29 April, 2009

"If you're trying to write a screenplay, use a Kitchen Timer!"

MakingOf:

"KITCHEN TIMER" by Don Roos

The principle of Kitchen Timer is that every writer deserves a definite and do-able way of being and feeling successful every day. To do this, we learn to judge ourselves on behavior rather than content. (We leave content to our unconscious; experience will teach us to trust that.) We set up a goal for ourselves as writers which is easy, measurable, free of anxiety, and fail-proof, because everyone can sit, and an hour will always pass.

Here's how it works:"

Article in full


MakingOf is a new project launched by Natalie Portman and Christine Aylward that aims to show all angles of the filmmaking industry. It aims to provide an "intimate, fresh look into the process of making a movie by the insiders themselves."

Natalie Portman: "We started MakingOf because we realized that so much of what goes into entertainment creation is unavailable to the people who love and consume it the most. We wanted to give fans a way to experience that creation and learn from the insiders and thus MakingOf was born."

26 April, 2009

William Goldman, screenwriter, interviews

The Guardian:

Perhaps it's no surprise that William Goldman, the world's greatest and most famous living screenwriter, author of Marathon Man, Misery, The Princess Bride and All the President's Men, and subject of this week's South Bank Show, refers to critics as "failures and whores".

In the late-60s, Goldman sold his first original screenplay - a little script called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - to 20th Century Fox for $400,000, a record at the time. Goldman, already a successful literary novelist who'd shown his gift for cinema by adapting Harper from a Ross McDonald book, felt the fee justified the eight years of research he'd put into the story, not to mention the script's commercial potential. But film critics, particularly those from Goldman's adopted home of New York, didn't agree. Apparently resentful of his big payday, the New Yorker review appeared under the headline "The Bottom of the Pit".

Article in full

The South Bank Show,
ITV1, Sunday 10:15pm

25 April, 2009

Word of Mouth: "Shifty"


"Riz Ahmed (Britz, Dead Set) takes the title role of Shifty, a thriller charting an action packed 24 hours in the life of a young crack cocaine dealer on the outskirts of London. The sudden return home of his best friend sets in motion a chain of events that see Shiftys life quickly spiral out of control. Stalked by a customer desperate to score at all costs, and with his family about to turn their back on him for good, Shifty must out-run and out-smart a rival drug dealer intent on setting him up. As his long time friend Chris, played by Daniel Mays (The Bank Job, Plus One), confronts the dark past he left behind him, Shifty is forced to face up to the violent future he's heading fast towards."

I only saw this to support low budget British film but Shifty is an actual properly written movie that's brilliantly directed by a film-maker that cares about his audience and doesn't take the piss. It shouldn't be this rare.

What little I knew about the film before seeing it was that Eran Creevy was a first-time writer-director and so I was surprised at the confidence and skill in his shot choices. It turns out that the hyphenate is a hot commercials and music video director, helmed two of my all-time favourites for Utah Saints (nice concept and execution) and for Alex Gaudino (erm...great art design and editing! ahem).


I've long said that once you get the script right in low and micro-budget then everything else will follow including attracting quality actors and crew willing to work for minimum wage and more chance of getting a distribution deal at the end of it. The 100,000 budget would have been a 500,000-750,000 budget under normal circumstances, which still doesn't seem that much, to be honest.

Microwave, Film London's mico-budget scheme, nurtured Creevy through script development and provided him with a script editor. Being optimistic, this movie may change the anti- script /script-development culture amongst low-budget film-makers in the UK.

Shifty's setting is illegal drugs and crime and yet avoids the clichés usually associated with the genre and feels true. This is because the characters are developed and detailed. Rather then explaining everything immediately the audience is allowed to piece things together themselves. Why Chris left in the first place is a mystery and it comes out in conflict. Shifty doesn't explain what he's doing at his brother's but it comes out in conflict.

