2014 Writing Talks by John Richards

February 20, 2014

john richards

Looking to book a talk for your library, writers group or geostationary killer satellite? John Richards has a range of talks about comedy and screen-writing which would be an excellent addition to your event calendar.

John is a writer, broadcaster and public speaker, best known for the ABC1 series Outland (“Polished, assured and full of zing” – The Sunday Age, “Sensational writing, a great ensemble, and universal themes of love, loss, and friendship… a hit…” – The Weekend Australian). He’s also written for stage and radio, presented the podcasts Splendid Chaps and Boxcutters and is a regular contributor to radio and print, including ABC774, Joy 94.9 and RRR.

These are some of the talks he offers:

How To Write Funny: Tools For Sitcom Writers

How did Mad About You develop plot out of of characters traits? How did John Clarke construct an episode of The Games? How did Dan Harmon use an 8-step process to plot Community? John Richards, writer of the acclaimed ABC1 comedy Outland, will show techniques and tools you can use for writing narrative (funny or otherwise).

When TV Goes Wrong

No matter how well-planned or organised your production, things can go wrong. An actor dies; a network wants a change of direction; or the original idea simply doesn’t work. Suddenly your suburban soap opera is full of vampires, your lead has a new face and you’re burning through a pile of money while sobbing in a corner. John Richards, writer of ABC1’s acclaimed comedy Outland and presenter of the Splendid Chaps and Boxcutters podcasts, presents an exploration of the television shows that adapted, mutated and occasionally triumphed under the weight of external pressures. From Chances to Supertrain, The West Wing to Frontline, this show will give hope and despair to anyone interested in narrative storytelling.

The Outland Story

In 2005 writer John Richards and comedian Adam Richard wrote a pilot script for a sitcom about a gay science fiction fan club. After being turned down by the ABC and SBS, John decided to film it in his lounge room on a budget of 500 dollars. It travelled the world’s film festivals before being seen by the ABC, who thought it might make a good sitcom. Outland was finally filmed at the end of 2010, edited in 2011 and aired in February 2012 to critical acclaim. John discusses the writing and development of Outland, how it went from an idea in a cafe to a six part series on ABC1, and how to have an overnight success seven years in the making. He’ll share his experience and advice for writing comedy and how to get a show on the television in (slightly) less than a decade! Inspirational story or cautionary tale? You be the judge!

The rate for each talk is $300, which covers a 50-minute talk (including video clips) with discussion and question period afterwards. If you would like to engage John as a speaker for your library or organisation, contact him at outlandonline@gmail.com.


John Richards is a writer and broadcaster who was co-creator and writer of the ABC1 comedy Outland (“Sensational writing, a great ensemble, and universal themes of love, loss, and friendship… a hit… Pick Of The Week. ” – The Weekend Australian. “…quite frankly, one of the best Australian series I’ve ever seen. Outland is an outrageously great series” – Trespass Magazine). He has also written sketch comedy for ABC television, Channel 10, and radio including JJJ and Radio National. He was a writer and performer on RRR’s acclaimed mid-90s sketch comedy The Third Ear (“boldly rides roughshod over the concerns that feed the modern media… The Third Ear is good.” – The Age Green Guide). In 2013 his Eurovision-themed play Songs For Europe was deemed “Pick Of The Fringe” by Aussie Theatre (as well as “refreshingly original – the writing is crisp and multi-layered and the performances terrific. …you should consider this an absolute must-see of the Fringe” by Stage Whispers and “an impressively rendered telling of loss, hope, art and spirit” by Crikey).

He was a presenter on the TV discussion podcast Boxcutters from 2008 to 2013 (deemed one of the world’s best podcasts by both ABC 774 and The Age, and winner of the Chronos Award in 2011) and part of the iTunes-chart-topping podcast Splendid Chaps (“part intellectual panel discussion and part nerdy Tonight Show” – The Age, “combines analysis, enthusiasm and irreverence” – Sydney Morning Herald, “a smash hit” – Time Out). He has hosted radio shows on JOY 94.9 and RRR, been a contributor to Red Symons’ and Jon Faine’s shows on ABC 774, a guest on BBC Radio Five Live and John Safran’s Sunday Night Safran on JJJ, and featured on ABC TV’s Big Ideas, hosted by Waleed Aly.

