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 🙂


My DUFF credentials – a history of Paula in fandom

As the countdown gets closer to the cutoff for DUFF voting, I thought I would write a little bit about my DUFF credentials for those of you DUFF voters who may not know me.

For most of my life I have been a fan of fantasy and science fiction but the reason I joined the MSFC was purely financial (I wanted the 10% discount offered at Sybers Secondhand Books that they gave all MSFC members)

After a year of being a member but not actually attending the club I thought it was time to check out what I had been missing.  (All this was back in 1994 so it was late ’95 before I officially moved into the fandom world)  I discovered this wonderful thing, a group of like minded people who loved the books I loved, who were not ashamed of being science fiction fans, in fact people who loudly and proudly proclaimed their love to anyone who would listen.  Having grown up in the eighties and attended a Catholic School where obsession to anything remotely fantastic was frowned upon, this was a new thing for me.

Over the next few years, I immersed myself in the happenings of the club.  After spending a year overseas I came back to find out that most of the people I knew were involved in the planning of the 1999 Worldcon, Aussiecon 3.  I had never been to a convention before so I didn’t know what to expect.  My very good friend Michael Jordan asked me if I would help him organise the Hugo Award Ceremony.  Having read science fiction all these years I certainly had heard of the Hugos so I was extremely honoured to be involved.

The ceremony was a complete success and I could enjoy the rest of the convention.  I think starting your convention going life with a Worldcon is something special.  After that I began to get more involved with the organisation of the MSFC, being on committee for a couple of years and then being on the organising committee of Convergence, the 2002 Natcon.  After many years of convention going and volunteering, the 4th Aussiecon was approaching.  I helped out the very competent Steve Francis with organising the dealers room and I believe the convention was enjoyed by everyone who attended.

I hope to win DUFF as I have never attended a Worldcon overseas.  If the specialness of the Aussiecons is any example of the experience that it will be then I can imagine what an American convention will be like.  Cross fingers that I will see you all there.