Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Hope and Wire

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  • Sacha,

    I guess the challenge when you're writing about any event that has affected so many people so profoundly is trying to distill those myriad experiences into a small group of characters without resorting to stereotypes.

    The actors particularly seemed to realise the importance of the project and I was impressed by all of them.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I’ve been trying to write something about this (and on balance, think I’m going to hold off until next week, and see where it goes) but I stand by what I said on Twitter:

    The problem with 1st night of #HopeAndWire is that it’s a docudrama that isn’t much of a documentary, and only fitfully works as drama.

    And, God, I know the “straight to camera” monologue is a device Preston has used before, and well, but more often than not it felt like I was not only being talked AT but DOWN to. Was I supposed to want to slap Comrade Theoden and Uptight Merivale Mum as often as I did? "Show don't tell" is a very sound principle, and one writers as experienced as Dave Armstrong & Preston shouldn't have to be reminded off. Especially when you've got a cast who can carry it when they're given the chance.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    I expected Hope and Wire to be a tough watch, but the reason I turned it off after 45 minutes wasn't any of the things I'd expected. I quit out because it was bad. Charicatures, cliches, terrible stilted dialogue. The precise moment I switched off was the use of the phrase "mega munted". Wrong, just so wrong.

    I'm hearing now that when they got on to the February quake it got better, but also that people have really struggled with seeing themselves in the stock footage, which I think really highlights to inevitable problems with co-option when you bring in someone from the outside to tell our stories. And if people from Chch are saying, as some were last night, "this is not our experience", then what story is being told?

    I'm not blaming Preston for any of that, and I'm aware of the battles she had to fight to get the city as much involved as it was, but I still don't think it was enough. It felt, to me, like a postcard to Auckland from Auckland.

    I could have put up with the odd little jarring things - like the woman from Bexley having a go at the assessor for being from "out West" after the September quake when that split in the city didn't happen until February - if the writing and the characterisation had been better.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Robert Fox,

    I didn't watch it as I'm still raw from our family’s ongoing battle with insurance and EQC, although I will eventually get around to it.
    I'm not sure if future episodes will touch on these issues but the ongoing trauma caused by rubbish government bureaucracy, an arrogant and practically useless minister with too much power and the appalling behaviour of venal insurance companies and EQC is a story that needs to be told no matter how unpalatable it is to the rest of NZ. It is nothing short of a national disgrace.
    It’s become a bit of a cliché but many people here in Christchurch will tell you that the trauma of the shaking was easier to deal with than the ongoing Kafkaesque nightmare of trying to get their lives back on track in the face of this wilful intransigence.
    There are also many positive stories to be told about the post-quake recovery in Christchurch but many feel alienated from this narrative because of their ongoing and completely avoidable personal battles with the powers that be.

    Since Nov 2006 • 114 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Charicatures, cliches, terrible stilted dialogue. The precise moment I switched off was the use of the phrase “mega munted”. Wrong, just so wrong.

    Thanks, Emma. I've tried to be really sensitive about being aware I'm watching this in a very different place from people in Christchurch for whom this is about their lived (and ongoing) experience. And, yeah, I always knew no matter who was involved Hope and Wire was inevitably going to be like tap-dancing across an emotional minefield while blindfolded and juggling a half-dozen chainsaws. It was never going to make everyone happy -- hell, there's a lot of people for whom, understandably, it would be unwatchable -- but too often it felt really "stagey" in the worse sense.

    I also think Russell puts his finger on something here:

    We are also seeing the pressures of publicly-funded drama in New Zealand, with beancounters asking “does it need all the earthquakes?” and, I suspect, a demand for storylines and characters that would engage a mainstream audience and tick demographic boxes.

    Perhaps a little more trust in the emotional and artistic intelligence of that "mainstream audience" would be a good thing?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,

    It felt, to me, like a postcard to Auckland from Auckland.

    both the writers are from Wellington.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Perhaps a little more trust in the emotional and artistic intelligence of that "mainstream audience" would be a good thing?

