Bafta 2010 nominations.

Film The Bafta Nominations were announced a couple of days ago and as ever I've seen about two of the films on offer; as ever I offer no excuse for this other than the usual about how going t'cinema isn't what it used to be; and as ever I'm going to try and predict the winners sight unseen.

Best Film
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air

Avatar is receiving this year's innovation nomination and will probably win, but I think An Education may be a stalking horse -- only British film on the list and lots of good will.

Outstanding British Film
An Education
Fish Tank
In the Loop
Nowhere Boy

While Nowhere Boy had its moments, not least the near perfect rendition of the first handshake between John and Paul, as poisonous and cynical as it should have been, it didn't quite hold together for, though that could have been because it was depicting the places where I was born and brought up. In The Loop on the other hand didn't have that problem and was just about perfect. Perhaps I'll change my mind when Amazon send the copy of Moon I've just ordered.

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Neill Blomkamp, District 9
James Cameron, Avatar
Lone Scherfig, An Education
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Probably James Cameron because in the back of the heads of the voters will be the fear that he's the new David Lean.

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Andy Serkis, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

It'd be nice for Serkis to win an award for acting, even though his best work will never receive recognition because it's obscured by animation.

Carey Mulligan, An Education
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Audrey Tautou, Coco Before Chanel

Carey Mulligan because I'm biased. This is the "Who's in it from Doctor Who?" category.

Supporting Actor
Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles
Alfred Molina, An Education
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Christian McKay. His Welles is eerie.

Supporting Actress
Anne-Marie Duff, Nowhere Boy
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Kristin Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy

Presumably Mo'Nique will win this due to split voting. But my votes with Scott Thomas. Duff was spectacular as John's mother, but Kristen had to simultaneously be a dragon and also show that it's because she believes she's doing the best for her nephew. That's not easy but she carries it off with ease.

Original Screenplay
The Hangover
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man

It would be nice to see PiXAR win something for writing, confirming that the scripts above all others elements are what set their films apart from some other digimations (Monsters Vs Aliens).

Adapted Screenplay
District 9
An Education
In the Loop
Up in the Air

Well that's interesting. Presumably In The Loop is in there because it's the film version of The Thick Of It, which isn't the same as turning out a version of a novel, it's still an all new narrative and it was mostly new characters.

Film not in the English Language
Broken Embraces
Coco Before Chanel
Let the Right One In
A Prophet
The White Ribbon

"Clearly Let the Right One In" as Mark Kermode might say.

Animated Film
Fantastic Mr Fox

Up will win this presumably.

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Road

As you know I recently finished reading a book on film style in which David Bordwell spends pages describing the meticulous processes of directors and cinematographers in creating shots which combine storytelling and giving the actor room to work. I do wonder about the validity of this category when its nominating films were the shot length is less than a nanosecond. The Road on the basis that its bound to have lots of long shots.

Costume Design
Bright Star
Coco Before Chanel
An Education
A Single Man
The Young Victoria

I've always thought that like screenplays, the costume design category should be split into two, encompassing work that is truly new designs -- fantasy and sci-fi -- and adapted fashions of the kind we see here.

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Up in the Air

Why does Up in the Air merit an editing nomination and not The Road. I'm intrigued.

Make-Up & Hair
Coco Before Chanel
An Education
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Young Victoria

I refer you to my comments on costume, although I suppose in both cases the award is also being given for the accuracy of the recreations.

Crazy Heart
Fantastic Mr Fox
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Is this original music?

Production Design
District 9
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Inglourious Basterds

Avatar's going to romp through the technical categories; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus doesn't really compare -- budget cuts led to the effects looking charmingly unfinished.

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Star Trek

Just for recreating then developing the soundscape of my youth.

Visual Effects
District 9
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Star Trek


Short Animation
The Gruffalo
The Happy Duckling
Mother of Many

... because of the infectious excitement from Polly Hill, the Head of Independent Drama for BBC England, at the panel yesterday. This was her commission and she was very proud of it.

