Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Brexit is like belly buttons...

I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and admit, I’m undecided about tomorrow’s vote. More than that, I’ve been leaning towards Leave throughout this Referendum campaign.

The reason I haven’t announced this sooner is for fear of losing Facebook friends, and of being branded a racist, bigot, and general idiot. “Leave Supporters” are this referendum’s “Shy Tories”, at least in the part of cyber space I’m hanging out in. Brexit is surprisingly similar to belly buttons: no one likes an outie.

However, I’ve decided to speak up, because I’m all for free speech and respecting different opinions (and I hope you are too); because I think the Leave campaign has been stained by association with maniacs like Jo Cox’s killer and Nigel Farage, and summed up, incorrectly, as an argument about cream tea nostalgia and immigration; and because I’m not yet 100% decided, so you still have time to convert me… just not with memes or soundbites.

I should say: if I were voting from a purely selfish perspective, I’d vote Remain. I’d also vote Remain if I were voting with my heart, because I love other European countries and their peoples and, indeed, the general idea of a United Federation of Planets, Star Trek style. So why the hell am I still leaning towards Leave, you ask.

Before I explain my viewpoint, I first want to say something about one of the most irritating “non-arguments” I’ve seen popping up on social media. It always goes something along the lines of: Look at this list of people who support Remain. Now look at these clowns rallying to Leave. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which side you should be on.

Even ignoring the deliberately biased tone these memes often take, the sad truth is that many bright and influential people have been on the wrong side of right in the past. Just look at people’s feelings towards the Nazis pre-1939. Many Heads of States and Establishments were supporters, as were leading businessmen, actors, and academics, such as Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Nancy Mitford, Ezra Pound, Carl Schmitt, Gottlob Frege… The list goes on and on.

Of course I’m not saying the EU is anything like the Nazis! But my point is that simply naming people on either side isn’t, in my opinion, a convincing argument. Most people have ulterior motives of some description (yes, that’s right; Boris isn’t the only one) – often economic – and it’s important to look at the arguments, not the pretty (or otherwise) faces.

This next bit isn’t comprehensive. I’ve had long hours (and Whatsapp messages) of debate on this topic, and can’t cover everything here. But I’ll try and set out my main points:

(1) I don’t think the EU is the magic peace pill everyone says it is.

One of the arguments for remaining in the EU is that this has promoted stability in Europe since WW2, and that without it we would all go back to clawing at each other’s throats. I don’t agree. I think that the EEC, which led to the economic integration of member states after WW2, did promote peace, in that it created an added incentive to be nice to our neighbours: they were our trade partners, and everyone knows not to bite off the hand of the person who feeds you.

The EU, on the other hand – which is a politico-economic union and was only established in 1993 – and the introduction of the single currency, has arguably caused rumblings, discontent and increased tension in certain pockets of nation states. We’ve seen terrible hardships being suffered by Greece, Spain and other countries, and the EU hasn’t helped matters.

Some say that the solution is to take the EU one step further, and become a true political Federation. In an ideal (Star Trek) world, we’d all be part of a Global Federation that does away with money entirely and strives for the betterment of mankind, just because. But this is science fiction! The world is made up of a rich tapestry of peoples, and we’re not going to be able to iron it out into one homogenous political and social group. And I don’t think we’d actually really want to.

The problem with this, then, is that as the EU moves further towards a United Federation of Europe (and it’s no secret that Juncker and others would like to see this happen), a dangerous imbalance of power is being created, by the EU and US on the one hand, and nation states on the other. Juncker has already spoken of his desire to form an EU Army. Great, I hear you say, they can protect us from the likes of Russia and ISIS. But the formation of an EU Army is, in my opinion, more likely to see Russia and other non-West nations turning defensive, and the West turning into a bully.

And just turning to history for some take away points: peace hasn’t necessarily followed on from enlarged political states in the past. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the U.S.S.R. are prime examples.

