Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Almost 2011 already?? Blimey!

It's been a strange year, 2010. Some really amazing stuff has happened, some not so amazing stuff. Feels like a year of preparation and planning, even though I've actually done some real, solid things too. One TV thing that has just gone to the powers that be, took 2 years to get to this point - 2 years of meetings, outlines, notes, scripts, all to get to a final episode draft. It's all exciting stuff, working with cool, smart people, but can feel like a really long, slow marathon at times. I've done a huge amount of work this year - 3 TV episode scripts, 3 film scripts, a computer game, short story, many outlines, among other stuff - but the only thing that you'll have actually seen is the Doctor Who game and Torchwood Magazine short story. Feels weird not having anything on TV for so long, but there's a lot of stuff going on in the background that you won't hear about until it's made.

It's also been a year of uncertainty, of wondering how the TV and movie worlds will cope in these difficult times, never knowing what the next job will be until it arrives - but again, that's always the case with this business. You never get to a place of total security and safety, you're in the wrong job if you want that. So you have to keep working, keep building new relationships, meeting new people, while doing things with people you already know and trust, always moving forward, always believing that this particular project at this particular time will get made. It's never easy. Sometimes it can feel like you're getting nowhere, taking a step backwards, even. But it's all necessary, you have to be patient, optimistic, and trust in the process and the people.

Having said all that, I still wouldn't trade it for *anything*. This is the best job in the world. I get to make up stories for a living, stories about immortals, swashbuckling adventurers, zombies, serial killers, aliens, time travellers, heroes, villains, spies, and brave, ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations who somehow find the inner strength to overcome impossible odds. I get to take moments from real life and write my own version where everything works out. I get to show you the dark, horrible things that can happen. But sometimes I also get to show you the good guys winning, the bad guys getting punished, and cool stuff exploding.

Hopefully all this planning and work means that 2011 will be a frantically busy year of projects taking off and getting made. I've already got one movie set to shoot, with more planned, and the TV stuff dangerously close to happening too. It feels like I've been in training all year, getting fit for the big match, and I'm all ready to get out there and show what I can do.

Could all come to nothing, of course, but I believe it will all work out. I believe 2011 is going to kick ass and take names. I believe it because I'm going to damn well make it happen. And I hope you all make stuff happen too. Have a fantastic Christmas break and new year, and I'll see you on the other side!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Long term hopes and dreams

The lovely, manly, and powerful Paul Cornell is doing his Twelve Blogs of Christmas again, and I highly recommend that you go there and have a read. The first one here covers the writing-related things he hasn't done yet, but would really like to do. He also wonders if other writers have a similar list - I normally do my big end of year summary blog post thing, but I think his version is much more fun and interesting, and I feel like a change, so I'm shamelessly copying joining in. Here goes:

Run my own TV show: By "my own" I mean, created or co-created by me, where I'm the lead writer. I've had tons of fun playing with other people's toys, but I want to play with my own toys, run my own universe, set my own rules. As you'll have seen from several other posts, there are plans afoot to (hopefully) make this happen, and I have several potential things underway at various companies. But as with all development, you never know until you get the go ahead, and it can be rejected at any stage. I've talked about this before here, and how time consuming it can be. That's just how it works, it's a huge risk and financial commitment for the powers that be, and they need time to make sure it's all worth their while. Which is why there's never anything to announce until you are actually filming something, just in case. But fingers crossed.

Write a freelance episode for a US TV show: This one's fairly low on the likeliness scale, in fact, there's pretty much no chance right now. There are a lot of working US writers who would be in the queue before me, even if I was living in America, so it wouldn't make much sense to hire me for an episode. But I'd really love to do one, partly for the fun of writing the episode itself, partly for the chance to work in that intense environment with those amazingly talented people. Any preference? Sure, I'd love to do a Dexter, Castle, Human Target, Leverage, The Mentalist, or CSI Las Vegas. I'd also love to do a Glee, but I'm sure they'd look at my blood-splattered TV history and just stare at me in horror. Although I don't always do violent, death-filled stuff, I've written plenty of nice things with happy endings. Honestly, you kill *one* baby...

Direct a movie: This is another thing that is possible and in the works, but depends on a lot of things falling into place. Lots of things in development, lots of possibilities. So fingers crossed again.

Write comics: Another possible thing that I've been working towards, so more crossed fingers. It's a different set of tools, a very different discipline to TV and movie scripts, so I'm still learning how to do it. I have several pitches I'm working on, so once they're ready, I'll have to try and convince some artists to join forces with me. And if I ever got the chance to do a Batman or a Punisher comic, I think I'd probably explode.

Write a non-DW or TW short story: I've loved writing short stories for Doctor Who and Torchwood, but I'd really like to write one set in a completely different world, without characters I already know, just to see if I can. Preferably for a themed anthology, so it's not just on its own, but can hang around with friends in a book somewhere. What?? Stories get lonely without company. They're like pets.

Write comedy: A lot of my work has funny stuff in, and Severance is even called a horror-comedy (although I'd argue it's a horror with some funny bits), but I've never managed to do a pure comedy piece. I tried, ages ago, but was so focused on trying to bring the funny, the plot never materialised and so the jokes didn't work. I've realised that I need a strong, high-concept plot if I want to do a comedy - but is that really out-and-out comedy, or just a funny high-concept thing?? The ultimate test would be to come up with a sitcom. A lot of the things I've done lately, I chose them because I wasn't sure if I could actually do them, because the very idea scared me. You've got to challenge and scare yourself, sometimes. And the thought of doing a sitcom terrifies me, I have no idea how to even start. So it's definitely something I want to try.

Write a play: See above, about challenging yourself… There are many specific types of restrictions and things you just can't physically do in plays, but I want to try and do them anyway. I love being on set when my stuff is filmed, so I'd kill for the chance to see something of mine performed, live, every single night, for the entire run, it must be absolutely electric.

Write a James Bond movie: The only one from Paul's list that I'd also like to do, and I suspect it's on everyone's list. Which is why I'll probably never get to do it. But hey! I never thought I'd work for Doctor Who, have a movie made, or even get paid for writing anything. So why the hell not? Dear producers: I am available and cheap. And fast. And not crazy (well, mostly).

Write a Knight Rider movie: Yes, seriously. I'd jump at the chance. It's been in development for ages, not sure why it's taking so long - it's a talking car! Who solves crimes with his human friend! How is this difficult?? Call me, producers!

Be a rock star: Yeah. Who doesn't want that?? I'd love to be in a band, belting out rock songs on stage to huge crowds, doing guitar solos. How is it writing-related? Well, I'd write the songs. That counts. Sadly, my fantasy is hampered by two small obstacles: I can't sing, or play any instruments. But hey, that never stopped (insert your favourite rock star's name here)!

So there you go, that's my list of current hopes and dreams. There are probably more that I've forgotten, but these are the ones that I think about regularly. Hopefully I can make some of these happen soon. I'm not tagging anyone, but like Paul says, I'd love to see what other writers put on their own lists. Have at it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Severance on BBC1 Friday 17th! And Blu Ray!

Severance news! And to answer your next 3 questions, yes I'm *still* going on about that movie, no it will *never* end, and no there's no escape.

It's getting another UK TV screening this Friday 17th December at 11.30pm, on BBC One and BBC One HD too. It'll be available for a while at the link once it has been shown on TV. I was surprised to see it appearing on the HD channel, as I'm not aware of any high definition copies ever being made.

So I had a quick search, and discovered some Blu Ray editions, which I had no idea existed, but hey, why would *I* of all people need to be told about anything like that…

If you live in Germany - or anywhere German- or English-speaking, for that matter, as there's an English audio track too - you can get a shiny Blu Ray copy from here. There's a German review of the disc here, or you can click here for Google's translated version.

And if you live in Australia - or anywhere else that speaks Australian, which is remarkably similar to English in many ways, I'm told - you can buy a double feature Blu Ray with Black Sheep and Severance on the same disc here - but it's missing all the special features of the DVD. There's a review of the disc here.

Both reviews above say the image quality is pretty good overall, so I'll be picking up a copy to check it out. But mainly because it'll go nicely on the shelf with my UK version, US version, German version, Spanish version ("Desmembrados"), my bootleg Hong Kong version (written and directed by Michael Mann, apparently) and soon the official Thai version. And to answer your *next* 3 questions, no I can't help myself, yes it's sad, and no I didn't have many friends as a child.

By the way, if you live in a Foreign Country (i.e. not the UK) and there's a local version of Severance on the DVD shelves, could you please take a photo of it for me? If the cover is different and interesting, then I'll probably want to grab a copy. Bonus points if it's got a cool, translated title like "Desmembrados". Thanks!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Final issue of Torchwood Magazine

The final issue of Torchwood Magazine is out this week, and it's a real shame to see it go. It may well rise again at some point, but in the meantime, if you want a copy, get down to your local newsagent, because they'll probably be snapped up quickly.

I've got a short story in the final issue, which is appropriate given that it's my farewell to a character that I love, but never got the chance to do more with. If you read the previous issue, you'll have seen James Goss' excellent Lost Stories article, which featured all the unused season 2 storylines from me, Phil Ford and Joe Lidster. One of mine has been stuck in my head ever since I originally pitched it, back in December 2006, and I've always wanted to come back to it. So now I have.

