Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 end of year blog

I’ve neglected this blog in the past, but over the last few months, I’ve managed to do a blog post roughly once a week. I’m going to try and keep that going, as I always found it a good warmup to the week’s work, and it’s a fun, low pressure place to talk about whatever I like. Twitter is more immediate, which I love, but for longer form pieces, the blog is still better.

It’s been a year of big changes for me, in work and real life, both good and bad. I don’t want to get into personal stuff on here, but overall, it feels like everything has been switched off and on again, and in many ways I’m starting from scratch.

I’m back in TV-land, and was on set of a TV episode I wrote for the first time since 2008(!), which felt like a huge moment. I’ve been on the sets of Cockneys Vs Zombies and Tower Block, but I’ve missed doing TV. There’s no plan for doing one or the other, I’ve always enjoyed doing both - as with everything in this business, you never know what’s going to get made next. And I’ve changed agents - after 12 years with Jago Irwin at Independent, we both felt a new start would be a good idea, so I’m now with Jonathan Kinnersley at The Agency. Thank you Jago for a fantastic run, and thank you Jonathan for the wonderful welcome.

As always, looking back over my blog posts helps me to assess what I’ve been doing, and how things have been progressing. So let’s take a quick tour through some of the bigger moments:

--I wrote two episodes of The Sparticle Mystery, both of which aired in January and March.

--Crazy For You played at several international film festivals, including a short film selection at Somerset House, and won awards at the Twin Cities Horror Festival, and the Crystal Palace International Film Festival, where it screened with my partner Cat Davies’ short KEEN-wah.

--Cockneys Vs Zombies aired on US TV.

--I blogged about the five things most horror scripts need.

--Tower Block was re-released on DVD with a new cover.

--GeekyCon invited me back to their amazing convention, and I made another video about my experiences (where I won a lipsync battle).

--I made a surprise new horror short film, Ghosting, which premiered at FrightFest, and then had its US premiere at the Telluride Horror Show.

--My regular writing stock-take resulted in a blog post about the process.

--Crusoe aired on UK TV again, including the episode I wrote.

--My most read blog post of the year was this guide on how to annoy people on Twitter.

--My mother passed away, and I wrote a blog post about her influence on me.

--Jason Arnopp was the guest victim writer, on my video series Writers on their Writing Process.

--Speaking of Mr Arnopp, I directed his Patreon pledge video, which we had a lot of laughs making.

--The news broke that I’ve written an episode for season 3 of Crossing Lines, a US/Euro crime show starring Goran Visnjic, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Donald Sutherland.

--My final article of the year was about pitching, and five things to think about before you do yours.

Lots of fun stuff - although most of the bad stuff isn’t actually on here, don’t be fooled by that, there were plenty of projects that died horrible deaths, months spent waiting for answers on other projects, and piles of glorious, glorious rejections. Those always happen though. One massive project that died took a lot out of me, both in the time and energy spent working on it, and in the emotional battering involved in waiting then getting the worst possible response. So many projects, universes and characters you’ll never, ever see. I love them all, and each dead one chips a piece out of my soul.

But hey, there are always more projects, more opportunities, more worlds to explore. I’ll be back blogging as regularly as I can in January 2016, and hopefully it’ll be a year of exciting new adventures for all of us. Here’s to another year of being alive - everything else is a lovely bonus. Except sprouts. Those things can get lost.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Five things to think about before pitching

I’ve done quite a few guest speaker sessions at the excellent Met Film School over the past couple of years, talking about my work and the industry in general. Sometimes, I sit in on the pitch panels. These panels are part of their assessment, where they pitch their movie/TV projects to a group of industry folk, who then give feedback, ask questions, and offer advice on refining the pitch. It’s always fascinating and inspiring, as the students are extremely smart and full of great ideas.

A lot of similar things regularly come up in the feedback sessions, so I thought it might be useful to talk about them on here. This is by no means a “how to pitch” guide, there are plenty of those out there in the bloggoscribothingosphere (including one from me), this is just a general set of things to look out for when doing your own pitches. There are many more, and there are also exceptions to all of these, so your mileage may vary, take it with a pinch of salt, nobody knows anything, blah blah blah.

Also, you should know I have done *all* of these things wrong at some stage. Usually more than once. Learn from my mistakes. So here goes:



Make it personal

Is this based on something from your life? Is there an intriguing question at the heart of it? Start with that to hook them in. Make it personal. Why are you telling this story? Where did it come from? What inspired you to create this character? Ask them what they’d do if faced with the dilemma at the centre of the story. Open with that, then start the pitch, and they’ll interested before they even know what it’s about.


Let me know where I am immediately

A lot of potentially great pitches have been undone by very simple omissions: the title. The genre. The setting. Let them know what the movie’s called, what type of movie this is, if it’s set in the past, present or future. Sounds obvious. But you’d be surprised how many times it gets forgotten.

If you’re halfway through your great story, and they’re still trying to work out if it’s supposed to be funny or serious, if people have cars or horses, then they’re not going to take in the information. Ground them first, then they know where they are.


Notes won’t kill you

It’s totally fine to clutch some notes and occasionally refer to them to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. It’s a pitch, not a memory test. Obviously it’s better not to need them, but nobody ever said “wow, loved the idea, but they didn’t have it memorised so we're not going to buy it”.

Glancing at notes is much, MUCH better than constantly stopping and starting, apologising for forgetting parts, and losing your place. They want to love your story. So tell it properly. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t just *read* the notes at them like a speech. It does go without saying, right? I don’t need to tell you that, right? Good.


