Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ellison Wonderland, and other stories

Okay. I'm more or less sane and awake again. Jetlag is horrendous, but it was all worth it. We had the most incredible holiday ever, thanks to the warmth and generosity of our gracious hosts. You've probably heard all sorts of crazy stories about Harlan Ellison. And some of them are true (the funniest ones, usually). This is not one of those stories (except for the fast driving part). I know this will embarrass him, but he's thousands of miles away, so he can't get me: Harlan Ellison is one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met. I mean, he's still a force of nature, and God help you if you try to make trouble for him, because he will take your punk ass down - but you couldn't ask for a more loyal friend.

At first, I was a bit starstruck, terrified, and taken aback by the magic of it all. Half the time, I'd chat away normally, the other half, I'd completely clam up and turn into a gibbering idiot. I so wanted to make a good impression, to have nothing but perfectly formed gems of wisdom fall from my lips, that I kept second guessing every thought. It probably looked like I was some sort of mentally deficient chimp for the first part of the week. Once I relaxed, I wasn't too bad. Also, I was half convinced that it was all some bizarre dream.

All I expected from this trip originally was to share a coffee with the man - I'd have been more than happy with that. And that's how it started. But then, after we got in contact, it became a lunch, and then dinner, and then the full on Ellisonian experience. When he found out we didn't drive, he arranged for a friend of his to take us from place to place, in exchange for gas money and so on. He told us the best areas and places to stay, the good and bad dates to arrive, the best places to eat. He didn't have to do any of this - he just wanted to make sure we had a great holiday. Which we did. These are the highlights of the week, among many others:

-- Santa Monica beach. I could stare at it all day. This was the view from our hotel balcony.

-- Our grand tour of the entire area, courtesy of our new best mate Steve Barber, who tirelessly drove us everywhere we needed to go. We saw many of the cool sights (Graumann's, the walk of fame, Hollywood sign, Bradbury Building, etc), but also the out of the way places that we wouldn't know to ask for, including a great place up in the hills that gave us a spectacular view of the whole area.

-- Walking up and down the beach for ages, stuffing our faces with seafood in a restaurant on Santa Monica pier, getting drunk, and falling back to the hotel for a snooze. This was my first time ever eating lobster - I know, I know, I am a hermit in a cave, blah blah blah - and it was glorious. I was so stuffed and drunk, I forgot to take my bib off when I was finished. The waiter came over to take it off me, and I just leaned forward to let him, just went limp like a child or a kitten. Weeks later, Jodie is still in hysterics at the pathetic sight she beheld.

-- Many, many fine eating establishments, including the one where they have no printed menus, but the waiters tell you what is on offer, in a hilarious piece of performance art - "not hot - spiiiiiiiicy". And the Mongolian barbecue place. And the lobster place where I foolishly ordered the Rockzilla. The "-zilla" suffix should have clued me in that this lobster was a big, big motherfucker, and it beat the shit out of me.

-- When we were late for one dinner (thanks to the L.A. traffic, which obeys no natural laws), Harlan gave us a fascinating demonstration of his fast driving skills, a demonstration that we'd have enjoyed more if we hadn't been shrieking in terror and soiling ourselves. Later, when things had calmed down, Harlan explained that we were never in any danger, because he used to race cars. "Oh, you still do," I replied.

-- Meeting so many lovely people - Harlan and Susan, Sharon, Steve and Cris, Jason, Len Wein (blimey!) and Christine, and Josh Olson (double blimey!)

-- Lunch with the Ellisons at their amazing house, the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars. Like the L.A. traffic, the house defies all laws of physics, it's an M.C. Escher painting in 15 dimensions, some sections contain stable wormholes, some sections just swallow people up forever. One room, as I was walking through the door, I met myself coming out, and the other me was 5 years younger. AND MADE OF CHEESE.

-- Getting a lift back from one dinner in Josh Olson's convertible. With the top down. At night. Through the Hollywood hills. Talking about movies. We have never felt so cool.

