What else did you expect?
Remember when YouTube had a $200 million pound war chest to pump into original programming?
It was their bold attempt to move beyond those upload-your-cat-videos amateur content that the site has become synonymous with and try to be a digital multiplatform with commissioned content. They tried their best to veer away from the self-built curse of being a sprawling site with no real niche or individuality.
In fact, do you remember any of these channels that were created?
Not even the Tony Hawks skateboarding channel?
Well, I knew beforehand the money would eventually be wasted with pretty much nothing substantial to show for it. The experiment failed. In fact even I tried to squeeze money out of them.
The disaster was two-fold; firstly nobody can differentiate between each “channel” due to the amount of sidebar noise so it’s attention span hell. Rarely do people (even me) look for a particular channel on a regular basis. Streaming sites like iPlayer and Netflix are built in brands from the start, you knew what you would get by going to their sites.
Secondly the YouTube commissioners seemed to have been hypnotized by the larger companies that jumped on board. They simply didn’t understand the market direction they needed to do down. I hazard a guess that these suppliers had some scripts that were hardly A-List so dusted them off and slipped them over. The quality control didn’t seem to be an issue to a certain degree as they just wanted eyeballs pulled towards their site. In fact if I remember correctly, after speaking to someone, they said that YouTube keep the rights for only a year or two and they revert back to the filmmaker. The content creator gets to win all the way… strange deal if true.
It’s hard to change from this curse of success and other attempts like Comedy Week have fared little better in getting a niche corner of the market.
The main problem is that they didn’t have the right people with a clear agenda, I mean what do you want to be? Broad or Niche? You can’t have it both ways. Also not having a strong sense of quality control didn’t help. Netflix as an example succeeded by spending big but wisely with House of Cards. Solid drama with teeth, which you knew, would win accolades. A great business card if any. I think they should stick to what they do best.
I was watching Moneyball the other day and one thing struck me, what if the same principles were applied to British Media?
The baseball concept was to find undervalued players to make up for budget shortfalls and showed that the system was working off a flawed concept.
To use one genre as an example, current television comedy is using a similar now flawed concept that is ripe for reinvention. From my experience, the talent scouts currently employed at the major production companies seem to follow the same tradition of discovering stars that translate well to television. By translate I mean the usual footlights type. This has worked previously in creating iconic programmes but for the last few years that way of bold thinking has fallen to the wayside. The output is all the same and the format is becoming stale because if it. Turn on the TV and innovation has all but stopped.
No matter where you look, these same faces appear on television talking the same comedic language.
Instead of trying to replicate the same televisual template, the Indies should be hiring people who think out of the box and stop searching for what would fit into the current lineup. Everyone is playing it safe for the sake of ratings but bold choices are for the brave and the rewards can be more enduring.
Two examples are The Real McCoy and Goodness Gracious Me that literally created an audience nobody thought existed. The Office also made the sheer boredom of office life gripping viewing and Chris Morris’s output is pure anarchy.
Obviously it’s not just down to the Indies as the commissioners need to be open to these unique ideas and be involved in the risk. Historically there have always been “quiet slots” to try out ideas so the gamble is minimised.
I have personally met some of the most respected, innovative and talented comics on the circuit who you will never know because their attitude doesn’t fit into the current mold. The right spotter can pick this talent and nurture them into creating something truly different. I think it’s high time to shake things up and hell, if it fails what do you lose from the small outlay?
It struck me over the weekend as to one thing that really needs changing for these established UK production companies/ commissioners….
Meetings with the little people! Not just for the exclusivity of the industry talent/ players.
I have spent the last five years emailing/ contacting every conceivable person in the industry for advice, information, even a foot in the door and all of it has come to nothing. If i actually get a reply, it’s some junior giving me some “not ready for primetime” guff and interestingly some of them (when i check their background) have merely done a chintzy media course and have this job straight out of college… hardly a long career in taste-making comedy. Every site says you should approach the producers but my friends and I have done that and still nada. I understand there should be a minimum standard of quality to look for but how can one judge upon an introductory email?
The problem is that unless you are established, nobody wants to give you the time of day, in fact for me, the only person who made the kind effort to meet up (in a Soho Starbucks!) was a feature producer who gave me expert wisdom which i have used. Just to be in their presence was a major achievement and has kept me going in terms of knocking on doors (very Death of a Salesman). I understand there are a large amount of us writers knocking on doors but read the next paragraph as another vision.
Now the flip-side is that a friend’s wife ,who is a writer, was in Los Angeles and ended up having meetings with select industry folk. Simple, no having to hack through the system. Whether anything comes of it is one thing but you get to see a face and talk about the ideas you have. I know the US is a meeting orientated culture and the UK people are busy but really, they should have a culture of setting time aside for meetings to scout new talent. They honestly don’t know how big the talent pool is. I do as i am networked with the most talented people still “hitting the bricks”
Personally as i am a comedy writer i have met indie producer/ directors who have said they will forward me to the established companies (of which i shan’t name!) but i hear nothing back. Even just a sit down chat with someone can be enough to keep the spirits up.
So, the recent event to address the lack of diversity in media was a psuedo-success judging by the varied voices that were vocal at the current situation. I say pseudo as nothing has been set in concrete.
There were a few suggestions such as setting quotas but these ideas are made by people who have established themselves in media. What i want to express is ideas presented by a person who has tried numerous times to get his projects made and consantly been rebuffed. Essentially an outsider like me.
