I’m no Parkinson, but..

It looks like writer, producer and director Dirk Maggs has kindly agreed to do an interview with me regarding his forthcoming BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust.

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My idea being that as I have already interviewed screenwriter Jane Goldman on adapting Stardust for film, it’d be complimentary to get an interview for radio.  Two different formats – two different approaches.

I’m personally fascinated by book to film/TV/radio adaptations – taking a story in one form and transforming it to work in another.  That fascination goes way back to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a series I have adored since childhood.  I love Hitchhiker’s because it’s little bit different between the different forms.  The radio, the TV show, the books and the film are the same story – but all told slightly differently.  Of all the different versions of the story, the film is the most different – but I don’t love it any less.

If Jane had tackled Neil’s story in its entirety, we’d have probably ended up with an 10 hour (or longer) film.  With radio, and especially dramatic episodic radio, you’ve got more time to work within the original published story – but pacing is obviously going to be different between a book and radio performance (it’s not an audiobook and thus not a reading).  Plus the lack of visuals provides a challenge in its own right.  For those that have never read Stardust (or watched the film), you’ve got to be able to paint a clear picture in the listener’s mind of the characters, the settings – everything through audio.  That is hard.

When Peter Harness (for whom I’m also looking to interview at some point when he’s back in the UK) adapted Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for BBC television, he reworked the story to fit into 7 one hour parts, and in doing so, actually rearranged some of the events in the book which I think actually helps the story a great deal.  It’s a superb adaptation.  A bloody difficult adaptation, but Peter achieved it when three other screenwriters couldn’t.

Anyway, nothing has been set in stone yet.  I don’t know which format the interview will be in.  It’s entirely dependent on Dirk’s availability.  Email interviews are much easier, of course.  But I now have a video camera (a Sony FDR-AX53, a 4K capable camera that replaces my 16 year old non-HD, tape-based camera which died several years ago), an external microphone (with dead cat), and a high quality audio recorder.  So I could do it as a vlog/podcast.  In any event, I’m prepared for any format of interview.

In the mean time, if you have any questions for Dirk and Stardust, please feel free to leave a comment below.  When I have more information I’ll post it here.

The Great British Bog Off

The BBC has just lost one of its flagship shows to Channel 4.  This is terrible for a variety of reasons, but on the other hand, the way the BBC finances its shows, it is is also to blame (via the government’s recent interference).

Since the BBC license fee affords some, but not all, programming costs, the BBC often turns to independent production companies – along with its own BBC Worldwide commercial division – to make up any shortfalls.  Costs are shared between private and public funds.  But the downside is that if a show that’s produced via a third party decide it can get a better deal elsewhere, it will.  But it also questions the loyalty of said production company at the BBC.  Will the Beeb likely to commission any more shows from these companies?  I wouldn’t.

The BBC has made some terrible decisions in the past – the most recent being the cancellation of the British version of Dirk Gently’s Detective Agency only to resurrect it in the US via BBC America.  BBC America is a joint effort between BBC Worldwide and AMC (which in turn is owned by Sony).  The only saving grace has been that Netflix has bought it, which means that it’ll be seen.  But will it last more than the commissioned number of episodes?  Who knows.  It’ll be an enormous waste of time if the show is subsequently cancelled if it is.  Why recommission a show (of which the original was partly funded by the  BBC license fee) to have it cancelled again?  Big risk of the BBC’s limited funds.

Regarding the Great British Bake Off, Love Productions & Channel 4 are gambling an enormous amount of money.  Will it get the kind of audience as before, given that it’s moved to another public broadcaster – albeit it one that is funded entirely by adverts.  The main presenting team and judges have yet to confirm whether they’re going to move.  £25 million is a lot to risk for a public broadcaster regardless of however it is funded.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering why the BBC have commissioned a number of TV comedies shot in 2:39 aspect ratio.  The kind of ratio that’s reserved for films.  The impact of this is that you’ll see much bigger black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.  This isn’t too much of a problem If you’re watching on a reasonably sized TV.  But if you’re watching on a mobile phone or tablet, you may be squinting a bit.  Sure, you’ll be able to get some beautiful landscapes in, and you can frame things in an interesting way – but it’ll still look ridiculously small on smaller devices.  You’d think these people are making a Western in Super 70mm/Cinemascope.  But nope, they’re 30-minute comedies.  Made for TV.  I’m not convinced it’s a good ratio to be using for the multi-platform device generation.  Not unless smartphones are bigger than 20″, and tablets are 40″ and require two people to carry them. Not until everybody has access to 80 inch super widescreen TVs.  Or run everybody watches everything at the cinema.  Or TV projectors.

