Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Beard Meetings

A few years ago now, some big city, either Manchester or that other one, paid about seven million quid for a facial recognition system that would plug into the city centre CCTV and allow the authorities to quickly spot and track down malcontents, miscreants and general riffraffery. The system was turned on with great fanfare, only for it to rapidly become clear that... it didn't work. At all. Further investigation revealed that not only did it not work, it had never worked in the first place.

Which is the first time I've ever felt sorry for a bit of software, because my own facial recognition system is at best somewhat glitchy (it has been pointed out in the comments below that the technical term for this is prosopagnosia) . Mind you, that CCTV system didn't even recognise black people as being human beings as opposed to, say, strangely mobile bits of building or shrubbery, and I'm not quite that bad. No-one's ever paid seven million quid for me to turn up for a thing that I can not only not do, but also be a massive racist into the bargain (I'm sure someone will let me know if I misremember).

My not-goodness at faces would lead to conversations like this one, in my early twenties:

FRIEND:  Why do you keep blanking me in town?
ME: I've never blanked you!
FRIEND: You regularly walk past me, and you only spot me if I put my face in front of yours and say HELLOOOOOO!
ME:   Yes! That's how people recognise each other from a distance of more than eight inches, surely?
FRIEND: HOW CAN YOU NOT RECOGNISE MY FACE WE'VE BEEN BEST FRIENDS SINCE WE WERE FOURTEEN.
ME: Yes, well, you say that.
FRIEND: We've also shared a house for the last four years.
ME: PROVE IT.

I realised a while ago this also partly explains my long struggle to deal with abstract concepts like plot and narrative structure, because if you're not great at face, the film-watching experience goes like this:

ME: okay, the dark-haired guy in this who stabbed someone earlier is now arresting... himself! Wait, they're two different people! He's cloned himself! This film is BRILLIANT! Oh wait, they're two different people. And now the blond woman has gone back in time to fight her earlier self - oh that's her sister.
FRIEND: I'm not watching films with you any more.

Anyway, after that, I put a lot more processing power into actors' faces, and now I'm all 'ooh he was Phoebe's boyfriend in series one of Friends, that guy was in Grosse Point Blank for about thirty seconds' and so on, which is just as annoying but in the other direction.

I also got better at actual real life peoples' faces once I tried out the whole 'eye contact' thing, but the system still crashes from time to time, thusly:

A couple of years ago:

INT. PRODUCTION OFFICE - DAY

I am waiting to meet a lovely producer I worked with on a fun project about six months previous. An unfamiliar lady, a PA I assume, wanders out and starts talking to me about a new project, which is nice, but we should probably wait until the producer is here. After about half an hour I start to wonder if the producer is ever going to turn up, and then the penny drops.

ME: Wait, it's you! You had a haircut!
PRODUCER: ?
ME: (quickly) Nothing.

AND NOW WE ARE UP TO SPEED. Well, yesterday. I am in an animation workshop, involving four other writers and a lady producer (I haven't seen a man producer in about five years, I think they've all died out). Having drunk an enormous amount of coffee, I suddenly realise I quite need what the americans refer to as a 'bathroom break', so I dash out, and then I dash back again, because I don't want to miss anything. Bearing in mind I also have quite poor spacial awareness (if you are thinking to yourself that this writer is possibly a couple of steps into the 'bit special' spectum, I would say this: BINGO), I run back in roughly the same direction, see a group of people through a glass door, crash through and sit down.

There follows a moment of silence, at which point it occurs to me I am quite possibly IN THE WRONG ROOM ENTIRELY and about to utterly derail series six of Game of Thrones or something.

Quickly I cast my mind back to a few seconds ago and try to recall the exact faces I saw through the glass door. All I can come up with is that they were definitely faces.

It's still silent. Suddenly I remember: it was a comedy/animation writers' workshop. Beards! Beards are the answer! I look up very slightly and assess the beardage in a clockwise direction. Fair beard, dark beard, lady producer with no beard, dark beard, ginger beard. I reach up to my own face, bit stubbly, this probably is me. I am almost definitely in the correct room. It's still a bit quiet though. Finally:

PRODUCER: All right, James?
ME: YES AND I AM DEFINITELY BACK IN THE ORIGINAL ROOM THAT I LEFT AND YOU ARE ALL THE SAME PEOPLE AHA HA HA.
PRODUCER: Righto.

