As I mentioned briefly last week, I’ve been overwhelmed by your responses to my SURVEY of two weeks ago – both in terms of quality and quantity.
I’ve been sifting through all your answers this week, trying to organise them into digestible chunks for my blog and there are so many really interesting, instructive, enjoyable answers – that the answers to most of the questions are too lengthy for one newsletter SO for the next few weeks I will be sharing with you the answers I received. To begin:
What TV drama \ feature film \ stage-play in the last YEAR has inspired you as a screenwriter? And why?
I’m sure this will send you scurrying to 4OD, BBC iplayer, DVD’s etc – to catch up with some of these recommended shows that you may have missed:-
‘This year, I’ve been inspired by Channel 4’s Utopia. In particular, I found that its ability to pose a set of questions at the outset, only for each plot twist to throw up even more questions gave me something to aim for in my own writing.’
‘Hansel and Gretel witch hunters, believe it or not; as the title alone shows how desperately short of new ideas the industry appears to be getting, sorry to say, in a time where many new movies are remade or adapted from pre- existing works.’
‘A Separation, finally caught up with on DVD. It’s a perfectly constructed drama, full of incidental details that turn out to be crucial turns in the story, unfolding what happened and what the characters perceived as happening. Tiny events altered everyone’s lives. It seems as natural as autumn, but each leaf’s fall was so carefully engineered. No special effects, no genre clichés, just brilliant writing and performance. Well worth its Oscar (which of course it wouldn’t have had a sniff at, were it a Hollywood film).’
‘That will be Netflix’s TV drama series: “House of Cards.” I have a passion for thrillers with a twist, and this series inspired me to continue developing scripts that can challenge the audience’s imagination. As a viewer, I enjoy being part of an intriguing plot. Michael Dobbs and Andrew Davies, deliver the most amazing character in Congressman Francis Underwood. Kevin Spacey, being the outstanding actor that he is; immortalized the main protagonist. Dobbs and Davies bring us conspiracy and deception and they deliver it through the narrator. It is just amazing how the narrator is the protagonist, the villain and the hero. The fact that Francis only talks to us, the audience, is the hook. We the audience, will have to continue watching the series, after all, we are all accomplices of every single action that develops, every dirty little secret, every murder that has been or will be committed. It is brilliant. The main character is the result of a gifted writer’s mind.’
‘LONGMIRE, ensemble TV show, plot lines with doubt and indecision.’
‘Oh man. I’ll try and keep this as short as I can. There’s the obvious answers in relation to US drama. Breaking Bad has been continually top notch whilst Game of Thrones and Walking Dead I think, have made strong come backs following mediocre 2nd seasons. The pinnacle for me though, at the moment has to be Homeland. It’s political, it’s pacey and it’s authentic and I think (although it was pretty decent) direct comparison with Zero Dark Thirty demonstrates categorically that TV is well and truly out of cinema’s shadow.
My pleasant surprise has been Hannibal, a show I really was not expecting to enjoy. Considering it required the reinvention of not one but two somewhat iconic (literary and cinematic) characters I was convinced that it would disappoint but a restrained 13 episode series meant that the plot and intertwining character arcs could move along at a satisfying pace without the writers having to fill time with more typical crime-procedural material.
Over here it’s been a solid year also. Broadchurch and The Fall have impressed me. I also enjoyed In the Flesh. It was a refreshing and bold drama and it was nice/encouraging to see an upcoming writer make some headway.’
‘The Bletchley Circle (on ABC TV June 2013)
The log line says it all.
Four seemingly ordinary women become the unlikely investigators of a string of grisly murders in this original thriller, set against the backdrop of post-war London.
Cast to perfection as only the British can do. Utterly pitch perfect. But still, the script reveals some areas that could benefit from simple story logic and that actually helps me as a writer.
I have had some very good reviews of a screenplay framed in the tropes of the ‘thriller’ and ‘The Bletchley Circle’ is helping me to cut through the undergrowth in the script. ‘Ah!’ I find myself saying, ‘that’s one way to handle misogyny in a story.’ Not to steal the idea but to empathise with the emotions and the feel of the moments.’
‘Beasts of the Southern Wild inspired me because it represented a new upcoming genre (magical realism) that I had started working on. It was so fresh and odd that it cleared out a lot cobwebs and preconceived notions of how stories should evolve.’
