First Thoughts on the Ouya

Even while many Kickstarter backers are still waiting for their new Ouya consoles to be delivered I strolled into a nearby Game and picked one up. In the box was a controller and the shiny little cube of the Ouya. It’s smaller than my coffee mug but packs a quad core processor and 1GB of RAM.

But what’s it like to play? There are still some problems, even after the console boots up and installs a sizeable update, but the issues are hopefully small niggles that can be ironed out. In the meantime the potential to play some awesome games is very much there.

The Niggles

Most of the problems with the initial use of the Ouya are hopefully teething pains that aren’t going to stick around. Nevertheless they do put a damper on unboxing the ‘start of the gaming revolution’…

  • First step of getting the Ouya up and running was to Google how the hell you put the batteries in the controller! For those not in the know, the controller’s two front panels simply pull away from magnets. In the end, a nice little surprise.
  • I used the Ouya on both my office and home wi-fi networks. In both cases it had problems making and keeping a wi-fi connection. This was especially frustrating when trying to register and it kept dropping out. Although once the Ouya was up and running it now seems happy on wi-fi.
  • With all the fuss over Microsoft wanting the One to keep connecting to the internet for security, it’s worth noting that in order to get the Ouya up and running you need to be on wi-fi, have to register an account and, more worryingly, you have to add a method of payment. Either a credit card or voucher credit. I opted for credit that you can pick up from somewhere like Game.
  • I did have to restart the console a few times, mainly because of the wi-fi issues, but also because it did forget the controller on one occasion and I couldn’t pair them again.
  • Where are the built-in apps?! I was looking forward to seeing XBMC running on it but it was nowhere to be seen!
  • This being an independent platform means there’re no standard behaviours between games. This is especially noticeable when you try and exit a game as each one has a different way of doing it – with some having no option at all and you just use the ‘back’ button to get back to the Ouya menu. One game’s background music even kept playing despite quitting the game.
  • Most annoying is that the Ouya seemed very keen to keep turning itself on! After I shutdown the machine down using the controller it was only on standby. While I went back to watching telly it would keep turning back on – I’m guessing through some HDMI feedback. I had to kill the console completely by pressing down the ‘on’ button for a few seconds.
  • Doing the above you also notice how loud the thing is in a quiet room, with the fan matching any of the big boy consoles in terms of decibels.

The Potential

  • The first thing you notice is the slick interface the Ouya offers. Minimal design with bold fonts that look great on a big TV.
  • The console is tiny, almost portable, and barely noticeable.
  • There’s currently a limited marketplace but little indie games like Fist of Awesome, No Brakes Valet and Towerfall show the possibilities for fun games to play with friends. Although playing them on a big HD telly does seem a bit strange for the more lo-fi offerings.
  • There are a few apps ready to go like TwitchTV and TuneIn radio but once developers start building their own there’s a lot of potential to turn the Ouya into the one box you need to stream all your entertainment.

So the Ouya hasn’t got the polish of a Microsoft or Sony product but it should prove to be a tenacious contender to the big names. Everything has been done to empower developers and free them from the bureaucracy of large platforms – now they just need to get developing!

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You’re Only as Good as Your Team: Lessons from New Star Soccer

New Star Soccer must be the most addictive mobile game ever created. I’ve had it installed on 3 devices and maxed out my character on each one. The idea is simple; take the role of an aspiring football star and pass, shoot and score you’re way to glory.

You witness each match from the perspective of your player. Most of the time you’re a bystander, watching things happen until the ball falls to you. It’s like that Zidane documentary where the camera is trained on him for the whole match, even when he’s doing amazingly un-superstar things like scratching his arse. So in the game you either intercept, pass or take a crack at goal. Outside each match various gauges indicate your popularity with your manager, your teammates and even girlfriends and sponsors. Not passing to your teammates doesn’t go down well but scoring a hat trick every match will make your manager ecstatic.

The game does a great job of bringing together the two main components of a classic footy game; easy to pick up but difficult to master gameplay and an array of stats to monitor success. But tellingly the stats are only centred around your player. The game isn’t about comparisons with your teammates or other stars. On the surface it all seems very selfish, the accumulation of money and luxury goods being the measure of success, but there’re deeper lessons to be learned. It’s not just about becoming the best, but how you handle it when you’ve got everything you dreamed of.

