Brothers and Sisters,
I’ve been doing a fair amount of script editing over the last few years. That’s the way it goes sometimes; the work as a poacher dries up so you start exploring the gamekeeper options. Now I actually think I’m quite good at the job, and even enjoy it – and the same can be said of many of the script editors working out there today. However if we’ve learnt anything from Jimmy Savile it’s that just because you’re good at something and enjoy doing it doesn’t mean it should be allowed.
As a script editor I have looked at the state of modern comedy, made some notes, sat twiddling my thumbs, changed a few words because otherwise it’ll look like I’ve not done any work and, finally, come to the conclusion that script editors are a plague upon the earth and need to be done away with.
Worse than that, we are a possibly pointless plague. Some plagues are a necessary evil, you don’t need to be a evil misanthrope to see that – though it does help. In all honesty though, what fucking good are script editors to anyone? We are the non-Jonathan Rosses of writing. Script editors aren’t even writers. We’ve crossed the line. The script editor is the producer’s hired gun. We’re Pinkertons, Sheriff’s Men, strike breakers, Red Caps, hired muscle. We’re the deputies in a one-horse Klan town, we’re the hobbits that sided with Saruman, we’re camp capos. We’re overseers and house boy Uncle Toms. We’re some Harry Potter reference I haven’t read enough of the books to make.
Script editors are the sort of people who say ‘You see, I’m all about story’ and expect not to get punched. Our whole career is based around persuading grandmothers that there’s a secret to sucking eggs that only we know. You know where ‘script guruism’ leads? Hollywood. Not in an exciting, ‘they’re making a film version of Citizen Kahn but set in a newspaper baron’s castle’ way but to the Hollywood of inciting incidents on page 10, act one breaks on page 25 and fat chance validating your parking if you attempt anything different. It’s a structural approach that may have had its roots in something organic and artistic but now is as calcified and proscriptive as Noh theatre. It’s a system primarily geared towards allowing illiterate executives to judge a script by weight and pagination without recourse to any actual artistic judgement. It’s a world a lot of our TV execs would love to live in. Firstly, they could pretend they were big important Americans, which they love. It would also allow them to remove the difficult, unglamorous, troll-people with all the words and the ideas who keep asking them to imagine things and make decisions not based on audience research.
Is it possible that the rise of the script editor in TV comedy is part of a broader move towards disempowering the writer in the creative process? Rather than the sole originator of the idea and the concept, without whose script nothing could get made the writer becomes part of the crew, answering to their department head, attached and detached from a project at the producer’s will. It’s interesting that the BBC’s current hit sitcoms Miranda and Mrs Brown’s Boys are essentially writerless. Miranda is so focussed on the central character, and that central character is so widely accepted as a straight projection of the ‘real Miranda’ that people can con themselves into believing it springs fully formed onto the screen, like a slapstick Made In Chelsea. Mrs Brown’s Boys is obviously scripted – otherwise the actors wouldn’t know exactly when to make their ad-libs – but it’s such a collection of old jokes, borrowed set-ups and traditional routines that it’s not written so much as channelled via Ouija board from the fevered dreams of Old Mother Reilly’s deathbed. The important thing is Hart and O’Carroll are bona fide stars, so any pesky habits they may have of putting pen to paper like massive nerds can be overlooked by those starfuckers who want to make television but can’t bring themselves to be horny-handed sons or (unfortunately statistically fewer) daughters of toil craftsmenfuckers.
So, we should pick a side. Let’s just get rid of the job title. If you want to be on the writer’s side, if you want to help make scripts better, then do it as a writer. If you want to be the Head of Cotton Commissioning’s Uncle Tom, then be a producer. When the Bastille falls do you want to be tugging on the ropes of the lanterne or passing on some notes about act three from Louis XVI?
PS. Let us – writer, script editor and producer alike – never forget, however, that the real enemy is, and always will be, Sam Wollaston in The Guardian.