Risk Taking in British Television

It’s interesting to read an article by BBC Controller Kim Shillinglaw looking for something “disruptive” and “anarchic” along the lines of SNL, The Tonight Show etc. The type of programming to go against the grain of the current crop of panel shows and other esoteric light entertainment containing mainly middle class presenters. Something “edgy” and “different” to break the current stale bland schedules. Clearly these guys want something to bring back they youth and make terrestrial television Kool again. Anyone old enough can shout out Def 2

From my experience of keeping my ear to the ground I find the same thing being echoed down the halls of commissioners’ offices. They ask for something different but get the same-old-same-old as it is a safe bet. Sometimes they take the same-old-same-old and try to sell it as a completely different beast. That’s why the same panel shows are commissioned with minor tweaks to the style but sold as bold new formats.

They all seem to have HBO / Lorne Michaels envy and want to find TheNextBigCulturalThing to add to the WaterCoolerTalkingPoint. The problem I see is that the established production companies have a stranglehold on the commissions so the pool for innovation is smaller. If you want something disruptive you need to find the right people who are not corporatized by the standards of television and actually bring in something fresh that reflects society now.

Also do these people know what the term “disruptive” actually means? What they want doesn’t seem like it will disrupt the media ecosystem, especially when it is to be shown at 10pm on BBC 2. Netflix disrupted the business model of waiting each week for the next episode by releasing all 13 parts of House of Cards in one go. That is the term used correctly here. I will let is slide as people love buzzwords like Zeitgeist.

Personally and again this is due to my peculiar taste but the last fresh original anarchic programmes were Nathan Barley and Tramadol Nights. I believe the latter was the last time something so funny and controversial was screened across the airwaves. Granted you can shout out that Toast of London is very funny but I wouldn’t say it’s groundbreaking, just a very funny series.

Commissioners want to discover the next Monty Python and bask in the glory of leaving a televisual legacy and if these people really want to think out of the box they need to talent spot people outside of the safe pool of comics and writers and start developing them. And I don’t mean box ticking. Real risk taking like Lorne does with assembling the writers.

Yes I know the Diversity debate rolls on and people are probably sick to death of hearing about it but compare SNL which has a diverse cast compared to British television. One only has to look at the oft mentioned british exodus to America, look at Armando Ianucci’s, success with his show. The HBO model was to get the talent and leave them alone and have some sort of faith. It worked for them.

As legend has it Only Fools and Horses only starting becoming a ratings grabber after series 3 but nowadays they feel they need to hit the ground running.

Essentially,widen the talent pool and you will be surprised what you will uncover. Be inclusive, not exclusive

The Emperor’s New Media

Here’s the thing. Nowadays, look at the standard television channels and you will see a lot of programmes where you will literally think “who the hell is going to watch this trash?” There is currently a Laurence Llewelyn Bowels obs doc (as of this writing) going to China to release a range of lingerie! Secret life of cats! The very public life of dogs!
How are these shows commissioned still in this day and age and still be woefully out of touch with modernity and why are the commissioners out of touch? Or are they, because they do get the ratings.
My guess would be the background of the commissioners and producers where they think these ideas will please the masses. I constantly ask industry foot soldiers the state of television and they say it’s going downhill and lowbrow but then again I don’t have that many cat loving housewife friends who make up the demographic. I simply don’t travel in those circles.

Brands like Vice are making huge inroads with documentaries and Netflix the same in terms of bold strokes with drama. Also a worthy mention is the Maverick philosophy of HBO where they make programming that people not only watch but talk about afterwards. When was the last time you said ” oh goody! A Lawrence Bowel-Movement programme with a twist”… I would presume never unless you are over 65 and act suspiciously spinsterish.
The thing about programmes such as this is that those in power still want attain the level of mastery on their choices but as the commissioners are in power, they ask for what they think the audience wants, not what they actually want.
Water cooler moments are few and far between and the last time I had one of those for a television programme was The Office and after that Nathan Barley. Nowadays the posts left on my Facebook page rarely consist of MOR television programming.
Another irk is the obs docs nonsense which admittedly my wife watches like 24 hours in A&E which she finds entertaining due to the “human stories”. But a new fly-on-the-wall programme set on night busses? basically just transmitted HD cctv footage with audio and edited for “the best bits”… I blame BigBrother for giving birth to such conceit.
The biggest surprise for me was Gogglebox, hated the premise but accidentally caught a programme and actually found it funny… It’s rather popular too. Unfortunately this success has made the industry think they have their finger on the zeitgeist. They don’t and as the ages pass, their grip will loosen further until their next shows have to find kickstarter for funding.

 

British television needs to be bold, not saccharine.

Super Hip Vice Magazine Blog

Fuck you that’s my name. Read between the lines and it’s there.

