Sunday, 31 May 2009

Moving On (Part Four)

There was an interesting change of pace with the fourth instalment of the Moving On series. Previously, plots have evolved quickly, arguably too quickly at times. But Dress to Impress by Arthur Ellison was much more of a slow burner. And a pretty effective one too. It established almost immediately that today’s issue was going to be cross dressing – mixing it up a bit with the fact that Daniel, the man in question, was a teenager. So you were waiting right from the word go for his parents to discover this, and normally you’d expect it to occur early as the inciting incident. But the writer does something clever in holding it back and holding it back, all the time cranking up the tension for the explosive reveal that you know has to come at some point.

So in actual fact the story was more an exploration of the state of the marriage of his parents, Laura and Jake. When Jake discovers sexy underwear et al, he assumes they are his wife’s birthday present to him. So when she doesn’t deliver, as it were, he is not a happy bunny. Having already seeded the idea that another man, Les, is after his wife, it was pretty clear where this was going. I don’t mean that in a bad way. There is nothing wrong with good set ups and pay offs, as long as they are used correctly. Here, everything was done to increase the tension and drama.

So when Daniel’s revelation came, it was to stop his parents tearing lumps out of each other. What worked really well is that Daniel didn’t just decide he’d had enough of living a lie and blurt it out. How many times does that happen in real life? More likely, we hold onto our secrets until we have absolutely no choice but to reveal them. This story reached a point where Daniel’s motivation was born out of having absolutely no alternative. Forcing your characters to (plausibly) do the thing they least want to do is always a good start when looking for a dramatic story.

But for some reason the Moving On series does seem to have a bit of trouble closing their stories out. This time we are led to believe that Daniel moves out (but he’s a teenager – where does he go and with what money??) Only for the next scene to have him return home for a visit during for his mother’s birthday lunch, during which there’s an indication that his father has come to terms with his wardrobe choices. Surely this scene would have sufficed and the whole moving out thing seemed unnecessary and made little logical sense. But that’s a really small gripe of what was a very good script, that produced three strong performances from its leads. I don’t know Arthur Ellison but he clearly likes exploring marriage as a theme. And having written two of my favourite The Street episodes, (the one where David Thewlis steals his dead twin’s identity, and the one where the sisters bury the abusive husband under their mother’s coffin,) he is clearly a talent to watch.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Moving On (Part Three)

The third installment of the Moving On anthology came from the least experienced writer on the series. So I was even happier that Drowning Not Waving, by Sarah Deane, was the strongest story so far. Ellie (played by Christine Tremarco) has money problems. This is quickly established with a series of visuals culminating in putting her house up for sale. There's been a lot of that in Moving On - did no one hear about the property slump! But actually I am being facetious because the script uses this to its advantage. Ellie is desperate, so when former school bad boy John Mulligan re-enters her life and offers to buy her house and rent it back to her, even though there are better property deals to be had for him, she finds it hard to refuse.

Although she is wary at first about what he is really after, and declares she is not for sell too, he won't take no for an answer. And after he turns up on her doorstep with a takeaway and an apology, they end up in bed. There's a slight misunderstanding when she answers his mobile to someone called Tracy, but later he tells her that she's his sister, and that he's not playing around cos he really fancies her. But when Ellie's friend, Maria, hears she is seeing John, she reacts badly. She tells Ellie that if she continues seeing John and sells him her house, she never wants to see her again. At first I thought Maria's explosion was another one of these Moving On escalations in drama that seems out of pace and proportion. But the difference this time was that it became clear where this had come from and what motivated it. It turns out that Maria also knew John from school and says everyone knows he's made his money from drug deals not property deals. This I could understand. No one would want their mate getting involved with anything like that and it worked as an effective midpoint.

Ellie confronts John who insists he dealt for a few months when he was sixteen, he's not proud of it and doesn't now. Moreover, he and Maria had a brief affair a year ago and he left her, so now this is her jealousy motivated revenge. When Ellie confronts Maria, she admits to the affair but maintains she was the one who ended it, because she learnt about his current drug dealing. Next Maria confronts John to warn him to stay away from her friend. This was a really cool scene because although John came across as someone maybe a little bit dangerous, it was done in such a way that either of them could've been telling the truth. It kept up the suspense nicely and you didn't know who to root for.

