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Behind the scenes: ITV's Jekyll & Hyde

Expectations for Jekyll & Hyde are running high. ITV director of TV Peter Fincham helped fan the flames for the network’s adaptation of the classic Victorian novella at the Edinburgh TV Festival, picking it out as a highlight of the broadcaster’s autumn drama slate.

Written by Charlie Higson, the ten-part series is aimed squarely at a family audience and liberally reworks Robert Louis Stevenson’s original tale of a man battling two personalities.

With a budget of around £1.5m an episode, the ITV Studios produced series is funded by ITV and its distribution arm, ITV Studios Global Entertainment. A significant proportion of the budget has also come from the tax break available for high end TV dramas.

It’s a generous budget for a UK drama, but still short of the millions spent on many US-backed shows that series like Jekyll & Hyde are now routinely compared against.

So the production team have worked hard to make the budget go as far as possible. Shot on location in Sri Lanka and at Chatham Dockyard, it has also filmed on sets at 3 Mills Studios in East London. Special effects are being produced at vfx house Double Negative’s TV division.

Televisual paid a visit to the sets at 3 Mills in the summer, and the ambition of the drama is quickly evident. Production designed by Catrin Meredydd, the sets are hugely impressive. A perfectly constructed music hall bar rises out of the middle of one studio to conjure up the spirit of 1930s London, replete with art deco touches. Dr Jekyll’s laboratory is also there, a fantasical circular room fit for a mad Victorian professor. Meanwhile, co-star Richard E Grant stood quietly preparing for his next scene amidst the activity of the crew in a dark, underground set designed to be the nerve centre of the organisation, MIO, that hunts the source of Hyde’s secret powers.

The genesis of the project goes back two years, and forms part of a strategy by ITV’s network, studios and distribution arms to create ambitious, big budget dramas that can work for the UK channel and appeal to the international market as well.

ITV Studios drama executive producer Francis Hopkinson then began a search for eight drama treatments from different writers that Network Centre and ITV GE could look at. Actor, scriptwriter and author of the Young Bond series Charlie Higson was one of the writers he approached. Higson put forward the idea of a new adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde, and by January 2014 it was one of three treatments picked up by ITV. Higson has written six of the ten episodes, with four other writers contributing scripts too.

Hopkinson says Higson’s scripts have sought to build on the ‘established mythology’ of the Jekyll & Hyde story, while setting it in the glamorous, art-deco infused 1930s and against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in Europe. From the outset it was designed to play as a fantasy adventure series in a pre-watershed slot, and uses films like the Indiana Jones series as a benchmark. “We are aiming at two things,” says Hopkinson. “It has got to have the sophistication to entertain the adults, and a sense of adventure and pace that will keep people under 20 watching.”

Still, this kind of fantasy adventure drama is pretty unfamiliar territory for ITV, which last aired Demons and Primeval back in 2009.

So it has drafted in a senior team with plenty of experience in the genre to steer the project, led by producer Foz Allan (Wolfblood, Robin Hood) and lead director Colin Teague (Being Human, Doctor Who). “There’s a good team working on this, with a very clear creative vision,” says Hopkinson.

One of the key early decisions for the team was who should play the lead. It’s a pivotal, but difficult role to cast as it requires an actor who can play both a mild mannered doctor as well as a larger than life character with superhero qualities. Kate Rhodes James was the casting director, and 50-60 actors were auditioned. Many were brought back three or four times.

Tom Bateman, who starred in Da Vinci’s Demons, The Tunnel and had the lead role in the West End revival of Shakespeare in Love, was one of the first to be seen. “When he came in, Charlie (Higson) said, ‘I think he is our man’ but we still had to see lots more people before we worked that out,” says Hopkinson.

Jekyll & Hyde filmed from February to July. Hopkinson insists that the production team have sought to make an original show for ITV, rather than a slightly homogenous drama made for the international market. “You can’t sit around and guess what the buyers want. One thing I have been very clear about is that we have to be true to ourselves.”

Updated to 1930s London, the action and adventure series focuses on Robert Jekyll, the well-meaning grandson of the original doctor. At the heart of the drama is his quest to discover his family history and the nature of his ‘curse’: his unwitting ability to transform into the dark, powerful and superhero-like Hyde 
in moments of stress and anger.

