.3%. They were asking for 0.6%. They even abandoned this shockingly greedy request, in the hope of getting *something* for internet distribution. The studios refused to give them anything. Yeah, the WRITERS are the greedy ones...

"The basis of the claim for greater pay is surely a fairly obvious fallacy - that television is going to offset its declining audiences and therefore production budgets with internet exposure and that scripts acquire an additional value when extended across all platforms for which writers should be paid."

Again, it is not "additional" value. If the network makes money from a repeat - whether that repeat is on TV or the internet - then the writer is entitled to their percentage. It’s a royalty. Like it or not, people are watching less on their actual TV boxes, and either waiting for the DVD or watching online. If TV moves online altogether - sure, maybe it won't move in completely, but it's already leaving some clothes and a toothbrush behind, you know, just in case - then the US writers are going to need a solid residuals deal in place, or they'll suddenly find themselves with drastically reduced earnings.

"It is a formula which many of us might wish we had adopted - if I'm paid for a piece in print then how about a bit more for it popping up on an interweb site?"

Hey, my line of work isn't the same thing at all, but why don't I get exactly the same deal?? Doesn't work that way. You get paid for an article. They print it. That's the end of the story. It appears for one day, and never comes back. They can't "repeat" the newspaper, several weeks later, and get people to buy the same old articles all over again, earning themselves more money. They couldn't sell advertising in that repeat paper. So it's not the same thing. The website is an extension of that same paper. But if they were to collect all your articles and make a TV show about them that went on to sell millions of copies on DVD or online - you'd be entitled to royalties from that. And if they tried to do it without giving you any money, you'd be pretty angry.

"For the first time in five or six years the pendulum is even swinging back against the idea that the advertising-funded model of web content will work. At the nerdiest edge of the internet there is now an argument that advertisers will no longer have to stick their brands to content as there are so many better ways to reach the consumer. "

And here's where you lose me completely. You're saying online delivery of ad-funded content isn't going to work, is too expensive, and will eventually be abandoned by the advertisers altogether? So why are writers greedy for wanting their fair share of residuals for money that *is* earned on those online shows? If it's all going to fall apart anyway, what the hell, give them 20%, won't make a difference, eh?

It is extremely irresponsible to publish such a poorly researched, ill-informed article. In an ideal world, there'd be a retraction, and an apology to the striking writers who are trying to safeguard their livelihoods. Then again, in an ideal world, articles in a publication featuring “television and radio industry news” would demonstrate some basic understanding of, say, the television industry.

This isn't about the millionaires, this is about the people who haven't sold anything for a few years, the ones who live off residuals. Some of them have families. All of them would like to continue to be able to eat and pay their rent. If you genuinely think that's wrong, then that's the "truly bizarre prospect".

Yours sincerely,

James Moran
(Non-greedy writer)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Strike!

Note: This blog always contains swearing, but this post will contain a higher percentage, just because. If swearing offends you, (a) why would you even be on this blog, (b) why would you even be on the internets, and (c) shittyfuckbiscuits! You were warned!

You've all heard about the strike by now, and probably know all about it, but it needs to be mentioned everywhere, for the sake of solidarity and exposure (I know, I'm behind on my blogging, last to the party, etc etc). It's important to keep talking about it, and showing our support.

On the off chance that you don't know all the details, check out Piers' excellent post here, and Danny's also excellent post here. If you want the Reader's Digest version, the AMPTP is basically saying: 'Fuck you writers, you must keep the shitty "it hasn't taken off yet" residual rate for DVD, even though it actually has taken off, in a big way. Oh, and no you can't have any new media residuals at all, because we don't know if the internet or downloads will ever take off, even though they have, and we're making shitloads of free cash from the internet and download versions of your stuff. We realise that nearly half of all WGA writers are unemployed at any given moment, which means residuals usually pay the rent, but we don't care cause we're fucking evil. Now bring me a kitten, so that I may crush its little head with my boot, it's the only way I can feel any sort of emotion these days. Is this thing still on?'

Thankfully, over here, thanks to the WGGB, we have decent rates for DVD and "new" media (that would include something called the "internet", which you may not have heard of, it's *very* new, and who knows if it'll catch on). So I hope the US writers get what they're asking for. I mean, it kind of goes without saying, but writers are crucial to TV and movies. Yes, it's a collaborative, team effort, and obviously a script doesn't become a movie without a lot of talented people working their arses off - but the writer has to work his or her arse off *first*. Without that writer, that script would not exist, that's where it all starts. To put it bluntly, we MAKE THE STORIES UP, OUT OF OUR HEADS, FROM NOTHING. As for the studios, who are now wallowing in the cash they've been withholding, and might feel they can wait things out, I have one question: If you put a wad of cash up your ass, when you pull it out has it turned into a script? No? Then you're fucked. Sort it out.

