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Adrian Hodges on making The Musketeers

For the BBC’s new Musketeers series, creator Adrian Hodges had to avoid thigh-slapping cliches while retaining the novel’s sense of adventure. Jon Creamer reports

The Musketeers is Adrian Hodges’ take on the Alexandre Dumas story for BBC1. The 10-part series takes its inspiration from the book but creates new weekly adventures for the famous characters. He explains the creative process

This is not a straight adaptation of the novel. Why?
I didn’t want to adapt the book. That would have locked us into doing a serial with a closed ending. I thought a ‘story of the week’ format with a serial element was the way to go. There are a lot of new shows, particularly from American cable, that are serials and very good but it gets harder and harder to generate new series of those.

What was the tone you wanted to achieve?
It’s a tricky genre; there are many traps in it. If you’re lucky you can make the Pirates of the Caribbean at the comedic end of the spectrum but that is the law of diminishing returns. The other way to go is very dark, very dangerous and very grim, like Game of Thrones. My view was you could have an action adventure but you could also do something that had a realistic background with real consequences and real dramatic tension and danger to it. The danger with this swashbuckling genre is it can be a little bit inconsequential if you’re not careful.

What did you want to do with the characters?
People have a view of what the Musketeers are but we wanted to go a little deeper. Aramis is famous as a womaniser but what are the consequences of that? With Porthos everyone knows him as the drunk fat guy. He’s not that in our show. He’s certainly a larger than life character, but he has a very real background. One of the things not widely known was that Dumas’s father was black. That’s one of the reasons we made Porthos a mixed race character because I wanted to refer to that.

How faithful were you to the period setting?
We’re not recreating 17th century France. If we did nobody would watch. Our show is explicitly a modern show very much in a modern idiom. What you can do is use history as a reference point but we didn’t want to get bogged down. The whole issue of what makes something modern is difficult. Clearly we know what makes Sherlock modern because they literally take it out of Victorian times and put it in the present day. But it’s also an attitude and a way of looking at things. I don’t think of The Musketeers as a period drama, I think of it as an action adventure series. In many ways it’s outside of its period but that’s not to say we weren’t authentic where we could be. But if it’s drama versus history, drama’s always going to win.

Where was it shot?
All the location shooting and studios are in Prague, the cg was done in Prague but the post was done in London. It is of course a financial consideration but it’s also because there are locations available in Prague that you simply can’t reproduce in England or France.

You’re an exec producer as well as lead writer, did you take a showrunner role?
It’s a show I conceived and a show where I was involved in every detail of its production and every detail of its writing. I worked very closely with the other writers, with Jessica Pope, Colin Wratten. It’s a very collaborative process.

How involved were you in production?
I was out in Prague for every block of shooting and I was there far more than I have been on any other show before. When the BBC and I agreed we would do it I was looking to do it in a way much closer to the American showrunner model. The revival of American drama has been so spectacular in the last few years that the days when the writer would simply deliver a script and then walk away are probably gone. For me the way it looks, the costumes, it’s all part of the same deal.

How does that work in practice?
It’s just as case of collaborating as closely as you can with all the key people. You spend an awful lot of time talking together about what you want the show to be and also what you don’t want it to be. Then a lot of decisions would be referred between us. It’s a continuing conversation and it’s about keeping an eye on the detail all the time.

What about the editing process?
The directors always do their own first cut, I wouldn’t presume to tell them how to cut the film but when they deliver a cut, Jessica Pope, Colin Wratten and myself will look at that cut and give them comments. It’s not about writers taking charge but everybody collaborating. I don’t want to imply I told everybody how to do their jobs, that would be absurd. It’s just about making sure everybody’s on the same page all the time                

Adrian Hodges’ new Musketeers series stars Luke Pasqualino, Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera and Howard Charles in the title roles along with Peter Capaldi, Tamla Kari and Hugo Speer. It’s a BBC Drama Production for BBC One, co-produced with BBC America in association with BBC Worldwide
Creator, lead writer, executive producer
Adrian Hodges
Executive producer
Jessica Pope
Colin Wratten
Lead director
Toby Haynes
Saul Metzstein
Richard Clark
Andy Hay
Farren Blackburn
Location manager
Jan Adler
Art director
Martin Mal  
Script editor
Madeleine Sinclair
Costume designer
Phoebe de Gaye
Murray Gold
Production designer
William Hughes-Jones
Arri Alexa
Picture post
Sound post

Posted 14 January 2014 by Jon Creamer

Interview: Mandela director Justin Chadwick

For the official Mandela biopic starring Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, Brit director Justin Chadwick had to capture the epic nature of Mandela’s life while also portraying a man made of flesh and blood. Jon Creamer reports

Making a film based on the life of Nelson Mandela would be a daunting task for any director.

