Friday, August 31, 2012

Seth Macfarlane - I Love You!

Come on, people - lighten up! That Boobs song at the Oscars was hilarious because, let's be honest, bare boobs get ratings. It was a funny joke about the industry. Anyway, As a tribute to my hero, I am re-printing the adulatory piece I wrote a few months back. And if you don't like it . . . Tough titty (as we say in the UK).

 Seth Macfarlane, I love you.

No, honestly. I really, really love you. 

I love your work, your principles, your voice and, last night, I heard you sing live, met you and had my photo taken with you. 

And now, I love you more.
My friends on Twitter have been despairing of my obsessive attempts to get close to the brilliant creator of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. On Monday night, having failed to obtain a ticket for Seth’s appearance at the Proms, I stayed in London, hoping to get a ticket for his show at Ronnie Scott’s.
Seth was in town promoting his album Music is Better Than Words – a fantastic collection that displays not only his extraordinary voice, but his love of Swing music.
When I was living in LA, I tried for two years to get an interview with him. If someone had told me to rescue a trapped mongoose from a Siberian salt mine using only a needle and thread, it could not have been more difficult.
His people did not contact my people, but that is maybe because I had no people, and a single small woman – even one as feisty as myself – doesn’t cut the mustard in the City of Angels.
His people in the UK were no better. They offered to deliver a letter, a gesture that both pissed me off (with them already having failed to grant me an interview in the US) and made me even more determined to get a missive to him through my investigative skills in trying to pinpoint where he might be.
Would he be staying at the Savoy? Too formal for him, I reckoned. Family Guy’s Brian might like it there, especially the American Bar, and I could picture him on a stool, holding court, but I couldn’t imagine Stewie roaming the hallways.
A Marriott? Seth doesn’t need the points; in fact, he could probably buy the Marriott chain and still have enough loose change left over to buy the Royal Albert Hall.
The stress of trying to pinpoint Seth’s accommodation was taking its toll. I fell out of the cheap single bed I was in at London’s Groucho Club, tossing and turning, trying to think my way into the great man’s thoughts about his hotel preferences.
So where might he eat? Would it be the grossly over-rated Ivy? Or Soho House, the sister club of the fabulous rooftop venue in LA? Was he more of a Joe Allen person, scoffing potato skins and burgers?
I did enough research to patent a Where is Seth? boardgame.
How hard could it be? I took to Google, which I have come to regard as a legal, efficient means of feeding my obsessions. It took under a minute to find that Seth would also be singing at Ronnie Scott’s on 30th August, so I extended my London stay and contacted the famous jazz club.
Sold out. Not only was the event sold out, it had been sold out since something like 1763.
I cried. I sulked. I took to Twitter and Facebook, begging somebody to take pity on me. I texted my friend Stephen Fry, who informed me that he had two tickets, but that they had been very hard to come by. I Tweeted Seth, told him I was on my knees, begging. I took to phoning Ronnie Scott’s on an hourly basis, just in case they had any returns. They told me it was “extremely unlikely”. Then I took to visiting the Box Office, where the negative response was the same. I went to see Ted, Seth’s first film, just because it made me feel closer to him.
On Thursday, I rang Ronnie Scott’s and was told that, occasionally, tickets are available on the door, and that I should return when they opened at 6pm. I did. Then at 6.30. And at 7. And at 7.30. And at 8. 

I felt like Little Orphan Annie, albeit Little Orphan Annie who had optimistically donned her party dress, feeling, in her gut, that everything would come all right in the end.  
I returned to the Groucho Club, sobbing into my glass of wine. The only thing that could possibly work now would be if Stephen’s partner were to be stuck down by a mystery virus at the last minute and Stephen would remember my pleas.
The text came at 8.08pm. Stephen Fry. Good news. His partner had come home, collapsed on the sofa, and was too exhausted to go to the event. He was happy for me to have his ticket. 

