Jason Arnopp Interview: Stormhouse, RockNRoll, & Dr. Who

What do I want to be when I grow up? A writer. Just like this guy. In fact we’re basically twins except he has short hair and can grow a beard and I am not British and do not use ‘U’ in strange places like he does.

Hobbits, Rangers, Wizards, and Muggles, I am pleased to introduce to you the most excellent:

Jason Arnopp

Word on the streets is that you own your very own arcade game and about 2k movies. Is there any truth behind this? And if so, how do you ever get any work done?

Word on the streets is, indeed, correct – although that arcade machine sadly hasn’t worked in at least three years! I keep meaning to find someone to come and fix it. But at least it’s nice to look at. I do have a large film collection, across various formats – I have a whole load of old-school VHS, for instance. I love the big padded video boxes we used to see in both the UK and US.

What movie have you seen the most times?

The most times? Now that’s an interesting one. Maybe John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I love to death – it’s my favourite horror film. Or perhaps some mad action movie that I was obsessed with on video as a kid, like The Atlantis Interceptors. Still love that movie.

Let’s talk Doctor Who. What do you think it is about the show that attracts everyone and their grandma?

It’s half the Doctor himself – a true hero, who fights for what’s right and values all life-forms equally, unless they’re Daleks – and half the visionary format of the show. Who doesn’t love the idea of being able to go anywhere in time and space? It was an ingenious format back in 1963 when the show began, and it hasn’t become any less brilliant with time.

What’s the scariest Doctor Who episode?

In the pre-2000 ‘classic series’, I’d probably say The Pyramids of Mars, a remarkably creepy Tom Baker story involving walking Egyptian mummies and an evil god named Sutekh. Post-millennium, it’s probably Midnight, the brilliant David Tennant story scripted by Russell T Davies. It hinges around a simple yet superbly unnerving concept and I love the fact that we never learn what the invading entity is.

What’s your favorite Doctor Who episode?

Either of the above, but there are so many, from different eras. It’s really hard to narrow it down. One of my all-time favourite stories, though – and quite possibly my favourite – is Earthshock, with Peter Davison as the Doctor. It unveiled a wonderful new redesign for the Cybermen, which remains my favourite look for them. Probably because I was a kid and those were MY Cybermen. Still are. Note: my favourite Doctor Who story changes from month to month, year to year.

If you had to fight any of the antagonists in Doctor Who, which would it be?

I would ideally want to square off against the weakest antagonists the show has ever had. Probably a cute and spongy Bandril. Yes, I reckon I could ‘have’ a Bandril in a fight.

(Jason’s chosen nemesis)

Jason wrote the audiobook Doctor Who: The Gemeni Contagion. Now go check it out. I said GO! I’ll wait here until you get back.

Congratulations on the film you wrote and executive-produced, Stormhouse, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and has been making people sleep with their night lights on ever since. Tell me a bit about the story and why you wanted to tell it.

(Warning: Do not watch if you want to hear Frere Jacques again without getting the chills.)

Thanks! Yes, it’s been a fun year. Stormhouse sprung out of some research that director Dan Turner had been doing, about a military base in Suffolk, England, which had been the subject of various tabloid stories about paranormal events: ghosts, UFOs and that kind of fun stuff. Dan’s findings prompted his idea of a film about the military capturing a ghost. We really seized upon that idea, because it was a concept which immediately started painting pictures in your head and also asked questions. It was a story we had to tell: what if the military really did capture a supernatural entity. How would they do that, and more worryingly, why would they?

The story sees the British government drafting New York psychic Hayley Sands over to visit Stormhouse, a top-secret underground military base in the English countryside, where the supernatural entity has been incarcerated. Hayley’s excitement wanes, however, when she learns that her intentions for the entity are very different from the military’s…

You’re quite an expert on rock. And rockers. Do you have any stories about rock, rockers, or rocking chairs you wanna share?

I’ve certainly done my fair share of rocking. Not so much as, for instance, The Rock in a rocking chair, but a fair bit. Oh, there are plenty of stories from my time as a rock journalist and magazine editor, which stretched from 1988 to 2002. One of my favourites, though, is the time I took UK Satanic Metal band Cradle Of Filth to the Vatican for a magazine feature. We literally ended up surrounded by angry Italian guards pointing submachine guns at us. It was pretty scary, because Vatican City has its own rules and they probably could have locked us up. In the end, we got away with our liberty. The kind of experience that’s only fun when you’re looking back at it.

You have a book, How To Interview Dr Who, Ozzy Osbourne, and Everyone Else which is presumably about how to interview Dr Who, Ozzy Osbourne, and everyone else. Can you tell me some things that make a good interviewer?

