Screenwriter Tony Grisoni tells Jon Creamer about portraying the extraordinary reality of the grief and loss experienced by a small town visited by an enormous tragedy
Red Riding and Tideland writer Tony Grisoni’s latest is Southcliffe, a four part drama that examines the stories of grief and loss experienced by the inhabitants of a small seaside town following a shooting spree by a local inhabitant.
What was the starting point for the drama?
I wanted to do something about losing someone close to you. About the grief, the sense of loss you go through. And I was very clear I wanted to interview real people and hear their stories about having lost someone close to them. I wanted to be guided by the reality of that situation. I didn’t want to make it up and fall into the lazy traps and all those horrible clichés. I wanted to hear what might be a less tidy truth and be guided by these people’s stories. My first interest was in the relationship between people who are still living and those who have died.
Was it commissioned on that basis?
[Exec producer] Peter Carlton pitched that to Channel 4 and said ‘right, it sounds like they’re going to commission us.’ It was very quick. The channel gave me a huge amount of freedom.
What did the interviews consist of?
I wanted them to tell me about their experience of having lost someone and I wanted to ask if they’d had any experience of the supernatural. I worked with three researchers. They put out ads and invited people to get in touch. Then I read the interviews and heard the tapes and collected the stories and very gradually out of these stories characters started to emerge.
Why the setting of Faversham and its surrounds?
I like the flatness of it and the saltmarshes. There’s a beautiful bleakness to it and Faversham became a real place to anchor the drama to. If I wanted a scene in a pub I’d know the pub; if I wanted a scene in a boatyard or a street or certain part of the coast I had the exact place in my head.
How is the story structured?
I wanted to tell the story in a non-linear way. It seemed a more exciting thing to do. In a very early draft we know whodunit in the first scene. We now know whodunit at the end of the first episode but it isn’t the most important thing, it’s not a whodunit, it’s more of a what happened. I was interested in what happens when you know someone has done something dreadful; then you see a scene from much earlier and I know that the audience would be watching that person all the time. They could do the most mundane thing but if you know they’ve done something really terrible, you’d watch them and watch their relationships with people in a different way. That interested me.
And I noticed from the interviews with people that often they describe things in a way which sounds as if time and space had been smashed up for them. They’d say ‘I have conversations with her still, I can still hear their voice sometimes or I think they’re still in the house.’ It’s an extraordinary thing but their experience of it has an ordinariness to it. It’s not science fiction, it’s a real experience so it felt right to echo that as well. That’s not a ghostly thing but it’s more than a memory somehow. The drama strongly reflects the fact that just because someone is physically gone it doesn’t mean their influence or the sense of them has disappeared.
Was this always a TV idea?
It was always very much television. That was the starting point. It’s four hours of drama to play with and that’s very exciting. Television seems to be entering a golden age of drama. I get a huge amount of freedom as a writer.
Did the story continue to develop as it was produced?
When [director] Sean Durkin came on board we sat down and went through the scripts and we continued the development of them. I was writing all the way through the shooting of them and through the editing as well. It didn’t stop dead. You lock off to a certain extent because you’ve got to go and shoot something, you’ve got to have a schedule but we were always opening up possibilities, examining possibilities. It’s a very exciting way of working. As a writer I don’t want to be waving the ship goodbye at the dock. During the shoot I’ll see all the rushes every day. So I know what’s working and what isn’t working. I’m up to speed so if we need a scene to be rewritten or a new scene to be written I’m there for that. There are great benefits to be had from the writer being on that project right the way through. I feel I have a responsibility to the drama until it’s delivered.
details Production company
Warp Films in association with Borderline Films Producer
Derrin Schlesinger Executive producer
Peter Carlton for Warp Films, Sophie Gardiner for Channel 4. Director
Sean Durkin Writer
Tony Grisoni Line producers
Dean O’Toole, Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo Production designer
Tom Bowyer Post supervisor
Mike Morrison Cast
Rory Kinnear, Sean Harris, Shirley Henderson, Eddie Marsan, Anatol Yusef, Nichola Burley, Joe Dempsie and Kaya Scodelario. Commissioned by
C4 head of drama, Piers Wenger TX date
In Televisual Magazine’s roundup of the best of the month in animation, vfx and motion graphics, Shynola and Jellyfish take it easy; Nexus gives Honda a hand and Riff Raff shrink Ikea’s world
Warp, Shynola, Jellyfish
Warp Films, directing team Shynola and vfx specialists Jellyfish collaborated on this new short film Dr Easy. The film is designed as a prologue for a planned feature, an adaptation of the novel The Red Men, by Matthew De Abaitua. The film tells the story of a medical emergency robot, designed to deal with sensitive and traumatic incidents. A white collar worker (played by Tom Hollander) down on his luck, is holed up in a derelict flat, armed with a shot gun and surrounded by police. Dr Easy is sent in to try to negotiate with the desperate man. Jellyfish and Shynola teamed up to bring the robot to life and completed the modelling, rigging, lighting, shading, compositing and finishing in Softimage/ Arnold and Nuke. The animation was done by Shynola in Softimage with the help of Jellyfish’s animation team.
