Wednesday, February 03, 2016

My booze-free month

I’ve just completed Dry January, in aid of Cancer Research. A lot of lovely people donated a total of £570, so thank you all (at the time of writing). It’s still open for donations if you feel like chipping in, for a great cause. But this post isn’t about convincing you to donate, it’s more of a reflection on my booze-free month.

Regular blog readers, Twitter followers or anyone who knows me knows that I like a cheeky drink or three now and again, as do quite a few people. I’m not reliant on it, I didn’t face any withdrawal symptoms or anything. But I was surprised to find how much I casually lean on it, habitually.

It’s almost a superstition. Tough day? Cheeky drink. Tough week? Cheeky drink. Watching a fun show or movie at home? Cheeky drink to accompany it. Finished a long project? Cheeky drink to celebrate. It’s a mind-trick a lot of us use to reward ourselves. And when you can’t drink, *everything* seems booze-related. Going for a meal? Have a glass of something with it. Out with friends? Get a round in. And so on.

January was pretty tough due to some bad real life stuff, and the loss of some cultural heroes - David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan. Attending a funeral the week Bowie died, on the *day* Rickman died, I could have happily had several drinks.

I didn’t dive back in as soon as February 1st arrived. But it was good to know that the option for a random drink was always there. We all need to treat ourselves with a variety of things, in moderation of course. But it’s been an interesting, surprising, occasionally frustrating process, which has made me give a lot of thought to this aspect of my life. And anything that makes you think is a good thing.

The best things about it? Raising a chunk of money for Cancer Research. No hangovers. Getting fitter. Although I did tend to reward myself with cake or sweets instead, so I might be the only person who did Dry January and weighed more at the end...

Would I do it again? Possibly. Maybe. I don’t know. If I can have a strict promise from everyone not to die that month, then I’ll think about it. Until then... cheers!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

New podcast thing

I seem to have made a podcast by accident.

Recently I was chatting on Twitter about how much I loved the new Star Wars movie, and how much it made me want to talk about it in detail. Andrew Ellard, a friend and fellow writer, joined in, saying he felt the same.

We joked about doing a podcast, someone said they'd like to hear it, and my immediate instinct was to say “oh, I don’t have a podcast” - but then I stopped. My commitment to trying new, weird things compelled me to try it and see what happened. So we did. Look how excited we are!

“Not Guilty Pleasures” is a very irregular series where I and a guest talk about something we love. There’s plenty of stuff on the internet about what people don’t like, 47 things wrong with this, here’s everything wrong with that, why this thing sucks and why you do too - but unashamedly loving stuff seems to be scoffed at. There’s nothing wrong with loving things. And as our lord Dave Grohl said, there are no such things as guilty pleasures. Hence the title.

This one is all about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What we loved about it, from a writing point of view, from an emotional point of view, with lots of random silliness. There’s clever analysis, but also swearing and bad jokes. It’s sort of an experiment to see if the format works. If enough people like it, I’ll do another one with another guest, talking about something else. Possibly. Who knows?! Try new, weird stuff, it’s fun!

I’ve tried to keep it as close to 30 minutes as possible, because for a new podcast - or even existing ones - it can be a bit much to see that you’ve got to commit an hour or more to something, and for things like this, short and snappy is always better.

Important Note! The podcast contains MAJOR spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, this podcast will (a) ruin the surprises, and (b) make very little sense, and (c) why would you do that to yourself, life is too short. Also Important! This is NOT safe for work, there’s some swearing in it - some fucks, some shits, one or two pricks, possibly a piss, and I suspect some bollocks. Be aware! Words can kill! Probably!

I've gone with Podbean for hosting, and will have to upgrade from the basic account soon - I'd rather this project didn't put me out of pocket, but I won't charge for a podcast, so if anyone has any suggestions on what I should do - sponsors or otherwise - give me a shout.

You can find the podcast on the iTunes Store here, where you can subscribe if you want to be alerted when the next one appears. It's also up on Soundcloud for this episode, but future episodes will probably just stay on iTunes, or perhaps on YouTube as well if people want that.

By the way, if you listen and enjoy the show, please leave us a review on iTunes, it would really help a lot. Thank you, and have at it!

