For the next week or so, I turn attention to screenwriters, TV writers, and filmmakers who are on the front edge of making their mark in the business. Their insights, so recently on the outside looking in, reflect the excitement of breaking in, yet the challenges of attempting to carve out a career. Today: Debbie Moon.
Debbie Moon is a screenwriter based in mid-Wales. Her first professional credit was on the CBBC show The Sparticle Mystery; she then went on to create Wolfblood for CBBC. Her first novel, sci-fi detective story Falling, was long listed for Welsh Book Of The Year. She has also co-written a radio play, and has had over fifty short stories published in the UK and US.
In Part 1 of our interview, Debbie discusses her background as a writer and how her award-winning TV series “Wolfblood” got its start:
Scott: When did you develop an interest in writing?
Debbie: I’ve always written. I remember writing a novel in the back of a school exercise book when I was six or seven. Okay, this ‘novel’ was about five pages long, but I was proud of it! I wrote obsessively as a teenager, but then I started working in theatre and went to university intending to become a theatre director. On discovering that I was a truly terrible director, I went back to writing, and eventually found my niche in screenwriting.
Scott: Did you do any formal studies in terms of creative writing or screenwriting?
Debbie: Not really. I think one module of my degree was a writing for the stage module, and I’ve attended a few evening classes and weekend courses over the years. But mostly I read all the screenwriting books I could find – I still buy a screenwriting book whenever I feel in need of inspiration – and learned on the job. Which basically meant about five years of writing really bad screenplays, watching movie and television, and slowly working out how to be better at it.
Scott: Before “Wolfblood,” what had you been doing in the way of your writing?
Debbie: My early career had an odd trajectory. One of my first feature specs, a US-set supernatural drama, was optioned by a UK company and went into development, I got an agent, started having meetings and having other projects optioned… But nothing ever actually got made. Projects went through a couple of drafts and went into turnaround, or just slowly died, I got a lot of “It’s really interesting, but it’s too expensive/it’s not for us”, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. And then “Wolfblood” happened.
Scott: Is it true you came up with the idea for “Wolfblood” while browsing in a book store?
Debbie: Yes, absolutely true! While glancing along a line of books, my eyes skipped from ‘wolf’ in one title to ‘blood’ in another and put them together. Okay, I thought, that’s interesting: what’s a wolfblood? Kind of like a werewolf, probably, but different… And suddenly I was rushing out of the store to find a pen and paper and write down all the scenes and characters popping into my head!
Scott: How did you go about developing the idea for “Wolfblood”?
Debbie: It was picked up by Children’s BBC quite quickly, but though an usual route. The BBC has a fantastic department called writersroom, which reads unsolicited submissions, runs training courses and mentors promising writers, and also holds open-calls-come-competitions for certain kinds of scripts. They happened to be running one of these for children’s dramas, so I wrote up a pilot episode and sent it in.
That first script was a mess – it had enough plot crammed in for three episodes, and introduced far too many characters – but it caught their attention and worked its way through various stages of the competition, culminating in a residential development week. And then it was optioned and the development process began!
It was in development for about 18 months – longer than usual, because it’s a high-budget show for CBBC, and they were looking for co-producers – and gradually the show took shape. We added the character of Shannon, the ‘Mulder’ of the show who’s always been convinced there’s a monster on the moor (and has no idea it’s her best friend!), moved it from a small town to an isolated village, and worked hard on defining the world and the characters’ wolf abilities.
Scott: What were some thoughts that ran through your mind the very first few minutes when you heard CBBC had green lit “Wolfblood”?
Debbie: Fifty percent “Arrgghh!” and fifty percent “Finally I can pay the rent!” Seriously, though, it was a fantastic moment. I was about to go into the local movie theater when my agent rang, and I was jumping up and down with glee in the theater foyer…
Scott: What is your ‘elevator pitch’ for “Wolfblood”?
Debbie: What if werewolves have lived among us all along, keeping their heads down, locking themselves away on the full moon? In a quite country village, a 14-year-old girl about to undergo her first ‘change’ meets a fellow Wolfblood, a boy who’s grown up in foster care and knows nothing about his people or his abilities – and slowly, their secret secret begins to leak out…
Scott: Why do you think “Wolfblood” has connected with that core audience of 8-12 year olds?
I think it speaks about universal experiences: growing up, changing relationships, the fear that you’re not like everyone else, the desire to be different but the fear of being alone… In development, I always said our model for the show wasn’t, say, “An American Werewolf In London” but the classic X-Men comics: ‘I’m different, and that’s a little scary, it’s a secret I can’t share with everyone – but actually, it’s okay. And sometimes it’s awesome.’
My favorite moment, I think, is at the end of the first episode, when Maddy tells mixed-up foster kid Rhydian “All the things you thought made you a freak – they’re completely normal for a Wolfblood.” That’s really the theme of the show.
Scott: How has it been learning how to write for that targeted of an age group?
It’s been really interesting. CBBC do a huge amount of audience research, both generally and on specific projects (in development, we went out to youth theatres and got them to improvise around werewolf-related ideas, which was really eye-opening!) They know exactly what their target audience want: strong friendships and family relationships, action, fun, moral dilemmas, and plenty of comedy!
“Wolfblood” has been one of the first CBBC shows to foreground a will-they-won’t-they romance, which until recently was felt to be less interesting to the younger audience. It seems to have played really well, and I think it helped to bring in older teenagers too – for a CBBC show, we have an usually large number of 13-18-year-old viewers…
Tomorrow in Part 2, Debbie talks about some exciting recent news involving her TV series “Wolfblood” and shares some writing tips she has picked up along the way.