As Ellie and John prepare to go away to New York for a few days, he suddenly has to stay behind on business and will join her later. So she sets off to the airport on her own and during the car ride we get one of the now familiar Moving On flashbacks where we get a recap on some of the key scenes and dialouge from the story. The major difference this time is that it really felt Ellie was replaying the incidents in her head, and all of them now had new significance. Has he been playing her all this time? Sure enough, as she checks her luggage, she finds drugs hidden away. He was using her as a mule. It was really well written and actually reminiscent of that famous ending in The Usual Suspects!

In the next scene we find out John got sent down for five years and then rather bizarrely Ellie goes to see him in jail. He shows his true colours and tries to equate his drug dealing with her excessive debt inducing buying and makes her feel bad because he paid for her house with drug money. For her part, Ellie says she came to see him to see if she would feel anything, and the look on her face suggests she doesn't. There's a moment where John's bravado seems to falter as he realises he has failed. The story ends with Ellie moving out of the house and riding off with Maria, moving on...

I'm not sure the final couple of scenes worked for me and whether they were really necessary. In fact, it might have been cool to end it as Ellie discovers the drugs in her car and then gets arrested herself. But I'm not naive enough to think that this darker ending would've necessarily been appropriate in the middle of the afternoon. However generally speaking this was a well plotted, taut drama with excellent performances from the two leads. I've enjoyed watching Tremarco since her barnstorming performance in the excellent Faith a few years ago and feel she is better actress than the material she gets sometimes suggests. And Richard Armitage, in between trying to catch Russian spies and killing Robin Hood, is still the go to guy for dark brooding leads, and he gave a performance both charming and dangerous.

We often read and hear about people trumpeting new writers, only to find that the 'new' writers they are referring to have loads of soap or radio credits. Nothing wrong with that. Fair play to them. But it was really refreshing to see something from a writer, who although has other commissions on the go (according to her CV) this was still her first screen credit. I certainly look forward to seeing more of Sarah Deane's work.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Moving On (Part Two)

Next came Bully, written by Marc Pye. (You can read an interview with the writer about the inception of his episode and the series as a whole over at Lucy's place.)

Briefly, two neighbouring families go on holiday together and we are led to believe that something went down between the two young sons, Andrew and Ryan. So much so that Andrew's father tells him that if anything similar happens again, hit him. This was essentially the pre-credit sequence so no messing about. Scene and title laying the theme right out there in no uncertain terms. And sure enough, not too long elapsed before Andrew was punching Ryan in a playground scrap, and leading him into a lamppost in a game of blind man's bluff.

The respective parents are a little puzzled by the turn in Andrew's behavior, until his mother tells Ryan's that his dad, Colin, is trying to toughen him up to stop him getting teased about his weight. (In actual fact Andrew wasn't really overweight, just a lot taller than Ryan, which would surely be a reason not to tease him. But never mind.) The main problem was that apart from the pre-credit scene, we'd seen nothing of Colin and Andrew's relationship. So this sudden increase in violence, when Andrew did not appear to have been the victim of bullying of any kind, felt a bit odd to say the least.

In probably the most touching and interesting moment, Colin admits to his wife that he was teased when he was younger and doesn't want Andrew to suffer the same fate. I thought this was an excellent idea and gave empathetic motivation to an otherwise repugnant character. But it was never followed up on. There was no catharsis for Colin, no coming to terms with his past, not even a genuine acknowledgment that violence was not the answer, which was a shame. Instead the subplot involving Colin was about him having an affair, and getting his mate Les (Ryan's father,) to cover for him. But even this wasn't used to its full potential. Once the families were at war, the fact Les had enormous dirt on Colin didn't seem to occur to either. If some neighbour's kid was beating up my son, and I knew he was having an affair, I would use it, grass or otherwise. So it might have been more interesting if Les had found out about the affair a little later, and then suddenly Colin would have to change tack, make nice, in order to protect himself. The whole thing got wasted and basically forgotten by the end of the story.

Overall Bully was an improvement on the The Rain Has Stopped. But I did find it interesting that Pye said that the idea started off as a one hour drama for The Street. I have to say it felt like it. The pacing was really uneven. I understand the desire, and need, to escalate drama and tension, but we went from everybody being friends, to Andrew assaulting Ryan numerous times, Colin defacing Les' car, and Les threatening Andrew twice, declaring he would kill him and do time for him if he went near Ryan again. It was a shocking twist to see Les bully a cowering Andrew, but it all felt rushed and didn't ring true. This was even more bizarre considering the brief flashback sequence. Like the voiceover yesterday - did we really need to be reminded of moments from such a short script? It made me wonder whether they had the budget to actually shoot enough material?