Let them decide if it sucks or not

“This is just a working title.” “We’re not sure about this bit.” “I don’t like the ending but we can change it.” No. Don’t ever do that. If you tell them something is bad before they get a chance to decide for themselves, they’ll probably agree with you.

You have no idea what they’ll like or not, so don’t put them off. Just confidently tell them the title/plot/ending and keep going. If they hate the title or any part of it, *then* you can say it’s a temporary fix and that you’re happy to change it. This will make you seem more flexible and easygoing.

And finally, possibly the most important one:


Audiences don’t care about you

This one isn’t necessarily to do with the pitch itself, more the story, but it’s a way to avoid certain pitch-death: don’t make your main character a movie writer/director/producer. And it’s not because people don’t understand stories about the inner workings of the movie industry. They do. They just don’t care.

Tough-love time, folks: Audiences do NOT give a shit about you. Or anyone in the film industry. They literally could not care less. Hey, I get it, you know that world and have some hilarious/dramatic/surprising insights about it. Look how hard it is to get movies made! Look how we struggle! Look at all the crazy stuff we have to deal with! Nobody cares. Nobody. Cares.

When someone decides to go to the cinema, paying inflated prices out of their hard-earned salary, they will be looking for someone to root for, or identify with. That person is not you. “Oh, the main character might not get his movie made? Wow. Don’t care. Don’t care, hope he dies at the end.” Same goes for people in PR, or magazine publishing. Lovely people in real life, but audiences aren’t interested in their “difficult” lives.

“But what about The Player?” What about it? You’re not Michael Tolkin or Robert Altman. “What about Saving Mr Banks?” You’re not Kelly Marcel, and your main characters aren’t the creator of Mickey Mouse or Peter Pan. “But what about Ed Wood?” You’re not Alexander & Karaszewski, or Tim Burton, and your main character isn’t Ed Wood. “But what about--“ Stop. You’re not the Coen brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Paul Thomas Anderson, or Fellini. Sorry. Just because there are amazing exceptions, it doesn’t mean you are one of them.

Weirdly, this doesn’t seem to matter in prose fiction. People will accept a filmmaker protagonist in a book or short story far more readily than in a film. I don’t know why. If you’re desperate to tell movie/TV stories, write a book. Or a blog.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Crazy For You award

Crazy For You, the short film I wrote and directed starring Arthur Darvill and Hannah Tointon, has just won the Best Horror/Sci-Fi award at the Crystal Palace International Film Festival! Look at the lovely trophy:


The awards were presented by Mark Steel, who was hilarious as always. He was amused by my rambling, random speech, ordering all future winners to be "just as surreal".


The final night was the awards show, but before that was a selection of comedy shorts, where my partner Cat Davies' short film KEEN-wah had its world premiere, which got loads of laughs and cheers. This is us with our friends Michael and Stuart - Michael was visiting for the weekend, Stuart was the cameraman on KEEN-wah and Ghosting:


Photo by Michael Gill - check out his gorgeous photos at his website here.

It was a great night, although the hangover the next morning was biblical (there was a LOT of gin and wine). Thank you to lovely organisers Roberta and Neill for putting on a fantastic event, the festival is a month-long series of screenings and very, very cool. If you're a company that wants to sponsor a great local festival, go and check them out.

Thank you also to the amazing backers of Crazy For You, who helped make it a reality, producer extraordinaire Jen Handorf, who worked miracles to bring it to life, and the entire cast and crew who pulled off the impossible every day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Crossing Lines

This has been in the works for a while, but now the details are up on the Big Light website: I've written an episode for season 3 of Crossing Lines!


It's a US/European co-production, shot in Europe, with an amazing cast: Goran Visnjic, Elizabeth Mitchell, Tom Wlaschiha, Lara Rossi, Stuart Martin, Naomi Battrick, and Donald Sutherland. Yes, THE Actual Donald Sutherland. I know! Trust me, when you're writing a speech for THE Actual Donald Sutherland, your fingers tingle with excitement.


Season 3 was showrun/showran/showrunned by Frank Spotnitz. I was in the writers' room, with several amazing writers, all of us breaking stories, coming up with characters, writing index cards, and helping to put together the entire season. It was a really fun, exciting, creative time, and I loved working with Frank and the team.


My episode is number 6, called "Executioner". I don't want to give anything away, as it's very twisty-turny, but there's lots of tension and death, as you'd probably expect from me. Oh, and a few jokes too, as you'd also expect from me. Spoilers! Death and jokes! There's a trailer for the show here, mainly featuring the first episode of the new season.


But where can you see it? They're currently doing an on-demand rollout in selected territories, so have a look here to see how you can watch it. Details for the UK and US will follow soon, so watch this space. I'll update when I know dates and stuff.

So that's what I've been doing for some of last year and a chunk of this year. And that's why I put on half a stone in 2 weeks last year - the writers' room was well stocked with sweets, crisps, and biscuits, and I am only human.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Writers on their Writing Process

Hello, you! Have you done something with your hair?! It looks lovely! And it's moving-- oh god, it's not hair, it's SNAKES, RUN AWAY FROM THE SNAKES-- oh, sorry, my mistake, it's just the wind moving your hair. Not snakes. Probably.

As you may or may not know, I've been doing a (very) irregular series of videos, talking to other writers about their writing process. I did one last year with Amber Benson, which you can watch here, and I've just uploaded a new one featuring guest writer Mr Jason Arnopp, which you can watch here.

