Friday, 31 August 2012

Fan Fiction

Apparently, so they tell me, there are only two ways to get work as a writer on American TV.

The first is to get an Agent in America and the second, reliant on the first, is to move to L.A., get a job working as a floor runner, get your name known by the crews and slowly over a number of years get to a point where someone you already know by now is willing to read your work.

Over here in the UK things aren't much better - the BBC recently reviewed its policies on accepting spec scripts and they now only accept them 3-4 times a year instead of continuously and even then there are some fairly tight restrictions on what you can and can't submit for series - IE not a lot if the series is already showing.

So much for my game-changing ideas for Doctor Who, Big Bang Theory, Eastenders (surely its time a vampire or a werewolf stalked the Queen Victoria pub?  They're everywhere else on TV right now)

I once wrote a spec script for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  This was back in the day when it was actually possible to submit such a thing and have it read.  It was, in retrospect, totally awful - but in fairness, so was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (or as we called it in our house Star Trek: Deep Space yaaaawn Isn't There Anything Else On?).  The basic premise was to try and fuse the Federation as seen in Star Trek (cute, fluffy and intolerably so far up its own arse it can presumably see its stomach contents) with the Federation as seen in Blake's 7 (an evil conglomerate of power hungry dictators, more than happy to show you the contents of your own stomach as they fall out onto the floor)

Still: as a frustrated writer watching my favourite shows and thinking "I could write better than that" I can understand why so many people out there turn to Fan Fiction....but then again, having seen some of it - no, I really, really can't.

Fan Fiction websites have been in existence for some years now - basically they are forums much like blog posts where fans of a particular series of programmes, books, films etc effectively take certain aspects of plot or character and pose the question "so what happens next"

All very well so far.  Let's face it Series Four of Blake's 7 could do with some serious re-writing, the whole aliens-from-the-future thing was best avoided in Star Trek: Enterprise and the less said about the Twilight series the better (if ever anyone invents a machine that allows you to step into a book and meet the characters please give me a call - i will be first in the line to slap Bella Swan)

So fan fiction is a forum for people to take shows off in their own direction - only from the limited exposure I have had to such sites (in researching this post I managed nearly a full five seconds before losing my will to live and having to spend two hours in recuperation with the cats) it seems that what they mostly are is sexual fantasies.

The web, it seems, is full of stories where Kirk and Spock cement their friendship in ways that Gene Roddenberry never envisaged, where Penny from Big Bang Theory falls hopelessly in love with Sheldon Cooper - and so on.  Presumably this also happens with other programmes, but to be frank I didn't have the will to continue looking.

The site I visited when looking into this post was for The Big Bang Theory - in my humble view the funniest situation comedy on TV for some years - but from the tearful goodbye and lost love missives that seemed to dominate the site you'd be hard pushed to believe the site had anything to do with a comedy.

Which is, if you ask me, all rather sad - suggesting perhaps that the people involved have a) little originality and b) something rather missing from their own lives.  Whilst I can understand the interest in the programmes (I have my own Geek Membership Card mounted on the wall) and even a desire to carry on the stories I can't really understand this aspect of it.

Don't get me wrong - I'd love to submit a script to any of the above shows and have my name appear on the TV beneath it as the writer, but I think there is a long corridor to walk between that and endlessly pairing up the characters in this limp and rather soulless way.

Still, it has worked for some - currently the best selling book in the UK started its life on a fan fiction website.  True the book has been described by some as the death of the written word and is unlikely to ever win the Booker prize (unless they release a gratuitous sex category)

As for me - I think i'm going to save my creative energies for the National Novel Writing Month in November - this year will be the third year I have sat down and attempted to write 50,000 words of a totally original novel in 30 days.

Quite frankly - i can hardly wait

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Some More Film Reviews

So I see that looking back to my last film review post I had only reviewed the first two films we've seen so far this year

I can't remember whether I mentioned this last time or not, but Herself and I have a voucher that allows you to go to the cinema at two-for-the-price-of-one, but you can only use it once a month.