Jekyll & Hyde is produced by Francis Hopkinson’s ITV Studios drama team, which is also behind Lucan, Homefires and the forthcoming Tutankhamun

Writer and executive producer

Charlie Higson
Executive producer
Francis Hopkinson
Series producer
Foz Allan
Lead director
Colin Teague
Steve November, 
Jane Hudson
Production designer
Catrin Meredydd
Kate Rhodes James
Post production
The Farm
Visual effects
Double Negative

Jekyll & Hyde starts on Sunday 25th October on ITV

Posted 23 October 2015 by Tim Dams

TV industry weighs up growing US presence

America looms large in the mindset of British TV executives. This was clearly illustrated in the speaker line-ups at this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival and RTS Cambridge Convention, where senior figures from Discovery, Viacom, AMC, ABC, Showtime, HBO, NBC and Amazon were given platforms.

Their invitations reflect the growing presence of US companies in the UK TV market, through ownership of broadcasters like Channel 5 and Sky as well as major production groups like All3Media, Endemol Shine, Warner Bros, NBC Universal and Sony.

The reaction to this growing US presence has varied from the welcoming to the hostile. Many have looked for investment from US companies to grow their companies and boost budgets for their programmes, or have themselves sought to access to the lucrative North American market.

Endemol Shine’s Tim Hincks argued at Cambridge that US investment had given his company the financial freedom to take more creative risks in the UK: “The scale we get from consolidation allows and also helps foster risk taking for British creators.” NBC Universal’s Michael Edelstein said his company could “add tremendous value” to its UK produced shows, citing the casting of Rob Lowe in Sky1 show You, Me and The Apocalypse (pictured above).

However, many expressed concern. Notably, C4 and the BBC sought to portray themselves as some of the last bastions of British-ownership – and worthy of special protection as a result.

“The Britishness of British broadcasting matters. It isn’t isolationist or backward looking to say that,” argued BBC director general Tony Hall in keynote speech at Cambridge. He worried that changes to the UK’s distinct broadcasting ecology could lead to the decline in television production made in Britain.

C4 chief executive David Abraham, meanwhile, said that the IP and profits of many successful British production companies “are now held in New York.” He took particular issue with Discovery boss David Zaslav’s description of its UK production assets as “an IP farm”.

In an echo of his MacTaggart lecture of 2014, Abraham said: “The risk taking appetite that is built into the public service system has fuelled the creative economy and is different to how things work in America.”

Posted 13 October 2015 by Tim Dams

Is TV's ecosystem under threat?

The ‘ecosystem’ that lies behind the success of the British television industry is under threat as never before. That’s the warning from a swathe of senior executives and creative figures who have voiced their concerns in recent weeks about the future of the television sector, one of the key drivers the UK’s £76.9bn creative industries.

A number of events in recent weeks have sparked the concerns: an increasingly acrimonious and political debate about funding levels of the BBC ahead of Charter Renewal; the revelation
that the government is actively mulling the privatisation of Channel 4; a surprise review of
the Terms of Trade; and ongoing acquisitions in the UK production and broadcasting sector by US media companies. 

The future funding of the BBC has galvanised creatives to speak up in the corporation’s defence, in particular following the government’s surprise emergency Budget in July which saddled the corporation with the £700m cost of licence fees for the over-75s.

The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci got the ball rolling in August with a rallying cry to programme makers to support and champion the BBC in the face of attacks from politicians in his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Meanwhile, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky accused the Conservatives of “trying to eviscerate the BBC” for ideological reasons. Former Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies told the Radio Times festival last month that he believed the BBC was doomed, labelling the threat to the corporation a disgrace. “In 10 years time, everything we understand the BBC to be, will be gone.”

But it was at last month’s Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention that many of industry’s concerns were vented most loudly.

RTS President Sir Peter Bazalgette said the single most important issue facing the TV industry, particularly around BBC Charter Renewal, is the fall in investment in originated programmes, down from £2.6bn to £2.4bn in the five years to 2013.

“Originated programmes are about our democracy, they are about our culture, they are about our economy. They are by value the single most important intervention in the creative industries, and they are declining at the moment and I think we should come up with policies and strategies to get that number going the other way,” said Bazalgette.