Nexus directors Smith and Foulkes are behind the new Honda Hands film from W+K London. The brand film shows a Honda engineer’s hands transforming Honda’s products across the years. Exec creative director was Chris O’Reilly and the producer was Tracey Cooper. The DoP was Clive Norman and the edit was by Paul Hardcastle and David Slade.
RSA filmmakers Wriggles & Robins and MPC’s Motion Design Studio teamed up on Travis’s new promo Moving that shows a series of animations live projected on to the band’s breath. All of the animations and projections were filmed in real time, negating the need for any vfx in post-production. The vfx producer on the promo was Alannah Currie.
Ikea’s new campaign Make Small Spaces Big, which promotes Ikea’s space-saving and multifunctional furniture and product ranges launches with this TV spot One Room Paradise. Ordered by Mother, it’s directed by Riff Raff Films’ Megaforce and is set in a doll’s house with a mother and son using Ikea’s products to enjoy life in their small flat. Post was at Finish.
M&C Saatchi chose th1ng directors Will Barras and Shay Hamias to create the TV and cinema commercial for MindFull, a new charity launched by the Beat Bullying Group which helps teenagers with depression, bullying, self image issues and other problems. A live action shot of a teenage boy in a dark room, moves into a series of hand-drawn animations to convey his hidden emotions.
Lola worked with writer/director Jamie Stone to polish off the opening sequence of this BFI funded short film set in space, Orbit Ever After.
Getting the greenlight for a TV show can be an uphill struggle. Jon Creamer asks five heads of development at leading indies about generating programme ideas, building them and selling them
Every indie with a successful show on screen, even a long running international hit, knows that nothing lasts forever. The ratings winners of today will one day run out of steam and be cancelled.
Indies need to keep up the push to generate and develop new ideas or lose momentum and come to a dead stop. So all indies have to make sure they aren’t just sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike.
The development team is charged with creating a system, or an environment where programme ideas are constantly generated, thought through, tested, pitched, and hopefully, commissioned. But in straitened times, broadcasters are expecting ideas to be worked up to a much greater extent than in the past before they’ll sign on the dotted line.
So the journey to the pitch, and to the greenlight, is getting longer with indies having to put more work into making sure their programme ideas will get the crucial second tick from the channel controller.
But there is no one way to generate ideas or develop them. Much depends on the channel, the programme, the target audience and of course, the genre. All indies take their main cues from briefings with commissioning editors, but they also need to listen to what the commissioners want, but then try to come back to them with something that they weren’t quite expecting. Or come back to them with something they didn’t even know they wanted in the first place.
Factual Paul Woolf
head of development
We use a variety of ways of generating ideas. We’ll work on generating ideas as a full team, sometimes break into smaller groups or we might ask people to think individually. Sometimes a commissioner needs an idea on particular topic, or we might decide there’s a gap in the market for a particular type of show and then brainstorm that. Everyone on the team is drawing from different sources – the newspapers they read, the social media they use, the friends they have. We have access to bits of market research and information about audiences and we definitely draw on those but they tend to inform the way we shape ideas rather than the way we source ideas.
Often development works best when it feels like a creative collaboration with commissioning editors. We’re responding to their steers as well as taking them ideas we’ve generated without their input. What doesn’t work well is when you go back to the commissioning editor and almost repeat their brief to them. Commissioning editors are capable of coming up with their own ideas so we’re not doing our job if what we go back with is so generic that they could get it from any company they talk to about it. Our job is to marry their brief with what Maverick does well, so we go back to them with something fairly unique. Part of our job is also to figure out what might work well in six months or a year’s time when the programme we’re hopefully going to make for them is on air. It’s about thinking ahead and trying not to repeat what’s working on the channel at the moment.