Again like yesterday, the denouement was handled very quickly. Andrew ran away, but it turned out he was hiding in the attic. It brought father and son together, helped the two mothers make up, and reunited Colin and Les. It was a shame for the respective writers, although probably not their fault, that two consecutive stories used a child disappearing as major turning points. But unlike Liz yesterday, I was unsure who was 'moving on' in Bully. Probably a toss up between Colin and Andrew, but I'm not sure not hitting people any more constitutes 'moving on.' However, where Bully worked was a unity of theme that was missing from The Rain Has Stopped.

Come back tomorrow for a look at Drowning Not Waving by newcomer Sarah Deane.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Moving On (Part One)

As the Bank Holiday weather turned out to be remarkably nice, I took some time out. But now it's time to look at the recent Moving On series that was stripped across BBC1 last week at 2:15pm. For those who don't know, the series was produced by Colin Mckeown and Jimmy McGovern, the same illustrious team behind the sublime The Street.

The first story was called The Rain Has Stopped and was written by Karen Brown. It was about long time widow Liz (Shelia Hancock), returning from holiday with a fiance, the Nepalese former Gurkha, Damar, much to the dismay of her grown up children. Almost the first line of dialogue from the daughter is "he's black," (whereas he is in fact Asian) and the casual racism from the children was a little shocking. Then there was the whispering from mothers in the school playground when Liz picked up her grandchildren. I'm not being naive, really I'm not. Racism is still a massive problem and issue, but the way it was portrayed here felt like a throwback to the eighties. I was never convinced about where the animosity from the children came from. They were in their thirties/forties, divorced and with children themselves, and so the old 'your not good enough to replace my dad' seemed a bit over the top. Later, the neighbour suspects Damar as a burglar, because "we've had trouble with asylum seekers before." There was a lot of talk about his visa status, ability to work or not, and what rights he should or shouldn't have as a former Gurkha and British soldier.

So a lot of ideas and themes were being juggled, and personally the racism and asylum aspect felt old. Gurkha rights on the other hand would've been far more interesting and incredibly timely! But there were other, more fundamental problems with the story. I'm not a big fan of general sweeping rules, but one that is pretty solid is that no two characters should be exactly the same, i.e. have the same opinions, world view, personalities etc. What would be the point? But here, the two children were identical. Surely it would have been far more interesting, create more conflict, and therefore more drama, if one of the children would've been happy for their mother, or at least just okay with it. Other things just didn't make sense. There were technical errors with regards to visa rules and benefits (being disabled and married to an American, I know a bit about both,) and having been reported to working without the right to, Damar just lost his job, but got no visit from the police! I realise this isn't such a story telling disaster, but it did smack as sloppy research.

In the end Damar leaves because the rift between Liz and her children is destroying her relationship with her grandchildren. But Liz is distraught and her children finally realise that maybe it's okay and for the best that she has found happiness with another man. So they encourage her to go off and find him. We subsequently find out she did find him, and they went on another holiday (not sure how as they had very little money.) But the weirdest thing was that the moment Liz finds Damar, surely the scene with the most dramatic and emotional potential, happened off screen. By the time they got back from holiday, and we are led to believe married, everything is fine, they are welcomed with opened arms, and all live happily ever after. I'm not quite sure what had changed, apart from the children seeing how upset their mother was when he left. Maybe that was enough, but she'd told them enough times. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but there needed to be more of a shift in the family dynamics for us to believe it.

And before all that, during the darkest moment of the story, we got voiceover recaps of some of the key bits of dialogue. I mean really, was that necessary during one, single, forty-five minute show!? It wasn't difficult to remember what we needed to remember and it just felt so hackneyed. There was also some odd scene juxtapositions, and therefore, despite some nice, quiet moments between the leads (matched by their performances) the whole thing felt unbalanced. I couldn't help feel that for this story, one strong theme would've been more effective than throwing in three or four. So all in all a slightly inauspicious start for the series. But come back tomorrow to see how the next installment fared.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Greener Grass

Why is it that the project you are NOT working on is the one you most want to get stuck into?