He is a regular contributor to publications including Encore, Mumbrella, Cult and DNA, contributed to the text books Media Reloaded (Cambridge University Press) and Queers Dig Time Lords (Mad Norwegian, USA) and is a script assessor for Screen Tasmania. He has been guest lecturer and speaker for many organisations including RMIT, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the Wheeler Centre, The Screen Youth Futures Festival at BMW Edge, Continuum 7 at ether, the Emerging Writers Festival and various Melbourne libraries.

If you would like to engage John as a speaker for your library or organisation, contact him at outlandonline@gmail.com.

Songs For Europe: Two Short Plays About Eurovision

September 3, 2013

songs for europe poster

Mark Twain once said “God created war so that Americans would learn geography” and this is how I feel about Eurovision. I’d never heard of Azerbaijan before their end-credits-on-an-80s-rom-com number “Running Scared” won in 2011, yet now I can tell you about their location, their exports, their time-zone and even their human rights abuses. They also have one gay man, apparently. And he’s a hairdresser (I wish I was making this up – he was mentioned by an official as a rebuff to the idea the country was homophobic).

Eurovision was, in part, created out of war. In the 1950s the countries of Western Europe were developing television technology and wanted to experiment with multi-country live events, while also hopefully uniting countries that had recently been bombing each other. As it was an international exercise they needed something that transcended spoken language so their first thought was – I kid you not – a circus skills extravaganza! It’s hard to imagine the Eurovision Juggling Contest would be going 50 years later, although it’s nice to think the UK may still have used it as a comeback opportunity for faded artists. Who wouldn’t want to see Bonnie Tyler on a trapeze? Or the members of Blue forming a oddly-shaped human pyramid?

Second choice was singing, and a legend was born. But suffering still infuses through the contest. As Europe has fought, and healed, and changed, Eurovision has been there. Seven countries competed in the first competition in 1956 – thirty-nine in 2013. Our concept of Europe has changed, and Eurovision has changed with it.

And at this year’s Melbourne International Fringe Festival I have a play about it! Co-written with The Bazura Project’s Lee Zachariah, Songs For Europe is two short pieces exploring the Eurovision legacy. In the first half a young journalist comes to interview an aging singer about her nul points performance and gets more than he bargained for; and then in 1974 Portuguese activists gather in a café awaiting the Eurovision song that will trigger the revolution (again, a true story – there’s a Eurovision song that started an uprising. Even Pink can’t claim that).

It has a great cast, including Marta Kaczmarek (The Circuit, Shine, Offspring) and Nick Colla (Neighbours, Blue Heelers, Wicked Science) and has been brilliantly directed by Lucas Testro (Neighbours, Winners & Losers, All Saints). My Splendid Chaps colleagues are all involved too, Ben McKenzie is producing, Petra Elliott is appearing as a Portuguese bar owner – the role she was born to play! – and our tech wizard David Ashton is creating both the sound design and our brand new 1982 Eurovision entry. You can see the whole fabulous cast listed below.

It’s 8 shows only, September 19 – 29, Thursday through Sunday at 7.45pm (6.45pm on the Sundays) at Broken Mirror in Brunswick. I’m really excited about it, and I’d love you to see it. Tickets are on sale now!

So I leave you with the song that started a revolution – Paulo de Carvalho with “E Depois Do Adeus”. And remind you that the real winner here… is music. Au revoir mon Ami!

Songs For Europe: Two Short Plays About Eurovision

Marta Kaczmarek: Sonja
Nick Colla: Patrick
Angus Brown: Alejandro
Noah Moon: Braulio
Jack Beeby : Carlos
Chris Broadstock: Diego
Petra Elliott: Eva

Finger Food

January 25, 2013

Is it 2013 already? Well, another year, another blog post… On January 24th I spoke at a Midsumma spoken word event called Art, Sex & Snacks, organised by the gorgeous and funny Lisa Skye. Here is an edited version of what I said.