(2) I really do believe in democracy and, particularly, in accountability of governments.

The European Commission, which is the “government” of the EU and determines its laws, is not democratically electable. Commissioners are normally put forward by Member States and then appointed by the European Council, and the Commission is made up of one Commissioner from each state, however, they were not voted in by the peoples of the EU.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter. The Ordinary Joe may not know who the best candidate is, and anyway, they’re sort of democratically electable in an indirect, I-chose-the-person-who-chose-the-person-who-had-a-say-in-choosing-the-person way or something, right? Indeed, I’ve actually heard several of my friends say, “Well, democracy isn’t the be all and end all.” Okay, but then I definitely don’t think the EU is either!

The problem with not directly voting in the Commissioners is that different priorities and preferences (for example, bureaucratic and corporate ones) may win out. And – and this is a real concern for me – we can’t really do anything about it. Unlike with our own government, which we can in fact vote out every five years, we don’t have the same powers in relation to the EU.

Ah, you say. But what’s democracy in the hands of the Tories? We need the EU to protect us from them. But we have democracy for that. We’re not stuck with the Tories forever! We can vote them out, in favour of a party whose policies we agree with. Women campaigned fiercely for the vote in the early twentieth century precisely for the reason that it matters.

On a side note, in a Sunday Times article last week, Rod Liddle claimed that:

“The unelected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has recently made it clear that any country that elects a right-of-centre populist government will be stripped of its rights to make decisions within the EU, and possibly subjected to a loss of income.”

Regardless of your political bent, this is scary…

(3) I don’t think leaving will stop us looking outwards; I think it will allow us to do so undistracted.

I am certainly not in favour of us turning inwards, fuelling xenophobic tendencies, or adopting an Us vs Them outlook. Technology has shrunk the world, and we are, in many respects, a global community, which is wonderful. We should be working together to solve our (depressingly many) problems, and we are. I don’t think leaving the EU would change that.

During this referendum, the EU has been put up on a pedestal as the champion of climate change, healthcare, organised crime, human rights, etc. However, in reality, other bodies are responsible for, and/or much more active in those fields.

A prime example is human rights. The European Court of Human Rights is not, in fact, an EU body. We don’t have the EU to thank for our Human Rights, although the EU now does require its Member States to satisfy its conditions. We signed up to this independently and of our own free volition.

Organisations and forums such as Medicins San Frontieres, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the UN, NATO and G20 all play hugely significant roles in battling the issues I listed above… without the need for a single currency or a political union.

And indeed, certain of the issues I feel strongly about, such as youth unemployment and homelessness, are exacerbated by the EU.

(4) I fear the tyranny of the majority viewpoint in this internet age.

Economic unions and those limited to a specific purpose do far less by way of forcing on people a comprehensive mesh of homogenous law. Law is a blunt instrument, and it arguably becomes blunter the greater the number of people who are bound by it. One of the more convincing arguments, for me, has been the idea that there are EU laws which are unnecessary, or even unsuitable, in certain parts of the EU.

I’m a firm advocate of J S Mill who said, amongst other things:

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it… Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”
In a nutshell, experimentation is good, and a learning experience.

And because of that, I agree with what another eminent academic said: “Small is beautiful”. I’d prefer to see political states remain so.


Against all of the above, I do recognise that if we leave, instability may result. We will also lose, or at least turn down the volume on, our voice. Arguably it hasn’t yet got as bad as all that, and we can still leave at a later date if we decide tomorrow to remain. The logistics of untangling ourselves from the EU will be a nightmare. If we want to join in again, we won’t get as good a deal next time. The Leave Core Team are turds and may take us down an even scarier road. Our lovely European neighbours’ feelings may be hurt.

And so I’m undecided.

Do I remain in the gang, and try and change it from the inside? Or is that naïve and will just result in my pocket money being docked and my head flushed down the toilet? Would it be better to announce that, “Look, I love you guys but I don’t like stomping around as a gang, and also, some of the things you’re doing are kind of uncool… but I’d still like to be friends with you all, just not like this”? Perhaps then others would follow and something else could grow from the ashes?

