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Interview with Simon Underwood

Recently we were lucky to chat to Simon Underwood, writer of our series 2 episode Something at the top of the Stairs. It's a creepy episode and is on our homepage now. You really should go an watch it.

Robin: You may have a better memory than me, how it came together. I remember you submitted to a script call out which led to a phone conversation and this idea, is that right?

Simon: Yeah, you had done the first series and I'd really liked it. It was a good, creepy little mix, and I think by that point I knew you pretty well through Twitter, so I figured why not submit? I was thinking very cheaply in advance, and my initial idea - up for grabs still if anyone wants it! - was that it was the Devil speed-dating. It was all through his POV, so you only heard him as he interacted with three women, and I made it very light and - I hope! - funny. He's not the worst Devil ever, sort of more Chaotic Neutral, to go by that meme. At one point he gets a bit tipsy and causes an Omen-type accident to happen to one of the women's exes just while they're casually talking. And you liked that script, but deemed it a bit too close in spirit to the Skype episode you'd done at the end of series one. But that led to our phone conversation, and I think you pitched the initial idea of it being this shadowy thing at the top of the stairs freaking out a woman, and then just let me run with that concept. 

I first wrote it up on a long train journey - I can't remember where I was coming back from now - just as sort of a monologue for Sara. Since I would talk to myself a lot in that situation, that's what I had her doing at first. I'm looking at the original pass in my then-notebook right now (I'd scan it and send it to you for this, but illegible is my middle name) and structurally it's all there, but then you just kept having me pair back more and more of the dialogue until you were happy with the draft. Sara had a mountain of dialogue in the first pass - 19 lines, many of them long - and by draft 6, which you shot, it's down to 7, and all fairly short. You definitely had the better approach to it though!

Robin: What are you most proud of in this episode? 

Simon: It's got a great atmosphere - it's a very nice slice of dread you put together there! Abigail is really good, she sells the whole thing really well. The last line before she ascends - "You be scared of me." - which was an addition for the last pass, and I remember you being very happy with that - and when you're writing for hire, making the producer happy is something you always want to do! And it got screened on a double bill with Under The Skin in ...Lincoln, was it? (It was Chester) UTS was my favourite film of 2014, so the universe pairing them up was a lovely thing!

Robin: What were the influences for this episode?

Simon: I guess the usual anthology thing - The Twilight Zone, which I need to get on blu-ray, as I've only seen the first 2 seasons. But imagining Rod Serling hoving into view to introduce your short is always a good motivator. And not so much an influence on the writing, but just in terms of atmosphere, I was working my way through the ATV series Thriller, by the guvnor - Brian Clemens - around that time (I still have about 3 DVDs of the set left to watch yet!) and that's just brilliant. All these long slow crawls through locations, which are there to pad the running time or creep you out, your call. And because that style was foremost in my mind, I named the episode in homage to one of my fave Thriller eps, which is SomeONE at the Top of the Stairs.

Robin: How would you sell something at the top of the stairs to someone who has never seen it? 

Simon: It's under 5 minutes, and it will creep you right out. It will. FACT.

 Robin: It's never blatantly stated (things are hinted at) in the script what causes events to occur. Do you have an explanation for that?

Simon: Nah. If Twisted Showcase hadn't been established then, if it had been one of the very first eps, *maybe* I'd have offered a crumb*, but it's S2 now - weird things are going to weird thing, and you either accept it or don't.

*I don't have the slightest clue what this crumb would be. It's a scary short - just be scared!

 Robin: What is your favourite Twisted Showcase episode?

Simon: Something at the...*coughing fit*... I can't just pick one. I still like Peter and Paul because it was such a fun watch to kick the series off. Fear of Living played some nice tricks. And Confession's really good, with Sarah L M.

 Robin: What's next for you?

Well, on April 10th on CBBC, and for a month or so after that on iPlayer, you'll be able to see my first TV writing gig, which is Ep 7 of Series 5 of CBBC's brilliant, BAFTA-winning drama Wolfblood. It's a series I've loved since it began, so to have it be my first pro-gig is genuinely a dream come true, and this series we've sadly anticipated some of the ways the world was going to go (We didn't know, I swear!) and have ended up being extremely relevant - as well as funny and smart and generally brilliant as Wolfblood is wont to be. I haven't seen the full cut of mine yet, but they used some big moments of it in the trailer and basically [insert screaming excited emoiji here x 1000]
After that, hope for another job to come along, and otherwise get back to writing more spec scripts and get something else made sometime soon! 

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