Interview: James Moran on Girl Number 9

The writer and co-director of the brand new web thriller Girl Number 9 tells us all about It. Plus: what on earth is Cockneys vs Zombies?

Mr James Moran

Let’s start with the basics that James Moran gets asked a lot. He’s not writing for Doctor Who season five. He doesn’t know when Torchwood is coming back. He’s not writing for the next series of Primeval. He thinks Matt Smith will be great.

Sorted? Grand. Now let’s look at what he’s been up to these past couple of months. Girl Number 9 is a web thriller that goes live from this evening at 9pm, with a fresh five minute episode going up daily. Starring Gareth David-Lloyd, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Joe Absolom, Girl Number 9 is written by James Moran, and he’s also directed some of the episodes, with Dan Turner helming the others. You can find the episodes at www.canyousaveher.com, and here’s what James had to say about it all…

Where did Girl Number 9 come from?

Dan [Turner] and I wanted to work on something together, and met up every now and again to bounce ideas around. During one meeting, he told me his idea for this, and I thought it was great, so we brainstormed for a couple of hours until we knew that we definitely had something exciting.

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Why did you decide to do it on the web? Have projects such as Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog proven that the web is ready for something like this?

The web allowed us to construct the storyline around the format, so we decided to do 6 x 5 minute episodes and started working out all the story details to fit. We knew that we’d need to keep people’s attention and make them come back, so a thriller with twists and cliffhangers would really help. We’d been watching the development of web drama, particularly what happened with Dr Horrible, and knew it was possible to do something good and build an audience.

Did you have to be any more ruthless with your writing given the strict time constraints of the on-screen narrative?

Extremely! We only have a few minutes to hook people, so I have to write incredibly lean, tight scenes. I always had a fairly lean writing style, but now even more so. I kept starting scenes later and later, and ending them earlier and earlier, until they were almost subliminal. We were able to let some of them breathe a bit more while shooting, but even then, it’s a really fast paced, condensed type of storytelling. Which really works well for this type of thriller.

Was the immediacy of the web something that appealed to you? Given you’ve written TV scripts that haven’t been shown for the best part of a year, and a movie screenplay that I’d imagine was in the same position, was there an appeal in writing something and seeing it live in a shorter space of time? Plus, when did you write Girl Number 9, and how long has it taken to put together?

Definitely, there’s no departments or levels of executives or producers to go through, you don’t have to wait for feedback or a commission, you can just get on and do it. I wrote the first draft of the script at the end of July, and we started shooting on September 9th – 09/09/09, which I’d love to pretend was planned, but it was a complete coincidence. It’s really exciting to write something and start filming almost immediately, and it’s an eye opener to see how quickly you can assemble a talented crew and get going.

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You’ve broadened the material out, too, with Girl Number 9‘s characters having arguments over Twitter. Was that something you always wanted to add-on as part of the story?

That came just after shooting, we were setting up the official Twitter account [@girlnumber9] and thought it would be fun if some of the main characters had their own accounts. It was just going to be that, but we drew up a whole plan for the Twitter drama, leading right up to the events of the first episode. We have plot beats we need to hit at certain times, and the rest is semi-improvised.

What’s great is that the followers are talking back to the characters, cheering on the cops and booing the bad guy! They know it’s fictional, but still really get into it and have fun. You don’t *have* to follow the accounts, the show is a stand-alone piece and works as it is, this is just a fun, interactive thing people can get involved with if they want.

How easy was it to get some of the old Torchwood gang involved? Was this something you discussed with them while Children Of Earth was being made?

No, we decided to do this in June or July, just before Children of Earth was aired, it was quite a random, spur of the moment decision. We didn’t discuss actors at first, we worked out the story and I wrote a draft of the script, and then looked at the characters to see who we wanted. With Gareth, I’d always wanted to work with him again on something because he’s so fantastic, so me and Dan agreed to see if he’d be interested. I asked him, he read the script, and said yes straight away.

Tracy-Ann was another actor we decided upon immediately, and I actually sent her a message on Twitter to see if she did things like this, and she said yes too. Everyone really responded to the script, and wanted to be involved. Joe was someone Dan had kept an eye on for a while, he showed me some of his work, and when we met him we knew he’d be brilliant in the part, so we grabbed him.

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You try your hand at directing with Girl Number 9: is that something you’ve always wanted to try? Has it whetted your appetite for directing again in the future?

I’ve wanted to do it for a while, but kept putting it off and finding excuses. Dan finally called my bluff and suggested splitting the directing duties, said he’d assemble a crew, and basically took away every excuse until I had to either back down or do it… It was so much fun, really exhausting but hugely satisfying. I’d love to do it again, maybe on a feature one day, it’s such a creative process and really makes you question every single writing choice you make, in a good way.

And would you return to the web again? Is it a broadcast medium that makes financial sense, or will you be out of pocket on Girl Number 9? Do you plan a DVD release at any point?

It’ll be online for about a month, and then we’ll release DVDs and downloadable versions for sale. If all goes well, then we’ll approach people for sponsorship to do the next one, once we show that it’s possible. I definitely want to do another web drama, and we’re planning to do a science fiction one next.

What are you up to next? Are any of your other projects in the back of your mind close to fruition?

I have two TV projects in development at production companies, where they brought me in to write their new shows, so we’re hoping to get those made at some point. A third one is my creation, which I’ve just had picked up by another company, and that will hopefully be a series as well. I’ve got a few movies on the go, at various stages, the closest one right now is Cockneys Vs Zombies, a horror comedy that shoots early next year – it’s really good fun, full of splatter, action, scares, banter, and Cockney geezers smacking zombies with a variety of implements. Oh, and they’re proper, old school, slow zombies.

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James Moran, thank you very much!

Interviews at Den Of Geek