WRITING HORIZON

WRITING HORIZON

Horizon was written by Paul Dudbridge, Simon Pearce and Chris Marshfield. Here they tell us how the project started and what challenges they faced scripting the 10-part series.

PAUL DUDBRIDGE:

Horizon was written as part of a scriptwriting team. How did that come about and how is that different from what you've done previously?
Horizon provided a new opportunity for me to work and collaborate with other writers in a way I've not experienced before. On previous projects and short films, I've either sat down and written the script outright, or come up with a story and given my thoughts to another writer to execute, or had my script re-written by someone else. All these approaches were fine by me, but Horizon presented a completely new structure. Simon Pearce, Chris Marshfield and I all sat in a room on several occasions and tried to map out what the story of “Horizon” could be. Characters we could feature, story points, locations to set events in... Whole characters and ideas came and went as we realised that avenue ultimately wouldn't work. We started by blocking out basic episode story points or locations. Some would be very detailed, where others might simply read “Episode 4 – Looting?”. As producer as well I wanted to have one eye on the story and not be put off by anything major that someone might suggest, but on the other hand you had to consider the practical and cost implications of some large scale scenes. We knew at some point we had to actually see what is happening to the city, we can't just “hear” about it. That's always bothered me about lower budget stuff where we're expected to believe something is bigger than it is purely down to sound alone.

Did this dynamic/process throw up any problems?
Sometimes we found ourselves having to double back and re-write stuff when we realised a major plot hole would cause audiences to question things. We thought we could convey a lot of information through a TV news report each episode until we thought about having the alien visitors setting off an EMP (Electro magnetic device) knocking out all electrical devices in episode 3. So how can we now convey that info after that episode? They were fun and exhausting creative sessions that we eventually cracked. Simon came up with the brilliant idea of splitting up the group of friends and having them all go off on their own separate adventures. This makes each episode different to the last and also allows the other characters to travel about “off screen” without us having to show it in our limited story time.

What were the challenges you faced?
We always knew we wanted each episode to be about 5 minutes long. Nice, small, bite sized episodes that wouldn't take too much time out of somebody’s day to watch. So the challenge was to write an episode in about 5-8 pages and get all the story and character points across. We knew some of the locations we wanted to film in and had access to and some episodes were written around that. Some were even re-written at the last minute when two days before filming episode 3 the location pulled out, forcing us to find an alternative very quickly and adapt the script to suit that new location. Some episodes would be big action orientated ones with loads of extras and cast and others would be more intimate stories with two people sat talking in a room. We liked the idea of mixing it up a bit. Each episode in true TV show style should also finish on a little cliff hanger. What was fun was then holding off revealing the outcome of this for a whole entire episode or two whilst we followed another bunch of characters on their journey. In addition, we always wanted a sense of time and pressure to be evident in most episodes so there's always a mention of how long they have left or what time it might be.

Overall, did it work out? What I found fun about working with Simon and Chris was that we were all essentially writing the same story but I was also excited to see where they took the characters once I finished my episodes set before theirs. Simon would also call and ask me to plant something or a line in my episode so he could pay that off in his script in four episodes time. It was a nice mix of me knowing the story but waiting to see like everyone else, how it unfolded.

SIMON PEARCE:

How did the project first come to your attention?
It was Paul that first pitched the show to myself and Chris, as we've worked together on a few projects now, and straight away I was excited to do it. Immediately there was a scope to it that we wouldn't normally have on the short or independent films we've done in the past. Without having the luxury of big budgets or a feature running time it can be a real challenge to create a world that your audience can fully invest in, to convey character and story in a condensed time frame, and then take the time to explore them. It's something we've always admired in shows that we love to watch, like Walking Dead, 24, Lost and so on. Also, the idea of leaving people on a cliffhanger is again not something we would normally have the chance to do.

The episodes are fairly short, what was the thinking behind this?
The episodes we knew needed to be short, anything longer than 4-5 minutes and you start to demand a bit too much of your audience who are bombarded by so much content on video sharing websites every day. We wanted to create these bite size chunks that were short and snappy to keep your attention, and hopefully keep you watching. But with 10 episodes to play with that still gives you a good 50 minutes to tell your story. Another thing with it was that we wanted it to be fun, to have all the elements again that you might see in the blockbuster movies we love, but can't really do in a short - so the heavy VFX elements and big action set pieces. So there was lots of reasons why we all jumped on it.

What problems or challenges did you face writing your episodes?
The big initial challenge was mapping it all out – Paul had already spoken about it with a couple of other people and knew certain key events he wanted to have happen along the way, as well as what he wanted to open with, so it was about finding the building blocks in between to get us from A to B. To be honest we kind of just started with - what would we like to see/do? And can we fit it in? Also, we knew from the start there were certain things we wanted to leave hanging and not explain, things we might hint at but don't reveal fully, so the audience are hopefully satisfied with the whole show but still left with some questions. The challenge there was not to do it too much - and certainly in early drafts we found that by putting in all these ideas that excited us or that we thought were cool, we ended up with too much at the back-end to then try and explain, so by episode 10 there would just be way too many loose threads left hanging.

With Horizon being a low budget show, was this at the back of your mind as your wrote the scripts?
We tried to keep the scale down, which was as much a practicality thing as a creative decision, so the key thing was to make it about this small group of characters and how they cope with what happens, but then now and again to glimpse the larger world and show off some VFX!

