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Interview: Kudos' Jane Featherstone and Dan Isaacs

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05 June 2013

Kudos is riding high after the success of ITV’s Broadchurch and was just voted best indie in the Televisual Bulldog Awards. Jane Featherstone and Dan Isaacs talk drama with Jon Creamer

From the outside, there almost seems to be two eras to Kudos’ output. One as a major BBC1 supplier with ten series of Spooks and eight of Hustle alongside Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. More recently as a supplier across all the channels from BBC2’s The Hour to Channel 4’s Utopia, ITV’s Broadchurch and the upcoming Anglo/French Sky Atlantic co pro The Tunnel and fire brigade drama The Smoke for Sky One.

It seems like a well thought out move, avoiding over reliance on one channel and creating shows for many. “It always looks brilliantly strategic from the outside but the truth is it’s a bit of an accident,” says chief exec, Jane Featherstone. The company has always tried to get more shows away on the other broadcasters “but the opportunities come where they come,” adds chief operating officer, Dan Isaacs.

Much is down to circumstance. Broadchurch itself came about when an earlier Kudos project with ITV for a “big scale crime thriller with one murder” hit the skids, and ITV’s Laura Mackie sent Chris Chibnall and his spec script over to Kudos for further development (Chibnall has now signed a first look deal with Kudos).

But it’s also down to sheer hard work. A Kudos speciality has been keeping long running dramas fresh, while forging ahead with the next crop. “Maintaining quality over ten years of Spooks and eight years of Hustle was not an accident,” says Featherstone. “There was a lot of time, effort and energy invested. And it is difficult to simultaneously spend similar time and energy on new things.”

It was partly the experience of Spooks, with its constantly changing cast, that helped drive Kudos’ constant creative renewal. “The reason Spooks worked for ten years was because we kept killing off the main characters,” says Featherstone. That was partly down to big names being unwilling to sign long contracts which “brought about the necessity to keep reinventing and that was what kept the show fresh.” And similarly, the killing off of those long running shows themselves brings new impetus. “Your creative energies are renewed,” says Featherstone.

And new hits breed more hits. A show like Broadchurch “helps with relationships with other writers and talent because fundamentally that’s all we are,” says Featherstone. “Utopia has the same effect. It’s loved by the creative community. That’s opened doors to writers and talent I’ve always wanted to work with.”

But when it comes to finding and developing new ideas, the pair insist that cold calculation is removed from the mix. “I’m not that strategic about what we develop apart from believing in the projects,” says Featherstone. “I tend to go for things that feel authentic and true and ahead of their time.” Isaacs concurs: “We’ve always been very pure. We don’t develop for a particular brief. If there’s a passion within our team of executives and they really want to do it, even if it’s going to be a difficult one to sell, we’ll do it.” And that even goes for singles and mini series. “They don’t really make sense financially,” says Isaacs. “But creatively they do. They attract talent, we build relationships off the back of them and they’re fun to do.” And they’re also “a good way of working with new talent,” says Featherstone. “High end shows need experience. On the lower budget things you can try people out.”

But it’s high-end series that Kudos gains most kudos for and now those high-end series have been given a boost from the new UK tax credit system. The company’s already accessing it on two or three shows. “It will allow us to push the editorial even further,” says Isaacs. “But it’s just another useful tool to have in your financing arsenal. People are still going to do co-productions for financial reasons. We’ll still be moaning we haven’t got enough money.” And in one sense it will just redress an imbalance in the system.  “A lot of our crews have not been paid reasonable rates,” he says. “The economy has been squeezed and now it will flex back up again. Hopefully that will bring a lot of people back into the industry in certain grades.” And it will hopefully allow the industry to get back to sensible hours, says Featherstone. “On long runs we need to do five day weeks or you don’t get the best out of people. The money helps with that.”

The danger of the tax breaks, they say, could come from a fast influx of US productions. “We’re all conscious that the system can only take so much production here,” says Isaacs. “Two or three Games of Thrones in London would hoover up a huge number of people.” Featherstone agrees that certain grades of crew are in short supply already. “I am a bit of a doom monger on this,” she admits. “But my life is talent. I spend every day at the sharp end looking at lists of writers, directors and actors and if they’re all working for other people it makes it really hard.”

CV
Jane Featherstone began her career at Hat Trick before producing the first two series of Paul Abbot’s ITV thriller Touching Evil, BBC2’s Sex ‘n’ Death and BBC1’s Glasgow Kiss for Wall to Wall. She joined Kudos in 2000. Dan Isaacs started out as a dentist, became an actor and then moved into the indie world becoming commercial director of Hewland International. He joined Kudos in 2003. Kudos hits include Spooks, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes and Hustle for BBC1, Lip Service for BBC3, Moving Wallpaper, Echo Beach and Occupation for ITV1, The Hour for BBC2 and, most recently, Broadchurch for ITV and Utopia for C4


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