Archive for The I.T. Crowd

Copyriot in Cell Block 6

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on March 28, 2015 by dcairns

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One day before the screening of LET US PREY, the spectacularly bloody horror film Fiona and I co-wrote, at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (a lovely fest: fond memories of seeing my other blockbusters NATAN and, er, CLOUD ATLAS there), the movie leaks all over the internet like a geriatric dog passed out on a modem. Prompting thoughts about cyber-piracy and what to do about it.

The producers of LET US PREY were actually pretty careful about piracy, as they were duty-bound to be — not only do they stand to lose money if the film is available free, the various participants, cast and crew, who deferred parts of their salaries to get the film off the ground, will lose out on the money they’re owed. Profit points mean nothing if there’s no profit. So, for instance, Fiona and I don’t even have a legit copy of the film we can use to show off our achievements, chop up for a showreel, or screen for prospective employers or agents. I was able to get a link to an online screener to show one interested party, after a little back-and-forth. So they’re being pretty diligent, and rightly so.

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But the film is out on DVD and Blu-ray in Germany, and with an English language audio option. Basically, that meant inevitably it would be pirated, and those who are so keen to see it they just can’t wait now have the chance to grab it from a torrent site at zero cost. I can’t say I blame them for choosing the fast, free option.

I’m not a distributor or publisher of DVDs, but it seems to me that if I were, I would tackle piracy by coordinating the film’s release so it comes out everywhere at the same time. Of course, I have no idea how difficult this would be in practice, but it seems like it ought to be possible. That way, honest film buffs are not punished for their honesty by being forced to wait for a release in their country, of to pay extra to buy the thing from abroad. I mean, *I* haven’t bought the German DVD, despite it’s really bitchin’ cover art, and I co-wrote the bloody thing.

Instead of doing this, movie companies petition for harsher penalties and probably impractical policing of the web. And circulate bogus statistics about how much money they’re losing, statistics which assume that everyone who downloads a piece of video or audio illegally would pay to do so if the free version were removed. Which is clearly ridiculous. I mean, one of the joys of the virtual wild west raging online is that you can grab far more stuff than you could ever afford to buy. But I’m sure billions are indeed being lost. This is to some extent an inevitable result of technology, of moving the industry to a place where all its product is composed of little ones and zeroes, digital information which can be copied exactly with relative ease. So why doesn’t the industry do something itself to minimise the loss?

If a film opens everywhere at once, you can maximise publicity on the internet instead of co-ordinating a series of campaigns for different territories at far greater cost. You can allow people to buy the film as soon as they hear about it and are enthused, and before they have a chance to read a lot of negative reviews. You remove one of the advantages of illegal downloading, its ability to deliver the film ahead of the official release date in your territory. Your other advantages, the nice packaging and reliable quality and extras, start to gain ground in this environment.

This will in no way solve the problem, but it doesn’t look like anything will, totally. We should concentrate on more serious internet crime ahead of movie-ripping. But this ought to save quite a lot of money.

The attitude of the industry at present strikes me as equivalent to a small-town pensioner complaining of the days when one could leave one’s door open all day without getting robbed — while leaving its door open.

Sitcom The IT Crowd adroitly mocked the industry’s bathetic response to piracy.

Meanwhile, whether you are watching LET US PREY legally or illegally, I hope it gives you some kind of sick pleasure, And watch out for the bit with the fingernail. Ewww.

A Single Clew…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , on August 21, 2009 by dcairns

Here’s the crime scene ~

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Extra! Extra! Music Hall girl ‘orribly murdered!

“It puts you in mind of the days of Jack the Ripper!”

And by her bedside… a single clew…

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“If you were a serial killer, what would they call you?”

“The Gardener… because on each of my victims I would leave… a single rose.”

“And what weapon would you use?”

“A hammer.”

Well, the quotes, or possibly misquotes, are from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and The I.T. Crowd, but what are the images from? And who is the killer? And can horticultural detective Vincent Price save the day???

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.

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