Saturday, 16 February 2019

Three-Act structure


I came across this the other day, having read a lot about the structure of screenplays etc.    Actually the structure is not so different for novels, stage plays, films and drama serials for TV -- but in the latter case some compromises have to be made, in that each episode should move the drama on, while containing elements of set-up, confrontation and resolution. In the clever costume dramas like Downton Abbey, there will be an offsetting of the "mini-stories" concerning specific characters -- one mini-story might just be kicking off while another quietly matures, and another is brought to resolution, obeying the rules of the soap opera......

Friday, 15 February 2019

More on the Pinewood Debacle



There has been more media coverage today on the chaos surrounding the Pinewood deal entered into by the Welsh Government --  involving the loss of many millions of taxpayers' money.    Following previous revelations about the £400,000 per year that was paid to Pinewood just to keep its unused studio facility "open for business" that did not exist, the Assembly Public Accounts Committee has now reported on a catalogue of errors by Ministers and civil service.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-47231099?mc_cid=7d425cb298&mc_eid=e8544fd014

There are questions about due diligence and the mis-spending of precious public funds -- but it appears that the main target of the committee  is not the Welsh Government itself, or indeed individual ministers, but the lack of capacity or skills within the civil service.  They suggest that within the civil service in Wales there is no adequate expertise to deal with highly complex negotiations, or with skilled and rather cynical operators like Pinewood. So, according to the PAC, the advice provided for Ministers was deeply flawed, and should have been better.  So more than £2.6 million will be paid to Pinewood over 5 years, and the wildly optimistic estimate of £90 million of extra income being brought into Wales as a result of the deal (through new films and through studio use) has long since ben ditched.  Apparently we will all be lucky if £18 million of the Welsh Government's investment of £30 million in the film and TV sector is recouped.



It's really rather disingenuous to pretend that the fault for this fiasco lies with the civil servants.  The buck stops with Ministers, and they are the ones who are supposed to ensure that diligence tests are properly done.   It looks as if this is yet another issue brushed under the carpet.  It seems to happen rather frequently in Wales.......

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Press Release Posted


I have allocated a new page on the web site for press releases, including the one issued a couple of days ago.  It can be seen here:

http://www.brianjohn.co.uk/press-releases.html

"Gwen" - a new film set in Wales



This looks interesting -- it looks like a rather low-profile film, but it's always good to see a real Welsh story, set in Wales and supported by Wales! It seems to be a rather scary and brutal horror film -- the reviews are rather mixed.  Why are so many Welsh films so dark and bloody? Answers on a post card please........

https://www.screendaily.com/news/uk-drama-gwen-secures-north-america-deal-exclusive/5135016.article

Storyline
In the stark beauty of 19th Century Snowdonia a young girl tries desperately to hold her home together. Struggling with her mother's mysterious illness, her father's absence and a ruthless mining company encroaching on their land. A growing darkness begins to take grip of her home, and the suspicious local community turns on Gwen and her family.

Review from IMDB
This is one of the scariest films I've seen in recent years despite not being a Horror. Its a slow burn, more erie and tensional to begin with. But this builds into a shocking climax as the film goes on that is genuinely terrifying.

The performances are heartbreaking especially the young lead. Without her lighting up the screen it could all get a bit too bleak. The film really rests on her. She is one to watch for the future.

Its great to see more films that focus on women as the lead characters, and although its a difficult watch in places I like the fact that this is not about supernatural evils, or a supposed Witch. Men are the real monsters here.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Media exploitation of Wales



In this hard-hitting article by Gareth Leaman, the author makes some serious points which some of us have been on about for years.  The key issue is the singular lack of motivation and self-confidence which allows Wales to be USED in the film and TV industry but never properly PORTRAYED.  Exploitation?  Now where have we heard that word before?  It was one of the key issues covered in Michael Sheen's famous lecture of a couple of years ago:


So we have had exploitation of many types in the past -- and now a media exploitation as well, with Wales being plundered for its landscape and its "otherness" without its identity being acknowledged or valued.  Who to blame?  The BBC?  The Welsh Government? Well, maybe them, and maybe us -- we who undervalue our own heritage and our own environment,  and who therefore fail to put a proper price on it.

