This week, a day early, a slightly incoherent (which is to do with my inability to write fast enough or make sense of my scribblings – Charlie Brooker is wonderfully coherent) but hopefully interesting account of the brilliant CHARLIE BROOKER’s session at the London Screenwriters Festival.
I also want to say a huge thank you to everyone who submitted a script for the 2015 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE. Entries closed on Monday at 6pm and the steady trickle of scripts turned into a flood on the last couple of days. 1300 scripts received in all – but well over 500 on Monday alone! It’s amazing how we all need an imminent deadline to concentrate our minds!
Along with a dedicated team of readers I’ve started reading the scripts and I’ve already enjoyed 4 or 5 outstanding ones – I always find this month of reading the submitted scripts a very exciting process.
The downside of it is that I know we’re going to disappoint 1288 writers. If you don’t hear back from us by mid-December (and I apologise that we’re not able to contact everyone individually) you should console yourself with the fact that the process is inevitably highly subjective – and that another team of readers would probably choose 12 completely different writers. You need to keep putting your script out there because it doesn’t matter how many times you don’t get through in schemes like the C4 course – you only need one person to like your script and get behind it, however many other people have passed on it.
LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL PART II
‘I have this terrible fear that I’m not doing enough.’
‘I f***ing hate writing. I love the ideas side of it. Love having written…Myriad distractions…Being a writer’s both the best job I could ever have and it’s a complete f***ing curse.’
The high is – Thank f*** I’ve finished that – like the feeling you have when you’ve had a massive pooh. Speaking of which –
A TOUCH OF CLOTH
‘It’s like Airplane for cop shows. Naked Gun for British crime dramas. I’m lucky in that I’ve done all sorts of different writing. We bought the rights to an unproduced 3 hour mini-series crime script by Boris Starling (Writer of the MESSIAH series of novels). Then used that for ‘drawing nobs on’. Aping Sunday night crime dramas, the sort of shows that bang on about ‘the banality of evil’ but are in fact just weird and pornographic.’
They used the Boris Starling scripts as the basis plot-wise, but simplified it. He watched compilations of different stock police scenes eg whole selection of police morgue scenes together with no context. ‘When you watch them like this they become inherently ridiculous.’ The writers watched them collaboratively, made a list of what was funny.
‘The Taliban rule’ – none of the characters could acknowledge that what was going on was weird. Before a take Jim O’Hanlan the director would remind them that they were in the most serious crime drama ever. They had to play it straight.
He was on set for a lot of T of C – there were for instance sight gags that needed explaining. Strangely they were shooting T of C at the same time as BLACK MIRROR. The set of T of C was much more tense and serious. Laughter was banned in front of the camera on T of C – the approach had to be deadly serious for it to work as comedy.
BM and TofC came from similar parts of the brain in that the best stories came from ideas that made me laugh. ‘The National Anthem’ came from watching ‘24’. The idea of the PM having to have sex with a pig on TV to save the life of the princess was like a spoof of ‘24’. This was actually a late stand-in story that replaced a story that C4 changed their mind about (about war). He pitched the ‘National Anthem’ idea to Jay Hunt who liked it. It was deliberately structured like an episode of 24.
‘I thought it would be jokier – but it made more sense to play it straight like a horror movie.’ Like ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ ‘weird delight in humiliation.’ It seemed more interesting to make the PM a victim, sympathetic.
The quickest episode to write was ‘Be Right Back.’ He talked about following through the logic of the steps – if this happened to you as a person. ‘I often get bored by exposition, takes you out of the reality of it.’ Always about not having to answer those questions when you don’t have to write exposition that you may have to address if it was the 2 hour movie version. Closing things off. Hiding technology so the audience don’t start asking the questions you don’t want them to. And this was forced on them by budget – a lot easier to shoot this story if it happens in the rural middle of nowhere. It was about – you can’t go back, but you would pick that scab.
‘The Entire History Of You’ originally envisaged by Jesse Armstrong as bigger scale of story. But the kitchen-sink version is more relatable, more interesting & immediate. What can seem to be a massive (budget) restriction is an advantage. The technology is never the villain. It’s about a person with a flaw who picks up the technology.
One of the inspirations for BM was ‘The Twilight Zone.’ CB a big fan of so many of these TV shows. He talked about how The Twilight Zone was Rod Serling writing about contemporary ideas about the US at the time but wrapping them up in high-concept sci-fi stories. The way into Black Mirror was thinking about similarly contemporary stories. Exploring issues of the day, funny ‘What If’ ideas.
‘Fifteen Million Merits’ started out as a sarcastic version of society now, ‘it weirdly wrote itself! Now I try to plan it out, be more disciplined. It flowed from the idea of a scene of a guy on a call surrounded by giant i-pads.’
‘The Waldo Moment’ – a lighter episode. ‘The idea was better than the script.’
He talked about how it is a weird time politically at the moment. There is disengagement from politics all around the world. Weird that ‘The Waldo Moment’ has sort of come true with Russell Brand as a revolutionary politician.
They have just finished shooting a new Christmas special Black Mirror, starring John Hamm from MAD MEN. The premise – ‘What if you could block someone in real life like you can on twitter.’ It’s about playing out the consequences of that.
‘Most TV shows are about reassuring people – I like shows where you come out feeling fucking devastated and churned up.’
As a writer, he thinks it’s really helpful on the production to have a say in all different departments, and to think about everything in a practical way, thinking about the budget, the edit, etc. He says he’s not media literate, he doesn’t watch enough TV, he’s way behind with all the new shows. ‘If I’m watching something shit, it’s annoying. If I’m watching something brilliant it’s even more depressing.
Motivated by wanting to entertain. In his writing, he hopes there’s a point to it – ‘superhero stories don’t tell me anything about anything’. Hopefully TofC is saying something about crime drama, and Black Mirror is about something. You always want people to be surprised.
Political satire – there’s a gap where there used to be Spitting Image – but it’s a strange time – a strange nihilism and despair around politics – what ‘The Waldo Moment’ was trying to say. In the ‘80’s ideological lines were clearer. He talked about NATHAN BARLEY which he co-wrote with Chris Morris.
Advice to writers – just do a little bit regularly and you don’t know what might come of it.
Black Mirror has sold all around the world – its messages seem to be universal.
Forthcoming Charlie Brooker projects on TV – Black Mirror Christmas Special, End of year Wipe show + more wipe shows in the new year.
Until next week
All the best
Nov 6th 2014