Be glad of what you wish for!  (But get well soon, Stevie).

Now, not only did I have a ticket for Seth, I was a guest of the most brilliant mind and wit I have ever encountered. OMG! I cried. I sobbed. With joy. With relief. I felt as if I had reached the top of Everest in a pair of skating boots.
My tears did not stop. The band took my breath away with a range of talent I have never heard gathered in one room. I am sitting opposite Stephen Fry. STEPHEN BLOODY FRY, whose knowledge about music is already astounding me. 

And then there’s Seth, who walks on and moves me to rare emotions that soar through every vein.

Awe. Admiration. Love. 

Love of his enormous talent in so many areas; love of his creativity; love of his achievements at such a young age; love of the familiar - the animated characters of his shows, coming to life when the voice of Stewie squeezes out of this fresh-faced, exquisitely dressed man, who is a mere 38. And, when he smiles and opens his mouth to sing, love of a personality that exudes warmth, brilliance and a justified confidence that makes you in no doubt that you are in the presence of greatness. 

His voice is pure, beautiful, soulful. He handles hecklers with a cutting, yet professional charm that leaves no one in any doubt who is in charge. And then there’s STEPHEN BLOODY FRY, too. Sorry, I already said that.
This was, without doubt, one of the best nights of my life. Two weeks ago, I was crying with loneliness in a Spanish bar, contemplating two small slices of sweating cheese and wondering whether life was worth living.
Yes, it is. 

As Stephen, who has battled depression, said: there is always something to live for.
Family, friends, and nights like Seth Macfarlane at Ronnie Scott’s. 

And sometimes, yes: music is better than words.    

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Everyone I Know is Dead

There is no one in the George Bar when I rush there shortly after my plane lands. 

Twenty-five years ago, when the Evening Standard paid my expenses, it was the hotel I was in for the duration of the annual Edinburgh Television Festival, which took place over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
This year, there is no one paying me a cent, and I am in student lodgings with no hairdryer, no fan to cool the blisteringly hot room, no WiFi and . . . oh, so many other complaints too numerous to mention. 

And, more to the point, there is no one in the George Hotel bar, because the bar is no more. It is a panel of wood along the wall. 

Locked. Sealed. Gone. A Silver Jubilee’s worth of history lies behind it, and I can only cry as I make my way to the soulless replacement that has taken its place a corridor away.
Everyone I know is dead. Or so it seems. David Fraser, my good friend from the miserable year I spent at Lancaster University, studying for an MA in Creative Writing; Andy Allan: adorable, gorgeous Andy, who died of cancer just a short time ago; the brilliant and unassuming Geoffrey Perkins . . . So many people gone. 

So many memories.
I  was 28 when I attended my first festival in 1987. I had landed the job of TV critic on the London Evening Standard and was delirious with excitement at arriving in a world that seemed to offer me everything I had hoped for when I had moved to London three years previous, stars in my eyes but on the dole.
 I wrote five columns a week: watching the box for 12 hours a day (there were no DVDs), writing my copy longhand (I couldn’t afford a typewriter), and filing my copy, verbally, to a copy-taker at 7am. Looking back, it was gruelling; but at the time, I thought I was the luckiest person in the world.
 Channel 4 made a programme about my life as a TV critic; I was in demand from broadcasters who offered me free wine; I interviewed Sooty - on set, no less. And I got paid to go to the Edinburgh TV Festival.
 In those days, sessions took place in different venues around the George Hotel. En route, you would make new contacts, forge friendships, and meet for lunches that would invariably mean that you missed all the afternoon sessions. The Saturday afternoon Chinese was a big one for journalists, but when I go there this year, it is another Italian: one of a chain, and I recall the long afternoons of fellow journalists Charlie Catchpole, John Millar and Sue Carroll, who sadly lost her battle to cancer earlier this year.
The new generation now is a coffee-drinking bunch who won’t be seen dead with a glass of wine in their hands before 6pm. They are too nervous to ask questions at the end of sessions – I could not believe the number of sessions I attended that finished before time, owing to the lack of audience participation. These people are different. We were then. This is now.
But although I feel sad, I rejoice in their enthusiasm and the passion they are bringing to this truly great medium. They ask for my advice; they speak about their ideas with conviction; they want to learn, grow and deliver a message to a whole new audience.
At the end of the festival, my tears at my own loss have turned to joy in the knowledge that the future of this great industry is assured. I, and we, the class of 1987, have a new role to play, and it is no less valuable than the one we fulfilled over two decades ago. 