I hope things get resolved soon, so that our US brothers and sisters can get what they're owed, and get back to doing what they love. But in the meantime, here are some good blogs to visit for strike info and experiences from the ground:

John August

John Rogers

Bill Cunningham

Ken Levine

Writers and strike captains tell it how it is, with plenty of links and news

If you would like to help: Whether you're in the US or UK, go to Fans4Writers - it started as a pizza run to the Universal Studios picket line by Joss Whedon fans, and has become a full on campaign by all fans supporting all writers. They're doing food runs, organising support and awareness, and generally being supercool. There's info on how to get the word out, who to contact, and you can even contribute to a food fund. I'm gobsmacked at how quickly this mobilised, it's fantastic. The plan is to do food runs at least once a week, to all the picketing locations, so if you want to help out, please stick a few quid in their PayPal pocket. With the UK to US exchange rate, a quid becomes two dollars, so you are quite literally doubling your money - can't say fairer than that. Any amount will help.

Before you mention it - yes, I'm aware there are many, many people dying of cancer and famine, blah blah Hollywood rich folk etc - but this isn't about raising lots of cash, it's about standing beside our US friends, it's a gesture of solidarity. Organised food runs show that people from all over the world are constantly thinking about and supporting the writers, and public support is very important on this one. A couple of quid here and there, and they'll know we're behind them here. Whether you donate or not, let the people running the site know you support them and the writers. It all makes a big difference. Please pass this site around, if you know people who would like to help out, and read the Participate page for information on what else you can do. The best thing everyone can do is get the info out there, correct the false impressions many people have, and present a united front. This isn't about getting extras, bonuses, or lots of cash. It's about getting a fair deal, basic protection, and safeguarding careers. Let's try and help them do that.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Halloween, booze, and meeting George A. Romero

What a strange, fab week it's been. Halloween went well, we watched The Frighteners (great, underrated movie) and Poltergeist (need I say more?), had the pumpkin lit, spooky music, and Jo made some kickass cocktails that looked like blood:


Nice! They were bloody feisty, too. And yes, that whole jug was just for two of us. And yes, that makes us filthy drunkards. Before we got to the main movie of the night, we warmed up with Thriller, just because. It was the full version, which neither of us had seen all the way through for years and years. It's still that good. Hope you all had a good Halloween, and that nobody got killed. Or if they did, that at least it was fun somehow.

Thursday I got my hair cut, and had two TV meetings. One was for my Telly Episode That Isn't DW Or TW, which went very well, and I can now "go to script", which is good news. Hopefully I can announce what this is soon, just waiting for contracts and things to be sorted.

Friday was the day of the FrightFest all-nighter, starting at 9pm with Diary of the Dead. But before that, during the day, I got a call to go and meet Paul, one of the FrightFest organisers, and Scott, an American film critic mate who I met in Austin last year at Meat/Beer Fest 2006. He told me that George A. Romero was in town, for interviews and the FrightFest intro. Did I want to come and meet him??

Er, yes. Very very much yes.

I mean, you know who Romero is. You probably know how I feel about his movies. He is horror movie royalty, for me and a hell of a lot of other people. So of course I wanted to meet him. He's really, really friendly, very good fun, and about nine feet tall:


I chatted with him for a while, told him how much I was dying to see Diary, and generally gushed like the screaming fanboy that I am. I'd brought a copy of Severance to give to him, but was too shy to do it - the others told him he should try and see it, so then I bit the bullet and whipped it out (the DVD, you filthy minded creatures). He was groovy about it, and said he'd check it out. If it even entertains him a teeny, tiny amount, then I'll be deliriously happy. He laughed and liked the sound of the storyline when Scott described it, so that's a good sign. Anyway, even if he never watches it, it'll be sitting on his DVD shelf, and that'd still be enough for me.

Also got to meet the rest of the Zombie Diaries gang, who are cool, and had a great day talking to lots of people. The FrightFest all-nighter was brilliant fun, kicking off with Diary of the Dead, which I loved - a great reinvention of the genre, with plenty of crowd pleasing moments. George gave a great intro and a hilarious Q+A afterwards, and got a hero's welcome. The rest of the night's movies were fun, apart from one which just went on too bloody long and got boring, and we all staggered out like zombies the next morning, bleary eyed, in search of brains breakfast and sleep. Poor Jo had to go straight from breakfast to her singing course, from 10 till 5, while I was able to go home and chill on the sofa. I just can't seem to do all night sessions like I used to, I need my sleep too much...

Yesterday I did a fun phone interview with Doctor Who Magazine, and finished another outline, so all is well. Today I had two meetings, one for TV, one for a possible movie, both went very well, and may result in Things happening. Oh yes. And now I'm just going to take it easy for the evening, because I'm still knackered. So keep the noise down, or I'll stick sporks in your eyes and tell you that nobody loves you.