Script-wanker!

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If you’re even halfway intrigued as to what this script is, with its unhelpful title Script Title and its near complete lack of information on what’s supposed to be its title page, and why it might have “Andrew Collins” stamped diagonally across it like a watermark (an addendum to every single one of the 139 pages therein), then I’ll let you in on my big secret, assuming you don’t take Radio Times, or click on the regular Twitter links to my tireless work for the magazine. I played a very small part in The Inbetweeners 2, which enjoys its world premiere tomorrow night and opens nationwide on Wednesday.

When I say I played a small part, I’m not in it. Not even in the background, as I have been in other productions I’ve worked on (uncredited as “Man With Hummus In Pub” in Grass, and “Man Walking Behind Bench” in Colin). In fact, I suspect you’ll have to stay to the very end of the credits – possibly even after the Dolby logo – to see my name, as I was a “script consultant” on it. Although I was told by the writers/producers/directors/creators Iain Morris and Damon Beesley that mine were the “first outside pair of eyes” on their screenplay, I may be one of a whole raft of script consultants credited. Either way, and as prosaic and self-effacing as I am naturally being about my small part, I am very, very, very excited to have any credit whatsoever on an actual film.

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I have written a fairly exhaustive piece for Radio Times about how it all happened, and you may read it here. What I didn’t manage to get into that piece is that, as script consultant, I was invited to attend the first, full cast read-through at a church in Shoreditch in London’s fashionable East End in November. On that day, I assume for top-level secrecy, the film was referred to as The Long Goodbye. I can’t say for certain how many people attended, but it must have been around 100, maybe more, counting the entire cast, all those producers and key production crew. Even though I was a script consultant (I think Robert Popper might be one, too, although he might also have an even fancier title), I was asked to read for a certain castmember who wasn’t able to attend. They only had one scene, but it was nerve-wracking all the same. I’m only a script consultant!

It was a memorable event in my chequered career. As will be the act of seeing my name whizz past in the end-credits roll at the premiere in London’s busy Leicester Square. Can it really be four summers since we last attended an Inbetweeners premiere in Leicester Square? Yes it can.

I attended the premiere of The Inbetweeners Movie in the sweltering, post-riots heat haze of August 2011, even though I didn’t work on it, as I am a friend of Bwark, Iain and Damon’s production company. I don’t attend many premieres, mostly out of choice. But it’s always weird walking up a red carpet when you’re not famous. Best thing is to hold your head up, eyes front, and walk as fast as possible. My most vivid memory of the night was standing talking to Rhys Thomas and Lucy Montgomery in Leicester Square after the film while a drain overflowed next to us, flooding foul effluent on the piazza, as if in mockery of the film’s baser instincts. It’s weird, but sort of not, that none of us could have known that the film would break box office records over the following weeks and go on to take £57 million, a record for a British comedy.)

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I am minded at this sensitive stage of the cautionary anecdote told by Richard Attenborough. In 1942, aged 19, he attended the gala charity premiere of In Which We Serve, the film in which he made his credited debut (playing “Young Stoker” – I know, it’s no “Man In Pub With Hummus”). He, too, sat expectantly through to the end credits, with his family in tow, and discovered that his name had been missed off. That’s showbiz. He never worked again.

To reiterate: I have not seen The Inbetweeners 2. But I have read it, a number of times, and even suggested changes and additions to it, all of which may have been ignored. I look forward, in an almost parental way, to seeing how it came out. There’s at least one disgusting gross-out moment, I’ll tell you that much and risk excommunication. Or at least there was last time I read Script Title. Curiously, script consultants don’t get invited to Australia to consult on set.

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Fast shows

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Working in TV can be like striding through treacle. Specifically, writing for TV. So why do we do it? Specifically, why do I do it?

At the end of February last year, I hosted what we in the hosting trade haughtily call a “corporate”. It was an in-house event for the Shine Group, Elisabeth Murdoch’s production company, which has acquired a number of other production companies in the UK, including Kudos, Dragonfly and Princess, and operates Shine satellites “out of” France, Spain, Germany, Australia and the States. (They approached me after seeing me host a screening and Q&A at the Edinburgh TV Festival for the thriller Hunted where a miscalculation meant that I didn’t get a chair and had to host it standing up. One job leads to another.)