My journey to the top started at the bottom of the English leagues before rising through the ranks to play for my home team of Pompey. I then spent a few seasons at Chelsea where I was at the top of my game, winning every cup, celebrated by my manager and teammates alike. The only thing I hadn’t done was take England to World Cup glory. The World Cup was another season away and I didn’t fancy another punishing 60 game run before it arrived. Instead, I wanted somewhere to coast for awhile. I packed my bags and took my girlfriend to the glamorous shores of San Marino.

You’re Only as Good as Your Team

The San Marino first division only has about 8 teams. Great, 16 league games and no Champions League. So I signed up with COSMOS for the same extravagant wage I was on at Chelsea, probably more than my teammates collectively made in their whole careers. Trouble is the teams played each other 4 times and were absolutely useless at football. Fine, I’ll still score plenty of goals I thought but the team had no respect for me thanks to me bankrupting the club. I had to earn my place but it was nigh impossible to put in crosses for them to score. They were so slow that passes had to be inch perfect. At Chelsea I could cross in a vague direction and someone would oblige by slotting it in the goal. I was back to basics, my star status evaporating, and I was playing the toughest matches of my career.

Having Loads of Stuff Does Not Mean You’re Rich

As the season drew to a close COSMOS held near the top of the table but only a few points separated the top and bottom teams. No chasm between rich and poor clubs here, it went down to the wire. I still had the hunger to win, all my money going on energy drinks to keep me playing to the max and top notch football boots to desperately try and convert some wins. You can’t liquidate your assets so despite all my cars, helicopters, race horses and private island I couldn’t buy success. I struggled to the bitter end and still finished mid-table. My teammates must have been livid, all that money and I still couldn’t make them champions. My girlfriend was on the verge of walking out and I was completely out of practice to play on an international stage with real footballers.

Don’t Forget the Ones You Love

I couldn’t have asked for an easier World Cup group; Honduras, Montenegro and Peru. Perfect, my limited capital meant I could only afford a couple of energy drinks during the tournament so I could save them for more formidable opponents. You don’t get paid for national club matches and fan admiration doesn’t translate into cold hard cash – I’d have to ration what little I had left.

The first game saw an easy win against Honduras, I had a chance to get my eye back in for the faster paced games ahead. Then disaster; my girlfriend snapped and blabbed to the world’s press about my teammates’ bad influence. My high regard amongst the team plummeted. The next game against Montenegro was a farce, a no score draw with my very few chances blasted wide. Moral was on the floor.

I didn’t end the relationship. My obsession with success at COSMOS had driven us apart. I’d dragged her away from the big city and my energy drink addiction no doubt caused tension when I couldn’t get my hit. I vowed to treat her properly. She’d given up her life to be with me, I had to make concessions as well.

The next game saw us beat Peru to scrape through the group stages and face Ghana, another gift of an opponent that we saw off in a sterling victory. We had a bit of our mojo back but the quarter finals presented us with the dreaded France.

At the End of the Day it’s All About Luck

Enough of cruising on easy street, it was time to take on the big boys. All I could do was snap open an energy drink and take to the pitch.

It was a distinctly average game. Even giving it my all presented few chances. It just wasn’t happening, no gaps, no spark of creativity from the team. We lost 1-0. Neither team excelled but fate chose France day and that was that, the run at the World Cup was over for another four years.

As the dust settled it was time to take stock. I’d been humbled, away from the comfort of the English Premiere League my superstar status had been stripped away. I was forced to work hard again, to struggle against the odds, and was reborn as a more level-headed person. There’re no guarantees in life and I had to move forward, back to the Premiere League to rebuild my reputation but this time I wouldn’t take anything for granted…

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Series Blog: Hemlock Grove – Episode 1

A weird gothic fairytale, made gruesome by Hostel’s Eli Roth. Not something I’d usually tune in for but Netflix’s impressive House of Cards run had me thinking twice. House of Cards was adult, cinematic, not bound by the usual restrictions of a TV show – namely adverts, running time or amount of swearing – so what would be their take on the horror genre?