A few weeks ago I was finishing up an outline for a TV two parter. I was passionate about the story, had been thinking about it for a long time, and was happy to get it done. But all the time I was itching to finish it to get to my next project which will be a TV series pilot. And now, having got there and been working on that for a while, and still really believing in the concept etc, I find myself eager to move on to what I think will be my next project, another TV pilot idea.

What's all that about?

I know a lot of writers work on more than one project at a time, and fair play to them. But if I can help it, I tend not to do that. I work better when focused and immersed in one, from start to finish. And it worked. I enjoyed that process. But lately this tendency to want to be working on the thing that I am not, is really annoying me! I'm sure it's some kind of psychological displacement activity. I accept that I procrastinate. I email, facebook, ebay, surf the net, etc, etc. That's fine. As long as the work also gets done, I don't beat myself up about it. But this itchy eagerness to move on to the next project when in the middle of the current one is not okay.

Because that way things don't get finished. And you end up with a lot of half baked stuff in your drawer that is no good to anyone.

I think it's because I hate writing outlines. I just hate them. They always, always look crap. Even if the idea is cool and I know I can pull off a good script, the outline will nevertheless look rubbish. I seriously admire writers who can write brilliant outlines. It really is a whole skill in itself. And I realised that apart from a short film at the beginning of this year, I haven't actually written script for a while. So am gonna bloody well finish this outline, and then just gonna write the two TV pilot scripts. And maybe that will release this mind wandering tension!

Anyone else going through this nonsense??

By the way, next week, the plan is to do a series of posts analysing each episode of the Moving On series that was stripped across BBC 1 this week. Writers, especially new writers, should absolutely be watching this sort of stuff anyway. But if you haven't, and you want to know what I'm going on about next week, you've got a wet Bank Holiday iplaying to get up to speed.

Have a good one!

Monday, 18 May 2009

State of Play

Last Monday evening I was at Masterclub. I've mentioned it before on this blog but just briefly it's a biannual networking event exclusively for past and current students of the MA Screenwriting at London College of Communication. It's an invaluable way for writers to connect with industry people and get an idea of what is really going on - something not always available to us, especially if you haven't got an agent.

On this occasion guests included agents Gemma Hirst from PFD and Katherine Vile from United Agents, writer Ashley Pharoah, Micheal Jacob, Creative Head, BBC College of Comedy, Sally Avens, BBC Radio 4, Exec Producer, Emily Feller from Red Productions, Rosie Alison from Heyday Films and James Peries from Eastenders. So you get my point. Quite a variety to provide a wide spectrum of opinions and views. I can't tell you what each one said, as what happens at Masterclub stays at Masterclub, but I can share my own thoughts.

Unsurprisingly, no one had any doubts that this was a tough time for the industry. Money is tight. But the overriding feeling is that everyone just has to ride it out until it turns around, which it inevitably will. People need stories. The threat of going to bed without a story is still a potent one for my littlest nieces and nephew, as I'm sure it is throughout the world. We have always craved stories. And for there to be stories, there needs to be story tellers. Things evolve too, from telling tales around camp fires, to official court story tellers, to the origins of public theatre, novels, movies, TV and now Internet. So we all need to be aware of that too. (The theory that audiences had finally had enough of reality TV was also mentioned but I have heard this before too, all too often, and fear talk of its demise still premature.)

But it did get me thinking about the state of the industry, how it works, and what can be done to make it work better. Certainly the economic crisis has brought home the reality in this country what everyone has known in the US for a while - that TV drama exists to sell advertising space! And if advertisers get jittery, money dries up, and shows are pulled. Everyone except the BBC is at the mercy of this. But even viewing figures may not be enough. Primeval is in the precarious situation of being an expensive show to make, and therefore despite attracting consistently solid figures, is still rumoured to be under threat - which is ludicrous.

I like to think that the general public, and us specifically who work or wish to work in the industry, can play a part. In the US, a campaign to save the shows Chuck and Dollhouse have seemingly been successful, whilst sadly The Sarah Connor Chronicles couldn't be saved. But the networks, who will then use that against advertisers, now know that there is a swell of people who love these shows. Just imagine if Being Human had been an ITV or Channel 4 (or more likely ITV2 or E4) commission. Let's be honest, the BBC passed on it. But the campaign that followed showed there was an ardent audience and demographic for it, which initiated the series. If this had been a broadcaster that depended on advertising, this could've been just as crucial. It's worth thinking about.