The Shine gig proved an exhilarating day; smoothly run at their end, and with a good, attentive audience of media buyers from around the world, who were able to see exclusive previews (or “premieres”) of three high-priority new shows: murder mystery Broadchurch, zombie fable In The Flesh and the sitcom Vicious. My job was to frame each screening and conduct a Q&A with “key talent” afterwards. In preparation, I was able to screen the first episodes of the two dramas privately, and in the case of In The Flesh, shooting scripts, which is quite a privilege, and a thrill if you’re a) a fan of TV drama, and b) a scriptwriter. Vicious was still in production at the time, but it was, again, quite an insight to see shooting scripts by the American writer Gary Janetti (alumnus of Will & Grace and Family Guy).

As a writer, it’s always meeting writers that thrills me the most. Why wouldn’t it? I’ve also hosted Q&As for Bafta, the BFI and Edinburgh with the likes of the writers and showrunners of Lost; Graham Linehan about The IT Crowd; creators of Outnumbered and Drop The Dead Donkey Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin; The Job Lot’s Claire Downes and Ian Jarvis; aforementioned Hunted and X-Files scribe Frank Spotnitz; the great Stephen Moffat; the great Victoria Wood; and James Corden and Matt Baynton about The Wrong Mans – all illuminating about the process.

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Part of my job as Shine’s host was to oil the wheels, hand out nibbles and ensure all went smoothly and to time onstage (we had a lot to get through in one day). (The nibbles bit was a joke.) To aid that process, I had preliminary phone conversations with the “key talent” in the days preceding the event, including the producer of In The Flesh, the producer and writer of Vicious, and the writer of Broadchurch, the now-famous Chris Chibnall. (He’ll have been known to Doctor Who and Torchwood fans already, and I’d admired his single 2011 drama United and said so on my blog, which he’d read, so we had common cause.) On the day, I also met Dominic Mitchell, who was making his TV debut with In The Flesh, which made it all the more impressive.

That’s the other thing about hosting. As host, you see the shows first, and then find yourself watching them again on the day (often with a craned neck), which is unusual, but two viewings close together really tests a piece of television. Both Broadchurch and In The Flesh passed that unrealistic test. I’m not going to say that I knew both would be honoured by Bafta just over a year later. But I knew they were good.

So, let’s flash forward to Sunday evening. I’m sitting at home, watching the Bafta TV awards on telly. (For the first time, I actually sat on the jury for one of the award categories this year, Best International Programme, but you get a bottle of champagne for doing that and not, as I’d hoped, a ticket to the ceremony; when you judge the Sonys, you get a seat on the night, albeit at a table at the back, but still.) The hat-trick for Broadchurch – best drama, best actress, best supporting actor – was not a surprise; it was the cherry on the cake of an awards season ripe with accolade for Chris’s show – a Kudos production and a kudos-magnet – which had become an actual “phenomenon”. The best miniseries award for In The Flesh (bet they’re glad they were only commissioned to make three episodes now!) was more of a surprise, but a pleasant one, albeit cruelly cut from the two-hour TV broadcast. Vicious was also nominated – Frances De La Tour – so of the three shows I helped in my own small way to premiere last February, all had been given the Bafta nod.

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In the interim, I befriended Chris Chibnall. We got on well when we met at the Shine bash, he kindly contributed a piece I wrote for the Guardian about “showrunning” and we have run into each other socially a couple of times since, notably at the Radio Times awards, where he introduced me to more “key talent” from the show, as you can see. They were collecting their framed Radio Times covers that night. More prizes. It’s nice to be there at the start of it, and nice to be there at the end of it, even if it is in a peripheral role. You should be thankful to get to be in the orbit of talented folk, and only become blase after you’re dead.

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The reason I tell this labyrinthine tale is that it belies the notion that TV takes ages. It can do, and it does. But once a show’s green-lit and in production, it can move very quickly, not least because broadcasters have slots to fill and there’s very little wriggle room once the date is set. Broadchurch debuted on ITV a day after Mayday on BBC1 last March – that’s two whodunits set in small English towns, both produced by Kudos, although Mayday ran over five consecutive nights.

I gather that Kudos had done their damnedest to convince the rival broadcasters to put a bit of breathing space between the two mysteries but history tells us that neither would budge. As a result, Mayday fell between the cracks a bit, despite being written by the talented husband-and-wife team behind the phenomenal Ripper Street. How many times do you read an interview with a writer, or writers, who say they’ve been developing the drama that’s about to be shown on telly for years?

