Home » Disruptive Innovation » FU returns.

FU returns.

20 January 2013

“EARLY in the new Netflix series “House of Cards” the narrator and card player Representative Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, looks straight into the camera and tells viewers: “Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

Underwood is speaking at a presidential inauguration, just outside the Capitol in Washington. As viewers observe the swearing-in he asks in a delicious Southern drawl, “Centuries from now, when people watch this footage, who will they see smiling just at the edge of the frame?” Then Underwood comes into frame again. He’s just a few rows away from the president. He gives the camera a casual wave.

Underwood, having been spurned in his bid to become secretary of state, is on a quest for power that’s just as suspenseful as anything on television. But his story will unspool not on TV but on Netflix, the streaming video service that is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in original programming. Its plan for showing “House of Cards,” an adaptation of a 1990 BBC mini-series set in Parliament, will itself be a departure from the usual broadcast approach. On Feb. 1 all 13 episodes will be available at once, an acknowledgment that many of its subscribers like to watch shows in marathon sessions.”

This paragraph seems to be significant:

“We approached this creatively as a 13-hour movie,” said Mr. Willimon, who eschewed cliffhangers at the ends of some episodes because, well, he could. “Knowing we had two full seasons in advance, I didn’t feel the pressure to sell the end of each episode with superficial cliffhangers or shock tactics in order to keep coming back, in order to jack up the ratings week to week,” he said. “I hope our version of a cliffhanger is compelling, sophisticated characters and complex storytelling.”

One thing that you note when you watch TV series on Netflix or Amazon is that the cliffhangers arrive constantly, right at the point where adverts are placed. Which means that writers must write them in. Creatively, this seems constraining.

For a writer, surely this must be excellent disruptive news? Networked TV is far too cosy and needs a good kicking. “House of Cards,” the first series, was a splendid piece. Netflix couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate vehicle. FU, indeed:)

Link to full article at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/arts/television/house-of-cards-arrives-as-a-netflix-series.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130120

brendan

Disruptive Innovation

13 Comments to “FU returns.”

  1. “One thing that you note when you watch TV series on Netflix or Amazon is that the cliffhangers arrive constantly, right at the point where adverts are placed. Which means that writers must write them in. Creatively, this seems constraining.”

    I thought so too before I worked in network television. Once you’re doing it, it is perfectly natural and not constraining in the least. I asked the actors the same question and got the same answer.

    • Ditto for writing targeted word counts, which is kind of the same thing. I have X amount of time (words) and at the end of it I want Y to have happened. Whether Y is a resolution or just short of it is kind of irrelevant once you get the hang of it.

  2. Netflix originals isn’t the only place you can find stories free of the ad-break pacing. HBO and Showtime originals have long produced their episodic shows to a 50 minute pace which is one reason for their appeal; they feel more like short movies than TV shows.
    Some TV shows when you watch them off DVD or on a streaming service feel subtly “odd” as you go from “cliffhanger” to resolution with just a fade instead of a scene change and return. (We’re conditioned by movies to expect a scene change after a fade so it breaks immersion.)
    I suspect some screenwriting practices are seeing change even as we speak.

    • “(We’re conditioned by movies to expect a scene change after a fade so it breaks immersion.)”

      Felix,

      Something that has concerned me for years, with the breaks getting louder and shorter. I’m sure it has been affecting people’s ability to concentrate on anything.

      I’ve started to introduce explosions into my conversation to keep folks on track:)

      brendan

      • I ought to try that. It would keep them from nodding off as I built to a point…
        (I wonder how small they make those compressed-air horns…)

  3. “not constraining in the least.”

    Barbara,

    You surprise me. I realise that all creative effort must come within constraints, or it can turn into self-indulgent bedlam.

    I know I’ve spoken to writers who absolutely hate having to have their 43 minute effort chopped into 6 minute segments, with a mini-cliff arriving at each.

    brendan

    • You’re the one who used the word constraint.
      I would say a television writer or a scriptwriter is working within a time framework. Some people feel hampered by that and they should find another creative outlet. I wasn’t bothered, nor was anyone else I worked bothered with the format.

  4. I touched on my dislike of cliffhangers as a means to keep a readr (or viewer) interested in a post to the amwriting blog. I personally dislike books that break chapters up by cliffhanger and not conclusion of action. My hope is that ebook structure might change this – maybe culturally we are growing weary of the broken narrative approach in general and will see more of these contiguous entertainments…works that acknowledge with their very structure the gestalt quality of long form narrative.

    http://amwritingblog.com/wordpress/archives/16191 if anyone is curious to see the chapters are pointless relics rant :)

    • I think as with every type of writing device, cliffhangers like this work when used sparingly. Occasionally is fine, and a good way to create suspense, but the likes of Dan Brown and James Patterson seem to end each chapter this way (which tend to only be a few pages long anyway), which gets tiresome and reduces any suspense they were trying to create.

    • Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels already completely avoid chapter breaks. There are only scene breaks which are of course just a few lines of white before the next scene begins. It’s ridiculously easy to tell yourself “All right, I’m going to read until the next scene break” and then find that your eyes immediately jumped past it and started the next scene anyway.

  5. Its interesting for a Brit to note this article centres on a remake of House of Cards, which was originally shown on the BBC (and based on the excellent novel by Michael Dobbs) where there are no ad breaks. Even on our commercial television, we have far fewer ad breaks than your do in the US. On a half hour show, you’ll get one ad break halfway through (and of course adverts before the show and after it), and perhaps three in a show that runs for an hour. When watching US TV shows in the UK, it is always quite evident where ad breaks are written in. US shows always seem to have a prologue, then an ad break, then the credits role, which is quite a strange format and alien to us in the UK.

  6. I find myself watching network by DVR more often simply because I can pick the time and I can pass breaks. That writers would have to shape the narrative around breaks and implement ‘cliff hangers’ seems a horrible constraint to creativity. PBS movies have become famous. Downton Abby illustrates good stories in an uninterrupted format have value. The BBC does excellent work but the Roosevelt’s 1900 to 1940 would work just as well with American production for PBS. So often books taken to the big or little screen add nothing to the book and leave too much on the cutting room floor.

  7. Great quote:

    “Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

    Screenwriters don’t get enough credit! That’s awesome.

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