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Merlin Writer Interview: JULIAN JONES

I am made of fail, served up on a plate of failure with some failage dumped on the side. I have had this email sitting in my inbox for about a week now, and I have not yet done anything with it. I can't even use the excuse that I was too busy, because this should have taken all precedent over everything else.

I can only say that I'm sorry, and that I am still trying to figure out a time that I can call the UK from here and talk with the wonderful Lyndsey Honour, who made this interview possible. I just want to ask if we can get an interview with Ben Vanstone or Howard Overman. You know, someone who is just exclusively a writer for the show, not necessarily co-creator.

But anyway, I shall paste the response under the cut, and then add my comments to the end (because of course I couldn't keep my mouth shut). I feel kind of bad, actually, because I think I accidentally and totally unintentionally insulted poor Julian Jones. D: You will see why, later.


1. How did you get into writing for television? What type of
history do you have in writing?

I studied acting at RADA, which I suppose is an experiential way of
learning about drama. I began my career as a writer on early episodes
of The Bill and worked on a wide range of dramas including Between the
Lines. More recent credits include As If, Hex and Sinchronicity.

2. How long does it take to write an episode and how many drafts does an
episode generally go through?

It varies. The hardest part of any of script is building the story. At
the start of each series the creative team gets together and throws a
load of ideas on the table. Some, like 'The Witchfinder' in Series II,
are pearls at the outset; others take longer to hone. On Merlin we
work differently from most shows. The Executive Producers (Julian Murphy
and Johnny Capps) are creatively in charge of the show, they and the
Story Editors (Rachel Knight and Polly Buckle) conjure with many of the
ideas and, with luck, they shape the story and hand the writer an
idiot-proof tale. This is then easy to write and a first draft can take
between one to two weeks (dependent on the writer and production
requirements). Subsequent drafts should take about 4 days each. It is
possible to get from first to final draft in a month and 4 to 5 drafts.
However, there are times when your story develops 'a hole'. These often
only become clear when a story is tested at script stage. 'Holes'
generally lead to double the writing time and a lot less sleeping time.

3. Do you brainstorm to produce an outline of the series before
you start writing or is there one person who determines the overall
story and character arcs? Do you then work on the episode's
storyline together before the individual writer goes away to actually
write the episode alone?

In terms of outlining, we brainstorm at the outset and work out where we
want our characters to open, midpoint and end. Throughout the process
all the writers are aware of where the characters should be at any given
point in the series, but as each story evolves things may happen that
push or pull a character in another direction. The Executive Producers,
Johnny and Julian, keep a careful eye on this, but are creatively astute
enough to let things grow and flow naturally. I think it's a big
mistake to stick rigidly to the ideas you have the outset, if along the
way something more exciting starts to emerge then go for it.

Merlin is a series of free standing stories and each episode is scripted
by an individual writer alongside the Story/Script Editors. They have
the difficult and often undervalued job of coaxing and cajoling the
finished script out of the writers. Behind every good writer there is
usually a great script editor.

4. As a group of writers, how do you come to a consensus about what
should and should not be in an episode, what major plot points you want
to incorporate, and what things to take and not take from the legends?

Everyone involved in the show is passionate about it. There are always
discussions and ideas flowing. However, episodes are owned by
individual writers and they discuss the themes with the Execs and the
Story/Script Editors. The various legends are the inspiration for the
show and at certain points we've incorporated elements of these or
referenced them. Our aim at the outset was to respect the different
legends but also have fun with them. However, we've also been keen to
take the characters and the stories and develop them for a modern
audience. The hope is to continue sprinkling the show with iconic
moments found in the myths and slowly progress our heroes into the more
recognisable characters from folklore.

5. How do you organise which writers will write which episodes for the

If a writer proposes an idea, and it's deemed to have legs, then he or
she will run with it. Beyond that, story ideas that come from the pot
are gifted out by the Execs. The writer they choose may depend on who is
available and whose talents are best suited to the story.

