Wednesday 20 March 2013

A Hot Prop of Nuts - Bluestone 42 Episode 3

Episode 3 of Bluestone 42 is, if I do say so myself, a belter. Loads of action going on, but more importantly, lots of quests for the characters and things that they want. If you haven't watched it, you might want to do that before you read the rest of this blog which contains spoilers. Plus these script notes that will be slightly baffling if you haven't seen the show. So, here it is in iPlayer. See you in about 28 minutes.

Okay? Done? Right.

So let's have a think about what's going on in that episode. Nick is desperate to prove to Mary that he's not only interested in one thing. Even though he is only interested in one thing. Millsy is fed up of being pushed around and comes through with the right kit to save Nick's life. Simon's trying to get his book published. Mac and Rocket are bickering over Celtic v Hibs. Bird teaches Millsy some skills on ordering kit and manages to put one over on the padre.

Clear Quests
It's worth spending time on these quests because it took Richard and I ages to calibrate what we call 'the clear ToSS' - or Clear Terms of Success of the characters. Simon's written a memoir. We assume that it's dreadful (and you can read the first page here), but we avoided making too much of that. If you want to know why see, 'Avoid stories that rely on an artistic endeavour' here. What we focus on is Mary giving Simon his quest that means that it doesn't matter what the book is like (and let's face it, hundreds of lousy books get published every year). So Simon needs a 'hook' and a 'look' - i.e. a story about himself to give the publishers an angle, and a compelling picture. If he gets those two things, he's got a book. It's a clear quest and, even better, the three components to it rhyme (Book, Hook, Look). And so he goes about trying to achieve them. And then he says to Bird 'Hook, tick. Look, tick. I am sorted!' And then he has his Hook and Look taken away. And walks off. Watching it at home last night, it almost made me want to hear the sad Charlie Brown walking away music like this. But Simon's tough. He'll bounce back.
Yes. It's her. From Borgen. And she's fab.

The Hot Prop
The other story is Nick's attempts to woo Mary - which involve trying to look like he's deep and meaningful and not just obsessed with sex. This crops up with the revelation about the journo who's obsessed with him. And then Nick tries to convince Mary he's not just after one thing but fails. So we clarify his quest when he talks to Bird. Hence:

Nick: How am I going to prove to Mary that I'm not only interested in one thing?
Bird: Stop trying to have sex with her.
Nick: Yeah, but if I do that, how am I going to get to have sex with her?
Bird: Mm, the eternal conundrum.

We wanted to remind Nick of Mary and this conundrum much later when Astrid is trying to be 'grateful' to Nick in his quarters. A memorable form of words is okay, but a physical, tangible 'hot' prop is better. And so we came up with the tin of cashew nuts. (A tin is funnier than a bag. Not sure why.) Mary has been sent some cashews by her slightly useless dad - and she can't eat them so gives them to Nick. Nick gratefully receives them and says to Mary, 'Every time I put one in my mouth, I shall think of you'. It works as a line at the time, but even better, it comes back to haunt him later and really cramps his style with Astrid. The cashews are there, Astrid wants to know where the nuts are from and Nick talks about the padre and suddenly he realises that he needs to apply the brakes.

Episode 2 has loads of retweetable jokes about Booby traps (which must have been tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times) and this being the worst Christmas ever (and it's no even Christmas). Episode 3 doesn't have as many of these quotable lines and I'm not sure why. It might be because of the nature of the stories and everything is related to everything else. So one of my favourite lines is Bird's. She's talking to Mary about Simon when she says "Yeah, it's not like he's gonna want any kind of validation from an authority figure." And then later Millsy shouts at her, Bird says "Shit. I think I've broken Millsy." And then later when Nick shouts to everyone that Millsy is touching his balls. You kind of had to be there. Which, in a sitcom, is the best kind of joke.

Jokes on the Fly
Another favourite is the end of the opening scene when Nick, having complained about the suit being an oven, checks the sweat on his brow and says "My juices are running clear, Millsy. Time to take me out of the oven." Richard, my co-writer, came up with that lovely line on the day of filming. He's funny. Follow him on Twitter here.

The theme tune and score for the show is by the brilliant Vince Pope at Beetroot Music. The theme he's created for Bluestone 42 I would describe as the sound you would get if you held a Mastiff up to your ear. The only music in the entire series, I think, that isn't by him is in Episode 3 and is at the end during the football match. It's Swords of A Thousand Men by Tenpole Tudor. It rocks.

Friday 8 March 2013

In a Chinook, No-one Can Hear You Scream

I’m not spoiling the first episode of Bluestone 42 when I say that the action starts in a Chinook helicopter (one of those massive ones). I say ‘action’ but the scene is actually just soldiers talking. Or, more accurately, yelling. And in some ways, this scene illustrates all of the joys and nightmares of military research and how it collides and colludes with comedy and drama.

Why are they in a Chinook? Well, it looks great, obviously – especially with the set that Harry Banks’ creative cohorts put together. A Chinook is an exciting place to start a TV comedy. It’s the first scene of the first episode and it screams loud and clear that this is not a show set in a laundrette or a failing video store. We have a bunch of soldiers on their way to a mission.

But that’s not the only reason. Richard and I put them in a Chinook because people we talked to say they used Chinooks in Afghanistan all the time to get around – because the roads are, unsurprisingly, quite dangerous. So for accuracy, we wanted them in a Chinook.

The problem is that this conflicted with a different piece of military advice we had which ran along these line: ‘If you’re doing a TV show about soldiers there’s only one thing that really annoys soldiers (apart from BBC’s attempt to get an actor to wear a beret in a convincing way). The most annoying thing is having people talking to each other in a Chinook. Those things are so loud, you really can’t hear a thing.’ Ah.

And so we began the show already sitting on the horns of a dilemma. We wanted to show Bluestone 42 on their way to an operation but if we did it in the mastiff (the big personnel carrier) we’d be going against one bit of advice that ‘they fly everywhere’. And if we did it in a Chinook, we’d have them talking - when in reality, they don’t even bother trying. Either way, we might look like we hadn’t done our research.

We wrote this scene over two years ago, and occasionally re-set the scene in a Mastiff before putting it back into a Chinook and having them yell at each other. After all, we’re making a comedy for the public – who will believe you can yell at each other in a Chinook, even when you can’t. Once we’d committed to that, we were also told ‘they don’t fly everywhere because they don’t have enough choppers, or it’s just not practical.’ And then when we showed the first episode to an Ammunition Technical Officer, I said “I know that people don’t talk in a Chinook. Sorry about that.” He replied, “I know you can’t really hear, but it never stops me trying.”

Ah well. We tried.