State of Play

Been a while since I mentioned what I’ve been working on recently… So here they are.

Con Anon – Sitcom with Christine Patton
Done, dusted, finito. Next thing is to start sending it out to radio producers with a note saying “We are teh funny”.

Con Anon has only had one rejection. That’s because we’ve only sent it to one producer so far. (All of the radio people have been busy recently due to the Radio 4 Offers round.) I want to get at least a dozen rejections for this before bottom-drawering it. Hopefully more.

Decaying Orbit – Horror Feature
Previously known as Persephone. The current version has been entered into the Script Market at the Screenwriters Festival. It’s big and expensive, and is my current spec for the US market.

I’m going to do a table read to locate any final problems before declaring this done. Then it’s time to start schlepping it around to agents and producers.

Bingo – TV Calling Card
Pensioner gets over the death of his wife by heisting a Bingo hall. It’s reasonably solid, I think, and I’m using it as my sample for the BBC Writers’ Academy. This one’s my spec for mainstream TV drama.

Shield – TV Series Bible and Spec
Aliens attack Earth. Our heroes defend. Currently at first draft, this one needs a bit of work to bring up to scratch. The antagonists aren’t smart enough, and two of the characters are performing the same function – which means they need to be differentiated or merged. I want to use this as a sample for shows like Torchwood and Primeval.

Breaking Out – One Act Stage Play
Three characters, two rooms, one prison. Haven’t looked at it since I wrote it, but I suspect it badly needs a redraft. There are a lot of theatres dedicated to new writing, so when it’s done this one will start working its way through them.

My plan for last year was to try and get a lot of first drafts done. So we’ll mark that as a success.

Now that I’ve got a bank of completed drafts, the plan for this year is to finish them up and start sending them out to agents and producers – while adding extra new projects to the back of the line.

What we have here, people, is a pipeline.

Ah, dammit.

It seems that Joost doesn’t run on Macs without an Intel processor.

On the other hand, the BBC’s iPlayer doesn’t run on any Macs at all.

So, you know, could be worse.

I’m particularly sad about the loss of Joost, because they apparently have episodes of Total Recall 2070. At least for those of us outside the North American continent.

I saw maybe three or four episodes of the series around the time it was released, really liked it, and have never seen or heard of it since. Although the pilot was released on DVD, the series itself never was.

All of which leads me to an interesting insight:

I was looking forward to Joost, while I’m not interested in the iPlayer.

Which suggests that the value (at least to this particular pundit) in online streaming of TV is for archive and rarity value rather than catchup, which is well-served by PVRs already.

I’m trying to figure out a way to call down some science on this, instead of it just being one man’s opinion.

Because, you know, I think we’ve actually got enough of that on the Internet already.

OK, back now. Try this.

Hypothesis: PVR viewing will mostly be of recently-recorded shows
Prediction: Shows will be deleted after a few weeks if they haven’t been watched
Possible metric: When a series has been season-passed, deletions will rise proportionally to the number of weeks since the last episode was watched.

Hypothesis: Internet viewing will tend towards rare and unavailable material
Prediction: Downloads of films from bittorrent sites should drop when the film is released on DVD
Possible metric: Bittorrent server logs will show less requests.

Hypothesis: Internet TV viewers will be more loyal to downloads than PVR viewers
Prediction: Shows downloaded to a PC will not be deleted as quickly as shows downloaded to a PVR
Possible metric: Torrented shows should stay on computer hard drives longer than PVRd shows stay on the PVR hard drive. Use timestamps on the computers to get the data.

As ever, should anyone actually have some cold, hard facts that can refute or substantiate these theories instead of blathering on about how web 2.0 is changing the world, please let me know.

Also appreciated: better ways of testing these predictions.

Clams and Toppers.

If you don’t have Jane Espenson‘s blog on your must-read list, you really ought to.

She writes regularly on the process of creating spec scripts.

Also, about what she had for lunch, but as that’s a story on a par with Tom Baker’s Scarf, we’ll let it slide.

Having started out as a comedy writer, Jane regularly talks about the tricks and pitfalls of the trade. One of the pitfalls is the type of joke known as a clam.

A clam is a joke so old that everyone knows it. Some common examples:

“Did I just say that out loud?”
“That went well, I thought.”
“I don’t mean to be impolite, but…”

Funny-once, as Mike the sentient computer might put it.

How do you defeat a clam? With a twist. Move it along and freshen it up.

So here’s Penny Arcade’s take on one of the all-time favourites. Pretty funny, n’est?

But then, the next strip is what’s known as a topper – a gag which builds on top of the first one.

The great thing about toppers is that all the setup has been done already, to get the laugh for the first joke, so they’re effectively a free laugh.

Avoid clams. Embrace toppers.

Why talent is irrelevant

Some people claim that writing can’t be taught.

That there’s an indefinable spark in a few which, in time, will blossom.
That if you don’t have such a spark, training will do nothing for you.
That hard work and experience is not as important as talent.

This point of view is, in a word, bollocks.

Here’s why.

Let’s assume that you (yes you sir, you madam) have a certain amount of talent. Doesn’t matter how much, but there it is, a certain amount of talent.

Let’s also assume this talent might get you a job as a writer (or director, or actor, or whatever your creative profession may happen to be) if the right person happens to meet you at the right time.

Now, you can’t increase this natural pool of talent by experience and hard work. If you could, then the improvement would (by definition) be down to experience and hard work. Not the raw talent.

We can also safely assume that experience and hard work will sometimes get you a job that you wouldn’t have got without it.

You become a better writer the more you work at it. You gain contacts and friends in the industry the more you hang out with them. Sometimes one or both of these things will tip the scales, get you a job that you might not have had otherwise.

And the harder you work, and the more experience you have, the more cases in which you’ll get a job that you otherwise wouldn’t.

Regardless of the amount of talent that you had in the first place, sometimes hard work and experience will tip the scales in your favour.

Finally, if you were to believe that experience and hard work were the only thing that actually got you a job and that talent didn’t come into it at all – not one jot, not one tittle – then you would work harder and get more experience. Because that’s the only thing that matters, right?

So if you believe that talent doesn’t matter, you’ll work harder and get more experience.

Which will get you more jobs than you would have otherwise.

So if you believe that talent doesn’t matter, you’ll do better in the industry than you would have otherwise, even if it does.

So work hard. No matter how good you think you are.