-- Nakatomi Plaza! Shoot ze glass! Blow de roof! Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!

-- Mulholland Drive. Terrifying. "Hey, I have an idea - you know that fucking huge mountain that we need to drive to the top of? Let's build an incredibly twisty-turny road right on the edge of it, instead of a sensible, straight, safe road. And instead of crash barriers, we'll erect tiny, balsa-wood fences that wouldn't stop a flea, so that it's really dangerous. Yeah, let's do that, surely nothing bad can happen." Heh, I said "erect".

-- The Hollywood Walk of Fame, where we worshipped at the shrines to the stars: Steven Seagal! Shatner! Er, the Bee Gees!

-- Laughing for *hours* over the name of this shop:

-- The look on people's faces when they found out neither of us drive. We thought "oh, that's just L.A. people, we can get cabs and buses it'll be fine" - but it really isn't. London is like a dinner plate, and getting a minicab from one end to the other can be 30, 40, 50 quid at the most, during the day. That would have been fine, but Los Angeles isn't like a dinner plate. It's like a 57-piece dinner service, spread out over a football field, with long bamboo poles connecting some of the pieces. The poles are the freeways, which you have to use, and if you step on the football field grass, you explode. Or something. Anyway, it's staggeringly big and complicated.

-- The gorgeous weather - because we were right by the beach, it never got too hot, stayed really dry and fresh.

-- And finally, the actual "pint with Harlan", as hoped for in my DWM interview (I had beer, he had water). Just the two of us, in his actual art deco dining pavilion, chatting about everything and anything. If I had my way, I'd still be there now, talking nonsense and laughing. Sometimes, when you get to do things you've always wanted to, they don't live up to expectation. This surpassed it, and then some.

We had such an amazing week, we were gutted when it came time to leave. Normally, when you go on holiday, after a week you start getting a bit antsy, want to sleep in your own bed, get things back to normal, and so on. Not this time, we could have happily stayed another week. We can't wait to go back, and there hasn't been a day since when we haven't talked about how much fun it was. Thank you to everyone who made it so wonderful, we are eternally grateful and in your debt.

As for you, mighty Rockzilla - I shall return for you. We have unfinished business, sir. You shall not defeat me next time...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sleep, and three cool things

Still trying to kick myself back into UK time, and catching up on emails and so on, I will do proper blog posts when I'm awake again. Working on a full breakdown of our American adventure, and also want to talk about my visit to a school this week, which was just brilliant fun (don't worry, I was invited, I didn't just turn up at a school and demand to be let in, although I *could* do if I felt like it, I'm TV's James Moran, for fuck's sake, I can do anything I want). Anyway. While I'm catching up, some cool things:

Cool Thing 1: Short Trips: Transmissions is out, and I got my copies today. I am officially in a proper book. Well, my first published short story is, I'm not actually in the book myself, that would be uncomfortable. Check it out:

That's my name! My story! Wheee! It's very exciting for me, because it's my first ever published story (and not my first ever story, as Wikipedia says, that would be the one I wrote when I was 4 years old - this one is much better than that one). By the way, the glowing light at the top of the photo is my angelic halo of goodness.

Cool Thing 2: Harvey Keitel has been cast as Gene Hunt in the US remake of Life On Mars. With Michael Imperioli as Ray Carling. And it will now be set in New York city. Dude. Mr White and Christopher Moltisanti in 70s New York, busting heads and driving cars through cardboard boxes. THROUGH NEW YORK CARDBOARD BOXES. Speaking of 70s coppers, two adverts that still make me laugh: This one, and this one. Both featuring Phil Cornwell, soon to star in Doctor Who spin-off series "The Pompeii Stallholder" (this may not be true).

And finally, Cool Thing 3: I managed to avoid all spoilers and reviews before going to see The Dark Knight (don't worry, no spoilers here). I knew nothing about the story, and it was such a treat to go into it that way. It's getting more and more difficult to do that now, but it's well worth it.

