Archive for Graham Linehan

We Are Not Alone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2009 by dcairns

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A barely-formed Glenn Erickson, of the mighty and indispensible DVDSavant, working in the model shop of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Glenn has been incredibly nice about spreading the word about Shadowplay via his powerful organ, boosting my stats to undreamed-of levels, for which I’m enormously grateful.

For Spielberg-heads (and you know, I still love quite a few of those films from my youth), Glenn has written excellent insider’s-view articles of CE3K and 1941. Check ’em out.

And via TV genius Graham Linehan’s Why That’s Delightful, where he condenses the internet into manageable form, we get news of the e-publication of the story conference notes taken when George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Larry Kasdan first got together to talk about Lucas and Philip Kaufman’s story idea for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Well worth checking out, for fans and foes alike. Haters will find much to sneer at as the moguls talk nonsense, embrace cliche, expose the covert racism of the INDIANA JONES series to the light of day, and posit Indie as a paedophile who may have seduced Marian (Karen Allen, eventually) at the age of 11 (Lucas seems particularly keen on this idea). Admirers will meanwhile gawp in wonder as a legend takes shape, and gain valuable insight into the exact contributions of the various talents involved — Lucas: production mechanics and commercial gameplan– Kasdan: character nuance — Spielberg: understanding that it’s a theme park ride in episodic narrative form. The absent Kaufman’s contribution seems to be the overall narrative shape and the biblical MacGuffin. As you can surmise, I have a rather schizoid attitude to the whole thing: my inner 13-year-old still loves the first movie, and my mor “adult” side appreciates the craft and artistry that’s gone into it.

I remember a very illuminating Kasdan interview from the time, where he listed the things he mentioned stuff that didn’t make the final cut — most of which is included here, and all of which got recycled in the sequels. Kasdan also talked about scenes he never quite cracked, which was fascinating — armed with this knowledge, you could see where Spielberg’s presentation skills were covering up script problems. I think the interview ran in Starlog or something, I wonder if anyone can find it.

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Television Festival and Nail Bar

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2008 by dcairns

The Conference Centre in Edinburgh, a sort of METROPOLIS building only a bit smaller, pays host to the TV Festival every year. Unlike the Film Festival, it’s not a public event so I can’t go, but this year I got a day pass through the auspices, if auspices is the word I want, of T.V. sitcom messiah Graham Linehan(Father Ted, The I.T. Crowd), so was not only able to hear Graham dispensing invaluable wisdom on the craft of situation comedy, but I then took in a masterclass/chat with Stephen Moffat, incoming script editor of Dr. Who.

Apparently Whovians were clamouring to gain access to this event, but as they’re not big media people with production companies, they couldn’t, so there were empty seats instead. The people who COULD have attended were presumably off hearing some exec talking about the Future of Television in an Interactive Age or some bollocks. You know you’ve inadvertently crashed a seriously elitist event when you’re in a partially vacant auditorium listening to a fascinating and hugely successful writer with an incredibly important job who could probably sell out the Albert Hall. I felt vaguely indecent being there, although in fact I’m a longterm Whovian myself, so in a way I was striking a mute, useless and limp-knuckled blow for fandom.

Further evidence that I was in a part of Soho that had drifted off and landed in Scotland came when I crossed the road to get a sandwich, and was asked if I wanted a receipt. I should stress: this has never happened to me before in my life. You don’t get OFFERED a receipt with your sandwich. So obviously the poor deli had been serving people all weekend who were on expense accounts.

In the conference centre I felt like the only Scot in the world, but that wasn’t strictly true because Stephen Moffat is a Scot, and I saw Robin McPherson from Screen Academy Scotland and Carole Sheridan from Scottish Screen. I also saw a nail bar in there, which was fascinating and kind of surreal. “We’re hosting television execs — what do they want? Coffee, fruit, little sandwich things, and somewhere to do their nails. Right.”

If this sounds alienating and fish-out-of-watery, it was a bit, but everybody was actually pefectly nice so I resolved to dismiss my prejudice and just enjoy myself. Graham being such a fun person to talk to helped that enormously — there’s nothing elitist about most of the people actually doing T.V. What with Graham being a stranger more or less to Edinburgh, I could show him a very long and actually incorrect way to get to Starbucks after his talk.

His lecture is going online so I don’t want to write down my garbled memories of it here, but a few spectacularly useful tips for writers emerged which I could, perhaps, summarise and elaborate on:

Censorship is Good: working within parameters, including the kind laid down by TV censors, is actually great discipline and can make things better. When I (me, not Graham) wrote for kids’ TV I likened it to juggling in a straitjacket. There were so many things you couldn’t do, and sometimes you felt people were saying “No” just out of fear, rather than out of any genuine risk of upsetting anyone, but very often the funniest stuff came out of being unable to do things the most direct and obvious way. Looking at classic Hollywood comedies kind of confirms this. MY GOD the tight strictures they worked under, and MY GOD the quality of the end product!

