Monday, March 30, 2009

Texture Like Sun

Nice to see a bit of sun creeping in slowly again today. Always brightens up a Monday morning, a bit of blue sky and golden twinkle up above, doesn't it?

I very much enjoyed getting back to basics today - next to skiing or heading out with my stills camera for the day, I find there's no better way to clear my mind and make way for new ideas than pottering in the garden, and specifically, getting ready for the coming seasons. Making the soil and various pots ready for planting up over the next month or so gave me a nice break from my desk, and as with a lot of creative folks, I quite often find when my mind is put to another task, current work niggles and problems can sometimes resolve.  

By mid-afternoon I was gladdened by the fact I had finally nailed the outline for a new screenplay - ready for fleshing out - and came upon the missing link for a documentary project I hope to have up and running this Autumn. Both of these intangible details had been nagging at me over the last couple of weeks so it was a relief for the final pieces to fill the gaps. I also had a mini-eureka moment when I realised what had been lacking from a previously written screenplay - hastily written post it notes have now been stuck onto the front cover of that one, as it will need to wait it's turn for the moment!

Ever onwards. A busy week ahead now, with lots of research, calls and meetings to sort out.  

Hope you all have a good one. 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pandora's Riptide

Creative life's a funny old game, isn't it?  

I spend my time battering my senses stupid, 19 hours a day awake, 5 hours a night asleep for 7 days a week, pausing for only the occasional breather, bend my brain round on itself until it begs for mercy or sleep (whichever comes first), continually push and strive towards an all-encompassing satisfaction, and due to the perception [delusion?] that I seem to have a vague idea of where I am going, I refuse to stop for too long in case the path shifts again. Which inevitably it does. It changes from concrete to quicksand without a moment's warning, many times a day.

Then, I turn into Pandora, and there's a box - my curiosity gets the better of me. All ills, evils, toils and burdens descend at once, and as much as I am a strong swimmer, I am more than acutely aware I have no buoyancy or help and the riptide is in danger of pulling me under. But luckily for me, I happen to know there is a certain geography to surviving a riptide, you see: swim parallel to the shore or try to float it out. Both options will take you away from your current destination but you will of course, still be alive. Mmmmm. Swim parallel, float or fight the current? Off-course and alive; on-target, but dead? Not sure - only time will tell.

But back to being Pandora. There is, of course, one last thing at the very bottom of that box: Hope.  
Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. To hope is to wish for something with the expectation of the wish being fulfilled, a key condition in unrequited loveHopefulness is somewhat different from optimism in that hope is an emotional state, whereas optimism is a conclusion reached through a deliberate thought pattern that leads to a positive attitude.
And that belief and thought pattern, my learned friends, is surely a buoyancy aid to be held onto.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

To Do

To Do List:

1) Remember tonight at 20:30 local time, it is Earth Hour. Here's the deal:
On March 28 you can VOTE EARTH by switching off your lights for one hour. Or you can vote global warming by leaving your lights on.
I have also read people are being encouraged to blog live, Twitter like demented sparrows and upload their videos to YouTube just so everyone knows what you did in that darkest of dark hours.  And these very actions are powered by..? Oh, yes. How silly of me. Horses.

2) Here in the UK, the clocks go forward at 01:00 GMT to 02:00 BST, meaning there will be an hour of lost productivity or sleep - depends on how you view it. It will also officially be British Summer Time.

3) Can someone tell the weather about the "Summer" aspect of # 2?

Have a great evening.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Six Degrees of Randomness

My dearest John Soanes tagged me with this meme a zillion years ago, and as I am a little busy bee at the mo, I have only just realised. However, it being a Sunday eve, and me being in-betwixt project revisions, I thought I would spend a couple of minutes clearing my brain so it was ready for my next Red Pen session.

Here's the small print:
1) Put the link of the person who tagged you on your blog.
2) Write the rules. 
3) Mention 6 things or habits of no real importance about you. Please see below.
4) Tag 6 persons adding their links directly.
5) Alert the persons that you tagged them.

So, here are six things or habits of no real importance about me for your delectation. Or not.

1) I have an arcane fascination of genetics, alchemy and brain wave measurement methodology.