Just one last thing - has anyone experienced sound problems when watching movies at the Odeon Leicester Square (the bigger one, not the one with 2 screens)? The last two we saw (Indy 4 and The Dark Knight), we were up in the circle, and missed a good half of the dialogue, it was quiet, distorted, and I had to strain to hear what I could. Not really good enough for those prices. We usually go along for the big movies, the whole point is to get the West End experience, big screen, big sound, and all that, but it's just not worth it anymore. The Empire Leicester Square is great, as is the Odeon West End (also in Leicester Square, and the Apollo West End, so if a movie's not playing in those, we'll just stick to our local multiplex.

But while I'm on the subject - if you're paying 15 quid a ticket to see the latest exciting movie at the Odeon Leicester Square, why the hell would you arrive TEN MINUTES late? And then go to the toilet 2 or 3 times? Once, sure, but 2 or 3 times? Movies aren't that long, I mean, most are overlong, but surely you can hold it in? I'm not talking a few people, it was a constant, steady flow, some people went several times (I recognised them because they kept walking in front, *really* slowly, blocking the screen for our whole section). Hey, here's an idea: arrive on time, go to the fucking toilet, find your fucking seat, turn off your fucking phones, shut the fuck up, and sit the fuck down. Or I will crush your head between two bricks.

Okay, I think I need more sleep now, I'm getting violent again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Best. Holiday. Ever.

Just quickly sticking my head in to say that we're back, hello, and stuff like that. Had an amazing time, everyone was lovely, and I want to go back right now.

More to come later in the week, when I've adjusted to the timezone shenanigans, because right now I am knackered and walking into walls. Sleep need. Death madness.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Holiday, pimpage, and Torchwood

Hooray! Hooray! It's a holi-holiday!

Okay folks, we're both off tomorrow for a week of relaxing in the sun, and acting like a pair of stupendous ponces. First proper holiday for years, and first time since February this year that I won't be writing. I've been working solidly all year, pretty much 7 days a week non stop, and I badly need a rest. I've been feeling a bit rundown and burnt out lately, so this will help a lot. Please don't break or soil the internet while I'm away - I have counted every single page, so I'll know if any are missing. If I'm not back a week from tomorrow, then Harlan Ellison has killed and eaten me. Call the police.

But just before I go, a quick spot of pimpage - earlier than expected, Short Trips: Transmissions is now on sale, in which I have a short story. You can get it from the Big Finish site, or Amazon, or Play, or even the US Amazon site for our lovely American chums.

Also, the new issue of Torchwood magazine is out, which has some interesting news about Series 3. Specifically, one of the writers involved, a handsome, talented young fellow called... oh, how embarrassing! It's me! Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies - you know the drill, I can't talk plot details or anything like that. However, if you want some spillage, I am now able to reveal that I know who did the Captain's Blogs on the BBC America site: it was an extremely dashing, clever gentleman called... oh blimey, how embarrassing! It's me again! Er, yes, it was. Sorry, I pretended not to know because I had to keep quiet. Now that I've come clean, I feel so much better. I hereby claim the sweets and cash you all promised to the person who did them.

And on that double bombshell, I am bravely leaving the country for a week...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gold! Always believe in your soul!

Hello everyone! TV's James Moran here. You may have noticed that some troglodyte fuckbag has been spamming me with comments about how to buy gold. He/she was going through every single post, before I managed to switch off comments temporarily - needed to delete 20 of them, which was a pain. So, I've had to disable anonymous comments, but you can easily register for a Blogger or Google or LJ or Wordpress or Typepad or AIM or OpenID account, all for free, all anonymously - it shouldn't cause you any trouble, but it stops the spammers. If you want to buy gold now, you'll have to go to a gold shop like everyone else.

