Monday, December 30, 2013

Hanging Out With Actors, Part 2 - Boondock Alley

Leon's first read of the Pilot.
At the end of August I wrote about the start of a new project where three actors had commissioned me to create a web series. At that stage I only had a vague idea what I was going to write about and had committed to creating a series Bible to explore this further.

I don't know if that's usually done for a web series but it certainly is a staple in television. The Bible, in effect, is a road map for the entire show. In its current state for what is now known as Boondock Alley it is 13 pages long and about 5100 words. To give you an idea of what it contains, the headings are:

The World
Character Breakdowns
Series Rules
Series One Dramatic Arc
Episode Guides

I had said to the actors that if they wanted to do this properly they had to realise that developing scripts would take time. First step was fleshing out the premise and deciding exactly what this was. I knew the basics: the tagline quickly became Boondock Alley - A doctor's surgery for the Undead. But I had no idea what the series would be about and it was important for me to find the dramatic arc so I could structure it properly. I knew I wanted to satirise both the healthcare system and the prevalence of such creatures as vampires, zombies and werewolves in modern culture. But it was important to me to do this in a coherent storyline with interesting human characters as well as the more exotic ones.

The request was for 10 x 5-7 minute episodes. The actors gave me a minor scare when they toyed with the idea of cutting it to 6 episodes after I had plotted it out. Yes, this could have been done but it would have meant some serious truncating of both story and character arcs.

Let's back up a bit. The three actors in question are Leon Grey, Anita Barnes and Catriona Coe. They have been involved at all stages in story discussions and giving input on their characters as I began to put this together. Indeed it was Leon who came up with the title after it was initially called Dead Serious.

Given the premise it was important for me to give context to the world and the two teasers here and here are more or less direct lifts from The Bible.

Once I determined the dramatic arc (discovered whilst absently listening to a rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven before a play reading in Fremantle) I began to plot the episodes. Given it was an order of 10 I used the Game of Thrones model of plotting towards a climactic ninth episode with the tenth being the ramifications of that event and setting up a possible second series (hell, if I'm going to do it might as well accept it is an ongoing universe). In loose terms then, the episodes are:

The Pilot: where the premise is established and the characters introduced.
Episode 2: a satire of the medical procedural show, notably House.
Episodes 3-5: a point of view episode for each of the three leads.
Episodes 6-8: the dramatic arc kicks into gear properly (set ups earlier)
Episode 9: Hell fire and fury reign down on our heroes (or some such thing)
Episode 10: Consequences and cliffhanger for Season 2

IF I had to shorten it to 6, episodes 3-5 would go and I would have truncated 6-8.

Now, all this was done BEFORE a single word of script was written. The Bible had one revision after feedback from the actors then came time to write the Pilot. I had the opening scene in my head and quickly captured that. When I sat down to finish the pilot it was done in one sitting and "came out" quite easily. The second episode was trickier because I had to start introducing a little more exposition into how the world of the series works but poking fun at House was fun. The third episode was harder but again was done in one sitting. At present they're all decent first drafts and the feedback has been excellent from the actors but I know I'll have to rework them.

I'll stop writing episodes now because a) it's time to see how doable this is in terms of production; b) I know that I can write episodes easily enough because the "hard work" was done putting the Bible together; and c) given the detail in the Bible the actors, who are also de facto producers, can use other writers if they wish. Though I'd certainly want to write episodes 9 & 10.

Thankfully the actors have been smart enough to acknowledge it takes time to produce quality material. I appreciate their patience and enthusiasm equally. The current scripts will need rewrites as the director gets involved and production decisions are made but I'm certainly happy with where this currently sits from a writing perspective.

The next step is turning words into moving images and I look forward to seeing what 2014 will bring in that regard!

Over to you Leon, Neets and Cat! :-)

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