Director Julian Jarrold tells Jon Creamer about shooting upcoming BBC drama, The Girl, which details legendary director Alfred Hitchcock's destructive obsession with his star Tippi Hedren
It's a tough call for a director, shooting a film about one of the most lauded and influential filmmakers of all time.
But that's what Julian Jarrold was faced with as he approached The Girl, a new one-off BBC drama that tells the true story of Alfred Hitchcock's obsessive desire for the star of both The Birds and Marnie, Tippi Hedren.
It's a tough call because there's an ever-present danger of ending up with a crass imitation rather than a period take on Hitchcock's world. "A lot of films have tried to be Hitchcockian in style and plotting and haven't really worked," says Jarrold. "I was aware of that and the huge danger of copying from the master. It's not in any way trying to imitate."
But it was also important to take the viewer into Hitchcock's world. "I didn't try a completely Hitchcockian style but we did give it a look that’s more in common with that world and shooting style as an overall feel."
But at times, a straight copy of Hitchcock was required. The film takes in Sienna Miller (as Tippi) shooting scenes from The Birds, and then those scenes being played out in Hitchcock's screening room later. For those "we are trying to recreate very accurately the scene whether through filters, lighting, camera work and the rest of it. We shot those on 35mm film, with lots of filters and we graded it to give it that Technicolor look."
So by contrast, the rest of the film had to take a step back from the Hitchcock style. "The rest of the film we shot on the Arri Alexa and although we did use certain filtration to give it that 60s period feel, we wanted a subtle difference. Hitchcock's style is highly artificial. It's a unique style that nobody does now and that's partly due to the film stocks of the time but also Hitchcock's famous control. He constructed everything very carefully."
This film, of course, is not a fiction, it's based on documented fact. But its subject is still Hollywood, which demands a little more than a straight documentary take. "It's an interesting one," says Jarrold. "It's real and based on research but it's also about the dream factory and people filming scenes about characters playing different characters. It's also about how he's manipulating her. So you are playing on different levels."
The result was "quite a rich, contrasty look which felt sympathetic to the period." The Birds and Marnie, the Hitchcock films that Hedren starred in, were obvious stylistic starting points. But also Vertigo "had a parallel with the strange, highly romantic obsession that James Stewart has. We were trying to create the world of Hollywood and the studio system and to some extent the glamour of it but also the darkness as well."
The film was shot in South Africa "which proved a brilliant solution because of the climate and the blue skies. And we found locations that match almost exactly Bodega Bay" where The Birds was shot.
A piece of luck was also had for the studio shots. The crew found the 3Arts Centre, an old studio that's now used infrequently "and hasn't been updated for many years. So it was virtually perfect with its corridors and cable system and curtains. Nothing had been touched for years. It was a huge space so we managed to shoot a lot of stuff there" including using other rooms for Hitchcock's office and Tippi's dressing room.
The shoot itself lasted four weeks, squeezed over Christmas due to the filming commitments of the two headliners. Shooting time was also squeezed by applying Toby Jones' extensive prosthetics each day and costume changes for Sienna Miller.
The other challenge was for Toby Jones not to end up doing an impression of Hitchcock. And his performance, says Jarrold "is very much not that. Toby just captures a certain spirit of the man which is everything from the humour to the cruelty of him." But, says Jarrold, the accuracy of the portrayal was often confusing on set. "When Toby was on set he did feel like the director. When he said cut the clapper loader from my crew would walk into shot thinking the shot had ended." The best tribute an actor could have.
A 1x90 film which tells the story of Hitchcock’s obsessive relationship with The Birds star, Tippi Hedren played by Sienna Miller. Hitchcock was at the height of his powers when, in 1962, he chose an unknown fashion model to star in The Birds. But as he sculpted Tippi Hedren into the perfect Hitchcock blonde, he became obsessed with winning her love. Cast
Toby Jones (Alfred Hitchcock); Sienna Miller (Tippi Hedren); Imelda Staunton (Alma Hitchcock); Penelope Wilton (Peggy Robertson) Broadcaster
BBC2 Production company
Wall to Wall Writer
Gwyneth Hughes Executive producers
Leanne Klein for Wall to Wall and Lucy Richer at the BBC Commissioned by
Janice Hadlow, Ben Stephenson Producer
Amanda Jenks Director
Julian Jarrold DoP
John Pardue Production designer
Darryl Hammer Editor
Andrew Hulme Colourist
Tim Waller Composer
Philip Miller Post
Princess Productions’ co-founder Sebastian Scott tells Jon Creamer why, after a career break and a trip to Harvard, he’s now in the business of backing indies, not running them.
