Updated : Tue, 28 Aug 2012 09:53:42 +0000
Roger and Val Have Just Got In returned to our screens on Wednesday 8th February. Beth Kilcoyne co-wrote the show with her sister Emma, and stopped by to talk to us series two:
Beginning to write a second series of Roger & Val was like trying to get a swing-boat started: hard, which is why the man on the swing-boats gives you a push and you catch the rhythm with the rope. But there was no one outside: just me & Emma, not swinging, with 2 ropes. We began. It's a series about distraction: what do you do to get through? We decided to look at Roger being at home all day and focus his neurosis on the washing: "Val? I've got that stain out of your purple blouse" one unmemorable line I remember, as the Tribunal was pointedly ignored. We wrote and wrote, hour after hour, and got to the end, where the stain had come out of the blouse, but, hanging up to dry like a headless person, it gave Val a shock.
It was awful. Dreary. Dull. The characters didn't even sound like Roger & Val; they sounded like people doing an imitation of Roger & Val. I tried to be hopeful it had "just come out wrong", excusing myself with the fact that you can't CUT in R&V, and I'd forgotten the difficulty. But the next draft was even worse; they were now sounding labored, eg. Roger droning on that mozzarella cheese in a packet feels like a ganglion. Over-thought, turgid, flat-footed drivel, leading up to Val's decision to actually apply for the Deputy Headship and Roger opening his Tribunal mail. I couldn't understand why all of a sudden the show said nothing, apart from Roger thought the dirty clothes is an ideal environment for growing mushrooms.
At about this time my house got infested with mice; I saw one in the bathroom, which next day got caught in a trap, so I was hopeful it had been acting alone. No one would believe this if you put it in a script, but the day we handed in the first draft about the washing, I opened my own washer. There was a... thing on the rubber rim. All its fur had been hideously washed off but the tail was still on, grey, shiny, dead but for once clean, tufts of black fur skidded round it and no doubt in among my clothes, which I couldn't throw out because they were all my best ones. Aaaurrgh - visceral - on me. I didn't dare look for its eyes. I retched, and started hopping from foot to foot, stating the obvious but in a weird chant: "There is a mouse in the washer, mouse in the washer, a MOUSE!" to which my partner unwisely replied, "What's the matter? It's dead."
We really now had taken far too much time on this now-laboured Episode 1. On its final night I went to get fish & chips, in panic. When I sat down to eat, there was an alive mouse at the bottom of the stairs. It didn't even bother to run away and I didn't bother to react, because I knew what it had come to tell me: the script was awful. I just sat there, fish and chips slopping out of my exhausted, not-screaming mouth: rock bottom.
We started Episode 2 the next day, when Dave the fantastic Mouseman called to say he had solved the problem. This script wrote like a dream - zinging out from all over the place, free and alive, both characters wholly themselves, ideas toppling over each other to get in, and Val got shortlisted for the interview. Plus we introduced the over-arching story. "What a pity this can't be Episode 1 instead of that boring one about the washing" said my Mum. Of course, it was Episode 1; we had been writing Episode 0 - the characters before we got them going again. So I am grateful to that awful script now, dreadful as it was, because it was the push outside the swing-boat for Series 2. And I never saw a mouse again.
Publ.Date : Tue, 14 Feb 2012 13:30:00 +0000
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle has been commissioned for another two series. The show is set be broadcast on BBC Two in 2014/15.
Since the first series aired in 2009, the programme has built up a fiercely loyal audience, and Stewart will once again be taking the opportunity to ruffle a few feathers. Produced by Richard Webb and directed by Tim Kirkby, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle is a mixture of stand-up and sketches, performed by Stewart and special guest.
BBC Comedy is thrilled with the commission, with the Head of In-house Comedy, Mark Freeland commenting: "How brilliant that BBC Two has given Stewart Lee two more series. It's reward for a unique, perfectionist, hardworking, bit scary comedy master and the wonderful team behind him. I'm standing by with my compliance forms".
