Posts Tagged With: Doctor Who

London 1963 (ish)

This is probably our most effect heavy #TARDISshorts yet. Which, coming just 3 days after the last one was exactly what I said I didn’t want.

Still, it was fun so who cares?

Wednesday evening we found out An Adventure in Space and Time would be the next one, which in one way was great because I’d already thought about what to do … but in another way was less great because as I explained last time I’d already burnt that idea.

So Wednesday I went to bed needing an idea for the following Saturday. Thursday morning I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do, which was a problem.

Time, as always, was running out.

I should reiterate at this point, no one is paying me to do this. No one is even expecting me to do it, but I’ve got into the habit and it’s now become my weekly challenge.

A weekly challenge which was now happening every three days.

So I had to do something, even if I had no idea what. The only thing I had in mind was this scene from An Adventure in Space and Time:

That scene made me cry when I first saw it (and every time since, although it’s been a while) and I just thought it would be funny to subvert it and have my daughter waiting nervously there instead.

I built the rest of the story around that and a few scraps of 1960’s London footage I could find.

With no time to really think about it (I was busy the rest of the day on Thursday), that would have to do.

I asked my friend Mark Sweeting (who you may or may not have seen in our Dalek Loop #TARDISshorts):

… if he’d be willing to play a 1960’s BBC security guard and he was.

Which caused another problem: I had no idea what they looked like.

I should point out at this stage that I’d completely forgotten William Russell plays one in An Adventure in Space and Time. I wondered vaguely if there was a guard in there somewhere but a quick scan through at super high speed didn’t reveal one, so I took to the internet and this was all I could find:

Which gave me the general shape, if none of the details.

A bit more research and I found these:

Which are either cap badges or collar badges or possibly both. But which one to use? The top one is apparently from the ’50s and the bottom one is from the ’70s. Which did they use in the ’60s?

No idea, so I picked the bottom one because it’s a clearer logo … one which can’t be seen on screen anyway.

I lucked out with the hat because my dad used to be in the merchant navy and I have his old cap:

Well, technically Iron Man has it, but I managed to get him to swap it in return for some new pants:

I didn’t want to damage the cap (because of its significance to me) but luckily the cap badge is on a reversible band. So I printed out the BBC badge, stuck it to some card and then, in best Blue Peter fashion) used double-sided sticky tape to affix it to the reversed cap-band.

For the rest of the uniform I broke out the sewing machine and dug through my bags of scrap material until I found the bits I needed to customise an old black suit:

That, I thought, would do. I covered the buttons with silver tape (and added the BBC logo for good measure), added the epaulettes, the chest pockets and the chain. As an afterthought I added one more button because the image I found had four and four just looks more security guard than three.

This was all late Thursday night. I also cobbled together a psychic paper wallet because my daughter really, really wanted to use one. In every film we’ve done, so it was about time.

It’s a bit wobbly, but it was late and I was tired. It’d have to do.

Friday morning and one quick socially-distant film shoot later …

And I had the footage to insert into this photo of the Lime Grove entrance:

I ended up trimming the wider establishing shot so I guess it could have been any entrance anywhere, but I know it’s authentic even if no one else does. I even went to the trouble of putting a reflection in the window because … well, that’s what windows do, isn’t?

But when I came to add us over the top I realised there was no way to create our reflection properly. If you watch closely (or not closely, depending on how obvious you feel it is) then our reflections are actually a separate take from the opposite direction. They don’t match and seem to be living in a different time line.

It was a nice surprise when we finally watched An Adventure in Space and Time on Saturday to see how close my guestimate costume was to the one they used:

Just needed some military ribbons really. Having said that, they went with the older cap badge and significantly more buttons. Not sure if the button count is accurate or if they just repurposed a naval/police officer uniform?

Either way, I’m happy with what I cobbled together in a few hours at short notice.

Friday afternoon my daughter and I trashed the TARDIS:

Threw up the green towels …

… and got to work.

As you can see we’re extremely limited by both space and the size/quantity of the towels. We had to be very careful how we lined up the shots to make sure neither of us went out of the green areas. Sometimes we even had to shoot it kneeling down:

Even then when it came to dropping us into the old 1960’s footage I had to crop each image twice. Because I can only crop in prearranged shapes I had to do one tall skinny rectangle to get my height and a second wide mid-level one to get my daughter’s head/shoulders in without seeing the TARDIS window peeping through.

To get us talking in front of the side of the TARDIS which doesn’t exist, I reused this model shot:

… layered it over the top of our real doors …

… to get this …

… and then us again over the side:

Before overlaying all of that over the street footage:

The windows still don’t quite line up but I’m getting closer. One day I’ll get it right.

There was only about 15 seconds of the street scene so that was on a loop. It’s also mirrored (you can tell by the shop signs) because it’s impossible to shoot the TARDIS from any other angle due to the layout of our house. I can’t flop the TARDIS footage because the signs and the doors would be backwards!

For the David Bradley/William Hartnell shot I made a custom mask using Paint.net (just cutting and pasting bits of the console) so I could have my daughter behind all the controls:

There’s a crop line just to her left (our right) so I could have a still image of the column stopped rather than going up and down.

I finally finished all the editing at about 3.30 am on Saturday morning and then crashed out for a few hours.

Early the next day I realised I didn’t really like what I had. There was a different bus scene where I’d tried to make a joke about the Back to the Future thing of carrying a suitcase full of money around with us, but it didn’t really work. Plus the scene I’d dropped us into didn’t really work.

There was also an extended “inside Lime Grove” sequence which was fine … but unnecessary.

I was trying to find a gag about the guy wandering around the corridor, but I can’t remember who he is! I know he’s from Nationwide, but couldn’t be arsed searching up pictures of all the presenters until I found out in the vague hope I coudl make a weak gag out of it.

