30 September, 2010

What the Papers Say: "DCI Banks: Aftermath"


John Crace, The Guardian

"It's a thankless gig fronting a cop drama going up against Spooks on a Monday night. But someone has to do it and Stephen Tompkinson is this year's fall guy in DCI Banks: Aftermath

(ITV1). Not that he would have necessarily known that when he signed up for it. More likely the schedulers took a look at the rushes, didn't like what they saw and decided that since no one was going to watch it anyway they might as well stick it out in this hopeless slot rather than another, superior show.

The story was based on a Peter Robinson thriller, but somehow the adaptation managed to turn a decent book into a succession of crime series cliches. Northern town bathed in grey. Child serial killer with bodies in the cellar. Harassed, divorced cop, DCI Banks (Tompkinson), under pressure from his bosses and the community. Younger female DS from the police complaints division investigating the death of the main suspect. Antagonism between DCI and DS, followed by a drink, followed by . . . the phone ringing as they are about to kiss. Lines like "Get the artillery" and "I throw the ball and you fetch it". I could go on.

Nor did it help that Tompkinson seemed badly miscast. Tompkinson's strengths are comedy and light drama – hence Ballykissangel and Wild at Heart – and he just doesn't convince as edgy and tortured. You half expected him to break into a smile and say, "Only kidding. Let's go for a balloon ride." It would have been a lot more fun if he had.

You might have overlooked all this if there had been just a minute of suspense. Every plot development was telegraphed well in advance. And if you were too dim to notice the first time, the warning was thoughtfully repeated a little later. It got to the point where I thought, "they've made it so obvious, there's got to be a twist." But there wasn't. I haven't watched the concluding episode, but I've seen more than enough to find the missing girl. So get on with it quick, Stephen, and move on to another show."

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Brian Viner, The Independent

"Stephen Tompkinson used to be all over our television screens like static electricity. For two or three years, it seemed as though we could hardly switch on without finding Tompkinson emoting in a drama, narrating a documentary, or voicing a commercial. But every dog has its day. After Tompkinson, it was Robson Green who popped up everywhere, and after Green it was Martin Clunes. Favoured women go through this ubiquitous phase too. For a while, it was similarly difficult to avoid Sarah Lancashire, then Caroline Quentin.

It's normally ITV that confers this treasured actor/actress status, and Tompkinson seems to be getting another burst. If you stayed up late enough last night there was another chance to see Stephen Tompkinson's Australian Balloon Adventure. "Rain stops Stephen from flying over Canberra and he has to take a tricky flight to 10,000 feet," went the synopsis in the Radio Times, which was a little disorienting for those who not two hours earlier had begun to believe in Stephen as a taciturn detective, leading the investigation into some particularly grisly killings, nowhere near Canberra and certainly not from 10,000ft, in DCI Banks: Aftermath.

It is fanciful of me to assume the role of a detective myself in considering the quality of DCI Banks: Aftermath, but please indulge me, because you don't spend 20 years as a TV critic without becoming a forensic specialist in the police procedural. This two-parter carried many of the scene-of-primetime hallmarks familiar to us grizzled veterans. These included the fractious relationship between the copper and his uniformed boss, his messy private life, his personal torment, and of course the attractive female junior. Much like the women who read the news, female police officers on television are never the physiological equivalents of their male counterparts. When did you ever see a TV policewoman with a double chin or pitted skin? They all look like models.

This is especially so of lovely DS Annie Cabbot (Andrea Lowe), who works for the professional standards department, policing the police themselves, and is assigned to find out whether PC Janet Taylor (Sian Breckin) went overboard in beating up a serial killer called Marcus Payne (Samuel Roukin). Not unreasonably, Banks (Tompkinson) finds this distraction wholly unwelcome, though there is consolation when he and DS Cabbot overcome their mutual enmity and cosy up together. Indeed, they are closing in on a snog, almost certainly to be followed by a good deal more, when both their phones ring, a classic case of what we in police-procedural forensics know as coppus interruptus. This is the near-certainty that just as our crime-buster is about to enjoy himself in bed, if only by getting his head down for some quality kip, his phone or bleeper will ruin everything.

Still, on the basis that every police procedural is required by editing-suite law to feature such clichés, I shouldn't be too hard on DCI Banks: Aftermath. It is stylishly shot, and has more than enough plot idiosyncrasies to distinguish it from stuff we've seen a thousand times before. Intriguingly, it began with Payne being caught, in the basement that he had converted into a torture chamber. Only as the thing unfolded did we make certain relevant discoveries – for instance, that he had been having an affair with the nervy Irish artist in the house opposite.