From the synopsis it seemed like it might be Twin Peaks meets Buffy; a young girl brutally murdered in a town with plenty of supernatural secrets, and hot teens having the run of the place. While the first episode sets up the strange community full of odd characters, the ambiguity is often ruined by clunky scenes that start jumping around Hemlock Grove’s history before we’ve had a chance to settle in.

The episode’s main aim is to kick the story off with the death of a young girl and all evidence points to a werewolf as the culprit. But is the werewolf either newly arrived gypsy Peter or son of the town’s rich Godfrey corporation Roman? We’re not too concerned right now as other relationship’s are introduced, albeit very briefly.

The story starts jumping back to the start of the summer, and then to 13 years previously when Roman’s father commits suicide. This is preceded by a bit of horrible exposition with Dougray Scott’s Norman arguing with Roman’s father about Olivia, the series’ controlling, hypnotic matriarch played by Famke Janssen. The scene hammers home what I’m guessing will be the central thread of the series – just who, or what, is Olivia – which is done much more subtly in her delicate behaviour with the precocious Roman.

While we get to grips with the various oddballs the ‘story’ stutters into first gear with the podgy sheriff teaming up with Norman to find out who left a cheerleader with her guts hanging out. This involves seeking out creepy scientist Dr Price – obviously up to something dodgy – who suggest a four-legged perpetrator while Norman pouts about ‘wasting their time’ amongst other desperate cliches.

The plotting is slapdash, a rush to get various story strands running before the characters have a had a chance to walk. Scott and Janssen’s indifferent performances do little to get the audience interested in Hemlock Grove’s dark past but luckily there’s enough intrigue in the younger cast members to warrant further interest.

If this was a weekly TV show then I’d have probably forgotten all about it by the time the next instalment came along, but the beauty of the Netflix model is it promotes fast consumption. No waiting around to lose the story, even casual interest leads to further watching. Hemlock Grove’s first episode doesn’t smash you round the head but it doesn’t need to, just get you onto the next one which is 20 seconds away. Let’s hope they get a bit more polished.

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Jenny Ringo

Jenny RingoJust a quick note to tell you all about a fantastic new character filmmaker Chris Regan has created called Jenny Ringo. She’s a feisty witch who gets into scrapes with her slacker flatmate and Chris has already completed one short called Jenny Ringo and the Monkey’s Paw. It was screened at a recent Moviebar and Chris has been working at getting it to a bigger audience so I helped him put together a Jenny Ringo web page where you can sign-up to the mailing list and help generate interest in Jenny and her future adventures. Chris also got a table at the recent Entertainment Media Show in Earl’s Court and gave out copies of the film which was a fantastic idea; forgoing the expensive and time-consuming process of getting it into festivals and instead putting it into the hands of proper fans. So help spread the word…

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Getting Into a Better, More Enjoyable Groove

Thanks to recent events my writing has been a bit stop-start. In short, June was a shit month that knocked me down a bit and I have since failed to recover my ‘Hour a Day’ routine that I had diligently stuck to for the first 5 months of 2011. But it wasn’t just what happened in June that was the cause, for a time I did get back into the groove but gradually my enthusiasm waned and I have now abandoned the regime entirely.

For a time it was scary. I thought that was it, that I’d given up writing completely. The dreadful day had come and my brain had totally disengaged and that was that. But it was also refreshing just to have a break and not think about when I was going to get my hour done and if I couldn’t, when I was going to make it up. It had become added pressure that I didn’t really need outside of my day job and had removed any fun from it. It had even gotten to a stage where sometimes I’d sit in front of my computer and just run out the hour without even typing anything. I’d turned writing into something I wasn’t looking forward to, a chore to get out of the way.

So now I’ve got a new routine – writing when I feel like it. I want to write most days but I won’t feel guilty if I’d rather watch a movie or play some games. It might take me longer to get stuff done but at least I’ll enjoy it again. And I am enjoying it. I’ve just gotten back from a much needed holiday away and I’ve already bashed out a synopsis for a new TV idea.

My main reason for the ‘Hour a Day’ was to treat it like more of a profession. I was a runner-up in the Red Planet prize and was ready for them to snap up one of my ideas and for me to get cracking, delivering drafts to deadlines like a proper writer. But that hasn’t happened and they’re now drawing the pitching to a close. I haven’t had a definite no on all my ideas but I’ve got a feeling my style wasn’t what they were looking for. So without a proper production company to send stuff to I feel like I’m back to square one, the hobbyist writer in his bedroom who keeps plugging away.