The same. 

Only different.   

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Matt Bomer a Christian Shock!

Is Matt Bomer too openly a Federal Agent and professional conman to play Christian Grey in the movie version of the book Fifty Shades of Grey?
Of course he is. Anyone who watches White Collar knows the reality, and the idea that he could put his day job on hold to pretend to be someone he is clearly not is, of course, ludicrous.
I have to be honest, upon hearing that he was being considered for Christian, I was shocked. How can you have a man wearing an ankle tag, stripping off and slapping a woman around? Anastasia would be bound to notice and comment upon it – “Hey, I can’t wait to get those handcuffs on and have you beat me black and blue, but what’s with the leg jewellery?” Talk about putting a dampener on the proceedings.
Heck, it’s like a man who can’t walk on water being asked to play Jesus. 

If I were writing a film about the Son of God, I would insist that the casting director check out the individual’s credentials for the role. After the walking on water bit was established, I would insist that he fulfil other criteria essential to convince us that he is Jesus. 

Was he born in a stable? Was his mother a virgin? Can he turn water into wine and wine into blood? Can he transform a couple of sardines and a baguette into a feast for 5000? Can he persuade a dozen fishermen to leave their families and go on a road trip? Most important of all, can he rise from the dead? 

Unless the actor’s life completely resonated with the character I had written, he would not get the part.
Robert Powell would never have landed the part of Jesus had he not displayed all these qualities at the audition, and the fact that he is still with us is evidence that he really did rise from the dead. Rumours of a Second Coming have, however, been greatly exaggerated.
Similarly, Daniel Radcliffe had obviously served a long apprenticeship as a wizard before he landed the role of Harry Potter. How else could he have mastered all those tricks? And if bicycles were not really able to fly, what would be the point of watching ET?
The importance of art mimicking life to the letter provides a particularly pertinent point when it comes to casting gay men as straight and vice versa. Could David Hyde Pierce have delivered so convincing and hilarious a performance, lusting after Daphne in Frasier, if he were gay? Of course not. It was clearly something that only a full-blooded heterosexual hunk could have mustered.
Would How I Met Your Mother be remotely funny if it contained gay people purporting to be straight, all in the name of entertainment? How ridiculous would that be?  
If people start pretending to be people they are not, where does that leave us as a society? It’s like telling someone they have licence to be a chameleon, casting a spell over the lives of others to help them suspend their disbelief. What sort of a world would it be, if everyone went around kicking reality in the teeth?
Before long, you would have special schools set up to teach people the art of this deception. People might start paying to go and see it, even. They might start giving out awards for some people doing it better than others.
So, Mr Bomer, I find it inconceivable that, having returned to New York to continue your work with the Feds, you could convince me that you spend your days in a basement, constructing wooden crucifixes on which to fix women with ropes and chains.
That is a job for a man with psycho tendencies. Someone who might conjure up the image of a hungry rodent in a woman’s vagina, feasting on her sexual organs to induce a slow death, for example. But you would have to ask Bret Easton Ellis about that.
If this deception thing ever takes off – stranger things have happened - I have no doubt you could pull off the part of Christian Grey brilliantly, and I would pay good money to see it. 

In the meantime, back in the real world, look after Peter. He’s a good friend.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Who Moved My Cheese? I Did!

