Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Q&A: Tom Edge, creator of Channel 4 comedy SCROTAL RECALL

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

I recently did a Q&A with writer Tom Edge (Pramface, The Midnight Beast) about his new Channel 4 comedy SCROTAL RECALL , which concerns a young romantic with Chlamydia who tracks down his exes to inform them they could be infected. You can read the results below...

DAN OWEN: Let's start with the elephant in the room: why choose Scrotal Recall as a title? It's catches your eye while scrolling down an EPG, but it's also very misleading given the show's tone.

TOM EDGE: Honestly, it was a working title that eventually stuck. We felt that, on the plus side, the title combined STIs and memory, and was quite memorable. But you're absolutely right, there's a tonal mismatch with the show and, well, it's a pun. Those go stale fast. My hope is that people's expectations of the show (from the title alone) are enjoyably confounded; and the show goes on to play further games with audience expectations. In time, hopefully the title will just fade down in volume, rather like Peep Show did. If not, this could be my Bill Lawrence/Cougar Town moment. I hate coming up with titles. It's my worst thing.

Where did the idea for Scrotal Recall come from? Is it something you've had in the back of your mind for awhile?

A lot of my ideas sit as fragments waiting in folders for another idea to combine with. The first half of the idea for Scrotal Recall came about in 2008 when the Wellcome Trust gave me a week's residential at the Sanger Institute to learn about genomics. I was introduced to some great ideas on genetics, disease resistance and mapping human migration over time. I thought it would be fun to do this in miniature: to map a single person's life story through their relationship with one disease. Chlamydia is the obvious candidate, for its "social" properties... but on its own the idea was a little flat.

"Man tracks down past lovers to tell them he has the clap" felt like it could become repetitious, and I felt like I'd seen a lot of "tracks down past lovers" stories around that time: Broken Flowers, the la Bute play Some Girls, and A Complete History of My Sexual Failures, to name just a few. So I put the idea away. Then, in 2011, I was discussing romantic comedy with the guys at Clerkenwell Films, and the second part of the idea clicked: why not use the past lovers as a way to map a single central relationship? We would revisit all the people our protagonist had slept with... but our eyes would always be on the central friendship between the series regulars. We'd tell a single, complicated love story by looking at the failed relationship surrounding it. That felt fresh to me, and we were off.

I'm very familiar with Antonia Thomas from Misfits, and Daniel Ings from a few things (Psychoville, The Cafe), but Johnny Flynn is a completely new face to me. How involved were you with the casting, and why did those actors get the parts?

We saw a lot of incredible actors for the three leads—much credit to casting director Rosalie Clayton. It'd be churlish to name names, but we had some wonderful choices to make. In the end it was important that the three-way chemistry between them felt right. The coming-of-age story demands that you believe there's a depth of affection there. Johnny, Antonia and Dan felt like the ideal combination—and they've since all become very close. The actual casting process was collaborative, with no one voice dominating—we made our decisions through consensus. I'm thrilled with the cast we got. They've all got incredible range and depth, as you'll see as the series progresses.

Something I neglected to mention in my review of the premiere was its '80s vibe; primarily with the music, but also some of the production design and even the font of the title. Am I going mad, or was that all intentional and will continue?

I think you might have a point, but much of that stuff would have come from Elliot Hegarty, our terrific first-block director. Perhaps the coming-of-age stuff tapped his own childhood years in the '80s? Perhaps sex and young people made him shoot for a Risky Business kind of feel? I'll have to ask him!

I think most people will be surprised by how sweet and heartfelt the show is. What made you settle on that vibe, when the idea clearly lends itself to something more salacious?

If Dylan had been a manipulative sex-obsessed seduction-artist intent on getting bedpost notches carved, I think it would have been a much darker, bleaker comedy. I considered this route, but its possibilities seemed so mean-spirited compared with Dylan being a depressed romantic, someone who only ever wanted One girl but who has, to his chagrin, ended up with many along the way. From a storytelling point-of-view I also think it's been the more interesting challenge to write a guy who doesn't want to just get laid, but who ends up sleeping with a lot of people, rather than writing the guy who just wants sex.

How did you decide on the flashback-heavy narrative idea? Was that something you wanted to do from the start, or did it evolve out of problems keeping everything in the present day?

There are real challenges with flashback-heavy narratives. They're great for showing an audience why things happened, but that's much less visceral than the staple fodder of network shows: "what happens next?" For a very good reason murder shows skew towards "who did it?" rather than merely "here's why they did it" because the desire to see a culprit identified and justice done is a much stronger, primal human need that the need to understand the nuances of motivation.

So although I wanted to use a non-linear flashback-heavy structure to tell the story of these three friends growing up and in-and-out of love, it felt important to keep the present day vital and uncertain as a counterbalance. That's why we start where we start: Dylan is in crisis in the present as the girl he (finally) loves seems set to make a life with her boyfriend. But the events kicked into motion by his STI diagnosis throw everything into doubt.

I hope this is having our cake and eating it—as the series progresses, the question of what will happen in the present should feel urgent and meaningful and with solid stakes... with the flashbacks adding depth and complexity to the present-day events, as well as working as enjoyable stand-alone stories.

There was an interesting creative choice in episode 1, by making it clear Evie once had strong feelings for Dylan, and Dylan definitely holds a candle for her in the present. Why introduce that so early?

Like a lot of writers, I'm fascinated by memory. In the present, Dylan can't believe he didn't always see Evie as he currently does. That he ever felt otherwise feels impossible to him now. That's a very common experience, I think: looking back and wondering why you felt so strongly about something once, when you now feel muted about it (or vice versa). This is an idea the show returns to a lot. In episode one you see Dylan being abruptly dumped by his date (played by Jessica Ellerby). Then in episode four (which is set two weeks before the wedding episode) she and Dylan are mid-relationship. Of course audience knows that they are doomed; but hopefully they also see why it wasn't stupid for Dylan to believe the relationship might work.

Putting at least some of Dylan and Evie's history on the table early on helps maps out the terrain for those kind of themes to play out in. I'll also say this: the show doesn't commit to Dylan and Evie being an inevitability—and by the end of the series I hope that we will have begun to offer something more complex than the usual rom-com guarantee of a kiss between the two leads as we fade to black...

Have you ever had a STI yourself? (I'm joking on that last one, just ignore me.)

Thanks, Dan. It's fine. I'll plunge in. I've never had an STI, but I have had the full STI screen done, as should all of your readers. See, we're really a public health broadcast sneaking in under the guise of a sitcom...

Thanks, Tom! That's very honest of you. And on that note, people can read more about visiting an NHS clinic to get themselves checked out here.

Scrotal Recall continues this Thursday on Channel 4 @10PM.