2) I wanted to be a forensic scientist until the age of eight, then a writer/director/producer from then on.

3) I applied to Glasgow School of Art (Fine Art), University of Strathclyde (English Lit) and RSAMD (Performance) but ditched all places when I was offered a production job at the BBC.

4) I had a imaginary childhood friend called Elizabeth. She was a ghost. She was. Honest. Derek Acorah saw her, and everything.

5) I receive 20 or so slightly freaky fan letters a year: you don't mind me saying that do you fan-people?  No? Good. Part of my charm - yes, I know... ;0)

6) I used to work for Michael Winner.

I'm not going to single anyone out for tagging as most people have been done already.  However, if you wish to take up the gauntlet, don't let me stop your fun.

And now back to work. That was quite enough frivolity of an evening.

Have a good week all.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Truth, the Whole Truth

I can't believe The Barron has spilt the beans.

And it was all going so damn swimmingly.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tenacious Shindig - All Welcome!

Hippy Happy Blog Birthday to Tenacious Me!

It's been an enjoyable and compelling two years with far more dissemination and tantrums to look forward to in the future, I'm sure.  

So please...

Help yourself to the sausage rolls, cakes and a few glasses/troughs of whatever takes your fancy. It's all just over there, in the East Wing. Yep, that's it - you got the right door. 

Just don't snaffle the helium balloons though. I need them for my party trick later.  

Now, could someone please tell the DJ to turn up the music and then clear this Slapper up?  I thank you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shiny Sunny Daffodils


Oh, hello - didn't see you peeking over the garden gate.  Isn't our weather delightful at the moment? I've almost got a blush of a tan across my newly-freckled cheeks, or perhaps I am just a little warm?

So, here I am - officially a year older and most definitely a year wiser, of course.  I absolutely detest the month running up to my Birthday - I have no idea why, I just do - so much so, this is the time of year I normally go away to some high mountain ranges and carve up some serious snow. However, due to many commitments this year, unless I get a sneaky weekend in very soon, there will be no ski thigh burn for me this year.  I shall just have to attend the gym far more instead. 

Talking of the gym, whilst (apparently) undertaking my best Lara Croft impression on the treadmill (you know I've never heard that one before...), I came upon a brand new idea for a web-based project. Early, early days yet, but very exciting all the same. It could actually work and it made me run even faster. I skipped home with glee and jotted down the idea, closely followed by a short story for a competition. I like the gym effect, me.  Not quite as succinct as the ski effect, but good all the same.

So, had a long, leisurely lunch with the exquisite Spencer yesterday to discuss our very early pre-pre-production plans for "Carver" teaser trailer and finance avenues for the feature. All very exciting - well it must have been, as the basic gossip subject matter managed a mere 260-odd comments on Facebook.  Fancy that, eh?  I love a good horror flick, me. Arf.

Other than that, there's a sense of calm before stormy-ness, which is fine as I have a few more planting beds to turn over in the warmth of the sunshine.  

Right, better be off as I have to be at Heathrow for 06:00 tomorrow.  Milan here I come.  If only.


Friday, March 13, 2009

'Tis the Season for a Birthday

Hello scrumptious ones

As my post title has reliably informed you, the very busy Birthday season is just about to descend upon Tenacious Towers.  

Next week, I will be cyberbrating none other than this little Blog's 2nd Birthday, ah, and what a fantabulous two years it has been!  I'll be stocking up on a right nice selection of cakes and pastries for next Friday, so please feel free to pop by for a cuppa, gin & tonic and a nibble when the fancy takes you. I was hoping to have clocked up 10k hits by the official day (19th) but I guess I will have to be happy with nearly 9,000, and when you consider the total drivel that makes up the majority of content on this blog, that is pretty much a miracle in itself.  I know some sites get 9k hits a day, but I am quite happy with my figure, thank you.

So, I am thinking if it's the Blog's 2nd birthday, that means it is also two years since the Bloomsbury Bloggers met en masse and formulated individual - but intricately connected - global screen domination plans.  The rest is, as they should say, literary history.  How far we have all travelled in two years.  Super stuff.