So too is the continued ban on product placement on UK Television. I think the decision to uphold it was massive mistake, costing the industry millions at a time when it needs it most. I've never really had a problem with product placement. I've never really been that susceptible to advertising either. For me it's money for old rope. What do I care if the Primeval team come bursting out of the ARC in a Ford Humvee instead of a nondescript Humvee, if it saves the show? I'm not exactly about to run out and buy one. And even if I was in the market for a Humvee, I'd do my research to find out if the Ford one was the one for me! You get my point. I realise care still has to be taken like what sort of products, like junk food for example, go in kid shows etc. But surely the sensible course would be to lift the ban and then regulate it. My only proviso would be that the advertiser have no influence on the story. You can't have a situation where Apple refuse to allow some baddy to smash one of their Macs over someones head if that's what the script calls for! The same with the case of Mercedes, who apparently rather shamefully refused to allow their cars to feature in the slums of Slumdog Millionaire because it was not the right sort of setting for their product. Grow up fellas.

Finally there is the piracy issue. I'm sorry if I offend anyone, but, well, it's simply not on. It's not on for the general public, but it's even worse for people involved in the industry. It's like a shelf stacker at Asda filling his pockets, and then complaining when he is laid off because turn over is down. It's stealing. Plain and simple. It's taking money from the people who have worked very hard to put a screenplay on screen, some of whom maybe you will meet at a networking event or be fortunate enough to work with in the future. Good luck looking them in the eye. It's not a victimless crime (is anything ever, actually a victimless crime?) It is costing the industry a fortune. So think about that when we are all busy moaning about how there is no money to make or distribute British films, whilst we download an illegal copy of the latest movie. This is not even about moral preaching, or links pirate DVDs have with organised crime or terrorism (!) This is just about not nicking from the hand you want to feed you.

The industry is struggling. It's changing. Hopefully it will recover. But think about how you can play a part in that recovery, and not compound its weak state.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Things we noticed watching tv this week 28 (spoilers)

One of the coolest things about my trip to the International Emmys last November was the chance to meet the British nominees. Hobnobbing with the Americans was fun and all, but I'm a British writer, living and working here, and it was the chance to meet other British talent at the top of their game that was not to be missed.

This last couple of weeks or so has shown me again that I did just that. First came the second season of Ashes to Ashes. Co-creator Ashley Pharoah was in New York winning with Life on Mars, and whilst I enjoyed the first series of Ashes, I understood the feeling that it was a bit like Life on Mars lite. We knew Alex Drake was in a coma, we knew all about Gene Hunt and it had the tricky job of both being a follow up to a hugely successful show, and an original one in its own right too. This series seems to be more confident about what it wants to do and the continuing element of the police corruption is more interesting than the truth behind the death of Alex's parents (which we knew wouldn't send her back cos there was another series to come!) It's really funny too, with Gene delivering some cracking lines and then shooting that dog, Indiana Jones style, out of nowhere, on Monday night. Brilliant. And when all said and done, even if you take out all the coma time travel stuff, what Ashley and Matthew Graham have done (with Tony Jordan too previously) is make a fantastic cop show. And I believe that's all they wanted to do really. The time travel stuff was just a way in for a contemporary audience to be sold The Sweeney all over again. But what I've really liked about this second season are the references to Sam Tyler and the world back in Manchester. I like that sort of mythology. I've said so many times on this blog that I'm a loyal, very addicted TV consumer. But I think Broadcasters in particular get a bit jumpy that one person won't know about Life On Mars, for example, and therefore won't get the reference and decide to turn over and watch some 'documentary' about what happens when celebrities get drunk. That may have been true at one time, but in this day and age, with full on media through newspapers, TV mags, internet etc, who on earth didn't know that Ashes to Ashes was a follow up to Life On Mars? I mean really, what is the likelihood? It was like when the Friends spin off, Joey, came out. Yes of course it had to work in its own right (which it didn't cos it was rubbish) but I just found it weird that the rest of the gang, who we'd watched for ten years, had been erased from existence. No mention at all post the pilot. It just feels wrong. So I really hope the Sam Tyler references continue, and we can all keep our fingers crossed that he may yet make an appearance!