Even before Mandela’s recent death (and this interview was conducted just days before) a biopic of such a universally respected figure had the weight of many people’s expectations pressing down on it.

So Justin Chadwick, whose CV takes in The Other Boleyn Girl and Bleak House along with EastEnders and The Bill, was reticent about signing on at first.

“At first I resisted it,” he says. “Mandela’s life represents 100 years of apartheid.” And it was the importance of that life that could stifle the film. South African producer Anant Singh had been shepherding the movie, based on Mandela’s official biography, to the screen for 16 years through various mooted directors. “I’d read a couple of the earlier drafts of the script and it was very reverential to the story and difficult to penetrate in terms of the characters,” says Chadwick. The danger was that the biopic of such a fascinating man could end up being boring.

The turning point came for Chadwick when he opened his Kenya-set movie, The First Grader, in South Africa. Producer Singh introduced him to Mandela’s friends and family. “I went for a cup of tea with Winnie and I was there for six hours.” And the personal relationships behind the politics started to come through. “I was able to find a way in to the story by showing them as men and women, husbands, mothers, fathers. We all know Mandela was a great politician but he boxed, he loved fast cars, he loved clothes, loved women. We show him and his flaws and that makes him real and gives an intimacy to the film.”

The approach was to be more City of God than Ghandi. “I was always talking about how we drop the audience in amongst it. To look at South American movies, look at anything that was away from traditional biopic or period movies. It was important for the crew to not just watch David Lean movies.” But as well as taking the influence of social realism on board “South Africa is a stunning country and we wanted a film that an audience would go to the multiplex to watch that had scale and car chases, that was exciting and visceral” while remaining real.

Creating cinematic scale while being in amongst the action also informed the decision to shoot on 35mm.  “I’d been a big champion of HD but when I went to Kenya I shot The First Grader on two-perf 35mm, mainly because we were in a very remote community. You know that with a 35mm camera someone will be able to fix it. It’s a mechanical thing and it’s tough.” It’s also mobile. “You can grab a 35mm camera and be in amongst the crowd. It was freeing. We were able to go into areas that I’m not sure an HD camera would have done in the same way.”

It could also capture the beauty of Africa. “You project it and the level of detail is beautiful and that’s raw, we didn’t have to manipulate that. We were catching crowds, huge riot scenes, helicopter car chases. We needed a medium that would offer a sense of cinema and give it an epic quality.”

Scale combined with realism also came from a technique he’d used on The First Grader – to only use people from the actual communities he was shooting in as extras. The crowd was one of the stars of the film. “You can feel the crowd and that energy in the riot scenes.” During the final scene showing Mandela’s release, “we’ve got 1000 people from that community. We started the music off and the celebrations and within minutes there were 10,000 people there. The cameraman and me just carried on shooting. We got lost for half an hour. One of the line producers caught up with us shouting ‘you’ve got to have a release form from every single person here.’ Many had been there on the actual day. You could feel the emotion, and that informed the performances.”

The performances were also informed by the fact that real extras can’t take too many retakes. “Often we would use the very first take.” And that works for the actors too: “We’re not doing it over and over again. I’ll give the bones of the scene to the actors and we shoot two or three takes and, bang, we’ve got it. It’s very energising for the actors to have that clarity. Yes, you’re doing a movie and it’s got to be perfect but there can be energy behind it.”

The speed was also informed by the fact that this was an independent African movie, and there was a responsibility to “make sure the money went on to the screen” and not on spending days on take after take. And that’s where his TV background helped, says Chadwick. “That’s the training ground for British directors. We’ve got great TV and great crews that work in TV. Some of the crew that did Spooks and Bleak House and The Vice came with me and did Mandela. We know we’ve got to capture it quick. On Eastenders, when you’re doing 17 minutes a day, it prepares you.”

