Peacekeepers NYC: An Interview with Scriptwriter Charlie Reeves

pk kickstarty

Some of you may just about remember that way back in February, we posted an article about a brand new sci-fi series called Peacekeepers. Created by Charlie Reeves and Maria Makenna, the series followers a group of New Yorkers who begin receiving mysterious text messages from an unknown source. The messages turn out to contain details of deaths about to happen, allowing the recipients to arrive on the scene in time to save the day.

At the time MCM Buzz first reported on the show, the team behind it had just finished a pilot and were in the process of raising money via Kickstarter to fund the rest of the series. Sadly, the Kickstarter didn’t quite reach it’s target, but since then, the project has started to gain momentum in other ways, gaining recognition through festivals such as the LA Indie Film Festival, ITVFest and the Unofficial Google+ Film Festival. As some of you may have seen, the pilot episode was screened at Vidfest UK as part of the MCM London Comic Con in October. More recently, the show was voted IndieWire’s Project of the Week, something that will hopefully help it to pick up the funding and publicity that it deserves.

To find out how things are going, MCM Buzz spoke to scriptwriter Charlie Reeves, former Story Editor on web show Whatever This Is and current Script Assistant on Fox’s Gotham.

 

Peacekeepers was recently named IndieWire’s Project of the Week. How does that feel?

It feels awesome! It’s great because we had this initial rush of people that were really excited about Peacekeepers, and then six months later, we were wondering whether people still wanted to see it, so it’s nice to see that they do.

What sort of help will it actually give you in terms of moving things along?

I think the biggest thing is just that it has got us more publicity by putting our name out in a major internet traffic area. We now have a new audience that we didn’t have before. Peacekeepers isn’t something that’s ever gonna go viral in the way that, say, a cat video would go viral or like, a web series about cats. I don’t know why there’s never been one of those yet. Maybe we should do that next…

You know, those three other shows [that were nominated] are really good. The prize for winning was a distribution deal consultation, but I don’t really want Peacekeepers distributed that way. Nobody’s reached out to us about it yet, but I’m hoping that when they do contact me I can give the consultation to the project that came second, which was a documentary about a blind magician. That movie deserves to be seen by a ton of people and I think they want to do it in a more traditional way.

There’s this attitude that we have to be in constant competition with each other, because there’s only so much money out there to fund these kind of projects, but I think we all need to be helping each other rather than competing. The people we should be competing with are the ones that have all the money already, the ones making traditional TV shows. We should be trying to legitimize ourselves to the point where people equate web content with TV content. It’s starting to happen already with Netflix. People call Orange is the New Black a TV show, even though it’s not really on TV, because that name denotes a certain amount of prestige.

Give me a sense of where you’re at with Peacekeepers currently? You’ve made your pilot, so from that point on, do you have a whole series planned out and scripted now or are you still figuring things out?

Sort of both of those things. We’ve got the first three episodes all completely written, except for a musical bit in the third episode that I’m still trying to finish, and then there are very detailed outlines for the next three episodes.

I see the first season as a six-episode arc, and there may be more seasons after this one, but I think it’s really important to tell one clear story and not just be like, “Oh, we started a thing, let’s keep making more of it.” Because you get a lot of shows like that, and web shows especially, where people have had a good idea and decided to just keep on doing it forever. That doesn’t make for compelling storytelling.

A066_C005_0819EY

Do you have ideas for future seasons if you do end up making more?

Yes! It’s hard to talk about this stuff without spoiling it, but as the events of the first season unfold, the other Peacekeepers around the world start to realise that New York is having some issues, and so people are sent in to deal with it. A second season would involve a Peacekeeper war.

It was really important for me to build up the world of the show, so that we can always go back and tell more stories about it, and we’ve done that a bit in the video we uploaded about the mythology of the Peacekeepers.

How did the idea for the show first come about?

Maria and I were in a bar (as we often are), trying to come up with an idea for a web series after seeing some of our friends have some success with different projects. We knew that we had a potential investor and a bunch of very talented friends who would help us, so we just needed to come up with something good enough to get people excited. So we started thinking about the kind of thing that we would want to see. We’re both huge Doctor Who fans: I think Maria’s acting goal is to be on Doctor Who one day and my goal is to write for it. One of my favourite things about that and about a lot of the books I read is the way they show strange things happening in a real-world context.