Drama Caroline Hollick
Red production company
head of development
The ideal way [to generate ideas] is for a writer to come to you with an idea they passionately want to write. But in a changing market, with so many new channels and other production companies and so many people to compete for the writers’ time we have started generating our own ideas in house too. The easiest ideas to generate in house tend to have a factual basis. The very good writers are very busy and the more you can do for them in advance the more you might be able to make them think ‘I see the story in that’ rather than, ‘Oh God! I see six months of research.’
Often one of the department will go through every series on TV to see which writers they liked. We talk a lot to the Royal Exchange about up and coming playwrights. With new writers it’s a long-term game. You’re unlikely to get a brand new writer a TV series but you want to start the relationship and be supportive and talk to them about how television works and hopefully, when they have the clout to move into television, you’ve got a relationship with them so they’ll come back to work with you.
We have a big slate which has projects on it in different sections from those about to go into production down to two lines from a writer we’re in discussion with. We also have a whole rejected section, nothing ever goes off it. We go through that often as there are plenty of projects that we have made that have been six or seven years in the development process so they’ve probably been rejected quite a few times.
GAMESHOWS Dom Waugh
Head of development
The bread and butter of our pitching comes from commissioner briefs. Development is a strange place to be when you have a blank page. You end up thinking up ways to give yourself boundaries in which to work otherwise you get slightly lost. Even if you come up with a concept out of the blue you still need to say that’s a nice thought but what if it was for C4 at 8pm or BBC1 at 9pm? How would that affect what you’re doing? It’s about knowing the audiences coming to that channel and how the idea will be affected by that.
Gameshows are quite self referential. You want to bring something new to the table so that people get excited but if you went completely off piste it would be hard for audiences to take in what’s going on as there’s such a grammar that runs through them. There has to be cosiness and a familiarity.
You find out with game shows quite quickly what doesn’t work. You can have what you think is a great idea and within a week it falls flat on its face because of a format point. You need those moments of jeopardy and entertainment but sometimes, even though it sounded like a good idea, when you run it through it’s really boring. Game shows aren’t worth the paper they’re written on until someone’s seen the run through. We spend a lot of time talking to the commissioner throughout the process of development but you have to do the run through for them. If you just sat down and wrote a pitch document for a game show it reads more like an instruction manual.
COMEDY ENT Juliet Denison
head of development
The most important thing is to put together a good team. It’s also about not keeping them forever. That sets us apart from other genres with longer development periods or more research based development. The team I’ve got now will not be the same team in five months because after you get to know each other you bring things to the conversation that you know someone else is going to like or laugh at so you’re almost self editing. Even though it’s a real pain when you’ve got a lovely team, I always make myself do that because it works for us. A lot of people come back but then they’re working with different people so you’re always looking for a different dynamic.
Commissioners are the ones with the big picture not just in terms of that channel and what the brand values are or what the slots are or even just the personalities of the people they work for. If you know that what you take away from that meeting with the commissioner is crucial, you get better at asking questions that are not just ‘what do you want?’ It’s about discovering what’s worked for them, why do they think it has worked, what’s at the heart of that successful show, what were the insights about the audience that they learned? It’s about asking around what they want. It’s lazy to say ‘what do you want?’ It’s up to us to try to solve that problem. Most of the channels do a lot of research and it’s about trying to extract that from them.
Whether they’re vox popping or bringing people into brainstorms, all the teams are encouraged to get to know the audiences those commissioners care about. The audience is at the heart of everything we do. If someone came to me and said ‘I’ve got this great idea’, I will say ‘Which channel is it great for and which audience is it great for?’ If they can’t answer that, it’s probably not so great. We’re fortunate in that we’ve got a research department in Fremantle and we ask for help from them. They have a relationship with Ipsos MORI and we can sometimes ask for some specific research. Everything’s got to lead to getting to know the audience.
We never pitch until we’re really ready. You can do all that work and you’ve got one hour in the room. With a panel show, like Sweat the Small Stuff, we went in and talked about the area and the talent we wanted to bring in. They wanted us to work that up on paper but we really pushed for a run through because if they don’t like the talent on a panel show there’s no point working it up. If the chemistry’s right then we’re confident we can get the content right. But there’s no point coming up with loads of content because if the commissioners don’t like the talent, that show’s not going to go any further.