Anyway, it all worked out fine.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Afternoons of Futures Past

Just after I'd finished writing for the second series of Green Wing, I had a meeting with a BBC Drama producer and we talked for a while about serious matters, and then it turned out we were both HUGE fans of The O.C. so we could stop pretending to be grownups after that, it was great.
If you never watched The O.C, shame on you, it was a teen drama/soap thing set in Orange County, and it was brilliant, first two seasons at least. Much funnier that it had any need to be, which is always my favourite thing.

So, Drama Producer and I, fired up by mutual love of good entertaining telly, started developing our own take on a drama that could be funny and moving and entertaining at the same time, with characters who actually felt like real teenagers rather than the mouthpieces of cynical old hacks. The BBC commissioned two scripts, then dithered a bit, then decided not to go any further with it, which was a terrible shame, but their inalienable right.

Drama Producer and I started developing another show for the BBC, and this one didn't happen either, and then she left to work somewhere else, but we kept meeting up for chats, because when you meet good people in telly who are fun to work with and you trust, you jolly well cling to them. Recently, Drama Producer moved to an entirely new broadcaster and we had one of those meetings where we talked about all sorts of things, until she said 'hey, what happened to that first thing we worked on, the teen soap comedy thing?'

And I said I hadn't taken it anywhere, because I'd liked working on it with her so much I didn't feel anyone else would get it.I still used it as a sample script, because we'd developed the crikey out of it, so it was watertight, but I didn't really trust anyone else with it.

DRAMA PRODUCER: So... shall we maybe have another go at it?

ME: OOH YES PLEASE.

Which is what's happening. And this does happen a lot, things you thought were dead suddenly get a second chance and so on, it's either a good thing, or it drives you mad, dunno which yet. I only mention it because we have a problem with this one which has never come up before, thusly:

DRAMA PRODUCER: Okay, we have an issue which is not insurmountable, but is holding things up somewhat. Because what has happened it, some of the rights have remained with the BBC from when we developed this in the first place, and the person who nailed down these rights was an absolute ARSE and is making my life very difficult as I am having to engage with the fine points of this annoying contract on an almost daily basis, and now I wish I was dead to a certain extent.

ME: Tell me who is responsible for this hackery, this jobsworth, this detestable contracts goblin, and madam I shall see them hang! (I'm writing an 18th century based thing at the moment and sometimes stuff bleeds through).

DRAMA PRODUCER: It's me.

ME: What do you mean it's you?

DRAMA PRODUCER: I did the original contract, and it turns out I was very good at this sort of thing, I had forgotten.

ME: So what you are saying is you, my agent, and myself are now engaged with a version of you from the past, who is a total badass?

DRAMA PRODUCER: Yes.

ME: Well now I want to make a series about that.

DRAMA PRODUCER: Please focus.

ME: Sorry.

Anyway, the battle continues.







Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A meeting in a restaurant.

Recently I had a MEETING. I haven't written about MEETINGS for a bit, because looking after small children makes you tired, and the people with whom I was having MEETINGS were starting to pick up the disconcerting habit of actually reading the blog afterwards. But the kids are at school now, and this was a little while back and I don't think this producer is in the habit of reading blogs so I think we're fine.

Anyway, I was in London, and my agent likes it when I'm in London, he can ring around television producers and say things like 'James is in London! You have exactly twelve hours to book a meeting before the bright lights and moving vehicles become too much and he scurries back to his burrow in Cornwall THE BIDDING STARTS NOW!'

So amongst my other meetings, agent had scored me a quite last minute thing with Quite A Big Producer, who I'd never met before, and much more excitingly, the meeting was arranged for exactly lunchtime, in Quite A Posh Restaurant. I even had to check beforehand if I was supposed to wear a grownup jacket or summat and not a stinky old fleece with a lego space logo on it (model's own).

INT. QUITE A POSH RESTAURANT - DAY (SPECIFICALLY LUNCHTIME)

I discreetly give my name to the discreet waiter person at the discreet bar and he checks the list, discreetly, obviously, then ushers me over to a small table, where Quite A Big Producer is sitting, staring into space.

I introduce myself, sit down, and wait for QAB Producer's focus to zero in on me, which takes a while, quite frankly. Discreet Waiter comes over and asks if I'd like anything to drink. I force down the impulse to shout AHAHAHAHA FREE BOOZE ALL OF IT, and ask for a still water, because I am professional. All the time I am looking down at the menu laid discreetly to one side. I am quite hungry, because I had to rush to my first two meetings, so didn't have time for breakfast, and after this meeting I am going to have to rush to another meeting, so this meal will have to be planned precisely.