You'll know Mr Arnopp from his work in the worlds of Doctor Who, Friday 13th, The Sarah Jane Adventures, the horror movie Stormhouse, and his fiction (Beast in the Basement, A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home), but he's also got an exciting new book coming out next year, called The Last Days of Jack Sparks. You can find out more at his website here, which probably doesn't have mutant cyber spiders primed and ready to leap out of your computer screen.

If you do visit his site, you can find out about the FREE BOOKS he'll be giving away regularly. They're linked to his brand new Patreon page, with a video I directed on a long, silly day in Brighton - but there's no obligation, the books will be free to download either way. I'm seeing a lot of writers and other artists using Patreon, it lets you make ongoing contributions to help support the people whose work you like. I'm always in favour of writers getting paid for their work, so this is a Good Thing. Whatever you do, watch his video, because we spent blimmin aaaaages on it, and it's a right laugh.

We had a lot of fun chatting, and as always I found a couple of things that I can apply to my own process, which is partly the goal of this series. His process is quite similar to mine though, so there was less stuff for me to steal. What a selfish bastard he is!

Sorry about the terrible audio in the video - it's still audible, just very rough. My useless, cheap microphone didn't pick up much, so I had to boost it artificially in Final Cut Pro. It's a bit hissy and quiet, so turn your volume up and/or put on headphones. I've since invested in two proper, professional microphones, so this won't happen again.

While you're watching stuff on my YouTube channel, why not teach yourself to play the ukulele in 15 minutes? Or watch some short films? Go on, I dare you. Subscribe to the channel if you want to get updates when I post new stuff, which I will be doing more often now. Go! Share! Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Margaret Jean Moran, 1932-2015

I lost my mum in July, just a few days after her birthday. She was 83. I’m not posting this for sympathy, I just want to mark the moment, and celebrate her. I want people to know a bit about who she was.

She was evacuated from London during the second world war, something I can barely imagine dealing with as an adult, never mind a young child. Later, she left school when she was 14, and pursued her dream of being a dancer - working during the day, taking lessons by night, persisting through sheer hard work and determination, eventually finding herself on stage in several musicals, where she met my dad. Things weren’t easy for her, and much later she lost my dad to cancer when I was 5. She was funny, independent, strong, smart, and quite unlike anyone I ever knew.

Before I left home, I didn’t always appreciate what she did for me. Sometimes (many times) I was an idiot and thought she just wanted me out of the house. She didn’t, she just wanted me to sort my life out, to be safe, to be provided for. She was the one who found the first college course (that I failed), the second one (that I passed), who brought me back when things went wrong, and helped get me over to London when my sister found me a job. She did everything she could to provide for me and make sure I could stand on my own two feet. She drove me utterly bonkers sometimes, she was no saint, nobody is - but she worked her arse off to protect me and give me a good start in life.

She loved a good laugh, and would instantly be reduced to a helpless, shrieking heap by Marty Feldman’s “bishop of no fixed abode” sketch, Julian and Sandy, or anything by Morecambe and Wise. If a TV show looked like it was about to feature male nudity, she’d lean forward with glee, announcing “ooh, willies!”

Over the last few years, she developed dementia, and we had to watch as a strong, independent woman who raised 5 kids slowly lost more and more of herself. It was horrifying seeing her anger, frustration and fear at losing memories, words, and her sense of self. It’s such a cruel illness, she was always smart but as it ate away at her faculties we had to talk to her as if she was a child, purely to stop her getting scared or upset. My amazing sisters and equally amazing brother-in-law bore the brunt of this, as they lived close to her, and rarely got any thanks - she didn’t realise she needed help, and would get angry at them for interfering in what she saw as her perfectly normal life.

Towards the end, she needed constant care, otherwise she would forget to eat. This all had to be paid for, as the care assessment insisted that she didn’t need medical care provided, just social care - despite the fact that she’d have been dead within a couple of days if nobody went around to feed her. The way it’s set up leaves a lot of people in the position of having to piss away everything they’ve ever worked for, just to get some basic medical help. When they’re destitute, *then* the system steps into help. It’s shit, and I don’t know how the people involved can sleep at night.

In August, we gave my mum a great sendoff with a lovely funeral service. We felt like we’d already lost her several years ago, due to the dementia, so I’m glad she’s not in any more pain or distress. It was awful to see it gradually erasing the person we once knew, so now we get to try and remember her the way she was.

Maggie in Severance is named after her, as was Peggy in Cockneys Vs Zombies. My mum’s name was Margaret, Peggy was her nickname (which she didn’t like, so of course we used it a lot to wind her up), and both characters are a shout out to her - strong, funny, capable women who you’d want on your ass-kicking team. She was very pleased at being played by Honor Blackman, which was fitting, as they are both Cockneys by birth.

She always looked out for me, tried to give me the best life possible, and would have taken a bullet for me (and probably argued it back into the gun). Goodbye, mum. And thank you. And I'm sorry for reposting this pic of you with a sparkler in your dessert, about to down a flaming sambuca at your 77th birthday party:


Reader, I'm proud to tell you that she downed that flaming sambuca like a champ. With the waiter chanting "sucky-sucky!" at her. It was a moment.



If you’re in the mood for charity donations, while you’re here, please consider Carers UK (supporting carers who often look after relatives unpaid with no help), the Alzheimer’s Society, Kirkwood Hospice (who looked after my sister Julia at the end of her life), and Thrombosis UK (who do vital research into a less well known condition that kills more than 33,000 every year). 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How to annoy people on Twitter

New to Twitter? Not sure how it all works? Constantly compelled to annoy people?? Just follow these handy hints, and become an instant expert!

