Friday, December 13, 2013


Clearly the three Lord of the Rings films are a big series of dungeons and dragons adventures, no-one's going to win any prize for observational comedy for that, Moria being the bit where it all comes together (I lose interest a bit after Moria), but the Hobbit films are equally clearly a load of d&d sessions where everyone's had too much sugary drink and got wayyyyyy over-excited.

DM: Right everyone, I know it's a year since the last session, but let's try and remember where our characters were.

THORIN'S PLAYER: I am in a pub with Gandalf!

GANDALF'S PLAYER: Hang on, we're nowhere near a pub.

DM checks notes.

DM: Argh that was how you first met, should have said that last time, forgot. Now you're on a big rock. Erm, all those orcs from the last session have COME BACK!


DM: You meet Beorn, an NPC!

GANDALF'S PLAYER: I know I know, all the dwarves can introduce themselves one at a time. Or two at a time.

DM: You did that last session at Bilbo's house. Let's just say you wake up and he's there.

DM IN BEORN VOICE: Rah I am Beorn, I hate dwarves! Well, hate's a bit strong. I don't like dwarves.

DWARVES: Will you help us?

DM rolls dice.

DM: Sure! Have some ponies.

DWARVES: Hurrah!



BILBO: I put on my magic ring!


DWARVES: We kill all the spiders.

DM: Whatever. You are captured by elves.


THORIN: Do I have a moody song about being captured?

DM: No.

THORIN: I should have. *sulks*

BILBO'S PLAYER: I put on my magic ring.

DM *sighs*


KILI'S PLAYER (instantly) I flirt with Tauriel.

DM: DWARVES DON'T FLIRT. You are rubbish at it.

KILI'S PLAYER: I have rolled a 20.

DM: Dammit.

BILBO'S PLAYER: Sorry, back from the loo now, have the guards gone?

DM: I've lost the lead figures, so okay.

DWARVES: We escape in barrels.

DM: Orcs stop you.

LEGOLAS'S PLAYER: And I stop them! Can I stand on two of the dwarves' heads and shoot an orc?

DM: You're an elf. Elves can do ANYTHING. Bombur, you have rolled out of the water, still in your barrel.

BOMBUR'S PLAYER: Does the barrel count as more armour?

DM: No of course it doesn't count as-


LEGOLAS'S PLAYER: Can I surf on one orc and run over dwarves and shoot more orcs and stand on more dwarves?

DM: Yes, but that is all your move actions- wait, you have eight more move actions this turn.



DWARVES: Okay, guys we have to kill this dragon. DM, are dragons particularly vulnerable to flame?

DM: *straight face* Of course.

DWARVES: EXCELLENT. What we will do is, lure the dragon to the foundry, create a giant gold statue of a dwarf. This will confuse the dragon, and he will stare at it for a while, then the statue will melt back into gold and cover the dragon and KILL IT.

DM rolls dice. DM: The dragon is covered in molten gold.

DWARVES: YAY! Is it dead?

DM rolls dice.

DM: No. It gets up and flies off.

THORIN'S PLAYER: What can I do?

DM: Did you bring any ranged weapons?


DM: Then you can watch it fly off.

BILBO'S PLAYER: I put on my magic-


THORIN'S PLAYER: Okay fine, when we can meet up for next session?


EVERYONE: In one year's time.

DM: Well okay, but I'm warning you guys, I'm totally going to have read the rules properly next time.


Thursday, September 26, 2013


There's a new sitcom coming out this week, the appearance of which in the schedules suddenly cast me back, in a manner I can only imagine as being similar to a Vietnam flashback, but more serious than that, to a meeting I had with one of that shows' producers/commissioners/let's not be too specific, a couple of years ago.

PRODUCER (I'm not saying it was a producer, just that when you're a writer, everyone who isn't an actor or a lighting technician seems to be a producer) had 'read my new spec script', 'loved it' and 'wanted to get me in for a chat'. Reception looked blank when I turned up, but toddled off anyway, and soon the sounds of befuddlement could be heard from behind closed doors. Receptionist emerges.

RECEPTIONIST: Hi James, they're a bit busy in a meeting at the moment, you can go in in a bit.