A TV writer of some note reminded me, sagely, that actors can potentially do between five and ten jobs a year, directors between three and five, while production companies often have several on the go at once, while writers might only get one job a year, or even every two years, unless they are in such demand the are able to overlap, which must only apply to the very highest echelon. This is a fair point to remember. As I have found, you can also spend months, even years, “in development” (and thus on a very reduced fee in comparison to a full commission), only to fall at the final fence, while other hired talent – to generalise – only start work once a project is green-lit and the hours are contracted.

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I love TV. I love watching it, and I love working in it. As a job, even a living, it’s a privilege, and, for the most part, a pleasure. But as a writer, you need superhuman patience and, in tandem, ridiculous faith in your own ability, a faith that is knocked on a regular basis, no matter what level you’re writing at. The clearly talented Chris Lunt, whose first originated on-air commission was ITV’s recent Prey, has been writing pilots, bibles and treatments for years if you read his CV – he’s effectively been in development since 2008. This invisible work improves your craft. And that which does not kill you makes your stronger.

I’m also lucky enough to work as a script editor, which also helps hones my licks as a writer, or should do in theory, but it’s always easier to cut someone else’s work than your own. (I’m script editing series two of the comedy Drifters for E4 right now, and it’s bracing to be hands-on with scripts at any level.) As previously stated, I’m in development with my first drama since leaving EastEnders in 2002, and I can only dream of that green light. I spent a lot of last year writing a long, detailed treatment for a drama that sort of went cold after two broadcasters turned their noses up at it. Not a single penny changed hands, although it involved a number of pleasant meetings with a nice, well-known actor who also has a production company and we’ve bonded, so none of it was for nothing. And that’s the job.

Going back to the end of February last year. None of us knew that Broadchurch was going to become a phenomenon – pretty much credited with saving television! – but you could sense it was bloody good. Likewise In The Flesh. It’s pleasing to me, and reassuring, that both could go from premiere to Bafta in just over a year. You wonder if Prey, series two of Line Of Duty and Happy Valley will repeat the trick in the 2015 Baftas. I’ll be rooting for Lunt out of developmental solidarity!

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The business moves as if striding through treacle and we who are footsoldiers have no choice but to struggle in step behind it. But when it all comes together, it’s sweet.

Wanna see something really scary?

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Then this is the Telly Addict for you. It’s got Luther on BBC1, which, if you didn’t see the first episode, is now officially the more terrifying programme on TV. They’ve rustled up a serial killer who makes The Fall‘s Paul Spector look like a nice family man who isn’t actually a serial killer; also, while we’re on “scary”, there are honorable mentions for The Returned on C4 and The Walking Dead, whose third season, the one with David Morrissey, has just transferred from Fox to Channel 5; on a lighter note, Dates on C4, which came to an end last week; and the surprisingly grown up, valedictory Skins: Fire on E4, from Bryan Elsley, who’s also the creator of Dates (clever man, with a clever son, Jamie Brittain, who wrote my fave Date with the great Greg McHugh, and a clever daughter, Jess Brittain, who’s writing the first Skins story); a summary dismissal of ABC’s Scandal, whose second season came to fail to fill the gap left by The Good Wife and Nashville on More4 (sorry!); plus a moment of Zen from BBC2’s superb Route Masters.

What are you looking at?

Oh dear. I thought we’d got away with it. But, no. A slight technical hitch at the Guardian yesterday: the Autocue, from which I seamlessly read my slaved-over Telly Addict script on a weekly basis, broke. Due to time pressure, we had no choice but to print my script out and gaffer tape the pages to a stand just underneath the camera, so that I could read it off. (If there had been time for me to learn each link and recite it, Collins & Maconie’s Movie Club style, I would have happily and professionally done so, but there wasn’t – look how long some of the links are!) This is why I am clearly LOOKING DOWN throughout, as if solely to make you feel a bit nauseous. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t watch it to the end, but the clips are good, so please stick with it if you can (or look away when I’m talking), and be assured that if the Autocue is not fixed next week, I’m doing a flounce. Digital  is, after all, the bit of the Guardian that the Guardian is pinning all its future hopes on. Ah well. In between the disconcerting shots of me ignoring you, there are amusing bits of The Only Way Is Essex on ITV2; Spartacus: Vengeance on Sky1; and Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy on E4. Normal service will be resumed next week, in time for reviews of Inside Men, True Blood and something else.