I think that’s from the late ’70s anyway so it doesn’t really look right.

Quite late on Saturday morning I decided to add the On the Buses gag. Wrong time period again, but only a little bit and hopefully fudgeable.

I quite liked that so I added the Austin Powers snippets too, which helped bridge some of the longer dialogue in the TARDIS. Because we don’t script these, my daughter and I tend to waffle on a bit. Sometimes it’s hard to cut it down to a manageable snippet.

For example, the “I’m doing a TARDIS inspection line” was originally “I’m doing a TARDIS inspection to see if everything’s going to plan and all the buttons work and the technical things are right like the music and the lights and everything’s going okay.”

Which is slightly less succinct than a 140 second running time demands.

If I were to revisit this I think I’d have had us wandering through footage from every ’60s film and TV show I could think of … but I’m not going to, so I won’t. It’s an idea which came to me too late to use.

Overall I’m not sure how successful this one was. It feels very last-minute cobbled-together to me … but then that’s largely because it was.

Still, at least I’ve got until (checks notes) Tuesday to do the next one.

Hang on, that’s tomorrow!

Bugger.

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BOO!

On Sunday night we found out the next episode in Emily Cook‘s Doctor Who tweetalongs would be Steven Moffat’s LISTEN.

I have to admit this through me into a bit of a panic. 3 days is not a lot of time to conceive, film, edit and add effects to a short film. Even one which has to stay under the Twitter limit of 140 seconds, but we managed it.

With a little bit of pre-shot footage cheating, but that’s neither here nor there. Unlike BOO!, which is here:

The genesis of this idea came from mulling over what I might do for various episodes. I’d been wondering what I might do if it was An Adventure in Space and Time, for example. How would I replicate 1963 in my house?

Not that it had to be 1963 because we’re only making these TARDISshorts themed around one element of the episode being rewatched. If, say, we were making one themed around the ‘beginning of something’ then we could pick anything. Centring that around my daughter could mean the conception (we’re not really making those kind of films) or how her mum and I met (difficult to replicate something from that long ago) or maybe even our wedding. For which there is footage and …  yeah, I could probably drop my daughter and I into that old footage.

So that was an idea in the bank. Not much of an idea, just a vague thought.

When LISTEN was announced as the next episode I was a bit stumped. It hadn’t even crossed my mind and I had no idea what to do.

Helpfully my brain threw this old idea at me and combined it with my daughter’s annoying habit of jumping out at me like a pint-sized Kato (Cato?).

I rarely flinch externally. Internally all my organs leap about like startled cats, but externally I tend to react pretty much like I do in the film. This drives her mad. If she had a time machine she would do exactly what she does in BOO!

So the idea had arrived! Unfortunately at about one in the morning which kept me thinking until about 5 am … but it had arrived and that’s the hardest part.

The next day I went looking for our wedding footage (the oldest footage I have of us) only to find it had gone missing. I could find the ceremony and the song we played at the end …

… but none of the middle stuff: the speeches, the first dance, the confused game of croquet (only one person knew the rules and he was unable to explain them adequately).

And to be honest, the snippets I did have were terrible quality.Luckily I’ve still got the original DVD, very kindly made as a wedding present by a production company I was working for at the time.

Unluckily … a DVD! Fine, we have a DVD player, but how do you get info off a DVD onto a laptop during lockdown in 2020?

Nothing I own has a DVD drive. Nothing.

Luck came to the rescue again because one of my best friends had an all in one PC with DVD drive AND the inclination to help. A quick socially-distant visit (through a window, no less) and I had the footage on a USB drive … at five o’clock on Monday evening.

So that’s now two days to conceive, film, edit and add effects.

Eep.

Still, I had the footage. Now all I had to do was find about one minute of shots out of the total forty-five minutes which would cover the entire wedding from start to finish, convey the flavour of the day with each shot being still enough and having enough blank space to digitally insert my daughter.

This was beginning to sound less easy than I’d hoped.

That night Mandy and I rewatched the DVD and I made notes. Tuesday morning I managed to pull out about 6 mins which would do the job … which is too much, especially when you consider we still had to film the opening scare attempts, the landing, the breaking into the honeymoon suite, the entry of the bride and groom and the final scare.

6 mins down to 1 minute means harsh choices and I apologise if you own one of the faces which got cut out.

Still, I had the spine of the film. Now all I had to do was turn our house into a picturesque country hotel.

Which actually wasn’t that difficult. Assuming it was in anyway successful.

I started by trying to find photos of Deans Place Hotel’s corridors but couldn’t find anything suitable. So instead I just nabbed one which vaguely matched our decor:

And added our bedroom door:

We don’t have that carpet, by the way. Nor do we have a peephole, room number or brass plate saying honeymoon suite. They’re there because I found this image online;

… printed the bits out, stuck the brass plate to card (for added depth) and Prittsticked them to the door.

Even in close up it seems to work well enough:

Although if I had more time I’d have made the cut a little neater on the card, maybe even coloured the edges.

The final touches were a fire evacuation sign for the rear of the door:

… and a completely anachronistic coffee machine + pods … which got cropped out of the final shot anyway.

The interior peephole is the same as the exterior, I just moved it from one side to the other during the shoot.

With all that prep done it was time to break out the green towels:

I managed to find a photo of a real room from Deans Place (albeit not the one we stayed in … or if it was, it didn’t look like that in 2005):

… but couldn’t find anything which matched the angle looking from the room into the hall. After a lot of fruitless searching I realised I could just take a photo of the hall downstairs:

 

Doh.