6. Are there particular aspects of the series each writer prefers to
write (romance, action, etc.) and does this impact who will write an

I'm sure every writer enjoys different aspects of a story, but equally
we all enjoy a challenge. The exciting thing about Merlin is the
variety. One month you can be writing an epic tragedy and the next a
romantic comedy. I think we all have our own styles, but we're all
versatile. What's important is that we retain our own individual voices
and yet deliver a script that is still Merlin.

7. Last year the first episode's script was released, and some rather
modern terms were used in the descriptive sections of the script. Is
this usual with the Merlin scripts or are they edited later?

Uhh ... Well, I was responsible for the first script. Usually the
scripts aren't released and the 'descriptive section' or stage
directions are merely a guide for the reader. However, a lot of
attention is paid to the content as these sections contain the
directions for the entire production team, everyone from the Costume
Designer to the Casting Director. Anachronisms are sometimes edited if
they jar, but otherwise no one worries. I would say that a lot of things
were edited from the original script and, looking back, it was very much
work in progress. We learnt a lot in the course of shooting the first
block (the first three episodes) and I think the first series got
stronger as we went on.

8. While you are writing, do you have to be aware about how
something will be filmed or how much something would cost to film, and
does this affect the writing with regards to the number of characters
or limiting the amount of CGI work in each episode?

Yes and no. Although sometimes it may look like we have a film budget,
we don't! However, what we do have is ambition. Julian and Johnny have
a way of making the impossible possible, they encourage the writers to
think big. So far, I think there's only been one story that has fallen
by the wayside for financial reasons. At storyline stage we try to rule
out any ideas that are beyond budget or that might take too much time to
shoot. Often it's a case of conceiving the idea in another way so that
it becomes feasible. The drama isn't increased by chucking more
monsters onto the screen, it's about making your one monster count.

9. Is there a finalised five year story arc or do you plan year
by year?

Year by year. We know where we might be in season five, but we've still
got so many stories we want to tell. It's hard to look too far ahead.

10. Do you know exactly where each character will be at the end of the
series? And if so, how do they make sure each of the writers are
following the story/character arcs?

Merlin is blessed with a great script team and they make sure that none
of the writers stray from the path. None of us know exactly how it will
end, but we just hope that 'Merlin' fulfils its destiny.


Please note that I tweaked the questions from what we (the community) had decided, since we only received a one man response.

One thing I find fantastic about the response is that Julian managed to answer at least ten other questions that I had lined up, and yet still leaves me burning with more questions to ask.

And yes, if you didn't notice, I think I insulted Julian with question 7. WHICH WAS TOTALLY NOT MY INTENTION. When I made that question all I kept thinking about was the Merlin/Arthur fight scene and how in the first draft of the script, Arthur was meant to take of his shirt and was described as being "ripped like 50 Cent", which had me in stitches laughing. Probably should have cleared that one up, before I stuck my foot in it. Opps.

This interview kind of makes me love this guy a little bit. He wrote "The Dragon's Call" (so he was the first to give us the Slash Dragon!) and "The Mark of Nimueh", "A Remedy to Cure All Ills", "Excalibur", "Le Morte d'Arthur" and "The Curse of Cornelius Sigan". I also can't deny that I have this incredibly happy feeling after getting this response, like I actually *did* something half cool. I ACTUALLY GOT AN INTERVIEW WITH AN ACTUAL WRITER, GUYS. \O/ My glee cannot be contained! :D!


( 67 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
This is really wonderful! Well done! I'm glad you're feeling gleeful, because it really is an awesome thing to have done.

I was interested in all of it, but most fascinated about the notion that maybe they don't have a fixed point to which they're heading over the five years. Unless Johnny and Julian M are playing that card very close to their chests! I think it's an excellent thing, to allow the show to grow organically along the way.

BTW, in no way do I think you offended or insulted him in Q7. His answer didn't come across that way to me. The reality is that they publicised (for whatever reason) a WIP script, and a lot of the interest in it is for the differences between what's on paper and what's on the screen. Using anachronisms as a punchy way to get your point across in the descriptions is perfectly valid, and may even amuse the rest of the team, so I wouldn't think he'd have taken it as a criticism.

