December 13, 2012 by Sandy Nicholson
On the 29th November 2012, Kites and Violence had its first session. Our script was Insiders, a fly on the wall comedy about a trading floor, written by Tom Kerevan and Alex Lawrence. They have been kind enough to allow me to put their report online publically so as to demonstrate the kind of feedback we were giving, and give you an idea of how the session went.
If you’re thinking of submitting don’t worry, feedback will only be made public if you give express permission, but it will hopefully be a good way to get additional feedback from people who were there. If you were at the session and have anything else to say on the script I’d love it if you’d do so in a comment down below and get some discussion going.
Thanks again to Tom and Alex for letting us put this up.
For my mind, the biggest problem a script set on a trading floor was always going to be fighting against that very premise. A behind the scenes look at a trading floor is an interesting idea, there’s certainly a level of intrigue attached to this little seen and less understood world, but at the same time it’s one which could easily run out of reasons to stay around once that initial bite has run off. Once we’ve confirmed our suspicions that these are all horrible people, why should we stay around for the next episode? Luckily while this has in no way been given a priority in the script as it is right now, there’s a lot of intriguing character work seeded in the pilot which should sprout and turn this into a successful script once some of the things weighing it down have been removed.
The characters are mostly drawn very well, and we almost immediately know about them everything we need to. By the end of our first meeting with them there’s no character who remains an unknown, and this makes the script immediately inviting. Occasionally this is ladled on a little thickly, such as when Rob muses out loud about how he is not as morally corrupt as the rest of them, and there is one character who I think has been mishandled, but for the most part this works.
There are however some issues with the script. Many are easy to fix but some may require some real thought. To get the easier notes out of the way, I think the whole thing doesn’t flow as well as it needs to. There is a great, dirging excess of both stage direction and individual wordage in dialogue which are slowing down the script to the point where it loses its momentum, and while an easy fix, this is a major flaw. While plot and narrative may be congruent ideas, in which multiple strands come together for a specific purpose, dramatic tension is not. Dramatic tension is linear, and for every splash of dialogue which goes on a little too long the heartbeat of your script beats a little slower. I don’t subscribe to the idea that every sentence should be as short as physically possible, but every word in every line should have a justifiable reason to be there, and if there’s a just as funny way of saying it in fewer words then that’s probably the best way of expressing it.
Here I’ve chosen at random a two line exchange to demonstrate what I mean.
GRACE: Wouldn’t it be quicker to walk over there and call him a wanker to his face?
ROB: Have you seen his shirt? I’d just be pointing out the obvious. What do you think of old Pinky then?
I didn’t want to purposefully choose an egregious example, but this is a typical exchange and you can see the potential to up the pace with a few removals.
GRACE: Wouldn’t it be quicker to just call him a wanker to his face?
ROB: Look at his shirt. Spade knows it’s a spade. What do you think of him?
This might seem like a minor change or even a bit nit-picky, but repeating this process with every line of dialogue will bring the pace way up and that will not only bring back the lost dramatic tension, but also make the whole thing funnier and more enjoyable.
The other easy fix issue is that throughout the script the same jokes are retold over and over in different ways. Many of these are funny, and a few extremely so, but within the space of a single episode it becomes tiresome. Two or three jokes about a character like Deasy being a sex pest are fine, but when we get into double digits it’s not serving any purpose anymore.
The more fundamental issues with the script all come from under the same umbrella. The script has a tendency to favour realism over entertainment and this is absolutely the wrong way for the wind to be blowing. As a satire, it’s certainly true that a balance must be reached between the truth of a trading floor and the dramatic licence needed to tell a story, but this balance isn’t right here.
The most extreme way this demonstrates itself is in the lack of character arcs or motivations. None of them seem to have any goals other than to continue with the status quo, and though there are lots of things going on in the plot, (e.g. a takeover, insider trading and a stuck toilet door causing a major deal) the lack of character progression around them makes these events seem incidental. We discussed the fact that originally in the script, the main character had been trying to quit and this was the main crux of the episode, but then he was forced to stay put once the insider trading scandal broke. This is an ideal way to let us into the world, show us about these characters and get the audience invested in the show. These might seem like more the conventions of a drama than a sitcom, but over the last 15 or so years, really since the success of Friends, sitcoms have all evolved to require these ideas. The reason your friends in the pub are funnier than the people on TV isn’t because they’re more talented comics, it’s because they’re real people. The closer you can get to that in your script the more everything else is going to work. It’s a misstep to be afraid of dramatic conventions, and especially to be afraid that this will make the show unrealistic.
This issue presents itself deeply in the issue of the female characters. In real life the trading floor is very much a boys club (I did a bit of research which suggested that it’s as few as 10% women) but to let this affect the world of your TV show is a rotten mistake, and one which seriously limits not only the audience who might watch such a show, but also the interesting dynamics that would play out in the office. Do these people act differently around women? Is there a power struggle? Do the women have to act like the men? These questions are not only interesting but ripe for comedy, and all of that potential is being thrown away in service to realism which is itself hindering the script in other ways.
Additionally, the presence of Grace, the one woman who’s smarter than all the men, comes off as vaguely patronising and reduces a potentially interesting character to a bargaining chip used in exchange for a female cast of whom 80% are strippers or accoutrements.
During the reading some discussion was raised about the sexualisation of the women, and whether this was an issue. It was argued that to make the character sexy was to provoke an argument about whether or not she was a feminist role model that would deter at least half of the female audience. This is an interesting question, and one which may warrant a greater discussion (maybe I’ll make a blog post) but while opinions were divided, I personally think it is more than ok to have a sexual character, or even one who is defined by her sexuality. I don’t think a sexual character is demeaning to women, but even if it is, there are many women like this. As these people exist, to assume they do not in order to pander to one side of a very complicated argument is to misjudge the purpose of an entertainment based art form. Additionally I think these sorts of arguments or discussions will arise regardless, and so to allow them to hinder a potentially interesting idea is unwise. A much better solution is simply to include more women of varying characters in the story. Regardless of whether this neutralises the argument or not, it is simply more interesting in every way and would seem to have no discernible downside.
Overall this was a very enjoyable read, with some good laughs and, in particular, some great secondary characters. The potential is there for this to work as a script, but at the moment that potential is being masked.
The main criticism raised against the script was with the dramatic storytelling and character motivation, and without these the show will not work as it is intended, and so this has formed the crux of the feedback here. However as a P.S. I do also think it’s important not to disregard the comedy when rewriting the script. The major issues with the script are dramatic but it is also not funny enough to work as a sitcom yet. There are lots of laughs and a few huge ones, but it doesn’t have the gag per page ratio required to be a success.
In the discussion afterwards Tom mentioned that he was not worried about this, as it’s a show designed to be written as a team and for the actors to be part of the process with ad libs. While this is a reasonable point, I still feel that what you’re demonstrating with the script is your suitability to be the one who writes it, and while many of the gags will be rewritten and workshopped with the actors, this is not a licence to neglect the comedy writing. The other issues take major priority, but once they are solved it is important not to let the comedy fall by the wayside, as it too needs a polish.
Thank you again to Tom and Alex for being our first Kites and Violence guests! If there’s anything I forgot to mention, anything I’m wrong about, or anything we as a group can improve on, please let me know below, and you can find Tom at his website or on twitter.
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