How TV Shows...
HOW TV SHOWS AND MOVIES CAN HELP YOU WITH YOUR FICTION:
THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION
Sometimes inspiration can come from the strangest places for a writer and his fiction, though for the majority — myself included — it is much closer to home.
Since I started subscribing to Netflix over three years ago, I have seen a plethora of quality TV shows and movies I love which have fuelled my imagination with plot ideas, future characters and scenarios that I can — though never copy — use as models for future projects. Amazon Prime. Now TV. Sky’s Movies and Atlantic channels. There are too many to name. The Second Golden Age of Television, as journalists and media bloggers have already professed, has been with us for nearly a decade now, spoiling the viewer with an infinite choice of absorbing, well-produced programming.
Two series which have inspired me to write more than any others, especially when dealing with the characterization of my personae in my crime thriller books, are HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos. Though Boardwalk Empire wins in the cinematography and visual style stakes, it’s The Sopranos that brings the bacon home for character development. It’s no coincidence TV producer and writer Terence Winter has been a force behind both shows: creator, writer and executive producer for Boardwalk Empire and writer and co-writer for 25 episodes of The Sopranos.
ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES
Winter’s style — much like his colleague and collaborator David Chase’s — uses language, especially dialogue, very much in the same way Kurt Vonnegut did in literature and Quentin Tarantino does now in cinema. It’s real, staccato in rhythm, rough around the edges but natural. The lack of pretension makes it pretentious. Siblings Ethan and Joel Coen, another two of my cinematic heroes, bring a similar power to the screen with their dialogue and amazing cinematography.
“I admire writers such as Elmore Leonard who can nail a character in three or four lines of dialogue, so he doesn’t need pages of backstory or clumsy exposition.”
- Mark Billingham
BOOK AS FILM
The visual style, too, is an important factor in how I see a story developing. When I envisage a book’s plot idea in my head, I see it as a film. Though I am not saying my novels and stories are good, I can say with confidence they’d be very easy to make into films. As they’re almost screenplays written in prose, the pain of conversion would be minimal, both in terms of time and thought process.
So, come on, Eric Roth or Oliver Stone, give my books the Hollywood script treatment, I’m begging you!
The SHANNON INFLUENCE
Detective Phillip Randall, one of the main characters in my hardboiled noir novel Bullet City and the much shorter neo-noir novella The Desert Dago, takes his inspiration from Agent Nelson Van Alden, a character in Boardwalk Empire, played by actor Michael Shannon. Once I saw Van Alden, I was hooked. Although a man of unquestionable morals in series one, his principles slide deeper into the abyss the longer the show goes on. By season five, Al Capone has transformed him into the kind of man he would have despised in the first series. I find him fascinating as, though maybe not one of the most charismatic personalities to grace 1920’s Atlantic City, he has a certain gravitas I cannot help find compelling. Randall, unlike his hero sidekick Detective Dick Devereaux in Bullet City — who is an unambiguous man, either black or white, Randall — for the most part, at least — is a grey figure, sometimes right in his actions, but very often wrong. This comes to the fore in The Desert Dago, when the ex-cop, now an aging alcoholic who has just lost his wife, goes above the law to bring some Mafiosi to justice.
Shannon as an actor, too, has influenced Randall’s actions and many of his personality traits. Watching him in The Iceman, the 2012 American biographical crime thriller film about the Mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski, gave me extra ammunition to build on Randall’s complex character.
Another area where movies have influenced my books is in cinematography and editing. Blood Simple, the Coen brothers’ directorial debut of the neo-noir film genre, and the Netflix anthology series of their indie classic Fargo have been major influences on my own A Neo-Noir Crime Thriller, the 2015 anthology series. Consisting of six short novellas, Fat Cat, Butcher Boy, Pig Killer, Sputnik Baby, Fender Bender, and Gun Smoke, each book is set in the fictitious city of Metropolisville from the mid-sixties up to the modern day.
“Gimme a call whenever you wanna cut off my head. I can always crawl around without it.”
Private Detective Visser, Blood Simple