Getting an edge on Hollywood
Tackling taboos results in shows for people who want to think, writes
HE’LL make an exception for Martin Scorsese, but for Terence Winter, the creator of the hit prohibition-era TV show Boardwalk Empire, Hollywood just isn’t up to scratch these days.
The Emmy Award-winning writerproducer co-scripted The Sopranos before launching his own drama series.
From the likes of Martin Scorsese, who co-produced Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi who stars in it, or A-list actors such as Dustin Hoffman and Glenn Close, screen talent now flows freely between film and television.
For Winter, the series format pioneered in the US by cable network HBO in the mid-1990s for a ‘‘golden age’’ of American TV, has the creative upper hand over the movie studios.
‘‘Back in the 1970s, the Academy Award nominees and huge box-office hits were things like The French Connection, Midnight Cowboy or The Graduate – really interesting character studies,’’ says Winter.
‘‘Now, the big box-office successes are superhero stories. It seems there’s a lowest common denominator mentality, in terms of movies that are almost purely visual, that anyone can understand anywhere in the world. Good robot, bad robot: they fight.’’
Until the advent of cable, he says, US TV writing was geared towards the needs of advertisers: ‘‘It was: ‘We caught the murderer, we solved this crime – and you should buy this soap’.’’
Then along came cable’s advertising-free model, which allowed teams of writers to brainstorm for days, crafting challenging drama series with almost no restrictions.
‘‘There clearly is an audience out there, of people who want to be engaged, who are willing to pay attention, and follow a story that requires a little effort,’’ Winter says.
In Boardwalk Empire, for instance, that freedom means tackling an ultimate taboo like incest, or letting a gangster storyline play out to its logical conclusion of killing a lead character.
‘‘Sometimes that leaves people feeling very ill at ease – but for me that’s the only way to tell a story,’’ Winter says.
Winter cites Scorsese as a major influence, and clearly views him as the exception to the rule when it comes to movie making.
In between series episodes, he wrote the script for The Wolf of Wall St, starring Leonardo Di Caprio as a corrupt stockbroker, which Scorsese starts filming later this year.
‘‘It’s a different set of muscles that you use to tell that story, as opposed to a series,’’ he explains.
‘‘You don’t have the luxury of saying you’ve got 80 hours with this person. You’ve got two.’’
The father to two small children, Winter doesn’t watch ‘‘near as much television as I should’’, but cites Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Homeland and Game of Thrones as examples of programming at the cutting edge.
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