Justin Chadwick is the director of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom starring Idris Elba and Naomie Harris. Chadwick starred in London Kills Me in 1991 followed by appearances in Heartbeat, Dangerfield, Dalziel and Pascoe, and others. His directorial debut was 1993 TV movie Family Style starring Ewan McGregor. He directed episodes of Eastenders; Byker Grove; The Bill; Spooks, and Red Cap before directing nine of the 15 episodes of the 2005 adaptation of Bleak House. Following his movie The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) he directed the feature The First Grader, in 2010 that starred Naomie Harris.

Posted 07 January 2014 by Jon Creamer

China in your hands

The Chinese TV market is booming and increasingly opening up to television from around the world. Jon Creamer asks UK producers about their experiences so far

With over a billion potential viewers and a staggering array of channels, around 3,000 in total, all hungry for content, the attractions of the Chinese TV market are obvious for UK producers.

The country’s current biggest hit, talent show The Voice of China, can pick up TV audiences of 120m and the lead sponsor on this year’s series paid £50m for the privilege.

The UK government, and the UK producers haven’t been slow on the uptake. An agreement was signed at the tail end of last year between the DCMS and its Chinese counterpart to promote more collaboration between the UK and Chinese TV sectors. Pact and the UKTI’s UK Television Exports Survey published last year showed revenues from UK TV shows in China in 2012 climbed 90% on 2011.

Many UK indies got their first taste of dealing with the Chinese market on the recent Pact-led trade trip that ended with a ‘memorandum of understanding’ between Pact’s members and CCTV 9, the state broadcaster’s factual channel.

So UK producers and distributors are already doing good business in the country. CCTV9 is becoming a regular destination for doc producers (BBC Worldwide recently signed a co pro deal with the channel). And UK formats have already headed to China in their droves. China’s Got Talent is a massive hit as is the local version of The X Factor. Studio Lambert’s Gogglebox is the latest export after All3Media International closed a deal with Jiangsu Satellite TV. Deals have also been inked on Undercover Boss, Supernanny and Secret Millionaire.

Local knowledge
But for a producer unused to the territory, China is not an easy place to work, says Paul Jackson, former ITV and BBC director of entertainment and now creative director of Beijing based Houghton Street Media (currently helping shepherd North One format The Gadget Show on to Shenzhen TV). “It’s such a different culture. You need a Chinese partner. The difficulty is finding an honourable one. Many times when people have been making shows and licensing formats subsequent shows get made without them; they get paid late, things are cancelled with no recompense. It’s a very difficult place to do business.” The ‘wild east’ reputation is still partly deserved.

There are other problems too. The Chinese government can change the rules at a moments notice. Alarmed at the number of talent show formats on the Chinese networks, the State Administration of Radio, Television and Film (SARFT) recently limited channels to one foreign format a year, and a ban on those formats in primetime. The expectation is though that Chinese broadcasters will switch to ‘co-development’ deals with foreign producers where they will become involved with a format earlier in its life span as a way to work around this.

The language barrier is significant obviously, and the broadcasting landscape is bewilderingly big too. Danny Fenton, ceo of Zig Zag, who is currently developing formats with, and providing consultancy for, Chinese broadcasters. He has been working through the London/Beijing outfit Zespa Media as well as Jackson’s Houghton Street. “You’ve got to have a relationship with a local producer partner,” says Fenton. “There are so many different broadcasters both national and regional. Leila [Monks, who recently went on the Pact trip for Zig Zag] met over thirty different channels when she was in China.”

Going it alone
But a local partner isn’t always a necessity. Many British producers work directly with Chinese broadcasters, particularly those now used to commissioning internationally. “In my experience the Chinese partners I work with don’t want to work with agents,” says Liz McLeod, True North’s executive producer for specialist factual programmes, who’s currently putting together a series on Chinese designers for CCTV9 and CICC. “In specialist factual and documentaries, they want to work directly with producers in the same way a British broadcaster wants to talk directly to the producer.”

