James Moran interview: writing Primeval

We talk to the man behind this weekend's Primeval episode, writer Mr James Moran...

James Moran is the man who wrote this weekend’s episode of Primeval. And he’s been telling us a little bit about how it all happened…

We’ve talked to the friendly and very talented James Moran at Den of Geek before (back when his Doctor Who episode, The Fires Of Pompeii, had just aired), when we spent a mammoth session in a Starbucks Coffee shop, accompanied by the screams of children in the background. Fortunately, it was all a bit calmer this time round, as he told us all about what we can expect from this week’s episode of Primeval. That he just happened to write…

What kind of brief do you get when you’re given a Primeval episode?

They have a rough sequence of events for the episode, and have decided on the creature and location, so they can keep things balanced over the course of the series. But they encourage you to run with it, make it your own, and bring your own ideas in. There’s also an ongoing serial arc that runs through everything, and you have to make sure to address that. Because there’s a lot of effects work, they need to know what you’re doing at a very early stage.

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How do you approach the writing of it? Do you wrap the episode around your monster?

I have a rough idea of the story, know what the monster is, so outline the story in detail first, just like any other show. Once I’ve done a few drafts of that, I go to script. You obviously have to make sure you put lots of exciting monster moments in, but this one was a bit different, as it’s a creature that hides a lot – there’s more tension when you can’t see anything, so you try and keep if off screen as much as you can. It’s kind of a haunted house story, and I wanted to reflect that sort of feel. 

How ‘real’ and authentic does your treatment of your monster have to be? What kind of guidance do you have on it?

Because my one isn’t a real creature, I was a bit more free to come up with ways it would behave. It was based on a real creature, but is obviously a lot bigger, with the special camouflaging skin. I gave it long, sharp claws too – originally there was a dead body discovered that seemed to have knife wounds, I wanted it to seem as if a human was responsible for the initial attack – that scene came out during the process, but the claws stayed. I tried to give it a consistent, logical behavioural pattern – like a human baddie, you want to be able to understand why it does what it does. It’s not evil, just scared, confused, angry, and gets enraged by loud noises and intruders into its territory. Much like me first thing in the morning.

How involved did you get with the production of the episode? And is it a fun show to work on?

It’s great fun, the people are all really nice too. Between drafts, they showed me a load of photographs of the location they’d found, so I was able to go into the next draft knowing how it would all fit together, which was great. They also gave me an artist’s rendering of the creature, so I could see what it was going to look like. I’ve still got that, that’s going up on my wall… Once things get moving, as on most shows, you step aside and the process takes over – but they invite you to the readthrough, and keep you informed about how it’s going. I was going to visit the set during shooting, but it was during my busiest work year ever, and I couldn’t spare any time – I was gutted, I love going on set and seeing how it all happens.

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What can you tell us about your episode?

There’s a murder mystery, a spooky old house, a freaky looking creature, a strange little girl, and a new character called Danny Quinn. Because it’s kind of a haunted house-type story, there’s a very quick, blink and you miss it reference to The Shining in there somewhere, if you can find it. Oh, and one of the team goes to prison…

Is it compulsory to get Hannah Spearritt in her pants into a Primeval script?

No, and when I turned up to the readthrough in my pants, I kept getting funny looks…

Finally, what are you up to next?

Torchwood series 3 will be on sometime this year – no idea when, I’m waiting for the announcement just like everyone else – and I did episode 3 of that. Crusoe will be out on Region 1 DVD in America on May 5th. And I’m working on several new shows that might not pop up on the radar this year – two are other people’s shows, and I’m doing one episode of each, but three are shows I have a hand in helping to create, and I really hope they get picked up and made.

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I’m also writing a horror comedy movie for a director and producer friend, hoping to shoot later this year, and possibly doing a rewrite on another horror comedy in a few months.  Right now, I’m doing two short stories, for different collections, which I can announce in a few months. So, fairly busy, but all manageable – I’m not overworked like last year, thankfully, but have enough to keep me going through most of the year.

I’m also doing a live Twitter chat-along to my Primeval episode this Saturday, but am still trying to work out the details of how it’ll all work. I’ll do a blog post when I figure it all out! {U[date: James will be live-Twittering here.

James Moran, thank you very much!