Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #053 with Nathan Bryon.
I’m always excited to talk to writers but this one is REALLY exciting. Nathan co-created Bloods, he’s written award-winning children’s books, his first feature film is coming soon to a theatre near you, he’s an actor, he’s a champion of writers, a lover of the craft of writing, and one day he’s going to run the BBC. He’s also super funny and has an energy and a way of telling stories that will make you smile! Nathan has been a supporter of this series for a while and I know he reads every single one so it was a huge honour to feature him and go into detail on his career. It’s super-inspiring. You’re going to read this and the tear into that project you’ve been putting off.
When did you start writing?
I probably started writing when I was about 18/19, I was basically just trying anything and everything at the Lyric Hammersmith to try and prove to my parents I didn’t need to go to uni, the lyric had/ has like a young company and tons of workshops, and I tried pretty much every single one, yep I was in a choir once, and I can’t sing for shit.
What really started it for me was I did a playwriting workshop with the amazing Simon Stephens and the brilliant Bola Agbaje and it really changed the game for me, I left INSPIRED! The first thing I wrote was a play called ‘June goes to the moon’, about my mum wanting to kidnap the Queen with her best mates and get a rocket to the moon so they could watch the Devil Wears Prada the movie, just to clarify they kidnapped the queen because they thought she needed a break from her mad family like they did. Yeah It didn’t get put on at the Old Vic, or anywhere in fact, but it started my love for writing.
From that workshop I understood that being a writer was a real job and not just for rich white people who write with a quill and ink, and that writing shit was a way to kinda get shit out of my mind and on to the page, but really I just wanted to make people laugh. I am dyslexic and struggle with writing and reading so the idea of being a writer before that workshop was like LOOOOOL sit down. SO it was all a joyous plot twist.
What was your first credit as a writer?
My first TV credit as a writer was on Rastamouse and I’M SUPER PROUD of it, I loved that show and I loved that I was allowed really really really early doors to write on it. I was still using my illegal copy of Final Draft then so my laptop would crash on the regs and I would lose all my work then have to start again. (I have legit Final Draft now).
Big up to Greg Boardmen the producer of that show who let me with 0 writing credits come on and write two episodes. He helped me SO much and introduced me to the incredible team at Cbeebies and CBBC!
When did you sign with your agent and how did it happen?
Boring story alert! I was very lucky in that sense that my acting agent introduced me to my writing agent and the same with my publishing agent so I didn’t have the whole sending your stuff off and getting rejected by writing agents, I do however now get rejected all the time in life so that makes up for my initial lack of rejection!
What advice do you have for anyone who’s currently seeking representation?
Make shit! Agents can quite often come and find you, if you are out their making work and sharing it on Twitter, YouTube, Tiktok, on stage, or a podcast. But mainly making stuff is great because if agents are just airing your emailing or you feel rejected by it you will feel the high or making your own work and finding a community. Making your own work is you taking power! No one can decide if you are going to be an artist, or if you are allowed to tell stories – you can tell stories without anyone co-signing you.
I could be wrong but I think most humans like to watch something or listen to something rather than read something, again could be wrong, but If you can send an agent a 3 min sketch that can make them laugh and show off your skill they may be more likely to read your 100 page feature film, ha!
You have a background in acting. How does that experience influence you as a writer?
I think as an actor, I have to audition a lot so I get a chance to read lots of scripts, reading scripts is a great thing for every writer to do. I still need to do it more. And probably I understand a bit of the actors process so when I’m writing I am sort of thinking a actual human is going to have to learn this shit so make it good please, Nathan.
I’ve recently spoken with Tom Melia. He discussed sitting in KFC with you at 3am, leading to a collaborative working relationship and friendship. What are your memories of first meeting Tom and why do you feel you work so well together?
My first memory of meeting Tom, was ‘rah he’s tall!’ Yes, I do remember being sat in KFC with him in Glasgow after we finished shooting his brilliant pilot for BBC 3. DO NOT TELL HIM, But I LOVE working with Tom, he makes me laugh lots and he’s FUCKING SMART he is a writer’s writer if that makes sense, he knows his shit, he has seen all the films made ever, whilst also finding time to watch the same amount of trashy reality tv as me… he’s read all the scripts and has a deep deep love for the craft, which is SUPER inspiring to be around, it makes me up my game. But also he has a filmmaker’s mind, he’s thinks in depth about everything…. Music, texture, he’s just a fantastic creative who writes brilliant snappy lines and is a machine gun of ideas and and is ready to solve all those shitty problems you find when you are breaking a series or a film…
So yeah enough about how good Tom is now, and I swear to god if you tell him I said any of this I will sue. FUCK TOM!