Stewart Lee is also excited at the prospect of two more series: "It will be amazing to be able to move forward and experiment in this unprecedentedly secure position. Thanks to everyone out there who watched the series, wrote about them, or lobbied for their return. I will make you proud. Peace! I'm outta here! You shoulda killed me last year!".
Publ.Date : Fri, 23 Mar 2012 14:18:53 +0000
Jocelyn Jee Esien as Beauty Olonga
Radio 4's comedy, Beauty of Britain, is about a woman called Beauty Olonga, who works as a carer and sees herself as an inspiration to other young African women in Britain. Here she tells us more about her show.
"One of the people in charge at Radio 4 asked me to tell you about my new series. She said she would do it herself only she's not very good at 'writing-ey type stuff' and she's got a wedding to go to.
"I could tell she was important because she had a little fold-up bicycle and she only goes into the office two days a week. Since coming to this country to work as a carer, I have learnt to recognise how much power someone has by how small their bike is, how long their holidays are and how much extra work they ask you to do for nothing.
"The British also expect you to compliment them on their sense of humour - like when those elderly gentlemen sang about 'My generation' on TV the other night. But I've noticed that although they like to laugh they don't want to make eye contact. I think that's why Radio 4 is such an important part of their culture.
"A lot of the elderly people I look after have a machine on the bedside table that suddenly starts playing Radio 4 at 6.15 in the morning while, at the same time, squirting them with steam and boiling tea - that fantastic sense of humour again!
"Radio 4 normally starts the day with three hours of high-status men shouting at each other. Sometimes you can hear the velcro tearing on their cycling anklets when they get really worked up. Most of my clients like to shout back at the radio, especially when a man called Gary Richardson is on. The elderly women I look after tend to get very annoyed when Kirsty Young starts talking. Personally I can't see anything to complain about with Kirsty - okay, she lost her professionalism when Morrissey was her guest but I've seen a photo of her in Asda Shopper magazine and she is the only Radio 4 presenter who takes the trouble to do her highlights properly.
"If you are an African girl working as a carer you will pick up plenty of top tips from my new series; from how to upstyle your tabard to slow-cooking carrots overnight to getting your clients seen by NHS professionals who are so young they can't write out a prescription without sticking their tongues out and moving their lips. I'd been living here for nearly two years before I learned the key to dealing with registrars is patience and understanding. Young doctors are very overworked so it doesn't help to criticise them for not knowing how to dress for their shape and for only visiting the barbers once every six months.
"But I hope there will be something useful for everyone who listens to my show. And let's face it that means all of you because how many Radio 4 listeners actually go in to work on a Friday? Exactly."
Beauty of Britain goes out on Radio 4 Friday mornings at 11.30am.
Dictated from the vintage section of the PDSA shop to Christopher Douglas and Nicola Sanderson
Publ.Date : Tue, 28 Aug 2012 09:53:42 +0000
Pramface writer, Chris Reddy, stopped by to give us some top tips and insight into the world of sitcom writing:
Hello. I've been asked to do a blog about my writing experiences on Pramface, so here goes...
In brief, an average day would consist of me sitting in a room, staring at a white board covered with illegible scribbles, grinding out pages of scripts late into the night to ever diminishing deadlines while stuffing my face with sugar rich-foods, trying to stay awake.
The next day I would typically wake up to notes from my producer telling me it was 'not good enough' and to 'go back and rewrite... and hurry up'. This went on for months.
So, no, there was not a lot of hanging out in the British Library having lattes, or Soho lunches with glamorous actors talking about how much they love my work. It was basically just one very long slog of writing, rewriting and rewriting again.
Have I put you off yet? If you're still reading, my guess is you're a writer because, let's face it, no normal viewer would be reading this.
So rather than ramble on I thought I'd try to share some of the stuff I've learnt and a few things I'd like to have been told when I was starting out. I'd also add that none of what follows is original, it's just stuff that has struck me as useful along the way. It's all in the many screenwriting books and courses out there already, which brings me to my first point.
1. Read the books
I am always amazed by how many scriptwriters haven't familiarised themselves with the basics of screenwriting technique. In no other profession (like dentistry for example) would you expect to just walk in and have a crack at it without any schooling.