Anyway, thank you so much for doing this, and for sharing the very interesting response.
Nov. 18th, 2009 07:36 am (UTC)
Gosh, I know. I just about danced around the room when I saw the email. 8DDD

I find that really interesting too, but I think it's probably a standard thing. They would have a vague idea where they are going, but they only primarily focus on each year so that they don't go crazy trying to collaborate it all in their heads.

I'm glad you think I didn't insult. I really hope I didn't, because I didn't mean to. I was just really curious, since it's kind of awesome that they can use that sort of terminology in a script. Makes writing it much easy, I would think! (as compared to writing novels, where you have to use the correct termonology and such all the time!)

Thank you so much for your comment! I'm so glad you liked it! :D
Nov. 17th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)

Oh. My. God. This is so exciting! Thanks so much for organizing this and posting the answers. And like you said, though he answered 10 questions, he gave me millions more.

What I thought was really interesting was his answer to the 5-year-arc question. I suppose I had been led to believe that there was a pretty solid five-year-plan in place. But I suppose letting it be a bit more organic makes more sense.

I also wish he could tell us which episode had to be "left by the wayside" because of budget constraints.

Oh man...there is so much more I want to discuss, but I need to go to bed! Thanks again for doing this, it was so great to hear the answers to questions that were specifically devised by the fandom from an actual show writer!
Nov. 18th, 2009 07:40 am (UTC)

Thank you so very much for reading and commenting! I'm glad you liked it. Now I just feel like I need to ring him up and have a proper chat with him, that would hopefully go on for hours and hours. XD;

I think it's probably for the best that they just focus year to year, because otherwise it would do their head in to try and keep what they are writing for this season in their head, as well as keeping with what is to come later. Also means that they could probably have more actor input and respond easier to changes in fandom opinions, etc.

I want to know as well! I really wish he had told us, though he mightn't in case they try it again later, when they have more time or money.

It was my pleasure, and thank you for reading! Enjoy your rest! :)
Nov. 17th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
That was such a great read! Thank you for all your hard work in putting it together and thank you so much for sharing it with us :)
Nov. 18th, 2009 07:40 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading and commenting! I'm glad you liked it! :D
Nov. 17th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
This is really awesome,
I find script writing especially for tv and film SO INTERESTING sinec it's something I may want to do as a career.. so her answers were really cool and interesting.

Merlin/Arthur fight scene and how in the first draft of the script, Arthur was meant to take of his shirt and was described as being "ripped like 50 Cent"

Nov. 18th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
I know exactly how you feel love. EXACTLY. It may be because I prefer writing for novels, but god I still love knowing how other things are done. Very, very cool.

Yes, I agree. I don't understand why Arthur didn't rip off his shirt, because it would have made my brain explode a hell of a lot faster. XD
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Nov. 17th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
Arthur was meant to take of his shirt and was described as being "ripped like 50 Cent" That little tidbit alone made my whole afternoon! brb, incoherent laughing taking place!
Nov. 18th, 2009 07:41 am (UTC)
LOL I know right? I thought it was great, really something they should have kept in the final script. *LOL*

Thanks for reading and commenting! :D
Nov. 17th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, well done! I find what he says very interesting - especially the fact that the producers are flexible enough to allow stories to grow naturally.

I love his description of 'The Witchfinder' as "a pearl at the outset".

And I agree with mrs_leary - I don't think he felt insulted by question 7. He answers the question very honestly.

You should feel proud!

Nov. 18th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading and commenting! *blushes* It makes me feel very happy. :D

I love that they are leaving room for the character to evolve naturally as well, not necessarily how they *think* they should evolve. Very exciting thoughts.

Hopefully you're right. I really hope I didn't insult him. :\ I'll just have to look at the up side, like you guys! ^^;
Nov. 17th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
Eee, you rock so hard! Thanks for bringing this to us!
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:19 am (UTC)

Ehehehehe! Thank you so much for commenting with your epic Merlin *glee* icon of epic awesome. XDD
Nov. 17th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
He answered and he was fast!!!

It's a pity that he did not answered everything, though it's also understandable :)

It's been a very interesting read and I don't think that you insulted him, I read that as "that was almost a draft! nobody was supposed to read it!" :P

Thanks a lot for doing this.
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:21 am (UTC)
He was fast! I was very impressed, not gonna lie.