One of my favourite phrases in the English language is “finger food”.

Partly because it sounds tasty, but mostly because it sounds dirty. There’s something about the word “finger” that just makes everything near it go a little bit Benny Hill. I have the same reaction to the phrase “Pacific Rim”, especially when it relates to cooking.

I have never held a sex party, because I’m the sort of person who gets hung up on the wrong things, like the music, or the décor, but mostly I’d be worried about the finger food. Do you provide snacks at a sex party? People will probably get hungry – or will they have eaten before? If they get too hungry they might leave, but then again, do you want people to linger at a sex party? And what do you provide? Do you go retro and cheeky – devils on horseback, perhaps? Or do you go simple and easy – maybe something from Nigella? Or is that too obvious?

Basically I would ruin a sex party by worrying about the canapes.

And the lack of sex parties in my life has started to worry me. Not that I necessarily want to be going to them now, but I want to have gone to them then, in the past. I’m reaching an age where I’ve started to worry about the roads not taken. I’ve never been to a sex party, I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never been on a hovercraft. I could try to kill three birds by being arrested at a sex party on a hovercraft, but somehow that just seems desperate.

Partly it’s the internet to blame. Through the magic of facebook we can now see all the social events we weren’t invited to. All the parties we didn’t attend, the food we haven’t eaten, the men we never had sex with.

It’s all highly edited, of course. No-one’s going to update their status to say “I’m sitting in a filthy dressing gown while watching repeats of Miss Marple and idly masturbating”. And it’s clearly a First World Problem – no-one in India is tweeting “Granny died from diphtheria today. Lolz!”.

But it still makes me feel like life is a game of musical chairs and the music has stopped and not only do I not have a chair, I’m not even in the same room. And I’m naked and… on fire.. or something.

A friend and I used to play a game called “What’s Madonna Doing Right Now?”. You always think of Madonna as recording a new single, or having a tantrum in a dressing room, or having sex with the linebackers of the San Diego Chargers on a winged chariot made of diamonds while being pulled along by a team of wild swans. But the truth is – at any given moment – Madonna is more likely to be brushing her teeth, or meeting an accountant, or watching a DVD of Swept Away and wondering how it all went so terribly wrong.

For the younger members of the audience, Madonna was a singer, a bit like Kylie Minogue with much scarier arms. She famously recorded a cover version of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way 20 years before Lady Gaga did it. It was called Express Yourself, and was featured on Madonna’s CD “Like A Prayer”.

For the younger members of the audience, a CD was a collection of music you would purchase from a shop in physical form, and insert into your parlour’s stereogram when your pianola had run out of paper rolls and you wanted to do the lindy hop.

For the younger members of the audience, “purchasing music” was something we used to do before the internet came along, making everything free and revealing all the parties we hadn’t been invited to, yadda yadda yadda, thus bringing us full circle.

We can’t see ourselves the way others see us. At the very least, it would hurt your neck, or you’d need to carry a big mirror around at all times, and that would be tiring. but it means we’re all a bit clueless of how we’re come across. Jodie Foster, for example, somehow misses the irony of asking an audience of 250 million people to give her some privacy in the middle of a speech about she’s proudly not coming out. There’s an old story that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was at a party where a woman was telling him about her travels through Africa and Madagascar. Armstrong listened intently, then sighed and said “That sounds amazing – I’ve never been anywhere”.

That story isn’t actually true, of course, but that doesn’t stop it from making my point.

Everyone thinks they’re average. Everyone thinks their experience is normal. Serial killer Ed Gein probably thought that everyone else was making lampshades out of human skin, and mining magnate Gina Reinhart probably thinks that everyone else… is making lampshades out of human skin. Oh, sure that may be unfair, but you can picture it, can’t you? If you found out tomorrow that Gina Reinhard had been making a body suit out of the skins of her victims to wear around the house you wouldn’t be THAT surprised.

But we want to be exceptional. We want to be special. We want to be adored. We want life to be a smorgasbord, not half a box of Jatz crackers and some old hummus you found at the back of the fridge, as it sometimes seems.