But the Red Planet experience has given me several ideas which I’m excited about, ideas that get my blood-pumping and make me want to write. I’ve learned writing isn’t supposed to be a prison sentence that you give yourself. You can’t force it into a quantity or a timetable, instead you’ve got find the ‘right’ time, the time when the juices are really flowing, and ride the wave – you just can’t plan when you might catch it again.

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Getting Back into the Groove

Like my last post, this is going to be one of those ‘man, I’ve just been far too busy to even think about blogging’ updates. I put this mainly down to starting a new job which has disrupted my writing routine somewhat. Not that I’m complaining. I count myself lucky that I have a day job which is challenging, fun and rewarding. Yes, it can also be tiring but I find that doing fulfilling work in the day means I’m fired-up for writing in the evening. The feeling of achieving things, whether it’s finishing a web site or a draft of a script, is what seems to push me forward. I don’t think I’d be able to write if I had a shit job, I’d just get too depressed.

Luckily there are some parallels between what I do as a web developer and the craft of screenwriting. This was highlighted by an evening of talks I went to a couple of weeks ago run by Brighton web agency Clear Left on the subject of using the web to tell stories in various ways. Obviously the method in which a user interacts with a web site is different to how they watch a movie but a web designer’s job is to still engage with their audience and present a story in an engaging way.

First up was Phil Gyford who is the creator of The Diary of Samuel Pepys, an on-going blog which is updated daily with an entry from Pepys’ diary. Phil’s initial reason for doing this was to take what are several hefty volumes of text from the 17th century writer and break it down into a manageable format. Rather than sit down and read Pepys’ Diary as if it were a book, he wanted a way people could read it without being put off by the sheer size of it. The blog format seems perfect. A diary isn’t a story in the classic sense, it has no beginning, middle or end, or any exploding robots, so reading each entry as a separate entity makes sense. It also gives the reader a sense that Pepys is out there somewhere in history, writing his diary as the reader lives their own life in tandem. Phil has also put Pepys on Twitter and used some of his more mundane text as a daily insight into what Pepys got up to. Like everyone else on Twitter, he bad-mouths theatre performances, bitches about work and gets drunk.

There was also a talk by Gavin O’Malley about the creation of Spacelog, a collection of transcripts from NASA’s space exploration missions, including Apollo’s 11 and 13. The transcripts they started with were simply reams of paper containing radio messages between the NASA control room and the astronauts. The team digitised everything and presented it to the site’s user like a Twitter feed. So each message has a time stamp and a photo of who’s saying it. Still sounds pretty dull but it makes the text much more browsable and the mundane conversations are brought to life to a point where they become quite involving so that you find yourself scrolling through for hours. There’s even a nifty feature that graphs how many ‘tweets’ there were at particular moments so you can see where the action kicks in.

I might as well round-up what else I’ve been up too… there was April’s Moviebar which was a fun night, it seemed to be a bumper edition of great shorts.

I reviewed a couple of fantastic Hong Kong films recently released by Terracotta Distribution over at Electric Sheep; Sparrow and The Detective.

I also saw Source Code from director Duncan Jones. I preferred his debut Moon because it was a more in-depth and lovingly crafted retro sci-fi film. By comparison, Source Code is much more of a caper and it’s obviously more mainstream with an easier to sell high concept – Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap meets Speed – with requisite love story and cheesy ending. But it was still very enjoyable, Jones has fun with the idea and there’s stuff about Quantum Physics and parallel universes there if you want it. I don’t think it’ll be this year’s Inception as it doesn’t feel quite as grand but it doesn’t take itself too seriously either so it makes for a fun ride.

Posted in moviebar, web | 2 Comments

What I’ve Been Up To.. In the Form of Links

For some reason I’ve been very busy over the last week or so.  Usually I keep a rather mundane routine of day job and writing but a lot of social things suddenly grouped themselves together to suck up my month’s beer money in one go.  My ‘1 hour a day’ writing schedule has been thrown out the window so I’ve now got a 7 hour debt to repay at some point but it was worth it as I got to go to a lot of fun filmy things, which also seemed to mainly involve drinking with fellow writer Chris Regan.