I really don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of illogical and absurd propaganda from either side. I’ve also seen convincing arguments. I know that some argue that if you’re undecided, you should choose Remain because that at least keeps our options open… But I think I may end up simply spoiling my vote.

Please don’t defriend me as a result of this.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A Scottish Ode to Ronald D Moore

Part of my job as producer at London Screenwriters' Festival is to help Judy and Guy determine which screenwriters and filmmakers would best inspire and educate our delegates, and encourage us writers to strive on, write on, film on.

For me, and many others, one of the names that immediately springs to mind is Ronald D Moore. The screenwriter and producer has worked on everything from Star Trek, Roswell and Carnivale - all of which had a major impact on my teenage years - to Battlestar Galactica and Outlander - which punctuated my adult ones.

We're super-keen to get him to the Festival this year, and so, to show my enthusiasm, I have penned him a poem - in Burns' Stanzas, no less, since he's currently showrunning a TV series about burly Scotsmen.

(Yes, this is what I do in my day job.)

A Scottish Ode to Ronald D. Moore

Oh thou! A mighty god of TV – 
Outlander, Star Trek, BSG – 
Come doon frae Highlands I beg ye
As Headline Speaker:
An L-S-F-16
Guru and teacher.

You’ve touched our lives since we were bairn,
Your bonnie char’cters were our freins,
The Bonding that ensued – you ken? –
We’ll ne’er forget.
You inspired us to take up pen,
Gold standards set.

Lang may yer lum reek, Ronald D. Moore
For tho’ you’re Sassenach to these shores
You understand the human cause
And are a king
Of TV shows, of SFF lore,
Aye, everything! 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why do I always leave X-Men films with a renewed desire to become a ninja?

I wrote a blog for London Screenwriters' Festival. Here it is again...

I was quietly typing away last week when Judy, LSF Manager and all-round awesome boss, announced she’s had an invitation from Bryan Singer to attend a special X-Men screening.
Hello, what?

When Judy told us that in fact she couldn’t make the screening, and perhaps Zsofia and I would like to go instead, I all but hit my bonce on the ceiling.


And so it was that last night, Zsofia and I headed, with a skip in our step, to Odeon Leicester Square for an advance screening. The little green stickers on our tickets meant that we also skipped the queues, and we were soon shimmying up the backlit staircase to our seats in the VIP section of the 1,600-seat cinema.

We had to hand in our mobile phones at the entrance – they are taking great care to prevent any piracy. However, when you have colleagues with Odeon connections (like Zsofia does), you can still snap a photo or two in the strictly-no-phones zone (or ask one of her very friendly connections to).

Us doing our X-Men thang.

Of course, I can’t say much about the film itself, because (a) I don’t think I’m allowed to, and (b) I don’t want to spoil the ride.

What I can say is that there is:
  • A cool baddie 
  • Some super sad moments 
  • Inspired use of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 
  • LOTS of CGI explosions 
  • The most hilarious slow-mo scene EVER 
  • A hilariously meta joke referencing the Star Wars trilogy 
  • Hair loss! (Sorry, should there have been a spoiler alert there?) 
I do have my qualms about the ever-bigger, ever-badder superhero action movies, and this film does live up to its apocalyptic name. However, I also admit that I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, and experienced some hair-tingly moments (did they turn the aircon down at points?).

I always leave X-Men films with a renewed desire to become a ninja. My mind will normally go to montages of me pummelling punchbags and doing one-handed press ups. This time, however, I just came out thinking: I want to do THAT (“that” being filmmaking).

So… go see X-Men: Apocalypse, because it will give you goosebumps and make YOU want to be a filmmaking superhero. And then come to LSF, where Chris will imbue you with Wonder Woman powers of persuasion and perseverance.

