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Making La La Land

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Misha Manson-Smith | 17:00 UK time, Monday, 17 May 2010

La La Land, the new show from the extraordinarily talented character comedian Marc Wootton, caused quite a stir across the pond and can currently be seen here on BBC Three. Set in Los Angeles, it chronicles the attempts of three superbly ghastly Brits - Gary Garner (aspiring actor), Brendan Allan (aspiring documentary maker) and Shirley Ghostman (yes, that disgraced 'professional psychic') as they try to make it in Hollywood.

Marc plays each of the characters. But everyone else in the show, we are promised,
is real. And that's what makes it such gripping television - if you've seen Marc's previous work like My New Best Friend and High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman will know that Marc can remain in-character and push the buttons of his unsuspecting co-stars to an incredible degree.

Which must also make it pretty challenging to put together. So over the next few weeks, Misha Manson-Smith, Director and Executive Producer of La La Land, is going to tell us all about it - starting with why they decided to do it in the first place.

The point of making La La Land...

In La La Land, we wanted to make a real-world comedy about the adventures of Gary, Brendan and Shirley as they escape their pasts and struggle to succeed in the underbelly of Hollywood. It's a weird strata of LA life, full of characters who could've walked straight off the set of a David Lynch movie. Recently a journalist asked why, if we intended to satirise this world, did we engage with people like Ruta Lee, who are basically pretty nice. The answer is that on one level the show is an expose of the seedier side of Hollywood, but we also wanted it to be about Marc's characters getting mixed up with some of LA's most extraordinary personalities and just enjoying the comedy that comes from them trying to get along together.

Shirley GhostmanAs you'll see in episode four, where Gary goes "method" and spends a day shadowing mattress salesman Neil Leeds, the show is about giving screen time up to these unwittingly hilarious real life characters, rather than feeling like every encounter has to be taking down the bad guys.

The thing is, LA is a pretty liberal place. People are generally really nice, so we realised that if you want to make a show in and about LA, you need to adapt to that, rather than trying to bait rednecks in a way that would only really work in Alabama. Also, going after racists and getting them to say something racist is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, we wanted to do something different.

Our satirical agenda is really more in Marc's characters than it is in the people they meet. For example, when Brendan pitches a climbing documentary that may result in the deaths of his subjects, it's as much about him sending up a particular school of documentary-making, that's all about sensation over integrity, as it is about showing how unethical producers can be if there's a fast buck to be made.

Similarly, in the scene in episode one where Shirley 'reads' that girl by the pool and rips off her credit card, she isn't a great target, sure, but I don't think she feels like a target at all - I think the scene is quite gentle, and all about Shirley digging his own grave so viewers can see that he's both a charlatan and incompetent. She was the perfect person for that scene and completely saw the funny side afterwards. We took a lot of care to make sure we didn't end up filming with someone who was desperate for cash, or going through something stressful in his or her life. We also took care to present people in the show as they really were, rather than trying to humiliate or stitch them up in the editing. On the whole, it's Marc's characters who usually end up looking like fools.

La La Land continues on Tuesdays at 10.30pm on BBC Three.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good to see a real comedy gem at last on BBC3 again - this show gets better and better each week - looking forward to 4th show tomorrow night.

  • Comment number 2.

    Continuity error in episode 3 has convinced me that this is all a set up.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Scramel, Misha responds...

    "Thanks for your comment - can you explain what you thought the continuity error was? Nothing is staged in the sense I think you mean, nobody was aware Marc was an actor and there were no other actors.

    However a lot of planning in a sort of Truman Show-esque way went into creating the fictional realities of the show. If something does appear to be a 'continuity error', it'll be a symptom of editing 15 or more hours of real life down to about 7 minutes for each storyline in the show."

    I hope that puts your mind at rest.

  • Comment number 4.

    It's the real deal Scramel - you can tell, it's all in the reactions. Actors can't act well enough to convince us otherwise see Borat and Bruno for proof. This show just gets better and better. I love it. Can't wait for show 5 but don't want it to be over.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    i saw this show online a few months ago - so glad the BBC picked it up for the UK. It's in the style of Borat, but more cringeworthy, if that's possible.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great to see Marc Wootton back on our screens again. He's quite simply one of the greatest comedy character actors i've ever seen and it was a real shame that the famous Jonathan Ross interview wasn't seen as the 'in character' form it really was. I think comparisons to Sacha Baron Cohen are selling Marc short as i'm not sure the former could pull off Gary, whose character feels so familiar it almost becomes harder to portray. Bruno and Borat are outrageous and therefore easier, if not lazier to produce.

    Simply put Marc Wootton is up there with Chris Morris in pushing boundaries and both have found themselves at the sharp end of a misunderstood public opinion but in some ways i wouldn't want it any other way. Harsh reaction to controversial programming only reinforces the original intention, as was the case with Chris Morris's Brass eye.

    Long may La La Land continue as it's been a breath of fresh air. Great job. I'd like to know though, will this series have a BBC1 or 2 release as well as Three?

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with the other comments, brilliant series, best show I have seen in a long time.

    I hear there is another show with Shirley Ghostman, anyone know where it can be seen?

  • Comment number 9.

    That's right - Shirley previously had his own BBC Three series called High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman. If you enjoyed La La Land you'd definitely love High Spirits.

    I'm not sure if it's being repeated anywhere at the moment but it is available on DVD - and comes with another of Marc's shows, My New Best Friend, bundled in for free.

  • Comment number 10.

    BBC3 should definitely now repeat High Spirits - only been on once?

    It would give LA LA LAND fans/followers Shirley Ghostman's backstory -

    Oh and show La La Land as a stack BBC?? *hint hint*

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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