I must say I am very happy and excited to be part of such a posse of particularly talented people. It's a group that grows steadily by the month and offers a sense of 'you are not alone' in The Great Quest for Ultimate Artistic Satisfaction - or even just a hint of where the colour of money is glistening, of course...

So, Blog Birthday aside, it is also my *very own* Birthday tomorrow.  It's going to be a bit of a strange one as I'll be on my total lonesome due to one reason or another - but fear not for the Tenacious One, for I shall have a trusty bottle of something sparkly, a draft shot list and a step outline nearby to keep me company. Strangely enough, in an odd twist of Fate, I only just realised I am actually going to be a year younger than I thought I was ! How very funny!

Staying on the positive side of life is my short, "Perfect", which I understand has now gone to Lifesize/UKFC for comment. It's not long until final D-Day when the green light button is pushed or not - but I do hope and pray that little green glimmer shimmies in my direction. Only time will tell. This week also saw a lot of voiceover work come in for me and the design completion on my site, Brave Soldier Films, which, as with all these things, is a work in progress being updated as and when.

Right, I'm off to select my vintage from the cellars to make sure it is thoroughly chilled for midnight. I bid you a wonderful weekend when it arrives at your door.  Shall catch up with you soon.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Toby Whithouse Q & A

Hi all - I have tried to be a thorough/true as possible, but I am sure there are a few vaguey bits...enjoy. x

BBC writersroom Q&A with Toby Whithouse (TW) & Kate Rowland (KR) 4th March, Soho Theatre, London.


Toby was writing for theatre whilst working in TV as an actor - was in House of Elliott for a while.  Obviously as an actor he was sent lots of scripts to read and felt a lot were complete nonsense, so in his spare time he started writing. Initially one idea started off as a gag which then required the feed line, was expanded into characterisation and eventually ended taking him to the first draft of a stage play.  Before he knew it, his writing had taken on a life of it's own, he landed a literary agent and then won the 1998 Verity Bargate Award for his play, "Jump Mr Malinoff, Jump" at the Soho Theatre. From here on, he was offered more TV writing work.

KR - How did you find writing to briefs?

TW - I found it very odd to take on another's character voices.  It's a very tricky process but it depends on how well written the original piece is. i.e. Dr Who was easy to get into as the characters had been so well-written by RTD.

KR - When did you start out as a writer?

TW - It was never a plan, apart from I wanted to write a sit-com for years.  TV Drama teaches you about character, constructing story over a series - by using this discipline and applying to sitcom it gives a richer experience and more 3D characters. When I got the opportunity to write a sitcom for Channel 4, I hated the experience as it felt artificial and unnatural. I have never had any plan other than getting the next job which probably stems from my background as an actor going from job to job.

KR - Was working in TV a shock? Constraints etc?

TW - The first "Where the Heart Is" followed a strict 3-act structure, with 2 commercial breaks.  As the viewer shouldn't notice these breaks, the structure is tricky. My first play process took 5 years and the process in TV is quite fast but it was a novelty to be paid to do the job!

KR - "No Angels" was an exposure of the underbelly of the NHS. How did that happen?

TW - After writing "Where the Heart Is" I was on an attachment when Channel 4 announced they wanted tenders submitted for a 10 or 20 part drama.  There was a total feeding frenzy with everyone doing a lot of drawer-searching.  The premise I was given was a story about four nurses set in a Northern town, with dense characters, tone & format. It was entirely research based - I used to be so lazy on this but research is fantastic. It gives you so much story, which gives you the confidence in your wealth of knowledge and the amount of facts at your disposal.  We met lots of nurses and heard many anecdotes which just revealed the shambolic and comedic nature of that world.

KR - How do you get started on characters and tone?

TW - I have always started with the characters - pages and pages of biog details that will never come into the show, but by knowing how they talk, it throws up story itself from the preliminary work.

- George/Werewolf transformation scene shown from "Being Human" - 

KR - Onto "Being Human" - you were writing a romcom called "Mild Thing" (?)

