Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Thursday, 5 December 2013
Monday, 25 November 2013
Friday, 22 November 2013
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Truth and Logic
Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Friday, 8 November 2013
But I've just seen the line-up for the Big Comedy Conference on Saturday 30th November 2013 and it looks brilliant. They've got a really great mix of writers who actually know what they're talking about, producers who make stuff happen, and executives who decide on what the producers make happen. It's going to address TV, Radio, Live Performance, Edinburgh and YouTube. I'd definitely be there if I weren't tied up with Bluestone 42. It may look a little expensive, but it's a packed day and given the London Screenwriters Festival is £330 for a weekend, it's in the same ballpark - and probably a lot more use if you consider yourself a comedy writer, rather than a screen writer. And it's run by some good eggs. So if you're a floating voter, stop drifting. Hook yourself up to that conference.
Monday, 28 October 2013
Mac runs into the cookhouse with a porn mag, being chased by Rocket.
|Rocket (Scott Hoatson)|
Thursday, 17 October 2013
What is ironing?
|Pic by ItsGreg via Flickr|
The scripts have been heavily rewritten six or seven times in the last six months - and tinkered with a dozen times more. There are lines that made sense three drafts ago, but aren't right now, and need tweaking. Jokes have been added. Some moved. Others deleted and a mental note made to use another time, context permitting. We try to operate a No Joke Left Behind policy so one or two jokes from scenes or bits several drafts ago have been reinstated.
Sometimes what was a joke turns out to be the set up to a better joke. Sometimes you improve a line which is now a better line that the joke that follows it - so you're probably going to cut that second joke - unless you need it to move things along, in which case, it's feels a bit eggy since it's not as good as the joke before it so you now need to de-joke that second line. Or find a way of cutting it so it's all silky smooth. (But you don't iron silk, right?)
There is always the temptation to back off, go easy and assume you can fix things on the day. When you're shooting 7 pages a day, there's no little time to fix things. Fix them now. The day of the shoot itself will throw up problems of it's own. There's also the temptation you can fix it in the edit. You can't. If you don't have the shots, you really can't do anything about it. It needs to be fixed now.
It takes ages, your brain turns to mush and sometimes you just want it be over. A bit like actual ironing. But it's worth it.
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
Those mountains in the background of the show are not Afghanistan. I knew you'd be shocked. Anyone who's been to South Africa would probably recognise them straight away. As would anyone who's watched the credit to the end, but the only people who do that work in television, looking for someone to resent or blame for what they've just seen.
So I'm currently writing this blogpost in Stellenbosch as we begin filming Series 2. And I'll be posting a few despatches from our pretend frontline, not as a way of trailering the series, but as a way of showing what a writer gets up to on set and seeing what we can glean from that, short of lessons in coping with tiredness, bored and passive aggressive rage coupled with thinking of brand new jokes that you somehow manage to film on the fly before cutting them in the edit several weeks later.
The highly successful and thoroughly delight Sam Bain (Peep Show, Fresh Meat and everything else) says that:
Being a writer on set is like standing next to a photocopier during a seven-week-long printout. It's repetitive and often boring and not the best use of your time, but if you walk away there's always the chance of a catastrophic paper jam.This is a brilliant description in many ways, but there's obviously much more to be said. I often describe the job as arguing over prepositions. It's fiddling with lines, tweaking them so that they make sense, sound right, feel natural and all that. In fact, you're essentially ironing. I shall explain what I mean by that next time.
Friday, 20 September 2013
Which would suggest I think there isn't any Decent Comedy on Radio 4.
Which isn't, of course, true. Not least because I've written some comedy for Radio 4 recently which is, I hope, decent.
Moreover, anyone who's read my blog will know that I'm a huge fan of BBC Radio and Radio Comedy - and only last night was urging people to write for Newsjack, which is a brilliant way of getting started in comedy writing. And why writing for radio is just a great thing to do (see here).