Originally I planned to have the TARDIS land in the hotel somewhere, possibly here:

Which isn’t actually in the hotel but is probably in a hotel somewhere. But I couldn’t get it to match up with the angle of the TARDIS footage so fell back on dropping the model TARDIS into Deans Place gardens.

Similarly I’d planned to superimpose my daughter against this backdrop:

Which seemed a good match for the actual panelling in the ceremony room … but it just looked odd. She was clearly in a room on her own.

In the end I went with the harder (and slightly worse looking) option of dropping her into the back of the actual room.

This was tough for me because of the inability to draw round people’s heads on my phone. I had to build it in layers, the bottom half of her is a hexagonal mask to fit around the heads of the people in front, the top half is a rectangular mask so it doesn’t cut off her ears, especially when she mimes being sick.

It’s not perfect, but it’s fleeting and … hey, it’s a two minute short film made by a father and daughter who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s fine.

The other major downside is the only available space (in shot) along the wall was behind the head of an ex-partner of a friend. I’d rather have had her behind her granddad or someone else I actually like, but I didn’t have a lot of choice.

Luckily there was a spare seat at a table full of my closest friends at the wedding breakfast which was in shot for most of the speeches.

Yay!

Annoyingly the handheld camera footage means my superimposed daughter looks like a floating torso for most of them, but it was the best I could do.

The last part of the shoot was Mandy and I dressing up (legs only)in our wedding gear (her dress, me in just a similar pair of trousers) and pretending the underneath of our divan bed was actually under a wooden four-poster.

Luckily the drawers pull out on both sides so we could shoot right through. Again, I think it works in passing. Depends how much you’re enjoying what’s happening.

The final mid-credits scene was an afterthought really. I just thought it was funny.

All in all we shot for a few hours in the afternoon and I finished the edit by midnight. I decided to lean into the 14:9 ratio of the 2005 footage and added the black bars over all our 16:9 shots whilst in the past. Hence the coffee-making station getting cropped out.

At about midnight on Tuesday I discovered there were too many effects in the film for my phone to cope with exporting the edit and after an hour or so of trying I had to give up and hope it would work in the morning.

It didn’t.

I still don’t know why, it’s not that intensive. Not compared to the Fires of Eastbourne.

But it wouldn’t work and so I spent a hurried Wednesday morning pulling out all the effects and adding them back one by one, exporting a copy each time. Ultimately I made my self-imposed 13.00 deadline but it was a bit gruelling.

I swear the next one (whatever that may be) will be four seconds long.

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The Fires of Eastbourne

Last night we watched Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii as a Twitter watchalong and continuing our lockdown tradition, my daughter and I made a Tardis short themed around the episode:

This time I decided to enlist the help of friends and strangers to film the volcano-panic scenes. To this end we made this plea for help:

I hoped to get one or two people to submit something but was fully prepared to do it ourselves in a variety of wigs and costumes. Four submissions would have been ideal … we got seven, with an eighth arriving after the deadline (but more importantly just after I’d finished editing and adding all the effects) which was too late to use. There were other people offering to film them during the day on Saturday but I had neither the time nor the space to include them.

So first off, a massive thank you to everyone who filmed a segment, you were all brilliant! I’m blown away by how many people wanted to be involved. We had two from Eastbourne, two from America, one from Huddersfield, one from East Grinstead and one from Australia … the only problem was we didn’t have a volcano!

Luckily my daughter made one for a school project a few years ago (Year 4, I think?), but upon digging it out of the loft it became apparent it wasn’t quite as realistic as I’d hoped:

Still, I hoped that with a bit of paint …

… some fake grass …

… and the right angle against the right backdrop …

… it might just do the job.

The large circular piece on the ridge is a nest for dinosaur eggs by the way. In case you were wondering.

The next challenge was putting it into the background of other people’s photos using a phone app (because all of this is done on a phone) which doesn’t allow for custom masks or any kind of magic wand selecting. Some were easier than others and overall it worked out okay.

Providing you don’t look too closely.

But in a few seconds of footage with volcano effects, sounds and screaming on a small phone screen … yeah, it’ll do. I photographed the volcano against a red towel (so the green of the fake grass didn’t get chroma keyed out!) from different angles to create the impression the houses are on different sides and then added a higher view to an image of Eastbourne culled from Google Earth:

Being able to view both the image and the camera using split screen was invaluable here. Not sure how I would have matched the angles otherwise!

Another challenge was figuring out how to include this interior footage from America into the film without making it seem completely separate.

 

My solution was to add a window with the volcano visible in the reflection. It’s not seamlessly brilliant … but I think it works (once again giving the small screen/low expectations caveat!).

With all that done and the fire, smoke and lava effects added, it was time to film our section.

This all went pretty smoothly really with no major problems. I broke out the green towels again so we could be looking out of the TARDIS at the volcano …

… and so we could be seen inside the TARDIS from the outside.

I wish I’d noticed that loop on the towel at the time.

The latter scene was cropped and overlaid on the model shot of the TARDIS we made for The Stolen Earth … which is fine except for one problem:

No legs!

To get round that we shot our legs against a green towel in the garden:

… using the removable step/base from the TARDIS doorway:

The TARDIS is designed like that because the room functions as a spare bedroom. The panel with lit roundels behind the desk/console folds down to reveal a bed so the desk and the chair need to be wheeled out to make room.

I didn’t fancy hoiking either of them over a step so I made it easily removable. Luckily it can also now be taken into the garden and sat on to simulate dangling your legs over an erupting volcano. An unintended but nevertheless helpful use.

My daughter’s legs look more natural than mine, but it’s so small I don’t think it’s too noticeable.