    Yeah, but it's not just that: I wonder if there's a demographic obligation that's even stronger here than usual -- you must show young people, old people, poor people, rich people, white people, brown people.

    Fewer characters and more drama might have been better.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe,

    Didn’t watch it: wrong time for me. I caved this morning and watched the clip on the Press website. That’s enough.

    The incessant PR campaign Gaylene Preston has waged over the last few weeks in which she claims tenuous links to Christchurch is beyond insulting. The empathy shown in that piece of film is zero.

    Splicing the clips of people on the street just after the Feb 22 quake with a Christchurch caricature piece of acting is disgusting.

    In that clip I see Greg’s office, I see his colleague (a trained rescue worker) – who ran straight out of the office and on to the collapsed building – digging people and bodies out with his bare hands. Several people died at that corner, in that rubble. Greg was injured across the road.

    I see the old lady in black, who I watched on youtube months later when I was able to face it, staggering down High Street. What happened to her? Did she have family or friends to go home to? Did she have a home to go to? Was she one of the elderly who died month later, death brought on early by the trauma?

    I see the terror and shock in the teenage boy’s face as the ground heaves again. That series of 5.8 and 5.9 shocks in the first 30 minutes after the first one were terrifying. I wonder if he was at school when it happened? At the school my boys go to now? Which is in its second temporary home since the quakes (on the other side of town, in Gerry’s Ilam, where the residents object to us parking for five minutes in the street to pick up our kids – who otherwise spend 80 minutes on a bus trip that should take 35 minutes).

    The use of these images, unless express consent from the people has been obtained, is foul. It may be legal, but it’s inhumane.

    Avoiding the series’ publicity has been impossible: it’s been stressful not watching it.

    When I saw my son’s face go white during the TV ad this week, I realised that this series not going to help us.

    I hope he doesn’t start screaming (not yelling – screaming) in the night. Asleep. Running around the house asleep, screaming. That happened for a year after the quakes stopped.

    So maybe you can understand when I say to the cultural opportunists: these are our lives, our stories, our town. Go away.

    That mild statement doesn't convey the fury I feel. The layers upon layers of havoc that the quakes have wreaked in my family's lives are blistering and many-faceted. It's not only about buildings: health, jobs, finances, education, daily life, friends, loss of family, loss of future.

    To have it reduced to a postcard to Auckland....

    (Do I gets points for no swearing? )

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2898 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Yeah, but it’s not just that: I wonder if there’s a demographic obligation that’s even stronger here than usual – you must show young people, old people, poor people, rich people, white people, brown people.

    Which I would find entirely worthy, because, you know, diversity is just awesome. (And no, folks, I'm not being even a little bit sarcastic.) But you've got to take the next step beyond ticking off the demographic boxes and making them dramatically interesting characters. Sorry to pick on Joel Tobeck, but Greggo might as well have had I AM THE KING OF DOUCHEBAGISTAN tattooed on his forehead; and the rich white folks seem to have wandered in from Shortland Street (uptight prissy snob Mum, professionally and personally skeevy lawyer and slutty bitch teenager, and big bro you just know was doomed the fifth time his sister called him a retard).

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    I dunno. I was genuinely impressed by the first screening, I did not assume that its intent was to be a documentary,

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2557 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Sacha,

    both the writers are from Wellington.

    I was extending the existing metaphor. From outside, for outside.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Hebe,

    The use of these images, unless express consent from the people has been obtained, is foul. It may be legal, but it’s inhumane.

    There was some feeling of that nature when When a City Falls came out, but not much. Is the particular offence here that the pictures were used in a dramatic context?

    Not quibbling with you at all: just asking, because to an outsider, the incorporation of the real-life footage seemed one of the most successful elements.