I spoke to Liam about radio comedy because I like Liam and find his comedy voice interesting and subversive as far as the comedy scene goes, so we had a nice chat. And also I'm passionate about Radio Comedy and want it to be as good as possible. So when we were talking, it was more in a context of reasons why it sometimes isn't good, or why particular choices are made.
So let's nuance this all a bit. I said something along the lines of:
The BBC is desperate for new comedy voices. That’s why it returns to the Fringe each year. But because getting on to Radio 4 is an achievable aim for a Fringe performer, many shows, perhaps subconsciously, are written for radio. They’re made to be picked up and slotted in without anyone having to rethink them. So a lot of things sound like Radio 4 even before they get aired.And I think that's true - although it sounds a little negative. Because BBC Radio 4 (and 4 Extra) puts out more original comedy content that pretty much all other TV and Radio comedy combined, there's a realistic chance that if you're a good writer (and performer), you could land a slot on radio 4. And if you're trying to be seen and progress your career in Edinburgh, you might be aiming for one of those slots. So subconsciously, you could end up writing a show that can be adapted for radio quite easily, which may inhibit creativity and originality. Having said that, most of the shows I saw at Edinburgh this year were not very 'radio-ish', so maybe people are good at avoiding that.
Another thing that can happen is that when an interesting comedy voice is found, the rush to get them onto the radio might also lead to a 'comedian talks about stuff for half an hour on a theme' radio show. There are lots of them about - and some of them are great (eg Jeremy Hardy Speaks the Nation among others). I've co-written several series of Milton Jones's show where we've tried to avoid that, and written a Ripping-Yarns-meets-Goons-style story so that show is greater than the sum of its parts. That's the idea, at least. Mark Thomas's Manifesto is another decent twist on 'Man talks for half an hour' and Mark Steel's In Town.
There is also the issue that vast majority of comedy is made for a Radio 4 audience, who are not, by and large, a Radio 1, 2 or 3, Five Live or 6Music audience. So if you're after Radio comedy and aren't a regularly Radio 4 listener (which I am) there way well be a similarity in tone or style. But that's not always the case. One of my favourite shows of recent years is Bigipedia - which somehow manages to sound like the internet. It's brilliant, full of jokes and ideas (and I don't think is returning for a third series, sadly. No idea why).
Religion, Radio and Comedy
Moving on, I also said something like: 'Radio 4 won’t have religion in its comedy.’ I'm not sure I said it exactly like that, but religion and comedy together is something that Radio 4 audience tend not to like and complain about most vociferously. And so producers are rightly nervous about tackling religion with comedy.
There are reasons for this.
Religion is very personal and so the chance to offend is high. That is not to say it should be done, but you have to know why you're doing it. In my experience, comedy people tend not to be religious. And religious people tend to have a tin ear for comedy. So this is not a happy relationship. I've written lots of this subject in other places since I'm an unusual case being a comedy writer and a professing Christian. Given the number of people and ideas competing for Radio 4's comedy slots, it's probably easier to pick someone that tackles subjects other than religion - because we all want a quiet life, right? Which brings us to:
I said "And everyone’s terrified of being fired. So nobody wants to shake things up much." Firstly, it's hard to shake things up when Radio 4 Comedy is one part of one station's output which has a particular audience. But secondly, this statement is true of most people on salaries in most organisation in most walks of life. If you're paying off a mortgage and have to provide food for you kids, your main aim at work is to do the best you can without being fired.
Why would people working at the BBC be any different? We have incredibly high expectations of the BBC - because we're proud of it. We hold anyone who works there to a higher standard, which is not entirely fair because it's one of the most recognisable and trusted brands in the world. And its ours.
And despite the constant barrage from self-righteous MPs and tiresome Daily Mail columnists, the BBC continues. And BBC Radio 4 keeps putting out scripted comedies gems like Cabin Pressure, Bleak Expectations, That Mitchell and Webb Sound, Bigipedia, Giles Wemmbley-Hogg Goes Off, Old Harry's Game, Party, In and Out of the Kitchen, Elvenquest, John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, Nick Mohammed in Bits to name but a few - as well as the stalwart institutions like Just A Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, The News Quiz and The Now Show.