The other thing I noticed was the use of sub-plots as we follow Chris and Shifty but also Trevor, the stalking customer, and his home life which added depth without distracting. Creegy economically establishes motivation with both Trevor and his wife. She has a couple of wordless scenes in the bathroom which reveal a lot. In terms of character and story.

So many films of the genre are let down by the contrivances used to conclude the story but that isn't the case with Shifty, which keeps it real. Although I have minor issues with a couple of things in the story, there is nothing like the giant plot holes in the otherwise excellent London to Brighton, for instance.

Because the British audience is now very wary of low-budget British film even brilliant ones could end up being one-week wonders at the box office just like the bad ones but hopefully positive word of mouth will kick in to give it at least two weeks.

As I was coming out of the movie theatre this bloke was immediately on the phone to his mates, telling them to see it.
To save my phone bill, I'm doing this blog instead:

Shifty is highly recommended. See it this weekend if you can and if you have a Cineworld Unlimited card see it more than once as it could be our film needing the support one day.


Official site

Eran Creevy interview (The Scotsman)
Eran Creevy interview (Film Detail)
Eran Creevy interview (Movies.ie)


24 April, 2009

Preview: "Reggie Perrin"


"A modern-day update of the classic British sitcom The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, starring Martin Clunes in the title role, comes to BBC One. He leads an impressive cast including Fay Ripley (Cold Feet), Wendy Craig (Butterflies, The Royal), Geoffrey Whitehead (Worst Week Of My Life), Neil Stuke (Game On) and Lucy Liemann (Moving Wallpaper).

Reggie Perrin retells the story of a sales executive on the edge – an average man finding it increasingly difficult to put up with the monotony of life, the disappointing marriage, the office grind as head of disposable razors at male-grooming firm Groomtech and the daily commute. Rebellion begins to build in his mind, in the form of increasingly surreal flights of fancy, and slowly, Reggie begins to say what he really thinks – to his wife, his boss, his fellow commuters ... and, most dangerously of all, to his new colleague, Jasmine Strauss." BBC

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David Nobbs, Daily Mail article:

"The BBC was excited by the prospect of a new series, and a pilot script was commissioned. By this time I had realised that, living in a small North Yorkshire village, I might not be as up to date with the minutiae of the urban and suburban nightmare as I was when I lived in Barnet, North London. Maybe it would be foolish to do the whole thing on my own this time.

When Simon Nye, of Men Behaving Badly fame, was suggested as a co-writer, I jumped at it, and luckily so did he.

One problem was the nature of Reggie's job. Exotic ices just weren't on. In food-mad, celebrity-chef-riddled modern Britain, no food is too exotic, so we settled on male grooming products. Perfect: a modern industry creating a whole range of products that were suddenly necessary even though men had got by perfectly happily without most of them for thousands of years.

It was time to produce a draft script. Since I had, in a sense, done the first draft 33 years ago, it made sense for Simon to have a crack at the new one. He created a range of characters who were quite different from the originals, yet performed similar functions. Is this a remake, or is it a new series loosely based on my original? I'd say it's a cross between the two.

Simon must take a great deal of the credit for this new creation. I could never have got as far away from the original as Simon has, and I think it was necessary to do so to breathe life into a 2009 version. "

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David Nobbs, The Times:

“Reggie strikes a chord with people because a lot us feel the same way. I know from correspondence I received at the time of the original that viewers found the story cathartic. Seeing Reggie's plight, viewers felt relief - they thought: ‘thank God I'm not alone'. Comedy is a very broad church. The comedy that interests me the most could, with just the smallest changes, be rewritten as tragedy.”

Simon Nye, The Times:

“ I think it's always best to feel there is something at stake in a comedy. You need to sense that at any moment this could go horribly wrong. I'm all for Marx Brothers madcappery, but it's also great when viewers empathise with characters' predicaments and genuinely feel sorry for them.”

