Tuesday, January 08, 2008


You’ll be glad to hear I made it through another Christmas and New Year without stabbing my nearest and dearest - mainly by munching my way through Iceland party platters and downing a crate of Lidl cava with voddie chasers. Not to mention scoffing those Thornton Continentals and the two-for-a-fiver boxes of choccies nobody’s ever heard of that my cheapskate sister-in-law bought at Poundstretchers and foisted on everybody.

You can tell the party season’s over. In most public places the air reeks of Intimately Beckham and dazzling white trainers can now be spotted pounding the pavements. Meanwhile I console myself with Teletext holidays and the sales - at least until the credit card statement drops on the mat with a dull and threatening thud, which is okay by me since I don’t plan on eating again till March.

So what have we got to look forward to in 2008? If it’s film and telly, forget it. All that’s happening film-wise in Scotland is an imported horror, Clive Barker’s Book of Blood, currently shooting in Edinburgh and so keeping a handful of local crew off benefits. Elsewhere (ie. Glasgow) there’s the DIY feature, Running in Traffic, the reason why GMAC’s been shut since November. Maintenance and stocktaking, my arse. Do their backers – City of Glasgow, Scottish Screen, the BBC and the Film Council - know they’re dogging it? Still, if it's the only way to get a local film produced then good luck to them. Good luck too to Yasmin Fedda whose documentary, Breadmakers, is off to Sundance. Go girl.

Less enticing is Skillset Scotland’s ‘career makeover competition’. A week at the Berlinale Talent Campus? You’ll be beating off offers galore I’m sure, sadly none of them to do working with film or TV. Or a week working at games company, Sky, learning all about video production which chances are you know all about anyway since you can’t apply to Skillset unless you’ve got a HND in coffee-stirring. Or how about a week’s worth of office slavery at IWC? A must for anybody’s CV and yet another version of the sit-up-and-beg mentality that passes for unmissable opportunity. I’m sure somebody’s patting themselves on the back with this one.

Scouring the papers I notice another of those tiresome items in the Sunday Herald predicting what 2008 will look like. Second bottom of the heap is arts which for some reason (er, Creative Scotland?) now includes the entire Scottish screen sector. Quoted is Anne Bonnar, theatre fan and recently-appointed director of the transitional body for CS. If you can stay awake -

I'm optimistic. The development of Creative Scotland will challenge some of our thinking about how to create a leading cultural development agency. As a small country in confident times, we have the opportunity to create a support structure which will enable our artists and creative communities to deliver for Scotland and the world. That's a fantastic opportunity.

The challenge for the arts and artists in Scotland has never been about talent or creativity. Its been about recognition and appropriate support and advocacy, here and abroad. Many artists, and those involved in the broader creative industries, are looking for clear leadership and for a co-ordinated approach to investment, development and advocacy across the sector. Over recent years there has been uncertainty about future support structures.

The Scottish government has made a commitment to the formation of Creative Scotland, which will have a leadership role across the arts, screen and the creative sector. During 2008 the role, shape and style of Creative Scotland will become clear as will its relationships with other public agencies, local authorities and others. This will present opportunities and perhaps some challenges for the arts and creative community and has the potential to make a positive difference to the arts in and from Scotland.

Bonnar's statement, delivered in deadly corporate-speak, is utter tosh. I don’t know a single filmmaker, writer, artist or musician who’s looking for leadership. They’re looking for money, pure and simple, just like all those chair polishers in the arts worried whether they’ll still be in a job by the time CS kicks in. As far as film and TV is concerned, what kind of leadership from Anne Bonnar can persuade a London distributor or sales company to buy into a Scottish film or TV show? All the optimism in the world won’t get a film financed or on to our screens.

Yadda yadda, so it goes. If Anne Bonnar or anybody else thinks I’m too pessimistic then go ask my 18-year-old niece, J, who worked hard at school, passed her exams, held down not one but three part-time jobs and last year enrolled for a media course at a well-known university. I just heard J’s quit the course, as she says – ‘to get a life’. Waking up to the fact that four years of study and a five-figure debt guarantees nothing, J knows her chances of even an average-waged job in film or telly are practically zilch. She’s now signed up with Strathclyde Police.