    And do you think any dramatic treatment could have been right for you? Perhaps a smaller narrative that didn’t claim to tell everyone's story?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Swimming against the stream here, but on balance I thought the first two hours were pretty good. Yes, some of the character cliches were painful (racist skinheads/ego-centric fendalton lawyer/genial old-school socialist etc.) Some of the dialogue didn’t work, occasionally the drama seemed bit over-cooked, and the acting wasn’t uniformly natural.
    But by the end there was room for most of the characters to grow. I didn’t expect it, but I liked the to-camera bits. Sometimes I just felt they were better acted. As a technique, it worked (for me) to convey feelings/thought that way.
    The blending of actual footage with the drama was scarily effective (apart from one scene). The story arcs are well-launched- still plenty of time to go silly or wrong, but so far, despite some wobbles, I thought it worked ok.
    ETA: I do understand this is hard for many. I was able to watch with a little distance, as a rare Christchurch-based kiwi drama (how many of those have there been?) and from a personal point of view that's both bloody lucky, and more-than-a-little interested in television-making.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2108 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I meant it's even more indirect - writers writing for an audience they aren't part of about a situation they weren't part of. Not that it's impossible with a decent imagination and a wise understanding of people beyond stereotypes.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Sacha,

    a wise understanding of people beyond stereotypes.

    We'll see how that goes, I guess. The first half-hour, I felt almost all the characters were verging on caricature. But most, by the end, had more depth. Still not enough if the development isn't well-conceived and the story arcs have everyone reverting to stereotype ...

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2108 posts Report Reply

  • Just thinking,

    Len is Murray Horton, isn’t he?
    I’ve met Monee many times, sometimes a she is a homeless man in a crumpled suit liberated from a now demolished Hotel. And it was good to see the strength of the elderly displayed which was so very true. It misses the overwhelming compassion and genuine love simply everyone had for their fellow man for the best part of a year.
    The cardboard cutout skinhead is too contrived, but still holds a truth in that only the dozen or so total scum still in the city took such liberties, rather than liberating beer it should have been those emergency generators. Christchurch’s crime rate in the wake of the quakes was pretty close to zero.
    I was witness to a high court case being concluded at a bus stop next to a rubbish bin, about July 11. Everyone knew the score at that stage and a quick decision was a good decision.
    Not comparable to when a City falls, and it isn’t long enough to show how time impacts on us all..
    I did find it an emotional experience all the same and glad it was made.

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1158 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie,

    Seeing $5m of scarce NZ On Air money being funnelled into one quite inappropriate project was too much for me... I couldn't bring myself to watch it. Do we really need an overpriced Auckland drama to tell the ChCh story?

    I would urge everyone to take a look at Gerard Smyth's powerful, low budget doco "When A City Falls". It's raw and it's real. For me, it's easily the best film that's been made about the Christchurch quakes... it had me in tears.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1434 posts Report Reply

  • steve black,

    I didn’t even know of it. I must be out of the loop. I’ll have to watch it On Demand.

    Is it weekly or on following nights?

    Just pretend I'm an alien recently landed from another galaxy who knows nothing of your strange TV customs.

    sunny mt albert • Since Jan 2007 • 116 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    I admire 'When A City Falls' but it is a bit misdirected to compare it directly with 'Hope and Wire'. The former is a documentary in content, style and intent; the latter is docu-drama, which engages with notions of memory, reconstruction, perspective and dramatisation. You need to place it within the work of Gaylene (such as Home By Christmas) and other film-makers who deliberately re-work conventions of veracity, memory and authentication.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2557 posts Report Reply

  • Alice Ronald,

    I can't even watch the ads for it. But then, I can't stand any sort of ceremonial thing to do with the earthquakes now. I've started taking leave for the 22nd & hiding in bed all day, because I get irrationally angry at the flowers in the traffic cones. If I go outside, I'll end up punching a busker or something. And that's my birthday. Do you know what it feels like to not want to celebrate your birthday ever again? I'm there.

