Lost Arts

on Monday, 10 September 2012 18:39. Posted in General

The Lost Arts campaign needs your help, writes Maddy Radcliff

Lost Arts is a three-year project set up by eight trades unions whose members will be directly affected by cuts to the arts. The aim is to catalogue and record everything in the arts sector lost as a result of the public-spending cuts.

Already in 2012 we have a sizable list of losses, growing every day as news comes in of another library, another community centre, another writers’ scheme lost to the cuts. A quick search of the Lost Arts list throws up more than 40 losses classified as literature and more than 130 in theatre. We don’t blame managers or the arts councils who make difficult decisions, even though we do not always agree with them. It’s not their fault funding is going down. We blame government, national and local. And our voice, the voice of all of us affected by arts cuts, should be heard. That voice is diverse, of all ages, backgrounds and sectors within the arts.

Some cuts are high profile, others less so. Take Flambard Press, for example. It’s a small publishing house that focuses on new and Northern writers. For many, working with Flambard was their first publishing experience. And this year, because of the spending cuts, Flambard was forced to close.

This summer we lost the Theatre Writing Partnership. Born of four theatres in the East Midlands, its small team of two committed to reading the first 15 pages of any unsolicited script – providing a rare service that gave writers with essential feedback early in their careers. Theatres are suffering too. The Duke’s Playhouse in Lancaster lost so much to the cuts that its funding levels now are the same as in 2001. Duke’s five productions a year will go down to three and any others are entirely dependent on project funding. Add job losses to that and you can see the real impact of the cuts on the arts.

These cuts might not always make the news, but Lost Arts is here to say they do matter, and to show why.

Already local campaigns are making their mark and having a real impact. Look at the success of Equity campaigners working with Duke’s Theatre. Together, they found room for an extra production. Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) members staged a lunchtime walkout at the National Gallery earlier this year after cuts to assistant posts put art works at risk. ‘Not all cuts are as obvious as those to health or social services, but they still diminish our quality of life,’ says John Medhurst, Policy Officer at PCS. ‘It’s important to bring out less visible cuts to arts and cultural provision and show how they lessen opportunity and erode life chances, especially in communities and sectors that are already suffering disproportionately from unnecessary cuts.’

When the lights went out

on Sunday, 02 September 2012 18:25. Posted in Film

Pat Holden on writing and directing a feature film based on a family haunting

when-the-lights-went-out

'The Black Monk of Pontefract' is considered the worst case of poltergeist haunting in European history. But to me it is, and always will be, Aunty Jean’s Ghost.

I’d grown up with breathless tales of its activities delivered by my mother Rene, a regular visitor to the house, where she kept Jean and her kids company amidst the unholy chaos the ghost created.

Jean needed the company because her husband was terrified of the ghost and often absented himself to the local working men’s club to calm his nerves with quantities of Tetley’s. He was, on occasion, so calm that he slept in the garden.

It would be hard to blame him for his absenteeism; the ghost’s behaviour was by turns terrifying, chilling and surreal. Very occasionally it was even funny (on one occasion a dotty Spiritualist relative tried to ward it off by singing hymns. The ghost retaliated by conducting her singing using a pair of disembodied hands inside a pair of gloves).

Perhaps this was why the ghost earned a nickname (Fred) among the family and why they tolerated it for so long. Or was it a prime example of Northern stoicism? A coping mechanism? Or some sort of bizarre co-dependent relationship between house-proud Jean and wilfully destructive Fred?

Whatever the reasons, they stuck with it through black-outs, deafening banging, flying furniture, sudden chills, farmyard animal noises on the landing, upside down crucifixes, unexplained puddles, ‘transmigration of matter’ (look it up) and children being dragged unwillingly up staircases by their hair.

Its activities were enough to draw pundits, scientists, journalists, interested onlookers, three priests of various denominations, psychic investigators, students from the University of Leeds, local police and the town mayor to 30 East Drive. Everyone saw it.

Except me. For, despite my earnest protestations otherwise (I don’t mind being dragged up stairs by my hair - honest), I was considered far too young to enter the house. I longed for the day I’d be old enough to see it for myself.

But by then, Fred was long gone. The family reverted back to normal. When Mum and I visited I’d stand in the hallway willing Fred to do something, but there wasn’t even a sniff of supernatural activity. I sensed a jejeune air in my mother also; after the Second World War the ghost had been the most exciting thing in her life.

So why isn’t the haunting known about today? At the time it was a big story and the subject of double-page spreads in local newspapers. But it happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the syndication of regional stories and long, long before the internet and social media.

Thus it became a local story, for local people. And increasingly forgotten by them too — the only remaining evidence some fading memories and a few moth-eaten clippings in the town museum.

But I always thought that the wider public might find the story of a malignant monkish spirit, trapped in a council house with an ordinary family, interesting too.

New BBC TV agreements now in force

on Thursday, 30 August 2012 17:37. Posted in TV

Campaign to sign up archive writers begins this autumn

The Guild’s ground-breaking new agreements with BBC TV came fully into force on Tuesday this week, 28 August 2012. All new commissions are now under these new terms, and all scripts commissioned under the previous agreement since November 2002 automatically switch over to the new terms.