Also in New York were David Aukin and Hal Vogel from Daybreak Pictures. And on Bank Holiday Monday they (together with writer Paula Milne and director Pete Travis) treated us to surely the best piece of television so far this year. Endgame told the story of the secret negotiations to bring about the end of Apartheid in South Africa. I was completely dismayed at the apparent low viewing figures the feature got (partly I think because it was up against Ashes to Ashes!) and I really hope Channel4 or More4 repeat it. If you didn't catch it, I urge you to do so when you can. From a writing point of view, it was a masterclass. A couple of explosions and one car chase aside, this was mostly about characters sitting around talking to each other. And it was absolutely gripping. Like God on Trial and Conspiracy before it, Endgame proved once again that for high drama, all you really need is some excellent characters, in conflict with one another, put them in a room, and see what happens. What happened here was that Jonny Lee Miller delivered the performance of a lifetime and William Hurt, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mark Strong proved once again what brilliant actors they are. You know there's something pretty effective about a true life drama, where by its very nature you know the outcome, and yet can still make you sit on the edge of your seat.

What Endgame also reiterated was David Aukin's belief that any period piece should have something to say about the world we live in today. End titles revealed that the ANC had advised the IRA when they decided to lay down arms in favour of political negotiation and were now talking to Hamas (which came as a shock and I would certainly like to know how that conversation went.) So the political message and themes of the screenplay were clear for all to see, without at any point hitting people over the head with them.

With dramas such as these on British TV, created by British talent, it's certainly gratifying with the general doom and gloom state of the nation. I met up with Ashley again at Masterclub on Monday night, where there was more discussion about where the British industry is at this time of global downturn - more of which I will be posting about next time.

Monday, 11 May 2009

You can read my script, but...

I've had a few enquiries from people asking to read my Ustinov winning script The Storyteller, as prep for this years competition.

A couple of general things. Firstly there is no link to it on the web, but if you email me I will send you a copy for your own personal use. The reason is that many cool, working writers, people far, far higher up the food chain than I, have always been very nice and helpful to me, especially when I have asked if I could read some of their work for analysis. It would therefore be rather disingenuous of me to refuse assistance to writers looking to get ahead in this award.

Secondly, you don't have to reassure me that you won't steal it! Having won a major competition, the script has been read by many producers, writers and agents on both sides of the Atlantic - and read out loud at the International Emmy festival! So trying to pass it off as your own would be rather silly, and you will never work again... and won't be able to anyway cos I would have hunted you down and killed you.

A final bit of advice though. I met the previous winner, Felicity Carpenter, whilst I was in New York for the Emmys. She had read my script and I was curious to see hers. The script was excellent, very original and quirky. But when you compare my script and hers, you could not find two more different pieces of work. What I am saying is, don't try and second guess what you think the judges are looking for. The best bet is to write something you are really passionate about, and just give it your all! Not very specific I know, but that is really the best piece of advice I can give.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

How does this happen?

As Arsenal completed their part of the deal to send me to the BBC Writers' Academy in spectacular fashion, it's another broadcaster that has been on my mind. This was in Broadcast last week.

ITV has scaled back its commissioning needs because it is "overstocked" with programmes, according to outgoing executive chairman Michael Grade.

Speaking at today's Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference, Grade said there was "an issue" with good programmes sitting on the shelf for too long before they went to air.

"Because of the lead times of programmes, someone walking in with an idea then actually delivering the film can – or these days with a digital chip – can sometimes be three years, and then, according to our needs, we may not transmit it for another year beyond that.

"So we end up with a very healthy stock position. We are overstocked at the moment given the economic climate. We do need to reduce the amount of content that we carry."

ITV is currently believed to have in excess of £10m worth of dramas waiting to be aired, including Jilly Cooper's Octavia (Touchpaper Television); Whatever It Takes, a 90-minute single starring Shane Ritchie and written by Paula Milne (Twenty Twenty Television); the 7 x 60-minute workplace drama Monday Monday (Talkback Thames); and Andrew Davies' adaptation of Joanna Briscoe's Sleep with Me (Clerkenwell Films.

Grade said: "All the programmes that we make will be transmitted. They are too valuable and they are too good to be left on the shelf, but we do need to reduce our stock."

Production on long running dramas Heartbeat and The Royal has also been rested until at least 2010 to clear a backlog of episodes yet to be aired.

How the hell does this happen??

I'm an outsider. I don't work for ITV, I'm not an independent production company, I'm not a mover or shaker of any description! So it's not for me to throw around accusations as to who is to blame for this shambolic situation. But what I do know is that it is extremely sad and disrespectful to everyone who worked very hard on those shows that are now sitting there pretending to be paper weights.

