2017 In Film

This year, for the first time, I kept a list of every film I saw at the cinema. Because I always get to the end of the year and think “I know I saw some good films this year, but what were they…?” And now I’ve got the data, I may as well analyse it a bit…

In 2017, I saw 78 films. (And two live theatre broadcasts, Amadeus and Follies.)  I feel that’s a little lower than usual: there were several big franchises I simply didn’t bother with, either through boredom or because of their insistence on casting known abusers. On the other hand, I now have an unlimited cinema pass, and there are several movies I saw because they were basically free, movies I might not have risked money on in previous years. So it may just even out.

Splitting them down roughly into my preferred genres, that’s 26 science fiction, fantasy and horror (including superheroes), 25 action, adventure and thrillers, and 27 other genres (mostly arthouse drama, to my slight surprise!)

Five of the movies were animated, with Captain Underpants and Paddington 2 the stand-outs in this rather small field. Twenty were sequels, prequels and other franchise continuations. Of the ones that weren’t sequels, ten were adaptations of books, video games, myths and legends, and other pre-existing material. Seventeen of the 78 were biopics or true-life stories.

It was a great year for British film, especially films about the countryside and the peculiar stresses of living and working there: God’s Own Country, The Levelling, and the London noir City Of Tiny Lights stood out. A Monster Calls was a difficult watch, but an extraordinary one, and Lion was surprisingly gripping and emotional.

Overlooked gems from the other side of the pond: Loving, The Founder, Battle Of The Sexes, American Made, and Mudbound were all excellent. I had issues with Atomic Blonde and Wind River, but they had a lot going for them nonetheless.

From further afield, Okja, Your Name, The Nile Hilton Incident and In Syria (aka Insyriated) were terrific genre movies that proved popular cinema doesn’t have to be in English.

The well-received movies that just didn’t work for me? Blade Runner 2049, Suburbicon, La La Land and Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 didn’t light any fires, alas.

Movies That Were A Lot Better Than I Expected And I Really Enjoyed? Split, Geostorm, and Beyond Skyline all provided solid entertainment.

And my big movies of the year? Very much the same as everyone’s, I fear. Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Moonlight, Logan, Baby Driver, Wonder Woman, War For The Planet Of The Apes, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi lead the field.

On to the next crop…


The Last Jedi and Reinventing Franchises

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”

I don’t think Rian Johnson wants us to be in any doubt about his approach to the Star Wars universe in The Last Jedi. This is not your father’s Star Wars. Nor should it be – for the same reason that Sherlock and Elementary are not identical to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes. Stories exist to be reinvented, to reflect their times, to reach out to new audiences.

There are many excellent articles out there on why it was necessary and right to depart so radically from audience expectations, and how the movie achieves its emotional impact, but I’m going to take a look at it from a screenwriting POV. I think The Last Jedi is an object lesson in how to reinvent an existing franchise – and with more movies and television being drawn from existing material, that’s a skill we’re all going to need.

So what can we learn, as writers pitching to take control of a franchise, from The Last Jedi?

(SPOILERS, obviously…)

Characters are not interchangeable. Rey is not Luke, and Kylo is not Anakin Skywalker. The characters of the new trilogy may fulfil similar plot functions – gifted hero, tormented villain, hotshot pilot, amusing droid – but plot function is only a starting point, a shorthand to indicate intent to the audience. It’s who the character grows into that matters –

Because who the character grows into shapes the story. If Rey was Luke and Kylo was Anakin, then inevitably they would just rehash the same story again. It’s how they differ and who they choose to be that propels us into a fresh, unpredictable story world, because –

Your job is not to tell the same story again. Which is really all I need to say on that point…

The new outweighs the old.  A lot of fans clearly wanted these movies to be about Luke, Leia, and Han. Of course that’s understandable. Every time we fall in love with a character, we want to know everything about them. But that’s not necessarily an impulse that writers should indulge. There is such a thing as too much information!

Characters play their role in the story and then move on. Dragging them awkwardly back into the limelight and constructing a new crisis for them can actually cheapen their original story.

Instead, the new characters must drive the story, and the old characters provide a canvas against which they make their decisions. Poe must decide whether to be Leia, or lead a different way. Rey thinks she’ll be a hero like the ‘legend’ Luke Skywalker, and Kylo fetishizes Vader’s strength: but they’re both forced to confront their own strengths and weaknesses and grow to understand that they can only ever be a better version of themselves.

The story doesn’t know who the hero is. It’s easy to assume, as a writer, that everyone in your story world accords the central characters the same importance that you so. It’s also fatal to your narrative.

Look at the complaints about Vice-Admiral Holdo not explaining her plan to Poe. “If she’d only told him, everything would have been fine!”  Problem is, that complaint assumes that Poe is the most important character in the scene – that is, it assumes the POV of the audience.

In fact, Holdo’s operating according to the rules of her world. A mere pilot doesn’t have an automatic right to know his senior officers’ plans, especially in a combat situation, and with a tracker on board the ship that suggests possible traitors. She’s acting completely logically – and if we feel cheated, it’s because we’re according Poe an importance he  doesn’t actually have.

(The brilliance of this particular plotline is that it mirrors Poe’s emotional journey. He too thinks he’s the most important person in the room, and has to relearn his place and his role in order to truly lead. Nice piece of writing there…)

There are exceptions, of course. Many people in a Sherlock Holmes universe have heard of the great detective. But no one is going cut Mulder & Scully slack during their investigation just because it would be convenient for the story. Your job as a writer, then, is to find a way to place the characters at the centre of the story, so you can tell it easily, without everyone else assuming their importance…

Most great story universes are funnier, goofier and more child-friendly than you remember them being. All those people whining about Poe keeping General Hux ‘on hold’ to delay him? Did they never see this scene?