First up last week was a showing of the shorts made at the Brighton Filmmakers Coalition’s 48-hour film challenge which involved creating trailers for made-up films.  I had the pleasure of working with a great team of people on a trailer for a sci-fi thriller called Blink.  Sadly, hardware let us down and we only ended up with the teasiest of teasers but director Sammi Hamer shot some amazing stuff and hopefully we’ll be able to pull that footage together soon…

The other trailers were very cool and stylish but the funniest were by director Anthony Carpendale, especially The Man Who Shouts at Seagulls…

Over the weekend I saw the fantastic duo Bitter Ruin perform at the Brunswick in Hove and they were followed by a trio of American musicians, including Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione, called Gentlemen & Assassins.  Obviously they rocked, very bluesy and punky.  You can find out more on Chris’ Blog and follow that to a review by Scar who summed it up perfectly.

And then it was Moviebar on Monday, another great set of shorts which I wrote about on the Official Moviebar blog.  I even tried to take a few photos as evidence about how great these nights are but with the pub being dark and busy they didn’t turn out that great.  Although you can just about see Chris in his swish Moviebar hat…

Emma Bailey at Moviebar

So you probably suspect I’ve gone insane with jealousy and simply ripped-off Chris’s blog, passing off his packed social life as my own.  As I’ve no photographic proof of me at these events then I guess you’ll just have to trust me.

Next week I’ll be talking about my experiences writing Ten Dead Men…

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Heavy Rain Leaves You With a Heavy Soul

Old news, but the PS3 game Heavy Rain is amazing, fully deserved of its recent slew of BAFTA game nominations. The tag ‘interactive movie’ is usually a bit of a turn-off for gamers but, for me, Heavy Rain was a sublime experience; a cinematic story that seemed to flow perfectly from each button-prompt that I either completed or spectacularly failed. Because the story unfolded thanks to my own successes or failures it felt incredibly involving, like I was creating the story as it happened with an ending that only I would see because of how I’d played. I’m sure that’s unlikely given the limitations of a videogame but it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to having serious control over the outcome of a linear story within a game. It’s a testament to the writers and programmers that I was left both elated by the end of the game yet troubled, I’d ultimately saved someone’s life but I’d also lost two of the main characters along the way.

I’ve followed game developers Quantic Dream since they released Nomad Soul back in 1999. They also released the crime thriller Fahrenheit and both games were great but still felt like games. Fahrenheit was a compelling story but felt ‘on-the-rails’. Failure to escape a particular situation meant you had to go back to the beginning of the same scene and try the button sequence again. By comparison, Heavy Rain is a huge leap forward. While playing, I never had to go back and re-do something. Obviously you could if you wanted to but the game constantly moved forward and I was more than happy to let it. So my decisions, my abilities, dictated the story I was watching and meant I was much closer to the characters than I would be in a movie. In a film, the director is in control and it’s their own personal vision I’m watching. In Heavy Rain, I’m the one making split-second decisions for the characters, meaning I’m the one responsible for what happens to them.

The story itself is nothing ground-breaking. In a Fincher-esque city a child murderer is on the loose – the Origami Killer – and you take control of four protagonists who have the potential to uncover his true identity; Ethan – the father of a boy who is missing, Madeline – an insomniac journalist, Scott – a PI on the trail of the killer and FBI agent Norman who’s working with the police. Each character has their own personal problems and are approaching the case from different angles. How you play the game determines which one is the real hero. For instance, Ethan is the most desperate and the Killer has given him a set of Saw-like challenges to prove how much he loves his son in order to prevent his death. But he also has blackouts and the police suspect Ethan himself is the killer so you’ve got to stay one step ahead of them as well. Failing to do so means being locked up and leaving Ethan completely helpless in saving his son.

