Friday, 27 November 2009

A New York state of mind

I'm still in New York, having an excellent time. Like I said, this time it's mostly just a holiday, catching up with my wife's family (and in particular having my first real thanksgiving yesterday - which was very nice indeed.)

But last Sunday I got to go back to the International Emmy festival. It really was great to be back, to see old friends and make some new ones. I met up with Claire Tonkin, the new Ustinov winner, and really enjoyed the reading of her script. (I actually enjoyed it more than mine last year which was all a bit of a blur.) I'd already read the script so I knew how good it was. But if anything it was even better during the reading. Comedy plays well in an audience. And the actors did a fantastic job in conveying Claire's sense of humour and witty script. Everyone was laughing... a lot. And I thought the whole script really came to life and sang. I will go into more detail about how I saw this years competition as a whole at some other point. (When I have a bit more time.) But one final thing for now that caught my attention was the fact that like my The Storyteller, Claire's script, Me and Mine, also contained elements of personal experience. We'd both, to a degree, found something close to our hearts and were passionate about, and decided to write a fictional story based on that. I'm not a big 'write what you know' advocate because that seems a bit limiting. ('Write what you find out about' would probably be a better saying because there is such a thing as research.) But there is nevertheless some truth and benefit to be had in thinking about our own lives, I mean really thinking about them, the experiences and feelings, not just a cursory "well all I did today was go to the shops and bought a kit kat," and seeing what it is that makes us unique. What is it that I have experienced that can give me an insight into a particular story that maybe not a lot of people have?

Being back at the festival, I got some understanding of how things in the industry were being perceived at the moment. And because this is an International Festival, there is quite a wide take. So whilst there is of course acknowledgement that things are tough right now, there was still a strong sense that people are still doing stuff, people are still making stuff and, particularly amongst the Americans, that optimism should prevail.

I did wonder whether this was a state of mind. There is cynicism about being told to have a nice day every five minutes, or being asked how you are every single time you enter a different shop. And we joke about that and pour scorn over this obviously fake sense of 'being nice.' But I've begun to see the benefits. Whilst acknowledging that it is a bit forced a fake, is this not better than the scowl and cynicism you get from some spotty teenager serving you in shops around England? Does this attitude translate to the film and television industry, where we thrive on being doom and gloom merchants as opposed to the can do optimism of the US?

And perhaps even more crucially, does this actually extend to the stories we tell? Has this led to a culture of kitchen sink dowdiness and depression, whereas American writers actually tell stories to make the audience smile and come back to see them again?

Do we still have to learn in this country that delivering on that basis is not selling out. The tortured artist thing might impress a handful of people. But if you want audiences to actually warm to and enjoy watching your stories, we need to tell them in such a way as to make that possible.

4 comments:

Sam Lowry said...

Jez, I think I love you. Couldn't agree more.

Jez Freedman said...

oh stop nimer, for a moment there i thought i had a secret admirer. what's with the name? we must meet up when i'm back!

"Ace Underwood" said...

I think when American-style movies and British-style movies meet in the middle (with upbeat, entertaining, character-based and witty stories), you get fun movies that don't insult the viewers' intelligence. I'd be hard pressed to think of anything Hollywood has put out in the last couple of years that was even close to as much fun as "Shaun of the Dead" or "Hot Fuzz."

Jez Freedman said...

absolutely (although i wasn't as keen on hott fuzz as with shaun of the dead)

but we can go further back, not even taking into account the work of richard curtis, when you think of stuff like Billy Elliot, East is East, Full Monty, even Bend it Like Beckham.

Smart films that had intelligent characterisation and strong themes, whilst still managing to tell a warm hearted story. and low and behold, they all did well at the box office.

we just don't do them enough