Unlike Anne Bonnar, at least my niece won’t have to worry about the ‘uncertainty about future support structures’. Neither will I. After hearing about J's decision, I can’t convince myself that another year of naysaying on this blog is in any way life-affirming or even fun so after 158 posts I’m off to try something more profitable – and positive. I might even write a half-decent script.

Thanks to the many thousands of you who’ve read this blog, especially those who took the time to comment. Good luck to you all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Christmas is round the corner, like we need reminding. Still, it’s good to know that in some quarters there are people who just can’t stop giving. Earlier this year I wrote a piece on Easterhouse and how the National Theatre of Scotland didn’t want to live there, there being a flashy £10 million arts centre, The Bridge, because it was deemed ‘too small’. For what? Their egos?

Today’s Herald runs a piece about the soon-to-be homeless NTS, and how fairy godmother and Scottish culture minister, Linda Fabiani, has answered Vicky Featherstone’s letter to Santa by giving her a whole new building – The Shed, a former shipbuilding site in Govan. Not that the NTS is handing back the Bridge. They’re keeping that for their youth arm. But with the lease running out at their other branch in Hope Street, a deal’s been struck with the owner of The Shed, Angus McMillan who, so the article claims, has been waiting 17 years to flog it to an arts organisation.

I guess in Mr McMillan’s opinion film doesn’t qualify as art which is why Film City Glasgow is slumming it in the old Govan Town Hall. And I’m sure Mr McMillan’s altruism when it comes to arts patronage has nothing to do with the undisclosed amount he’ll earn when he flogs his empty shed to the Scottish Government to house the NTS.

For a company that claims they’re not interested in buildings, the NTS sure has an interest in buildings. While film companies stump up for production offices, storage and rehearsal space, the NTS gets handouts galore, presumably because it has the words ‘National’ and ‘Scotland’ in the title. Maybe it’s time some enterprising film producer started the ‘National Film Company of Scotland’, though there's a better chance of the ugly sister shagging Prince Charming than Cinderella filmmakers getting a similar deal.

The one question not being asked here is how much is this going to cost the taxpayer. Buying an empty shed is one thing, but refitting it to suit the NTS is another. One thing’s for sure – it’ll cost a lot more than its neighbour, Film City, just as I’m sure the good folk of Govan won’t benefit one iota from having a private theatre club on its doorstep. And pity the poor actor having to rehearse in a big cold shed, though judging by the way the NTS spends our money I wouldn’t be surprised if Vicky’s round the back burning shedloads of twenty quid notes.

As long as they don’t stage a revival of The Ship.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Spotted in today’s Guardian Comment is Free - a lively discussion on the rejection letter to celebrated filmmaker, Tony Palmer, from the BBC when he pitched his doco on the life of composer, Vaughan Williams. The film is now scheduled to screen on that champion of arts programming, Channel Five.

As rejections go, the BBC letter’s too good to be faked, as some sceptics suggest.

Dear Mr Palmer,

Thank you for your enquiry about the composer Mr V Williams. Having looked at our own activity via the lens of find, play & share, we came to the conclusion that a film about Mr Williams would not be appropriate at this time. This is essentially because we are... reconstructing the architecture of bbc.co.uk, and to do that, we need to maximise the routes to content.

We must establish the tools that allow shared behaviours, and so harness the power of the audience and our network to make our content more findable. We have decided to take a radically new approach... and therefore free resources for projects of real ambition... So, given that this is the new vision for Vision, you will understand why a film about Mr V Williams such as you have proposed does not fit our remit. But good luck with the project, and do let me know if Mr V Williams has an important premiere in the future as this findability might allow us to reconsider.”

Cracker, isn’t it?

