Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shssh... Misterioso

I was going to ask if you were around tomorrow, whether I could call you and pitch an idea.

I'm still up for a lunch if you are about, but something's come up and I now I do have someone to pitch to in the morning. It was getting urgent because do you know what tomorrow is? It's the end of January, horrible January. I'd forgotten this because I've delivered Radio Times's On This Day feature up to February 22 so my head's really getting toward March. Plus, for the first time in my life, I've booked a holiday way in advance: December. Unthinkable.

But anyway, January 31. Last year I had some success with doing a pitch per day for a month so - you're ahead of me now, aren't you? - I figured I'd do a pitch a day for every month in 2008.

I need to qualify that. Previously it's been every day, really every day, Saturdays and Sundays included. This time, Pitch 2008 is every working day: it seemed to me that if I didn't give myself weekends and bank holidays and whatever else off, I'd run out of material to pitch. So while I pitch every working day, I also write for at least one hour every single day.

Tomorrow's the end of January, I've hit both targets.

And it's working. The pitching is for all sorts of things, all the different types of work I do, and I've got extra Radio Times feature out of it already.

Still, a pitch per day. Any chance you're around on Friday?


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm happy / hope you're happy too

I was weighing up whether to claim this was a message from the action man. Or to find a pun on Major Tom, funky funk, you get the idea.

The new issue of Radio Times magazine, on sale today, comes with a set of four covers. Choose wisely. They're all about Ashes to Ashes, though, and I was at the photo shoot. You can see a sliver of that above but the behind-the-scenes video I shot is here.

Actually, that's a thought: the link takes you to the video clip on the Radio Times "Ashes to Ashes" Programme Guide. I forgot: I wrote that guide too.


Friday, January 18, 2008

This isn't true

But it's close enough that it makes me happy.

A few months ago I read a draft script of an ITV1 drama that's coming up at the end of February or start of March. (Can't say what it is, sorry.) Foolishly, the writer asked me what I thought.

Well, he's not dumb, he knew it was top class, but he did ask... and my plotting brain engaged before my politeness did. I asked some questions, I made a fairly substantial suggestion. And a couple of weeks later, he sent me the next draft. Yep, the suggestion was in. What's more, I've just tonight seen a preview DVD of the final, finished show and I was right, the suggestion was important to the piece, the piece is even better with it.

Now, this is a trivial thing. One suggestion atop a really fine piece of writing, and if he hadn't seen the suggestion from me, I'll bet good money he'd have seen it himself. So I'm not claiming brilliance, I'm not claiming anything really, but most new scripts I read don't seem to get made so it's easy to comment on them. Now ITV1's spent untold vast sums filming this one, and I feel I was right.

And right now, for just this minute, I feel like I know what I'm talking about. Despite all evidence to the contrary.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Garage banned

My car failed its MOT the other day; nothing serious, no big surprise: the driver's side mirror is broken. (Mine and another car were waiting at traffic lights. They were on red and it was a two-lane road but a third car drove between us, smashing my mirror and careering on up the road.)

The garage didn't have a replacement mirror so I've taken my car home and they were supposed to be ringing round to get me one.

I just phoned to see what was happening:

GARAGE: Ah, yes, he's just fitting it now.
ME: Unlikely. The car's here.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lark Rise to Candleford

You won't believe how many people have pointed out to me that the new BBC1 period drama Lark Rise to Candleford was dramatised by Bill Gallagher. (No relation.) You may believe more that every ten years or so, I get some documentation meant for him. This week it was a taxable benefits claim for some hospitality he'd given someone. If your name is Susan Hogg, let me assure you that BBC payroll is sorting it all out.

And, yes, he writes multi-part BBC1 dramas but I occasionally go to the photo shoot. Here's the current cover of Radio Times magazine and, next to it, a shot from my iPhone from the day.

Two reasons to show you this. The first is just that I think it's a great cover. How many other magazines would have spent an afternoon setting that up and shooting it with a period, antique camera? The image has been coloured by hand, too.

And the second is that I was there filming the filming, so to speak, for and the video of the Lark Rise shoot is now online. I need to tell you that I didn't edit it; RT's Matylda Dymek did a very good job on the footage and I can't take credit, although I long to. I have a habit, I've found, of ignoring the fact that someone else is going to cut the film: I shoot what I would want to edit with, I don't give her enough coverage to let her create much else. I'll try to be better. And perhaps it's not a great surprise, then, that the key moments in the video are precisely the ones I wanted, but they are good.