"Unplugged" is the result, and is a bit different to "Stakes on a Plane" and "Virus", it's more of a quiet, character-led piece, beautifully illustrated by Adrian Salmon. I'm really happy with how it came out, and honoured to be a part of the final issue of TWM. Toshiko Sato, this one's for you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Official Facebook page thingy

I've been on Facebook for a while, but it's a personal account for family and friends only. I've tried to make it clear that I won't accept requests from people I don't know, but I still get several requests per day from complete strangers. I'm sure they're lovely strangers, but I don't want all my personal stuff on display to people I don't know. That's just common sense, for everyone. I'm sure you understand my feelings on this, and if you don't, then we're probably not going to get on very well anyway, so never mind.

Anyway, to keep my public stuff and private stuff separate, there's now a public Facebook page, which you can visit here. If you're vaguely interested in my work, etc etc, you can go there and click "Like", and will be part of my official, public space on the Book of Faces. There's no restrictions, anyone can "like" it and post stuff, and I'll try to keep it updated with news and stuff that's too short for blog posts, maybe even stuff that won't be on here or the Twitter. It'll also automagically update whenever I post a blog entry here. Including this one, announcing the page itself, in a weird, recursive loop that may well destroy the very fabric of reality if we're not careful.

I feel like a terrible, self promoting shill mentioning it here, but it has to be done, and it makes sense to keep the two separate. I just wish instead of a "Like" button, there was a "I'm vaguely interested in the work of this person" button, so it doesn't look like some weird plea to be loved. Now go and validate me, or I'll sulk.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Summary of every screenwriting "how-to" book

I've talked about screenwriting "how-to" books here before. Short version: I'm not a fan. If you've never written a script or thought about how a story works, or if you're still new to all this and need guidance, then sure, most of them have common sense stuff that can make things clearer. But you don't *need* to read any of them.

Of course, people are still curious. They wonder if maybe the books have some secret, magic formula, a short cut to telling brilliant stories. So, to save you some time and money, here is a bullet-point summary of every screenwriting "how-to" book ever:

--1: Have a Beginning, Middle, and an End. In the Beginning, kick off the story in an interesting, exciting way. Introduce all the characters (make sure they're interesting, flawed, with voices distinct from each other, give them snappy dialogue that sounds real, and their own specific goals and conflicts, especially the villains), then show us what the main character wants, and the obstacles in their way. In the Middle, throw all the obstacles at them and see how they cope. Avoid visible exposition, which is dumping information on the audience ("As you know, my father, Dr Robert McFuckleberry, the eminent parapsychologist, went missing last year under mysterious circumstances"), work it into the dialogue and action, showing us what's going on instead of telling us. Similarly, don't tell us stuff in the action description that can't be seen on screen (Jack is a black belt in AssKickFu, and loves his mum), show it happening (we see Jack using martial arts to kick a guy's ass for insulting his mum), because every scene should move the story on, or reveal character, preferably both. Halfway through the Middle, throw in a surprising twist that moves the story in another direction. In the final part of the Middle, have everything go wrong, and make it look grim for the main character, so that they can’t possibly get out of their situation. In the End, show the main character summoning up their strength for one final battle, where they overcome all the obstacles, save the day (in a surprising yet inevitable way that was hinted at from the very beginning), and walk off into the sunset having learned something and grown as a person - that, or they tragically fail and/or die, but with a glimmer of hope for the future. Keep it all between 90 and 120 pages (a page is roughly equal to a minute of screen time), and make sure it's in the proper screenplay format (use Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter or Fade In if you have some spare cash, or the free CeltX or Writer Duet, it doesn’t matter because you’ll only be sending PDF’s anyway). Finish it, put it aside for a couple of weeks, then read it again and fix anything that sucks, then do it again until you have a polished, completed script.

--2: Er, that's it.

There, now you can just get on with telling good stories, and haven't contributed to the weird industry of "expert" script advice from people who've never written a script in their life. That'll be ten quid, please. Cash or cheque is fine. Cheers.

(Note: I'm aware all books are different, and may have good tips, etc etc, but you don't need any of them to write a good story. You can get solid, practical tips and techniques from working writers like John August and Bill Martell (who posts a great script tip every day, and also has a series of brilliant Blue Books that are incredibly useful), things they've used in their long careers. And re-read this if you want my recommendations on books about writing and the industry. If you really must read one of the how-to books, and need a more in-depth analysis of how stories work, try "Save the Cat", or "Crafty Screenwriting" - they're both short, reasonably priced, have some useful thoughts, and the authors actually wrote real movies and TV shows. None of the other ones have any extra insight. Although I'm totally with McKee on the need to stop all the shaky camera shit.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Amazon Studios

Several people have asked me what I reckon about the Amazon Studios thing. I didn't want to comment until I'd read all the terms and conditions, but now that I've ploughed through all the details, I'm not keen at all. Obviously, I'm not a lawyer, this is all my opinion, blah blah blah.

So let's start with the downsides:

-- Amazon automatically take an 18 month option, for free (which means you can't sell your script to anyone else during that time). At the end of that, if they want another 18 month option, they pay you $10,000. You can't turn it down, either, even if you have several actual film companies begging to buy your script - if Amazon want to extend the option, you have no choice. If your script is good, then you're stuck with them for 3 years. Up and coming writers usually get paid if their script is optioned. Even just a token amount. Sometimes it's 50 quid. Sometimes it's several thousand pounds. And it's usually for 6 to 12 months. Update: It's actually even worse than this. After 18 months (or 3 years) even when the rights revert to you, they can STILL sell your script or give it away. Forever. They just don't have the exclusive right to. So you might get your script back, but share the rights with Amazon. *Surely* I've misunderstood this, right? It *can't* be that horrific, right? Someone at Amazon or a legal type, please tell me I've got that wrong. For my own sanity.

-- Anyone can rewrite your script. Your version stays there too, but will soon have several rewrites surrounding it. If someone reads a bad rewrite first, they might not bother to read and vote on the original draft.

-- Suppose you write a script about a giant killer robot mouse. Someone comes along and rewrites it, adding some crap jokes. Someone else comes along, reads their new version, and thinks it's brilliant - but do they read your original version too? Do they like it *because* of the new person's changes, or because of the stuff in there which is yours?

-- Which raises the tricky question of who decides how much you contributed *to your own script* - in the movie world, this is called arbitration, where experts (who are also writers) read every draft, and make careful decisions about who did what and what credits are deserved. They sometimes get this wrong. It's very difficult, even for them. How are Amazon going to cope with a script rewritten by 24 people, if the changes are very small?

-- Suppose your script does really well, and rises up the ranks. Every idiot with no ideas who wants to be attached to something cool will start doing "rewrites" on it, in the hope that they'll be included in the credits and cash payouts. This will dilute the quality, and reduce your credit and payment. Ironically, this part is fairly similar to the normal movie world…

-- The more voices you bring into a script, the more writers, the more interference, the worse it gets. You get hired because of your voice, the way a script *feels* and sounds that is unique to you. As soon as anyone gets their hands on that, it gets lost. Sure, the process might result in a good script at some point, but it's never going to have the originality and quirks of a sole writer's voice. The Amazon system would never result in something like Reservoir Dogs, or Kidulthood - strong, powerful, original voices that only those specific writers could have done at that time. Before you quote The Pixar Exception at me - a small, tight team is responsible for writing the actual script, sometimes just one person. Everyone in the company can give feedback and suggestions, but they don't just let everyone do a rewrite.

-- Dude. Have you *seen* some of the "reviews" on Amazon??

-- It starts from an assumption of failure. You put your script in, and it gets rewritten by anyone and everyone, no matter what. Sure, your original version is still there, but normally you'd get a couple of drafts after being hired, drafts that you'd write yourself. You're immediately giving away your rewrite chances. You could always do another draft yourself, later. But people looking at it will wonder why you didn't wait and hand in *that* new draft instead of the original.

Okay, that's enough negativity. Let's consider the upsides:

-- Monthly cash prizes for top scripts. That's good, if you win. But if your script is good enough to win those, it's good enough to get you an agent and/or sell to a film company.

-- The production and distribution stuff. Sure, if your script makes it all the way, untouched, and gets made, released, etc etc, you *could* make a lot of money. Nowhere *near* as much money as Amazon and WB will make out of it, of course. And if anyone does a rewrite, and gets credit, your payment is reduced. If several people do rewrites, it's reduced even more.

-- If your script is crap, but has a good idea at the core, someone else could do a good rewrite, and you'd both get a share in the final movie. Hey, might happen. But do you want to have a small share in one movie, or become a better writer and get a movie made out of *your* script, and build a career?

-- The biggest upside is this: you could be living in the middle of nowhere, with no experience or connections, with hardly any writing ability, and find yourself with a hit movie in the cinemas that you had a little bit to do with. Maybe. Assuming many, many, many things go your way.

So they're the upsides and downsides, according to me. Taking all that into account, do I think you should go for it or not? Bear in mind first that my opinion here is probably going to upset some of you. If you just want to be told you're brilliant and special and anything can happen in magical movieland, then stop reading now. Still here? Okay, don't say I didn't warn you.

The Amazon Studios site is not aimed at people who want to be writers. It's aimed at people who want some free money from a big movie, without doing much work. There, I said it.

