Monday, March 31, 2008

The Torchwood writing process: Part 1

This is the first of what will be several posts about the whole Torchwood process. The posts will cover different stages, and will appear now and again until I get to the end of the story. Warning - there will be many, many large spoilers for my episode, so if you haven't seen it, try and see it before reading these, or some things won't make much sense. Onwards!

The Torchwood writing process, Part 1: The first meetings, getting the job, and developing the idea

After months of me begging, pleading, crying, making threats, and offering him horrendous "services", my agent managed to get me a meeting with the Torchwood script editor and producer. At the time, my samples of work were Severance and the first draft of Curfew, and I think also Body Count, the Fairly Secret TV Pilot Script that I've now decided to name to make things easier. Body Count was my only paid TV work at the time - a production company had an idea for a series, came to me, and we developed the world and characters. I then fleshed out some outlines, and wrote the pilot script. It was still in development then, and is being shopped around at the moment.

Work samples are what your agent sends to people to convince them to hire you. My first year, all I had was The School, which got me lots of meetings, and still gets me meetings now. Then for a while, it was Severance. December 2006 (when I got the TW meeting), it was the three mentioned above - two film scripts and one TV pilot. I mention this only so you can see what worked for me, you might break in with one TV script or something else entirely. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

So. I finally had a meeting with them, on the 5th December 2006. General meet and greet, no guarantees, no idea what to expect. Would they ask me for ideas? Discuss the series? Offer me a job? I had no idea. In these situations, it's always best to over-prepare. I re-watched some of the episodes (I'd already been watching, as a fan, but wanted them fresh in my mind), and made as many notes as I could for myself - what did I like, what didn't I like, what worked best for me, what I'd like to see more of, and so on. And because I didn't know if I was expected to bring anything to the table immediately, I came up with 3 ideas for episodes, just in case they asked (they didn't, but you never know).

The meeting went very well, and they asked me to email any episode thoughts to the script editor so they could see if they fit the show. And then I left - *without* pitching them the 3 ideas in person. This is important. I had an "in", they'd asked me to email, so I had time to develop the ideas a bit further - if I'd suddenly blurted out my ideas there and then, it could have gone all sorts of wrong. Quit while you're ahead, leave them with a good impression, get out of the room before you fuck it up. Yes, I learned this by fucking up meetings in the past - sometimes as I was just leaving, I would remember an idea that they might like. In my desperation to get work, I'd pitch it, badly ("so then he goes - oh, wait, did I mention he's in a helicopter? well, he is, and then he goes to get his brother - oh, his brother has been kidnapped, I forgot to say that" etc), they'd nod and smile, and I'd never hear from them again. So stay calm, don't give them anything they don't ask for, and when the meeting is over, It Is Over, so leave quickly.

Back at home, I went over the three ideas, and developed one a bit further than the others, because it had more potential. At the time, all I had was "what if you thought you were a normal human, but were really an alien? and the alien part of you was doing terrible things, but you had no idea?" That was it, my core idea. So that needed to be teased out into a proper story. Which means sitting down and asking yourself questions, trying to answer them. If she's an alien, why is she disguised as a human? Why doesn't she know herself? If it's that secret, then the alien must be up to no good, so she's here to attack, or invade. By herself? Or with others? There must be others, she's a sleeper agent, part of a cell, they're here to invade, but first they're going to gather information. If the alien part of her does this terrible thing, then it has to be something really mysterious, to get Torchwood involved. Then they'll find out she's an alien, and all that that involves. But what do they do with her? Do they tell her? What then? And so on. I sent all three ideas in, and waited.

They all liked the sleeper agent one best, and another meeting was set up with them, including Chris Chibnall this time. Before the meeting, I was asked to think about how Torchwood would investigate this, and what they would uncover along the way. So before I went, I worked out the entire storyline, writing up a full page of everything that happens. Again, over-prepare, and you won't run out of things to say... I got in, met everyone, including, very briefly, Russell and Julie who were on their way to a Doctor Who meeting. Hands were shaken, laughter was, er, laughed, and I stared up at Russell and tried to work out if he was 10 or merely 9 feet tall (he's very, very tall). And then I got into the big room, with 4 or 5 people who wanted to hear what I had to say. I felt incredibly small and terrified, like I was a big fraud, some kid in grown up clothing pretending to be a writer.

