Posts Tagged With: Star Trek

A time and a place

Somebody once said that “comedy has a time and a place”, meaning that specificity is funnier than ambiguity.

At least, that’s what I think it means.

Sitcoms should be set somewhere, not just a generic town but Surbiton or East Cheam or Torquay. Locating the characters in a physical location helps define them, the range of stories and the type of humour.

They should also be set some-when. This is something I feel quite strongly about, not just where comedy is concerned but for all genres. When I read a script the first thing I want to know is when it’s set. It’s hard to get a decent mental image of someone ‘dressed in their Sunday best’ or ‘polishing his new car’* if you’ve no idea whether the script is set in the ’20s or the present day.

I expect to read the time period in brackets at the end of the first scene header.^ If someone doesn’t include the time then I guess it could be read as default Present Day, but just like a story where you don’t see a character’s face makes me suspect it’s a character who’s being deliberately kept secret, not reading the time period makes me wonder if it’s a deliberate trick.

Now I’m expecting the rug to be pulled out from under me, if it doesn’t happen it’s always faintly unsettling. On screen you can see instantly roughly when a story is set (assuming it’s not opening at a present day ’80s fancy dress party or something) so why not mention it right off the bat?

Similarly, keeping the location vague rarely makes it feel inclusive because either that place looks like your home town or it doesn’t.# Knowing where in the world the story takes place as quickly as possible helps the viewer concentrate on the story.

I’ve been watching two TV programmes recently which having confusing time periods: Sex Education and Star Trek: Discovery.

The first episode of Sex Education confused the hell out of me. The adults are wearing ’50s clothes in their ’50s houses. The kids are wearing ’70s clothes. Except those kids who are wearing ’80s clothes, driving a new ’90s car. The school looks American but everyone’s talking in an English accent. The English accented Head Boy is even wearing an American Jacket.

When the fuck is this set? And where? What am I watching?

Which is fine, I guess. For some reason this is the look they wanted for the show: deliberately confusing. The problem I have is while I’m being confused by all the visuals I’m not concentrating on the characters or the story. I’m not empathising with anyone because I’m trying to figure out the basic details, the minimum information I need to get started.

I’m not sure this is a great idea.

Similarly, ST: Discovery – what the fuck is going on there? Two seasons in and I still keep wondering why it’s a prequel? I mean, why? What possible benefit is there to telling a prequel story when everything on screen tells you it’s set sometime after Voyager? It’s almost like they got to the end of production before someone decided to make it a prequel.

“But it’s clearly a sequel, it looks nothing like the pre-Kirk era.”

“Fuck it, it’ll be fine. Just change the dates on the screen. Ooh! And call those new aliens Klingons!”

“The aliens which look and act nothing like Klingons?”

“Yeah, fuck it. Just dub everything into Klingon. People won’t notice.”

I just don’t understand why? So they can introduce Spock’s hitherto unspoken of sister? Why is she Spock’s sister? Why is that important? What does it add beyond a quick nod of recognition followed by weeks of … wait a minute. It’s not even like they’re filling in any details we’ve longed to hear about for years.

I mean, at least the Star Wars prequels told the origins of characters we already knew. I’ve always thought a Star Trek series set aboard Pike’s or April’s Enterprise would be cool. I felt ’90s ST became a little too utopian for effective drama, all those well balanced, nice people weren’t great for storytelling. A prequel show has the opportunity to be a little more ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’. Less tech is more interesting, let’s see how they cope without stuff … but a prequel with more tech?

I guess the difference between these examples (at least for me, I’m aware my opinion isn’t valid outside my own head) is I care about the characters in Sex Education. I relate to half of them and can see my friends reflected in the rest. It may not look or feel like anywhere I’ve ever lived but the characters feel familiar and once I’d gotten over the weirdly conflicting visual information I was hooked.

Discovery, not so much. I mean, the characters are okay … but they keep doing nonsensical things which make it hard for me to believe in them. I think the show has many problems (and the odd nugget of joy) but a good chunk of them would be resolved by not being the prequel it doesn’t look like.

I guess the point I’m trying to make (apart from character is king) is why add more confusion than is necessary to tell the story? If something’s not meant to be a mystery, don’t make it one. Don’t deliberately try to confuse the audience$ about things which don’t need to be confusing.

Not knowing when or where something is set is disorientating. If there’s no story need for doing it, why do it?


Was it Galton and/or Simpson? Or maybe Barry Cryer? I can’t remember. Maybe it was me? Sounds a bit too clever for me.

* I would never write something like this because a car tells you a lot about a person. The kind of person who polishes a new Ford Ka is a very different to the kind who’s just bought a new Lamborghini. Probably. Unless they’re the kind of person who’s got one of every car ever made, in which case they might be equally happy with whatever they’ve bought.

Maybe.

^ Which, I suppose, makes it the second thing I want to know since it immediately follows the location.

# I think this is only true of a story which takes place in your home country. Or one you know well. As a kid I had no concept that Hill Valley was geographically adrift because I just assumed all American towns look like that. Take the town in Gremlins, for example, that looks nearly identical!+

+ Yes, I know. That’s the joke.

$ Or me. Don’t try to confuse me. I confuse easily and then cry about it.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #13: Robin Bell (Redux)

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE FORCE AWAKENS, INSIDE OUT, SUPERMAN, STAR TREK … BUT NOT REALLY.

VERY MILD.

CHICKEN KORMA MILD.