I think once the first two episodes were written by Paul I had the slightly easier job as then the characters and world were established, so once we'd decided the big events that would happen in each episode it was just about how they would each fit in to and react to that. We also knew the people we wanted to use for the characters so that helped in writing to their natural rhythms and abilities. The trickiest element was how to explore your characters in 4-5 pages! Certain elements of back-story we wanted to include, or relationships we wanted to develop, had to happen in a very short space of time, and still allow for us to build to the various set-pieces, so it was a good lesson in minimalism from that point of view - how to do it all in the most economic way, whilst still having it be believable and hopefully have the audience care! We're yet to see if that has panned out! It's another reason we scaled down the larger story as trying to explain all of that meant we had very little time for anything else.

How did you make each episode look or feel different?
As Paul said something else we were keen to do was have each episode look and feel different to the one before, so a new location and very different situation. This was one of the reasons we decided to split up the characters early on, so they all go different directions and you can alternate whose story you tell from episode to episode. This I think is also a fun way to tease the audience a little, again shows like Lost and the Walking Dead do it all the time, where you end on a cliffhanger in one episode, then the next episode you follow someone else, so you're delaying the answer for as long as possible. In one instance we leave someone in a situation in episode 5, then we don't come back to them till episode 10! So it's another technique we hope will keep people watching.

Once we had an early draft of all of them, it was then about going back and making sure they all fitted together. Whilst we all had the broad strokes each episode needed to include, what the beginnings and ends were, sometimes when you're writing other ideas pop up and so we might have to re-work previous episodes to incorporate them or set them up properly.

Overall, how would you describe your experiences writing the show?
It was a very enjoyable experience doing it, a lot of the time when you're writing you might have an idea you think will make a great scene or moment, but then of course have to construct the full story around it that matches up, here it wasn't so much an issue, you were just writing moments at a time.

CHRIS MARSHFIELD:

How did the project first get your attention?

When Paul pitched the idea of a sci-fi web series set in Bristol I said, “get out of me house Paul – you’ve gone mad.” He said, “don’t worry, Simon Pearce is involved.” I said, “brilliant, at least it’ll have guns in it.”

That’s not actually true, but could well have been a realistic reaction. However, having worked extensively with Simon and Paul I knew this was something I’d want to be involved with. On the face of it; an effects-heavy, multi-thread story with a significant cast and various locations sounds somewhat overly-ambitious. Fortunately Paul and Simon have a ridiculous, sickening work ethic which has made this project a possibility.

How did you approach your script?
To be clear from the start, I did not have nearly the amount of input into Horizon as those guys. I only wrote one episode. I was involved in the early sketching of the broad picture, but this was very much their vision. The collaborative element itself was an enjoyable one and, to be honest, that was a relief because being a ‘Team Player’ is probably one of the most frequent lies I’ve had to tell through various CV’s and job applications. I like to contribute to a team rather than having someone looking over my shoulder. Now hang on, I’m not some sort of antisocial, narcissistic megalomaniac (put those eyebrows back down) but writing to me has always been a solitary pursuit. This is not always the way to be and certainly wasn’t the case for Horizon.

Scripts ARE invitations to collaborate. They do not mean anything without the rest of the crew who makes it happen. No one reads a script and says, “that was so good, it shouldn’t be filmed – it’s better in this blueprint form on the page.” Doesn’t happen. I’d been fortunate enough to collaborate with Paul and Simon before, a particularly insightful experience was working with Paul on the short film; ‘Ashes’ which I think may have been the first example of someone coming to me with the bare-bones of an idea and developing it in a fluid, back-and-forth approach. This set me in good stead for the approach to Horizon and as well as my creative input, I made coffees and teas effectively.

Tell us about your episode?
In regard to my particular episode (episode 6); it will be regarded in one of two ways…

1.That episode which was full of character development for Nicole and introduced that cool new character with Sanders. I needed that intimate breather among all the carnage.

2. That rubbish episode where nothing happened. You don’t even see the spaceship. I hope Chris Marshfield isn’t working on season 2.

Time will tell… I was drawn to the intimate two-hander from the start and was fascinated by the clash of these two very different characters. My intention was to build an episode that would A) act as a kind of breather to help the pace of the show overall. B) provoke Nicole’s character arc from uptight city-girl to survivor. C) introduce Sanders – a badass counterpoint to the other characters to compliment the ensemble. Whether that comes across is up to you!

We understand the title of the show, came from you?

Oh! One more thing I will claim credit for is the title yes. For a very long time Horizon was “The Sci-Fi Web Series” and we played with ideas for a while. One suggestion was “Bristaliens” which is quite frankly genius. I can’t remember which of the cast/crew thought of this one, but well done. Some of my suggestions were; “Gurt Spaceship!” (Bristolian theme again) and “F**k! Aliens!” Eventually I stopped twatting around and suggested City:Zero (because it was the first city invaded, zero sounds sort-of sci-fi etc) but something about it just didn’t sit right. It doesn’t roll off the tongue – it was all a bit spitty and lispy.

Moments after ‘Horizon’ came out of my mouth it was pretty much a done deal. It just worked. I remember I came up with it while eating seabass in Bella Italia at Cribbs Causeway. We had just seen Robert Redford having a right crap time at sea in ‘All Is Lost’ – maybe because there was a lot of horizon in that film… plus I was eating fish – fish, sea, horizon… I don’t know what I’m on about. Fish is good for your brain though innit?

Lastly, I’d just like to draw attention to the amazing cast and crew for their great work, they really brought our writing to life. Also my apologies for having to shoot at our house while I frequently wandered around in a wife-beater, hungover, like a useless confused tramp… Although Paul did let me hold the monitor at one point.

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