We can take over the world, guys, one screenplay at a time.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The key to life

… is a fat, black, rectangular thing, with a retractable blade. It fits into the keyhole on the doors of a silver Fiat Ducato, kitted out with a Timberland interior.

Meet Libby, my campervan.*

This photo was taken when she was young and carefree, and sitting atop the South Downs

When I got the job at London Screenwriters’ Festival, I knew I couldn’t go back to commuting every day. Those tiny train seats… those not-so-fucking-personal-headphones… those caffeinanimated undead…

Luckily for me, I had Libby, a magical, moveable home, perfect for my London shifts.

“I’ll have my pick of back gardens,” I smugly told friends. “I can take a morning stroll round Hampstead Heath, or sip my coffee looking out over the Thames.”

My announcement was met with a mixture of amusement and genuine concern – for both my mental and physical wellbeing. “Are you mad?” “Is that safe?” “Is it even allowed?”

“Sure it is. I’ll find a nice quiet alley and…”

Cue rising eyebrows.

Perhaps because of these worries, I didn’t stay in Libby the first two weeks at LSF – instead, I crashed with an old school-friend, Sarah. To be honest, my friends are so kind and generous that I probably could have continued sleeping in spare bedrooms and on sofas in perpetuity.

However, a part of me loved the idea of freedom, of total self-sufficiency, that came with sleeping in the campervan, and so I determined that Wednesday night would be the night.


I’d been invited to the Sci-Fi London Film Festival launch that evening, so I headed to Stratford Picture House, Jeremy in tow, leaving Libby patiently parked on a road in Mile End.

There were drinks, the announcement of the Arthur C Clarke Fiction Award, and the debut of Capsule (a fantastic Brit Sci-Fi flick). Jeremy, who needed to drive back to Canterbury, snuck away before the Q&A, whispering apologetically, “I’m working early tomorrow.”

It was raining by the time I got back to Mile End. I realised then that I had left my coat in Jeremy’s blood blister of a car, and I cursed silently: it would mean I had to go cold for the next few days. I hurried along, getting damper and damper, and suddenly…

“Shit crap bollocks!” (I cursed aloud, this time.)

The key to my new, agile London life was in the pocket of my coat in the back of Jeremy’s car. 

I stood in the rain, without a coat, and with very little phone battery. “Please, Jeremy, it’s an emergency…”

The pub we agreed to meet at was closing by the time I got there, but the kindly barman let me wait inside while he tidied up. Forty minutes later, Jeremy arrived, looking tired and – understandably – a tad peeved. “Want to crash in the camper?” I asked. He didn’t.

I decided to make the drive over to Ealing before going to bed, to avoid the inevitable crush-hour traffic, and I parked up on a quiet, tree-lined avenue at around 1am. I pulled down the leather sofa, threw the duvet onto it, and crashed down – although not before the obligatory first night photos:

I freaked out a bit about the blindingly bright light. What if someone called the police?

Me skulking. 

What I failed to notice at 1am in the morning was that there was a pretty severe camber in the road, so I clung, rather than sank, to sleep. Also, cold leather stays cold…! Next time I’ll put the bedding on properly.

Me yesterday morning

Even with the slight technical issues, I’m in love with my urban campervanning lifestyle. And if it means I get to work for LSF, then I’m not going to complain one bit!

* Tonnes of thanks to my grandparents for giving her to me.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Screening Calls

As a business manager, you quickly learn to screen certain calls; salespeople are more persistent than a drunk guy trying to get laid... and far less entertaining. At the beginning, I was eager to hear about the "fantastic special deal" on offer which would propel our business into the stratosphere. These days, however, I usually have better things to hmm and harr over, like the summer holiday timetable, and wholesale supplies of toilet roll.

My "office"

Apart from rather irritating salespeople, my now-not-so-new job has been a lot of fun. Last month, I finally got a deputy and administrative assistant, and we've also hired three regular tutors, so the Centre is a-buzz.