Sure, people who want to be writers might genuinely be interested in it, but they're not the target audience. I get that it might seem like an attractive deal for someone who has been working on a script for ages with no results. If you're not getting anywhere, been rejected by every agent and film company in the world, and this is your last possible option, I couldn't blame you for giving it a try. Although you'd have to ask yourself why you'd been rejected by every agent and film company in the world.

But if you really, really, really want to be a writer, I'd recommend staying far away from the website. It won't make you a better writer. Work on your scripts, your original voice, your career. A good script will get read, and found, and passed on to people who can buy it or help you start your career. Put that same good script into this thing, and you've pretty much just given it away. Even if it gets made and survives the tortuous process, you might not see any money or credit. And most people will not get the second option fee of $10,000, will not win the monthly prizes, will not get their film sold and made. The Red Planet competition is also free to enter, but your script remains your property unless they buy it, and the prizes are much better for your career and growth as a writer - there's no downside to entering that. This seems to be mostly downsides.

If you want feedback on your work, go read this. If you want to be a writer, go read a lot, write a lot, work on your scripts. If you're good, you'll get noticed and break in. If you're not, then you won't, until you get good. That's it, really. If you want a career in writing, you already knew I was going to say that, because you've done your research, asked questions, read all my FAQs, read all of the other helpful blog posts out there, and they all pretty much say the same thing.

If you're still looking for a short cut or an easy answer, then you don't want to be a writer. You just want to be rich and famous. Which is fine, but I can't help you with that.

Update: For proper, clever, detailed analysis, go read what Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton, and John August have to say about it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I confuse myself sometimes

Occasionally, and I'm not proud of it - although, let's be honest, I actually *am* geekily proud of it - I'll put overly obscure jokes or references into scripts. But one time, I wrote a joke so obscure, that when the producer asked me what it meant, I HAD NO IDEA. I still don't. I remember laughing when I wrote it, so it clearly meant something at the time, but I haven't got a clue what that might be.

So here is the snippet of script featuring that joke:

There you go. The bit that confuses me is Lisa's first line, "Only if it's not in black and white." Why is that funny? Why is it clever? What does she mean? I get the bit about photographers doing rude things with lenses and tripods, but what's the "not in black and white bit" referring to? How does that make it filthy? Arg!

There's a valuable lesson here about not being too clever and tricksy in scripts, but I probably won't listen to myself, as usual. The "joke" has been gone since that early draft, as I still don't understand it. If you know what it means, answers on a postcard to the usual place. Please use correct postage, and only one side of the postcard. If you haven't got a postcard, use a stuck-down envelope. If you haven't got a stuck-down envelope, use a stuck-down elephant.

Is it obvious that I'm avoiding working on an outline?? No?? Good.

Update: Several people - enough so that I'm starting to feel a bit silly - have sent me the same possible answer: black and white nudie images = art, colour nudie images = porn. That sounds likely, and may have been what I was going for. I'm not entirely sure though, as I still can't remember. But I reckon that was it. Hooray!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Gallifrey One 2011

I mentioned this a while ago, but realised it's not actually on here yet, so... I'll be a guest at the next Gallifrey One convention, February 18th-20th, 2011.

It's a huge Doctor Who convention held every year in Los Angeles, and it's brilliant. If you're in the area, or near the area, or a drive/flight/horse ride away from the area, and you want to say hello, then come along and join in the fun. I'm really looking forward to it, as I skipped this year's event, and have great memories of the 2009 and 2008 ones.

But don't just come along for boring old me - other guests I've just copied straight from the website are: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Tracie Simpson, Peter Bennett, Matthew Waterhouse, John Leeson, Kai Owen, Tom Price, Sheridan Smith, Ian McNeice, Neill Gorton, Jane Espenson, Doris Egan, Phil Ford, Ashley Way, Gareth Roberts, Gary Russell, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Clayton Hickman, Larry Niven, Barbara Hambly, Tony Lee, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, David Gerrold, Rick Sternbach, and loads more, including the marvellous Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Phew. That's a pretty amazing lineup. Hopefully I'll see you there, it's bucketloads of fun and should be the biggest year so far.

Important: If you're going, the hotel is filling up *fast*, and the nearby ones will be too, so check out the website for your options. Book now to avoid being stuck in the Miles From Anywhere Hotel.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Torchwood Magazine - the "lost" season 2 episodes

Issue 24 of Torchwood Magazine is out this week, and has a great feature by James Goss about the "lost" episodes of Torchwood season 2. I've often talked about how I got the job originally, and that I had 3 pitches for episodes, one of which became Sleeper. But what were the other two? What was the original, slightly different outline like? What changes were made? And how was Gwen nearly killed by cheese?

Find out the answers to all these questions, and more - there's a summary of my original outline, an interview with me, and two deleted script scenes that were removed when a subplot changed. There's also lots of material from Joe Lidster, Phil Ford, and Andrew Cartmel, about their episodes that never were. It's a really interesting article, and I'm not just saying that because I'm in it - although, obviously, the addition of me makes *everything* 87% more interesting.

Also, the new Torchwood comic has reprinted my Torchwood Magazine story, "Stakes on a Plane", in issues 3 and 4, with what looks like one or two extra illustrations. If you didn't catch it, check it out, and you can also find Gareth David-Lloyd's comic reprinted in two parts as well.

Go and find these quality items, purchase them, read them, love them, hold them close to your heart. Or the editors will come looking for you.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jodie on The Sarah Jane Adventures

Series 4 of The Sarah Jane Adventures continues on CBBC this week, starting today with "Death of the Doctor", and it's a particularly exciting episode for several reasons: Russell T Davies is writing it, Matt Smith is guest starring as the Doctor, it sees the return of Katy Manning as Jo Grant - Jo Grant! - and, most excitingly for me, it features the voice of my ridiculously talented wife Jodie Kearns in some of Sam Watts' brilliant music.

She also did some vocals for part 2 of Joe Lidster's "The Nightmare Man" story that opened series 4, and you can hear that here at Sam's website - scroll down and play the track called "I Wasn't Talking To You". She's at the start, but also breaks into full on operatic mayhem towards the end, it's fantastic.

It's so cool and strange hearing Jodie singing on a TV show I love, particularly a Doctor Who related show, it feels almost like she's suddenly walked into shot. But I get the same feeling when she's on stage, for a moment I panic, and think "OMG! She's walked on stage! In the middle of someone's show!" - then my brain remembers she's supposed to be there. And now her voice is inside the TV. It be witchcraft, I tells ya!

Part 1 is on Monday 25th October, 5.15pm, CBBC, or Wednesday 27th, 4.30pm, BBC1. Part 2 is on Thursday 28th, 4.30pm, BBC1, or Friday 29th, 9am, CBBC. Glue your eyeballs to the nearest TV, and watch. Note: please do not *actually* glue your eyeballs to anything, this will cause irreparable damage to your sight and I will go to prison forever.

Update! Here's a piece of Sam's music from the episode, featuring Jodie's vocals. Go listen!

Friday, October 22, 2010

No news is good news, unless it's bad, or nothing at all

Blimey, got into a good rhythm there, a blog entry every Monday, then it wobbled, skipped, and now it's been a month. But sometimes I can't think of anything to talk about that deserves a full post. I'd rather just wait until I have something to say, rather than force an entry (if you'll pardon the expression). It's much easier to spout random silliness on The Twitter, which I do quite a lot.

And there isn't always much to say. I write, at home, and even when I'm working on cool scripts with monsters and aliens and serial killers, it's just me, sitting at a desk or on a sofa, typing (or pacing around and swearing). Sometimes I meet producers, directors, etc, in tiny offices in central London, and we talk about the pieces of paper I've written on. I go back home, and write more. It's only when things get made that there's actual *stuff* to report here. As I've been busily working on all new stuff in development for well over a year now, there's not a lot to announce yet.

Several TV things are waiting for people to say yes or no, as are several movie things. One of the TV things is at first draft stage, one has a 3rd draft, and now moving to series outline, one has just got the go ahead to start outlining episode 1, one is a pitch that a production company is interested in. Two movies have first drafts - one is Project Stab, a spec horror comedy, one is Project Pulp, the script I was commissioned to write. Two more are all written, optioned, and trying to attract funding. Two more are outlines looking for potential backers. One one only exists in my head, and some garbled notes in a text file. They could all suddenly spring to life and get moving, or just get a quiet rejection and die.

Development is slow. It's just the way it is, always has been, always will be. But you line up lots of things, do a draft of one while waiting to hear about another, and hope that one or more will keep going. You can't wait around, you have to take advantage of the time to work on lots of things, and do some specs of your own that will hopefully sell or get you other jobs. So I'm actually quite busy, probably busier than I would be if one or two of them went into full production. This all sounds quite miserable now I read over it, it's not meant to be - just trying to show that even when I'm busily working on several cool things, there's never really much exciting stuff to tell you about. But I get to make up stories for a living, and I love what I do.

There should be actual Things to mention soon though, one will be next week, and others will gradually appear when they're ready. Lots happening behind the scenes though. I'm like a duck, with the swimmy feet under the surface, or something. But the feet are typing on a tiny, underwater computer keyboard. Well, a typewriter, the computer wouldn't work underwater. Although the typewriter would sink. And ducks can't type, even if they could see what their feet were doing. So, not really like that. But you get the idea.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Harlan Ellison's first typewriter

The man, the legend, the one and only Harlan Ellison is auctioning off his very first typewriter. To most of you, I need say no more, as you will be frothing at the mouth and demanding a link to the website. You may go there, right now.

