On being a hot storyteller by Hamish Nichols

Phoebe Waller-Bridge seems to be the writer/actress of the moment: three TV series made, a role in Star Wars and now contracted to write for James Bond. She has also “broken America” where “Fleabag” has apparently been a big success (it’s also 5/5 and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes). While it’s great to have a new and fresh voice on our screens and while I enjoy her daring with subject matter, some great characters and lively humour, I do see a major flaw in her writing: her handling of story. (Spoiler alerts) Fleabag suffers from too many contrived “situations” - they go to a silent retreat (for no reason I can discern apart from trying to extract comedy from it) where coincidentally another character is at the same time. This then leads to a toe-curlingly unconvincing outbreak of sincerity from the other character as well as the protagonist herself. Up until that moment (Episode 4 of series 1) I had been swept along the pace of the show and its brazen unwillingness to be “sincere”. It’s at these points where the story stops and characters explain themselves and their life philosophy, that all the energy of the show drained away for me. Unfortunately this tendency increased in series two: Fleabag’s sister, who was estranged from her at the end of series one gives an unconvincing volte-face (she was jealous, apparently - whatever - the sister stuff is great and we need to get them together somehow) and now IS talking to her sister and wants her to serve canapés at a work do - cue more set piece hilarity. We are also in Series 2 rapidly introduced to a woman in her late fifties (played Kristin Scott Thomas) whose character also indulged this writerly tendency to explain themselves in a long monologue, even though we had barely got to know her. Worst of all was the sexy priest character (I admit to not being able to see the appeal at all) who served for embarrassing and static philosophical musings between him and Fleabag, which I ended up scrolling past as fast as I could.

I actually struggled to get through the whole of series 2 of Fleabag, and (still impressed by aspects of the writing) decided to give Killing Eve a go. Unfortunately the same tendency to contrive situations despite any character or real-life feasibility was even more in evidence. Our main character, Eve Polastri, was initially presented as super-bright, undervalued and seeing conspiracy theories everywhere, yet she inexplicably decides to go to where the serial killer made her last kill (Berlin) despite the killer having discovered her identity and communicated this to the world. She has no protection (even though the killer has left bodies everywhere - why isn’t the whole world after this maniac??) and when her suitcase is stolen in Berlin (sooo contrived) is not the least suspicious or worried. Her assistant, who is later killed, only realises the killer’s identity too late, despite it being obvious it could be her. In fact the whole series, while fun, is riddled with character inconsistency (why is Eve suddenly so stupid??) and unbelievable turns of events. So far there haven’t been too many moments as in Fleabag when the action stops and characters have contrived scenes where they philosophise and “connect”, but I fear they will come….

"FREEDOM PASS" screenplay wins award and up for another by Hamish Nichols

My high-concept dystopian black comedy short film “Freedom Pass” has won an award at the London Film Awards and has been selected and is in competition at the London International Cinema Festival, which will be decided upon ion the 16th of this month, I understand. I still don’t know what I won for the London Film Award, as they don’t notify you and I only saw about it when I checked my submissions on Film Freeway. Sent them an email and waiting to hear.

“Freedom Pass” was workshopped with professional actors and a director at DYSPLA in September last year and went down really well with all and sundry. The story is based on a short story by Juan Negreiro and is about a 65-year-old man, Norman, who lives in a dystopian world where all relationships and lives are “scripted” - everyone lives in a kind of metal box by night, receives a letter every morning under the door which tells them which “role” in society they will play that day and then they have to act it out. Any semblance of real life has been erradicated, however upon retirement our protagonist undergoes a rude awakening and attempts to rediscover a part of his lost life - with surprising consequences…

Go weird and get a hit - Lanthimos' "The Favourite" by Hamish Nichols

Amazing how such a weird, eccentric little film like “The Favourite” can get knocked up for a whole load of Oscar nominations. It seems as if Yorgos Lanthimos has been picked by the Academy to go mainstream. Here’s hoping he continues to make his claustrophic, low-budget, freaky movies. By the way, he is often given all the credit for his films, but while this one was written by other people originally, his breakthrough films, Dogtooth and The Lobster, were writing collaborations with Efthymis Filippou, who I have heard had the dominant artistic input into the scripts, at least. Interesting how the director seems to come out with all the glory in the film world….