I popped into a trendy cafe that sells niche corn flakes from brands that I have never heard of. This is the kind of sugar rich E laden monstrosity that I need to course through my veins. In this uber cool shit hole  you are able to sit next to dead people watching them mindlessly shit-down-their-gullets with this finely malnutritious meal.

What’s the name of the place? I am not going to tell you because that would be me making you cooler than you are and we wouldn’t that.

After scoffing this trendy poverty cuisine my stomach feels like it has been fingered by special branch and my stools will no doubt be less pipe laden but more like a broken M&M machine plopping out multi coloured branded pebbles.

Late afternoon breakfast done I must find the latest, greatest place nobody has heard of. Inconveniently I went into a crack den thinking it was a Nuveau Riche coffee shop. It was only when I realised that an overdose victim was uncontrollably shining my shoes with his jagged head and I vacated the premises quick sharpish.
I am the self proclaimed mega twat with trousers short enough that people can see my socks. It’s enough to arouse the midget literati.

Those who pretend to read books with all encapsulating titles that Tolstoy would describe as top-10-books-to-read-while-taking-a-shit are dead to me. Such shallow behaviour. Obviously this town used to be cool but nowadays the cool places are hidden in spaces that even Anne Frank would turn her nose up at.

My next adventure awaits.

Worst Cartoon Ever Made

I watch shit films all the time and this gives me a high tolerance of crap cinema. I mean there is always something in a poorly made film to keep the interest but watching Colour City makes me feel like this is the worst film ever with absolutely no redeeming values contained within. This wasn’t even a gift from me to me as I went with my kids to watch it in the cinema.

Plot: a bunch of crayons come alive and go to a parallel dimension where crayons live a normal life…such a terrible premise and should have been aborted. Alas due to a possible creative drought and  the producers having no taste, it was pushed through to production.

My kids enjoyed it but then again they will probably stare at Warhol’s Campbell Soup and just think of dinner and not appreciate art as it stands in the modern world.

But I digress

This film had atrociously poor animation with a crew that I suspect was suffering from Parkinson’s and songs that are truly,truly terrible and unmemorable. Elton John this is NOT! A poor imitation of some television animation from the 60’s, you would think things would have progressed after Bod and Morph but alas not.

Crayon Bollocks (as i have nicknamed it) is truly the Lidl of cinema and I think next time will purely stick to Pixar animation or some branded piece of entertainment.

1 star and a disappointed morning.

Sayonara Screendaily 

 

In 1991 I worked for a media company that had a stash of Screen International weekly magazines so I rifles through them during my break. As i was started out in the industry i became fascinated and found this trade magazine a really informative read. Since then I have never missed an issue and it was and still is the only place to see the movers and shakers in the European Film Industry, Variety and the other trades are more US-centric and i never really liked that wacky style of writing and the fractured articles dotted all over was rather stupid.

Then Screen lead the charge of going online and the site was one of the first digital subscriptions I purchased but slowly the site started to be generic puff pieces and a portal for productions to promote their companies and slates. All I started reading at the tail end of these was press that ended with “we look forward to working with so and so who is a visionary”. Any kind of reportage i enjoyed as pretty much evaporated and you know it’s coming to an end when it’s a chore to read the headlines daily. I will say in defence that the festival reporting is spot on and very good but is it enough for me to carry on subscribing?

Things have changed and now i read Variety, LaTimes/ Company Town which went through a digital changeover and i catch up with news from these sites and occasionally from Screen.

April 2015 I have cancelled my subscription which is a shame  but will resubscribe when improvements and investments are made in quality journalism.

Jeremy Clarkson’s Opinions (Like We Care)

A self reflective Clarkson opinion piece you won’t read in his Sun column :

That’s the thing about public school educated people like me who end up on television. Because of our superior nihilistic education, this gives us an elitist world view on what we call the downtrodden. If you drive anything less than a hot car/ woman (delete as appropriate) you are dead to me.

We tend to sneer at the lower classes, and poke fun at the foreigners because we deludedly think that our audience will find such things funny. Well, the less intelligent do. The reality is that our cars drive the show. What you are actually watching are just a set of struck-it-lucky wide boys who use a politer form of racism coated in humour for our followers. We sit on top of this perch pissing on everyone below while maintaining a world view marred by the self imposed nihilism,  all harking back to our time at those wrenched-from-our-parents boarding schools. Did i mention that we make a LOT of money for the corporation in merchandising sales?

This is the shining example of why, even though the viewing figures are large they are mostly a greying bunch thereby leaving the younger crowd to move online. We never understood all that anyway as we are the old guard free from such changes in the media landscape. All we did was go HD because you demanded it.

Maybe that punch up with my working class producer was a good thing.

Right, off to the pub.

Quota Films The British Film Industry

So all the rumours of elitism and cronyism within the british film industry are true as per the evidence introduced in the doc I saw at The Prince Charles Cinema recently.

