April 2003

I took a few genuine creative risks while filming The Big Bang this year, and of course I didn’t expect them all to pay off. One item in particular worried us all in pre-production, still worried us in studio, and didn’t feel like it quite worked in the edit:

Michael sits foreground, showing how to make a retracting roll barrier mechanism that you could stretch across your bedroom door to keep your brother out. Upstage, Kate sporadically enters shot fighting a huge conflagration, wrestling a dragon, chainsawing something else, and generally upstaging Michael outrageously. Michael, of course, acts completely oblivious to this throughout.

Now, on paper, it’s a classic and wonderful gag. On paper, it’s both simple and outrageously funny. On paper, it can’t fail. In practice it’s tremendously hard to pull off with any degree of panache, and looking at it in the edit we screwed up the timings, and indeed the order of the upstaging. It was moderately amusing, but not the festival of side-splitting hilarity for which we’d hoped. Heigh-ho, some you win, some you lose.

Yesterday, we put the sound back on. Nick the dubbing mixer, it turns out, is a fan of Mel Brooks, the Zucker Brothers (especially Police Squad), Kentucky Fried Movie, et al. He’s done a stupendous job of papering over the seams, and the whole item is now outrageously funny. Genuinely outstanding job, though the chainsawing sounded rather disturbingly like… er… a pig being attacked with a chainsaw, so we toned that down a bit.

It’s still not the funniest item in the series – that’s either Kate losing her rag in Flicky Thing or Michael camping it up in Hair Rope – but it’s certainly worthy of a place in the series.

Top nonsense. Oh, I do like kids’ TV.

‘How many people read your blog?’ she asked, innocently enough.

I thought for a moment. ‘I think… about four.’

Her look defied description (an artful way of admitting that I’ve really no idea what she was thinking).

So… should I be promoting this site a bit? Would anybody really care? Would I care? With reference to this post, I suspect: not a lot, frankly. Hmm. Interesting.

Kevin Marks notes that there’s an ISO standard for making tea, and says he’s ‘almost tempted to spend the 40 Swiss Francs.’

Last year so was I, only I actually did. It’s a surprisingly disappointing document, in that it mostly discusses the type of vessel to be used in the preparation, how the lid should fit, that sort of thing. It’s a procedural document for comparative taste testing, based directly on the older BS 6008 (1980) standard that’s available from the British Standards Institute for rather less money (£11 – search for ‘tea’ and you’ll be gobsmacked).

Unfortunately, I can’t find Kevin’s email address to warn him of this. Boo!

Says Fortune; Apple looks set to license the forthcoming Windows version of iTunes as the music download client for AOL. That would somewhat rapidly make them the biggest player in the ‘net music game, which is interesting in itself.

But it also sounds like what used to be called a ‘middleware’ deal. And… er… wasn’t that Gil Amelio’s thing?

(Cheap shot, I know. I’m still sore that despite the Apple Music Store being cool, quick, and really really slick, I can’t actually buy anything because I’m a limey.)

Arrghhh! The bastards! Microsoft have effectively given up on Office 2003 using an open XML file format. So far as I can make out, extracting specific data from Word documents will still be a job limited to hideously-expensive VBA developers. Ugh. So bang goes that particular implementation stream for my mooted TV production environment, ShowFlow.

What I want to do is this: I want to have multiple authors working on a bunch of files on a server. Those files each represent a script for a specific programme item which may or may not end up in the final series. Each item script contains lists of props, costumes, technical requirements, and so on.

I also want metadata associated with the scripts for things like estimated running time, item type, and a couple of other things. Then I want to be able to view all the items as a bunch of tiles on a grid. I want to be able to slide those tiles around into columns, which – for the sake of argument – we’ll call ‘Programmes.’ I currently do this with 6×4 index cards on a pin board.

At any point, I want to be able to generate a ‘programme script’ – that is, take a specified column and have the system crash the item scripts together, extracting props lists and the like into neat tables at the start of the document. This sort of thing happens a whole heck of a lot during production, and it’s still done entirely by hand.

There’s some other clever stuff that could happen, but the above is the start of it. And it’s not a difficult workflow – outside of TV, similar things are going on all the time. Yet, to even think about implementing it, it looks like I’m going to have to write a bleedin’ XML editor, or something very similar. What?

It’s 2003. This sort of smart, data-manipulating collaborative working should not be hard. But no, we’re still doing things exactly as we did when I started in this game, working on typewriters. It’s insane.

And there’s a real kicker in the wings, too – I reckon I could implement the bulk of ShowFlow in FileMaker Pro, in about a week. Really. But that would be just as proprietary as using MS Office, so what’s the point? I still need to be able to read these scripts in five years’ time.

Damn, this frustrates me.

My Director left today (for Tobago, jammy git), so the Big Bang production team is now… er… me. I did have an Executive Producer, but apparently he left the company a week or two ago, and nobody told me. Today was his leaving do too; one of my colleagues was mortified that I wasn’t invited, but I can’t say I was. It’s always been a strange department, and The Big Bang is entirely a stealth production.

In fact, this year it’s been so low-profile internally that nobody more senior than my production manager has seen anything. I do hope the Powers That Be like the series, because I’ve just spent a third of a million quid on it. I should probably be rather worried by this, but it genuinely is a terrific series, so there.

Now there are two weeks left, and pretty much just the sounds to put back in place. Then I’ll be shown the door, like all good freelancers. I’m very much looking forward to that, since I’m completely knackered. It’s been an easy week, but still, stringing this post together is… well, it’s not one of my finest, is it?

Meanwhile, check in on Jules’ Weblog to see how she’s getting on. Chin up, lass. Big hugs.

On the basis of having grooved along to it on the Secret Agent Channel, I bought some stuff by Tommy Guerrero (see? Net music can work!). Specifically, this mix album and this collection of originated stuff. Guerrero is apparently a pro skateboarder, but rather than the thrashy trashy hype normally associated with the sport, he favours deeply mellow riffs. Think Zero7 more than Slipknot.

The mix album is pleasant enough, but I love ‘A Little Bit of Somethin’.’ It’s an all-too-brief collection of fragments; some tracks are more like extended basslines, others appear to be accompanied by a Bontempi organ circa 1983. But there’s an infectious atmosphere of a bunch of mates coming together to lay down a groove or two, and that’s about it. Deeply cool, without giving a monkey’s. Love it.