Finished the first draft, now what?

I’ve done it. I’ve finished writing a first draft. But now I’m supposed to put it away for weeks and I just don’t want to, despite this advice:

…[W]rite the first draft as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about quality. Just get to ‘The End’.

Put the script in a drawer and forget about it for a few weeks. Work on something else in the meantime.

Once you return to the script, you’ll be reading it fresh. Like a stranger. You’ll immediately know what works and what doesn’t.

Writing a proud achievement

If forced to think of one at gunpoint, I’d tell you that my life’s ambition is to write for a TV programme or film.

Given that I’ve spent my entire life watching sitcoms – some of my earliest childhood memories are of watching The Simpsons and Red Dwarf with my dad – I like to think I’ve spent my entire life building up the courage and analytical eye I need to write one myself.

Along with that, the internet is an absolutely amazing tool to have at your disposal, for finding advice and guidance from the masters of the craft.

I’d definitely count Graham Linehan among these sage men and women – he’s contributed to some of the funniest things I’ve ever watched.

But there are parts of the advice he’s seen fit to dispense (above) which I myself have found impossible to follow. Partly through my own sense of OCD but also through my struggle to get something down on the page, it’s been a long path towards my very own finished first draft.

The Waiting Game

We’ll skip over the fact that it’s taken me nigh-on a year of false starts, false finishes and fevered re-imaginings of the basic setups, world-building and character counts to arrive at something approaching a first draft of this particular story.

But every time I’ve ever finished something else that I can call a first draft, I find it extremely difficult to put it away and forget about it.

Even without reading the script right now, I know there’s a line that needs fixing, or a joke that needs to land a bit cleaner. It’s annoying because I’ve been building these scenes in my head. I don’t know them off by heart but I do know the gist. What if I come back to the script, and it’s been built so differently in my head during the time away from it? What if it’s already different on paper after just one nail-biting night away? Maybe I should go take a look, just to make sure.

That’s the whole point, though – I need to wait; to try and forget what I wrote, so that in two weeks or so I can give it a thorough read through and immediately set about fixing it up.

waiting game

But…I just can’t do it. I can’t let go. I’m still just getting to know these people. I feel like they still have the ability to surprise me. I’ll think about my favourite scene and immediately try to imagine if it should be longer, or shorter, or have more or less people in it, or work out if I need another joke or two.

Not reading the script isn’t going to be enough, because I still have it in my head.

So…how to get it out?

Distraction pieces

Well, there’s the two games I bought on Steam today, for a start. And there’s the Mario speedruns on Twitch which me and the wife have recently got into watching. I would watch more CS:GO tournaments just for fun – but that’s another danger because I’ve been watching them for research. I might suddenly get an idea and need to go running back to my draft.

I appreciate Linehan’s advice for what it is – but in this relatively early stage of my mission I can’t help but wonder if there’s some quick fix I can apply to my script that would make me feel much better about leaving my characters and plots to their own devices for a couple of weeks. I’ll still be sure to write down any brand new ideas for later development, but I’m getting itchy just sitting here writing this. I’ve done it in the vain hope of diversion, but writing about how desperate I am to revisit a script barely a day after writing it, is just making me want to read it more.

If I still smoked proper cigarettes, I would’ve definitely been out on my stoop at 1.30am last night, celebrating the completion of my first story. But less than a day later and I’m already itching to get back in there.

Maybe I will just take a peek. A quick one. And then I’ll mark the day on my calendar.

Disgusting Bliss: The Brass Eye of Chris Morris

The semi-official biography of Chris Morris is well worth a read.

Aside from my pinko, liberal, lefty parents, it was probably Chris Morris who first taught me not to take everything I saw and heard at face value – to poke and prod and, when watching the news, think to myself “just because he’s wearing a suit and has nice hair doesn’t mean everything he says is the truth”.

Disgusting Bliss

Which is exactly why watching The Day Today for the first time was such a huge revelation for me. Morris has the sharp suit, the stern expression and, above all, the Paxmanesque voice, but the humour comes from the fact that Morris and his no-nonsense team just happen to be talking complete bollocks; sending up the fact that these sharply-dressed newsreaders could be saying anything and we’d likely believe it.

 

During his decade-long career in local radio Christopher Morris had learned the language of radio, its tone and mode of address, and used his keen mind to manipulate the message without changing the way it was delivered; fooling anyone who didn’t care to stick their head up and listen closer. He moved onto BBC Radio 4 for On The Hour as part of a team which included The Thick of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci; playwright Patrick Marber and Steve Coogan – an award-winning writer, actor and comedian still best known for his Alan Partridge character created for these programmes. On The Hour became The Day Today for its TV run in 1994; three years later Morris began on what would be his masterpiece: Brass Eye.

Taking its cue from the over-the-top docu-news series which plagued British screens in the 1990s, Morris joined up with new writers to produce six programmes which debated the issues of modern Britain – and shockingly, Morris found that a slew of fame-hungry celebrities were only too happy to promote the fictional causes he purported to represent.

 

(This is real. Dr Fox thinks he’s really standing up for something here; as did the comedian Bernard Manning who actually said the words “Cake is a made-up drug” without realising.)