Can't wait to see what she does with my Ashes to Ashes footage.


Friday, January 04, 2008

A few thrilling moments

DEBBIE: That's it?
DEBBIE: That's ten years?
DEBBIE: I would hope for a great abduction story or something.
MARTIN: Well, I've had a few thrilling moments, here and there.
(Grosse Pointe Blank)

You've seen enough "What I Did in my 2007" blog entries, I wasn't going to burden you with another. Except, I like how Jason has done his. No fuss, no messin', just a list of the good and the bad. Not 100% sure I can remain concise, but.

So even if this solely for me to read in, oh, a year's time, here's my 2007. No clue what the order is, other than good followed by bad.

"Time and the Conway Twitty Appreciation Society": my first produced stage play. And all the attendant goodness, from the writing of it to the offer to work on a showcase, most definitely also the rehearsals. From my noggin' to a professional company at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Meeting Verity Lambert. Hard to see this as entirely, or solely, good, because it made her death seem all the more shocking. But she's been one of the drama people I've most admired, despite my not being fussed that she did Doctor Who. And another good side: she liked my scriptwriting. Gave me some notes, precisely as perceptive as you'd expect, but genuinely liked the piece. The only thing that makes me happier is that in the same week she emailed me, a producer I had zero respect for, working on a TV show I think is a joke but a very good joke to get on your CV, also emailed me about the same script. She was rejecting me for several key reasons, every one of which was something Verity had singled out as being good.

I'll try to be shorter. Cardiff. (You know who you are.)

UK DVD Review podcast reached its 100th episode. You can't tell this when you listen, but it's highly scripted - and that was one of the points of starting the project. I am, as I hoped, a better writer for having to write a ten-minute script every week. Just before Christmas, one listener set up a Facebook group about the show: last time I looked, it had over 20 members. Wonderful.

Facebook. It was the yawn of the afternoon sometime early in the year, but it became great: although I'd joined, looked around, got bored and left, an old colleague came looking for me over it a few months later. So suddenly I'm talking with people from my career before last and it's tremendous; they're all the people I would've liked to keep in touch with but didn't. Almost all of them are. He most entirely definitely is, in case he's wondering.

Blogger. Similarly, an old hospital radio colleague found me because of this blog. I like doing this, I like talking to you, it was a tremendous bonus to talk to this friend I'd often thought of. But you can't believe the stories she's got.

Joking Apart. Sat in on an audio commentary session for this, with the entire cast wondering who the scruffy man was, and later wrote the booklet that'll be appearing in the series 2 DVD: find out more right here.

Filming for Radio Times. All these years of studying drama paid off: I can frame footage, I can film for sequences. Like any other filming, it's a lot of hurry up and wait, but RT's art staff is great and each time I've got strong shots from unusual and precarious angles. I'm happy. Learnt some smart Photoshop tips from people on the shoots, too.

Lots of things for Radio Times magazine and website: some I can't talk about yet, but don't mistake brevity for my not realising how lucky I am in this line.

RT's On This Day television history piece crossed a milestone: I delivered my 150th week of copy during the summer. Long may it continue. I think I passed a milestone on the magazine's TV Stats too, but there I'm just hoping I can continue to enjoy those yet not keep waking up in a cold sweat.

Working with Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres on Radio 4 proposals. This is still in progress and in fact you're hearing this before they do: I've completed a script we were developing and I'm not only pleased with it, but it's made me write in ways that really stretched me. Currently the script is in a drawer while I try to step back from it, ready to rewrite, but whether I've actually pulled off what I think I have, the thing is that I think I have and that's a pretty glorious feeling. We'll see where it all goes, though.

Speaking of going, I got a new car. Well, not new. Well, I only got it because my last one was a write-off. But, still. It's got a nice radio.

And speaking of going, I'd promised my mother for years that I'd take her to New York City and I finally did in early summer. Whether it makes any sense or not, just stepping out onto Manhattan's sidewalks makes me bloom. And she said it was the greatest thing that had ever happened in her life. She did say that in the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, but I suspect she meant NYC. Doesn't that beat everything?

Speaking of Apple, I got an iPhone. Everything good that you've heard about iPhones is true. If anything, everything good you've heard is a just pale outline of the truth. It's been a life-changer and I honestly am not kidding., Photoshop CS3, and Rogue Amoeba's Radioshift (like a Sky+ for radio) haven't changed my life but I rely on them, and increasingly enjoy relying on them, every day.

