Exactly 11 years ago, I went on a ridiculous adventure with my best friend Andy. I was a year and a bit out of film school, he’d just graduated that summer and we were going to become hugely successful comedy TV writers. We’d had meetings and were buoyant with misplaced confident in our talents – the kind of confidence which gets you places but doesn’t do you many favours once you’re there.
Just before Christmas 2000, the wonderful Allison Outhit had contacted us from Canada where she worked as show runner on a TV show called Lexx which I had never heard of. Andy’s parents had satellite TV, so he’d seen a few episodes and said it was pretty good. Allison wanted to know if we wanted to try out as writers on their new (and final) series. I ran out and bought a couple of videos from the first series and couldn’t see how we’d fit into the show but after 6 months working in web design, I was willing to give anything a go. Even if it meant flying all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia in the dead of winter to do so. It was dark and colder than anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else but it never once felt depressing as the Lexx family was a warm, intelligent and funny bunch. Allison was busy a lot and the show’s creator/producer Paul Donovan was an odd but welcoming chap. The cast were also welcoming but odd and busy. Andy and I instantly fell in with the show’s head writers – Jeff Hirschfield and Lex Gigeroff. For the time we were there and that time in our careers, they felt a bit like big brothers. They’d bust your balls and make fun of you but they were never less than supportive or encouraging.
The first time I met Lex, before even being introduced, he strode up to me, just in from walking through a blizzard and crunched my beard, which had frozen solid “Good beard, it’s got a good crunch to it!” were the words he introduced himself to me with.
This was our first professional job ever and we were thrown in the deep end. From day one, we were taken seriously and treated as professional TV writers despite only ever having written short films and spec scripts. The first meeting we had was a roundtable with the writers, creator and producers. This was to work out the story arcs for the first series and make sure we’d all be working from the same page. It was fun but terrifying. Not only were we not seasoned writers but we knew so little about this series specifically. We were in over our heads and I think we stayed a little quiet. Lex saw this in us and once the meeting was over invited us out for coffee the next morning.
When it was just the three of us, it was great. He was a sincere, sarcastic, encouraging bear of a man. He explained how the show worked, was patient with us and helped us get our episode pitches in order so that we could realistically get to write episodes which we were suited to. Throughout our time writing on that show, he stayed in contact and gave us insightful help and positive encouragement. He didn’t need to do that, it was a sink or swim environment but he gave us his time and experience and enthusiasm. I’d like to think that if I reflect the same virtues through my screenwriting teaching, that they were instilled in me by him.
He really didn’t need to be so nice to us. In a sense, we were taking food from his table. The previous three seasons had been written entirely by Jeff, Lex and Paul. The only reason they had brought us aboard was that to qualify for British funding and tax breaks, they had to have a certain percentage of the writing team as British. The fans were livid about outside talent being brought in (especially when I mentioned online that we knew nothing about the show) Lex could have justifiably been openly resentful and hostile but was the very opposite of that.
I can’t pretend to have known Lex well or to have kept up better than the occasional exchanged ‘what are you up to these days?’ Facebook messages but sometimes brief interactions with special people resonate through the rest of your life. His untimely passing this Christmas Day has really saddened me. The world has lost a good man. He was just 49.
I’ll always be grateful to Lex for the things he taught me and the encouragement and support he gave to a couple of newbies on their first pro job.
Bless you, mate and I hope that whatever’s out there is far less dark and twisted than you imagined it might be.