We started with general chitchat, discussed the show itself, other shows we liked, stuff I'd written, and had a good old geeky chat. "So," they said. "Have you got any thoughts about how the story might play out?" I coughed, and said that I'd actually worked it all out, and could tell them the whole thing if they wanted. They nodded encouragingly, so I told them the entire storyline, bit by bit, from memory (I'd scribbled notes for myself, and made sure I had the whole story fixed in my brain). It took 5 or 10 minutes, but felt like I was talking for hours and hours. When I finished, they were all pleased that the story made sense, and offered some suggestions to tighten parts of it up. After that, they asked if I could write up the story I told them into an outline over the break (it was now the 18th December), and that was it. I got home, and my agent was on the phone, saying they'd just called to confirm they wanted to commission an episode script from me. I was in!

But - I was an "overcommission", one of the extra scripts which are commissioned just in case two are similar, or something goes wrong, or a writer's head explodes halfway through their first outline, etc. No guarantees that my script would make it into the show (and I wouldn't know for certain until February or March 2007). They didn't have all the scripts in yet, so many of them, like mine, were still just potentials. It added to the pressure a bit, but I was more concerned about doing a good job for my first, proper TV commission.

It would be my first TV credit, so I wanted to make sure it was perfect - this could lead to more work, from them, from other people, and could get my career back up and running. Severance had been released in August, but I'd had a 6 month period around that, leading up to December, where I had no work at all. I thought I'd start to get offers, once I'd had a movie released, but things were completely dead. By December, it was time to do the revisions on the first draft of Curfew, but that was a movie - you never know if a movie will get made, or get pulled, anything can go wrong right up until the release date. So Torchwood was the most solid thing I had going at the time. Obviously, I worked my arse off on that outline, and handed it over in January.

In the next part, I'll go through how the outline developed, and the scripting process. Be patient though, these take ages to do...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Christmas Comes Early!


Announcement! This is me, announcing the announcement! And the announcement, announced by me, is: I'm going to have a short story published in a new Doctor Who short story collection, published by Big Finish. It's called Christmas Around The World, and all the stories have a Christmassy theme, which the more astute of you may have guessed from the title. What with it containing the word "Christmas". Dead giveaway, that. Oh yes. Here's the sleeve of last year's compilation, Short Trips: The Ghosts Of Christmas.

The extra special part of this announcement? One of the other authors is a devilishly handsome young rake and fellow scriboblogger called Jason "Jason Arnopp" Arnopp. You may clickyclicky on his name to check out his hot blog action. Good lord, sirs and madams - we're both in the same book! It's like being in the same boat, but it's a book instead of a boat. Obviously we are both thunderously excited about this, and have been shrieking at each other like a couple of schoolgirls for several days now. We'll let you know when it's released - but all the clues are pointing towards it being somewhere in the region of Christmas time. But for the sweet love of the festive baby Jesus, don't say I told you.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hugo nominations ahoy

Just popping in to say a huge congratulations to the fabulous Paul Cornell, who has earned himself a Hugo nomination for Human Nature/Family of Blood from Doctor Who season 3. Also huge congratulations to Hugo-magnet Steven Moffat, who has one for Blink (also DW s3), and even huger congratulations to Cath Tregenna, who has one for Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood season 1. They all richly deserve it, and I'll be happy if any of them win, they're all lovely and scarily talented.

The full list of nominees for all categories is here, and I'm glad to see Enchanted and Stardust listed in the best film section - I loved Stardust, and Enchanted was the most fun I've had in a cinema for a long, long time. As you can probably tell, I'm not really a Disney princess kind of bloke. But Enchanted made a tiny, green shoot of joy grow from the parched, blackened surface of my evil heart. If you haven't seen it yet, rectify that error immediately - it's a clever idea, a great script, and just buckets of fun.

Right, that's all, carry on with your weekends.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Announcements, and an agent anecdote

Okay, after months of having to keep quiet, I can finally reveal what I've been working on recently - not everything, but the three main things at the moment. There are a couple of other things that I'll have to keep secret for now, as they're still in the early stages. But now, on with the bean spillage:

The Secret Project that Isn't DW or TW and Not on BBC... is... Primeval. Although many of you already guessed, and I told some people at Gallifrey, it's not common knowledge yet, so here I am, making it so. Like Captain Picard. Only not as commanding and handsome. It's for series 3, which has just been announced, and I got the job way back in September last year (clickyclicky for flashybacky), so I've been keeping quiet all this time. It's filming fairly soon, so I'd better get on and finish the draft I'm doing at the moment, or they will throw me to the Velociraptors.