There were, I should add, some implausibilities along the way. Whether these were true to Peter Robinson's original novel or introduced by Robert Murphy, the dramatist, I don't know, but a detective superintendent pal of mine assures me that under no circumstances would the chief investigating officer ever turn up alone in a hospital room to question a significant witness (in this instance Payne's long-suffering wife). There remains a world of difference between the modus operandi of TV cops and real cops, and for dramatically expedient reasons, of course, because who would want to watch even Morse or Jane Tennison hunched over paperwork for hours on end? But I still kind of wish that television would treat us more respectfully, and it could start by offering us police procedurals that aren't about serial killers. I think we're mature enough to get excited by plots that don't involve rape, torture and murder."

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Paul Whitelaw, The Scotsman


THERE comes a time in the career of every popular middle-aged television actor when he must star in a sombre ITV detective drama. Think of it as an autumnal rite of passage.

You've paid your dues in numerous Sunday-night family favourites and travelogue spin-offs (what experts call "the Clunes Matrix") and become a familiar fixture on the cover of TV Quick. Only now are you ready for two hours of solemn emoting in the Yorkshire miasma, surrounded by body bags and with a killer in your sights. Are you ready for your close-up Mr Tompkinson?

The everyman's everyman, Stephen Tompkinson is a decent actor who imbues even his most lightweight roles with underplayed humanity. It's why audiences like him and why they'll tune into DCI Banks: Aftermath, despite having seen it countless times before.

It's to Tompkinson's credit that he injects some inner life into this quotidian 'tec. Decent, dedicated and empathetic, his only flaw is a tendency to compromise his professional judgement with emotional vendettas. Oh, when will these fictional lawmen learn? Don't they watch TV?

Divorced, and estranged from his children, our drizzled hero is haunted by his failure to stop a sadistic serial killer murdering four young girls. Just so we're clear about this, we witnessed him gazing at their ghosts standing judgmentally in his garden. Someone arrest the director for grievous misuse of symbolism.

Banks' only hope of redemption is finding an unaccounted-for missing girl. "It's all I have left," he lamented. But - curses and damnation! - his path is blocked by an attractive younger officer from Practice and Standards more interested in her career than police loyalty. You know how it goes: first they're at loggerheads, then in each other's arms back at his place, a symbolically remote retreat where nightly he nurses a reflective whisky and listens to jazz. Is the police force really full of men like this? In a way, I hope it is.

The only wrinkle in the formula is that - in the tradition of Columbo, but with none of that series' wit and ingenuity - we, and Banks, know who the killer is from the start. He died from brain damage at the end of the episode. Instead, the drama stems from unravelling the strands of how the murders came about, and whether Banks will find the missing girl and lay his demons his to rest.

I can't deny that it's solidly put together, but then it should be given that it studiously borrows every trick in the manual. Give a thousand monkeys a thousand typewriters and a thousand Wallander box-sets and they'd eventually come up with this, albeit possibly starring a monkey and set in a zoo. And I'd watch that.

Also, with its torture chambers, vicious rapes and missing girl campaigns, it strains for verisimilitude but instead feels exploitative of real-life cases. It's why I'm not a fan of most TV crime fiction: it just feels cheaply voyeuristic.

It's odd that people find comfort in watching generic crime dramas featuring depressive detectives and grisly murders. It must be like settling into a deep bath filled with dirty warm water; unpleasant perhaps, but at least you know where you are. And you can always rinse off afterwards."

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As DCI Banks reaches TV, crime writer Peter Robinson explains his hero’s origins and why he cast Stephen Tompkinson.

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Press Release

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What the Papers Say: "Downton Abbey"



Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"There's a shrill blast from a steam train's whistle, a puff of smoke, a name – Hugh Bonneville – across the screen. I think I know what kind of beast we're dealing with here. Ah, here's the magnificent gothic country pile, great fir trees, lawns, a gravel drive, kedgeree and ironed newspapers for breakfast, more big names – Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern. It is conceived and written by Julian "Gosford Park" Fellowes. Downton Abbey (ITV1, Sunday) is essentially Gosford Park, in instalments, for television.

It's set a little earlier – we start off in April 1912. The Titanic has just gone down, taking with her two male heirs to Lord Grantham's title and estate. Heir loss – it is a problem back then. Girls don't count for anything – can't even vote, let alone inherit property. A few other things haven't happened yet, some bad (world war), others wicked (jazz). It is, in a word, Edwardian, even though Edward VII himself went down a couple of years before.

Like Gosford Park, Downton Abbey is another study by Fellowes of the English class system. And again it's as complicated below stairs as it is above. The difference between a valet and a footman is as important as the difference between a duchess and a countess. Carson (Jim Carter) the toady butler, and Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) the severe housekeeper, are at least as much in charge of the place as Lord and Lady Grantham (Bonneville and McGovern). Certainly they are more aware of what's going on; maybe they are better prepared for the change that's surely coming.

