James Moran’s list of credits include Torchwood, Spooks, Dr. Who, Girl Number 9 (premiering on FEARnet this week), Cockneys vs Zombies (presently in post-production), and now, no doubt the crowning achievement of his writing career: his reader Q&A for this blog!
Check out what he has to say, then check out his blog (the pen is mightier than the spork), THEN check out Girl Number 9: “FEARnet will air the first two episodes on Tuesday, June 14th, and then release one episode per day on Wednesday and Thursday, with the two concluding suspense-filled episodes airing Friday, June 17th. After the initial airing onFEARnet.com, Girl Number 9 will be available at a later date on the FEARnet On-Demand network and FEARnet’s emerging cable channel.”
A huge thanks to James for taking the time…
Star Fire writes: “Questions for James Moran: 1. What can you tell us about your experience working on Dr. Who and Torchwood? How did the opportunity to work on both shows come about? How did the experience between them differ? Did you prefer one over the other and why?”
JM: I wrote a horror comedy movie called Severance, which came out in 2006, and did quite well. Off the back of that and another, unproduced movie script I got a meeting with the Torchwood producer and script editor. That went well, I was invited to pitch some episode ideas, and that became Sleeper from season 2 (the stabby-arm aliens). After that I was offered a Doctor Who episode, and the rest went from there. They’re both quite similar, in that they’re big, exciting shows run (at the time) by many of the same people, but Doctor Who had the weight of history and expectation behind it, making it even more tricky (despite being a lifelong fan of it). I loved both experiences, and couldn’t choose between them.
“2. Cockneys versus Zombies is pretty self-explanatory, but could you tell us a ittle bit about Girl Number 9. What’s it about and how did it come together? Given your experience, do you think web-based productions are something that will catch on quickly, or are they something that will take some time to win an audience?”
JM: The police have finally caught a notorious serial killer, but the evidence turns out to be completely circumstantial – if they can’t get a confession, they might have to let him go. And then things go horribly, horribly wrong… That’s the setup, it has lots of twists after that. It came together when me and Dan Turner, who directed eps 1-3, wanted to make something without waiting for permission or funding etc etc, we just wanted to get on with it. The tricky thing about web stuff is the random nature – sometimes a series will hit big, sometimes it will vanish without a trace. You just never know! So while I think there are a lot of great series out there, it’s never a sure bet, your show could just get lost in the sea of other stuff. When we finished Girl Number 9, we took it to a web distributor, which sounds like an odd thing – surely you can just put it on the web yourself?? But it actually makes sense. They team up with places that are known for web stuff, with lots of viewers, so your work has more chance of being seen. I think people are slowly realising that web shows are just another cool thing they can watch, they’re not going to “take over from TV”, as some producers are fond of saying. Web shows have already caught on, but the people who fund these things are still a bit hesitant to get involved.
3. Even those it’s pretty self-explanatory, dish. What can you reveal about Cockneys versus Zombies? Thanks”
JM: When builders unearth a centuries old plague pit, they accidentally unleash a zombie outbreak in the East End. We’ve got Michelle Ryan, Harry Treadaway, Honor Blackman, Alan Ford (Brick Top from Snatch), and loads of other brilliant actors. It’s very funny, silly, but clever too, and will hopefully surprise people. We’ve all seen a lot of zombie movies, so I tried to make sure there were several zombie moments that you’ve never seen before. And I don’t want to spoil any of it, so that’s all I can really say!
TimC writes: “Mr. Moran – Do you have a preference between film and television. What, in your experience, are the high and low points of both fields?”
JM: Film: High points – bigger budgets, bigger scope, chance to reach more people and tell bigger stories. Low points – they can take ages to set up, writers are usually low on the totem pole, and so many things can go wrong before, during and after filming.
TV: High points – more time to tell your stories, explore characters in more depth, writers are considered quite important to the process. Low points – the relentless worry of “what channel is it for” and “what audience demographic is it for”, which really doesn’t matter in today’s DVR/PVR-based world. I don’t know or care what channel a show is on, I like shows, not channels.
Preference: I love them both, and both have occasionally kicked me in the face, so no preference. Whatever I’m working on at the time, usually.
“I see that you’re still blogging despite the ugliness surrounding the whole Lanto controversy. What would you say you have taken away or learned from the experience?”
JM: To make sure I set boundaries and limits, and don’t get too involved. I took a break from blogging and reassessed why I do it and what it’s for. When I came back, comments on the blog were turned off, as it was turning into a very narrow focus group. I’d been worrying about making sure everyone was happy, which stifles you creatively, you have to just try and tell a good story without trying to please everyone, that’s impossible. Hopefully, if you tell a story that you like, then lots of others will like it too. Weirdly, I now have more of an online presence, with the blog, Twitter, and an official Facebook page, but it’s all on my own terms – the FB page is because I want to keep my personal page private, I don’t have to reply to everyone on Twitter (and would never have the time anyway), and blog comments are off to stop me overanalysing everything. Biggest thing I’ve learned is this: sometimes, Moran, you need to just shut up and not reply… Although I don’t always remember that.
