Wednesday, May 05, 2021

EXPECTATION

***WARNING, SPOILERS FOR LINE OF DUTY SERIES SIX FINALE***

Like most of the country, I had high expectations for the final episode of series six of LINE OF DUTY. I would like to say it delivered, some would argue that it did, but I suspect most viewers felt the same as I did, that while it entertained, the ending lacked the punch we were expecting.

We had a similar situation with the final season of GAME OF THRONES in 2019. Fans expectation had been high but again, bar one or two moments, it failed to deliver. So why did two of the biggest shows on British TV get it so wrong?

When it was announced the final two seasons of GAME OF THRONES would be seven and six episodes respectively, rather than the usual ten episodes we had had for previous series, fans expressed their concern that they were being cheated. Indeed, the final season felt rushed, lacking the great moments of drama and tension that had made the show so loved by so many. Those final six episodes churned through the plot at a high rate, barely pausing for breath, and what was missing were those quiet, concentrated, intimate moments of character and high drama and tension we enjoyed in those ten-episode series. That is where, I believe, GAME OF THRONES got it wrong.

If there had been ten episodes each for series seven and eight as in the previous six series, the writers would have had more time to focus on those great moments of character and spent time building tension and delivering those heart-wrenching shocks the show was known for. The battle with the Night King's army was far too brief when we were expecting it to be epic and with a ten-episode final series, it would have had more time to play out. As it was, the sense of danger, the sense that any of the main characters could be killed off at any moment wasn't there as it had been previously and the Night King and his army were defeated far too easily in a rush to get to King's Landing and have Daenerys confront Cersei.

The same can be said of Daenerys' conquering of King's Landing and the defeat of Cersei, it was all over in one episode. Daenerys' destruction of King's Landing and its people didn't ring true or have the impact I think the writers wanted. Again this moment suffered as a result of trying to cram too much into too short a time and Daenerys' fall from grace would have been so much more convincing if there had been time to explore it in greater detail.

The problem with the ending of LINE OF DUTY is a different one. The problem there lies in the difficulty of maintaining the momentum of the successive climaxes/revelations over so many series, of having to ensure you top what has come before again and again. But when you have such jaw-dropping moments of high drama as we've seen in LINE OF DUTY, it's increasingly difficult to find new ways to exceed your audience's expectation and deliver something that shocks or surprises.

After four series of LINE OF DUTY, the audience was beginning to become familiar with how Jed Mercurio played with their expectations and to a certain extent, this made it harder to deliver great moments of drama they weren't expecting. By series six we had been hit by so many jaw-dropping moments that Jed was going to have to deliver something spectacular to top what he had delivered before. It didn't come. Whether that was deliberate or not, I'll discuss later.

We were expecting the fourth man/woman to be someone conniving and wickedly clever, someone who would run rings around AC-12 and push them to their limits and beyond. Buckells wasn't that man! He didn't even come close! He wasn't the arch-nemesis we demanded but a comically inept officer who just happened to pass on information to the OCG. His character lacked impact and so did his interview. Why? Because he was already in custody when they rumbled him and consequently there wasn't that anticipated, tense last-minute dash to hunt him down and bring him to justice. They just went to pick him up from the prison and interviewed him. Even good old Ted mocked him for his ineptitude as a police officer.

However, I'm thinking this might be deliberate, a ploy by Jed to take us into a seventh series where the battle to uncover the real fourth man/woman really takes place as he or she works against the team to tear them apart and shut down their investigation. There, for me, is the tension missing from the final episode of series six, the sense of urgency that the fourth man/woman needs to be found and brought to justice before he or she can disband the heroic AC-12 team and defeat them... only time will tell, but if I were you, I wouldn't be too surprised when series seven is announced.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

UPCYCLING

My new TV drama spec was finally finished and I happily emailed it to my agent. Job done, I thought... but what next?

I had planned to start a feature as my next project when I decided to have a quick flick through my old script files first. I have no idea why I chose to skim through my old screenplays, what prompted me or what the aim was, but I'm glad I took the time to do so.

It wasn't long before I came across a comedy TV pilot I had written several years ago. I found myself laughing out loud at its premise, its boldness and its sheer stupidity. What had I been thinking back then? But something about it struck a chord with me. Something about it cried out for attention. Something about it said, 'this story needs telling and the time is NOW!"

The creative juices started flowing; how I could update it, how I could change it to reflect a post-Covid world, how could I alter the characters to make them more relevant? It was like an explosion went off in my head and after months of little creativity, my brain decided it was time to make up for it. And it did a flipping good job.

I have to be honest, it surprised me. Firstly, I hadn't expected the screenplay to be as good as it was, after all, it's almost a decade old. Secondly, I hadn't expected to have so many new ideas bombarding me from all angles, enabling me to take the project forward in a new direction. Lastly, I can't believe the level of excitement it has generated in me.

So a project I thought dead, not only has new life but is also now a story of hope, something so desperately needed after a difficult year for everyone.

Take a chance and every now and then go back over your old ideas and look at them with distance and fresh eyes, and maybe, just maybe they might spark a new idea that will take you forward as a writer.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

LOCKDOWN & CREATIVITY

It's been an awful year and not just because of Covid-19 and successive lockdowns.

Speaking purely from a writing perspective, it's been the worst twelve-months of my career. Even the commissioning of my seventh feature in July did little to lift me out of an extended creative slump. I barely wrote a word in 2020 and what I did write, I'm still agonising over months later, bogged down in the detail of the first ten pages of a TV drama spec I can't push myself to complete. I'm still rewriting/deleting/rewriting those same ten pages over and over again, never managing to get any closer to something I can conjure any pride in. None of my ideas have clicked, none have added to the original idea and in most cases, they've made the overall tone of the screenplay considerably worse.

I'd like to think the lack of creativity is down to my private writing space being invaded by a work from home wife and two homeschooling kids, all four of us competing for the same workspace and wi-fi bandwidth, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month...

Unfortunately, months of lockdowns have sapped all creativity from my little grey cells. I even hit Netflix, Disney + and Sky Box Sets hard, binge-watching my way through a series or two a week in an attempt to jumpstart my creative drive, and I still find my creativity is a pale, lifeless corpse. I can barely muster the enthusiasm to sit at a keyboard for an hour a day. That blinking cursor taunts me and my impotent creativity as I witness other's achievements posted on social media with a sense of resignation and envy and not the pleasure, pride and camaraderie I used to. This is what I have become, a shadow of who I was before anyone first mentioned lockdown and isolation, a creative and emotional cripple with no drive, limping from one day to the next like a directionless zombie.

I know others are experiencing the same sense of hopelessness and demotivation but it's of little comfort because it still feels as if I'm the only one. I can't help but wonder how honest people are when posting their successes on Facebook and what the real struggles are behind those celebratory headlines. I also know this isn't forever, that it's just a temporary, insignificant blip in a lifetime of dedication and that I shouldn't punish myself during an unprecedented global situation where over a million people haven't been as lucky.

Now and again there are a few hours of frantic focus that may or may not result in a page of something half decent and I try to hold to those moments of encouragement amongst the hopelessness I feel for any future, personal or career-focused.

You are not the only one. Hang in there. Stay safe.

Happy writing!