DVD BOX SETS TO INSPIRE SCREENWRITERS

Posted by admin  /   May 18, 2012  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   3 Comments

Hi There,

And welcome to this weeks’s blog \ newsletter! Before we get started on the serious business of my SCREENWRITING POLL, a couple of thoughts…

Best TV drama (OK so it’s a documentary) of the week – 56 Up. Absolutely compelling viewing – watch out for the 2nd ep. this Monday ITV 9pm.

The Leveson Inquiry continues to provide the most amazing dramatic raw material – an exercise in sub-text-laden dialogue (see Rebecca Brooks’ teasing \ mocking references to LOL – and Charlie Brooker’s laugh out-loud column about it –

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/13/you-lose-touch-with-popular-culture?INTCMP=SRCH).

Brooks, Murdoch and the News International camp have politicos across all the parties running around with their pants on their heads. Politicians have been so supine in the face of the Murdoch empire for so long that Murdoch now holds all the aces. The revelations about Jeremy Hunt’s goings-on are just a shot across the bows – a warning from NI not to get too close, if the Tories want to hold onto power. In my opinion the only person who emerges from all the shabby hypocrisy with any credit is Gordon Brown – the one individual who had the balls to tell the loathsome Brooks what he thought of her.

And now Brooks has been charged by the CPS I’m sure NI will launch a few more missiles!

OK enough of the off-message politics – but what wonderful, character-driven drama this is! And with villains so dark, so scheming and morally unscrupulous they’re barely credible!

Before we get onto the highlights of your fascinating responses to my SCREENWRITING POLL questions, I have been wrestling with the very tricky question of who is THE WINNER!

Seriously, the response has been really gratifying both in terms of the numbers of you who have sent me your thoughts but more particularly in how interesting and articulate your answers have been – thank you very much indeed to everyone who has entered.

The screenwriting tips, in particular, are wonderful – such a range of perceptive, smart and practical ideas. BUT you’ll have to wait a few weeks for them!

SO the winner…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS go to –

Adam Roberts, D. James Newton, CJ Percy, Stella Macdonald, David Bishop, Jo Overfield, Ed Griffiths and Kat Prizakis. (I could go on)

But the WINNER is…

TANIA MERRITT.

Congratulations Tania – and thank you for your fascinating thoughts!

This week’s question – of which today’s newsletter is only PART ONE. There were so many fascinating answers that I have decided to give you the 2nd half of the highlights next week.

But if you’re looking for some inspirational viewing, you’ve come to the right place…

What are the best 2 DVD BOX SETS that will inspire screenwriters?

The Wire – the excellent weaving of urban tapestry. Anders Thomas Jensen – The Collector Box – bright aburdist storytelling.’

Being Human series 2 takes the concept of the series and puts a slightly different spin on it. Whereas in the first (and subsequent) series, the overarching threat to our heroes has been supernatural in nature, in season two it is very much human. This allows the writers to work in religious undertones and powerful themes of redemption that I found resonated more effectively than when the baddies were ‘otherworldly’. As far as movie screenwriters go, I think one of the most underrated is definitely Sylvester Stallone. To me, he is someone who has mastered the art of epic Hollywood storytelling, and his work as a writer is never better than in the uplifting saga of the Rocky Anthology. From the classic underdog story of the original, to the redemption stories of Rocky III and IV, through to the outstanding coda of Rocky Balboa, Stallone sends his mythic hero (along with various mentors, buddies and opponents) on a thirty-year character arc of growth and maturity, while at the same time keeping him true to his loveable, pseudo-philosophical (and slightly punchy) roots!’

Breaking Bad: Season 2 – possibly the greatest television drama of all time, but I don’t want to oversell it. Vince Gilligan’s creation is a masterclass of nuanced characterisation and intelligent writing. Newcomers should really start from the beginning, but the second season buys you more episodes and there’s a brilliant through-line of foreshadowing that will blow you away when you look back at some of the episode titles.

The Twilight Zone: Season 5 – a timeless classic full of wonder and imagination. Rod Serling’s original set the bar for what television could be way back in the 1960s. You could pick any season really, but this is the one where William Shatner goes nuts on a plane. If you’ve never seen the series before, you’ll start noticing where lots of contemporary genre shows and films get some of their ideas from, and get a few more of the jokes in the Simpsons Halloween specials.’

The Killing (Danish). For its instructional lesson in not relying too heavily on the dialogue to convey an emotion. Mad Men. Purely for the stylishly memorable (yet often times banal) one-liners. Less is more.’

Seinfeld – any season. Iconic comedy that is steeped in the best ever writers mantra: ‘no hugging, no learning’. Also any box set of Coen Brothers movies – doesn’t matter which – for the purest storytelling and immaculate dialogue in which every ‘um’ and ‘ah’ is scripted (try to get more recent releases with director commentaries – genius). Worth studying the entire Coen canon to see how they have developed – it’s not all good, but it is all interesting.’

‘For those who want to write comedy you must have the Seinfeld box set. No other sitcom compares and there are three reasons for that. Firstly, the characterisation. Whether it’s the leads or the recurring minor characters each are wonderfully crafted. Secondly, the dialogue. It’s quickfire, not at all expositional. It’s hilariously funny too. Finally, plot. Seinfeld was a rare sitcom as it consistently took three bizarrely disparate storylines that would inevitably intertwine as they reached their climax. Genius.

For those writing drama look no further than Spooks. Spooks was edge of the seat stuff and consistently broke the rules in killing off heroes and heroines alike. It appealed to the thinker and to the action lover alike. Each episode built tension upon tension, crisis upon crisis. Scenes would average seconds not minutes to heighten the pace.’

