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A Family Affair: Interview with the cast of Arrested Development

May 25, 2013   -   0 comments   -  

A few years back, I spent a couple of days on the set of Arrested Development, and got to chat and hang out with the cast. With the show just about to restart on Netflix, now seems as good a time as any to bring the resulting article out of the vault…

When I visited, it was during a weird period. The show was winning awards and starting to garner a cult following, but it was clear from all involved that they knew time was running out, and each new day they got to be a Bluth was a blessing.

A few days before the feature went to press, news came that Fox had cancelled the show. Cue some hasty rewriting and re-editing, which is evident in the piece below.

Anyway, it’s an interesting article to revisit as a relic of the pre-streaming age, and a reminder that everything is subject to change.

 

Arrested Development cast

 

Great programme with an uncertain future? No real reason for being cut? Star-studded cast but tucked away in a dumb slot? All ingredients present and correct. Mike Shaw spends some time on-set with Arrested Development’s Bluth family. 

It’s one thing visiting a movie set – it’s something that no-one has yet seen – but quite another to be on the set of one of your favourite shows, with the characters making their way around you. It’s a very, very odd, but brilliant, experience.

Perhaps it’s because there are no cheap dick jokes, or people drinking vomit, or gags about accidentally fisting horses, but despite being one of the most consistently funny and intelligent American comedies in years, Arrested Development has just been canned by Fox.

Its screenings in the UK on BBC2 have a small, loyal, hardcore of fans who put up with the broadcast times trampolining week after week to make way for men throwing small, sharp sticks, or men pushing balls with a long stick – while in America, it has a similarly devoted fanbase; although one which regularly hits the six million-plus mark (not much over there it seems).

Here, the award-winning show is given room to breathe and is not subjected to ratings scrutiny (hell, what else is the Beeb gonna show at 11pm on a Sunday?), whereas over there, the higher the ratings, the higher the charge for adverts, and if a show isn’t making cash hand-over-sweaty-fist, the network will drop it like an ugly baby.

And so Arrested Development finds itself in this sorry state of affairs, with plenty of people eager to see it, but no home for the time being.

Burn visited the set just before this announcement was made, but it was clear from all around they were just waiting for the axe to fall – it was only a matter of time.

In terms of tone, Arrested Development sits comfortably alongside shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but while Curb is carried most of the way by the Partridge-like behaviour of creator Larry David, Arrested Development is much more of a crowd pleaser. It’s not averse to bringing in the big-name guests, (Ben Stiller, Heather Graham, the legendary Henry Winkler and Charlize Theron), and has an ensemble cast of equally talented comedy characters, each bringing their own quirks to the family table. The fan favourite however, is Tony Hale who plays Buster,a man-boy with a mother complex.

Tony Hale as Buster Bluth in Arrested Development

Watching him work on-set is bewitching. He switches into his Gump-like persona on ‘action’ but is then immediately himself again, chatting away about how weird it is having a megastar like Theron on-set.

“I’ve had some scenes with Charlize,” says Hale. “She’s really sweet, and really, really nice. It’s crazy though, cos we’ll be shooting and I’ll go outside and she’s on the cover of every magazine, and I’m like ‘What are you doing on our show? What’s going on?’”

What about the other guest stars he’s had on?

“Scott Baio is really cool, and as he was Chachi, he’s a cult figure. Henry Winkler used to be our family lawyer so we have this Happy Days bloodline going. But Scott’s a really nice guy and he’s doing a great job.”

The guy who carries the show, however, and sees all plotlines run through him, is Jason Bateman, who has recently appeared in Dodgeball, Starsky and Hutch, and – not so recently – Teen Wolf Too.

We meet after he has spent all of five minutes sitting in a truck delivering a handful of lines. Then he’s done for the day.

“I’ve only had three whole days off all year,” he says, not very convincingly.

With a palpable sense that they are fighting for their lives, all the cast and crew members we speak to, talk candidly about the show’s disappointing ratings and seem genuinely pleased and excited about the following in the UK.

Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth in Arrested Development

“I’m always a little ashamed to say how much I like the show,” says Bateman. “It sounds a bit cheesy to me, but I feel so lucky to be on it. I’d watch it on TV if I wasn’t in it. I really love doing this, so I watch the ratings really closely.”