The kindness in a plate of cheese moves me to tears. 

Well, not to tears exactly, but more tears than I have already been crying. 

Tears that began several weeks ago and, like a punctured well, burst forth accompanied by feelings of desperation, fear and what I can only describe as lost-ness.
And here I am, sitting in a little Spanish bar, tears pouring again, and the waiter who has been encouraging me to eat, has placed three pale, slightly sweating triangles of cheese in front of me. 

He has failed to entice me with the peanuts and the olives and I have politely rejected his encouragement to have something to accompany my wine; but these three perfect slices, accompanied by ten tiny finger biscuits, produces another geyser. 

I speak no Spanish; he speaks no English; but the language of tears is universal. He gets it. And I know that he gets it. Sympatico. I say Grazias for his sympatico. It is a word I think may be just about right. He puts his hand to his chest, smiles, and knows that he has done something good.
There are many things that are behind my tears, which some people simply put down to being menopausal. But to be honest, I’ve pretty much sailed through the M stigma, physically, and am resisting taking any sort of hormonal treatment when I still have more energy than anyone I know in their twenties.
But there are other big things going on. Last week, my brother got married for the first time at the age of 50. I am very happy for him and I love my new sister-in-law, but I would be a liar if I did not confess to a slight feeling of loss. My baby brother, to whom I have always been close, has moved on to a new role as a husband. He is also starting a new teaching job in September: one that he richly deserves and which I know will bring him more happiness than he has recently experienced. 

All change.
Then there is my dire financial situation. And I am not even going to begin boring everyone about that.
Suffice it to say, that suddenly, I feel on the scrapheap. Having no partner, never having been married and with no children, I feel very alone. The papers and magazines I write for now turn to younger, cheaper people to fill their pages; the cult of celebrity has ensured that anyone who can comment upon spotting Cameron Diaz eating a sandwich makes headline news. People’s painful relationship and marital break-ups are paraded as sport, in which readers are encouraged to respond as a lynch mob, chomping at the bit to burn whom they have been led to believe is the “guilty” party, at the stake. It’s not just that I am no longer asked to write anything; I really don’t want to write about this stuff.
I don’t want to be part of a culture that sits in judgment of people who, heaven forbid, deign to fall out of love; one that castigates people for being too fat, too thin, too beautiful, too ugly; I don’t want to subscribe to a world in which people are routinely slaughtered for the crime of simply being human.
I have a heavy heart. I am healthy, I have the best family and friends, without whose support I would not be here today; but when I set out in my twenties, I wanted to take the road less travelled by – and, the truth is, I didn’t. Or, at least, I did for a while.
 I left teaching to pursue a career as a writer and, subsequently, I published poetry, short stories and, in 1990, my first novel, Definitions of a Horse. Then I became side-tracked. I became a journalist because, quite simply, it paid better. But it came at a cost. I remain immensely proud of my work as a TV critic, writing about a medium for which I continue to have immense passion; but criticising the work of others, when all you really want to do is create, must inevitably, little by little, destroy your soul.
I wanted to be an actor. I was a member of the first National Youth Theatre of Wales in 1976. I am a trained singer and dancer. There is nothing I love more than standing up in front of a crowd with a microphone in my hand. So why did I choose to stand in the wings, passing judgment on the efforts of others?
For a start, I was told I was too short to be an actor. In Wales, during the Sixties and early Seventies, there was only one path that girls in the small part of South Wales where I grew up were encouraged to take: teaching. No matter how much I tried to pursue my true love, I was always dissuaded and, finally, went into teaching. I left after two years and moved to London to become a full time writer. My first job was TV Critic on the London Evening Standard, and I will always be grateful to the late John Leese who gave me an opportunity and took a risk when no one else would.
I have no doubt that there is absolutely a place for critics – if I did not value it, I would not have done it for so long. But it eats away at you: the knowledge that you are on the attack; that nobody you criticise sets out to do a bad job; that all any actor, writer or performer wants to do is make a difference. When you believe they get it wrong, as a critic you have to say so and, when people take note and respect your opinion, it’s a feeling that sugars the bitter pill of your job.
But then there comes a point when you realise that every moment looking for holes in the work of others is another moment lost to the work you really want to do. You’re past 50. There’s a new generation your employers want and, no matter how good you are, they want new names, new faces. Unlike America, where experience and knowledge are valued and respected, in the world of the UK media, our culture is one of out with the old, in with the new – and certainly as far as women are concerned.
Change is good. It’s life. The secret is probably looking at what you have on your side and adapting it to each new set of circumstances you face. 