Live in the context-free moment

If someone is talking about something over two or more tweets, and you come in halfway through the conversation, punish them for not summarising all of their previous statements at the start of each new tweet. Sure, you could simply click on their profile and read the rest of it to catch up, but they really should be thinking of you first.

Similarly, if a tweet seems to be saying something you disagree with, without any context, don’t bother looking at their other tweets, just furiously start an argument about the one you saw. Remember, don’t waste time building your anger gradually - you’re busy! - just go straight to white hot rage.

Make people your Google assistants

When someone talks about a celebrity you’ve never heard of, reply immediately and ask them who it is. It would be quicker and easier to copy and paste the name into a Google search box, but hey, they brought the name up in the first place, so it’s their responsibility to stop what they're doing and educate you.

Show off your superior knowledge

Did someone tweet about a few items on a related theme? Make sure to let them know about all the others they should have mentioned, starting with “You forgot ItemX” or “don’t forget ItemX” - even though there’s only 140 characters in a tweet, they clearly forgot about those ones and should have brought them up first. Better yet, they should have found a way to fit everything relating to that subject and the entirety of human history into one tweet. The idiots!

Find the exceptions

Has someone expressed an opinion? Make them defend it, even if you agree with them! People love debating on Twitter with angry strangers, so take up a contrary position just for fun. If they make a generalisation, even if it’s true, twist yourself in knots trying to find an extremely unlikely series of events that would provide the one exception to the thing they said - the goal here is to make them admit that what they said isn’t *always* true. Be as condescending as possible, so they won’t forget their mistake in a hurry. A good opening word is “Er...” or “Actually...” Hardly anything good on the internet starts with “Actually”.

And finally, the most important one of all:

Rain on everyone's parade

If someone says they like something - book, film, TV show, whatever - and you don’t like it?? Make sure to tell them *immediately*, so they know they’re wrong. Try to make them feel bad about liking it, because they’re clearly a weirdo for not thinking exactly the same as you, whose opinion is 100% fact. “Hey, I loved that episode!” - “Really?! You REALLY liked that? Are you sure you're not mistaken? Think about it properly: isn’t it possible that you actually didn't like it at all, and have exactly the same opinion as I do, in other words, the CORRECT opinion??”

Remember, we can’t have people enjoying themselves. Don’t love anything! It’s much, much cooler to just sit on a lofty chair of judgment shrieking at how awful everything is. We don’t like things on the internet. That’s not what we do. Now, go and make someone miserable for having fun!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ghosting - Canadian premiere

Canadianians! Specifically, Torontinos of Canadiania!

Ghosting will screen as part of the 38th Little Terrors short film event, on Wednesday 28th October starting at 9pm, at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto.

Crazy For You played at one of their previous events, and they're good people with excellent taste (apart from the administrative errors that keep letting my shorts in, obviously, and the hex I placed on them to ensure it keeps happening).

Full details are here, including info on the other shorts playing. Tickets are $10 for the entire evening, and are available here. You can buy booze, too! But obviously I'd never recommend doing anything like that.

Let me know if you go, and how it plays!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Festival screenings

Seem to be averaging one post a week for about a month now, so let's see if I can keep that going. Imagine! A regular blog post! Mankind was not meant to meddle with such things.

Crazy For You has been chosen to screen as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival in Minneapolis, in the HorrorShow Hotdog strand, on Sunday October 25th at 5.30pm, along with several other shorts. Full details and tickets are available here.

After that, Crazy For You will play at the Crystal Palace International Film Festival on Friday 13th(!) of November at 7.45pm, as part of the Horror/Sci-Fi Night. Festival info is here, details of the night itself are here, and tickets for all nights are available here. I'll be attending, so say hello if you're going along. This will probably be the final festival screening, so could be your last chance to see it on a big screen. I'll talk more about where it's going after that later, so watch this space.

Also screening at the CPIFF is comedy horror short film KEEN-wah, on Saturday 28th November at 7.45pm as part of the Comedy shorts strand, and for the ticket price you get to see the awards show presented by Mark Steel, and enjoy a free gin and tonic. Details of the Comedy and awards night are here, tickets are available here. Why am I mentioning KEEN-wah? Well, it's the fantastic directorial debut of my partner Cat Davies, so I'm really pleased we're screening at the same festival. I also edited, and let me tell you, it's SO much easier to be ruthless when editing someone else's work...

Speaking of editing, I've become quite familiar with Final Cut Pro 7, editing my FrightFest idents, my shorts Three Minutes, Ghosting and now KEEN-wah, but I recently started teaching myself Final Cut Pro X - it's much, *much* faster than 7, I exported a 6GB video in 10 minutes as opposed to 4 hours... It edits a lot more seamlessly, it's way more powerful, and is a great update, so I'll be using that from now on for short projects.

I'll try to keep these posts regular-ish, although I'm mostly active on Twitter these days, at @jamesmoran, so keep an eye on that for more up to date announcements. I'll have some TV news very soon, when I'm allowed to talk about it.



Monday, October 05, 2015

My Crusoe ep on Sunday 11th October in UK

Yes, as threatened promised in a recent blog post here, my episode of Crusoe is on TV in the UK, this Sunday 11th October at 6pm, on the Drama Channel.