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So #PhonePhill is still a thing. Anyone is welcome to ring me and natter about anything they like. You don’t have to be a scriptwriter, I’ll talk to anyone. Actors, director, producers, sound effects person … or, you know, people not even connected with the industry – maybe you’re a gas fitter (I don’t know what that is) or a mortician or a … something on a submarine (chef? Do they have chefs on a submarine? Submarine polisher, is that a job? I have no idea).

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In essence, no matter who you are, if you fancy chatting to a scriptwriter drop me a line and we’ll work something out.

This week I’ve been talking to Robin Bell. Again. Hey, there are no rules. I can talk to whoever I want whenever I want.

To be honest, this is a lie. It wasn’t this week, it was weeks ago. Possibly even months.

So long, in fact, that I’ve completely forgotten what it was we talked about. I’ll have a vague stab at remembering:

Robin’s a wandering minstrel who’s recently invented a new type of electric jock strap. He’s hoping to market it exclusively to Iranians with asthma.

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At least, I think that’s what he said. Either that or he’s still the co-creator of Twisted Showcase and has recently been writing children’s TV scripts – at least one of which sounded awfully good to my tin ear.

We spoke of many, many things. Well, I didn’t – I spoke exclusively about me because I’m like that, but Robin had lots of interesting things to say. Probably.

I definitely remember talking about how difficult it can be to get some concepts into a script. Sometimes these things will be obvious on screen, but will mean nothing on the page. Or maybe we spoke about the need to create a physical something on screen to represent abstract ideas – show, don’t tell … basically. We concluded that the only film we completely and utterly agree on is Mamma Mia which we both, unashamedly, love. Which is odd given how partial we both are to genre movies.

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Although I suppose Mamma Mia is a genre movie. Musical is a genre, right? A very broad genre, but a genre nonetheless.

Genre (as in sci-fi, horror … etc) itself was discussed, specifically how British TV is mad keen on genre for children … but for some reason assumes those children grow out of it and don’t want to watch it as adults. Which is weird. American TV doesn’t same to have the same attitude.

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Ooh! One thing we did get stuck on for a while was fridge logic and how the difference between it working and it derailing the film is largely down to how much you’re enjoying the film.

Examples which came up were the Millennium Falcon flipping between the two Star Destroyers in Empire Strikes Back – at the time it seems amazingly cool and thrilling … but later (almost a decade later for me) whilst your mind’s wandering as you’re opening the fridge (fridge logic) you start to think … hang on. What the fuck were those Star Destroyers playing at? They’re something like a mile long … and it’s in space! It’s not like they couldn’t see each other coming. What was their plan? To squish the Falcon between them? That’s a bit like two people deciding to kill a wasp by running at each other with their chins out.

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But it works. The scene is fantastic. The logic holds at the time because the story is gripping and we completely believe Han can out fly those Imperial slugs.

The opposite is true (for me) in Star Wars when Han and Luke climb out of the trash compactor and ditch their stormtrooper outfits to reveal they had their own clothes on underneath all the time. Even as a five year old I struggled with that one. Wait … did they … how does that work? Is that under the formfitting bodysuit?

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But I loved the film, so five year old me let it slide. It’s one flaw, it doesn’t matter.

As it turns out, we now know stormtroopers wear trousers under their uniforms. Not leggings. Trousers. Possibly with pockets.*

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Good fridge logic: George Kirk tells his pregnant wife he CAN’T leave the ship because he HAS to stay behind and steer it … then goes to sit in the Captain’s chair, roughly six feet from the place where you steer the ship from. That didn’t click with me until after the film – at the time I was too busy sobbing.

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Bad fridge logic: why didn’t Joy put the core-memory globes in the tube-thing which leads straight back up to the control room? She’s asking the … peanut things … how to get back up there. They show her, right in front of her, how to send them up … and she just ignores it.

That nearly derailed the film for me – I had to find a way to rationalise it to myself: “She can’t send them up because the whole point of the film is she can’t let go. She has to be in control, she has to take them there herself – it just wouldn’t occur to her to send them up on their own” … which does make sense, but I shouldn’t be having to do that kind of thinking whilst watching an otherwise amazing movie.

Or at least, that’s what I think.

What makes something fridge logic and not confusing is whether or not it’s noticed during the first watching of the film. The problem with that is scriptwriters have no real control over whether or not the audience will notice. Some people will, some won’t. I guess the real problem is quantity – one or two instances of fudging what people wear under what (why can’t you see Superman’s costume through his white shirt?) or which seat someone sits in is fine. If there’s something like that in every scene it becomes a problem … unless you’re enjoying the film so much it just doesn’t matter to you.

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We’ve all been in that situation right? When someone points out a flaw in a film you love and it just doesn’t matter? If anything it makes the film more endearing.

This is what most of the hour-long conversation with Robin consisted of – disagreeing over whether or not the flaws in films are irritating or endearing. A disagreement which in itself is endearing. And yet we both agreed, Mamma Mia is awesome despite (and in some cases because) of its flaws. If you’d like to disagree with me about something, #PhonePhill


 

* Which is another reason why I don’t believe Finn was really a stormtrooper. Surely that’s proof he actually worked in the sweet shop and stole the uniform minutes before that first battle? Come on, a cowardly, klutz of a stormtrooper who wears trousers under his uniform? Yeah … I don’t think so. There’s more than meets the eye there.

Unless he put the trousers on because he knew he was going to defect? Yeah, maybe that was it.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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