Independents’ day

Well, well, well. Talk about a seismic shift!

If you’ve been following my contribution to the indie-publishing debate and my thoughts on the brave new world of the ebook and what it means for writers, that debate took a quantum leap with the news yesterday that JK Rowling has chosen to go indie and will be self-publishing her franchise as interactive ebooks through her own website/channel. Continue reading

I, Publisher

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a revolution taking place. No, I’m not talking about Egypt or Libya, I’m talking about publishing. Over a year ago, a meteor hit the publishing world in the shape of the Amazon Kindle.

What it means is that writers no longer have to get on their knees every day and pray for a publishing deal. What it means is there are no more gatekeepers guarding entry to the rarified VIP lounge of literature.

What it means is I’ve just published my first book. Continue reading

What news of Little Nell?

It’s that time of year  when new US TV dramas sprout up all over   the UK channels and I have to concentrate on keeping my mouth shut  because I’ve already seen the whole series that’s just starting. Yes, I’m a committed  downloader of US dramas. I download episodes a day after they air in the States. Sometimes I let an entire season run and then download the lot in one go and I still get to see the entire series before the first episode gets anywhere near a UK channel. Life may have just started on ITV3 but sorry guys, I watched the final episode of this first season last Christmas.

Bittorent sharing of TV episodes is illegal, of course, but it falls into that grey area between broadcast and DVD release in which digital distribution is possible the moment a TV show is broadcast. For me it’s a matter of keeping abreast of current trends in TV drama so I can perfect my screenwriting craft as well as write about series and preview them here when they finally do get a UK release. It’s like having a VCR that can tape foreign TV shows.

This doesn’t help UK channels like ITV3 who want advertising revenue from series like Life, though. Channels are trying to discourage downloading by having shows appear   in the UK shortly after US transmission. Heroes is a great example – there’s no point in downloading it because you can see it within a week of its US release. But with other dramas there’s a long way to go.   Excellent series like Mad Men, Burn Notice and Californicationare well into their second seasons in the US but don’t hold your breath waiting for them this side of the pond.

If these shows appeared here within a week of their US debuts, people like me   wouldn’t bother with bittorrent. We’d wait for them to appear on our tellies and   happily watch the accompanying adverts. But sorry guys, if you want that to   happen you need to take a look at the broadband reality, because it’s moving way   faster than you are.

There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be watching these series simultaneously   with our American cousins. So why are they being shipped to us with all the   speed of Victorian partworks? Why do we feel like those Americans crowding the harbour in 1840 asking ‘What news of Little Nell?’ to arriving Brits who’d read last week’s chapter of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop? It’s 2008, folks. This shouldn’t be happening.

But anyway, what of this ‘new’ drama series Life?

Those who’ve already seen the first three episodes on ITV3 will know that it’s a police procedural starring Brit Damien Lewis as Charlie Crews  a detective just out of clink after serving twelve years   of a life sentence for triple murder. But like Ivan Dobsky, HE NEVER DONE IT. And now he’s back on the force, even though he’s got mega-ding from his compensation, and tracking down the people what put him away.

He’s also developed a few handy character quirks. Prison will do that to you. He’s into Zen, and obsessed with fruit, and is now, quite understandably, most likely to say ‘he never done it’ even when the murder suspect of the week is wearing a sandwich board with the words I DONE IT  painted in the victim’s blood. Yes, Charlie Crews is a maverick, and a very entertaining one.

Thankfully, after the first few episodes, the quirks  take a back seat and Charlie starts to become a much more interesting character. This is because, deep down, this is a Superhero story type (using Blake Snyder’s rather helpful genre types). Crews is special, and that makes him an outcast. This is, at its heart, about the difficulty of being an extraordinary hero in an ordinary world.

You don’t need to wear a cape to be in a Superhero story type: see those two notable Russell Crowe movies Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. These are stories about human superheroes challenged by the mediocre world     around them. It is the tiny minds that surround the hero     that are the real problem. All Superhero tales are about being ‘different’, are about the    difficulties of being ‘special’.

Thankfully Life delivers on this promise and the rent-a-quirk fruit obsession dies a quiet death off screen well before the gripping season 1 finale… which I saw a year ago… and will leave you to enjoy for yourself.

Preaching to the converged

I used to run a web company whose unique selling point was ‘convergence’: the hot new idea that everyone in TV was talking about. ‘Convergence’ meant that, pretty soon, there’d be no difference between TV and internet: you’d watch it all through a single entertainment console in the corner of your room.   

It didn’t quite happen fast enough for our little company and I jumped ship to concentrate on my writing career. But today I think about convergence a lot. Because it’s finally here.

Viewers have been deserting TV for the internet in droves over the last decade, but broadband is how most TV broadcasters are hoping to win them back.

In truth, it’s not about getting people who now spend most of their life staring at laptop screens back to staring at TV screens. What broadcasters are doing is putting their TV content onto those laptop screens and, in some cases, making up whole new content especially for those laptop screens.

The broadcasters want to keep the billions they get from their advertisers, but these dinosaurs may just be too big and     cumbersome to survive the meteor hit of convergence.

The recent Writers’ Guild strike in the US brought it home to us even more: the future of TV is not on TV. It’s on the internet. Convergence has finally happened. It’s there on YouTube and BBC’s iPlayer and every US network offering its TV content through its websites. You can stream video content now and it even looks half decent when you run it full screen on your laptop.

The strike was about securing a stake in the Klondike rush   for convergence. The producers know that everythingwill be broadcast on the internet soon. But they wanted writers to think that there was no money to be made from internet broadcast of writers’ work (despite telling their shareholders they’d be making shitloads).

So the smart writers are now getting their content out there on the net and sidestepping the traditional routes to broadcast, i.e. waiting for some   clueless, coked-up trustafarian with a TV job to greenlight your creativity (for an overview check out this video about the writers’ strike from about 5 mins onwards).

New York Magazine recently drew attention to the fact that the funniest web videos are no longer webcam mishaps but real productions, scripted and filmed especially for an internet audience by the likes of Chelsea Peretti, Clark and Micheal, David Wain. Productions like  the superb Derek and Simon Show

These are ideas that can be shot on a very low budget and lend themselves to  5-10 minute episodes. The template is there and works equally well for drama  (see new online drama, Sofia’s Diary, that Danny Stack‘s been writing).

I don’t know about you, but I’m one writer who’s getting very excited about   the idea of becoming a writer-netcaster, and I’m mentally rewriting that   half-hour drama series of mine into 5-minute webisodes.

We live in an age where filming, editing and broadcasting has never been so   easy and cheap to do.

The real success stories of the next decade are going to be those writers who have the guts to become broadcasters.