The Drama Channel is free-to-air in the UK, and is available on Freeview 20, Sky 158, Virgin 190, BT and TalkTalk 020. You can catch up using the UK TV Play service (on several TV systems or just on your laptop/tablet/phone). Or set it to record using whatever technological marvels you've got under your TV.

The episode is number 5 (sometimes 4, depending on whether they show the first two episodes as one bumper ep, this time they didn't), called High Water. Crusoe and Friday find an abandoned boat in a tree - will it give them a way to escape the island? What will happen in the remaining 8 episodes if they do?? Who knows?! YOU will, if you watch, this Sunday! 6pm! Drama Channel! Be there!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ghosting US premiere

My new short film Ghosting will have its US premiere this October at the Telluride Horror Show, a great genre festival that played Crazy For You in 2013.

There's a news article about the full lineup here, and the full schedule is online here - Ghosting plays at 10.30pm on Saturday 17th October.

I blogged more about Ghosting here, where you can also see the trailer, and the updated poster is on the left for your clicky-biggy pleasure.

If you're in the area, or attending the fest anyway, go along and see if I can give you a scare...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Straight on till morning

Chekov: Course heading, Captain?
Kirk: Second star to the right and straight on till morning.
--Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, screenplay
by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn

Maintaining a writing career takes constant work, and a lot of it doesn’t involve actual writing. One of the most important jobs is something I call my writing stock-take.

At least once a year, I set aside a few days to take stock of my career. This isn’t just deciding what project to do next - sometimes that’s decided for you, if you get a writing job, or the chance to pitch for one. It's more of an appraisal of my recent work, and a plan of action. What sort of things am I doing, what went right, what went wrong, what can I do differently next time.

Then I think about what I want to be doing for the next 6 to 12 months - what projects do I want to get off the ground, do I want to move into a new area, focus on something in particular, where do I want to be in a year’s time, what do I need to achieve that. Sometimes that will require a chat with my agent, to see what’s possible/available, sometimes I’ll need to learn new things or do some research, sometimes I’ll have to take some time to write a new spec. As I’ve said before, you never “break in”, you just keep moving, and have to break in again every time you do something new.

It’s sort of a spring clean, to figure out the next phase. It’s important to take stock like this every year, sometimes twice a year. Like writing a script, you’ve got to know where you’re going, so you know what to aim for - sometimes you end up somewhere different and more interesting, but having a plan means you can take chances. And you should do at least one thing every year that absolutely terrifies you, that you’re convinced you’re not clever enough to do. Sometimes it’ll go wrong, but when it works, it’s incredibly satisfying.

All my project titles are listed in a big text file, with notes next to them saying who they’re with, if they’re available, dormant, active, etc. It helps me keep track of what I’m doing, and what needs actioning. I also keep a text file of pitches, all of my projects in one-paragraph pitch form, for when people ask what I’ve got available. Those are also kept online and on my phone, so I can quickly copy, paste and email any of them. Both of these files are kept updated regularly.

I combine the stock-take with regular training days, where I’ll teach myself a new skill, or continue learning about something - if I'm stuck on a script, I'll turn the day over to training instead. Over the past couple of years I’ve been teaching myself editing. I’ve edited all my FrightFest phone idents, my short films Three MinutesGhosting, and my music video. I also graded them (thank you, YouTube tutorials), did the sound mixes, and the visual effects. Most software packages and skills have tons of online tutorials, most of them are free, so you can learn almost anything you want. I’m now pretty confident with Final Cut Pro 7, and am currently learning the ropes on Final Cut Pro X and Motion.

You don’t have to learn about every aspect of filmmaking to be a writer, but it definitely helps and informs your work. Directing and editing (and even doing the sound effects) has helped my writing a lot, making me more ruthless with trimming the fat before it ever gets filmed. A few years ago, I took an introductory course in acting, for a similar reason. Seeing how actors interpret the script was really helpful, and changed how I approach creating characters - thinking of what an actor can work with, and giving them a reason to take the job.

I’ve been doing the career stock-take this week, and am currently deciding which projects to concentrate on, now that some of them may be on the move, and which ones I need to push forward. I’m determined to direct a feature, to get my own TV show off the ground, and to find some work in the USA. Those have been goals for a while, so now I need to knuckle down and focus. I’ve got a TV episode airing soonish (hopefully there’ll be an announcement imminently) and another one in the pipeline, which will both hopefully help with the next stages of my career.

I’m not 100% sure what I’ll be doing next year, but I have a plan. And that’s half the battle.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Crusoe airing in UK from September 13th

Crusoe, the NBC show I wrote an episode for, has a repeat airing on UK free-to-air TV, starting this Sunday September 13th at 6pm.

It's on the Drama Channel, which is available on Freeview 20, Sky 158, Virgin 190, BT and TalkTalk 020, and you can catch up using the UK TV Play service (on several TV systems or just on your laptop/tablet/phone).

My episode is number 5, called "High Water", and I'm really proud of it. The show was great fun to work on, and it was a huge pleasure to be on the team under the brilliant Stephen Gallagher (Eleventh Hour, Doctor Who, Murder Rooms, Oktober, and many more), whose blog you should be reading.

If I've worked it out correctly, my episode will air on Sunday October 11th at 6pm. Watch the whole series though, it's really fun and glossy, with lots of action, explosions, fights, stunts, gadgets, swashbuckling, witty retorts, shirtless men, amazing sets, and features bonus appearances from Sam Neill and Sean Bean. And it's free to watch! You can't afford to NOT watch! Watch it! Or I'll kill again!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ghosting

Surprise Beyonce-style revelation!