Note that I can't hear PRODUCER talking to anyone on the phone, and I'm fairly sure I can hear the speedy rustling of paper. When the door finally opens, I can't help noticing there was no-one else in the room, unless they leaped out of the window before I went it, which to be fair, is possible. Also, ten minutes is about how long it takes to read a half-hour script if you're in a hurry, because, say, you weren't entirely aware you had a meeting with the writer, and hadn't read the script you'd been sent.

PRODUCER: Come in then, COME IN!

I could swear that before I'm ushered into the room, the PRODUCER looks furtively around the building, as if to make sure they're not missing anyone more important (quite likely, to be fair), although also worried that someone's seen me go in with them.

PRODUCER: Soooooooooooo……. what have you been up to?
ME: Writing spec scripts?
PRODUCER: YES. Yes indeed. (pause) Didn't work for me, didn't understand a word of it, what else have you got?

Luckily I have got some ideas, most of which, I will allow, are a bit on the nerdy side. To be safe, I mentally file off the 'In Space!' off the end of them, just in case. I finish to a long silence.

PRODUCER: Hmmmmmm. We're looking for a stuff that's a bit more grounded, to be honest.
ME: Okay.

And then, IN THEIR FACE, because I also have a load of pitches that have not a trace of geeky weirdness, but are about competing dads, and failed actors, and cops and eighteenth century debutantes - okay, I'll allow my version of 'grounded' may vary from others.

PRODUCER: Hmmmmmm again.

A silence grows that could easily be described as 'desperate'.

ME: Okay, what sort of thing are you looking for?

PRODUCER shakes their head disappointedly.

PRODUCER: Oh James, no. No no no. Never that. That's not how it works.
ME: (cunning) Okay, what sort of things *aren't* you looking for?
PRODUCER: Would have worked if you'd gone in with that, but now you're just trying to be clever.

PRODUCER sighs, leans back, looks at me through steepled fingers (their own, fortunately).

PRODUCER: You see, when a good idea comes in, we KNOW it.

Now I have read books ('seen' books) about business jargon, and this seems like a good idea to pull something out of the box.

ME: Example me.

I have their attention. Previously they thought they was dealing with a 'writer'. Now they've realised I am able to talk their language and shit.

PRODUCER: We had some new writers come in last week. Their idea? "Young Irish People In London".
ME: (cautiously) Okay.
PRODUCER: We snapped that shit up pronto.
ME: Right.
PRODUCER: So you see, the kind of thing we're after-
ME: Young Cornish people in London.
ME: Young Welsh people in London.
ME: Young Scottish people in London.

I'm starting to get desperate now.

ME: Young Mexican people in London?

PRODUCER: Why don't you write a couple of pages of ideas, send them to me?

I do that. I don't hear back. Two months later, I send another two pages of ideas. I don't hear back on those either.

Friday, August 23, 2013

(Bald) Bob The ('Tached) Builder!

I was talking nonsense about Bob the Builder on the Twitter earlier this week, and ended up chatting to Curtis Jobling, illustrator/concept designer extraordinaire, who did a lot of the concept drawings for Hit Entertainment, as well as being the man behind Raa Raa the Noisy Lion. Sadly, all the concept work he did for my Bob episodes is now with Hit, locked away in a big safe because of their raw and terrible beauty, and also the disturbing tentacle stuff and the occult references, but he did have some early concept art he was able to share with me.

I've always been fascinated with concept art, and early versions of now-familiar characters. Did you know Dora the Explorer started out as a large man named Gonzales, for example? And he was a grocer and martial arts expert, not an explorer. And it wasn't animated, it was a eight hour documentary series. Actually maybe I'm thinking of something else.


