27 November, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Cast Offs"


Lucy Mangan, The Guardian

"Cast Offs is a new comedy-drama from Channel 4 about a fictional reality show about six disabled people (played by actors who share their characters' disabilities), voluntarily marooned on a British island. Each episode focuses on a different character, their backstory alternating with scenes from their stranded present; last night belonged to wheelchair-bound Dan, beautifully played by Peter Mitchell. The show-within-a-show conceit so far seems unnecessary: just as the flashback narrative is drawing us in (last night's was full of tough and tender details of life as a newly disabled man), everything stops for stilted banter on the island. Unless this is intended to do something as crass as prove that disabled people can be as dislikable as any non-disabled reality show contestants, it seems pointless. Maybe this strand will reach the standard set by the other element soon – the second episode is tonight, so we shall see."

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Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent

"Cast Offs
, Channel 4's new drama about six disabled people comes with a narrative scaffolding designed to get you over any viewer prejudice that might be aroused by the phrase "drama about six disabled people". It presents itself as a kind of Big Brother reality exercise, in which a selection pack of the "differently abled" are marooned on an island for three months to see how they survive. "This isn't a camping trip, April..." said one of the participants. "We're here to prove something." One of the things they're there to prove, it seems, is that the disabled can be just as dirty-minded and grumpy and clumsy in the face of disability as anyone else – the early scenes offering a positive orgy of political incorrectness of various kinds. That's all a little laborious, as is the reality show armature itself, which is never used to satirise television itself (as it might easily have been) but only as a way of getting these very disparate people into one place, so that they can have flashbacks about their ordinary lives. But the flashbacks are surprisingly good, far exceeding the gimmick that has winched them into place.

Each episode cuts between ensemble scenes on the island and a more focused version of one character's back story. Last night, it was Dan's turn and this account of a young man coming to terms with his paralysis was beautifully done, including some touching scenes between Dan and his parents, in which all the self-conscious gaminess of the island sequences dropped away to be replaced by something that looked awkwardly true to life. It may be that future episodes do more with the gimmicky frame, but for the moment it's what's inside it that's worth watching.

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Alex Hardy, The Times

"Jack Thorne, the lead creator of Cast Offs, has a mission statement for the taboo-breaking comedy drama in which six disabled people take up a Survivor-style reality TV challenge: “To get away from the usual patronising division of most disabled people on screen into ‘acerbic or tragic’.” Ushered into existence by writers of Skins, Shameless and The Thick of It pedigree, and reinforced at script-writing stage by the experiences of its disabled cast, there’s no reason for mission unaccomplished, right? But here’s the rub — and it’s possibly an easy trap to fall into when you’re trying to smash taboos — last night’s opener felt so heavy-handed that acerbity and tragedy ran through it like SodaStream bubbles.

If the main message was that disabled reality TV contestants can be just as odious as “normal” reality TV contestants, that was certainly achieved (although blind Mikey from Big Brother 9, with his vile shoutiness and nose picking, has already blazed that trail).

Filmed in mockumentary style, each of the six episodes focuses on one of the castaways. Last night we learnt that kindly Dan, recently made paraplegic by a car accident, was just as likely to be bullied on “Spastic Island” (their words) as by his wheelchair basketball team-mates back home. In flashbacks his chair-bound buddies stole his pants; now his reality show peers desert him, sans chair, on a dark beach after skinny-dipping, just as he was feeling at home with his new self. How could we not feel wretched for him?

The “comedy”, alas, wasn’t skilfully done. Deaf Gabby smited Carrie, a dwarf, for having a mouth too small to lip-read — but so often that it lost any comical smack. A clumsy layer of crude was then poured on; “little lips” becoming one of the show’s many too-easy euphemisms. Surprisingly, the writing became even more clunky when they tackled disability head-on: Dan used forced lines such as “old me, new me, f*** me” to describe his post-accident chagrins.

Its darkness, silences and quiet asides did much more to build genuine poignancy. Moments of Dan’s backstory were reminiscent of The Street — when a girl came home with him despite his wheelchair, his dad bobbed around with meerkat-on-Ritalin curiosity. This quietly delivered the message that disability is as much about people around you coming to terms with it as coming to terms with it yourself.