I don’t know why we work so well together, we are both pretty laid back and share a generally positive view on the world, also I think we are both seriously impatient so we have to be making things happen at all times so that helps! And I think we just have a laugh!
Your first movie (co-written with Tom) is on the way. What can you tell us about Rye Lane and what was it like to write?
Yes Rye Lane! I’m proper excited for it to come out. It is our love letter to London, our love letter to love ha! A proper colourful Rom-com with two stunning black leads and a brilliant supporting cast with some amaaaaazing cameo’s. It’s funny, it’s joyous and it’s a visual treat because Raine Miller directed the shit out of it.
We initially wrote it on spec, and we did think at one point maybe we just run up credit cards and try and make it as Tom and I have both made web-series, but it was proper banging that we didn’t have to do that because debt is long… Big up BBC films, fox searchlight and BFI for making it!
We both loved Rom-coms and joy and London and we just back and forthed this script probs for like a year (that could be a lie, it could have been longer or shorter) but tbh it felt proper quick and it got made.
What advice do you have for anyone who’s looking to work in a writing partnership?
It’s probs a bit like dating (I ain’t dated in 10 years) but I imagine, before you do the McNasty, make sure you have a general like of who they are as a human first. So believe it or not, Tom and I don’t actually do the McNasty, for us the McNasty is a long writing session and before we do that, we had to make sure if we were stuck in a lift together on the way to a notes meeting we would actually like each other and have something to talk about, have world views that are similar but not the exact same so yeah…. (don’t take my dating advice please do the McNasty with whomever you please).
I only recently realised it, but we were both on the writing team for Gigglebiz. What was your experience like writing for such an iconic preschool show?
I love writing for Cbeebies, the team there are amazing, supportive and really care about making amazing stuff, and give so many people opportunities, the shows that Cbeebies team have made are legendary and DO so well they are basically bringing up all the kids in England so yeahhhh man writing gigglebiz was soooooo much fun and I want to do it again, so if anyone as Cbeebies is reading this holllaaaa please thanks love you bye.
You’ve also written for CBeebies shows such as Rastamouse and Apple Tree House. These shows have been incredible at putting underrepresented communities on screen. How important is representation to young audiences and how can writers deliver authentic stories?
Representation is everything! People need to see themselves! One way to Deliver authentic stories is by hiring writers who can find those stories from within.
I’m often hearing praise for the way Bloods is written. Can you describe the writing process for the series and what makes it so special?
Oooh that’s nice, BLOODS is my proudest achievement in my life so far, I started that process never having written a 30 min script so now we are 16 episodes in it’s been a whirlwind. I have learnt more making this show than I have on anything I have ever done before. If you ain’t seen it stop reading this at once and go to SKY / NOW TV or HULU and binge it please and then tell everyone even your enemies how much you loved it and that the show changed your life.
We start a series of BLOODS in the writersroom with the most wonderful, funny, and kind people, we eat a shit ton of snacks, go out and spend too much money on lunch in soho and we moan about the state of the world and then when we got a few hours left and we know our execs are coming in we start writing hahaha.
Everyone in the Bloods room is my fav, for series 2 we had Tasha Danraj who is a machine gun in a room with ideas… like non-stop, and gives the room so much to latch on to and I think that’s what every room needs someone who is going to leave it all out there and is generating.
And then Paul Doolan the funnnnnnnnnnnniest man on the planet, and without him there is NO series of BLOODS, he is also the fucking kindest, Paul is a master of the game really, he is incredibly funny, good at story, knows how to pick a gem out of a big fat turd and is always positive, you need people in the room who are going to be positive when you all just want to bang your head against the wall.
Patricia Elcock is HILLLARIOUS and one of my fav people in the world, she has the best world view possible, and parica writes incredible dialogue, I read her scripts and get jealous at how good they are, she lovvvvves our characters and will protect them in the room, and Tom is in the room as well but I have gassed about him enough and will not speak his name ever again.
And let’s not forget the comedy master Samson and when he joins us he is just give us 24k GOLD, he is one of the funniest people I have ever met! Check out all themmmmm!! We also have incredible guest writers in the room, like Kiell Smith Bynoe, Nicole Lecky, Jack Rooke, Adjani Salmon, Hannah George…. Just to name a few… I will of course have missed someone out and I’m sorrrry.