I’ve made a new short film!

Okay, it’s not an album, so it’s not technically a Beyonce-style revelation, only in the sense that it’s a surprise. Also, I am not Beyonce. Or Sasha Fierce. But I *am* fierce, and I can smize thanks to my addiction to America’s Next Top Model.

BUT I DIGRESS.

I’ve made a new short film! Shot on June 20th, edited/graded/sound fx’d/music mixed/graded/tweaked from June 21st to July 19th (on and off, not full time), ready to hand over to The Man Who Makes The DCP on July 20th. It had to be ready by July 20th, because that’s when the DCP facilities were available.

The DCP is a fancy file that will play easily in cinemas. Why would I need that? Because...

The short film will premiere at FrightFest! Yes, like all of my other movie work, including my first short film Crazy For You, this one is debuting at my horror home, my Horror Christmas, FrightFest in London.

It’s playing on Monday 31st August, at 5.50pm, as part of the short film programme, in Discovery Screen 2. There are 11 short films in that particular slot, mine plays third. You’ll need a ticket for the slot, which you can get here, so for the price of one movie, you get 11 short films, which is a bargain in any language. Except the obscure language Cheapskateish, which does not have a word for “bargain”.

The short film is called Ghosting. It’s a supernatural horror, which I hope will scare the pants and socks off you (not necessarily in that order). The trailer is here, but it gives away very little, because if you know everything that happens in advance, I won’t be able to scare your pants and socks off. All I can tell you is this: Research assistant Lyssa Fletcher is conducting a preliminary investigation into a supposedly haunted room. Like every other case, Lyssa fully expects it to be a waste of her Saturday. Today, she'll wish it was.

It stars the brilliant Francesca Fowler, who played Evelina in my Doctor Who episode, The Fires of Pompeii. It’s been lovely to work with her again, and see a completely different side to her skills - she more than stepped up to the challenge. I can’t wait for you to see what we all cooked up together, and hope you come along to see it. It’ll play other festivals after this, watch this space for details. It will eventually go online, but after the festival run.

I hope you like it, I’m really proud of this one and extremely happy with how it turned out. Here's the poster!



If all goes well, this post will go live when the announcement goes live. If not, then MAYHEM WILL ENSUE. Or, I guess, it’ll go live at the wrong time, and nothing else will happen. I’d invest in umbrellas and heavy weaponry, if I were you. Better safe than sorry.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Pottering

So, the last time I was at The Convention Formerly Known As LeakyCon (TCFKALC - pronounced TaCUFFkalc), or GeekyCon if you insist, I drew gasps from a panel audience when they asked me which Harry Potter house I was. Why? Okay, prepare yourselves. This is going to shock you:

I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter movies, or read any of the books, and have no idea what house I am, or even what that means.

I know, I know. And I *live* in Harry Potter Land (“England”, if you will).

Anyway. So, back then, I made a somewhat rash promise. If I was invited back to TCFKALC, I’d watch all the Harry Potter movies beforehand, to catch up. I killed a couple of authors and half of a panel audience to make sure I wouldn’t be invited back. But due to an administrative error, and some *seriously* poor health and safety guidelines, I’ve been invited back.

So I’m going to watch all of the Harry Potter movies. Before July 29th. In a row. In order. Yes. All of the movies. All 13 of them.

I’m looking forward to the one where he goes to space. I think that’s movie 9 or 10.

Here goes!

Monday, July 06, 2015

Short film selection at Somerset House

FrightFest is putting together a short film selection at Somerset House on Monday 10th August at 7pm, featuring shorts by me, Alice Lowe, Ben Wheatley, Lee Hardcastle, and Sean Hogan.

The shorts will screen before a special outdoor screening of The Silence of the Lambs, so come along and see both (tickets sold separately). I'll be there, along with some of the other filmmakers, to introduce our shorts and talk about how we made them.

It should be a fun, scary evening, details and tickets are available here. Tickets are VERY limited, so grab them now!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

GeekyCon 2015 in Orlando

GeekyCon people! There has been a TERRIBLE administrative error, resulting in me being invited back! Yes! After all the deaths, I'm STILL coming back! The fools have learned nothing! NOTHING!

Yes, The Convention Formerly Known As LeakyCon (TCFKALC - pronounced TaCUFFkalc) has risen from the smoking ruins that I left behind me, and will soon repeat the mistakes of history by having me back.

I'll be there, doing my panel thing, answering questions, probably asking questions (where am I supposed to go? Where is the main stage? Who am I?), definitely playing more boardgames, maybe a workshop, maybe a screening, maybe I'll just stand in the hallway in total silence, WHO KNOWS?? Not me. Actually, I do. But I'm not telling.

It runs from Thursday July 30th to Sunday August 2nd, in Orlando, Florida, in the US of A, the U of SA, the U of the S of the A. Details are here, you can get tickets and stuff there too, and admire my massive, white face from afar. BIG WHITE FACE TRIVIA FACT: That face doesn't generate its own light, you know - it merely reflects the Sun's rays. And affects the tides. And is bigger than it looks.

I'm so excited to come back and see you all again, and all the clever, creative stuff you've been making. This convention in particular feels like I'm the audience, and YOU are all the special guests. So if you're going, I'll see you there. Stock up on coffee!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

New DVD cover art for Tower Block

Tower Block has been out for a couple of years now, and the Powers That Be have decided to give it a fresh coat of paint and reissue the DVD and Blu-ray with a brand new cover. Bear in mind, it's exactly the same movie, same extras, etc etc, but if you collect things like this (as I do) or you haven't got a copy yet, you might want to grab it.