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David Nobbs and Simon Nye interview, The Independent

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Fridays, BBC1, 9:30pm for 6 weeks
(repeated Saturdays 9:40pm)

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23 April, 2009

"Why Hollywood has no iTunes for movies"

Los Angeles Times:

"Why has Hollywood been so slow to put its movies and TV shows online? I get asked that question all the time, but never found a simply way to offer the answer. In fact, there isn't a simple answer. But Slate's crackerjack technology columnist Farhad Manjoo offers the most persuasive explanation I've seen yet in this post about why there's no iTunes for movies.

As Manjoo notes, almost anyone living in an apartment or home equipped with a fast Internet connection has the ability to download an hourlong TV show in 10 minutes, a movie in about 15. But there's no current service that allows an enthusiastic consumer to make use of all that bandwidth. As Manjoo confesses: "I would gladly pay a hefty monthly fee for this wonderful service -- if someone would take my money. In reality, I pay nothing because no company sells such a plan. Instead, I've been getting my programming from the friendly BitTorrent peer-to-peer network. Pirates aren't popular these days, but let's give them this -- they know how to put together a killer on-demand entertainment system."

Article in full

"Indie Films Suffer Drop-Off in Rights Sales"

Wall Street Journal:

"In the latest challenge to the American movie business, a crucial source of funding for independent films -- sales of foreign-distribution rights -- is rapidly drying up.

For decades, independent movie producers in the U.S. have routinely been able to fund their films by selling the rights to distribute them abroad. If the production featured a big-name actor or director, the rights were often sold before the movie was finished, providing producers with 50% or more of their production budget.

But today, due to factors ranging from the credit crunch to burgeoning online piracy, even the biggest names aren't always enough to sell an American film abroad."

Article in full

21 April, 2009

Credit crunched competitions?

Bridge International Screenplay Competition have emailed me saying they have a half-price sale on competition fees. The deadline is 29 April and the discount is supposed to end tomorrow (22 April).

Their fees were always quite reasonable anyway (plus you get waived fees for next year's competitions) so it made me wonder why. Also I think Blue Cat have added an extra month to the deadline of their competition (1 May) that wasn't there when I added the comp to my Deadlines Calendar months ago.

I'm curious how much the credit crunch has impacted the competitions or will writers always find the money for entry fees.

19 April, 2009

Feelings

Amanda the Aspiring TV Writer:

"I want you to think about tracking the feelings of your characters. It's a note I've gotten a few times and it's starting to sink in. Sometimes we think about our scripts in terms of plot, and that's certainly understandable - but how do your characters feel about all the things that are happening? What are their greater emotional journeys and arcs? Do they feel differently in the end than they did in the beginning? Is there consistency? If there are changes in feelings, are they on purpose? Understanding what our characters are feeling is an important step in understanding their motivations, and thus being able to root for (or at least be interested in following) people. That's how I see it, at least."

That's how I see it as well. Anything in a plot can be justified and given depth through character emotion. Absolutely anything.

18 April, 2009

Writing for TV


(This is a sample article from the new Moviescope magazine which has just hit news-stands. See here for full contents and other sample articles.)

Rick Drew:

"I recently had a conversation with an Emmy-winning showrunner who was struggling to keep his series on the air after its creative momentum was crippled by last year’s WGA strike.

“Series television is like a woman getting fucked by a dog. It’s not an assault, mind you—she likes it. And she gives birth to this formless wet hairy thing. No one knows what it is, so a committee is formed to decide its fate. At first they want to kill it but then they realise if they can fix it, they can sell it. And so while this thing is still struggling to survive, they begin to operate on it. Cut off a limb, add a tail, change its nose, move the eyes around… And between each procedure the thing almost dies, but they continue attempting to reshape it before it gets a chance to recover. That’s series television.”

Unfortunately, his show died on the operating table this season. It deserved a better fate but it never stood a chance.