Nicely done corporate ad by Hamish Nichols

The feel of ease and simplicity in the way this is filmed (the colours, swish pans, the simple graphics and the pacing) makes this attractive, in my view. No need always to be "inspirational" (it gets tiring) - most people want easier lives - this is what the look and feel of this gives.

The art of storytelling - where's the magic? by Hamish Nichols

Think of two of the biggest film and TV (or any medium, come to think of it) successes of the last decade or so: Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. Think also of the most highly-regarded and popular TV series of recent years, Breaking Bad. What do they have in common? Magic. Harry Potter, evidently, is a story about a school for magicians and in the Game of Thrones, magic is a thing that people initially do not believe in anymore, but is shown to really exist and gain in importance as the series progresses. As forBreaking Bad, surely it cannot be argued that it isabout magic? Well, yes, if one sees that the main character is a figure possessing special powers that enable him to concoct a magic potion (a drug)  that nobody else can make in such a pure form and that everyone wants and is prepared to kill for. There is also a running Sorcerer's Apprentice relationship between Walter White and Jesse that drives the plot line of many of the episodes. 

 

Magic has played a huge part in literature over centuries and continues to do so today, even in a disguised form. Think how often tales are concerned with magic powers that people can gain (Star Wars), magic animals (often talking), magic and desirable objects or weapons (rings, light sabres)  and magical transformations into other people or animals or even objects. Think of Walter White in Breaking Bad, who regularly transforms into his drug-making gangster figure,  "Heisenberg". Of course, the Superhero genre is based on people who have special "magical" powers. Even comedies, which apparently have nothing to do with "magical" narrative forms are often spoofs of those very forms or use the same magical tropes, sometimes inverting them. Heroes are cowards, do not possess special powers, are inept (Inspecteur Clouseau, etc) but can still exist in magical worlds, for example in Groundhog Day, where a marmot magically makes time repeat itself until the hapless protagonist finally gets his act together and achieves his goal.

 

So why do we love magical tales so much? One answer must come from our childhood love of magical stories, our belief in the magical properties of certain objects and even in the magical power of our parents to create a safe, warm, sometimes scary and sometimes exciting world for us. Another factor, in my view, is that as we now live in a secular society (I'm talking Western society here) all the considerable energy we used to invest in believing in the Bible (another magical tale if ever there was one) has now to be directed elsewhere. 

 

So my main point is, if we are wondering why our advert, short film, corporate video or documentary lacks that certain something, maybe we should consider this: where's the magic? -  Literally. Does your protagonist (or antagonist) have special powers, or at least be trying to attain them? Does the object you are trying to sell/promote seem to have magical and desirable properties that will make people fight (to the death) over it? Do you have mentors, spirits, goblins and spells, however well they are disguised in a modern, down-to-earth form? Are there magical transformations of people, animals or places in your story, however metaphorical? If not, maybe this is the magic you need to put in to be able to captivate that awe-struck and child-like lover of magical stories that we all still carry within. May the magic be with your stories. 

 

Vanessa by Hamish Nichols

The title of my latest short film script, about a special way a woman who has a successful career copes emotionally with looking after her mother, who has a rapidly advancing Alzheimer's disease..

Not as harrowing as it sounds, though it doesn't pull its punches, literally! The challenge in getting this script right is in not making it overwhelming for the spectator in the ten minutes it will take to tell the tale. One of the things I like about this is that all three main roles (Vanessa, her mother and her mother's nurse) are woman over 25.... not always the case! (Yeah, I know, it's never gonna make money)