Power To The Writer
An interesting article on the Independent today about DR1 made me think. DR1 is the Danish TV company that created The Killing, Bergen and The Bridge. They seem to have succeeded in turning out intelligent popular fiction where the BBC and HBO are failing. But why?
DR1 is a public service broadcaster, but still has to deliver something commercial. Producer Camilla Hammeriche explains the principle; “We have to tell ‘the double story’. It could be crime or family drama, but on top of that we have to tell something more about society, about ethics. It is kind of old-fashioned, isn’t it? Well, it kind of has an educative purpose.”
It’s what the BBC used to call Reithian – a socially liberal offshoot of Reithianism that encouraged the flowering of shows like ‘Play for Today’ and allowed a generation of great writers from the 60s to the 80s, but which was lost when market forces changed the Corporation for good. Just as HBO found success by giving primacy to the writer, DR champions what it calls ‘One Vision’.
The means you believe in the author and their vision of the story so they don’t have to be manipulated by management or by directors, and are free to concentrate on what they do best. It’s so obvious, but in the market forces model there’s too much money at stake, so everyone puts in their tuppence-worth, along with the demographics andy marketing teams.
It’s what Hollywood can’t afford to do either, with summer films costing over £200 million and world markets to consider. Whether anyone with learn from DR1’s success and turn the wheel once more remains to be seen, but for now, it’s a bad time to be a writer in the UK, and only a little better in the US.
Novelists are hardly ever employed as scriptwriters – the two skills are seen as separate, but our job is to tell stories, and the format, in my mind at least, is entirely irrelevant.