ZEM got in contact with Steve Bailie for an interview by email, just in time for Episode 5.2's Watch Premiere, one of the episodes written by Steve. Thank you very much to Steve for your patience and answers to my questions!
1. How did you become involved with the show?
My agent had sent a couple of my scripts to Impossible Pictures as writing samples, and I met the Producers. Adrian I'd known briefly years before, prior to either of us being writers. We talked about the show, what their plans were for its future and next day they offered me an episode to write.
2. Were you familiar with the show prior to becoming involved?
I certainly was. My son and I had watched and enjoyed it when it was broadcast. Then I picked up a DVD and watched all the episodes again before the first meeting.
3. How do you work with the creators of the show and fellow writers to write a story? Are you given many instructions on what to write?
The creature of the week is decided in advance. Impossible have all that core knowledge of of the history and anthropology of the creatures, plus they know what can be achieved with CGI. There will also be, as in any series, key character beats and overall serial arc moments to be hit in each episode; so those elements are set, then it's up to the individual writer to build a story that incorporates them.
At the start of series four, Paul Mousley and I sat down with the Producers and discussed a long list of possible episode ideas; I know the sub episode, the prison and the Victorian London stories all came specifically from that day for starters. Then when other writers had been allocated their episodes, all the writers and producers met for a couple of day long sessions discussing the series as a whole, especially with regard to the new characters, Matt and Jess.
Primeval, like many sci-fi shows, brings an extra layer of problems with it to the writing process. By the later drafts, you're also incorporating notes that are specific to CGI requirements, as well as location and budget. You soon learn some basic rules of thumb. Building suspense and holding back on the creature reveal is not only cost-effective, it can make for a better story. Putting actors in water involves all sorts of Health and Safety regulatory nonsense. Putting creatures underwater is do-able, but seeing them rising out of water is much more time-consuming to create. And budget dictates the number of speaking parts you can have among the guest actors, so a few poor souls get killed off without any pithy final words. Though I think we've merrily broken all those rules at different times.
4. Do you do any scientific research for your writing in the show, or do the creators do that?
It's a bit of both. When you're allocated your creature, you're also given some research on it. Then I go and do more of my own. Different scripts have different needs. I read a lot on Egyptology for episode 3:1, and did a lot of research on submarines for 5:2. But we're not making a documentary, so there comes a point where you have to put the research aside and start making stuff up. I'm far from being an expert on Pyramids, torpedos, or Pristichampsus, but I know enough to make those elements work within the Primeval universe.
5. To date, you have written five episodes and all of them you wrote solo except the last one, correct?
Correct. Adrian and I worked on the final episode of series 5 together.
6. Do you visit the set and participate in filming?
I've visited the set once or twice. By the time that day comes around, my job is completed, or should be. Writers only really spend much time on sets if it's their own show and they've written all the episodes or they're show-running the series. For the rest of us, nobody really knows who we are. There's a lot of people on a set, and they've all been working together every day for weeks and months. As the writer, you turn up, feel like the awkward kid on his first day at a new school, stand in a corner, try not to get in the way, and just enjoy the show.
7. Do you have a favorite episode that you have written?
Truthfully, no. Although at the time of writing I haven't seen 5:2 or 5:6 yet. I only ever watch my own stuff twice at most -- once for professional purposes, and sometimes again with friends or family if they want to see it. (They don't always!) It's always a curate's egg -- there are bits where the actor or the director has found some colour in a scene of a line of dialogue that you didn't know was there, other times when you feel what was on the page hasn't come off properly for any number of reasons. I doubt there's a writer, actor or director alive who watches their own work then thinks they are a genius. In television especially, time and money are in such short supply that it's rare to achieve everything you set out to do. It's difficult to enjoy your own work. You know it too well, including the parts where you've fudged something a bit.
8. Do you have any other favorite episodes, aside from the ones you have written?
I like 'em all! Especially the ones I haven't written.
9. Favorite character(s)?
From the writing point-of-view, I've always especially enjoyed writing for Abby and Connor, because you know Hannah and Andrew are going to bring their own thing to every scene and make that relationship work. Similarly Lester -- Ben has given the character such a distinct voice that I find Lester-isms often come along quite easily. Plus I enjoy writing the action stuff for Becker; Mansfield knows how to sell it, even when you're being a bit hokey. As I often am.
10. Favorite creature(s)?