You must know what you have on your shelf. And you must have had some idea when you were ordering new 'stock.' We go grocery shopping once a week. The night before we (and by we I mean the missus,) looks through the cupboards, thinks about what meals she wants to make in the coming week, and buys accordingly. We don't just go out and get seventeen tomatoes even though we already have eleven in the fridge. There are seven days in the week, seven meals to be had. We don't make fourteen meals cos that would mean we have to eat two a night or half are going in the bin, money wasted. I mean it's not rocket science. ITV must know what their slots are for drama, comedy, making celebrities and members of the public look even more stupid than they are, documentaries etc. Can someone please get a hold of it so money is not being thrown away on shows that are not aired, or worse, fees not being paid to people because that was the make up of the deal, or that now, because of this backlog, no one can actually work.

It's basic housekeeping.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Things we noticed watching tv this week 27 (spoilers)

As Arsenal continue to do their bit to send me to the Writers' Academy, I thought it was about time to catch up on some TV. Known for his outspoken comments, I eagerly tuned in to watch legendary screenwriter William Goldman on last weeks South Bank Show. And there were certainly a couple of interesting moments. Goldman believes that movies should not be longer than 110 minutes - and that big directors these days are being indulged with their two and a half hour epics! He also noted that after he virtually came out of nowhere to sell the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for $400,000, everyone hated him, which he gave as the reason critics have never been too kind about his movies. (Although labeling them all failures and I think whores at one point, possibly didn't help either.) But what was more interesting from my point of view was that he wrote that screenplay after eight years of research. EIGHT YEARS. I mean I'm sure that wasn't all he was doing and all that, but whoa. That is still a long time to be mulling over a project. Food for thought certainly.

But the most significant discussion for me concerned the whole 'auteur' theory, which holds that a film reflects the directors personal creative vision, essentially ignoring everyone else involved in making the movie. Unsurprisingly, Goldman slammed this madness and stated that even directors know it is nonsense. But this wasn't just a very big screenwriter laying his claim. Goldman willingly acknowledged the credit directors deserved for the sheer physical exertion needed making a movie. I'm enjoying reading Danny's account of shooting his film, amazed by the work needed to marshal 30 people etc - and that is just for a short! Directing is not something I aspire to, and Goldman is of course right to acknowledge the principal effort they make in actually shooting a film script. But in the words of James Moran, where were they when the page was blank? (Unless of course the director has indeed also written the script - that's a whole other story.) But in the words of Richard Attenborough, "the quality of a film nine times out of ten is down to the quality of the screenplay." Well we all knew that, right? But what bothers me about all this is that nothing ever seems to change. Goldman highlighted the 'Hitchcock movie' syndrome, ignoring the talented writers he worked with like Ernest Lehman. So I can't change it. And probably no one reading this blog can. But if this all seems obvious to me, you and everyone else, change has to come from the most powerful of writers. I'm talking mainly of course movies here. Directors will probably claim it's the other way around in TV!

It certainly a problem David Simon, creator of The Wire, probably doesn't have to face. I've finally finished watching season one, just in time for season two which kicks off tomorrow night on BBC2 again. I should say right from the start that I don't think The Wire is a bad show, by any means. But having come to it post hype (which I hate to do for this very reason,) it's quite another thing to be styled as the greatest TV show of all time! Maybe later seasons are brilliant, and I certainly saw enough to want to watch on, but as a first season, I don't think it was as good as shows like West Wing, The Sopranos, Life on Mars, Heroes to name but a few.

So why all the fuss? Firstly, there is an authenticity and rawness to it which is no surprise as David Simon was a reporter in Baltimore, where the show is set. This extends to the violence and the language, which means it's certainly not for everyone. That's why in the States it's on HBO, and not NBC. And there are moments of brilliance, like using the gang structure and warfare to explain the rules of chess, or a long, almost purely visual scene, where the only word uttered is a certain four letter one. But what I liked about it most was the fact that it is a pure series. There are no story of the week plot lines. It's just one long story, broken up by weekly installments. Like reading a novel in a way. I've said before that I am a loyal viewer. And I am not alone! In this day and age, with iplayer and on demand and sky plus and dvd box sets, broadcaster need to understand that they can do this more and more. If they become more receptive to this style of show, writers will love it and become more confident with delivering fantastic stories over a period of time that is impossible anywhere but in TV.