Richard Armitage on the Bestseller Experiment

So much good stuff in this week’s podcast. I got to chat with Richard Armitage about his new Audible original thriller Geneva. I think writers can learn a lot from actors in how they approach a script and develop characters, and Richard was very generous in sharing the methods he uses.

This episode also sees the return of Mr D, and in the extended version of the podcast (for subscribers) we discuss his night in Leicester Square seeing Unwelcome. If you want support and subscribe to the podcast, pop over to Patreon and become a Chart Topper supporter and you’ll get access to over 120 Deep Dives.

Getting a poster signed is harder than you think.

Please note: this competition is now closed!

As part of Gollancz’s wonderful advent calendar giveaway for Christmas 2015, I am delighted to be able to offer a very special prize of a Robot Overlords quad poster signed by myself, director Jon Wright, and some of our lovely cast including Craig Garner (Mediator 452), James Tarpey (Nathan), Ella Hunt (Alex) and Gillian bleedin’ blinkin’ flippin’ Anderson!

Getting these signatures was no easy task. Jon, Ella and I attended the MCM Comic Con in Birmingham in March, and we signed a few for punters then, but they were all gone before I  could grab a spare.

And this was the first I had seen of the posters, which meant that when I was in the company of living legend Sir Ben Kingsley the previous week for his publicity stint, I didn’t have one for him to sign!

I did get manage to get some for EasterCon in April, and clung on to the three I had left over with a cunning plan to get as many of the Robot Overlords stars to sign them over the coming year of cons and festivals.

Next up was the London MCM in May, and this was when I hit Robo-star paydirt. We were interviewing some of the actors for DVD extras, and I was lucky enough to nab Craig and James in between shooting and they were gracious enough to sign my posters. Next up was Gillian Anderson, but her schedule was so incredibly tight that there was no guarantee she would have the time to sign. Indeed, the very second after she arrived, she was swept away for a series of interviews, such is the nature of these high-pressure press days: everything is timed to the minute, and I would have to choose my moment carefully if I was to crash in. Next she had a panel with Jon, where she received fan-love, chocolates, and a proposal from James…

And then after that she was swept away for an interview with James for the DVD. By now, her car had its engine running (she was about to fly off to make something called The X-Files… you may have heard of it), and my window of opportunity was rapidly closing.

Luckily, our publicist Marek came to the rescue and somehow found a gap of 76.5 seconds in the schedule. We threw the posters on the floor, threw a bunch of silver Sharpies at Gillian and while I held the posters flat she kneeled down and scribbled her autograph on them. There was even time for a fanboy pic…

I haven't washed since...
I haven’t washed since…
… and then she was gone!

I carefully rolled the posters into their tube… But I wanted more!!

My other targets were Ella, Callan McAuliffe (Sean) and Milo Parker (Connor). But they were all off making other movies: Callan’s made five films since Robots, Milo was away with Gandalf making Mr. Holmes, and Ella had a big costume drama lined-up… But then it got bumped to next year! Her delay was my good fortune, and she kindly popped into the Gollancz offices where we put the world to rights over tea and brownies, and she signed the posters.


So there you have it, fair reader. If you are the lucky winner of this poster, please bear in mind all the times I had to lug a poster tube on the underground, all the miles and miles of Sharpie ink, and all the nerves and tension wondering if I would get those rare signatures. Frame it, prostate yourself before it every morning, give it a dust every now and then, and then flog it when you’re old and grey and I’ve won all those Oscars.

Click here to go to the Gollancz blog to enter (UK-only, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you overseas folk have friends in the UK who can enter on your behalf, and if they win they can pop it in the post after they’ve first gazed upon its awesomeness, yes?)

Good luck!


How Old Is Milo Parker…?

The most common search term that brings people to my blog is currently “How old is Milo Parker?”

Milo, of course, is one of the young stars of ROBOT OVERLORDS, and can currently be seen stealing the scenery from Sir Ian McKellen in MR. HOLMES, and has been filming Tim Burton’s MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN this summer.

Well, I’m delighted to settle this for once and for all. Milo Parker is 57 years old…

Milo Parker (the elderly man on the left) and Mark Stay.
Milo Parker (the elderly man on the left) and yours truly at Pinewood during the shooting of Robot Overlords. Photo by  (c) MEDIATOR 452 LIMITED/BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE.

And if you don’t believe me, then Google it. Oh, wait…

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My Robot Occupation Movies #1 – Blade Runner

My son is at an age where rating things is all-important. The most common question I get from him after we watch a movie is, ‘How many stars would you give that?’ This in turn has led to an extended ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ conversation.

