Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky do's

It's Halloween! Booga-booga-booga!

As is traditional, me and Jo will light candles, carve pumpkins, put on spooky music, then watch a selection of horror movies to celebrate the occasion. We watch The Exorcist every year, because it never loses its power. Some other classics get rotated every 2 or 3 years, so this year it's the turn of The Thing (Carpenter's version), because it's fantastic, and Halloween (do I need to say which version? I certainly hope not). I've also spent the past couple of months picking up new DVDs here and there, so we have a big stack to choose from, including Patrick, Road Games, Salem's Lot, Q The Winged Serpent, The Stuff (yeah, Larry Cohen double bill, that's how we roll), The Hidden, 10 Rillington Place (I'm counting it as a horror), The Amityville Horror (the original), and The Substitute. There are more, but I can't see them from the sofa, and I can't be bothered moving right now, I'm tired, shut up, leave me alone, etc etc. Probably won't get through them all, but at least we have enough to get us through the weekend. We've also got Halloween decorations - including spooky balloons - and will be making the superb blood cocktails again. Here's a pic of our Rope Of Weapons, which you may clickyclicky for biggybiggy:

Fear me! For I have plastic knives and stuff, and will be getting drunk! God help any kids who come to the door, I suspect it will suddenly cease to be fun for them.

Last year, I was a judge for the 2 Days Later short film competition - you get 2 days to write, shoot, and edit a complete short horror flick. I was a judge again this year, and my favourite of the whole shortlisted bunch was On Ice, which I'm delighted to see won Best Short Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Actress. The short looks great, is well directed, and is a nice, simple idea, well told. I look forward to seeing what they do next. In the meantime, you can watch the winning film here.

While you're watching things, why not watch this as a prelude to your Halloween shenanigans - the full length video for Thriller. Remember, Michael is not like other guys. In many, many ways.

So turn the lights off, stick on a scary movie or three, and have a scary Halloween. Otherwise I'll come round your house and brutally murder you, then flay you and run around outside wearing your skin, shrieking in Latin. And nobody wants that to happen. Except me, a little bit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Moustache and tragedy

I'm recording all of Dead Set, and won't get to see them till this weekend, for various reasons, so I've only seen the first half of the opening ep - so please keep spoilers to yourselves for now. However, I loved what I've seen so far, and can't wait for the rest. Give Andy Nyman some sort of award or statue immediately, even just for carrying off that moustache with dignity.

Got a text last night, from a mate I'm currently working with, who had just finished watching the first episode of Spooks. No spoilers here, for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, don't worry - but for context, something... upsetting happened at the end. The text simply said:

Did you write this Spooks?

No, I replied, my one will be episode 7. Why?

That means I can still be friends with you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dead Set and new Spooks

Two new TV shows start today, which you should not miss, otherwise I will maim you:

TV Show the First: Dead Set, by Charlie Brooker, E4 at 9pm, and then every night at the same time until Friday. Zombies. Big Brother. Andy Nyman. And the possibility of lots of new swearword combos to enjoy. You quite literally cannot go wrong with this one. I can't wait to see it, it looks great.

TV Show the Second: Spooks, series 7, episode 1, BBC1 9pm. The second episode follows tomorrow night, then it carries on Monday nights. I was sure I'd announced this ages ago, but it seems I haven't, so... I've written an episode for this series. Yes, I know, is there any fucking TV show that I haven't had my grubby little paws on this year? Well, no, there isn't, sorry about that. Anyway, my ep is number 7, and will be on Monday 1st December. But you'll have to watch the whole series, because there's plenty of ongoing serial stuff, and you'll only get lost otherwise. So do as I say, or I'll make with the maiming.

That is all for now, internet chums. Go about your business, make merry, and keep up the human sacrifices in my name.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The writing song meme

I was tagged by Dom and Sheikspear with the following challenge: What song, to you, represents writing or what it means to be a writer?

As soon as I heard about this particular meme, I knew instantly which song I would go for. It's not technically about writing, or what it means to be a writer, but it had a big effect on me at a very important time, and says something about the whole idea of breaking in. Writing is a lot of hard work, and if you want to get into the business, you have to really push yourself, work hard, and make it happen. Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to write, write, and keep writing, then keep rewriting, over and over. It's not easy. But if you don't get off your arse and work at it, it'll never happen for you.

You may or may not know (or care) that my first produced work was a short film called Cheap Rate Gravity. The Sci-Fi Channel here had a competition a few years back, called Sci Fi Shorts - you entered a 10 minute short film script, and if it won, they made it into an actual short film. I didn't win the first year. At that time, I was going through a bit of a bad patch, writing-wise, and was beginning to think that I'd never make it, that the whole thing was a pipe dream. I actually stopped writing completely, for a good 6 months or so, felt like I was completely wasting my time and just fooling myself.