In other news, on Thursday I got recognised, for the first time ever outside of a convention. I was in a branch of Marks & Spencer (other department shops are available) buying a sandwich, when the lady on the till recognised me, and said she really liked my Torchwood episode. I was so surprised, I was a bit lost for words. So, to the nice lady who was on the till: sorry about that, I wasn't annoyed or scared or anything, just had my mind blown a little bit. And I didn't even say thank you, due to my surprise, so: thank you. Now, several days later, I still feel famous and cool.

I've been interviewed in the latest issue of Death Ray magazine, on page 13. There's the usual pic of me in the TARDIS, and also that scary, close-up pic of my face, which I really need to stop sending to people. Try not to look at that bit. But read the words, the glorious words that spilled out of my speak-hole.

Going away on holiday next week, so I'm just finishing up my work before we go. I'll try and do the "where I work" thingy that Sir Arnopp tagged me with, but it might have to wait until I get back. We're heading over to Los Angeles for a week, to relax, stroll on the beach, point at the sights, say "ooh" and "aah", eat food - and meet up with Sir Harlan of Ellisonshire. Still can't quite believe it's really happening, the whole thing is quite brilliant and bizarre. And so is the Richard Burton impression he left on our answering machine.

Thanks to everyone for the excellent music recommendations, I'll have a listen and see if there's anything that tickles my fancy. And when I say "fancy", I mean "arse".

Monday, July 07, 2008

Doctor Who finale, music, and cake

(Some mild spoilers for Doctor Who series 4 finale follow, look away now if you don't want to know anything)

Blimey. German Daleks. German Daleks! Shrieking "Exterminieren!" Now, there were loads of superb moments in the brilliantly bonkers finale, I loved the sheer energy and cheek of it all, mixed in with some surprisingly harsh cruelty (like the ending, and the fantastic moment where Davros explains exactly how the Doctor is pretty much the same as him) - but dude. Come on. German Daleks. I don't care if you love or hate the show, German Daleks are officially the best thing ever. We wound it back about 20 times, unable to believe that it was really happening. We were a bit over excited, slightly drunk, and eating a TARDIS cake. Don't believe me about the cake?? Eat this:

Yeah. No messing about here. Although the copious amounts of blue icing, combined with booze, made us feel a bit ill later. We ate quite a lot of it.

By the way, back when I visited the TARDIS set, I immediately ran around the console pretending to fly it, playing with all the buttons and levers, followed by a slightly worried script editor who kept saying, very politely, "haha, of course a lot of it is really quite fragile, haha, and OH CHRIST WILL YOU BE CAREFUL, er, please, haha..." And I also got to pump that weird pumpy thing that Captain Jack pumped in the finale. Yes. Me and Captain Jack both pumped the same pumpy thing. I pumped it real good, too.

And no, I didn't know what was going to happen in the 2 part finale. Honestly. Before Saturday, everyone kept asking me - so, did you know that was going to happen, do you know what's coming, is there a new Doctor, who is it, go on, you know, don't you, *don't you*??. And every time I said I didn't know, they'd smile, and nudge me, and say yeah, but you *do* know really, don't you? Seriously? And I'd say no again - they only told me what I needed to know, partly for security, partly because they know that I don't like spoilers anyway. And they'd just smile, and nod, and wink, still not believing me. But I didn't know. I promise.

Now. I'm looking for music recommendations again. I've fallen behind with new stuff, so let me know the *very latest* stuff that I should be listening to. I like most genres, from the darkest, hardest drum and bass, to the silliest, most delicate pop fluff. What's new? What's cool? What's essential? No boy/girl bands, no whiney indie Coldplay-style stuff, no quirky Cockney female singer songwriters (way too many of those now). Anything else goes. Lay it on me.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday link/movie thing, and SWF report

Okay, this is a good one - Channel 4 is starting a Stanley Kubrick season on July 15th, and to mark the occasion, they've recreated the sets of The Shining, and produced a 65 second, one-take tracking shot through it all, with lookalikes of the cast and crew - including the man in the bear costume. Go and watch it here, and shudder in delight at the obsessive attention to detail.