The greatest success of the game is how much creator David Cage gets you to care about the characters in the first place. This is helped largely by the doom-laden score and fantastic motion-capture graphics but it’s really down to the realistic and emotional scenes Cage gets you to interact with. The game is a slow-burner, many early episodes are ponderous with nothing much happening except they get you as player to reflect on a character’s disposition. There’s a heart-breaking scene at the beginning where Ethan has to look after his uncommunicative son who just wants to watch TV while you cook him dinner and try and get him to do his homework. Ethan is still guilt-ridden over the death of his other son and this boy just wants love from his father, yet in the same room they are unable to express their feelings. In filmic terms it sets-up the themes of the overall story but as a game experience it’s incredible, as a player you can literally sit there and run out the clock or try and get Ethan to entertain and engage with his son.

As the story gets rolling there are bigger and bigger set-pieces. Quantic Dream aren’t afraid of crowd scenes which are put to great effect in this particular game. There’s the usual chase through the subway but made more exciting because you’ve got to chose your route through the busy platform and push past people. What’s terrifying is that putting one button wrong could mean the end of this particular plot. The game seems much more forgiving early on but as the stakes get higher just missing one move could end a character for good. There’s a tremendous weight of responsibility throughout, especially after I discovered just how easy it was to lose. Through my own stupidity I led one character into a horrible situation that I wasn’t able to save them from and they were suddenly brutally murdered before my eyes as I’m cursing my prematurely aged fingers, left with their dead eyes staring accusingly at me. And it’s not like a movie where their death might have been a noble sacrifice, in my Heavy Rain none of the other characters would know of this particular person’s tragic death.

I’ve heard that Heavy Rain has been optioned to be made into a film but I fail to see the point. As serial killer stories goes the game does come up with a compelling backstory as to why the killer became a killer and it has a gut-punching twist as to their real identity, but in a film it would be easy to fall into the typical serial killer format and completely miss the layers the game has to offer. At the end I had saved the day but only partly, it came at a huge cost. Despite the action scenes the game felt like Fincher’s Zodiac more than anything, a network of characters that either failed or succeeded (mainly failing thanks to me) and it felt like the story never quite resolved. This isn’t a criticism but a niggling feeling that keeps you thinking about the characters long after the game has finished. I would like to play it again, to see the different outcomes, but the first time round was so involving, draining almost, that it felt like that’s the only Heavy Rain story I’ll know. Seeing something happen differently would be like watching someone else’s edited version – as would be watching the adapted film.

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Mission to Mars (OK, London)

Last Friday was the first meeting for the runners-up of the Red Planet Prize in the fair city of London.  It was a chance for everyone to bask in the greatness of Tony Jordan, meet the people behind Red Planet and Kudos and, most importantly, have a few jolly beers with fellow writers – about 40 in total – who’d travelled from all over the UK.  I thought I might have had the longest commute up from Brighton but there were writers from Wales, Scotland, Manchester, Bristol, even one guy who’s relocated to Portugal, so it was a hugely varied bunch.

Tony Jordan kicked things off with a passionate talk about keeping your writing pure and personal, and not becoming shallow and following the trends of the entertainment machine.  It was hugely motivational as Mr. Jordan (or can I call him Tony now?  Or Tone?  Or the T-Man?) is as you’d expect; energetic, funny, sweary and bursting with wisdom.  He doesn’t want to see another tired vampire script but find the next big thing.  He doesn’t want anyone starting a pitch with ‘OK, 6-parts, 9pm slot on Channel 4’ but hear the story that you’ve poured your blood, sweat, tears and spunk (his words) into.  If you had 3 months left to live, what would be the script you simply had to write?  That’s the one he wants to read.

He also distilled a few of the truths about the craft of screenwriting.  McKee, Field, Truby and everyone else trying to sell you the magic secret is just trying to fleece you.  The Tony Jordan approach is get a good character, determine where he/she needs to get to and then place obstacles in their way to achieving that goal. That’s it.  Your skill as a writer will be in how good those goals and obstacles are.  And if you want to work on building a great character one of his tips was to fill out job applications as that character, because the questions they ask will get you thinking about who they are and what their background is.  Tony was very proud of getting Gene Hunt an interview with Tesco.

There was also insight into the industry as it stands now and why it’s so damn hard to break into.  Nowadays there are only a handful of big-name writers who get to do the huge primetime shows, why?  Because if an Exec gets Tony Jordan to write something and the show goes tits-up, the Exec can blame the well-known writer who should’ve been a safe pair of hands.  But if the Exec hires a new writer and the show doesn’t deliver, then the Exec has to bite the bullet for taking the risk.  And don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring.  Keep writing!

