This was a drama doc, shot on location in Uganda, I wrote and directed for a National Geographic series. It tells the story of an American bush guide in Africa who survived being taken hostage by murderous Interhamwe rebels – but will never stop blaming himself for the fact that he lived but his clients, a honeymooning couple, didn’t.
Making a film in a “format” – as it’s known in TV – requires, most of all, that you’re a safe pair of hands. Everything – the style, the subject, the narrative arc – has to fit “the way it’s always been done.”
So, from the very beginning, there’s a limit to how much “you” you can bring to it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But it’s a thing.
That said, I think it’s quite beautiful in places and there’s a psychological acuity not always achieved in the genre.
But the best (or perhaps worst) thing about this film resides in its afterlife.
One day I was in bed with my wife watching a BAFTA screener of the Sundance hit, The Kids Are All Right, which starred the rather brilliant pairing of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.
In the movie, they too are curled up together, there’s a close up of them watching TV. I’m watching them watch when, suddenly, worlds collide.
Annette and Julianne are watching my Kidnapped Abroad episode.
31 INT. ALLGOOD HOUSE – TV ROOM – LATER THAT NIGHT
Nic and Jules are cuddled up affectionately on the couch watching cable. They see Laser on his way out of the house.
JULES Hey bug, come here. We’re watching “Locked Up Abroad: Uganda.”
LASER I saw it. It was gnarly.
For a moment, I’m really chuffed. Annette and Julianne enjoying my film, even if it’s just characters they’re playing – yay Paul!
But then, as on the TV my star actor begins to intone his immortal lines to the hopped up rebels (played by real life Ugandan Army soldiers) guarding him — “I want my knife! I want my knife back! Give me my knife back! — I’m starting to wonder if the whole thing isn’t, actually, a big joke.
The comedy being that the complaisant lesbian couple has complaisant TV tastes. And that my episode wasn’t chosen because it’s good… but because there was a purity to its badness. That is, the badness of the episode I directed for the Kidnapped Abroad series is immediately appreciable as being utterly representative of the failures of 21st Century factual TV as a whole.
Trashy TV, c’est moi.
Tell me it ain’t so, Annette and Julianne.