Having been to Rome lately I thought I might continue the travel tales whilst mixing that with a bit of film industry nonsense. Names changed to protect… well, me really.
Readers who follow this page (I know you all, I am sure) will be aware (maybe) that we re-wrote our feature script a while back and we have been progressing that project as and when we can. And to anyone outside the film industry that sounds like a half-assed affair. Being brutally honest I used to roll my eyes whenever anyone said things along the lines of “Well, this year I’ve been developing a feature about…”
This year? It’s December! What the hell have you been doing every day? How long are you spending in the shower?
Of course you aren’t working on it all day every day. This is a well developed script in its late stages and now it is a case of putting a film together. Which is fine if you are making a student film with your pals but not so easy when you are asking people to jump on board to the tune of £3m – £5m at a minimum.
And who exactly is it that you are asking to jump on board? Well, there’s loads of them. They all have very nebulous titles and work in buildings that remind you of sci-fi sets. The 1st picture below is located in central London and the offices of a major studio are on the 3 – 5th floors. If you make it through the barriers then you reach the lifts.
God knows what happens to you if you just jump over the little security gate. I imagine those big white balloons from the Prisoner come after you and deposit you outside Byron Burger.
The lifts are also very amusing. There are a dozen of them and to prevent people just pressing ‘UP’ then standing around guessing at which lift might arrive first there is a single hi-tech panel. You choose a number and then it tells you which lift to get on.
This is a moment of absolute faith because, you see, there are no buttons in the lifts themselves. Nor are there any indicators as to which floor they are going to or, indeed, which floor they are currently on/passing. So everyone has to look out the door whenever it stops to see if they have arrived where they wanted to be. When we got in our guide asked if the lift was going to the third floor only to be met with shrugs and ‘no idea’.
We got in anyway and it stopped at the first floor because it wanted to. No one got in and no one got out. Then it went to the third floor. We still have no idea why.
Then we waited 25 mins to go into a meeting that had been confirmed only the day before. Which isn’t unheard of in the film industry but it is very rare when you are expected. I would love to blame the machines for this as well but I can’t. The floor we got off on had three receptionists who sat at raised plinths with massive screens in front of them. No desks, just a podium with a great big Dell on it. Feck knows where they put their handbags. Anyway they took our names and the name of our meeting and sat us down with water.
Then nothing. For 15 mins. Then they checked the names and the name of the meeting. Then nothing for another 10 mins. And then it became quite clear that something was not right.
Our intended collocutor had started a search party via email just as the receptionist asked …
Who are you meeting again?
Ginny Smithson (Name changed)
Ah, good. I have emailed him already.
Have you now? Given that (unless we missed an email of some import) we’ve met the gal before… you might not be…
But she had already gone back to her ivory plinth.
Ginny turned up a few moments later and when she discovered that we had been waiting for that long left us at the lifts and went back into the room to shout at some people. We got in the lift and went to the fifth floor (eventually). Turns out that there is supposed to be an intern called Heerah or something. Who was supposed to meet us and tell her we were there. Only no one knows where he is.
Personally? I think he’s stuck in one of the other lifts.
The main offices are filled with very young people with very big, curved screens. Aside from random film toys and posters dotted about the place. (We saw an ET spaceship that was very tempting) it looks like a high end call centre. They have desks and places to put a handbag but only the execs get offices. Which is where the true London returns. The vast chambers at the front and on the ground floor are merely there to give you the illusion of space. Upstairs everyone is crammed in. Yes, execs get offices but they aren’t big. They have a single glass wall and a sliding door. Unless the office is not twice the width of a door – then they get normal doors with hinges. Floor space is power.
Then you have the meeting. Which is now of so standard a format that there are books and blogs and articles and interviews detailing the separate phases and what you should be doing in each phase. I will leave that for others to detail. We tend to play it as standard but being comedy writers the initial icebreaker phase is important to us since we’re supposed to be funny in a professional way.
Pleasantries complete you start to talk business. Not your business, not necessarily… at least not right away. A bit of chat about the state of the business in general is always good. How hard it has become lately. How no one is making any money. How that one film should have made more and the other made less and how much did it make?
Phones are checked. $95 million!??! Well I never.
Then it comes to the crunch.
“So, what’s going on with you guys?”