It's out on DVD and Blu-ray right now - the originals are still available to buy here and here. And if you own any version (except the US one, which has it included), you can download and listen to my free commentary for it here.

Here's the new cover art:



Compare that to the original cover art:


Hmm, it's almost as if one of the stars has suddenly become super famous... It makes total sense, as he's amazing in the movie (and in every movie) and this came out before Jack took over the world, so it's a chance to push the movie in front of people who might have missed it at the time.

Tower Block has had the most varied DVD covers of anything I've written now. Here's the Dutch version:


The Danish version:


The Australian version:


And the *spoilery* but really cool version from Japan (don't look too closely if you haven't seen the movie yet):


UPDATE! Here's a great webpage with several Tower Block covers from around the world, several of which I hadn't seen.

If you've seen any other versions where you live, please let me know on Twitter or email, I'd love to see them. Bonus points if it's in a shop and you take a photo.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Five things most horror scripts need

At the end of last year, I wrote an article on horror for the excellent Script Angel website - I mean, it’s excellent without my input, I lowered the tone slightly - and now I’m reposting it here, with permission. It’s pretty much a short version of how I approach writing horror movies - it’s not a definitive guide, might not work for you, your mileage may vary, and so on, but it’s how I work. Putting it down in words actually helped me figure out how I do what I do, so hopefully it’ll be of some help to some of you too.


Writing Horror


I kill people for money.

Fake people, obviously. In scripts. But they don’t feel fake to me. I have to breathe life into them, make them full, realistic characters, with hopes, dreams, prospects - and then kill them. It’s sadistic and awful and weird and I love it.

You have to love horror if you want to write it. If you don’t love the genre, if you don’t respect it, it’ll show on the page. Don’t write horror because you think it’ll sell, just write a story YOU want to tell, something you’re dying to get out. Doesn’t matter what is selling now, because the one thing that always sells is a good script.

Horror movies are like romantic comedies - everyone thinks they’re easy to write. But they’re not. You can’t just kill off a bunch of teenagers in a cabin (especially not in a romantic comedy). At the very minimum, you need five things: a proper story, strong characters, a believable villain, genuine scares, and a great ending.

Story:


Horror is tricky, because you don’t just need one story - you need TWO. There’s the normal story that happens before anything goes wrong - and then there’s the horror story that kicks in and interrupts. Set up the characters, put their stories into motion - and then fuck their shit up.

The normal story should be big and compelling enough to be a movie in itself, even if the horror part never happens. This is crucial. You should be hoping that it doesn’t become a horror movie! Once we’re invested in the characters and their situation, we should be as shocked and horrified as they are when things go wrong.

Ideally, you want the horror part to intersect nicely with the non-horror part - it should have some connection, one of them should help to resolve the other.

Characters:


The characters have to be real, you have to believe in them. They aren’t just there to get killed in creative ways (but feel free to kill them creatively). We need to care about them, otherwise we won’t be scared - if they’re just dull cardboard cutouts, we won’t care if they get killed. Make every death hurt, make us yell at the screen and hope they survive.

They don’t have to be flawless angels - they really shouldn’t be - but they need to be people we can relate to. They’re our representatives on screen, and we should root for them to get through it safely.

What would you do in their shoes? Think about all those times you shouted at people in a horror movie, saying “why don’t you just do THIS?” - do that! Let them react in a realistic way. Let them be smart, let them try to get out of the situation. That way it’s scarier - they’re clever, but they’re STILL in danger.

How would YOU get out of each situation in your story? Every character is more or less a part of you, so think how you’d behave if you were feeling brave, if you were scared, angry, sad, selfish, vengeful. Sometimes they’ll surprise you with hidden depths. You never know how anyone will react in a life or death situation, until you throw them into one.

Villain:


You should spend as much time on your villain as you do on your main characters. Whether they’re a human, a ghost, a demon from another dimension, they need a reason to exist. What do they want, what are they getting out of this? Why are they trying to hurt/kill the main characters? What’s their endgame?

They MUST have a believable, consistent plan, it’ll make them easier to write and to understand - even if you never explain their motivation on screen. It’s not enough for them to just be crazy. Why are they doing this? What made them this way? What do they hope to gain? Money, power, vengeance?  What would make YOU do the things they do, what would push you over the edge?

If you were trying to do what the villain does, how would you do it? How would you stop the characters escaping? It’s almost a conversation between you, the villain, and the main characters. How would I get out of this? How would I stop me? How would I stop me from stopping me?? Make your characters smart, then make your villain smarter.

Scares:


If you’ve set up your story, characters and villain properly, the scares will develop naturally. This is where you have to make yourself worry - think of the worst case scenario. What is the worst possible thing that could happen? Now how do you make it even worse? What would be the LAST thing you’d want to see appear in a darkened corridor? What is worse than being killed?

What might a determined villain do to stop you from foiling their plan? What might THIS villain do, how many people would they kill? What would make you jump out of your seat in the cinema, or when watching at home, alone, in the dark?

Try not to do fake jump scares. If you do, use them sparingly - a little goes a long way. If your horror movie has more fake scares than real ones, something has gone wrong.

