Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Writers' Room... The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 2

Fiona, Alex, Keith & Meaghan plotting Sonnigsburg
Not long after the inciting tweet incident, Fiona introduced me to our first two collaborators on the project: Alex Scott, a VFX artist, and Meaghan Bell, a poet and prose writer. Both had ideas for how to tell a spooky story and it was good to get Alex in on the ground level, to start figuring out what we could accomplish with visual effects on a small budget.

In the first instance, writers want the world and it’s only later when producers bring them back down to earth. Fiona was determined that she wouldn’t let her producer brain get ahead of us; that we’d plot and write the story without too much worry about how we would make it work.

On the other hand, we began the project with the idea of making it ourselves. We weren’t going to shop it to networks. We weren’t going to wait for funding. We were going to pitch it to C31, get some seed money and go to work.

In December 2013, we had set up a private Google Group where we had threads to discuss Production Ideas, Story Ideas, Characters, and the history of the town. Very early on, Fiona said she wanted to write something about creepy children at a boarding school in the mountains. That’s where the discussion began.

In early 2014, we had meetings once a week. Fiona and I both work full time jobs, so we set the meetings for after work – in the boardroom at Fiona’s day job. We’d gather with food and start discussing the ideas we had very vaguely discussed on the Google Group.

Fiona was in charge; the showrunner. We were all welcome to pitch any ideas, but if there was any conflict, Fiona was the one to make the final decision. Also joining us in the writers’ room early on was Serenity DeAngeles, who would help out with story ideas, character detail and would later go on to edit our scripts and, once production began, she was our 1st AD.

Early on, when the page is blank and you can tell any story, there are lots of disagreements – but it’s all in service of finding the best story and the best way to tell the story. Each and every struggle to explain why we thought something should be a certain way made the story better.

We already knew we wanted to shoot on location in Walhalla, which describes itself as Australia’s most haunted town, so we took a trip out there as a group to film some test footage and find locations to write for. It was a great place to get inspiration.

In Walhalla, first scouting trip
One of the big struggles of the writers’ room was agreeing on the title. While we occasionally referred to the show as “Wrongtown” mostly because some of the ideas we came up with just weren’t suitable for television, we could never quite figure out what title captured the mood of the show.

The show was set in Mount Sunshine, but it took us a while to settle on the name of the mysterious town in the woods. We decided to look for a name that told the viewer something about its history and heritage, but we needed it to be memorable. Eventually we came upon Sonnigsburg, which is not quite a real German word – though it’s made up of two separate Germanic words.

For me, it suggests German settlers, even if the name was mangled by English speakers. But it also sounds Gothic. And strange.

And back in early 2014, if you Google searched Sonnigsburg, there were no results. Now if you search for “Sonnigsburg” there are over 2,000 results. All about our TV series. The top result is our IMDB page, which lists casts and crew.

Which is what the next post will be about.

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1 comment:

ablogofawriter said...

"Fiona was determined that she wouldn’t let her producer brain get ahead of us; that we’d plot and write the story without too much worry about how we would make it work." Liberation to the writer! 👏✊ haha, this blog post was the best! I find it so deeply inspirational that you all worked so hard on this, and were determined to create something so unique and special. It is so exciting to see indie TV show developed, incredible!