The theatre, and now the Cinema and TV and Internet, all play a propagandist role in any society.
If you are going to write a war movie, it is unlikely you are going to write about how badly your people behaved.
by Lawrence Gray
And who are your people? Are they the ones who can pay you the big bucks, or a small minority who can only afford chump change?
Your passion might demand you write something that tells “the truth”. And if your passion earns you money and doesn’t land you in jail, all the better. But “the truth” is rarely what works in anything connected to the entertainment business. As they say, when the legend and reality clash, it is usually more fun to go with the legend.
‘The truth’ is rarely what works in anything
connected to the entertainment business
On my very first brush with Hollywood I pitched a story about African woman that seemed to me interesting and “relevant”, a word much used in my circles. And I had a rather bewildered looking “Vice President” of a studio exclaiming, “Lawrence, you do realize we make movies about nothing in particular!”
I, rather idealistically, was still viewing the writers’ role as documenting “issues” and looked back at “important” British TV plays like “Cathy Come Home” and “Up The Junction.” I was, in short, the last of the “Angry Young Men” and I probably still am, though probably seen more as a Grumpy Old Man nowadays. And this essay is something of a warning to you all.
I, rather idealistically, was still viewing
the writers’ role as documenting “issues”
Art, as Orwell has it, is always propaganda. And you do not even have to think in terms of state propaganda, or political party propaganda. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune. In pluralist societies this might cover a huge range of not always consistent values.
Big business will back projects that do not undermine what they consider correct values. And ditto for little business and private Indy filmmakers with different ideas on what is correct and what is not. Under states that allow such, the average artist can avoid prison and only has to wonder if they will make money?
Big business will back projects that do not
undermine what they consider correct values.
In less generous societies where the state monitors what it considers to be the morality of its citizens, the writer can easily find themselves censored or worse. The narrower the version of acceptable ideology, often the greater the rewards for conforming!
A writer in China can do very well working within the restrictions imposed upon them. They get good apartments, plenty of work with decent budgets and not everything they produce is boring the nation.
A writer in China can do very well working
within the restrictions imposed upon them.
Though presently there’s an anti-Western cultural influence movement and a policy of promoting civilized Chinese culture, which as far as us in Hong Kong are concerned seems more to do with crushing “uncivilized” Cantonese and replacing it with “civilized” Mandarin.
And far worse than that, suppressing what was the mainstay of Hong Kong’s industry, Gangster movies and Kung Fu films.
(to be continued)
-By Lawrence Gray
In a prior life, before moving to Hong Kong in 1991, I helped found the London Screenwriters Workshop, and since coming to Hong Kong I founded the Hong Kong Writers’ Circle.
I was chairman of both august organisations and have only just stepped down from the Writers’ Circle, considering myself far too damaged to continue leading the charge for the great unknowns of Hong Kong literature. [more]
[divider]( photo credit Construction Schedule: Eric Fischer)