#ThinkpieceThursday – Docs and Drinks on British TV

Thinkpiece Thursday

Since I’ve moved to Bristol I have had a number of experiences with the NHS.  The doctors have been kind and caring and available when I needed to see them.

I’ve also had a good amount of experience with doctors shows on the BBC, having done consulting work on Casualty, Holby City, and Doctors over the years.  The writers, producers, and directors on these dramas are committed to making the best show possible.  They are talented, dedicated creatives.  BUT…

There is a serious omission at work culturally, the full acknowledgment of Britain’s catastrophic drinking problem. Alcohol-related injuries and illness were to blame for 70% of A&E (Emergency Room) admissions at weekends in one NW hospital. Dr. Clifford Mann, an emergency care consultant at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, points out that in England alone (i.e. not including Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland), one million hospital visits every year are related to alcohol, at a cost to the NHS of £3.5 million.

This problem has taken an incredible toll on the NHS not just financially, but also with the level of violence and abuse directed at staff by those who are drunk.  What does all this have to do with television?

On a recent episode of Holby City, one of the key junior doctors, Morven Digby, drinks to a black-out state. She doesn’t remember how she got home or that she slept with (shagged) a colleague. She comes to work the next day and the incident is treated as an embarrassing joke. (To be fair a colleague does ask if she has a drinking problem, but is shrugged off).

This level of drinking is not an isolated incident. Black out drinking or drinking to excess (getting legless) is all too common amongst doctors and consultants on the BBC soaps.

This level of drinking is not an isolated incident. Black out drinking or drinking to excess (getting legless) is all too common amongst doctors and consultants on the BBC soaps.

This level of drinking is not an isolated dramatic incident. Black out drinking or drinking to excess (getting legless) is all too common amongst doctors and consultants on the BBC soaps.

Drinking at night doesn’t mean you are sober by morning. Nearly one in six drivers convicted in the UK are caught the morning after.  Drink four pints of strong lager and you can’t drive for at least 13 hours after finishing your last pint.  If you finish at midnight you aren’t safe until 1 pm. Drink five super strength cans of beer or cider and you can’t drive for at least 21 hours, almost a full day later.

If you aren’t safe to drive you definitely aren’t safe to perform surgery or make clear judgments on complicated medical issues.  But yet, people carry on as normal after unsafe drinking all the time on these shows. Black out drinking is treated as an embarrassing incident, not a shameful lack of professional conduct.  Coming into work before you are completely sober is criminal negligence.  That issue is never raised dramatically.

Again, to be fair, Holby City seems to be building up to a story on a senior consultant’s drinking problem. And there have been a few other drinking stories. But as long as ANY doctor on the show gets legless or drinks to black out this is inexcusable and should have real consequences. Drama shows us what is acceptable and what is not. Britain’s drinking problem is not acceptable, it is ruinous. Medical professionals on television should not seem to make it okay.

 

 

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#ThinkpieceThursday – Game of Thrones: Action and Consequence

Thinkpiece Thursday

This post has been excerpted (and paraphrased) from a wonderful article in FORBES MAGAZINE.

George R. R. Martin is a great writer who cares deeply about carefully plotting his stories in a way that is consistent and makes sense.

His characters act true to themselves and are believable. Perhaps more importantly, the bad things that happen in Martin’s books are always, without fail, consequences.

A character always causes his or her own downfall.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Oberyn Martell was killed in his fight with the Mountain due to his own foolishness.  When the Mountain was down for the count, Oberyn doesn’t finish him off.  Instead, he taunts the Mountain and loudly condemns Tywin Lannister, in a speech lasting long enough to give the Mountain time to rally.  If Oberyn had not strutted about so much and had killed the Mountain when he had the chance, Oberyn would have lived to tell the tale of justice done.

Ned Stark is beheaded because he is too stubborn and honorable to seize power after Robert’s death. Cersei told Ned that when you play the game of thrones (willing or not) you win or you die.Ned was not self-serving or ruthlessness enough to seize power and save himself.

Robb Stark married for love rather than fulfill his strategic military vow to marry a Frey girl. He wasn’t merely betrayed by the Boltons and Freys, he betrayed them first. The Young Wolf was brutally killed when the Lannisters used his betrayal to turn his least loyal bannermen against him.