2011: all watched over

Room for one more look back at 2011? My Guardian Telly Addict review of the TV year went up on New Year’s Eve, and I fear it may have been missed in all the excitement. I know it’s 2012 now and we’re all about the future and Sherlock and Endeavour and Treasure Island (all of which I’ll be dealing with this Friday), but if you fancy being reminded of what was on telly between April and December last year, and see my mouth moving about in between, have a look.

Reality used to be a friend of mine

This week’s Telly Addict, buried deep within the Guardian website where nobody is ever going to find it without a map, considers the first part of Vanessa Engle’s already illuminating new documentary trilogy, Money, on BBC2; my new favourite programme, My Cat From Hell, on Animal Planet; and Desperate Scousewives on E4, the latest example of “scripted reality” which was actually preceded by a warning that it contained strong language and a disclaimier that some scenes were “created for entertainment purposes.” (The link to Telly Addict is here.)

A few words on the latter. Because of my commitment to cover all sorts of telly for the Guardian, I’ve seen quite a few shows this year that I might not ordinarily watch for my own pleasure. Thus, even though I’ve never seen The Only Way Is Essex, I have seen an episode each of its first copycats, Made In Chelsea and Geordie Shore. (Actually, I couldn’t sit through a whole episode of Geordie Shore.) So I understand the format, which was developed on MTV, as I understand it. “Reality” just wasn’t entertaining enough, apparently, so they started prodding it and poking it and putting a hat on it until it did things that were more like a soap than a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Unfortunately, although this makes “stars” of the ordinary people it casts in Essex, Chelsea, Newcastle or Liverpool, which is nice for them, and thus provides “celebrity” fodder for the other reality shows like Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity …, it also means that non-actors are now being asked to act for us. And they’re shit at it, by and large.

The nobodies on Desperate Scousewives – who, by the way, aren’t housewives, or even wives, so the clever title doesn’t actually work – may have the natural front of Liverpudlians, but they can’t act, and the scenes they are expected to play out, for the “story” of the show, come across like animated Dear Dierdre Photo Casebooks from the Sun. I couldn’t get all the way to the end of the first episode without fast-forwarding, as it was literally painful to watch. It’s not the fault of the wannabes who sign up for this kind of show – why the hell not? – it’s a flaw of the format.

What are we watching? Reality or fiction? This sounds like a much more interesting philosophical conundrum than it actually is. In episode one, the desperates attend something called the Style Awards, which seems like a local bash, attended by local celebrities like Ricky Tomlinson (must have been difficult to get him to come, eh?) and Coleen Rooney, who didn’t turn up, even though she won some award or other. Meanwhile, the scousewives act out the latest plotline for the cameras, badly, and we are supposed to care. Actually, half a million people cared enough to watch the first episode, which is a decent audience for E4, so I’m clearly not in its sights.

I do worry about the culture of this country, though. There’s a recession on, and our young people are still having the carrot of instant celebrity dangled in their faces as a career path. If some of the “cast” of Desperate Scousewives are lucky, they’ll be invited back to the Style Awards next year. Most of them won’t. Maybe it should be watched as a tragedy.

Top telly

This week’s Telly Addict, over on the Guardian website, is overcome by unplanned gloom this week, with all three programmes under review set on the wrong side of the tracks and reflecting the seamier side of life. Sorry. It just happened. Top Boy, which ran from Monday to Thursday on C4, is set on a fictional Hackney estate where drug-dealing and internecine warfare is rife; Misfits, back for its third series on E4, is a sci-fi comedy that’s also set on an estate, this time the unnamed Thamesmead in Bexley/Greenwich, and revolves around young offenders on community service; and Braquo, a thrillilng new French cop import on FX, which I’ve already written about, is set in the underbelly of Paris, where violence on both sides of the law is a way of life. As is drinking at work.

It’s all pretty gritty. But vital in many other ways. I loved Top Boy, written by Ronan Bennett and superbly directed by Yann Demange, although why it was force-fed to us in four days I don’t know. Is this new concertinaed scheduling orthodoxy a reaction to DVD box-set bingeing? If so, I can see the logic, but it does mean that a drama as important and impressive as this feels as if it’s being rush-released, and that the channel that’s showing it has no confidence that an audience will stick around for it given a whole week between episodes in which to lose interest. Do we have such short attention spans?

This week’s Telly Addict comes with a warning again: this video contains scenes of nudity and language that some viewers may find offensive. Brilliant.