Later this autumn there will be a massive mail-out to almost 11,000 writers and estates commissioned since the origins of the BBC up to 2002 in which the Guild, agents and the BBC will advise switching to the new terms in most cases (some writers of highly successful shows may be better advised to remain on the old terms – if in doubt consult your agent and/or the Guild).

There are three new agreements, which have been posted in the Rates & Agreements section of the Guild website:

Television Script Agreement: This is the successor to many previous agreements between the Guild and the BBC over the decades and sets out the minimum terms for most mainstream drama and sitcom contracts – not only minimum fees, but also advances, repeat fees, credits, pension rights and much more.

General Script Agreement: A new agreement closely modelled on the TSA which extends Guild terms to broadcast scripts under 15 minutes, material commissioned primarily for online use, drama within documentaries, some animation, and other areas.

Sketch Agreement: This is a completely re-drafted agreement, replacing an obsolete contract after many years trying to bring rewards for sketch writing in line with the modern TV and entertainment industry.

The new system will bring writers extra payments when their work proves popular on the BBC iPlayer, thanks to a new service – Writers Digital Payments (WDP) – set up jointly by the Guild and the agents’ trade body, the Personal Managers’ Association. When TV programmes are accessed online, the writer will be paid in proportion to the number of viewers who decide to watch them. This form of TV watching is expected to grow massively now that the latest Smart TVs and YouView boxes will enable millions of viewers to access online programmes directly on their living-room TV sets.

The key points of the new agreements are: 

  • The 15% surcharge on upfront fees that all TV writers have received since 2002 will disappear – to be redistributed both by WDP and by far higher repeat payments for the 'secondary' channels such as BBC3, BBC4, CBBC and Cbeebies.
  • The Guild’s collective agreements with the BBC are expanded to cover – for the first time – programmes shorter than 15 minutes, drama segments within documentaries, adult-oriented animations, shows written solely for online use, exploitation of programme formats and characters in a wide range of live performances, merchandising, etc.
  • Repeat fees on the 'network' channels BBC1 and BBC2 are cut to a 50% residual in peaktime and 20% offpeak, in a move designed to bring homegrown archive material into the increased number of repeat slots, especially on daytime TV. It is expected that the same amount of money will be spread among a much larger range of TV writers past and present.
  • There will be further negotiations to safeguard payments to children’s TV writers when kids’ programmes disappear from BBC1 and BBC2 early next year.
  • Special arrangements have been put in place to ensure that existing writers on EastEnders, Casualty, Holby and Doctors do not lose out.

Plays of Innocence and Experience

on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 10:48. Posted in Theatre

Major free development project for theatre writers launches Writers' Guild charitable foundation

The deadline for applications to this project has now passed

Update (25.9.12): 

We have contacted our chosen group of writers for this project so, if you've not been successful this time, we would like to thank you all for your submissions. With over 130 applications, the response was impressive indeed - proving to us what a huge demand there is for workshops like this and the potential of the Guild's partnership with RADA. Therefore we trust that you will not be discouraged as, undoubtedly, there will be other opportunities in the future. We will be announcing the names of the successful writers very soon on the Guild website, once their acceptance and arrangements have been consolidated. We will also be mailing everyone personally to thank you for your participation.

>>

Emerging and established playwrights (whether Writers' Guild members or not) have a rare chance to come together to explore their work in an inspiring new development weekend, FREE to the chosen writers with expenses paid. Plays of Innocence and Experience is a major new project for the Guild, run in partnership with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. This scheme is open to all writers, at different stage of their careers, to work on an unperformed play with actors, directors and dramaturgs of the highest calibre.

Funded by the Writers Foundation (UK) - which has been set up by the Guild to expand their work in promoting writing through education, training, competitions, awards and in other ways - the first event of this partnership will be a weekend in October focused on developing plays of great promise through a process of readings, selective workshops and constructive criticism.

Each writer will work with a company of actors provided by RADA from their alumni and postgraduate students, in close collaboration with a professional director and/or dramaturg. There is also potential that this partnership would enable the most distinguished plays to emerge from the weekend to progress further, possibly to more refined development and public showcasing.

To apply, candidates should: 

  • Submit three hard copies plus an electronic copy of a draft of an unpublished, unperformed dramatic piece. This needs to be either the first act of a full-length play or a one-act play or a dramatic piece of equivalent performance length. The text should include a cast list, essential production notes and, if it is part of a longer script, a resume/ scenario of the whole piece.  
  • Include a letter of application, of no more than 700 words, setting out your reasons for wanting to develop this piece, its potential as a drama and your aspirations for it. And in what way this experience would be valuable in terms of your personal development as a writer. This letter should also include all your contact details plus a stamped, addressed envelope if you wish your scripts to be returned. 
  • Include a brief biography of your experience and career to date.

