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The Fades

Jack Thorne Jack Thorne | 11:54 UK time, Wednesday, 21 September 2011

I struggled a bit when thinking about what things I could say on a writersroom blog because I always like the blogs on here that try to be useful. I read this website all the time, mainly because I want to work out how other writers do it and I was determined to think of something similarly useful to write... How to do fantasy on a budget struck me as interesting - but Toby Whithouse dealt with that brilliantly at the BBC TV Drama writersfest when he said 'I was thinking about how to show the afterlife without any money and I walked past a door and thought - that seems good'. How to write a six part TV show on your own also seemed useful - but the truth is, I'm not sure I totally have worked it out myself yet - it was a mad scramble mostly. So I thought I'd talk briefly about the genesis of The Fades - how it all came about...

The Fades was born out of the worst TV script I - or possibly anyone else - has ever written. I went to see (exec producer) Sue Hogg and (script editor) Esther Springer at the BBC. This was about five years ago and I hadn't done much TV by then - Skins series 1 had just aired, and Shameless series 4, both of which I'd written on - and they also had liked a couple of my stage plays. But I was still very new and easily intimidated and pretty rubbish at talking to people, particularly TV people, and Sue and Esther had to cajole me to speak. We talked about Skins, and the Ghostbusters t-shirt I was wearing and Sue asked that question executives like to ask sometimes - 'if you'd written any TV show, which TV show would you have written, and why?' I thought and said 'Freaks and Geeks' - still, in my opinion, one of the great TV shows of our age (if you haven't watched it, you must, and if you have watched it, buy the scripts, and if you have both watched it and read the scripts, then buy Paul Feig's books - Kick Me and Superstud) - Sue looked at my t-shirt and back at me and said - as I think I've said in every interview I've had about the show - 'what about Freaks and Geeks meets Ghostbusters?' And I nodded and said 'I can do that'.

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Well, it turned out, and funnily enough this is something I've talked about less in interviews, I couldn't. The show that I wrote based on that premise - a show called 'Short Stuff and Weird' - was, without doubt, total unmitigated garbage. A kid and his friends investigate ghosts using the support of the kid's zany (dead) Granddad. There were pipes involved. There were basements. There were sheds that blew up. I could describe more but I'm hurting myself describing even this much. I tried to fix it. I couldn't. I phoned Esther, in a horrible panic, and she said - come in, let's talk about it. We talked. And then we talked some more. And eventually Esther was as convinced as I was that Short Stuff and Weird should never be seen by another human being. So she said 'then let's not hand it in, let's use this opportunity to do something different, let's write the show you want to write'. This was what I wrote that night:

"A thirty-six year old woman - SARAH - is crying hard. Tears are streaming down her face as she stares into a mirror. Staring into a mirror, she picks up a knife from beside her on the bed. She hesitates one more time. And then carefully, she slits the side of her face. Stammering tears all the while as she does it. Her breath irregular and pain-ridden. She slits from eye-socket to mouth edge. And then she repeats the slit on the other side of her face.

SARAH looks up, and tries to smile through the tears. She tries to smile again, but she can't. Blood is now streaming down her face and mingling with the tears. Her hand really shaking now. She then takes the knife and carefully cuts underneath her nose, between the slits on her face. She puts her hand under the slit and pulls hard. She begins to peel her face. She's making snuffles of agony as she does this. But she doesn't scream.

SARAH Help me - I - help me -

A hand comes into view and begins pulling hard at the slits, tearing the flesh, peeling SARAH's face. It's hard, it's not easy, this is not body horror, this is a bit more complicated than that. The camera slowly pans around her room. Coming finally across POLUS, the bone-ridden face of a bone ridden man. He is straining hard - then suddenly his face relaxes, his hand has done it's work - he sits back, with blood dripping from his hand. He smiles. The camera continues to pan. It finally arrives back at SARAH. Who has now peeled her face off, from nose to eyes. She looks down at her t-shirt, spots of blood land on it. She looks up at her reflection in the mirror. She touches where her nose should be. She makes a hollow scream, it seems to echo."

None of this is in the final show. For one thing it's too expensive, for another the BBC compliance unit would never pass it for 9pm on a week night, for another it didn't actually suit the character of either Polus or Sarah as those characters evolved, and finally it's a bit overwritten and would be really hard to execute well. But it was what I wanted to write. Pinter apparently always started with an opening image and only that. I don't always start with anything, and I'm sadly not Harold Pinter but this thing was what allowed me to spend the next four years writing the show you're hopefully all about to watch (please). And the strange thing is, and this is my point, I don't think I could have written it without having first written the extremely terrible Short Stuff and Weird. By thinking about ghosts and realisations for all that time - albeit on a fool's errand - I worked out how to write something I hope is a bit better. The act of chewing on shit actually really helped me.

Mac is played by Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel Kaaluya as Mac in The Fades.