One of four classrooms

The kids seem to be enjoying themselves (they leave with their grins intact), and they're actually learning something, too, which is wonderful to see. 

I'd be happy enough having left corporate law for Bright Young Things alone. But, in fact, I have lots more to be excited and grateful for, because... 

Screening calls!

Or rather, screenwriting does.

In the months since I last blogged, I've been plugging away, writing, reading, and speaking to people about the film industry. I've been a woman possessed, staying up into the early hours, providing feedback on scripts, and redrafting my own. I've made wonderful, new acquaintances, who have been generous with their time and advice. I've eagerly taken on the role of Project Leader for Create50's latest initiative, Singularity50. And now...

I've got a part-time job with London Screenwriters' Festival!*

LSF's motto: "Do the Wonder Woman pose!"

Bright Young Things, who are as lovely and flexible as this woman, have allowed me to switch to a part-time management role, so from Thursday I'll be heading to Ealing Studios two days a week, to scratch my creative itch. 

Full speed ahead!

*It does mean I won't be going to the Himalayas, but there comes a point (I admit begrudgingly) when one needs to focus.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

50 things I learnt from Create50

I recently took part in Create50’s Impact:50 initiative. For those who don’t know, Create50 is a global competition where screenwriters are asked to write two-page scripts on a theme. For Impact:50, we were asked to come up with stories about people’s final hours at the end of the world. Basically Armageddon without Bruce Willis and a drill.

The competition ended in a flurry on 7th January, and of the 2,000+ scripts currently being judged by the panel, eight are mine. Ultimately, fifty will be chosen to be part of a feature film. The odds are pretty small. 

However, even if I don’t get anywhere in the competition, it’s been an incredible experience. The Create50 set-up - entrants are required to provide feedback on other scripts, and are allowed to upload two redrafts - means I’ve learnt tons and tons of stuff just by participating. In fact, I reckon I can make a list of 50 things I learnt from Create50.

Yes, that's right. FIFTY!

In no particular order...
  1. Less is more with parentheticals.
  2. Sometimes, silence is golden.
  3. "On the nose" dialogue is where your characters say exactly what they mean, and is (often) to be avoided.
  4. The quality of scriptwriting is pretty humbling and...
  5. There is some fierce competition but...
  6. We are all in this together.
  7. Think too much about end-of-the-world scenarios and you'll start to believe it's actually the end of the world.
  8. Especially if you're suffering insomnia due to overexcitement about Create50.
  9. Get rid of those pesky MOREs and CONT'Ds.
  10. There’s no room for passengers in your scripts.
  11. Read, re-read and re-read again for typos...
  12. And you probably still won't have spotted them all.
  13. You only need to capitalise a character's name the first time you introduce them.
  14. Some of the best scripts don't have any dialogue at all.
  15. Have an idea for a story? Now imagine it set in a squash court/spa/bakery, rather than in a living room. 
  16. The little details lift a scene off the page.
  17. Story beats are the points of action upon which you hang your story and...
  18. You should space them out where possible.
  19. KT Parker is the queen of detailed feedback.
  20. A "greenie" is a recommend.
  21. Reading other people's scripts and feedback teaches you A LOT.
  22. There are some vivid imaginations out there.
  23. A lot of sirens go off at the end of the world...
  24. A lot of people have sex...
  25. Quite a few babies are born...
  26. And the ISS gets pretty crowded.
  27. There's light at the end of the tunnel.
  28. The Create50 tribe are awesome!
  29. The Create50 tribe are friendly!
  30. The Create50 tribe are inspiring!
  31. I'm pretty sure Chris Jones must be a machine.
  32. Lone words dangling on the end of paragraphs are ripe for deleting.
  33. You don't need to use CUT TO.
  34. Courier 12 is king.
  35. Kill your darlings.
  36. Constructive criticism is your friend...
  37. So don't take things personally.
  38. I need to watch The Graduate. 
  39. Things get real scary near deadlines.
  40. Like, wholly cow, how many? scary.
  41. It's going to be a tough competition to judge.
  42. Filmmakers are going to have a lot of fun making the final fifty.
  43. People are generous with their time and feedback...
  44. And three amazing women have each reviewed over 1,000 scripts.
  45. The first positive review from a stranger will make your heart soar.
  46. As will the first 5* / Recommend.
  47. Tie your script up tight and make sure there are no loose strings.
  48. Humour is needed at the end of the world. 
  49. Don't try to be clever. 
  50. Say something true.
And a bonus one:


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Bello Marco

I flew out to Italy last weekend to run the Florence Marathon. I signed up the week after I left Hogan Lovells, thinking I'd have oodles of time to train in my new law-less life. Well, you can take a horse to water, but when it's cold and wet outside, other projects - which don't require you to move from the comfort of your living room - seem to cry out for attention. In the end I found myself on the start-line not quite as prepared as I'd anticipated, wearing this fetching (and disposable) number:

Still, I'd had a lot of oats and was channeling Paula, and as the starting horn blew, my gaze fell on my target - a bunch of blue balloons bobbing in the air, 3:30 emblazoned across each one. "È possibile" I murmured to myself, my hands balling into determined fists.

SPOILER ALERT: it wasn't.

The first half of the race was great. I positioned myself just in front of the blue balloons, and - since I didn't have a Garmin - found a little old(ish) Italian man to follow.

"Que tiempo te gusta?" I said after he had shot me a third suspicious side-glance. I had already decided Italians must prefer terrible Spanish to better English.

The little old(ish) Italian man frowned at me.

"What time do you want?" I said slowly.

"Tre e trenta," he replied.

"Cool. I'm sticking to you, then." If he didn't understand my words, he understood my gesticulations. He shrugged and turned his attention back to the road. That's okay, I thought. I can deal with brusqueness. Just as long as he keeps good pace. 

For an hour or so, this was how it was. I stuck to his heel, and he plodded on, occasionally looking back to see if I was still stalking him there. Keen to prove I was a nice, normal person, I tried again:

"I'm Emma. What's your name?"


We had swapped names. This was progress!

However, what I wasn't doing was progressing round the course quickly enough. 25 kilometres in, I was horrified to see a sea of blue balloons bob past. "Urgh," I groaned, trying to keep up. But the balloons - and the crowd of runners surrounding them - seemed to be accelerating. Even Marco was pulling away. One metre. Then two...

Suddenly, Marco turned. He glanced about. Then his gaze fell on me, and... he beckoned me on. "Dai, Emma. Dai." *

* During the race a lot of spectators shouted "dai". Apparently this means "come on" and not, as I initially thought, "drop dead". 

I pushed on. The 3:30 balloons gradually disappeared, but Marco didn't. Every time I considered easing up, he turned and said, "Dai."

"Go, go," I told him at Kilometre 30. "You wanted tre e trenta."

Marco shook his head. "This is my twelfth marathon," he explained in Italian. "It's okay."

Marco offered me his water. He encouraged me to eat. He said, "Dai, dai", and pointed to his forehead as though to say, find your inner strength. Marco became my Yoda. My Mr Miyagi.

Marco ran with me all the way in, so that we crossed the finish line together, 3 hours and 42 minutes after we'd begun. I hugged him, and said (at least half a dozen times), "Marco, grazie mille." I felt bad that I'd stopped him getting his tre e trenta. He had given up his own race to help me run mine. I tried to say as much to him.

"It is okay," he told me. "I am happy."

We chatted to each other - a bizarre mix of broken English, bad Spanish and dynamic gestures - as we filed out. Then, "Ciao," Marco said. "See you in another marathon." And, just like that, he disappeared into the world.

I was able to find Marco's full name by looking at the marathon rankings. He is called Marco Bello, which I think is fitting. He is a beautiful human being.

Marco, wherever you are, GRAZIE MILLE!