Six episodes of a mid-priced sitcom is going to cost over a million pounds to produce. So when you pitch a script to a broadcaster, you are essentially asking them to spend a million quid on your idea. Whilst they're making this decision, it's probably in your interests for them to feel you have some idea of what you're talking about.
If you are a genius, then spending a couple of weeks reading won't stop you being a genius. You can then happily reject everything the experts say as formulaic nonsense and move on to collecting your armfuls of Oscars, Baftas and Emmys relatively untroubled. If, on the other hand, you're just a regular hack like me, you might find something useful in there.
Everyone bangs on about the importance of structure, and who am I to question them. Half hour narrative comedy is in some ways the most demanding dramatic form (that's right, I'm saying Keeping up Appearances was a tougher gig than Hamlet).
If you're making an art-house film, you've got time to go wandering off on a twenty minute philosophical tangent. The Everyman matinee crowd will love you and your rambling, ambiguous, anti-structure masterpiece.
TV audiences, however, are less tolerant. In television comedy you have to tell funny, coherent, integrated stories in a very compressed time frame. This requires discipline and practice, but you've chosen to write in a populist medium so, no pouting - get used to doing it.
And the truth is, learning to write structurally is actually one of the most rewarding bits of the job. And, when it comes to the dreaded rewrites, I've found having a strong grasp of my story allows me to work more efficiently and approach the task with more confidence.
So how do you structure your comedy script? Well first, don't start with the script...
Classical narrative sitcoms are made up of two acts, but they are acts ii and iii. What? All this means is that the de facto first act of a sitcom is the premise of the show itself. And I don't mean just the backstory; I mean the cast design, the character relationships, and the arena of the show. This is the real root of the comedy.
Make sure you spend time designing your premise rather than just churning out thirty-odd pages of script, hoping your natural gifts will carry you through. Been there, done that, my natural gifts carried me through to a forty page confusing mess that still hasn't been shot. No surprises there.
Writers' tendency to skimp on the design of their premise is the reason script development and script editing in half hour comedy is such a difficult job. By the time a new project makes it into development with a production company, it's often already broken.
And since TV production companies typically develop scripts rather than premises, the structural elements causing the problems will always be out of their reach. This is why, despite the best efforts of talented people, TV shows can still arrive on screen hobbled by the inherent weaknesses of the initial design.
4. Funny stories.
So now you've designed a robust narrative machine, you're going to need a funny story to feed into it.
It's important that the events of the story themselves are funny (or at least dramatically interesting) prior to the inclusion of any dialogue or action. The individual scenes should be amusing just by dint of their position and context in the overall narrative.
I go to my big whiteboard and start by plotting out the events I know I want in my story, putting them in approximately the right position, then I try to connect them up in an interesting way. It's somewhere between doing a jigsaw and drawing a picture. You try to see how the pieces you already have slot together, and then fill in the gaps.
Do this for your A plot and any subplots until you have an interesting, escalating story with promising comic scenes, and a strong payoff, then fill in the dialogue and action.
The benefit of this approach is that when you write your actual script, the dialogue magically improves because it's been released from the burden of carrying the plot.
Conversely, a properly positioned scene becomes much funnier because it has the full weight of narrative behind it. The comic tension is generated by the entire story rather than disconnected bits of business in-scene, or superficially 'comic' dialogue.
You should aim for about 35 pages in standard feature screenplay format. It'll be around six thousand words give or take a couple of hundred depending on how verbose you are with your stage directions.
5. Why won't they call?
So you've written your spec and sent it out, and now everyone is ignoring it. When you first start out, the industry can seem to take an age to respond. Sometimes it never calls back at all. It's easy to feel isolated and get frustrated when everyone seems to be ignoring you or, worse, deliberately excluding you. However, your fears are unfounded. Conspiracy implies a degree of organisation that is absent from most of the organisations you currently believe to be maliciously ignoring you.
If you have talent, then you will get through eventually. In the meantime, don't waste your time and energy getting angry and despondent. Get better at your job. The truth is that writing talent is relatively commonplace, craft is rare. If you develop your technical abilities, you will instantly distinguish yourself from 90% of the writers in the marketplace.
