Exclusive interview with the creators of Reservoir Hill
Exclusive interview with Thomas Robins and David Stubbs - creators/producers/directors of Reservoir Hill
How did you come up with the concept of Reservoir Hill?
David: It was a brainstorming session around developing a teen drama series that has a dark edge and interactive components. We didn't know what those interactive components might be at the beginning though. That was how it started. Then we talked with some technology folk about what the interactive components could be and how we'd make it work. We stumbled upon the 'text Beth' technology and other bits of pieces and went from there.
Thomas: The idea was that we wanted to make something that was genuinely interactive, not just a pick-a-path thing, where you vote for future endings. We liked that idea that what you suggest can actually help.
David: And as far as we know, it's never been done before, so we kind of ran with that and it seemed to happen pretty quickly, which is great. Quite often ideas can bounce around for years.
This time around there's the dreamspace, which is unique again - how did you come up with the idea for that?
David: We definitely wanted to do something new, and part of that was building up Facebook and social networking, but we also wanted something more visual - something else that no-one else has done before. In episode seven of the first series, we introduced Beth's flashbacks, and we really enjoyed the way it turned out and the way it worked, so we thought that would be something we could pursue. So we tried to devise a way that we could make it an interactive experience, to get into Beth's headspace. We tossed around ideas, but it came down to 'what would we like to see'? And it ran from there.
Thomas: It's very conceptual. We thought it would be fun to interact with someone's dreams, flashbacks and thoughts, but we weren't sure how that could work until we started talking to the team that developed it for us. But it eventually came about that you could see her dream, but there were also hidden meanings that you could find within the video.
David: We also wanted this series to have quite a different feel from the first one, so this was a really exciting way to do it. We're really proud of the way it's turned out.
What's the most challenging aspect of creating a new episode every week?
David: The timeframe. There are lots of different directions we can go with the story; a lot of ideas to pursue. We have to try and figure ways we can get Beth to where we want we want her to get in the limited amount of time that we have. Plus, we have to all agree amongst ourselves - Thomas and myself, as well as the writing team and TVNZ. So we have to make sure everyone's on the same page and is happy with the episode. We do all that in two days then move into pre-production immediately afterwards. So the timeframe is a real challenge - getting it to a standard that is satisfactory to us in such a short space of time. We've got a benchmark in quality and entertainment value that we have to match each week, and in fact try to better ourselves each week.
Thomas: We have to make sure that we come up with exciting storylines each episode, but ones that are going to work out with what we have planned, so that's a big challenge. We have very patient writers, who we throw curveballs at every week! Adam and Martha have been really amazing.
Did you know in the beginning that Reservoir Hill would be so dark?
David: We wanted it to be dark but I guess we started off the first series not so dark and I think we've got it to the level we really wanted to get to now. People seem to enjoy that. The feedback that we get is always "I love it because it's so creepy" or "It's so intense" and things like that. People who are engaging with the show and interacting with it certainly seem to like the creepy aspect it has. But we want to push that even further as the series goes on.
Thomas: We knew that we had to bring another level to it for the second series. If it was just the same thing, it wouldn't have had much impact. But we also wanted to challenge ourselves as story-writers and keep pushing it so that people didn't feel like they were just watching the same kind of thing again. We wanted to get a bit of real darkness in there.
What kind of TV shows do you like to watch, and did any inspire you to create Reservoir Hill?
David: Thomas and I both wanted to make sure that even though this is primarily a teen series, it had elements in it that would appeal to adults too, with strong characters. Our favourite movies and TV shows have all gone into a little part of Reservoir Hill, and every week we reference something that we like, whether consciously or subconsciously. One of those is definitely Twin Peaks. We thought that we'd like to do something kind of like Twin Peaks but for a teenage audience.
Thomas: And we're huge fans of The Wire too. And we know that Reservoir Hill is a suburb in Baltimore, which is referred to on The Wire, but that's not where our show's name came from. We knew from the beginning that a major part of the first series would be based around a reservoir, so that name came from there. I also personally like really good gritty British shows too. I'm a big fan of The Street and Spooks, and all those great BBC shows. That's the kind of stuff I'd like to make one day maybe.
David: We also didn't want Reservoir Hill to have any sort of supernatural elements to it though, like you see so much these days. No vampires or aliens or anything like that! We thought it would be cooler to create something that is about the extremes of human relationships and the kind of dark things that can go on, such as bullying and gossiping and that kind of thing. So we wanted to steer clear of any of the supernatural things, so people wouldn't just think, 'oh it's another vampire show' or something like that. The fact that it's based on things that could happen makes it a bit more tangible and you can relate to it.
Describe the experience of winning the Emmy Award and then recently, the Qantas Award.
David: It was a great moment for us, because we really didn't expect to win the Emmy. The competition was pretty tough, so it was a real shock. So it was a great feeling, and it was great for everyone else involved in the show too, because it was a real collaborative effort. And people really took a punt on Reservoir Hill - TVNZ, NZ on Air, our sponsors - everyone took a punt and trusted us that we could pull it off. And that took a bit of faith from people, so it was good to pull it off for those people too. We hope that winning the Emmy will really be a chance for us to do more drama in Wellington in the future too. It's exciting that it might potentially open up more doors for us in the future, so we can keep doing what we love to do, and working with such great people.
Thomas: The actual night became a bit of blur really. We never expected to win, we were just so glad to be there. We were even wondering, originally, if we were going to go, because it was such a big expense to get there, but we figured it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. I'll never forget the moment when they actually read it out, and David and I just looked at each other, thinking, did they really just say that? Maybe we'd better go check that they said our names! It was amazing.
Is the character of Beth, or any of the other characters, based on anyone you know?
Thomas: No, not really. They've all just evolved, through conversations and writers' meetings and that kind of thing. And also it's partly the actors. The actors bring something to the characters. For example, when we saw Abby's performance as Petra in the first series, we saw what she could bring to her character, so we just ran with that. And Carmel McGlone is so experienced and really is an amazing Mrs Jay.
It's kind of the opposite to what's done normally, where you get inspired by people and then turn them into characters. It's sort of like these characters have become the people we know. Like, whenever I see Abby now, I just think of her as Petra. Beth was a character that we created out of what we like in people in general. She's cool, and smart, and honest and has a bit heart, and just wants to do the right thing. So she's one of those characters that people will watch and will really be rooting for to make it through. When we're on set now, we can't help but call everyone by their characters' names most of the time. When I call Abby by her real name, instead of Petra, it just doesn't feel right now!
Have you always had a kind of 'grand plan' for what will happen to Beth from series one, or does everything continue to develop and you're just waiting to see where it will go?
David: We had some really rough ideas, but series one actually ended up in a completely different place to where we thought it would end up. So we don't really know where series two will end up now. We have some ideas written down about where it could end up, but the honest truth is that we don't really know yet. So we'll see what will happen over the next few weeks.
Thomas: In the first series, we knew that there was going to be a point A to B - point B being the final episode - but Beth actually ended up at point C, because of how the viewers responded to her, which was really great. With series two though, we knew there was going to be one major incident, but we aren't yet sure how it will end.
David: It's amazing how one little change, inspired by a text to
Beth or a message on Facebook, definitely throws things in a
different direction. A little one-degree shift can mean that by the
end of the series there's been quite a big turnaround in the