Well, he’s got me thinking. Just what are my favourite movies? And why? So, over the next few blog posts I’ll be putting these thoughts into some kind of order. So, imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

These have to be the movies you simply couldn’t live without. They don’t have to be the best films ever, just the ones that mean the most to you. The ones that tell your own story.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to start, as all good stories should, in the middle somewhere…

I first saw Blade Runner at my friend Kristian’s place. It was his birthday, and I’m guessing we were 11/12 years old. The room was full of boys expecting a kind-of Indiana Jones in the future. That’s what the VHS cover art promised, and that never lies, right?

In stereo!
In stereo!

What we got was something that split the room. Most of the group found it boring. Just me, Kris, and another kid called David Snell thought it was cool, though if you asked any of us to explain it, I doubt we could have managed anything more articulate than “There’s this bloke who has to hunt these robots – no, replicants! – and there’s a cool bit where this guy gets his eyes gouged out, and it was all very dark…”

But then the Marvel comic adaptation started appearing in the back of my weekly Return of the Jedi comic, and the story started making more sense. I read this again and again, then rented the movie, and there was definitely more than first met the eye with this film.

Too late for my GCSE English (and probably just as well) I found a film tie-in copy of Blade Runner in my local second hand bookshop. Only it wasn’t a mere tie-in, this was an original book by some guy called Philip K Dick (snigger). This would surely answer all my outstanding questions! Oh boy, was I wrong. Dick’s incredible book, with its meditation on identity and reality, just brought a million more questions flooding to my brain.

Then, on my 18th birthday, I went alone to the Odeon on Shaftesbury Avenue to see the legendary director’s cut (yeah, I know how to party!). To see that grand opening on the big screen with Vangelis’s score turned up to 11 was just amazing, though – to be honest – I missed the much-maligned voice-over. And to fully understand the whole meaning of the unicorn footage, I had to read Paul M Sammon’s excellent book FUTURE NOIR.

Since then, I’ve bought various VHS and DVD special editions and box sets. It’s bloody exhausting trying to make sense of this film. I’m now not convinced that Deckard is a replicant. That whole backstory now feels like Ridley retconning, and I still miss that voiceover.

My wife has yet to see the film all the way through without falling asleep. I have younger colleagues who can admire the film, but wouldn’t rate it as a classic, and I firmly believe that this is because you had to make the journey with this film for it to have its full impact. From first viewing, to comic, to book, to more books, director’s cuts and final cuts, to box sets with little dinky toy Spinners in them.

It is imperfect, but its riddles will never fully be resolved, and that’s one reason why I love it.

Here’s the orignal trailer. In keeping with the film’s history, it’s terrible:

PS. My friend Kristian also introduced me to Mad Max 1 & 2, various horror movies, and Firefox, and for that I shall always be grateful.

Letting actors loose on your precious words.

Last week we took our screenplay up to the Television Workshop in Nottingham, an institute for training young people for drama that’s nearly thirty years old with some very impressive alumni. The aim of the day was to take the dialogue that we (two crusty old geezers with a vague memory of childhood) had written for our juvenile characters and hand them over to actual youngsters and see what worked and what didn’t.

I was a little nervous, but also really looking forward to it: the trouble with being a screenwriter is you rarely get to hear actors playing out what you’ve written. Too many scripts go into development hell and the words are doomed to remain on the page. When I first started out, I was writing for local theatre, turning out a play a year and regularly working on the text with actors. It was always the proof of the pudding; if it didn’t work when they got it up on its feet, then it was back to the drawing board.

Writers can have a reputation for being precious with their words. In his book True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, David Mamet says “Invent nothing, deny nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school.” Or, to paraphrase it as I interpreted it, “Learn the fucking lines, no stupid backstory, and do as I say.”

I think this can apply to a lot of theatre, where the text is set and there are audience expectations. If someone started dicking around with the finely-honed dialogue of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, I’d be the first on stage to beat them to death with my heavily annotated copy of the Faber edition.

But movies are different: from the first producer notes, to the shoot, edit, and final ADR, changes will be made, some little tweaks, some major changes, and if the writer stamps his feet and has a hissy fit with each and every one, then he will soon be fired.

That’s not to say you should be a pushover, but even when you get a dumb note, it’s usually a symptom of something wrong. The fault or solution offered might not make sense, but it was a moment that took the reader out of the script and it needs to be addressed. Roll with those punches, work with people, keep the anger for private moments and you’ll find your script can only improve (and you’ll remain employed).

In the end, I needn’t have been nervous with the kids from Nottingham. Under the guidance of the Television Workshop’s Ian Smith, they did a reading on the script, then improvised off-script with great confidence and skill. It was great to see these characters finally come to life, and we found a few kinks in the dialogue that we’re now working on ironing out. More importantly, we discovered that the main concept worked, and that they found the characters relatable and fun to play (and we discovered some new swears that we’ve filed away for future use!).

So don’t be too worried about your actors. Yeah, some are crazy and have massive egos (like… er… writers), but the good ones can make you look awesome.