Every story has a beginning. And the story of HOOD started in 2015 during my studies in London. Six months before, I had uprooted my whole life in the Netherlands to follow my passion and not spend the remainder of my life thinking “what if?” (Which, ironically, is one of the most asked questions when you’re trying to figure out story and plots, so I didn’t really escape that :P.) So I moved, enrolled in a two-year Master’s degree for Screenwriting at University of Arts London.
One day I found myself thinking of my final project and I thought, why not be brazen? I’ll pick a project I normally wouldn’t do because I’m in a safe environment with the opportunity to learn. So, I came up with this story of a negligent, famous rockstar father who got dragged on a hiking trail in New Zealand by his resentful son and the rest of his dysfunctional family. (Not gonna lie, I was already thinking about being involved in location scouting and being driven to all the wonders New Zealand has to offer.) There wasn’t much external conflict, it would all come down to the relationships between the characters. It was an intimate character study – admittedly, not my strongest skill.
Very quickly I learned that although you should take risks when you can, you shouldn’t stray too far from the kinds of stories that intrinsically draw you in. I didn’t have the heart for this project, nor would it be something I would rush to the cinemas for if I knew it was on. It is a cliché – but one I live by – you should write what you truly love to watch yourself. So true in this case.
So, what happened next?
The birth of an idea
One day, we had a guest lecture from a producer from Wall to Wall who presented us with a task: create two new tv shows, one an intelligent sci-fi like Channel 4’s Humans, and one an old story remastered like BBC’s Sherlock. I will not bore you with what I came up with for the sci-fi, but the second one was the beginning of the journey of HOOD. Although, if I were to put that concept in front of you right now, you wouldn’t recognize it – aside from the names it has changed beyond recognition.
That first pitch was for a procedural con-man – or in this case con-woman – show in line with the BBC show Hustle or the American show Leverage. Robyn would fight the rich and powerful with her Merry Men and smartly con them out of their money, with her biggest adversary being the King John equivalent of a powerful property owner. Feels like a different story, right?
But this idea died very quickly for two reasons: one was that our modern day world didn’t do justice to what I felt Robin Hood was about, and secondly it’s actually bloody difficult to be that clever. Turns out, I wasn’t.
The things that stuck in the HOOD story
But there WERE some things in that first idea that have never changed; Robyn as a strong, complex heroine was the most clear constant. I didn’t even make this gender swap very consciously, but it more happened out of my habit of centring my stories around a female character, roughly my own age – hmm, wondered why that happened? 😀 Probably one of the reasons why I didn’t feel comfortable writing that male story about the famous rockstar.
Another thing that came with this gender-swapping, was who else was gonna befall the same fate. The Sheriff… Alan-a-Dale… and then I got to Maid Marian. Should it become Marius…or… should it just remain Marian? And I very quickly settled on keeping Marian female and having an LGBTQ couple at the centre of my story. I strongly believe there should be more LGBTQ representation on the screen in which their character is not defined by who they chose to love (I’m a strong believer of this even when I myself tend to fall for the opposite sex).
The things that changed
Over the years, the characters have grown and developed but are largely who they have been from the beginning. But the backdrop of the story has developed from real-life, modern-day times to this thrilling combination of modern world, 14th century England and fantasy. Can you picture it?
Although my story and world went through many changes and renditions, there is one other element that has remained from the beginning and is the core of the HOOD story: the presence of Philippa Murdoch, the new Sheriff of Nottingham AND Robyn’s half-sister. I was wildly fascinated by this idea of complicating the Robin/Sheriff rivalry with the emotional connection of family – the people you don’t choose but are also the hardest to cut from your life. Weirdly enough, that dysfunctional family from my original idea managed to stay in… maybe best not to think about what that means for too long…
The main reason for the switch the story world made was the realisation that the story I wanted to tell didn’t thrive in our real-life, modern-day times. I’m not saying we live in a perfect world, but my world had to be more tyrannical, less globalised, and dealing with harsher, more primitive problems for the story I wanted to tell. So this mix was created of having modern day technology but a far less democratic and more tyrannical way of living with an absolute monarch and corporal punishment still in place. Then I added the “special sauce” of massive climate change outfall that warped this world back to caring about the basic needs of life.
And lastly, there was magic. Circling back to the idea that you should write what you love to watch, magic and that more fantastical approach was the only thing missing. So, at the end of the day, we owe the existence of the Red Phoenix to the fact I love fantasy. Sorry, Robyn.
I can go on forever on worldbuilding and how it changed, and I will, but not here and not yet. As HOOD is far from being finished, so is our own story of birthing this project. Up until this point it was me all lonesome by myself, and next month you can read about what changed when I found people crazy enough to join in on this adventure with me…