Thursday, 30 July 2009

Afternoons and Coffeespoons

Well the Afternoon Play is on the iPlayer and there's been a little bit of feedback, one person on Twitter and another on the Radio 4 forum have both learned the derivation of the word antimacassar from the play.
The person on the forum also thinks the play's worth listening to if low on comedy (it's been billed and announced as a comedy all over the place), another listener agreed with the lack of comedy and felt the production just about held the play together.
On listening to the finished piece I'm inclined to agree. The production and playing is very good, the writing not so, and I desperately wish the piece wasn't being presented as a comedy. The bits of Charles Trenet inserted in the edit seem to make the gulf between the comic and tragic greater.

Truth is, when initially pitched the word 'comedy' was used,though sadness was obviously always in there, but when first written as a comedy it came in way too short, partly because a chunk of plot about Frank getting mixed up about two different sets of road work from my story breakdown had been dropped as too confusing, though that wouldn't have filled the gap alone.
The piece drifted further from humour after the absurd ending I was building to in which Frank is blissfully relieved of the burden of his history in a gas explosion was rejected as ridiculous by everyone but me (probably because I didn't do it well enough), and it became clear there wasn't a lot of narrative drive to what was essentially a small journey.
A lot of meandering banter went and a new plot was developed based on Nick and his threat to Frank, as a consequence everything ended up a hell of a lot less chucklesome.
I guess however it was still down on the Radio 4 system as a comedy despite us moving away from the genre through the rewrites.

Do give it a listen if you're so inclined. It's well produced and a lot of very good people worked on it, but don't expect many laughs.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Predictable Ideas

Do writers' ideas get nicked?

Yes, definitely, there are a few industry horror stories about this, none of which I'd be wise to repeat, but it's not going on half as often as you might think.

You might recall a few months back I sent in some radio sketches to the BBC which got me to a workshop with David Mitchell and Mitchell and Webb's producer Gareth Edwards. Today I watched a Mitchell and Webb sketch on the iPlayer which used the same basic idea as one of those sketches. Was it nicked?
When we went to the workshop the Mitchell and Webb series had finished recording. What had happened was that I and whoever wrote the TV sketch had both had a fairly obvious joke idea occur to us that hadn't been 'done' yet.
Predictive text on mobile phones makes predictions.
It's nothing amazing, it was an idea waiting to be had and used, it has probably occurred to hundreds and hundreds of people and the TV writer and I tackled it in different ways. That's how it is with ideas.

Similarly, this weekend Radio 4 begins a series I'm really looking forward to called Soho Stories covering some of the ground of my TV history book from last year, hosted by and featuring several of the people I interviewed for it. Did the series nick my idea?
The book wasn't my initial idea, a large part of the story of the period the series covers has been told before by Michael Darlow, the history is out there waiting to be used and the people I interviewed have more connection to that history than I do. They made it!

There are only so many ideas out there, you can use them to make something that's yours, but they're not yours themselves, they'll go around occurring to everyone.

Also on the radio next week is an Afternoon Play I wrote which is full of ideas from all over the place. All of them original, though I bet not all originally mine.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Things Club

Thing 1- Torchwood. I skipped about a third of series 2, and wish I'd skipped a further third to be honest, because I thought the show, always a bit uncertain in tone, had totally derailed. So, it's been an absolute delight that it's been so very good this week, to the point of not quite seeming to be Torchwood.
Two of the very naffest things in the show were summarily disposed of in episode 1 of this curtailed third series, and in its new remixed form the show treads a very nice line, playing with its enjoyable remaining absurdities and telling a story of real adult intensity. I wonder if this is a last glorious hoorah, or paves the way for a reformatted reinvention of the series.

Thing 2- My friendoid Matt Kimpton (who I like to claim I discovered as a writer and have attempted ever since to foist on others) has been invited to attend a writing masterclass for CBBC in a BBC Writersroom competition. This is particularly impressive because there were something like 700 entries and I know some other very successful and talented writers also entered the competition. See, everyone? He is good. I'm really glad I didn't enter it, it's lovely to still be able to imagine I'm better than him.

Thing 3- I was briefly perplexed this afternoon to find The British Comedy Guide has lots of mysterious details about my upcoming Radio 4 play I'd told no one, including transmission date, some of the plot and the always alarming claim that it's a 'comedy drama'. I then realised the details must be up at the BBC Press Office, and they are!
So here they are here too...

Afternoon Play –
Antimacassars And Ylang Ylang Conditioner
Monday 27 July
2.15-3.00pm BBC RADIO 4

Russell Dixon stars in this Afternoon Play offering by Ian Potter, a comedy about old age and loneliness.

Frank lives on his own and just about copes. He has an obsession with coffee and, one day, when he thinks he has run out, he goes to the shop to buy some more, but it becomes a real odyssey.

His glasses break when he tries to tie his shoelaces and two young "scallies" offer to help him.

Producer/Gary Brown

BBC Radio 4 Publicity

I'm not absolutely sure it is a comedy, it probably does have sufficient minutes and sufficiently few jokes to qualify as a comedy drama, though.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Radio Days

Hello again, more radio stuff I'm afraid, but we're coming to the end of it for a bit.