I have written a few movies in my time and over a hundred episodes of various television genres from westerns to sitcoms to sci-fi, but nothing prepared me for the harrowing experience of seeing my first television pilot produced. After eighteen months of development, and countless meetings and decisions, it finally came down to shooting the script, which, after all it had been through, was the only merciful thing to do. Usually the production of the script is the end of the process, but I soon found out it was only the beginning."

Article in full


16 April, 2009

Micro-budget help and information

Film London, in association with the BBC, Skillset and UKFC have a pretty and practical site for those of us thinking of going down the micro-budget route.

It has a few case studies for inspiration and useful resources including distribution guides. They've called it "Microwave ". Geddit? "Micro" as is "micro"-budget and then "wave" as in holding your hand in the air and moving it from side to side.

15 April, 2009

"Five-a-Day for writers"

The Rouge Wave:

"And here are the five areas of your writing life that for my money, are going to collectively bring a career into focus.

  1. Write
  2. Promote
  3. Network
  4. Learn
  5. Live well

Article in full


14 April, 2009

Word of Mouth: "Let The Right One In" ("Låt den rätte komma in")


"Oscar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire." (IMDB)

The childrens' film, The Little Vampire , where a boy befriends a vampire, always seemed just so very wrong. It was daft and dodges the death thing. Let The Right One In, a new Swedish update, goes for the realism route, although there are some people saying they would let their kids see it. Don't worry, I've already called social services on them.

This award-laden movie, adapted from his own novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, uses vampire lore and has a character who is a vampire but it's not a "vampire film" as such. It has an original story that surprises in places.

Horror without psychological truth is pointless unless you're just a SFX fan and the screenwriter does very well with the characterisation of his leads Oskar and Eli, although he is helped considerably by awesome acting. Throughout we're getting insights into being a bullied kid or a pre-teen vampire, that we might not have thought of but can see it's true. The supernatural elements are grounded in the everyday of human relationships.


Where the screenplay falls down is the psychological truth regarding a minor character. Suffice to say, slightly spoilery, this character berates a eyewitness for not calling the police and then later when he's a eyewitness himself he doesn't call them for no given reason. But he only needed one line of dialogue and everything would have been hunky-dorey. Minor characters have to be just as real as the main characters.

However despite that minor hiccup I still recommend this film, not just for the fine screenwriting and acting I've mentioned but for the photography, design and direction.

As a side note, I was a bit outraged that the UK Film Council started spending money on distributing foreign films as opposed to making British films but this release is a beneficiary of that scheme so I'm eating humble pie and hopefully it will make its way all over the UK eventually.

10 April, 2009

Euroscript RomCom Evening (London)

Tuesday 5 May

6.00 to 9.30pm

Tutor: Charles Harris

What better way to spend a Spring evening?

RomCom can vary from up-beat and joyful all the way to sharp, sassy and even darkly cynical. The genre can happily include everything from the most off- beat TV sitcom through to some of the greatest (and most insightful) comedies the movies have created.

In this, the second of six popular genre evenings, we survey the comedy field and look at the three key types of comedy - what they require and how writers need to approach each of the three in a very different way. We discuss how RomCom can be mangled in the wrong hands, and how a writer who understands the genre can create great, satisfying enjoyable cinema.

We will also help you tease out which genre or genres are at work in your own projects, and give advice and feedback on how to strengthen their effect and make them work to the advantage of the script.

Come and talk RomCom and we will help you clarify your genre and deliver your story in surprising and satisfying ways.

A must-do workshop.

Maximum 12 per class.

Charles Harris is an experienced award-winning writer-director for cinema and TV who has worked with top names in the industry from James Stewart to Spike Milligan, Ricky Tomlinson and Alexei Sayle. As script consultant, he has helped writers from Britain, Europe and USA, sat on BAFTA awards juries and lectured on MA courses at London University and London Film School.