By the way, just want to say hello and thank you to the ninjas over at Geek Syndicate, because during an interview with a certain someone who shall remain nameless (but his name rhymes with "Paul Cornell"), he accidentally let it slip that I'm working on Primeval. Being thoroughly decent, righteous dudes, they edited it out and told me they'd keep it secret until I announced it. You can hear the interview here, and great fun it is too - but don't go yet! I'm not finished talking.

The second project that has been occupying my time in Jan and Feb is... Spooks: Liberty. It's a spinoff of Spooks, from Kudos, the people who make, er, Spooks, and Ashes to Ashes, and loads of other shows. The only info I've found so far online is here, on the wiki-wiki-wah-wah, but I'm sure there'll be official sites and things soon. I don't know if the Liberty title is staying or changing, but last time I checked, that's what it was. It's a new show, will be on BBC3, but that's all I can say so far. Apart from this: yesterday was the final day of filming for the episode I worked on, so it's all "in the can". I know! I just threw that in there at the end, as if it didn't matter! I am, quite literally, hardcore.

The third one is very new, big and scary, and it is... the UK version of Law & Order. The story broke fairly recently, but if you don't know, the gist is that Kudos (see above) are doing a UK version of the US show, with Chris Chibnall as the showrunner. Same stories, more or less, but reworked into a UK setting for UK characters, with UK law. I'm part of the writing team, and will be doing 2 episodes. It's a new, scary departure for me, because it features no aliens, no psycho killers, no time travel, and no monsters. We've got legal and police advisors to help us with the tricky bits, and have had a couple of 2-day meetings about the show, getting it into shape, and this is before we even start writing. Week before last, we got a tour of The Old Bailey, which was amazing, and terrifying at the same time. I sat in a judge's chair, and shouted "Silence in court! You are out of order, sir!" Then I went down into the main bit, and shouted "Out of order? No! YOU'RE out of order! This whole goddamn SYSTEM is out of order!" Then I had to be escorted out, because there was a court case in progress at the time, and I'd just kicked an elderly judge out of his chair.

Obviously, as I've said many times now, I cannot talk about plot things, so don't even dare ask, or I'll shriek in horror. I will try and post about the working process for any and all of these, because they each had very different setups, and the contrast is quite interesting. Ah, that reminds me, I still have some TW questions to answer... I'll try to do those soon, but it's a bit hectic at the moment (see above).

And to finish things off, here's an insight into the mind of an agent. Last week, I was in a meeting for a TV job (one I've already got, nothing mentioned above), and they asked me if I fancied doing an episode of Other Popular Show, as well as this one. At first, I said no, what with being so busy, and also because I thought it would be too awkward (the plots can get quite tangled and tricky, and I worried that it'd probably be a nightmare to write for). But they talked me into it, pitched the episode idea to me, and explained that it wasn't as serial-based and complex as the other ones. I said fair enough, and asked if I could be considered for Possible Other Series as well (something else they're developing which I want in on). They thought about it, and said they'd see what they could do. So it looks like I'm doing Other Popular Show, which should be good fun, and maybe Possible Other Series sometime too. It was so nice to have someone pitch to me, rather than the other way around. Anyway. I phoned my agent, and told him the whole story, expecting him to be impressed at (a) my negotiating skills, (b) my calmness under pressure, and (c) how far I've come along in my career now that they're asking me for things. Instead, there was a brief silence, and then the rest of the conversation went:

Agent: You said NO to them??
Me: Yes, and then what was so brilliant was--
Agent: You. Said no. To them.
Me: Yeah, but then they talked me into it. Isn't that cool?
Agent. Said. No. To. Them...
Me: Yeah! I told them I thought it'd be too difficult.
[sounds of agent having massive heart attack]
Me: Hello?
...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Happy birthday to me, again

Another year older, not necessarily wiser though. I keep waiting for that to happen. When is being grown up supposed to kick in, exactly?