The Paedophile special broadcast in 2001 (and featuring an uncredited cameo from Simon Pegg, who humbly explains that he wouldn’t try to sleep with Morris’ son simply because he doesn’t fancy him) brought Morris to the attention of the national press; one paper declaring him the “sickest man in Britain” on one page while eagerly awaiting a teen pop star’s coming of age on the next. It’s that very same hypocrisy which Morris cuts swathes through in his most subversive work – and the very thing which makes me admire him.

In order to have the anonymity he needs to work under the radar like this, Morris has maintained a low public profile; he very, very rarely gives interviews and shuns any participation in publicising his projects. As such, this book by Lucian Randall doesn’t contain any official word from Chris Morris, though he did give permission for the writer to speak with his closest colleagues from the past twenty-five years including Iannucci, Marber and Charlie Brooker, with whom Morris co-created Nathan Barley – a sitcom spin on the turn-of-the-millennium media hipsters and youth culture. Fortunately the pieces of the puzzle fit neatly enough around the Morris-shaped hole to tell the story of an amazing career built simply on the foundations of being smart and asking the right questions of all the wrong people.

I enjoyed reading this account of Morris’ career simply because so few of them exist in entirety – it neatly fits together his works on both TV and radio, as well as providing good insight into the unique brand of humour which his work has brought. Definitely worth a read – though I’d start by getting up to speed on Morris’ work if you aren’t already.

The IT Crowd final episode

In my experience there are two kinds of fan of the sitcom The IT Crowd: the ones who have come late to the party that is…erm, writer and director Graham Linehan, drawn in through the huge mainstream success it’s had, and those who have previously seen his less geek-friendly works like Father Ted and Big Train. Being in the latter camp I have always thoroughly enjoyed Linehan’s programmes (me and my girlfriend first got to talking over our shared love of Black Books, so there is that I suppose) but The IT Crowd is definitely my favourite of Linehan’s programmes.

The IT Crowd

But it isn’t just the world he’s created here; it’s not just the comedic performance he gets out of three very talented actors (plus Matt Berry), and it certainly isn’t just that he’s helped Geeks to be cool – or at the very least, vaguely recognisable as human – it’s that there are so many little touches within the four-series-and-a-special that make you realise how much he gave of himself to make it all happen.

Let’s start with the set: painstakingly constructed from the nerdiest of nerd artefacts which the crew could get their hands on, and with so many little easter eggs for the repeat viewer to see, and be amused, and look up online if they want to know more about – the ancient but powerful computers littering the shelves, the many posters depicting bands and memes, even the t-shirts Roy wears; I can’t have been the only one demanding to know who supplied Roy’s “Music I like/Music I used to like/Music you like” Venn diagram t-shirt.

Then there’s the way in which the programme references all kinds of other stuff to further plots, jokes and character development. Our heroes have all been seen (or heard) on Dragon’s Den, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and, my personal favourite, Countdown! The picture which hangs on the wall of the 8+ Club depicting the late Richard Whiteley was as amusing as it was deeply respectful; wearing one’s influences on their sleeve in such a way as to acknowledge what got them to that point is a huge thing for me.

And it’s not just the stuff the characters are seeing and doing which shows off the influences; Graham Linehan has spoken often of his love for Seinfeld, which I definitely saw a tip of the hat to during Roy’s speech about how…some of the things they’re done before…are a bit weird aren’t they? Like that time he pretended to be in a wheelchair…and went to Manchester on a bus. This self-referential tone to previous episodes definitely had a touch of that final episode about it. Except I thought this one was funnier.

So, the main reasons I loved The IT Crowd, aside from being some of the funniest comedy I’ve ever seen? The easter eggs, the inward and outward references, and the general sense of self-reflexivity? That’s one geeky sitcom! It will be missed.

The IT Crowd to return for one-off finale

They’ve been away considerably longer than it takes to repeat the new number for the emergency services, but Graham Linehan has confirmed this week that there will be another chapter in the tale of The IT Crowd.

The_IT_Crowd_title_card

After four series on Channel 4 between 2006 and 2010, its creator, writer and director Graham Linehan admitted that a fifth would have been “running on the spot” despite his initial plans to have other writers contribute to the programme including Burnistoun creators Iain Connell and Robert Florence.

The cast of the ‘Crowd have done more than simply take it on the chin, with Chris O’Dowd in particular going on to bigger things; alongside his recurring stint on HBO’s Girls, he’s also appeared in several major Hollywood films – including their annual experiment in product placement that was Gulliver’s Travels – but has caught on with Judd Apatow’s crew to the surprise of many British fans.

With the schedules of the three actors becoming ever more diverse and sparse, fans began to lose hope over Linehan’s pledge to conclude the story of the employees at Reynholm Industries by making a special one-off finale episode.

But as Linehan confirmed in a tweet over reports he’d made the big announcement at a TV festival in Germany, the scheduling clouds have cleared and filming on that one final episode will be underway in a matter of weeks; his having written the script last year but with a need to wait for “Parky’s baby” – Katharine Parkinson who plays Jen – and for him to finish a new sitcom based on radio comedy favourite Count Arthur Strong.

So, with one final 40-minute special on the way, what would you like to see resolved? What kind of send-off will our bumbling IT geeks get? Will Roy find love? Will Jen find career satisfaction? Will Moss find his…marbles?

Only one thing remains to be said. When it’s released on DVD, do us all a favour: don’t download it illegally. You wouldn’t do that, would you?