Friday 17 August 2012

Not Quite The Best of Men

It's usually me losing my temper on this blog, but this week I am handing over the ranting rights to Martin Jameson. Martin is an experienced writer, producer and director who has worked in TV, Theatre and Radio for many years. Recently he has written for Holby City, Casualty and Emmerdale. He too was at the BBC TV Writers' Festival session about the representation of people with disabilities which I blogged about last month. Last night he watched Lucy Gannon's BBC 2 drama 'The Best of Men' and he wondered whether the BBC should be putting their money where their mouth is. I agree.


A Rant
Martin Jameson

Don't get me wrong, I found lots to enjoy in Lucy Gannon's script of The Best of Men - the little known story of Dr Ludwig Guttman - pioneering spinal injury doctor who instigated the Stoke Mandeville games, the forerunner of the Paralympics. Funny, insightful, heart warming... Eddie Marsan was fantastic - and will surely win, or at least be nominated for a BAFTA and well deserved it will be too.

But hang on a bloody minute....! What on earth is the BBC playing at? Both 'disabled' leads were played by non disabled actors. Ok... so Rob Brydon's there because he's a 'name' and will draw in an audience (not enough of an excuse in my book... work harder BBC - sell the show on having honest disability casting please). But then the other lead is played by George Mackay, also able bodied.

So the justification there would be that there are flashbacks and dream sequences where the character, William, can walk. Well, in my not so humble opinion, not only were those sequences dispensable but even if one felt they were absolutely essential, both would have been achievable with non disabled body doubles.

Again, don’t get me wrong, both Brydon and MacKay gave excellent performances, but… but… frankly I think it's a disgrace. The paraplegic actor David Proud was sitting around in MacKay's shadow with barely a line to say. In my professional opinion David would have been more than capable of playing William. Not as well known, but there was nothing integral to that that part he couldn't have done as far as I could see. And he would have been great. Obviously I can’t speak on David’s behalf, and on his blog he says he was honoured to be involved.  I’m sure he was, but this viewer, this writer would have wished for him to have had a much higher profile.  Surely he should have been much more than ‘involved’…

And then...AND THEN.... some of us were at the BBC's TV Writers Festival in Leeds last month. One of the key sessions was about 'Changing the Face of TV Drama', about challenging the invisibility of disability and disabled actors on our dramatic TV screens, and guess who was on stage, leading the panel?

Lucy Gannon that's who... saying that it was up to us as writers to make sure we wrote good parts for disabled actors, that they were included naturally within the drama. No mention of the fact that she'd just written a major BBC drama and actually she had written it in such a way that it gave the production team a get out to cast non disabled actors in those key roles.

As someone who has worked hard to include disability in the mainstream drama (i.e. soap) that I've written over the years, and don't tend to have the kinds of opportunities to mold change that Lucy has as a writer, I now find this to be hypocritical and jaw dropping. Ok... it might have been completely beyond her control, but I would like to know that she at least TRIED to fashion the script to at least give some disabled actors an all too rare opportunity to take the main stage here.

By failing to think this through, the BBC has cast itself in the role of the out-dated Dr Cowan, the disablist villain of Lucy Gannon’s script, unable to trust disabled actors with the lead roles in their own story. 

Given the content of the piece, and in the year of the London 2012 Paralympics… it’s a bit bloody ironic.

Friday 10 August 2012

Update: Manners

This is just a mini-blog following up on my earlier entry bemoaning the lack of manners amongst development producers. After spending the first 7 months of the year doing actual paid work, I am spending the rest of my year on development. It's a great luxury and I'm very lucky.

This week I started making a plan of action/works (I am ever the optimist). I went through all the pitches and submissions that I'd managed to make amongst writing on New Tricks and Midsomer Murders. And I got angry all over again.

I couldn't quite believe how many pitches had been initially been enthusiastically received and then utterly forgotten about. Producers who had urged me to write pitches and treatments and to come to meetings (all for free and without any offer of expenses) had simply not bothered to follow-up on my work. Some of them have flat out lied to me; promising that they won't be like all the others and that they value me and my work. So, why do they still treat me like dirt?

And yes, I am still talking about my writing life, not my love life. That's a whole different blog.

Now, it might be that the ideas weren't any good or were too similar to others on the slate. And that's absolutely fine. It happens. But to not even bother to drop me an email or make a call to say we're not interested is just damn rude and unprofessional.

But it's not only that, it is potentially detrimental to mine and other writer's careers. Those ideas are my currency, my product. And if you don't want to buy them, that's okay. However, by sitting on them you are limiting my window of opportunity to take those ideas elsewhere. And the more I thought about this the angrier I got.

So, here is my plan of action.

I'm going to follow-up on every single one of those pitches with a polite but to the point email or phone call. I'm going to make it clear that I want a yes/no answer and that I want it within a few days.

If the answer is no, then I'll take the idea elsewhere.

If the answer is maybe (because let's a face it, it's never a straight yes), I'm going to ask for a time frame. I want to know where they are taking the idea next and when I can expect to hear something.

I'm also seriously considering no longer abiding by the unwritten rule that you only pitch an idea to one person at a time. It considered bad form to tout your ideas around to multiple companies. Well, I say fuck that. They're my ideas and I'll show them to whoever I damn well please. If you like the idea then get your finger out and make me an offer. Maybe I won't take my idea 'off the market' until someone is talking to my agent.

It's time for a change of attitude amongst writers. They are not doing us a favour by listening to our new ideas for characters and stories and worlds. If writers stop bringing those ideas in, then it all grinds to a halt. And if they can't show us a basic level of courtesy then maybe we should stop pitching to them?

Again, I say all this on the understanding that not every development producer is rude and thoughtless. I have worked with some crackers this year. Producers who talk to you like a human being, keep you in the loop and push for quick decisions. For those wonderful people, I go the extra mile. But I'm no longer even going to put on my shoes for the other rude bastards.

So, if you're a producer and you're reading this; ask yourself which category you fall into.