Short Film
I Do Air
Off Season

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer
Lucy Bailey, Andrew Thompson, Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock, David Pearson (directors/producers, Mugabe and the White African)
Eran Creevy (writer-director, Shifty)
Stuart Hazeldine (writer-director, Exam)
Duncan Jones (director, Moon)
Sam Taylor-Wood (director, Nowhere Boy)

Duncan Jones and Sam Taylor-Wood are already known for other things and that might count against them.

Orange Rising Star Award
Jesse Eisenberg
Nicholas Hoult
Carey Mulligan
Tahar Rahim
Kristen Stewart

Remember the collective audible sigh in the auditorium when Shia LaBeouf won this in 2008? Since this is a public vote and Twiglet is still huge, Kristen Stewart would seem like the equivalent this year. But it should be Carey Mulligan. Vote here, vote now.

Review: BBC Drama panel at FACT Liverpool

TV Regular readers to this blog will know that I have a couple of running, not so much, themes, but subjects which I keep returning to, one of which is the lack of theatre on television. The epicentre of my argument is this post from the bottom end of last year in which I took the BBC’s controller of Drama Commissioning, Ben Stephenson, to task regarding his attitude to the presentation of theatre on television. My argument was that there’s a certain double standards at play in that classical music and opera and range of other art forms are given space to present their wares on television, but theatre and more specifically classical theatre is ghettoised to radio.

Despite having written this blog for nearly nine years, it’s not often I’ve been able to put any of this rubbish to the person I’m addressing. But that’s exactly what happened this lunch time as Stephenson appeared with members of BBC Drama commissioning at a Northwest Vision & Media panel in The Box at FACT Liverpool. Also turning out were Polly Hill the Head of Independent Drama for BBC England, Hilary Martin the Executive Producer for Drama North and the event was chaired by Kate Rowland, the BBC’s Creative Director of New Writing, and yes, for what seemed like an age I was able to ask Stephenson directly about his attitude to theatre on television. But more on that in a moment.

I wanted to attend because these kinds of events usually seem to happen elsewhere in the North and it was quite novel to see something available locally. Pitching up at FACT I was given a label with my name on it and a delegate list. During sign up I was asked to give a job title; I couldn't very well give my real one because it's not particularly relevant so I put 'blogger' and sure enough there it was at the bottom of the list below all the producers, writers, investment co-ordinators, costume assistants and heads of film. Sadly, they neglected to also put 'feeling listless' as my company name. Probably wise.

I’m also very passionate about the BBC and genuinely believe that they do produce some of the best television in the world and I’m excited by the drama which is appearing in the upcoming season that appears in the following showreel, which was shown at the top of Stephenson’s presentation.

It’s very easy to reduce the BBC to its returning dramas, and become annoyed because it seems like they’re not taking risks, but as Stephenson pointed out, none of the other channels are coming close to trying anything on the scale of what BBC Drama accomplishes. ITV1's all about crime drama, Channel 4 is concentrating on returning titles (Shameless) and youth dramas with some success (Skins, Misfits), Sky are doing bits and pieces mostly fantasy (Discworld, Skellig). The BBC does all of that and more, much more.

Stephenson began by offering a few statistics. BBC Drama has a budget of around two hundred million pounds, seventy percent of which is spent on post-watershed content. Last year they produced four hundred and fifty hours of television including thirty nine new titles and twenty-two returning series (twenty eight from independent producers, the rest in house from Manchester, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island) employing over three hundred writers. His pitch is that he aims to offer a creative environment that attracts the best writers, the best work with no commercial pressures and to offer a schedule of range and diversity for a number of different audiences which won’t necessarily like everything which is produced.