In short, Radio 4 Comedy has a pretty decent hit rate and have a profoundly beneficial effect on the British comedy scene. But then, no-one's going to print an article about that, are they?
Thursday, 19 September 2013
Here's what I'm advising against most of all: making the sitcom yourself with some friends as a way of 'getting the idea out there' or showing that the idea 'can work' or 'building an audience'. It won't sell the show, especially if you're trying to write something that works as a half-hour show, rather than a three-minute sketch. TV sitcoms cost at least £250k an episode, and these are not lavish productions with actors being picked up limos. Next to these shows, it's hard to make your own show which does justice to your idea. So I maintain that the best way to sell a well-written sitcom is to write a script really well and send it producers who make things that you like. For more on that, see here and here and here.
The Upside of YouTube
That is not to say if you have a go at making your own show for YouTube, you won't learn some valuable lessons, make some good friends and have fun. But everything takes time and money - and that's time and money that might be better used elsewhere.
YouTube is brilliantly democratic and immediate, so there's nothing to stop you making a show that is extremely topical. Write/Performer Dave Cohen (who has credits on Have I Got News for You and Horrible Histories) did his own topical show for a week called Britain's Got People. Or maybe you have an idea or persona that lends itself to talking directly to camera, like Jenna Marbles.
If you're looking to write something other than a sitcom script, the web does open up a whole range of possibilities that might well be worth pursuing.
Podcasts cost virtually nothing to make and can almost sound broadcast-quality very easily. If you do something that's regular and high quality, people will notice, including producers. Eventually.
There's also blogging or other forms of written online comedy - which are worth considering if you can do them well and regularly. The Onion is a notable example (which I think started as a printed leaflet to sell pizzas). The greatest British example is the wonderfully demented Framley Examiner, written by guys like Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley who've gone on to write with Charlie Brooker on Screenwipe and A Touch of Cloth.
I'm not sure if there was never a better time to be a comedy writer - given the opportunities - or whether this is the worst possible time - given the numbers of people trying to be writers. The point is that there are opportunities to show what you can do that don't involve persuading someone to lend you lights and a boom. And I would encourage you to take them.
But right now, you should be writing for Newsjack which is running on BBC Radio 4 Extra at the moment. Here's why.
Monday, 2 September 2013
YouTube beckons all of us, like a shiny casino inviting us to spin its wheels of fortune. There is something exciting about the internet. It seems democratic. There's nothing to stop your video getting 15 million hits and being an overnight sensation.
But be careful. We are moths to its flame. Even if you've made a really good three-minute video, there's no guarantee that this will lead to the kind of work you'd actually like to do. It might lead to other things, of course, so I'd never say never. But if you're a writer, think hard. Ask yourself how this is actually going to help. And bear in mind that a really good three-minute video is waaaay harder to make than you might think.
Monday, 5 August 2013
She'd been giving flyers after shows that are vaguely related to ours, and so she found herself at the Summerhall Theatre where a play called 'Higgs' was running. Peter Higgs, of course, is the man behind the Higgs-Boson, the so-called God Particle. That's the tiny tiny thing they're all trying to find at the Large Hadron Collider. In her own words:
I handed a flyer to one elderly gentleman who read the title, looked shocked but not a little amused, and then put it in the bag he was holding and walked off. I thought that was a bit of an odd reaction.
The man he had been speaking to said: ‘You do know who that is, yes?’
‘That man IS the Higgs-Boson’
Penny slowly dropping now… ‘You mean…’
‘Yes, that was Professor Higgs’.
So there we go. The girl in the bright yellow t-shirt who accidentally gave Professor Peter Higgs a flyer for a show called ‘The God Particle’.
Read Katie's blog here.