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What we learnt from our masterclass with Armando Iannucci

By Danny Kelly

13 March 2017

When you are joined for a masterclass with a television legend the calibre of Armando Iannucci, it’s hard to know where to begin. Throughout the last 25+ years, the Scottish writer, television director and radio producer has established an unrivalled reputation for his brand of potent satire and highly original comedy. His credits include some of the small screen’s most beloved series; from The Thick of It and Veep, to The Day Today and I’m Alan Partridge. Over the duration of an hour-long masterclass, we were thrilled to welcome Armando to Met Film School for a career-spanning discussion, touching on topics such as production process, comedy inspirations and a certain unpopular political figure…

Here are five things we learnt from this MetFilm School Masterclass…

1. The shooting process on The Thick of It was loose and unconventional

Much of the appeal to the popular political satire The Thick of It is its cinéma vérité style, with the roaming handheld cameras giving the show its authentic and organic quality. Describing a typical shoot, Armando explained that actors were often told to forget about trying to “find the cameras”, and instead let the crew follow them. This freedom enabled the cast to be instinctive and improvise more physically during takes – safe in the knowledge that one of the two moving cameras would likely capture the moment sufficiently. The process was also aided by a decision to disregard the 180° rule, as well as to frequently use jump cuts.

2.Writing ‘Partridge’ required a three-person writers’ room

Anyone who has seen Steve Coogan on his Alan Partridge publicity tours will know that he is rather enthusiastic when it comes to appearing ‘in character’. Such appearances are a testament to Coogan’s quick wit (ironically, in playing the naive and inept Alan Partridge), but also to what a fully-formed and well-written character Alan really is. During the masterclass, Armando shared some insight into how the likes of I’m Alan Partridge were written, explaining the useful process of adopting a three-person writers’ room. Between himself and Peter Baynham, one would be at the keyboard to capture moments while the other would “just throw ideas in”, ultimately leaving Coogan to be, well, Alan. As Armando humorously recalls, being in the company of the Radio Norwich DJ all day could get “annoying”.

3. He’s glad he isn’t doing political satire in the Trump era

Across the pond, Armando is more predominantly known for being the Showrunner on HBO’s hugely successful political satire Veep – a comedy series surrounding fictional Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). While he actually fired himself from the role after Season 4, his knowledge of the Oval Office begs the question: What does he think of Donald Trump?

Armando explained that while the man is “easy to make fun of”, the situation is “deadly serious”. In particular, he expressed concern with the Trump administration’s dangerous ability to “start shaping thought, and the language of information”, in the hope that your thought process will conform to theirs. In other words, all the hallmarks of a totalitarian government. He concluded that he is glad to not be working on the topic within a satirist realm because he’d find it “too upsetting”. (Sorry, American fans!)

4. He’s impressively up-to-date with contemporary comedy

Some of Armando’s dedicated fans will no doubt be familiar with some of his more niche comedy vehicles such as The Day Today and The Armando Iannucci Shows – both of which have gained a loyal cult following for their absurdist and abstract humour. When asked by a student which recent comedy he has enjoyed, the productions and talent he reeled off made perfect sense; Bojack Horseman, Amy Schumer, The IT Crowd, Toast of London and Catastrophe were all namechecked. Speaking about what makes these examples unique, he noted that “they are all funny but also really sharp, witty and intelligent”.

5. and his three pieces of advice for film school students are…

1. Don’t wait for the call to come. It’s easy to make your own stuff and to publish it. The more you make, the better you will be.
2. Look at the credits on the shows you like and contact the people that inspire you – ask them questions.
3. Write what makes you laugh, rather than what you think might make a channel controller laugh.

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