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for some time is make use of the window in our TARDIS. The normal view is this:

Which is fine when we’re landed at home, but not so useful when we’re in the time vortex. So out came the towels again…

And I was able to move move from being at home to the time vortex to high above Eastbourne in one shot. This wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be partly because the towel was folded over on the right hand side (making it a different colour green) and partly because the light was stupidly bright on the left hand side.

Oh and also the green light reflected off the black drum kit.

Still, I give myself marks for trying.

The last two shots which we picked up the next day were my daughter’s hands holding a phone against a towel to drop into the East Grinstead volcano shot:

Just because I wanted to.

And a close up of the marshmallows being fitted to the sticks:

Because I was worried it wasn’t clear what we were doing otherwise.

Prop wise there wasn’t much to make for this short. The board game we were playing was designed and made by my daughter for another school project.

It’s called GET TO THE SHELTER! which I thought was apt. You have to collect enough bits to build an Anderson shelter during WWII. She wanted a TARDIS dice tower 3D printing, initially I tried to talk her out of it but … hey, it fits the period.

The only custom prop made was the Volcano Kit box. I was going to make a more official label but didn’t (because I hadn’t actually decided what it was going to be until on the day) and anyway it’s not meant to be an official, shop bought Volcano Emergency Kit. It’s just the box we keep sticks and marshmalllows in in case there’s an eruption.

It’s Emergency Use Only because my character would just eat the marshmallows otherwise. It’s not a difficult role to play.

It doesn’t actually hold the tent poles we used so you never see them inside, but if it bothers you just imagine it’s a dimensionally transcendent box.

 

I think this is one of the most effects-heavy shorts we’ve done. I kept saying the next one was just going to four seconds long … but then we found out it’s going to be Listen and all that went out of the window.

I should point out we only find out what the next watchalong will be on the night of the current one. Last night we found out the next one is on Wednesday, it’s Monday now and we need to get cracking!

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Lockdown life in the TARDIS

Since we’re all stuck in the house and have nothing better to do, my daughter and I have been joining in with the Twitter watchalongs of old* Doctor Who episodes as organised by Emily Cook (@Emily_Rosina on Twitter).

For the first one, The Day of the Doctor, we filmed a quick video about the problem of trying to find a TV to watch it on when you own a TARDIS.

No effects, no edits, just one continuous thirty-second skit. All just on a whim really, a bit of a giggle to pass the time.

But then Emily announced a second watchalong, this time of Rose. So we did a follow up:

Again we just did one take, one shot and had a bit of a laugh.

For the third one, Vincent and the Doctor, we decided to get a bit adventurous and I worked out how to film a materialisation effect:

I should explain that the portrait orientation is because I can’t get far enough away from my office door to get all of the TARDIS in a landscape shot.

By the time we got to the watchalong of The Eleventh Hour I realised this might be an opportunity to teach myself the other, non-writing parts of filmmaking. I figured it might be useful to have a rudimentary knowledge of directing and editing going forwards, so we started experimenting.

Sadly that one was too long for Twitter (I didn’t know there was a limit!) but it was a good exercise in brevity. We’ve been churning out one of these every six days or so ever since, learning how to make them as we went along. Here seems like as good a place as any to collate them all.

The Doctor’s Wife:

Heaven Sent (the most popular so far with over 7000 views!)

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, where I learnt how to use ChromaKey:

Human Nature/The Family of Blood, where I had a go at prop-making (the fob watch):

Dalek, where I not only had to remotely direct some guest stars (meaning I had to write down a shot list for them to film as opposed to making it all up on the day) but had to make a miniature set, figure out how to animate a bubblebath dalek and pushed my green screen (non)talents to their limit:

And the latest one for tonight’s watchalong of The Girl in the Fireplace, where I’ve finally figured out how to film a landscape view of the TARDIS taking off (even if I did cut off the lamp):

Am I looking at a new career as an all singing, all dancing hyphenate?

No.

Probably not, anyway.

It’s been nice to have complete control over the whole process for once and to get a vague idea of what everyone else on a film set does. And you know what? As shonky as most of these are things are,I really like some of them. Most importantly it’s given my daughter and I a weekly project to do together and that’s worth more than anything else.

All in all, it’s an experience I’d recommend. If you’ve got a phone and someone to point it at (including yourself), why not give it a go? And while you’re at it, check out the Twitter watchalongs of Doctor Who: fun, informative and nice to feel you’re joining in with thousands of other people again.


* For a given value of ‘old’.

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Schrödinger’s TARDIS

Fans are a funny old lot, aren’t they? Ever since I built my proton pack last year …

… I’ve been dipping in and out of the Ghostbusters forum and there’s a contingent of fans on there who are absolutely outraged that there’s going to be an all-woman Ghostbusters reboot.

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And yes, for some the fact it’s a female team is a huge problem. Presumably for extremely valid and adult reasons like “ur, girls suck!” or “girls are stinky” or something?

Others hate Paul Feig for … reasons.

It’s all very weird.

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To a point, I understand the reboot-phobia. To a point. I get that this is a beloved thing, something some of them have devoted their entire lives to loving. Personally I’d prefer the new movie wasn’t a reboot but a continuation, the story of a different franchise operating out of a different city.

Hell, maybe it is – I haven’t really been paying attention.

But to me a reboot doesn’t diminish my love of the original. In fact, given my feelings on the Star Wars prequels, perhaps a reboot is better than another story in the same universe? It’s become increasingly difficult to think of myself as a Star Wars fan over the years, tipping now to the point where I’m not sure I really am any more.

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If it’s a reboot, the original is still there. No one’s tampered with it, or diluted it or otherwise retconned it to be something else – you can still love it.

But fans aren’t like that. Fans are vicious.

Some of them.

Others are lovely. I suspect, as is common, it’s only the really vocal ones who are unpleasant. Some fans are so vicious they don’t seem to actually like the thing they profess to be a fan of at all.