VENUE
London Welsh Centre
157/163 Grays Inn Road
London WC1X 8UE (map)

DATE
Tuesday May 5
Registration 6.00pm
Workshop 6.15 to 9.30pm

PRICES
UKP 45 each (UKP 41 - WGGB, DGGB, WIFTV, WriterNet)

Book online now: http://www.euroscript.co.uk/genrecourse.html

Please note, places are strictly limited to ensure personal feedback.

FURTHER DETAILS
Email charles.harris *at* euroscript. co.uk or phone: 020 7435 1330.

Join our mailing list!
www.euroscript.co.uk

London Olympics Destroying British Film

While we've always known that the London Olympics will need to steal money from charities up and down the country - effectively snatching cash from the sick and poor and widows and orphans - Screen Daily reports on something far worse happening:

"The UK Film Council is facing a $33m (£22m) cut in lottery funding over the next five years as money is diverted away from film to pay for the London Olympics. The cuts will mean an expected 15% reduction in the amount of lottery money available to British film - a drop of around $6.5m (£4.4m) a year." (Screen Daily)

09 April, 2009

Speccing existing shows

Addy puts forward the case for the UK to follow the US in how producers choose scripts. At the moment in Britain you get work by writing an original spec which doesn't really prove you can write other people's characters.

The counter-argument from producers has been that they want to see the writer's own voice. However, the writers with original voices stand out on continuing drama on the BBC as they do on HBO or Channel 7. Why wouldn't they stand-out in spec scripts?

Stewie is a member of a writers group whch gives him a writing assignment each month. For March he had to "write a spec episode of a current UK TV series.". On the surface it might seem a complete waste of time but just as in the States producers now want to see original pilot specs in portfolios, there are producers over here who now want to see a spec of an existing show - even their own show.

But even if I were to reveal who those producers/shows were, it's actually a brilliant writing exercise in its own right which not only gives us an insight into what the process is all about but by 'shadowing' an existing show we are also learning how to create our own.

Although, there are some gorgeous drama press packs out there (take a bow ITV for taking my stroppy email to heart.) I would recommend not using them and creating a bible from the show itself - from what the characters actually say and do. There's other things to bear in mind such as the locations used and the structure of each episode in terms of A, B and C storylines.

05 April, 2009

Soundtrack

Casiokids - Fot i Hose



Red Light Company - Arts & Crafts

02 April, 2009

Preview: "The Inbetweeners"


I was going to begin by mentioning the parlous state of British sitcoms but actually we've got several good shows at the moment including Moving Wallpaper, The Old Guys, The IT Crowd, FM, Gavin and Stacey, No Heroics, Peep Show, Free Agents and The Inbetweeners - which returns for a second series tonight.

The Inbetweeners is created and written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris who are veteran comedy producers. In fact I was in contact with Morris when he was comedy commissioning editor at Channel 4. He wanted to produce my sitcom but wasn't prepared to up his offer so I turned him down.



The show is about teenage boys on the cusp of adulthood. The first series was seen through the eyes of Will McKenzie who was new to the school and ends up accidentally becoming friends with three other lads. It takes risks, it's confident but most importantly it's laugh out loud funny.

In the first episode of the show one of the characters has an Australian fake ID in the name of "Bret Clement". Co-incidentally one of the best episodes of the second series of Flight of the Conchords, featuring Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement, was written by them.

The Inbetweeners, E4, Thursdays, 10:00pm


01 April, 2009

What the Papers Say: "All the Small Things"


Andrew Billen, The Times

If television still made plays, I would have a great idea for one.In a complacent rural community there is this church choir. Its members come together to sing not to worship, but it isn't really about the singing either, it is about the coming together. Then, one day, this pretty young woman joins and she has the voice of an angel. Her soaring notes stoke soaring ambitions in the choirmaster. Soon he has left his dowdy wife for her and is entering the choir in singing competitions that he is intent on winning. The community is divided, his family destroyed, the choir no longer a nice place to meet. And all because of this woman with the voice of an angel is, I reveal in a shocking and macabre late scene, the Devil herself who knows an opportunity when she sees one. It would be a Joanna Trollope meets Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle. The piece would be called, cleverly I think, All the Best Tunes.

