‘You’ co-creator Sera Gamble on what makes a successful adaptation and producing through COVID-19

Sera Gamble.

One of the keynote speakers at this year’s Screen Forever, writer, executive producer and showrunner Sera Gamble shares with IF her insights from working on shows such as You, Supernatural, and The Magicians.

You only have to type the first word of this sentence into Google to be exposed to the work of Sera Gamble.

Such is the popularity of the Netflix series she co-created with Greg Berlanti that it is the second of more than 275 billion results from the search engine

Based on Caroline Kepnes’s acclaimed novel of the same name, You was seen by an estimated 40 million viewers upon its release on Netflix in 2018, with season two released in December 2019.

Gamble will share her experiences as a writer, executive producer, and showrunner at the 2021 Screen Forever conference in February.

Her previous credits include writer and executive producer of The Magicians (Syfy), a series she co-created with John McNamara, based on Lev Grossman’s bestselling novels.

She also served as writer and executive producer of the NBC series Aquarius, starring David Duchovny, as well as a writer and producer for the cult CW series Supernatural for its first seven seasons, also running the show in seasons six and seven.

Gamble’s focus for the moment, however, is the third season of You, which is scheduled to screen this year.

She tells IF that shooting a series during COVID “increases the variables” that make up the producer role.

“If you look at producing as going to the gym, then the past year would be the equivalent of training for the Olympics,” she says.

“We are finding that location work is much more challenging and that we are having to drastically reduce the number of people on set and minimise our characters getting close to one another.

“For each of those examples, there is a room or Zoom with the director, producer and crew all brainstorming other ways to tell the essence of the story.

“No TV show is a match for a global pandemic; you just have to try and be safe.”

At Screen Forever, Gamble will discuss her journey from the writers’ room to running the show on the set of cult CW series Supernatural, and what it takes to progress established IP like You and The Magicians from script to screen.

Her time with each series has shown her that each adaptation comes with its “own little treasure box of challenges”.

“Novels can be so internal and any filmed story, by its nature, is much more action driven,” she says.

“The conflict really has to be expressed between people.

“There is a tonne of writers’ rooms puzzling out how to make a story feel how we felt when we read the books, but in a way that adjusts plots so we can shoot something that looks exciting.”

She adds existing IP has the advantage of having already been road tested with an audience.

“For as long as I’ve been in the business, making IP content or something within an existing world gives you a tiny bit of an edge, because some of the risk is removed from the process of making a show,” she says.

“When you look at the shows that were popular this year, they weren’t made with the view of people watching them while staying at home during a pandemic, which made such a difference.

“There is a lot you can’t predict.”

Variables for producers include the way an audience responds to characters within a show.

You centres on a bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), who displays manipulative and homicidal tendencies in his pursuit of a love interest.

While the show does not invite sympathy for Joe, a number of viewers expressed a romantic desire for the protagonist following the first series, prompting Badgley to respond directly.

Gamble is “relieved and gratified” audience members have since begun to see  the show in the tone it was intended.

“[Audience interpretations] never surprise me because the audience is made up of millions of individuals, so you are going to have every possible point of view across the spectrum,” she says.

“When You premiered, we were hoping that everyone would kind of be in on the joke with us and understand what we were trying to say about Joe Goldberg.

“We’re being extremely cheeky with the audience and putting all the trappings of a hero on someone who is not a hero, which we have tried to make very clear.”

You initially premiered on the Lifetime network before moving to Netflix where it has since established a loyal fan base.

Gamble has seen first-hand the impact of streaming services on the way television is made, having begun her career more than 15 years ago.

She identifies increased opportunity for “all different kinds of voices” as one of the key byproducts of the modern era.

“There’s a lot more television being made for a lot more outlets than there was 15 or 16 years ago when I started,” she says.

“When I first started in a writers’ room, the idea of having a pilot actually get picked up to series was so rare.

“It’s still difficult to sell a show and get that show made but there are dozens of places to take things.

“You can have ideas that are a lot more niche and specific that don’t have to appeal to quite as many people.”

While COVID-19 has led to uncertainty for many producers, Gamble feels there has always been uncertainty in the industry.

“There is more shift and change than usual,” she says.

“Right now is a difficult time because most industries are hemorrhaging money.

“But there is also an understanding that there is a huge desire for this content, and that if we can safely make it and make it good, then it will be welcomed with open arms on the other end.

“So much depends on when a vaccine is widely available and whether all of these markets will emerge intact from this time.”

Sera Gamble will appear in conversation tomorrow at Screen Forever at 9.30am. More info here.