Janette Griffiths

Monday, December 23, 2013



 What the hell happened to "Homeland"?

Weak, cheap and lazy ending to a weak, cheap and lazy season

What a betrayal of the characters, the viewers and good story-telling this season finale turned out to be! Shame, shame, shame on the, very well-paid, writers for such a tawdry, inconsistent finale to this atrocious season. We trusted you, as one must always trust a story-teller. We sat through the endless tedium of the Dana sub-plot. We waited patiently for Brody's return. We swallowed a few ludicrous plot twists in the hope that the finale would restore the story's credibility. (And for those who have been baying for Brody's blood, yes, one could argue, and I wouldn't, that his death was inevitable. But the characters' reactions to it??? And the aftermath?)

If I dared to hand in a manuscript with even half the tripe that filled this season, it would be thrown back in my face.

You, the writers, built up a complex, intense, perhaps doomed love story between Carrie and Brody - then you gave us nothing! Nothing! Not a touch, not a word of love, not a glance. You wanted to tell us Brody is a broken man maybe? Well, we got that in "The Tower of David" episode. Then you tried to tell us that Brody is reborn, he rises up from that absurd and, btw utterly unnecessary heroin addiction. (Which of you threw that in in a moment of desperation?) But then he gets broken again and does a lot of blank staring and washes his hands. There's a vague acknowledgement of the child and that's it.

Ditto for Carrie. You lazily skipped the aftermath of Brody's death and what it did for her upon her return. Now she's tootling around Langley with a foam cushion up her shirt, smiling at Lockhart and planning her career move.

She loved that man! Some may say she was obsessed by him. Either way, her muted reactions and response are wildly inconsistent with her character. And please don't tell me there's a clever plotline where it all makes sense coming up in season 4. I won't be around to see it.

These lazy, arrogant writers wasted Damien Lewis's immense talent. They wasted Rupert Friend's Quinn (has anyone counted the paltry number of lines he even got this season?) They abused Claire Danes' magnificent gifts. They destroyed a show and betrayed their viewers.

Story matters. Story is how we make sense of our lives. If you are going to be paid phenomenal sums to write stories that will be followed across the planet, at least show some professionalism. Don't throw in stray plot lines, dialogue etc that go nowhere. Keep your characters consistent. If they do something that shocks, be ready to back it up later. Lordy, this is creative writing 101. I can't believe I have to write this.
Shame, shame, shame on the lot of you.

Mon, December 23, 2013 | link

Saturday, April 28, 2012

 How Die Walkure can change your life - or mine at least

The Met have just broadcast "Die Walkure" . As the overwhelmingly, sumptuously, orgasmically beautiful 3rd Act ends, here's a little tale of how I found it and it changed my life:

 I wandered into Wagner's Die Walkure at Covent Garden in the early 90s. It was the time-tunnel production with James Morris and Gwyneth Jones. They looked for all the world as though they'd wandered into a dank, dark passage of the Northern Line. But when Wotan started his great Farewell to his daughter and prepared to put her on her rock surrounded by fire (and in that grey production what fabulous fire it was!) I forgot how it looked, forgot that I was tired and that my seat in the amphi was cramped and stuffy, as a great wave of physical ecstasy washed over me.  I was shocked; I didn't know that music could do that. I didn't know what else it was going to do...

Back in the early 90s, I'd written two unpublished novels and was fumbling my way towards a third. Snow came to London in the winter of that Walkure. I donned a Walkman and tramped across Hampstead Heath reliving that moment in the opera house. I was in love - but with a piece of music. I was renting a  room in Belsize Park in  a house full of concert pianists. Years later, one of them, the now great soloist, Jean-Francois Dichamp, would also describe his discovery of Wagner as being like falling in love 'you want everyone to know, for a while you can't talk about anything else.' 

That winter of snow and great music, I searched in vain for a book that would describe that feeling. And then it dawned in me: this was the book that I had to write. And I did. A year later, I delivered "The Singing House" to a publisher. Black Swan brought it out to good reviews and good sales. Then, as books often do, it disappeared onto back shelves and was forgotten. 

I moved onto other writing,  wrote a novel , "The Courtyard in August" set in Paris, then succumbed to the almost Venusberg-esque temptations of travel writing.But I couldn't get over Wagner and Die Walkure. I'd seen a young bass, John Tomlinson, sing Baron Ochs at ENO. When I read that he was to sing Wotan in Bayreuth, I made my ticketless way there.  Throughout the writing of "Singing House" some sort of magic had got me into all the Ring performances at Covent Garden at the last minute. I believed that the same luck would get me into Bayreuth. But Act 1 came and went and I remained outside the Festspielhaus. So did Act 2. I continued to hope. In my opinion Act 3 is the greatest moment so perhaps my luck would kick in. It did. Somebody left and I sneaked in. BUT, I was disappointed in John Tomlinson. The voice is stupendous, the energy amazing but he played a Wotan who was crazed and devoid of dignity. And that  didn't feel right to me.

