BH BLOG SPECIAL: Q&A WITH TOBY WHITHOUSE
Being Human creator Toby Whithouse has been working away on series two like a machine, going without food, water or sleep for months. (Seriously, he looked like he'd gone ten rounds with Rocky...) So, being the kind souls that we are here at the BH Blog, we thought we'd let him out into the daylight for a quick Q&A about series two. Only a quick one, mind you. After all, there's writing to be done...
What's your writing environment like?
I work from home, in a converted attic. I have everything I need up here. Computer, fan (not an air conditioner, I mean a little guy I keep in the bathroom who *really* likes my work), sofa (all writers will tell you the importance of the nap) and shelves heaving with books, comics, plays etc.
What's your average day like at the moment?
At the moment, my time is split between meetings and writing. We're sort of at the half way point, script wise. I've finished episodes 1 and 2. The writers of episodes 3, 4 and 5 have 'gone to script' and their first drafts are starting to come in. The writer of episode 6 is about to start her script, while I've now started the script for 7; and when that's done I'll start the storyline for episode 8.
Is it a calm before the storm?
Yes, I guess it's the calm before the storm. We're about 6 weeks away from the start of filming. This week we start proper Pre-Production. Locations are being scouted, the various Heads of Department are sitting down, and Matt Bouch and Colin Teague (the director of episodes 1, 2 and 3) will have their first casting session.
Have you had 'writers block' and, if so, how do you deal with that?
I've always found the best cure for writer's block is a deadline. The blocks don't tend to come with the writing, but in the plotting. Take episode 7. We couldn't find a story for Mitchell. I was starting to panic, as we simply didn't have time to humm and hahh. But after a few meetings, a few speculative pitches, we constructed a story we were really happy with, and I could start the script. Of course there will be tiny blocks that I'll spend a few hours scratching my head over, like "How do I get him to accidentally reveal that piece of information...?" But the big scary blocks have usually happened by the time I sit down.
Are you nervous about revealing your ideas to the world?
It's part of the process. I constantly have to pitch ideas for stories or sequences or characters to Matt and Rob and Phil, and their reactions are essential. They're three of the smartest guys I've ever met, and they know the show inside out. Consequently if something isn't going to work, they'll tell me. Then again, it's terrific to come up with an idea that surprises or excites them. Again, episode 7 is a good example. I had an idea for a sequence and pitched it to the guys, and their response was "Oh my God, that's creepy..." Which was nice.
What's your process of writing like?
The storylining process will start with me jotting down a few ideas in my notebook. These might be entire (albeit sketchy) storylines, or just a sentence. Then we meet up, divide the whiteboard into a grid. 8 episodes x 4 characters (our three main guys and 'the villains'). I'll take them through the ideas I've got and we'll write them all up on the board. It's at this point in the process I first actively consider faking my own death, because rather than the 'embarrassment of riches' I thought I had come up with, all I've managed to do is fill up three of the boxes on the whiteboard. This is also the first time that Matt tells me "It's all going to be fine." The desire to change my name and run away to sea, and Matt telling me not to worry, will have happened maybe 4 or 5 hundred times by the end of filming.
Anyway, back in the storylining room, once I've calmed down, it then becomes a question of filling the remaining boxes for each character in each episode.
Once we have a very rough arc for every episode, I'll start to flesh it out, concentrating on episode 1 first; and when we're all happy I'll start the script.
Do you plan the whole series before you start writing dialogue?
To an extent I'll have the whole series mapped out in my head, though it becomes vaguer as the series goes on. On series 1, all I knew about episode 6 was Herrick had to walk into a room, the door would shut and George would step out from the shadows. In this case, for episode 7, all I knew was two of the characters had to agree to go to a specific place. And in episode 8 all I know is someone dies. Hahahahahahaha.
Is it a similar experience to writing series one?
I'm hopefully writing the scripts quicker. I'm at the stage now where I can deliver a first draft in 3 weeks. I have no idea if that's fast or slow, but it's certainly faster than I used to be.
Has the success of series one influenced the writing of series two in ways you wouldn't expect?
It's a mixed blessing. There's a weight of responsibility. But I guess we had a taste of that on series 1 after the campaign to get the series commissioned. I don't know, maybe we're attacking it with more confidence. It's nice to know that the viewers like what we do, so even though we are throwing new things at the characters and telling different, challenging stories, we're not mending what ain't broke.
Are the characters behaving the way you expected or do you find them changing as you write?
The characters have evolved, so to an extent it's like writing a new show. They've been hardened by their experiences in series 1, but at the same time their friendship has become firmer. In episode 1 of series 2, one of the characters is very different to how they were in series 1. And that was interesting to write. But before anyone panics, the character soon sees the error of his or her ways...