It's been over two years since Sebastian Scott left Princess Productions, the largely entertainment based indie he founded in 1996 with Henrietta Conrad. And it's a period in which he's mostly stayed away from the TV business.
But he's now begun a return to the indie world, although this time helping others to start up and run their own companies through his 'production hub' Predictable Media.
So far, he's backed ex-Princess producer Lucas Green's entertainment indie Superhero TV (that sees its primetime series Let's Get Gold, a co-pro with Thames, launch on ITV1 this month) as well as DJ/presenter Richard Bacon's new factual entertainment indie, Mox and Richard Ackerman's comedy indie, Room 414. He's also soon to announce a new gameshow indie that will also come under the Predictable Media umbrella.
His involvement in these start-ups is firstly financial but, he says, he'll also invest his "time and experience in helping them formulate shows and in deciding where they should be pitched, how they should be pitched and who they should be pitched to," although his involvement will vary "from company to company and from show to show because obviously I have much greater knowledge of some kinds of shows than others."
And he's keen to stress that the start-ups he backs will be well and truly run by the mds of those companies. "Really it's about those mds and the decisions they make and what they want to do, not what I want to do. What I will be doing is finding other companies to back and helping support their growth. It is about them and not me. I'd hate for them to read this and think I was taking the credit for what they're doing."
It's a light touch idea and a relatively small and organic set up compared to the one he left at Princess. That company, of course, was bought out by Liz Murdoch's Shine Group in 2007 for roughly £20m. So did he discover that a super indie wasn't where he wanted to be? He says not, "Shine is a fantastic group and Liz Murdoch is inspirational." He left because "I was in a privileged enough position to be able to say, 'I want to take some time off and go and learn some other skills.'" That time away from TV involved, along with a Kilimanjaro climb, taking positions on other company boards and a stint at the Telegraph Media Group. But most importantly it involved a "transformational" stint on the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard. "There are lots of wonderful things about running your own company but you're not really learning about how other people manage their companies. You end up running a company with 300 staff and you've had no management training at all. You've got there because you're good at having ideas and making things and then you've got to change from the person who's very good at making things to someone very good at managing people and I recognised that I would like some more help in making that transformation."
And it was while at Harvard he decided that he "really loved TV and ideas and I was quite good at it, so why didn't I find a way to go back which I would find energising and exciting?" Hence Predictable, and eventually a shared office in Shoreditch and a "world of Oyster cards, not drivers. It's fun getting right back into the beginning of something again. It gives you an energy and excitement. You realise there are loads of things you've forgotten and it's quite fun relearning those things."
He says that while the Predictable indies will have autonomy, the idea is for them to be greater than the sum of their parts. All the indies will share central services, production management, financial services, legal services "and at the moment we share a photocopier and a fax machine." But, more importantly, "we share knowledge and ideas. We come and see each others' pilots, everybody contributes to each others' pitches and we get together regularly to discuss where we feel the channels are."
That mutual support will come from the structure of the ownership, he says. "All the companies have some ownership of Predictable and Predictable has some ownership of all the companies. You need to make compensation match behaviour." And this will ensure each indie stays "on brand" too "so you don't confuse the market."
When asked about the ultimate ambition for the company, he says it's simply to "make all these little companies successful companies in their own right. It's only really been going properly for three months so it's a bit early to say." But, he says, it would be great in years to come "if we're all still sharing an office and we all had a floor each and returning series and all wanted to continue working together."
Impossible Pictures’ creative director Tim Haines tells Jon Creamer about creating and producing Sinbad, a new 12-part Sky One adventure series of almost mythical proportions
A glossy, action packed update on the Sinbad legend was never going to be an easy quest.
As Impossible's creative director Tim Haines explains, the 12x60-minute Sky One show is a TV drama that requires "period costume, action, vfx - all these things. There was no part of this that we didn't have to worry about. If you're doing a contemporary show you don't have to worry about costume, if you're doing a purely romantic show you don't have to worry about action. There was nowhere to hide."
The first episode TXs early this month but its genesis occurred back in the mists of time, when Stuart Murphy first took over at Sky and went on the lookout for big, bold dramas for the channel. "Stuart Murphy wanted a family, 12A show for Sky," says Haines. He also wanted a 'branded' idea "but the problem is that any big brand in that 12A area is going to be a Hollywood movie. You just can't get hold of a Harry Potter."
But there are other 'big brand' stories and legendary characters and the BBC had shown the way with Robin Hood and Merlin. "But we were looking for something that gives you a bit of licence to be exotic and ambitious and Sinbad fitted the bill very well," says Haines. And although in recent decades the Sinbad legend was dominated by the Harryhausen films of the 70s "and also a comedic, curly shoe feel," this Sinbad had to feel real and visceral and the character one the audience could understand. "We all agreed the character is modern although he lives in eighth century Basra - he's a young man that the audience can identify with, not one constantly worried about his faith. That would have been a very difficult thing to get across."
The tone that was asked of lead writer Jack Lothian was a "blend of action, emotion and wit which is really tricky." But something a bit more visceral than Pirates of the Caribbean. "I adore it but it's a little bit slapstick. I mean wit like Disney's Avengers - witty lines but there's got to be true jeopardy and people do die."
It also had to feel big. And a funding model that consisted of Sky along with BBC Worldwide and tax breaks meant that on the plus side there was just "one editorial lead," but on the downside there was "no slack in the system at all." So building Sinbad's world from scratch wasn't an option.
Which is where Malta came in. "The beauty of Malta other than it having a very useful coastline is that it has an endless supply of slightly crumbling buildings," says Haines. "And in digital terms it's very easy to change the distance stuff and put in digital extensions. It's the mid ground stuff that's difficult." And the mid ground was in plentiful supply. The top half of a boat was also built next to a water tank (after all, Sinbad has to travel) and a semi permanent set was created inside an old fort "which gave us lots of corridors, and stone rooms."
The other essential element of Sinbad is, of course, the magical. Although the action had to be visceral and real, Sinbad does encounter sorcerers and monsters along the way. But says Haines, the 'magical' elements had to be kept under strict control. Villains with magical powers had to have limits to their powers or it's impossible for Sinbad to take them on. The beasts and monsters, created by The Mill, also had to be tied to certain rules. "The logic is that it's real but occasionally magic happens. The monsters are quite elemental. They are connected to the emotions of the characters and the elements of the place - salt, water, shadows etc. They feel a bit more organic. For instance, in the land of the dead the creatures are of rock, very much of the place. We always asked 'what is the reason for the beast?'"
And despite the show's long initial run, there was very little economy of scale when it came to the vfx. "I'd love to say yes but being honest, not much. As you move on you get more ambitious. You'd love it if everything was used or reconfigured each time but pretty soon people will spot that and then you're not delivering on your promise. Everyone on the team wants it to be new and different each episode so we have found it very difficult to do bottle episodes." Maybe in Sinbad's next adventure.
Primeval producer Impossible Pictures' Sinbad is a 12x60-minute Sunday teatime adventure series for Sky One. It's billed as a 21st century take on the classic eighth century hero and stars newcomer Elliot Knight alongside Naveen Andrews, Sophie Okonedo and Timothy Spall.
Producers Tim Haines, Sophie Gardiner and Andrew Woodhead for Impossible Pictures and Elwen Rowlands for Sky Directors Andy Wilson, Brian Grant, Colin Teague , Marisol Torres , Michael Offer DoPs Gavin Finney, Peter Sinclair, Fabian Wagner, Jean Philippe Gossart Writers Jack Lothian, James Dormer, Harriet Warner, Steve Thompson, Jack Thorne, Richard Kurti , Bev Doyle Production designer Martyn John Costume designer Phoebe de Gaye Make-up/hair Jacqueline Fowler Editors Andrew MacRitchie, John Richards, Kate Evans, Mike Jones Post producer Tim Bradley VFX The Mill Cameras Arri Alexa