What is it about the show that has such a hold on him?

“The stories – they’re so beautifully complicated, and are like little puzzles, and to be the guy that tries to have it all make sense for the audience, and bridge one storyline to another, or one character to another, is a really nice role.

“I like the challenge of coming in and explaining it to the audience, with a look or an inflection or some surprise – and since there’s not a laugh track, if something is funny, you might have to let the audience know that with a certain look, or if something is important to the storyline you’ve got to register something.”

Given the transitory nature of the average TV viewer, maybe that subtlety isn’t the best approach if survival is on the agenda?

“I think you guys in the UK have a better attention span than Americans and are a much more sophisticated audience,” says Bateman. “The TV network is a medium for the masses and there are distractions. It’s difficult to get a huge audience, and I don’t think we ever will.”

Perhaps the problem here is that Arrested Development is just so different. Despite Jason Bateman’s protestations that “The Office makes our show look like Diff’rent Strokes,” it’s a hell of a lot smarter than the Slough-based comedy. It’s deadly serious to the people inside the show, so they play it straight and very dry. It’s a drama to them – there is no mugging to the cameras or ‘Flashdance fused with MC Hammer shit’. Any gags here are entirely incidental.

“It’s true that there are no one-liners,” says Bateman. “We’re not trying to hide the funny though, it’s just a different tone.”

What does he see happening to the show?

“I don’t know. It does not do well here at all. There are six million regular viewers, and we’ve had that many since day one. It doesn’t matter when or where they put us, it stays at that level. But that six million are passionate about the show and very loyal, and they are paying full attention.”

Will the show survive?

“Well, networks often use shows like this as a recruiting device for the studio, and to bring in other writers, producers, directors and actors, because it looks like you nurture good product.”

David Cross as Tobias Funke in Arrested Development

However, far from nurturing good product, Fox is gaining itself a reputation for killing great shows just as they hit their stride: including Futurama, Family Guy, and now Arrested Development.

The consensus is that Middle America is responsible for killing it dead. With no laugh track, no group hugs, and with gags than run across whole seasons, the show wrongly assumes that the mass market has the capability for smart, independent thought. Big fucking mistake.

If you don’t watch it, start now. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Maybe the spoon-fed majority can’t concentrate for long enough to appreciate Arrested Development, but we should support programmes that do new and interesting things, and don’t just regurgitate jokes written in the 1950s.

Who knows, if enough of us make a fuss, it might get the Family Guy treatment and be given another chance…

The 10 best films of 2012

December 31, 2012   -   1 comment   -  

At the beginning of the year, I listed my 12 most anticipated films of 2012.

Some of those films were worth the wait (The Avengers), some weren’t (The Dictator), while others haven’t even arrived yet (The Great Gatsby). However, there was enough gold out there to make this list of the top ten films of 2012.

As with any list like this, it’s all entirely subjective, so while there are technically great films out there that should appear (and would, were it a top 100), there are only ten spots. But here goes… my favourite films of 2012:

Haywire

Gina Carano was super hot in Haywire

Released by Steven Soderbergh at the beginning of the year, Haywire was more than just a female interpretation of The Bourne Identity – the film represented the birth of a female action star in ex-cage fighter Gina Carano.

With an impressive supporting cast including Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Michael Fassbender, Haywire stood out from other action thrillers due to the lack of gimmicks. No flashy cinematography was needed (the reality-based fight scenes didn’t need embellishment) and the simple screenplay kept things powering along. The ending was a bit weak, but it wasn’t enough to keep this off my list.

 

Titanic 3D

Titanic sinking in Titanic 3D

I’ve made no secret of how much I love Titanic, and how excited I was for James Cameron’s 3D re-release, so it was a huge relief when it turned out to be just as good as the 1997 version, if not better.

No other film has matched the 3D Cameron gave us in Avatar, but Titanic 3D was as near as anyone has come – really making the most of the gorgeous cinematography and superb performances. The time, care and money lavished on Titanic 3D made it feel like a new film. No, I didn’t cry at the end – you shut your dirty mouth.

