Monday, April 21, 2014

The Scene You Don’t Write

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If you haven’t watched Episode Three of “Game of Thrones” Season Four (and intend to) stop reading this post now!!!

I won’t much discuss what occurred in “that scene” last night. But I will delve into writing or not writing scenes like it and what it does not only to the fans but those who bring the scene to Life.

Especially what happens when you give in to pressures of one sort or another to create controversy or “kick the show up a notch”.

What happened last night on “Game of Thrones” was clearly a rape. Not the first of the series. Unlikely to be the last.

What made it shocking were three elements. The first –- what occurred was not adapted from the underlying material on which “Game of Thrones” is based. That segment of the George R.R. Martin novels is excerpted above.

Now there’s nothing wrong (at least in my opinion) with diverging from the material being adapted from time to time. But when you go completely against what the original writer intended, you’re getting yourself into dangerous waters.

Doing a 180 on the original material commits one of those “Butterfly Effect” moments from which you can never find your way back because it results in having to re-shade everything both characters are involved in from that point forward –- and not only for them but a significant portion of the audience.

There are those in Martin’s fan base today swearing off both the series and HBO for good. And I have no doubt that a lot of them mean it. Seeing a beloved novel brought to the screen is exhilarating for many genre fans. Watching it changed to something it was not hollows that attachment irreparably.

They thought you cared, HBO. You mean it’s all just been about being “edgy”?

Secondly –- the scene was a complete betrayal of the male character involved and the actor who plays him.

No doubt the character (like many on “Game of Thrones”) has an irregular moral compass. But the psychic and physical damage which previous rapes or attempted rapes have caused him had – at least we were led to believe it had – transformed him into a much more sympathetic and complex character.

This morning that actor, stumbling badly to justify the scene in question to the press, has become an internet symbol of those guys who just don’t get it, that “No, doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no’…” and those other ill-conceived arguments that just get you digging yourself in so deep you can never get out.

He thought you cared, HBO. He thought you hired him for his ability to play moral complexity. You mean it’s all just been about making him “the last guy” we thought would do this?

And the icing on that is the way your PR people have left him twisting in the wind while your show runners maintain radio silence.

Which brings me to my final point –- there will no doubt be those titillated by what happened. The “Bitch deserved it!” crowd are as prevalent on Twitter today as the naysayers and accepting apologists willing to wait and see what the show’s writers and producers come up with next.

Sometimes, there truly are network and studio execs yearning to play ball with Misogynists or do anything else irresponsible if it gets their name in the papers. God knows, I had the personal misfortune of working with one.

I once showran a co-pro series with three partners from three different countries. At some point prior to my arrival, the partner who was supposed to have no creative influence had made sure that they did and their fem executive was clear that she always got what she wanted.

Initially, we all generally agreed on the direction of things and production went relatively smoothly. But after a shake-up at this exec’s studio, it became clear she intended to take the reins.

One Monday morning, I arrived to a sheet of script notes instructing me that a better twist in the plot would be to have our hero rape our ongoing villain’s female partner. As in -- it would be completely unexpected and thus ensure that the audience stuck to the end of the episode.

I figured she must’ve been either drunk when she wrote the note or at had suffered some sort of Oxygen depletion from strapping the ball gag on too tight during her visit to some local dungeon wet room.

But I was wrong. And this wasn’t a suggestion. It was a non-negotiable demand.

Realizing the harm it could do the show, I attempted to enlist the support of the other two partners. But our second foreign partner had ceased caring, already looking toward greener pastures, and the Canadian exec (also a woman) took that typically Canadian position of going along to get along in the inane hope we could fix any audience blow-back later.

Now, being a showrunner means that your first loyalty is to the show. Sometimes that means accepting uncomfortable compromises in order to keep it shooting and your crew employed.

Such loyalty does not mean destroying what you’ve built to serve the same purpose. Because at that point it becomes a series unworthy of saving. You and your staff will all find another job. Hopefully working for a better class of people.

I emailed my objections to all the partners and challenged them to fire me because I wasn’t doing as I was told. That’s pretty much a career suicide move in the short term.

But I didn’t get fired –- at least not til the end of the season when they could issue one of those “creative differences” and “moving in a new direction” memos.

I assume we were all pleased to be free of one another. I moved on to another job. The series collapsed under that kind of mismanagement not long after.

It will likely take longer for last night to impact “Game of Thrones”. But I believe we can look at that one scene as the moment a undeniably great series either jumped the dragon or at the very least intentionally took to the jump ramp.

There is no crime with tricking an audience or playing with their emotions. That’s often the job. But it’s very wrong to betray their trust or imply that the writers and producers will always be the smartest guys in the room, thank-you very much.

The smartest guy in the room is supposed to be on their side, not that of those desperate for notoriety or a marketing edge.

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