Sunday, December 26, 2004

[TV] lovebites - Episode 1 (2)

The thing: if what tipped us over the edge was this e-mail from TV3 that I'm looking at dated 18 January, then we over reacted. At least to the specific content of the e-mail. It's actually filled with pretty reasonable comments. However, after 13 months of ripping apart 20 versions of the pilot episode - none of which could live up to some idealised and indescribable goal that everyone in the team had different visions of - we had an excuse to throw tanties, have breakdowns and engage in some neat near-shouting matches.

So bear in mind that we weren't strictly sane by this point. We had a network that wasn't happy, $4.5 million of controversially awarded taxpayers money and some other pressures that I can't recall right now but - I'm sure - as I continue to read through these old files they'll induce a screaming, plane's-going-down-it's-all-turning-to-shit fugue state. Looking back over these old script pages, I see one-liners, character humour and some nice comic setups. These episodes, these early versions of Episode 1 are funny. The question we kept asking ourselves during pre-production, the comment that kept getting thrown back to the writing team, boiled down to, "Is this funny enough?"

First, way to make you doubt yourself.

Second (and I only had the sense to ask myself this with two years hindsight), what does 'enough' mean? Using it without definition, such as, "This episode isn't good enough," is initially a great way to avoid arguments. Everyone can nod sagely, agree we haven't reached and breached some unspecified limit...and then wander off, promising to do better. I mean, we had set ourselves the goal for this show of dealing with humour and believable characterisation. This is not fertile ground for strictly defined operational parameters.

The number of arguments we had about whether something was or wasn't 'lovebites' - that elusive quality that everyone agreed the show should possess but that we didn't even see a hint of until about halfway through shooting - is a testament to a dangerous team dynamic: thinking you're all on the same wavelength and therefore that spelling out exactly what you mean is an unnecessary step in the conversation.

Third, when someone asks you if it's funny enough, you need to know their sense of humour . This boils down to Steve's Three Laws of Humour:

1. If someone thinks it's funny and you don't, you're wrong.
2. If you think it is funny and they don't, you're wrong.
3. The opposite is also true ... for the exact same joke.

This is hard fought-for knowledge. You can NEVER convince someone they are wrong when it comes to what they think is funny. The sense of humour, your funnybone, is one of the most deeply held convictions any human possesses. Even the most timid of door-stopping Yes-droids will refuse to cave into their crippling insecurity if told to really really laugh at something they don't think is funny. Try writing a sit-com as part of a team some time; you'll probably realise the truth of this within a day.

So there's Lesson One: writing a comedy - writing anything collaboratively - make sure all of your team are on the same page. This is not a "Well, duh," conclusion. It is freakin' essential.

Later I'll address the controversial topic of who gets an opinion. But next time, I'll try to focus more on the pilot. Maybe even tidy up some of this paperwork and focus on it chronologically.

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