Some lovely lines flowed when the focus drew away from disability. Dan’s dad recounted that Dan’s accident happened when he lit a fag; his mum interjected, all motherly: “I didn’t even know he smoked.” The less we confronted the castaways’ physicality, the more intriguing they became. Deaf Gabby was most amusing when she was just the dappy-girl-on-reality-TV, saying things such as “I like fire”. Will drew us in by being ignored at the campfire — not by being thalidomide-affected.

Perhaps it was a mistake to start with Dan, who is more explicitly tragic because he’s still adapting to his own disability, so nice that he makes others look mean. Perhaps Cast Offs just isn’t well-written enough to fulfil its goals. Perhaps it’s me as a spectator who is still too self-conscious, not sure whether it’s OK to laugh at synchronised wheelchair dancing. Wherever the awkwardness lies, I’m intrigued enough to watch tonight’s episode, featuring blind Tom. Hopefully Cast Offs will grow more of the courage of its apparent conviction, and let the characters farther transcend their disabilities as it moves away from this harsh first-episode initiation."

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James Walton, Daily Telegraph

"None the less, at this stage, Channel 4’s Cast Offs (whose second episode is on tonight) looks much more promising. In theory, a comedy-drama about disabled people, with a disabled cast and two disabled writers, might imply something well-meaning but ultimately too pious. In practice, this one perhaps overestimates the shock value of disabled people being interested in sex – but otherwise goes about its business with an impressive lack of self-consciousness.

It even manages to rise above the clichéd framework of a fictional reality show: in this case one where Channel 4 has sent the characters to a remote island “to prove differently abled people can achieve self-sufficiency”. The supposed show itself is neatly interwoven with flashbacks to the participants’ lives in the months beforehand, creating an effect not unlike a plucky British version of Lost. The flashbacks duly illuminate the characters’ island behaviour, but with a cast of only six, and a series budget that would fund about three minutes of the average American drama.

In each episode too, the flashbacks will focus Lost-style on a different character. Last night it was the turn of Dan (Peter Mitchell), a young bloke from Northern Ireland recently paralysed from the waist down in a car crash. As we watched him building his new life, the strongest and certainly the most original sections concerned the clumsy attempts of his loving parents to put on a brave face. There was even the dark (and very courageous) suggestion that at some deep-buried level they were almost pleased that his disability meant he needed them again – just as he had when he was still their little boy."

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Catch up:

4oD


26 November, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Paradox"



Phil Hogan, The Observer

"
The clue was probably in the title, but even by the yardstick of plausibility cheerfully ignored by most popular TV sci-fi, the BBC's new five-part series Paradox hit new heights of trying one's patience. Still, I suppose we all love a mystery, and when rugged, unsmiling space scientist Dr Christian King suddenly started getting disturbing images streaming live on to the conveniently huge screens in his office, well, who wouldn't call the police? Look, a dead girl! And what was this – some sort of explosion, and a discarded mobile phone with this afternoon's time on it alongside close-ups of familiar but maddeningly not quite identifiable objects? Why, it almost seemed that someone was trying to tell us that something awful was going to happen in 10 hours, and that all we had to do was rearrange the above jpegs into a feasible local calamity!

Enter high-heeled, mini-skirted Detective Inspector Rebecca Flint (Tamzin Outhwaite), who after some preliminary dithering and obligatory sexual chemistry decided she could either dismiss Dr King as a scheming nutter ("Perhaps you have been overworking, Dr King… ") or accept that these visual fragments had somehow been blown from the near future into the present by last night's unusually blustery geomagnetic solar storms.

I don't know the current science on this, but as a chance natural phenomenon it did seem awfully selective in its choice of shots and narrative-friendly cropping of pictures. I mean, wouldn't you be more likely to get a dozen snaps of someone putting the bins out?

But DI Flint didn't have time to think. With the clock ticking down (and I'm afraid it was more Anneka Rice than Jack Bauer), she was busy charging around, trying to see which bit of the puzzle went where, though by the time she'd worked out that it was a petrol tanker hitting a railway bridge it was too late to save the day. Here was the dead girl after the explosion (excellent fireball effects), the mobile phone and the other clues. But what do you expect? Everybody knows you can't change the future once you've been given photographs of its contents. That would be just nonsense."