The BBC is the UK’s largest investor in new, first run, originated programmes. As director general Tony Hall noted at Cambridge, the licence fee accounts for around 20 per cent of TV revenues – but around 40 per cent of the investment in original British programmes.

So it may have been reassuring to hear Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, in a speech at the Convention, say that there is no prospect of the BBC being abolished. “Let me be clear,” he said. “There is no threat to the BBC as a world class broadcaster.”

However, many in the industry are not sure if they can trust the emollient words of the Culture Secretary. In August, Whittingdale said that
the government was not currently considering
a sale of Channel 4, only for an official to be photographed in late September outside N.10 Downing Street holding papers that proposed privatisation.

The leadership team of Channel 4 has warned of the risks of privatisation in the past. Chief executive David Abraham said that privatisation would inevitably mean less money being spent on original content so that C4 could achieve a “20- 25% margin, like ITV”. The implicit warning is that C4 would have to spend less on distinctive, not for profit shows like Dispatches and Channel 4 News if it is privatised.

Meanwhile, Whittingdale’s decision to review the Terms of Trade, one of the foundations of the UK production sector’s growth over the past ten years, has shocked indie producers.

Pact chair Laura Mansfield called the move “utterly astonishing.” She said: “Given that the terms of trade are there to help and support qualifying indies and entrepreneurs who need it - such as my indie Outline – and do not apply to the non-qualifying indies,
I just don’t understand why a government
which champions small businesses would want to create such instability”.

Reviews of the
BBC, C4 and the Terms of Trade have led to real concern about government policy towards the TV sector. Iannucci has accused the government of creating ‘a rather frightened atmosphere’ within the industry.

This comes on top of fears that consolidation, in particular US acquisitions of producers and broadcasters, is already reshaping the British television industry. Ofcom recently reported that large foreign media companies now own six of the top seven UK producers, accounting for around £1bn of UK revenue. This has led to concern that the bigger companies will focus only on the most commercially attractive genres, leading to a lack of innovation in the less commercially attractive genres such as current affairs.

It was a theme picked up by Tony Hall
at Cambridge. “The Britishness of British broadcasting is under challenge. It’s obvious and measurable,” he said. C4 boss David Abraham warned the industry shouldn’t “sleepwalk” into a major change to its ecosystem. What does the world look like,
he asked, if ITV and Channel 4 are taken over, and the BBC is hit by a ‘different’ licence fee settlement? “Then you are in a different country. We really do need to wake up to the consequences of those cards falling in that way.”

Some, however, argued that the UK makes too much of its special TV ecology. Tom Mockridge, the CEO of Virgin Media, said: “I’ve worked in many countries. For a period I was a chairman of Bulgarian TV. Pretty much every country I have worked in believed that their TV was the best in the world...But there is a great deal of creativity around the world.”

Posted 12 October 2015 by Tim Dams

BFI London Film Festival: strong women on show

This month’s BFI London Film Festival puts diversity to the fore, focussing on films made by and starring women.

There are 238 films and documentaries playing at this month’s BFI London Film Festival, so it’s not easy picking out a single theme to unify such a diverse offering of movies from around the world.

Yet, the opening night gala of the 59th edition of the festival gives a strong clue about the key theme identified by the LFF programme team.

Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan alongside Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, fighting for women’s right to vote. It’s a film produced by  Alison Owen and Faye Ward, directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan.

In the words of festival director Clare Stewart: “It’s an extremely British film by British women about British women who changed the course of history.”

She calls the 2015 line-up, “the year of the strong woman.”

Stewart explains that once Suffragette had been secured as the opening night film, it gave the festival the opportunity to shine a light on gender diversity in the film industry, specifically the lack of strong roles for women on screen and the lack of women working behind the camera.

So strong women headline in a number of  the festival’s gala films: Kate Winslet standing up to the Apple boss in Steve Jobs; Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara falling in love in Carol; Saoirse Ronan in an adaptation of Brooklyn; and Maggie Smith as the irascible down and out in The Lady in the Van. Documentary He Named Me Malala is about the Pakistani schoolgirl targetted by the Taliban.

