Under Three Hundred

The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Good Company

An overdue blog! I said I’d blog about my new production company, Average Romp, ‘next week’, and that was a month ago. The explanation is that I seamlessly graduated from thinking I should blog about it to thinking I already had.

The story so far. Last year, I wrote a radio sitcom script called Dick Dixon in the 21st Century. It was largely for my own amusement, as I knew as I was writing it that it was too risqué for the delicate sensibilities of the BBC, and there aren’t really any other outlets for radio comedy. Nevertheless, I was keen that it should be as good as possible, so I emailed it out to willing friends for their thoughts. And one of them, Toby Hadoke, said, “Well, why don’t we just make it ourselves?”

And so, eventually, we did. I produced and Toby directed. Between us we got together a cast of stars of comedy and science-fiction; Kieran Hodgson, Allyson June Smith, Terry Molloy, Dan Starkey, Jez Fielder and Sooz Kempner. David Darlington agreed to do the sound design, Darrell MacLain to do the music, and Clayton Hickman to do the artwork (with CGI elements by Anthony Lamb). We recorded it using Cleanfeed, and then it went through a professional post-production process, being edited down to a lean 30 minutes.

Now, to do all this, I needed a production company. So early this year I set up Average Romp, named in tribute to the glibbest phrase used by comedy critics. This was just in case things went any further. And now there is a website, which gives you links to listen to the pilot episode of Dick Dixon and pre-order two more episodes which I am currently writing (between work commitments). It’s at http://www.averageromp.com

So the main reason for recording and releasing Dick Dixon was just to get the sitcom made and out there, rather than existing only as a script on my hard-drive that would be read by half a dozen people. But, of course, there were other reasons. I wanted to have a go at producing, to prove to myself (if to no-one else) that I could do it and that, in particular, make a show better by being part of the editing process. Toby wanted to prove he could direct. And, it turns out, while there was a pretty steep learning curve and mistakes were made along the way, I think we achieved what we set out to do. We didn’t know how to do it before, we know how to do it now.

And the plan was always to do more. So I set up a Kickstarter to fund two more Dick Dixon episodes. In retrospect, I’m not sure this was the best thing to do, for two reasons. Firstly, with a show that’s an unknown quantity you need time to build up a following; on the other hand, I didn’t want to leave a gap between releasing the first episode for free and giving people the opportunity to pre-order two more. But maybe I should have left a gap of a month or so to build up a following first? I also didn’t realise how quick and easy it was to upload stuff to streaming services, which I should have done sooner. As I said, a learning curve.

The other reason is that Kickstarters usually work by giving people incentives for making larger pledges; all sorts of things like t-shirts, autographed scripts, shout-outs in the credits, having characters named after them and so on. Now, this is just my view, but I’m not really keen on that sort of thing. It is fine for amateur projects and charity efforts, but there is no way I could do something like “Pledge £50 and you’ll get a Dick Dixon T-shirt” without feeling like I was ripping people off.

You see, I was – and remain – totally of the view that Average Romp should be run as a professional company and a big part of that is giving value for money and not relying on the generosity of people who are willing to pay over the odds. So I set a price of £5 for two more episodes; basically, what I thought was a reasonable price to charge. Of course, this assumes there are enough punters out there for a production to cover its costs at that price; another aspect of the Kickstarter was to see what sort of market there was. And, I’ll admit, for a show that is an unknown quantity, it’s really tough to get people even to check it out, never mind to pre-order more. That remains the challenge!

But I am undeterred. I do think there is a market out there for audio comedy, working on the basis of putting out ‘pilot’ episodes for free on streaming services and suchlike, with people paying to download additional episodes. After all, there are companies doing this for drama, horror and science-fiction; if it works for those genres, why not scripted comedy? If anything, it should be a more attractive proposition, because if you find a sitcom funny, you’ll listen to it more than once.

The other reason why I think it is worth doing is that the BBC are doing less and less scripted radio comedy, so there is going to be a gap in the market which some company is going to be filling in ten years’ time, and it might as well be mine! This is also because, thanks to lockdown, more and more actors have professional home-recording equipment, so it is possible to produce broadcast-quality radio comedy and drama without having to go to the expense of hiring a studio. I have nothing against studios, but if you take that cost out of the equation producing audio comedy becomes much cheaper, so you can still be profitable at a lower asking price (or at a premium asking price for a smaller market). So my hope is that there’s a viable business in this. It is inevitable that more and more radio stuff will be remotely-recorded, until it becomes the standard way of doing scripted comedy (apart from shows requiring a studio audience, which is a whole different kettle of fish).