Joffrey Baratheon, was betrothed to marry Margaery Tyrell, but he was such despicable little sadist that her grandmother, the Queen of Thornes, took matters into her own hands.  Queen Olenna Tyrell poisoned the young king and framed Tyrion Lannister for the murderous deed.

In each case, the plot turn was a direct consequence of some action, whether noble or foolish, or selfish. It’s always best if a character is his or her own worst enemy.  Compelling writing and great antagonists find ways to force characters into self-limiting, self-destructive, or self-sabotaging behavior because of fear, pride, stubbornness, or recklessness.

Does it matter if travel times are foreshortened or motivations don’t quite sync?  It does–

For example.

When Dany instructs Yara to take Ellaria and the Sand Snakes back to Dorne to muster an army it doesn’t ring logistically true. Sunspear is located in a secure bay at the southern tip of Westeros. Dragonstone is much further north, and very close to King’s Landing.

To sail all the way to Dragonstone from Slaver’s Bay, Dany would have to pass the Dornish capital. It would be an easy stop along the way, and the perfect place to meet up with Dany’s allies.

So why on earth didn’t she stop there to discuss her plans for invading King’s Landing and taking the Seven Kingdoms? Why sail all the way to Dragonstone if her plan was to then have most of her force sail south again?

Olenna was already in Dorne, forming her own alliance between House Tyrell and the Martells. Dany could have stopped at Sunspear, well protected in the Sea of Dorne, where she could have conveyed plans for her allies to march against King’s Landing.

This way, Yara wouldn’t have had to take Ellaria back to Dorne. They’d be there already! Grey Worm wouldn’t have had to sail all the way to Dragonstone and then all the way back down and around to Casterly Rock, either. He could have just left from Sunspear! Even Olenna would have had an easier time returning to Highgarden to muster her armies.

There was no debate between Tyrion and Dany about stopping in Dorne. This isn’t the consequence of a stubborn Queen, foolishly demanding that her court be held in Dragonstone. It’s sloppy writing.

From a narrative perspective, this choice is contrived. There’s only one reason to do it: To place Yara and Ellaria in danger and have Euron capture them. That is literally the only reason, and it’s the writer’s hand at work, rather than the characters acting consistently with their proven strategic sense. It’s not propelled by their own selfishness, fear, greed, or ego.

For this reason, early on in season 7, tragedy is not consequences of a character’s actions, but rather consequences arranged by the writers to conveniently push the story in a direction they wanted it to go.  This improved in the last two episodes.  But previously there was a lot of moving pieces around the chess board for convenience sake.  It’s a lesson to be learned in your own writing.

To read the whole FORBES ARTICLE click HERE

 

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#ThinkpieceThursday – Destructive Lovers

Thinkpiece Thursday

by Guest Contributor Oscar Harding

There are two possible endings to every love story, either the characters are together at the conclusion or they are apart. If characters are to stay together they must work through their differences and, basically, grow up and grow together. When a love story ends tragically either one character can’t grow up or some greater internal force keeps them apart, like honor or duty.

Recent examples of each end are, Barry Jenkins’ 2016 best picture-winner Moonlight, and Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2013 Palme D’or-winner Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Spoilers follow for both films. 

In Moonlight, central character Chiron (Ashton Sanders), discovers his sexuality and his love for friend Kevin (Jaden Piner). They are torn apart by Kevin’s brutal betrayal until their reconciliation after more than a decade.

In Blue Is The Warmest Colour, central character Adèle (Adèle Exarchopolous) has some awkward sexual experiences with men before realizing that enigmatic Emma (Lea Seydoux) is the one for her. But two fall out forever over Adèle’s impulsive affair.

Moonlight is a Power of Love story, and Blue is the Warmest Colour is a Power of Idealism story. In a Power of Love story, the couple ends up together. In a Power of Idealism story, they are separated lovers who are haunted by loss and longing.

In Moonlight, Chiron is a shy alienated Power of Reason character and Kevin is a charming eager to please Power of Ambition character. Kevin’s desperate desire to fit in explodes in violence toward Chiron as Kevin tries to fit into a toxic culture of the thuggish gang masculinity. Only drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali), a kindly Power of Love character provides the understanding and nurture that Chiron needs in his social isolation. 