*disclaimer: This is not a blatant opportunity for me to get my scripts made (though it would be nice!) but a chance to level the playing field for all people*
1- Online: The various TV channels are now experimenting with their online divisions and in the case of Channel 4 they do these showcase opportunities. The latter’s last attempt was a disaster to the community as they ran a scheme called ‘Comedy Blaps ‘ where it was an open call to send in your submissions but the chosen shows were from the establishment (for the most part) like Baby Cow et al. This rendered it a dispiriting waste of time for all those who made the effort. What needs to be done is utilize these digital portals to properly showcase new talent at a fraction of the budget. Please look at the last line as i have worked on things for poverty level prices and even getting a few grand to bring something real will be money better spent.
2- Talent Scouts: I have seen numerous comedy talents in my time who are simply shut out because their face doesn’t fit the same generic people on panel shows. I am not saying put any old person on but pay attention to who can add a little quirkiness. Essentially the talent scouts should be fearless to “think outside the box” and have the backup to do so.
3- Workshops: They don’t work for the most part and it’s essentially there to make the managers sleep well at night. More thought should be made as to the point of direction and outcome for these. No point giving people a training session if it doesn’t lead anywhere.
You can certainly experiment without disrupting the core franchises. If the current mindset was applied 30 years ago there would simply be no Hanif Kureishi and he made some brilliant edgy stuff. The type that will not be made today unless change is made.
That’s it for positive action plans but three is enough right?
As for me i have set up my own website and production company and fighting on my rules (with no money!) in the hope something breaks. I mean look at Spike Lee, he did it by being angry/pushy/ focused and so am i.
So, one of the many chintzy spam-lite emails I get tells me that with a simple modest payment I can write in the same style as Tarantino, well for the first 15 pages at least.
I can understand why they are selling this concept as his films are unique but why would you want to be a writer turned Tarantino-lite hack?
Why emulate his work when every teacher tells you to find your own voice? Certainly watch his films and read the screenplays (as I have done) but only to see how he has structured his film for himself. It’s hardly the bench mark of structure much like Robert Towne’s work due to their unique styles.
It’s true that people want to read scripts that they can relate to as a hit movie but they also crave originality and scams such as this drive you away from getting your unique voice out there. Look at even the populist genre movies and you can see the writer’s personality is embedded in it. Yes, even Lethal Weapon!
Quentin has had a long B-Movie cinematic education which has developed his writing and for you to do the same thing will make a sub par rip-off script which people will say “it’s like Pulp Fiction/ Reservoir Dogs but a little bit shitter and it’s quite cheeky for someone to sell you a product that is pushing you away from originality and going towards conformity.
We are all influenced by great writers but don’t let it drown out what you want to write. Read a few film books, learn structure and narrative and go ahead and write. It really is that simple.
Disclaimer: This is a broad generalization when referring to specific episodes but I am making an overall point so don’t dick me over some late night show which you term a classic.
Each decade of television (and radio) has had an element of the radical that has changed the landscape and influenced the following generation from the Goon Show (1950’s), Tony Hancock (1960’s), Monty Python/ Q (1970’s), Blackadder/ The Young Ones/ Only Fools and Horses/ Spitting Image (1980’s), The Day Today, Big Train (1990’s), The Office, Nighty Night and Nathan Barley in the noughties.
Obviously there was a load of crap that fell by the wayside (Fresh Fields/ Curry and Chips/ Mind your Language) but the last one on my list is the point I am making albeit a broad one.
For me the last great comedy series was Nathan Barley and due to it’s reception was considered an artistic failure, which seemed to be a Chris Morris backlash. Since then there has been nothing challenging which is curious because comedy is about as fashionable as Anna Wintour these days.
The title sounds like a dry thesis but it’s something that bothered me to actually think about further.
When I originally watched Kill Bill and got to the animated sequence I thought it was an interesting style for the film and lent a surreal bent to the revenge flick but when I watched Guy Ritchie’s film,I plainly saw it as a stylistic rip off badly done which is fair enough with lesser talents but then I got thinking about the context.
In Tarantino’s film, animation was used to show the sub plot, which couldn’t be filmed as live action due to the underage scenes and would have been otherwise tasteless and plainly unfilmable. Making it in the style of a Manga cartoon bypassed the controversial subject matter to keep the story flowing without it becoming a controversial distraction.
Now Guy Ritchie missed this point and simply saw it as a stylistic choice and in my mind it made for a very shallow sequence in a very shallow film running on empty. There was no reason for Mrs Madonna to blatantly steal the idea apart from the fact that it was ’kool’ like the opening of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt.
A good director should have thought out each sequence to help push the story forward and have reason to film it a certain way so next time you watch a film by a good director, ask yourself why he did it that way….
A good director always has an reason to use a particular style and Tarantino, Polanski et al would be proud of you.
Finally by the end of the year we need to be rid of FCP 7 and move onto bigger and better platforms such as Adobe Premiere, FCPX or Media Composer. It is still surprising how many Enterprise companies delivering HD content are using this 32 bit application which was end-of-lifed 3 years ago. Camera codecs are developing for the newer NLE’s so trash this in the bin and play catch up…
A rip off of Mad Max but camped up to the max, this Enzo G Castellari film is a force to be reckoned not because of the bonkers plot, garish costumes or the post apolcalyptic setting that simply looks like a desert but the sheer unadulterated fun that this flick brings to having mentalist actors overracting in a scenario that must have been written by a 10 year old child. This entertaining slab of celluloid action is miles better than 20 Michael Bay films at a fraction of a budget. It may be exploitative and geared for the grindhouse circuit but with a few beers this is brilliant fun. Check out Fred Williamson dressed as one of the Bee Gees (how they persuaded him to wear such camp schmata is beyond me) who’s sole weapon is a bow and arrow which looks like a direct rip off of Marvel’s Hawkeye (check your lawyers Enzo).