Monday, June 03, 2013

Nowhere Boys by C.S. McMullen

How making a TV show is different to writing a book.

Matchbox Pictures is making a brand new TV show for kids, called Nowhere Boys.

It’s about four mismatched teenage boys who return from a school trip, only to discover that they have come back to an alternate world where they no longer exist because they’d never been born. There will be thirteen episodes, each about half an hour long, with lots of action and adventure.

But while it only takes half an hour to watch an episode, it takes much, much longer to get a series from concept to air.  Making a television series is a very different process to publishing a book, even though both are about making something new and exciting to entertain people.

Nowhere Boys is based on an original idea by Tony Ayres, who is also the ‘showrunner’ of the series. The showrunner is a bit like the author of a book – as the creator of the show, Tony has the final say about almost everything on a show, from how a set should look, to what line a character should say. The showrunner is often credited as the ‘creator’ in the end credits, as well as a ‘producer,’ although this varies from show to show.

But because TV shows have so many different elements – and involve so many people - they can sometimes take a lot longer to make than a book, although of course, that can depend on the book and whether or not the author has “writer’s block”!

Tony had the idea for Nowhere Boys more than two years ago – but we only just finished shooting the last episode recently, in May 2013. The scripts are written first, and then, once it has been commissioned by a broadcaster, in this case ABC3, we start to plan budgets and schedules.  We then decide who we want to direct the episodes and cast actors in certain roles, as well as doing lots of other essential jobs which have to be done long before the first scene can be shot! Finally, many months after Tony had his idea, filming can begin.

For each shot, you have to think about lots of different things, like actors, sets, props, scripts and special effects. This means that it can take a long time from when you start to make a show, to when the audience sees it on screen.

We learnt a lot from making Nowhere Boys. We’d previously made a kids show, called My Place, which was based on a book by Nadia Wheatley. But this is the first TV series we’ve made that is based on an original idea, and that has fantasy elements, like an alternate universe.

This meant that we had to figure out the rules for our world – like how the alternate universe works - and stick to them. You have to think about these things before you start shooting, because often there isn’t time to go back and change the scripts. It is essential that the plot makes sense over many different episodes.

Actors can also make a really big difference to how you think about a character.

In a book, you can imagine a character in your own way, but on a TV show, you have to make sure you cast the right actors to play the right characters. In Nowhere Boys, Joel Lok plays Andy, Dougie Baldwin plays Felix, Rahart Sadiqzai plays Sam and Matthew Testro plays Jake. All the characters are very different and each of the actors was chosen specifically for that character.

Another difference between making a TV show and writing a book, is that TV shows often use more than one writer. This is because one writer would struggle to write all the episodes in a series, because of how much there would be to write. We used six writers, which meant that it was really important that they met regularly so that they knew what each other was writing. They would get together in a “writer’s room,” and talk about ideas for the show, before going away and writing the ideas into a script. This mostly happens before shooting begins, although there are sometimes changes made to the scripts during shooting, although these are generally smaller changes.

While making a TV show is very different to publishing a book, it doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. While books and TV shows are created in very different ways, they are similar in that they both allow you to experience another world in your imagination.

If you like shows like Doctor Who, ABC3’s Wolfblood, movies like Stand By Me and The Goonies or books like The Hunger Games and Divergent then you should watch Nowhere Boys!

It will air on ABC3.

About the Author

Catherine S. McMullen is a lifelong nerd, enjoying books, TV, movies and games indiscriminately, especially if they’re about robots, zombies or dragons (or possibly robotic zombie-dragons).

She is the equal youngest person to sell a story to a professional science-fiction magazine, selling to Interzone at age 10, and has sold nine stories professionally. She graduated in 2011 with an Arts/Law degree from the University of Melbourne, and currently works for Matchbox Pictures, an Australian film and television production company.  

Her favourite books as a kid were Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, anything by Roald Dahl and many more. She is currently reading the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.


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