Get­ting an edge on Hol­ly­wood

Tack­ling taboos re­sults in shows for peo­ple who want to think, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY TV -

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.

Mon­day, 6.25pm, Show­case HD.

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