Sadly I wasn't sure if I should send over all 30odd questions, but I figured it might be too much all in one go. So instead I've decided to wait until I get another shot, then attack them again. ^^;

Hahaha, I hope you're right. Thank you though, I'm starting to feel slightly less paranoid. XD;

Thank you for reading and commenting. ♥
Nov. 17th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
This was marvelous. I'm so happy that Julian took the time to answer the questions and in depth enough that we got a lot more information than what he was asked.

I'm really fascinated that there isn't a 5 year story arc after all. I was thinking that they were aiming for 5 years as a series but does that mean there might be more??? That also means that it could go any number of ways. With a 5 year plan, there are certain high points to the story which would show up at specific times (Arthur finding out Merlin's magic, Uther dying, Morgana's descent into darkness) but now this sounds like anything goes and then they flow with it.

Plus now I'm sorry that no one asked Polly a question when she was at the BCI thing last year. I didn't realize how important her role was in Merlin.

I'm with mrs_leary in that you did not insult him in Q7 at all. It was obviously a work in progress. I didn't laugh about the ripped muscles but some of the sayings in the dialogue were pretty funny and I'm glad they got dropped.

Thanks so very much for doing this!!!! They should post it on BBC for a wider audience. They have a writer's room there - and Julian is listed among the writers who posted stuff before.
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:37 am (UTC)
I was really blown away by his answers. There were so many things that he included that he didn't have to! It made me so friggin happy. :D

I wonder if not having a five year plan actually means that they are much more open to changes in direction [of the script or character arcs]. Something I'll have to sneak in next time, I guess! XD

The reason why I did this was *because* no one asked Polly anything, and at the Expo before that. This woman is so important to the show, and so are these writers, and yet they never get any love from the public at all. I think we should definitely direct more questions at them from now on! :)

Has he really? I'd almost forgotten about the BBC writers room, it's been so long since I've been there. Wonder if they will? (they should! Definitely!)
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Nov. 17th, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC)
I am made of fail, served up on a plate of failure with some failage dumped on the side.

No, really, you're made of WIN! This is really interesting - I like that they don't nec. have a fixed end in sight.

*g* I don't think you insulted him either! I'd love to see more of the scripts - to actually see one from initial concept to final shooting script.

Thanks for posting this.
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)
Haha, thanks! Glad you liked it! :DDD

So would I. Gosh, something that illustrated exactly how they go from first to final draft, with all the crossing-out's in-between. *is such a writing nerd* XD

Thanks for your comment! *squishes*
Nov. 17th, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for doing this and I'm delighted you got such an interesting response. I like the fact that they are prepared to go with the flow rather than stick to a rigid story idea.
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:40 am (UTC)
:) Thank you for reading and commenting. It means a lot!
Nov. 17th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
0h, how wonderful. Well done. Julian Jones gave really informative answers. Its always great to see the enthusiasm we who watch have is mirrored in the people who make the show. That first script was a hoot but must have had the whole series resting on it, he obviously handles pressure well.
I'd love to know if they could release more scripts.
Nov. 17th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
Here's the link to the Excalibur script. There is an interesting change with Merlin and the Dragon's talk at the end of it.
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Nov. 18th, 2009 11:40 am (UTC)
Yes, I know exactly what you mean. And learning how different writers write for their different medias is very interesting to me as well. :)

Thanks so much for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it!!
Nov. 17th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)
You go, girl. ♥
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:41 am (UTC)
♥ Aww, thanks Liz.
Nov. 17th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
Fantastic interview! You asked alot of thoughtful questions, things I hadn't though of before, and it's interesting to hae the answers. :)

LOL at 'ripped like 50 Cent.' Do you have a link where I could read the script for The Dragon's Call? I didn't even know it was released.
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:47 am (UTC)
Thank you, though I can't take all the credit for the questions! There were some wonderful people in the community that contributed. :)

I can't remember where I saw the script for Dragon's Call, though I do have it saved on my computer (somewhere). I can find it for you and upload it, so you can read through it, if you like?
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Nov. 17th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
Oooh, interesting. Good job!
Nov. 17th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for sharing this! It's lovely to hear how they go about it.