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Lucy Mangan, The Guardian


"In the first episode of FlashForward, the US series about an unexplained phenomenon that causes everyone in the world to black out for 137 seconds and receive visions of their future lives, CGI waste was laid to Los Angeles, London and several points in between. FBI agent Joseph Fiennes clambered among the burning wreckage of cars on the ruptured freeway and got busy launching a website that would unite everyone's visions. He soon had leads assembled that took in mysterious men in black in Detroit, incarcerated Nazis in Germany, mass crow deaths in Africa and conspiracy theories up the wazoo.

In the first episode of Paradox, BBC1's new series about an unexplained phenomenon that causes an astrophysicist's computer to receive images from space of events 18 hours in the future, the action centres around a forthcoming traffic accident at 8.33pm on the B204 between Tedsford and Marlingham. At first, I couldn't decide whether this made my heart fill with an unreasoning love or bitter, bitter hatred of Great Britain. As the programme unfolded, I settled, with regret, on the latter.

Detective Inspector Rebecca Flint (played by Tamzin Outhwaite) has 18 hours to piece together the computer's fragmentary images. It is a task that, to the viewer, seems to unfold in real time. Sometimes it is hard to believe that time is not actually going backwards, as exchanges such as this unfold: "You're a distinguished scientist, Dr King – it must be hard to admit you need help." "That's all you've got? You mouth platitudes and I'm supposed to confess?"

The future vision is of a fuel tanker hitting a bridge as a delayed train crosses it. That this is apparent to the viewer long before the investigators further aggravates the sensation that time and narrative are not running quite as they ought. Perhaps Paradox is the first meta- titled show. Or perhaps it is just not very good. Tune in last week to find out."

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Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent

"Sometimes you can predict déjà vu. The moment that Life on Mars became a big hit, for example, it was a pretty solid bet that within a couple of gestational cycles we'd be looking at another time-anomaly cop show, and sure enough here comes Paradox. You can't always predict how déjà vu will operate, though. The odds against Paradox getting commissioned would have been a lot stiffer if Life on Mars hadn't paved the way, but what you find yourself thinking of most frequently here is not that series but Minority Report, the Spielberg adaptation of Philip K Dick's story about policemen who solve crimes before they happen. Paradox begins in a futuristic research lab with a saturnine young man staring at a bank of television monitors. He looks curious... then quizzical... then mildly apprehensive... as something called the Prometheus Innovation Satellite Downlink spontaneously downloads a series of photographs of what looks like a civic disaster. It may occur to you at this point that the Prometheus Innovation Satellite Downlink offers a perfect acronym for the state you'd have to be in to take this kind of thing seriously. But ignore that thought. It isn't helpful.

The saturnine young man is called Christian King, a name that may or may not turn out to be theologically significant but in the meantime will give the chatroom theorists an appealing chew-toy. He is what you might call a geekopath, clearly brilliant, but adopting a Hannibal Lecterish air of lethal indifference to human concerns. If you were any ordinary detective inspector, called out to hear his veiled threats that something terrible was going to happen in just a few hours, you'd have him in a straitjacket before you could say "Unabomber". But Rebecca Flint (flinty, in a hot sort of way) isn't any ordinary DI. She decides to follow up the fragmentary clues PISD has supplied and decides that something awful is about to happen. Has King prearranged it all, as part of some murderous power game, or is something uncanny going on?

The pleasure for the audience here offers a variation on those teasing bits of Casualty when you see the epileptic crane operator beginning to swing a load of plate glass over a primary school playground. We have the enigmatic fragments of the catastrophe and are waiting to see how they will fit together to make a whole. Oh, no – look! The sweet guy who's been internet dating drives a propane lorry! And he's sleepy because he's been online all night! And his faulty sat-nav has just made him swerve towards the low-headroom railway bridge above which sits the stalled train of the man who was meant to be miles away by now! It's at this point in race-against-the-clock thrillers that disaster is often narrowly averted – major civic catastrophes being something of a strain on the special-effects budget. But I'm glad to say that, as this was a curtain-raiser and as it was important to convince the sceptics, they followed through on this occasion and delivered a really satisfactory train-wrecking explosion. "Is it going to happen again?" the shattered DI Flint asked King in the aftermath. Oh, I rather think so, love – at least four more times in the current run."

