Things I Learned From… Hannibal

I’m a late arrival to Team Murder Husbands. Trust me to get into a show just as it’s cancelled! In fairness, I did watch half of season one, before getting bored with the detective procedural stuff and giving up. It’s only thanks to persistent fans on Twitter that I went back to the show, and I’m very glad I did. It’s a whole different animal from season two onwards. So there’s a lesson there…

But the aspect of Hannibal that I really want to talk about is how it sustains such a theatrical, exaggerated story world, and makes it not only believable, but actually normal.

Operatically-pitched story worlds are quite the thing in American television at the moment. The final season of Sons Of Anarchy definitely tipped over into grand guignol, but the best example is probably True Detective. Massively exaggerating the tropes of Southern Gothic, it creates a fantastical world where men are monsters, but literal monsters also wouldn’t seem out of the question.

But the thing is, I didn’t believe a word of True Detective. In fact, I found a lot of the supposedly deep and meaningful moments laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Whereas I believe absolutely in the world that Hannibal creates.

So, why is that? I have a few thoughts…

Narrow focus. Hannibal takes place in a very streamlined, narrow-focused world. Apart from some scenes with Jack’s wife, which have a darkness of their own, we rarely see a domestic situation or a glimpse of ‘everyday’ life. Our characters live entirely within this theatrical, heightened world. The music we hear, the way characters dress and live and eat (!), even the places that crimes take place, are all carefully selected to reinforce this elaborate and claustrophobic story world. And since reality never intrudes, this becomes our reality.

The fresher your premise, the more exaggeration it will take. True Detective is essentially yet another treatise on the pressures society exerts on ‘traditional’ masculinity. But we’ve seen this a thousand times – and familiarity is what causes a story to tip over from stereotype to parody.

The twisted polysexuality and intellectual mind-games of Hannibal, however, are something we’ve seen far less of on television. We don’t have the afterimages in our head from all the million other times we’ve seen this situation – and that helps keep parody at bay.

Everyone has a goal. The characters of True Detective may be investigating a crime, but from scene to scene, they frequently seem to be drifting around in a haze of self-obsession and indolence. The characters in Hannibal are probably equally self-obsessed, but they all have clear, quantifiable goals.

Hannibal initially wants to frame Will for his own crimes, but his goal shifts into an elaborate scheme to release Will’s ‘true potential’. Will’s goal remains remarkably solid across three seasons: bring down the Chesapeake Ripper, whoever it is, and somehow retain his sanity. Jack Crawford’s goal shifts from Will to Hannibal and back, but he essentially wants to save whichever of them is sane and take down whichever of them is not…

And everything everyone does, however elaborate, twisted and bizarre, is clearly designed to take them another step closer to their goal. There’s no moustache-twirling evil for evil’s sake. This gives a solidity, a believability to their actions that grounds them emotionally.

Of course, we all have our own breaking point. Undoubtedly there are viewers who have the exact opposite reaction – who think True Detective thoroughly believable and Hannibal too far-fetched. But for us as writers, the lesson remains: if you’re writing a heightened version of reality, you can ground it using focus, a fresh emotional premise, and strong character goals…

Wolfblood Season Four Casting News

Thanks to some unavoidable delays in Wolfblood being recommisioned, we’re running on a rather slower schedule this year. However, we are finally at a point where I can tell you a few basics about the new season, which is filming at the moment.

The big news is: after three wonderful seasons, Bobby Lockwood (Rhydian), Kedar Williams-Sterling (Tom) and Louisa Connelly-Burnham (Shannon), have all decided to leave the show.

Sad as I am to see them go, I know they’ll be going on to great things, and I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing them well in their careers. Like Aimee Kelly (Maddy), they will always be part of our Wolfblood universe – and who knows, they may be back at some point in the future…

I know a lot of you will be upset by this – but remember, change is a good thing for a television series. Shows that remain the same throughout their run quickly grow boring and stale, to work on as well as to watch. The inevitable coming and going of cast members is one of the ways that we avoid that.

And as a children’s show, we’re very aware that our audience is interested in fellow tweens and teens. Following the same characters for years, into their twenties, simply wouldn’t appeal to our core audience, who are interested in school, home and family. Though it wasn’t our choice for any of the actors who’ve left to leave, their decision does allow Wolfblood to remain faithful to its core audience and ideas.

So, what can you expect from season four?

For the first time, the show will be moving outside Stoneybridge and into the big wide world. Jana, played Leona Vaughan, will now be our main character, and we’ll be following her as she embarks on a new life in the big city, and builds herself a new pack of Wolfbloods and humans… This season gives us a chance to expand the scope of the show, and to explore new locations and new characters that will reveal more about what it really means to be a Wolfblood!