Curtis explains:
4 things I had to change with Bob, who isn't a million miles away from character who appears on screen.
1) His feet were too small as a puppet, he would've wobbled around and fallen over like a sherry'd up old lady.
2) Hands were too small, couldn't hold and manipulate tools.
3) I thought I was being clever (which I was) giving him a 'tache so that when he spoke we didn't need to worry about lip-sync - one would just waggle the 'tache. Turns out that this wasn't going to work because, according to research, preschool kids are scared of facial hair. Apparently so. I don't know what this research involved. I like to think it involved BBC execs wearing fake beards, hiding in bushes outside a preschool and when the bell goes they leap out and shout BOO at the kids... which would scare me too... so Bob had a shave.
4) Lastly, I thought it'd be hilarious to give Bob a fat pair of burners and when he takes his helmet off he's bald as a coot on top. Bosses said no, Curtis, this isn't funny: give him hair. I insisted they were missing a trick, this would get big laughs. They said: 'Do you want to work on this show???'. I said: 'Let's see what he looks like with hair!' And that's how he got a mop top.
And a couple more:

So there we go. Be you a writer or designer in television, there's always compromises to be made. I had to lose the 'BB' logo from the wrought iron gate too, groovy though it was. Reason being foreign language versions of the show. Works great for Bob the Builder, Bob le Bricoleur, Bob derBaumeister and Byggmester Bob. Not so good for the Finnish Puuha Pete....

Many thanks to Curtis for this - Bob fans should also check out Curtis' site for info on his illustrated kids' books, and for older kids, his Wereworld series.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Holding characters back

Georgia said:
Was just re-reading your previous post as I've just put on hold a sitcom idea to pursue a film idea that's been niggling away at me for ages. I was just wondering why you suggest developing a character who doesn't appear until the second act and one until the third. Is it important to bring in new characters later? Is it to keep the audience's interest piqued and prevent things getting monotonous? I have a couple of ideas for those characters having pondered it so thanks for the tip.
Firstly, you don't always have to put one idea on hold in order to pursue another one. Obviously it depends on how much time you have to invest, but it's worth remembering that if do make a living out of scriptwriting, you'll probably end up having to work on multiple projects at any one time, at various stages of development, so it might be worth getting used to the idea now. On to the main point, I'm not sure it's important, or even necessary to bring in new characters later as such - it's more a reminder for me, as my instinct is to bring in all the characters at the start, make them jump through hoops and then wrap it up.

So I have to remind myself that you don't throw in all the ingredients into the chili pot straight away - sweat the onions first, then brown the meat, then add the chopped coriander and jalapeno right at the end where it'll have the most impact. I appreciate cooking metaphors for writing are a bit trite, but, you know, they can work.

It's also more that a character can represent a shift in the story: it's unlikely Walter White would have met dodgy lawyer Saul Goodman right at the start of Breaking Bad, for example, but him becoming a regular character shows the darker parth Walt is heading down. If Saul had been present from the start, that would have suggested Walt already having a foot in the criminal world, or you would have had a more innocent Saul being pulled down into darkness along with Walt - which is a journey Jesse is already on.

Or if you don't watch Breaking Bad, think how the introduction of Han Solo in Star Wars shows that Luke Skywalker is heading wayyyy out of his comfort zone. So later introduced characters are handy to mark how far a protagonist has moved on since the start of his or her journey. Dunno, is that pointing out the obvious? Possibly, but it's the sort of obvious of which I need to be reminded worryingly often.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

"If LARPERS could kill"

I liked this, from the ever-good Kyan, with @ashens and @thatjennybee. Should perhaps point out there is a teensy bit of gore.

At one point I thought Khyan and I might have awoken the tiniest inkling of interest in something with the BBC, but they seem to have wandered off. A pity. HELLO SKY WE ARE AVAILABLE.

Friday, May 31, 2013


This is broadly what I told some students on the Tremough scriptwriting course (well, the scriptwriting bit of the Film course) after they’d finished their feature scripts. Doesn’t just apply to features though, could be television dramas, sitcoms or radio plays. Or novels, or plays, or- you get the idea.

It’s also what I need to do now. I’ve long had a drawerful of reasonably developed ideas for film and/or television (even if they’re just a paragraph or so), only now, to my consternation, they’ve all been picked up. That doesn’t mean I’ve been given much, or any money for the majority of them, sadly, but they’re all spoken for, one way or the other. So this applies to anyone who needs to restart the engine as much as a work out what to do when they've finished their first piece of work.

START WRITING SOMETHING NEW. Don’t panic, you don’t have to pile into a new script straight away – but you need to start narrowing down what your script is going to be about.

