Interview with Shawn Simmons, creator of YouTube original Wayne


It’s been one month since Wayne debuted on YouTube Premium and the series has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews from fans and critics alike. It’s with good reason. Wayne is one of the freshest feeling series to debut in the past year (I rank it second only to AMC’s The Terror). From the moment its first trailer dropped, the series promised style, substance, all heart and it would be no holds barred entertainment. It has delivered on that promise in wonderful fashion, providing an instantly real setting that ferments a cast of characters both twisted and inspiring. You find yourself connecting with series leads Wayne (Mark McKenna) and Del (Ciara Bravo), a phenomenon mirrored in the show as various side characters are ensnared by their gravitational heft. This, perhaps despite your better instincts, as these are flawed, multidimensional, imperfect characters … but they’re just so entertaining to be around.

I chatted with series creator and show-runner Shawn Simmons to discuss Wayne, how it came into existence, the inspiration behind the unique characters and where the series may go from here. Minor spoiler warning for Wayne’s first season.

What was the inspiration for the series? Where did ‘Wayne’ come from?

Well I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts, the town where the show kicks off. While I have an incredible amount of affection for that town, obviously—I wrote a whole show about the people, the kind of people I grew up with there—you know, it’s a tougher town. I think there are a lot of towns like that in this country, more than the other side of the tracks. And so, there was a lot of fighting on the weekends. It was very common if you weren’t fighting, you knew someone who was fighting that weekend. We’d all meet up in the Burger King parking lot, or the Rock, this place called the Rock, which was just a giant rock in the middle of the woods. 

There’s a scene that kicks off the pilot with Wayne throwing the ice through the glass. I was about nine years old, and I saw this kid getting beat up by five or six kids. And I was too young to do anything about it, they were older than me. They preceded to wallop him pretty good before finally becoming too tired—like you eventually know that you’ve gotten the better of your prey— they started to walk away, laughing, breathing heavy, kind of tired from beating him up. And then the kid who got beat up, stood up, grabbed a rock and threw it at them, the group of kids. So, the other kids just turned around and beat him up again.

That never left me. Because it’s the story of a lot of kids from those towns. I don’t have much to lose. I may not have a mom or dad or both, you’re certainly not taking my pride. It came from there, it started from there. I just drove into work one day and I wrote that scene that you saw in the pilot. And then kind of really was marinating from there on what the show was about. My father, in the early eighties, mid-eighties, you know probably shouldn’t have been showing me these things, but he raised me on things like Death Wish, the original Death WishFirst BloodDirty Harry stuff. And now we’re seeing a lot of that stuff. We’re seeing a lot of John Wick and Taken and all these morally just gunslinger movies, they’re basically modern-day gunslinger movies. 

I started thinking about those, which I’ve always loved. What if this kid, who got beat up and then threw that rock through that glass, was a 16-year-old Dirty Harry, or a 16-year-old Charles Bronson from Death Wish, or John Wick, or whatever Ryan Gosling’s name was in Drive. What if they were a kid from Brockton, Massachusetts with hard luck, in a hard town, who didn’t have much to lose. It kind of made me giggle, and from there Wayne was born.

You said Wayne was marinating for quite a while—when did you first have the idea?

It must be 3 or 4 years now. I came up h the idea and then said because of the state of TV, I said, ‘I can’t write this now. No one’s going to buy this. It’s incredibly dark. It’s also very sad. It’s also very violent.’ Then, I don’t know, TV just kind of came to a place. I started seeing things like Search Party, and I started seeing things like Atlanta. The platforms changing to streaming services. And I kind of went ‘Oh!’ This must have been a year later, 2015 or something, and I said, ‘Oh, I can write Wayne now.’ In the meantime I had walked into Greg Coolidge and Kirk Ward’s office [Executive Producers, Wayne], who I’d known from working with them 8 years earlier, and they asked me ‘What are you working on,’ and I said ‘I’ve got this thing I’m working on, with this kid,’ and suddenly I was doing karate kicks in this office, and jumping up and down, and obviously that’s a good sign when you’re that excited about something. And they kind of looked at me and said, ‘When you write that, will you bring that back to us?’

And lo and behold, a year later, after I said, ‘I can finally write this,’ I wrote it. I had been thinking about it for so long and living with the characters for so long, that I plopped the script right down on their desk. Next thing you know, Kirk, one of the producers had been in the Zombieland pilot, the Amazon version—he played the Woody Harrelson character. He also played Calvin, Reggie’s father, one of the evil guys who has the car in Wayne. But next thing you know, [Greg and Kirk] are friends with the Deadpool guys [writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick] through that Zombieland pilot and they gave it to them. And I found myself sitting across from the Deadpool guys thinking I was pitching to them and they were pitching to me. Which was incredible.

You’re only officially listed as having writing credits for three of the episodes, who else is involved in the writing part of bringing Wayne to life?

I wrote the pilot and then the first episode back before a room even started, so two episodes are already in the can. Then we hire a writers’ room which was made up of seven very talented people, I was very happy with, who had been in half-hour for a very long time. As much as I had the whole season kind of worked out in my head, like I’ve said three times already, I’d arced out the journey, but we still had to flesh out the smaller stories inside the scope of the adventure of the whole season long arc. Rhett and Paul were great. They were so busy at the time, but they came in and did the writers’ room with us. They wrote an episode which I couldn’t believe they agreed to do. A lot of the times these guys just come on and say ‘Yeah we’ll produce it, our name’s on it, you’re welcome. You know, these guys came into the room for a bunch of time and wrote a great episode [episode 3]. So, we had about three months of room time before I headed off to shoot the show.

