Locke was a great challenge, but when you were making Serenity, did you ever think, “Get me back to that one car, that was nothing”?

Absolutely. It’s so true. It is hard. Making a film is hard because you’re not dealing with the intangible. When you’re writing, it’s perfect because it’s only in your head and then you have to take it into the physical world and that’s where things drop off and things fall apart and you have to fix them.

I do like the purity of something like Locke, where it is just if you like the dialogue and face. But I really wanted to do the opposite with this and always, I want to try and do something that you’re not expecting, and hopefully within the film, it will be not expected as well.

When audiences leave the theater after Serenity, how many questions do you want them to have? Do you want them to focus on those questions or the emotional experience?

I think the emotional experience is very important because that sort of … The result of that is whether or not someone likes it. Because I don’t think people are going to have an affectionate opinion of a question. But for me, just as important if not more important is that at the end, the answers haven’t been given to them. That they can resolve things themselves.

And some people don’t like that, and I completely understand that. But the tradition is that everything gets tied up at the end and we all know what happened and it’s quite simple, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, that’s the way it is and the way it should be but occasionally, I think it’s good to leave people with questions and to wonder, “What have I just seen?” I think is great.

When you write for a studio, I imagine you have to answer all those questions.

Yes.

Is it frustrating or challenging when you have to tidy up everything?

Yeah. I mean, I think you have to in your own mind be aware that there are two or three different jobs. You have the job of writing stuff for yourself like this, or television, and you also … If you make yourself available to a studio to write studio films, you have to be aware of exactly what that job is.

And what that job is is to take a brief, write the story to the best of your ability with the best dialogue you can do, and then accept that the studio have the right to come back and alter what you’ve done. I would say 50% of the time, they make it better. 50% of the time, they make it worse, depending on the studio, but you have to accept that that’s the way it is and look at the fantastic films that get made by studios, and I mean that sincerely.

There are some beautiful films made by that process, because a writer comes on board and then you get notes and then the script gets given to a different writer and then a different writer, and then the director has their own view, so it is a very collaborative experience, which is fine and which I do. But sometimes I quite like to just do something for myself.

If you’re a writer precious about every word, it’s a nightmare, right?

Well you know, there’s working down a coalmine or there’s being a fisherman. There are lots of tougher jobs, and I just count my blessings that I’m a writer and you can feel bad about something that you think is dead, right, and then it gets changed and moved around, but you know, that’s life.

Where do you think you’ve learned the most about writing from? Would you say mostly from your life experiences?

Yeah, I think that and I mean, I began writing comedy.

Really?

Oh yeah, in Britain. I used to write for TV comedy and also for stand-up comedians, and the thing that writing comedy gives you is a kind of awareness that every single word and the delivery of every single word, and the gaps between the words, are really important.

So anybody who’s told a joke in a bar knows that if you just fluff your line just once, if you just get one word wrong, the joke’s gone. It doesn’t work, no one laughed. In order to get people to laugh, the precision of the words is incredible and that’s why comedians, they get their routine and they stick with it ’cause they know it works. That I think is the best education.

And then, when you start to do drama, you’re not trying to get people to laugh but you’re trying to get them to do something else and it’s just as tricky and you have to get it right in the same way as if you were telling a joke.

What’s tougher, writing comedy or drama?

Comedy’s harder. When I was writing comedy, you’d go into the theater and watch the words that you’d written be delivered and you die. You die when they don’t laugh. It’s horrific. You’re writing stuff in order to make people make this noise which is laughter, and if it doesn’t happen, there’s no question that people did or didn’t laugh. With drama, I think you can get away with it a bit, but with comedy, you definitely can’t.

Your work does have a surprising amount of comedy now that I think about it. Taboo has some great dark laughs, the kind that almost make me feel guilty for laughing.

[Laughs] Good, good. I try to include hopefully comic moments. Peaky as well has got some moments in it, because in life, there are funny bits, so why not?

I know you have season two of Taboo coming up, so I’m curious, what’s the experience like writing a first season versus a second season? What’s the biggest difference?

The first season obviously you’re doing quite a lot of work, but most of that work needs to be done in the first two hours, I think where you’re establishing the world, establishing the rules, establishing the characters. I found with Peaky that the second was easier than the first, third easier than the second because you’ve got a nice sure hand with the audience. They know, and they know the history of the characters, so for me it gets easier and hopefully more effective. I’ve nearly finished making a series of Taboo and similarly, it’s felt that you don’t have to be explaining so much because people know already.

Since you like to set challenges for yourself, what are some other challenges you’d like to conquer in the future?

I’d love to do a comedy because I’d love to go back to it and see if I can do it. That would be good fun. I want to try and get another one man or one woman show as well, a bit like Locke. But other than that, I just wait until something comes along. These days, a lot of things go in to TV because you get more time, you’ve got eight hours to tell a story, and as a writer you get more control of the project than you do when you’re making a film.

Obviously you make shows for TV, but as a filmmaker whose movies benefit from the big screen, how would you feel about a movie of yours only being available to stream?

Yeah, the big screen’s good and I think if it is available on the big screen as well, then good. But I don’t believe that either one is superior to the other, except for the screen … In terms of the writing, the stories and the characters and the acting these days in television, it’s on par with film. But obviously, some things need to be seen on a bigger screen.

But I think part of the television revolution is partly because TV screens are now so much different to what they were 20 years ago. There would be no point making good quality television to be watched on those bulbous screens everybody used to have, but now people have got big screens, you can tell a big story, but there are also other stories and other things.

I think Serenity with its ocean and its sky and its sunlight deserves to be on a big screen but this is the way things are and people will watch it on TV. There’s a generation that will watch things on their phone.

Does that bother you or are you just happy they’re watching it?

I don’t know. I dislike the concepts of being the curmudgeon, the person who’s resisting change, you know what I mean? Because you’ve heard it all before and every generation thinks that about the coming generation, and I think it’s just the way it is.

It drives me insane that my own kids spend so much time staring at screens, but what can you do? That’s part of the reason, by the way, that I wanted to do Serenity as well, was to explore the effect that can be had on people where in my opinion when kids … It’s not just kids, but when people are playing computer games and I watch over their shoulders as my kids play them, the engagement is almost more profound than watching a film, so the suspension of disbelief when someone’s playing a computer game seems to be deeper than the suspension of disbelief when they’re watching a movie because they’re taking part. They’re adding their own reality to it, and I think it has an interesting effect on storytelling because there is something very linear about the computer game storytelling, rather than the arc of a movie. So I just wanted to explore that as well with Serenity.

***

Serenity opens in theaters January 25th.

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