I can't get too excited about some of the class stuff. It's clearly important to them whether it's acceptable for a duke to be served by a maid (apparently not), but frankly I don't give a damn. Likewise about the entail – the complex legal settlement that determines who's entitled to whose money and which title when so-and-so dies. But it's central to what's going on. Still, it is possible to ignore a lot of that, because there's plenty of other stuff happening – warring sisters, scheming footmen, plotting, bitching, back-stabbing and bounty hunting. There's even a gay duke and an upstairs-downstairs relationship (does social position determine sexual position, I wonder?). And hanging over it all is the feeling that things aren't going to be as they are for much longer. Momentous stuff is going to happen, both in Downton Abbey and the world outside.

It's beautifully made – handsome, artfully crafted and acted. Smith, who plays the formidable and disdainful Dowager Countess (whatever one of those is), has a lovely way of delivering words, always spaced to perfection. This is going to be a treat if you like a lavish period drama of a Sunday evening. Is it really on ITV1? It feels just a little bit too, well, classy."

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Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent

"According to Stephen Hawking's Universe, time travel into the past simply isn't possible, though any television commissioner knows it can be done, if you're prepared to spend enough money.

Cough up for the steam train pulling into a rural halt, the vintage Roller and the telegram boy's uniform and before you know it, it's April 1912. And from the very beginning of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes' new upstairs-downstairs drama for ITV, we know that something momentous is heading towards the big house. The postmistress draws in a sharp breath and the second footman – ironing the morning papers so that his Lordship won't sully his fingers with smudgy ink – is having trouble believing the banner headline. The Titanic has gone down – a general tragedy that becomes sharply particular when his Lordship discovers that his careful arrangements to keep the estate in the family have just been holed below the waterline. His nominated heir and the son who was about to marry into the family are among the missing. "It's such a shame," says a tweeny. "It's worse than a shame," replies the housekeeper. "It's a complication."

It's a bit of a Titanic itself, Downton Abbey – glossy, ostentatiously luxurious and boasting a glittering passenger list of upmarket acting talent. It's also very far from unsinkable, though it's too early to say whether the commissioning editors are going to regret their investment. They certainly know that the essential design is seaworthy – because of the success of Upstairs, Downstairs – and they've employed a designer with an established track record to tweak it for contemporary tastes – Julian Fellowes, who won a scriptwriting Oscar for Gosford Park, the Robert Altman film about a murder investigation in a Thirties country house. Unfortunately, they haven't quite realised that with drama it may actually be the over-zealous safety measures that send the vessel down.

Take marmalade as a case in point. In Gosford Park, Maggie Smith (playing exactly the kind of fearsome dowager she reprieves here) had a fine moment when she lifted a jar up for inspection at breakfast and uttered the withering line: "Bought marmalade? Oh dear, I call that very feeble." Behind that remark lay a whole stack of social assumptions, none of which was explained. You just had to work it out for yourself. In Downton Abbey, on the other hand, no such chances are taken. It's full of people asking helpful questions so that oddities can be clarified (the reason for ironing the morning papers, for example) and the plotting is equally semaphored, sometimes to a risible extent. The scene in which the cook set up a potentially fatal confusion between brass polish and chopped egg for the kedgeree was unfortunately reminiscent of that Mitchell and Webb sketch about the laborious mishaps in bad sitcoms.

It doesn't have to be another Gosford Park to work, of course – and there are plenty of things to enjoy here – not least Downton Abbey itself (played here by Highclere Castle in Berkshire). Brian Percival, the director, showed off nicely at the beginning with a long tracking shot through the downstairs rooms, flitting from flunky to flunky as the vast machine of an Edwardian aristocrat seat cranked itself into operation for the new day. And there is promise in the scenes between Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, the Earl's rich American wife, and Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, women who have little in common but their strong aversion to handing the family fortune over to a stranger from – they can hardly bring themselves to utter the word – Manchester.

It's possible that some of the faults of the first episode – the melodramatic simplicity of the antagonisms and the crudity of the characterisation, with its hissable villains and vulnerable heroes, were symptoms of opening-night nerves, a clumsy anxiety to get the audience on board. Possible too that the narrative loops that Fellowes already has in place – romantic longings and romantic possibilities – will tighten around an audience so that they can't wriggle free. But on this evidence, ITV will have to keep their fingers crossed for a bit longer yet. One signal difference between Downton Abbey and the Titanic is that there's no shortage of lifeboats available for those who want to abandon ship, and it can be done at the push of a button"

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Class and calamity at Julian Fellowes's Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: behind the scenes

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Official site




25 September, 2010

Linkage (25/09/2010)

David Hare: 'The sort of films I write have collapsed'
The Independent
Link

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UK Scriptwriters Podcast, Episode 3
With special guest Jack Thorne
Link

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Is this the formula for a good comedy screenplay?
Screenwriting Success
Link

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Brian Clemens and the lost art of great TV writing
The Guardian
Link

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6 Things Movie Characters Always Seem To Forget
Cracked
Link

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Creative Screenwriting Magazine Podcasts
Link

21 September, 2010

The Big Idea UK film competition


So what's THE BIG IDEA?