I’ve always intended Wolfblood to be about Wolfbloods as a whole, not about one person, one family, or even one village. The scale of the Wolfblood world has been gradually expanding with every season, and this is just one more step along that pathway.

From the BBC press release:

Former wild Wolfblood Jana (Leona Vaughan) now takes centre stage, having left the security and seclusion of rural Stoneybridge and moved into the city where she forms a new pack.

The Wolfbloods who play a pivotal role in her adventures include corporate boss Imara (Michelle Gayle), her son TJ (Louis Payne), Matei (Jack Brett Anderson), his sister Emilia (Sydney Wade), and martial arts enthusiast Selina (Rukku Nahar). Returning characters include Katrina (Gabrielle Green), who has opened a new Kafe in town, Kay (Shorelle Hepkin) and their old teacher Mr Jeffries (Mark Fleischmann).

In a world of CCTV, social networks, 4G camera phones and viral videos, the wolfblood ‘secret’ is becoming increasingly vulnerable; faced with new dilemmas and foes, Wolfbloods have to adapt to survive and Jana faces her biggest challenges yet.

(read the full press release at )

New characters, new dilemmas, and probably our most exciting season climax ever – something I’ve been planning since I first conceived of the series, in fact –  mean it’s going to be a unique and remarkable season!

Remember, you can keep up to date with developments at the Wolfblood FAQ, elsewhere on this site. Information on transmission dates, etc, will be posted there as soon as I have it…

Wolfblood Season Four Begins Filming…

Rather later than usual, Wolfblood season four began filming this morning, in and around Newcastle. And here’s our block one director, Jermain Julien, ready to do his thing…


CBBC will be making an official announcement of the returning and new cast soon. They’re preparing some really interesting website content to explain what happens between seasons three and four, and obviously revealing the cast now would be something of a spoiler… So once that content is ready, there’ll be an announcement, and I’ll reveal the same information here.

Season four is, I think, one of the best seasons we’ve done, with thrills and surprises and the culmination of a plot arc that I’ve been planning since I first came up with the idea. We’re all very eager for you to see the fruits of all our hard work, some time next year…

There Is No Chosen One

The reality show Project Greenlight is, well, a reality show. It has precious little to do with how movies are actually made, and to the best of my knowledge, it hasn’t ever produced a critical or a commercial hit. It’s not real Hollywood –

But right now, it is at least drawing attention to some of the very real issues faced by people in Hollywood who are trying to carve out a career with the disadvantage of not being white, male and heterosexual.

There are a lot of things to be said about Matt Damon’s statement, and the situation that led to up to it, and other people are saying them far more eloquently than I could. So instead of adding to that, I’d like to set out a proposal to make things better.

Let’s all remember – there is no chosen one.

In film and television, we recycle the myth of the chosen saviour who’s perfect for this situation, and has exactly the skills required, so often that we start to apply it behind the camera too. Somewhere out there, there’s a director/producer/cinematographer etc who is perfect for my project, and I just have to find them.

The thing is, that’s just not true, is it? Oh sure, there are “names” who’ll bring in funding (and that’s a whole other issue), but if you’re making a low-budget movie, hiring staff for a new TV series, making a web series, or even appearing on Project Greenlight, your choice is not “Ridley Scott or someone unknown”, it’s “someone unknown or someone unknown”.

So, putting aside names and reputations – your choice is always going to be between several people who are both equally talented and equally good for your project (albeit in fractionally different ways). I know, I’ve been there. you never end up with one obvious candidate. Never.

So whether you realise it or not, your decision is going to be largely arbitrary. You’re going to pick the person who made you laugh in the interview, or who you met last week at a party, or who your girlfriend’s brother’s best friend went to college with. (And all of those things are likely to lead you to someone the same race, sexuality, and probably gender, as you.)

Or you could make a different arbitrary decision. You could pick the black cinematographer, the editor who uses a wheelchair, the female director. Your decision is no less arbitrary than one made for those previous reasons, and you’re still picking from a pool of equally qualified and talented candidates – so why not deliberately pick the person who every one else is less likely to pick? That’s not positive discrimination or so-called “reverse racism” –  it’s as good a criteria for a decision between otherwise equal candidates as anything else.

If we all did this for a year, even, the spread of shiny white male faces who accompany every article in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter would start to look very different – and there would be no drop in quality in the films and television we’re producing at all. If anything, these super-motivated candidates seizing what might be their only chance would give more than the entitled guys who can always get a job elsewhere.

So how about it? Shall we give it a try?