No signature, but who cares? When somebody’s kicking your teeth in, you don’t pay that much attention to who’s wearing the boots, although I think it’s more to do with Mr Palmer looking to spare somebody’s blushes. Still, the letter could have been written by any number of 20-year-old Oxbridge graduates fondling their way up Auntie’s skirts. Never mind the sheer ignorance – eg. V. Williams, or the idea he's got an upcoming gig – phrases like ‘lens of find’ and ‘play and share’ are absolute gems of consultantese. As one commentator pointed out, this is the outfit that can put you in jail for not having a TV licence.

Being no stranger to rejection letters myself – from agents, producers, funders – I just wish they could be a bit more a) truthful and b) imaginative. The standard two-line letter telling you how the standard of applications was SO high is really just saying ‘by the way, you’re crap’. I’d rather hear that than how other folk are more talented.

Mislaid scripts and paperwork is another ruse. How many times have I heard that so-and-so had your script on their desk three months ago but how it mysteriously vanished. Where, into their shredder/recycle bin?

Come on, Tony, be a man about it. Time to name and shame. Folk go to jail for less.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


What does 30 quid buy you these days? Half a hairdo? A night in a crap hotel? A Czech hooker? Among my spam this week comes an invitation to join the latest in a long line of short-lived film networking websites. FilmingFolk.com bills itself as Scotland’s premier resource and networking community for anyone working, or wishing to gain experience, within the film and television industry. All for just £30 a year.

After all, when you can’t make a living out of the film business, surely the next best thing is to exploit all those wannabe filmmakers who are either too dumb or too lazy to find out for themselves that film isn’t some clandestine closed shop. All the information’s out there for free if you can be bothered to look, so who needs to spend 30 quid a year to read content written by other members who presumably joined up because they don’t have a clue about the business either.

You can’t shoot them for trying, but if I want to give somebody my money, I like to know who I’m giving it to. On FilmingFolk you'll find a Terry Dray, who has a single credit on IMDB as an AD on a short made five years ago, alongside Lynzie Dray and Christine Davidson, plus a couple of outfits purporting to be production companies, neither of which musters a Google ranking. Like, how much do they know about making films? Or, like most companies here, have they made the standard couple of shorts and the odd corporate?

Especially not enticing is the rate they charge for script feedback. I mean, £279 for ‘extensive analysis’ of a feature script? Are they kidding? Even the Script Factory only charges £75 for a feature script and at least they've got some screenwriting chops.

As for FilmingFolk’s 'short film competition', this really beggars belief. For a start they’re charging £25 to enter (£40 if you want feedback). And the prize? I quote -

The winning script will be produced using a professional producer, director, crew and actors and will go into pre-production on Monday 3rd November 2008 for a 7 week shoot, which includes, development, pre-production, the shoot and edit time”.

Hello-oh? A 7-week shoot for a short? I think FilmingFolk must’ve got D minus at film school, because any idiot knows the shoot is the bit where you have a camera and actors, not the bit when you sit in front of a computer editing, or rewriting the script. It makes you wonder what the losers get – two scripts produced by FilmingFolk Productions Ltd?

If this sounds like a slagging, you’re dead right. It’s one thing to be fleeced by professionals, but it’s another to get mugged by a bunch of amateurs who clearly don’t have the first clue about making films or is qualified to teach anyone else how to. Because if they could, then why aren’t they doing it? Here's why - nobody in the real film business wants to fund films these days, especially films in Scotland. Even big grown-up filmmakers who know what they're doing can't make a living. So unless you want to starve...

FF has got what must be the world's wordiest website with delusional claims about how they deal with ‘industry professionals’. If that's so, then what’s the point of submitting the finished film to BAFTA Scotland? What do you think Alison Forsyth is going to do with it, apart from use it as a coaster? And as for the claims about getting the film to festivals – it’s just pish. Anybody can fill in a form for a festival but getting accepted is a whole lot harder.

If FF wants my advice, they should cut the crap, post their CVs, and get rid of their dumbass terms and conditions. By all means be in business, but don’t lie about your so-called expertise because you come across like a bunch of chancers. I've been shaken down by better than you guys. And finally, stop spamming me. I’d rather throw thirty quid down the toilet than sign up to you lot.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I’ve been staring at a blank screen for about three minutes now, thinking of something positive to say about the film business.....