The first thing that popped into my head was this guy on a subway getting a text or a phone call. That in itself is strange enough because on the subway there’s no reception, but then this call or text tells him that somebody is going to die and he needs to be there in ten minutes. So this guy is like, “WTF? Oh, okay I’ll be there.” And meanwhile, all the people around him are wondering what the hell is going on.

From the point where you had that original idea, how long was it before you got the first episode finished?

Oh man, I was still working on Smash at that point, the lovely NBC show about Broadway, and Maria was working at a museum, so neither of us had a ton of time. This was also before I started working on Whatever This Is with Adam Goldman.

I spent a long time just trying to crank out scripts so I could make something to take to film festivals. I actually bought some chalkboard paint and covered one of the walls of my apartment so I could write notes directly onto it, which was great – I think everyone should do that! I ended up with this wall that looked a little bit like something from A Beautiful Mind, and I just wrote and re-wrote and then wrote those scripts again, and then in August of last year we started shooting. So from genesis to getting funding to having a crew and going out to shoot the pilot, it was less than a year – I’d say 6-8 months.

How did you go about getting that funding?

We had a private investor who wishes to remain anonymous, but he was a friend who I initially reached out to because I knew that he had funded things before. Eventually I’d like to pay him back. It’s not a ton of money, really, in the long run –it’s about half my student loan!

$27,000 was the budget for the first episode, and I think that future episodes will be slightly less than that, although it would be nice to have a budget that leaves something left over for publicity, which we don’t currently have.

A077_C030_08262I

With Maria [Makenna, actor and co-creator] currently in the UK, that must have put a bit of a stop on things for the time being. Does this worry you?

Sometimes I think about that and I want to cry, but she’s only at LAMDA for their 13-month programme, so if we were to get funding tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a big deal, because one of two things would happen. We could either plan everything and launch a big publicity campaign in advance of her coming back in October, or otherwise, it wouldn’t really be that expensive to fly her out for a couple of days’ shooting. This is what happens on TV shows that hire out-of-town actors. It’s just factored into the budget that you fly those people out and you schedule shooting around their availability, so if Maria has a weekend off or if she has a spring break we can do it then. Though I don’t know if they have spring break in the UK because they don’t really seem to have spring there… But I’m not too worried about it, really.

You mentioned that you’re now working on Gotham, which I’m sure our readers will be very excited about. Tell me a bit about your job and what it actually entails.

So, Gotham shoots in New York but the writers’ room is based in LA. As you know, I’m trying to get into writing, and I’ve been working on lots of New York shows in a production capacity, while trying to find a gig as a script coordinator. That’s basically the lowest-level staff writing position, and involves things like minor editing and watching for continuity errors. So far I haven’t been able to get a job like that because there are only about three writers’ rooms in New York, so you basically have to kill another script coordinator to get their job. But then the production coordinator for Gotham decided they needed somebody based in New York to liaise between the writers’ room and the production team here. My job is similar to that of a script coordinator, but because we already have one in LA, my official title is script assistant.

What is like working with everyone on Gotham? I know you’ve had a bit of support for Peacekeepers from some of the people involved with it, like Robin Lord Taylor, who plays The Penguin.

One of the things I love about this show is that our cast is made up of just the best people ever! I go to all the read-throughs so I get to see the actors at least once a week. Sometimes they also come up to the production office to play with the dog that hangs out there.

You have a dog in the production office?!

We do! And it’s fantastic! His name is Henry and he is the best. He’s also a good excuse for the actors to come and spend time with us.

I always make sure to let people know that I write and we do talk about this stuff from time to time, and so when the IndieWire thing happened I felt like I could reach out to Robin. Both he and Cory Michael Smith, who plays Edward Nygma, (aka The Riddler) tweeted about it. So yeah, they’re all really nice and supportive and seem to want to see everyone around them do well.

Robin Lord Taylor is fantastic. His background is in theatre and he just seems so humble and so happy to be involved. And so dedicated to everything he does. He’s the nicest person ever.

And a good actor – he gives a really great performance in the show!

Yeah, he’s so good! His whole take on that character is really unique. Although on the one hand I think he wants to pay homage to the Penguins that have been before him, he does really make it his own, which is fun to watch.

