Christmas Presents for Writers 2014

It’s that time of year again: You have a writer in your life (and this could very well be yourself) and you need to buy them a Christmas present. Stat. Or it might also be their birthday soon and you’re stuck as to what to buy them. Have no fear, we’ve got you covered.


Let’s not beat about the bush, writers of all kinds are utter addicts for stationery.  Now, you could go with the traditional Moleskine, but I’ll tell you what, you can’t go wrong with a pack of index cards and some Sharpies.


Writers are terrible at looking after themselves, yet they need regular fueling if they are to continue their good work. They’ll need some snacks of course, but when we say sustenance, we really mean caffeine. Tea drinkers will always need a better mug, but coffee drinkers? What they need is a coffee subscription and, take my word for it, an Aeropress. Best coffee maker I ever tried.


There are about a million books for writers of every ilk, so I’ll restrict myself to three: Rocliffe Notes : A Professional Approach to Being a WriterThe 21st-Century Screenplay and Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer. All three are excellent, and all in very different ways. And let’s face it, they’ve probably already got all the others…


Movies, music, books, movies… (yes I know), writers are continually seeking to fill their creative tanks. You could go with a voucher for either Amazon or iTunes, but they will (possibly) love you forever if you gift them a BFI membership. Similar to that, for a slightly different cinematic experience, the excellent Prince Charles Cinema also does memberships.


A tricky category, but a lot of writers use inferior, free software for their scrivenings. You could either a) beat it out of them or b) buy them Scrivener (perfect for writers of prose and screenwriters wanting an excellent outlining tool) and/or Fade In, which is excellent screenwriting software.


There are millions of gadgets out there that purport to aid the ailing scribe. But really, unless they don’t own a laptop yet, you’d be better off getting them a backup drive to save their most excellent work from disaster! And, for when they need to concentrate in that ever-so-hip coffee shop? Some decent headphones wouldn’t go amiss.


Feedback is always good, but if you don’t feel up to the job, Script Angel do gift certificates. Finally, you can’t buy it online, sadly, but you know what writers need, even crave? Some time and encouragement. If you have a writer in your life, this Christmas make sure that amidst the commercial fury of the season, they get some undisturbed time to write. And when they’re done? Ask them about it and look interested in their response! Cheap to you, manna from the heavens for the writer!

Review: Interstellar

Interstellar Fan PosterThis is a difficult review for me to write, I love Christopher Nolan’s films; even Dark Knight Rises, his messy diatribe against the Occupy movement, had redeeming features. For Interstellar, Nolan brought back Bat-alumni Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, and teamed them up with Matthew McConaughey for this 168 minute science fiction epic. I’d been looking forward to it for a long time, and made sure to see it as the director intended, in 70mm IMAX film projection.

Spoilers from hereon in!

Interstellar introduces us to an analogue world, stripped of technological frippery or ambition, all such indulgences seen as wasteful compared to dealing with a greater threat: A blight of crops, that seems to only affect plants one species at a time, and seemingly unpredictable dust storms. Between dwindling food supplies and the outrage of having to set tables with the crockery upside down, clearly this is a doomed world.

McConaughey plays Cooper, single father, farmer and former astronaut and engineer. Via a series of gravitational anomalies, ghosts and messages from the beyond sent to his daughter Murph, he is sent to find his mentor Michael Caine. Caine’s Professor Brand runs the new and secret NASA, together with his daughter, token female crew member Anne Hathaway. Together they have a plan to save mankind: Send a spaceship, if they could only find a pilot, through a mysteriously appeared wormhole to another galaxy, with a black hole at its heart. There they will pick a planet, and either repopulate it with a mobile sperm bank, or provide quantum data from the black hole to help solve the mathematical solution to gravity, allowing the Earthbound people to escape their dustball via space stations.

After a tearful farewell from his daughter, Cooper departs in beautifully layered scenes of his departure from the farm, and from the earth in his space ship. And from this point forward the spectacle of Interstellar unfolds, with dramatic visuals of space, and wormholes and strange planets and black holes; all soaringly soundtracked by Hans Zimmer. Unfortunately, it’s from this point onwards that the niggles of the first act are dwarfed by the clangers yet before us. The list of issues with the second act are numerous, but let me at least ask a few questions of it:

  1. Was anyone in any doubt, from the very first moment, that (surprise!) Matt Damon had ill intent? Did we, in a story of man vs time and man vs a doomed future, need a human antagonist too? Was there any other reason for externally mounted, easily removed radio transmitters, other than to solve a plot problem?
  2. Why did the space craft they were piloting need rocket boosters to escape earth’s atmosphere, but manage quite fine without them afterwards to take off from other planets?
  3. How can you have 100ft waves in one foot of water depth?
  4. Couldn’t we have waited for a little longer for the token female crew member to break down, lose her scientific rationality and declare her only motivation was love?
  5. Did we really need to hear that bloody Dylan Thomas poem over and over and over again?