He then defined their perception of the kind of drama which should be appearing on each of the channels. BBC One aims to offer "stories for and about the audience" stretching from high concept populist fare (Ashes to Ashes, Doctor Who) to social conscience (Small Island, Occupation). He recognises that they had “taken (their) eye of the ball” with BBC Two but cope to make it the “drama connoisseur’s destination” with “intelligent, compulsive serial drama”. BBC Three should have grown-up, singularly imaginative work and BBC Four is reduced to “stories of the past from an acute angle” through single dramas at 9pm. In terms of serials, BBC Drama focuses on hours, with BBC Comedy on half hours though they are considering some half hour shows for the 10pm pre-Newsnight slot.

The overall impression I got, from the presentation and subsequent question and answer session, was that after a few years in which drama commission was fairly wishy-washy about what it was trying to do, Stephenson has attempted to snap the focus back into place. Essentially BBC Drama has found itself in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand it does not have a commercial imperative and so can and should spread out and speak to a range of audiences and create challenging drama. But it has to do that on an ever decreasing budget (apparently they have to reduce the cost of an hour’s programming by ten percent over the next five years) with “content” which attracts as large an audience as possible. Challenging drama and big audiences are not a natural fit.

The approach they’re taking, and this is particular demonstrated in the show real, is to take a well established genre (soaps, the detective drama, fantasy, the bio-pic) and then almost smuggle in the “challenging” material – go at it from an unusual angle. The examples Stephenson offered were the gay muslim wedding storyline in Eastenders or the recent dramas about prominent women in BBC Four which looked at a particular aspect of their lives rather than just offering a straight bio-pic structure. Then on top of that take definite risks just to see what happens, the exampled I'd suggest (of course) being Torchwood: Children of Earth, a five part sci-fi drama stripped across a week which turned out to be one of the best dramas of last year (for the six million of us who watched it every night).

As a result, those in the room who in the past had clearly had very negative experiences in attempting to get work commissioned at the BBC gradually sounded more hopeful and agreeable about this new regime. Polly Hill said that all of the work she’d had in development that she subsequently offered to Ben was commissioned. Stephenson admitted that he didn’t care whose name was on the script so long as it was good and that he was less interested in whether someone had a track record, rather that they had the ability to complete and turn in whatever they’d been commissioned to write. A couple of the delegates still registered a bit of cynicism about that (one using an increasing esoteric art gallery metaphor) suggesting that Paul Abbot or Jimmy McGovern (Picasso and that crowd) would automatically be looked at above some just starting out but as the whole panel noted, the reason that happens is because they’re consistently producing high quality material and ideas that people want to watch.

I suppose there are some who look back at the so-called “golden age” when work was commissioned for predertimed timeslots by producers within the BBC and to an extent whatever Dennis Potter or Alan Bennett wrote would be produced and, especially on BBC Two, there seemed to be more latitude for presenting avant-gardist material effectively on a whim. But that was a different market; with less channels people were more likely to try something new because there wasn’t much of an alternative. Now, with multi-channel television and the other entertainment streams, people have a much greater choice and it’s questionable whether even someone who has less mainstream tastes would want to spend half an hour watching someone hurl a cat around a room or whatever else Arena was doing that week. There are too many hours in the day.

With all of that ringing in my ears I half put my hand up then realised I was being called upon. I genuinely hadn’t gone with an agenda, and wasn’t going to ask anything if the conversation wasn’t going that direction. But they’d talked about adaptations and commissioning existing properties so it seemed in keeping with the flow of the session. I essentially asked why with the rich history that television has with theatre and considering that classical music and opera are given a big shop window why more theatre isn’t shown on television. I even paraphrased back to him what he’d said at the NFT [reported here] about theatre not being visually interesting and that he it would have to be abbreviated considerably in order to work on television. After I’d begun, I was surprisingly lacking in nerves and gained in confidence as our conversation continued.