As previously mentioned the cinema in question shows a lot of FROMAGE films (French ROad Movies About the Grimness of Existence) and there have certainly been a few of those to chose from along the way, but we have opted for a mix of films that were mainstream and also a couple that didn't quite make it to the multiplex

So here's a brief point of view of all the ones we've seen since last time

#1 All In Good Time
Let's face it: the British film industry is not what it was.  Gone are the days of Ealing comedies, no longer do we have Carry Ons and even James Bond is largely sponsored by other countries.

Nowadays British films are largely obsessed with gangsters, some hang-overs from the grim kitchen sink dramas of the 70s and not very successful comedies.

All In Good Time is one of those films, like East Is East (also written by the same person) that doesn't quite know whether to be a comedy or a drama.  It follows the story of a newly wed Indian couple living in a council estate in England.  On the wedding night various events, including an over-anxious father, stop them from consummating the relationship and from thereon their relationship deteriorates.

The film explores several of the same themes as the more successful East Is East: Indian youths facing cultural pressure from the older generation, communication issues etc.

This is also one of those films where the advert makes it look a lot funnier than it actually is - true there were some amusing moments, but the characters feel a little two-dimensional and the resolution, when it comes, feels rather rushed.

In general this film fits neatly into the category of a movie that if you turned on the TV on a Sunday afternoon then you would probably watch it for a while, but if the phone rang or you suddenly remembered the ironing needed doing then you would survive without seeing it all the way through.

#2: Marley
It's hard to believe looking at the music charts now that once upon a time reggae music was set to take over the world

You could barely turn on the radio without hearing the chikka-chikka-chikka of a reggae song and at the head of that was Bob Marley - possibly the most successful reggae musician of all time.

This documentary follows his life from being born in some obscure shanty town and his poor background to his rapid rise to fame, performing in front of thousands of fans and writing songs that were both soulful and uplifting whilst at the same time perfect for the beach.

As the film is sanctioned by the Marley family it's no surprise that it paints a mostly positive picture of a man who was both focused and perhaps a little naive, and its success is largely down to the amount of stock footage of the man himself.  This is a very enjoyable documentary and well worth a watch - but again probably not something you would buy on DVD and watch again and again.

#3: Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
Need a good news story to focus attention away from the latest outbreak of fighting in the middle-east?  Looking for a scape-goat who you can throw to the press?  Well, this is the situation that forces the dour fisheries expert played by Ewan McGregor into following an eccentric Sheik's plans to bring what initially looks like a massively impossible vanity project to fruition.

Throw in Kristen Scott-Thomas as a consultant hired to keep track of the project and an exotic setting and the result is clear but still enjoyable.

There have been some comments amongst critics that McGreggor is perhaps too good looking to play the awkward-around-women central character: but the main flaw of the film is perhaps in that the other relationships in the film feel like little more than obstacles to overcome.

Still: this is an enjoyable film with likeable characters.  Again - probably only one that I would watch again if it were on TV: but the difference being that I would put in the effort to sit and watch it through to the end.

#4: The Dark Knight Rises
Christian Bale, complete with silly grunty voice, is back for the third and final time before movie execs reboot the Batman series and start again with someone else (not that I'm cynical)

Coming on the heels of The Dark Knight this movie has a lot to live up to: not least of which being the film-stealing performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker from the central installment of the trilogy.

At over two-hours long the film falls into the danger of provoking the medical condition known as Tolkein's Bum (IE that discomfort that you feel when a movie goes on a little longer than is perhaps necessary), but whereas The Dark Knight felt like it had perhaps one too many plots TDK Rises keeps is fairly straightforward and simple.

The effects are good and Anne Hathaway is acceptable as Catwoman (although unlikely to trouble the top two Catwomen of Julie Newmar and Michelle Pffeifer),whilst Micheal Caine produces his best performance of the three.

Much has already been said of the main villain Bane.  Certainly he feels more of a threat than the Bane portrayed in the generally accepted to be awful Batman And Robin, but it cannot be denied that his voice is often difficult to understand, nor that he lacks the screen impact of Ledger.