TW - Touchpaper approached me asking for a new "This Life" flat share type thing, but I felt it was the dullest idea ever.  I found the three characters fell into place from the pages of the biographies. I started to develop it all but in nearly a year, got nowhere.  We decided to have one last meeting about it and thought turn George into a werewolf, Mitchell into a vampire and Annie into a ghost.  I had been writing a romcom about a Jewish werewolf.  I had started to develop it but went off on a tangent.  The version I wrote (sitcom), was more advanced - the characters were more integrated into society.  The BBC read it and asked for it to be started from scratch.

KR - Did you know this would be a pilot?

TW - I wrote it at a low budget american indie film level.

KR - Would you be happy to do a series of pilots?

TW - Not really, no - but they wouldn't get made if not!

KR - Did you write the pilot of "Being Human" as a single stand alone ep?

TW - No, it was always written as ep 1.

KR - If you were aiming low budget, did you take down your tone/story world, and how did it affect character development?

TW - It's the only time I have written to specific genre as I try to be genre-less.  The feeling I have about writing/scripts is they should be like life - which doesn't ever follow one genre. This should reflect in the writing: where there's a tragedy there's a joke being made.

KR - There was a huge response to the pilot of "Being Human"...

TW - At that point I had written the series bible, the arcs for the characters, but very little ended up on screen. For example the only thing I knew about ep6 was when Herrick walked into the room George would come out of the shadows; at the end of ep2, Tully says to George "One day you will use this" and that's what was used in that scene in ep6.  I had some eps mapped out but some stuff 'just happened'.

KR - The whole 'humanity' speech stuff - you work with big themes. How do you juggle that?

TW -  By shifting genres - they strive to achieve.  'Supernatural' allows you to write about the humanity they are striving towards.

KR - How important are your treatments?

TW - I always write many treatment drafts.

KR - How about feedback on them?

TW - It depends - some companies have policies - you may do 3 or 4 treatments, 4 or 5 breakdowns and then however many scripts.  For "Being Human" I did one draft of the treatment and then went onto the script. It was quite high pressure as I was writing eps 5 and 6 whilst eps 1, 2, 3 & 4 were being filmed.

KR - Is the next series more of a collaborative process?

TW - I have storylined series 2 and put forward the ideas for character arcs and villains. These can be rejected or expanded.

KR - This is all very high concept, dealing with sci-fi horror.

TW - Yeah, pretty high concept - that's what I love! I was a huge comic book fan. I secretly craved to write Dr Who.

KR - Who would you say are your influences?

TW - Alan Moore, Joe Ahearne (Ultraviolet), PJ Hammond, Aaron Sorkin (The Wire)...

Q - How difficult did you find it to re-establish the character of Sarah Jane Smith?

TW - The whole show was reinvented and Sarah Jane had to  move along too. She was easy it was K-9 that was hard! Totally anachronistic - pain in the ass! My work on "No Angels" was part of the reason they asked me to do it as Sarah Jane was such an iconic 70s character - young, fresh, sexy journalist who was ahead of her time - I had written the 'feisty woman' stuff.

Q - How did your relationship with other writers on "Being Human" work?

TW - For example one of the stories - ep4 - Mitchell befriending a local kid - was one of the first stories taken from the bible. All I knew was we'd have that scene with the kid & mother in the hospital, and then the scene when he goes into the room with Herrick and says "I'm in".  That was handed to one writer.  Ep 3  for example, was very different to the original but much better for it.  We spend a couple of days with the writers and discuss the shows and then storyline with them individually, give notes on treatment then notes on the scripts.

Q - Did you choose the writers?

TW - I knew their work well and knew they would bring the right tone to the episodes.

KR - You seem to keep that Comedy element - goes from dark to very funny instantaneously.

TW - I have to write scripts with gags.  When you write a drama with 20 gags everyone says - "Isn't he funny?" but if you write an hour long comedy with 20 gags, no-one will find it funny...

Q - How do you feel about the issue of completion in one ep versus continuing?

TW - During the period of 'story of the week', everyone hated the idea of a serial arc, but viewing habits have changed - we didn't have 'appointment television' then, you would just drop in and out. There was no audience loyalty and therefore they would have missed a story arc.  "Linda Green" is a great example - you can watch the eps in any order as each is story of the week.  Viewing habits have now changed: due to on demand, i-player, DVD box-sets etc it gives more opportunity to catch up, broadcasters are physically now allowed to tell longer stories, and so we can use serial arcs and character stories together.