Then it was on to the dreaded networking, what every writer, especially me, fears.  But this wasn’t really ‘networking’, more of a mingling.  I haven’t been to any writing festivals but I imagine networking there is more fraught, with desperate writers trying to get their script into the hands of an elusive producer.  This was much more chilled-out affair, the bonus being that everyone had the perfect icebreaker – ‘So, what was the script you entered?’

Everyone had a brilliant, yet simple, pitch.  What was interesting was that there seemed to be a lot of very dark, bleak stories out there, sometimes with a horror bent, but not generic.  No zombies or vampires or anything but new, fresh ideas.  Hopefully, some of those ideas get to make it to our screens.

So it’s onwards and upwards from here.  I wish everyone the best of luck as the mentoring process continues and I hope we all get to meet-up again in the future.

Posted in competitions, craft, red planet | 10 Comments

The Red Planet Prize

Last year I got a fantastic early Christmas present – I found out I was a runner-up in the Red Planet Prize.  The RPP is a yearly screenwriting competition run by the legendary Tony Jordan and Red Planet Pictures, in partnership with Kudos, and is focused on finding new writers for TV.  The 2010 winner was Simon Glass (congrats!) and I feel tremendously privileged to have been one of the runners-up.  Not only is it great to get the thumbs-up from proper industry professionals, but there’s also a mentoring process which is obviously a very exciting prospect.

What’s interesting about the RPP is that it got me thinking about TV in the first place.  Ever since I was a kid I always wanted, someway, somehow, to be involved in films.  All my other scripts have been shorts or features and I’ve always thought if I ever became a professional writer it would be as one who wrote movies – preferably ones with lots of things exploding, in space.  But the harsh reality is that making a film in the UK seems to be a very hard business.  Even if I got a script optioned it could be years before it ever became an actual film.

On the other hand, TV at least seems realistic and there are loads of success stories surrounding UK writers and shows like Misfits, Peep Show, Dr Who, Being Human etc.  So the RPP was the perfect excuse to actually sit down and write a pilot for a series, although last year was the first year I finally got round to entering.  The pilot I entered was a sci-fi drama centred on a group of teenagers addicted to online videogames, and how the lines between gaming and reality start to blur.  It was actually an idea I wanted to enter into the 2008 RPP but I never got past the development phase (the development phase being me creating a file called ideas.doc and writing ‘teenagers, gaming, explosions, space,  school’).

So after I failed to enter the RPP I sat down and decided to write the pilot anyway, for the next competition at least.  It was sketchy and very loose – only about 40 pages while the RPP is after 60 – but I sent it round to my small circle of fellow writers for some feedback.  From there I worked on tone and tried to make sense of the various themes I had flying round.  I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi but writing it can sometimes lead you into a complete muddle of half-baked concepts and what you think are cool ideas that quickly become difficult to realise on the page.  The great thing about doing a pilot is that you don’t have to pack absolutely everything into it – it’s designed to tantalize the viewer without giving them any answers.  My rewriting quickly became about doing a simple, focused story but one that introduced elements that would be played out later in the series.

When RPP 2010 came round I already had something to work with and could focus on writing an amazing 10 pages – which is what you submit first and then those chosen for the second round send their completed scripts.  Again, feedback from other writers was invaluable in stripping the first 10 pages into a tasty hook for the rest of the episode.  Then, after I got over the shock of making it to the second round, I frantically polished the 60 pages and had a mild heart attack.

Then I got the news that I was a runner-up and was very, very happy.  I’ve entered a fair few competitions (that you usually have to pay for) and never gotten anywhere so it’s great to get some recognition.  It might just be that my concept’s got ‘something’ but that’s enough for me to keep plugging away and develop other ideas.  I’ve just reread the pilot for the first time in a few months and it does still excite me.  It’s also come a long way since my original idea, yet I can see where the work needs to be done.  As always, it’s up to me to keep rewriting away but me actually getting something on the telly does seem (albeit minutely) possible.  Me writing Blade Runner 2 is still a wild, crazed fantasy.

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