Chiron and Kevin are reunited after years apart. A more mature and humbled Kevin discovers Chiron has protected himself with the outward toughness of a thug. Kevin has found contentment as a fry cook who supports his son.  Kevin’s honesty and tenderness give Chiron what he needs- love, not lust. Their relationship shows both men hope for real happiness.

In Blue is the Warmest Colour, both Adèle and Emma are Power of Idealism characters. They are intense, passionate, and gifted. Emma is a bold vibrant painter and Adele is a talented writer, too afraid to show her work and risk possible rejection.

Emma is devoted to Adèle.  Adele is the great love of her life and muse for her glorious early paintings. She believes Adèle is perfect.   Adele is unwilling to accept Emma’s adoration and be satisfied. Adèle fears Emma will ultimately reject her.  She has an affair when Emma is preoccupied with helping a friend.   When Emma discovers Adele’s betrayal they have an explosive screaming break up.

Years later they meet and a reconciliation is possible. But Emma has completed her emotional journey.  She has grown up and finds contentment and peace in an ordinary domestic life.  This grounds her creative growth and helps her mature as an artist.

Adele cannot move past her torment over her lost “great love’ with Emma.  She is adrift in loss and longing and wants Emma back, or to have an affair at the very least.  Emma refuses.  She cherishes her family. Even though Adele is still her passionate “great love” Emma walks away from her. Adele simply cannot move on.

Power of Idealism stories always end with separated lovers.  Other examples are Bridges of Madison County, Casablanca, or Gone with the Wind.

Power of Love stories always end with the lovers together.  Examples are every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen.

Character is structure. Will your couple live happily ever after despite their differences? Or will the lovers part ways, remembering always that “great love” that got away?

 

 

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#TypesTuesday – Sense8’s Lito Rodriguez and Power of Ambition

Types Tuesday

As between The Leftovers and Sense8, I am definitely more of a Sense8 fan. True, there is the usual silliness, over-seriousness, and logic holes not uncommon to Lana Wachowski’s and Lilly Wachowski’s work. But I loved the characters!  They are people I’ve enjoyed spending time with and getting to know better.  Among my favorites is Lito Rodriguez, telenovela superstar.

Lito is an immensely popular, sexy, romantic leading man.  Women swoon. Men quote Lito’s lines like Evangelicals quote the Bible. But… He is a deeply closeted gay man. His image is a lie. He characterizes himself as a smooth talking fraud.  He is terrified his secret will be exposed.  Lito is a Power of Ambition character.

Power of Ambition characters believe that nothing is as important as projecting a successful, polished image– Even if the character has lie, cheat, or steal to do so. Image is everything.

 Popularity is crucial to their sense of self and feelings of well being.

Characters like Lito, crave the reassurance of the visible, tangible evidence of their outward success. The definition and meaning of “success” are at the heart of any Power of Ambition character’s story arc. Is success measured from the outside or from within?

This is Lito’s struggle.  Can he be truly authentically himself (and be true to the man he loves) even if it destroys his popularity and ruins his lucrative career? Or will he desperately continue to maintain the lie that is his life and destroy his chance at happiness with the love of his life?  Is inner integrity and authenticity success or are the toys, trapping, accolades, and applause success?

For more information on Power of Ambition characters and other examples click HERE.

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#TypesTuesday – Celebrity Chefs & Character Types

TYPES TUESDAY

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I am in Copenhagen at a TV conference focusing most on factual entertainment or reality shows. Scandinavian broadcasters, producers, and creative executives are attending.  I’ve been invited to present a large lecture and an invitation only workshop.

The narrative problems are surprisingly similar in fiction and non-fiction. In a lawyer show, a cop show, or a doctor show a whole group of characters is doing pretty much the same job.

They all meet challenges, reversals, and opposition from someone or something along the way. Every character wants to be successful and do a generally good job. Likewise, in an elimination reality show, everyone is together in a group doing generally the same thing.  They all want to be successful and do a good job which, in the case of a reality show, means lasting long enough to win the big money prize by avoiding eviction from the competition.