Alas, I cannot write this play because Debbie Horsfield came up with most of these elements and used them to write what, if she is not careful, is going to be a dippy primetime serial called All the Small Things. The set up is there, the Derbyshire choir that muddles along with Neil Pearson as the choirmaster Michael, Sarah Lancashire as his wife Esther and a host of minor characters who could have come from The Vicar of Dibley except the BBC has stuck its hand into the barrel of political correctness and plucked out a black guy with learning difficulties, a dwarf, and a son somewhere on what we doctors call the autistic spectrum.

The first 20 minutes of bad singing and cosiness counted among the longest in my professional television watching career but things picked up with the arrival of the angelic-voiced crumpet Layla (Sarah Alexander) whom I shall hereafter refer to as BDG (Badly Dubbed Girl). Suddenly Michael's forgetfulness about his 20th wedding anniversary looks less sitcom cute. His rationalisation for leaving his wife is outrageous: she is throwing herself away on him, the kids, the choir and her Harry Potter novels. She must find herself, and to do so, he must leave.

For about 20 minutes the thing doesn't exactly fizz, but there is carbonisation present. Pearson, as usual, is excellent as a man unable to plumb the depths of his own shallowness and no one, of course, does suffering forbearance better than the great Lancashire. When Michael's new choir is beaten in the singing competition by his own son's rock ensemble and BDG turns out to be a horribly bad loser, we are in line for a good, old-fashioned Richard Curtis ending with Michael getting back with Esther. But the BBC does not do plays, not even sappy ones, so this thing will span out over another five weeks as the Michael v Esther Show with the two of them running rival choirs. My idea, and even the sappy Richard Curtis resolution would have been better.

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Lucy Mangan, The Guardian

All The Small Things (BBC1), the latest offering from Debbie Horsfield, the creator of Making Out, The Riff Raff Element and Cutting It, should be renamed Trouble at t'Choir. Ironing-loving soprano Esther (Sarah Lancashire, still for many of us trailing clouds of the glorious Raquel Wolstenhulme from her late 90s stint in Coronation Street) and her husband Michael (Neil Pearson, who has broken out his almost-northern accent for the occasion) run the local church choir in an unspecified northern town we will call for the duration Much Warbling. The choir is a contentedly amateur outfit, comprising largely people who can be trusted to turn up on time rather than to make a joyful noise, in the same key, to the Lord. Thus it was, is now and shall be evermo ...

But wait. What's this? It's a newcomer, Leila, who is not only blessed with the lissom form of Sarah Alexander (Green Wing, Coupling) but, as a rather startling impromptu audition in the aisle reveals, a voice that makes Kathleen Ferrier sound like someone kicking a rusty bucket down the street. Hope and happiness break out over Michael's face as he envisages the hours of aural pleasure she will give him. The same emotions drain rapidly from the viewer's face as she realises that this means 60 minutes of watching an actor mime, guppy-like, to Haydn's Creation. Such are the perils of choir-based drama. Esther, a much nicer woman, smiles contentedly. Among the older, wiser wives in the choir stalls there is the faint but unmistakable sounds of bosoms being shifted in preparation for battle.

Leila's in and, of course, Esther is out. Within minutes Michael has performed a volte-face that I imagine had Pearson sitting at home sifting vainly through the script in search of his missing motivation, crying "How ... ? Where ... ? What the ... !?", and gone from devoted family man to lambasting his wife for being too predictable ("When was the last time you bought a new perfume?"), to moving out. He is then free to succumb to Leila's charms, which he duly does. He does not notice, alas, that although her eyes are beautiful, they are also heavily tinged with madness.