We start by throwing everything at the board for our characters, and the things that make us laugh or we think I HAVE TO SEE MALEEK DO THAT. We start thinking of stories around that, because our show is about paramedics there are so many stories and endless possibilities. Then we plot out the series, and series arcs, we then pitch to our execs who however much we tell them it’s perfect and foolproof they give us a shit ton of notes and we go back and do that again. Once the execs like our series arc for the series we will pitch to our Sky commissioners who are fab and supportive and give more notes and ideas.
A couple dope things about working with Sky is one, they gave two new young black guys (me and Samson) their own hugeee scale sitcom, and two, they want everything to be bigger… casting, stunts, style, gags… I grew up making my own work so everything I made was small cuz I had to pay for it, so when I started writing that’s how my mind was thinking and that had to change quick making the show. Being in a meeting with Tilusha and Jon talking about huge comedy legends you want in it or having a helicopter to them is like, yep that sounds normal, so that was very, very cool! I mean the cast we have in BLOODS are comedy legendsssssss!!!
Then we all divvy up eps that we feel we HAVE to write for example there was an ep in chicken shop and obviously I grew up in a chicken shop so I had to write that ep. Then we all go off and do our tings – outlines, scene by scenes, writing our script, we get notes til our eyes bleed, then we do a readthrough, and realise another set of fuck off problems and then we fix them the best we can, and then when we have no more steam in the engine, we make it. I am skipping a billion steps but you get my drift.
Roughcut who we make the show with are comedy legends. Ash, Alex, Seb who we work with push youuuuuu, and teach youuuuuu, and somehow remain forever calm. If they think a joke can be funnier, they have no problem pushing you to find it, right up until the day it is on set. Whilst the process can be tough as shittttt and leave you dishevelled and questioning your existence, your career… there is a reason them man have soooo many baftas that when you walk in their office you need to wear sun glasses.
When I have finished writing on the series after a couple weeks rest I’m like, ooooh man where is that stress I miss it!!! I love being pushed, it’s made me a better writer, it’s like training init. And I think the process taught me the sort of scrutiny a script needs to go under, basically when you think it’s finished, it ain’t, It ain’t ever finished ever, you just run out of time tweaking it.
What are you looking for from the people who join your writers’ room?
On BLOODS, people who are funny, people who ain’t scared of throwing out that insane batshit idea that they have in there head, kind peeps, people who love to laugh, have different world views, people who are great at story structure, people passionate about everything and anything, and most importantly people who know good places to get lunch in soho.
This next part isn’t a question but… well, these interviews come together over a period of time and during the process, things happen. Sometimes they’re awesome things and other times…
In the time I have been writing this interview, BLOODS has been cancelled by Sky. Still watch it and tell everyone as I’m SO PROUD OF IT and it is a cracking BAFTA nominated show but Boooooo!!!!
I have mentioned about the highs in this interview of getting stuff made and the awesomeness of making a show / writersrooms but all good things come to an end and I found out a couple weeks ago. we ain’t going again on series 3, even though making a show beats the living shit out of you, I wanted to get the shit beaten out of me for the third time sooooooo bad.
I was GUTTED for loads of reasons. I was living my writers DREAM, that show was my first baby I had co-created so hearing it is finished before I am finished telling it sucks and I can’t lie, for a good two weeks I thought fuck writing hahahah.
I was / have been sulking in my pajamas, ignoring all my other deadlines as I had lost all my motivation to write. I was thinking I will never get another show again…, I’m a wack writer etc etc and just stewing in my own flith.
I turned a nice lil corner recently and finally had a shower and realised how fucking lucky I was to even have that amazing experiance, and to work with the best people from Sky to Roughcut, to Samson our hillllarious cast and crew and to have our show on in America and learning SOOOOO much. Getting a show cancelled ain’t personal, it’s just business. Not enough people watched and that’s that, simple. My friend said to me it’s a rights of passage to have a show cancelled just be happy you had one to cancel.
So now I’m back at my desk hustling to get the next show or film or whatever!
Going back to the early days, do you remember your first time in a writers’ room? How did it go?
Yes I do remember it but I don’t remember the show. I pulled up in a room with tons of people, like at least 20 (maybe a bit less). I could not believe I was getting paid to be there and I could not believe the range of snacks, it was excellent.
To be honest I found it totally and utterly overwhelming, I don’t know if I said much, and I can still find writing rooms now overwhelming. But the first few rooms my self doubt would kick in, I would start self-editing myself, and like I said I’m dyslexic so I can get lost in a convo that is darting around so yeah.. I’m better with it now and I like to enter a room with a page of ideas so if I ever feel lost or my brain is struggling to catch up, I got some shit locked and loaded.