Very few people can write at a professional level, very few do. Most of the television being produced today is written by a small group of people. This group has three subsets made up of the supremely talented, the moderately talented who have learned some craft, and a bunch of people who you could supplant if you write a decent script.
Now stop browsing the Internet and go and do some writing.
Publ.Date : Tue, 27 Mar 2012 15:00:00 +0000
Ashley Blaker, series producer, co-creator & co-writer of The Matt Lucas Awards stopped by Comedy Towers to talk to us about making the final episode of series one.
Everyone was very excited about making this episode of The Matt Lucas Awards and there was a fun end-of-term feel around the studio. For starters it was the final recording of an incredibly intense period that should have carried a government health warning. We were also really looking forward to having Ruth Jones, David Baddiel and Griff Rhys Jones on since not only are they three really funny people, but they are also seldom seen on other comedy chat shows so we were thrilled they'd agreed to do this.
A few days before filming, the final Lucas was going to be Most Baffling Song and of course everyone would have to perform their nomination. However, locked in my office at Television Centre at around 2:30am - high on chocolate and processed food - Matt and I agreed we'd already had people singing and wanted to do something a bit different. So we changed the award to 'Most Baffling Campfire Song' and decided we'd like to build an actual campfire in the studio and get everyone to sit around it chatting and singing with the lights turned down. I'm sure the Health and Safety people were tearing their hair out, but credit to our amazing art department and in particular Production Designer Dennis De Groot who made it all happen.
A reason for personal excitement was also the fact that we managed to track down our former swimming teacher Mr Keith Talbot. The first award is the Lucas for School Subject Most Likely To Induce Severe Depression and David Baddiel - who went to the same school as both Matt and myself - nominated swimming. So it seemed only fair that the man who depressed David all those years ago should have the right to reply!
We asked fans of the show to send in their questions about The Matt Lucas Awards for Ashley to answer:
Who was Ashley's favourite guest/anecdote?
Favourite guest is a tough one. We really were blessed with having great guests who got into the spirit of the show and were happy to sing, perform magic tricks, eat cakes, perform gangster raps, wear silly wigs and anything else we asked them to do. So forgive me if I don't annoy 17 guests by picking one favourite.
One of my favourite anecdotes was one we didn't have time to hear in the end. In the recording of episode four we had a Lucas for Most Embarrassing Item of Clothing Ever Seen In A Guest's Wardrobe and Johnny Vegas told a story about how he wasted his first ever student grant cheque on a poncho in Camden Market. We brought out models wearing all the nominations but in Johnny's case it was a very large woman and when she appeared it was a very funny moment. Sadly there just wasn't time to have it in the final show.
What are the possible pitfalls of transferring a comedy from radio to TV? How have you avoided them?
That's a good question. On the one hand you run the risk of pointing a camera at the exact same show and having people criticise you for just making a radio show on TV. On the other hand, if you change too much you run the risk of ruining the show and losing what was good about it in the first place.
I'm sure there will be people who say they preferred the show on radio just as I know others who have told me they prefer the TV version. I think one needs to view them as quite distinct entities because there are things that we can do in one medium that we can't do in the other.
Where do you get all the sofas from?
Why? Do you want to buy one? Our Art Department did a great job on the set and in the weeks before filming they would constantly show us photos of sofas they had seen to find out if we liked them. They seem to be able to find anything although I genuinely have no idea where they get all this stuff. If we ask them for twenty 1970s annuals for a shelf they seem to magically appear.
Would you ever consider making it more spontaneous where for example the audience could shout out categories and the panel would then have to come up with things on the spot?
Absolutely, why not? Hang on, if we do that now you're going to say it was your idea!
Make sure you tune into the final episode of series one of The Matt Lucas Awards on Tuesday 15th May at 10.35pm on BBC One. There will also be a compilation episode on Tuesday 22nd May.
Check out Ashley's post on the TV Blog: Making the Matt Lucas Awards with my childhood friend Matt
Publ.Date : Fri, 11 May 2012 18:00:01 +0000
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