28 January, 2007

And the Oscar goes to...

Once upon a time, some years ago, I used to have this really great job in which I was paid to sit at my desk and write about movies all day long. I was the DVD & VHS category manager for an Internet retailer and I made it my mission to be very well-informed about all the movies I was writing about. So I spent a lot of my time on IMDB, I read Empire magazine, and I watched an awful lot of movies, sometimes getting invited to a lavish premiere by one of my distributors.

Back then, the Academy Awards were a big event on the calendar for me; I'd seen most of the movies under consideration in the main categories and thought I had a fairly good idea who would win. To make things interesting I ran an office pool, inviting my lesser-informed co-workers to pick the winners and paying a token fee to enter. The prize pool went to the person who'd picked the most winners. As I was organising this, I didn't enter - but I think my own predictions were pretty close to the mark.

Nowadays I'm considerably less clued-up about movies. I no longer buy Empire and I rarely look at IMDB. I very rarely go to the cinema anymore (the one and only film I saw at the cinema last year was the rather brilliant Casino Royale). I never get invited out to premieres. I'm happy to wait and watch movies on DVD in the comfort of my own home.

Also, if I'm perfectly honest, many of the current offerings coming out of Hollywood simply don't appeal to me. Either the industry's changed or my tastes have turned more towards other interests. Probably a bit of both.

All that said, this year's Oscar nominations have just been announced, and since I've not seen any of the movies in contention, I thought I'd make some purely instinctive picks, and having committed these to the public gaze in this blog, I'll check back after the Oscars are awarded on 25 February and see how close I got. Just like that office pool I used to run, only there's no cash prize, alas.

Best Picture: Babel
Actor: Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland
Actress: Kate Winslet for Little Children
Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel
Original Screenplay: Babel by Guillermo Arriaga
Adapted Screenplay: Notes on a Scandal by Patrick Marber

Disagree with my picks? Why not post your own in the comments...

15 January, 2007

The answer is.... forty two

TSV 42 has now been added to the online archive. This time the online 'reprint' occurs in the same month of the year as the original publication. TSV 42 is dated January 1995, so the gap has closed to exactly 12 years. Still a long way to go before all of the out-of-print issues are available, but from here on in there are fewer issues each year so the catching-up process should appear to start to accelerate a little (though the issues do also get longer, so perhaps not). If all goes well I'm hoping to have narrowed it down to a decade by this time next year.

The leading item in issue 42 is a detailed guide to each of the World Distributors Annuals, compiled by yours truly. The inspiration for this piece happened at an Auckland Chapter meeting in 1994 where a group of fans were discussing which were the rarest annuals and whether the red or the blue Hartnell came first. Realising that there wasn't a good guide to refer to for these books, I set about creating one myself. I documented everything that I could find about all of the annuals, including the spin-off Dalek and K9 ones, and the compilations. Although I had a few articles in DWM to refer to, my own observation of each of the annuals formed the bulk of the article. I didn't have many annuals myself, but Rochelle had collected most of them and the ones she didn't have were loaned by Jon (I've since managed to collect a complete set). I also took the whole stack into the printers one day and got them to scan each of the covers so that I use good quality reproductions of each of the annual covers in TSV (I've re-scanned my collection in colour for the online version). As part of the Internet archiving project, I'm revisiting each of my own articles and updating them where necessary to take account of additional information that has come to light since the original publication. I'm pleased to say that the Annuals article hasn't had to have very many changes at all, which means I probably got it right first time around.

Another major feature of this issue is the script to screen article covering The Happiness Patrol. A mammoth beast of a piece this one, probably the longest script to screen we published, as there's enough deleted script material here to have increased the serial to four episodes. I recall that for a while I was considering splitting the article over two issues. Another problem with this item was that we lacked much in the way of relevant artwork to break up the pages and pages of text, so Rochelle set about drawing a stack of Happiness Patrol-themed pictures to illustrate the piece. I also asked her to illustrate the front cover. The Kandy Man's head was a black and white illustration. When I delivered the issue to the printers, I had to decide the spot colour for the logo as usual. I decided on blue as it fitted with the Kandyman's head, and then in a brainwave realised that the artwork, not the logo, should be blue. I think the result was very striking and effective. As was her one and only front cover I know Rochelle was very proud of the fact that this issue sold out much faster than any of the issues published around that time.

The Pakhars (from Gary Rusell's New Adventures novel Legacy) crop up in what was to be the last in Justin Reynolds' long-running series of Time Lord Game Additions. I don't recall the circumstances behind this closure but I suspect that Justin simply lost interest in continuing the series. A reader suggested to me around the this time that all of these articles should all be reprinted together in a collection for handy reference by gamers. Even at that time I think the Time Lord game book was itself out of print, but since then the e-book version has been made freely available, and now all of the game additions from TSV are online too. I wonder though if there's anyone who still plays Time Lord?

Phillip J Gray offers his defence of Dimensions in Time, a sorry little piece of Doctor Who history whose only redeeming feature was that it was all done for charity, which makes it all worthwhile in a perverse sort of reasoning that's supposedly above question. Many fans have wisely chosen to forget this was ever made - or at least consign to the non-canonical dustbin. Actually I've never been entirely sure whether Phillip is defending Dimensions in Time at all. His article is loaded with cleverly veiled criticisms and and witty asides, so I suspect he actually may be having us all on. Draw your own conclusions.