‘I am bowled over by Hannibal. It should have been horrible. Hollywood has a way of squeezing a franchise until there’s nothing of any value to be had, with increasingly small budgets and bankrupt creativity (q.v. Aliens). Thomas Harris himself has milked the characters and concepts of Red Dragon & The Silence of the Lambs until he lost his writing skills altogether. I also find the endless rebooting of tired and outdated ideas personally and culturally suffocating. Furthermore, you can’t change channels without bumping into serial killers, the liberal media’s al qaeda. Being an admirer of Manhunter & Thomas Harris’ original book I was emotionally bound to witness it, much as it’s hard to look away from a car accident, so I watched the first episode with trepidation. I was wrong. I love that. This series probably couldn’t have been made without the intellectual property, but that seems a small price to pay for the standard of writing, the complexity of plot, the multi-dimensional characterisation and a thick visceral nastiness that transcends prurience or mean spiritedness. It is, in fact, the high watermark for the reboot model, with each actor making the character their own while maintaining just a glimpse of the template and operating seamlessly inside the original canon. Filled with references, in-jokes, duplicate scenes and lines, it celebrates the source text without retreading it. It is funny, genuinely unsettling, beautifully art directed, paced and edited. It is smart. Clever. Intelligent. Remember that? It makes me think that I might have a place in the industry after all.’
‘The Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin has become an absolute master of his craft. The dialogue is razor sharp and witty. The plots are tight and well structured, both on the micro scale in each episode and the macro scale of story arc across the whole season. Although the performances are pretty much all spot on and there are some heavy hitters like Jeff Daniels and Olivia Munn in the cast, it is always the writing that is the real star. It is unashamedly intelligent and (by US standards) liberal.’
‘Finally got to see “Breaking Bad.” Difference between movies and tv? Movies are a one-night stand. Tv is a marriage. “Breaking Bad” inspired me to propose. I will keep this in mind for my own tv pilot.’
‘Silver Linings Playbook – What encouraged me about David O Russell’s film is that it proves a half decent script and a comparatively low budget always outshines an FX laden blockbuster. What challenged me was the way it completely re-defined the romantic comedy genre. It was edgy but never crossed the line in to discomfort. It reminded me that characterisation is the most important element in a compelling drama.’
‘The Place Beyond The Pines. I saw this in New York last month and was really impressed. It’s not at all typical of contemporary American cinema and made me wistful for the golden era of the 1970s. There was a proper focus on character with a strong theme of fathers and the legacy inherited by their sons. It had a bold and risky structure, using three consecutive protagonists but it worked because it was so thematically strong. Top notch performances from the cast and naturalistic direction. I wish the British were allowed to make film like this!
In the last year it has been tough, and as an armchair critic I am scathing of any programme that sacrifices characterisation on the altar of action or ‘edgy’ camerawork. If I were to pick one drama it would have to be ‘Accused’ (Jimmy McGovern) – a series of brilliantly written, interlocking but standalone dramas that manage to move the pace along but don’t deny the viewer the chance to find out about the characters. ‘Tracie’s Story’ was superb – Sean Bean gave his character ‘body’ and a good deal of pathos.’
‘BROADCHURCH – slow burn allowing to watch characters develop. Liked how the killer was unveiled at the end.’
‘Lots of TV drama to choose this year – Mad Dogs, The Fall, The Returned – but I would say Hannibal. It’s incredibly well thought-out, with every piece of dialogue or action adding to the overall advancement of the plot or throwing light on the characters.
It has a rich list of characters and arcs, which intertwine in meaningful ways. It’s a wonderful new take on familiar characters, which expands the already rich world of Thomas Harris. Will Graham, Chilton, Crawford, doomed FBI agent Miriam Lass who is a knowing pre-cursor to the Clarice Starling character in Harris’ later work, and of course an interestingly sick new serial killer each week.
The acting is superb, particularly Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter. It’s nice and bloody too, putting CSI and Bones and their ilk in the ha’penny place.’
‘Rust and Bone. Delicate, complex, bleak and underwritten. All of which I aspire to. It inspires me.’
‘The Life of PI: With the special effects aside it was a story that left me thinking and questioning even days after viewing. It gave me renewed vigour as with much of my work I like to leave the viewer/reader wanting to know more and feeling like they really have just looked through a window into someone’s life.’
Thank you so much to all of you for all these brilliant contributions.
And my recommendation for this week…
‘Mint’ by Clare Lizziemore at the Royal Court theatre – a really excellent piece of writing, a beautifully-observed story of a young man in prison, his relationships with his family. It’s closed now – part of the Royal Court’s ‘weekly rep’ season – but you can download it for free from www.nickhernbooks.co.uk until July 20th – well worth a read.
If you’re London-based or anywhere near, I really recommend the Royal Court as a source of great writing. Particularly under new artistic director Vicki Featherstone, it looks like they’re going to be doing a lot of exciting work. (with new plays lined up by Abi Morgan, Dennis Kelly and C4 course 2013 alumnus Rachel De-Lahay)
Incidentally if you enjoy these weekly newsletters (and if you’ve got this far I’m assuming you do – unless this is really masochistic writerly procrastination) then I’d be enormously grateful if you’d spread the word to any potentially like-minded people via Re-tweets, forwarded emails, facebook ‘shares’ or however you’d like to do it.
In advance – thank you very much!
Until next week,
All the best
July 12th 2013