What he said was very surprising. He said that the problem was that theatre wasn't being pitched properly to them. They only received four theatre related pitches last year and he commissioned three of them – Tennant in Hamlet, Patrick Stewart in Macbeth and A Passionate Woman (Kay Mellor’s 90s play). He said that if people want to pitch theatre, it isn’t a closed shop, the idea just has to be good. He said he was just concerned that the kind of theatre he knew I was talking about wouldn’t get a large audience. He mentioned that the NFT is filming productions, which I seized upon and wondered why they couldn’t just buy those in, and he said, and I hadn’t heard this before, “we’ve had a conversation” but that the problem as ever was about money, should they buy in five of the NFT’s productions or make a drama about Enid Blyton?

And you know what I thought, after all my windbagging here when faced with that stark choice? Fair enough. The Blyton drama brought BBC Four its biggest audience in a good long while, it shifted the channel to even greater mainstream attention and I would suspect was one of the reasons that Mark Thompson has had a bit of u-turn in his decision to drop the channel or merge it with BBC Two after digital switch over. But it’s entirely apparent that two hundred million pounds in today’s production market isn’t a lot of money. Much as I think BBC Four would benefit from a weekly or monthly Sunday night slot showing the best of west end or regional theatre, it’s worth asking whether the potential audience in cost terms would justify it.

Plus, I don’t know what kind of money is involved. It’s all very well for Helen Mirren to appear in Phedre at the NT, but her salary is bound to be less than she might receive for some television or film work. The extent to which she and the other actors would be compensated if that production passed to television is something of a grey area; wouldn’t her agent, quite rightly expect her to have an increase and could the BBC justify that if it was for something which may only attract half a million viewers? If sorting this out retrospectively is a mess, adding it to the initial theatre contract makes that whole process even more complex and enters the realm of creating film like contracts for theatre productions which include the secondary rights and residuals which weren’t necessarily considered before.

So really, looking at this from a business rather than artistic point of view the non-appearance of theatre makes perfect sense and in fact it’s not necessarily Ben Stephenson and BBC Drama’s fault; it’s just that they’re caught in the centre of the previously discussed paradox, challenging tv attracting as large an audience as possible. Plus there is room for some hope. Stephenson said that he’ll more often than not commission something even if it isn’t to his taste because a producer is very passionate about it which suggests that although he doesn’t seem to be a fan of classical theatre he will look at a proposal if it's interesting enough. That two Shakespeares have been commissioned in the middle of these circumstances (however populist the choices and casting) demonstrates that quite rightly this isn’t a definite no (we may yet see Dr Faustus).

“I’d like to say yes to everything. I hate saying no.” He said, and I believed him.

None of which excuses or explains the commissioning and production of Paradox. But as he reminded us over and over again, you really can't always please everyone. Or in that case anyone.

Film Trailer: Necrosis


Oh Tiffany. Oh Ando. Oh that bald actor who played an Admiral in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Conspiracy ...

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  • The Wire.

    TV Much the same as everyone else, I rarely manage to keep to new year’s resolutions mainly because they’re general, unachievable challenges that in retrospect looked entirely foolhardy. So this year I decided to set myself a goal that wasn’t just achievable but which circumstance made easy.

    Watch The Wire.

    Which with the aid of the big freeze/cold snap, prolonged break from work over Christmas (and the usual media led order not to go out unless it’s completely necessary), meant that once I’d started on the 1st January, I was (to paraphrase the lyrics in the title music) in the hole of Baltimore non-stop for sixteen days, averaging 3.75 episodes a day. Which on reflection looks positively leisurely.

    This seems to be the best way to experience the series. Watching week to week, year to year, the power of some of writer/creator David Simon’s thematic interconnections and the point he’s making about the cyclical nature of the broken society couldn’t be quite as strong. It's might also why I've felt depressed and despondent since Christmas -- so admittedly I always feel depressed and despondent after Christmas.

    Reducing the show to these brief comments seems like an exercise in futility, not least because so much has been written about the programme in the past decade. I’m oddly muted in fact, in that way that usually happens when I’ve found something so profoundly moving, interesting and, well, perfect that talking about it has the potential to diminish it somehow. See also my reviews of an average Steven Moffat episode of Doctor Who (not that there is such a thing).

