Wolfblood: Interview: Debbie Moon

wolfhi20160304_0077 smallCBBC’s Wolfblood is currently in its fourth year – but things are rather different this season. The show follows Jana as she enters an urban environment – not necessarily a comfortable place for wolves… Creator Debbie Moon explains to Paul Simpson how and why the show has changed.

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I hesitate to call the fourth season more grown-up, but it certainly does feel a more mature series…

I think that’s fair enough. Obviously it’s been going four years now, so the audience who started off quite young have grown up with it so you want to serve that world while still serving the younger viewers as well.

With several cast deciding to leave, it became kind of a mini-reboot – the same world but a slightly different angle on things, which was really interesting from a creative point of view, just to take a look at how different wolfbloods live, and that world outside Stoneybridge.

How early in the prep for season 4 were you aware that you were basically force majeure in terms of the changes?

The cast were very good; they let us know as we were working on season 3 that they were intending to leave. That shaped season 3 a bit; it became about the end of school and how your life changes at that point. That was nice again as a jumping off point into season 4, and Jana never having been the most academic of people, it led to the whole question of where would she go. She doesn’t really fit in the wild but she’s also a bit of an outsider in the human world, and it very much became about her and how she was caught between the two to an extent.

wolfblood_logoYou’ve commented that this new season allows you to do the end of season finale that you’re always wanted to do. Is that something that comes out of plot or character? Obviously I don’t want you to spoil it…

A bit of both, I think. It’s a plot thing that I’ve been thinking that we would move towards logically ever since the series began but I think Jana is very much the right character to be placed in that situation, so it’s worked out quite fortuitously for it.

The story of you seeing the two words in a bookshop have become part of Wolfblood lore, but when you were developing the series, were you looking at it as something that could run four or five years, or were you simply concentrating on that first season?

Really we were concentrating on the first season. Of course CBBC is always looking for ideas that will run longer and take off, but I don’t think anyone anticipated that it would be as popular as it is at that stage.

When you’re working on a season of a show, you’re always trying to get that season as good as you possibly can and leave a few loose threads in case you come back for another season, but it’s got to be about the work in front of you really.

With earlier seasons, were you aware of renewal while you were shooting?

Mostly we found out during transmission of the show; at some point during transmission, CBBC will make up their minds. At the end of season 3 it was delayed a little bit for various complicated reasons, but mostly we know at that point and then we have to get buckled down to the writing and try to stick to a schedule of some kind.

wolfhi20160304_0043 smallHow much time did you have for preproduction of season 4 from the greenlight?

We’d done a little bit of work before we got the green light. I think it was something like March last year that we got the go-ahead to really work on it and then we filmed in September. It was a little bit longer than we usually have, because of the delay; but during that delay we were thinking about ideas. That was nice because of course we were reshaping the show and it gave us slightly more time to think about that.

How hands-on are you in terms of other people’s scripts on the show?

What basically happens is we start off the writing process all getting together in a room and throwing ideas around. Obviously at that stage it’s very collaborative, but as far as I can, I try to be hands-off with other people’s scripts. We have a script editor who works with them to get the best out of their script, so I’ve not had to do any major rewriting or anything of that sort.

It’s nice to leave the writers to place their own individual stamp on it, I think, because each episode has a little bit of a feel of its own whilst still fitting into the show as a whole.

Does that mean you sometimes get some pleasant surprises when you read the final scripts?

Yes! Obviously things change during the writing process, so there have been moments where I’ve been surprised, great lines of dialogue that have made me laugh and so on. It’s really nice to have other people working on your show and bringing out elements that I wouldn’t have as a writer, because we all have our own tone and feel.

We have writers who are very good at the humorous episodes; my episodes tend to have a few funny lines in but there are writers who write lighter episodes. When Kurti & Doyle were onboard in season 2, they did a wonderful episode that was basically a haunted house mystery, which is not something we’d ever done before, and it was really nice to stretch the format a little bit. If I’d been writing the show that would never have occurred to me.

How much of the world in the way you’ve expanded it did you have at the back of your mind originally, or were you just looking at how it affected the original characters?

When we started developing the show, we went off down a bit of a blind alley at one point developing all this complicated mythology and stuff, and then decided it wasn’t really necessary to set all that up in the beginning. So we cut it right back and made sure it was about these characters in this little village but of course what happens, quite rightly, is that it slowly accumulates its own mythology, in terms of the Wild Pack and Segolia and things we’ve added on. The world grew quite organically, which is probably the best way to do it.

wolfhi20160304_0021 smallOtherwise you end up with something like the Doctor Who TV movie where you infodump loads of stuff at the beginning and the audience goes, “What?” and goes and watches Roseanne instead…

(laughs) I’m not sure I’d go as far as watching Roseanne! But your point is well made – you have to take the audience along with you and let them discover things as you do.

The flipside of that then is, have there been story ideas and conceits that you’ve wanted to investigate that you’ve actually closed off because of what you’ve established?

I’m not sure there’s been anything major. There’s always things that crop up in the writers’ room and you think,” hang on we can’t do that”, but no, I think because everyone who works on the show knows it very well – most of us have been on it quite a while – everybody understands what sort of show we’re doing and what we can and can’t do.

