Advanced Television

How UKTV’s We Are Not Alone went from series to movie

October 30, 2022

Nik Roseveare @ MCM Comic Con

Later this autumn, UKTV’s entertainment channel Dave will premiere We Are Not Alone. Set six weeks after aliens have invaded and completely conquered Earth, the movie explores the culture clash between humankind and its new alien masters, who are trying to make sense of a planet so confusing and idiotic that its inhabitants can’t even agree which side of the road to drive on.

At London’s MCM Comic Con, Advanced-Television spoke with We Are Not Alone co-writers Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond, as well as one of its stars, Declan Baxter.

An original movie is perhaps not what one would expect to see on the Dave channel, and so Willbond explained how the feature came to be.

“We initially pitched it as just a comedy [series] but, thankfully, UKTV saw the scope of what we were doing and supported that. It always felt like it was a story that has so much in it; there’s an awful lot of quite big themes. It talks about the various problems that humanity brings along with it, and the challenges you only really appreciate when you look at it from that perspective of someone arriving on Earth on day one. I think that’s why we felt that doing it as a feature was the way forward,” said Willbond. “We pitched it around to various places, it was around Covid time and it was getting knocked back [because] everything was very uncertain. But yeah, we pitched it as a series and we had a pilot episode that we were pitching and UKTV were like: ‘can you turn this into a feature, and can you turn it around really quickly?'”

“[The idea to do it as a movie] came from UKTV,” affirmed Rickard. “For them to essentially pitch back to us ‘we love this, don’t change a thing, but can we make something more from it?’, ya know, [as developers] you never get that! And we were, at that time, looking at various ideas to write a feature and so it ended up being the right time for us too'”

“Luckily, because they wanted it quickly, we had a lot of [stories and characters] already there, so to actually turn it round; it was hard work but it was satisfying,” continued Willbond.

“Yeah, so stuff that we had mapped out for a possible series became the feature. So actually the hard work was having to now think again about what we’ll do now if it goes to series!” said Rickard.

“Just being on set and hearing some of the ideas of potential future [story ideas] was just incredibly exciting,” added Baxter, who plays Stewart in the movie – a hapless human liaison who must help aliens deliver their message to the masses and win favour with humankind, while also aiding the human resistance.

“It turns out that humanity is desperately stupid, and there’s a huge, deep well of stupidity that can be mined,” quipped Willbond.

When quizzed on the inspiration for the series, Willbond explained: “I had been on The Thick Of It and I’ve worked with Armando [Iannucci], and I’ve worked with Chris [Addison], and I’ve worked with all these brilliant people and I’ve seen how they built their world, and it was so sort of organic and fun to sort of strip that back and go ‘this is how poitics work, this is satire done really, really well’ – and I thought ‘oh, it’s a shame isn’t it because you can’t really do that anymore’ and everyone would agree, as the whole thing now just satirises itself. But for me I think the journey was that now, the only way to look at humanity is from an extra-terrestrial point of view because they would look at it and go ‘guys, what ARE you doing? What are you doing?? Stop! Stop!’ and that’s how politics began to feel for me in about 2016 […] things just sort of tearing out of control, and you think well the only way this could right itself is if aliens came.”

Commending the script that was born from this idea, Baxter said: “As an actor, the most surprising thing to me, when I first got the script, was just how incredibly easy it was to read, and [time] just really flew by. And I hadn’t really cackled at my kitchen table as much as I had.”

Turning to the writing duo, Baxter joked: “Guys, it’s actually quite funny!”

We Are Not Alone airs on Dave and UKTVPlay this November. The cast and creators of the film attended MCM London Comic Con in October

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