And before the first movie in the season, they're showing Citizen Kubrick, a Jon Ronson documentary - he's the man who got to look through Kubrick's legendary archives at his house. I've posted that link several times now, but it's worth repeating regularly, it's just that cool. I'll be away for that week, but will set the Sky Plus thingy. In the meantime, I'm going to be rubbing the Blu-Ray discs of the movies on my chest, and weeping softly.

Cheltenham was really good fun. I got to meet loads of writers, bloggers, and sat on a panel including Tony Jordan, Barbara Machin, and Philip Shelley, all of whom were extremely nice and generous. Tony's a one man inspiration machine, incredibly lovely, and just bursting with passion for writing. The panel we did was about showrunning, and how it is gradually being introduced over here. It was very interesting to hear about the different methods people are using, and I'm fascinated to see where it goes from here. I don't know if we'll ever completely go for the US-style in this country though, with a team of writers on staff for one show, all year, 5 days a week - partly because we don't do 24 episodes in a series, but mainly because most of us got into this business so we wouldn't have to get up early.

The panel was great, although I got an attack of The Fear when I walked in and saw how many people were in there. I felt myself shaking the whole time I was on stage, it was terrifying. Even though I've done this sort of thing several times now, it still just makes me want to shriek in terror. Which is why I must keep doing it, because I won't be held hostage by silly fears - they're all nice people, it's a friendly crowd, and there's nothing really to be afraid of. Except the sniper at the back, but the festival staff escorted him out swiftly.

Did my Scriptbites thingy soon after - half an hour with one guest, at a table, and anyone who wants can come and sit down and ask questions. Well, mine was supposed to be half an hour, but I was quite happy to keep answering questions, so we carried on. Two and a half hours later, it came to an end, I was completely exhausted but felt really good - I don't claim to have any special, secret knowledge, but if I can answer questions about things I've experienced, and even indirectly help someone out, then it's all well worth it. I wish I'd had the chance, when I was starting out, to just sit with a working writer and ask them stuff, so I was really glad to be able to do it.

Naturally, as my throat had dried up after talking so much, I was forced to drink several bottles of beer to fix it. Forced, I tell you. And that's when things got a bit blurry. I sat next to The Arnopp and Dan Turner for much of the evening, and once we started talking nonsense, we couldn't stop shrieking with laughter. I didn't help my sore throat by doing bad, shouty impressions of Brian Blessed voicing the trailer for the sequel title suggested by Dan - "The Exorcist The Fifth". No, we don't know why it was called that. It just was. Stuart Perry had lost his voice by this stage, and was resorting to pen and paper to communicate. He scribbled a few phrases on the pad, that he would point to, things he was likely to say fairly often: Yes, No, Hello, Haha, Arnopp is a girl.

The next morning, I had a quiet sandwich in the bar, and said my farewells to everyone. The last we saw of Sir Arnopp, he was clambering up the side of the building, naked, with a dead gazelle chained around his neck. I *so* knew that was going to happen. Still, fun time had by all, and so on. What's more, it only rained once, and was polite enough to do it when I was inside the main tent. Photos should be coming soon, not from me, as I forgot to take any, but I believe Mr A should have plenty. Nice! Update: He has now posted some pics, so have a look at us all here, gurning like there's no tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Off to SWF, TW and DW DVD, and backing up your files

Tomorrow I'll be at the Screenwriters' Festival, so if you're going along, I'll see you there. *However*, I won't be speaking about screenwriting anymore, and will now only speak about the magical properties of Jim Beam, due to the new cult I have started. Hope everyone is okay with that. I know what you're all thinking, but don't worry, of course I'll bring some forms so you can all join - in 2010 all cult members will be beamed up to a passing comet filled with magic marmalade that grants eternal life, so it's worth the billion pound joining fee. Oh, and as father of the cult, I am of course entitled to have my wicked way with any members I choose to. Arnopp - you're first.