But while we’re alive, there’s hope. And if you’re not alive, I think you have bigger issues to concern yourself with. Actually if you’re not alive and you’re here in the audience then either there’s some wacky Weekend At Bernie’s hijinks going on or you’re a zombie, and either way you’re ruining the poignant conclusion of my talk.

Because there is still time. There’s time to make ourselves the people we want to be. Break out the good china. Take down that cocktail shaker. Organise that illegal hovercraft sex party. You can take that last one as a metaphor, if you like.

Become the person who leaves pictures on facebook that makes other people feel bad.

Enjoy what you have, enjoy who you are. It’s an obvious thing to say and yet I feel the need to remind myself all the time.

I was supposed to talk about art, sex and snacks tonight and somehow I ended up talking about self-esteem and identity. But in a way, we’re all made up of our desires, we’re defined by what we want as much as what we are.

Epicurus was a Greek philosopher around 300BC who believed the goal in life was to achieve tranquillity through freedom from fear, the absence of pain and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.

He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared; the gods do not reward or punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.

And that, by the way, is the most poetic passage of wikipedia you could ever hope to find.

His name lead to the word epicurean, defined as one who pursues pleasures, especially those of food, drink, and the body.

Epicurus once said “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not – remember that what you now have… was once amongst the things you only hoped for.”

John Richards is a writer and broadcaster. He wrote quite a bit of Outland, the best ABC1 gay-and-lesbian-science-fiction-fan-club-comedy you will EVER see! Why not buy it on DVD? He is also a presenter on the Boxcutters podcast and (with Ben McKenzie) is part of the Splendid Chaps: A Year Of Doctor Who podcast/performance extravaganza.

It’s Me – It’s Not You…

October 12, 2011

For those of you planning to stalk me in the next few weeks, here’s your handy cut-out-and-keep guide:

The best-gay-and-lesbian-science-fiction-fan-club-television-comedy-ever-probably Outland will be having its world premiere in Seattle on October 18th and 19th at Central Cinema as part of the 16th Seattle Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (you’ll find the cinema in the Central District, at 21st and Union. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds extremely glamorous). It starts at 6pm each night, with episodes 1 to 3 showing on the Tuesday and 4 to 6 on the Wednesday. I’ll be attending both screenings as a guest of the festival.

Incidentally, for our American readers, that’s the entire series. Just the six episodes. It’s going to be exactly like Abed and Cougarton Abbey on Community all over again, but without the Inspector Spacetime downloads afterwards. Central Cinema is fully licensed, so if you don’t find it funny you can always get drunk.

Tickets for the Outland screening are available here. Tickets for Seattle are available here (whatever you do, don’t book through Virgin Australia’s Groups And Entertainment section as IT WILL TAKE YOU FOREVER and they will send you emails stressing how unimportant you are. Honestly, it was threatening to go Gasp Jeans there for a bit. “The exclusive airline of Australians In Film”, my arse…).

Then, back in Melbourne, I will be giving a brief talk at ACMI about Star Trek: The Animated Series, because that’s the kind of thing I do, apparently. It’s part of Space: TV’s Final Frontier, this month’s Live In The Studio at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and I’ll be part of a panel that includes RRR’s Robert Jan, Clementine Ford, Dr Djoymi Baker and my fellow Boxcutter Josh Kinal as referee. That’s what they call it, isn’t it? Tickets are available here.

A warning for those planning on attending events in both Seattle and Melbourne – I may wear the same suit. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

And speaking of Inspector Spacetime – and because the Internet is infinite – someone has created a brilliant tumblr called “Where’s Outland?” that features our two publicity images getting into all kinds of scrapes. Feel free to add to the fun.

Poetry and Pop

May 12, 2011

A couple of quick plugs for the weekend ahead for all you Melbourne-based arty-types – I’ll be hosting an event for Australian Poetry at The Wheeler Centre on Saturday the 14th May. It’s called one.seven.six and will feature readings from Terry Jaensch as well as Susan Hawthorne, Elizabeth Beaton, Trevor Ball and m d west. You can find out more by going clickety-click right here.