To the rest of you, an explanation is in order. Harlan Ellison is a writer. Here he is, in the textbook "writer holding chin" pose, with the typewriter itself:

The word "writer" is inadequate here, the man conjures up universes and experiences like no other, taking you on wild journeys to places you can scarcely comprehend, every word he writes is hammered directly on to your soul with a typewriter ribbon made from the skins of orphans. He's written a LOT of stories. I mean, a LOT. He's won eight and a half Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards, five Bram Stoker Awards, two Edgar Awards, and tons of other awards, including a few that haven't been invented yet. He's written for TV, on Star Trek, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Man From UNCLE, The Outer Limits, and many more. He lives in the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars, a house ripped directly from M.C. Escher's mind and flung screaming into the real world. He's travelled with the Rolling Stones, marched with Martin Luther King, and could probably take you in a fight, despite being a 76 year old geezer who has had quadruple bypass surgery. He's pretty fucking amazing, is what I'm saying.

You can read a couple of his stories and essays here, check out interviews with him here, order books direct from his website here, or get electronic versions here. Try "Dreams With Sharp Teeth", or "Shatterday", or "Slippage", if you're not sure where to start, and go from there.

Harlan Ellison writes on a typewriter. Always has, always will. He doesn't need autocorrect or delete or any of that wimpy nonsense, computer keyboards aren't strong enough to withstand his words. So auctioning off his *very first* typewriter is a big deal. If you know and love his work, then you'll definitely want to get hold of the very machine on which some of his stories were written.

If you're in the market for a piece of literary history, then run, don't walk, over to this website here, and warm up your bidding fingers. You know it makes sense.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"TARDIS" interview and Highlander teaser

Two mini items for your blogular pleasure:

I recently did an interview about "TARDIS", my episode of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games, in which I talk about… well, the game, obviously. It was filmed in the Big Finish studios, where Sarah Douglas was recording her lines as The Entity - I got to meet her, the lovely Nicholas Briggs, and the equally lovely Barnaby Edwards. I'd just recovered from an attack of the Space Virus, so I look a bit bewildered and tired, but I think I mostly made sense. Anyway, enough of my yakking, go and look at it!

A teaser for the second season of the Highlander audio plays is now online, so feast your ears upon the Big Finish podcast to hear it (direct link to mp3 file, the teaser bit starts at around 19 minutes 43 seconds). You can pre-order the plays now, from here - they're 4 linked stories, I wrote the 4th one, and the brilliant Scott Andrews wrote the first 3. Don't forget, Big Finish makes its audios easily available to buy and download, for very reasonable prices, and they don't punish honest customers with silly DRM - so please don't nick it or give away copies, they work really hard to give you quality entertainment, and they deserve your support and cash.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"TARDIS" game available now!

"TARDIS", my episode of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games is available now, at this link! It's free to download for UK folk, but don't worry if you're outside the UK - you can buy it here!*

I've been working on the game for ages, and am incredibly pleased with it. I've never written a game before, it was a fascinating, fun process. In many ways, it's like working on a TV show that's in production, and working within the constraints of their sets, characters, and props - but it's also completely different, because you have to allow for gameplay, but there are no limits to what you can show. It was great fun writing it, and I hope you enjoy playing it. Just be careful with those controls!

Update! The thing I couldn't tell you until now: the main villain in this is voiced by the only and only Sarah Douglas, who you will know from the first two Superman movies, the original V series, Stargate SG-1, Falcon Crest, and many, many more movies and TV shows. I'm ridiculously excited that she's playing a part I wrote, and I got to meet her at a recording session, which was amazing. She plays The Entity, and is absolutely brilliant. Now go! Download! Play!

*We get it free because we pay for a TV licence to get the BBC, and we also get one free trip in the TARDIS per year included in that fee, so if you don't want to pay the few dollars/euros/whatever, just come to live here, and get a TV licence. Simples!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"TARDIS" script teaser, videos and screenshots

A special script teaser for "TARDIS", my episode of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games, is now up on the BBC website, as well as some videos (including an intro by Karen) and screenshots. The script teaser is written by me, and shows the events leading right up to the very first scene of the game, so you'll get a sneak peek at where the Doctor and Amy are before the game starts. But you'll have to wait until you get hold of the game to find out what happens next! I know! But you only have to wait another day…

In the meantime, you can just re-read the script teaser over and over, or go for a walk, or draw a picture, or watch telly. You have options, that's what I'm saying. Until tomorrow! When you have one option, and one option only: download the game, and then play it. TWO options, you have only two options. But blimey, what lovely options.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Doctor Who: The Adventure Games - "TARDIS"

"TARDIS", my episode of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games is released this Friday, 27th August. There's a new monster, a new type of dangerous situation, and yes, you'll be able to control the TARDIS yourself. I know! I'm really excited to see it go out into the world, even more so now since I discovered that-- oh, but I can't say that yet. You'll find out… There's all sorts of fun things to discover, which I'll talk about once the information is released.

Both the PC and Mac versions will be out on the same day, and those of you outside the UK won't have to wait either - it'll be released for you to buy at the same time. You can still buy the first two online here, and I imagine TARDIS will be available in the same place. As before, I don't know any more technical details than that, I'm at the creative end, luvvies. Also I'd probably get something wrong, so I just copy stuff from official releases to make sure I get it right.

And there'll be a cool thing happening tomorrow, related to the game, which I can't possibly tell you about right now. Just wait until tomorrow!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sex, Wales & Anarchy 3

Sex, Wales and Anarchy is an event for unsigned musicians and artists, a "showcase for the overlooked", organised by Newport's own Gareth David-Lloyd. It's on at The Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay, Saturday 4th September from 2pm, and will feature all sorts of bands, art, spoken word, tattoos, graffiti, and much more. A late addition to the guests is an extremely handsome, talented writer called - oh, how predictably yet surprisingly embarrassing! It's me! There's loads of people and stuff to see, so I'm really looking forward to it. I'll be doing a panel about Girl Number 9, an independent production starring Gareth, and talking about what it takes to make a web show on your own terms.

You can also see Gareth's band Blue Gillespie, poet Patrick Jones (the brother of Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers), folk singer Maddie Jones, and loads more, including a Swansea metal band, and some Newport drum & bass. It should be a brilliant day (and night, it goes on till 4am or something - but I've phoned my mum and she says I can stay up), so come along if you like the sound of that, say hello, and see some cool, clever people doing cool, clever stuff.

Ticket details are here (warning: features a picture of a lady's bum, if you're at work), it's 10 quid for the day, 10 for the night, or 15 for the whole thing, but you must be 18 or over. The Facebook page is here, and they're on The Twitter here - they've even got a Retweeting competition to win 2 tickets, so get in there quick while you can. Fly, my pretties! Fly!

Monday, August 16, 2010

'Tis the season to be jolly

It's almost that magical time of year again! Feels like it starts earlier every time - this year it all kicked off in July, if you can imagine such a thing. But as long as we remember the true meaning, that's what really matters. I'm talking, of course, about FrightFest, the 5 day horror film festival.

I've been going for years, it's always great fun, with premieres, early showings, special guests, previews, snippets of things that are still shooting, short films, silly ads, trailers, and all sorts of cool stuff. It's 5 days of horror, sometimes with a few thrillers and science fiction movies thrown in, 25 films on the main screen, with 10 more on the alternative screen to choose from. In 2006 my first movie, Severance, opened the festival, which was a huge thrill for me.

A question people regularly ask is "why the hell would you want to watch horror films for 5 days? Or even one day? Or even one film?" And it's a good question. Why would I want to sit and watch something that will horrify, scare, shock and disturb me? Is there something wrong with me? And why would I want to *write* something like that? Isn't the world a bad enough place without wanting to add to it?

Well, for me, and lots of people, watching (and writing) horror feels good. You get to explore your darkest fears in a safe environment, get taken to the edge and then brought back safely again. All of your worries are played out on screen and, usually, they're not half as bad as you can imagine. In a lot of horror movies, after the nasty stuff, you get to see the victim fight back and defeat the killer, which is hugely cathartic for the viewer. They show you that yes, bad things do happen, but sometimes, people can get through it, stop the bad person hurting them, and come out the other side, stronger, braver.

Not all horror has a happy ending, of course, and it doesn't have to. Sometimes it takes you to a dark place, and leaves you there, a bit broken. That's less fun, but just as important. Again, it lets you explore your fears safely, takes you out of your comfort zone for a while, and gives you some solid scares along the way. Maybe the movie had a bleak ending, but when it ends, hey, it was only a movie! And hopefully you've learned something, or faced something you didn't think you could, or at least been told a compelling, extreme story.

Like most genres, horror has phases and cycles, high points, and low points. Some people (and horror filmmakers) still seem to think it's the 1950s, and that only teenage boys watch horror - which results in shoddy, embarrassing work. The audience is actually a good mix of male and female, young and old, and they're really smart. Underestimate them at your peril. Luckily, most filmmakers realise that now. There's still plenty of bad horror being made, but there's a lot of great stuff. Like all the best masked killers, horror never dies, it always gets back up for another scare.