It's a complex issue, but here are a few quotes worth thinking about, from this excellent article:

"...........given our current political climate, the filming of a major television series in Wales, but not setting it there, is somewhat problematic in that it has necessitated a complete erasure of any political or cultural resemblance to this country."

".........any vestige of what we might call ‘Welshness’ has also been painstakingly stripped from the show’s mise en scène. Any signifiers pertaining to the country in which it is filmed are conspicuous by their absence, with the erasure of the Welsh language, even in this resolutely Anglophone corner of the country, feeling particularly jarring. There is just one significant character with a recognisable Welsh accent, which only seems to have been chosen as a signifier that they are poorer, less-educated and of a lower social class than everyone else..."

"..........on the rare occasion they appear on (inter)national screens, ‘the Welsh are portrayed as simple, poor, indolent and unable to cope on their own.’ (Sam Parry)

"Reading the international reception of the show online, it is frequently remarked upon that filming took place in Wales, yet the adjective ‘Welsh’ is almost totally absent: description of accents, scenery and so on always defaults to being described as ‘British’. It underlines the suggestion that ‘Welshness’ isn’t profitable: it has no value to international capital, and therefore has no cultural worth beyond (or even inside) its borders. "

"Ironically this is, in many ways, actually a perfect summation of ‘official Welsh culture’ at present: no real representation of ourselves on screen; a superficial idealisation of the natural landscape; exploitation of crumbling socio-political structures. Wales as a hyper-real netherworld in which decaying infrastructure can only be used as props to tell other people’s stories."



26.01.19
GARETH LEAMAN
ACCIDENTAL ELEGY FOR POST-INDUSTRIAL WALES

Gareth Leaman investigates how Netflix’s new teen drama, Sex Education, filmed primarily in Caerleon, can be used as a metaphor for ‘official Welsh culture’.

Throughout his writing, the late Mark Fisher refers to the concept of ‘hauntology’ to describe the way in which traces of the past maintain a ghostly presence in the artworks of today. We often observe this phenomenon in texts that evoke a feeling that the horizons of political possibility have contracted: that ‘not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible.’ Deployed in a British context, this usually refers to a future cancelled by the rolling back of the state and its replacement with neo-liberal marketisation, and the cultural ossification and impoverishment that has resulted.

Watching Netflix’s new ‘British’ teen comedy-drama Sex Education, viewers in Wales – and especially Newport – may well be struck with this same sense of melancholic uncanniness, of ‘a time that is out of joint’. For despite the shows liberatory and groundbreaking depiction of teenage sexuality, Sex Education is haunted by a Welsh culture and politics that has either died or never was, and whose presence is felt by its absence.

Anybody familiar with the locality will instantly recognise that the show is filmed primarily in Newport and Monmouthshire, yet its aesthetic is very much at pains to suppress all geographical and temporal specificity: it is a ‘kind of ‘Nowheresville’, as one cast member describes it. But this is not a superficial stylistic quirk: it is somewhat essential in maximising the message of the show. As the New York Times’ preview states, ‘the real landscape for this often frank discussion is, well, not specific.’

While this is an admirable approach to take, and somewhat essential when universalising the experiences of nascent teenage sexuality, this ‘de-locating’ also serves to inadvertently depoliticise the local in which Sex Education is filmed. That is to say, given our current political climate, the filming of a major television series in Wales, but not setting it there, is somewhat problematic in that it has necessitated a complete erasure of any political or cultural resemblance to this country.

For example, the bulk of the production is shot on the now-closed Caerleon campus of the University of South Wales: a monument to Newport’s decaying university sector that has been cruelly ripped from the soul of the city due to the marketisation of higher education. Back in 2013, Gary Raymond elegised the university for Wales Arts Review, writing that it ‘can now stand as a symbol of the calculated erosion of Newport’s identity as anything other than a failed situation, stripped of the medals that made it a city in the first place.’ It is this ‘erosion’ that manifests itself in Sex Education, disrupting its technicolour vibrancy like the ghost at the feast. A palimpsest in which the failed political projects of the past are still faintly visible on the show’s pages.

A council-owned swimming pool also makes an appearance, but devoid of anything that marks it out as such. Most striking is the absence of the ‘Ysbrydoli pobl i fod yn hapusach a iachach’ sloganeering that usually adorns its walls, a phrase that speaks to a time when egalitarian provision of public health was something to be cherished as a social good with inherent community value. Again, another forgotten past/lost future haunting the series.