Haha, tab-key hitting fail. Sorry. *g*

Edited at 2009-11-17 10:31 pm (UTC)
Nov. 18th, 2009 11:48 am (UTC)
Haha, don't worry about it. Barely noticed! XD

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed! :D
Nov. 18th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
YAY he answered! You did it! It worked! You are AMAZING! ♥

You picked some awesome questions to ask him, and I completely loved pouring over his answers. He sounds like such a cool guy! Though to be honest I'm still smarting a little over his CoCS episode, but I guess every fandom needs an episode or two to blackball and completely ignore XDD

You are wonderful and an absolute doll for putting this together for us. I remember when you first brought up the idea for doing a Q&A and how novel it sounded. And while I may have jumped happily at the concept, I never imagined it would become reality -- just goes to show what I know! You're an inspiration and deserve our outstanding love for your time and generosity (nevermind that it was a week late being posted ^_~).

So who are you going to hit up next? We're going to rock that think tank by storm!
Nov. 18th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :D I'm so happy it worked!! ^_________^

Don't worry love, you're not the only one that kind of wanted to punch him after CoCS. I was actually going to write "his episodes are the best!" in my entry, and then I saw that he wrote CoCS ... and I was like 'ok, nevermind.' XDD; But I did like his episodes in season 1, so he can't be all that bad. ;P

Seriously, I was so happy when I actually got a response. Even though I was gearing myself up to be disappointed, I SO WASN'T. :DDDDDDDDDD That, I think, more than anything, means so much. Honestly, who would ever have thought that just a *fan* would be able to score such a cool interview with the co-creator?! *BOUNCES*

Haha, I'm totally up for that! I'm hoping to hit up either Ben Vanstone or Howard Overman, the two guys that are exclusively writers. Or perhaps even the story editors, since they all seem to work as a team. BUT I would love to interview Ben, since he's my favourite writer by far. XDD
Though scoring that interview might take some time. More so from my part, and because Christmas is coming up. >______________>;
Nov. 18th, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)
That's a lot of information we get through 10 questions! Like you say, it's like he answered a couple more while he was at it. Question 7 doesn't come across as insulting to me and I don't think Julian took it that way either.

Thank you for sharing this!
Nov. 18th, 2009 12:02 pm (UTC)
Indeed, it is! I'm so glad Julian went into such detail, it gives such insight into how they write the series.

And thank you for commenting, and for your reassurance. :) I really appreciate it.
Nov. 18th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
This is fascinating and wonderful. Thanks so much for doing this. I love finding out how shows are crafted. I hope you can get more. I don't think you insulted him with Q7 either. What I do want to know is why Arthur didn't take his shirt off in the final version. *pouts*
Nov. 19th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it! ^-^

I wonder this as well. I suppose they thought it might be just a little too over the top for the first episode. So they exchanged bare chest for armour - not so easy to pull off. LOL
Nov. 19th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
Squeee~ Thanks for doing that, a lot of questions that I was wondering about were answered ♥

At least I knew now why the character development seemed quite irregular...
Nov. 20th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading and commenting! I'm so glad your questions were answered. Hopefully I'll be able to score another interview in the future and we can learn some more about the writers! ^-^

*hugs* I know, I know. Suppose you just have to deal with that, aye?
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Nov. 23rd, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
Randonly stopping by I saw this nad had to comment.

Yay you for an actual interview with an actual writer.

I didn't think they had a 5 year plan as they seem to focus on being an episodic show and not bother with actual story arcs. It would be nice of they at least had some kind of plan so we could have that.

And I don't think he was insulted by Q7 either.

Yay you.
Nov. 25th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
YAY for random comments! :D

I'm so glad I actually got an interview. It makes me so happy, that I could contribute something like this to the fandom! :D

Sadly, it is pretty obvious at the moment that they don't have a 5 year storyline. It's such a shame, because episodic shows are no where near as epic as those that do, and I think the show could have done SO MUCH BETTER if it had that overlying story. But that's just the meta in me, I guess. ^^;
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