Letters From America: Rubber, Drugs, and PVC

originally posted 26th March 2004

So, here I am in San Jose for the rest of the week.

The day before yesterday, I read a post on a screenwriting message board. It said “I have free tickets for the Game Designers Conference. Who wants some?”

So I said yes, emailed Susannah to check that I could crash at hers, and jumped in the car.

About an hour down the freeway, there was a loud bang and the car started shuddering. I made it to the side of the road safely, and started checking to see what had happened. Turned out my left rear tyre was shredded.

At this time a Highway Patrol officer pulled up and, after telling me to take my hands out of my pockets and return to my vehicle, asked me who I was and if I was transporting drugs from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Fortunately, he seemed satisfied when I told him I wasn’t.

After limping on three wheels to the nearest garage I found an entrepeneurial member of the rescue services who offered to take my tyre away and have it fixed for the bargain price of $200 (down from $260). Having a rough idea of what a tyre costs, I drove slowly and carefully for another 14 miles and got it fixed for $40.

It’s an interesting environment at the conference. There are about 9,000 games developers here: programmers, designers, artists, suits, and even a few writers.

The general opinion of the writers is that writing in games gets no respect and Something Must Be Done. That’s about as far as they’ve got, though.

So there I was in the hotel bar speaking to the representative from the BBC (turns out I know him) when a little man came up and said:

“You don’t want to be drinking here. Why not come across the road to the PlayStation party, where all the booze is free? Use this to get in.”

So we did.

It turns out that a party sponsored by PlayStation is – well, just about exactly how you’d imagine.

Huge paper sculptures, coloured lights flashing all over the place, delicious food, free bars all over, and a fashionable band.

The band was called “Crystal Meth”, or perhaps “The Crystal Method”. An orbital-a-like. I know they were good because a) I liked them and b) Young People around me kept calling friends on their mobile phones and saying “Dude! You won’t believe this, but Crystal Meth are on stage, like, *fifty feet away*!”

But my favourite part of the evening had to be the fact that when the band weren’t on stage, there were Asian girls in short PVC dresses, fishnets, boots, and chokers dancing in cages for no good reason.

Fair made my evening, that did.

It’s people like you that spoil it for everyone else.

So I go away for a week to visit my girlfriend’s family and run with the bulls – I’m fine, thank you for asking – and manage to avoid most of the Torchwood spoilers.

Some of which will likely appear in this post. You have been warned.

So I come back, gulp down the lot, and check out some of the reaction on the Internets. Why not? See how everyone else likes it.

(Very good, I thought. Nice work from all three writers, the director, and the actors. Reminded me a lot of the classic British TV SF of the past in style – A For Andromeda, the various Quatermass series and so on.)

And what should I find on the Internet but a bunch of fucking half-wits yattering on about how the writers have destroyed their favourite series.

Now, let’s be clear here. I’m a fan myself. I go to conventions, I read tie-in books, I’m watching all of Doctor Who in order from the start. I. Like. Science. Fiction.

The clear difference here is that I don’t consider someone else’s work to belong to me.

It’s known in psychology as a sense of entitlement. I love this series, therefore it belongs to me. I love these characters, therefore a threat to them is a threat to me.

And there seems to be a particular contingent of this madness in SF fans. I don’t know why. Perhaps they’re just more vocal about it than the average EastEnders fan when, for example, Tiffany Mitchell suffered a tragic road accident on New Year’s Eve.

So when a well-loved character died in episode four of the latest series of Torchwood, these people were outraged. And they have made their displeasure known.

Some of the opinions which I’ve read have included “I’m never watching Torchwood again,” – quite a common one, this – and promising never to spend another penny on Torchwood merchandise.

Possibly my favourite has the line “Thanks for your contributions to this fandom” in it. This fandom. Not the television series. Apparently it’s all about the fandom, and the series just happens to be vaguely associated with it.

But you know what? Fair enough. You can’t please everyone all the time, and a bit of polite disagreement never hurt anyone.

And then there are the others. The name-calling, the accusations of homophobia, of deliberately trying to hurt fans. The stupidest of the dumb.

Let’s be clear: you have a right to think whatever you want, whether it has any basis in reality or not. You might, for example, claim that “George Lucas raped my childhood” when he released The Phantom Menace.

No. He did not. He made a bad film. And taking it personally is not going to do anything other than make you feel bad about yourself. Because then you are granting power over your own happiness to something that you have no control over.

Because you are not in charge.

“They’re alienating the fans! We’ve supported them all the way! We should be consulted/informed/listened to!”

No. You do not get that right.

You took it personally. You decided that your sense of well-being was bound up in the lives of characters you have no control over. You.

You did this to yourself.

And to then attack the writer? To say “You didn’t do this the way I wanted to, so you’re at fault”? To insult them? To lay the blame on them for you not liking something?

For the last few years, Torchwood writer James Moran has kept a blog. In it he shared his journey from aspiring to professional writer, sharing what he’s learned, trying to give a little bit back.

Because, you see, he’s a fan too.

And now, thanks to the comments from fools on the Internet, he’s having to scale back his presence. To be a little less open, a little less helpful to those who are also trying to learn, trying to enjoy.

And you did this.


God preserve us from people like you.

Letters From America: A good day, on the whole.

originally posted 8th March 2004

Draft Zero of the Enterprise spec is finished.

It’s not a First Draft. It’s not at that level yet. What it has, is enough words to fill fifty pages in screenplay format.

Now that the final “Fade out.” has been typed, I’ve printed it out and read it end-to-end for the first time.

The first act is pretty good, in my humble opinion. Unfortunately the other three-quarters of the script sucks big-style. Genuine queue-up-to-avoid-it type writing.

I read the whole thing for the first time a couple of hours ago. When writing the Zeroth Draft I try to not go back at all if I can avoid it – the temptation is too high to spend your life re-working the bits you know are wrong instead of finishing the damn piece.

But now, reading it end-to-end for the first time, I had my Editor hat on. And the *structure* is mostly there. It’s just the words that need changing.

If I was a showrunner who received this script, I’d fire the original writer and pass it on to the person on my team that was good at dialogue to straighten the damn thing out.

Unfortunately, I’m on my own here.

But I can see where the problems are. Looking at it now as a final piece, I can see what the original author is trying to do in the script. Despite the fact that everyone wears their hearts on their shoulders and baldly states their point-of-view.

So what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks is taking the scenes apart and attempting to re-build them with real characters instead of the cardboard cutouts currently serving duty as place-holders.

Then maybe it’ll be worth showing to someone else.

But having said all that, finishing Draft Zero is worth celebrating. It’s a cut-off point, a waystation, a milestone.

So I treated myself. Since I moved into this apartment building, I’ve had my eye upon the big switch in the elevator marked “Emergency Stop”, and I’ve been saving it for just the proper occasion.

Worth the wait.