Now, you may wonder, is this just an exercise in making Jonny’s great unmade comedy scripts? Well, as worthwhile an exercise as that would be, that’s not the end of it. As it is incredibly difficult to get people to even check out shows that are unknown quantities, Average Romp’s next project will almost certainly be an adaptation of an out-of-copyright work by a famous writer with as many famous voices in it as we can afford.

But beyond that, what I really want to do is to make (and sell for enormous profit) sitcoms by other writers. I know I’m not the only one to have great unmade comedy scripts. I’ve already asked a few writers I know to look through their hard drives for suitable shows and I’ll keep on widening the net until I strike gold.

What I’m looking for are, basically, sitcoms that are laugh-out-loud funny, ideally with no more than four main characters, ideally not science fiction, ideally not spoofs. I’m also looking for stuff which is more contemporary in style and post-watershed in content than you get on BBC Radios 2 and 4. The reason why I say ‘laugh-out-loud’ funny is that, with streaming, if a sitcom isn’t funny in the first 30 seconds then people will stop listening. And the characters should be a mix of genders, ages, backgrounds etc.

So consider this a heads-up. If you’re reading this and you have a great unmade sitcom that you have already written and which you own 100% (i.e. it wasn’t commissioned and hasn’t been optioned) then Average Romp would like to hear from you. The only other guideline is to only send the first page; this is because of the above rule about needing to be laugh-out-loud funny in the first 30 seconds. If the first page makes me laugh I’ll ask to see more. If it doesn’t, I won’t.

The email address is info@averageromp.com Please don’t include any details about yourself in a covering letter as I am not interested in anything other than whether the script makes me laugh. Also, the usual rule applies that by sending in one page of a script, you are not gonna turn around and accuse Average Romp of nicking your ideas if we commission a sitcom from someone else which has a vaguely similar premise. It’s very common for two people to come up with the same basic idea; it’s very rare for them both to be good at writing it.

I think that’s everything. To get an idea of what I find funny, visit www.averageromp.com and download the pilot episode of Dick Dixon in the 21st Century. On the various streaming services there’s also a podcast called Do You See What We Did There? where Toby and I discuss the project, which you may also like to check out.

Wow, this turned out to be a long blog post. Dominic Cummings, eat your heart out.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Writing

Okay, things have been going on. I’ve started my own audio production company, Average Romp, which has released its first episode of its first series, Dick Dixon in the 21st Century. I’ll blog on all that in more detail next week; today, instead, I’ll just do a quick plug for the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine and its special edition Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition.

 

In the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, number 564, I have an article about the Eighth Doctor’s adventures in spin-off media after the 1996 TV Movie. What The Eighth Doctor Did Next. Now, this is a very big subject, and one which could barely be encompassed by a series of articles ten times the length. So it’s more of an overview, drawing together threads, a taster palette if you like. There’s also a bit on the elephant on the room that has never been discussed – were the books, audios and comic strips really an influence on the TV series? Or were they just picking up on the same things that were going on at the time? Again, this is a subject that really could be an article in itself, but the short answer is, “Not really”. Books may have had giant spaceships appearing over London, but then, so did Independence Day and V and The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. And, yes, occasionally the TV series may tread on the toes of the spin-offs, or pull out rugs from under those toes, but that goes with the territory. As Timothy Zahn said about Star Wars; “We were allowed to play in George Lucas’ driveway. If and when George backs his truck out and runs over our stuff, we have no cause to complain.” And the same applies to Doctor Who. You just have your fun and hope that when the truck is backed out the wheels happen to miss your own action figures.

So, yes, a fun article to write. I could have had more interviewees but there wasn’t time or space, cos it’s an issue packed with loads of other good stuff. There’s even an article by someone very close to my heart (which I had nothing to do with, I hasten to add).

 
 
Out on the same day is Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition number 57, all about Writing Doctor Who. Now, I have quite a bit in this, as I writing the framing articles (for want of a better term) discussing how Doctor Who scripts were, and are, developed from original pitches, through to outlines/storylines, to scene breakdowns, to draft scripts, to rehearsal/readthrough scripts and finally to camera/shooting scripts. Giving lots of examples of Doctor Who stories along the way.