Shine Pictures are proud to announce a National competition for feature film concepts, with a prize of a £25,000 feature film development deal.

We are looking for ingenious concepts, compelling writing and intriguing characters that will elevate genre films making them both distinctive and commercial. The stories can be set anywhere, with characters of any nationality, just as long as the audience is a global one. Feel free to be ambitious in scale and scope. You can imagine big stars in lead roles. It can be 3D! You can have big budget visual effects. Go for active, attractive, bold, vibrant, energetic concepts. We are looking to stimulate ambitious ideas that will capture the global imagination in the following genres:

  1. Romantic Comedies (e.g.: The Proposal, What Women Want, Notting Hill)
  2. Action Adventures (National Treasure, Top Gun, Blood Diamond, Cliffhanger)
  3. Sci-Fi or Fantasy (Inception, Harry Potter, 28 Days Later, Back to the Future)
  4. Family Comedies (Nanny McPhee, Cheaper by the Dozen, Johnny English)

Who can apply?

This is not an entry level competition, so you need to have either a produced or optioned screenplay, an agent, a festival acclaimed short, an hour of broadcast TV drama, a play that has been performed, writing that has been published or an equivalent industry achievement.

How do you apply?

  • Complete our application form including your 700 word (max) concept document.
  • Upload your CV and a maximum 15 page writing sample with its log line.
  • Application deadline: 29th October 2010
  • Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview and then the winner will be selected from those interviewees.
  • Interviews for shortlisted applicants: Late November 2010
  • Winner announced: 20th December 2010
  • All inquiries to be directed to THE BIG IDEA Project Manager thebigidea@shine-pictures.com
  • For more details see our FAQ
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In a joint statement Paul Webster and Stephen Garrett of Shine Pictures said: “British writers are among the most sought after in Hollywood.

“Shine Pictures, in keeping with our desire to bring the cream of the UK’s creative community to a global audience, wants to nurture the next generation of leading screenwriters.”

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Added to Deadlines Calendar

17 September, 2010

What the Papers Say: "The Road to Coronation Street"



Alice-Azania Jarvis, The Independent

"What's this? Coronation Street on the BBC? Apparently so: starring Jessie Wallace off of EastEnders no less. Is this, one wonders, the producers' latest attempt to beat ITV at its own game? After all, this is the Corporation that broadcast Strictly Come Dancing at the same time as The X Factor, an unmistakably aggressive move made in blatant opposition to the public interest (something which, on a Saturday night, is quite obviously only to be satisfied by the combination, not choice, of spangles and crushed dreams. Obviously!).

But no: there is not a trace of malice in The Road to Coronation Street, a disarmingly moving drama about Britain's longest-running soap opera. If anything, it rather over-romanticised things, to the extent that the Street's against-the-odds origins as the unfashionably banal brainchild of a young, would-be writer appeared less docudrama and more fairy tale.

Not that it matters. In return for the romanticism we got strong, if somewhat theatrical, performances, notably from David Dawson, who was unstintingly engaging as the determined young writer Tony Warren, and the perpetually lovely Celia Imrie. There were some genuine shiver-down-the-spine moments, too. Such as the point at which a Granada TV tea lady paused her work at the sight of Warren's pilot – which, at this stage, was destined straight for the scrapheap – plainly fascinated by the ordinariness of the on-screen world. "So-and-so's got those curtains," she remarked, cheering on Pat Phoenix with a fiery "You tell him, love!" It was this tea lady's intervention that got the programme made, in the end. Someone get her an OBE will they?"

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Chris Harvey, Daily Telegraph

"The story of how the longest-running drama series on British television first made it onto our screens was told in The Road to Coronation Street (BBC Four). Its creator Tony Warren (David Dawson) was just 23 when he presented his vision of a drama with “dirt under its fingernails” to bosses at the Granada studios in Manchester, but there were many roadblocks to be overcome before the show’s first transmission in December, 1960.

This 75-minute film explored how the former child actor saw his idea find its way past the prevailing snobbery towards characters with regional accents. Studio head Sidney Bernstein (Steven Berkoff) took a lot of persuading. The dramatisation of Corrie’s difficult birth was, despite the odd soapy moment, compelling. Dawson, too, for his services to knitwear modelling alone, was great fun as Warren. From the first time we saw him checking his reflection in a mirror, there was no doubt that the writer who created some of the great women characters of British television was gay. This was very much his story.

What inevitably happened, though, was that the lead was ultimately blown off the screen by his own creations, as the plot morphed from plucky underdog success story to something that more closely resembled The Magnificent Seven. Instead of putting together a team of hired gunfighters, Warren was seen assembling, one by one, a cast of Northern battleaxes, each more formidable than the last.