In addition to these unwanted echoes of British austerity in this ostensibly Anglo-American dreamworld, any vestige of what we might call ‘Welshness’ has also been painstakingly stripped from the show’s mise en scène. Any signifiers pertaining to the country in which it is filmed are conspicuous by their absence, with the erasure of the Welsh language, even in this resolutely Anglophone corner of the country, feeling particularly jarring. There is just one significant character with a recognisable Welsh accent, which only seems to have been chosen as a signifier that they are poorer, less-educated and of a lower social class than everyone else, further embedding the notion that, as Sam Parry writes, even on the rare occasion they appear on (inter)national screens, ‘the Welsh are portrayed as simple, poor, indolent and unable to cope on their own.’

Reading the international reception of the show online, it is frequently remarked upon that filming took place in Wales, yet the adjective ‘Welsh’ is almost totally absent: description of accents, scenery and so own always defaults to being described as ‘British’. It underlines the suggestion that ‘Welshness’ isn’t profitable: it has no value to international capital, and therefore has no cultural worth beyond (or even inside) its borders. Of course, the whole transatlantic nature of the production is largely a move to broaden the appeal for worldwide Netflix subscribers, but it still tells us something about the ways in which distinctively Welsh culture is collapsed into Britishness, and then erased altogether when assimilated into the global cultural mainstream. As glibly put by Anita Singh in The Telegraph, ‘Netflix wants to show a commitment to making shows in Britain while marketing them to a global audience more attuned to US high school movies than a wet weekend in South Wales.’

Ironically this is, in many ways, actually a perfect summation of ‘official Welsh culture’ at present: no real representation of ourselves on screen; a superficial idealisation of the natural landscape; exploitation of crumbling socio-political structures. Wales as a hyper-real netherworld in which decaying infrastructure can only be used as props to tell other people’s stories.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Literary Atlas academics fail to notice the Angel Mountain Saga


Should I laugh or cry, or throw things? I have been checking the web site of the Literary Atlas of Wales, and have discovered that in their wisdom, the academics responsible for it have completely ignored the 8 novels of the Angel Mountain Saga on the atlas database.  On the map, they have marked the locations of 567 Welsh novels (written in the English language), including 250 published in the present century.  I think we can safely assume that the great majority of the included titles are extremely rare in that most people will never have heard of them.  Also, I suppose that the majority will not have sold more than a thousand copies, since most books sold in Wales sell just a few hundred.  So my books, with accumulated sales of c 100,000 copies, might reasonably be called Welsh best-sellers.  (Most of the BIG best-sellers in the "Welsh fiction" category are of course published in England -- and it's wonderful that some of them have sold more than a million copies -- probably including titles written by Iris Gower, Alexander Cordell, Catrin Collier an Kingsley Amis.)  I'm rather chuffed that my books have sold well in spite of being published and printed in Wales without any subsidies or grant aid of any kind.  That's actually rather rare.......

It looks as if the map is as finished as it was intended to be, although there is a note on the web site inviting suggestions as to other titles that might be included.    But what does it say about the awareness of the map compilers that they have not even noticed the existence of Wales's best-selling titles?  Not impressed.......

I have written to the Atlas compilers to complain about their unprofessionalism -- and I expect a reply along the lines of:" Oh dear, we just sort of omitted the 8 titles accidentally......"

Believe that if you like...

http://www.literaryatlas.wales/en/library/?fbclid=IwAR0bRSnAzNW9YOpmc-XYqbVk3VeTvtuJ92xmjiGvlIrbkz-hgo5nsm6qdaw

PS.  I have a reply from "The Literary Atlas" -- note that there is no name attached -- so nobody takes responsibility.  The excuse is that there has been a technical problem with the web site, and that the web developer is being asked to look into the matter.  Are we REALLY expected to believe that nonsense?


Friday, 1 February 2019

Film and TV in Wales -- things are buzzing -- or are they?



This is a standard-issue press release from the Welsh Government flagging up the film / TV activity going on in Wales just now.  Thanks to Barrie for drawing attention to it.  Of course, every Government department has to issue "good news" stories every now and then, just to demonstrate to taxpayers that they are getting good value for money!  But we must not be too cynical -- and it;'s great that there are new films and TV series being made, and that Wales continues to demonstrate that it has a vibrant TV and film industry, with great production facilities and great crews who can deliver high-quality products.