Whether you are writing a scripted drama or producing an unscripted reality show, you have the same character problem: How do you differentiate each character and make each one a unique and compelling individual? The key is why characters do what they do, how they define doing a good job or a successful strategy, and how they approach challenges, obstacles, work, or what they love.

CELEBRITY CHEFS

In preparing for the Copenhagen conference, I wanted to illustrate the Character Types with real life individuals who are clearly defined characters in their own right and who each embody a very different approach to life and work. The subjects had to have an international reputation since I am speaking with producers from a variety of different Scandinavian countries.

Celebrity chefs are a great example. Each person is doing approximately the same thing (discussing and/or demonstrating food, cooking, or dining opportunities), they all want to be successful and generally do a good job.  How they define that job, for themselves, is vastly different.

Here’s how analyzing real people can help in creating a scripted drama or an unscripted reality show. The Character Types are the same whether applied to celebrity personalities or fictional characters.

Here are how the Character Types line up and my observations on each kind of real life Food Personality:

POWER OF CONSCIENCE

jamie-oliverJamie Oliver is a Power of Conscience character. He is a food crusader, his mission is to teach people the right things to eat and the proper, healthy approach to planning and cooking meals.  The name of his show is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: Campaign for Healthy Eating.  Here is what his American website has to say:

This food revolution is about saving America’s health by changing the way you eat. It’s not just a TV show, it’s a movement for you, your family and your community.

Oliver’s UK website is sub-headed “The Ministry of Food”.  He is not afraid to impose his views on others and has ignited a real controversy over the food served in schools in the UK.  Some mothers have reacted in protest.

Two angry mums are mocking Jamie Oliver’s healthy eating campaign by running a junk food service for school children.

Julie Critchlow and Sam Walker say youngsters are snubbing overpriced “low fat rubbish” dished up at school lunchtime.

So, using an old supermarket trolley, they are running daily deliveries of fish and chip lunches, pies, burgers and fizzy drinks, passing the food through a gap in a fence…

…(A)s environmental health officials and council chiefs were called in a bid to ban the mums Sam, 41, hit back: “This is all down to Jamie. I just don’t like him and what he stands for. He’s forcing our kids to become more picky about their food.

“Who does he think he is, all high and mighty? He can feed whatever he wants to his children but he should realise that other parents think differently.”  – The Daily Mirror

Power of Conscience characters believe they know instinctively if something is wrong, unjust, unfair, improper, corrupt, bad judgment, or out of line. Their opinion and response are swift and immutable. They are propelled forward by personal outrage and moral indignation, usually on another’s behalf.

These characters believe they are their brother’s keeper. They feel responsible for the greater good and for doing good.   Jamie Oliver believes food choices have serious moral implications for health and social responsibility.  When he is criticized, it is for a too strident, judgmental or preachy attitude.

Read the full story »

#TypesTuesday – Tywin Lannister and Power of Will

TYPES TUESDAY

Game of Thrones is back on HBO. In between waiting for the next episode to air, I continue to explore the offerings on Amazon Prime and Netfilix. I just watched The Great London Fire, a series on Amazon. It’s great fun to imagine that Tywin Lannister had a bastard son whose progeny eventually made it to London by 1666. And in the year of the great fire, one these progeny, Lord Denton, finds himself elevated to the head of security and spy master for King Charles II.

Both characters are played by the wonderful actor, Charles Dance. Both are Power of Will characters. Tywin Lannister is a King and Lord Denton is a henchman, but they share the same philosophy.

Power of Will characters believe that expanding their power base, extending their territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully theirs (according to them) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world.

Power of Will characters take what they want, fight for every inch of turf, refuse to show any weakness themselves and pounce decisively on the weakness of others. They have a kill or be killed framework for everything. They believe absolutely in the Law of the Jungle.

For more information on Power Will of Characters click HERE

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Turning Loss into Action

media_xll_3335913I have been consulting on the development of a new show in Amsterdam– a spinoff of one of my favorite shows– one I’ve been working on for about ten years.

In a new storyline, a major character gets some devastating news and experiences a tragic sense of personal loss.  We discussed how to spin this out over a multitude of episodes.

