Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Golden Globes and Ballsing up Awards

Golden Globe Winners 2011

So, now we know. Colin Firth is officially a good actor, Social Network is a good film, Robert De Niro has been in lots of good things (blank out the last ten years) and Natalie Portman put herself through hell to add ballet to her 'specialist skills'. The Golden Globes kicked off the scramble for this years top TV and Film Awards, pointing the way to possible Oscar winners. This morning we heard the nominations for the 2011 BAFTA awards - although these days they split up Film and TV into two separate ceremonies, it's so glitzy film people from Yogi Bear The Movie don't have to rub up against trashy TV people like the cast of Cranford. 

The awards season prickles with electricity. TV channels go overboard to screen them, sending their best people out to interview stars on the red carpet, step forward Fern Cotton and George Lamb. Journos write yards of copy about who's wearing what, what they should have worn and why wearing a dress is so last century anyway. It's all part of the hooplah.

I've been involved in a few awards ceremonies, as a Producer (if there's shit flying it's flying in your direction). as Executive Producer (let the producers do all the work then swan around on the day like you masterminded the whole thing), as a nominee and occasional winner and as a writer.

Writing the host's script sounds like the easiest gig in television. The best hosts make it look easy. Ricky Gervais plays to the room, he doesn't care who he insults or if the jokes mean anything to the wider audience.  Believe me, a room full of industry people is not a room sitting there ready to laugh. It's a tough gig. Gervais does it well - he doesn't so much ruffle feathers as pluck the bird while it's screaming.

The last time I was involved in writing the script was fifteen years ago. A very big TV name (I'll not name him but he's tall, curly haired and knocks around with a couple of petrol-heads) was one of two hosts. His co-host was a not such a big name but she was talented and sweet and lovely and therefore not working anymore. We scripted the links, put in the jokes, loaded the autocue and went off for a drink. Everything was fine.

Except it wasn't.

By the time we got back the room was filling with TV types and the hosts were avoiding the writers. This was because our tall TV star had decided he didn't like any of the script - it had been agreed for days - and had rewritten the whole thing whilst we were in the bar.
He'd decided to give it a bit more edge, have a dig at a few people in the room.
He though his stuff was better.
Believe me I have no ego at all about this kind of writing. There are times to fight for every line, there are times to scrap over a joke and there are times to sit back and say - fine, no problem, whatever works for you.

But in rewriting the host had misread the occasion. This was a room full of pretty tough TV production types; they may have cared about the category in which they'd been nominated, they may have cared about winning but they sure as hell didn't care about laughing along with the witty script. For many this was a works outing. They weren't seated in an auditorium but at tables, where they'd just eaten - and drunk...and drunk...and drunk.

The writers had been warned about this. Our script was quick and amusing, didn't rely on waiting for laughs but ploughed on through. The new script, with it's barbs and caustic asides relied upon reaction from the room. Laughter was expected.

It never arrived.

I've been to too many awards ceremonies over the years but this one was the lead balloon. There was only one table that cared about what was happening on stage that night. The writer's table. Oh how we lapped it up. Every boo, hiss and pregnant pause was greeted by the smug knowing looks and contented faces around me. We were in our own little bubble and the air was thick with schadenfreude. The material was dying but we knew we couldn't be bollocked. The producers had gone along with the star's rewrite. It was the only night in my writing career when I was happy not to get a laughs. I know that sounds harsh but our efforts had been cast aside, what did we care.

Sometimes you don't need to win an award, sometimes  it's enough to suck the cheque.

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