But looking beyond the spin, there is still great dissatisfaction within the industry about the cumbersome support mechanisms that exist -- to the point where some production companies refuse to have anything to do with them.  The Assembly's Culture Committee has been involved in an investigation of the support mechanisms for film and TV


Reel big year for film and TV production in Wales

Welsh film and television production boomed in 2018 as a result of Welsh Government support, with huge benefits for Wales’ Economy, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Dafydd Elis Thomas has said.
Saturday 26 January 2019

https://gov.wales/newsroom/culture-tourism-sport/2019/190126-reel-big-year-for-film-and-tv-production-in-wales/?lang=en&fbclid=IwAR3s92qM4LlsyWu6rZDSt9x26mz_HYS4XoP9LybuEQR90IZ5iF1sPXP1bDg
---------------------

Sex Education, which premiered on Netflix last week, is one of many projects made in Wales in 2018 that has hit the screen this year.

The 8 part, coming of age comedy drama follows awkward teenager Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) as he navigates the road into adulthood. It stars Hollywood A- lister Gillian Anderson as his cringeworthily honest, sex therapist mum. Sex Education is one of a string of productions wholly or partly filmed in Wales as a result of the Welsh Government funding to the Screen Industry.

Funding is complemented by our Wales Screen service which helps production companies by sourcing crew, locations and providing facilities support.

Other Welsh Government supported productions set for release this year include:
 
Watchmen (HBO) which filmed key sequences in Penrhyn Castle in North Wales. Starring Jeremy Irons, the American drama television series is based on the comic book limited series of the same name created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

The Crown series 3 (Left Bank Pictures) which includes an entire episode focussed on the Aberfan disaster. The producers used various locations in the South Wales Valleys and Cadw also closed Caernarfon castle in north Wales for the re-enactment of the investiture of Prince Charles.

Keeping Faith series 2 (Vox Pictures) is currently being shot in West Wales following the success of the first series in 2018. Starring Eve Myles in the title role, series 1 set records for viewing figures and was the highest viewed drama by BBC Wales in over 20 years. iPlayer views topped 15 million which led to BBC Network buying it and screening UK wide.

Six Minutes to Midnight (Mad As Birds Ltd.) was written by Celyn Jones and Eddie Izzard and directed by Andy Goddard. The feature film is a historical thriller based on true events that took place in Britain in the lead up to the Second World War, starring Eddie Izzard and Dame Judi Dench.

The Secret Garden (Lennox Productions) filmed key sequences at Bodnant Garden in North Wales for two weeks for the remake of the classic tale starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

Pitching In (LA Productions), a new Wales-based family drama, features Gavin and Stacey stars, Larry Lamb (Michael Shipman) and Melanie Walters (Gwen West). Set for BBC One Wales and BBC One Daytime, it tells the story of three generations of the same family, all struggling to make the best of a very unusual - and sometimes very difficult - situation.

Warren (Hat Trick Productions for BBC One). Original comedy series penned by upcoming writers Paul McKenna and Jimmy Donny Cosgrove, centres on the life of Warren Thompson (played by Martin Clunes), a pedantic driving instructor who thinks the world is against him.

His Dark Materials (Bad Wolf) continues to shoot at Wolf Studios and around locations in Wales. The BBC's forthcoming adaptation of Philip Pullman's trilogy of books stars James McAvoy, Dafne Keen and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The series will run for 8 parts, written by Jack Thorne with Tom Hooper directing. A second series is expected to shoot in 2019.

Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Lord Elis-Thomas said:

“Hard work and investment has helped us to develop Wales’ reputation as a five-star location for television drama production; a country that is geared up to support the sector and as a strong and affordable alternative to London.

“And there is absolutely no doubt that our proactive, industry friendly approach is paying dividends and bringing a whole host of high calibre productions to Wales.

“Of course our approach is focussed firmly on value for the tax payer and with current analysis showing that for every £1 the Welsh Government invests into TV and Film production, we are seeing an average of £8 being spent within the Welsh Economy, we will keep working to attract more and more productions to Wales.”

The even newer logo


Another tweak -- Martin thought that the last image of Rhiannon was not properly trimmed.  So that issue has now been addressed.  This is much better!