One More Draft

Probably the most difficult thing about development is knowing exactly when a script is ready to film. When is the plot exactly right? Do those characters need one more rewrite? What about a dialogue polish?

But the biggest problem is that the decision on when to start filming is not entirely a creative one. If a problem is spotted just before filming, there may not be time to fix it. If actors are contracted for a certain period, delaying filming for one more draft may result in you losing your cast – and losing stars often means the collapse of your funding deal.

And in UK film at least, producers can simply run out of money to pay the writers (and to pay themselves!) Putting the film into production at least guarantees an income for the company – they’ll have a movie they can show to the public, and thus ticket money – whereas another year in development means no money for anyone, and possibly bankruptcy for the company.

But increasingly, I’m seeing big movies which clearly needed one more draft and yet somehow made it into production unaltered.

Tomorrowland is a case in point. The script that was filmed feels more like a writer’s first draft – a long preamble followed by a switch of protagonist, a tone that veers from The Terminator to Interstellar to kids’ comedy, a constant stream of exposition all the way into the third act. Yet somehow that’s what made it to the screen.

Even a mega-hit like Jurassic World arrives dragging the wreckage of previous drafts behind it. Inconsistent characterization, dropped subplots (“Do you still have those matches?”) and forgotten consequences (Chris Pratt walks around all day in clothes that he previously soaked in petrol) abound.

So what’s going on?

I do wonder how much this has to do with the rise of the marketing machine and the ‘pre-sold’ movie. Jurassic World is perhaps the epitome of that. If you saw Jurassic Park when it first came out, you’re sold on this, and if you didn’t: dinosaurs! Everyone knows exactly what they’re getting, and as long as the T-Rex roars and people become dino chow, who cares whether all the jigsaw pieces match up?

In other words, we’ve created a movie-going culture where quality simply has no meaning. You’re either going to see a movie or you’re not, and (increasingly, astonishingly) whether it’s any good or not has nothing to do with whether you go to see the sequel.

The problem with this approach is, an industry that doesn’t have to care about quality can only survive as long as there’s no competition. People in the old Eastern bloc drove Ladas because nothing else was available. As soon as it became possible to import better cars…

And for those of us in the industry, this is an opportunity. We can be that alternative. We can provide the movie that surprises its audience by not only delivering all the thrills and spills they’re seeking, but being full of good characters, interesting plot twists and satisfying emotions… And we can can remember that sometimes, what a movie really needs is one more draft.

Logic Is Your Friend

If there’s one thing writers hate grappling with, it’s plot logic. “But she can’t fly the plane – she’s in the infantry!” “But there are only four hours between these two scenes – how did he drive from LA to the Canadian border?” That’s impossible. That’s illogical. That makes no sense.

This is why so many amateur writers try to ignore it. “Ah, I need that to happen to make the plot work. No one will notice that it’s physically impossible.”

Big mistake.

Of course we have to fudge the details now and then – for dramatic effect, for budget or location practicalities, even to fit the ethos of a TV channel. (The characters in Wolfblood mysteriously reappear from wolf-form fully clothed, because CBBC understandably doesn’t want young actors to film nude scenes. It makes no sense logically, but we cover it as best we can.)

But try to fudge a major plot point, and it will blow up in your face.

So we should hate logic, right? Well, no. The thing about logic is, sometimes it unlocks the entire story for you.

I’m planning a feature script at the moment. Essentially it’s a contained thriller, with a group of people stuck in one location over a long period (and, of course, slowly going nuts). I had a good group of characters and some interesting dilemmas and crises for them to solve. I even had a pretty good ending.

What I didn’t know – what I’ve been going backwards and forwards on for months – was who the protagonist is.

Then I started thinking about the jobs the various characters do – and I realized that one of the characters, purely by virtue of his job, is a regular visitor here, but not a local. The others don’t really know him that well. They don’t necessarily like or trust him, certainly not in a life-threatening situation. He has no roots here, no function, not even a place to stay or any possessions when he gets stranded here. He’s a drain on resources. He’s going to have to prove himself if he wants to survive.

So, of course, he’s the protagonist, because he has the most learning and changing to do.

Moral of the story? Always pay attention to the plot logic, because sometimes, logic is your friend.

Wolves And Apples Event

I’m going to be speaking at the appropriately-named Wolves And Apples writers’ event in Leicester on the 3rd of November. It’s a day for writers interested in writing for children, in any medium and across all genres, with writers, publishers and producers talking about the industry, breaking in, and giving advice and writing tips.

I’ll be talking about Wolfblood and writing for children’s television, which should be a lot of fun.

Lots of speakers still to be confirmed, but you can keep up to date at –

And book a ticket for the full day of events at

Maybe I’ll see you there!