This is the final part of an ongoing series about the making of The Pact - links to the previous parts are below.
A few years ago, not long after Boone Shepard was released, I decided to try and read the finished book in its bound final form. I didn’t get very far. I was still too close to all the work that had gone into it to see it as anything more than a chore. In the end it took me over a year after release before I could read Boone Shepard again and conclude that actually, I was proud of it.
As such, it wasn’t a surprise that my first marathon viewing of the whole of The Pact, edited, mixed, graded and finished, wasn’t a lot of fun. All the way through I fretted about the pace, the picture quality, aspects of the scripts and performances. But I had also only just come out of those long hours in the edit suite, watching every episode over and over to make sure it was as good as it possibly could be, that there was nothing left we wanted to change. After that, there was no way I could view it with anything like objectivity.
So we geared up for release. Pete, Rose and I all did interviews. Reviews began to come in, mostly positive. Farrago called it “confident and bold”. TheatrePeople described it as a “wonderful online twist of the usual neo-noir narrative format”. The Independent Arts Journal rightly raved about Rose’s work, but were critical of the structure of some of the early episodes, suggesting that the conflict was contrived to give each episode a narrative shape. ScreenHub, for their part, felt that we’d missed the mark. Some of the criticisms I found unfair or at least could explain the choices that led to them, but that’s the nature of the beast. You can’t walk an audience through all of your intentions so ultimately the work has to speak for itself, for better or worse.
If I’m honest, I probably expected a bigger response across the board. Maybe the choice to release the episodes daily instead of in one hit was a mistake, but we really did want the individual chapters to get their chance to shine. Still, from the start there just wasn’t all that much engagement. Across Instagram and YouTube the views were okay, but they peaked in episode one and never hit the same heights again. We did what we could to promote it, including regular Instagram Live events where various members of the team (writers, director, editor, producer) chatted to key cast members, and those got pretty decent viewer numbers, but overall the series didn’t blow up the way we ideally would have liked. Which isn’t to say that I was expecting a million views an episode or anything, but I guess one of the realities of putting so much time and work into a project is that you can begin to believe that the ways in which it has consumed your life will translate to it striking a chord with others. That rarely happens, especially when your sole means of promotion is your team posting about it on Facebook.
Of course, there’s an elephant in the figurative room of this blog, one that you likely became aware of around the time I mentioned the first episode getting better numbers than the rest. Some people I’ve spoken to say that the first episode wasn’t strong or involving enough to keep them watching, and that’s probably fair. It was a tough nut to crack, and we had to try and crack it without fully knowing how to tell a story in this way, something we could only learn by doing. Without the budget or time to revisit things again and again, in the end we could only do what we could do. And while that’s not a blanket excuse for any of what might not work in The Pact, it’s the reality. We made this in weird circumstances without any money because we wanted to. Every single person involved went above and beyond what I could have asked of them to bring the show together. And if that wasn’t enough, well, I can’t say what would have been.
I do think, for whatever it’s worth, that the show finds its feet as it goes on. There was unquestionably an element of trial and error in the early stages, as we got a feel for the medium and the story, but once we found that balance the show, for me, hits a stride that I believe really works. If people found the first episode a struggle then I wish I could push them to watch at least a few more, because a lot of the feedback we've had from people who finished the series indicates that as it finds its momentum and voice it becomes a pretty compelling binge.
None of that is to say that an audience should feel obligated to persevere if they simply don't find it engaging, but knowing as I do how great some of the performances and scripts are in the back half of the series, I do hope that more people give it a shot in the weeks and months to come.
There’s so much about the series that I’m proud of without qualification. On a personal level, I think my script for episode seven rocks. I think the performances, especially from our four most important players (Rose, Jimi, Greg and Tatiana), are stunning. Episode twelve is brilliant, and as the climax of the series I couldn’t have expected better work from the team.
I’m also proud that during this weird and, yes, unprecedented time we made something, something ambitious and complicated with a lot of moving parts that everyone committed to a hundred percent. I will always love collaboration and The Pact was a great one. How can I not be grateful for the fact that I got to spend a big chunk of lockdown telling a story with my friends?
It was challenging and it wasn’t perfect, but to briefly borrow the premise of my other lockdown project (which, incidentally, featured a lengthy post-mortem of The Pact), it was entirely worth it.
Writing words about writing words.