Whenever a character is disappointed, rejected, humiliated or spurned (or has a major set-back or stunning defeat of any kind), he or she experiences a sense of loss.  This could be a loss of self-esteem, pride, self-confidence, or hope for the future.  It could be the loss of a love interest, an important missed opportunity, a job loss, or a severed friendship.

The question is, how does experiencing this loss reveal character?  Is the character experiencing the full range of emotion?  Is his or her reaction played to the maximum effect and not rushed or short changed?  How does the character’s reaction provide plot and story opportunities?

The loss and grief cycle in a story should include these steps:

  1. Shock: Paralysis:  “I can’t believe this is happening.”  
How do we see the character in shock or stunned by the situation?  What does he or she do?
  1. Denial: Disbelief : “There must be some mistake.”  
 “This can’t possibly be happening.”  How does the character actively deny the situation?  What does he or she do that is contrary to the facts?
  1. Anger: Outrage:  “I won’t stand for this.”  “This isn’t right.”   “It’s not fair.” “Why me?” How does the character act out his or her anger.  What action shows the character taking out his or her anger on him/herself or others?
  1. Guilt/Shame/Blame: Fault:  “It’s all because of you.”  “I never should have…”
  What does the character do to shift the blame?  How does the character blame him or her self?  What does the character do as a result?
  1. Acting Out: Rebellion:  “Screw it.”
  “All is lost anyway.”  What does the character do to rebel against or defy the situation?  What happens as a result?
  1. Bargaining: Deal-making:  “I promise…”  “If only…”
  How does the character make deals or promises or beg for help?  How do we see this active desperation?
  1. Depression: Realization:  “There is no way out.”  “This is really happening.”
     How do we see the character come to grips with the reality of the situation?  What doe the character do?
  1. Testing: New Reality: “Maybe I can go on if I…”  “Maybe I still could…”  “What if I do this instead?”
   How does the character test or try on new ways of being, acting or thinking?  How does the character make the best of the situation, as bad as it is?
  1. Acceptance: Moving Forward:  “Even if the worst happens, I will be okay.” 
  How does the character accept his or her fate, however dire?  What leap of faith does the character make?  How does the character make it okay for him or her self    and/or others?

Show the character moving through the whole process of grief and anger.  Create plot points that incorporate each step.  Allow your character to fully experience and act on each step.   Create action (not just dialog) that reveal the character’s inner turmoil and troubled emotional journey.

Why is the Cop on the Job?

In a serialized cop drama the mechanics of “How” a crime is solved is so much less important than “Why” the cops are doing what they are doing and “Why” they are affected by the job. If there is no “Why” it’s just cops going through the motions, which can make a serialized story feel by-the-numbers and hollow.

The “Why” provides the emotion, passion, and inter-personal conflict between the individuals in the story (and all the internal conflict within the character). Too often writers simply project their general idea of being a cop and use the mechanics of “How” to put the cops through their paces— Instead of being specific about “Why” one particular individual is a cop and “Why” he/she does the job in a particular or unique way.

There are four basic categories of “Why” anyone becomes a cop (or a doctor, or any other professional):

1. It’s a job. Being a cop is solid union employment and a dependable way to make a living and support a family. The cop does what is expected and punches out. The cop puts in the time and is concerned and responsible on the job. But he or she doesn’t take the job home and retires as soon as is feasible.

2. It’s a career. Being a cop is a good opportunity for advancement. The cop is working to achieve something else. The job is a means to an end (rising through the ranks, running for political office, becoming a consultant, etc.) It is a stepping- stone to something else and worth the hard work and extra effort to achieve a larger goal.

3. It’s a vocation. Being a cop is a life mission or a higher calling. The cop is there to make a difference, have an important impact, or change people’s lives. The work is a consuming passion for the cop. There is no dividing line between work and personal life. Work is the cop’s life.

4. It’s a mistake. Being a cop is not a good fit. The individual is a cop for the wrong reasons or the wrong motivations. Or the reality of the job doesn’t conform to the ideal of the job or the fantasy of being a cop. In any case, the individual puts in the time and effort, got the job, and now is trapped.

