British-Filipino writes for BBC comedy-drama seriesPosted on February 18th, 2012 under We are Pinoys!
A British-Filipino scriptwriter is part of the team behind BBC’s eight-part series “Being Human”, which returned to TV screens earlier this month.
The show, currently in its fourth season, airs on channel BBC3, tells the story of three unlikely flatmates – a vampire, werewolf and ghost.
John Jackson, 33, describes the show as a comedy drama about what it means to be human. “These characters, like the rest of us, are always struggling to be normal – whatever that means,” he said.
Jackson has been working on the show since series three, which aired last year. He was the main writer of episode four, named “The Pack.”
For this season, he spent time sharing ideas with five other writers, as well as creator of the show Toby Whithouse.
“He [Toby] comes up with the overall story for the whole series, which we discuss as a group, and then we all go off and work on specific episodes,” he said.
“Things change as the series develops so it’s nice to see how your ideas influence the whole thing, and how stuff the other writers come up with in their episodes influence yours”, Jackson added.
In an interview with ABS-CBN Europe, Jackson shared how he got into TV writing, some of the obstacles, as well as his ideas and future aims.
Thrown into the deep end
After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in English, Jackson knew he wanted to write. But like many aspirants, he was unsure of where to start and questioned whether he could actually make a living out of it. He thought it was “something to do as a hobby whilst working in a ‘real’ job”.
The British Pinoy said he “kind of fell into TV” in 2001 after applying for a job as a Junior Script Editor at broadcaster ITV. He did not land the role, but to his delight, they called back around six months later, asking if he would be interested in working on a show called “Night and Day.”
Jackson jumped at the opportunity and was immediately thrown into the deep end. According to his London-based agent, Knight Hall Agency Ltd, Jackson ended up writing 35 episodes and rewriting as many if not more.
“Night and Day” did not last, but Jackson feels the experience was pivotal in his development.
“The soap wasn’t very successful but that was kind-of good for me as I ended up writing lots of it – probably because no ‘proper writers’ were interested, and I was pretty cheap in comparison. I was still on my junior wage,” Jackson said.
“It was a great place to learn the trade. With soap operas you’re telling so much story that you get to learn so many types of characters and situations. I think I learnt more in that year or so than I would ever have learnt on a screenwriting course,” he added.
Following his stint with “Night and Day,” Jackson moved to Children’s BBC (CBBC) before getting his break on flagship channel BBC1′s “Robin Hood”. After that he decided to go freelance and has since written for BBC3 shows “Lip Service” and “Being Human.”
Jackson, who describes his scripts as pacey with snappy dialogue, feels he benefited from growing up with parents of different nationalities.
“I’m sure the mix of an English dad and Filipina mum is one of the reasons I write. My mum, and my dad when he was alive – are both natural storytellers,” Jackson said.
“Growing up with a foot in two different cultures means that you always end up looking at things in a slightly different way. You’re simultaneously on the inside and the outside, so perhaps it means you can be a bit more objective,” he said.
Aside from writing for TV shows, Jackson is also busy developing his own ideas. He wants his own show one day and is equally eager to showcase Filipino culture.
“At the moment I’m working on an action-drama pilot for US TV about hostage rescue, a supernatural cop show set in London, and a whole bunch of other scripts and ideas, including one about a Filipino restaurant”, Jackson said.
“Selfishly, it’s a part of myself I’ve not really had a chance to explore in my work. I did write a screenplay way back about a mixed Anglo-Filipino born in London, whose cousin turns up from the Philippines out of the blue, but that was never produced. Rightly so – I was a real beginner back then,” he added.
Despite that, the writer acknowledges it may take time before a show celebrating Filipino culture makes it onto British TV screens.
“I suppose it’s tough from a broadcaster’s point of view. The Filipino community is not as big or familiar to mainstream audiences as say the Indian or Caribbean community in the UK, which makes it hard to justify commissioning a show like ‘The Kumars’ or ‘Desmond’s’. However, I think that’s changing as the community grows, and I also think that audiences are much more prepared to watch a show, and go into worlds they might not fully understand – as long as the show is good,” Jackson said.
If a Filipino-centric show does eventually make its way onto British TV, Jackson is confident it will be embraced by viewers.
“I definitely think it’s something that audiences in the UK, or anywhere else, would really enjoy. There are so many things about Filipino culture – hospitality, performance, family dynamics, character traits, gossip, attitudes to work, life, food. I think it’s a goldmine for drama and most definitely comedy,” Jackson said.
“It’s funny, I was in a meeting recently, pitching an idea about a Filipino sitcom, and the producer said he was worried that we might not be able to get enough Filipino actors to play the roles. I was like, are you kidding?! Drama schools in London are like Filipino fame academies – you’re not going to struggle to find a more singing, dancing, performing culture anywhere in the world – so don’t worry about that”, he said.
Struggle, but exciting
Despite having already been in the industry for 11 years, Jackson said he still goes through trying times.
“I suppose the things I love and hate about writing are the same thing. The process of coming up with ideas and working them through is sometimes torturous – you get angry, guilty, you doubt yourself, but then something happens and it’s really exciting,” he said.
“The process of actually putting words on the page can be a real struggle, but suddenly you’ll come up with something funny or that really gets to the heart of a character or situation and it all opens up,” Jackson added.
“It’s not all single moments though. I spend a lot of time just thinking through the logic of a situation, or the journey of a character, and then even longer honing scenes and lines down afterwards. This is both a real grind but it must be what I enjoy or I guess I wouldn’t be doing it”.
When asked if he had any advice for aspiring writers, Jackson said, “Just get on with it really. If you’ve got an idea, get it down and just play around with it”.
“Before I started writing professionally I thought it was a magical process – that ideas come out of nowhere. But the reality is that it’s a process, and you have to just sit down, or in my case walk – a lot, and work things through. Other than that, all the cliché’s are probably true – write what you know, be persistent, and don’t be too precious about showing work to other people,” he added.
Jackson is credited for being the main writer of episode 6 of this season’s “Being Human.” The episode “Puppy Love” will air on BBC3 on March 11 (Sunday) at 9pm (GMT).
(Story courtesy of Edward Lao, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau)