Earlier this week scifipulse reported on an exciting new childrens fantasy project which has been created for BBC television called Fables Of Forgotten Things. Just yesterday, I spoke to the writer behind this new project Simon Allen and asked him a few questions about the TV show, as well as some questions about the sort of shows which inspired him to write.
SciFi Pulse: In the write-up for Fables Of Forgotten Things it says the show is an evolution of A Fairytales Of Forgotten Things. Other than the similarity in title, how is this TV pilot different to the movie short? And could you enlighten us about Fairytales and how it contributed the Fables?
Simon Allen: A Fairytale of Forgotten Things was a short film we made in the summer of 2004 for next to no money. The whole film was meant to be an imaginative speculation – a fairytale – told by a little boy as he chances upon a lost button from his old coat and wonders where it’s been all this time. In the fairytale, he imagines a mysterious, lonely traveller who falls asleep in one place and wakes up in another, always finding he’s having to return a forgotten object to somebody to help them remember something important. The short played a couple of festivals, was picked for BBC Film Network and then broadcast on BBC2.
It was shot on Mini-DV and is proof of the fact that you don’t always need lots of money to make a successful film. An independent producer saw the film and wanted to develop it into something bigger. We weren’t interested in going down the feature film route so for a short time I was thinking about turning it into a children’s book.
Then we came up with the idea of a children’s television drama series and expanded the concept so it was far more universal. Everybody has had that uncanny experience where they’ve moved a chest of drawers or a wardrobe and found something caught in the cobwebs behind it, something they’d forgotten about or thought lost. The idea of the television show is simply: what if somebody put it there for you to find, just at that moment?
SciFi Pulse: Having the BBC show interest in Fables must be a massive thrill. What shows by the BBC would you say Fables has the closest ties too, in terms of plot – and are there any Children’s fantasy shows you remember from your childhood which may have had an impact and made you think – I want to write stuff like that?
Simon Allen: It is fantastic that the BBC Film Network have picked it up – the network is, in my opinion, the best showcase for new film and television talent in the UK. If you look at anybody who’s arrived on the scene in the last five years they’ve all got pieces of work on the site – even the guy who wrote the forthcoming movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road!
I guess the 1984 BBC adaptation of Box of Delights was the number one influence on Fables. I was nine years old when that came out and I just remember how it perfectly encapsulated the melancholy, mystery and magic of Winter.
Another big influence, although I only realised this the other day, was obviously Sapphire and Steel. Now I must have been no more than four years old when that came out but I have the most intense, horrifying memory of a top hatted, faceless figure who led a cohort of innocent children to their doom – echoes of our villain Eldritch there! Does PJ Hammond read this?
SciFi Pulse: Somehow you’ve managed to get Paul McGann for Fables – which must be a huge thrill – and somewhat of a shot in the arm for your movie/series. When you wrote Fables did you always have Paul McGann in mind for the role he plays or was it just a fortunate accident that you managed to gain the actors interest for the series.
Simon Allen: We started with that same approach that so many filmmakers take which was ‘let’s get a Paul McGann type.’ I think it was Toby who said ‘before we do that, why don’t we just try to get Paul McGann?’ After all there is no ‘Paul McGann-type’ as he’s completely unique!
Paul liked the idea and the script enough to meet us for lunch. He was immediately cool and commanding – a real stately presence in the room. He also has that unique ability to look ‘instantly haunted’ and he can convey such history and depth with little more than a glance.
His knowledge of the sheer technique involved in film and television acting is awe-inspiring – I learned an awful lot from listening to him! I’m also a big Withnail & I fan and Anthony Wise, who plays our villain Eldritch, was the famous ‘GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN!’ policeman. In a funny way, Fables of Forgotten Things ended up being an unofficial Withnail reunion!
SciFi Pulse: We’ve seen a big interest in both fantasy shows and science fiction develop over the last few years by both the BBC and ITV – and we now have shows like Merlin, Doctor Who and Primeval, all of which are made for a broad family audience. What do you feel makes for good family entertainment in terms of fantasy and science fiction – and what do you think it is about the genre that has such mass appeal?
Simon Allen: Well, the Doctor Who template is being replicated wholesale by those other shows and, for every production company in town, a new Saturday evening returning show is the Holy Grail. The key seems to be recognition – every myth, legend, literary character and previously successful television show is currently being re-energised and developed into a family show. We’ve still got Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes, Crusoe and even the Three Musketeers to come!
I think people love sci-fi and fantasy because we all like to dream and these are the genres of dreams and wonders – the very stuff of the imagination and being human.
SciFi Pulse: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline that you’d like to talk about?
Simon Allen: Any jobbing writer always has to have many irons in the fire, some of which can be talked about and others definitely cannot be talked about! The thing I can talk about right now is a horror feature we’re trying to shoot next year called Breathe. The director Toby Meakins and I developed the script with Film Council funding and it’s something we’re really excited about.
SciFi Pulse: If the chance came up would you ever like to write for some of the shows like Merlin, Primeval and Doctor Who? And if so, what sort of fresh perspective and new situations would you like to put those characters in?
Simon Allen: Well I have already written for a Dalek (although that was in an advert!). Seriously, I haven’t yet reached the stage in my career where I’m a contender for those shows although I did have a meeting with the makers of one of the big supernatural dramas that are starting later this year. For a short time it looked like I might bag an episode but they went with a couple of more experienced guys. So… the short answer is: yes of course!
Doctor Who is obviously the dream for everybody, writers, fans – even 10-year-old schoolboys want to write for it! I’ve got a fair few ‘Doctor Who‘ ideas so one can always hope!
SciFi Pulse: Obviously we’re all television/film/comic book and gaming fans here at sci fi pulse and as such I’d like to throw in this question. Of all the comics and TV shows you encountered as a child which ones did you most enjoy – and what was it about them that drew you into the story?
Simon Allen: I’m a fan too! I geek out over the most ridiculous things. One of our earlier films takes place almost entirely in a rainstorm and the guy who did the rain for us also did the snow on The Shining! I spent an entire night scrutinising the ‘Making Of’ on the Shining DVD to catch a glimpse of him standing next to Kubrick! Can you get much more fanboy than that?
Sorry, I digress! Bizarrely the comic I most enjoyed when I was younger was an adaptation of Bladerunner! I think it was serialised in the back of Star Wars Comic or something. I didn’t see the film until 1987 so, for me, the comic book was the film. I also loved a lot of the Doctor Who strips in the 80s, especially the ones with Colin Baker’s Doctor and Frobisher the penguin – he was my hero!
As for television there’s the obvious stuff that we’ve already talked about and then things like Chocky, Aliens in the Family, Day of the Triffids and Twin Peaks. Anything that fired the imagination. I was always terrified of Bagpuss and Worzel Gummidge though – they used to give me nightmares. I used to have dreams where I was trying to run away from both of them but I couldn’t move fast enough because the thoroughly evil Bagpuss had used his yawn-magic to possess my limbs with some kind of stop-motion witchcraft!
SciFi Pulse: Finally when can we expect to see Fables Of Forgotten Things on the air – and why is it a must see event for genre television viewers.
Simon Allen: Impossible to say. It was born then it died and spent two years buried under a pile of paperwork. It’s only really coming back to life now and the signs are promising. We’re older and wiser. Our careers are more advanced. We have great scripts with fantastic feedback, we have a killer bible and we have a pilot that everybody seems to love. It could be next year, ten years or never – that’s the way of the industry! We’ll keep plugging away with everything we’re doing and hope that somebody gives it a chance – it is one of those things that we genuinely do love.
Thanks Simon for taking the time to talk with us about this exciting project.
Written By Ian M. Cullen