‘Don’t hate me but these Swedish / Danish dramas are just too good.

First, I would choose The Bridge, currently showing on BBC HD. The multi-layered story telling which at first, you are unaware is happening. The interconnection between seemingly unrelated stories is a revelation and one which I personally love as they begin to connect together. As we unfurl the story, it’s actually becoming much more political, yet next week we know that it may move away from what seems to be an objection to the political agenda of cutbacks and service restriction to another currently unrevealed reason. The no holds barred attitude; it’s all just there, on the screen. Does it make it real, in many ways yes and it is more honest in the story telling because of it. The brutality, drug taking, sex, nudity, murder, mental illness. The constant manner in which we label such shows is actually becoming increasingly tiresome; gritty, edgy, dark, humourless; it is all of these things and none of these things. It’s just out there and all the more honest because of it. The completely emotionally devoid lead female character, Saga. Her moral compass is skewed, and we are never quite sure whether we like her or not. It is ironic that she actually makes me laugh out loud at her responses. In the real world you would try to get away from such a person yet she is somehow compelling to watch.

Scott and Bailey – Now you think I have lost the plot! The first female lead drama I have ever liked. A female led drama where men are the sideshow; the murderers, the adulterers, the two faced bitches…. I love it. Every female in the show is a drama on her own for whatever reason, yet all somehow are connected to men. Again, there is an honesty that may pass some by, but it shows that when you have a female led drama that there is indeed, drama. Every possible personal issue is thrown at them and shows that women are an extraordinarily fertile ground for creating stories when done correctly. As the daughter of a retired police forensic scientist and the sister of a currently serving CID Officer, there are a couple of things about this show that are actually exceptionally clever. The first is the interview process; Lesley Sharp has to be the most terrifying interviewer of all time, yet she never raises her voice, bangs her fists or threatens the accused. Which is actually exactly how the police are trained to interview…? None of this angst ridden, threatening, screaming, abusing of detainees is real yet it appears in every show that features a man as the lead? For the sake of drama…? Ms Sharp has demonstrated that this is simply not the case. Food for thought me thinks. The second is the real lives that intertwine with the professional life. It is said that every police officer is only one degree away from a criminal, in the six degrees of separation process. This show proved it.’

‘My first is ‘The West Wing‘. For the past decade the USA has been going through a golden age of screenwriting (even by their high standards!), the West Wing was at the forefront of this trend and seems to me a master class in character driven drama without ever once going for the ‘plot fist’ option. It seems unbelievably authentic and almost indistinguishable from the real thing – perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to a drama series. One can almost taste the sub-text in every exchange and the inherent difficulties in running a modern democracy are laid bare without the show ever getting ‘preachy’.

My second is ‘Monarch of The Glen‘ (MOG). Rightly or wrongly we seem to have ended up with prime time television that is predominantly safe, middle of the road and not very challenging. MOG was a superb example of this but given that at present it is all that seems to get commissioned, budding screenwriters need to know how to write for this gentle type of drama and how to keep it entertaining week after week without going for the clichéd birth/death/marriage option(s). It is also another reminder about the importance of character led stories and how if writers ‘invest’ in their characters the plotlines will follow.’

MAD MEN series II – Because of the developing friendship and understanding between Don Draper and his former secretary now copywriter, Peggy Olson, (Elisabeth Moss). The episode in which Don keeps Peggy working late because he does not want to face the news of a long time friend’s death is brilliant. Peggy, who does not know of his loss, is annoyed and furious with Don – she was going to meet her family for dinner and announce her engagement. By the end of the episode, Don has had to face his friends’ death; and his and Peggy’s relationship has moved to real friendship and understanding. Peggy meanwhile realises that the man she was about to become engaged to, is not, after all, the man for her and ends the relationship… All in about 50 mins!

Second box set: Dr WHO SERIES Two : Russell T Davies. Stephen Moffatt, Billie Piper and David Tennant. Family drama at its absolute best. Comedy adventure with pathos, surprise wit and charm. Russell T Davies grounds his plots (mostly) in real emotion and the growing friendship between The Doctor and Rose.’

THE HOUR Series 1 written by Abi Morgan. A lot of recent period dramas seem to rely on the romantic retro production values, gradually leaving you with a vague sense of deja vu and the horrifying notion that what you’re watching isn’t “high-brow” drama at all but Eastenders with corsets. On the other hand I thought The Hour was about refreshingly realistic characters and the 1950s newsroom angle with the dark espionage subplot was original and gripping.

SPACED Series 1-2 written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. Each episode is like a Hollywood movie spoof on a shoestring budget; it’s hilarious and engaging because you recognise yourself in the characters (for me in gun-toting Mike) and the ridiculous situations that arise out of sheer boredom.’

State of Play and The Sopranos.

Sopranos. A few years ago there was a celebrity quiz that formed part of an annoying C4 magazine show (whose name escapes me). In it, the interviewer asked the z lister to choose their favourite from two similar things i.e. Beckham or Ronaldo, Ferrari or Porches, Sinatra or Mathis (that’s Diner -ed.) Similarly, in the box set world, there is the choice – Sopranos or The Wire? Although theWire’s vast canvas of Baltimore and its Shakespearian all of life is there drama is sublime; The Sopranos edges it for no other reason than the backroom at Bada Bing – I feel that not only am I actually in that space, I want to be there.’

Thank you all so much – Happy writing – and Happy viewing!

Get onto those DVD Box Sets (personally I’m working my way through the sublimely plotted THE BRIDGE before they remove it from BBC iplayer on May 26th).

Plenty more in the same vein next week…

All the best

Phil

PHIL SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk May 18th 2012

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