Show notes/links:

Andrew Ellard’s website:

Andrew’s Twitter:

Andrew’s Tweet Notes:

Buy or rent Afterdeath now on FrightFest Presents:

The snooty article we briefly discuss:

The Making of Star Wars books:

Star Wars Cheestrings:

Star Wars Helmets:

Update! Thanks to Ridley from Twitter, we now know there actually are Star Wars apples! This will only make sense if you've listened to the podcast:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

GeekyCon 2016

GeekyCon, or The Convention Formerly Known As LeakyCon (TCFKALC - pronounced TaCUFFkalc), has made YET ANOTHER terrible administrative error, and I've been invited back AGAIN, for my third visit!

I went last year (and made a video about my experiences here), and the year before (and made a video back then too), and for some reason, they haven't learned their lesson. Perhaps they were fooled by my lipsync battle stylings. Perhaps they admired my snazzy jacket. Perhaps their brains overheated in the Florida sun. Who knows?? All I know is, I'm going back. And I have a lipsync title to defend.

There's a post about it here on the GeekyCon site, where I'm listed as one of the "fan favourites", so clearly there has been some vote rigging (I deny all accusations, I wasn't even there, and certainly wouldn't know how to use my vote rigging machine which I totally don't have).

But Weird Uncle Jimbo, you cry, how can I get to this event? Good question, imaginary internet people! It's on Friday 29th to Sunday 31st July 2016, at the Orange County Convention Centre North, Orlando, Florida. Tickets and details are available here, and you'll want to keep an eye on their social media feeds, because they always have a special evening lock-in at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which goes on sale at a later date.

Surely they won't make this silly mistake again, and will delete me from their records, so catch me while you can at the 2016 event!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Being weird

Last year I wrote about my regular writing career stock-take, which you can read here if you want to remind yourself. I’ll wait. Okay, you're taking too long, I'm carrying on. This particular stock-take went on slightly longer than usual, as it turned out there were some big decisions to make, due to various life and career changes. In a way, it’s still happening now, as I still have some decisions left over. I’m trying to refocus certain areas of my career, and it all takes time to work out.

One thing I’ll definitely be doing, however, is More Weird Stuff.

It’s important to try something that scares you every once in a while, to keep yourself sharp, to challenge yourself. And sometimes you need to jump off the path entirely, and try something random and weird. I’ve already done some weird stuff, things I didn’t expect to be doing - YouTube videos, tutorials, interviews, silly Vines, Instagrams - but I keep getting the urge to do more. It's sort of a hobby, now that my original hobby has become my job.

You probably don’t know - because I rarely mention it - that I have a Tumblr page. That’s for random things, Instagram reposts, links, etc. I also made a few other Tumblr pages - Loki as Withnail (a collaboration with James Henry with some NSFW words), Unhelpful Game Messages, and Unhelpful Product Reviews.

None of these are of any help to my career, none of them will help me pay the bills, they’re just weird things I felt like doing, to amuse myself and hopefully amuse anyone else that stumbled across them. I haven’t updated them for ages, and have now opened them up so people can submit posts. Go be weird there, if you like. We can be weird together.

I’m doing a new weird thing next week, but I’m not even sure what it is, yet. Maybe I’ll do more of it. Maybe not. I don’t know what it would be if it continued, or how it would work. But I just feel like doing it, and that’s good enough for me right now. It'll be online as soon as it's ready, which shouldn't take more than a week.

Weird is good. Different is good. Whatever you do this year, do something weird.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Eve, series 2

Happy New Year! And welcome to the first blog post of 2016! Well, *my* first blog post of 2016, not *the* first blog post of 2016. Unless everyone else is still asleep.

And what a way to kick off my year, with the excellent news that... I’ve written an episode of series 2 of Eve, for CBBC!

Eve is an advanced robot in human form who ends up living with a human family, trying to find her purpose in the world and stay one step ahead of those who would destroy her. The show is created by Emma Reeves and David Chikwe, and Emma is the brilliant head writer on the show.

Series 1 aired last year, and series 2 has just kicked off. But! There was also a Christmas special episode, which you should watch before you start episode 1 of series 2, because it’s hilarious.

You can watch the Christmas special on iPlayer here, and episode 1 of series 2 here. Series 1 is still available online here, so if you can catch up before jumping into series 2, then you'll get to see even more robot hijinks.

And if you’d like to find out if you’re a human or a robot - which I would recommend, as a matter of personal security - take this handy quiz here.

Twitter folk! You can follow co-creator and head writer Emma Reeves here, co-creator David Chikwe here, and the amazingly talented and funny lead actress Poppy Lee Friar here. Go and be nice to CBBC here too, because they make wonderful shows and deserve our love.

