Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I've been noticing lately how many UK television comedies seem to have been written by writer/performers rather than 'straight' writers. Obviously, this puts the likes of me, who despite having MASSIVE charismas to spare have never quite got round to treading the boards and so on, in a bit of a bate. But it does make sense, and rather than having a big old sulk about it, I think it's worth purestrain writers like myself taking a moment to think about how mixed-craft Mudblood writer/performers (spit) have a number of natural advantages over us, and how we might learn from their nasty sawdust and greasepaint-stained sneak-ahead advantages what are thus:

1. Performers have usually read a lot of scripts as part of their job, so they know how a script is laid out, what a good script reads like and, just as importantly, what rings the alarm bells in a poor script.

2. A lot of comedy performers are already writers as well, durr.

3. Performers are more than happy to get off their arses and arrange readings, get people in to see them, and generally promote themselves I DON'T MEAN JUST HAVING A WEBSITE WITH A MOODY PHOTO OF A HAND HOLDING A BIRO.

4. Whilst hanging around reading other peoples' scripts, they meet other performers in the same boat, so there's a built-in support community there, unlike writers, who like to noisily applaud each other on blogs or twitter, but if they actually meet in a real location like a pub, tend to stare jealously at their own feet, hoping no-one is going to one day become more successful than they plan to be.

5. Even if a performer is in a successful show what is going out and such, there's a lot of time hanging around waiting for their turn to say words/swordfight/whatever. Many actors use that time to have sexual intercourses with one another, but the smarter ones will ensure further work/sexing opportunities for themselves by writing their own scripts, thus ensuring their wretched ways will continue like some kind of twisted perpetual motion machine.

6. Some performers are annoyingly well-read, and have naturally good timing, which often translates surprisingly well to the page.

7. Many performers get to hang out with agents, producers, commissioners, runners-who-are-offspring-of-important-people, and in many cases sex them right up. This gives them an opportunity to pass on a script they have written, although hopefully after a discreet amount of time has passed, usually three or four minutes.

8. There is a lot more money in the actings than the writings, so performers will take the hit on the script fee, knowing they will get literally more times the money for acting their own wretched words than typing them.

9. The idea of pitching a series to a number of high-ranking execs will fill a performer, not with an existential horror that could cause him or her to claw out their own eyes, but with a rising realisation that they could not only storm this, but quite possibly end up sleeping with one of the execs to boot if all goes well. THIS HAS LITERALLY NEVER OCCURRED TO ANY WRITER EVER.

10. Performers usually smell nicer, at least before sundown.

So that's why.

UPDATE: Andy RIley (Big Train, Hyperdrive, Black Books) has suggested another one, perhaps the most important of all, thinking about it.

11. "When a writer/performer is pitching a show, exec just has to imagine a rectangle round their face. Makes it easy. With a writer/writer, Exec has to stretch imagination much further. Hard."

Which, durr to me for not thinking of it before, because yeah, when a writer is pitching it, the exec has to think 'but who would I cast for this? What sort of 'tone' would it have?' Is the answer to this every writer putting a note in every script that they plan to take the lead role themselves, thus putting the exec instantly at their ease?


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Based on someone else's idea.

I must admit I've slightly lost enthusiasm for writing feature spec scripts at the moment. I have four scripts at various barely-started stages, with my current plans for completion being to leave them in a special folder on my laptop and hope special Apple pixies finish them in the night, which apparently will totally happen after the next update.

Part of the reason I'm focusing more on telly at the moment is the sheer unlikelihood of a film based on an original script actually making into the cinema. I had a vague idea in my head that original scripts probably make up about a third of finished films, the rest being based on novels or plays, remakes of foreign language titles or television shows.

As research, and a way of putting off writing actual scripts for a bit longer, I thought I'd try an TOTALLY UNREPRESENTATIVE AND UNSCIENTIFIC experiment. Walking past my local cinema in Falmouth, thought I'd have a quick look at what's on/coming up. Here are the contenders (I haven't seen any of them by the way #youngchildren):

Bel Ami
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Woman in Black
John Carter
We Bought a Zoo
The Raven
This Means War

First thing: I tried to write down as many of the titles as I could when I got back without looking them up, which meant three of the films had to be renamed from 'Del Amitri', 'The Great Big Mandarin Hotel' and 'Spy vs Spy'. Which was close, but I digress.

Let's see which of these films is based on an original script.

'Bel Ami' is based on the second novel by Guy de Maupassant, so that's an adaptation.
'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is based on the novel 'These Foolish Things' by Deborah Moggach.
'The Woman in Black' is based on the play based on the novel by Susan Hill, so a double adaptation there (a description I've just made up).
'We Bought a Zoo' is based on a memoir by the same name by Benjamin Mee.
'John Carter' is, as any fule kno, based on the Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
'The Raven' is based on the life of Edgar Allen Poe, but not on a biography, being rather a 'fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life, in which the poet and author pursues a serial killer whose murders mirror those in Poe's stories' (thanks wikipedia). Which means it is based on an original screenplay, by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, hurrah!
'This Means War' it turns out was originally called 'Spy vs Spy, so point to me, and does seem to be an original screenplay, although the fact that four writers are credited (and I suspect a few more lurking in the background without credits) makes me suspect this is based on a high concept by director McG, or an exec producer in the food chain, who had an idea about two spies fighting over a chick, and got a procession of writers to fill in the details. Could be wrong though, I'm happy to be corrected.
'Contraband' is is a remake of the 2008 Icelandic film 'Reykjavík-Rotterdam'.

Which means there's only one film out of the eight, 'The Raven' which I'd be confident as describing as being derived from an original screenplay. What does this prove? Well, studios really don't like putting their cash into unknown properties, and after the apparent tanking of 'John Carter', which seems to have gone the same way as 'Conan the Barbarian', 'Solomon Kane', and to can extent 'Clash of the Titans' (although this does seem to be getting a sequel) they may be looking at redefining what exactly constitutes a 'known' property, at least when the lead role is played by an relatively unknown actor.

Which means if you're writing a script based on an original idea that burst out of your headbrain, it probably has a much better chance of being made if it doesn't require an FX budget of eleventy squillion pounds. I know this seems obvious in retrospect, but part of me has been going 'lalala they can do anything with computers lalala' and now I've taken that bit away and shot it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Talk at Courtyard Deli, Thurs 29th March 7.30pm

Over here. Tickets £5 in advance/ £6 on the door.

An informal evening talk with screenwriter James Henry, whose credits include the Bafta award winning Green Wing and Smack the Pony. This promises to be an informative and amusing behind the scenes look at the writing industry and an exciting opportunity for writers to learn about the industry from a Cornwall based perspective.

After winning a Channel Four sitcom writing competition in 1998 with his original comedy Skiffy(1), James’ career has also seen him write for several children’s series including Bob the Builder and Aardman animations Shaun the Sheep. Having recently developed a Cornwall-set crime drama Bandit Country, now under option with ITV (2), he is currently working on several writing projects including an adaptation of James Boswell’s London journals for BBC4 (3). James is also the author of The Curious Cabinet, a fantasy novel for teenagers (4).

(1) Eventually turned down by Channel 4.
(2) Now turned down by ITV.
(3) Now a victim of the cuts to BBC 4
(4) Not available via 'traditional' publishers.

The middle section of my talk 'Coping with Rejection and Disappointment' has now been expanded, at the cost of the originally proposed 'Coping with Excessive Fame and Embarrassing Levels of Wealth' section.