QAB Producer and I shoot the breeze for no more than five minutes, trying to work out who we have in common (no-one) and discussing what the broadcasters are looking for at the moment (I know, but I'm not telling them, in case they get someone else in). Then there is a silence.

Discreet Waiter comes over with a notepad.

DISCREET WAITER: (discreetly) Are we ready to order?

There follows a silence, during which QAB Producer looks at the menu, then at the other restaurant patrons who are all nomming merrily, then down at the floor, then back at the other diners again, then back at me. I am using this time to pick out items on the menu which are not French, but will comprise a full meal, which turns out to be totes doable, huzzah.

Then there is a slightly longer silence, after which QAB Producers utters six words that still echo around my brain sometimes.

QAB PRODUCER: No, I think we're done here.

Discreet Waiter takes my menu away. QUAB Producer looks at me. Discreet Waiter looks at me. Slowly I stand up, turn around and leave the restaurant.

Luckily, my next meeting is with one of my Top Favourite Producers, who takes pity on me and lets me have one of her fruit pastilles, so never let anyone tell you everyone in television is evil, it's just most of them.



Friday, May 15, 2015

The Delivery Man - S01E06 - Breasts preview

Look I'm sorry, that's what the clip is called. Final episode of The Delivery Man goes out Wednesday 20th April, ITV, 9.30pm and may God have mercy on all our souls.



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Concept Art: Opal & Redthred

A reminder of what these posts are about: I've been working with the students at Falmouth's Animation and Visual Effects course  to develop some brief outlines for animated show - my outlines, their art.

The second brief is for an idea called OPAL & REDTHRED. Longtime blog readers might remember this is something I've developed before, with the ace illustrator Sarah Gordon, as a short webcomic called BRIDGE & TUNNEL. I really wanted to come back to this world though, so I thought I'd see what the students would do with it.

Here's the brief:

OPAL AND REDTHRED

Animated series for 8-12 yrs.

Opal’s an axe-obsessed dwarf princess and the chosen Champion of Light, Rethred’s a mopey wizard whose power comes from the Dark (but he’s not ‘evil’, he’s quite specific about that). Together, they’re dedicated to defend the fantasy world of Erithea from all magical dangers. Unfortunately, the fantasy world of Erithea has moved on a bit, and now everyone has tablets, libraries, school buses and clean toilets, and doesn’t really need champions any more. 
In a world where trolls drive buses, goblin caverns double as sports arenas and elves are always the coolest kids at school, there isn’t much heroic fantasy adventuring to go around any more. Which doesn’t mean Opal and Redthred won’t do their utmost to go out there and find it.

Based in the (mostly) human city of Scälmo, Opal Signisdottir (who’s run away from her stern father the Dwarf King) and Redthred the Unsure (Dark Wizard in training) are officially allowed to reside in the Enchanted Tower of Destiny, and skip most of their lessons, on condition they maintain a watchful eye for magical threats of all kinds. And when those don’t appear, which they usually don’t, they spend their time adopting magical pets, finding treasure, eating spicy kobold pizzas, exploring magical underground cave systems (sewers) and generally getting into more trouble than if they actually were battling magical threats.
Here be de art:
Firstly, Emily Gray's take on Opal, who I saw as part Princess Leia, part girl Gimli:










... which were great. Then she went with shorter hair, a bit harder edged, which I liked. I was tempted to move to something more cartoony, but decided to let Emma keep working in a more naturalistic style, see how it worked.




 Here's Emma fleshing out the world a bit with some more non-human characters:






... and a bit of the central location, the city of  Scälmo.



And finally here's Emma's take on the depressed student/wizard character Redthred, who looks UNCANNILY like me circa 1991.


So yes, these were great. 
Rachel Denton did some more cartoony/younger style takes on Opal as well, which were lovely and sparky:


The stickers on the axe were a particularly nice touch. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Delivery Man, tonight 9.30pm ITV

Argh bloody hell there's a sitcom starting tonight and I wrote somewhere between a third and one half of it*, put it down to administrative error on ITV's part.




What happened was, ages ago, I caught up with Victoria Pile (creator and producer of Smack The Pony, Green Wing, Campus) and her common law illegal immigrant (Scotch) partner Rob Harley (writer and producer on the above) in London, and they said 'we've got some projects on the go, dunno if you're interested in writing for some of them', and I steepled my fingers like this *steeples fingers* and said 'proceed', and they said '(first thing I've forgotten) and then (second thing I've forgotten) and also we're doing this thing with Darren Boyd as an ex-cop who quits the force and becomes a male midwife' and I was all 'Hellloooooo!'