One last observation about TSV 42 comes from Jon Preddle, who either has a prodigious memory or a well-documented diary (I suspect both!), as he recalls that the issue was compiled on Boxing Day 1994 at my flat in Belmont (I moved out a week later, incidentally). Jon goes on to say: "You'd organised a working-party to help get the issue completed... As for my contribution, I recall sitting in your bedroom with that wooden light-box contraption you used for lining up the pages, and cutting and pasting together the Annuals Guide - and making a right hash of it, too!"

Read TSV 42 here and see what Alden Bates (the other half of this TSV online archive project) has to say about TSV 42 here.

04 January, 2007

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Another year ticks over. Time to look back on 2006 and look ahead to 2007.

2006 represents a couple of significant personal milestones.

Rochelle and I celebrated ten years in our house. We moved into it, initially as a rental property in August 1996 and a few years later we purchased it. We're proud that we own it debt-free and that we've done many major improvements to it over the years. Many of those changes were masterminded and implemented by Rochelle with the occasional helping hand from me (I'm not nearly as good at DIY home maintenance as she is). Possibly prompted in part by marking a decade in the same home, we're now starting to think about moving up the property ladder; renting out our current home and buying another one. It's depressing to see just how expensive houses are at the moment in Auckland though, and we're not keen on mortaging ourselves to the eyeballs, so at the moment we're just thinking about our options.

I also worked my fifth consecutive year in my current position at Noel Leeming Group, which makes this now the longest time I've spent in the same job, a record previously held by my four-and-a-bit years at Whitcoulls (1995-1999). I started in 2002 and my fifth anniversary comes up at the end of this month. I've held the same position (my official title is 'Internet Site Editor'), since I started, though the actual set of tasks and responsibilities that goes with that position has changed quite a bit over those five years.

The year had its ups and downs - we had a delightful holiday in the South Island early in the year, attending the wedding of our friends Adam and Sandra in Christchurch and then spending a week exploring the South Island by camper van. The trip ended on a sad note however with the news, that reached us while we were travelling through Marlborough, that Rochelle's cousin had died suddenly in a workplace accident.

We took another holiday in October, this time staying in the five star Outrigger resort in Fiji. Again we went for a wedding (of our friends Edwin and Tania), and stayed on for a week. Alas there was less lounging by the poolside sipping cocktails than we'd anticipated due to a few days of terrible weather; but we did make the most of the fine days to visit a small island and to go on a train ride and experience the Fiji Day celebrations. It's alarming to see on the news how the country has rapidly descended into anarchy and martial law in the few months since our holiday though as a consequence of the coup it's now considerably cheaper to take a holiday in Fiji than it was when we visited!

We traded in our old Toyota Celica as the automatic transmission was in need of work, and replaced it with a newer model Toyota Celica (creatures of habit, us!). A protracted battle of wits with the Land Transport Authority ensued over change of ownership when we went to renew the car registration six months later (apparently for half a year we'd been driving around a car that wasn't registered to us!). Fortunately after I stood my ground in the post office and then wrote a sternly worded fax to the LTA this was all resolved out in our favour and penalty fees erased.

Personal highs in 2006 included getting an article I'd written professionally published in the Telos book Talkback: The Seventies and finally seeing my favourite band, U2, perform live in concert for only the second time in my life. In 2007 we're going to see another favourite group, Snow Patrol.

I finished the handover of the TSV editorship to Adam McGechan (we'd shared editorial duties for the last couple of years), and got to sit back and watch as Adam produced his first two issues (the third is underway as I write) with a stonking new design and a strong focus on the new series.

The editorial changeover should have been a positive and re-energising time for TSV and the club but it was overshadowed by a heated argument on the TSV message boards with some readers objecting to all sorts of things to do with TSV and the club. Many months later I'm still not entirely sure that I understand everything behind such a vitriolic outburst. Dissent and discussion is all well and good, but this went further, turning into a personally distressing experience. Adam and I distanced ourselves from the TSV message board for a while after it became apparent that nothing either of us could say would help the situation. I shudder to think what any new visitors to the TSV website during this time would have made of their first impressions of the club.

More positively, the Auckland Chapter started up again in 2006 after a long dormancy and regular monthly pub meetings were held throughout the year in an attempt to emulate UK fandom's legendary Fitzroy tavern meetings. There are similar meetings held in Wellington and Christchurch. At their best, the Auckland meetings have had a good turn-out and I've met a few new faces. The pub meets have also seen the launch of regular issues of Zeus Plug, a wonderful mini-zine deftly edited by Jonathan Park and Peter Adamson. These have been a great talking point at the meetings and I've written a few pieces for various issues. Because it's so very different in both style and focus, I don't think of it as competition for TSV, but I am a little envious at its frequency and the relative ease with which each 16-page, A6 issue comes together!

On a happier note, having Adam take control of TSV left me relatively free to get stuck into my ongoing task of transferring the back catalogue to the Internet with the invaluable assistance of Alden Bates. That man is a powerhouse of web publishing! Eight issues of TSV (covering 1993-94), the Tardis Tales Collection, two 'missing' novelisations and a batch of material which had previously appeared in the Doctor Who Listener Vol.2 was all prepared and published online in 2006. This year I hope to keep up the monthly schedule by covering everything from 1995 and 1996, as well as hopefully the remaining novelisations, a third batch of Listener clippings and also another ebook, this time from outside the TSV stable, a highly sought-after, out-of-print Doctor Who novel (but I'm not saying which one just yet!). Most of these items are already well under way. Stay tuned!