Any kind of employment, but particularly policing, has a variety of people who look at the “Why” of doing the job very differently. All individuals naturally assume their “Why” is the most valid reason or, if everyone else was honest, is the real motivation for anyone doing the job. This is a great opportunity for personal conflict in a story. Too often in cop shows (or shows featuring the medical profession) everyone is doing the job for the same reason. That isn’t the case in life and it shouldn’t be the case in drama.

Layered onto “Why” someone is employed as a police officer (it’s a job, a career, a vocation, or a mistake) is the “Why” of the individual’s Character Type. Looking down on nine different police officers toiling away long into the night it might be easy or convenient to believe they are all working hard for the same internal motivation or with the same value system and world view in mind. But every one of the Nine Character Types sees the world very differently, believes very different things about how the world works, and sees the primary role of a cop from a unique perspective.

1. Power of Conscience cops believe policing is an important duty and carries with it the responsibility of making the world a better place. Doing the right thing is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what is the higher duty or the most right—law or justice. (These two principles are not the same thing). Hill Street Blues‘ Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel) is this kind of character. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking) is the comic version on the same show. Homicide’s Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) is also a Power of Conscience character. Rylan Givens (Timothy Oliphant) in Justified is a more recent example. Although not a cop show, the sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in The Walking Dead, was a Power of Conscience law enforcement officer.

2. Power of Will cops believe policing is a matter of strength and the ability to dominate the situation. The use of power is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what actually constitutes strength or power— excess or restraint. (Does compassion and tolerance make you stronger or weaker?) NYPD Blue’s Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is this kind of character. A more recent example is Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) on The Shield.  In The Walking Dead, Shane Walsh (Jon” Bernthal) is a Power of Will law enforcement officer.

3. Power of Ambition cops believe policing is a matter of winning or losing. Appealing to other’s self-interest is the way to get things done. Their struggle is with short cuts vs. the long hard patient slog—results or process. (If no one else plays by the rules why should they?) Hill Street Blues‘ John “JD” LaRue (Kiel Martin) is a Power of Ambition character. A more recent example is Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) on The Wire.  Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) is another example of this kind of cop in The Shield.

4. Power of Love cops believe policing is caring for others and helping them succeed. Compassion and understanding is crucial to how they get the job done. Their struggle is when to employ “tough love” or just give up on someone. (When does empathy or understanding simply enable bad or destructive behavior?) NYPD Blue’s Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) is this kind of character. Another example is Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) on Hill Street Blues. Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart in True Detective is a Power of Love cop.

5. Power of Idealism cops believe policing is a matter of individual style and personal excellence. Use of unique talents and refusing to buckle under to stupid bureaucrats is crucial to their method of policing. Their struggle is how to maintain their individuality and still be part of a larger organization. (When does being a maverick or a rebel cause more harm than good?) Homicide’s Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) illustrates the Power of Idealism character as a cop.  Another example is Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) on The Wire.

6. Power of Reason cops believe policing is a matter of keeping personal self-control and maintaining the social order. Objectivity, expertise and a depth of knowledge are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to connect with their own emotions. Dexter’s title character (Michael C. Hall) is one of the best recent examples of this kind of character on the police force. Monk’s title character (Tony Shalhoub) is the comedic example. Sofia Helin as Saga Norén in the Swedish series The Bridge is another great example of this kind of cop.

7. Power of Truth cops believe policing is a matter of uncovering secret agendas and avoiding hidden pitfalls. Establishing trust, knowing who your friends are, and being attuned to conspiracies are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to accept the ambiguity of the job and the possibility of never finding real certainty. (Is the “truth” a moving target or something fixed and certain?) Homicide’s conspiracy obsessed Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito) is this kind of character. Hill Street Blues’ loyal to the core Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) is another example.  Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) on the UK version of Wallendar is a Power of Truth detective so is Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rusty Cohle in True Detective.

8. Power of Imagination cops believe policing is a matter of listening to your instincts, following hunches, or special intuitive clues. Often access to what others cannot see or hear or a quirky special kind of insight is crucial to doing their job. Their struggle is how to interpret their unusual intuition or how best to communicate it to others. (Do they take me seriously or do they think I’m crazy?) This kind of cop is rare on television. Hill Street Blues’ Michael (Mick) Belker (Bruce Weitz) is an uncouth ruffian version of the Power of Imagination character.  Another example is police consultant Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) in Medium.