And that’s the signal. You don’t want to be in there too long but you can’t be out in 25 mins either (not counting the 25 mins we were all looking for Heerah). Anywhere between 40 mins and an hour is good as far as I can tell but I’m not exactly a veteran. Everyone is always positive and there will be chat about international rights, domestic rights, things being packaged and so on. This is where information a normal person would regard as shallow and meaningless comes to the fore. Lists of actors between the age of 20 and 32. Directors of comedy who are vaguely famous but not to anyone you might meet out on the street. Names are thrown hither and yon with little regard for the actual owners of the names since right now they are no more than possible ingredients for a dish you might not make and even if you do no one might ever eat it.
And all you want, your entire goal, is to get the next meeting. You are unlikely to win the game in this particular meeting you see, but you sure can lose it.
It’s in rooms like this where another little world is created. A place of magic where reality is suspended somehow and it seems perfectly reasonable to talk about creating something at a cost of £5 million that might or might not work. It’s insane when you think about it. If your mate came along and said
“I’ve got an idea for a pop-up shop/t-shirt/toy/car. What say we get £5 million and a couple of hundred other people involved and see if we can make any money?”
You’d surely just advise him to go and get a job. But no. Everyone buys into the illusion that just by asking if we have someone involved who can drive a car or draw a t-shirt we might guess how many we could sell. Who was that guy who drew that shirt? That was a great shirt let’s get him.
Yeah, but he designs black t-shirts mainly. Not sure he’s the right fella for the white t-shirt I have in mind.
You’re right, you’re absolutely right. Let’s get someone else to design it and then we’ll get someone else to check that and then we’ll get someone to run a few off and we can always copy a bit of that other t-shirt… what we want is a really good and original t-shirt that no -one has ever seen before but that (somehow) we know everyone already likes.
We could put Che Guevara on the front?
In truth it is utter madness to even consider that some people you have never ever met will have enough faith in you and your t-shirt vision to give you millions of pounds. And people still wonder why it takes so long to make films. At the moment we make little films and I find it miraculous when we can scrape up a few grand to make a short. Of course, we don’t get paid often.
Then it’s back out into the real world. The other London. Which looks nothing like this…
The thing about futurology is that people always assume rationality will prevail without taking into account human nature. The picture above is from 2001: A Space Odyssey and I thought of it when I was in London this time. And how utterly, utterly unrealistic it is. The truth of the matter is that were we to really build this spaceship it would need a lot more in the way of signage. Film Studio offices aside I never saw a space in London that size that didn’t have advertising in it. Actually, a space that size would have a Starbucks in it.
London is cramped. Every cafe has the maximum number of seats. The little supermarkets are designed to within a millimetre or so. When we arrived I had a wheelie case of medium size but I might as well have been driving an artic and heaven help me if I entered the Tesco Express at the same time as a mum with a pram. That particular manouevre required a banksman and some temporary traffic lights.
London used to feel big and bustling and exciting and now it just seems busy and stressed and expensive and loud. We have the benefit of staying at a friend’s place when we go to London – it’s in Hampstead. It is not big in Hampstead but in Hampstead it doesn’t matter. Passing by an estate agent’s window a cursory glance will find properties in nearby Swiss Cottage renting at just under £4,000 per week.
Which is fine I guess. I mean, it’s approaching £200,000 a year and apart from Jose Mourinho I don’t know anyone who needs to rent a house at that price but if it works for them…
But what is it buying them? The ability to sit in a cramped cafe drinking cappuccino whilst three feet away the owner grinds beans at a volume close to that of a Heathrow runway? The pleasure of everyone having to get up when someone wants to leave?
I love London – it’s got it all going on. I went for dinner, had an accident with a steak taco and bought a replacement shirt before the offending sauce had dried. It’s amazing. But they all seem very busy and I can fully understand if they don’t really have time to look up.
But… if you can’t look up then you can’t help but look down and when you do what you will see is people lying around. One of our meetings was with a comedy writer friend. He is well known in the writing game and very good at it so he has to live near London, but he doesn’t live in the centre. Even he, a veteran of the place, was shocked at the homelessness. He’d seen nine in a two hundred yard walk from Angel Underground to the bank across the street and I had had a similar experience the night before at Charing Cross.
To be clear, I’m not talking about begging here. I walked out of a tube station and found people sleeping where they fell. One of them in his work clothes. No one asked me for money. No one even looked at me. I would have taken a photo but that seemed wrong somehow. Like the zoo scene in La Haine it would just have made it worse.
London is bigger than Rome and more cosmopolitan than anywhere I have ever seen outside of New York. We nearly crashed into Alastair Campbell as he raced off a tube. Then we went back to Hampstead and sat in this little pub (which was packed to bursting on a Tuesday night) where the walls are covered in black and white pictures of famous people to the extent that there is no more room on the walls. Bowie, Einstein, Olivier… we even saw a picture of Nick Mason from Pink Floyd which would be an unremarkable thing in and of itself except that we left to go home and he was sitting in a restaurant around the corner.