This was, as you might expect from my article on this blog, a bit of a dream job for me. I don’t have every existing Doctor Who script and of those I have, I haven’t quite read all of them all the way through, but I very nearly have. So I’ve got lots of interesting things to say – previous fan researchers have detailed things like deleted scenes and script changes before, but usually only to describe them in ‘making of’ articles. What I find interesting is the question of why stuff got changed; why scenes and dialogue were rewritten by script editors or changed in rehearsals, why scenes were dropped. Of course, these reasons can usually only be inferred – although sometimes there are interviews and correspondence which gives you some details. So, in the various articles, I explore that a little, looking at The Mind Robber as one case where we have all the script editors notes on the outline so we can pretty much exactly see why the changes were made to the scene breakdown.

And so on with other stories, trying to pick out examples of things that had never been reported before, or at least which I don’t remember being reported before (not the same thing). Such as some dialogue about Peri tap-dancing in The Caves of Androzani which made it all the way to the rehearsal script before someone realized how naff it was.

 
 
That’s the thing with putting together these articles. You can always go into more detail (what is now termed ‘granular’). I could write a whole book on stuff not covered by DWM Archives and Fact of Fictions, the Complete History and the various DWAS Production Guides. Maybe one day!

So please rush out to your nearest good newsagent or WH Smiths, or order the publications online.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

A Fun Bunch Of Guys From Outer Space

  

An updated updated list of every SF film I’ve seen and haven’t seen.
 
Note: I don’t count superhero films and manga as SF, they are their own marvellous genres, and where variant titles exist, I use one of them.
 