Getting to know you
But that depends on a relationship having been built up over time. As in the UK, Chinese broadcasters want to work with people they know and trust. McLeod has been putting together co pros with Chinese broadcasters since 2006 and that’s significant. As with much else in TV, it’s all about relationships and that holds particularly true in China. “People in China always look to the long term and that’s true of their commissioning partnerships,” says McLeod. “You’re never going to be successful if you just go out to China, meet everybody and then go away again. The dividends are great if you put the time in but you have to put the time in.” That’s echoed by Sam Barcroft, whose Barcroft TV digital channel has just got a spot on Youku, China’s answer to Youtube (and garnered 11m views within a fortnight). The deal was done directly with Youku after an initial introduction by Pact. Says Barcroft: “The key to all relationships that have wide cultural divides is consistency and taking time. You’re unlikely to do any immediate deals. People need to go to China a few times to start warming that trust up.”

But even when the trust is warmed up, producers must get used to the Chinese way of doing things. “It takes a very long time to get a decision,” says Jackson. “There’s the old indie saying that a ‘no’ is the second best answer. But there is no word for ‘no’ in China so you’re not going to get the second best answer. You get this constant prevarication. It takes a long time.”
Despite that, “their lead times are tiny,” says Jackson. “I’ve been talking about some World Cup programming to Chinese broadcasters for next April or May. They genuinely have said to me many times ‘Paul, why are you pushing us on this? We’re going to have plenty of time after the spring holiday.”

Different strokes
Creative director of Ten Alps TV, Fiona Stourton, who is exec producing The Secrets of Branding for CCTV2 through Blakeway, says that on earlier Chinese commissions, it was a surprise how bureaucratic decision making was, and how many people had a say in the programme “It was rather like making quite a complicated international co production.” There was also much more control over narrative and script, tough for current affairs producers used to reacting to events and going with them. “They want sign off on the narrative by all the powers that be before they film a frame.”
Chinese co pros can be tough too. “International co productions are very new in China,” says McLeod. “So there aren’t years of protocols and systems. Everything is untrodden ground.”

But despite the problems, the will is certainly there from Chinese broadcasters. For one thing, working with UK producers helps Chinese broadcasters forge relationships with international broadcasters through co pro deals. And apart from getting good shows on their screens, broadcasters are interested in learning new tricks. Commissions are “as much a learning curve for them in how we practically make programmes,” says Stourton. Part of that is finding efficiencies in production processes. The big formatted shows are done “comparatively well in terms of what you see on screen,” says Jackson. “But when you look behind that they work incredibly long hours, the technical standards maybe aren’t as good as they’d like them to be. They want to make these shows better but they also know that if they learned to do them better they might also be learning how to devise them and develop them themselves. That’s the real key.”

The next big thing
“China’s gone big on dating shows and talent shows for the last three or four years. That’s a kind of entertainment they know very well from their own culture. And for social and political reasons the dating shows are important because of the screwed up gender balance due to the one child policy. What they haven’t got and are just beginning to think about is reality. Hunan Television just had a big hit with a Korean show called Dad, Where are we Going? which is sort of Challenge Anneka where celebs take their kids to difficult places to do good works. It’s kind of reality. That show’s second only to The Voice of China. The reason The Voice was so huge was because out of all the talent shows, it was concerned with story. Almost by accident, because of the way the audition segments are set up, it brought story into the equation in a big way for the first time in China and was a sensation. Story suddenly become part of their consideration and reality takes that a step further.”
Paul Jackson, Houghton Street Media

Posted 06 January 2014 by Jon Creamer

Another Christmas cracker

This short from Picasso Pictures’ directing duo Jens & Anna shows Santa, and a host of other Christmas characters, getting on with their lives outside the festive season. In the live action/animation short Santa heads into therapy, Christmas trees get back to nature and presents work on 
their look.

Tis the Season... a Xmas short by Jens & Anna from Picasso Pictures on Vimeo.

Posted 18 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Finding the tweet spot

Twitter’s head of UK broadcast partnerships, Dan Biddle on how TV makers are using twitter to greater effect

How has TV’s use of Twitter changed?
Over the last year it has evolved though the grammar is still being learned. Some shows tweet too much, other shows tweet up to the point of TX then don’t tweet during but that’s when everyone is tweeting. It’s missing an opportunity to join the conversation, gather more followers and add value to your show.

