Wednesday, April 02, 2014

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS LUNT


I recently got the chance to interview Chris Lunt, writer and creator of PREY, a new three-part crime thriller coming soon to ITV. Here's what he had to say...
      
DOM - When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and what was it that influenced you?

CHRIS - I've wanted to be a writer all my life. I can remember writing plays about a character called KNAVE when I was about seven (I didn't know it was a real word or a jazz mag at the time). Knave was a sort of Han Solo character, I might have to dust him off. I started taking writing seriously about ten years ago, and turned professional in 2010 following redundancy. I love movies, I read books, I'd like to say that either are particularly arty or intellectual, but they're not.  I love STAR WARS, STAR TREK, INDIANA JONES. I read biographies to inspire characters in my writing, but beyond that I'll read sci fi novels, or stuff about UFO's which I love.

DOM - What was your first screenplay and what valuable lessons did you learn from it?

CHRIS - It was a thing called G2, which started out as a possible DOCTOR WHO spin-off set in the 1800's that got knocked back. At the time I didn't have the confidence to write it myself, so the company I was working for brought in another writer. I realized pretty quickly I could be doing a better job, so I think the important lesson was 'give it a go'. I spent a lot of time pitching that, and learned A LOT about how the film industry works. I'm pretty good at spotting the blind alley's now.

DOM - How long have you been writing and what were your achievements before you got your big break?

Chris Lunt - writer/creator of PREY
CHRIS - I've been writing professionally since April 13th 2010 - the day I was made redundant. I thought "it's now or never" and had a bit of redundancy money to act as a buffer. Things happened very quickly after that, and I think part of it was not having a safety net. Talk about focusing your mind. I'm not sure I'd have ever made it if it hadn't been make or break time, and, as terrifying as it might sound I'd recommend it to any writer - lose the safety net. Before the writing took off I worked for a CGI company doing sales and client handling, and before that I was a camera man for the Discovery Channel. I was 'The Eye' on a series called TWO'S COUNTRY you'll never have heard of. I think both those roles, the camera work and the CGI, gave me a practical understanding of how stories work through the lens - obvious for the camerawork, but in CGI the whole shot exists in those frames and that gives you a perspective on what works and why it works. My writing is very descriptive, and I think that's through those two threads of experience. Another bit of advice I'd give writers is get an overview of how things work.

DOM - What was your big break and how did it come about?

CHRIS - Meeting Nicola Shindler at Red Productions. I wouldn't be anywhere without Nicola and Richard Fee and Caroline Hollick, my script editors. I had no right to say I was a writer when I met them, but Nicola saw something in me and never stopped pushing me forward. The best thing that has ever happened to me professionally is getting PREY greenlit and having Red Productions make it.

DOM - What motivates you?

CHRIS - My partner Catherine, and not being able to pay the mortgage.

DOM - Who have you enjoyed working with so far and why?

CHRIS - Honestly, I've enjoyed working with everyone. Early struggles gave me a pretty good bull-shit detector, so now I know when to avoid even stepping off down that route. Apart from the brilliant Red Productions, I've worked with Hartswood, Wall 2 Wall, the BBC, ITV, many more - Elaine Cameron, Eleanor Greene, Polly Hill, Phil Collinson, among many others, and they've been nothing but supportive. Right now I'm working with Drama Republic on two script commissions, and they're great people, and Kindle Entertainment on another and I'm really enjoying that. I'm very much a collaborator, so I think that helps, you know, when they realize you'll take criticism and do your best to work with notes etc. Also, and this is really important to realize, getting knock-backs is a major part of this game. If you're not getting a knock-back a month then you're not working hard enough. You have to take them, brush yourself off, then get on it with a smile of your face. You can never see your arse or sulk! If you're good to work with, then the people your working with will be too and they'll want to work with you again. You have to be that person they want to be in the room with. Maybe I'm lucky, but there's no-one I've worked with that I wouldn't work with again post going professional. I have been working with the Guvnor, Jed Mercurio, on one job, and that's just been great. He's brilliant and a top, top bloke.

DOM - Who would you most like to work with in the future?

CHRIS - Honestly, I don't know. I do have a very specific plan - something I want to do, and my agent knows this and we're working towards it. It might not happen, but even if it doesn't I know I'll be somewhere on the road towards it. Some people - a very famous Showrunner in fact - said at last years BBC Writers Festival  that he didn't have a plan, that writers can't have a plan. I totally disagree with that. My plan is a ten year one, I'm four years into it right now, and I think I'm heading in the right direction. So long as your heading towards something, surely that's an achievement, even if you don't attain the actual goal. Besides, this Showrunner had ended up running the one gig he'd been a fan of since he was two-years-old. No plan?! Then it was a hell of a fucking coincidence!