Q - There were a slight changes from the "Being Human" pilot to the series...

TW - Because it wasn't commissioned straight off, we had to recast due to the actors' commitments, which changed the dynamic of the characters.  This had a positive effect as the pilot vampires were a bit thin (a bit too Anne Rice). Adrian Lester was brilliant, but it caused a re-think.  It was a good opportunity to do that.  

Q - Do you prefer writing for stage or TV?

TW - The main difference between the two is that on stage you can write about anything.  In TV you have the financial restrictions, you have to tell the story, less experimental and brave.  In my 2nd play I had only two scenes each 40 minutes long.  Theatre is very liberating but there is no money in it!  If I have an idea for a play then it couldn't work on TV.

KR - How much control do you have over your ideas?

TW - Total autonomy over my work!  When I was sent a copy of the "Hotel Babylon" I wrote, it was very different to the script.  "Mild Thing" was my first effort towards directing too as is gave me more control over my work. I wouldn't lose gags because of the wrong stress etc.  I actually did 18 months of stand-up as I have total control over my output that way.

Q - It's an observational character driven, uber-epic story about vampires, pulling characters in 2 different directions...

TW - We had to decide on how we were going to do these vampires, which rules we would follow. The pilot was too gothic, not real enough.  We asked if vampires and werewolves were real, what life would they lead? They would have ancillary jobs, live on the fringes of society.  If you have a race of immortals if would be natural for them to then think "I'm sick of this", giving Herrick a job as a policeman is the utter mundane and anonymous. Allows tension between the two worlds.

KR - Did you do much research in to werewolves, vampires etc?

TW - I did all my research when I was a kid!

Q - You like to have control over your work - there were tone changes in eps 3 and 4 of "Being Human".  Where you present at all?  Were these writer/director changes?

TW - The tone of the stories will inevitably change. The last two eps (two parter) the number of scenes was considerably higher than for example, ep 2,  I was there for all the process though.  Ep 3 had a lighter story - involving the 1980s ghost; in ep 4 the main story was the hate campaign.  It's good to have gear shifts within a show and scene.  The writers were very good at adopting and understanding the style and tone of the show.

Q - What factors determine the number of episodes? (compared to U.S. series that run for 20+ eps)

TW - Money!  Series 2 will have 8 x 1hour eps though.  In the States if something doesn't perform well, then it is just pulled. They have far more revenue from advertisers and sponsors than we do, which enables them to make long runs.

KR - How would you feel if you had to do 22 eps?

TW - Terrified!  8 is bad enough thanks!

KR - Tell us about the transformation to werewolf in "Being Human"

TW - Because of our budget, we ruled out CGI and everything was done with prosthetics and animatronics.  In a way it actually makes it more tangible as it actually exists. The light falls on it all in a 'real' way.

Q - What differences are there between writing the pilot and a 1st ep?

TW - Writing 1st eps is always difficult - you need to set out the whole series as well as the self contained story. You have to do it twice with a pilot and "1st ep" - repeated but gentler in 1st ep.

KR - You used a funeral parlour as a location - wasn't that a bit obvious?

TW - But that's the genius of it!  Cliche! It was all we could afford!

Q - What was the gap between the pilot and being commissioned?

TW - It was about 5 or 6 weeks. All hell broke loose and took us by surprise - we really didn't expect that response.  What go the BBC though was the good figures of the audience present online: this was an audience they had been trying to engage and there they were.  On the message boards there were people saying this was obviously an orchestrated campaign by the producers - but it wasn't!  If you saw the producers you'd understand...  The BBC had kept the show 'in development' and was stated as taking an interest.  We always loved it - except when we were turned down of course.

Q - Was the Bristol location important?

TW - The show is made by BBC Wales so we only had a certain area we could film in.  Cardiff had become a bit overcrowded so it made sense to go to Bristol - especially with it's history steeped in the slave trade.  Which I only discovered months afterwards!

Q - Are you set in stone with your characters etc?

TW - I am sympathetic and unsympathetic with actors.  I always give them a character name as it look better on your CV, and I always try to give them a gag.  If they say "xx says this line doesn't work for them" then I'll say "Really? It's in the script."  But then there are things an actor will bring out - the character of Herrick didn't go through much of a journey from eps 1 through 6 but due to [Jason's] performance nuances the character is made better than he actually is.

