So DOWNTON is in its final season. I think the driving success of the show apart from the obvious, is the love and compassion that Julian Fellowes has put into his stories and writing. Julian is an old friend, although I dont see much of him these days with the incredibly busy life he leads. I first knew Julian back in the 1980’s when he was living in LA promoting his acting career. Julian would hold wonderful networking dinner parties at his rented house in Beverly Hills, laughter, wit and friendship would abound. Then, Julian won his Oscar for the wonderful GOSFORD PARK…… His amazing talent blossomed and at that time I was struck by Julian’s kindness and care as a human being and that is what comes through his writing.. Before GOSFORD PARK and Oscar, I asked him to write a screenplay for me from a book by the writer Anne Perry: THE FACE OF A STRANGER.. At the time I was working as a producer on another of Anne’s books, with Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, when he was producing.
Julian wrote a terrific script, but sadly we were not able to get it made, However I became even more aware of Julian’s humanity, as a writer and a man. His decency and morality shines though his work. I am in awe and wish him much continued success. I do believe those qualities are very much what has made “Downton Abbey” such a success.
When writers are able to put their humanity into a screenplay, it is that care and humility that make that writing a success. When they write a good story for the pleasure of audience, the writing works. Quentin Tarantino shares this value.. Despite the violence that weaves through much of his work, there is also a humanity that shines through many of his characters. All the great ones share this and I would include Ridley Scott in this category. He embraces us all with his film making. THE MARTIAN is very human, compassionate film, despite all the science and technology. I hope he gets recognized for that in this years awards.. And Julian writes for his audience….he cares for the audience and wants to engage them. Sometimes we feel shut out by the end result, the Writers’, Producers’, Directors’ desire to shout out “Look at me, what a great film I am making” too bad, it just drives us away. We never feel shut out by “Downton”, it is part of us and we are part of it.
I watched the BAFTA tribute to “Downton”. And Hugh Bonneville introduced the crew to the audience, which was very moving. There are so many people that go into the success of a show like this and we must never forget those people behind the camera, who contribute so greatly to its brilliance.
We lost two great Cinematographers over the Christmas season Haskell Wexler (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST) and Vilmos Zsigmond (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF A THIRD KIND)…they were both in their twilight years and both still shooting when they left us. Their contribution to the Art of film making is considerable…they will be missed. I have worked with some great Cinematographers: Nic Roeg, Douglas Slocombe and will write more about the value of a good DP more later. In the meantime while you are feasting on DOWNTON, never forget the crew.