Quite a lot of things, but here’s one of the most important for face-to-face chats – the ability to manage two-way traffic in your head. You have to listen to everything that your interviewee’s saying, so as not to miss an important new avenue of conversation. And at the same time, you’re regularly thinking about your next question; how far you are through the interview; and whether you’ve got enough time left in which to ask everything you need to ask. Getting to grips with that traffic control can take a while. It also helps to be nice, open, enthusiastic and generally personable. You can read more about my book at this handy link.

What did you do to poor Ozzy to illicit such violence?

I simply asked him to tell me the story about him biting a bat, one more time!

What don’t you like to be called?

‘Jase’, or ‘Jay’, by people I’ve only just met. Always a bit weird when people immediately abbreviate your name, don’t you think?

What do you like about your work?

Good lord, that’s hard to answer. It’s definitely true that we have to like, and believe in, what we do, in order to be able to do it with any real conviction in the first place. Writers need to have an insane amount of self-belief, even if they don’t always realise it. But I’m not answering the question, am I? Okay… I like the way that I seem able to generate an endless stream of ideas, some of which I then get really excited about. I love the way an idea can just bloom inside your head and keep on growing. It demands to be developed and then written. That’s perhaps the most exciting part of the process on any creative endeavour – that initial dreaming-up.

What don’t you like about you work?

Hard to generalize here. A lot of my work tends to be more plot-driven than character-driven, and I’d like to develop the character-led side of things further and try new approaches, growing always. Still, there’s nothing wrong with plot-driven narratives, so long as the story and characters are actually good. It’s the end result that matters.

What’s your writing space like?

For the last year, I’ve had an actual office! A desk, a chair, and everything. It’s full of distracting stuff on shelves, which is probably unwise, but I love it. Spent three years in my last flat writing at a desk in my bedroom, which isn’t the most healthy way to work. I like being able to shut my office door for the day and try to switch off. Although I tend to find that quite difficult.

Most memorable meal.

Once had a truly amazing steak in Faro, Portugal, which I still daydream about. A big chunk of perfectly cooked delight.

What’s the song that gets you movin’?

My all-time favourite song is almost certainly Breaking The Law by Judas Priest. Short, simple, dynamic and downright joyous. It’s on their British Steel album, which is also tremendous.

Where/when do you feel completely at peace?

Complete peace doesn’t come all that easily, to me. I find it pretty hard to relax, but occasionally manage it while reading a magazine or something. I probably feel happiest when I’m writing a script, and it’s working, and pouring out of me. When I’m listening to music, but hearing none of it. They say it’s quietest in the eye of a tornado, so maybe that’s where I’m most at peace.

Have you ever been in a life-threatening situation?

We’re probably in life-threatening situations most days, without realising it, even if it’s just for a couple of seconds! But I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve blatantly thought I was going to die. Maybe on the odd ‘plane journey with terrible turbulence, although I usually manage to block out scary thoughts while in the air. You kinda have to.

What are you best at cooking?

Possibly pesto pasta. Which doesn’t take a whole lot of skill, if we’re honest.

Hell on earth is:

Being locked in a coffin full of spiders, 666 feet under.

What makes you decide a story is worth telling?

You can’t stop thinking about it. As I said earlier, when your obsession with the story grows and it keeps expanding inside your head. That’s when you know it’s got legs. Especially if it’s about spiders. Or millipedes.

What fictional character would you take a 12-hour car ride with?

The Doctor, of course! And even in 12 hours, you wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of knowing anything about him.

One thing you know to be true:

You can’t win until you’re not afraid to lose. Corny, but true.

If you had to swim across a lake of any kind of beverage, what would it be?

I like Guinness, but that would be too thick to swim through. So I’d choose a fine Pinot Noir.

What are you proud of?

Right now, at this very moment, I’m incredibly proud of the new US Lionsgate trailer for our film Stormhouse, which will hit US DVD on February 7.

(Warning: very scary. Do not watch without clutching your teddy bear and covering your eyes.)

What do you regret?

Sometimes, just for a moment, I regret not getting into screenwriting earlier in my life. Then I forget all about that and get on with it.

Can you share about what you’re working on? What’s in your future?

At the moment, I’m writing a new commissioned feature film, which I can’t say anything about, apart from the fact that it’s a horror-thriller. I have a couple of ‘spec’ feature scripts, both horror, that I very much hope will be made. And I’m sure I’ll continue to write within the Doctor Who tie-in universe. Maybe one day, for Doctor Who itself, as my inexorable assault on television continues. We have to aim for goals and aim high.

Want to read more of Jason Arnopp’s charm and talent and misplaced ‘U’ s? Of course you do! You must go check out his website and his phenomenal blog. Just click on his left eyelid in the picture below and it will take you directly there:

And for Doctor’s sake please follow his engaging tweets.

Cya here on Friday for the continuation of the interview series. Next up: What I Want to Be When I Grow Up: Scientist.

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