Still, despite this and on first viewing I found myself enjoying this more than the last film and would definately recommend a trip to the cinema to see this

Sunday, 19 August 2012

This Song Is Not A Rebel Song

I sat and watched the news today
The sport is over, and the TV's all the same
Religious programmes, cooking shows
The shops close early and you nearly go insane

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

How long, how long will this day go on
How long, how lo-o-ong

Tonight, Monday comes too soon

A Sunday roast, a cup of tea
Congealing gravy and the ironing's out for me
Still we hope that it won't end
Monday morning's round the bend

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

Saturday, 11 August 2012

School Sports Days

As many of you will have noticed by now the UK has been the home of some major sporting activities over the last few weeks.

I haven't had much to say on the subject and it basically boils down to "Watched quite a lot more of it than I thought I was going to, quite enjoyed what i saw, but remain more interested in watching the Paralympics and will be vaguely glad when it's all over"

However, since the BBC sports department are busy grinning from ear to ear as all their birthday's come in one go - i thought I would tell you the story of why I never made it to the Olympics by recounting another of my occasional, and inevitable, list-o-fives.

This time the list is specific to Five Sports We Did At School - the time when most of these atheletes on the goggle box will have discovered their own sport.

#1: Rugby
Our school had a rugby team.  All four of the male P.E. teachers were ex-army type Rugby players themselves.  Once you got to your options in years 3-5 (where you could, to some extent, pick your subjects) there were PE options where there was nothing but Rugby all year long and if you were a member of the team then you were expected to pick that.

In short: at our school if you didn't like rugby, then you hated fun.

I hated rugby.  I hated the scrum where you had to put your head between two other people and push towards a ball.  I hated the idea of hulking great idiots who would tackle you regardless of whether you had the ball or not and try and bring you to the ground.  Most games of rugby found me in "defence" (for which assume that "defence" means "as far away from the ball as possible without actually leaving the pitch")

#2: Football
Our Nation's sport and the subject of many a discussion into adult life - that inevitable question, "so, which football team do you support" as if it is without question that, of course, you support some club somewhere.

My skills at football were only vaguely better than rugby, in as much as I did once manage to kick the ball in a direction that was not entirely wrong - but again I never really developed an interest in it.  The sad thing was that for one glorious week in year three the PE teacher took all the hulking morons who would growl at you and say "try and tackle me and I'll kick your head in" off onto a seperate pitch: presumably so that they could beat each other to death with a handy T-Rex.

This left all us weaklings and hopeless atheletes alone and the result was that we actually had some decent and enjoyable games - just showing that if we'd had this every week since day one then even I might have scored better than "could try harder" on my annual report (I ascribed to "could try harder" and mostly gained no better than "Pixie shows no interest in sport" - which considering the weekly death threats was no surprise)

#3: Swimming
Actually, I liked swimming and still like to go today - but at our school it wasn't sufficient to just take the kids to the swimming pool and let them do some lengths, oh no.  You had to dive in and then swim really fast until you threw up (preferably in the water)

From an early age I'd always had a fear of diving in (most likely from my parent's decision to tell me the Dangers Of Splitting Your Head Open) and so I spent the first three years at school pretending to be a non swimmer so that i could remain in the shallow end and have some actual fun in the water, as opposed to torture.

#4: Tennis
We had two tarmac court spaces, with a total of 8 pitches at our school.  There was a third, but this had long before descended into a staff car park.

Imagine 30 children to 8 pitches for one term a year, managing a total of two terms out of the five years we were in Stalag Senior School and you can immediately understand why none of us ever became the next Tim Henman.  Actually, i rescind that comment - Tim Henman never won a major tennis competition that i'm aware of and niether have i - so on that level i achieved as much as he did...

Why it never occured to them to let us play knock out tournaments with one kid as umpire and anyone not able to fit onto the court as audience i don't know

#5: Cross Country Running
If the rugby pitch was too muddy for even the PE teacher to insist that we should play on and get covered in slime then we would be taken across the nearby field for a session of jumping over streams and falling over.  We also had some annual long distance runs in which i always finished just ahead of the Class Fat Kid - IE right at the back

We also played Cricket a few times (I was, again, hopless as spent too much time avoiding balls that seemed to be aimed at my head, some track and field (i definately threw a discus and a shot putt at least once in five years and certainly managed to avoid spearing anyone with a javelin on at least one occasion.  I never could jump over a hurdle though)

And of course - one sport we never played:

#6: Snooker
Much more my kinda thing - indoors in the dry, no actual chance of being injured deliberately or otherwise and some actual skill required. 

