CBBC has a long, proud tradition of stunning series drama. Wolfblood continues that tradition with its intensely clever, complex take on lycanthropy and the even greater horrors of teenaged life. With season four haveing recently finished and as we wait to see if CBBC orders a fifth, BUZZ talks to creator and showrunner Debbie Moon about the show and her other projects.
You started out as a novelist before heading to TV. Would you consider going back to prose?
“I’m very proud of Falling, but I’m not sure I’d write another novel. They’re very hard work! They are for me, anyway. In a screenplay, you can tell the same amount of story but in a more streamlined way, which works better for me. And also I really enjoy writing something that will then be embellished and interpreted by others – designers, directors, actors.”
Your point about how a screenplay is embellished and interpreted by others is really interesting. How has that changed how you write? And is it freeing working in a medium that’s a team sport rather than a solo effort?
“I started off writing short stories, but as soon as I switched to screenplays, the process essentially became collaborative. So the change really came in those first few (ultimately unproduced) scripts: learning from producers’ experience and instincts. I don’t know if it’s freeing, but it’s certainly more fun than working alone – and when the process works, you end up with the best of everyone”s ideas and talents.”
How would you describe Wolfblood for the uninitiated?
“It’s a show about an assortment of teenagers who are werewolves (of a sort), dealing with all the usual teenage issues but also trying to find their place in a human world that, until recently, didn’t even know they existed.”
How has it changed from your initial proposal to the immensely successful series it now is?
“Wolfblood has changed and grown in all kinds of ways from the original 30 page script I sent to CBBC about six years ago. The most interesting thing is how small elements of the story, and minor characters, take on a life of their own. Liam began as a ‘henchman’ for Jimi, and became a real threat to the Wolfblood secret, and finally a sympathetic ally. A throw-away gag about Shannon buying the family a dog chew as a gift led to disaster 12 episodes later, as the saliva on the stolen chew was used for DNA tests that led to the Smiths being identified as Wolfbloods.”
“One of the most satisfying things about writing a long-form medium like television is that so often, the set-up you need for that pay-off is already there, you just haven’t realised it yet…”
Have any of the directions it’s taken surprised you?
“It’s been gratifying, rather than surprising, to see the young actors rising to the challenges we’ve written for them. With the lead actress leaving the show at the end of season two, everyone else had to step up and carry the third series between them, and they all did terrific work. In season four, with many of the original cast gone, we’ve almost rebooted the show – many new characters, city location, new challenges – and that’s been a brilliant opportunity to tell new stories. CBBC, to their credit, have always been eager for the show to change and develop rather than resting on it’s laurels, and we’ve done our best to deliver on that!”
The cast changeover’s been handled brilliantly, and it’s great to see the show move forward in a way that honours the previous cast while still taking a new direction. How quickly did you settle on the new direction?
“It took us a while, actually. Our first thought was to have Jana working for [secret organisation] Segolia for the whole season, but we realised that took us too far from our core concerns – what it’s like growing up different. So we found a way to put Jana back on the outside of the system, and everything else grew from there…”
You’re also the showrunner for Wolfblood. What are the challenges in balancing two roles like that?
“My official title is ‘lead writer’ – I don’t do any of the production-related stuff, apart from showing my face at a few meetings, approving casting, and so on. So my role, other than writing my own scripts, is mainly to manage the creative process. We hold a writers room for a couple of days twice during the creative process, bringing all the writers together to thrash out the story arc for the season, and I manage that, with the producer and the script editor. Then I read occasional drafts of other writers’ scripts, and deal with any big changes in the story arc, as we go along.
“It’s actually a nice compromise, allowing me to concentrate on the storytelling aspects of the process, while the experienced CBBC team deal with the practicalities. And being a fairly inexperienced writer when Wolfblood was first commissioned, it took a lot of weight off my shoulders. But I’m getting quite curious about the production process now. Perhaps on my next show I’ll get more involved in that!”
Are there any plans to expand the universe? The show would be a great fit for a tabletop RPG in particular.
“We’re hoping there will eventually be a film of some kind, but discussions are an early stage for that. As for an RPG, if any manufacturers want to get in touch, we’d certainly consider it!”
There’s a rich tradition of children’s TV drama tackling big issues with ease and grace that Wolfblood very much embodies. What shows of this sort did you watch growing up and how do you think they influenced your writing?
“I’m not sure I remember any shows specifically, but I grew up reading a lot of science fiction, and that is often a metaphor for the problems and challenges of the present day. So I suppose that was a big influence on me.”
Showrunners – or lead writers – are becoming something the UK media are really embracing. How do you think the landscape is changing because of that?
“It’s an interesting shift, and we’re really in the early days of it. Along with an increased reliance on international markets and co-production money, and the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime, it’s part of an Americanisation of British television – in a good way, I think! It’s opening up opportunities for writers to create shows that would have been too expensive or too international a few years ago, and that has to be good.”
You’ve also worked on the excellent Y Gwyll, the S4C detective series. How was it writing for a show with such a strong grounding in Welsh?
“That was a really interesting process. I lived in Wales for many years, but never really mastered the language: however, living in a bilingual country is a fascinating experience, and I was really glad to get the chance to be part of bringing that to television. Of course, filming in two languages places very specific demands on the writer. The dialogue is cut down as much as possible, and scenes either have a lot of dialogue, or none – a scene with dialogue has to be filmed once in English and once in Welsh, but a scene with no dialogue only needs to be filmed once! That’s an interesting challenge for the writer, because it forces you to tell as much of the story through images and the characters’ actions and reactions as you can.”
What are you working on at the moment?
“I’m developing a new children’s show with an indie company, and I have several television project for ‘grown ups’ in development too. Hoping to get more into film this year, as well – the first scripts I ever had in development were film projects, but one by one they failed to happen, and TV took over. It would be good to get back to doing both!”
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Debbie. Wolfblood season 4 is on BBC iPlayer now.