Sometimes horror is pure entertainment, over the top gore and splatter, which is fun because it's so ridiculously extreme. Sometimes it sneaks in social commentary, making clever points about the way we live our lives. And sometimes it's just a bloke in a mask stabbing people and making you jump, which is fine too. It's all there to make you feel something, to laugh, gasp, scream, cry. You never quite know what to expect, especially when going to a 5 day festival of horror films, most of which you've never heard of.

And that's why I love horror, and love going to FrightFest every year. It's Horror Christmas. Maybe I'll see you there. Merry FrightFest!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Doctor Who games outside the UK, Torchwood, other projects

People outside the UK can now buy the first two episodes of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games, for the bargain price of $4.95. They're available here, seems to be just the Windows version at the moment, no idea if/when the Mac versions will be available - ask them, not me.

Also, not many people have picked up on this, but one of the characters in Blood of the Cybermen is voiced by Ursa herself, the fantastic Sarah Douglas. Yes! I know! No news yet about the release date of the 3rd and 4th games, but we're all working hard to get them finished for your gaming pleasure. I'll update when the announcements start appearing.

In related news, I'm ridiculously excited to see that Jane Espenson, Doris Egan, John Fay, and John Shiban are the writing team for the new season of Torchwood, with Russell writing and showrunning. They're all brilliant, and I can't wait to see what Jane Espenson does, I adore her writing. As I've already said on The Twitter, that is literally all I know about it, there's no point asking me anything, I'm not involved in any way, so I only know as much as you.

And if I've just sent you a link to this blog post, it means that since I wrote that last sentence, more than ten people have asked me for information or if I'm writing for it. It will happen, I know it will - people are *still* asking if I wrote an episode for season 5 of Doctor Who, despite the fact that the series is now over and a quick Google would give them the answer faster than asking me. No, I didn't, by the way. Although the Adventure Games are canon and considered part of season 5, so I suppose, technically, I did. But not one of the TV episodes. I don't know about season 6 yet, or 7, or 8, or any of the others. I'm not working on the new series of Primeval either, don't know what the storylines will be, but wouldn't be allowed to say even if I did know. But I don't, honest. My guess, for Primeval? Dinosaurs will be involved in some way. Don't tell anyone I told you.

Things I actually *am* working on: One TV pilot script (an action show, in development, going well), one horror comedy movie ("Cockneys Vs Zombies", shooting soon), one movie adaptation (from a non-fiction book, I'm at outline stage), "Mercenary", a movie suspense thriller (seeking funding, with a production company), a movie of my own (currently shopping it out to interested parties), some web stuff (one's written, all have pitches, all seeking funding), another web thingy for a TV channel (waiting for contract agreements), and a couple of possible TV things that are at pitch stage, which I'm shopping around. There's also another project that I'm hoping to announce in a week or two, if all goes well. That's everything I can think of, right now. See? Even when I *do* know about stuff, I can't really say much about it. But watch this space! News will happen soon! Not *very* soon, probably. So, you know, you could make a cup of tea or something while you wait. Maybe a few cups. And a meal.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Dealing with writer's block, or "getting stuck"

Okay, this is long. Looooooong. Looooooo-oooooooo-oooooooooooong. But I get asked about this a lot, so I wanted to do it justice and talk through how I deal with it, so… tough luck, I guess. Also, there's some swearing.

Contains some spoilers for Severance, the Region 2 DVD of which is only £3.99 at now, or £1.99 second hand from their marketplace, and blimey, some Amazon marketplaces even have it for a penny. For Region 1 folks, Amazon US has it new for $5.82, or used for $1.44. So why not pick up a copy? [/shamelessplug] Also spoilers for Raiders of the Lost Ark, a *much* better movie that you really, really should have seen by now, and mild spoilers for Serenity, Die Hard, and Jurassic Park 3.

In a previous post, I had a bit of a rant about writer's block. A lot of people declare that it doesn't exist, but it does, if by writer's block you mean "getting stuck", because that's basically what it is. Well, when I get stuck, I have a few things I try to get me started again. I said that the next post would be about those things. Er. That was back in March 2006. I got stuck while writing this, and put it off. Yeah, I know. But hey, better late than never. Make sure you've read that original post first, as I'll use it to address the different ways of getting stuck. Go on, I'll wait here. Are you back? That was quick. Okay, now you can read on.

Disclaimer: These are all things that work for me. It is not a "how to write" guide. Just some of my own personal writing process, which I feel weird and self indulgent writing about, but lots of people wanted to know. Feel free to ignore this and do something completely different, in fact that would be a relief because it takes responsibility away from me. Your mileage may vary. And when I say "mileage", I mean "arse".

--I have no idea what happens next
--I can't figure out how to end this

These are the most common ways to get stuck. Obviously, this shouldn't happen in a script, because you'll have worked the story out in an outline first. But you could be stuck on the outline, or maybe the script has veered off from the outline a bit and you need a brand new thing to happen next.

So you think of a few things that could happen next, but they're all predictable and obvious. Say the baddie pulls a gun on the goodie. How does the goodie escape? Your solutions: the goodie leaps on to the baddie, or leaps out of the way, or pulls his own gun, or reveals that he secretly took the bullets out of the baddie's gun earlier - all been done. How can he realistically escape? It has to be something surprising, outrageous, something you couldn't possibly see coming. Great, now you're even more stuck.

Sometimes it helps to make things even worse for the goodie, and see what happens. For example: The goodie has no way out, but his friend turns up to save him. Very convenient - oh, but the friend betrays him, and pulls a gun too! And the building is on fire! Now the goodie has two guns and a fire to face, and your stuckness has reached epic proportions. But if faced with two guns and a fire, you'd probably just jump out of the window. Why not? So you make the goodie jump out of the window. Gun and fire problem: solved. Sure, you now have a new, even bigger problem to solve, but hey, at least you're into the next bit and away from that pesky baddie with a gun. How does the goodie survive the fall?? You'll think of something. Just make things even more impossible than before, add more complications - and maybe one of those new complications will give you a way out.

That's another possible solution - getting the goodie out of a bad situation by using the tools of that bad situation. The classic example is the goodie tied to a chair inside a burning building. It looks like certain death - but instead of inching away from the fire, the goodie shuffles towards it, and holds the rope next to it - the rope catches fire, burns, and the goodie is able to free herself. She gets mildly injured in the process, so it's not an easy fix, but she did it using the tools of the bad situation - the fire, the rope. Now she can dive out of the window to escape, and give you another story problem to solve (see above).

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a textbook example of this - Indiana Jones gets into a series of bad situations, which just keep getting worse. He uses the things around him to get out of trouble, and then gets into even more trouble. Trapped in an underground cavern, with loads of snakes, he uses one of the statues to break through a wall - and almost gets killed in the process. He realises the Ark is being loaded on to a plane - he has to get on that plane somehow. He sneaks to the plane - but a huge German guy (Pat Roach, legend) catches him. But no, it's worse - the German wants to fight him, too. But no, it's worse - the pilot's trying to shoot him while he fights. Luckily Marion knocks out the pilot with some blocks of wood - which were stopping the plane from moving. Now the plane is moving, and Marion's stuck inside the cockpit. *AND* the fuel is leaking, and about to catch fire. Marion escapes, but the plane blows up. And now the Ark has been taken away in some truck. And so on. Anything and everything that can go wrong, does - and then gets worse. It's great fun.

--I don't know where this is going
--60 pages in, and I've run out of story
--I have nothing to say with this script, it's not about anything
--I have 8 weeks to write this, no more, and if I'm not finished it by then, I'm fucked, oh shit, 3 weeks left, I haven't even started properly yet, where the hell do I begin?

Either you've had the idea, and are trying to figure out what the hell happens overall, or you've run out of story. For both, the solution is to go back to your original idea, and let it give you the answers. So let's take a silly idea for a movie: "MonkeySpank, the Movie". A man is turned into a monkey for 24 hours, and framed for murder. How do you spin a 90 minute movie script out of that? Is it enough? What happens? What is it about?

My usual process, once I have an idea, is fairly simple. I brainstorm everything and anything that could possibly be related to that core idea, writing it all down in a stream of consciousness, sentences, fragments, paragraphs, asking myself questions, answering them, jokes, dialogue lines, random scenes, characters, anything at all, even if it doesn't fit. It usually looks a lot like this next paragraph:

There could be a bit with a car chase, where the monkey has to learn how to drive, maybe it steals a special toy car for kids so it can reach the pedals. Maybe the murderer knows the monkey is the framed man, and is trying to kill it, but maybe an animal rights group is trying to stop him, or maybe there's an outbreak of MonkeyFlu and the government has ordered a cull on all wild monkeys, so the police are after him too. How did he get turned into a monkey? Does the real killer have magic powers to curse people into monkey form, or is the hero a scientist who invented a transmogrification machine? Hey, maybe the monkey guy was the scientist and the killer threw him into the machine and turned him into a monkey to steal his idea, maybe the machine gets out of control and starts changing other people, maybe animals become humans, etc etc.