My first room I was surrounded by loads of funnnnnnnnnnnnny people, who were super confident and it was loud and everyone chatting fast. I also was the only non-white writer in the room so in my head I was there to pitch in for the black characters, but obviously I wasn’t, I was there to just contribute… and I think it’s good to remember once you are in the room that you deserve to be there and people want to here from you… it sounds obvious but sometimes it feels like you have to just spit gold but there really is no such thing as a bad idea, so say it, and even if you say something and the room goes silent, that’s ok, don’t worrrrry.
As well as television and film, you’re also a successful children’s author. What attracted to you to writing picture books and how does the process compare?
The honest truth is I never thought I was going to be an author, I didn’t read really because again, I found it really hard and I’m a slow reader so I totally stumbled into it, and deffo did not expect to be successful at it, Puffin offered me and Dapo ( the incredible illustrator I work with) a 3 book deal and I remember telling my agent, can we just have one book, what the hell am I meant to make another 2 books about, thank god my agent ignored my dumb arse.
But now I’m in the picture book world I ADORE writing pictures books and they have helped me start reading and I hope to be an author forever now. It’s immediately rewarding, when I do events up and down the country you can see the children respond to the stories. I remember one of my fav events when my first book LOOK UP came out, we did an event to 300 school kids in Battersea or somewhere and they were all predominantly black kids, and Rocket and Jamal the lead characters are black. The event started with all the kids sat down and as we went further and further through the story the kids where basically stood up and on the stage with us, their teachers told us they hadn’t seen a character who looked like them and that’s all they could talk about. It was one of the things that made the process so special and made me understand what I need to do as an author.
How does it compare? I think it really helps with structure. People say pictures books are simple stories, and they are, but a simple story is often the best structure. When I’m writing sitcom or films we can often tie ourselves in knots trying to be clever or whatever and I think back to my picture book journey – what does that character want and what am I going to do to stop them from getting it? Picture books do that better than any other form. That’s why you remember picture book stories from when you were a kid, their simplicity is amazing!
One aspect of picture book writing that always interests me is the collaborative relationship between the author and illustrator. What is it like working with Dapo Adeola and how much input do you have in the artwork?
Dapo is a genius with his pen, his style is my fav thing in the world, the way he draws I don’t have the words to describe, but It makes me happy and makes so many people happy. So yeah we collab on the story and make sure if he has any ideas that I can include them in the text. We actually work closely together from the jump which apparently ain’t that common but that is cuz we have known each other for 10 plus years before we started our deal.
When the text is locked in and my editor from puffin is happy, we send it to him and he gets to his magic. I will be sent drafts of his artwork, and I can feed in ideas and notes but to be honest, Dapo will show me a page and I’m like, YEP better than I could of thought of.
How did you meet Dapo?
I met Dapo through the fantastic author / poet Dean Atta. I wanted to find someone who could illustrate my first proper idea called Afro Kid about a boy with Afro super powers, Dapo was the first person to bring that idea to life and we really hit it off from then, just vibes. I must of been like 18/19 and I was broke fire broke, we ain’t got it type broke… and I was earning like 60 quid a week working as an usher, but I felt like no-one could imagine my idea unless they saw visuals, so Dapo kindly dropped his fee to nothing, like maybe 30 quid a drawing… to do some character designs for Afro Kid, which was the first show of mine that got optioned by the people who made Rastamouse, we got really close to getting the animation green lit but we fell at loads of different hurdles at the last moment which was heartbreaking but just lit that fireeeee in my belly to make it happen. I even had a sit down with RZA from Wu-Tang Clan who was going to make the music for my cartoon (like can you actually imagine that) but no English broadcaster bit. To be fairrrrrr, my writing wasn’t up to scratch then, but that idea isn’t dead yet in my mind, but anyway…
Dap’s visuals helped the idea get as far as it did and that was my proper introduction to TV. Then Daps and I kept in contact, I was/am always obsessed with his work and a few years later I hollered Dapo to bring to life Rocket for LOOK UP and the rest is sort of history. Because of Daps insane work ethic, and sensational drawings he is like one of the biggest illustrators in England and it’s sooooo amaaaaazing to see. Check out his work it’s sensationaaaaaaal!!!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about writing for young people?
It’s the same for writing for ‘old people’ hahah – Have something to say. Make it fun.
What were your favourite books as a kid?
I’ve always been a shit reader as I’m slow andI have to read a page 10 times to get what the fuck is going on, so as a kid I didn’t have many fav books, anything by Roald Dahl, Malorie Blackman.