9. Power of Excitement cops believe policing is an adventure and a thrill ride. Their charm, good-humor and ability to get themselves in and out of traps is crucial to how they do their job. Their struggle is in following orthodox rules when it is so much more interesting to play fast and loose, improvise, and shoot from the hip. (Are we having fun yet?) Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is the quintessential example of this character.

The “Why” of policing combined with Character Type creates a variety of complex and interesting individuals. It would be possible, for example, to create four very different Power of Conscience characters depending on whether they view policing as a job, as a career, as a vocation or as a mistake.

Their values and their world views would not change but their attitudes would clash. For example: How these characters define their “higher duty” or what is the “most right” is hugely influenced by the reason they are on the job. Those different perspectives provide enormous potential conflict. Here is the breakdown:

1. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a job would probably believe the higher duty is owed to family. This cop would follow the rules, be conscientious, but not take the job home.

2. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a career would probably believe the higher duty is owed to the organization or society. The higher the cop rises, the more effective the position becomes to do good and improve the larger situation. This cop would be relentless in seeking opportunities to advance a larger moral agenda.  And the issue of “how much bad am I willing to do in service to a good cause” would be a recurring personal theme.

3. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a vocation probably believes the higher duty is owed to the victims of crime. This cop’s passion would be justice for the victims and punishment for the criminals. His or her personal life would be consumed by this life mission.

4. A Power of Conscience cop who see policing as a mistake would probably believe the higher duty is owed to one’s self. Policing can be a dirty murky business where there often is no right answer and true justice is hard to find. This lack of clear-cut black and white or right and wrong would probably be an unbearable burden on this individual– giving rise to external moral outrage and internal guilt or self-loathing. How can I be good or worthy in a cesspool?

Creating an ensemble which clearly addresses “Why” the cop is on the job combined with Character Type provides an endless source of internal and external conflict. Making use of the full variety of human experience in specific combination creates memorable partnerships, unforgettable enemies, and extraordinary individual characters.

#MondayMusings – In Italy with RAI Television

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I am on my way to Perugia, Italy to work with the talented team from RAI, the Italian State Broadcaster, much like the BBC in in the UK.

Although it is very basic it’s always good to start with the five most important questions in constructing a story.

What Does the Character Want?

What the main character wants is a clear and simple ego-driven goal. It is something that directly benefits the main character that he or she can physically have or obtain. It is concrete. It is specific. It is the finite object of the character’s personal desire. For example: Win the championship trophy, get the promotion, pay the rent, solve the crime, buy the fancy car, steal the jewel, get the girl (or guy), etc.

To obtain the want, the character must abandon the need.

What Does the Character Need?

What the character needs is an inner ache or yearning that the character is unaware of, denies, suppresses, or ignores. It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible human longing. It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional or spiritual urge or inner call to live up to one’s higher nature. For example: To become a better parent, to forgive another, to act with integrity, to find one’s faith, to become more altruistic, to be a more reliable friend, to face the truth, to love unselfishly, etc.

To embrace the need, the character must abandon the specific self-centered goal (or object of desire) and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concerns.

What is the Conflict Between the Want and the Need?

One of the most common problems with stories that don’t work is the lack of a clear and specific want vs. a deep and powerful inner longing. The want pulls us through the story. The need draws us deeper into or inside the character. If this bedrock conflict isn’t clear the story won’t add up to very much.

Does the Story Clearly Distinguish the Want and the Need?

Does the main character have a specific physical or concrete object of personal desire? What does he or she want? What is the concrete physical goal or specific objective? Does the main character actively pursue this objective through the story? Does the main character have a clearly delineated deeper human longing? What is missing deep inside the character?

What is the Price?

What is the main character willing to sacrifice or surrender to obtain the want or to embrace the need? Is there a high cost for each choice?  If the character obtains the want and lets go of the need the character pays a high price in unhappiness and emotional loss.

Does that mean that no character ever gets what he or she wants? We know that’s not true. Characters get what they want all the time. But this happens in a one of two ways.

1) The character gets what he or she wants and finds that it is hollow:

For example, in Jerry Maguire, Jerry (Tom Cruise) gets what he wants, to get back in the agent game by representing a major NFL player. He finds his victory is hollow and emotionally empty when he realizes he has no one to call or with whom to celebrate after a big win. This is when he returns to his wife and family and embraces what he needs.