Though her friends, neighbours and their bosoms rally round, Esther must now cope with life on her own. One of the children, Kyle, suffers from Broadbrush Asperger's Symptoms and only really loves music. So, after dropping a single bitter tear over the ironing, Esther gets to work forming a band for him, and enters them in the same music festival as the choir. They win, which unleashes Leila's inner nutjob, and she goes crawling over the seated rows to tear their throats out.

After the competition - and, in the privacy of his own home, I suspect, another scream of agony from Pearson - Michael rounds on his wife (who sang offstage in the band), accusing her of seeking the limelight and attempting to destroy his life, liberty and happiness. "So be it," he intones darkly, the Julius Caesar of Much Warbling. "From now on - we are in Direct Competition!"

All The Small Things occasionally showed signs of thickening into a nourishing soup - a lovely scene between Pearson and Lancashire in the bedroom here, a subtle evocation of the dark side of ambition and the advantages of amateurism there, and a turn by Roy Barraclough as the vicar just for the fun of it. But then it would become rapidly diluted by watery nonsense. Things may improve next week. At the very least, the trailers promise that Clifford, the choir's simpleton, will get to sing. As he is played by Clive Rowe, this holds no guppy terrors, only delight.

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Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent

There are few things quite as sickly as an ostentatiously happy marriage, and the one you got at the beginning of All the Small Things was so smugly cheerful that the Radio Times should have stapled a waterproof bag alongside Tuesday's programme details. Esther and Michael, we discover, are celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary, an occasion marked by a surprise chorale of "Nobody Does It Better", arranged by Esther with the help of the choir that Michael runs. And when she finds out that he hasn't got anything to offer in return for this heartwarming gesture, she doesn't pout or get cross, she dissolves into affectionately scandalised giggles and they have a play fight that ends in bed. Even when she disagrees with him she does it while snuggling up to him and staring adoringly into his eyes. Curiously, her children don't make the loud retching noises with which my own teenagers greet any display of parental affection, but perhaps after 20 years of this syrupy stuff they've had time to get used to it.

Fortunately, this being a Debbie Horsfield drama, you know it couldn't last for long. Debbie Horsfield does relationship angst, and rivalry complicated by relationship angst, so barely 10 minutes had passed before Layla was beamed into the drama, played by Sarah Alexander with those sexy humanoid cat's eyes and a celestial voice that, judging from the weird lip-sync, was being transmitted from her home planet. "I should warn you, I'm very slow," she purred suggestively, after Michael unceremoniously bumped Esther from her solo spot to give it to Layla. "I need a lot of rehearsal." She got it and next thing you knew Michael was standing moodily in the marital bedroom, having a go at Esther for liking cocoa and Harry Potter. "When was the last time you travelled, or learnt a new skill or brought a new perfume? When do you ever step outside your comfort zone?"

Do we have a suspicion of where we're headed to from here? I rather think we do, don't we? Poor dumped Esther is going to blossom and Michael is going to be punished, although the speed with which Horsfield had the worm turn was dizzying, as if the drama's storyboard had come out of a double-page spread from a Bunty comic. Determined to bring her withdrawn (possibly autistic) son out of his shell, Esther set up a choir of her own, roped in her pony-tailed neighbour (who, I'm guessing, will declare his adoration some time around episode three) and entered the local music competition. And no sooner had Michael turned to Layla and said, "Oh my angel... I think I can visualise that trophy on my bedside table tonight" than Esther's scratch chorus had brought the crowd to its feet with a version of Blink-182's "All the Small Things" that was heart-warming, uplifting, life-affirming and a number of other unsettling adjectives. And, wouldn't you know it, the backstage tussle as Layla tried to pull the plugs on their amplification accidentally brought up a spotlight on Esther, shyly trying to lurk in the shadows. Some of the singing was quite fun, but dear Lord you paid a heavy price to get to it.

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Overnights: 4.6m viewers (20% share)

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BBC Press pack

Debbie Horsfield interview, Daily Telegraph

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Catch up with iPlayer