I know I tend to bang on about The West Wing but I really do believe it still has much to teach every writer.
The thing about this programme was that it, by and large, didn’t feature guns, crime solving, action, lots of sex…it featured talking. People talking and walking ( a lot) and conversations, speeches, arguments. The reason it was so brilliant was the writing, pure and simple, and the delivery of whip-crack sharp lines. I remember when Allison Janney won an Emmy award for her role as Press Secretary C.J. Cregg I expected a witty, clever acceptance speech and didn’t get one. Don’t get me wrong, I think she was brilliant in the role and I SO wanted a job like that, where I could stride around with a clipboard and make clever wisecracks, but it was the WRITING that gave her the clever lines. I knew then that writing was my thing.
So what does that mean twelve or so years later? Because of the lessons it can teach us. Conversations between the powerful and those who serve them, conversations between men and women, conversations between friends and enemies, DIALOGUE. And subtext, oh the subtext! The whole programme just crackles with subtext. Last night Josh Lyman had a series of witty arguments with a woman who was diametrically opposed to his beliefs, who worked for a radical feminist organisation, and, yet, they fancied each other. Every sentence was alive with electric subtext.
If you want to see how it’s done, get a script and deconstruct the scenes. Look at the length of the sentences, what is NOT said between the characters and the way a comment leads to something else 40 minutes later that creates a circular effect, the build up of emotion to a passionate speech that makes you catch your breath, the use of music and montage to show different characters reacting to the resolution of a situation. So much to learn and so inspiring.
Talking about inspiring…I saw this clip on Facebook last night. It was one of those Britain’s Got Talent auditions. It reminds you on Paul Potts and Susan Boyle. You can see Simon Cowell’s sneer the moment he walks on the stage, then he opens his mouth and everyone leaps to their feet. And what will happen to her, I wonder? The clip has had about 1,200,000 views in three days.
He is VERY nervous and although he, obviously, has a great voice, you don’t hear it as well as you might. There are other clips available and by far the best one is this. Jonathan was 16 when this was recorded and I put on my headphones last night at about 11pm and listened to this and it made me cry. It is simply exquisite, raw, powerful talent. I sat there and I thought someone heard Pavarotti at 16 and his voice made them cry.
I do urge you to click-through and have a listen. It is my hope that he gets the career he deserves and that one day I can be grateful that I was alive during the career of Jonathan Antoine, as I have always been grateful that I heard Placido Domingo live. I’ve heard people say they hope Cowell doesn’t get his claws into Jonathan and I know what they mean, but I do hope he facilitates his career and brings that voice to people all around the world. I’d love to hear him sing live!