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Take the latest Doctor Who news, for example: Steven Moffat’s leaving, Chris Chibnall’s arriving. The internet is up in arms. They’re absolutely furious, Chris Chibnall is a hack who will definitely ruin Doctor Who.

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This is despite the fact the same people have been complaining Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who. And before that, Russell T Davies ruined Doctor Who. Don’t even bother mentioning John Nathan Turner.

But here’s the thing, before Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who, he was the saviour who was going to fix all Russell T’s wrongs. Which he may have done … or he may have created a whole new list of wrongs depending on your point of view. For some people, his run has been amazing and the best the show’s been for ever and ever. For others, he deposed the true saviour who brought the show back from extinction.

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The point is, opinions vary and few of them are accurate predictions.

Personally, I think writing Doctor Who must be incredibly difficult. Show running must be even more so. There’s no doubt in mind that both Russell and Steven are amazing writers … yet some of their episodes were dreadful. Some. Others were amazing.

I think being a Doctor Who fan is like being in a bad relationship – we go for long periods of time putting up with terrible to mediocre stories … and just when we’re summoning up the courage to stop watching there’s a piece of genius which reminds us why Doctor Who is the best TV show ever made.

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And I believe that, I really do. It’s the best TV show ever. Your contradictory opinion is just wrong.

The problem is, it’s not always the best TV. Individually, when taken episode by episode it can sometimes be creaky or just plain shit.

Like I say, writing it is probably really hard*. And when things are hard, sometimes people fail at it. Professional golfers sometimes slice the ball – it happens because no one, no matter how good, is at the top of their game all the time.

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Part of what makes Doctor Who as good today as it was in 1963 is the constant turnover of talent both before and behind the camera. Change is good. We should celebrate change because, crucially, we have no idea what it may bring.

Chris Chibnall, regardless of how you feel about Broadchurch or Torchwood or his previous Who episodes, may turn out to be the best thing ever to happen to the show.

Or he might not.

This though is (to me) the absolute underlying truth: it hasn’t happened yet.

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Currently the probability waveforms have yet to collapse and we’re left with multiple options: it may be good, bad or somewhere in between … but we don’t know which because it hasn’t happened yet.

Fans of Chris’ may be disappointed. Haters may be swayed and surprised … there’s no way of telling.

So why get bent out of shape? Yes, you love the show and yes, you’re worried about its future. I get that … but do we really need all the hate and prophecies of doom?

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Instead of spending the next year or two stewing in hatred and fear, why not stay positive and look to the future … you can always sell all your merchandise in a fit of pique later, if needs be.

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* I’d love to write an episode. Maybe two … but I wouldn’t want to be the show runner for love nor money. I’d burn out in seconds. And imagine  if you got a job doing the thing you love most for the programme you love most … and the entire Internet explodes in waves of hatred over it. That can’t be a nice thing to go through.

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2015

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So that was 2015.

No flying cars, there were hoverboards … but they didn’t hover, they just set fire to people’s houses.

Behind the scenes I had a thrilling and exciting year … but I can’t really talk about it.

Not yet, anyway … but one day. soon.

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This is what’s immensely frustrating about being a scriptwriter – all the exciting things happen (and often die) out of the spotlight. By the time I’m allowed to talk about things (because contracts have finally been negotiated and signed) it’s old news and any excitement is feigned.

Well, not feigned … diluted. Like having to remember how excited you were about a Christmas present you got last year when it’s since been broken by the kid next door.fake-smile

But hey, it’s been a busy year with lots of stuff going on. On paper, it probably looks like not a lot … but that’s just the nature of the business. I’ve done a few uncredited rewrites, one of which has just been released … which is a yay I can’t publicly acknowledge.

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But never mind. If I was in it for the applause, I wouldn’t be a writer.

The rest of 2015, the bits I did talk about, went something like this:

JANUARY

Apparently all I did in January was talk about 2014, which although it included Ghostbusters and a suspicious looking codpiece …

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… seems a bit of a waste of a bloggy month.

FEBRUARY

Ah, hello groove I was wondering where you’d gone.

February was a proper blogging month full of blogs and … well, just blogs.

First off I tried to get you all to commit acts of phone-related mischief by adding ‘Okay Google’ phrases into scripts which would punish anyone who had their phone on in the cinema.

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Did any of you do it? Please say someone did it.

Then I defended Footloose because … it’s fucking Footloose. Footloose is awesome.

After succcessfully re-educating the world about the joys of ’80s dance, I went on to prove the three act structure is fine – stop trying to reinvent the wheel, it works just fine.

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And then I immediately explained why it doesn’t really work that well for a scriptwriter.

Aren’t you glad you’ve got me around to explain these things to you?

MARCH

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb …

I, on the other hand, came in with a thing about the joy of failing

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… stumbled into a confused ramble about clichés

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… mumbled something I can’t be bothered to reread about page thinking

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… compared Joss Whedon to HTC and rambled about how frustrating it must be to be either of them …

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… and went out with an in-depth discussing about liars and lying for a living.

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APRIL

April is where things got interesting …

Just not at first. First I wondered if maybe you shouldn’t really be able to point to the midpoint in a film.

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Then I used my blog to educate my producer as to why he shouldn’t get his hopes up about the first draft I was just about to deliver …

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Just as it might have got interesting … I got angry about spoilers instead.

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Then it got interesting. I had a phone call

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It was Danny Stack … and he didn’t want anything except a chat.

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Where it got interesting was it kicked off a string of phone calls between me and … well, just people. Nice people. People like Calum Chalmers.

MAY

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And it carried on with more nice people like Robin Bell, Andrew Mullins and Dominic Carver.