Because my memory is narrative-based rather than working on the tradition 'reality' base of most hu-mans, this bit might be wrong, but I think what happened next is they gave me two thirds of a script that they'd been stalled on for six months, and I arsed about with it for a bit and then it was INSTANTLY greenlit by ITV. Okay that probably wasn't what happened, but I'm going with it.

So yes, lots of readthroughs and rewrites and auditions later - look, here's a picture of one of the readthroughs:



...it all got filmed in a big shed somewhere in Walford or Charnham or on the Jasmine Allen or one of those London places, and I was there for a couple of days and had to tell Paddy McGuinness to please say 'vanilla monolope' like it does in the script, it'll make sense when it comes out, honest, and then it was ready to go out, BAM, it's magic.

LOL, as David Cameron likes to say, it wasn't like that at all, because a half hour comedy on a commercial channel these days is twenty two minutes thirty seconds, so poor Christian in the edit suite had to spend ages trimming bits and holding them up to the light and tutting and trimming more bits, but now it's READY so watch it, or don't, up to you.

*estimates may vary

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Concept Art: RUNEPAW

So here's a nice thing: having worked with Falmouth Uni's Animation and Visual Effects Department a few times in the past few years (I mainly talk to them about narrative structure, because a lot of student animators can create a thirty second piece in their sleep, but when they have to do something more than four minutes long they tend to shout 'Awk' and fall over), it became apparent that this year is really really good. Or to be fairer to the other years, their collective art style would seem to lend itself very well to the sort of animation I like writing for.

Which made me think 'Hmmm'. 'Hmmm', I thought. And I looked at a few written outlines I'd been noodling about with, and wondered how much better they'd be, and how much more inspired I'd be to work them up into something richer and more interesting if, say, I had a room full of really talented drawists doing lots and lots of concept art for me.

And they went for it! Hahahaha idiots (I love you guys). As part of their professional development, I've given them three very brief outlines, and they're doing concept art, and then I'm giving them feedback, and then they're revising their work, and where we end up, no-one knows. Except hopefully, they'll have a portfolio full of concept art they wouldn't otherwise had, and I'll have some developed outline pitch documents with lovely art, and they keep the copyright on their work so I can't pitch anything involving their art without their permission.

Obviously the spectre of 'hey guys do this work for me I can't pay you but think of the EXPOSURE' is going to lurk over this, but they will get course credits. Also I've tried to recreate the feel of a genuine animation creative workshop by giving them a) sweets and b) a bucket of lego to play with while we talk, so there's that.

Anyway, the process has begun, so I thought I'd put the first few pieces up. Where I can, I've linked to the creators' blogs or tumblr feeds or whatevs, but for GOD'S SAKE PEOPLE get a Twitter account, I get so much work now from Twitter, it is essential if you live in Cornwall like an idiot.

Here's the first outline:

RUNEPAW (CGI/mixed)

Animation for pre-schoolers, teaching navigation and simple words.

Following the adventures of Ingrid Runepaw, a brave Viking mouse, and her intrepid crew of mice, rats, stoats and one rather cold lizard, as they explore the frozen North in order to uncover stories of adventure and derring-do – while having no small amount of adventure themselves.


RUNEPAW is all about exploration and stories, teaching children the basics of map-reading and navigation (why does it get warmer as you go South? Can you sail off the edge of the world?) and uncovering retellings of classic myths and legends as they go (the animation moving from 3D CGI to older forms of animation, such as 2D or stop-motion as the stories are told).

I needed some character art, some background/environment stuff and... anything else they fancied doing really.

AND NOW SOME ARTINGS. This is just a brief selection really, there's some more great stuff which hasn't made it into the Google Docs folder yet, but I'll put it up when it appears.








Grayling Breckon








Sophie Rippington



THEY ARE SO GREAT. The other ones are great too, with a more Disney/Dreamworks influence, but they're not online yet.

The interesting thing is how much it makes me go back to the original concept and redefine it. I'm already chucking out the mixed narrative/story within a story idea - if the characters are this loveable, I want to spend time with them. Also I need to figure out the rules of this world: are the animals aping a viking culture that's around them? Is it set in the modern day, but the animals have their own culture? Or are there no humans in this world, so the animals have stepped up to fill that niche, as it were. How do they perform basic metallurgy (seriously, I have to think about this).

More to follow.