    Knowing that it's meant for people in other areas of the country makes me feel a little better, but overall, I'd rather not know this thing exists at all.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 63 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    I think (as I tweeted last night) there are inherent problems in dramatising a disaster. Drama is usually about the characters, and the consequences of their actions and choices. In this case, the characters are acted upon by nature. Whatever struggles they might have with each other will seem petty and melodramatic because of the context. The disaster overshadows everything.

    I don’t mind if a drama doesn’t show my experience, particularly. But the experience of living through the earthquakes was a shared experience. Although our circumstances were various, all Chch people suddenly had so much in common. To other Chch people, we never needed to explain. That community was important because the horror and the strangeness were beyond words.

    When we did talk to each other, we talked about the necessities: damage to our houses, closed roads and businesses, food, water, toilets. I remember going to a party where the conversation was all about toilets: how deep is your long drop, how are you covering it, chemical toilet vs portaloo, should one walk several blocks to a portaloo or is it OK to pee in the garden. For hours, we had this conversation.

    I think Hope and Wire is compassionate and the makers clearly took a close interest in the situation of Chch people. But it feels like what it is, a script written by people who weren’t there.
    One big thing that was missing for me was the sense of the aftershocks just rolling on and on, every few minutes, many times an hour, in the early days and weeks. If you weren’t there, this must be hard to imagine. The peculiar mental state we were in: every activity, every thought, constantly interrupted. The mixture of weariness and dread.

    The Merivale lady has a line about the upward force being 2-G, and how it made everything weigh twice as much. Anyone who was there would remember that the opposite was true: we were lifted, as if we weighed half as much, and then dropped back down. That upward movement is something I’ll never forget.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Just thinking, in reply to Alice Ronald,

    Sorry to hear that Alice. I find flowers in the Road Cones a beautiful thing (except if they're from my garden). Look after yourself out there.

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1158 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    You need to place it within the work of Gaylene (such as Home By Christmas) and other film-makers who deliberately re-work conventions of veracity, memory and authentication.

    Good point.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Alfie,

    Do we really need an overpriced Auckland drama to tell the ChCh story?

    Hear that noise? It’s everyone who’s ever worked in television in New Zealand ever laughing at the idea that local television drama is “overpriced”. For comparative purposes, the budget for six hours of Top of the Lake was over $15 million.

    Considering I'm the house Tory around here, I know I should be bashing New Zealand on Air at every opportunity but I can't. For one, I don't have to like every show that gets funding to think it's incredibly important we don't leave local drama entirely to the tender mercies of the market. And nor am I inclined to apologize for the idea that people who work in the industry should actually be paid decently. If we can't be arsed doing that, then don't bother sneering at those who go to Australia (and England and the US) to work and make a decent living and don't come back.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    the latter is docu-drama, which engages with notions of memory, reconstruction, perspective and dramatisation.

    Quite a few people seem to be confusing the intentions of Hope and Wire. It’s not a documentary in any sense – I wouldn’t call it docu-drama, as I’m pretty sure none of the main characters are directly based on any real person (unlike, say, Bread and Roses.)
    It’s a drama, a fiction, and it’s purely on those terms it will succeed or fail. (Yes, it’s set at the time and looks at the effects of real events, but it’s no more a docu-drama about the Chch quakes than Saving Private Ryan was a docu-drama about D-day.)
    When a City Falls is in a league of its own.
    Perhaps less than the quakes themselves, it really captured some of the feeling of the days and weeks after – everyone speaking softly to each other, a palpable gentleness; along with numbness, boredom, apprehension and exhaustion. Getting by and making do without basic services and amenities. And struggling to find a new balance in a changed and still-changing world. It was raw.
    [And sad to hear that as well, Alice. I have another friend who shares your birthday, and a daughter who just scraped in the day before. Unforgettable, not in a good way :(]

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2108 posts Report Reply

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