However, since it didn't involve running about, falling over and lots of shouting it wasn't on the school curriculum and neither was darts.  You may argue that it has no right to be either - as both are effectively Pub Games With Big Ideas for which i give you Beach Volleyball as an Olympic sport and rest my case

Monday, 6 August 2012

A Right Shower

"Where are you on Monday?"

This question, innocent as it may initially sound, is something of a two-pronged effort.  Firstly it has the intent of making polite conversation with Herself and shows her that I am interested in her day-to-day activities and secondly, and more importantly, it establishes whether there is a likelihood that I will be able to borrow the car or not to go to the office.

On this occasion the response is that Monday is full of meetings in various locations which mean that no car availability is present in any shape or form: not even for a lift home.

Normally I would just work from home or catch the bus, but the particular office I am going to involves a commuter route that is slightly more convoluted to follow than Amundson's route to the South Pole, a plethora of busses and two hours of listening to the music of people too cheap and ignorant to buy headphones.

Faced with this nightmare journey, and having already confirmed to someone that I will meet them for a brief meeting at the office, I decide that I shall brave the elements and cycle to work.

As many of my long term readers will be aware: I like cycling, but this year particularly my actual amount of cycling has been very low due to a combination of ability to work from home, poor weather and busy evenings requiring a quick commute.  This means that I have only managed a few weekend journeys and only cycled into work a meagre 6 times since March (usually the time of year that I start out again - once the evenings start getting lighter)

Today, however, I need to make the longer route to the central office as this is where the chap I am meeting is based.  This is 10 miles and four Impressive Hills (IE steep) and the still changeable weather promises much in the way of water falling from on high.

The other thing, of course, is that as I take most of my kit home every day I have to carry a lot of weight on my bike - laptop, change of clothes, shower stuff and, on this occasion, a pair of shoes to change into upon arrival (my cycling shoes have cleats for gripping the pedals and I no longer keep a spare pare of shoes at this site)

However, after the Great Shower Debacle of 2011 I am at least confident that hot water awaits my arrival on site - the GSD being when both the three downstairs cubicles and the one upstairs shower were all, for various reasons, closed.  I know I can feel confident in this as I actually received a site email not that long ago saying all was Hunky Dory again vis a vis showers after a nasty shock early in 2011 when I arrived and had to wash as best I could in the sink of the Disabled toilets (effectively the only washroom with a lock)

So on this occasion I packed up all my kit, closed the cats into the front room, got my bike out of the shed and put it in the alley, closed the back gate, let the cats back into the kitchen, picked up all the bits that weren't already on the bike, snuck out before the cats could realize they had a potential escape route, had the usual momentary panic that i had forgotten to pack my trousers (this actually did happen once and I had to call Herself to fetch said pair to the office), pump up the tyre, check the door for the fifth time and eventually set off.

The hills came and went and considering I hadn't done this route for a long time (first time this year) I thought my time of 1hr 2 mins (excluding 2x Top Of Hill rests) was good, but was nonetheless grateful to clamber off at the Bike shed, lock up the bike and trudge, heavy bags in tow, towards the building.

Even despite the reparation announcement I knew from my last visit that, in fact, the downstairs showers would still be out of action, so I headed for the stairs and grunted and groaned my way up them (you'd be surprised how much harder a flight of stairs can be to climb after a 10 mile cycle)

Into the men's toilets I went and pushed open the door to the shower cubicle, locking it shut behind me.  My kit was slowly sorted out as I fumbled amongst my bags to find work clothes, towels and storage bags.  Finally my cycling kit was packed away and I turned, towel in hand, to step into the shower cubicle.

That was when I finally noticed the big hole in the wall where the shower unit should have been.

There were, shall we say, a few colorful metaphors utilized.

Rather tiredly and out of time for further investigations I re-dressed and headed down the stairs for an "as best i can" wash in the sink of the only lockable toilets.

Later on, when i discovered that I had also left at home my connection cable I ventured into the part of the building where my locker is stored to pick up my spare.  As I came back to my desk I glanced briefly at the door of the downstairs showers.  Sure enough they were fully functional and unlocked for the first time in 18 months.