FACTUAL Tim Harcourt
Head of development
We run awaydays and brainstorming sessions but often the starting point can come from an observation in your everyday life. You listen to what your friends talk about, what people on the tube talk about, what’s in the papers, magazines. We don’t use specific market research as a starting point for ideas. We’re pitching into the terrestrials first and foremost, so we’re trying to keep things broad - good ideas that are well made and populist. There’s no definite technique for coming up with ideas. One good way, though it’s not fool proof, is colliding two pre-existing thoughts, shows, ideas or genres. There’s probably no new idea in itself under the sun. It’s all about reversioning what’s familiar to the audience and making it feel unfamiliar. Tastes don’t change massively. People want things presented to them in fresh ways but the core concerns don’t change.
The commissioners may say they want something quite specific. I tend not to get involved in those ideas. It’s so crowded because then everyone’s trying to pitch into that. My attitude is we come up with the ideas that we love and that we can maybe make for more than one channel and try to back those. We will respond to specific commissioner’s briefs if they approach us but it’s thinking about what we think they need or might like. If you take them an idea and it’s not one that lots of people are pitching, it will feel fresher to the commissioners. Everyone’s always after the next big thing but neither the creatives or the buyers will necessarily know when they’ve got that in their hands. The next big thing certainly won’t be commissioned as the next big thing.
Of the shows we’re really passionate about at any one time there’s around a dozen on the slate. The process of selling is a lot slower than it used to be but sometimes when there’s an idea that’s so great we might throw everything at it for a week or two to get it in a pitchable condition because its burning a hole in your pocket. Some we’ll make a sizzle tape for and take it out to pitch. Commissioners are increasingly busy and they’re having to sell up to the channel heads all the time. If they’ve got a sizzle or a little bit of film, it makes it easier for selling internally.
Some shows only really have a home on one or two places. When we pitched Gogglebox in my mind that show was Channel 4 or bust.With some ideas there are one or two homes and they need slightly reskinning for each channel. Undercover Boss probably could have worked on all four of the main channels it was so universal. It’s not our sole ambition but a big part of the company is creating formats that can work around the world. You can’t bank on it but it’s definitely at the back of our mind.
Celebrated movie director Jane Campion’s latest is a six part crime drama TV series for the BBC set amidst the breathtaking landscape of New Zealand’s South Island. Jon Creamer reports
Director Jane Campion came to international prominence back in 1993 with the release of her movie The Piano which starred Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel and went on to make Campion the second ever woman to recieve a best director Oscar nomination and the first woman to win the Palme d’Or.
Small screen moves
Her career to date, apart from 1990 film An Angel at My Table that was shown as a mini-series before its theatrical release, has exclusively been centred in the movie world.
But her latest project is a six part TV crime drama series for BBC2/Sundance Channel and antipodean channel UKTV. The series, with its strange mix of characters and twisting storyline is part Twin Peaks, part The Killing, part Deliverance and very Jane Campion. It stars Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan, Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss and the amazing landscape of New Zealand’s South Island.
Campion’s decision to embark on a television project was driven by a few impulses. Not least, she says, because in recent years, television had become a much more desirable destination for directors and writers. “I was really inspired by some of the HBO television like Deadwood. I though that television was commissioning amazing material and in a way they had a more loyal, more interesting audience than film.” TV also offered the opportunity to create something with a little more depth. “I was really excited about doing something that was reaching my limit rather than containing yourself to be OK for a movie audience.”
But it was also simply the expansive nature of the Top of the Lake idea that made TV its natural home. “I liked the idea of having something novel length. I like novels and this was too wide and big for a film.”
She also felt the project was too big for one writer and one director, and so brought in friend and co-writer Gerard Lee and (Academy Films’ commercials director) Garth Davis to co-direct.
The initial inspiration, she says, was the landscape itself. The series is filmed within the lakes and mountains near Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island (the setting for Lord of the Rings) where Campion has a holiday home and that gave her the main starting image of the film, 12 year old Tui walking neck deep into the freezing waters of the lake. At the same time she was “starting to feel stimulated about the idea of a crime mystery story” and so began talking about characters and stories with co-writer Lee. And the characters are a strange bunch – from women’s refuge guru GJ (played by Holly Hunter) to alpha male druglord Matt Mitcham played by Peter Mullan, to town drunk Putty and paedophile Wolfgang Zanic. And while the series is very dark, it’s also marked by its humour. “With Gerard and myself that’s our key quality,” says Campion. “We can be very funny and very serious. I really think that’s my favourite quality about it. It’s very funny and also not funny.”