Then on Sunday night it’s the official Boxcutters Eurovision Party at Seraphim (formerly Vibe on Smith), 123 Smith Street, Fitzroy. Look at the classy poster!

So if you want to stalk me, you know where I’ll be…

Top 10 Tips For 2010 (The Year, Not The Film) According To 2010 (The Film, Not The Year)

January 25, 2010

Happy 2010 everyone! And welcome back to the rarely-updated Outland Institute. Well, wasn’t 2009 a big one? What with the Outland Institute radio show, the world not being destroyed by the Large Hadron Collider, and Peter Andre’s new single Behind Closed Doors, it was hard just to keep up.

So I thought I’d cheat a little for 2010 by watching the film first. This way I’ll be ready for all the hot new trends! Peter Hyams’ 2010 (billed on the poster as 2010: The Year We Make Contact, although not – oddly enough – in the film itself) was released in 1984, as was 1984 (the film, not the year. And not the David Bowie song either, which came out in 1974, a year before Space: 1999).

We’ll talk about the film in a moment, but first here’s our Top 10 Tips For 2010 (The Year, Not The Film) According To 2010 (The Film, Not The Year)!

  • The Soviet Union Is BACK, Baby!

With the 80s revival in full swing it’s a clever move for Russia to get the band back together and reform for the first time since 1991. And speaking of which…

  • The Cold War – It’s On, People!

Yes, they’ll be accused of rehashing their old hits but the new Soviet Union and the old United States will be bringing us to brink of nuclear annihilation again this year with that old classic, the naval blockade. Think navy blues and piped matelot pants!

  • Calculators Are So Hot Right Now!

Nervous that HAL may again go on a killing spree – possibly caused by Windows Vista – Roy Scheider sets up a kill switch cunningly hidden inside his pocket calculator. He’s done this so he can carry it around without raising suspicion, and since no-one says “bloody hell, Roy Scheider, I haven’t seen a pocket calculator in years” we can only assume they’re going to be back in a big way!

  • Dame Helen Mirren To Become A Cosmonaut!

A surprise move for the acclaimed British actor, who must be finding it difficult to fit in training around the seven feature films she has due for release this year (including a new version of Brighton Rock). At least she’ll easily be able to get around the immigration paperwork due to her Russian father, Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov, although there’s no word on whether she’ll be reverting to the original family name.

  • Wide-Screen Televisions Are SO 2009!

This year 4:3 cathode ray tubes are back in a big big way. Throw out those plasmas now!

  • This Year’s Top Pet? The Dolphin!

It’s unclear if this is just because in 2010 (the film, not the year) Roy Scheider’s wife is a marine biologist, but it seems that in 2010 (the year, not the film) you’ll finally be able to keep dolphins in your lounge room!

  • Roy Scheider Says Shorts Are IN!

Seriously, does that man bring his own shorts to each film? Does he refuse to go on unless he can get his legs out in at least one scene? Also, he’s going to need a bigger boat.

  • Pan Am Is Back In Business!

Like The Soviet Union, the American airline Pan Am went out of business in 1991, but according to 2010 (the film, not the year) it’ll be back this year. It’s offering flights into space with the advertising slogan “Where The Sky Is No Longer The Limit”.

  • Academic And Military Software To Embrace Retro 80s Stylings!

The rise of retro indie platform games like vvvvvv has even reached the military, with spacecraft and universities alike embracing faux Commodore 64 style graphics (incidentally, I believe the message after this one was “All your base are belong to us”). While we’re on computers…

  • Laptop Screens Will Get Tiny!

This year’s laptops will have tiny screens, but you will be able to easily use them on beaches. Or possibly this year’s iPods will be enormous, I’m not sure.

So there you go, the top ten trends for 2010 (the year, not the film) as predicted by 2010 (the film, not the year).

As for the film itself – as I sat watching it for the second time (the first being in a cinema in 1984 – the year, not the film) I found myself wondering “Is this the most pointless film ever made?”. The world was hardly crying out for a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how could anyone follow up such a cinematic classic, a dreamlike meditation on man’s place in the universe? More to the point, why would they bother?

