So I’m happy to say that I’ve finished writing the first draft of the pilot episode of my reality mockumentary comedy tv pilot (wow, that’s a mouthful), Brixton vs Compton. It’s in the hands of my read-through crew now, which is a nice place in the process to be in.
Of course, it’s also only episode 1 of 12. (Which means I need to get my skates on and write at least another 3 episodes sharpish).
The idea’s pretty simple – you take a hard man from South London, and an O.G. from Compton, and have them swap places for 6 months with a camera crew in tow. Originally I wanted to do it for real, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without getting people killed. My friend Adam Tiller, bless his little cotton socks, was the one who pointed out that of course I couldn’t do it for real – but it’d make a hell of a comedy.
So that’s where I am now, with two gangs – the LA Tigers and the Allsorts Mob – and a plan to have it (after the pilot) alternate between the UK and US teams. I still want to use it for its original purpose – which was to highlight some of the cultural differences, particularly when it comes to things like racism, between the two countries. But comedy may be a better vehicle for that anyway.
And besides, this way no-one dies.
The Business Side of It
And yes indeedy, when you’re putting this kind of thing together, you do need to worry about the business aspects of it. In this case, I’m hoping to sell it to the BBC and BBC America as a UK/US co-production. The BBC are wonderfully uniquely positioned in this respect – and with a bit of luck the way it’s structured would mean that it can be filmed on a very low budget in half the time.
The Structure of a Season
The interesting thing about a pilot episode is that it has a lot of actual work to get done. It has to tell a story, sure, but it also has to set up the mechanics for everything that follows. It also means that it’s not going to work the way the rest of the episodes will, which is a bit unusual.
My current plan goes something like:
- Pilot (UK + US)
- 10 episodes, alternating between the UK and the US
- Finale (UK + US)
Those 10 episodes in the middle? They hopefully just end up being classic farce-based sit-coms. (Think Fawlty Towers, or Coupling). A little easier to write, because it’s all interlocking set-ups and pay-offs. They’re relatively self-contained (although there’s a bit of story arc that threads through them to allow the show as a whole to build from beginning to end).
Farce is all about cascading misunderstandings leading to more and more ludicrous scenarios. And it lives in the same space as comedies of errors and sit-coms. I’m definitely in the farce-zone with Brixton vs. Compton.
What are the rules?
Unlike most sit-coms, it’s not going to have a laugh-track. Laugh-tracks will kill it. In a similar vein, the characters can’t be aware they’re in a comedy – no mugging for the camera, no waiting for the laugh to hit. Luckily enough for me, there’s plenty of examples of this kind of comedy out in the world now, thanks to People Like Us, The Office, and Modern Family. So at least I won’t need to sell that idea all that hard.
In short, it needs to be played absolutely straight, or it won’t work.
The other thing is that it’s a light-satire. There’s a message in here. Heck, the pilot always had the idea that the hard man from London (Jake) was going to have to rob some weed from gang members who were on the LA Tigers turf, and it was always going to be resolved by the cops showing up and giving Jake a free pass, while disproportionately treating the black gang members as criminals.
When our OG (John) hits London, he’s going to have people crossing the street to get away from him. Why? Because he’s black? No, because he’s wearing a hoodie. (Which is based on a weird experience me and my wife had in London about 5 or 6 years ago; she was wearing a hoodie, and people were deliberately crossing the street to get away from her and giving her the stink-eye. Because she looked like she might be a chav).
Anyway, differences are going to play an important part in this show. While the UK and US have a lot of similarities, the cultural differences are huge. I grew up in the UK, and I’ve lived in the US since I was 23, so hopefully I can bring a lot of my own experiences to the story.