I'm in the strange position of not knowing what I want for my birthday. I'm not rolling in cash or living in a palace, but I don't really need anything major. I have a computer, a desk, a chair, a telly, a PS3, a sofa, and a comely wench. I live in a nice place. I love what I do for a living. I don't need a car, can't drive anyway. There's ice cream in the freezer. Booze in the cupboard. Clothes in the wardrobe. So what do I need? Most days, all I do is write, watch telly, read, go to the cinema, eat, play games, and so on. All I ever buy are DVDs, books, games, and CDs/downloads, but I don't *need* any of those things, and there's no point everyone getting me lots of DVDs. Besides, you'd only get the wrong version, and I'd sound like a madman explaining to you that the UK version is only the 2 disc whereas the US version is the 5 disc containing *crucial* extras, and you getting me the 2 discer is a slap in the face (I'm talking, of course, about the Blu-Ray version of Blade Runner, get the US version as it is actually multi-region and will play on your UK machines, as will many other US titles, see, now I sound like one of Those People).

But I can't have a birthday with no presents, it feels wrong and slightly sad. Birthdays are for getting presents. It's the one time a year you're allowed to be selfish and demanding. But things have been so hectic lately, the one thing I really, really want is a nice, quiet day of not doing anything much. Which is what we're doing. If we can be arsed. So it'll be a quiet day here at Spork Towers, but also partly because it's Wednesday, which is always an awkward, ugly, unwanted day. We have vague, non-threatening plans, but will save the full-on celebrating for the weekend.

One thing that did come yesterday, just in time for my birthday, is a DVD copy of my Doctor Who episode. I happened to be at The Mill last week, for... various reasons, and they showed me some of the effects footage from it. Obviously I can say nothing, as BBC Wales have implanted an explosive device in my neck that will blow my head off if I say certain trigger words or phrases. But I think I can safely say this:

OMG. And Squee.

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, in fact.

Okay, head's still attached, good. It looks absolutely amazing, it's way, way cooler than I could have imagined. There are specific things and moments I want to praise, but there's no way to do that without going into specifics, so that'll have to wait, I don't want to even hint at anything. But if I can be allowed a little birthday leeway, then I'll just say one thing: Catherine Tate is going to knock your socks off. She's fantastic. And gorgeous, too. That's all I'm saying. Please do not reproduce this blog entry on any other sites, or turn it into a news item, there's nothing to see here apart from "DW writer thinks DW is great, including own episode". Any questions will be fobbed off in an amusing fashion.

Holy shitebiscuits. I just casually wrote "DW writer". I'm a writer for Doctor Who. I mean, I knew I was, but it's only when you stop and think about it that you realise what that means. As someone at Gallifrey said (probably one of those other, clever writer types), if I could go back in time and tell my 10 year old self about this, it'd absolutely blow his/my mind. Birthday presents? I'm doing what I always dreamed of, so it's my birthday every day, as far as I'm concerned.

Other projects are going very well. I have so many things I want to announce, but they're all still secret. If any of the people involved are reading this, please announce stuff, so I can say stuff. I'm the birthday boy, and you *will* obey me. Thank you.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Rift

Calling all Torchwood fans: Are you based in the UK? If not, can you get over here? Fancy meeting Gareth David-Lloyd? Eve Myles? Alan Dale? And - blimey - James Marsters??

If you fancy some of that action, then get yourself down to "The Rift", a one day Torchwood event in London on Saturday April 26th. The aforementioned pretty and talented actors will be there, along with Richard "the producer" Stokes, Chris "the Chibber" Chibnall, and an extremely talented, handsome, up and coming writer called - oh, how embarrassing! It's me!

There will panels, discussions, Q&A's, autograph sessions with everyone, actor photo sessions, and your ticket will also get you into James Marsters' concert that evening. You'll get to see and meet the pretty actors, up close - and us not so pretty behind-the-scenes types, but we have all the juicy gossip, and know where the bodies are buried.

All the details of the event can be found here, so keep an eye on it for updates. I'm very excited about it, because I'll get to meet James Marsters - I've been a fan of his ever since I saw him stride on-screen in the "School Hard" episode of Buffy, and thought he was fantastic as Captain John. I can't wait to meet the lovely UK Torchwood fans, who have been so good to us online, I'm also thrilled about meeting Alan Dale, and it's always lovely to see the rest of the TW gang. So come along and see us, it's all good clean fun.

Well, maybe not *clean*, this is Torchwood after all. But it'll definitely be fun.