Easy way to get started on this:

1.     Make a list of ten concepts for films you’d like to see. Any genre, any budget, just one or two sentences. Don’t refine any of them until you’ve got to ten.

2.     Of those ten, pick five to do a brief paragraph each on the first, second and third acts. If you can’t pick three, pitch those ten ideas to your friends and ask which they’d like to see as a film, and why.

3.     Of those five, pick three and develop them further: make a little bio for each character, think of a character that makes his or her first appearance in the second act, another who might only appear in the third act. Start thinking about actors who might play those roles.

4.     Of those three, decide on one you’re going to develop as a script.

5.     Work out most important forty scenes for that story, then start writing it as a script.


Because if you pile straight into one script, you’ll almost certainly come unstuck and/or bored a third of the way through, and feel like you want to start another one to get that fresh, enthusiastic feeling. Bad news: every script comes unstuck a third of the way though, you have to push through it, and that’s the point where writing no longer feels like fun, it feels like work.

This way, if you do come genuinely unstuck, you have a number of other thought-through ideas to fall back on. Or you might realise that idea three and idea eight aren't strong enough to work on their own, but if you put them together, you might have an intriguing start for idea eleven. Also, it’s a good idea to have a number of concepts in your back pocket for a tricky pitch meeting where your best (or favourite) idea is shot down almost straight away.

This happened a few months ago, and I was reduced to pitching an idea I had thought up about five years and not pushed again because the first person I had mentioned it to had laughed. The people I pitched it to at that moment not only didn't laugh (well, they laughed in the right places, at least), they immediately commissioned me to write a treatment, and it's just been rejected by Sky Television! Notice how I put an exclamation mark on the end of that for an upbeat feel. Don't worry, they're taking it to other places as well.

Also, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE STUPID IDEA. If an idea appeals to you, however ridiculous it sounds, there's got to be something in it, so pursue it, chase it around with a stick until it gives up its gooey secrets. Conversely, an idea might not sound like a zinger ('frustrated Englishman runs a hotel in Torquay'), but if there's something in there you keep coming back to, stick with it.

I have to finish here because my son is hitting me with a Richard Scarry book.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Why You Should Consider Entering Script Competitions

Well, as long as you actually want to be a full-time scriptwriter, obviously. I wouldn't bother if you want to be a train driver or milliner or something, it's at best going to be taking the long way round.

I'm biased in favour of script comps (as they're known within the industry, probably), because I won a Channel 4 script comp in 1999, which immediately led to work on Bob The Builder and Smack The Pony, a castle in Scotland and membership of the Diogenes Club in London (look it up), but even if you're never going to be quite as successful and gorgeous as me because of your inferior genetic code apart from anything else, it's still worth entering any script competitions you come across (with the caveat at the end of this post about not paying through the nose for the privilege).

One of the things that puts people off is they're seen as a bit of a lottery. If it's well-publicised, a script competition could get as many as five thousand entries, which makes you think 'cuh' and 'whaaaaaaat', and 'well what's the point, frankly'. Now I'm pretty sure this is going to be the top end: Twitter types have told me more recent competition have brought in more like just under two thousand, but let's go with five thousand just to show even with this amount of entries, the volume of real competition isn't necessarily as imposing as you might think.

So let's look at an imaginary script competition. The broadcaster is running this in connection with the National Forestry Service, and they've asked for an hour-long television script for a new detective series, ideally set somewhere wooded, with the only restriction being that none of the characters use an axe at any point, because that makes people who like trees feel sad. Note: THIS PROBABLY WOULDN'T HAPPEN.


Right, let's do the first bit of maths. Of those five thousand, the first two thousands of those entries will be written in a format utterly unsuited to television scripts, quite possibly scrawled on cardboard, in green crayon. One writer, in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the competition organisers, has handcarved their entire story onto recycled floorboards, delivering this to the broadcaster's address via wooden glider. Fortunately they have laid the script out according to the industry standard! Apart from using comic sans, d'oh! The remaining thousand entries will be poems about cats.


Now we've got a stack of things that actually look and feel like scripts. Unfortunately (or fortunately from your point of view), at least half these can once again be rejected almost immediately on the following or similar grounds:

1. Instead of the asked for hour long detective drama, the script is instead a half hour sitcom about working in an airport newsagents.

