“SPOILERS, SWEETIE…” By Jack Bowman
Turning on the TV on Thursday I saw BBC Breakfast running a story about Steven Moffat commenting that, after having invited a number of press and fans to the screening of the opening two-parter for the current series of Doctor Who, he’d politely requested, given the twists and turns, that no-one there was to reveal the secrets online or in print. And the press complied, 99.9% of the fans complied. Yet there was one person who decided they knew better and proceeded to post all the content of the episodes in, using Mr Moffat’s words, the “most ham-fisted English you can imagine and put it on the Internet… I just hope that guy never watches my show again, because that’s a horrific thing to do. It is exactly like that boring man in the pub, who waits until you’ve nearly finished your joke and jumps in with the punch line, and gets it slightly wrong. You hate that guy, you just hate those guys too – can you imagine how much I hate them?”
Strong words, possibly “horrific” and “hate” are too strong and he may, to again use his words later on, admit that he came across “as a little grumpy”. Yet I fully sympathise with him, especially when I go online and read over half of posters on various internet forums responding with, “well, sorry, what did he expect, when he invited fans along,” “what does he expect, this is the 21st Century, spoilers are a way of life now?” It is attitudes like that, while I fully acknowledge the Internet Spoiler Genie is out long out of the bottle, which breaks my heart as a writer.
Here’s the rub. Let’s be the audience for a moment – the people who are about to receive their brand new story, probably one you’ve chosen, hopefully full of twists and turns. Yet, sometimes, there will be people don’t think about the work that has gone into writing you, the viewer or listener, that brand new tale and, having seen it first or being involved, may start to give things away. They may do this because they enjoyed it so much and do it out of enthusiasm, as they’re bursting to share. Sometimes, by sheer mistake – which I’ve done myself – you let slip something in front of someone and you genuinely see their hearts sink. Twice now, I’ve done this and still feel guilty about it, because it’s not my right to take away an experience they could have enjoyed. And when a story, somehow in this 21st Century world of spoilers, pulls a pure, story-telling coup – yes, it can happen – your heart leaps in your mouth and it is a moment that will be burnt on your brain and into your imagination forever. There is still one M. Night Shyamalan film – no, not The Sixth Sense – where the twist is SO BRIILIANT in terms of story-telling, I still refuse to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it; so much so, I won’t name that film here. But sometimes, just sometimes… you’ll meet people maliciously enjoy spoiling the surprises, because they know full well it will get them some of that attention they crave.
Now for the other side of the fence. As a writer, I want to tell engaging, exciting and interesting stories. Preferably with monsters. In writing or co-writing a script, there will be, genuinely, hours, days and weeks poured over the structure, story and dialogue, grammar, finding the moments where it all moves on from A to B, to help tell you a tale we want you to enjoy. And I will also, if it serves the story, work to produce a genuine surprise or two. Because I know the beauty of the effect it can have on you, faithful listener.
I can point to two examples. Firstly, The Strange Case Of Springheel’d Jack. It’s a serial – Wireless’s first, hurrah! – which relies on good, old-fashioned cliff-hangers. The hero in danger! How will he escape from this one? Protecting them is, in my mind, vital to your enjoyment of the story (although I’m slightly aware the resolution has been a little delayed in coming. It’s nearly here folks! It’s been sent for scoring and everything!). Now, if you knew how a) it was going to end, and b) also knew *if* poor Constable Smith was going to escape death, would you enjoy the wait so much? The answer, I guarantee you, is no.
And yet! The cliff-hangers may not be the only surprises left to come within the story. And you would not believe the disagreements and debates Rob and I have about how much to give away. I would honestly prefer to drop any story on you completely cold – which I’m aware, I cannot do. So, the next question is, where do you draw the line? How many teasers do you give to entice people to listen, yet not allow you to completely join the dots? Ultimately, we made our choices about what we want you to know, the cast and crew know how much they should and shouldn’t tell, all to help you want to listen and then to enjoy the story. We’ve agonised over those choices. Can you imagine how much it could break our hearts if someone involved or outside the production got more detailed information and released it somewhere? So much hard work, energy, money (yes, I said it), talent and time, ruined in a click and paste for many, many more people.
The final evidence for the Defence, m’lud. There is one play on the Wireless Theatre site, that when it was pitched, suggested the biggest surprise of all. So much so, I won’t tell you which one it is, I hope you’ll find it yourself by accident one day. Those involved or many who’ve heard it will know to what play I referred to. The script made it clear, from day one, in BIG RED LETTERS, that we had to maintain secrecy to this to work. Everyone agreed and obliged magnificently. However, during the frail process of casting and rehearsing, I turned grey, especially when, somehow various people from the audience managed to end up present during the final rehearsals before recording. Yet, despite this (luckily, nobody who shouldn’t have been there seemed to notice as I ushered them away quickly), everyone we entrusted worked hard and pulled it off. Cue a production that managed to execute a genuine shock – and I will promise you, those who were there told me that they will never forget that moment.
Maybe you have some thoughts about we can defeat the Evil Spoiler Genie of the Internets? All I will say is this: next time you see a link that says ‘Spoiler Click HERE!’, the next time you’re tempted to go online and Google sites in a bid to discover the resolution to a cliff-hanger, or even if you’re in a privileged position of knowing something and you’re bursting to tell, I’m going to ask you – please leave it alone. I know how hard the temptation is, but remember to respect what the writers, actors, producers and directors have set out to achieve. You may just find your life a little bit richer for ignoring that Genie running loose around the Internet.
Springheel’d Jack Episode II will be released this summer.
Artwork by Jamie Egerton.