The weekend will take place at the RADA Studios (previously The Drill Hall) in London, from 6pm on Friday 19 October to 6pm on Sunday 21 October 2012. The workshops will be FREE to the chosen writers, who will also receive travel expenses and (if necessary) an overnight allowance. However, owing to the considerable task of selection, it will not be possible to offer a critique or respond to those candidates who have not been selected.

All applications and hard copies should be sent to the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 40 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4RX, FAO Richard Pinner. And please note the deadline for applications has been extended to Monday 10 September 2012. Electronic copies should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you have any questions or need more information about this project then please do not hesitate in contacting Richard Pinner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twickenham Studios: 99 years young

on Wednesday, 29 August 2012 18:42. Posted in Film

An interview with Maria Walker (pictured), chief executive of Twickenham Studios, by Richard Bevan

maria-walker

With famous film studios such as Bray having fallen into the hands of developers it has been a shot in the arm for the British film industry to see Twickenham Film Studios saved from a fate as an office block or housing estate. As well as investment to bring the 99-year-old site into the 21st Century, plans also include changing the name to Twickenham Studios to show that it’s not just film production facilities the studio will offer.

The revitalisation of the studio – home to such famous films as Tom Jones, Zulu, The Italian Job, several Hammer horrors and more recently My Week With Marilyn and The Iron Lady – will see an updating of facilities to make it one of the most dynamic production centres in London.

Its new owners, led by businessman and ‘film fanatic’ Sunny Vohra, have promised to take the studio (established in 1913) back to its glory days. Sunny himself has become managing director of Twickenham Studios Ltd (TSL).

Maria Walker, the studio’s new chief executive, led the campaign to save the complex. She has a long association with the studio tucked away in St Margaret’s. She first started there 28 years ago as a runner on Wild Geese 2.

What’s so special about Twickenham Studios?

Maria Walker: Having worked at nearly all the major studios I think Twickenham is very special because it’s in the community. Shepperton and Pinewood are large and quite soulless places to work in the middle of nowhere. Twickenham is in the heart of a community.

Shops, pubs and cafes right outside the door, it’s quite buzzy.

Yes. With a train station across the road it’s close to London. I also think because it’s smaller it has a friendlier ‘family’ atmosphere. Also its post-production is a centre of excellence.

This is the unique Sound Centre built in the 1980s that has a ‘Tardis’ feel to it – small on the outside and gigantic on the inside?

The dubbing studios have to be big to replicate the atmosphere of cinemas. It’s got a history of big films been mixed in its huge two dubbing rooms; films like Elizabeth The Golden Age, Sahara, Burke & Hare, Senna and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – and for that reason has attracted big names, such as Stephen Spielberg.

Corrie goes to Kenya

on Tuesday, 14 August 2012 13:09. Posted in TV

Sarah Kennedy from the charity S.A.F.E. on the impact of a project developed with Coronation Street writer Damon Rochefort 

(Photo: Coronation Street Actor Sue Cleaver performers with S.A.F.E. Actor Ali Mlatso on stage in Mombasa)

Writers and actors know that the power of drama can move people in ways that other forms of communication can’t: it makes people ­­­feel joyous or despondent; hopeful or despairing; it informs and entertains. But it is not often that the power of great acting and writing can be put to use in saving lives.

This Friday, 17 August, the first of two one-hour documentaries on ITV1 shows how that is possible. In Corrie Goes to Kenya, four Coronation Street actors work with S.A.F.E. in Kenya – a UK charity and Kenyan NGO that uses performing arts to educate, inspire and deliver social change. The programme follows their work using street theatre to challenge the stigma, misinformation and ignorance surrounding HIV/AIDS and the episodes will follow the team as they create and perform a series of soap-like plays in Coast Province.

Corrie Goes to Kenya was conceived by Coronation Street writer Damon Rochefort after he became involved with S.A.F.E. in 2010. After seeing a screening of S.A.F.E.’s feature film Ndoto Za Elibidi, he travelled to Kenya to use his talents as a writer to help the team create a new HIV play. The experience was a profound one and Damon realised that, often, comedy is the most powerful tool in a writer’s box - and that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. 

Reflecting on his time in Mombasa, Damon said: 'Lecturing solemnly to people about some pretty grim issues is one thing, but if you can create rounded characters and have them come into conflict in funny, unexpected ways, audiences will laugh and remember the messages that you bury within the plots. Through comedy, it’s possible to debunk some of the crazier myths that surround HIV, shining a light on them and encouraging the audiences to realize how daft these myths are'. The success of the visit and the play he had helped to create made him realise he wanted to take the Coronation Street team back to Mombasa with him to continue this work.

Corrie Goes to Kenya will demonstrate the close bonds that were formed between the Kenyan and UK teams and the powerful theatrical results. But also, and perhaps more importantly, the programmes will demonstrate the ability of the UK arts sector, including writers and actors, to raise awareness about complex international development issues in imaginative and unexpected ways.

Corrie Goes to Kenya is a Shiver and ITV Studios production. The first episode will be aired at 9pm on ITV1 on Friday 17 August 2012. 

Read Damon Rochefort's original article about his work with S.A.F.E.

More about S.A.F.E. http://www.safekenya.org