In fact, most of May was taken up with phone calls, broken only by me trying to figure out how to write the perfect cameo (it worked! I wish I could tell you how well it worked … but I can’t) and to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary.

Oh and I went on a bit about competition and how much I enjoy it.

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JUNE

June continued the #PhonePhill-ing bringing delightful chats with Dee Chilton, Rosie Claverton and Rebecca Handley.

In fact, June was all phone calls apart from one post about being better and how we should all pursue knowledge as if it were a … thing. I don’t know. Insert your own simile, I’m tired.

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JULY

July brought yet more telephone awesomeness …

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This time in the shape of Mac McSharry, James Moran, Jay Sutherland and Terry Newman.

As well as yakking to people, I also (gasp!) worked over a weekend.

Apparently this is so shocking to me I felt the need to blog about it.

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I also made an uncredited appearance as Iron Man at a little boy’s birthday party in a homemade, cardboard costume:

I enjoyed that.

AUGUST

In August I had a little panic about potentially offending  someone I quite like by giving them script notes. In order to cover my anxiety, I wrote this post about the kind of script notes I get and how upsetting they can be … if you don’t take them in the spirit they’re intended.

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Later on, I followed that post up by giving myself notes on an old script.

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I also pretended a meal/drink with some friends was a sort of #PhonePhill episode … even though it wasn’t.

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But it did lead to this picture, which is my favourite of the year:

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I rounded off August by highlighting my inability to not focus on background detail.

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SEPTEMBER

Man, I did a lot of blogging in 2015. Too much, some might say.

In September I added one more thing to a script and felt the need to tell everyone.

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Then I added a second thing and banged on about that too.

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I did a thing about tokenism and … well, I don’t know what my point was there. Feel free to read it and let me know.

Oh, and then I added some nonsense to Jason Arnopp’s blog post about hands.

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OCTOBER

I kicked off October by contrasting Rose Tyler with Jurassic Park … which, you know, is clearly two different things and needs a blog explaining why.

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And then … the future arrived!

I meant to take a photo of myself with my trousers on inside out … but I didn’t. Possibly because I don’t think I wore any in October.

Instead of wearing trousers, I watched some videos about deleted scenes from all three Star Wars films:

I say three because I’m a prequel denier. At that point I was adamant there were only three Star Wars films. Now, of course, there’s been another half of a Star Wars film.

Hopefully we’ll find out in a couple of years whether or not any of it makes sense.

NOVEMBER

Just when you thought I’d forgotten about it, another #PhonePhill – this time with William Gallagher. He’s written a book, you know. Bits of it are about me.

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Inspired by the resurgence of telephonic communication, I immediately didn’t do it again and instead waffled on about River Theory …

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Expressed my love for the Verity podcast …

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And raved on and on and on about this speech from Doctor Who:

Oh, and I found this photo of a Burt Reynolds crab.

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DECEMBER

Which brings us to now. All I did in December was a handful of short blogs about other people’s stuff. Things like:

Arnopp’s patreon campaign, the UK Scriptwriter’s Handbook and the Heaven Sent/Hell Bent scripts.

There were meant to be more, but there wasn’t.

I didn’t even wish you a merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

There, I did it.

And so, with this year nearly spent, all eyes turn to the next one.

Hopefully it’ll include at least one blog about my new office:

And loads and loads about my next script to be produced:

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Happy New Year, let’s chat soon.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Bored, Career Path, Christmas Crackers, Industry Musings, My Way, Progress, Publicity, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way, Sparkle, The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2015 Christmas Cracker #3: Heaven Sent/Hell Bent scripts

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As I may or may not have mentioned elsewhere, I really enjoyed this season of Doctor Who. For me, as a whole, it’s the strongest season since Sylvester McCoy’s final year.

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Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, Survival … that was a great year. Ironic really since it was also the year the show died.

This season has been just as enjoyable … or rather, I’ve enjoyed it just as much. I can see there are flaws, there always are, but I’ve immensely enjoyed the season as a whole. To my mind there’s only been one duff episode

Okay, maybe one and a half.

But all in all it’s been great fun. Everyone involved has been at the top of their game and really pulled out all the stops …

And then there was Heaven Sent … which was just sublime.

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Again, to me. You may disagree. Personally I found this to be not just one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever^, but one of the best bits of TV I’ve ever seen.

Maybe I get out too much?

Anyway, Cracker number three is the scripts for Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. Even if you’re not a Doctor Who fan, you should read these scripts because they’re amazing. Well, Heaven Sent is amazing; Hell Bent is merely very, very good. Which in itself is amazing but script writing is hard.

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Anyone who criticises a film or TV show for having a bad script because they don’t like one or two lines of dialogue should read these scripts and hopefully understand that the dialogue is the smallest part of script writing. It’s the last thing, the decoration, not even the icing on the cake but the dusting of icing sugar put on the plate after the ingredients have been farmed, processed, bought, baked decorated, packaged, sliced and arranged neatly on said plate.

Script writing begins with choosing which piece of land would be best to buy in order to grow the wheat to bake the cake. Dialogue … pfft. That’s such an infinitesimally small part of script writing it may as well not exist.

Um … this rant has nothing to do with Doctor Who, just a reaction to reading something which annoyed me on Facebook earlier.

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Never mind, carry on stuffing your faces with mince pies and snuggle up by the fireplace with a cup of tea and these two scripts.

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* Make your own mind up as to which one. We’ll have different opinions … I just thought this one was a real stinker.

^ Which is odd since, depending on your point of view, you could argue it’s not really a Doctor Who episode.

Categories: Christmas Crackers, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Going on and on and on …

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There are many hard and fast rules about scriptwriting which writers seem singularly incapable of following. Time and again writers break rules which were laid down to ensure their scripts are readable, if not actually good.