That first year of the competition, I wrote a ten page script, but didn't enter it, as I thought it was shit. So I binned it, wrote something else, sent it in, and it didn't win. The second year, it got to about 2 weeks away from the deadline, and I had nothing. But I knew that if I didn't enter *something*, I'd hate myself - and wouldn't be able to complain that they were ignoring my obvious genius. So I pulled out the script I hadn't entered the previous year, tidied it up, thought it wasn't too bad, and sent it in. Weeks, months later, I'd forgotten all about it. Then I got a phone call one day at work to tell me it had been shortlisted. Madness. Terry Gilliam was one of the judges for the finalists, so I thought, hey, at least Terry Gilliam will read my script - even if I don't win, I can say that one of the world's greatest ever directors read something I wrote. That script was Cheap Rate Gravity, and it won.

They made the short, I went on set, watched respectable actors like Phyllis Logan being hoisted up on wires by the guy who did the wire work for the Superman movies, and watched movie magic being made right before my eyes. It got released in selected cinemas in front of The Bourne Identity, Reign of Fire, and Final Destination 2. I watched it in the cinema several times, and thought, this is it, this is the fucking coolest feeling in the world. They didn't actually tell me it had been released, by the way - my mate phoned me up and said he'd seen it at his local cinema. I tried phoning the short film people, but couldn't get anyone on the phone. Oh well, I thought, they're probably busy.

There was supposed to be an industry screening of the finished short, with lots of invited agents and producers and other movie types, and the people behind the short said that I'd probably get an agent out of it. I was stunned. I thought this would be a flash in the pan, that I'd go back to my life with some interesting stories, but that would be it. Getting an agent meant that it was entirely possible to get another thing made. And then another. And then, maybe, one day, earn a living from it. I could break into the writing business. For real. Winning the competition was a validation, it meant that maybe I had something after all. At that point, one of the actors (thank you again, you know who you are) recommended me to their agent. This particular agency said yeah, sure, send in your stuff, we'd love to read it. I sent in The School, and something else. They sent me a standard, two-line rejection letter. Not for us, not what we're looking for (see, it's not who you know). Ha ha ha, fuck you, that other agency, I kept your letter and sometimes I get it out and look at it and laugh, and then I look at the massive, framed Severance poster above my writing desk, then laugh again.

So I waited for the industry screening. And waited. After a couple of months, the short film people stopped returning my calls completely, always in a meeting, always out, always busy. Should I keep waiting? Why wouldn't they help me out? Should I try and do something myself? But what? I wasn't sure what the right thing to do was. At that point, all I wanted was a bit of advice. Maybe I should wait for the screening? It was supposed to happen in November. Then late November. Then December, definitely. Then the New Year, definitely no question. It'd be easier to wait for that, and meet agents there, wouldn't it? Would anyone be interested in me and my stuff, after one short film?

As I dithered, wondering what to do, I listened to some songs on a playlist, recent stuff that I was enjoying. One in particular, I must have heard 20 times already, so it wasn't a surprise or anything. But it came up while I was thinking about all this writing and agency stuff. And as I listened to the lyrics, I realised that nobody was going to do anything for me - why should they? - so I had to do it for myself. You can't expect anyone to hand you a career, just because you've had a tiny bit of success. It was a valuable lesson. I had a small window of opportunity, a tiny chance to actually break in and get moving. If I left it too long, that would be it.

But as I listened to this song on this particular occasion, it really struck a chord. I felt a real urgency, something started gnawing away at my insides. There wasn't much time, and I'd have to start sorting my life out. It really got to me, in a way it hadn't before. The song was "Lose Yourself", by Eminem:

Whether you like his music or not, the man knows about pulling yourself up by the scruff of the neck, and working hard to become a success. He wasn't just handed everything on a plate, he made it happen for himself. And now it felt like he was telling me the same thing. "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment you own it you better never let it go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, cause opportunity comes once in a lifetime" - "you can do anything you set your mind to" - get a fucking move on, basically. And at that time, it couldn't have been more relevant to me. Although, obviously, I wasn't a struggling rapper living in a mobile home. But you know what I mean.

So I got to work. I played that song over and over and over as I figured out my plan, as loud as I could stand in the headphones, Eminem barking and snarling at me to keep going, don't fuck up this chance, you can do this. I finished all 6 episodes of The School. Wrote several drafts of Mirror, a horror film script. Scoured the web for up to date agency addresses, using a second hand copy of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook as a guide. Drew up a list of agencies that might take me on, that had clients who wrote scripts similar to mine. Composed a query letter, printed out the scripts, emailed someone at the first agency to ask where to send film and TV scripts (thank you Michelle, for the friendly, helpful reply, you rock), then packaged them all up and took them in by hand to drop them off at their reception desk (didn't want to risk them getting lost in the post). That was a Friday. On the Monday morning, an agent called Jago phoned me up and asked me to come in for a meeting. And the rest you know.

