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Interviews > Helen MacWhirter

Having already scripted Julie's Murder Mystery fall, Cody's shooting and Oscar's birth, scriptwriter Helen MacWhirter recently scored a Neighbours hat-trick when she wrote the wedding of Stephanie Scully and Max Hoyland. Here, she shares her thoughts on writing the episode, and how the final product turned out...

After being selected to script the birth of Oscar Scully last year, how did it feel to be asked to pen the latest Scully family event?
It was an enormous honour. There's always a certain amount of prestige attached to writing wedding episodes because of the attention they attract, and after thirteen-odd years writing for the show, this was my first wedding ever. Not that I ever complained about it, but did I mention - thirteen years! It was also something of a surprise, because I didn't know I was writing the ep until I actually got the scene breakdowns. It wasn't like I got a phone call from Neighbours HQ before-hand saying, "Hey, guess what...!". I think I remember the day I got the scene breakdowns more vividly than the day the episode aired because I'd just been evicted from the local school grounds after dropping my youngest son off for his first day at school. It had been a very emotional morning, lots of tears (all mine), lots of kisses (okay, one, and I had to practically beg for that - children can be so cruel sometimes.) Fifteen minutes after the class had started I was still blubbering and peering anxiously through the classroom window, when the headmaster came up and told me to clear off. Well actually he came up and very gently prised my fingers from the window ledge and in a very comforting voice normally rerserved for the recently bereaved, or the mentally unaligned, said, "Now, Mrs MacWhirter you must realise that there comes a certain time in every mother's life when she just has to learn to let go - now clear off!" So, I came home, logged on and found I'd been allocated Steph and Max's wedding. I was totally rapt and cheered up immediately.. My huband rang a short time later and said "How did Campbell go this morning?" I said "Campbell who? I got a wedding!!!".

There seems to be a resounding feeling amongst Neighbours fans that this was one of the most emotional and perfect wedding episodes in Neighbours history. How would you compare it to previous Neighbours weddings?
It's okay, Mark I already said I'd do the interview. Although it's very flattering to hear you say that, full credit goes to the Story Department. So, how did it compare? Well, firstly no-one died and by the end of the episode we'd actually celebrated two weddings. I don't think Neighours has featured a double wedding before - although I could be wrong. I loved the informality of Steph's wedding. The way it was all thrown together at the last minute - Summer determined to wear her bridesmaids dress, Steph in jeans and a T. The butcher and the baker hastily organised at witnesses and the JP dragged out of his bed at the crack of dawn. If she'd have gone the traditional route as Lyn and Valda had planned with the dress, the church, the shoir, the whole shebang, it wouldn't have felt right. It's not Steph. So, I'm glad they stayed true to her character and allowed Steph to do it her way. Also the last few Neighbours weddings (Toadie & Dee, Libby and Drew, Susan and Karl) have been about bringing two individuals together, whereas this particlar episode brought two families together, the Hoyland's and the Scully's. It's nice to have 'in-laws' back on the Street. It provides for good drama and takes us back to the Scott and Charlene days.

How long did you spend getting the script just right?
About a week, which is normal for me. I think the only thing I found a bit daunting was there were a number of really long scenes (which, 'on-screen' probably didn't appear that way because of the excellent editing). Long scenes, with lots of people are always a bit of a challenge. There's the dialogue, the choroeagraphy, and the feeling that you're obliged to give everyone a line. But on the whole, I found it really easy to write because the story brought it's own natural energy thanks to the way it had been plotted.

Did you have any favourite moments in the episode?
I liked the speeches at the end when Boyd welcomed Steph to the family, and the moment when Lyn spoke about how she felt about seeing her mother and father finally re-united. They both rated a couple of tissues. There were probably a few other moments too, but they were edited out for time. I think I overwrote the script by about five minutes. I was just enjoying myself far too much - or I was just making the most of the fact that I FINALLY GOT A WEDDING!

Did you bring any of your own wedding day experiences to the episode?
Mmmm. No. I had the dress, the church the choir (okay, it was three singing nuns.). If I had even thought about eloping, I wouldn't be sitting here today doing this interview. Anyway, I'm such a lazy cow I was more than happy to sit back and let my mother and her friends and countless aunties organize the big day. It left me free to organize my 500 hens nights - you can never have too much of a good thing. I suppose if I wanted to bring any of my own wedding day experiences to the episode I could have had Jack video the entire proceedings on BETA - then we could have Steph spending the rest of her married life whinging about how much she's love to watch her wedding video but the Museum of Obselete and Ancient Technology won't lend her a player. (Sorry Grandy, I know you meant well).

What did you think of the finished product when you saw it on screen?
I have to admit it was a little bit different to the Ep that I'd already filmed in my head as I was writing it. For a start there was the aforementioned five minutes of script that didn't make it to the final draft - a good thing because it just tightened the whole story up and gave it more pace thanks to the fabulous editing skills of Megan Herbert. I really love watching Steph on screen - her character and acting style is so earthy and natural and she and Max play off each other beautifully. Of course Valda is a joy to watch and write for in any situation, her performance as always was outstanding.

Did you find it difficult to cover the absences of Joe, Flick and Michelle from the big day?
Hmmm. Yeah, it was one of those situations where you had to address the issue without making it an issue in a way that it would detract from the main story or the happiness of the occassion, particularly in Joe's case. It was a lot easier to cover Michelle and Flick's absence because no-one was expecting them to return from New York for it anyway (although they did send a telegram).

What do you think of Max and Steph as a couple?
When they first got together, it was a bit like Toadie and Dee, I wasn't buying it. Steph was a young, vibrant, fun loving bikie chick and Max was an old grump. But as their relationship developed so did their on-screen chemistry. As characters and as a couple they've both really blossomed. From a writer's point of view they're like the new Susan and Karl. Playful, passionate and totally believable together. I love it when they fight and I love it when they make up. What makes it more interesting is that Max and Steph are more than a couple, throw in Summer and Boyd and they're a family which adds another dynamic to the relationship. Although I have to say Steph's really let me down in the whole home decorating department. I was hoping the first thing she'd do when she moved into the Hoyland household would be get rid of that stupid Dinosaur skeleton thing in the living room.

And Valda and Charlie?
While I really liked the way their story came the full circle and Lyn was finally able to see her real mother and father re-united I have to say in my heart of hearts I'd always hoped Valda would end up with Lou.

Which Ramsay Street couple do you think will be next up the ailse? (or is there a particular couple you'd personally like to see get hitched?)
Next up the ailse? I have no idea. Who would I like to see get hitched? Easy. With Valda no longer in the picture it'd have to be Lou and Harold. They already carry on like an old married couple, so why not make it official.

Interview by Moe. Added on 6th November 2004