First came Doris Speed (Celia Imrie), the actress Warren thought might be right for the stuck-up landlady of the Rovers Return, Annie Walker. She remembered Warren from his acting days – “the little boy who never stopped talking” – and had to be flattered into the studios with the lie that the part had been written especially for her. Then came Pat Phoenix (Jessie Wallace) who burst in late for her audition for the part of brassy Elsie Tanner, showing where she’d twanged one of her stockings and announcing of her character, “She’s mutton, isn’t she, dressed as lamb.”

Finally, there was Ena Sharples, the hard-faced moraliser in a hairnet, who was proving to be all but uncastable. With the first episode looming, the choice was becoming starker. Sharples was a stand-alone character, she could be cut. Warren had one last suggestion, a woman he dreaded working with, who didn’t fit the script description of slenderness at all. “There’s nothing small boned about Violet Carson,” protested casting director Margaret Morris (Jane Horrocks). When the 62-year-old Carson (Lynda Baron) arrived at the studio, she had no time to listen to Warren’s thoughts about the role, “You can save your breath,” she said. “I know all about Ena Sharples.” And when she was also shown looking in the mirror, reflecting on her role, there was no pout. “This is a woman who’s buried children, watched her man beg for work and still gets down on her knees every night to pray… There’s no powder or rouge touching this face.” Marauding bandits wouldn’t have stood a chance."

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Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"
So Corrie was almost Florrie – Florizel Street, after Prince Florizel. But a cleaner called Agnes at Granada TV said Florizel Street sounded like a disinfectant (does it, Agnes?), so they changed it to Coronation Street. This was the second time Agnes had saved what would become Britain's longest-running soap opera. It was because she was instantly spellbound by the pilot while clearing away the tea things from the producer's office that he knew it was a winner.

Is that true, I wonder? Did Agnes even exist? It doesn't really matter. What matters is that Harry Elton, the Canadian producer, decided to fight the Granada TV executives – who couldn't understand the appeal of a drama about the ordinary lives of ordinary people and were about to pull the plug on the whole thing – with everything he had. Guess what, he won.

The Road to Coronation Street (BBC4) chronicles the birth of a monster, 50 years ago this December. Yes, BBC4 – it's funny that the BBC should be celebrating a rival's birthday so fondly. And scheduling it so it doesn't clash with its subject matter – obviously a lot of the people who want to watch this are the same people who want to know what's currently going on in the Rover's Return. Very magnanimous, I'm sure. The Road to Coronation Street is fond, and warm, and charming, with a fine lead performance from David Dawson as cocky young writer Tony Warren. There are fine performances wherever you look, though some of them take a little getting your head around. So former EastEnder Jessie Wallace plays Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner. Lynda Baron is Violet Carson, who was Ena Sharples. And James Roache plays his own father, William Roache, who was – and still is – Ken Barlow. "It's only a week, what harm can that do?" he says. A week! James's father has now, by my calculations, been Ken Barlow for 64% of his life, and that's going up the whole time. Imagine it!

There's also a fine performance from Steven Berkoff as television baron Sidney Bernstein, who initially saw Tony Warren's script not as Hitchcock said drama should be – "life with the boring bits left out" – but pretty much the opposite. "What your writer seems to have done," he tells Harry Elton, "is to pick up all the boring bits and strung them together one after another."

Sydney changed his tune a bit later, though. It took Coronation Street about three months to reach No 1 in the ratings. There's nothing boring about 15 million viewers and a 75% audience share. I wonder if BKB – boring Ken Barlow – was boring, even then?

It's amazing that it was filmed live in the early days – or at least one of its two weekly slots was. So if the cat went missing just before Eric Spear's mournful trumpet sounded out over the Weatherfield rooftops, then that was it – no cat. There must have been an immediacy and a theatricality about it – the feeling that Pat and Violet and even boring William were doing it then and there, in your living room, for you – which maybe doesn't exist in the soap any more.

So what is going on today, 50 years on, in Coronation Street (ITV1)? The police take Gary in to the station to question him about an assault (it would be virtually impossible to do this one live, with all the location changes). That could mean going back behind bars. Behind the bar at the Rover's, Kylie's got her hand in the till. Sly Owen's got his hands in all sorts of metaphorical tills, mainly of the female variety, if you know what I'm saying. And Nick is dead excited about Natasha's scan, even though the one he's looking at, and showing everyone else, isn't hers, because she terminated her pregnancy, as everyone except Nick knows. You couldn't really accuse it of being all the boring bits strung together – or reflecting the ordinary lives of ordinary people.

Oh, and there's no sign of boring Ken in this one. But recently in the Street he's been joined by a long-lost son, who himself has a son. And Ken's new son and grandson are played by William Roache's real-life sons, Linus and James. So James is playing his dad on BBC4 and his dad's grandson on ITV. Got it?