I write pages and pages of this. Just thinking it through, working out things to do, things I want to say. I research real life stories related to the subject, find links, photos, songs, anything that might come in handy. It allows me to be completely creative without limiting myself, letting my mind explore the idea, characters and world fully. I write down *anything* that could be in the story, don't second guess it. I'll think of things that would never occur to me if I just went straight to an outline first. Now, most of that couldn't possibly be in the same film, it'd be a total mess. But it gives me options. I can spin random stuff off from any of it, come up with random characters who want different things, random tangents, and so on. And after several pages of thinking up stuff, some of it will come together, some pieces will naturally stick to each other, and a proper plot will start to form. Once I've figured out the best plot line to take, I can ditch anything that doesn't fit (or make it fit), and keep everything that does. Hopefully, that'll avoid me picking one particular plot line, and getting stuck by trying to follow it through. Now I can start putting it all into an outline, usually 3 to 6 pages, keeping it fairly lean and not too detailed - I've got all the detail I need in the brainstorm notes, the outline is to help pitch the story, and/or a guideline for me when writing the script.

Sometimes it doesn't work like that, sometimes I'll come up with a fully formed idea with a beginning, middle and end that just needs fleshing out. Sometimes it'll be a character I want to see, or a scene, or just an image. Sometimes I'll think of the ending first, and work backwards: the goodie traps the killer in the transmogrifier, turns him into a chicken, and cooks and eats it. How do I get there? How would a monkey trap a man in a machine? What would he need to set up? How would he lure him there? How would I do it, if I was in that situation? And so on. But the brainstorm process will hopefully prevent me getting stuck later, as I'll have lots of possible solutions, and can always go back to my notes and find things to use.

--I have the beginning and the end, but how the fuck do I come up with a middle bit to connect them?
--I'm doing the middle bit, but I'm just making shit up to try and connect acts 1 and 3
--I'm halfway through this, but it's shit

Ah, the Act 2 slump, or "getting stuck on the middle bit", to give it the proper title. Okay, so at the start of "MonkeySpank, the Movie", the guy gets framed for murder and turned into a monkey. At the end, he unmasks the real killer, clears his own name, and gets turned back into a human. But in the middle bit?? No idea. You've got some random things from your brainstorming sessions, but is that enough? So I put myself in the main character's position. If I found myself in that situation, what would I do to try and sort myself out? I'd probably try to communicate with someone - but I can only make monkey noises. Okay, so I'd probably try to write things down - but my monkey dexterity only helps with running and climbing, I can't really hold a pen properly. Well then I'd point at things - but how would I get people to take me seriously?? I'm a monkey!

I think of everything I might try, and make the main character try them too. But I make sure he fails, or is stopped by the baddie. That way, the goodie is constantly active, trying to solve his problems, and constantly getting thwarted. The audience will be thinking of all the sensible things they'd do, and will get annoyed if the characters don't try them. One of my biggest complaints when watching movies are characters with no common sense. Why don't they just call the police/get out of town/leave the creepy cabin in the woods/etc etc? Well, why don't they?? Let them try! Then throw obstacles in their path. It'll keep it surprising and exciting. Give them missions to go on, plans to try, places to investigate. Keep them active.

As soon as the first injury happens in Severance, and they find the coach, I thought "well, if that was me, I'd just get the fuck out of there" - so they do. They get on the coach, and leave. But a creepy man puts a spiky thingy on the road to blow the tyres, and it crashes the coach. They're too far away from civilisation, so they have to go back to the cabin to barricade themselves in. The whole time, they're trying to get out of the situation, to save themselves. You've got to make sure the characters have lots to do, and that they behave realistically (in the context of the story setup). Come up with interesting, complicated characters, throw a load of mayhem at them, and see how they react. Some will surprise you. In Serenity, Mal comes face to face with the main villain, the Operative, who is unarmed and just wants to talk. So Mal does the sensible thing, and shoots him. In Die Hard, John McClane is barefoot, only has a handgun, and is faced with a large group of terrorists - so he hides, and tries to call for help.

--I need character A to be in location B, but the way I've written it, character A would *never* go to location B, and I can't just do it for the sake of it, so how the hell do I make it convincing?

This is another variation of "getting stuck on the middle bit". Outlines are great, but sometimes, when you get down to script level, you'll realise that a plot point doesn't actually work. This happens a lot. So you improvise. You've already put yourself in the goodie's shoes, try putting yourself in the baddie's shoes. Pretend the baddie is the hero, the main character. What does he want? How will he accomplish it? What would you do if you desperately wanted the goodie dead? Pretend the goodie is the baddie, how would you punish them, and stop them achieving their plans?

Sure, character A would *never* go to the creepy old sawmill, but what could possibly drag them there? Are they taken there at gunpoint? Is their friend trapped there? Do they find out that the only possible solution to their current problem is hidden under a floorboard in the sawmill? You can show the character's reluctance to go there, just force them into it, and have them complain along the way. For example, Dr Grant in Jurassic Park 3 refuses to go back to the island ever again. They promise him a large amount of money just to fly over it, so he can point things out from the air - they won't even land. He reluctantly agrees, then they land anyway. They lied, and now Sam Neill is stuck on the island - and it's not even the right island, he was only ever on the other one (by the way, for fun, try to count the amount of dramatic camera moves towards Sam Neill's face as he makes an ominous statement, there are TONS of them). In Serenity, the crew constantly try to keep themselves out of trouble, but things just get worse and worse (see above about making things worse for your heroes), until they have no choice but to face the threat head on (keeping it vague despite the spoiler warning, cause I just couldn't bear to ruin it for even one person).

--I've had about a hundred ideas over the past year, and every single one has been shit, didn't go anywhere, and was a complete waste of time
--I've spent months working on this outline/idea, but it's just fallen to pieces and won't work, so it was a complete waste of time
--I can't think of anything good, interesting, or original

Okay, this one is just moaning and feeling sorry for yourself. We've all done it, and still do it. But you haven't "lost your words", or are unable to write anything ever again. You've just had a run of bad ideas. Nothing is a waste of time - if you're writing or thinking up ideas, your writing brain is working. It'll be even stronger when you finally come up with something good. Stop overthinking it. For several months when writing Severance, before I knew anyone would buy it and make it, my brain kept saying : "Why would you bother writing a horror film, when there's stuff out there like Halloween, The Thing, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Haunting, Alien, etc? *Anything* you come up with will pale in comparison, what's the point of writing some shitty slasher movie when it's been done SO much better before, SO many times?? Ooh, you've got a character about to open a door but he's scared the killer is on the other side, gee, never seen THAT before…"

This is your inner critic. You must ignore it. You must kick it to death and set it on fire. Like the best horror villains though, it will of course come back to life and attack you again. Ignore it, don't worry about other movies, follow your own path. Come up with the best possible version of *your* story.

--This ending isn't working, and I don't even know why, I just know it's no good
--I've solved all the problems, it's technically perfect, but it's just not interesting or "alive"

If you're still stuck on one idea, or one script, write something else. Anything, another story, another idea, brainstorm it again, or brainstorm something else again, go for a walk, watch a movie, have some cake, read a book, read a newspaper, research bizarre occurrences, fill your mind with other stuff, and the ideas will come. If the script is done, but a bit lifeless, go over it again, do another draft. Throw in some jokes, some scares, some surprises. Every decision everyone makes, ask yourself: would I, as an audience member, see that coming? Is it plausible? What if they did something else? Do characters just accept decisions without argument? Did they achieve that too easily? Make it harder for them.

Watch a bad movie. How would you fix it? What is the most annoying part of the plot? What would make it good? Analyse where it went wrong. What common mistakes do bad movies always make? How can you make sure your story doesn't make them? Watch a great movie. Why is it great? Any tricks it uses particularly well? Would any of those apply to your current problem?

Do anything and everything you can, overload yourself with sensory input, and *something* will spark off an idea somewhere that might come in handy. Even if it's for something else entirely, by the time you finish writing it down, your brain will be in a creative place, and ready to come up with more ideas. You can't force ideas out of nowhere, but you can get yourself into a state of mind where ideas are more likely to occur to you.

--They're going to hate this, it sucks
--I suck
--I'm ugly, too
--They're going to realise I'm a fraud, I lucked into this whole thing, I'm a big, sucky, ugly fraud

Sure, they might hate it. But have you given it everything you can? Have you made sure the plot twists are surprising, that the characters behave realistically? Have you poured your heart and soul into it? Have you done your absolute best? Are you an exhausted wreck? Then you've done your bit. If they hate it, they'll tell you why, and maybe you can fix it based on their notes. Or maybe they're wrong. Or maybe it just sucks and can't be fixed. There's only one way to find out. Send it. It's always better to know.

You will always feel like a fraud, sorry, that never goes away. If it's any consolation, I'm now convinced that this entire post is absolute shite and way too long, and am considering just not posting it, or cutting it back to the first few paragraphs. But if I start fiddling, it'll never, ever be done, and it'll be another 4 years before I come back to it. So here it is, for better or worse.

Oh, and you're not ugly. I promise. Although you are now significantly older than you were when you started reading this post. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

GameCityNights 6

So I seem to have been pretty steadily doing a new post every Monday, purely by accident (although last Monday's was deliberately aimed there), and I built up a backlog of stuff so that I'd always be ahead of the game and not fall behind. Until yesterday - I was out all day and had run out of reserve posts. But hey, what's a day between internet chums, eh internet chums??