1926
Metropolis
1929
Woman in the Moon
1930
Just Imagine
1933
King Kong
1936
Things to Come
1950
Destination Moon
1951
The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Man in the White Suit, The Thing, When Worlds Collide
1953
Invaders from Mars, It Came from Outer Space, War of the Worlds
1954
20,000 Leagues under the Sea, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Them!
1955
The Day The World Ended, It Came From Beneath the Sea, The Quatermass Xperiment, This Island Earth
1956
1984, Earth versus the Flying Saucers, Forbidden Planet, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Plan 9 from Outer Space, X The Unknown
1957
The Abominable Snowman, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Quatermass 2
1958
The Fly
1959
Journey to the Centre of the Earth, On The Beach, Return of the Fly
1960
The Last Woman On Earth, The Little Shop of Horrors, The Time Machine, Village of the Damned
1961
The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, Mysterious Island
1962
Doctor No, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen
1963
The Birds, The Damned, The Day of the Triffids, La Jetee, The Mind Benders, Unearthly Stranger, Voyage to the End of the Universe
1964
Children of the Damned, Doctor Strangelove, Fail Safe, The First Men in the Moon, Goldfinger, It Happened Here, The Last Man on Earth, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, The Time Travelers
1965
The 10th Victim, Alphaville, Crack in the World, Dr Who and the Daleks, Thunderball, The War Game
1966
Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD, Fahrenheit 451, Fantastic Voyage, Seconds
1967
Barbarella, Casino Royale, Privilege, Quatermass and the Pit, The Terrornauts, They Came From Beyond Space, You Only Live Twice
1968
2001-A Space Odyssey, Charly, Countdown, Planet of the Apes
1969
The Bed Sitting Room, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Doppelgänger, Marooned, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Zeta One
1970
The Andromeda Strain, Colossus: The Forbin Project, No Blade of Grass, Toomorrow
1971
A Clockwork Orange, Diamonds are Forever, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Percy, Quest for Love, Silent Running, Solaris, THX 1138
1972
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Doomwatch, Slaughterhouse Five
1973
Battle for the Planet of the Apes, The Final Programme, Phase IV, Sleeper, Soylent Green, Westworld, World on a Wire, Zardoz
1974
The Cars That Ate Paris, Dark Star, The Land That Time Forgot, The Little Prince, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Stepford Wives, The Terminal Man, Young Frankenstein
1975
A Boy and His Dog, Death Race 2000, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rollerball
1976
At the Earth’s Core, The Big Bus, Futureworld, The Killer Bees, Logan’s Run, The Man Who Fell to Earth
1977
Capricorn One, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Demon Seed, Empire of the Ants, The Island of Dr Moreau, The Glitterball, The People That Time Forgot, The Spy Who Loved Me, Star Wars
1978
The Boys from Brazil, Coma, A Hitch in Time, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Pirahna, Superman, The Swarm, Warlords of Atlantis
1979
Alien, The Black Hole, The China Syndrome, Mad Max, Meteor, Moonraker, Ravagers, Stalker, Star Trek, Starcrash, Time After Time
1980
Altered States, The Apple, Battle Beyond the stars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Final Countdown, Flash Gordon, Monster,  Saturn 3, Scanners, Somewhere in Time, Superman II
1981
Escape from New York, Galaxy of Terror, Looker, Mad Max 2, Outland, Piranha II, Time Bandits
1982
Airplane II, Blade Runner, Britannia Hospital, ET, Forbidden World, Halloween III, The Thing, Tron, Videodrome, The Wrath of Khan  
1983
Krull, The Man With Two Brains, Never Say Never Again, Return of the Jedi, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Superman III, Testament, Wargames
1984
1984, 2010, The Brother from Another Planet, Dreamscape, Dune, Electric Dreams, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Last Starfighter, Night of the Comet, The Philadelphia Experiment, Repo Man, Runaway, Search for Spock, Starman, Terminator, Trancers
1985
Back to the Future, Brazil, Cocoon, Creature, Enemy Mine, Lifeforce, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Morons from Outer Space, The Quiet Earth, Weird Science
1986
Aliens, Biggles: Adventures in Time, Critters, The Fly, Howard the Duck, Invaders from Mars, Peggy Sue Got Married, Short Circuit, Star Trek IV
1987
Batteries Not Included, The Hidden, Innerspace, Predator, RoboCop, The Running Man, Spaceballs, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
1988
Akira, Alien Nation, Earth Girls Are Easy, Moonwalker, They Live
1989
The Abyss, Back to the Future II, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Fly II, Ghostbusters II, Millennium, Slipstream, Star Trek V
1990
Back to the Future III, Gremlins 2, The Handmaid’s Tale, Hardware, Moon 44, Total Recall
1991
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Naked Lunch, The Rocketeer, Star Trek 6, Terminator 2, Wedlock
1992
Alien 3, Freejack, The Lawnmower Man
1993
Coneheads, Demolition Man, Les Visiteurs, Jurassic Park
1994
Stargate, Star Trek Generations, Timecop
1995
12 Monkeys, The City of Lost Children, Congo, GoldenEye, Judge Dredd, Screamers, Species, Strange Days, Tank Girl, Waterworld
1996
The Arrival, Barb Wire, Crash, Independence Day, Mars Attacks!, Star Trek: First Contact
1997
Contact, Cube, Event Horizon, The Fifth Element, Gattaca, The Lost World, Men in Black, The Postman, Starship Troopers
1998
Armageddon, Dark City, Deep Impact, Phantoms, Pi, Run Lola Run, Sphere, Star Trek: Insurrection
1999
Bicentennial Man, eXistenZ, Galaxy Quest, The Iron Giant, The Matrix, Muppets from Space, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
2000
Frequency, Mission to Mars, Pitch Black, Unbreakable
2001
AI, Donnie Darko, Evolution, Ghosts of Mars, Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes
2002
28 Days Later, Equilibrium, Impostor, Minority Report, Solaris, Spider-Man, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Signs, The Time Machine
2003
The Core, Paycheck, Terminator 3, Timeline
2004
The Butterfly Effect, The Day After Tomorrow, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I, Robot, Primer
2005
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Robots, Serenity, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, War of the Worlds, Zarutha
2006
A Scanner Darkly, Children of Men, Deja Vu, The Fountain, The Host, Southland Tales, Superman Returns, V for Vendetta
2007
28 Weeks Later, I Am Legend, The Invasion, The Mist, Next, Sunshine, Timecrimes
2008
Cloverfield, Iron Man, Outlander, WALL-E
2009
2012, Avatar, District 9, Frequently Asked Question About Time Travel, Land of the Lost, Lockout, Moon, Mr Nobody, The Road, Star Trek, The Time Traveler’s Wife
2010
Despicable Me, Hot Tub Time Machine, Monsters, Never Let Me Go, Tron Legacy
2011
The Adjustment Bureau, Attack the Block, Cowboys vs Aliens, In Time, Limitless, Midnight in Paris, Paul, Perfect Sense, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Source Code, Super 8, Thor
2012
Cloud Atlas, Dredd, The Hunger Games, John Carter, Looper, Mine Games, Prometheus, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Total Recall, Upside Down
2013
About Time, Continuum, Elysium, Ender’s Game Gravity, Her, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Last Days On Mars, Oblivion, Pacific Rim, Snowpiercer, Star Trek Into Darkness, The World’s End, Under the Skin, The Zero Theorem
2014
The Anomaly, Coherence, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Divergent, Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Giver, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1, Interstellar, Left Behind, Lucy, The Maze Runner, Noah, Mr Peabody & Sherman, Predestination, Space Station 76, Time Lapse, Transcendence
2015
Advantageous, Insurgent, EX Machina, High Rise, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2, Jupiter Ascending, Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, The Signal, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tomorrowland
2016
10 Cloverfield Lane, Allegiant, ARQ, Arrival, Ghostbusters, Independence Day: Resurgence, Passengers, Star Wars: Rogue One, Star Trek Beyond
2017
Blade Runner 2049, War for the Planet of the Apes, Geostorm, The Humanity Bureau, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Time Trap
2018
2036 Origin Unknown, A Quiet Place, Annihilation, The Cloverfield Paradox, Mortal Engines, Mute, Prospect, Ready Player One, Star Wars: Solo, The Titan
2019
Ad Astra, Farmageddon, Io, See You Yesterday, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Vivarium, The Wandering Earth, Yesterday
2020
Bill and Ted Face the Music, Last and First Men, Love and Monsters, The Midnight Sky, Palm Springs, Sputnik, Tenet
2021
Awake, Space Sweepers, Stowaway
 