 Life went on. Fate took me to Vancouver where a Canadian director, Nick Kendall, read "The Singing House" and optioned it. I wrote a script but it was not very good. Nick took the script to Cannes and Berlin - a few people were interested but nobody was buying.

I put the whole project away in a drawer. But Wagner stayed close - in Seattle to be precise where Speight Jenkins' fabulous Seattle Opera put on one of the greatest Rings on the planet. After their 2009 Ring, I pulled out the script, changed the point of view from female to male, did not look at the book once and rewrote in 3 weeks.

In February, I took it to Berlin where a German producer picked it up. Now I wait but what a journey from that evening in the ROH amphitheatre all those years ago. Oh and thanks to the wonders of technology, i can now add that glorious music to an enhanced ebook.

Sat, April 28, 2012 | link

Friday, February 24, 2012

Badgeless at the Berlinale Part 1 

A London agent, who shall remain nameless, recommended the Berlin Film Festival as being friendly to writers. That was back last autumn. I decided I'd give it a try. I had months in which to grab that cheap Easy Jet fare and find a place to stay. So, of course, I found myself booking a wildly expensive flight on Thursday and frantically emailing a room to rent while I was riding the Piccadilly line to the airport. Then on the descent into Berlin, a streaming cold decided to show up and accompany me into town. And it came along to the festival just so that I wouldn't be lonely. I sneezed and wheezed and my eyes burned and my head hurt. And I'd flown hundreds of miles and spent hundreds of pounds to give my scripts a chance.  

 Berlin was bone-crushingly cold. And the festival is held around Potsdamer Square, a soul-less, wind-whipped concrete canyon. For those first twenty four hours, I was convinced I'd made a big mistake. I kept thinking of that opening scene in Charlie Kaufmann's "Adaptation" when the writer was thrown off the set of the film  he had written and stumbles, blinking, out into the lonely Californian sunshine. I didn't even have a film made,I had no script optioned, there was no sun, just freezing cold....what had I been thinking?

 To be continued.

Fri, February 24, 2012 | link

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

 Badgeless at the Berlinale Part 2

Everyone I spoke to, directors, producers of small and large companies and agents, seems to agree that Berlin operates on three levels

a) the official festival and market. The festival has the usual films submitted, a jury led by someone famous (this year Mike Leigh)  and people like Anjelina Jolie posing  lusciously in skimpy clothes in front of  freezing hotel entrances. That bit  probably has no relevance whatsoever to me or anyone trying to get a new film going.
b) the market which takes place in several official venues and requires a badge which you either buy for 60 euros a day or qualify for because you are a distributor, production company or sponsored by your government etc. I couldn't get into that and, again, would not know what to say to  Brazilian Film or  Telefilm Canada just as me the writer.

And then there is the level of serendipity. Everyone I spoke to believes that this is where the magic will happen if magic there is.  But, of course they do! This is the movie business and it's the belief in the chance meeting in the elevator or coffee shop, the break that comes out of nowhere, the triumph over tragedy that gets these people up in the morning.

I know a thing or two about the 'getting up in the morning.' I once worked as a chamber maid in a bed and breakfast and as I vacuumed, emptied waste bins and made beds I saw the secret world of the people eating granola on the flowery deck downstairs. It's a world full of Ibuprofen, Tums, Rennies and Preparation H. In the case of the bigger, older men, there's often a strange  tubular apparatus next to the bed that protects sonorous lungs from sleep apnea. I'm fairly sure that similar panaceas fill the elegant rooms upstairs in the Ritz. It takes a lot to get us out of our gritchy, smelly, grumpy morning selves and into the sleek, confident, charming creatures that fill the luxury hotel lobbies.

There are  three main venues: the Hyatt, the Ritz and the Marriott. During the Berlinale, the  management of all 3 hotels just throw their hands in the air and give up on trying to keep the lobbies and lounges in any sort of order. Hundreds of people throng in, sit by the fire, set up temporary offices in the coffee shops, don't order anything for hours, check their emails on the free wifi and even have the waitresses carry armchairs from across the room when extra seats are needed.

There are so many people braying into cell phones, or trying to make deals that the poor waitresses can hardly hear themselves speak. "Do you want another coffee?" asks a flaxen-haired server of a guy in Ray-Bans who is in the middle of saying: "Well it's Romeo and Juliet but with NO dialogue because Juliet is a Neanderthal and Romeo is a Homo Sapiens so, of course, they are WAY more star-crossed than Shakespeare's lovers."  He glances at the flaxen-haired lovely with a look of bemused annoyance and goes back to his pitch....

At the Hyatt, I sit, purely by chance, next to a German producer who has made a couple of films set in the world of classical music. And I am trying to sell a love story set in the world of opera.... We talk for an hour. He says that he has sworn never to make another feature film but he asks for my script.