    So I’m going to simply focus on a single character in the final series and this where you have to stop reading if you don’t want to be spoiled. Right here.

    The Wire isn't a typical police series -- it's not even a typical television series. It's a soap opera for people who don't like soap operas, but unlike soap operas, the story is bigger than the characters, Simon's thematic concerns scrawled in big letters across his scripts rather than smuggled in between a diet of arguments, disaster and sex (though there's plenty of that too).

    McNulty is the character who best demonstrates that Simon isn’t interested in making a traditional series. As written in the first few series, McNulty is a fairly standard “lead” character, the loveable anti-establishment rogue who breaks all the rules. Some of the most memorable scenes feature McNulty swearing or getting drunk or both, along with his homicide partner Bunk. Example:

    Then in the fourth season, having cleaned up his act, he all but disappears from the story, having shifted departments to become a uniformed foot soldier. As far as I can tell it’s not because Dominic West was particularly busy, it’s simply because Simon had other interests, wanting to focus on Balitimore politics and the school system instead.

    There can’t be many series that would sideline its audience connection character quite so readily and so well and indeed there’s no chance that this would have happened on US network television. 24’s Jack Bauer doesn't sod off for episodes at a time, even if he’s travelling halfway across the country. But in the environs of HBO, Simon had the latitude for this.

    And when McNulty returns as a leading character for the final season, he’s back to his old ways, drinking and swearing. but the system has forced him to do unspeakable acts - fabricating evidence in order to manufacture a serial killer, which has ramifications that effect all of the other characters. The elements which made the character so likeable in the first three years are twisted slightly so that they become repellent.

    Initially it’s an emotional wrench, and feels like betrayal of the character. The fifth season is often criticised as the moment when The Wire went off the boil and I initially compared it to the fifth season of The West Wing and Season Six of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. In those series, well loved characters were clearly being misunderstood by new writers (John Wells & Marti Noxon), the magic of each series falling into a hole.

    Except with the novelistic nature of the series it becomes apparent that McNulty has been pushed into a corner by the system and that he’s doing some very bad things for the best of reasons, manipulating the media’s obsession with sensationalism for his own ends. Simon engages Lester, the wise “father figure” as the partner in crime which somehow makes the unconscionable palatable and eventually bloody heroic.

    At that point we can step out of the story and notice that Simon’s demonstrating that dozens and dozens of people die in the city every day because of systemic problems but the media doesn’t care – to them there is such a thing as mundane homicide; when multiple murderer Omar, a major figure in the community and the show is finally offed, his death doesn’t even merit a couple of sentences in the local paper, not deemed newsworthy enough by the editor.

    Which means that somehow, even though we know that what McNulty’s doing is erroneous, we don’t want him to be discovered, we want his subterfuge to continue, eventually we’re even, like Lester, trying to think of new ways he can develop bogus evidence – or is that just me? We’re even desperate for his colleague Kima not to rat him out before the illegal wire taps reveal their evidence.

    Reading back through those paragraphs I can tell that I’ve failed to really capture the complexity of what Simon’s achieved, perhaps because of the speed with which I watched the series, perhaps because it really is a series to be experienced rather than written about, infinitely complex and dead simple at the same time.

    I'll get back to you after I've watched it again.

    Torchwood USA.

    TV I meant to write about The Wire tonight but there’s a Who fanpocalypse happening online prompted by a post at the Hollywood Reporter about a US BBC/Fox co-production version of Torchwood (with some random speculation at the bottom about a Doctor Who remake).

    The article (which has been digitally remumbled at The Guardian) is unsourced. There are lots of “are”s and “will”s but nothing in the way of “says” or “has announced”. The writer doesn’t say where he got the story from and there isn’t a quote from anyone involved to verify or deny anything. How does he know the original production team are involved?