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Alex Hardy, The Times

"If Cast Offs was meant to be funny but wasn’t really, then Paradox had the opposite problem. In 18 hours something “cataclysmic” is going to happen — so say the Rumpelstiltskin-style riddles being laid by the mad space scientist whose lab has somehow “downlinked” photos from the future. Put opposite him an ambitious copper (Tamzin Outhwaite, below) in earnest overdrive, who needs to figure out, against a flashing red digi-clock and a perma-soundtrack of heavy strings, how to halt impending disaster; if there is one at all; whether he’s the baddie; whether she wants to fight him, or snog the tension out of his clenched jaw.

So pronounced are the eccentricities of his closed world, so stompy her inability to rise to his challenge, that it could have been adapted from a Crystal Maze pastiche. The keep-it-real details add to the air of self-parody — his giant plasma screens, throbbing with oozing suns, are flanked by ... a microwave. Mad scientists need their soup too, you know. But the biggest act of sabotage is in its pace: the clue-reveal-clue-reveal velocity is far too rapid to merit all that red-clock tension.

Perhaps ironically for a time-bending drama, this might have all been OK if not for ... its timing. FlashForward, for all its ridiculous patchiness and Joseph Fiennes’s wooden acting, is currently doing a much better job at such space-time contemplation; while Collision’s recent “working back from an accident” format unfolded much more deliciously."


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James Walton, Daily Telegraph

"Here’s a useful tip for you. The next time you have trouble getting the police to come round and investigate a crime, simply ring the station and explain that you’re a top scientist and that you want to see “a clever police officer” at once.

Certainly, this worked a treat for Dr Christian King (Emun Elliott) in the first episode of BBC One’s Paradox. Barely had he put the phone down than DI Rebecca Flint (Tamzin Outhwaite) arrived at his laboratory. She didn’t waste any time, either, demonstrating the requisite cleverness. King showed her several satellite photographs that he’d downloaded of a blown-up railway bridge. “It looks,” she said thoughtfully, “as though there’s been an explosion.”

There was, however, a twist – one that might have been mildly familiar to anybody who’s seen Steven Spielberg’s film Minority Report. According to the time code on the photos, the explosion wouldn’t happen until 8.33pm that evening, 10 hours later. Weirder still, having called in the police so urgently, Dr King now refused to be drawn further, or indeed to help in any way whatsoever. Instead, he just stared moodily into the middle distance, pausing only to sneer at Flint’s admittedly hopeless attempts to understand what was going on. In her defence, mind you, the explanation wasn’t that obvious. A solar storm had caused some sort of slippage in time, enabling King to see (very slightly) into the future.

In short, Paradox entirely failed to solve the problem posed by this kind of high-concept show. On the one hand, Flint had no reason to accept that King’s prediction really would come true – or even that it really was a prediction. On the other, if she didn’t, there’d be no programme. Unwisely, the script opted to thrash about between the two positions – and far too much time passed with her unconvincingly pretending not to believe in the impending catastrophe while also haring about Manchester trying to prevent it.

If this were an American series, my guess is that it would have started by simply taking the premise for granted and getting on with it: Dr King could see (very slightly) into the future and DI Flint’s job was to find the clues and save the day. The “scientific” explanation would then have been filled in several weeks later. As things stood, the biggest mystery last night was how such an opening episode could have gone through all the many meetings required for a prime-time BBC One slot without anybody ever saying, “Hold on a minute, nobody’s behaviour here makes any sense.”

In fact, the climactic scenes were quite exciting – thanks largely to the ever-reliable device of an on-screen clock ticking down to the disaster.Sadly, by then the show’s complete absence of internal logic (or, if you prefer, its overwhelming silliness) meant that it was beyond help.

Of course, now that the premise has been put so laboriously in place, Paradox may perk up a bit in the coming weeks."

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Lizzie Mickery interview (audio)
Lizzie Mickery interview (video)

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Broadcast feature
Press Pack

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Catch Up:

iPlayer

24 November, 2009

Preview: "Cast Offs"


"A darkly comic drama series telling the story of six disabled characters sent to a remote British island for a fictional reality TV show."

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Jack Thorne, co-writer:

"One island. Three months. Six disabled people. Tom, Dan, April, Gabby, Carrie and Will are adventurers of our modern age. Ambassadors selected by a TV company –we will follow their journey as they attempt to harvest crops, rear pigs, deliver babies and save chickens.