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Article by the screenwriter, Daran Little

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Catch up with

12 September, 2010

Soundtrack

Local Natives - "Airplanes "



Blonde Redhead - "Here Sometimes"

10 September, 2010

Save The Arts campaign launches today



Other artists will be contributing to Save The Arts TV.

Sign the petition here.

h/t Cornerhouse blog

08 September, 2010

What the Papers Say: "This is England '86"

Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"Three years on from his Bafta-winning film
This is England, Shane Meadows has breathed life into his characters again – for the small screen. They've been growing up, in real time. Or in parallel real time in the past, because we've moved on from 1983 to This is England '86 (Channel 4). Somewhere, a long way away, a World Cup is going on.

There's a lot more hair about the place. Woody seems to have gone from skinhead to mod and even has a job, which is more than most people had in 1986. He's still with Lol (poor Lol – unaware that in 20 years or so her name will become an irritating acronym people use on something called the internet). They are getting married, though it kind of falls apart at the last hurdle, Woody frozen at "I do". Meggy doesn't help by having a heart attack in the loo of the scuzzy register office.

Shaun, peripheral to the gang, is just leaving school, cast adrift into the grey doldrums of mid-80s Britain. I don't think his exam results are going to be doing him any favours. Life is crap, but it's OK if you've got mates – that's one of the messages going on here. Shaun's problem is that he doesn't have mates at the minute. Or a job. Or a scooter. Or anything much, except for a bleeding head from a cut above his eye. I hope for his sake he's readopted by the others. They're better off – they have each other, at least. "I fookin' luv yer I do" they say to each other, and then toast their love with a can or a cuddle.

This doesn't have the skinhead culture focus of the movie. Or the hard edge – yet. There are three more episodes, so this may come later with the reintroduction of Combo. Remember, the racist one? But it's still bleak, as you'd expect. At times touching, at others funny. I like Gadget stealing the flowers for the wedding from a mourner at the cemetery. And Meggy, recovering in hospital, using his piss bag for the I-fookin'-luv-you-all toast because he hasn't got a can. A wheelchair race is less funny and goes on too long. Sometimes I get the impression the actors are just told to get into character and to get on with it. There's a certain lack of direction – both the sort that directors do, and the sort that indicates where something is going. But I don't think that true Meadows fans will be disappointed."

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Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent

"Shane Meadows stitched together the end of his film This Is England and its television sequel This Is England '86 with a shot of his character Shaun in the rain – hand out to test the water. And it wasn't very long before you could tell that the temperature had changed significantly in the three years that had elapsed between the first drenching and the second. This Is England ended in a mood of chilly bleakness – with violence and disillusionment. But now life is looking up for Shaun, not least because he's just finished his CSEs and has no intention of continuing the desultory imitation of the academic life that led up to them. "You're in for quite a shock young man," said one of his teachers, looking disdainfully at his exam paper. "I think you'll find that it's me that's doing the shocking, love," replied Shaun, and the remark was eager, not embittered. "How did it go?" asked his mother, meeting him in a café for an exam post-mortem. "It went," said Shaun, "end of."

Most of this first episode was concerned not with Shaun but with Woody and Lol, the skinhead couple who took Shaun under their wing and first gave him a sense of family. Woody and Lol are about to get married, a social occasion that doesn't involve a lot of frills. Meggy and Banjo are travelling to the ceremony on the bus – clutching a Tupperware box full of home-made vol-au-vents – while Gadget and his mate are in the local cemetery, stalking a visitor in the hope of nicking some fresh flowers. The mood and style is Ken Loach at his lightest, so when Gadget makes a rush for the bouquet there's no emotion more scarring than wild indignation from his victim. And as more friends pile up – filling the top and launching into a raucous chorus of "Daisy, Daisy" – it's easy enough to decide to go for the ride with them. It's an ancient strain in British entertainment this – running from the Cheapside scenes in Henry IV to Shameless – the charm of other people's joyous fecklessness.

For the moment, Shaun is outside this convivial gang again, exiled by his own choice and a loner ripe for exploitation by the local bully, Flip, who enlists him into a stupefyingly dimwitted plan to romance a local beauty. Shaun is to insult her at which point Flip will defend her honour. And if this strikes you as a slightly strained moment of picaresque, it's still pretty funny, and rescued by an interlude of awkward silence, when Flip and his sidekick, Iggy, stare in bemusement at the interior décor of a lower-middle class house straining for higher altitude. "That's got it's own rug," said Flip, pointing to the doily under a vase on the coffee table.