If Rome is organised chaos then London is poverty-stricken wealth. Fur coat and no knickers.
After the madness of a film meeting I went to dinner with an old friend who works in the justice system. She told me a story about a person she encountered in her job who had a tendency to eat things. He’d eat ceiling tiles like toast so they threw him out of the office. At which point he ate the buttons on their keypad entry system.
He would starve to death in the film industry of course.
The lifts don’t have any buttons.
It’s election time – again.
When I think back it seems that we’ve had a few of late. And when not having elections then we have a referendum.
2014 – Indy Ref 1
2015 – General Election UK
2016 – Scottish Election
2016 – European Referendum
2017 – General Election UK
2018 – Year off (presumably for the World Cup)
2019 – General Election UK
We have now moved in to the political equivalent of perpetual war where conflict continues endlessly and upheaval is the new norm. It is the ‘forever election’ cycle. Boris Johnson, hang on until I get my standard picture of Boris…
Boris (and it more likely to be Dominic Cummings) is merely adopting the standard political techniques of the day – constant chaos – to achieve his aims. By creating mayhem and then posing as the only possible answer to that mayhem.
Let’s Get Brexit Done
Followed or preceded by the words. “People are tired of this constant wrangling over Brexit” which is the same as saying “People are tired because of the thing I did, so let me do this other thing”.
Should Johnson win do we imagine that any of the sunny policies he is espousing will actually come to pass in the form that he describes? No, they won’t because the policies are not an end in themselves. There is no end beyond the continuation of Tory (Boris and Dom) power. And when that has been achieved the policies will warp, or vanish…
We’ll build 40 hospitals!
No they won’t. They’ll say they will and then, when it turns out that 40 hospitals costs more than £10.50, they will change it. It will be a more staggered roll out but they are still building 40. Then it will be 30 but they are more efficient and 2 of them are bigger. Eventually, after causing so much chaos no-one can remember they were ever going to build a hospital at all they will announce…
We’ll build 50 hospitals!
And when someone digs out the last manifesto they’ll basically point to some chaos that they can vaguely claim was not their fault and say “People are tired of these poor services (thing we did) so we need to get on with fixing the economy (other thing) and so we’re cutting corporation tax and increasing national insurance”.
Johnson is often described as Trumpian. But the truth is that Trump isn’t even the original. He models himself on Putin and the fact is that even Putin isn’t the original. The Russian power is maintained by Vladislav Surkov who may well come to be seen as the inspiration for Cummings, Steven Miller, Bannon and the like. Follow the link and have a read if you have the time but if you don’t then perhaps this single quote sums it up.
…the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away. Surkov is at the centre of the show, sponsoring nationalist skinheads one moment, backing human rights groups the next. It’s a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable.Peter Pomerantsev – Putin’s Rasputin – London Review of Books
In a state of bedlam it can be difficult to know where to focus and what to believe – This is the very state they want you to be in and I don’t mind saying that it is difficult to handle. As a person I simply cannot see a problem unsolved or an injustice unaddressed. Which, as you can imagine, my partner loves when I am supposed to be ‘listening’ and I am actually just trying to come up with answers.
Note: This is not a good idea. Partner wants to be heard not helped.
I struggle every day not to over-react. My partner, my doctors and my friends tell me to chill. It’s not my job to solve everything. And I really, really wish that I could do that but if I know one thing I know that complacency and assuming it will be all right is not the answer. And how do I know that? Because of this photo.
This photo haunts me. For reasons too numerous to mention here. I keep it on the desktop of my computer and I look at it occasionally. not for macabre, ghoulish reasons but more as a lode star. A reference point for navigation. If anything is proposed or reported I compare it to this photo. Any step, in any direction, that leads towards this photo is to be resisted with all the power at my disposal.
At this point you might be thinking ‘Here he goes. Comparing everyone to the nazis, why does everyone have to be compared to the nazis all the time?’.
I’m not saying people are Nazis. I’m just saying that if you take enough steps along the road then that is where you end up and the price we have to pay for not having that, is vigilance. Have another look at the photo and then have a look at the photos below.
Then ask yourself – ‘In what direction are we moving? Away from, or towards, Vinnitsa?
So, here we go again. More marches, more protests, more chaos. Another referendum perhaps and another election on the way. This time in winter. You’re tired, I get it but do me a favour. Have a look at these photos one more time.