Outland – an interview with creator John Richards

This interview will also be appearing in the next issue of Ethel the Aardvark, but I thought I would post it here as well in case you don’t read that before the air date of next Wednesday 9.30pm on ABC1


Outland is premiering on the ABC on February 8th.  Tell us a bit about the premise of the show.

It’s about a gay and lesbian science fiction fan club. They’ve just split from a larger club and are forced to hold meetings in their homes, revealing secrets the members would rather keep hidden. Each episode is set during one meeting in one location, and it’s more an English-style comedy, similar perhaps to Spaced or The Book Group. The five members of the group all come from different worlds so the science fiction is the only thing they really have in common. Oh, and it’s funny. And it looks great.

The characters in Outland are quite unique for Australian TV.  Are they based on real life people?

They’ve definitely got elements of real people in them! I always approached Max as being me – he’s nervous, he worries about other people, he over thinks everything… and Andy was the person I’d like to be. He may be a sex-crazed leather man, but he’s also the most balanced member of the group and he has a good job. Andy’s the one you’d go to in a crisis. Or Rae. I short-hand Rae as “Monash academic” and she’s like a lot of women I know, and I’d never seen a lesbian character like her shown on telly before. Fab is obviously a version of Adam’s “performance persona” so he came in fully formed – Adam said the other day that Fab is just him when he’s drunk. Toby’s probably the least like someone I know, although some of his dialogue I took verbatim from real life.

Adam and I worked on the characters together, and then they were further developed with Princess Pictures, but Max came first. Actually, even his name is a weird geeky joke – he’s the average guy, the “everygay” so he’s named Max after Max Normal, a character from Judge Dredd.

There are several geek/nerd references in the first two episodes that resonated particularly with me, did you automatically know these or did you have to research geek culture to come up with them?

Everything came off the top of my head except the Stargate references – we decided Toby was a fan of Stargate and I took all the names off Wikipedia. This meant when it came to filming no-one knew how to pronounce them correctly and we’d have to call Narrelle M Harris. She was our “Stargate pronunciation consultant”. But all the Doctor Who stuff was from me and Adam, it was all just there. And the crew joined in as well. In episode 2 you can freeze-frame the open suitcase to see a copy of Narrelle’s book “The Opposite Of Life” and a copy of “Horn” by Peter M Ball, and in episode 1 the cinematographer made sure the real street sign for nearby “Lytton St” was properly lit so there was another subtle Dalek reference. Everyone wanted to make sure the fan elements were constant throughout the series.

How much of the story lines in Outland are based on your own experiences?  Have you personally felt embarrassed about being a science fiction fan?

Absolutely. In the first episode Max is one a date with a not-we and he’s “de-geeked” his house (this moment is also a parody of a gay film cliché in which a gay character removes all his gay paraphernalia because his Nan or similar is coming over – honestly, this series is a teetering tower of references). His date makes a joke about Daleks going up stairs and Max is momentarily frozen by an internal argument about whether he should correct this – Daleks have been going up stairs since Remembrance Of The Daleks – or to let it go. That moment came from real life, I was at a party and that exact thing happened. And the fannish and non-fannish parts of my brain had a fight about whether we wanted to be right or whether to let it go. As fans I think we like to be right.

And I think the gay world was quite dismissive of science fiction for a while, but then the gay world can be quite dismissive of all sorts of things. It seems to have changed now. Weirdly, the gays got on board the same time Doctor Who went heterosexual. It’s a mixed-up world.

Do you have a favourite character in the series?

I love them all, and the actors are all so brilliant. It’s a real ensemble piece so I wouldn’t want to play favourites. Although I’m extremely proud we found Ben Gerrard – he’s an exceptional performer and I like the fact that we’ll be able to say “we found him!” long after we can’t afford to use him anymore.

Outland is based on your original short film.  What inspired you to make the film in the first place?

The short film was made as a pilot, really. The ABC had turned Outland down in script form, but I thought if we made a film and put it into festivals we could come back to them saying “look! People like this!” I was following in the footsteps of SBS’s Wilfred, which was also a short film originally. So I directed it and shot in my lounge room for $500, with a really impressive cast. I think that’s what you need to do now if you want to get a show up.

On a more basic level, with Outland I wanted to put gay characters on screen that weren’t just one-note clichés and I wanted to put fans on screen without them being figures of ridicule. Gays and geeks have always been the butt of the joke; I wanted to make them the heroes.

Will there be a second series?

 I hope so. I’ve got ideas for one, I think we’ll have to see how it rates and how it’s reviewed, I guess. So watch it! And watch it again on iView! And send letters to the Green Guide, and leave comments on the ABC website, and tweet and facebook and shout about it randomly in the street! Actually, don’t do that last bit, that sounds mad.

You co-wrote the series with Adam Richard, who also stars in the show.  Were you tempted to put yourself in the show as well?  How was the collaboration?

In the show? Good lord, no. There was a two-line taxi-driver part I had my eye on but that went – more logically – to an Indian actor (and a very handsome gent, too).