KellyK writes: “Hello James. Some questions – 1. Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a professional writer. Is it something you always wanted to do? Did you always see yourself working in film and television?”
JM: Always wanted to be a writer, but never imagined it would actually be possible. I thought that was for important, clever people who lived in Hollywood or something. Been writing stories since I was 3, discovered the script format at college, kept writing stuff and trying to get better. Still never thought it would happen though. Years and years of hard work later, won a short film script competition, which gave me the confidence to approach agents with more scripts. Got an agent, wrote Severance (over a year, evenings and weekends while working a full time dayjob where I had to type all day too), sold it, and was on my way. Never thought I’d get into film and TV, growing up I thought I’d *maybe* write books in my spare time one day. I have never written a book and have no intention of doing so…
“2. Can you tell us about your writing process? Are you, like most writers, ON 24/7, constantly working on that latest project? And how do you unwind between projects?”
JM: I used to avoid a routine, because I hated being in a routine for so many years at dayjobs, but now I’ve fallen into one that sort of works – get up as early as I can, coffee and breakfast, surf the web, email, Twitter, check blogs, faff around, until I feel so guilty I can’t stop myself from starting work. Then I just keep going, once I’ve started, until the end of the day or until I’m exhausted, usually around 6 or 7pm. Once I’m on a roll, it’s best to keep going with it. Okay, that’s not much of a routine, but it is for me.
And yes, I’m always “on”, can’t help it. I’ve learned that I *need* a hobby or distraction from writing/thinking about writing. Before I broke in, writing was my hobby, and I had a dayjob. Now that writing is my job, I can’t stop myself thinking about it even when I’m supposed to be relaxing. If you’re halfway through a script, you can’t just turn off your brain – you keep worrying about it, trying to solve problems, etc. At the moment, videogames, comics, TV, movies, and non-fiction books keep me sane. I haven’t been able to read prose fiction for a couple of years now, weirdly, I’m too aware that it’s been made up by someone and I start analysing it. I’ve heard the same from several other writers, and it’s a shame, because I used to read several novels a week.
Oh, and there is never any “between projects”, one thing ends, but you’re usually in the middle of something else, then something new starts soon after that, it’s a constant cycle of keeping your career going. Unless you’re on a long running show which ends, in which case, you are able to take a break if you want. But I haven’t got my own show off the ground yet. Fingers crossed that’ll happen soon.
“3. Were you a fan of Dr. Who before writing for the show? And, if you’re willing to say, who is your favorite Dr.?”
JM: Absolutely, I’ve been watching it since before I can remember, I grew up on it. Favourite Doctor was and always will be Tom Baker, who is *actually* an alien in real life.
Joanie C. writes: “Could I ask James Moran a question?”
JM: NO! Oh, okay then.
“I love Spooks, and am a long time Doctor Who fan. Would James be willing to say who his favourite Doctor is?”
JM: See above!
“And is he the one responsible for that horrific scene in the first series – where the girl’s head was shoved into the deep fryer? If so, both shame on him, and congrats…it was such an outrageously horrific scene, I still have nightmares about it. The sign of truly great writing.”
JM: Oh, I *wish* I’d written that. No, I’m responsible for a different horrific scene, I wrote season 7 episode 7, where SpoilerPerson is revealed as the mole, and cuts the throat of OtherSpoilerPerson, killing them. I’m glad I got to be part of the Spooks tradition of killing someone in a shocking way, I’m really pleased with how that episode worked out. Spooks is an incredibly hard show to write for, because it’s so clever and complicated, it’s very easy to get lost in your own plotlines – who knows what, and when, and all the double, triple, and quadruple bluffs that spies get up to.
Lou Zucaro writes: “Question for James Moran: When you’re writing a single episode of a series that has such a rich mythology (Doctor Who’s ‘The Fires of Pompeii’) and you have to include references to things that have come before and will come later on, how much more difficult does that make your job as a writer? Who tells you what you have to include? Do they tell you why?”
JM: My episode was very early in the season, so I didn’t have to have much included from before and after. I snuck in a few references to things like City of Death (one of my favourite Tom Baker stories) and The Romans (because William Hartnell is cool, and the joke amused me), but the mysterious story arc stuff (“she is returning” etc) was put in by Russell after I’d finished. They’re very good at keeping stuff secret, they have to be.