Last Friday I went to the 6th GameCityNights event in Nottingham, which was brilliant fun. I was there with Charles Cecil (gaming overlord) and Anwen Aspden (BBC Interactive Exec Producer overlord - overlady?) to talk about Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. It went very well, and was the sort of place you could safely drop in a reference to the strange descriptive text you get in the Resident Evil games when examining items that are of no use.

Once the panel was over, I was given a massive cocktail called a TARDIS, which was very blue and tasty. And then they kept giving me more, helping me work my way through the menu (cocktail ingredients, pics and more details here). They had lots of local developers there to show off their stuff, including a really lovely game called Blind Girl. You play a blind girl (hence the name) who navigates around a series of weird environments using the sound waves from her footsteps, or from a song that she sings. It was great, and I hope they do a PS3 and/or iPhone version so I can give them money. At the moment it's available on Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, so go and check it out if you can. I don't have links to the other games, due to a terrible memory, but if anyone wants me to link them up here, say the word and I'll update the post.

Thank you to everyone involved for being so welcoming and fun, and particularly to Chloe who got me *two* cocktails, and then poured me into a minicab once my brain had shut down. Oh, and sorry we couldn't really say anything about the next games, hopefully we'll be able to come back another time when one or both of them have been released. If you're in the area, or thinking of being in the area, go along to their events, you'll have a great time - check their website for details.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My backup process

About 15 years ago, I lost 4 pages of work due to a computer crash. It still hurts. It always will. Even though I can't actually remember what the hell it was, the point is, I lost that work and it was my fault for not saving often enough.

Never again.

I get baffled when I see, even now, fellow writers *still* losing work when it could be avoided. Sure, sometimes despite your best efforts, the technology will fail and take something from you. But you can try to limit the damage. So here's what I do. Obviously you all have your own methods, technology, your mileage may vary, etc etc. But this works for me. This is my rifle backup process. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

1: Create a new file, and SAVE IT IMMEDIATELY. Don't create a new file, start working for several hours, and then go "ah, better save my work so far". The computer or the software will know that you haven't saved, and will crash or explode. But if you have already named and saved it, you can just keep hitting Apple-S or Ctrl-S every few minutes as you go. My hand is trained to do so. I don't even realise I'm doing it anymore. I get palpitations when I see someone working on a large file called "Document 7" or whatever, indicating they haven't actually saved it yet. Save the file, save the world.

2: At the end of the work day, save the file one last time. If you're using screenwriting software, save it as a rich text file (.RTF) and as a PDF too, just in case the software stops working or the original file format gets corrupted. Sometimes I'll do this halfway through the day as well, if it's something I really, really, really don't want to lose.

3: Email the files you saved to a special Gmail account you have created just for backup. You get over 7GB of storage, which you'll probably never fill with documents. In the subject line, put the title, filename, draft number, and what page you are on. This will help you know what stage you were at, in the event you need to go looking for a copy. I usually put the draft number in the filename too.

4: The next day, copy the file (so you have a "Filename_copy" backup right there in the folder), start working, and repeat steps 2 and 3. Every day, you have a copy of the day's work sent to your Gmail backup, so you will have copies of *everything*.

5: Once a month, copy your entire user folder or documents folder to a portable hard drive. Do not use this drive for anything else.

6: Once every 6 months, copy your files to a different hard drive. Try to keep both drives in another location, or even in different parts of the house.

That's it. If your 6 monthly backup drive dies, you have your monthly backup drive. If that drive dies, you have a copy of every single day's work, and every single draft, in your backup Gmail account. The constant Apple-S or Ctrl-S and emailing the file to yourself means that if there's a crash, you should only ever lose a few minutes' work. Gmail is free, hard drives are fairly cheap. There's no reason to be careless. Update: I also use Dropbox as an extra layer of safety, and for accessing files on the move - it's free, has 2GB of storage, and when you copy a file into the special folder, it automatically syncs across any devices/browsers/computers you want to access it from. Very useful. That's not my referral link by the way, because it'd make it look like I was only mentioning it to get free extra space.

Obviously this won't help you if you accidentally delete or overwrite the file at the end of the day just before emailing it to yourself. So try not to do that. But even if you're taking a break for lunch, email a copy of the file to yourself, just in case. Or even any time you get a few pages done. Only takes a minute to email a copy to your backup Gmail account. Just get a copy of it somewhere away from your main computer, as soon as possible.

Yes, it's a little bit over cautious and obsessive, I admit. But hey, I'm a writer. Paranoia and constant fear go with the territory. Now go and back up your files! Quickly! Before something goes wrong!

Monday, July 12, 2010

First 10 pages, minor character names, and the Red Planet Prize

Okay, so the announcements that "should be coming soon" haven't actually arrived yet, but that's just the way of the world. You can never predict when they'll choose to announce stuff, the marketing strategies of big companies are run according to an arcane system of rune casting and entrail reading, by a blind sorcerer who lives in a cupboard. They have to check what other announcements they or other companies have got planned, so as not to be overshadowed. If they announce too early, they risk people getting bored and forgetting about it by the time it's released. Too late, and there's not enough time to build up a buzz. All of which means I have no news today. Don't blame me, blame the entrails.

Somebody was talking on The Twitter the other day about naming minor characters in scripts. The theory is, you can bring a bit of life to a tiny, two-line character, and make it a more enticing prospect for an actor - they'd much prefer to put "Jack 'Hammer' McTavish" on their list of credits instead of "Security guard 2", "Fat bloke", or "Idiot who falls over and shits his pants". So I try to name them when I can. Unless it's the opening 10 pages.

Why not there? Well, if it's a pilot episode, you've got enough new characters to introduce without confusing the issue. If you have your 4 or 5 main characters appearing and speaking, and another 4 or 5 named minor characters popping up with a line here and there, you risk overloading the reader with names to remember in the first few pages. They don't know which ones will be sticking around for the series yet. I don't like to do it, but when trying to grab someone's attention, I don't want to lose them. So I'll use Guard 1 or Shopkeeper, just so the reader knows who to focus on. Sure, your main characters should be fascinating and brilliant enough that it's *obvious* who to focus on. But sometimes, for the sake of clarity and not overloading the page with too much information, it's better to start this way. If that minor character is in the whole episode and part of the main plot, then of course they should be named. But not people who only pop up briefly in that opening section.

Once I've set everyone up in those first 10 pages - I want my main characters right there up front, to show them off - then I can give the minor characters names after that point. Hopefully by then I've done my job properly, and the reader will know who the main characters are and what they're all about. If the thing goes into production, then after it goes out to casting I'll give it a quick pass through and name everyone, as by then everyone will have read it. Even if it's episode 4 and your main characters are already set up, you'll have guest characters and a new story to introduce, so it's still better to keep those first 10 pages clear.

And yes, of course you shouldn't have to dumb anything down, the reader should have patience and stick with it and pay attention to your amazing multi-character story, why is the world so unfair blah blah blah - but it's only a small thing that I reckon makes a big difference. Works for me, your mileage may vary, etc etc. It's hard enough keeping someone's attention in those first 10 pages, and I'll do anything I can to avoid making it more difficult.

Speaking of the first 10 pages, the Red Planet Prize is up and running again, they want to see the first 10 pages of your TV script, and you need to enter it. No entry fee, first prize of £5000, a script commission, an agent, and some priceless mentoring from Red Planet and Kudos. Some runners up get the mentoring too, so it's well worth your time entering. Details are at Sir Daniel of Stackshire's blog here, and he's even written up some helpful tips here. Deadline is 31st July, which doesn't leave much time - but they only want the first 10 pages, and a one page outline of the series or episode. But you could be asked for the full 60 minute script by the end of August, so you still have time to get a script together. Danny's got all the rules and details on his blog - go and read, then get writing, if you haven't started already. Worst case scenario: you've written a brand new script. Go and hit that keyboard.

Monday, July 05, 2010


You've probably noticed that I've done a bit of a blog redecoration and cleanup. The sidebar was getting a bit dusty, and I've had the previous template for ages, so it was time to change things around, now that there are some lovely new templates available. Had no idea that Blogger now lets you create separate standalone pages, so there's now a Contact Details page. Oh, and there's a fancy new Twitter widget, replacing the simple link I had before. I'm sure everyone found out about these new Blogger things ages ago, but I'm a bit late to the party. Fashionably late, surely. But it's all good fun.

Hey, you know what else is fun?? Saying something tiny and vague on The Twitter about various cool news items, which people then misquote, deciding you said something else entirely so they can get all annoyed about it. That's *lots* of fun! Oh wait, no it's not fun at all, my mistake, it's a boring pain in the arse. For future reference: if you have an issue with something I've said, please make sure I actually said it before you respond, it's less confusing that way. You know, if it's not too much trouble. Thanks! Love you! Well, most of you! And I look forward to finding out how this paragraph means I hate Albanian joggers, or something.

There should be some announcements soon, as things I've worked on start coming together. Keep watching the skies! Well, keep watching the blog, as the announcements will be here, and not in the skies. Otherwise it'd cost a fortune in skywriting.

