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This Is Not My Life


Gavin Strawhan's blog - part 2

Read Part One of Gavin's blog here.

Gavin Strawhan is one of the co-creators of This Is Not My Life. He's been exclusively telling how they came up with the idea for This Is Not My Life.

I'm visiting with friends in the Philippines and they live in a gated community.  It's spooky and great research.  There are Z marks on walls.  It stands for zero waste.

Back in New Zealand, there are meetings, discussions and quite a bit of time spent in the Gypsy Tea Room, which is convenient to Desert Road. I talk to a 'Futurologist' who confirms a lot that we've talked about.  But some of his ideas are too sci-fi for us.  We invent the PeC before the iPhone is released. We apply for some development money, based on the pitch and get enough from NZOA and TVNZ to write (I think) three episodes, a bible and a series arc.

But things get busier all round when South Pacific Pictures gets the funding for Go Girls and I'm show runner.

Rachel and I are sitting in our office with another writer we've hired to help us with story ideas - Joss King - who we worked with on Shortland Street .  It's hard going.  We already know that this idea is going to prove to be a real mind trip.

However, we didn't think there would be so many questions. Questions like - Where is Waimaona? How big is it?  Who runs it?  Why is Alec Ross there?  Who else is in on it? How far in the future?  Do they have cars?  Is there mind control? Other forms of control? Police?  Do they have pets or fridges or children or sex or drugs or alcohol or old people?

We write some first draft scripts and get an ambiguous assessment from NZOA.  They won't give us production money, but we get some more money for development.  They recognise how ambitious this project is and assign Roger Horrocks to keep an eye on us, or at least on the scripts. I meet with Roger and we get on well and he makes a great objective reader and sounding board.  Eventually I ask him to stay with the project after his NZOA assigned time is up.

Time rolls forward - Now I'm in a room with Rachel and Vanessa Alexander, who is our development producer for a while, and another writer, Peter Cox.  There is a lot of arguing, pedantic digging of heels. Yelling even. More questions and slowly, painfully, more answers. It's the hardest, most frustrating development process I've ever been through.  But somehow we squeeze seven episode treatments and six scripts out of it. Throughout this there's a lot of writing and editing and re-writing and re-editing going on.

My own life feels like it's not my life.

The good news is that the concept is evolving. We decide that every episode must have a satisfying story with a beginning, middle and end.  We mustn't cheat the audience but we have to keep them guessing. So, every answer we reveal, must result in a new question to be solved.  It was the 'peeling the onion' theory of story telling, similar to the style of story telling on Lost. But with no Polar bears! 

We keep refining the scripts, getting notes and feedback from the network, and getting them 'ticked off' by Roger.  Our production funding is contingent on getting six or seven 'over the wire' - (ie approved by the network and Roger)   Eventually we do and we get 6.8 million dollars or thereabouts to play with. 

We still have scripts for seven episodes to write. And rewrite.  (And eventually  I rework them all again when the Directors are on board.)  

We might not know exactly how it's going to end yet.

But we're on our way.

I thought writing it was the hard part. Ha!  Making it is a whole other, mad, amazing, exhilarating and quite scary story...