Like many great ideas, director Jonathan Entwistle stumbled upon the one that led to his big break by accident.
Entwistle is the creator of Channel 4 and Netflix series The End of the F***ing World, which is inspired by a comic book that he found in a shop in London. The show follows two teenage misfits, James and Alyssa, who form a relationship and run away from home together. They meet because James thinks he is a psychopath and decides to kill Alyssa.
The End of the F***ing World has been met with critical acclaim and is nominated for best Drama Series at the Bafta TV Awards on Sunday (13 May). But Entwistle, who also directs commercials through Stink, says he didn’t expect the show to achieve mainstream success. He is testament to the fact that even the most unusual ideas can find a home in this time of greater opportunity for creators.
Entwistle is from the north of England, which has inspired many of his previous films. But with The End of the F***ing World, he wanted to "make a very different type of British TV show," he says.
"I didn’t want it to be grey or to see council estates. I wanted the show to deal with things in a different way and be full of action," he says. "The comic book is set in America, so we turned all the American tropes such as the diner into a humorous reason why that would exist in the UK."
While shooting the show in England, Entwistle was influenced by David Lynch’s surreal TV drama Twin Peaks and the 1996 film Fargo. He is also a huge fan of American teen series Dawson’s Creek – another one of his inspirations.
"The End of the F***ing World is like a fucked up version of Dawson’s Creek," he says. "It’s a modern version of what teenagers might be, if one of them was a murderer maybe."
A psychopathic love story, teen murder, dark British humour crossed with American tropes: Entwistle acknowledges this wasn’t an easy idea to sell.
"I was terrified that the show would be seen as pretentious," he says. "But the best way to earn the sadness and the sweetness is through humour, which is like real life."
Now that Entwistle is predominantly based in Los Angeles, he says he wants to hold on to the uniquely British sense of humour that made the show a success. He may not fit in easily in Hollywood, but he believes there has "never been so much work as there is right now, because there’s never been so many places to make work."
Netflix, which co-produced the show, epitomises this. Entwistle says the company "lets creatives run with the ball."
"They’ve created a platform where there are way more people out there willing to watch stuff, and more opportunities to make interesting stuff," he says.
This might be music to the ears of creatives, but this shift also means more competition, he adds.
"There’s a changing of the guard in many ways. You’re not just walking into the same network office with the same people," Entwistle says. "But you have to be thinking in an interesting way and providing new platforms with amazing ideas that have a real angle."
Beyond TV, Entwistle has also worked with clients such as Paypal, Nike and Geox, and he says his experience directing ads has informed the rest of his career.
"Commercials taught me how to collaborate," he says. "They taught me that even as a director, you’re not the boss. TV is one huge collaboration."
Creatives should not be too precious about their ideas, he advises: "You have to be able to compromise 100%. If you never compromise, you never make a mistake, and if you never make a mistake, you never learn. You will never grow as a filmmaker if you’re not learning."
While making The End of the F***ing World Entwistle closely consulted the comic book’s author, Charles Forsman. Now they’re in the early stages of developing another Netflix series together. "We’re very much collaborators," Entwistle says.
Like their characters James and Alyssa, their unexpected partnership is proof that there is always another misfit out there, waiting for your story to be told.