Do blind people know how attractive someone is? And if so, how? Amir, a cheeky chappy from Glasgow and profoundly blind, certainly claims so. In his audition with us he describes himself as a bit of a ladies man. In fact, a bit of a shark. We ask the obvious question – how do you know who’s attractive and who isn’t, i.e. how do you know who you want to shark? “Oh, I know” Amir replies. “OK” says Miranda, our director, “what do I look like?” Amir smiles, “size 12, long hair, full lips, and do you want me to say your bra size because I have a pretty good idea?” Miranda laughs. Yeah. He’s got a pretty good idea of what she looks like. Amir is clearly a bit of a magician.

In contrast, Alex Bulmer, my co-writer on Cast-Offs and a close friend, has absolutely no idea what I look like. Like Amir, she was born with sight, so if you give her information she can compute it, she knows what the colour red is, she knows what grass looks like. But during one of our final read-throughs she started reeling off her impression of what I looked like and went for her own version of Pre-Raphaelite poet. Long-dark hair. Slightly girly. Moderately attractive. Nothing like the gangly balding geek-t-shirt wearing freak I actually am.

So why did Amir seem to get it right and Alex not? I don’t know. Maybe it’s something in a voice. Maybe Amir wanted her to look like that and got lucky. Maybe Alex doesn't care what people actually look like, but prefers to design them in her mind however she chooses. What I do know is that blind people aren’t that into touching faces. Amir would probably touch anything to be fair to the guy but when we got Tim Gebbels, our extremely funny blind lead in the show, to touch one of the other actor’s faces, he acted in revulsion. It turns out Lionel Ritchie got his research wrong and that touching someone’s face would do nothing for Tim, blind more or less since birth; he’d really rather not.

The reason why I start with these examples is because every single time the responses we got surprised me, and that’s what Cast-Offs is trying to represent. Surprising stories about disabled people. In fact, more than that, surprising stories about people. "

Article in full at WGGB

Jack Thorne article, The Independent

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Previews

The Times

The Independent

The Guardian

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Interviews

Tony Roche, Alex Bulmer and Jack Thorne, The Arts Desk

Jack Thorne, Disability Arts Online

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Cast Offs
Tuesdays and Wednesdays,
11:05pm for 6 episodes

20 November, 2009

Screenplay Adaptation Contest (USA Only)


It says something that while I'm watching a cheerleader movie instead of saying: "Corr!", "Wha-hey!" and "Hubedah, hubedah!", I'm actually saying:"what a brilliant screenplay!" That's how I felt about "Bring It On". I actually became quite evangelical about it and tried to convert genre snobs.

Well, the screenwriter of that movie, Jessica Bendinger has a new book out called
The Seven Rays and tweeted me about a USA ONLY adaptation contest based on it.

The idea is to read the book and choose a section to adapt into a 2-5 page screenplay. Although you do get the first chapter free on the competition page.


The prizes are a one-on-one script consultancy with Ms Bendinger herself and second prize is an opportunity to pitch a script to Jessica and various industry bods. Final Draft copies go to the runners-up.


Deadline: 15 February 2010.


Fee: $20


More details

09 November, 2009

Preview: "Collision"

collision picture


"This tense, thought provoking drama, made by Greenlit Rights, tells the story of a major road accident and a group of people who have never met, but who all share one devastating moment that will change their lives.

The five part serial is a modern epic tale which explores how fragile our lives are. It focuses on how fate and the feeling of immortality behind the wheel play a part in our lives, where events are not always in our control.

Amid the tangle of twisted metal and emotional turmoil wrought by the tragedy of a crash of this scale, are the stories of the victims, and the impact of the accident on their families, friends and colleagues.

As the terrible task of investigating the cause of the carnage begins, a series of revelations emerge: from Government cover-ups and smuggling, to disturbing secrets and murder."

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INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY HOROWITZ - CREATOR AND CO-WRITER


What was the inspiration for Collision?

I’ve always been interested in car accidents. In a sense, every car journey is a story and a car crash is, by its very nature, an extraordinary, unprecedented way for many stories to come together. The short answer to this question is that I travel a great deal between London and Orford, Suffolk so I am well acquainted with the A12.

When did you start writing this?