1.85 is a much better ratio.  I’d even go as far as saying that, given that a lot of money is made from video on demand and physical media from films, you’d be better off shooting 1.85 for movies too.  That way, you’ll get a wider (but not too wide) frame that’ll make the best use of today’s multi-device consumption.

Or maybe it’s just me.  Art v. practicality.  Difficult choice.

Top Gear: The Next Next Generation

Well, I suppose it wasn’t entirely unexpected that Chris Evans was going to step down from Top Gear (although uncannily announced the same day as Nigel Farage stepping down from UKIP – maybe they’re swapping jobs? (grin – wink)).

That said, the Top Gear team doesn’t need to hire anybody new to replace Evans.  We already have a great line-up.  Chris Harris, Rory Reid, Sabine Schmidt and Eddy Jordan.  I’ve found Chris Harris to be a very capable, very good presenter out of the 5 remaining presenters (The Stig doesn’t count as a presenter, not unless they give him a laser pointer or a very big stick – and that’s probably asking for trouble).  Rory Reid, too, is a very good presenter and his presenting on Extra Gear brings the Top Gear format a fresh and much-needed update (although I do feel, especially now, that Rory’s skills are much more needed in the main programme now that Evans has gone).

So my vote would go to Chris Harris to lead the next series.  He’s definitely the best qualified out of the team.  Chris is an experienced automotive journalist, just like Jeremy Clarkson, who has many years working  in print and TV.  So why try to find somebody new to replace Evans?

Don’t like the new Top Gear?  Here’s a solution..

.. turn off your TV.  Or change channels.  Or read a book.   Or listen to music.  And never tune into the thing again.  Because you’ll just keep having a moan.

Anything but the repetitive droning on about Chris Evans shouting; that it’s boring; that they using canned laughter (they’re not – and indeed, it seems that people and newspapers are obsessed over the BBC using canned laughter – what flipping century are you living in?); that this is the same; that it’s too different; insert all manner of swear words and insults because people seem to think THEY own Top Gear.

New Top Gear: Not bad if I do say so myself

Oh boy.

This was always going to divide opinion, but I actually liked this newly revamped Top Gear.  But here’s the thing that people must remember: it’s the first episode.  It’s the first episode of a new series which required significant changes in staff both in front of and behind the camera.  And they’ve had about the same preparation time as the old series.

So I think Chris Evans and chums have done a spectacularly great job given the circumstances.  Given that I can see what’s going on at the Top Gear test track and studio as I worked next door to them, the amount of effort being put into the show is no less than 100% – in fact, I’d say there’s more staff (security and crew) and more kit than previous series.  They even had the production office (a cabin) spruced up.  As we’ve seen, there’s now a dirt track to liven up the segment formally called Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.

Try trawling Twitter, and you’ll come across all manner of opinions – all the way from knuckle dragging idiots that are calling the new presenters all names under the sun, through to “boring”, through to thinking the BBC could simply produce animatronic puppets of the original presenters and keep exactly the same show as before.

One thing that irritated me was Carole “Countdown” Vorderman’s comment:

which is silly.

Carol Vorderman has worked extensively on many TV series, including revamps, she should know better that you’re not going to get things completely right in the first episode of a new series – and a new series that has been given a bit of a revamp and was extremely popular beforehand. It took Clarkson and chums 10 years to get the format to what is was.  The camaraderie between the presenters took a while to build as well.  The point is, the expectation that the team were either going to be clones of the original team, or that there would be super witty un-PC “banter” right off the bat was presumptuous and wrong.

So I tweeted her to say as such (I was not rude or disrespectful – I like the lady). I was immediately blocked, and Twitter informed that my account was suspended temporarily as they suspected something bad had happened. So I reset my password and got back in.

Miss Vorderman is completely entitled to her opinion, and she’s entitled to block or report whomever she pleases. But it suggests to me that she’s not receptive to anybody thinking that maybe – just maybe – one should give your fellow industry colleagues a bit more of chance and not write the whole thing off instantly.  She didn’t like it – fine.  We get that.  But to be so dismissive.. sigh.

Also, unless she’s been privileged to watch unfinished episodes of Amazon’s The Grand Tour, she can’t make assumptions about that until it airs. Just because it features Clarkson, Hammond and May doesn’t mean it’ll immediately be brilliant.

In any event, I don’t think we can expect Carol Vorderman to turn up on the new Top Gear show attempting the improved test track…

In the mean time, let’s give peace a chance. Let’s wait and see what the new Top Gear team has up their sleeves in future episodes. I’m sure they’re monitoring social media, the newspapers, and so on, and maybe (because the show is recorded two weeks before it airs – obviously except for the big VT pieces), adjustments can be made. But don’t write the show off completely yet, please. It’d be an insult to the very hard work that’s gone into this thing.