    Which isn’t to say it isn’t happening. Last November, John Barrowman said that there was going to be a fourth series with a full thirteen episodes. At the time, there was some scepticism as to whether the BBC could even afford to fund that these days, and there were a few non-denial denials, thrown about by the corporation’s press office.

    Barrowman could have been referring to this which would suggest this isn’t a remake but a US-backed continuation. Since the lead time on this would have had to have been fairly long it would explain why Russell T Davies, Julie Gardener et al up sticks to work out of the US. And why there was a certain semi-colon nature to the storytelling at the close of Children of Earth, with Ianto dead, Gwen pregnant and Jack put back in a sulk.

    A continuation could play the nuWho game of being a remake & continuation. Captain Jack returns to Earth but having burnt his bridges in the UK decides to give the US a try and opens up Torchwood: Chicago or Miami or LA or New York or whatever. Perfect jumping in point for new viewers – who is this mysterious indestructible man? That’s the version I’d prefer. RTD doesn’t strike me as someone who’d want to do the same thing over again. Why start again when you can build on what you’ve already accomplished albeit in a new setting with a different set of characters.

    Especially since you then have to consider exactly what Torchwood is. Davies had the original idea for the series long before he brought Doctor Who back. Then it was called Excalibur and was roughly the same show – Who simply gave him a predetermined canvas to work in. He could simply go back to those original notes and create something which isn’t saddled with Doctor Who’s continuity. Though clearly there’s an element of wondering what the point of that would be.

    As for Doctor Who USA: it’s been mooted before. It’s happened before. It’s not a horrible idea. The trick would be to replicate the methodology of the first 2005 series of keeping the mythology on the back burner until the character has bedded in and been accepted. The mistake the TV movie made was not to telling the whole story from Grace’s point of view and essentially remaking the film Star Man. It would be another new continuation and not simply a remake of that first series – it’d be up to fans to decide where it fits within the mythology.

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  • 'reprinting' some of the old Virgin & BBC novels

    Books A comment in this post about marketing for the Amazon Kindle has led me to discovery that might be useful to someone who shares my lifestyle. It transpires that the Kindle isn't just locked into Kindlese and will quite happily cater for the MobiPocket format.

    One byproduct of that is that Kindle users will be able to read four of the eBooks which turned up at the BBC's Doctor Who website earlier in the past decade 'reprinting' some of the old Virgin & BBC novels. Here's a list of what's available, followed by a direct link to Mobipocket file:

    The Empire of Glass by Andy Lane [mobipocket]

    The Sands of Time by Justin Richards [mobipocket]

    Human Nature By Paul Cornell [mobipocket]

    Nightshade by Mark Gatiss [mobipocket]

    The other four, Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell, Well-Mannered War by Gareth Roberts, Lingbarrow by Marc Platt and The Dying Days by Lance Parkin haven't been converted sadly, but there are printable versions which you might be able to save as a text (.txt) file.

    In case you're wondering, I'm not suddenly flush -- no real Kindle in my hands -- I've been reading them using the Kindle for PC desktop application on the netbook I bought with my Christmas present money, using the EeeRotate software to turn the screen image around and make it more book like:

    Mobipocket's own website has 11653 free books available, many of which Amazon is charge two to five dollars for.

    fallen into obscurity

    Music Bach's Cello Suites had fallen into obscurity until a teenager stumbled upon an early printing in a second hand shop:
    "For those musicians who knew of them, the Cello Suites were considered dry, technical exercises, of some pedagogical value, but not fit for the concert hall. When Casals started figuring out the music he didn't have a model. He had to reinvent the music, because the autograph manuscript had gone missing and the few copies that survived differ in details. We still don't know what Bach had in mind for tempo, dynamics, bowing or styles of play. The sheet music, as a result, comes with poetic licence attached."
    The recordings that Casals finally made of the suites in the mid-30s (mentioned in the article) are available on Spotify.