Sunday, 25 January 2009

Finding out and showing off (20.2.09)

Today I went and watched 'The Inbetweeners' being filmed. It's a sitcom, shot with no audience, about four teenage boys trying to get laid. It was shown last year on E4 then repeated on Channel 4. If your humour is terribly sophisticated and highbrow, it may not be for you. If, like me, you find spunk jokes funny, you'll love it. It did well enough that they're doing a second series, which was what I went to see today. I was invited because I'm choosing the music for it. I did this on the last series, pulled in at the eleventh hour by one of the writers, an ex-Xfm colleague of mine, Iain Morris. He's signed up to the mailer and is very enthusiastic about it, which is why he thought I'd be the dude for the role. He and the others involved were all terribly complimentary about the job I did last time, which was nice. Not least because I'm genuinely a big fan of the series; there are certain jokes that, because of the nature of what I was doing, I had to watch twenty times, and they still now make me laugh out loud. My 'spunk jokes' description probably does it a disservice; there is something a little more intelligent in the mix that's hard to describe. A lot of people have likened it to a teen Peep Show, which seems fitting, not least because, whilst you love and root for the characters, you spend most of the show watching their actions with your head shaking in your hands. It's also similarly not done with an audience or laughter track.

The actual process of choosing the music is an odd one and much harder than I'd anticipated. Essentially, it's someone saying, "Here's a scene. Now here's every song that's ever been written since the beginning of the history of time. Pick one!", which feels a little like standing on the edge of a cliff. In the end I came up with a method: I went through the last few years' 'Best of the Year' mailers, and then my flatmate's iTunes, and noted any songs that might be appropriate (due to the fact that it's a comedy, it immediately ruled out all my Fionn Regan/Laura Marling-type misery music). On bits of A5, I wrote down how each of those songs makes me feel. Then I watched the scene I needed to soundtrack, and wrote down how that made me feel. Then I searched through my scraps of paper looking for a match ("anticipatory and excited", "anticipatory, but slightly doom laden", "mild disaster and panic, with an edge of it being funny for others" -if you've ever read my mailer, you'll know that's pretty much the way I tend to describe music to myself). Then I would play the DVD with the scene on one computer, the song on another simultaneously, and see how it fit. Then I’d suggest between three and five songs for each scene. I've since met sync people who do this full time, and they all think I’m crazy for being so thorough. They say they just watch it and think of a couple of songs and email them through a list. I think it says more about my OCD tendencies, or perhaps just that I hate doing a job in a way that could have been done better (there's the reason I'm so apologetic about the writing here...).

Back to today: I'd been warned and re-warned that the filming would be deathly boring. The thing is, it's an almost impossible challenge to bore more. Partly because I find almost everything interesting. Partly because I spend so much time rushing from here to there and never getting enough done, that to sit, quietly staring into the middle distance whilst nothing is happening, is rather a treat. As well as this, I have a Teletubbies-style enjoyment of happily watching comedy shows hundreds of times over and still finding them funny. Finally, having seen each episode from the first series tens of times, the actors in The Inbetweeners are as famous to me as Pitt, DeNiro and Streep. So even watching them fluff lines or try out different facial expressions is pretty fascinating.

I watched two scenes being filmed, with a lunch break in between. The only thing I've ever seen filmed before was 'Blind Date', when my old flatmate was on it. There was tons of stuff I found revelatory and interesting. For instance, I'd always assumed that they filmed with a bunch of cameras at the same time, to get each angle. In fact, when on location (as we were, in a suburban house) they usually use only one, and re-film each scene (usually a few times) from different angles. The other revelatory thing was the pace they film it at. In order to account for editing the different camera angles, there are often tiny pauses between lines in the dialogue. Something that makes complete sense, but that it never occurred to me they'd have to do.

I was also fascinated by the houses we were in. All the carpets covered in a sort of Clingfilm and the lino in a weird, thin polystyrene. Apparently the people often come and go to the upstairs of the house. I wondered whether they get bored of it but it's good money, or whether this is the most exciting thing that happens to them all year.

During the lunch break, they filmed a wee interview with me for the DVD extras. I'm normally terribly self-conscious doing anything to camera, but they asked me fun questions (about the process, about the series, about embarrassing teen exploits that still make me cringe)(which mostly involved drunkenly trying to get off with boys who had shown no interest in me all evening)(ug), which meant I got over-excited and enjoyed myself. Plus, I'm pretty sure my hair was behaving well. Good timing, hair. I guess we'll see how it comes out in a few months....

Then I came back to London and went to a Radio Academy event about censorship in the wake of the Brand/Ross scandal. There were some interesting points: one about how music is, in essence, art, and sometimes swearing should be acceptable in music as part of that. One about how, a few decades ago, people didn't swear so casually. So when they were VERY angry, they would swear. Now, people eff and blind every other word, so what do they do when they're really angry? Punch people? I was called upon to say something as someone who'd (vaguely) had to think about censorship in my job (in terms of bits I could and couldn't include from pre-recorded comedian interviews). There had been debate on whether OfCom were more stringent of late (the dude from there saying they weren't). I said that I'd been told by a cautious boss that it wasn't so much that they are more strict, more that punters now know who Ofcom are, and how to complain, so they tend to do so more casually.
Standing up in front of the room made my face go all red, but I was secretly really pleased to do it, massive show off that I am. I also (ludicrously) still always feel like a kid at these events who's somehow snuck in, so when all the luminaries said, "Good point", I felt like I'd been given a lolly.

Then I came home and listened to The World Tonight, with Robin Lustig live from Alabama. Lots of people who had experience of segregation giving their thoughts on the Obama inauguration today. It was terribly moving. In times like this, I wonder if I should write something down, as it's such a momentous day. But I'm sure there have been hundreds of thousands if not millions of more eloquently written blogs or from people with more personal experience. So I'll stick to the media frippery for now.