Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Rev, BBC Two

Here's a review of tonight's opening episode of Rev that I wrote for Orange. I went into it with quite a bit of goodwill, but was disappointed by it. 

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Doctor Who: The Big Bang (spoilers)

Phew! Here's a quick review I've knocked up for Orange. I'm going to sit down and watch it again now!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Screenwriting and editing (repost)

I know reposting is a bit lazy, but Sky Arts' repeat of The Cutting Edge (documentary on film editing) got me thinking about a post I published about a year ago. Here it is again!

Something I've been thinking about for a while is how looking at the work of film editors might offer a new perspective on writing.

When an editor sits down to piece together a cut, he or she has dozens – maybe hundreds – of hours of footage to choose from: a mass of material they have to shape into a coherent whole.

When we sit down to start writing, we face an even more intimidating range of possibilities. We've maybe got an idea of who our characters are and roughly where we want them to go, but we've then got an almost infinite range of possibilities for how we're going to organise and present our story.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Lennon Naked, BBC Four

Here's a review of last night's Lennon Naked, written by Robert Jones and starring Christopher Eccleston, that I wrote for Orange. Eccleston was as compelling as ever, but - as I say below - he was a bit too old to pull off the role totally convincingly. When he got out of his Rolls after the evening with Brigitte Bardot, he looked more like Frank Gallagher.

The Cutting Edge: Tonight on Sky Arts 1

Sky Arts are repeating this interesting documentary on film editing tonight (Thursday). I always think there are interesting parallels between the roles of writer and editor, so it's worth a look.

(After watching The Cutting Edge last year I knocked up a post about screenwriting and editing, so I'll repost that tomorrow.)

The Cutting Edge
Sky Arts 1, Thu 24 June, 11.15pm

Every editor has a story about what they did to save a film, enhance a sequence, or create a magical moment. This documentary examines the often overlooked art of film editing, featuring some of cinema's greatest storytellers. Directors of both Hollywood blockbusters and independent films, including George Lucas, Anthony Minghella, Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron, reveal the close collaboration they have with their editors and how they work magic by clarifying storylines, reshaping scenes and intensifying emotions. Discover the invaluable contribution editing has had to the art of cinema over its history and how what is created on the set is always reinvented and honed in the editing room.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hitchcock's antiheroes (Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder)

Over the past few weeks we've seen Strangers on a Train (1951) and Dial M for Murder (1954) at the BFI. They were part of two separate seasons, but seeing them together raised an interesting issue: antiheroes – central characters who we should want to fail in their (usually criminal) objectives, but who at least a little bit of us wants to succeed.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Writer in Modern TV (BFI panel discussion)

The other night we went to a panel discussion at the BFI with the rather portentious title of Second Coming or Looming Apocalypse? The Writer in Modern TV (part of the Second Coming: The Rebirth of TV Drama series.)

It was a stellar panel, including Tony Marchant, Jimmy McGovern (left), Nicola Shinder (Red Prod'n Co), Gub Neal (former head of drama at C4 and Granada) and Ben Stephenson (BBC Controller, Drama Commissioning), chaired by Mark Lawson.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters (free online books)

These have been blogged about elsewhere, but the University of California press has published online two volumes of their Backstory series. 

(The text below comes from an email from the good folks at the BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, which alerted me to the books.)

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Daniel Kitson: 66A Church Road

Tonight we're going to see the marvellous Daniel Kitson perform his theatrical monologue 66A Church Road: A Lament, Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases. So, I thought I'd take the opportunity to repost the (brief) review I wrote when I first saw the show, at Edinburgh in 2008. 

(Since then I've also posted on the two shows he did at Edinburgh last year: The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church (another 'story show') and We Are Gathered Here (stand-up))

66A Church Road is at the end of a brief tour (at the New Players' Theatre in London until Sunday), but you can join Daniel Kitson's mailing list here.


The final show of the night was Daniel Kitson in 66A Church Road. I didn’t know much about it in advance except that it was a meditation on a flat in which he lived for a number of years, and that his shows are more like theatrical monologues than stand-up routines. As he began to speak, it became apparent that he Church Road he was talking about was in Crystal Palace – a regular haunt just up the road from Murphy Grange. Even stranger, one of the people we’d gone to the show with has inhabited the same road for years, but had no idea Daniel Kitson lived in the area. 