Q - What team is working on Series 2? (didn't hear this question clearly)

TW - Myself, Producer and script editor. We will 'cast' writers based on the genre of the eps. If one ep is comic and the next is scary, it gives the series a natural flow.

KR - How many eps will you actually write?

TW - Four well or six not very well.

Q - Are you tempted to do a Ricky Gervais and write yourself a plum role?

TW - I would hope my writing would attract a better actor than myself! Pragmatism overtakes vanity when you see what other actors do.

Q - How instrumental would you say getting an agent is?

TW - It makes life easier and having a good agent makes life a lot easier.  As you know, no production companies etc will accept unsolicited work so you have a better chance of getting jobs through an agent.  In my opinion, for theatre and TV you have to have an agent.

Q - When did people start to approach you to do work?

TW - After "No Angels" people started approaching me. It had been re-commissioned twice and was a runaway success.  The meetings that occurred were based purely on the re-commission: they hadn't seen the show.  But some brilliantly written stuff like "Buried' CH4 wasn't commissioned, so no-one knows how brilliantly written that was.

Q - How do you think Stand Up helped you?

TW - As a TV writer, it teaches you to write speedily, to cut out as many words as possible.  You get instant feedback which is exciting, and the unpredictable nature: what is a great set one night could be awful the next.

Q - Were you involved in the casting?

TW - I was sent dvd compilations of actors, and then I did what I hated (as an actor) - "Yes" "No".  When you are casting there is a sense of relief when the person is right.  The actor Greg Chillin read for Mitchell at first, and then he came back and read for Owen and he was that character. Perfect.

Q - How do you come up with plot ideas?

TW - No idea!  The come from the character I suppose. The voices in my head...

Q - Do you have a process of day to day writing?

TW - I approach it like a job. It is. I start at 08:30 and try to get 5 pages done. I go back and revise them so they are 5 good pages a day. By 5pm I am brain dead.

Q - Do like it?

TW - It's a very solitary existence and sometimes a little too much introspection leads to dark places within yourself - and the weirder you can become! have no-one to delegate to and it's very empowering and responsible.

Q - Would you be comfortable writing on someone else's show again?

TW - That's what I am writing on at the moment - but can't say anymore.

Q - In your body of work, do you have a play to fall back on?

TW - It was years before I was asked or eve had my own work made.  I spent 7 years working on other people's shows and was writing on my own stuff then too.

Q - You like having control - but you are handing 4 eps of Series 2 to someone else.

TW - I still have control as I am storylining!  I shall rule over them like an angry god!

Q - How do you reconcile character changes once commissioned?

TW - They have to - some of the best moments are when a character does something totally new.  For example in ep5 Annie haunted Owen and until I got to it I didn't know how it would work out.  The rest of the episode then wrote itself.

Q - Did you have a favourite character?

TW - Ummmmm, that's a hard one. I love them all. I suppose Mitchell just now - as I am working on his story arc at the moment!

Q - Are the characters part of you?

TW - It's inevitable - George and Mitchell are two halves of my personality. One half romantic, houseproud and the other half isn't!

Q - At the background writing stage, are you aware of the limited demographics of BBC3?

TW - The level of intervention on BBC3 is far less than on BBC1 or 2. A good example is in the episode where Annie whispers a secret about death to Owen - if that had been BBC1 or 2 I would have had to explained it, but not for a BBC3 audience.

Q - Do you deliberately write for post watershed?

TW - Yes - I think there is an amount of authenticity post watershed otherwise I would have to declaw it.  I wrote one show pre watershed and I found it difficult to keep the momentum up - it's not just down to sex and horror - stories have to have breadth, be subtle and have more nuance to keep the momentum up.

Q - How do you look at your own script?

TW - Get it out of the house!  Deadlines are good otherwise nothing gets done and you just mess around with the script all over, and then, when the cuts come in you're too attached to it.

Kate Rowland finished off by encouraging people to send their scripts into the BBC Writers Room - they do get read people, not stuck in a slush pile!