Sunday, 21 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - Xinzhou

More on Xinzhou here.

You remember how, way back in the Cremona bear facts, I said that we would come to the most difficult to write episode of all eventually? Well... welcome to Xinzhou. Xinzhou was an absolute nightmare to write, or rather to rewrite, culminating in a marathon 36 hour rewriting session through the night up to the very morning of the recording, during which heroic producer David got a sleeping bag sent to him from home so he could sleep in the Pozzitive office while I wrote, and also … the thing for which he has never quite forgiven me… was forced to eat a sandwich from Subway.

There were three main things that made it so hard. Firstly, it was another bottle episode, like Fitton and Limerick, which as I've said elsewhere I find the hardest to write. Secondly, separately it also had quite a lot of hard work to do getting all the characters set up for Yverdon, and restating the stakes: Martin cannot go on as he is at MJN. But MJN cannot continue without Martin. Eventually, the way I found to do this without having everyone just sit around telling each other things they already know, was to put the focus on Douglas. And indeed, in a quiet way, this is an episode all about Douglas - the others all have fairly basic Wants about getting to sleep or fixing the plane; but it's Douglas who goes on an important journey from discouraging Martin from leaving, so as to save his own job; to realising it's his duty to encourage him. And, of course, to fix everyone's problems by doing something clever… by finally making Martin give him his hat.

The third problem, though, was entirely my own fault. Once I got the 'stuck on Gerti overnight' idea, I initially thought this would be more like Limerick - constantly flicking between various games and conversations as they tried to keep themselves amused. And I had a lot of ideas in my various notebooks and early drafts of other episodes for games and stupid 'how many otter…' style conversations that I'd never used. So why not, I thought to myself, gather them all together, and make an episode out of them? Because, I ought to have immediately answered myself, whilst kicking myself hard for even asking such a stupid question, that NEVER WORKS. On two other non-CP-related occasions I've tried to write something by assembling various bits cut from other shows or drafts and trying to stitch them together into a sort of Frankenstein's monster, and on both occasions it's gone about as well as it went for Dr. Frankenstein. And the same thing happened this time. The bits had been written at different times, they had subtly different moods, they involved different stages of the characters (Series 2 non-Arthur characters, as I've been saying a lot in these posts, do not act the same way as series 4 characters) , and no matter how I tried to rewrite and finesse them, it didn't work. It wasn't like an episode of Cabin Pressure  - it was like one of those clip show episodes US sitcoms sometimes do.  So, after a crisis meeting with producer David… I threw out almost everything, and started again. Hence the mad scramble to the very brink of the deadline, and beyond, as I ran quite chronically out of time. So… you can imagine how delighted I am that when a fan site did a poll, Xinzhou was voted their favourite episode of series 4 - and I know a lot of people have it as their favourite overall. Believe me, that did not seem a likely scenario at 5am on January 6th 2013...


DOUGLAS                  I’m sorry you’ll miss your date, Martin.

MARTIN                       It wasn’t a date.

CAROLYN                   Did you have a date?

MARTIN                       No.

DOUGLAS                  Yes.

CAROLYN                   Well, who with? Tell all!

MARTIN                       There’s nothing to tell. She’s very nice, but… our jobs are too different, and we live too far away, and it’ll never work, so…

CAROLYN                   Oh dear. Where does she live?

MARTIN                       Vaduz.

CAROLYN                   Oh, in Lichtenstein? Did you meet her when you picked up that awful Princess?

MARTIN                       …Yes I did.

CAROLYN                   And what does she do?

MARTIN                       She’s… er…

DOUGLAS                  She’s in management, didn’t you tell me, Martin?

MARTIN                       …Yes. She’s a manager. She’s quite high up.

CAROLYN                   What company?

MARTIN                       …I can’t really tell you.

DOUGLAS                  But put it this way, it has the turnover of a small country.


Anonymous said...

The suspense is killing me.

Dylan Thompson said...

... and they called Hitchcock the Master of suspense ...

Kathryn said...

(twirls cape evilly, twiddles villainous moustache, laughs maniacally, ties heroine to railway tracks...)

Maddy said...

Haha, I remember talking to a very tired David Tyler after the X/Y recording! I asked him what you would do if you wanted to rewrite anything after and he jokingly-grumpily said 'He would live with it.'

I'm getting excited for Zurich now!!

Anonymous said...

Xinzhou is actually my third-favorite episode (with St. Petersburg being first and Limerick being second). So, all those hours of last-minute agonized writing were good for something!

MartinPic said...

Xinzhou is an absolute hilarious masterpiece all the way through.

To see that it was refined in such a frenetic last-minute way gives me enormous confidence that my last-minute scrambling for deadlines might actually bring out the best in me.

Thanks, John, you've proved to me what all my editors have failed to see, namely that scratching around at the death really does bring out the best in people:)

MartinPic said...

The big difference being, of course, that you think very very deeply about stuff, and I tend to dash stuff off at the last minute; this blog post of yours is a huge lesson, for me at least, that you really really have to think properly about everything before committing it.
And for that I thank you.

Anonymous said...

This has my favorite gag of the series, when Gerti starts playing "Fizz-Buzz"

Anonymous said...

My family still plays Fizz-Buzz-Haveabanaaana! when in any confined space, or when prompted by external buzzing. Thank you for all your hard work, and a top-favourite, well-crafted bottle episode!

Kelsey said...