 

The Raid

The Raid

Every so often two films come out at the around the same time, that share a number of striking similarities (think Deep Impact/Armageddon, Volcano/Dante’s Peak, Capote/Infamous) – this year, it was The Raid and Dredd. Both films involved cops, trapped and massively outnumbered in a high-rise building, trying to make their way to the top in order take out a drug kingpin. And while Dredd was awesome, The Raid was better, thanks largely to the outrageous martial arts abilities of Iko Uwais.

 

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s ‘unfilmable’ book is one of the most remarkable examples of cinema ever, let alone this year. The acting from first-timer Suraj Sharma was impeccable, while the direction and cinematography were simply astonishing. For once, the 3D improved the cinematic experience, rather than ruin perfectly good shots. This was a film that begged to be seen on the big screen.

Argo

Ben Affleck in Argo

Ben Affleck: one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. Who the hell would have guessed that? After the success of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck continued his run of great cinema with Argo – the true life story of a covert operation to rescue six Americans from Tehran by pretending they were making a sci-fi movie.

Tense and much funnier than you’d expect, Argo boasted some wonderful character acting. Yep, including Affleck himself. I hate that guy.

 

Here Comes The Boom

Kevin James in Here Comes the Boom

Every year I do this list, and there’s always something that causes readers to email me and ask me how long I’ve been an alcoholic. Here Comes The Boom is this year’s example.

Kevin James plays a tubby teacher who tries to save the school’s under-threat music department by fighting for money. In a cage. Yes, it’s remarkably similar to Warrior in some respects, but where that was a serious drama, this is very much a comedy.

I’m well aware this film wasn’t for everyone, but in this case, my fondness of MMA made a real difference, and I got a serious kick out of seeing the likes of Chael Sonnen pop up in teeny tiny cameos. Furthermore, Bas Rutten’s comic turn was genuinely one of the funniest of the year. Who’d have thought that a decade ago he made a living punching lumps out of people.

Utterly unbelievable, and completely daft, this feelgood film and its cast were hard to dislike.

 

The Avengers

Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow in The Avengers

I refuse to call this film by the name given for its UK release. It’s The Avengers, and it was awesome. I was uncertain that Marvel would be able tie the various superheroes together in a cohesive way, but then it hired Joss Whedon who produced not only one of the best comic books films of the year, but one of the best anything films of the year, full stop.

 

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

From frame one, this film screams ‘I am a Wes Anderson picture’. Moonrise Kingdom was the director’s first live-action feature since The Darjeeling Limited in 2007, and contained all his usual touchstones – perfect framing, an idiosyncratic soundtrack, unlikely casting and beautiful acting.

 

Young Adult

Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt in Young Adult

Even though she won an Oscar for Monster, it’s still strange to look at Charlize Theron when she’s all polished and on the red carpet or in ostentatious perfume adverts, and think that she’s a good actress. But she is, and Young Adult proved it once again.

Theron plays a misanthropic teen-fiction writer who returns to her hometown to try to steal her high school sweetheart – now happily married and expecting a kid. From the same writer/director team as Juno, the performances in this brilliantly sour anti-romantic comedy were routinely excellent, particualrly from Theron and Patton Oswalt as her geeky, disabled ex-schoolmate.

 

Chronicle

Dane DeHaan in Chronicle

Released among a pile of over-marketed tat, Chronicle didn’t get the audience it deserved.

It was a relatively low budget film about three teenage boys who gain superpowers, looked better than a lot of this year’s big releases, and had a surprising air of reality about it.

Chronicle wasn’t just all about the action though, it also boasted some surprising performances, not least from main protagonist Dane DeHaan who has since landed the role of Harry Osborne in the next Spider-Man film.

Due to most of the film looking like it was shot on a home movie camera or mobile, it looks just as good on the small screen as it did on the big – so track it down.

A version of this article first appeared in the Kent Messenger series of newspapers.

PictureBox Films

Star Wars: having my cake and eating it

November 1, 2012   -   0 comments   -  

A few months ago I wrote a piece called Why George Lucas Isn’t Getting Any More Of My Money. In it, I explained how – even though I still love Star Wars and want to see the new releases – the director’s incessant tinkering and apparent egomania meant I couldn’t in good conscience chuck more money at him and his “improved”, “remastered”, “ultimate version” cuts of the beloved movies.

C3PO and R2D2

And then, a couple of days ago, the news dropped that Lucas had sold Star Wars and the rest of Lucasfilm to Disney, who immediately announced parts seven, eight and nine.

It seems you can have your cake and eat it.

You’re not what Oxbridge is looking for

August 23, 2012   -   2 comments   -  

 

A combination of exam results in the news and an excellent blog by @pme200 has reminded my of my own Oxbridge experiences.

My parents didn’t go to university and until I hit my late teens, I didn’t know anyone who had gone, so the very idea of heading off to get a degree was still quite grand. At this point, going to uni wasn’t simply something people did after sixth form to delay getting a job, it was a serious life decision.

So, I took the whole process very seriously, and what I knew for certain was that if I wanted to stay in the UK, the very best degrees were from Oxford and Cambridge. My head had been filled with all sorts of stories about so and so’s son who is ever so bright and has gone off to study an Ology at Cambridge, and the woman down the road with the fantastic car wouldn’t be half as successful had she not gone to Oxford. And so it followed that, if I was going to be the first in my immediate family to slog my way through to uni, I was going to do it properly and make sure it was Oxbridge.

cambridge university

Never did it occur to me that I – being from a not-particularly-well-off family, having no powerful friends or acquaintances, and being brought up on a succession of rundown army housing estates – would not be looked upon favourably by the educational elite.

But that’s how it was presented to me by my college’s Higher Education advisor when I first talked about where I wanted to go.

“Jamie and Tessa Fakename will be our Oxbridge applicants this year, trying at all would be a waste of everybody’s time.”

Jamie and Tessa Fakename (I am using a fake name for them – did you spot that?) were two very well-spoken, very well-off twins who everyone in college either knew or knew of. As you can probably tell, I didn’t know them, nor did I know what their parents did in order to end up being so wealthy, but I did know that they were the golden boy and girl of the college and if they were the Oxbridge candidates for the year, there was little point in me even thinking about it.

And yet…

I have always been stubborn to the point of obdurate (in our family, it’s called ‘grit’), so I pushed the advisor on the subject; what did she mean “it would be a waste of everyone’s time?”

“Well,” she said, “if Cambridge is going to accept someone from this college, it will be someone like Jamie or Tessa, not you.”

“But my grades are the same.”

“That’s besides the point. You’re not what they’re looking for.”

Which was the sum of any and all arguments over the following weeks. I could protest all I wanted, but the long and the short of it was, according to this advisor – this woman tasked with helping young people make enormous decisions and push them to be the best – Oxbridge knew what it wanted and what it wanted was not me.

The arguments continued for another week or so, but besides pointed remarks about her not wanting to waste her time coaching someone without “an Oxbridge aura” and references that “UCAS don’t look kindly on people who rock the boat” no new information was forthcoming.

I wasn’t rich, I dropped some of my Ts and my bus pass was free. It didn’t matter how talented I was or what potential I had, as far as she was concerned, I wasn’t worth the effort.

In the end, I made my selections, got my first choice (University of Kent at Canterbury) and did pretty well, but it wasn’t until much later on that the way I had been disregarded offhand simply because of my background really started to rankle. Although I was pissed off, in my youthful foolishness I had simply come to accept that this woman knew what was what, and that the likes of me weren’t suitable for Oxford or Cambridge. But, as time wore on and I met people who had attended those universities I came to realise, half of them were no smarter or richer or posher than me. What gives?!

It’s not Oxbridge that has the attitude problem, nor is it the students; rather it’s the people in positions of power in our schools and colleges who buy into this outdated notion of what Oxbridge is supposed to be and go out of their way to put off prospective candidates.

Chances are if I did apply I wouldn’t have even made it to the interview process, and even if I had all those fucking bicycles would have put me off, but this advisor – with her prejudices about who I was, what Oxbridge was and the importance of keeping people like me in their place  – should have at least let me damn well try. Now I know (for the most part) it doesn’t matter which university you went to, it’s experience that counts, but back then, to me, Oxbridge was the pinnacle of personal achievement and I got shot down before I was even on the runway.