I’ll start again.

This week an item on MTV movies grabs my attention, seeing as how it relates to some of the recent comments on my posts, especially from my pal, English Dave, about the dire state of distribution. The item concerns Ed ‘Brothers McMullen' Burns and the death of the art house film (so he says). Ed’s beef is that his latest film, Purple Violet, has failed to get bums on seats. In fact, it’s failed to get anywhere near the seats since he couldn’t bag a distributor, so instead he’s releasing it as a download on iTunes for $14.99.

Not a great move, Ed.

Now I admit I don’t know much about Ed’s movies, but it seems he’s made the same one about eight times now, dealing mainly with ‘relationship issues’. In other words, a few folk standing in rooms either shouting at each other or not talking to each other, maybe with a bit of door slamming thrown in. What Ed fails to grasp is that this sounds too much like real life to entice the punters to part with their cash. We can all do our own door-slamming, thank you. As he blubbers, “If they’re not going to see Reese Witherspoon and Tom Cruise they’re not coming out to see me and Patrick Wilson. The audience isn’t there anymore.”

Not so, Ed, so don’t point that huffy lip at us. The reason people are staying away in droves from your movies isn’t Tom Cruise. They’re staying away from him too, if the reported box for Lions for Lambs is anything to go by. No, the reason people are staying away from your movies is because a) they’re not in the cinemas and anyway, b) there are much better films out there.

The question is, how likely is it for punters to shell out 15 bucks to watch a movie on a screen smaller than a packet of fags? For years people have talked up the great online revolution that promised to turn distribution on its head. Lots of people have sat on lots of panels yakking about online distribution, film on demand, mobile phone downloads and suchlike. Apart from filmmakers flogging a few DVDs on a website, I’ve yet to see a rush on this.

Maybe it’s because unlike watching a couple of minutes of nonsense on YouTube or any of the other sites for free, there’s only a few nutters willing spend more money than it costs to rent a film to download an entire feature and watch it on their phone or their iPod, a bit like being in the cheap seats at a gig, since the screen’s so tiny it detracts from the ‘experience’. It doesn’t seem to matter that the technology’s out there, because all the technology’s done is make us part with cash for the latest gadget and brainwash us all into only watching shorts, usually topped and tailed with some corporate message.

They used to say that adverts were the good bits between telly programmes. Now we’ve got a situation where we dummies fork out for the hardware to watch ads and fork out for the subscription to download the ‘good’ stuff. Why anybody would want to pay more than the cost of cinema ticket to watch a screen the size of one is beyond me. Apart from watching porn, cause at least you've still got a free hand. (see pic)

Maybe Ed Burns would be better off with a camcorder and a YouTube account rather than get all sulky about nobody wanting to release his films. As he says, “I don’t think I’m going to make another small dialogue driven movie for a while.” I don’t think you’ve got much say in the matter, Ed, not when the audiences’ bums are firmly planted on their own seats.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Judging by the UK coverage – e.g. page 9 of Saturday’s Guardian and second last item on Friday’s national BBC Radio news - you’d never guess that Glasgow just won its bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. But much as we Scots love to moan about southern bias and indifference, we could do with sorting out our own house when it comes to reporting on matters of national importance.

It’s a while since I last mentioned the Culture Bill, so long overdue I’m surprised the bailiffs haven’t been round. That, and a fully-fledged Creative Scotland, the body to replace both the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. Yawn all you want but the scrapping of these two agencies marks the biggest shake-up in the arts in Scotland in decades so it’s bound to have an impact.

Filmmakers, ignore the small print at your peril. That goes for SS boss Ken Hay too because if anybody ought to watch his back, it’s him. Even on their own website, buried in the news section you’ll find a recent speech by Scottish Culture Minister, Linda Fabiani, who gives glowing mentions to the National Theatre of Scotland, the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra, Edinburgh’s festivals, the National Collections, National Museums and the National Library.