I'm a bit dim sometimes, and seem to have completely missed the fact that the series 2 box set of Torchwood is out now. It's currently the number 6 DVD in the entire Amazon chart, which makes up for all the trauma of being outsold by exercise DVDs in the past. But wait! What's that, lurking at number 9? Davina's 30 Minute Workouts?? You keep away, Davina. This is my time now. You can get it from the Amazon link there, or from Play here, or anywhere else you like. I mean, get it from there if you like the show and want to buy it, obviously, I'm not forcing you. Well, I sort of *am* forcing you, a bit, but in a nice way.

Similarly, volume 1 of the Doctor Who series 4 set containing the first 3 episodes, including my one (God, this is complicated), has also been out for a while, and is also on Play. The full series set will be out later in the year.

I think that's everything, unless I've forgotten something else. But while I'm here flogging stuff, I may as well remind you that Severance is still on sale, from Play or Amazon, the link to Play is over on the right. It's slipped a tiny bit to 2,742nd in the chart - but now it's only a fiver! Five quid! For 95 minutes of top notch horror (with some funny bits)! You can even get it used from the Amazon marketplace for £1.30, which is a bargain in anybody's book. Unless it's the "Bargains for Less Than £1.30" book.

And can I point you in the direction of Robin Kelly's blog post here, reminding everyone to back up their files. It's something I like to bang on about myself, and can never be, er, banged on about enough. It is SO fucking easy to back up all your files, it takes hardly any time or effort at all, portable hard drives cost bugger all nowadays. So go and get one, sort it out now before you need to. You plug it in, connect the cable, copy the relevant folders or use the supplied backup software or whatever software you prefer, wait while it copies, then unplug and put it away again. Do this every month, on the same day. And every time you create a new file, email it to your webmail account - Google Mail is free, and has almost 7GB of free storage now. Every time you make significant changes to a file, email it to yourself again. It's so quick and easy, there is NO excuse for not doing it.

Back when I did tech support - and what a fun job that was, full of cheerful faces who always said please and thank you, he said sarcastically - this was always causing problems. We'd have backups scheduled, so all people had to do was leave their important files in a certain folder. But they wouldn't. They'd leave them on their desktop, or something. Then we would have the same conversation, every time:

--My machine exploded, can you get my files back?
--Did you put them in the folder for backup?
--Why not? We were quite clear about it.
--Yeah, I forgot.
--Then how am I supposed to get them back? By magic?
--Oh, I thought that there'd be something you could do.
--There was. It was called "putting your files into the folder that gets backed up".

It drove me absolutely insane. Sometimes, they'd create a huge document, 5, 10 pages or so, without saving it. They'd go to print it out or something, and inevitably something hilarious would go wrong thanks to Windows being a horrendous pile of shite. And they'd come and ask if we could get their file back. But they HADN'T EVEN FUCKING SAVED IT! I mean, if you're halfway through a long, important document, do you think "hmm, maybe I'd better hit Ctrl-S, or click Save from the File menu, oh no, that's FAR too much trouble, better to just keep working, this document is too important for me to waste time on nonsense like that"? If you answered yes, don't tell me, or I'll have to come round and stab your mind out with a brain laser.

I know, you can't be arsed searching through Amazon or wherever, finding a portable hard drive with good reviews, buying it, waiting for it to arrive, unpacking it, figuring it out, connecting it up, and deciding what folders to back up. But it's much, much less trouble than losing all your work. Not just your work, but your downloaded software, music, emails, everything. And if your machine explodes and you lose it all, when you replace the machine you'll definitely buy the portable hard drive then, to stop it happening again. So you may as well buy it now, save yourself the hassle. Or send your files to a webmail account, if you don't want to spend 50 quid. And good on Robin for reminding us every month to do this - it's so, so important for everyone who works on a computer. Seriously. Stop thinking about it. Get on with it.