Why is Twitter important to TV?
95% of all online public conversations about telly happen on twitter, 40% of all tweets during primetime are about TV. There’s a symbiotic relationship. And the amount of tweets and conversation around shows is becoming part of the measurement of television. Nielsen runs the Nielsen television twitter rating in the States. It’s done causality studies and shown correlations between twitter activity and TV ratings – people tweeting, seeing tweets and being driven to that show.

Is there an obvious moment in a show for tweets?
There’s a ‘tweet spot’ moment that everybody will talk about. In the edit suite producers now increasingly look for the moment, grab that as a still, give it to the twitter guys and they will be able to tweet that at the moment of TX because we know that’s the moment that’s going to move people.

But if people will tweet it anyway…?
Producers should tweet what everyone wishes they tweeted so they will retweet you. It will be your best content rather than some shonky screen grab. The message should go out that if you’re not watching BBC or ITV you’re missing this. And it’s not just coming from the broadcaster it’s coming from your friends.

Is live TV the best match with Twitter?
One of the preconceptions a while ago was that with live shows you can bring the audience in and read out tweets but you can’t do that in a pre recorded show. But we’ve even seen movies do well on twitter. The Krays was on ITV4 and they promoted that the Kemp brothers were going to live tweet the movie. Duncan Jones the director of Moon and Source Code will live tweet whenever his films are on in the UK.

Is it just a push to the live TX?
Twitter is a live friends recommendation engine. But anything that happens during or after the show is also a drive to VOD. The Voice in the US has taken a leap forward with twitter voting. Tweets don’t disappear down a well. In any other interaction unless you’re read out on the show or put in a lower third Aston it might as well not have happened. With twitter, because it’s public, you’re more likely to get responded to – not necessarily by the show but someone may reply to you or favourite you or retweet you.

What’s the best kind of hashtag?
A hashtag can either just be your brand that says here is the campfire that we’ll sit round or it can inspire people to be creative and pull them in to a show. Ideally you want to give people that opportunity to be creative and witty or share a story.

Posted 18 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

TV drama: a tale of ups and ups

Television drama is currently experiencing a purple patch with a tax credit boost, a truly international market and big name talent flocking in. Jon Creamer reports

The following is based on a true story: the UK drama industry is currently experiencing a genuine, 100%, honest to goodness boom.

An unprecedented planetary alignment of factors including the rise of the box set, the fall of the mid budget movie and the healthy injection of tax incentives has led to a new golden era for TV drama. 

Continental shift
Chris Chibnall, the writer of Broadchurch, one of the biggest UK drama hits of the past year, is in no doubt that this is a remarkable time for the genre. “I feel we are absolutely at the most exciting time for television drama ever, full stop,” he says unequivocally. “There are more markets than ever before. Drama is defining channels more so than ever. The world has become much smaller thanks to things like Netflix, I’ve got writer colleagues who will go and pitch in America if they can’t get it away here. The market place is truly, properly global now. If you’ve got a great script, you can get it made.”

The market for drama is anything but parochial now, agrees Channel 4’s head of drama, Piers Wenger. “Across the board there’s a home for UK drama throughout the world now. We’re in a much more connected global marketplace. Drama travels much better than it used to.” And that’s led to greater opportunities to co-produce and get bigger shows on screen at the same time as audiences gain greater access to a wider range of drama through more channels and VOD services. “It’s fed their imagination and allowed them to be much more adventurous and broader in their taste. Now the Channel 4 audience look at a show like Homeland and feel as much ownership of that as many of our domestic dramas. It helps there’s a European sensibility to the filmmaking, it also helps there’s a brilliant British actor in the lead role but the landscape has grown in terms of the sorts of dramas that UK audiences can get behind.”

The BBC’s head of drama, Ben Stephenson describes the British drama audience as “the most sophisticated mainstream audience in the world” that expects a wide range of content, but not just in the arena of the big international co pro. “You can be Jane Campion and tell a story like Top of the Lake or you can be Kay Mellor and tell your stories. Top of the Lake is about as out there as you get on British television but that got an audience of two million. That’s bigger than most shows on cable television in America, which says something about our audiences.”

The international nature of the marketplace, and the demand for television drama in general, has meant UK producers have been pushed into getting ever better in order to succeed. “There’s a lot more opportunity but there’s a lot more competition,” says Kudos’ chief operating officer, Dan Isaacs. “There are a lot of people setting up drama indies, people moving from factual into drama and moving from film into TV and the Americans are coming over here and being a bit more acquisitive.”

Ex Tiger Aspect head of drama and now md of new indie, Drama Republic, Greg Brenman, points to the various new buyers that are moving into drama. “There’s a lot of opportunity. Everyone’s into content whether it’s Sky over here or Netflix or Amazon or Microsoft. There are a lot of people exploring opportunities. It would be foolish to say people are throwing money but original content is potent.”

The vital ingredient
And drama is fast becoming the most potent content to hold. “The game has changed so much in the last few years,” says Red Planet’s head of drama, Belinda Campbell. “The industry is so much more confident. Drama has repositioned itself as the vital genre. When it works it brings in the audience and it’s hugely reputational.”

Just within the UK, the thirst for original drama has increased hugely in the past few years. Into the three horse race between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 came Sky, a broadcaster that massively increased its drama commissioning in a short period of time and now looks set to stay for the long term. Director of entertainment channels, Stuart Murphy says that 2014 “is the year of scripted,” for Sky. “We have got loads of other stuff as well but my main obsession is going to be scripted. Viewers feel that proper broadcasters do scripted.” And without it, it’s hard to define the channel in viewer’s minds. “There’s a recognition across the portfolio of channels that drama can really capture the hearts and minds of the viewers and build a loyalty,” says Sky’s head of drama, Cameron Roach who notes that big shows like Kudos’ Sky Atlantic co pro The Tunnel, which the broadcaster assumed would be viewed as red button content, has become an appointment to view “something traditionally associated with terrestrials which is exciting for us. For Stuart [Murphy] and Sophie [Turner Laing, md, Content] there’s a real recognition that Sky subscribers can really feel a value from scripted entertainment.”

And it’s not just Sky. Broadcasters that had well and truly exited from original drama content are now getting back into the game. UKTV has ordered Legion, a high concept 10-part drama from Red Planet Pictures and Channel 5, now under Ben Frow’s direction, is making Suspects through Newman Street, an improvised police procedural. Further afield, there are other surprising entrants. The US History Channel has one of its biggest hits of recent times in historical drama Hatfields and McCoys, a state of affairs of great interest to historical drama specialists like Hardy Pictures. “We definitely do feel that if we get the right idea the door’s ajar and a big range of American channels are looking to do that work,” says Hardy’s Lucy Bassnett-McGuire.

Credit where it’s due
Of course, back in the UK, a good part of the genre’s confidence stems from the new tax credits system that gives high-end drama made in the UK a welcome cash boost and allows more money to go on screen providing the gloss now expected by audiences. “It has empowered producers in a healthy way,” says Channel 4’s Wenger. “It means that 
series television is now properly resourced and able to compete with the production value that audiences are used to from elsewhere in the world. Domestic television sets have changed so much in the last five or 10 years and that means that audiences can have a very cinematic experience in the home. We have to be able to resource that.”

And apart from putting more money on screen, the tax credit is expected to bring other benefits too. The credit is designed to keep drama production in the UK rather than seeing projects head off abroad to access foreign tax breaks. And that could mean bigger name talent signing on to shows if they’re not going to have to spend weeks away from home. UK centred stories using actual UK locations rather than mocked up ‘Britains’ in Budapest should also have a greater authenticity.

Credit squeeze
But the tax breaks won’t all be positive for UK drama producers, says Kudos’ chief exec Jane Featherstone. Not least because prices will inevitably inflate. “There’s no question there will be an impact,” she says. Although “a lot of prices and rates have been held at a certain level for too long and needed adjusting.” There’s also the worry that as foreign productions locate to the UK to access tax breaks, there could be, at least in the short term, something of a talent and facilities drain. “It’s a problem we have to deal with but it’s a good problem to have,” says Kudos’ Isaacs. “It depends how many big shows come from outside. They use big crews, they have expensive budgets and they use a lot of people.” And before more production staff are trained up, there could be a problem. Facilities could be stretched too. The studios sector is racing to expand and is already faced with turning customers away. “Now we have the tax incentive in place we went from 0 top 60 very quickly indeed,” says Andy Weltman, executive vp, Pinewood USA. “The issue now is Pinewood and Shepperton are pretty full. We want to get productions in there but don’t currently have the capacity.”

