Saturday, 29 November 2008

International Emmy's (Part Two)

So after a short break, it was time for The Storyteller script reading. I was told to just sit amongst the audience, incognito, so the actors didn't know who I was until afterwards. The reason for this was that my presence, as writer, may make them nervous as to whether they are doing it 'right.' I was actually quite chuffed with the thought that I had the capacity to intimidate anyone at all, but this was short lived as the official photographer chose this moment to get some snaps of me, thereby blowing my cover.

Anyway, eight actors split the parts between them and did a marvellous job performing what I had written on the page. It was a weird experience, not one I've had before. A kind of mixture of detached interest, as if this had nothing to do with me, and nervous tension that it was crap all along and I was about to be found out. I was relieved that Brendan Burke, who was playing the protagonist, did not attempt a Scottish accent. He was kind enough to say that the dialogue worked really well with the Scottish twang he could hear in his head, but confessed in the Q & A that when the director sent him the script, he was a bit concerned about butchering it. Admittedly, it was sometimes strange hearing the dialect I had written, complete with British slang and swearing, come out with an American accent, but otherwise, the actor nailed the part and even looked uncannily like what I imagined the character would look like. In fact I thought all the performances delivered in getting over what I was trying to do and I was very happy with it.

But more than that, you write and rewrite and rewrite. And then you win something like this and you think yeah, I nailed that. However once you have a reading, and you get interpretations from the director and actors, you realise things can always be better! It was fascinating to see that what I perceived as some of the funniest lines, be greeted by complete silence, and others getting very generous laughter. But overall, what pleased me most was the fact that a few people commented that the protagonist, whilst being unpleasant and then likable again in equal measure, was always interesting and he never lost the audience empathy. It reinforced my conviction that 'unlikeable' characters make excellent protagonists, something I have been banging on about a fair bit on this blog!

After the reading I was introduced (officially) and presented with my plaque and cheque (wohooo) by Fred Cohen, Chairman of the International Academy of Television Arts, (and an incredibly nice chap). Fred and I then had a chat in front of the audience before questions were thrown open to the floor. Fred pointed out last years winner, Felicity Carpenter, was here again and even though we hadn't met yet, it was nice to know someone who had been through all this before was in the audience! A couple of questions came up that are worth mentioning here. Firstly, I was asked what improvements I would make to the script now that I had heard the reading? And I replied none. I made it clear that this did not stem from any arrogance on my part. If and when a producer/company is interested, and feels development is needed, I will more than happily oblige. But on spec, I felt that if it was good enough to win this award, it was time to move on and write something else. You can fall into the trap of rewriting and perfecting and messing about with the same script over and over, and that does no one any good. Writers need a portfolio, we need to demonstrate range and consistency, not just have one script to shop about. So instead of rewriting The Storyteller, I will take what I learnt and apply it to the next one.

Another question concerned the role of writers in the UK compared with the US. Interestingly, the questioner felt that we were valued more over here than writers are in the US. I suggested that we felt the opposite! Writers rooms are virtually non existent here and it's rare to have writer/producers or showrunners. So life may always seem greener on the other side but two key points are that the situation is beginning to change here, with shows being created and then produced/show runned by writers, and an interesting point by Dick Wolf that things may be about to dramatically change in the US due to the economic crisis. (But more of that in the next post.)

After about a couple of hours in total, the event was over. It was enormous fun and a fantastic experience. There was a brief break before the HBO hosted cocktail party, where I met a whole bunch of industry people from the US, UK and the rest of the world. My friend Toby, who was with me, suggested I hold my plaque during the party and work the room with it under my arm. At first I laughed, feeling I would look like a bit of a plumb. But I realised that he was 100% right and just what a good idea this was. Self promotion is not only useful, it's expected. You're in a packed room full of people who can make a difference to your career. You want to stand out. It's no time for being shy and coy. It worked too. It got me attention and made people want to come over and speak to me, rather than me having to approach everyone cold. There is no place for arrogance or ego, but networking is a massive part of this business and you do what you can, politely, to make the most of it.

At the end of a long Sunday, it was time to find a kosher restaurant for dinner with friends, not hard to do in NYC! Monday would include a lunch to honour Dick Wolf and of course the gala Emmy awards dinner. Come back soon to find out what happened!


Jason Arnopp said...

This is tremendous stuff, sir. What an experience! Glad you so obviously enjoyed it all.

Tom Murphy said...

Hi Jez - I've been following your blog for a while and keep meaning to congratulate you on your award. What a fantastic trip.

I was lucky enough to have one my scripts showcased at a very early Rocliffe Forum (when it was upstairs in an Islington pub). Like you say, it's a great way of getting a new perspective on your characters, dialogue etc.