 
Still left to see:
 
1955
The Conquest of Space
1957
The Invisible Boy
1958
Teenage Caveman, Terror in the Midnight Sun
1959
Teenagers from Outer Space
1961
Gorgo, Night Tide, The Phantom Planet 
1964
Dogora, The Earth Dies Screaming
1965
The Curse of the Fly
1967
Jules Verne's Rocket ot the Moon
1968
Je T’aime Je T’aime
1969
The Body Stealers, A Case For A Rookie Hangman, The Gladiators, Moon Zero Two
1970
Gas-s-s-s
1971
City Beneath The Sea, Punishment Park
1972
The Mind Snatchers
1973
The Day of the Dolphin, Fantastic Planet
1974
It’s Alive, Where Have All The People Gone?
1977
Tomorrow I'll Get Up And Scald Myself With Tea
1978
Bermuda Triangle
1979
The Spaceman and King Arthur
1981
Condorman
1983
Brainstorm, Xtro
1984
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Caravan of Courage, Supergirl
1985
DARYL
1988
Short Circuit II
1990
Meet the Applegates
1992
Timescape 
1993
Bodysnatchers 
1995
Johnny Mnemonic
1998
The X-Files
2000
Red Planet
2001
Vanilla Sky
2002
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
2003
Riverworld
2005
A Sound of Thunder, Sky High
2007
Premonition
2008
Death Race, Doomsday, The Happening, The X-Files: I Want To Believe, Triangle
2009
9, Pandorum, Splice
2011
Apollo 18, Cold Fusion, The Collapsed
2012
Earth's Final Hours, Robert & Frank, Safety Not Guaranteed
2013
The Colony, The Congress, Europa Report, Love,
2014 
Debug, The History of Time Travel, The Last Invasion, Survivor
2015
Chappie, Circle, Evolution, Dark Planet, Infini, Rotor DR1, Turbo Kid
2016
Capsule, The Darkest Dawn, Midnight Special, Morgan, Paradox, Spectral
2017
Anti-Matter, Beyond Skyline, The Discovery, The Endless, Ghost in the Shell, iBoy, Orbiter 9, Revolt, Stasis
2018
Abduction, Aniara, Anon, Attraction, Await Further Instructions, The Beyond, Bumblebee, Curvature, Extinction, High Life, How It Ends, Kin, Level 16, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Occupation, Replicas, Solis, The Shape of Water, Tau, White Chamber, Zoe
2019
Color Out Of Space, Countdown, Cosmos, Enhanced, Encounter, I Am Mother, Jurassic Galaxy, Prospect, Proxima, The Mandela Effect, Synchronic, White Space
2020
2067, 3022, AI Rising, Archive, Anti Life, Black Box, Chronical 2067, G-Loc, Greenland, Monster Hunter, Portal, Possessor, Sea Fever, Skylines, Underwater, Variant
2021
Assimilate, Bios, Chaos Walking, Dune, Infinite, Infinitum Subject Unknown, The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, The Mitchells vs the Machines, Oxygen, Reminiscence