What she doesn’t mention is film, an omission that not only ignores every filmmaker in the country but also fails to acknowledge our one and only screen agency, an agency paid for out of government’s own coffers. Not a good sign, is it? In fact, her only film reference begins and ends with David Mackenzie, presumably because Hallam Foe opened this year’s EIFF.

It’s here you really begin to wonder about the future because if Ms Fabiani fails to talk up film as a cultural asset because the powers-that-be and advisors failed to remind her to talk it up, then we might as well give up now.

So what does Ken Hay have to worry about? How about Richard Holloway, chair of the joint board of SS and SAC, for a start. After years at the SAC, we can only guess where his loyalties lie and you can bet it’s not film since apart from turning up at a few gala screenings he doesn’t know the first thing about it. I’d have thought theatre, dance and opera was more his bag. Then you have the recent appointment of Anne Bonnar as director of the interim body set up to oversee the transition to CS. Her background? The NTS and Traverse Theatre. So no 'advocacy' for film there either.

It’s hardly an exaggeration then that it’s all beginning to look like the players here are a bit skewed in favour of the stage. Now I might be dead wrong but at a time when the National Theatre of Scotland is grabbing favourable headlines for Black Watch, its success is maybe less to do with the plays they put on than the fact their head of marketing is on a 55K a year salary. SS has no equivalent but then again, unlike the NTS, Scottish Screen isn’t a production company with untold riches at its disposal.

One obvious conclusion is for SS to hand over the keys to West George Street and its annual budget to the National Theatre since the NTS looks like it can claim success where SS can’t and so might be better at the job of getting films made. But you only have to look at the numerous stage plays adapted for the big screen over the years to know it’s a very bad idea.

The Life of Stuff, for instance?

“Devoid of any wit, humour or cinematic style” – FilmFour review.

Or The Slab Boys?

“As much enjoyment as slowly squeezing your finger in a vice.” – User comment on IMDB.

Or Blood Red Roses?

“Mind-numbingly boring, self-righteous and over-prone to the use of that terrible short-cut of having its characters reacting to world events on TV”. – Time Out.

All based on stage plays, of course. And just because a playwright might fancy getting into movies doesn’t mean they’re any good at it. In fact, I couldn't turn up a single Scottish stage play-turned-film that got a decent review.

Meanwhile those of us in Scotland who genuinely want to make movies are forced into entering competitions to make TV dramas at a time when telly is shedding jobs by the skipload. I’ve never heard of playwrights having to do the same thing, because in theatre it’s more a case of a cosy phone call and ‘here’s the cheque, away and write what you fancy’. And unlike theatre, our film producers and directors start from a base of no wages and no funding to treat themselves or writers properly. It’s more like ‘give me your draft and if we’re lucky I might get us a few grand’. No, in Scottish theatre the money’s in place from the start. Nobody ever goes hungry, not when the government and the joint SS/SAC board value theatre so much more than film.

In February next year a 3-day conference, The Cultural Summit, is due to take place in Edinburgh. Guess which cultural item is off the menu? If any or all of what I've written here doesn’t sound the death knell of film in Scotland, I don’t know what does. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime next year, SS and the idea of Scottish film will be quietly strangled and dumped. And if track record is anything to go by, our press and media won’t bother to tell us where the body’s been buried.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Thank you Light&Shade for keeping us alert to the non-opportunity that is The Pilot scheme.

Maybe they should rebrand it Pi-loss, since that's what it amounts to. And shame on WGGB for not jumping on Channel 4, SS and HIE's heads for coming up with this tawdry, ill-thought and totally exploitative scheme.

Even worse, Pi-loss has got fuck all to do with cheap telly, it's about grabbing 12 properties for a pittance - you only have to look at the rights that you, the writer, have to give away even to take part in this bag of shite. And sorry Lucy - (see comments on my post 4CryingOut Loud) - I hate to piss on the parade here, but to say that the scheme gives a leg-up to Scottish writers is bogus. Only rich kids looking for a wee jolly up north need apply.

They might as well mug you in the street. Don't fall for it folks.