A Spud By Any Other Name

For those of you having trouble, I officially pronounce my name Nile Lennard.

Back in the twentieth century when I used to wander around Dublin on behalf of the BBC I had a meeting with a  lovely woman who at that time ran the Irish Film Centre*.  ‘O yes,’ she said when we met, ‘You’re the guy who doesn’t know how to pronounce his own name.’  I suppose I’d set myself up for that because I used to, and still do, pronounce my name differently depending on the circumstances.

When I grew up Niall was quite an exotic name – hard to believe, because there’s millions of the buggers now – and the most popular way of spelling it was Neil or even Neal.

For the record, the most famous Niall in Irish history was Niall of the Nine Hostages, supposedly the last Irish king to die a pagan.  (I’ve always regarded that factoid with a certain amount of smugness to which I am no way entitled.)  In the Irish language the son of Niall, if he were called […] Continue Reading…

War Stories

I’ve been absent from this blog awhile for the best of reasons, i.e. I’ve been working. At the time of writing I am in that limbo state Waiting For Notes, a gap in the schedule which all dedicated professional screenwriters use to polish old projects, develop new ones, network with influential executives, or simply kick back and War and Peace in the original Russian. Although admittedly some have been known to spend that time tidying their tip of an office, reading the paperresearching current affairs, or simply writing blog entries.

War Stories is the title of one of my favourite episodes of the TV Scifi epic-that-never-was, Firefly by Joss Whedon.  It is also the industry term for the tales told in the pub about megalomanic producers, clueless executives, egotistical actors, outrageous misfortune and all the thousand ills that a filmmaker’s flesh is heir to.

Personally, until recently I didn’t know they were called ‘war stories’. But a few years ago a famous writer/producer approaching retirement had a go at TV drama commissioners for, as he saw it, preferring new TV drama […] Continue Reading…

Everybody’s an Expert

In an earlier blog I grumbled about ‘The Curse of Robert McKee’.  McKee is a well-known screenwriting guru who does a great two-day lecture on the structure of the classic Hollywood screenplay.  The session I attended, a few years back, was based on Casablanca and the first Alien movie.  Nothing wrong with that – two of my favourite films, undisputed classics, and McKee knows his stuff.  He expertly exposes the mechanics of the script, exploring the way the writers use visual and mythic themes to create unity, and illustrating how they structure the narratives to create a series of climaxes building to a resolution. The way he explains it, it all makes perfect sense.

The problem is that memorising these principles does not per se make you a great writer.  McKee’s own screenwriting credits are pretty modest.  However his lectures are always packed, not so much by up-and-coming screenwriters (they can rarely afford the course fees) but by producers and executives, many of them there because they’re desperate to sound as if they know what they are talking about when giving notes […] Continue Reading…