I don't know how many other writers share this. But it's true of quite a lot of what I've written. My first professional stage play - When You Cure Me - came about because I'd written a bad play but liked one scene in it (about bed pans). Similarly, my radio play People Snogging In Public Places (stored somewhere on this website) was a result of failed theatre commission. I wanted to write something about my Uncle and my Mum but it wasn't until I wrote a bad play about my Uncle and my Mum that I realised that the play needed to be about me, my Mum and my Uncle and that radio was the right place for it. I think, because of the way I write, I need to have space to make wrong turnings before I know the right turning to take, and Short Stuff and Weird was undoubtedly the wrong turning I needed for The Fades. It's a horribly painful process, based mostly on failure, but as I was saying to my friend the other day, I think writing - or my writing - is mostly about failure. Most days finish with me reading the work I've done and sitting there going 'well, that's a piece of shit'. Paul Abbott declares in big letters on this website - 'writing is rewriting' - I think what that phrase means for me is that most of what you write you should be prepared to throw away - but that hopefully some of it can inspire you to something you feel happier with.

Johnny Harris as Neil in The Fades

Johnny Harris plays Neil, an orphan who has left the conventional world behind to commit himself entirely to the Angelic cause.

The Fades has been extremely hard to write and even harder to make, episode one went through a mammoth 36 drafts as me and the amazing script team (Esther, Esther's fellow script editor Richard Cookson, Sue, and producer Caroline Skinner) battled issues of logic, compliance, budget and humour and none of the rest of the five episodes were any less difficult. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't knackered and slightly battered by it all and I'm sure the cast and crew went through even worse. But mostly I feel extremely lucky. Everyone owns a television show by the time it airs - crew and cast -whether it's the costume designer putting the lead character in brilliant burgundy jeans, or the composer finding a noise that makes a ghost seem like a ghost, or the way Theo Barklem-Biggs makes the relatively small part of a junior Detective seem like one of the most important in the series - and The Fades is a show that, for better or worse, whether it's a success or not, I'm proud to have been part of. I'm grateful it's not frigging Short frigging Stuff and frigging Weird but I'm equally grateful that frigging Short frigging Stuff and frigging Weird brought me to it.

The Fades starts tonight on BBC Three at 9pm. Watch preview clips and read bios of the characters on The Fades programme page.


  • Comment number 1.

    What a fabulous blog! It's so good to read that even produced writers go through this process. Thanks, Jack : )

  • Comment number 2.

    Watched the first episode last night and really enjoyed it - exceptionally well crafted drama.

  • Comment number 3.

    Always fascinated to read about the evolution of TV scripts, particularly something I enjoyed as much as Fades last night. Thanks for sharing.

  • Comment number 4.

    36 Drafts?! *cries*. Very interesting blog, Jack! Good to read about the evolution of the story, and the script. Seems even people getting produced have the painstaking task of editing, re-writing etc. just as much as they did in the beginning.

    By the way, loved the episode, looking forward to the rest!

  • Comment number 5.

    As an amateur writer (i.e. fanfic) who'd someday like to be more, I found this blog fascinating and and informative. And Fades itself is terrifying! (At one point was watching behind my fingers and if the sofa wasn't up against the wall I might well have been behind it). Will definitely be watching the rest, and thanks for this blog!

  • Comment number 6.

    I've just watched the first episode and it's very interesting. I've got to watch the next episode but so far for me it seems to be a cross between Silent Hill and Resi Evil! which is very intresting!!! It's a very good programme!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Really enjoyed the first two episodes, really liked the mixture of humour and horror. The visuals looked really great.

    Loved the comment, 'She doesn't know who Alan Moore is!'

  • Comment number 9.

    I think this is superbly well written as a piece of TV drama. It has a whole load of 'interesting weird' going on that really works; lots of realistically drawn but sympathetic characters and a beautiful eye for the visual. (The spaghetti sauce getting wiped up was beautiful!)

    It also lets us flounder round in a new strange universe, like poor Paul, and doesn't pander to us. Grown up TV, brilliant.

  • Comment number 10.

    Although I'm not the age group The Fades is aimed at, I'm really enjoying it - as much as I did This Is England '86 and Cast-Offs. Johnny Harris in particular is hitting it out of the park.

  • Comment number 11.

    I'm really enjoying The Fades, although catching up on iPlayer late last night alone was a big mistake. I knew that this show would have that edge, the same edge the 3rd series of Skins had, with the Naomi and Emily plot everyone went crazy for. I like your writing Jack because I believe all of it, even with something like The Fades, it draws you in! I'm trying to get into this sort of writing and your blog was really helpful, thank you!

  • Comment number 12.

    I am an older viewer and dispite having an interest in sci fi this would not normally be my preferred genre but I am loving it.The charactors are so well written and engaging and the story grabs you from episode one-I have just watched the four episodes back to back and cannot wait for the next.Great humour and graphics as well-this is the small budget shows I love to watch as they rely on good dialogue,acting and innovative story telling and not on big budget explosions,multi national financing and OTT fight scenes.Well done to BBC 3,Jack Thorne and the production team.