2010 (the film, not the year) is a straightforward cold war science fiction film with very little to offer. The characters are dull ciphers who spend most of their time doing little and the movie’s conclusion suggests events would have unfolded exactly the same way whether they were there or not. Without Stanley Kubrick’s bravura filmmaking we’re left with some nice modelwork but not much else.

So as I watched the film I pondered “is this film more pointless than Psycho 2?”. Yes. Psycho spawned the horror slasher film, a genre famous for its diminishing and endless sequels, so Psycho 2 simply completes the circle. It’s like break-up sex.

Then I thought “is 2010 – the film, not the year – more pointless than Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho?” Again, yes, as Gus Van Sant was at least conducting a cinematic experiment. That experiment was mostly “can I get Universal to give me 60 million dollars to do this?”, but at least it’s not dull.

Meanwhile, 2010 (the film, not the year) exists as a film so dependant on it’s predecessor that it makes no sense in isolation, yet so devoid of ideas or style that it removes itself from your memory even as you watch. Hopefully 2010 – the year – will be better than 2010 – the film.

I haven’t read the book.

John Richards is the co-creator of the upcoming ABC gay-science-fiction-fan-club-themed comedy Outland and a presenter on the Boxcutters podcast.

Want to buy your own copy of 2010 (the film, not the year)? Of course you do – amazon.co.uk has it on DVD and Blu-ray. Or pick up the superior 2001: A Space Odyssey on DVD, Blu-ray or as part of the impressive Stanley Kubrick : Special Edition 10 Disc Box Set.

The Naked Truth: A Night Out With Porn Stars

December 6, 2009

This piece originally went to air in episode 22 of The Outland Institute. You can hear it with added interview material and sound effects by downloading it from here, or why not go crazy and subscribe through iTunes?

Over the years, AIDS educators have tried many ways to get their message across. They’ve used fear, erotic photography, celebrity spokesmodels, real people’s stories, and even bowling. For the last year or so the Victorian AIDS Council has been using porn stars to inform and educate. Marco Blaze and Francesco D’Macho have already visited – probably not their real names – and last week Bruno Bond and Steve Cruz came to Melbourne. They were here to promote the VAC’s 2010 Protection calendar.

In the past, visiting pornistas have been used mostly for media promotion, and for live interview appearances. This time round there was something new. In what was possibly a world first, Cruz and Bond were to perform a live commentary on their porn in a gay sex club in Collingwood. It was an intriguing blend of private and public, combining the old world of the public gathering with the new world of the DVD extra. By extending the on-screen action into the audience it was oddly reminiscent of William Castle’s 1959 classic The Tingler, in which some of the seats in the cinema were hooked up to an electric current.

Incidentally, are all porn performers automatically “stars”? Is there such a thing as a porn “character actor”? Is anyone the William H Macy of porn?

So at 1am on Saturday the 28th of November I made my way to Club 80, for what promised to be a very special night. And let’s be upfront about this – partly I was genuinely interested in the idea of exploring the different ways in which audiences enjoy visual works, and partly I was hoping it would be hilarious so I could mock it on The Outland Institute radio show, like the angsty sarcastic self-loathing Gen X type that I am…

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Friday: Cats

September 26, 2008

So the Evil Doctor and I decided to attend the Royal Show. After all, any event featuring both duck-herding and pig-diving must be worth a look – you don’t get that at the Melbourne Writers Festival. And as a bonus, it was cat judging day, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a pissed-off Norwegian Forest Cat.

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September 17, 2008

As I’m sure you all know, Friday is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Invented in 1995 by John Baur (aka “Ol’ Chumbucket”) and Mark Summers (“Cap’n Slappy”) as a personal joke, the day became widely known after journalist Dave Barry wrote about it in his syndicated column in The Miami Herald.

Now every September 19th, CEOs use the term “land-lubber”, homeless people ask you for “pieces of eight” and people around the world greet each other with “Ahoy, me hearty!” (although McDonalds employees are still required to use the more traditional “Hail fellow, well met” as their standard greeting).

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