Death to the Script Editor! (Myself Included)

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?

Yours,

Camille Desmoulins

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.

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Dad’s Army Fanfic

Warmington-On-Sea burns. The butchers shop, the undertakers, the church – its smashed spire still just visible above the smoke. The bank. Oh God, the bank. Mr. Mainwaring will be furious on Monday morning. He likes a neat bank, does Mr. Mainwaring. Except Mr. Mainwaring isn’t ever going to be furious again, is he?

Keep running, boy. Scared boy. Coward boy. Stupid boy.

They were supposed to have come from the sea. Or the air. That’s why they’d spent so long guarding the pier. It stuck out half a mile, perfect for spotting Jerry. Except Jerry had come from behind. Typical Jerry trick, Mr. Mainwaring had said, your Nazi will never play fair. Trick? Play fair? This wasn’t a game anymore – why was the fat idiot still insisting it was a game? No, don’t call him that. It’s not nice. Don’t speak ill of the dead, that’s what Uncle Arthur would say.

Wipe the sick from your mouth, boy; stiff upper lip, whistle while you work. Mum’s going to kill you when she sees the state of your scarf. Run to you mother, boy, tell her what happened. She’ll want to know about Uncle Arthur. She won’t blame you, she’ll keep you safe.

Walker had died first.

‘The fucking thing’s jammed’

 The boy’s shocked. Joe never swears, least not round him, round the platoon. He swears now, stabbing at the Bren gun’s breech with his penknife, cigarette still clamped below the pencil moustache.

‘Get to Mainwaring. No, wait, get to Wilson. Tell him we’re fucked’

‘No, Joe, I want to stay’

Joe chucks the Bren, picks up his rifle, starts banging away.  Black shapes, moving along the tree line. The boy sees one drop.

‘Bullseye, Joe’

‘Piss off, kid – I’m busy’

He runs, runs while the shooting continues behind him. The crack of Joe’s rifle. The ground shakes, the roar of engines. Like the tractor display at the County Fair before the war. When he’d been a boy. A younger boy. Tanks. Panzers. Rolling off his bedroom wall, out of the newspapers and nightmares and over the fields towards him. Joe’s rifle stops.

Real soldiers. The Germans were real soldiers. Why did we think we could fight them? We shouldn’t have been here. We’re civilians, bank clerks, shopkeepers, retired tailors – who did we think we were kidding?

He stops running. Voices up ahead. He hides, crawls behind a low wall. The stench of piss and sick burns his throat. His trousers are dripping. He must have wet himself.

Nazis, real Nazis. Two of them, a motorcycle and side car. One pulls at a couple of logs, strung out across the road as a barricade. That had been Jones and Fraser’s station. The old Scotsman had moaned about the waste of good wood.

He was right, wasn’t he, boy? You were all doomed.

Fraser’s body is on the verge. Death suits his face, somehow. The flames from a burning cottage dance in his staring eyes. Bloody hell, that’s Godfrey’s place. Well, he wasn’t going to be able to get home for a piss now anyway. Even in his fear, the boy thinks of Godfrey’s sisters. Dolly and Cissy, interchangeable, with all their luggage on the station platform, refusing to believe that the German invasion would interfere with something as important as the railway timetable. Poor bloody cows, they might as well have waited for a ghost train.

One of the Germans shouts. His prisoner babbles incoherently. Jones.

‘Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic’

The German slaps him. Like in the movies. The boy stands, shouts.

Stupid boy.

The German turns, his gun snaps up. The boy waits an age. But he doesn’t die. Not yet. The German’s gun barrel flicks upwards.

Hände hoche. You know that much German, boy.

The platoon is all gone. He’s the only one left.

He raises his hands. Steps over the wall, walks slowly towards his captor. The fight is gone from him. He’s crying. Crying in front of the enemy, of adults. He doesn’t care. He just wants to crawl into a hole. Be a child again. Live. Whatever it takes. Whatever he needs to do. Whatever they want to know, just tell them, Pike.

An Actor Prepares A Venn Diagram

Typecasting can be a terrible thing. It behoves any actor who takes their career and themselves seriously to draw up a Venn diagram of their roles to date. This will allow them to not only spot any typecasting pattern before it gets out of hand, but also to have a useful handout if they are ever asked on Inside The Actor’s Studio.

So what has this taught us?

Nothing.

RAY GALTON: FISTS OF FURY

This story on Chortle made me so happy, I thought I should share some of my joy.

Firstly, I know! A story on Chortle that isn’t a snidey accusation of plagiarism or a regurgitated press release telling me that Joe Comic has got a – gasp! – commission… to write a treatment.  Truly we are living in the golden times.

Anyway, if you haven’t read the article or The Times interview it’s been lifted from, essentially Ray Galton took offence at the way he and Alan Simpson were depicted in the BBC4 biopic Hancock & Joan. Lord knows, I was mortally offended by the way they were depicted and, as anyone who’s seen my work will tell you, I’m definitely not them so  imagine how furious Mr Galton himself must have been. Well, you don’t have to imagine because he gave a clear physical example of his fury by punching Richard Cotton, the writer of Hancock & Joan in the face. Or right up the bracket, as Galton & Simpson might have had Hancock put it.

About time too.

If you didn’t see BBC4’s The Curse of Comedy season then don’t bother tracking them down. Allow me to give you a partisan précis, leaving out all the bits that don’t fit in with my agenda. That, after all, is how the season worked.