There are hints too that the warmth of these opening passages may be a lulling strategy, designed to get an audience far enough in to be able to withstand the darker realities that Meadows often admits to his dramas. Woody and Lol's wedding does not pass off well, with some comic misadventure (Meggy has a non-fatal heart attack while sitting on the lavatory) and a more poignant reversal, as Woody loses his nerve and can't bring himself to utter his vows. Lol, beautifully played by Vicky McClure, isn't just the victim here, but emerges as a character in her own right... one who, a long wordless final scene suggests, might have a more troubling back-story. For the moment, This Is England '86 could be accused of straining a little too hard to be likeable, something it would achieve anyway. But the quiet gaps between the mischief and the capering promise something far more involving than that."

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Ceri Radford, Daily Telegraph

For anyone who sniffs that television is a dumb or trivial medium, Shane Meadows has provided the perfect riposte. This is England '86, his four-part Channel 4 follow-up to the acclaimed 2006 film This is England, is – to judge from the first episode – astonishingly good. It is artistically captivating, funny, melancholic and affecting, all in one tightly plotted package that makes the shift from the big screen to the small appear effortless.

The original film told the story of Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a troubled 12 year-old who fell in with a group of apolitical teenaged skinheads in 1983. Their happy-go-lucky world collapsed when Combo, an older gang member, returned from jail, bringing racist violence with him. Set three years on, the TV series picked up as if the characters had been growing up quietly in the background, with most of the original cast reprising their roles. It’s now 1986, the World Cup is on in Mexico, unemployment is above 3 million and the unforgettable group of friends face a difficult journey into adulthood.

Meadows marked the transition in time with typical adroitness. Last night’s episode opened with Shaun, physically unchanged, sitting in Combo’s car – a scene which was presumably an out take from the original film. There were blood stains on the tatty back seat; it was clear that this scene took place shortly after the attack which brought the original film to its blistering finale. We then saw the twelve-year-old Shaun standing in the rain, feeling the drops burst on his palms, before the camera panned up to show him as a 16 year-old, running through a downpour to sit his CSEs. His face had changed, touchingly, but the constant in his life was rain: cold, drab and prosaic.

Meadows is the master of that creative writing mantra, “show don’t tell”, lacing this programme with images which communicated far more than many a laboured bit of dialogue. As well as the rain and the heart-breaking shabbiness of blood drying on frayed nylon we saw other telling vignettes: a “coal not dole” pin badge; the likeable Woody (Joe Gilgun) sat on a bus on the way to his wedding, frowning out of the window just one instant too long.

If the cinematography was impressive, the acting and the script itself were equally so. Turgoose, who made such a memorable debut as Shaun in the original film, was utterly convincing as a mouthy 16 year-old who had shed some of his baby fat and bewilderment but not yet found a sense of purpose. As a couple, Woody and Lol (Vicky McClure) captured that twentysomething teetering between rebellion and respectability. “You’re turning into your father,” Lol said accusingly, and you could see from the contempt in her eloquent eyes how much that thought repelled her.

This opener felt more light-hearted than the film, and contained several lines that made me snigger. “You’re an adult,” Shaun's mother chided him, before treating him like a child. “Your appointment [with the job centre] is at three and you’d better go because I’ll check up on you.” Also possessing a comical lack of self-awareness was a nasty little oik who made Shaun knock on a girl’s door and insult her so that he could rush to her defence – if Shaun refused, he would beat him up. “She thinks I’m a bully,” he justified himself. “This will show her I’m sensitive.”

As ever with Meadows, the humour was underscored with sadness: this was TV tragicomedy. How else to describe a wedding day during which the bride’s mother didn’t show up, the groom neglected to say “I do”, the bride realised she may have chosen the wrong man and one of the guests had a heart attack, rallying later in hospital to toast his friends’ happiness by raising his catheter bag? As the series develops – Meadows has said he wants to “to take the story of the gang broader and deeper” – it will be interesting to see whether the prevailing tone is of bitterness or hope. In episode one alone, though, he has created something that is sentimental without being naïve, funny without being forced and a genuinely moving experience to watch. Beat that, cinema."

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This is England '86, Tuesdays, Channel 4, 10:00pm for 4 weeks

Catch up with:

06 September, 2010

Linkage (06/09/2010)

(via Cartoonstock)
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Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work: What to do after you finish your first draft
Scott Meyers
Link
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Is there a difference between male and female screenwriting?
Wellywood Woman
Link

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30 Ways to Build Your Writer Platform (it's now a necessity)
All Freelancewriting
Link

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Even Hit Like ‘Kick-Ass’ Can Seem Like Miss at Debut
NY Times
Link


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Computer Animation, Made by Hand
NY Times
Link

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Rising playwright Mike Bartlett talks about his new play at the National
Daily Telegraph
Link

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100 Memorable Movie Deaths
Sky Movies
Link

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'Sons of Anarchy's' showrunner Kurt Sutter interview
LA Times
Link

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Maker of 'The Last Exorcism', Eli Roth, talks budget movies and selling sex
The Independent
Link

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Nell Leyshon on the asylum that inspired her latest play
The Guardian
Link