One of those rules I see broken over and over again is length:

  • Action description shouldn’t be longer than four lines. Shorter than three is preferable.
  • Dialogue should never be longer than four lines. Again, less is preferable.
  • Scenes themselves should never be longer than three (ish) pages without a damned good reason. Find yourself north (or south?) of five pages and you’re in big, big trouble.

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The problem, of course, with these rules are they’re utter bollocks.

Well, not utter bollocks. Mostly bollocks. They’re just not rules. Guidelines, maybe? Rules ofs thumbs.* Suggestions, perhaps?

Action should be short – yeah, I see that. Doesn’t really matter but it does make it far, far easier to read. And, if broken up properly, may bring your page count closer to one page=one minute.

Since most scripts are written with gaps between action lines then reading one without them is hard. Why make it harder to love your script?

Dialogue should never be longer than four lines – yeah, maybe. It does make sense because people rarely talk for that length of time without being interrupted.

Unless they’re giving a speech. Or lecturing someone. Or are really angry. Or boring. Or … well, lots of reasons really.

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Part of the problem with long speeches is what do the other actors do while someone’s banging on?

Listen? That would be some very polite characters. People don’t tend to listen much. They tend to interject or change the subject or just wander off to make a cup of tea.

Except when they don’t.

Bad actors can’t stand and listen. Probably because it’s quite an unnatural thing to do. If you’re writing low-budget, cast fucking anyone who’ll accept, movies then you might want to consider both the quality of the actor listening and the ability of the one delivering it to maintain the same expression for that length of time.

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Plus, it does slow things down. Actors love dramatic pauses.+ They fucking love ’em. Give an actor a one-page speech and you’ll end up with five minutes of footage.

Which may or may not be the director’s fault, I suppose. I don’t know.

This, of course, depends on what the scene’s about. A one-page rant will move faster than a one-page stare-mournfully-into-the-distance-and-recount-the-moment-where-it-all-went-wrong speech.

Both can work. Both can go horribly wrong.

Scenes should never exceed three pages – who the fuck thought that one up?

Okay, so again there is an element of truth in there. Long scenes can, sometimes, slow the pace. If everything’s meant to be fast paced and buzzy, then seven pages of people bantering about shoes may well slow it down again.

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Or it may not. Depends on the delivery, I guess.

The Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk schtick helps with this. Get the characters moving, get them doing something and people won’t get bored.

Except when it’s done badly and after five minutes of fast-paced walking you start to wonder how fucking big this newsagent’s is and why they’ve gone past the Chocolate Hob Nobs seven times.

Personally, I get nervous when a scene hits five pages – usually it’s because there’s a lot of irrelvant banter in the middle or because the scene’s trying to do too many things and needs to just wind its bloody neck in.

Three pages feels about enough for most of the stuff I do.

So, you know, it doesn’t hurt to think about limiting action, dialogue and scene lengths … just in case.

Except when you shouldn’t. Except when it’s scenes like this from Doctor Who – The Zygon Inversion.

SPOILER ALERT!

DON’T WATCH THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE EPISODE!

I love that scene. I fucking loves it, I does. I love the length, the staticness^, the wordiness … it’s just amazing.

To me this proves any rules about length are really there to disguise dullness in a script. Make a scene crackle, make it tense, make it have immediate and terrifying stakes and all the rules can just fuck off.

Limiting the length of things is probably a good rule of thumb@ … but it’s just that. Sometimes your scene can blow all that away with it’s sheer awesomeness. When you’ve got a scene which demands page-count … go for it!

I guess the real skill in writing comes from knowing when it’s appropriate.

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* I didn’t know how to pluralise this so I just went all out.

+ Possibly while they scramble to remember the next massive chunk of dialogue.

^ Real word or not? Probably not.

@ Except for thumbs. Don’t limit the length of your thumbs.

Categories: Random Witterings | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Verity

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I don’t know about you, but I’m loving Doctor Who this season. Last season wasn’t for me, I found it increasingly difficult to watch to the point I had the last episode on in the background but didn’t really pay attention.

As a long term fan of the show I’ve come to accept this as normal. Some seasons I’ll love, some I won’t. Some Doctors I’ll love, some I’ll find annoying.

Last season … there was nothing for me to like. That’s not to say the show was fundamentally unlikeable, it’s just a personal preference.

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This season, I’m so excited. I’ve enjoyed every episode so far. Does that mean it’s quantitatively better?

No, it’s just how I feel about it. There’s always a chance that when I get round to rewatching the season I’ll feel differently, but for whatever the reason# I’m totally hooked again this year.

One of things which is deepening my enjoyment is listening to the Verity Podcast. If you haven’t listened to it, it’s (mostly*) American/Canadian female fans discussing the show. When the show’s airing, they discuss the episodes. When it’s not, they discuss other Who-related topics.

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Now, I know quite a lot of Doctor Who fans … but not many who live close by. I could ring them up to talk about the show … but we’re all busy and ringing people up takes time away from our respective families. Listening to other people discuss the show helps fill that void. I like to hear other people’s opinions, even if they differ from my own.

Actually, especially when they differ from my own. There’s not a lot of point listening to your own opinions repeated back to you (apart from when they codify or clarify something you didn’t know how to express).

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I like to listen and I like to learn to think about things in a different way.

There are a lot of Doctor Who podcasts, but the Verity one achieves this better than most by dint of being (mostly*) Americans/Canadians and solely women.

I don’t know any female Doctor Who fans. Not personally anyway. I know women who enjoy or quite like the show … but would never really describe themselves as fans. I could probably track some down if I really felt the need … but if I were my wife and saw me deliberately seeking out women who shared an interest we didn’t … well, I’d be a bit cross with myself. It would be a weird thing to do.