2. The script is a ninety minute feature about talking furniture, turned down three times by Pixar, although there is a tree in a flashback sequence where the footstool remembers his simple country upbringing, which is why the writer thought it might be worth a punt.

3. The script is an forty minute radio play, with the phrase 'here in the woods' cut and pasted onto the end of each line of dialogue (in a different font).

4. The script is clearly about a vet, but the word 'vet' has been search and replaced with 'detective' apart from one case, where 'vet' was misspelled 'bet' and thus missed.


We now have over a thousand hour long detective dramas with at least one scene set in woodlands. Sadly, at least half the writers didn't read the brief properly, and have the central murder committed with an axe.


Now we have a few hundred scripts that are each an hour long, are clearly in the crime genre, have at least one scene set in the woods, and have no murders committed with an axe. Sadly, at least two hundred and fifty of these are thinly-veiled attempts to rewrite the one script the writer has been working on since two thousand and three, and has been set, variously, in: a space station, an abandoned tube station, the Empire State building and a shed in Margate, depending on which script competition they're sending it in to. Every script reader involved in this competition (and they do read the scripts, they're not picked out of a tombala or anything, apart from some comedy ones I didn't win, where the actual winners were clearly picked out of tombola) has come across these scripts before, and has had puzzled conversations with their colleagues about why the writer, who is usually not completely without talent, hasn't, say, tried to write something completely new. But they haven't, and consequently, those scripts end up face down in a special pile, each with a sad face emoticon drawn on them in biro.


Now we're talking. Two hundred and fifty scripts remain, each one a finely-crafted expression of the writer's vision, with a plot that ticks along like a well-oiled machine and characters that feel vibrant and alive. It's probably not two hundred and fifty, to be honest, it's probably about a hundred. There's nothing more I can do for you at this point, you're on your own.


I was going to write a bit about not paying for the privilege of entering a script competition, until I remembered the C4 competition I entered did, I think, have a £10 entry fee, so that would have made me a terribly hypocrite, which I am sometimes, but, you know, I don't want to by a hypocrite about it. But I really wouldn't suggest paying more than a tenner to enter a competition, and even then only if it's a broadcaster or production company you've actually heard of.


Monday, February 25, 2013

'Nerds Assemble"

Many thanks to Emily and Paul (that's Emily on the right, that's me on the left, Paul took the photo) who invited me to appear on episode 27 of their Cornwall-based regular gaming/geek culture podcast 'Nerds Assemble'. I'll be honest, I didn't have a massive amount to contribute to the gaming element, as what with me having young kids and all, my gaming experience is down to one new Xbox thing every six months - and that's usually one that's already been out for a year or so, because then I can get it dead cheap.

We did talk about scriptwritey stuff though, so if you wanted to go there first, head to about 42 minutes in.

Nerds Assemble #27 Podcast

Things I should probably add:

1. While I was talking about television writers who like to retain as much control over their projects as possible, my brain did a dur and I said 'Polanski', when I meant to say 'Poliakoff'.

2. When we were talking about UK television shows often only running for two series, I didn't get round to mentioning one of the most important differences between our industry and the Americans: syndication. There's obviously immense pressure on US shows to get to that magic one hundred (sometimes fewer) episodes and get into syndication on various cable channels, at which point everyone involved retires on Fuck You money to spend the rest of their lives doing whatever they want.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Bridge & Tunnel" cover art

Just a quick extra plug for the comic now Sarah's art is all done. Release date looks like it's going to be around April/possibly May, but in the meantime, here's the rather spiffy cover image:

Crikey I'm busy at the moment. What happened was, just before Christmas, all the projects I was supposed to be working on for other people got suddenly cancelled, or postponed indefinitely, which is bad financially, then suddenly all my own projects got, as some small level, commitment from various parties and moved on a stage. Which financially still isn't that great, but creatively is 'Woo!' as we creatives say. So that's fun.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

'How Opal Slew The Dark Lord'