Veronica Mars was cancelled upsettingly early but I'll keep it on the good side of the ledger because its final season was as strong as ever. Rafi, a listener to my podcast, said on air that he felt empty now the show was over: I envy him that line.

Dar Williams finally released a DVD. It wasn't very good, but she's so spectacularly talented that it'd have to be a DVD by someone else before I'd allow it onto the bad side.

And, if only because Dar didn't release any album this year, the song of 2007 for me was Born to Hum by Erin McKeown. She recorded in 2003, I've just this second found out, but I only discovered it this year. Mind you, I've been listening to a lot more music this year than lately; a standout is Suzanne Vega's Beauty and Crime album. You know how you get a tune stuck in your head? At times I have the entire album in there. Mary Chapin Carpenter's The Calling was the soundtrack to my New York trip, though I don't think my mother knows that.

My wife Angela was diagnosed with breast cancer. And that one sentence outweighs all the above, doesn't it?

Prognosis is good, though, and she's now in chemotherapy. And for all the bad, there has been good, too: we've shook with gallows-humour laughter at points. And people have been tremendous, most especially folks at Radio Times. Funny: people I'd have expected to be good, haven't been so much yet others I wouldn't have thought would even know have turned out to be exceptional.

A friend's got prostrate cancer. I'm trying to be exceptional, yet also not be in the way.

Radio Times competitions. I never want to hear about these again, and that's entirely my fault.

Cornwall. (You know who you are.)

That's it, I think. Let me know about your 2007, would you?


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Guest Blogger: Ian Smith

And now for someone else who can write up a good DVD vote: Ian Smith.


From: Ian Smith

Oh this is tough!

Was very tempted to vote for Kubrick's "2001" on HD-DVD (and also Blu-Ray) because the picture is absolutely stunning for a film that's so long in the tooth. One doubts that even those who saw the film on its original theatrical release got to see something as stunning as this. "Reference quality" doesn't even begin to cover how sumptuous this new transfer is.

And then there's "Pan's Labyrinth". On DVD this is far better looking than it was at the NFT screening I saw with the director giving a Q&A, and the film is haunting and powerful. And yet, when I caught up with the director's "The Devils Backbone" I found I slightly preferred that. So "The Guillermo Del Toro Collection" would definitely get the vote, released earlier this year, if not for the fact it included a truly dreadful transfer of "Cronos" and only included the single disc, not the double-disc version of "Pan's Labyrinth".

So I was all set to mention "Days of Glory" (on Blu-Ray disc in a stunning transfer), a moving film that was nominated in the same category as "Pan's Labyrinth" for "Best Foreign Language Film" and a film which actually caused the law in France to be changed (how many films can say that? More info in my review here) and then I remembered "Heroes" on HD-DVD and realised it HAD to get my vote for shiny disc(set) of the year.

"Heroes" is so addictive I wasted two hard-won weekends back in England (I'd been away working in Ireland) watching it. Not since "24" or "Lost" in their first years has a series been so addictive, or delivered such consistently high quality throughout. At last - a "superhero" movie that comic book fans can be proud of and which their non-comic book friends can get equally addicted to. The twists were plentiful but thematically consistent and clearly planned from the start. OK so the ending was a bit of a "we may want to bring the lead villain back if things turn really bad in future seasons" cop-out, but how many shows with 23 episodes don't have the occasional weak moment?

For TV to deliver 23 episodes of such high quality throughout, without recourse to "filler" episodes is unprecedented, even from the likes of the superb "Battlestar Galactica". The cast of unknowns were brilliant, and with guest appearances from Christopher Eccleston and Malcolm McDowell for us Brits what's not to like? Given that "Heroes" is flavour of the month at the moment (it's taken the crown from "Lost" it would seem) it would have been easy for the shiny discs to be a flimsy cash-in affair. But no, the makers gave us the series in a beautifully packaged region-free HD-DVD set packed full of extras. More TV show DVD sets should be like this! A truly outstanding set that delivers on high definition promises, with brilliant writing, superb casting and week after week of cliff-hanger endings which make one grateful that one chose to watch the show on shiny disc instead of terrestrial TV. Warning: Only start watching this DVD set if you have 23 hours free in one go!