17 May, 2010

Meme: Stage

I've been blog-tagged by David Bishop.

What single film or TV programme at some point in your life made you a) understand the filmmaking process and b) influence your own style of writing?

I’m going to be awkward and start with stage influences as there are two plays that influenced me and their influence has carried me through my attempts to write for television and movies.

The first play I had staged was a radical feminist drawing room murder mystery. The director wondered why I had chosen such an old-fashioned setting and not a more contemporary style for the story but, to me, that was what a play was.

As a child, I was a regular at the Alexandra Theatre which showed touring plays and they did tend to be that sort of murder mystery type thing. And farces. And the nudie revues. Looking back, I think it’s outrageous that at aged 13, while I was prevented from seeing an 18 certificate film, I could watch fully naked women romp on stage. No, sorry, I don’t mean ‘outrageous’, I mean 'outstanding'.

A while later, after a successful workshopping, another director recommended me for a gig with a theatre company and I had to write something about myself and my writing. Not sure I should be telling you this as several years later I still feel embarrassed. I’ll trust you not to take the piss.

I was so eager to please that I bragged about my ability to replicate famous writer’s styles. Who did I namecheck? I can’t remember them all but Pinter, Brecht and Ayckbourn were on the list.

The theatre company were told about this bloke who had a completely original point of view who then turned out to be just a desperate hack for hire not someone they’d want to collaborate with.

As I’m forced to relive the pain via this meme (cheers David), I’m reminded of a meeting with Tony Jordan recently who explained why companies don’t want hacks. They want that fresh viewpoint and someone who can contribute their own ideas to long-running series to keep them going a good while longer.

I’ve long been able to tell who wrote episodes of TV series by their style. Even on team-written US shows. When I first told someone this, they looked at me as if wondering how soon they could get me sectioned before I caused them considerable harm.

It was therefore a colossal relief that Tony Jordan said the same thing about the same writers on Brookie, Corrie and Enders that I had mentioned. You can recognise writers who keep their original voice and Jordan believes that it’s those writers who are more likely to have a long career and get more commissions.

As we’re starting out, we are finding our voice and do naturally mimic other writers so perhaps we should forgive ourselves - unless we’re still copying years later.

There were two touring productions I remember most as a kid. The first one was Home at Seven by RC Sheriff with Arthur Lowe. Arthur Lowe had collapsed on stage the night before (and subsequently died) and someone with script in hand deputised for him). The play lacked truth and was a bit dull. I would have walked out but worried that everyone would think I was a philistine only there to see a TV star. The plot was predictable (including the ending) but during the ordeal I managed to think of a much more interesting version.

The second one was Quartermaine’s Terms by Simon Gray. I was happy with the (usually) entertaining garbage the Alex offered but this was different. I had an emotional reaction and lost interest in the average.

Of course at the time, I couldn’t explain what the difference was between the Simon Gray play and the RC Sheriff play (apart from 30 years) but I knew I wanted to be able to write the former and try and avoid writing the latter.

I can’t say I’ve entirely succeeded but I’m still learning and by aiming high, I might just reach an acceptable level.

I'll look at my film and TV influences next.

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