THE WRITING OF EPISODE FOUR
There have been a lot of complimentary noises coming from you bloggers about the additional writers who have worked with Toby Whithouse to create certain episodes within the new series. But who are these mysterious figures? And how do they go about creating their episodes? To find out we caught up with Jamie Mathieson, writer of ep4, to find out exactly what the experience was like...
So I was shown into an office. On the wall was a whiteboard, gridded into eight columns by four rows. Eight episodes, four main characters. Lines tracking their arc across the series. Lots of boxes with spidery writing, crossings out. Swearing. Was that a smear of blood?
"And this will be your episode." Toby gestured with his obsidian cane at column four, the rest of his body shrouded in darkness.
And so it began.
I had a fair bit of direction given on the Mitchell plot line. He'd just taken over as unwilling leader, so there were all sorts of Godfather style ideas thrown around before we settled on the Vampire AA. The idea of Annie having a mentor called Sykes was also a given, but what he was teaching and his character was initially blank. Nina was mostly out of the picture, aside from her change in the chamber.
But this was to be a George-centric episode, and beyond the idea of him getting a new job and potential new love interest, we were missing the big idea for his story.
So I started pitching ideas for George. Terrible, terrible ideas. Some of which I may return to and make work, so I'm not about to reveal them here. And anyway, you'll laugh at me.
Then, as a last ditch attempt, I threw in a half baked idea I'd had about George taking tablets to knock out the wolf, which had always seemed to me a supremely logical thing for him to do. But obviously, if it works then the character becomes unusable, so we'd have to make it go wrong...but how? "I don't know. Maybe, maybe it starts leaking through into the rest of the month." "How does it leak?" "Er, I don't know? Tourettes? Anger management issues? OCD?"
Something sparked in Toby's eye. He stepped out of his pentagram and approached me.
"You know, in a very early draft of Being Human, I had George transform in a cage in his room." he purred. We both felt the temperature drop.
"Okay, so how about this? George, because of his wolf anger leaking out, does something awful. Maybe kills someone, maybe just really hurts someone. And our last image in the episode, is George, weeks before a full moon, in his cage, naked, crying his eyes out."
Toby smiled, but his eyes were dead. I shook his hand and knew then I was damned.
Actually writing the episode was a joy. I'd seen the show enough to times to hear the actor's voices in my head and could tell whether or not a line felt right for them. The tic of list making comes from my wife (she actually puts things on a list after she's done them, so she can have the thrill of crossing them off) There was a lot more OCD stuff for George which was cut for time. I think the only thing left is him putting the bowls in ascending order of size and flavour in the tasting scene.
In terms of research for the episode, as luck would have it a couple of friends, Nicki and Al, staying with us who were insanely well qualified to help. They had both taught English as a foreign language, (all the business with teaching students swearing comes directly from their anecdotes) In addition Nicki is a veterinary nurse, leading me to ask her "So how would you knock out a wolf?" and Al is a plant geneticist, who dictated the list of stuff needed to test DNA in the opening scene with Jaggat and Kemp. However, as I have no further need of their skillsets, I've since thrown them out.
The lovely thing about writing for Being Human is that is recognises no genre boundaries. A scene can be thigh slappingly hilarious, then dramatic, then horrific, all within a few seconds. Just ask George's boss in the toilets. I can't think of another show that pulls this off, or even tries.
I saw the episode on DVD a week or so before it aired. You get used to expecting a certain percentage of loss between script and screen. Scenes don't work how you pictured them, actors deliver the lines in different ways than you envisaged. But with this I was blown away. This episode is the closest thing to the script that I've ever worked on. And it is also the thing I am proudest of.
Not wanting to belittle anyone else's contribution, as I realise a hell of a lot of talented people both in front of and behind the camera work like crazy to make each episode work. But can I just offer one opinion: Russell Tovey knocked this one out of the park. His acting is amazing, his comic timing is bang on, his tourettes attack, which I had pictured as simply comical, is desperate and tragic and heart-breaking. By the time he crawls into his cage at the end, we totally feel for him.
Thank you Russell, for making me look good. And thank you Toby, for giving me the chance to work on the show in the first place.
Now let's all go and have sex in my cage.