Then, again by chance, I sit down next to an elegant  Austrian gentleman in the Ritz. I ask if he is a producer and he sighs and says 'no fraulein, I am head of a studio." He  buys  me tea and bewails the loss of Concorde. I commisserate, "how can we go on?".... We chat at length about Mahler, Vienna etc
He declares himself very  impressed with my 'vast knowledge of Mitteleuropean' culture and gives me his 'private email number'.

Then later, I get so cold, I sit by the fire in the  Ritz and meet a young German agent, who says that that my 'random' approach to life could go so far but that I might need an agent, and gives me his card.
Next day in the Marriott, the only available seat in the lobby is next to a couple of good-looking young men who are deep in intense conversation. When I sit down, they pause long enough for me to learn that one is an agent representing film composers and the other is a composer.  Well, given that my script currently exists only in my MacBook and on a couple of USB sticks, this final meeting may not prove quite so serendipitous as yesterday's encounters. However....
When the novel was optioned a few years back a Canadian friend told me that any film version should have Rachel Portman as the composer of the original soundtrack. I knew little of film music but looked her up and saw that she is, indeed fairly illustrious. Even I knew her work on "Remains of the Day."
So I wasn't really surprised when I asked the agent to name some of his clients and the first name out of his mouth was "Rachel Portman".

All this has to be followed up and with everybody at the Berlinale running on whole rivers of adrenaline, things can get forgotten and big disappointments  ensue so I have to persist.

Alas, because I was so busy touting my wares, I did not have the time to do anything else in Berlin which is a shame because it is a fascinating city. I did see the Berlin Philharmonic's conductor,  Sir Simon Rattle  eating sushi in the food court of the big shopping mall. That was sort of exciting. But I missed both Don Carlo and Lohengrin at the opera. Berlin has 3 opera houses, of course, so one could go quite crazy.

And I was so preoccupied that it was only on my third day that I realized that the big chunks of concrete in the middle of Potsdamer Platz were part of the Berlin Wall! Last time I came to Berlin it was still standing.

Apart from that, I stumbled into lots of parties - have no idea quite why or how  but wound up in the official Chinese party, ate lots of excellent  spicy shrimp  and met their top beautiful movie star - no idea of her name. Then on to the Scandinavians where I ate moose and reindeer. I wandered out into the snowy street and  saw a crowd in front of the Martin Gropius Mirror restaurant. I got talking to a young Cuban producer, the crowd built up behind me and soon I was swept inside to a French party and  lots of champagne. Somewhere in my 4 days there was a Lithuanian bash and an Aussie event where  they served  lots of  creme brulee. There was a lot of salami everywhere. And then I stumbled out and onto a plane to Heathrow and was sorry to leave the snow and the freezing U-bahn platforms and the warm hotel lobbies and all the people whom my crazy, deluded self believes could change my life and who I never quite met.


Tue, February 21, 2012 | link

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saturday Film School at Raindance and the pesky business of 'magnifying trouts'

There's a  small plaque to the side of the stage in the Old Cinema theatre in the University of Westminster that says that the Lumière brothers chose the venue to for the first public showing  in England of moving pictures, back in 1896. Today, Raindance is holding a one-day Saturday film school here. Because the Raindance Festival was founded to provide a platform for independent film, this  seems wonderfully appropriate. But nobody on the platform mentions it which I also like - it has a 'goes without saying' feel to it.

Besides, Elliot Grove, the Raindance founder and the main speaker has an awful lot to say about an awful lot of other things. In a lightning-speed morning, he covers his  Amish childhood in Ontario and his magical adolescent  discovery of cinema, his early days working with sculptor, Henry Moore, and on movies with a lovesick Richard Burton. He gives us a demonstration of the potential of making films with a £100 Flip video camera and still finds time to share some fresh insights into basic story structure.

I wasn't expecting that. I've been writing professionally  for years and have, what I like to think, is a healthy distrust of the industry that often preys on aspiring screenwriters and film-makers so I'd come to this event thinking that I'd probably doze through Elliot's opening bit on writing. But Elliot Grove is a brilliant and charismatic speaker - nobody is likely to doze when he's on stage.  I've got, what I like to think, is a healthy distrust of charismatic speakers but Grove also seems grounded and full of common- sense. I take so many notes and my pen flies so rapidly across the paper that I spend an hour after the session trying to figure out why Grove claims that the writers in "Goodwill Hunting" gave Matt Damon's protagonist the "special trout" of being brilliant at maths and that to add to a character's appeal, they made him the absolute best in his field which is he explains, a writers' ploy of "magnifying a trout."  Now why would they want to do that?

 He said 'trait', of course. It was just one of many points he managed to squeeze into a talk that included a look at high and low concept, and  why Seinfeld helped bring down the Soviet Union, before whooshing on to demystifying the business of film production. Simon Hunter came on in the afternoon and demystified directing. If anybody walked into the venerable Old Cinema with the illusion that film is a glamorous business, they were rapidly relieved of that illusion. But Raindance does emphasize the joy of film-making. And surely that's far better. 

Sun, January 15, 2012 | link

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