Obviously you’ve got the CBBC restriction on nudity…

Yes, there are obvious things that we don’t do, but I’ve found it quite surprising how much we have been able to do really. We can talk about quite serious subjects as long as we talk about them in the right way.

Yes, that’s something that’s come out in conversations about other CBBC shows such as The Sarah Jane Adventures and Eve – you can do all of this stuff. People do seem to sometimes think of CBBC shows like The Children Film’s Foundation…

Yes, I think children’s television is terribly underestimated. The quality of it now is extraordinary. There are some really great shows, and particularly some really great genre stuff. If you’re a fantasy writer, it’s one of the best places to work, because they are so much more open to it.

WolfbloodLooking back over the show so far, what’s the element you’re proudest of in terms of stories that deal with such issues?

That’s interesting. I’m quite proud of the stories we did with Shannon, and the whole idea of the girl who saw something that nobody else saw and was treated as crazy. I think that’s quite a resonant story to be told for children – your experiences have validity even if nobody else believes you. And of course Rhydian as the foster kid looking for a home – the show’s very much about finding your tribe, really, finding the place that you fit in. Obviously it’s very much a metaphor for saying, whatever you are, that’s normal for you, and there is somewhere you fit in.

Are there any boundaries that you feel you shouldn’t cross for stories?

No, I can’t think of anything. Obviously, explicit sexual content is out, and those sorts of basic things. Thematically, I don’t think so.

I think there’s a way to tell any story so that it resonates for children. Often it’s finding a way that a child audience will understand it, rather than funding ways in which it won’t offend people.

With something like this week’s bombings in Belgium, and children’s fears following that, is that something you feel you could tackle in the Wolfblood world?

I think a lot of the time we’re tackling some of the big issues in the world quite metaphorically. In this case, we could replay that as conflict between humans and wolfbloods perhaps – we could do that in a way that could be parallel to real life events… We could find a way to do it; I don’t think there’s any story we couldn’t tell.

wolfblood-4-teaser-4In terms of practicalities, how has going from a country village to an urban environment changed production this year?

It’s been quite a challenge for everyone, obviously, and the authorities in Newcastle have been fantastic. Our location manager has gone off and asked, “Can we close that bridge for three hours?” And they say, sure. They’ve been very cooperative.

It’s been an interesting challenge for everyone to go out and find those locations that gave us that sense of scale and also the sense of there being wild ideas within the city, which is something that’s always fascinated me – the waste ground within cities. I think they’ve done a great job with that.

In terms of the writing, it’s presented new story possibilities, but are there stories that you now can’t tell because you’re no longer in the small community environment?

I suppose once it becomes on a slightly larger scale, it becomes not so much about interacting with your immediate family and neighbours, but interacting with a larger community. Those kinds of stories are different in terms of interaction with people. It’s more about being stuck in the middle of large numbers of humans and how they react to that.

Big fish in a small pond then a small fish in a very big one – something kids have, moving from junior into secondary school: there’s a disconnect at that point.

I think there are a lot of these types of transitions in childhood. It’s nice for us to be able to explore those, going into a new situation that’s unsettling.

Wolfblood 4.2You’ve changed effects houses for series 4; has that been a smooth transition?

As far as I know it’s gone very well. It was one of these BBC budgetary things – things have to go out to tender every few years so that was the essential thing behind it. I think Jellyfish have done a great job and to an extent the wolf effects have evolved every year anyway. It’s just another stage in that evolution. Things evolve so fast – from year to year things just get better and better.

You want to try to keep up with that as a writer, but then of course there are budgetary constraints, so we tend to have the wolves every two to three episodes because we can’t really afford them more than that. It’s an interesting thing as a writer: you’ve got to find other ways to make the story exciting without them necessarily transforming.

It’s a similar problem to the old Incredible Hulk series where on later seasons they had to cut back the Hulk-outs per episode, and it completely changed the whole set up of the show. Do you find the restriction of when they can transform becomes a good challenge because you have to make the drama work without it?

Yes absolutely. The way we set out the rules of the universe has helped us a lot: the sense of smell, they can run very fast. There are things we can do that are not actually CG which add some excitement to the show without having them turn into wolves.

Wolfblood 4.3Was that part of the reason for doing it in the first place?

It was more accidental! At the back of my mind I think I thought it would be more exciting if we do this, and then it occurred to us that it would actually save us money, so it worked out quite well.

If a season 5 happens, do you know where it will go?

We have a good idea. There’s something that happens at the end of season 4 that sets us off on a slightly new path. We have an idea where we would chase it…

And when are you likely to hear?

Hopefully within the next few weeks. We hope to hear by the time the show reaches its final episode of transmission but we don’t always…Hopefully it’s going very well, so we’re hopeful for a season 5, and keep telling the story really!

 

Thanks to Bryony Czujko for her help in organising this interview, and BAFTA for kind permission to reproduce the pictures from the Wolfblood BAFTA Preview

Wolfblood series 4 continues on CBBC

 

 

 

 

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