Thursday, February 16, 2006

Breaking and Entering

There’s a great interview over at Guardian Film with the five BAFTA nominees for “The Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a British film-maker in their First Feature Film”, which is a fancy way of saying ‘Best British Newcomer’.

But the nominees - Joe Wright, Peter Fudakowski, David Belton, Annie Griffin and Richard Hawkins - aren’t newcomers at all. They’ve been working in the industry for years. Or on the television side at least. Ah! There it is. Television. As they themselves discuss about being nominated as a cinema newcomer: “there's a line that you've crossed and that you're now accepted ... into the magical world of movie-making” whereas Joe Wright doesn’t “see any divide between the work I've done previously [in TV] and this.”

So, is it a case of the film industry making a grand gesture about itself by declaring these talented folk as ‘Best British Newcomer’ or is there a genuine divide between TV work and film fare? Christ, I don’t really know. I expect there’s a divide because cinema is on a bigger scale and attracts the larger egos but ironically the work reaches a smaller audience: “More people will watch something on TV than will ever go and see it in the cinema.”

They say it takes about ten years to become a successful screenwriter. Does that mean that ten years of doing hard graft and working your ass off grants you the misnomer of ‘Best Newcomer’? That you might plough away happily with loads of TV commissions but then you’re first cinema screenwriting credit is hailed as ‘Hot New Talent’? (I like it when publications use the phrase: “in his/her feature debut” whether it be a writer or director.) A couple of years ago, Matt Lucas and David Walliams won Best Newcomer at the British Comedy Awards, and they’d been around for about ten years in the comedy circuit, doing their time.

Personally, I can understand and accept this kind of categorisation because while you may work very hard for years under the radar, the industry needs to identify and classify your voice once it becomes known to a greater part of the viewing public. But the snobbish divide between cinema and TV is an interesting one. Most execs that I’ve come across encourage and approve of writers doing as much TV as possible - that’s where all the up and coming screenwriters are coming from - but there are some who hold their nose at the thought of the ‘lower ranks’ of TV, and wouldn’t dream of gracing their presence on anything but a 75x50 foot screen.

It doesn’t upset me too much. Nor does the heated debate about the “film by” director credit (over at Artful Writer). I’m kind of in the middle. Frustratingly on the fence. How about you?


Anonymous said...

I'd like to earn a living from my writing one day.

Not a fortune (though that would be nice). Just enough to pay the mortgage, feed and clothe the kids, go on holiday from time to time, and put a bit away so that I don't die starving and freezing.

And I have long since reached the conclusion that the only way to do that is to be extremely lucky, or to write for television.

Trying to break into the feature film business as a writer, and then sustaining a career there, is like relying on the Lottery to pay off your credit card debts.

Anonymous said...

Writing for TV is the way to go in my book. Totally up for that. When "they" teach TV History at university "they" go on about how there was a "TV Golden Age" that has never been repeated - Z Cars, Quatermass Experiment, Hitchcock's Half Hour...I disagree. I think there's been some fab TV over the years, particularly Drama Series like Cracker and Undercover Heart -plus you get 6 hrs over 6 weeks to invest in your story and characters, rather than 90 mins in isolation. That's not say I wouldn't want to write for film as well...Guess I'm just greedy! ; )

James Moran said...

Definitely. I'd love to do some TV, partly because of the bigger canvas, partly because of the wider audience. If something hits well on TV, everyone's talking about it the next day, as opposed to a movie where people might not bother going to see it.

As for the Film By credit - don't like it. Never have. I appreciate the argument for it, given that the director co-ordinates all the other departments etc etc, but still, I think it's quite insulting to everyone who's worked so hard on the movie. The director gets the final credit in the opening credits, the implication is clear that they're in charge, so it just doesn't seem right.

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy for someone to pay me for ANY of my dramatic writing rather than just say how much they enjoyed reading it. In a way I'm lucky because for the past fifteen years I have been paid for my writing - but only as a Copywriter in advertising and DM. Whatever happens, I'm definitely in it for the long haul and I agree that by the time you've learned your craft and started to make your name, ten years could easily have gone by. As for the 'Film By' argument, it's worth remembering that the Best Picture Oscar gets picked up by the Producer. I've also read that in years gone by, most Directors were basically hired hands filling a role - a little unfair given the sheer gruelling labour a Director goes through. The TV film debate seems relevant here because, unlike movies, who knows the name of TV directors? ( It's the reverse for writers with people like Abbot and Davies household names with the public.) What's more the senior writer on a TV show in the states is often an Executive Producer with real clout. Personally, I'd rather be a writer than a director (like I had the choice anyway).

Anonymous said...

mm yeah . how old is annie griffin by the way? she coyly (or girlyly) didn't reveal.