Actress Geena Davis is also at the festival to launch a global symposium on gender in the media. “It gives us a very strong platform on which to really focus the discussion around the representation of women and girls in film and media,” says Stewart.

Almost 50 of the festival’s films are directed by women. But, as Stewart acknowledges, that is only 20% of the programme.

Stewart argues that the barriers facing women film-makers increase as productions increase in scale and budget. “When cinema is at its most independent, there is a lot more equity both in terms of the roles you see in front of the camera and also who is calling the shots behind the scenes.” She points out that the balance of female to male directors in the festival’s short film competition is almost 50:50. But as the films become bigger in scale, the balance shifts: there are just three films directed by women in the gala section, two in official competition and three in first feature.

“There is definitely some kind of tipping point. But it is not easily definable – if it were we would have made better inroads in terms of addressing it.”

It is a similar story at other festivals: just 13% of competition films at last month’s Venice Film Festival were directed by women, while it was 26% at the Toronto International Film Festival, according to the Women In International Film Festivals website.

The TV industry fares little better than film. A landmark report published by Directors UK last year called for 30% of all original TV programmes to be directed by women, after publishing findings that showed women are particularly poorly represented in directing drama, comedy and entertainment programmes. Just 13% of dramas had a female director, and 8% of entertainment and comedy programmes.

The BFI London Film Festival runs 7-18 October

New talent on show at the LFF
Beyond the headline galas, there’s a wide range of up-and-coming filmmaking talent on show at the London Film Festival.

Festival director Clare Stewart describes director Chanya Button, behind road trip comedy Burn Burn Burn (pictured), as a “new comedic talent who came out of nowhere for us.”

Esther May Campbell’s Light Years plays in the First Feature competition, and is called a “really distinctive debut feature”. Stephen Fingleton’s The Survivalist is billed as “an impressive, powerful first feature.” Meanwhile, Andrew Steggall’s Departure, about a mother and son packing up a French country house, has a “really incredible sensibility.”

Posted 08 October 2015 by Tim Dams

Drama bonanza - or glut? - at Mipcom

As each year passes, the TV market Mipcom is becoming more and more like its movie cousin the Cannes Film Festival.

This year’s event is dominated by epic, filmic dramas that are launching with screenings attended by cast and crew.

Tonight (Tuesday 6 October) sees the world premiere screening of 20th Century Fox Television Distribution’s The X-Files, which returns with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson more than 20 years since the iconic series first launched.

Last night, it was the turn of Sky Atlantic and Canal +’s European crime thriller The Last Panthers, which had a very well received world premiere screening with stars Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim, Goran Bogdan on the stage.

Other big drama screenings include Sony Pictures's The Art of More with all its cast attending, Endemol Shine’s The Frankenstein Chronicles, Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience, Electric Entertainment’s Mercy Street and Showtime’s Billions, starring Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis.

Meanwhile, the BBC showed off sneak previews today of its lavish, beautiful-looking adaptation of War and Peace, which was shot on location in and around the palaces and streets of St Petersburg, Russia.

And ITV chief executive Adam Crozier was on stage yesterday at Mipcom, revealing plans for a major US scripted push. The broadcaster is in Cannes this week pushing its new ITV Studios produced big budget dramas such as Beowulf and Jekyll & Hyde.

The strong drama programme at Mipcom reflects the surge in production of scripted content that has taken place in recent years, as broadcasters as well as platforms like Netflix and Amazon battle for viewers with must-have content headlined by international stars.

By contrast, the kinds of programmes that dominated the market in the 2000s - formats, reality, game shows and entertainment – appear to have been sidelined at Mipcom.

It has led to well-documented concerns of a bubble in the TV drama market. “There is simply too much television,” warned FX Networks boss John Landgraf this summer, arguing viewers were overwhelmed by options.

Judging by all the sumptuous dramas on offer at Mipcom this year, he may have a point.

However, one of the UK's leading drama writers and producers - Red Planet Picture's Tony Jordan - says that the push by broadcasters and platforms to invest in more drama is perfectly understandable. Jordan, who is promoting his 20-part BBC1 serial Dickensian at Mipcom, says: "Drama can define a network in a way that no other genre can."

Posted 06 October 2015 by Tim Dams
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