DOM - Describe your working day?

CHRIS - None of this "I write till 2pm and go for a walk" bollocks. My hours are 9 - 6, 9 - 6. 9 - 8. 9 - 1. 9 - 6.... I'll work Sunday for a couple of hours if I've fallen behind on something. If I don't have a gig I'm being paid for then I'll work on new stuff or spec stuff. I have two spec scripts doing the rounds at the moment, one of which is being optioned.

DOM - How did you land your agent?

CHRIS - Ironically, his agency owned the rights to that character my spec script was about, so I contacted him asking if they were available, he liked the cut of my jib and signed me. We since moved to Casarotto together. My agent, Rob Kraitt, is brilliant. We're a great team as I'm fine in the room and knocking on doors and being mouthy and he's a brilliant agent. He's a good mate now.

DOM - What things can you not live without in your work space?

CHRIS - Right now I'm looking at an Ipad, an arcade machine, a TV with Xbox360, PS3 and Atari 2600, a coffee machine, two comfy chairs and a lot of movie posters. My office is damn fine. I write to music, so I need that too!

DOM - Coffee or tea, and how much while you're working?

CHRIS - Coffee, espresso, five or six a day. I have a Dolce Gusto coffee machine, the one that looks like a duck. It's red.

DOM - What one piece of film and TV do you wish you had written?

CHRIS - Oooooooh... I love The Shield, and I'd kill to be smart enough to write something like Modern Family. I'd love to write on a series like Star Trek if it ever comes back. And there's this one movie franchise... I've said too much!

DOM - What are your five top tips for new writers?

CHRIS - Work hard, I do and I'm the competition... Be a team player, you're not always going to have your own way, but the best idea's will win, so have them, don't spit your dummy out if you don't get your own way... do your best with notes, no matter how much you might disagree with them, one of two things will happen - they'll realize they've given you a bad note, or you'll realize they didn't. What they will know for certain is that you tried your best to make it work.... Build relationships, but only with the right people. Trust your instincts and avoid the bullshitters even if they're promising you the world, do research, don't mither, work on being good in the room, that means being able to pitch, people buy into 'you' as much as what your pitching... Finally,  and to my mind most important - focus! When I started four years ago I quickly became part of a peer group of similarly emerging writers. The majority of them were also producing short films, directing, or doing this and that, that's absolutely fine, but I was a writer - it's all I do, all day, everyday, and it took that focus to achieve anything. A lot of those guys are still producing short films, or directing or this and that. I'm still writing. But now I'm getting paid for it. Ironically, I'm also being offered exec production and Showrunner roles (although I much prefer the idea of Lead Writer to Showrunner).

The awesome John Simm giving it moody!
DOM - Tell us about Prey?

CHRIS - It's a three part ITV drama about a copper, Marcus Farrow (played by John Simm) who gets accused of a crime he didn't commit. I can't say much more than that. But I will say that I'm very, very happy with how it's turned out. It was directed by Nick Murphy, and he's done an incredible job. There's a screening for the RTS and Indie Club on the 23rd of April, so if anyone goes to that they should say hello.

DOM - What else are you working on at the moment?

CHRIS - Bringing Down the Krays for Drama Republic and the BBC, Dreamland for Drama Republic and ITV, Division for ITV in-house, The Famous Five for Kindle and ZDF, and Driven for Slim Film and TV, BBC and AMC... they're the script commissions, there's a pile of other stuff in development too. 

DOM - Any last words?

CHRIS - Writing is absolutely the best job in the world. There's no feeling like being on a big set and knowing this is all down to you. Seeing your characters brought to life by serious actors, and the vision realized by the director and producers is fantastic. To achieve that it has to really be what you want, and perhaps most importantly, you have to really be honest with yourself and believe you can do it. In my experience there are two types of emerging writers - those that in their heart of hearts think they can do it, and those who actually, if they were being truly truthful, don't. You can go from one to the other. For me, it was redundancy. It went from a nice dream to something that HAD to happen, or I'd have to go and find something else to do to make a living. You have to cross that bridge. Oh, and yeah, you'll know you're a pro when other peoples success stops feeling like your failure. Don't let those who lampoon your ambitions bring you down. It is in the nature of monkeys to throw shit.

Brilliant stuff, thanks Chris.

1 comment:

ElaineJJackson said...

Brilliant interview, especially like the advice for newbie writers!