Ending:


You have several options here. The heroes can overcome the threat, or fail and escape, or fail and get killed, or get killed *while* they overcome the threat. It’s horror, you don’t always need any survivors - but don’t cheat, don’t use “they all get killed” to hide the fact that you don’t have an explanation for the mystery!

If your horror and non-horror stories have been developing together, then you could tie them both up at the same time. The characters could use their normal skills to overcome the horror. Or they could overcome the horror another way, and that victory makes their normal life better.

The ending should be surprising, exciting, and satisfying - happy or sad, it should feel *right*. It should be inevitable, but not obvious. Push the characters into an impossible situation, and figure out how they escape. The audience has mere minutes to guess how a scene will end, you have months! Lead the audience down one path, then surprise them with a stealth attack.

It’s a game, a magic trick using misdirection. They’ll be trying to guess the answer, so do the opposite of what they expect. If you’ve done the opposite several times in a row, they’ll start expecting it - so do something else. The ending is like the punchline. Write a great ending, and they’ll forget any bits they didn’t like, they’ll just want to watch it all over again.


That's it. Getting all those five things in doesn't mean you're guaranteed to write a brilliant script, but they can head you off from some common mistakes. The great thing about horror is the wide variety of stories you can write - from splattery comedy-horror to brutal slashers to subtle supernatural pieces. You can tell any kind of tale. Funny, scary, gory, tense, shocking, satirical, whatever you like. You can explore the human condition much more easily when people are fighting for their lives. And that’s why I enjoy killing people for money. Fake people. In scripts. Mostly.

Make it real. Make us care. Make it hurt. Make it count. But above all - make it good.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Cockneys Vs Zombies on US TV

Americans and America-adjacent beings! Cockneys Vs Zombies will be on US TV this Saturday April 11th, at 3pm and 11pm, on the Chiller TV channel.

It's a cable and satellite channel, so you might not have it, but if you do... free movie! I have no idea if it's edited for TV, but just to be safe, maybe watch the 11pm showing instead of the 3pm one. Or watch both. It's Zombie Week on the channel, so keep an eye on their schedule if you like the shambling dead.

Monday, March 23, 2015

GeekedFest, Newport, August 8th-9th

Convention news! I'll be a guest at GeekedFest, a new convention in Newport, Wales. I'll be doing talks, signings, all the usual sort of thing, and possibly showing some new stuff if it's ready in time, he said mysteriously.

Details and tickets available here, the initial guest announcement includes me, Virginia Hey, John Challis, Simon Fisher-Becker, and Ross Mullan, with lots more on the way, so go check it out. I'm coming for you, Newport! Be ready!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Crazy For You in Philadelphia again

Crazy For You, the short film I wrote and directed, starring Arthur Darvill and Hannah Tointon, screens as part of the Best of Vivisections International Horror Shorts in Philadelphia on April 19th at 6.30pm.

It's $10 for 106 minutes of horror shorts, so go along and see some cool stuff. Including mine! Obviously. Details and tickets are available at this link right here.

Monday, March 02, 2015

My second ep of The Sparticle Mystery on TV today

My second episode of The Sparticle Mystery is on TV today, 5pm, CBBC and CBBCHD!

It's episode 9, and you can catch up on the 3rd series so far here, and see a sneak peek for ep9 here. I blogged about my previous episode (ep4) here.

It's a heisty-capery-farcey-style episode, so expect action, thrills, and spills. There will also be slapstick, silliness, and possibly some Cockney builders (long story, actually not that long, you'll see what I mean when you watch). Hope you enjoy it!

UPDATE! It's now online, on iPlayer, and you can watch it right here!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Crazy For You, Philadelphia

Yes, I'm crazy about Philadelphia because in their infinite wisdom, they're screening Crazy For You at 7.30pm this Sunday February 15th at the Vivisections International Horror Shorts, as part of their Valentine's special selection! What better way to spend the day after Valentine's Day, than by watching short horror movies featuring twisted love stories gone wrong? None! None better way!

All the shorts in the selection have a romantic theme, so bring along that special someone, or go alone with a severed head in your bag (make sure to open the bag slightly so they can see). Note: if you do bring dead people, please keep them on your lap so as not to take up seats that living people could occupy.

It's only $10 for 79 minutes of shorts, and who knows, you might just pick up some romance tips (disclaimer: you won't, please don't copy anything you see, especially the murder stuff, I'll get letters).

It looks like a really cool selection of shorts, so it's definitely worth your time on a cold Sunday evening. If you're there, let me know how it goes.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My first ep of The Sparticle Mystery on today

Excitements! TV Excitements! My first episode of The Sparticle Mystery is on TV today, 5pm on CBBC and CBBCHD!

Update: It's now up on iPlayer, and you can watch it online here. It'll be available until February 25th, so get watching now!

It's episode 4, so you can catch up on the first three episodes here, here and here. And there's a sneak peek at my ep here! Season 2 should still be available to watch on iPlayer too, but if you need to jump in, read my quick summary of what happened so far at this blog post here. My next episode will be episode 9, airing on March 2nd.

This episode airs almost exactly 7 years after my first ever TV episode way back on January 23rd 2008 - it was the Sleeper episode of Torchwood. I wrote about it on the blog here, and followed up with a reaction post here. Bizarrely, and completely unintentionally, both episodes contain the line "there's no such thing as aliens"...

I still get excited when anything of mine comes out, there's nothing like the feeling of knowing the audience is all watching at the same time. I won't be able to watch live, as I'm away, but I'll do an update post when I get back. I'm really excited for everyone to see it.