Xinzhou is one of my favorites, and now even more so knowing what you went through to write it! Thank you thank you thank you.

Henry said...

Again - like T - I'm surprised X is popular, too slapsticky for me. I mean, it's brilliant, and the narrative is excellent, but I just prefer others more...

Sweet Camden Lass said...

It's utterly my favourite. My husband hasn't quite caught up, but we already have a variation on Yellow Car which includes "Yellow Herb" "Yellow Sign" "Yellow word of one sound...."

Unknown said...

I have a huge problem with selecting a favourite episode, but if I was pressed for an answer, Xinxhou would be right up there, along with Limerick and St Petersburg. I would say that your hard work really did pay off with that one!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely fascinating insight that you identify bits of script having subtly different moods and so not fitting together gracefully. One of the reasons I will never be a writer - because I just don't "get" it. Not do I fret about birther order of siblings and why Douglas said what to Carolyn. Just a quiet accepting beast. But all of Cabin Pressure is such a joy and now we're getting so close to the end, thank you. Thank you for all of it. And thank you for making the tough decision to end it on a high. No shark-jumping here.

I'm currently working in a supermarket stacking shelves and in the pre-Christmas melee can often be heard to murmur "Here I am don't tread on me" I'm waiting for someone to respond.

Have a wonderful Christmas

Philippa Sidle said...

Xinzhou is a thing of perfect beauty, definitely the standout episode in a season full of very good things. It's like a pearl of non-plotty perfection. Someone made a poetic comment a while ago about a scene in a previous episode being like a perfect still life, and this is how I feel about Xinzhou as a whole episode! I remember feeling awed at the time when you said that you'd struggled so much to write it, because it seems seamless and effortless. Love it.

Luisa said...

I don't live in Switzerland, but yesterday, when I took the train home for Christmas, I saw that the terminus of it was Zürich. It made me so happy that I couldn't stop grinning because I was going towards Zürich in every sense! I am more happy than sad that it will soon be here because I have the privilege of spending some more time with these wonderful characters that I have grown so incredibly fond of.

Discovering CP was some kind of a revelation for me, I really hadn't heard anything so funny. I always felt that people in my country needed to do sex jokes to be funny or to jokes on the costs of others, and your warm kind of humor makes me ridiculously cheerful when I listen to it.
I found CP through Benedict, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate your ingenious writing, Mr. Finnemore.

Thank you for four seasons of absolutely brilliant writing which continues to make me laugh out loud although I know the episodes now so well. And thank you for the Farewell Bear Facts, they are a constant delight and they are already one of the best presents I got for Christmas this year! It was so unexpected that you would grant us such a rich insight into your thought process, and that every day! I love the fact that at the beginning, you established that some of the posts would be short, which wold have been totally fine, but that most of them ended up quite long. You are so generous to your fans!

I can't wait for tomorrow!

Unknown said...

I had no idea whatsoever that Xinzhou had been a scramble. I love the bottle episodes very much, each one has the characters more developed than the last time. I think 'X' came out splendidly.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as an English major, I can tell you that I completely get the frantic rewrites of everything and the rush before the deadline.

As a listener, I couldn't tell that this was a hard episode to write. It seems to flow perfectly from one scene to the next. Martin's bacon-scented shirt and Arthur's snowmen are my favorite parts, along with "Fizz-Buzz-'Ave a Banana!"

Lothiriel said...

Did David Tyler sing 'here I am, don't tread on me' whilst sleeping at the office?

Steve said...

Fabulous episode - the best (subject to hearing Zurich) IMO. I love the word-play - it's "brilliant".

Mr Finnemore, you're a star.

Unknown said...

I think it's just started to set in for me that the wonder of CP is about to be over. I've managed to avoid most of the spoilers, that last special feeling of a new episode.

Both sad and excited.

Rach Cherryade said...

I think I may be one of the only CP fans who never became obsessed with playing 'fizz buzz' (or 'travelling lemon' for that matter), it's a wonderful episode but for some reason I can't quite fathom that bit is my least favourite bit of the episode. This is more than made up for of course by Arthur's snowman-building compulsion and the mystery of the bacon shirt! I also agree that this episode flows beautifully and seems effortless, not at all like it was a great problem to write! It also confirms my view that you are the greatest living practitioner of the art of 'Chekov's Gun', further proof of how meticulous and perfectly plotted CP is, as well as a testament to your elegant writing, not a single word is wasted and every line is perfectly formed!

Moony said...

Xinzhou is my favourite of all the doing nothing episodes so it is a huge testament to you that you still managed to pull of brilliance at the eleventh hour!

Anonymous said...

I love that it's not just a bottle episode but, for a large part, a bottle episode in the dark. The fact that it was first transmitted during the hours of darkness probably helped too. You could really imagine yourself as a guest at their unintended sleepover.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame this post isn't titled "忻州".

Justine Lark said...

Rach's comment about Chekhov's gun is spot on.

Also I like that Martin accuses Douglas of generating a lot of answers to his games before he announces the game, which I had always wondered about. I'm not sure I believe Douglas's denial. I mean, to see whether it's a good game, you'd have to see whether you could come up with some good answers, and then what are you going to do, waste them??

Heather said...

Re Martin's mysterious shirt - I just read an article about an exhibition of underwear at the V&A, and apparently there are bacon-scented underpants...
Truth is stranger than fiction.
Actually fiction is often stranger, now I come to think about it, but not on this occasion.

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