In Dangerous Liaisons, Vicomte Valmont (John Malkovich) gets what he wants: To seduce the un-seducible woman. He finds his victory is poisonous when he realizes he has destroyed the only woman he has ever loved and who truly loves him. The story ends tragically with his death and hers.

2) The character lets go of the want and embraces the need and then, in the classic comedic turnaround, he or she finds something even better or finds that the want comes around on the other side:

In life, this is the story of a young couple that wants to start a family. What they want is a biological child. They try and try to no avail. They realize what they need is to make a family with a child who needs them. They adopt and are deliriously happy. What happens one year later? The wife gets pregnant. This happy turnaround happens enough in life that we believe it in fiction.

Or for example, in Pretty Woman, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) wants to pay the rent. That’s why she picks up Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) in the first place. It’s why she stays with him over the course of the story. When he offers to meet that want by buying her a condo (and pay her rent in perpetuity) she turns him down. What she needs is to live a life of honesty and integrity. If she accepts his proposition she will always be a whore. She rejects his offer and it is that act of integrity that brings him back to her as a real suitor and a true partner (rather than as a man who is simply “buying” her).

The tougher the choice is, the better the story.

Does the main character pay dearly for whatever he or she pursues and chooses? The price is the end of the long road where the character comes face-to-face with the ultimate truth. Who is the character really? This supreme price is what the audience is waiting eagerly to see.

If the price is not high enough, the story suffers and the audience isn’t really invested in the outcome.

Children’s Media Conference 2014

MALORIE BLACKMAN TO DELIVER CREATIVE KEYNOTE AT
THE CHILDREN’S MEDIA CONFERENCE 2014
 

Leading children’s media event to host Waterstones Children’s Laureate

Waterstones Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman will deliver the creative keynote at this year’s Children’s Media Conference (CMC) which takes place from 2-4 July 2014 in Sheffield.  The keynote is on Thursday 3 July.

Currently in its 11th year, the CMC is the premier event in the UK for supporting children’s media and hosts a global delegation of creatives, producers and distributors of kids’ content across all media.

This year’s CMC has a theme of Child@Heart and will include an impressive array of 50 conference sessions and masterclasses featuring leading children’s media executives from around the world.

Malorie Blackman was appointed the coveted role of Children’s Laureate in 2013 and will hold the post until next year. She has written over 60 books for children and young adults, including the Noughts and Crosses series of novels (Noughts and Crosses won the Red House FCBG Children’s Book Award as well as being included in the top 100 of the BBC Big Read), Cloud Busting (winner of the Smarties Silver Award), Thief (winner of the Young Telegraph/Fully Booked Award) and Hacker (winner of the WH Smiths Children’s Book Award and the Young Telegraph/Gimme 5 Award for best children’s book of the year).  Her latest book is Noble Conflict, a story of love, violence, trust and betrayal.

Malorie is a scriptwriting graduate of the National Film and Television School.  Her work has appeared on TV, with Pig-Heart Boy, which was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, being adapted into a BAFTA winning 6-part TV serial.  As well as writing original and adapted drama scripts for TV, Malorie also regularly wrote for CBBC’s Byker Grove.

In 2005, Malorie was honoured with the Eleanor Farjeon Award in recognition of her distinguished contribution to the world of children’s books.  In 2008, she was then honoured with an OBE for her services to Children’s Literature.

Malorie Blackman says: “All children have a right to be seen, heard and represented in the arts. The stories we tell as well as the stories we are told – in whatever form – define us as individuals and as a society.  They show us who we are and what we can be.  But are the needs of our children being met?  Are all of our children being represented?  What can we do to improve the situation?”

Greg Childs, Editorial Director at CMC adds: “Year on year, the CMC continues to explore issues that are relevant to the rapidly changing children’s media landscape. We are genuinely thrilled to have someone of Malorie Blackman’s standing to deliver this year’s creative keynote. With the theme of Child@Heart at the core of this year’s conference, we are excited to hear her thoughts on what appeals to today’s child.”

For more information visit: www.thechildrensmediaconference.com.