I had the idea about ten years ago, began work on it but then abandoned it as I couldn’t make it work. The problem was the structure which was always very complicated. Then, last year, my agent (Anthony Jones) mentioned it to ITV and suddenly I found myself revisiting my ideas.

I always knew it would be a five-part series. It just felt the right length. But I was thrilled when ITV decided to make it an “event drama” by scheduling it over one week. It’s a gripping story, I think, and will work very well in that format.

How would you describe it?

It is moving, tense, thrilling, compelling. I’d like to think it’s fairly unpredictable. I tried hard to make the stories move in unexpected directions so that often things aren’t quite what they seem. What is hidden in the Home 2 Bed van? What is Stanley really up to? I’m also interested in the metaphysical side of car accidents, the idea that the tiniest things can have huge, life-changing results. Cindy, the other waitress in the service station, doesn’t get involved in the car crash simply because she forgets her keys. How do we recognise these crucial moments in our lives? The answer is, of course, that we can’t – which is what makes them so compelling.

Collision is very much set in the real world and does hopefully connect with the way people live.

Does it show how the lives of people in a collision collide in the same way as the vehicles?


You could say that we’re all in a dance of death and we never know who we’re going to be waltzing with next. I love all the secret connections in Collision which the characters never discover. When Karen steals her secret files, she has them photocopied at the shop owned by Brian. Tsegga is on the run from an East African conflict which links in with Richard (who is on his way to an East African charity event). There’s almost a sort of inevitability that all the characters will somehow collide with each other.

What is the main focus?


The focus of Collision is the investigation carried out by the two police officers – John Tolin and Ann Stallwood, along with their own tangled relationship. That was the thread that allowed me to tie everything together. But of course it’s the car crash itself that lies at the very heart of the series. That’s what every story and every incident keeps on coming back to.

Does it explore how events cannot always be in our control?

I think we already know that events are often out of our control. But perhaps what Collision shows is the way that we are often at the control of events. You have to wait for the very last shot of the series to get the point. I do sometimes get the feeling that we’re being shuffled around by an invisible hand.

I am extremely proud of this programme. It’s certainly massively different to anything I’ve ever done before and I’m proud of the fact that the scripts managed to attract such a fantastic cast and such a talented director. In a sense, I’ve already achieved what I wanted. Now I just hope that the general public find the show intriguing and enjoyable.

Do you think it will be thought provoking?

The few people who have seen Collision so far have found it thought provoking. Certainly, there’s been a lot of discussion about what might happen to the characters next – some of the stories are left purposefully open-ended

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Official
Press Pack

Anatomy of an Accident (The Independent feature)

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Collision: Monday 9 - Friday 13 November, 9pm,

06 November, 2009

Grammar

Interesting debate on Twitter about grammar today. I was told that whenever you address someone you're supposed to use a comma. Personally, I always use a stamp.

But seriously, apparently "Hello, Katie" is grammatically correct and "Hello Katie" is not. I'm of a generation where grammar wasn't considered important for children to learn. Never mind the antiquated rare rules, the very basics wasn't taught. (Or is that "weren't taught"?)

If someone mentioned pronouns and adverbs, I would pretend I knew what they were talking about while panicking inside.


The Twitter debate brought back those old fears of being found out as not a true writer. What writer doesn't know the basic tools of their trade? But I've changed. I now believe that maybe my politically correct anti-elitist educators were right: the only thing that matters is communicating clearly. And only the grammar rules that help us to do that matter.

"A comma goes before the name of the person you're addressing" may well be true but how does it enhance the communication? A lot of grammar rules were arbitrary or invented and then put in a book where they became gospel and sacred. The only Internet source I could find about that particular rule suggests that both "Hello, Katie" and "Hello Katie" are acceptable.

However, nowadays, using the comma in that way in fiction or screenplay dialogue indicates a breath or pause. Even if the reader understood it was grammatically correct, in the context of a book or script it would be wrong and lead to miscommunication. The comma means pause in dialogue just as a full stop means the end of a sentence^

Accepting this does not mean accepting the collapse of civilisation. Those of us who accept that the language and its rules evolve are not barbarians who will next want to bring in phonetic spelling and discard punctuation completely. That couldn't happen because it is contrary to my earlier point, "the only thing that matters is clear communication."


Links: