Writers blog; Season 3, episode 10
by Gavin Strawhan
Musical (makeup) chairs...
A friend and colleague once remarked that writers were ugly actors. Now this isn't always true, but true enough. No one would pay us good money to portray the characters we write. Of course there are exceptions, as in those attractive, multi-talented actors who are also accomplished writers ( Michael Galvin springs to mind). But of course we are jealous that they get brains AND beauty, so I'm not including them in the general set of plain to butt ugly writers.
We sit in our little offices, (wearing track pangs and ugg boots in winter, sometimes nothing but appalling underwear in summer) tapping away, creating and writing a character who leads a far more interesting life than our own. Then along comes a gorgeous actor, auditions for the role, nails it, gets cast, and plays the character, often in fantastic clothes, etc etc. If the series is a success - like Go Girls, thanks to you, dear reader - they get invited to parties. They get paid to play dress ups. They hang with other pretty people.
And you could not pay me quids to do it. No way. I adore many actors. I admire them for their commitment and ability to take some written lines on a page and make them something magic. The way they can patiently hang around a set, doing the same thing over and over, until it's right. All the extra things they bring to a character and a scene. And, despite the clichés, the way they are often kind and supportive of their colleagues. All this and much more. But I would never want to be one.
(Actually, I was one, briefly, when I was resident writer in the Socialist Feminist Theatre Collective back in the 80's, but I was pretty terrible. I also had to work behind the bar and I was much better at that.)
Anyway, I am meandering my way to the point of this blog. Which is about the precarious nature of actor employment in New Zealand and how actors with ambition and career goals have to look further a field and how that affects us at Go Girls.
You see one of the advantages with being an ugly writer is that nobody knows us - unless you're really famous like Rachel and appear in glossy women's mags - and nobody really knows if we write for more than one series. So, if we bust a gut, and we're lucky etc, we can actually work all year around. Whereas for an actor, if they're lucky (and talented) enough to land a lead role in on NZ series, it's unlikely they'll get a lead in another series any time soon - especially if their series is successful and likely to go again and again.
So, what do they do for the 30 or so weeks a year their series is not in production? Well, they sometimes do theatre (which pays badly) or maybe get a role in a film (if they're really lucky) or work in bars, or baby-sit whatever, while they wait for us to write their next series and try and get the funding etc...
It all comes back to money, especially in NZ where, unlike the US, the production companies can't afford to pay the actors to keep them on hold while they're not actually working. Which means that an actor with an eye on the future doesn't just sit around hoping their series is successful or that their part is renewed. They start looking for other projects. This isn't always just for financial reasons; sometimes it's artistic, professional development, or sometimes they just want a different kind of challenge or a bigger or different audience. And for that reason, quite a few of our actors take off to LA every year to do what is called 'Pilot season'. Where they audition for new US shows.
(Some of 'our' actors are over there at the moment, in fact. I wish them well, but I want them to come back!)
Which leads us (finally!!) to Go Girls, series 3 and musical make-up chairs. For the reasons discussed above (and probably many others I've missed) some of our actors weren't available for all of series 3. Anna (Amy) had a role in an American film, and several other roles were 'on the cards'. Matt (Brad) had a role in a film that had been on again, off again, for several years while the Producer tried to raise the money. And some of the other actors were waiting hear back on some other projects. But because they are lovely actors and very committed to our show, they tried very hard to find a way to commit as much time as possible to our series.
But it makes storylining a new series ahead of time (which we need to do to write the scripts etc), pretty fraught until we can get some fixed dates from the actors (or in reality, their agents) and it means we have to try and come up with nifty ways to write characters in and out of the series. And at the same time we have to be aware that our lovely audience (you) gets attached to particular characters and relationships and might be quite annoyed if we are seen to be dicking them around too much.
Phew. It ends up being quite a jigsaw puzzle. But on the plus side, it also forces us to come up with creative solutions. For example, the break up of Brad and Britta was story gold and very emotional. And Amy's return gave our series a little dramatic kick and helped us explore something we thought was interesting - how our characters have all grown up and moved on and got busy in their lives and careers (as people often do in their late 20's) while Amy is a bit stuck and needs a new direction.
It's been interesting reading some of the Facebook and twitter feedback on Amy. She certainly provokes strong feelings - both positive and negative. But that was the point really. She's the Kiwi who's been OS and come back and now needs to work out exactly where she fits in ...
And so to next week and episode 11, where Kevin frets that he's
made the wrong choice (watch out for the hilarious hotel sequence)
and Cody has a serious falling out with her parents.