I've only got a flippin' comic coming out in a bit, and not one of your rubbishy paper ones, nooo, this one is designed by TECHNOLOGY to work on TECHNOLOGY, so think on't, frankly. It's the first part of a series called 'Bridge and Tunnel', and the art is by the brilliant Sarah Gordon and it's going to be out very soon on VS Comics - more details here

After spending too many years writing stuff that will only ever be seen by script editors, producers and then commissioning editors who say 'no', it's been incredibly exciting sending off scripts, then almost immediately getting back lovely brightly-coloured artwork from Sarah, and then being able to refine that artwork at my whim! And I'm really quite whimmy, so Sarah's been very patient. Anyway, more details when it's properly available, but it's all quite exciting so I wanted to get something up on the blog now.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Here's a thing that happens quite often: some big geeky property, a comic, or tin of mints or wevs gets the film rights sorted, a writer is assigned, everyone dashes to imdb to check out the writer's cv, then posts annoyed comments on the internet saying things like 'How dare the writer of Slapdash Teen Comedy and Pisspoor Horror Ripoff be put in charge of our Beloved Geek Thing!'. I know, because I used to think exactly the same.

However, here are the scripts that don't show up on imdb, despite written by exactly the same writer:

Sensitive Yet Somehow Not Annoying Indie Romcom

Amazingly Multilayered Time Travel Comedy Thing

Ghost Story With Twist, But Not The Twist You Expected

Adaptation Of That Comic You Like, Done Just The Way You Would Have Done It If You'd Thought Of It

Mummy Feature That Somehow Makes Mummies Cool Again

Those script could all be out there, but they'd never show up on imdb because… they never got made. Any writer who's been around for more than five years will likely have all sorts of scripts that never got out of development, but are considered strong enough to get meetings, get more scripts commissioned, and the cycle continues. Even if one of those scripts does get made, it will likely be so neutered by the studios that the original script gains a kind of cult following, being passed around in a carved rosewood box that somehow feels heavier when you take the script out.

I've now built up a portfolio of scripts that never got made, but are solid enough to send out to various production companies as calling cards. Which is great and everything, but a script that never gets made is kind of a sad thing, like those Sunday supplements full of recipes you convince yourself you'll one day get round to making, but every six months end up gathered into a great bale and chucked into the paper recycling. Which lead to the following two confusingly contradictory conversations:


I am talking with a producer with whom I've worked for a few years on various projects, all of which have got right to the top of the commissioning pile… and then fallen at the final hurdle.

ME: So with this new one…

PROD: Mmm.

ME: Well if this were to get picked up, what happens to all the other scripts?

PROD: How do you mean?

ME: Well, if Dystopian Future Cornish Werewolf Series* happens, does someone with a big desk tell their minion to go and get my backlist, and take a fresh look at them, because it turned out after all, what the hell, the kid knew a thing or two? Could Snowboarding Victorian Elves** rise from the dead (which could also work as series in itself btw)?


ME: Oh.

PROD: It doesn't work like that.

ME: Okay. I mean, I didn't think it would.

PROD: Well you were right.




I am meeting another producer, of at least equal status, which is to say: at least three television series produced, at least two of which got awards.

PROD 2: … and if this one gets picked up, well…

ME: 'Well'?

PROD 2: Then some of the other scripts we've worked on stand a very good chance of coming out of hibernation.

ME: I didn't think it worked like that.

PROD 2: Why wouldn't it work like that?

ME: I don't know.

PROD 2: You have a very strange idea about how this industry works.





So basically, William Goldman was right, and no-one knows anything. Including William Goldman, have you read that thing where he goes on about it being a stupid choice in The Big Lebowski not to show the culmination of the bowling competition? He missed the point completely, the boy's a fool.

* Not a real series. ** Also not a real series, but I want it to happen one day, just to annoy Richard Preddy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kodaline "All Your Friends"

Kodaline - All My Friends from Lewis Cater on Vimeo.

Saw this via excellent music video blog - lovely cover of LCD Soundsystem's "All Your Friends". Only just catching up LCD Soundsystem after that amazing Miles Davis mashup video thing - I knew they existed before but never really got into them, so am amending that currently. (This is a bit of a test post really, I'm springcleaning the blog at moment, hoping to pick it up again once I've swept all the pipes, brushed dust off the jpegs and so on)