I read lots more now and basically I have learnt to read again but at my pace, and no pressure and for my enjoyment. However, I end up reading self-help books (which I have to stop because they don’t work for me) and picture books.
What is your process when you first begin a new project?
I love starting a new project more than anything, like every writer a new idea is the most exciting thing. I get lost in it…. I’m already seeing the Hollywood movie poster, thinking about who I can cast, and I’ve only got a 3 line pitch hahaha. So with new ideas I will start watching the genre it is in, researching around the space, always a quick google someone else ain’t done it first, then I will do a vomit of around a page of all my ideas for the show.
Then I pitch to my friends and loved ones a lot before I go to any producers, I gage a lot from my friends and get feedback. I pitch to everyone like my girlfriend’s mates at a bar, some random at a party… just to see how people react, how I can tighten the idea. I’m not pitching it like I’m on Dragon’s Den. I will just find a way to slip it into convo and see how they react (this must be extremely jarring for those people Im pitching at but who cares, I need to make schmoney) also it’s super humbling when you realise, nahhhh they ain’t feeling that idea.
Once I have compressed, redrafted, and I understand what the idea is, I quite often work with an artist called Spike Zepheniah (check him out) who is amazing and I will commission him to make me a movie poster of the idea and I show that to producers and try to sell that mofo. I find visuals really help sell a pitch so I will make 10 min shorts and comic books to help get stuff across the line.
What is your biggest tip for writing dialogue.
Read your dialogue out loud as sometimes it may read funny but when you say it out loud it feels different, it may be too long, convoluted.
You’re prolific across multiple mediums and seem to constantly have multiple projects on the go – yet you also have a strong presence on social media. How important is it for you as a writer to remain active on socials?
Not that important. I like socials and I love promoting my work as I think that’s important but I mainly have it as I love to procrastinate and I’m obsessed with our industry. I love knowing about different deals. I love knowing who’s doing what. But like if a writer says, I don’t want to do socials, then don’t. I don’t think socials are that deep, they are a good way to feel less lonely and part of a community of people but if socials gives you anxiety then fuck it off.
What are you working on currently (that you can tell us about)?
I’ve got a new book out next year with Dapo called SPEAK UP, I’ve got RYE LANE with Tom out next year. I’ve written an episode on the new series of Bad Education that will also be out next year… and some other news bits and bobs. I’m in development on a few other projects that I’m enjoying lots and lots so yeah.
What are your current goals as a writer?
GET BETTER! I still feel very green as a writer, and I’m learning at speed and that can be very painful but I write every day, all day so I’m positive I will get there.
Other goals, I think… I want to direct, I want to act more, I want to work on projects in America, want to make a comic book, write more movies, write/create more tv shows, make a video game one day, make my own animation series, write a novel, I want to write a show in the west end, I want to deffo have my own production company… maybe run the BBC in the future.
If you could reboot and TV series or movie, what would it be and what would you like to do with it?
I would reboot my fav film SOUL PLANE (which is a very problematic film now but when I was a teen I knew it line for line) but instead of running a black owned aeroplane company they would make a black owned space company to enter the billionaires race to space, like if NASA was run by black people and they go on a giant space adventure.
Are there any books (or podcasts, videos, blogs etc) or scripts that you recommend all writers to check out?
I will YouTube my fav writers and watch them talk for hours about process, I love hearing everyone’s different process. I love your blog, and I read every writers interview and check out there work. Obvs save the cat slaps, bafta have some cool writing sessions. Sitcom geeks is cool, script lab is cool. Hollywood reporter roundtable talks is cool.
If you could travel back in time to when you first started out as a writer, what advice would you give yourself?
KEEP BEING AUDACIOUS THAT SHIT WORKS!
PUT YOUR TAX MONEY ASIDE
MAKE YOUR OWN WORK CONSTANTLY
WHEN PEOPLE SAY JACK OF ALL TRADES IS A MASTER OF NONE IS ONLY HALF THE SAYING! JACK OF ALL TRADES IS A MASTER OF NONE, BETTER THAN BEING A MASTER OF ONE
ENJOY THE RIDE
SUPPORT OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK
NEVER GIVE UP!
What’s the worst part of being a writer?
That is a 24/7 job, you are never finished, you can get jealous of other people, you always have something that needs to be done, you always fail, you get rejected on the regs, notes are endless, making work and people don’t connect with it but you died making it for them ha! Learning on the job is hard. But I love all those things as well so you know, ying and yang baby!
What makes you laugh more than anything?
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