Writer’s Blog: What’s The Story? An Intro to ‘Orphan Black’

“Wouldn’t it be cool if …”

Most conversations with John Fawcett begin this way. At some point in 2003, this one took place: “Wouldn’t it be cool if … you got off a train, and standing on the platform, you looked across the tracks and saw yourself. Then, in that moment, yourself committed suicide.”

Yes, that would be cool. But what’s the story? We didn’t know, but that opening was so pregnant with possibility we couldn’t put it down. Who was that other suicidal self? The question led us to our main character Sarah, and then to her clones, rather than the concept of clones leading us to a premise. But clones were rich, made for complex storytelling, covering all the bases for a genre loving writer/director team. Clones offer great visuals, tricky switcheroos, and technical production challenges. Psychologically, clones are a thematic gold mine, where identity crises are exponential and the nature versus nurture debate is writ large. Who am I? Where did I come from? Who is the original? A character facing these kinds of existential dilemmas works great in a paranoid thriller mystery. I think the genre basically demands it.

For a couple years we tried to make “Orphan Black” work as a feature, but I don’t think we ever got through a draft. We couldn’t contain Sarah’s story in two hours. It was network shows like “X-Files” and “Alias” that got us thinking about genre TV, then cable shows like “True Blood,” “Dexter,” and “Breaking Bad” convinced us where ‘Orphan Black” belonged in the TV landscape.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if … we actually got to make a crazy-ass clone show with a bunch of our sketchy friends and colleagues, starring super talented Tatiana Maslany?”

10 years later, the answer is: “Hells, ya!”

-Graeme Manson, Writer, Co-Creator