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Hearing women discuss the show is fascinating because, although most of the things they talk about are universal, there are certain points of view which don’t come naturally to me. This might be because I’m a man or it might be because I’m British or maybe just because I’m me and not them. Doesn’t really matter, I just enjoy hearing a different slant on things.

Similarly, it’s interesting to hear transatlantic opinions on something which feels so quintessentially British. Especially since their depth of knowledge and level of fandom are far greater than mine.

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It also makes me swell with pride. Doctor Who is a massive part of my life but has always been this tiny show, kicked about by the BBC and prematurely murdered just as it was finding its feet again. It had a moment of greatness … but became an embarrassment and something to be mocked. Hearing people halfway around the world loving it feels like a vindication. This is popular, it’s global, liking it is normal.

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If you haven’t listened to the podcast, I highly recommend it and would welcome similar recommendations in return.


 

* Mostly. There’s a Scot in there. And an Australian, I think.

# It might be my new office? Yeah, it’s probably my new office.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #12: William Gallagher

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“One day, someone on the other end of the phone won’t be lovely. On that day I will break with tradition and refuse to name them as such.”

Phillip Barron

I said that back in July.

I haven’t done a #PhonePhill since July because of school holidays and actual holidays and deadlines and spending most of my free time swapping my daughter’s bedroom and my office around*. It’s not that there’s  a shortage of lovely people in the world I want to talk to (although the list is open if anyone fancies a natter), it’s more that I temporarily ran out of nattering time.

But I’m back. With a bang.

Well, maybe not a bang. More of a continuous exchange of reasonably volumed telecommunication signals. This week’s #PhonePhill is William Gallagher and he was …

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Lovely. Super double-plus extra lovely, in fact.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I led with that quote or why I felt the need to quote myself. I’m fairly certain only an imbecile would quote me.

William Gallagher is a scriptwriter, author, journalist and tea drinker. You can learn lots about him on his Wikipedia page here or on his excellent blog here.

We were on the phone for a mammoth two and a half hours, nattering on about … well, pretty much everything really. The first half an hour or so was me trying to convince him I was being honest about the nature of the Secret Writing Island and how it works. For some reason William demanded a lot of detail before accepting I wasn’t spinning a yarn … considering the context (which I’m not going into here) I consider that a compliment.

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After that we covered  Doctor Who (he’s written some, I haven’t), Blake’s 7 (he has a teleport bracelet, I don’t), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (neither of us are particularly fussed about it), the Midlands (we’ve both lived there, he still does), New York vs. London (we both prefer New York but aren’t really sure why), fuel economy vs. train tickets (it’s complicated and depressing), technology (he prefers iOS, I prefer Android … both are amazing and frustrating in different ways at different times and for different reasons) and how an actor’s delivery of a line can make or break a scene.

This one I find endlessly fascinating. My favourite example is from this scene:

“Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.”

Terrible, terrible line which almost completely derails the entire film (which I think is otherwise fantastic).

Except … is it a terrible line? Or is it just delivered wrong? I’m certain I’ve read somewhere that line was meant to be sarcastic. Run it back through your mind, imagine it not as a breathless, yet cheesy, declaration of love … imagine it as a being actually quite funny. How much better is that scene?

Now think about Queenie:

Miranda Richardson’s delivery is extraordinary. Continuously. In a exceptionally well-written sitcom performed by a uniformly amazing cast, she stands out as an absolute genius. A genius among geniuses, I guess … but her performance lifts that role to incredible heights.

As much as we like to think good writing makes good drama, it’s nothing unless it’s performed well.

Or at least I think so anyway. I am frequently wrong about such things.

William, for example, asserts I’m completely and utterly wrong about my dislike for one of the four modern Doctor Who actors. I’m just wrong, apparently.

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Adding to that, William also thinks I’m wrong about believing only an imbecile would quote me (because he has and he clearly isn’t one).  He’s so convinced of my wrongness in this regard that he’s written an entire book just about me:

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Okay, so it’s not just about me. Other bloggers are available and quoted/interviewed at great length … but surely the likes of Jason Arnopp, Katherine D’Souza or Diane Leigh can’t possibly hold a candle to my magnificence?

Oh … apparently they can.

Well, that’s a blow.

Presumably they can also spell magnificence without resorting to spell-check.

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This is the official blurb for William’s book:

Everybody tells you that you must have a website and you must have a blog but nobody tells you how – or why. In this book you will learn the key steps to creating your blog but, more importantly, what you can use one for and how it will become an important part of your creative work.

BBC writer William Gallagher shows you how to write a blog that people will read – and then how to keep on writing new entries. See how to write fast blogs and more considered ones. How to make a blog that works for you because it works for your readers.

The good news is it’s available right now on Amazon.

The better news is there’s a far cheaper PDF version here.

The bestest news is you can get a whopping 40% discount off the PDF version if you use the code: JAMAISVU

£3 for a book which features me? How can you not want that? Go on, treat yourself.

And while you’re treating yourself, why not treat me to the sound of your voice? I’d love to hear from you, no matter who you are or what you do. You don’t have to be a writer or even in the entertainment industry. You could be a plumber or a mystery shopper or a retrophrenologist …. I really don’t care, I just want to have a bit of a chat.

If you’re at a loose end and not sure what to do, buy William Gallagher’s book. If you’re still at a loose end after that, why not email me and arrange a time to #PhonePhill?

Come on, let’s have a chat.

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* My office is now much smaller … but much cooler. I’ll show it off properly when it’s finished.

As certain as I am I’ve said all this before.

Categories: #PhonePhill, BBC, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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