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Friday 26 October 2018

Becker's World

"We have a man. We want to know if we can trust him and I think you can get us the answer."

Sebastian Becker was never meant to live, but sometimes you just don't plan these things.

He made his first appearance in The Kingdom of Bones, pursuing the fugitive Tom Sayers from London's Music Hall circuit to a final confrontation in a Lousiana furniture store, a Javert to Sayers' Valjean. The Bedlam Detective found him back in England with his young family, working cash-in-hand to support them as an investigator for the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy. In The Authentic William James he's handed a job with political implications that he turns into a personal mission.

“You feel others’ pain. But you won’t share your own. There are people who love you. They love you more than you know. But you can never bring yourself to believe that you deserve it.”

Along the way I've been adding shorter pieces, fleshing out Becker's world, filling in some of the gaps. Out of Bedlam falls between The Kingdom of Bones and The Bedlam Detective; the action of One Dove slots in between Bedlam Detective and William James. The new novella takes us forward with a character whose potential I'd begun to sense along the way. For new readers it includes a (relevant) sample chapter from The Authentic William James.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Broadcast Blues

I've begun watching a WGA preview screener of Amazon’s Homecoming with Sam (Mr Robot) Esmail directing Julia Roberts in a podcast-inspired drama. It's too early for me to offer judgment, but so far it’s intriguing and engaging and matches no obvious broadcast model – half-hour serial fiction with varying episode lengths and other "No one ever does that" elements that I’ll leave you to discover.

Right now it seems like no more than a week or two goes by without some form-breaking novelty from one of the streaming platforms. A lot of shows that do nothing for me, but a significant number that do. 3 years ago I was working for a US network whose drama VP told me that the traditional networks were expecting to survive no more than 6 years in their current form. I get it now.

This item in The Guardian's media section brought that conversation back to mind:

The big game-changer was Beau Willimon and David Fincher's House of Cards, I reckon. Prior to that, online drama meant no-budget, no-name exercises in the disguising of negligible resources. HoC landed among the webisodes like Orson Welles in a paddling pool.

The success of Netflix et al is that of providing for a wide variety of tastes. In the arc of my career I’ve seen UK broadcasting go from ‘something for everyone’ to the steady narrowing of focus onto one or other imaginary demographic. Lost count of the number of times I’ve been told what “the ITV viewer” or “the BBC1 audience” wants (usually homely and heartwarming ‘people like us’ stories).

Nothing wrong with that. But it’s like beans for every meal.

I had a conspiracy theory that the BBC’s Bodyguard Radio Times cover spoiler was a veiled rebuke to the on-demand viewer. But I do hope our national broadcasters survive and prosper, without being reduced to a diet of sports and shiny-floor shows with live voting..

By the sound of it, they’ve got 3 more years to work out how.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Dark Mirages: Dracula

Dark Mirages is a new book presenting unproduced screenplays by writers with genre credentials, each with a story behind it.

In my case Dracula was commissioned by the BBC and cancelled, unread, on the very day that I delivered the script. The producers were Deep Indigo working with BBC Wales.

 My angle was that nobody had 'done' the book properly since Gerald Savory's 1970s adaptation. Dracula is a work that's often plundered and rarely honoured. Stoker never gets the respect that's automatically accorded to an Austen, an Eliot, or a Hardy, maybe because he wrote an instinctive classic rather than a cerebral one.

Things would have to change, as in adaptations they always do. But for me the guiding motivation would always be the question, What was Stoker getting at, here?

I won't insult you by explaining how the novel is a collage of second-hand perceptions, cast in the form of letters, journals, and dictated notes from the principal characters. The character of Count Dracula is offstage for much of the novel, which adds to his mystery and enhances his credibility.

Because of this approach, you don't get Count Dracula's version of the events. You can work it out by a kind of literary triangulation, but I've never seen it done and still come out as Stoker. Dracula's role gets rewritten, as if his character somehow isn't integral, nor needs to be rendered with any fidelity to the author.

What we usually get is either a romantic rapist or, if the makers want to signal that they've seen Nosferatu, a hideous cockroach. Rarely has anyone made a serious attempt to show us Stoker's nasty-minded, empty-hearted predator, who insists to his dissipated party-girl 'brides' that he's capable of love, and then goes on to prove at great length that he isn't.

It was the fastest, fiercest script I've ever written. We opened a discussion with Vincent Cassel's people, for our Dracula of choice. And as my script made its way to Cardiff a drama executive in London heard of a proposed ITV version over lunch and cancelled our project that same afternoon.

We had a completed script, we were way ahead. The other project didn't even have a writer yet. But the news took over a week to reach us, during which time the producers of the ITV project got out a press announcement and effectively bombed the BBC's boat.

There's a coda. About two years later, the BBC financed ITV's version and screened it as their own. I didn't - couldn' t - watch, but the general opinion seems to be that it was not great.

So there's that.