There’s also a great, in-depth interview with Emma at the BBC Writersroom here, talking about her journey towards making Eve a reality.

I’ve written episode 10 which, if my calculations are correct, will air on CBBC on Monday 7th March 2016, at 4.30pm. That’s two days after my birthday, which makes it a lovely birthday present - although you should still give me cash and booze and sweets, because I said so.

Obviously I can’t say anything much about my ep, because it hasn’t been on yet, but you can expect excitement, dramatic twists, jokes, and possibly the odd explosion or two. And a cheeky DW reference if you listen closely enough...

They’re a superb, creative, smart, fun team on the show, and I’m incredibly grateful that they let me play with their toys for a while. And it’s a mini reunion for me, as it’s the first show Joe Lidster and I have been on the same team for since our very first TV gig back on series 2 of Torchwood! It was also my first set visit to one of my TV episodes since Children of Earth back in 2008, as I wasn’t able to get to the filming of The Sparticle Mystery or Crossing Lines, so it's been loads of fun.

Anyway, please catch up on the show if you’ve missed any of it, it’s fantastic fun and you need all of it in your life. Pass it on!

Photos © Leopard Drama 2016, used with permission.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 end of year blog

I’ve neglected this blog in the past, but over the last few months, I’ve managed to do a blog post roughly once a week. I’m going to try and keep that going, as I always found it a good warmup to the week’s work, and it’s a fun, low pressure place to talk about whatever I like. Twitter is more immediate, which I love, but for longer form pieces, the blog is still better.

It’s been a year of big changes for me, in work and real life, both good and bad. I don’t want to get into personal stuff on here, but overall, it feels like everything has been switched off and on again, and in many ways I’m starting from scratch.

I’m back in TV-land, and was on set of a TV episode I wrote for the first time since 2008(!), which felt like a huge moment. I’ve been on the sets of Cockneys Vs Zombies and Tower Block, but I’ve missed doing TV. There’s no plan for doing one or the other, I’ve always enjoyed doing both - as with everything in this business, you never know what’s going to get made next. And I’ve changed agents - after 12 years with Jago Irwin at Independent, we both felt a new start would be a good idea, so I’m now with Jonathan Kinnersley at The Agency. Thank you Jago for a fantastic run, and thank you Jonathan for the wonderful welcome.

As always, looking back over my blog posts helps me to assess what I’ve been doing, and how things have been progressing. So let’s take a quick tour through some of the bigger moments:

--I wrote two episodes of The Sparticle Mystery, both of which aired in January and March.

--Crazy For You played at several international film festivals, including a short film selection at Somerset House, and won awards at the Twin Cities Horror Festival, and the Crystal Palace International Film Festival, where it screened with my partner Cat Davies’ short KEEN-wah.

--Cockneys Vs Zombies aired on US TV.

--I blogged about the five things most horror scripts need.

--Tower Block was re-released on DVD with a new cover.

--GeekyCon invited me back to their amazing convention, and I made another video about my experiences (where I won a lipsync battle).

--I made a surprise new horror short film, Ghosting, which premiered at FrightFest, and then had its US premiere at the Telluride Horror Show.

--My regular writing stock-take resulted in a blog post about the process.

--Crusoe aired on UK TV again, including the episode I wrote.

--My most read blog post of the year was this guide on how to annoy people on Twitter.

--My mother passed away, and I wrote a blog post about her influence on me.

--Jason Arnopp was the guest victim writer, on my video series Writers on their Writing Process.

--Speaking of Mr Arnopp, I directed his Patreon pledge video, which we had a lot of laughs making.

--The news broke that I’ve written an episode for season 3 of Crossing Lines, a US/Euro crime show starring Goran Visnjic, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Donald Sutherland.

--My final article of the year was about pitching, and five things to think about before you do yours.

Lots of fun stuff - although most of the bad stuff isn’t actually on here, don’t be fooled by that, there were plenty of projects that died horrible deaths, months spent waiting for answers on other projects, and piles of glorious, glorious rejections. Those always happen though. One massive project that died took a lot out of me, both in the time and energy spent working on it, and in the emotional battering involved in waiting then getting the worst possible response. So many projects, universes and characters you’ll never, ever see. I love them all, and each dead one chips a piece out of my soul.