Taboo Subjects Are Good, But: you have to find the right way to do it. The examples Graham gave, from DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, Seinfeld, and Malcolm in the Middle, beautifully illustrated how dark and sensitive material can be presented in a way that, as he puts it, “doesn’t force Dad to leave the room to make a cup of tea.” Abusing the disabled, child abduction, and sexual violence were all suggested by the scenes cited, but in such a way that it was safe to laugh. You get the slightly forbidden quality of laughing when you shouldn’t — remember how that felt at school? — but you don’t feel horrible afterwards because there’s a contradictory innocence to the presentation in all three cases. You’re actually NOT laughing at the horror, you’re laughing at something relatively O.K. that bizarrely RELATES to the horror.

It’s kind of dark, but not actually.

(I think a lot of writers and directors like the IDEA of pushing the audience into uncomfortable places and making them feel bad, or awkward, or whatever. But why? As Maurice Chevalier says in LE SILENCE EST D’OR, “Some people think the artist’s job is to give the audience a hard time.” That’s fine, IF THERE’S A REASON. But maybe some of us just like the idea of doing “dark” as a status thing? I think there should always be a little malaise with the pleasure, as a kind of seasoning, but some modern T.V. is JUST UNPLEASANT.)

Traps are Useful: sitcoms depend on traps, both physical and emotional, so that characters are forced to clash together consistently throughout the series. Farce depends on trapping characters in awkward situations. When it doesn’t work is when the audience can see a way out. (Personal taste means some people have problems with this where others don’t: my friend Simon would get frustrated by Laurel & Hardy because it’s so obvious what they’re doing wrong.)

There was more, much more, and in fact when I overheard Linehan and Moffat chatting together between shows, the insights were flying so thick and fast I wished I could decelerate time so I could jot down all the great stuff being flung out.

The Count.

In the evening Fiona and I swung by Count Arthur Strong’s show at the Assembly Rooms. Count Arthur is a comedy act based on the concept of a raddled old music hall comedian in the final stages of senility, still carrying on his hopeless career and remembering glory days that never were. There have been a few comics patterned on the old-style music hall comedian, from Tommy Cockles to Arthur Atkinson of T.V.’s The Fast Show, but Count Arthur takes things to a new level of grotesquerie, with his hunched back, flushed face and irascible disorientation (wandering aimlessly around the stage, he spots his own image: “Oh, so that’s who that is,” he remarks, senselessly). A favourite moment among many: Arthur strains furiously to recall the name of Cliff Richard’s most famous film, then finally yells in triumph, “SUMMER HOLOCAUST! That’s it!”

A good example, I think, of taboo material done in an acceptable way.

Buck Naked in the 25th Century

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 15, 2008 by dcairns

I mean BUCK ROGERS, of course.

Backstory 1:

TV sitcom legend Graham Linehan kindly linked to this site, praising my William Friedkin smackdown, and precipitating a giant spike in my stats for the day. (Thanks, Graham!) Then, regular Shadowplayer and all-round good egg Simon Kane linked to the above video in a comment at Graham’s site, mentioning it as a sort-of Shadowplay type thing. (Thanks, Simon!) Then I stole it.

Backstory 2:

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars is a preposterous 10 minute short that premiered at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933/34 – but was never shown theatrically. You can read more about this film phenomenon here: http://matineeatthebijou.blogspot.com…
Buck (Anthony) Rogers began life in 1928 in a Novella published in Amazing Stories magazine and in 1929 became the first science fiction comic strip. In 1932 Buck Rogers was the first sci-fi radio show and endured until 1947. This short was Buck Rogers’ first celluloid manifestation and was followed in 1939 by a Universal 12 chapter cliffhanging serial starring Buster Crabbe as Buck. Buck Rogers was twice produced as a TV series and as a TV movie, and has been optioned by Millennium Films to be developed as a big screen blockbuster for release in 2011. Everything old becomes new again.”
Thanks to MatineeAtTheBijou and Simon for bringing this rare artifact to my attention. It’s one of the great ironies of film preservation that Victor Sjostrom’s THE DIVINE WOMAN, starring Greta Garbo, is lost, apart from one tantalising reel they found in Russia, and this… effort survives in all its profane glory.
My favourite moment, apart from the revolutionary approach to blocking: when Wilma strides blithely in, treading all over the professor’s lines and inventing overlapping dialogue eight years before Orson Welles. Larry “Buster” Crabbe, Olympic swimmer turned FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS star of the ’40s, always said that, as an actor, he worked his way up to a level of complete incompetence. But I think he could give these guys some pointers.