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.
In Part 2 of our interview, Debbie talks about some exciting recent news involving her TV series “Wolfblood” and shares some writing tips she has picked up along the way.
Scott: What is the experience to be so intimately involved in a TV series and working with other writers?
Debbie: It’s been wonderful. In the UK, it’s rare to have a showrunner as such: I mostly handle the writing, and I have a fantastic producer who handles all the production. There is a gradual movement towards a US-style writers room model, though, and we get all the writers, script editors and producer together in a room as often as we can afford to. Without doubt, that’s the best part of the process; throwing around crazy ideas, breaking stories, and eating chocolate!
It’s also been a real education in the practicalities of television: how casting subtly affects characters, the practicalities of finding locations and sticking to budget and schedule (season two was filming exteriors during the worst snowstorms for decades), and strict limits on how much we can afford to use our CGI wolves…
Scott: Where do you get story ideas from for “Wolfblood” episodes?
Debbie: Foz Allen, the producer, said something early on that really summed it for me: a good ‘Wolfblood” story isn’t about the characters being fully human, or solely about the wolf world – it’s about the point where their two sides collide. So we’re looking for stories where the characters’ secret lives and their everyday lives come into conflict: for example, it’s the night of the school dance, but it’s a full moon. Our best stories have an internal threat, say the school bully or a strain on a friendship, as well an external threat from an adult or the fear of discovery, and are resolved both by wolfblood ‘superpowers’ and by human qualities like caring and kindness.
Scott: What is a typical workday for Debbie Moon, series creator and writer?
Debbie: Nine until six at the desk, with a break for an afternoon walk (which is when I tend solve problems in stories!) September through to about March is the main writing period for “Wolfblood”, with filming starting in February. The rest of the year I’m working on other TV ideas and spec feature scripts.
Usually I have several projects on the go at the same time, at different stages of development, so I can swap between projects if I get stuck, or take a few minutes to brainstorm a new project in between more polished ones.
And there’s also a lot of traveling. I live in mid-Wales, CBBC are based in Manchester, “Wolfblood” is filmed in Newcastle, and for other projects most meetings are in London – so I spend a lot of time working on trains!
Scott: Recently there has been some big news involving Disney. Could you tell us about that?
Debbie: Disney has picked up distribution rights for “Wolfblood” across a number of territories, including North and South America, Russia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. With the show already in Germany, Spain and Australia, we’re now showing or about to show in 70 countries. So keep an eye on the Disney XD channel, we’re on our way!
Scott: Also “Wolfblood” won a prestigious television award. What’s the scoop on that?
Debbie: “Wolfblood” season one won the Royal Television Society award for Children’s Drama, and has also just won a ‘Rockie’ award at the Banff International Media festival. Which has been fantastic for us as a show, and frankly, for me as a writer…
Scott: You have also written screenplays. What are some of the key differences between writing movies and writing TV?
Debbie: It’s all about the idea. Finding an idea that will generate stories week after week is very, very hard! It’s partly about finding a theme that can be explored in many different ways, with different guest characters, and which creates problems that don’t have a single easy solution.
Also, I think creating an ensemble of characters is the key to television. You need to be able to take any two of your characters and put them together, and instantly have a conflict, a rivalry, an approach to a problem that no two other characters would take…
Scott: You’re part of the online writing community The Black Board. Given your busy life schedule, what is it about The Black Board you find valuable to you as a writer?
Debbie: Writers need the right balance of solitude and gregariousness, and one of the great things about social networks and online communities is that writers can share thoughts, ideas and encouragement across enormous distances at any time. Talking through a problem with someone else, learning from their experiences, testing out new story ideas: all vital parts of the writing process, and they’re now right at our fingertips.
Scott: How about three tips for aspiring writers?
Debbie: 1) If you really want this, don’t ever give up. Six months before “Wolfblood” was put into development, I was beginning to think I’d never get anything made. If I’d given up then…
2) If your work is in a genre not everyone likes, learn how to give readers something they can hold onto. I write a lot of science fiction, and always found it hard to sell. When I started deliberately putting in things readers could identify with – family relationships, romances, lighter subplots – I immediately started getting better responses to my work, without compromising the story I really wanted to tell.
3) Whatever you’re saying, have something new to say about it. Werewolves have been around forever, but “Wolfblood” tackles them in a new way, and I think that’s been the key to its success. Even in an original story idea, there will always have been similar stories before – so know those stories, and foreground what you’re doing that’s different.
Scott: What’s in the future for Debbie Moon?
Debbie: I’m developing a primetime supernatural series with a producer at the moment, finishing up a feature spec and planning several more, and waiting to see if “Wolfblood” is renewed for a third season…