The hardest one was Spooks, as mentioned above, because you have to make sure you don’t do anything they’ve already done (and they’ve done EVERYTHING), *and* fit into the serial arc which they (and you) are making up as they go along and is insanely complicated, *and* make sure it has 857 twists and turns, *and* make sure none of those twists contradict the other twists, or the serial arc which just changed again, or the previous 7 seasons… Oh, and I had 6 weeks between getting hired and the first day of filming the episode. Yeah. But that’s why I love TV, it throws impossible things at you, and you haven’t got time to sit around and second guess yourself, you have to just get on with it.
Don Matthews writes: “oh and a question for James Moran: I have noticed certain often repeated story elements over the last few years. The Doctor dies and then we see him from another time still alive with the implication that he will die because he already did sorta. They’ve gone to that well more than a few times. Then there’s the Doctor scares off the bad guy by sheer force of personality, which is okay if you don’t overuse it but before long it starts to feel kinda Deux Ex Machina. Do you think Dr Who lends itself to more arbitrary story resolutions just by the chaotic nature of the Doctor himself?”
JM: The Doctor always makes it up as he goes along, except when he secretly knew everything that would happen in advance… But yes, I think that he would hate to have any kind of routine, so always tries to keep things fresh, hence the last minute plans that have a tendency to go wrong, and his recent delight at discovering a new feeling (even though it was the result of something really dangerous happening). And the personality thing *isn’t* a Deus Ex Machina solution, he really has done all the stuff he says he has, and is known and feared all over the universe – sometimes, when a plan goes wrong, you just have to bluff. As for the timey wimey stuff, if you have a show involving time travel, and you *don’t* play around with that, then you’re missing a trick, really.
AvidReader writes: “If you could be any supervillain, who would you be?”
JM: Magneto. There are a *lot* of things I could achieve with his power. And yes, it worries me that I’ve already started planning, just in case I ever mutate.
EmilyFitz writes: “Color me intrigued. What can you tell us about Cockneys vs. Zombies? How did the idea for the script come to you? What hoops did you have to jump through to get the movie made? It seems like zombies are the new vampires. Next year, what do you predict the new zombies will be?”
JM: See question near the top for plot stuff. The director had the idea a couple of years ago, and I was hired to write it. Not sure what hoops were required, as I came on board after the producers and distributor were already involved, so only had to worry about writing it. As for next year’s new zombies?? Rabid chickens. I don’t know, but judging by the amount of stuff in production, next year’s new zombies will still be zombies. I’m hoping vampires come back again, but as proper, scary monsters again, and not sparkly, harmless underwear models. The ONLY people allowed to sparkle are dead Jedi.
Danforth writes: “Hi, James. Thank you for visiting and taking questions. What I’d like to know is – Do you have a favorite between science fiction and horror genres? If you were given the chance to run any show on television, what would it be and why? And in what direction would you take the show?”
JM: My favourite is the one I’m writing at the time. Or, if I get stuck, the *next* one, because it’s bound to be easier than *this* one. That’s not a joke, I love them both. Showrunning: I usually prefer watching things that I enjoy, if I took them over it’d ruin all the surprises. Although I’d love to play with Doctor Who for a while, several years from now when I’m more experienced. Where I took it would depend on where it was before I took over. But there’d probably be lots of explosions.
FullSheet writes: “What advice would you give young aspiring writers looking to break in television or movies? What was the magic formula you used?”
JM: Read a lot of scripts, write a lot of scripts, rewrite them over and over. There really is no magic formula, just lots of hard work and persistence. The more you write, and rewrite, the better you get. There are no shortcuts, tricks, secret doors, you have to work on your writing. After that, it’s really easy, all you have to do is write a brilliant script that everyone wants to make… I have lots more advice than that, which I’ve put on my blog in a handy FAQ post which will probably take you about a week to read. But it’s all there (based on the UK writing world, obviously).
The Inquisitor: “I’m interested in the process of setting up a web-series. Is it all that different from producing a t.v. show?”
JM: Yes. Unless you have a sponsor or financier, you have to pay for it all yourself, and probably do everything yourself too. You have to convince people to work for little or no money, then borrow, hire, or buy equipment and figure out how to use it. Then you have to try and get people to watch, using Twitter, Facebook and blogs to promote it. It’s a lot of work and financial trouble with no guarantee of anything. But it can be a lot of fun, and is a good way to get your stuff out there and noticed. The big advantage is that you’re in charge, you own it, and can do whatever you want. Hardest part, though, is getting people to see it. You might go viral and get millions of viewers and a sweet deal with a TV or movie company. You might get 15 hits and disappear without trace. It can be quite random like that, but then it’s the same with anything creative, really. Make sure you have a decent paying job while you do the web thing, and don’t expect anything in return. Treat it like spending money in Vegas – don’t bring anything that you can’t afford to lose…