Quota Film’s The British Film Industry: Elitist, Deluded or Dormant is an eye-opening look at this incestuous disease that is deep rooted in the British Film Industry. Let’s be honest it’s like any institution whether it is the Banks or the BBC and the cronyism at the top level keeping the top jobs within their gene pool.

And to think with all this talk of diversity and closing the class divide, the industry is at a low point for people who want an entry. Don’t take my word for it, many news articles are pretty much saying the same thing where the BAME and working class actors/ filmmakers are increasingly shut out. All the advances in the 80’s with Channel 4’s brave agenda have pretty much gone with television preferring safe programming which is why you won’t see many real ground breaking films.

One other not-very-surprising-in-hindsight issue is conflict of interest with some Regional Film Council heads diverting funds into THEIR OWN production companies. Isn’t that a teensy bit illegal? When one has a privileged position they shouldn’t be able to line their own pockets but then again why am I surprised? All these initiatives need overhauling and even with the demise of the Film Council and the BFI taking over, we shall see if they step up to the plate.

As someone who reads a lot about the British Film Industry, this is a fine companion to Icons on Fire: The Decline and Fall of Almost Everybody in the British Film Industry by Alexander Walker where the few people in power totally screwed it for everyone else. Shame really as there is an abundance of talent out there waiting to be recognised. At least for the ones that haven’t hoofed it to the States.

The main reason I found this eye opening and writing from a personal level, I applied to a great many funding bodies over the years and had I known then what I do now I wouldn’t have bothered. What’s the point if the cards are marked against you? What is the real point if the funds are going to their friends? Energies are best spent going after private funds like Kickstarter, especially if you are far from privileged or connected.

I know there are some people who will shout Kidulthood but these are in the minority (pun city!) and more films such as this should be championed. All said and done the shining light in all this (among a slim few) is Warp films making truly British films and creating a filmic legacy that will last years. What is needed is more of that.

The roll call of respected Industry Professionals that have been interviewed is impressive and all speak of the problem and this documentary is one big action plan for change.

London is the best city?

It is amusing to read that London is crowned as the best city in the world and judging by the criteria selected seem to have been chosen by people who don’t live in this cultural melting pot.

Only people who actually live in london will experience the following:

Hospitals: Granted that the NHS is better than most countries and free but when I took my sickly child to an A&E outlet that hadn’t been closed down we had to wait 4 hours just to be seen. We even had celebrity mentalist and funny curmudgeon Charlie Brooker in with his equally sickly child waiting for the same amount of time. Only two doctors on call hence the long wiring time…. We were lucky as there was one patient who was waiting for 7 hours.

Safety: London riots may have happened in 2011 but don’t think for one moment that the problem has gone away. The youth are still disaffected as ever and have nothing to do so this will very much come back.

Transport: Even the head of transport has said that London will fall apart in chaotic violence as the transport system can’t cope with so many Londoners. Any given weekend a few of the train lines are closed for repair so we have to seek alternate routes and plan ahead… Mondays? There will invariably be a few lines down due to the fact that works will overshoot. Oh and it’s usually standing room only.

Housing: Face it, Londoners cannot afford to get on the housing ladder and the next generation are going to live a life of renting. Home ownership will be a thing of the past keeping everyone just above the poverty line

If you are rich on the other hand London is the best place to live!

It’s not all complaints as this is still the best place in the world and wouldn’t change all the good things about it like multiculturalism and the arts.

Comics make great actors

When it comes to film roles, one thing you will consistently notice is that people who come from a background of live stand up comedy can seamlessly play dramatic parts convincingly and to critical acclaim. Look at Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and Steve Coogan. When they play dramatic and/or darker characters they garner rave reviews.

Ever thought about that? It’s not something you would think works but it does.

You see, most stand-up comics make observations about life around them, they are extremely observant of people’s mannerisms. Their routines are consistently based on mimicking. Where method actors get into character, these performers do that anyway night after night over a period of years. One other person of note who transitioned successfully was Lee Evans in Funny Bones.

So when a challenging part comes along(Truman Show, One Hour Photo, Philomena) they can get the right low key performance because of their on the job training.

On the flipside when it comes to actors playing comics it’s the opposite. Take for example Lawrence Olivier, he played a comic in a role and was acclaimed for playing the character as awkward. After all, comics are awkward people in real life. When asked about the role he admitted he played it that way because he felt awkward doing the role.

Also, look at someone more contemporary like Seth Rogan. When he played a comic in Funny People aka Unfunny Film he wasn’t convincing as a live act, more like an actor awkwardly trying to play a comic. Well, I wasn’t convinced but Adam Sandler was good as he had a background in live comedy which made his part more interesting.

Next time you watch a film have a think.