It all began, as so many things do, with Michael Sheen crying and masturbating in the bath. This was in ‘Boo Hoo, Matron’ or whatever it was called; the miserable, squalid, wasted life of Tony Blair, Brian Clough, Werewolf King, Tony Blair Again Kenneth Williams. They followed that with Phil Davis crying and masturbating in the toilet (Steptoe) and Ken Stott crying and shitting in the bath (Hancock). I gave up by the time they got round to David Walliams as Frankie Howard but I imagine it involved crying and maybe pissing in the shower. There was also one that tried to suggest that Hughie Green was somehow a comedy legend, rather than a presenter, which had lots of scenes of Trevor Eve getting drunk and waving his cock about – though those might have been a Waking The Dead blooper reel they used to pad out a boring 30 minute script. Thankfully they never did one about Dad’s Army where we find out that those much-loved actors really did like it up them.

The basic underlying message of all these films was, it seemed to me, the drama writer’s assumption that these men were failures because instead of doing something worthwhile and noble, like writing drama, they were wasting their talents entertaining and being loved by millions. I know, I can’t believe we lost the chance to see Harry H. Corbett’s Timon of Athens and all we got in return was hours of Steptoe & Son.  The tragedy of these wasted lives.

Now, I understand how drama works. You know, it needs drama. So as annoyed as I was by what I felt were pointless exercises in sensationalist corpse-fucking, I was willing to admit that one man’s pointless exercise in sensationalist corpse-fucking was another man’s quality drama. Until, that is, I saw The Road To Coronation Street. Suddenly, because the central figure is a drama writer in a drama written by a drama writer and made by drama makers about the making of a drama, we’re allowed to have a hagiography. No shitting in the bath for Tony Warren. He was allowed to make grandiose statements about the importance of his work without immediately crying and throwing a bottle of vodka at a man in a hat pretending to be Willie Rushton. Every other bit of dialogue was along the lines of –

‘It’s the most important, brilliant and true piece of work I’ve ever read, Tony – and I’m Lew Grade!’

Seriously, there was stuff in here that would have seemed clunky in a 1950s Hollywood biopic.

‘How’s that symphony coming along, Mr Schubert? Still unfinished?’

Now I realise I might be sounding like one of those men who write into Points of View and complain about the details on the uniforms in an adaptation of Vanity Fair. That’s because I basically am – I’m a comedy nerd, I take the minutiae seriously. I’m also a writer and I can spot lazy, badly researched arrogance when I see it. If I was Ray Galton (and I wrote some of According To Bex, so I really am not) I’d give Brian Fillis a bunch of fives as well for the way he depicted the writing process behind Steptoe & Son. The idea of a writing partnership seemed so laughable to the high-minded maverick dramatist that of course they come across as a pair of buffoons who only decide that the two rag-and-bone men are father and son after they’ve finished the script. Galton & Simpson wrote Hancock and Steptoe & Son, Brian, you wrote the Curse of Steptoe – show some bloody respect. I was talking to someone who knew Peter Cook the other day about the Rhys Ifans-starring film about him and Dudley Moore which he said got everything about Peter right except it missed that he was, above all, funny. My main problem was with the Alan Bennett portrayal. While he might not be absolutely dead central to the story, isn’t it a little lazy to just have him come on or twice and say –

‘Ooh, somebody’s eaten all the ginger creams’

So good on Ray Galton for standing up for himself – and for all comedy writers. Too much harping on about the importance of comedy and I’ll start to sound as bad as biopic Tony Warren, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of in trying to make people laugh. In fact, the danger of the Curse of Comedy season’s way of thinking can be seen in some of today’s comedy commissions, particularly single camera shows like Whites. Peep Show and The Inbetweeners prove that you can do single camera and try to pack in as many laughs as a Hancock or Steptoe & Son (as do loads of the best American shows we see over here) but more and more single camera shows are drifting towards that grey area of comedy-drama. I like comedy dramas, Misfits is wonderful, The Beiderbecke Affair remains both funny and dramatic – if you haven’t seen it, do – but too often I get a whiff from these shows of self-importance. They’re saying –

We don’t need to be funny, we’re doing something more important, yeah?’.

That’s how they would talk, single camera sitcoms, if they were a person. Yeah?

I suppose, yes,  you could see comedy from a drama writer’s point of view. Where are the single plays, the chances to develop outside of Doctors or the Casualty sausage-factory(Meaning they churn them out, not that that they’re planning a new industrial spin-off)? Single dramas seem to be shuttled off to BBC4 and can only get on if they’re salacious biopics while Live At The Apollo and Mock the Week bestride the schedules and pump money away from sitcom and drama commissioning into the pockets of stand-ups whose only interest in the State of the Nation is whether you can make a public school bumming joke about Clegg and Cameron.

Oh, I seem to hate both sides equally. That’s madness, we’re all in TV together. The real enemy are film makers. They really are dicks.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I blogged last and I’m out of the habit of cogent reasoning so I will leave you with this.

RAY GALTON PUNCHED A MAN IN THE FACE.

That really made my week.

Cobwebby

Yeah, it’s all gone a bit quiet over here.

I’ll be back as soon as I can work out something more worthwhile than having a pop at innocent cafe owners.

Meanwhile I have been blogging over at the BBC Writersroom site – read my words of inverted-commas-wisdom here.

It stands for ‘As Written Mother… you can guess the rest’

Hello.

This blog has partly been inspired by Richard Herring’s Warming Up, which began as an attempt to overcome writer’s block by spending some time at the beginning of each day writing about something that had happened to him on the previous day. Well, I’ve been suffering from my own variant of writer’s block so I thought, why don’t I do that? You know, spend some time each day writing about things that have happened to Richard Herring?

But, like Stampy the Mine Clearing Elephant, I don’t think it’s got legs.

Instead this will just be some things. Mostly pointless or of interest only to me. A blog basically.