Now, I probably would have come to that same decision to approach agencies myself. Although I might have waited until January for the supposed screening. Or I might have waited longer. And if I'd never heard that song, I'd probably still have got an agent. But I wouldn't have got off my arse with the same urgency, maybe wouldn't have taken my work in on that particular day, maybe it would have slipped through the net. I might have got a different agent. One who might not have been as good. One who might have picked a different idea from the seven I presented to him one day, the paragraph that eventually became Severance. Who knows? What I do know is, I'm incredibly happy with the way things went, and now have my dream job. It's not *all* thanks to Mr Marshall Mathers. But he definitely deserves a a sincere thank you. So: thank you. For inspiring me to get off my arse and grab the opportunity that I had. I still play the song now, when I need a boost, to remind myself of that time and how far I've come. It still works.

So there you go. The song doesn't really represent writing, but I think it has something to say about making your own luck, and working for what you want. Nobody's going to do it for you, nobody owes you anything, it's your life, so stop making excuses, and get on with it.

If I hadn't, I'd still be waiting for that industry screening, waiting to be handed a career on a plate, and expecting everyone else to do the work for me...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Okay, I have some news that hasn't been announced yet, but seeing as it's been on my IMDB and Agency page for ages, I may as well spill the beans. If you can really call it "spilling the beans" when technically, the beans are already on the floor, next to the overturned, er, bean tin. So I suppose I'm just spreading the beans around the floor a bit more. Or walking in them. Or something. Oh, make up your own metaphor, I'm off the clock.

Anyway. I've written an episode for the upcoming NBC series Crusoe, which starts this Friday 17th October, at 7 or 8pm depending whereabouts in the US you are. The showrunner is Mr Stephen Gallagher, a fellow writer, blogger, and man about town, who is incredibly cool to work with (apart from when he gives you a roundhouse kick for having bad ideas, which is the real reason for my black eye). I'm really excited to see the finished episodes, they have a great team, a fab cast, and the photos and designs look amazing. Here's part of the synopsis from the official site:

From Power, Muse and Moonlighting Films comes an ambitious adaptation of Daniel Defoe's masterpiece, "Crusoe," a new primetime series for a 21st Century audience. Following the novel and its treasured tale of adventure, this high-action, fast-paced, thirteen-part series will combine for the first time the pace and energy of network television while remaining faithful to the author’s original classic story.

The drama explores the perils and challenges facing the world’s most famous castaway as Crusoe (Philip Winchester, "Flyboys," "Thunderbirds") and his native friend Friday (Tongayi Chirisa) struggle to survive on a desert island with little more than their wits. Overcoming marauding militias, hungry cannibals, wild cats, starvation and apocalyptic lightning storms, Crusoe dreams of the day he will be reunited with his beloved family.

I haven't seen my episode yet, but there are some trailers on the Crusoe site which have clips from other eps, and give a good taster of what to expect. The short version: action, adventure, thrills, spills, punch-ups, sword fights, heaving bosoms, manly chests, exotic locations, cool gadgets, witty banter, and dastardly villains. Try this for size:

There are 4 more recent videos, but - and you US Torchwood fans may laugh at will - they're not available outside the US... One we can all access though is the webcam on the treehouse they've built on a New York street - they've stranded some poor guy in it, and you can go and look at him, and vote to make him do things for your own amusement.

Newsarama has a nice article about the show here, thank you to Mr.SFTV from the comments for letting me know.

So if you're in America, make sure to tune in this Friday, and catch Stephen's superb 2 hour season premiere. Unless I've got my dates wrong, my episode will be on the 7th November, but I'll be reminding you all every few minutes until then, so don't worry. For those of us in the UK, I don't know if there's a deal with any channels yet, but I'm sure it'll be shown here at some stage. Watch this space. This one, right here, at the end of this sentence. Yes. Watch it closely.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Screenwriting book

As usual, I'm the last to post this, but hey, better late than never, that's what I reckon. So you'll all know this already, but just in case you don't: Adrian Mead has written a book about getting your screenwriting career started. It's called Making It As A Screenwriter, it's £7.79 (about 9 quid including VAT), available from here, and all profits go to Childline.

Now, you all probably know I'm not a fan of screenwriting books. Things that tell you how to write, and waffle on about inciting incidents and third act reversals and all that bollocks, aren't worth your time or money. But this one doesn't tell you how to write, it assumes that you can write, that you have some talent. It tells you the things you need to know to break in - getting an agent, approaching companies, how many scripts you need, what a treatment is, re-writing, feedback, all that good stuff. Simple, straightforward advice from a professional writer.

If you're just starting out, or fairly new, then you need to read this - it'll save you a LOT of time. And even if you're an old hand, you'll probably learn a thing or two, or even just be inspired to get off your arse and do some work. I'm one of the many, many people who have given testimonials about how good the book is, so go and pick up a copy. It's for a good cause, and it will help you out. Everybody wins.

Note: It's based around the UK industry, just so you know - but a lot of the advice applies anywhere.