As I sit looking at my three rather helpless triangles in the Spanish bar, I decide to eat. 

I moved my cheese. 

As only I can.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Remembering Blake Snyder

It is three years today since my friend Blake Snyder died. I still think about him every day and especially about the encouragement he would undoubtedly give me during what have become very dark times. That part of my life, when I first arrived in LA, bursting with optimism and a sense of new adventure, now seems an age away; but today, at this moment, it feels real again. I'm reprinting what I wrote at the time, not least to remind myself that life is capable of throwing up special moments, special people, who can change the course of everything. 


Readers of this blog will be familiar with the name of the screenwriter Blake Snyder.

It was through his encouragement that I first came to LA, having sent him the title and logline for my budding screenplay, Celebrity Stalker, in response to which I received the most incredible, encouraging e-mail.

I subsequently travelled to the city to do Blake’s Beats course, and it was the start of a friendship that would see me end up living 6000 miles across the Atlantic and pursuing my dream of being what I called a “real writer”.

Blake died suddenly this morning. I found out on Facebook, where I daily looked at his profile to see how many more inspiring stories there were from the people across the world whom he had helped in their screenwriting struggles.

His passion and enthusiasm for what he did never faltered, and everyone who came into contact with him became the beneficiary of that.

From my first contact with Blake in May 2008, he taught me many things, not only in relation to screenwriting. He was also a wonderful human being: full of compassion and love for his fellow men. The person I refer to in the blog Shopping For Niceness was him: a man who did not think that we were the best judges of other people’s foibles, and who saw the good in everyone he met.

When we had lunch two weeks ago, I remarked that although we had known each other face to face for just five months, it seemed that a lot had happened: I was living in LA, for starters. It was a move that he had positively encouraged, and he listened and supported me through what have been some very bleak moments.

I just cannot believe that he is gone, and my sympathies go out to his family, colleagues, and everyone whose lives were blessed to have been touched by this giving, wonderful man.

Facebook and his website are already full of entries expressing shock and disbelief at his sudden parting. But what comes through in all of them is his goodness, kindness, and ability to embrace people who reached out, both professionally and personally. He had that rarest of things: the gift of spirit.

My dearest Blake: my heart is breaking. In a screenplay, you would call it the All Is Lost moment that precedes Dark Night of the Soul. But as I sit here with your book before me – as you know, it never leaves my side – I look to the finale and the final image that follows. The final image, you say, is “the opposite of the opening image. It is proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”

The image of my life now, compared to before you came into it, is very much the opposite of what it was, and I have you to thank for that.

I will celebrate your life by doing the work of which you constantly told me I was capable, and it will always be with immense gratitude and love that I remember you.

God bless, and, as you say in Save the Cat, when you describe dropping that script in the mail: “It is what it is.”

Your death is what it is.

Quite how we will all move on without you being among us is too early to say; but we will – and you will be with us in so many ways.

I told you over our last lunch that for me, everlasting life was about the things we left behind – the laughter, the ideas, the wisdom, the insight, the love – and that it was this, rather than any notion of God, that gave me great joy.

There's no joy today, and the Dark Night of the Soul looks never-ending.

But you will live on, my sweet, darling friend. Eternally.