What I Did This Year — Part One

Late last year, I had the brilliant idea of doing a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.

The University of Auckland offers an equivalent MA and is only a couple of hours drive south of Fortress Mamea, but there was a certain je n’ais se quoi that an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters at the Victoria University of Wellington held for me. Part of it was the cachet IIML has. A larger part of it, to be honest, was that the IIML is in my hometown.

The Lovely Wife, gods bless her cowboy boots, arranged her whole year’s work schedule so I could commute between the winterless north and the windy city. I planned a sub-48-hour travel itinerary for each of the 24 workshops that were spread between March and October:

  • Tuesday
    • 3:30am–6:30am — drive from Fortress Mamea to Auckland Airport
    • 7:30am–8:30am — fly from Auckland to Wellington
    • 8:30am–9:45am — buses from Wellington Airport to Victoria University
    • 10:00am–1:00pm — Tuesday workshop at IIML
  • Wednesday
    • 10:00am–12:00noon — Wednesday workshop at IIML
    • times varied according to cheapest flights booked but —
      • bus to Wellington Airport
      • fly to Auckland
      • drive to Whangārei
    • — with arrival times as early as 7pm and as late as midnight.

I looked at that itinerary and thought, How hard could it be? It’ll be fun — I’ve got several years worth of podcasts to catch up on. It’ll be a blast!

The novelty of that commute wore off after the first week. Six and a half hours of travel each way will do that. But I did it, and I’m here to blog about it.

On the very first day, programme director Ken Duncum had a bunch of portfolios to show us greenhorns what we’d be producing by year’s end. One of them was for my favourite New Zild television show:

I took it as a sign that — commuting aside — I’d signed up for a year of awesomeness.


Box Watch: The Cult

Having ethnically disparaged The Cult, sight unseen, along strictly racial lines*, the inhabitants of Fortress Mamea have watched the first two eps.

For me, the greatest sin of any homegrown show is try-hard self-consciousness – and thankfully, there’s none here whatsoever**. It looks and sounds like a real TV show, rather than something we should watch out of patriotism. The direction and cinematography are uniformly flashy. The characters are clearly delineated. The plotting is pacey and the dialogue largely on point with only occasional excursions into exposition.

But I’m not feeling for any of the characters. Why am I not caring for:

  • a father who wants his sons back at any cost (and, so far, without much thought)?
  • a bitchy sister who keeps needling her brother’s wife-with-a-shameful-history?
  • or the brothers inside the compound, in too deep and with seemingly nowhere to run?

And what’s the deal with the mercenary hired by the outside group? If he’s really an ex-SAS soldier, he’s being awfully reticent and docile. A character with a skill set like his is a game changer: the rules of engagement may differ (it’s not a warzone so killing people isn’t a good idea) but the game is the same – if your objective is to get certain people out of a compound, then you do everything and anything to achieve that objective. Instead, he’s rolled on and off screen like a prop, as and when the story dictates.

Ep three screens tomorrow, and The Goddess has given me the hard word: If this doesn’t get any better, you’re on your own.

Oh dear.

POSTSCRIPT: OMFG – The Cult‘s section on the TVNZ website has a writers blog where creator Peter Cox shows some of the development process that went into the show.

* When I posted that, I couldn’t help flashing on this joker from the underrated Undercover Brother.

** No surprise, really: creator Peter Cox was behind both the near-perfect The Insiders Guide to Happiness and the excellent but abysmally scheduled The Pretender.


The Insiders Guides to Love and Happiness

The Webmistresse visited our humble abode the other weekend. Over a cuppa, The Goddess and I enthused about The Insiders Guide to Happiness. We’d enjoyed the pre-/se-quel, The Insiders Guide to Love last year and, thanks to some applied relationship chaos theory, Mr Samson lent us his copy of Happiness.

“What’s it about?” the Webmistresse quite reasonably asked.

The Goddess and I looked at each other. It’s not a procedural. Nor is it a soap per se. Our best description is that it’s a television series that explores the philosophy of happiness. ‘Philosophy’ and ‘television’ in the same breath? Believe it. Not once was it trite as it asked – and didn’t necessarily answer – hard questions about being happy in and with the one life we get.

Most homegrown television has a self-consciousness pouring out of its every orifice. I suspect it’s a hangover from decades of cultural cringe: “Oh yeh, hi, I’m your latest Homegrown Drama. I know you’ve been waiting ages for me to turn up – and thanks to [INSERT BROADCASTER] and New Zealand on Air, here I am. Give us a go, eh, ’cause heh, y’know, you’re watching… New Zealand on air.”

The Insiders Guides are thankfully devoid of such affectation: these are the characters; here are the stories; keep up. Late-weekend-night scheduling and minimal publicity made the Insiders Guides the best intelligent adult homegrown television that few saw. Thank gosh for DVDs.

Fedora-tips to Happiness creator Peter Cox and writers David Brechin-Smith and Paula Boock for kick-arse scripts, and producer Dave Gibson for believing.