The writing collaboration with Adam changed several times over the series – at first we worked on the pilot script together, emailing it back and forth. Then when we started at Princess we had more people involved so it ended up bouncing around a lot more. Then as the show got nearer – and time was shorter – I took over completely. So episodes 4 through 6 are written solely by me, but Adam would read them and make notes. Then when shooting started it was more important that Adam was learning lines than writing them, so I took over the rewrites as we went along. It was all very organic. And in the read-throughs – and on the set – Adam and the cast would sometimes change lines or come up with alternatives.

It has been a long time between the series being finished and finally being aired on the ABC.  How frustrating has the wait been?

The whole process has been somewhat… um… leisurely. Although I was reading yesterday that Life On Mars took one year longer than we did to go from concept to screen and that was brilliant, so that’s reassuring. The only truly frustrating bit was that the show was finally edited mid-2011 and there just wasn’t room on the ABC schedule to show it! The ABC has really pumped up it’s output of comedy and drama in the last few years, which is brilliant, but it meant there wasn’t any room at the inn for Outland. The truth is only a tiny number of shows get made in Australia ever, so the fact that our show got made at all is a reason to rejoice. It’s also very good, in my humble opinion, so that’s nice too.

Do you have any other projects in the works we can get excited about?

Yes, I have projects in the works you would get excited about but no, I can’t tell you what they are. There’s no point getting you all worked up over something that might never happen, but hopefully one of them might get some development soon. There are two SF-tinged dramas that would be amazing to make, so fingers crossed. Keep watching the skies! Or your television. WATCH OUTLAND!

In the meantime you can always catch me on the television-discussion podcast Boxcutters – http://boxcutters.net/ – or speaking at events like Live In The Studio at ACMI – http://www.acmi.net.au/lis_sex_lies_television_screens.aspx

Note from me – I have seen a sneak preview of the first two episodes and they are absolutely hilarious.  Can’t wait for them to be on tv 🙂


The Reformed Vampires Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Before I say anything about this book, let me just say this, what a cool title for a book.  This was what originally attracted me to this series, although I must be honest, the cover of the original one I saw was much sexier than this one, which was the cover of the audiobook that I listened to.

When I first tried to read this, about a year ago, the book didn’t really appeal to me.  As a great fan of vampire romances, the idea of sickly vampires, who didn’t really do much of anything and whinged and complained a lot, really didn’t appeal to me.  So I put it back on the TBR pile where it languished for months (don’t worry, some books languish there for years).

The other cover really made the vampires seem way cooler than they really were

I rest my case.  To me this cover was quite misleading, this cover says to me the heroine is a kickass vampire with an attitude that no-one is going to diss.  In reality Nina, the aforementioned heroine, is in fact, a sickly, weak reformed vampire who has been living in her mother’s basement since 1973 when she was turned at the age of 15.  She is a skinny pale girl with a bad haircut and a can’t do attitude.  Does this cover portray that at all?  Whereas the cover of the audiobook accurately portrays the whimsical nature of this book.  Anyway, enough about the covers, what did I think of this book.  In a word (or two), I liked it, but didn’t love it.

There is something quite special about this book (indeed the sequel The Abused Werewolves Rescue Group has a similar quality to it as well).  I did enjoy the originality of the premise, that Vampirism is a disease and that Vampires are basically very unwell forever.  They talk in terms of science rather than the supernatural, they scoff at the vampire legends, they laugh about the super strength, and they vomit a lot.  Plus I liked the Australian setting as well, you don’t get many vampire/werewolf tales set in the outback or Sydney (unless you read Keri Arthur but if you like her you won’t be reading this I don’t think – not enough sex – none in fact)

The support group to which the title of the book refers, is where the vampires meet every Tuesday night to bitch and moan about life as a vampire and what it entails.  This is where we meet out intrepid heroine Nina, who is about to head off to yet another interminable meeting when they find out that one of their number has been staked by a slayer.

What ensues is definitely a comedy of errors and misunderstandings as the usually apathetic (I can relate) vampires must motivate themselves to save the group from discovery and a young werewolf from slavery.

I found it to be an almost uplifting story, that the most unlikely of people can be heroes, but there were a few things that annoyed me about the story.

One – the author’s use of ‘never the less’ and ‘needless to say’ were by far too prevalent throughout the book.  It may have been because I was listening to it, but I found it to be quite annoying.  This is also the case in the sequel, even more so.

Two – the lack of romance.  Although this is not a vampire romance per se, I still felt a bit cheated.  Even though Nina does find someone (I won’t say who but it is obvious from the very start) we don’t even get to listen in on a kiss or a cuddle at all.  I understand this is written as a diary perspective but the main character is in her fifties for god’s sake, surely there could have been some nookie?

Three – the first person point of view.  I normally quite like a first person point of view but considering that this first person is unconscious for all the daylight hours I felt this could have been better with third person.  Again, I realise this was supposed to be a diary format kind of book but sometimes first person gets my goat, and way too many YA books are written in first person.

Aside from these few things, I did quite enjoy this book, I thought it was better than the sequel, easier to relate to a sickly vampire than a stupid 13 year old werewolf.  I recommend it for lovers of the out of the ordinary and teens.

This is my first book review for the AWW2012 challenge – http://www.australianwomenwriters.com/p/australian-women-writers-book-challenge_25.html which I will post there as well.