Where do you see Wayne going? Is this something you can see going for a while, with the show, with the characters, or is this more of a limited run? I’m asking because another recent release, The End of the Fucking World, shares some basic similarities with Wayne, but it’s not clear it can go very far based on the corner its first season was written into.

When I pitched the show, I pitched YouTube the basic premise for three seasons. Now I haven’t seen End of the World, but once I heard there’s a certain element, and people keep telling me the only element that’s the same is two kids on the road. From the little elements that I’ve heard about that show, it’s a very different. I don’t think there’s any John Wick meets John Hughes violence in that way, and fighting and all that stuff.

Once I heard there could be similarities, I refused to watch it because I don’t want it to flavor what I’m writing going forward. Because that could really, you know, it ends up making you go, ‘Oh if I do that, then it will be too close to this,’ instead of just writing from a pure place. I don’t want it to clog up my pipes in a way that will end up making my show feel manufactured in one way or another.

But I do have arcs for each season. The only thing that I can tell you is since we jumped off, and you’ve seen it, there’s so much emotional depth in the show, there’s so much more than the ass-whipping that’s in the show, the bigger than life characters—there’s so much heart, there’s so much romance, there’s so much sadness, there’s so much grit. But where it started was, since it started with Charles Bronson—the first season I call the Death Wish season. The second season is sort of the John Wick season, based, thematically, on Wayne trying to go straight and live a right life, but you know that’s not going to last long. And then the third season kind of has a funny Jack Reacher, conspiracy theory tilt to it, where we’ll finally, hopefully, end us up in a place where these people have come to some resolution about who they are and what family is and who their family is and what connects them to the earth, because the whole show is about two kids looking for a place to belong. [Ed. note: Shawn was quick to point out that as of the time of our interview, only a first season had been greenlit.]

The Sergeant Geller character really kind of stands out as someone who’s unique and a little bit out of place—he’s definitely not your typical cop. How’d you create him?

I was sitting down to write episode 2, and as much as I wanted to play with the tropes, everything was about taking those movies from the seventies and eighties. How do we shrink this concept down to a 16-year-old version? When I wrote Wayne, there was a bunch of stuff in the pilot, like the scene with him talking to the principal in the principal’s office. Going at him, giving him a big speech about who he is … it really lays the groundwork for who Wayne is. That all started with me going, you know that scene in every movie where the Sergeant yells at the rogue cop, let’s do the 16-year-old school version of that. Everything is really starting from that place.

From there, as far as Geller’s concerned, I was sitting down, looking at all these characters. We have Daddy, and one of the things that I’m really proud of is that we took a very flat villain and made him what I think is a really neat thing that you don’t expect. When you sit down and look at all the characters, from the brothers, the Champagne twins, whose real name is Champagne by the way, which is so beautiful, and Daddy, and Wayne, there are all these very masculine characters. And when I sat down I thought ‘Not all the cops I knew growing up were that way.’ And I’d worked with Steven before. He’s just kind of a different dude. What if you plop a guy like that down in this world, because I describe him in the script as a cop with the heart of a poet. We had enough masculine characters. I really wanted to take the seventies version and flip it on his head. Let’s have a cop who isn’t a tough guy slamming his fist on the desk. Let’s have kind of a unique weirdo, a weird bird, if you will, being a cop. 

His journey gets really interesting.

The show takes an unexpected turn when Del suddenly gets her own episode when it goes into her backstory a bit. Can we expect more of that moving forward—seeing different character studies?

No. What I wanted to do is, in the end, Wayne and Del are really tied together. The romance, the arc of their romance is really as important as anything. These two kids finding their place. I kind of wanted to give her a pilot. I kind of wanted to go, ‘What’s Del’s pilot?’ If this were her own show, let’s make her a pilot right in the center? I think with all the things that we piece together in the episodes preceding it and the stuff after, I think it really works in a neat way to build her character. Hopefully, that episode is also a pilot to Daddy, it builds up his character in a way, the brothers. It’s kind of a way to build up all of those guys so they have their own story told going forward to affect the way you see them.

Has Wayne led to any other opportunities for you?

Teaser-wise, trailer-wise, I had a Lyft driver ask me what I do, and he pulled over and turned around and said, ‘That’s yours?’ So, it seems the work’s getting out there. I actually bought the Trans Am from the show. It’s sitting in my driveway right now. The tow truck driver who brought it over here actually knew the trailer. So, the trailer’s done wondrous things.

I’m writing other things, but they’re not far enough along, they’re just conceptual, but right now the goal is just to make three seasons of this, and who knows. Nothing else to announce yet.

Anything else that you want to add?

This is a rare occasion where we made exactly the show that we wanted to make. This is in part to casting, which we got really lucky. I found those Champagne twins in Canada, and who would have thought I’d really find real twins, kids who are that funny and good. I mean that Reggie guy who you’ll get to see more of towards the end of the season who’s just a larger than life weirdo, it’s such a great work by Francesco [Antonio]. Marc and Ciara are just phenomenal, phenomenal. YouTube allowed us and helped us to make a show that I don’t think other networks would have allowed us to make. We would have got so over-noted and people try to change what the show is. We were really lucky through all the elements, all the tangents, everything just seemed to work out.

You can see the full first season of Wayne on YouTube Premium.