Every story has a range of tones, from the humorous to the serious. Some stories have a wider range, or lean more to one end of the spectrum, but there’s always variation. Without it, the audience becomes numb to the story, exhausted by unbroken seriousness or bored by constant frivolous comedy. Make sure you’re bringing that whole range of tones with you, or you’re not being fair to the story universe.

Know where the heart is, and how to reproduce it. The heart of Star Wars isn’t space battles or dark lords or farm boys becoming heroes. The true heart is simpler and purer than that: love, hope, friendship, quietly doing what’s right even when it’s going to get you killed.

Bring that with you, and you can kill the Big Bad without ceremony, subvert the bad guy’s redemption scene, make the legend a washout and the apprentice already beyond training. As long as the heart is solid, the world remains recognisable. And if you understand the heart, you understand the universe, whatever else you change.

No News Is… No News. I Suppose.

Well, we’ve all been waiting for a decision on Wolfblood season six for a while now, so I figured I should say something. Even if I don’t actually have anything to say…

CBBC haven’t commissioned a new season (yet), and all their 2018 shows are already filming. So there won’t be a new season of Wolfblood in 2018.

But they haven’t officially cancelled the show either. So… we’re in TV limbo.

In practical terms, it’s probably best to assume that season five is the final season and the show won’t return. Theoretically it could – CBBC could suddenly commission new episodes at any time – but I really don’t expect that to happen…

In the meantime, five seasons of wolfy fun are being repeated on CBBC (and iPlayer), shown on various channels around the world, and available on DVD. I hope you continue to enjoy them!


Wolfblood Season Five

At last, I can confirm that season five of Wolfblood will be screened on the CBBC channel from the 27th February 2017. That’s one episode a week, on Mondays at  4:30pm – check times for future episodes, it may vary!

With the secret no longer a secret, the world has changed for Jana, Matei, Selina, TJ and Imara. Suddenly they’re the most visible wolfbloods on the planet, and everyone has an opinion about what they did. Some humans are excited by the reveal of this new species – and some are hostile and scared. As tensions rise on both sides, difficult choices lie ahead…

I really think this season is some of the best work we’re ever done – and sadly, the themes of the series are more relevant to the real world than ever. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it!

And if you want to remind yourself of the Wolfblood world, remember that the final five episodes of Wolfblood Secrets are on CBBC from Monday 20th February, all week, at 10:20 am!


The Real World

In the few days since America inexplicably elected a frequently bankrupt sexual abuser and racist blowhard as their new President, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t want to live in his world, or the world of his alt-right crybaby trolls.

I understand why you’re saying this, I do. I don’t want to belittle your pain, or the problems to come. But let me put it to you that we don’t live in his world. No matter how much he yells and stamps his feet, he still lives in ours.

Because no matter what he says, the facts of human existence have not changed. Women are the equals of men. Black lives do matter. Latinx are as much a part of America as any other race. Sexual assault is wrong. LGBT+ people are as valuable and as “normal” as anyone else. Those are facts, and no amount of speeches, laws and publicity stunts can change that.  And every time he does something that denies those facts, he isn’t changing the world – he’s simply lying about the nature of reality.

Those lies will, of course, cause cause terrible suffering for those that they are turned against. Lies tend to do that. And it’s all of our duties to mitigate that suffering in any way that we can.

But like the cult leader who insists that a UFO is about to descend and ferry the faithful to paradise, he’s living in a fantasy world. The “Great Again” America that he and his followers are looking to create is a bubble of delusions, and eventually it will burst, and everyone will have to face up to the lies he told them, and they told themselves.

There are hard times ahead for the world. That bubble may yet expand far beyond America. But those of us who can see the world as it is still have that much to cling to. Human lives still have the value they have always had, and a single act of kindness, however small, is more valuable than all the political posturing and hatred he can muster.

It’s our world, not his. Let’s live like we believe that.





Wolfblood Secrets

Can’t wait until next year for new episodes of Wolfblood? Well, it’s your lucky day!

Starting on the 21st September CBBC will be broadcasting Wolfblood Secrets, a series of ten mini-episodes bridging the gap between series four and five. Written by Neil Jones, and set just after the secret is revealed to the world, the episodes will introduce a team of government investigators tasked with investigating this new threat, ‘wolfbloods’. One by one, they interview Jana and her friends, trying to find out whether these creatures hiding among us are dangerous…

Five episodes will be broadcast in September, and the final five near the end of February, leading into the next series.

They’re really fun episodes, and I hope you enjoy them!

(NB – if you’re outside the UK and you want to know when/if you can see Wolfblood Secrets, you’ll need to contact CBBC, or your local television channel, and ask them. As always, I don’t know the details of availability in all the different countries Wolfblood is shown in.)

Since a lot of people are asking –  no, Wolfblood Secrets is not happening instead of series five, or replacing the regular series in any way. It’s a one-off extra, just like the secret episode or Jana Bites. Series five will be shown in the spring of 2017, date to be confirmed…


Wolfblood Season Five

I had the great pleasure of appearing at the Hay Festival yesterday, along with Leona Vaughan and director John Dower, to talk about how Wolfblood is written and how the cast, directors and the creative team and crew contribute to the storytelling.


We also signed copies of the Wolfblood novelisations, and met a lot of fans, many of whom had travelled from all over the country…


And best of all, we were finally able to announce that a fifth season of Wolfblood has been commissioned! We’re already writing the scripts, and we hope to film in October 2016 for transmission in early 2017. We look forward to bringing you more adventures in the brave new world where the existence of Wolfbloods is public knowledge, and both humans and Wolfbloods have a lot of adjusting to do…