Soon THE INTRUDERS will be hitting our screens, with an incredible cast including John Simm and Mira Sorvino, with writer and executive producer Glen Morgan (The X-Files) at the helm. All this month, we’ve been looking at Michael Marshall’s terrifying book, which we’ll be discussing next week in our Killer Reads book club. But what’s the process like of turning a book into a TV series? Michael Marshall shares his thoughts…
Jess Pope at the BBC in London optioned the book soon after publication, and invited me to be part of the development process — deciding how to adapt the book, and coming up with a bible for a series. I tackled this with vim, but soon came to realize that spending the foreseeable future tying my brain in knots as I cut out stuff I’d spent the previous nine months putting into the book would swiftly have me committed to a padded cell (a fate which may be coming down the line anyway, but let’s not hurry it along, eh?) Eventually a novel deadline hauled me off the project and I handed it with some relief to a series of writers who came up with at least three different script approaches that I’m aware of — all had merits, but none really landed.
Part of the problem was trying to re-site the story to the UK, which just didn’t work. Eventually, with regret (and after an astonishing amount of dedication and hard work), Jess let the project go — at which point it emerged that Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner had been waiting patiently in the wings. Jane picked the book up for BBC Worldwide in Los Angeles, we had initial phone conversations, there was exciting talk of Glen Morgan getting involved, and then it all went very, very quiet. I stoically accepted this as the standard story of potential interest fading like the morning dew, toward a future time where everyone would not only deny that they’d ever been interested, but claim that the novel had even existed in the first place. But then suddenly late one night there was an email from Julie, giving me the heads-up that the BBC would be greenlighting a series worth of scripts the next day. Things seemed to go pretty quickly after that…
A lot of people have asked me if I wrote the scripts, or wanted to. Hell no, is the answer. When someone like Glen Morgan is on deck you’d have to be insane to do anything other than stay out of his way. I’ve been consulted throughout, however, and he and the other writers (Darin Morgan and Kristin Cloke) done a superb job of porting the novel to the screen. Adapting a book to a visual medium requires a lot of changes, as I know from my own time in the script mines (including over a year spent adapting Clive Barker’s WEAVEWORLD as an eight-part series, way back in the mists of time. Why has someone still not screened that book, for crying out loud? I still have my scripts. They’re right here. I’m just saying.) While much of the series stays true to the novel, new material has been added and the timing of some of the reveals (as will already be evident from promo materials) has been pulled forward to work better for television. The scripts do a fantastic job of retaining everything I cared about in the book, maintaining both the slow unfolding of the narrative and the sense of ominousness.
The web site io9 reacted to the press screening of the first episode by saying it was “Bananas. Creepy bananas”. I’ll take that. I’ll do more than take it. I’ll put it on my business card.
Something I would never have expected is the sheer class of the cast who’ve become involved. Though American audiences (so far) mainly know him for a compelling stint as The Master on Dr. Who, John Simm is not only an incredibly accomplished and versatile actor, but a hallmark of quality. There’s simply no-one better at playing a complex everyman, drawn into a conspiracy and forced to fight for his — and other people’s — lives, while he uncovers the truth. Mira Sorvino’s ability to play the multiple sides of her complex character is spell-binding. James Frain nails his pivotal role as Shepherd with a chilly grace spiked with vulnerability, Tory Kittles is perfect as the grenade thrown into Whalen’s life from his past, and Daryl Shuttleworth should simply be given his own show. And as for Millie Brown… the trailers barely hint at how extraordinary this young actress is. When you write a novel with a big, difficult role for a nine year old girl you don’t even think about how impossible it might be to film the damned thing. Luckily, with Millie, it turned out to be perfectly possible. She’s something else.
Authors are understandably protective of their books: the only safe way of trying to ensure they turn out well is to have the luck to have them worked on by the best people available. Add these actors to Glen’s creative direction, the directing talents of Eduardo “Blair Witch” Sánchez and Daniel “The Last Exorcism” Stamm, the production designs of Mark “Breaking Bad” Freeborn, the producing vision and drive of Julie Gardner, Rose Lam and Jane Tranter, the music of Bear McCreary and all the other talents in camera, sound design, costume and everything else, and INTRUDERS turned out far better than I could have dreamed.
And no, I’m not just being nice for the good of the show. It was my book. If the adaptation sucked, I’d say so. Loudly. The series very much does not suck. You heard it here first.
I couldn’t be happier, too, with the ballsy way in which Glen, Jane and Julie have allowed the mystery to take its time. The thing that saved the television industry, and has raised it so far above movies in the quality and depth of its output, is this willingness to engage with viewers as adults, to expect an attention span and use it to tell a story in the way it’s meant to be told.
Stories are like people: if you can get to the bottom of them immediately, there’s not much bottom there. It’s the process of getting to know them (stories, and people), that journey of uncovering their wondrous depths and unexpected corners, that binds you. Approach slowly, carefully, and with a curious mind and an open heart, and they can become a part of you, forever.
Anyway. The show’s coming soon. I hope you enjoy it. Just remember this:
Everything in it is true.