Maybe it helped that we knew the places he was talking about, but the show was mesmerising – thought-provoking, funny, profound and moving. Kitson’s slightly shambling and socially awkward persona (plus his characterisation of his soulless landlord) draw you in and make you laugh, while his observations on memory and the significance of ‘home’ make you want to go back and look at your own domestic situation from a brand new perspective. His relationship with the flat - which he loved despite, or because of, all its faults - also provided a surprisingly apt metaphor for all our personal relationships.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Father and Son, ITV1

Here's a review of tonight's Father and Son that I've just written for Orange. The really important bit is in the final paragraph.

(Here's a heartbreaking piece that Frank Deasy wrote for The Guardian a few days before he died.)

ITV might be feeling a bit battered after its drama came away from Sunday night's BAFTA TV Awards empty-handed, but it came out fighting last night with the first episode of Father and Son, a gritty four-part thriller that's showing each night this week. 

Set against the backdrop of Manchester's gang culture, it tells the story of Michael O'Connor (Dougray Scott), a one-time Mr Big who's trying to go straight with his new wife in the Irish countryside. However, everything changes when his estranged son Sean (Reece Noi) ends up – mistakenly – charged with the murder of a rival gang member.

Michael heads back to England to help Sean, but soon realises he'll have to lay his own ghosts to rest first. When his old gang buddy Barrington (Terence Maynard) makes him an offer he can't refuse, it's clear his peaceful new life will have to go on hold for a while.

Dougray Scott has got a menacing presence (squint a bit and he could pass for Ray Liotta), but – in the first episode at least – he isn't given much to do other than prowl and scowl. His accent is also a bit off the mark; you'd love to hear Max Beasley spit out some of his lines with a real Manc snarl.

The rest of the cast is a bit useful; Sophie Okonedo is rock solid as Sean's aunt (and a copper working on gun crime), but Ian Hart seems a bit wasted as her boss, DCI Tony Exposition... er, Conroy, who handily fills us in on Michael's shady past. Steven Rea also slips into the action by the end as a menacing former IRA godfather turned money launderer.

Some of the surface stuff might seem a bit familiar (gun-totting hoodies on mountain bikes, a grizzled old villain trying to leave the past behind), but the story's going in a number of directions and there should be enough emotional twists and turns to hold your attention over four nights.

Sadly, Father and Son was one of the final scripts completed by Emmy-winning writer Frank Deasy, who died last year aged 49 after a battle with cancer and a lengthy wait for a liver transplant. Click here for further information on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Friday, 4 June 2010

An exorcism in Penge

It's been a funny couple of months. In writing terms, things came to a bit of a halt during April, when Jane and I went for a long-awaited holiday in Japan. It's a fascinating place and we had an amazing, stimulating experience, but there wasn't a lot of time for the oul' scribbling.

At the end of the holiday we also managed to get caught up in the ashpocalypse, becoming stuck at Narita airport for five days. I wrote about it for Orange here (and that isn't me in the pic), but things turned out reasonably OK in the end; more through luck than judgement, we managed to get on the first JAL flight back to Heathrow.

However, while we were away I had a couple of bruising body-blows (writing-wise). Firstly, Foot Soldiers, my application for the Academy Pictures initiative – on which I'd worked very hard, in collaboration with an award-winning director – didn't even make the shortlist.

Then I got some brutal (but precise and helpful) feedback on another script I'd submitted to a US competition. It wasn't terminal, and it highlighted that the script had "great ideas and terrific potential", but it also indicated that I pretty much need to go back to page one and start again to realise those.

Anyway, all of these factors combined to give me The Fear. Not really writer's block as such, but a paralysing sense of inertia and stagnation – a realisation of how much work I still had to do on my various projects.

Picking up a pen to start the work seemed so daunting that I let it slip, and days soon became weeks. Even the fact that an agent who liked a previous script is waiting to see a draft of Foot Soldiers seemed to add to the pressure rather than giving me the espresso enema I needed.

Fortunately, I've been given a bit of a boost this week; Foot Soldiers has been shortlisted in the Euroscript Screen Story Competition, and a producer to whom I sent another script has asked me to come in for a more general meeting. And the weather's been nice!

So, I took the opportunity last night to get down to Penge's most charming beer garden terrace and banish The Fear. Armed with my lovely new Cross pen – a birthday pressie from Splendid Wife – I plunged in and started to ask myself the questions I needed to in order to get Foot Soldiers moving again.

And guess what? The answers were there all along – like the statue imprisoned in the block of marble, waiting to be liberated.

The lesson? I guess you shouldn't underestimate the importance of momentum in your writing regime. Even if you're just doing a little bit every day, it means that your subconscious is constantly turning it over in a cool, dark part of your noddle, waiting for you to come and see what it's done.