We spoke with Shore Alumni Brian McCauley Johnson on his TV Pilot The League of Pan being developed by SYFY and Universal Content Productions. Congratulations to Brian, and a big thank you for doing this Q&A.
A bit of info on the project from SYFY: Following Wendy and The Lost Boys, the show “picks up with the fabled characters after ten years on the mainland,” according to the official press release. “Now grown up and estranged,” the group “must return to Neverland to face a new evil that threatens the very existence of the magical place they once called home, reigniting bitter rivalries and unearthing twisted secrets from their past. The fantastical series explores the painful truths of growing up and the realization that ‘going home’ is never quite as simple as you think.”
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I’ve always loved storytelling in whatever capacity I could get it. Books, movies, shows, plays; I enjoyed being transported to a different time and place to experience something beyond myself. It made me realize that in addition to experiencing new stories, I wanted to create and tell them. I have a pretty extensive theatre background as an actor that I think helped me as I started writing. I got to slip into various character shoes to find their voice and had a good idea of how I wanted people to feel and sound. But it all came back to that idea of building the narrative from scratch. Creating a story from the ground up and being in control of how it moved and how people experienced it.
2) At what point did you realize that you could forge a career for yourself as a screenwriter?
Once I realized that the stories and characters and worlds I was writing were connecting with people, I discovered that I could actually support myself so long as I always had a story worth telling. People (i.e. producers and companies) are always looking for that next great story to tell so I tried to identify that need and fill it with narrative. The key for me was output. I was always spinning a new plate or jamming a new iron in the fire, so to speak, to make sure I had the right project whenever my number got called.
3) How many screenplays have you written over the years? Have you found it difficult to get them read?
Ballpark probably five features and ten Pilots or so. Some usable and others more a learning experience. The interest can vary, so I tried to always pinpoint where/who I wanted to target for reads based on the material. I also had to be cognizant of what I was trying to get out of it: Am I looking for analysis and notes or am I trying to garner interest for a possible sale? Does this particular person or company gravitate toward this type of material? It was easiest for me to start close to home for feedback; friends, family, colleagues. They ended up being great sounding boards when it came to the early feedback process and would often help shape a project or point me in a good direction for next steps.
4) Where did the inspiration for League of Pan come from?
Without getting too in the weeds of the story (you’ll have to stay tuned for that), I’ll just say that the world of Peter Pan has always fascinated me. The world creation that is Neverland has so many moving parts, plenty of which I considered to be “under-explored” in the current iterations. The original story means so much to me personally that I wanted to pay homage to its themes and characters but create something unique and relatable.
5) Do you usually create a bible to go alongside your pilots?
It’s not necessarily required but I definitely have before. If it’s a big world creation that I need people bought into, I find a bible can help to level-set the reader on the rules and variables of the world. But it’s also an added ask for people to sift through a bible AND a pilot script, so I have to sort of weigh that when deciding. That said, if someone bites on a script and wants a pitch, then my having an internal bible ready to go only puts me that much farther ahead.
6) Have you found that this project has opened a lot more doors for you in terms of meetings with production companies and producers?
Absolutely. I was thrilled with the positive reaction to the story I had built and the natural evolution of that is people being curious about what else you’re working on. And that’s not necessarily unique to development or screenwriting or even to entertainment. I was trying to build something of a “creative reputation” so people could get a clearer picture of what I could bring to the table, whether it was in a room or in development, so I definitely feel some momentum in my favor whenever someone sparks to something.
7) Do you have any advice for screenwriters who are either starting out or at that point where they are plugging away, striving for their big break.
Read, read, read. Novels, memoirs, books on writing, newspaper articles, poetry, screenplays, stage plays, pilots. All of it is activating different parts of your creativity that can only help you in the long run. You can learn more about structure or pacing on one hand, and on the other, you might be inspired by some obscure true crime story or historical figure or Irish ballad that could point you to your next project. You never know where inspiration will strike so leave yourself open to learning and absorbing stories and ideas you might not have even thought of yet. The trick is then to channel that thirst for knowledge into action; make sure it always leads you back to the page. Because the second half of that is to write, write, write. Good or bad, stay prolific and don’t doubt your instincts. Trust the process, allow for the emotional roller coaster and whenever you have something, try to combat the vulnerability and be fearless about sharing it. Take feedback in your stride and keep your pride and ego in check.