I bear no ill will towards the Fakenames- I doubt they knew what was going on and even if they did, what could they do about it? Nor do I resent the universities themselves for not doing more to destroy their archaic images. I do, however, resent that woman in her brown glasses and green cardigan telling me I wasn’t right for somewhere because she hadn’t caught up with modern Britain.

So, for what it’s worth, there’s my Oxbridge story. No great revelations, although I still wonder from time-to-time why Jamie and Tessa and all their money attended the same cheap, fraud-beset college in a London overspill town as me.

Charging journalists for an interview? It had better be good

June 16, 2012   -   0 comments   -  

Ever wonder why most of the interviews you read with celebrities are virtually identical?

Well, it’s because very often they are the same interview, just packaged differently. Despite the “Exclusive interview!’ lies you’re fed, few outlets actually get to have one-on-one time with the stars of new movies, and have to make do with dry, generic interviews done in-house and sent out to thousands of websites, magazines and newspapers across the world. There are only so many ways a put-upon feature writer can make it sound like they actually met the subject of their article, and so what we are left with are piles of interviews with the cast of The Avengers, each one framed slightly differently, but with remarkably similar quotes.

Now there’s another option open to journalists, but as with most things, it costs. Canadian journalists at this year’s Cannes Film Festival were being charged thousands of dollars for interviews with the likes of Brad Pitt, Kristen Stewart and Nicole Kidman.

brad pitt promotes killing them softly at cannes 2012

Alliance, the Canadian distributor for Stewart’s film On the Road and Pitt’s new movie Killing Them Softly, sent out a “menu” of prices to various outlets prior to the event, letting them know how much different people cost if they wanted to talk to them. While Brad Pitt started at £2400 for a 20 minute interview, McConaughey was a bargain at just £1200. Presumably with two funny anecdotes and a high five thrown in for free.

Unsurprisingly, journalists rebelled.

However, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Harvey Weinstein tried a similar tactic back in 2007 with Tarantino’s Death Proof, and that didn’t go down well either. The cash-for-questions style scheme resulted in a huge storm of bad publicity; and wouldn’t you know it, the same has happened here. Not least because in the handful of interviews that were secured with Brad Pitt to promote Killing Them Softly, the dunce happily announced that he was hooked by the script because it was “making a commentary” on our consumerist society. Ho ho ho.

Let’s ignore for a second the fact that journalists shouldn’t be expected to pay for the privilege of helping film companies promote their latest rubbish. It’s concerning that, even though the actors and actresses involved are now being paid to speak, they STILL just trot out the same old tired cliches.

Most outlets are running on a shoestring budget and will never be able to afford to pay for interviews (nor should they) but if they are able to, then they should be rewarded with far more than a semi-awake celebrity gurgling on about how ‘challenging’ their latest role is, and how the director is a ‘genius’.

Would you pay £2400 for that? I wouldn’t. Why the hell should I pay to listen to megarich celebrities promote the movies they’re starring in? Films they’ve already been paid more than you or I will EVER earn to promote as part of their multi-million dollar contracts.

They should be paying us for making the turgid nonsense that spills out of their mouths sound like it came from someone with a grain of personality, and not just a polished automaton parroting whatever their publicist has told them to say.

For years there has been a symbiotic relationship between the press and publicists. They give us interviews with their ‘talent’ which helps us attract readers and in return we help to raise awareness about their films with little focus on whether the product is actually any good. Think about it – when was the last time you read a lengthy interview with a movie star or saw an actor on a TV show where the product came off badly? Never – that’s when.

And now publicists like Alliance want to rock the boat and make the press pay? This can only end one way, and it won’t be the press being made to look stupid and forced to back down.

An Alliance spokesperson said: “The fee is simply a means for the expenses to be shared… These stars travel by private jet, with their agents, make-up artists and hairdressers; someone’s got to pay.”

Yep, sure they do – but not the people you are relying on to promote your films, idiot.

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If you liked this piece, try How short-sighted PRs are hurting their clients

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