A064_C009_081940

More generally, how does working in traditional TV compare to making a web series?

Well, it really depends on the web project. I’ve helped out with some where it’s just been a case of grabbing a camera and shooting something, and that’s all fine and fun, but working on Whatever This Is and Peacekeepers has been much more similar to working on a TV show, just scaled down, so instead of a fleet of electricians there’s like, one guy doing lights and electricity and stuff, and there’ll only be a couple of camera people.

It’s funny, because if you think of, say, the scene with Alana and Sophie in the bar in our pilot – that scene doesn’t seem smaller on screen than a similar bar scene in any TV show. The difference is that the director of a TV series can spend much longer on it, and even if there are only 2 or 3 people on camera, there will be about 90 people in the crew, hidden in corners around the room. Meanwhile, we’ll only have about 9 people behind the scenes.

Long term, do you see yourself working more in traditional TV or on the web? Or a bit of both?

I think that I have things to say, and I feel like there are some important messages I have to get out there. I grew up a child of physical and emotional abuse, so I was kind of raised on the milk of Star Wars and Harry Potter and stuff. For me, those stories were a way of building up a family because I didn’t have much of one in real life. So the Weasleys and Luke Skywalker, they were not just stories that I could escape to, but they were stories that helped me become who I am. They taught me how to have a family and how to find friends and make them into a family for myself. As a writer, my goal is to be able to do that for other people. I think that these stories are really important, and sci-fi in particular is often about furthering human understanding. I want to make stuff that helps people to be better humans.

When I think about TV versus other media, the cool thing about a movie is that you can make this big thing and hundreds of millions of dollars can be spent on it, but most people will only see it once, whereas with TV, you’ll have an audience of millions watching it again and again every week. Instead of two hours you have about 20, and every week is a new opportunity to change someone’s life. Traditional television is a fantastic way of speaking if you want to tell stories, so I think for that reason, it’s probably my preferred medium. I also think we’re currently seeing a kind of revolution in terms of how people tell stories on TV and how people pay for it and how it gets spread around, and I really want to be a part of that.

That said, I’m also trying to save up as much money as I can to work on other web projects, because there is now a way to make your own stuff and get it out there into the world. I think I’d really like to do what Jane Espenson does. She was a main writer on a couple of TV shows, and then she did her own web series, Husbands, and I think that’s great. It’s a creative outlet that makes you better at what you do for your main job. And if you can tell lots of stories, why not?

Peacekeepers_01

When Peacekeepers is finished, do you have ideas for other things you would like to work on next?

I do. I’m the sort of person who can never just do one thing at once. I have a couple of other pilots that I’ve been working on which I’ve started pitching lately. There’s a company called Stage 32, which is a sort of social networking site for film and TV people which also organises pitches with companies and agencies, and I’ve have had a few responses from pitching through that.

Obviously you’re still in the early stages of your career, but from what you’ve learned so far, is there any advice you’d want to pass on to other people looking to get into the industry?

I recently had the opportunity to ask a TV writer for some advice, and what he said was pretty simple: write something good. There is so much political stuff that happens in terms of choosing what gets made, but at the end of the day, if you write something really good, somebody is going to read it, and someone is going to like it, and that person will maybe tell three people, and those three people will go on and tell another three people each, and so it just naturally spreads.

I also had a great writing teacher back in high school who told me that you have to write a thousand terrible things before you can write one good thing. The one thing that I think is beginning to work for me now is just writing as much as possible. There is a way to let writing be your thing and not lose all of your friends and social life and get a divorce or whatever, but sometimes, your friends will all be going out to the bar after work, and you’re gonna have to stay at home and write. And if you do that, you will feel proud of yourself for it, and it will motivate you to do better and to use your time more efficiently.

The one book on screenwriting that I still have is called How to Write a Movie in 21 Days. The first thing that it teaches you is that you always have time, and going on from that, if you have time to write, you have to write. The more you do it, the more you’ll be wading through all of those bad ideas to find the one good one that people are really going to respond to.

 

For more information on Peacekeepers, you can visit the show’s website here, or follow the team on Twitter and Facebook. Click play below to watch the series pilot.

Peacekeepers artwork by Daryl Toh.

<

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2014 MCM BUZZ – Movies, TV, Comics, Gaming, Anime, Cosplay News & Reviews