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Charlie Brooker on why he hates writing, warp factors, Twitter and Transformers

11 Nov
Charlie Brooker (photo from London Screenwriters' Festival, by Chris Floyd)

Charlie Brooker (photo from London Screenwriters’ Festival, by Chris Floyd)

My sixth despatch from the recent London Screenwriters’ Festival is the fearlessly acerbic critic-turned-creative Charlie Brooker. You don’t need any commentary from me – just sit back and enjoy the rant.

On why he “f***ing hates” writing: If I appear to write a lot, that’s interesting. I have a terrible fear I’m not doing enough. I f***ing hate writing. I love the ideas side, and I love having written, but I hate the process of writing. There’s occasionally a eureka moment, but my life is a constant struggle to enter that and avoid the myriad distractions, like an acorn rolling by. I love my job, but it’s also like a fucking curse. The biggest high of it is “thank God I’ve finished that”. It’s just like the feeling of having done a massive poo.

On Touch of Cloth: I was going to say it’s like Airplane for cop shows, but I realise that’s Police Squad! So it’s The Naked Gun, but for Britain. It’s a collaboration – we run a writers’ room for it. We bought a script by the man who made Messiah, which was very bleak, and then used that as a basis for drawing knobs on, basically, because we were aping those dark Sunday night dramas that everyone seems to love but that I think are pornographic and weird, and dull.

We also got a compilation made of scenes from crime dramas, like morgue scenes, and when you watch nothing but these similar scenes, you spot the same tropes and clichés and become inherently funny. It was vital that in our world, none of the characters could acknowledge that what was going on was at all weird. Like in Naked Gun, where Leslie Nielsen takes it all seriously. The director would shout before every scene, “Don’t forget, you’re doing a serious drama – this is a real body, it’s the body of a child.”

On Black Mirror: The kind of sci-fi I like is allegorical, like The Twilight Zone. Not people with croissant-shaped foreheads talking about warp factors. Rod Serling did The Twilight Zone because he wanted to do plays about racism and McCarthyism, and couldn’t get them on air. That was my focus for the show.

Technology is never the villain in Black Mirror. It’s always, here’s a powerful tool – I don’t mean the character! – here’s a powerful technological tool, and we let the character pick it up and hit themselves repeatedly on the head with it.

We’ve just been shooting a Christmas special, with three episodes, like a Twilight Zone anthology. Jon Hamm’s starring in that because he’s a big fan of the show. It’s about what if you could block someone in real life like you do on Twitter, so they just become an anonymous blob – they can’t hear you or talk to you; and you play out the consequences of that. What I like is TV shows where you get to the end and you feel f***ing devastated. Now they’re all about easily entertaining people. How dare they!

On Nathan Barley: Oh god, writing with Chris Morris was terrifying. I was terrified he’d show up like his Day Today persona, and tell me to f***ing shut up, but he was jolly and friendly and very collaborative. But he’ll interrogate every aspect. He takes ages. We had a meeting before 9/11 and it actually went on air in 2005. We had meeting after meeting to discuss how to do it.

On Twitter: There’s this babble of voices, everyone feeling they have to chip in their two pence worth on how awful it is that Ed Milliband’s just done a poo on the High Street. And I do the same – why? Then everyone feels they have to outdo each other and exaggerate, and it all piles on top of each other, and before you know it everyone is performing, badly, and you’re struck by the existential pointlessness of it… So I wrote a column about it, going “here’s what I think about this! Look at this!”

On why it can be more creative to work on a low budget: The last 20 minutes of every big-budget movie is like you’re staring into a washing machine full of cars and robots and things all smashing together.

Putting the “cock” into “Cockney”: Danny Dyer’s massive part in EastEnders

3 Jan
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Legs apart: Danny Dyer as Mick Carter in EastEnders

 

Sir Alan Sugar’s not a fan of Danny Dyer’s debut as Mick Carter in EastEnders, recently branding the new cast a “total joke” on Twitter. I am looking forward to tonight’s storyline, in which Johnny Carter comes out to Daddy Dyer as gay, but it’s true that having seen Dyer’s big opening scene last weekend I can’t unsee it: there he was, wallowing on a double-bed with the missus in nothing but skimpy black briefs.

Now I understand why, when I went out to the New Boyana studios in Bulgaria to watch ITV’s hist-com Plebs being filmed, the cast members were all agog at the sheer size of Dyer’s, um, personality.

“Double D”, as they called him, was apparently the life and soul of the shoot when filming his episode as a gladiator in the first series. “We’d go out most nights with him,” said Lydia Rose Bewley, who plays Metella. Ryan Sampson (Groomio) added, “We’d go all the time to this club where everything is mirrored. I loved his word for kissing: a ‘lips-up’, he calls it.”

Sophie Colquhoun, who plays Cynthia, also nicknamed him “Planet Dyer” because “his personality is so massive”. And it’s not the only thing that is. “In one scene,” she said, “I go to him, ‘Ooh, Danny, I’m seeing quite a lot.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry, darlin’, let me shift position.’ Then he shifts, and he’s put it behind his legs, and it’s poking out! You have a little bundle of joy in your eye.”

A crew member also had his eyes indelibly seared: “In the bath-house scene Danny just didn’t care. There it was, in your face, swinging against the lockers.”

“He was pretty confident in the bath-house scene,” agreed Tom Rosenthal (Marcus), in his typically deadpan style. “He does have a penis. It is… worthwhile.”

I’m sorry to go on about Danny Dyer’s member (if you prefer high-brow, read my blog about Hamlet and Citizen Kane instead), but at least it makes a change: when people refer to a load of cock in connection with Dyer, they are normally talking about his films. Dyer by name, dire by nature. He just doesn’t seem able to say no to films such as Pimp, which I had the displeasure of sitting through for a week of film reviews in The Times (I gave it one star; more than it deserved). 

Then again, at least Dyer has the self-awareness and sense of humour to know it. “I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made some s*** films but 7lives is f***ing awful,” he once Tweeted. And: “I ain’t gonna lie. [Just For The Record] is the biggest pile of s*** I have ever done and that’s saying something.”

And actually, for my money Dyer’s a rather good actor; he was actively terrific in Severance. He has an ear for comedy and a puppy-dog vulnerability that underscores his foul-mouthed, wide-boy front. The British film industry seems not to have been able to do more with him, sadly, than cast him as gangsters, wide-boys and football hooligans.

Here’s hoping the BBC give him a meatier part to play with. As it were.

The first series of Plebs is available on DVD through Universal; the second series will be out later this year.