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All the Globe's a stage – even for women writers
The Independent
Link

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Ridley Scott: 'I'm doing pretty good, if you think about it'
The Independent
Link

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Schnabel's true romance film inspires tale of love across cultural divide
The Independent
Link

04 September, 2010

Linkage (04/09/2010)



Taken from:
40 Exquisite Independent Film Posters
Smashing Magazine
Link

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How NOT to give notes
Ken Levine
Link

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Does Your Language Shape How You Think?
New York Times
Link

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Women Rule The Art Houses

IndieWire
Link

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Writing better dialogue
John August
Link

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The Web is Dead. TV Apps on the Rise?
App Market
Link

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Storyboard Template
Printable Paper
Link

03 September, 2010

Linkage (03/09/2010)



Fictional character business cards via Fro Design Co

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Adam Szymkowicz
250 Playwright Interviews
Link

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5 big-budget sci-fi films that actually got their science right
Blastr
Link

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By reshaping our minds, the internet is robbing us of ability to think critically & creatively, apparently
New Scientist
Link

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Autumn previews.
New York magazine
Television: Link
Movies: Link

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The rise and fall of quicksand in movies
Slate
Link

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Writing Prompts
Writers Digest
Link

02 September, 2010

All Mixed Up - TV Comedy comp

(via BBC Writersroom)

The BBC College of Comedy is running a sitcom writing competition with a multi-cultural theme.

Called All Mixed Up, the competition is looking for proposals which reflect diverse Britain.

Writers who can demonstrate some professional achievement are asked to submit the first ten pages of a script to the college, with a limit of six characters and three settings.

Entries will be judged on whether the script demonstrates the following criteria:

  • An interesting representation of multi-cultural Britain
  • An original voice
  • Strong characters
  • Engaging stories
  • A comedy style that will speak to a broad audience.

The best six scripts will be workshopped in preparation for a showcase with a professional cast at the Soho Theatre on 4 December, where a celebrity panel will choose the best two for further development by BBC Comedy. Both scripts will be optioned, with the winner's option worth £1000, and the runner-up's £500.

The competition is being run in association with Triforce Promotions, which promotes talent across a multi-cultural network of people in the media industries.

The aim is to encourage work by fresh voices, and to provide promising writers with an opportunity to develop their professional skills.

Writers of the next best six scripts will be invited to attend workshops on 4 December 2010, and to join the showcase audience.

To enter, please email the first ten pages of a thirty-minute comedy script meeting the requirements to collegeofcomedy@bbc.co.uk.

Deadline: 12:00midnight 20 September 2010.

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Micheál Jacob, college creative head, said: "We hope the competition will attract entries from writers who may feel their lives are not currently reflected in television comedy, and will introduce us to funny and fresh new voices."

01 September, 2010

Back Up Your Data Day (01/09/2010)

It's the first of the month which means it's Back Up Your Data Day (although it should be done day-to-day!).

We can also use this day to delete stuff we no longer need and de-fragment our hard drive(s) to keep our machine lean and clean - if you know what I mean?

Windows guide to defragmenting
Mac guide to defragmenting

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15 Amazing Apps for File Storage in the Cloud

"In a new age of online solutions, it didn’t take long for a diverse range of internet entrepreneurs to target one of the most common problems for almost every computer user; hard drive failure. Suddenly, someone had the idea of allowing people to backup their files in the cloud and the rest is history.

I’ve brought together the best revolutionary new apps that allow you to store your precious files in the cloud and (in some cases) even share them with others!"

Article in full



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A reminder about Matt's simple and effective back-up:

"I have never been able to get the hang of proper backup software and procedures. I always end up getting into a complete pickle about the various full backups, interim backups and how the bloody hell I'd back everything up if my hard-drive became shot with the backup software on it. So these days I just have a complete clone of My Documents on a portable drive and use Microsoft's Synctoy to keep the files up to date."

However I would suggest backing up your entire Documents and Settings folder and not just the My Documents part of it as it which would include emails and favourites/bookmarks. This link has more details.

I asked Lee about the Mac equivalent:

"Things like emails, bookmarks, fonts, templates, RSS feeds, Applescripts - anything used by an application, but not created by it when you hit Save - are kept in your Home folder, in the Library. In Mac speak, that's ~/Library. Apple apps such as Mail, Safari, and iTunes may have their own folders. Non-Apple apps like NetNewsWire, Montage, Final Draft, Scrivener etc, will keep all their stuff in ~/Library/Application Support. The truly paranoid might want to back up their preference files as well. I know I do. These are in ~/Library/Preferences.

For safety's sake, back up the entire Library folder, it's probably only a few hundred megs."

There are also mac apps: Jason Sutton recommended: Time Machine and Sam recommended Genie Timeline.

Thank you Matt, Lee, Jason and Sam!

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Don't delay, do it today. It's Back Up Your Data Day, hooray!