Interstellar TARSSadly this isn’t a comprehensive list, but I’m trying to show an element of restraint. What I did like were the visuals of the planets they visited and the beautiful black hole, even if Gargantua sounds more like a Marvel villain than anything else. Being unable to really feel an emotional connection to the majority of the cast, I liked both the design and characterisation of the robot TARS. It was a well-executed meshing of non-human, entirely practical design, with very human emotions. Sometimes more so than any of the stars of the movie.

And then there was the ending. The twisty, ‘I was the ghost all along’, time-travelly, hiding in the bookcase mess that was the ending. Somehow, by being within the event horizon of Gargantua, future humanity has enabled Cooper to hide behind his daughter’s bookcase and communicate to her with gravity, flung books and sending complicated quantum data via morse code. I challenge anyone not to have a quizzical look on their face during that whole sequence.

So, future us have enabled Cooper to travel through a wormhole and tell his daughter the answer to the maths problem that will allow her adult self to save mankind. That’s great and all, but I think future us might have to work on their communication skills.

And then there’s the denouement. Everyone is happy; Cooper’s now ancient daughter has saved humanity and, by some hidden narrative method, has been reunited with her rescued father. Rather than spending time with him after a lifetime apart though, she sends him off to the empty planet that lovelorn Anne Hathaway was stranded on. Because clearly, as she stands over the grave of her lost love, the thing that will save them both will be the love of someone with whom neither have any chemistry whatsoever.

So, there we go. Interstellar: Beautiful and flawed. I think most of my dismay with the film is disappointment, the potential and build-up this had, and the depth to which it has been squandered. For while there are many worse films that have come out this year, none have fallen so short of their potential.

External Reviews: Peaky Blinders

Over on The Digital Fix, I’ve been reviewing season 2 of Peaky Blinders, as well as recapping season 1.

Check them out!

Overall I enjoyed it, but not as much as season 1, as it felt rushed and heavy-handed. Also, as the season progressed, I became increasingly troubled by the lack of agency that the female characters had and by the increase in sexual violence aimed at them.

What to expect from Pitchfest 2014

Some might argue that the most valuable part of the London Screenwriters’ Festival for journeyman screenwriters is the Pitchfest. Some writers even book a ticket for LSF just for the networking and access to Pitchfest, to pitch their projects and hopefully move their career forward.

So, how does it all work? First of all, have something you want to pitch! Now, this can be something that isn’t yet finished; this can get you very useful feedback in terms of how and what to pitch, and what to focus on in future. However, thinking positively, you really want polished work to hand so that if you’re asked for it you can smile and send them something you have some confidence in.

The next step is to look at the list of execs, producers, directors and agents at PitchFest. You’ll want to be quite focused in who you pitch to. Some pitchees will have restrictions in budget, medium or genre, so make sure you choose carefully. Pick several. Then, when the PitchFest schedule comes out, find out which slot(s) have the greatest concentration of your ideal pitchees.

Then, the big day; no, not PitchFest itself, but the opening of the booking system. This year that’s on October 18th at midday. Favoured slots will book up fast, so it’s a bit like trying to book Glastonbury tickets, except your entire career may depend on it. Okay, kidding. Maybe. A bit.

Then, the day itself. If you’ve never pitched before, queuing for the doors to open for your slot will be terrifying. You’ll panic that you can’t remember your loglines, pitch or name, that you’ve forgotten your business cards and one-pagers. You’ll fret and worry and panic. Then the doors open. As you all file in, you will see a large hall with a clock at the end and along the left and right walls, the execs, agents, producers and directors. Unless you were at the front of the queue at the door, there’ll already be a queue forming in front of some the pitchees in the room. So, you have to decide: Do you queue there too? You should, if they’re on your must-see list. But if not, consider one of the quieter tables, if the fit is good. That can also work as a great warm-up, to get you used to the idea of pitching, before facing the lion.

This was my revelation last year: Far from being monsters, sent to chew up you and your work and spit them both out with disgust, these are professionals who love what they do. And they want to love what you have, they want to meet you and like you and like your work. This epiphany made the rest of pitching much less stressful to me.

So, you have five minutes, and five minutes only with each person. After that you have to move on and go and pitch to someone else. You have five minutes to convince them that you and/or your work are perfect for them. If they’re not interested, they will often give excellent feedback as to why. And if they are interested, they’ll either ask for your card and/or one-pager, or give you their card for you contact them after the festival.

And that’s it. Keep doing it until you get the success you want and learn from each pitch you perform. And bear in mind that often Sunday slots are empty and you might get a chance to slide into a second session if you’re very lucky. And finally: If they suggest you get in touch with them to talk about your project? Do actually do that!!

So, good luck pitchers. May the odds be ever in your favour.

Transition Deferred

So, the transition is to be postponed, set aside for a period of time for the pursuit of ignominious yet necessary financial return. So, for now, a return to squeezing in as much writing as possible in the windows that life provides. It’ll be necessary to balance out writing commitments to others, such as my reviews for The Digital Fix, and meeting the deadlines for my own writing. Not only is it now less than four weeks until London Screenwriters Festival, it’s just over two weeks until the deadline for the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.

So, in between the misery-fest that is The Leftovers, and my gushing love for Peaky Blinders, my primary focus will be Underworld Calling.