  • Comment number 13.

    It took me a while to get into the program, but now i am, and I've got past the confusion and i understand it. It's the sort of think i like, because when you watch one episode and the end leaves a cliffhanger, you have to watch the next one.
    That's what i look for in a program.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well, the promise held in the first episode has followed through. Quite the most unusual hero to be invented! I'm a widow in my 70's and I think the program is absolutely brilliant and quite innovative. Can't wait to see what happens in the final episode next week. And hopefully Jack will be able to wrack his brains and present us with something else to enjoy some time ahead! Not too long, Jack, as I may not be around to watch it!

  • Comment number 15.

    Excellent series and interesting and informative blog too. The Fades has been the kind of drama that the BBC do really well. Some brilliant lines, funny and heartbreaking at the same time and edge of your seat drama. I'm not surprised to learn that ep one went through 36 drafts. The writing is really tight, well thought out and logical. Not like some other dramas which are full of plotholes or don't make sense. Please can we have another series?

  • Comment number 16.

    'Bloody' good series in every meaning of the word! - Great young cast (and older one, too!)...Thoroughly enjoyable, addictive & memorable TV! - Thank you for bringing your writing 'to life' & for the insight into your creative processes...10/10

  • Comment number 17.

    Don't normally have much time for zombie films but I really hope you've already written and thrown away 'Shorter and Weirder' because The Fades is excellent and, once the final showdown has taken place, I'll be looking forward to your next production. Just hope it's not going to be another five years.

  • Comment number 18.

    absolutely superb show, really addicted and slightly scared - something I've not been in a long long time.

  • Comment number 19.

    Great blog but makes me believe I have a huge mountain to climb. I think I'll just go and cut my face off now.

  • Comment number 20.

    Have been loving The Fades. Really gutted its only 6 episodes long. Its *perfect* telly as far as I am concerned. Can't wait to see what you do next. Make sure you do it quick!

  • Comment number 21.

    What a fabulous 'reveal' on the path to the script. Thank you Jack. And yes - The Fades is brilliant! Thank you for both.

  • Comment number 22.

    First let me just say this is the first comment i've placed on the BBC website; The Fades is brilliant. I feel like it's the first time since red dwarf finished that something has really grabbed my attention and been likeable for it's raw, real, human script. As a twenty something I think it's got exactly the right mix of humour, youthfulness, sentiment and special powers to excite and reward having a TV licence. Seriously, thanks for the honest and inspiring blog and a great TV show.

  • Comment number 23.

    I am probably not one of the target audience that this brilliant drama may have been aiming at, being nearer 60 than 50 years old, but I do know good writing and acting when I see it and Fades had that and then some. What I loved best of all was that the special effects did not get in the way or worse still overwhelm the script so the actors were able to inhabit and become three dimensional charecters without the need for constant back up from a green screen. So glad to find teenage charecters given multifaceted personalities and emotions, so abley portrayed by all the cast. Riveting, funny, challenging, thought provoking and best of all throwing up more questions than answers right to the end. Thank you, I trust the BBC will know what gold they have let Jack Thorne and the whole production team mine and let them open another seam.

  • Comment number 24.

    Thank you Jack!!! ... I was totally riveted throughout the whole series ... even from the first few minutes into the first episode. I'm now eagerly awaiting the second series. The characters are so believable (great cast! ... great acting!) ... the innocence! ... the slow realisation of the end! ... the geekiness of the geeks & freaks! ... the bromance! ... etc. The blood dripping "Fades" made me shudder, but I kept going back for more gore and horror! At the high point it was the "Angelics" ongoing struggle against the "inescapable inevitable" that made this story really resonate for me! Hail "The Fades"!

  • Comment number 25.

    I was hooked by the end of the first scene. Your 36 drafts, whilst being a PITA for you, seem to have wrought something quite special. I think this is probably the first time this kind of theme has been tackled in an adult fashion for television, usually being relegated to a Saturday or Sunday tea-time slot and so not being able to explore the darker side of humanity and therefore ending up as more of a fairytale than dark horror.

    The story was gripping, the screenplay was excellent and the acting, especially that of Daniel Kaluuya, was superb. And of course, a dash of Natalie Dormer is enough to pique the interest of anyone with a heartbeat :)

    "You don't **** with Ascension."

    Let there be more, please!

  • Comment number 26.

    I will admit that I was a bit late at finding The Fades, having not realised that it was a six part series and I was hoping to catch up when time off allowed. As a result I nearly missed the download cut off point on iplayer. Having managed to get there just in time I've binged on six straight hours of brilliance, making an unproductive day off feel like one very well spent. The story was so enjoyable to watch unfold, especially with such well developed characters and brilliant acting. The Fades has to be one of the best shows that I have had the pleasure of watching in a long time. I really hope that a second series is a reality, as it feels like the surface has only just been scratched away.


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