First of all I recorded my third week of Radio 7 Comedy Club links in London on Monday. Probably not quite as silly as some of my earlier ones but we still had some fun and I hope I've managed to continue the tradition of interacting awkwardly with the programmes with surprise starts and ends just like the creators intended Radio 4 announcers to do first time 'round.
We had one tiny edit made to a show this week. Interesting really- it was one of the lazy, unkind and not hugely controversial remarks it was alright to make about Michael Jackson when alive. Just a throwaway line, but it suddenly sounded slightly poor taste now he's dead.
Had you heard about that? It may not have made the news near you.

My personal preference would have been to try and contextualise the gag as exactly what everyone said when he was alive, but the danger with that is it requires your audience to be uniformly adult and sensible, which isn't something you can ever assume of audiences really. I'm sure the line will be reinstated by the time of the next repeat, anyway.

Tuesday saw me in Manchester for the first of two recording days on my Radio 4 Afternoon Play, and not telling anyone it was my birthday because that would just have made it even weirder.
Now, if I told you one of my cast had played Michael Murray in Bleasdale's GBH you'd be impressed wouldn't you?
You'd think, 'That's Robert Lindsay, Ian's got a fabulous actor there!'
You'd be only half right though, he was a fabulous actor but this was the chap who played Michael Murray as a child in GBH, he was a child himself at the time so it was slightly easier for him.
All my actors were fabulous actually, and I always think it's interesting seeing the different approaches different actors take, layering aspects of themselves and a variety of performance styles on a script.

None were one of the 'star names' that'd been talked about at times as I was writing the play, though truth be told that was quite a relief because I think real star presence like that could have unbalanced what's quite a small scale piece. One of the names mentioned did really help me develop the voice of the lead, so I'm glad the names were mentioned, not that you'll ever hear them here!

My lead was played by Russell Dixon, one of those actors you've seen in all sorts of supporting roles in TV drama, and who I've heard in an awful lot of radio over the years. I nearly worked with him once before, when he was the director's first thought to play an elderly fork in my ten minute radio monologue Made In Sheffield, but, as is so often the way, he was unavailable and it was great to finally work with him. He got all the comedy and emotion and energy I hoped for in the role and brought a tear to a few eyes in the control room turning in a beautifully judged performance I truthfully can't imagine bettered.
Stephen Hoyle had the second biggest role (it was he who was Michael Murray in an earlier life) and really did wonders vocally, giving so much to sell his role and bringing a real intelligence and sensitivity to it. He was playing younger than his age, though not as young as Michael Murray, and I bought it totally, he was far better than my words!
Reece Noi probably had the trickiest role, basically the third lead, playing a quite unsympathetic part without masses to latch on to, but I think he gave a really interestingly nuanced take on it, which I think adds something to the shifting power relationships in the play and I'm looking forward to hearing it in the finished version a lot.
Sue Ryding did wonders with quite a small role really, bringing a humanity to it to the point where I felt we needed to change her final credit. She was so nearly just 'The Dog Lady' but by the end I felt we needed to use her character's name because she'd made the role much more than the plot function that suggests.
Greg Wood, I wrote so little for that we only had him one day which I'm sad about because I loved what he brought to his couple of scenes, not least the way he used his voice to suggest quite a different physicality. He seemed to swell out from being a lean young feller into a kind of burly middle-aged Eddie Yeats type when he went behind the mike, which was spot on for the part.
We only had Balvinder Sopal for one recording day too, though she was also there for our first read through on Tuesday). Balvinder is one of the stars of the BBC Asian Network soap Silver Street, and I worked with her very briefly a few years ago when I had her bursting balloons and throwing gravel around in a short play that was more about stage effects than acting that we did at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and Bradford's Theatre in the Mill.
She plays a shopkeeper whose name sadly vanished in edits of the play, she still says it once actually, but it's blink and you miss it. When it was first suggested I make my shopkeeper Asian, I'd been nervous about writing the cliché and keen to avoid terrible faux pas in what's a very small role, so I was really happy to have Bal there reassuring me that I'd done okay with the tiny little bit of Punglish I sneaked in for her, and giving this cameo part such life.
In the play's two smallest roles was Matt McGuirk doubling up, hilariously as one virtually monosyllabic character and really scarily in a second, far more voluble, one. He was another really superb actor and possesses a real vocal flexibility and a brilliant sense for rhythm and pace.

So, in short, I was pleased!

Listening at home you probably won't be aware of the work of Eloise Whitmore (though you'll hear her), Paul Cargill, Carrie Rooney or Gary Brown who made the recording go so smoothly, but they were all hugely impressive, fiendishly efficient but really good fun to be around. I'd been lucky enough to have Paul there for No Tomatoes which we recorded in the same studio, but it was my first time watching the others at work. I may talk about some of what they did at a later date but right now I think it runs the risk of spoiling a few moments in the play. Ideally, I reckon you should always experience the trick at least once before you know how it's done!

Anyway, the play is called Anti-Macassars and Ylang-Ylang Conditioner, honestly there's a reason, and it goes out on, I think, Monday the 27th of July at 2.15pm in Radio 4's coveted 'Torchwood on the wireless in the afternoons' slot.
It's not a perfect play, the writing's not all that I'd want, I found it tough to do, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how very much better it was made by the team who worked on it with me. There are all sorts of laughs and moments of tension and sadness that had so much more power than I expected, and I'm very proud to have been involved in the production. It was a great birthday treat.