Friday, July 02, 2010

TV Writers' Festival

Just heading back home from the TV Writers' Festival, which was incredibly helpful and energising. Speakers included Tony Marchant, Jack Thorne, Lizzy Mickery, Polly Hill, Ben Stephenson, and loads more, and the panels were just what I was hoping for, with people I'm in awe of. I remember when I first saw Holding On, and Common As Muck, and still wish I could do something like that. Very inspiring, though it had the effect of making me want to run off and get writing, so probably good that it was only a 2 day event. Only downside for me was missing a couple of panels I really wanted to see, several brilliant things were scheduled at the same time, resulting in some tough choices. Maybe next time it could be longer, without the double sessions. But being spoilt for choice isn't a terrible complaint, it was such a great event. Great to see what must have been a 50/50 male/female ratio in attendees, too, which can only be a good thing for the future of the industry.

Also met loads of fellow writers, some I've met before, some I haven't. All were absolutely lovely and fun to be around. Except that Arnopp chap, he's a right troublemaker- he stabbed three people just for asking him if he wanted tea. Very bad form.

I won't do loads of notes about each session, as I'm sure lots of people will post their own, proper reports online - but I'll link to any good ones I find. If you didn't go, I highly recommend getting along to the next one, it's an extremely valuable event and I'm hugely grateful to all involved for putting it on. Special mention to Mr Stephenson, for not only turning up, but staying with us the whole time, being accessible, and conducting lots of panels brilliantly. The man is clearly committed to and passionate about writers and drama, and I was really surprised and pleased to see him getting properly stuck in.

Update: David Bishop has a superb collection of links to writeups about the event here, which is well worth a read.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Barron Knight

Phill Barron is on fire (metaphorically) at the moment, with a couple of fantastic blog posts. He's always on good form, and blisteringly honest, but these two are particularly fine.

The first, in which he is a hero to all of us writers, is an epic win which is still making me laugh.

The second, in which he gives tough love to new writers, is a harsh-but-fair set of answers to common "I can't break in" complaints. Go and read it now. If any of them upset you, or you think "yeah but that doesn't apply to me", then read it again, and again, and again, until it sinks in. Here's an example of the sort of no nonsense stuff you'll get from him:


No they didn’t. Your idea was shit, they just had the same shitty idea. You remember that newspaper article which set you off? Guess fucking what? You weren’t the only person in the world to read it. They just got there first. Tough shit, move on.

Go. Read. And read back through the archives. And hey, even if you disagree with everything, you have to admit - the man can fucking swear for England.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Message in a bottle

Every single person we meet alters the course of our lives in some way. Sometimes they send you on a big diversion, sometimes it's only a subtle course adjustment. You don't always realise at the time, and it's only later you find out they've taken up residence in your head.

September, 2006. I was on a plane with my mate Jay, on our way to the Fantastic Fest, a film festival that was showing Severance. We were a few hours away from landing in Dallas. My in-flight TV wasn't working, so we'd been merrily drinking Jack Daniels to pass the time. Towards the end of the flight, they ran out of JD. We were, understandably, heartbroken. But the guy in the seat next to me offered me his mini bottle, as he had only used a bit of it. I gratefully accepted, and we got chatting.

He was in the army. Must have been about 20, looked really young. He was on his way back from Afghanistan, going home on leave. His daughter had been born while he was away. He'd never seen her in person, never held her in his arms, so obviously he was really looking forward to meeting her. But once his leave was over, he was going back overseas - this time, to Iraq. He wasn't worried though, in fact he was looking forward to it. All of his unit mates were there, and he felt responsible to them. They were there, so he should be there too. He would miss his family, and newborn daughter, of course. But he'd signed up for this, and was going to do his duty. I can't imagine having that strength and courage in the face of such danger. But it was second nature to him. And at least he was getting to see his family now, before he went back over.

Soon after that, it was time to land. We said our goodbyes, and wished each other luck. We must have chatted for about 10, maybe 20 minutes. But I've wondered, pretty much every week since then, how he is, and if he's okay. Obviously there are many, many more who serve, and they always have my absolute support and admiration. But he was the only one I've actually met in person, so I can't stop wondering what happened to him.

He seemed like a really good guy. I hope he had a great time with his family. I hope he made it through his time in Iraq, and got home safely. I hope he's safe and well now.

And I hope that one day, I get to meet him again. I owe the man a drink.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here's the part where, hopefully, you enter the story. I would really, really love to find out who he is and if he's okay, so if you know him, or know of him, or *are* him, please get in touch (email address on the contact details page linked under my profile up on the right). The tricky thing is, I'm terrible at remembering names, so… I can't remember his name. I'm not even sure we exchanged names, it was a fairly short conversation. If I'd known he was going to stick in my head for so long, I'd have asked him. But here are the details I do know.

It was a flight to Dallas Fort Worth, Texas, on Tuesday, September 20th, 2006, from London Gatwick. American Airlines flight AA51, economy section, departing Gatwick at 10.25am, arriving in Dallas Fort Worth at 2.20pm. The takeoff was delayed about 45 minutes. The in-flight movies were X-Men 3, and Firewall (hey, anything that might jog a memory…) Me, Jay and our new army friend were in the middle column of seats, at the front of a section by the bulkhead, with the big projected Skymap in front of us. I'm fairly sure he was Texan, as far as I could tell he had a Texan accent. He was in civilian clothes, had blonde or very light brown cropped/shaved/military style hair. I'm not sure what branch of the army he was in, whether he was stationed in Texas, lived in Texas, or was getting a connecting flight to go somewhere else. Think he was about 5 foot 9 inches high, wiry to medium build.

That's all the info I have. I realise it's not much to go on. But hey, it's a big old internet out there, and somebody might know of somebody who knew somebody else who was getting home on leave around that time to see their newborn baby daughter. It's a slim chance, but you never know, stranger things have happened. So this is my message in a bottle. Hopefully it'll find its way to dry land.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Highlander season 2 audio

The Season 2 box set of Big Finish's Highlander audio series is now available to order on CD, or as a download, containing all 4 linked episodes featuring the Four Horsemen from the Highlander TV series. I wrote one, Scott Andrews wrote the other 3, and they're really good fun. Well, if your definition of fun includes swordfights, punchups, betrayal, murder, torture, insanity, love, hate, jokes, action, adventure, roaring rampages of revenge spanning thousands of years, and ice-cream - which mine does, of course.

From the website:

Methos. Kronos. Silas. Caspian. Four names that struck terror into the hearts of men, women and children for centuries when they rode the lands under the name The Four Horsemen.

The second series of Highlander audio adventures takes an in-depth look at these four people; their origins, their secrets, and what made them the bloodthirsty killers they became.

This link here has a lovely photo of Peter Wingfield, aka Methos, taken while he was actually recording his episode, so go and have a look, and marvel at his manly goatee. We've got all four actors who played the Horsemen, as well the fantastic Tracy-Ann Oberman, Toby Longworth, and John Banks. It's all moving along really well, and I can't wait to hear it when it's all finished. There are some more details on the June edition of the Big Finish podcast, from around 27 minutes 40 seconds in, until about 33 minutes.

But when can you own this fine entertainment?? Well, it'll be out on 31st January 2011. I know it's a while away, but hey, pretend you're an Immortal, and the time will pass by in a brief moment. Warning: you are not actually an Immortal. Do not do anything life threatening. Do not spurn potential partners by claiming you will have to watch the other person grow old and die while you remain eternally young. Do not engage anyone in swordfights, and definitely do not kill them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Screening of "Dreams With Sharp Teeth", with Q&A

Do you like Harlan Ellison? Do you want to see the documentary about him, "Dreams With Sharp Teeth"? Do you want to see it on a big screen at the South Bank Centre? Introduced by the director, Erik Nelson? With (technology permitting) a speakerphone Q&A with Harlan after the screening, conducted by TV's James Moran (me)??

If you answered "yes" to some or all those questions, then you're in luck! The South Bank Centre are screening the fantastic documentary, on Friday 18th June, at 9pm, introduced by director Erik Nelson. Afterwards, assuming the technology works, we'll phone up Harlan at his home in LA, and I'll be conducting (well, sitting quietly while he talks at great length) a Q&A, asking a few questions of my own and hopefully plenty of yours too. Bear in mind that even a simple, short answer becomes an epic, 2 hour tale when Harlan speaks, so we might only get to ask one question. And if the speakerphone technology fails us, we'll probably be able to hear him anyway, because that mofo can PROJECT, folks. On foggy days, he is hired to stand on the coast and warn approaching ships about the rocks. NASA have him on standby to shatter dangerous asteroids by shouting at them.* If he raises his voice too much, it echoes backwards through time, making The Big Bang cover its ears and shriek "what the hell was THAT??"**

"But TV's James Moran," I hear you cry, "Times are hard! I can't afford the frivolous expense of going to see some documentary about a writer! Even one as handsome, clever and charming as Harlan Ellison!" Well fear not, because the tickets are free. Yes, FREE, gratis, for nothing. You still have to book tickets, but they won't cost you a penny. There's a transaction fee if you book online (£1.45) or by phone (£2.50), but you can always go to the box office in person and book them, and that way there'll be no fee at all.

So run, don't walk, to the nearest phone, computer, or South Bank Centre ticket office, and book now, before they run out of seats. It's filling up fast, don't be left out. More details, address and seating plans are all at the website. Good luck! Hope to see you there.

* I'm aware sound cannot travel in the vacuum of space. But seriously, that doesn't take into account how loud Harlan can shout.

** I'm also aware the The Big Bang was a cosmic event, and not some anthropomorphic figure that can cover its ears, not that it even has ears. But again, Harlan's yell makes the impossible possible.

*** There is no third footnote.