Film on TV
It’s also very filmic. While Campion was keen on TV for its ability to tell a novel sized story, she was wary of its often-limited budgets in comparison to the movie world. “Too often television ends up like a rehearsal for something that never really gets done because there’s not enough time and money to do it properly.” But there was money enough for Top of the Lake. The BBC’s Ben Stephenson came in first and then producers See Saw Films “found more money, probably doubled it, that enabled us to tell the story that can work and makes you excited.” A certain level of budget means “you can have planned shots. With a lot of television it’s shoot the scene anyhow because we’ve got to get on to the next one. You can’t do another take, they’ve said their lines and we’re off.”
It also meant the team could be picky about getting the best out of the stunning landscape. “When you’re in it, it feels perfect and gorgeous but when you put a camera there you realise it’s the usual thing that landscapes only really look good in the morning and at night. Everything looks flat in the middle of the day. My DoP Mark and Gareth the co-director were brilliant at insisting we’d only shoot at that time of day.”
But the schedule was still a learning curve for Campion. “We did have to go a lot faster than I was used to.” She also had to get used to shooting with two cameras to speed the process up. “You get a rhythm. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with [DoP] Adam Arkapaw and [co-director] Garth Davis but they helped me and I helped them.” ν
details Top of the Lake centres on the story of 12-year-old Tui, daughter of the local drug lord in the fictional NZ frontier town of Laketop. After it’s discovered that she’s five months pregnant, she disappears off the face of the earth. Detective Robin Griffin returns home to the small town she left years ago to investigate who, among the strange cast of characters that inhabit Laketop, might be responsible.
Length 6x60, 7x50 mins Writers Jane Campion, Gerard Lee Directors Jane Campion, Garth Davis DoP Adam Arkapaw Editors Alexandre de Franceschi, Scott Gray Composer Mark Bradshaw Line producer Trishia Downie Production company See Saw Films Exec producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning (See-Saw) Lucy Richer (BBC) Producer Philippa Campbell Funders BBC2, UKTV (Australia/NZ), Sundance Channel, Screen Australia, Screen NSW and Fulcrum Media Finance, BBC Worldwide
Is second screen something children want or even need? Four experts give their view ahead of a debate at this week’s Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield
Director, The Project Factory
Rather than second screen, we think more broadly of ‘alternate screens’ that kids might want to engage with. Second screen usually presumes that the on-lap screen links to content being watched on TV. Some younger children will immerse themselves in one screen completely but as they get older, why should we divide their attention? We should focus on allowing content from one screen, character, show or story world, to link to another to extend the experience, allowing content to be more deeply and interactively explored upon demand. If we can capture the essence of our story in a meaningful way, we can create a second screen experience, whether concurrently or not.
Creative director, IpDipSkyBlue and co-founder Syncscreen.tv
Children’s TV has been a bit slow off the mark when it comes to second screen. Some of that is because commercial broadcasters are reluctant to invest in it, but in some quarters there’s also an innate prejudice that seems to be that if one screen is bad enough then two must be double-trouble. Yet there’s no evidence to prove this either way. In fact children are probably much better multi-taskers than we give them credit for. It might be that they’re the first audience who can actually make sense of the two screens simultaneously and spawn a whole new genre of exciting experiences that bridge the passive and interactive worlds.
When I was wee I’d watch Tarzan while dressed in leopard print Y-fronts and stabbing crocodiles (cushions) with a plastic orange peeler. Other (normal) kids watched telly with a cuddly toy by their side. Digital companions can be alternatives to physical toys if we can change behaviours; kids go and pull out the Peppa Pig doll from their room, but it’s not instinctive to grab a tablet or phone yet. And if we understand behaviours, a doll or a cushion is just there for small interactions like a cuddle (or a stab!). If we get it right it can work.
Head of Boom Kids
Belly-vision is here! The fear that new technology would make TV redundant simply hasn’t happened. The reverse in fact is true. It supports, it regenerates and it extends the service. The most engaged audiences are the ones who interact, who play along, share their opinions and vote for their favourites. This is true for the younger audience too, they are keen to participate and interact. The challenge is to offer straightforward, engaging and entertaining second screen content which helps them immerse themselves in the programme as opposed to distracting them from it.