But hey, there are always more projects, more opportunities, more worlds to explore. I’ll be back blogging as regularly as I can in January 2016, and hopefully it’ll be a year of exciting new adventures for all of us. Here’s to another year of being alive - everything else is a lovely bonus. Except sprouts. Those things can get lost.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Five things to think about before pitching

I’ve done quite a few guest speaker sessions at the excellent Met Film School over the past couple of years, talking about my work and the industry in general. Sometimes, I sit in on the pitch panels. These panels are part of their assessment, where they pitch their movie/TV projects to a group of industry folk, who then give feedback, ask questions, and offer advice on refining the pitch. It’s always fascinating and inspiring, as the students are extremely smart and full of great ideas.

A lot of similar things regularly come up in the feedback sessions, so I thought it might be useful to talk about them on here. This is by no means a “how to pitch” guide, there are plenty of those out there in the bloggoscribothingosphere (including one from me), this is just a general set of things to look out for when doing your own pitches. There are many more, and there are also exceptions to all of these, so your mileage may vary, take it with a pinch of salt, nobody knows anything, blah blah blah.

Also, you should know I have done *all* of these things wrong at some stage. Usually more than once. Learn from my mistakes. So here goes:

Make it personal

Is this based on something from your life? Is there an intriguing question at the heart of it? Start with that to hook them in. Make it personal. Why are you telling this story? Where did it come from? What inspired you to create this character? Ask them what they’d do if faced with the dilemma at the centre of the story. Open with that, then start the pitch, and they’ll interested before they even know what it’s about.

Let me know where I am immediately

A lot of potentially great pitches have been undone by very simple omissions: the title. The genre. The setting. Let them know what the movie’s called, what type of movie this is, if it’s set in the past, present or future. Sounds obvious. But you’d be surprised how many times it gets forgotten.

If you’re halfway through your great story, and they’re still trying to work out if it’s supposed to be funny or serious, if people have cars or horses, then they’re not going to take in the information. Ground them first, then they know where they are.

Notes won’t kill you

It’s totally fine to clutch some notes and occasionally refer to them to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. It’s a pitch, not a memory test. Obviously it’s better not to need them, but nobody ever said “wow, loved the idea, but they didn’t have it memorised so we're not going to buy it”.

Glancing at notes is much, MUCH better than constantly stopping and starting, apologising for forgetting parts, and losing your place. They want to love your story. So tell it properly. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t just *read* the notes at them like a speech. It does go without saying, right? I don’t need to tell you that, right? Good.

Let them decide if it sucks or not

“This is just a working title.” “We’re not sure about this bit.” “I don’t like the ending but we can change it.” No. Don’t ever do that. If you tell them something is bad before they get a chance to decide for themselves, they’ll probably agree with you.

You have no idea what they’ll like or not, so don’t put them off. Just confidently tell them the title/plot/ending and keep going. If they hate the title or any part of it, *then* you can say it’s a temporary fix and that you’re happy to change it. This will make you seem more flexible and easygoing.

And finally, possibly the most important one:

Audiences don’t care about you

This one isn’t necessarily to do with the pitch itself, more the story, but it’s a way to avoid certain pitch-death: don’t make your main character a movie writer/director/producer. And it’s not because people don’t understand stories about the inner workings of the movie industry. They do. They just don’t care.

Tough-love time, folks: Audiences do NOT give a shit about you. Or anyone in the film industry. They literally could not care less. Hey, I get it, you know that world and have some hilarious/dramatic/surprising insights about it. Look how hard it is to get movies made! Look how we struggle! Look at all the crazy stuff we have to deal with! Nobody cares. Nobody. Cares.

When someone decides to go to the cinema, paying inflated prices out of their hard-earned salary, they will be looking for someone to root for, or identify with. That person is not you. “Oh, the main character might not get his movie made? Wow. Don’t care. Don’t care, hope he dies at the end.” Same goes for people in PR, or magazine publishing. Lovely people in real life, but audiences aren’t interested in their “difficult” lives.

“But what about The Player?” What about it? You’re not Michael Tolkin or Robert Altman. “What about Saving Mr Banks?” You’re not Kelly Marcel, and your main characters aren’t the creator of Mickey Mouse or Peter Pan. “But what about Ed Wood?” You’re not Alexander & Karaszewski, or Tim Burton, and your main character isn’t Ed Wood. “But what about--“ Stop. You’re not the Coen brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Paul Thomas Anderson, or Fellini. Sorry. Just because there are amazing exceptions, it doesn’t mean you are one of them.

Weirdly, this doesn’t seem to matter in prose fiction. People will accept a filmmaker protagonist in a book or short story far more readily than in a film. I don’t know why. If you’re desperate to tell movie/TV stories, write a book. Or a blog.