Film flight
Tax credits aside, there’s also the sense right now that film’s loss is TV’s gain. Much has been said about the move of writing and acting talent from movies to television. As the mid budget dramatic movie has fallen by the wayside in a film business that increasingly only produces either low budget indie fare or tent pole superhero movies, a lot of writers and actors find that television is offering a creative lifeboat. And good writers mean good actors follow. “TV is a very exciting place for talent to be. There’s a lot of good work going on which lets us be quite adventurous,” says ITV’s head of drama, Steve November, picking out Paddy Considine’s turn in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. “He’s somebody you wouldn’t have thought a few years ago you’d see on ITV as a returning detective, but when the writing’s good, it attracts good talent.” Greg Brenman, who cast Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders and Maggie Gyllenhaal in his lastest production, Hugo Blick’s The Honourable Woman for BBC2 and Sundance, says that’s a direct result of actors of that calibre not being able to find good roles in film and finding the good writers turning to TV. And those writers are coming because of operators like Netflix encouraging “serial narrative. It’s a cultural shift, it’s the sort of narrative that people like watching. You can tell one story over many hours as opposed to just telling stories within a rigid format. That has encouraged significant writing talent into the TV world, which has encouraged significant acting talent into the TV world.”

And the writing talent also feels it has more control, and respect, in TV. “I love film but why would I go and involve myself in a process that’s going to make me miserable when television makes me really happy and I work with brilliant people,” says Broadchurch writer, Chibnall. “I’ve yet to be convinced that working in film will be a better experience. Process is important because process is your daily life. I don’t want to be in a meeting room where I have written a 120 page script and I’m considered dispensable.”

UK commissioners: what they want

Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller
“The key refrain I always use about the BBC is it’s all about range. We’re not a niche broadcaster. That doesn’t mean we’re not challenging. We’ve got faith in the audience. On BBC 2 it’s a relatively small channel in terms of the drama we make but very potent and powerful. We want an alternative take on genre pieces. On BBC1 we want the most cutting edge, authored, risk taking, mainstream drama. That’s why we’ll keep working with writers like Pete Bowker or Jimmy McGovern to deliver that. We want to find the next generation of mainstream successes that do what Last Tango or Call the Midwife did. People didn’t think a show about nuns or old people in love would work.

Steve November, ITV director of drama
“Our main aim at the moment is contemporary non-crime. It’s hard to crack - something that has big universal appeal, big story and delivers big characters without the genre narrative driver. It’s what everyone’s looking for and the few writers with a proven track record in it are in extraordinary demand. The most important thing is returning potential. If we can bring people back week on week that’s great but if we can do it year on year that’s when we start to develop loyalty to the channel. We want returning potential but that comes in all sorts of ways. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a returning brand even though they’re single films. There’s always space for single films. We want to give the viewers something unexpected and those shorter runs allow us to bring some talent to ITV who might not want to do six or eight hours.

Piers Wenger, Channel 4 head of drama
“Each of the authors of the shows we have next year have incredibly distinctive voices with a strong point of view. It’s that originality of thought and vision and voice that should define Channel 4 drama. We want something that the audience hasn’t seen before. That can be a new take on a familiar area or it can just be taking the audience into a completely new world. It’s all about an individual’s vision. In the case of [Paul Abbot’s upcoming cop show] No Offence, it’s a completely anarchic take on the cop show with very strong female leads but with a distinctly Paul Abbot twist on it. Each story has a strong emotional heart to it and a huge amount of humanity.

Cameron Roach, Acting head of drama, sky
“We feel we’re well covered for period drama in terms of what we’ve got in development. The BBC and ITV do it so brilliantly we have to make sure we do it differently. On Atlantic we’re looking for really big, ambitious, contemporary pieces like Fortitude that have a British perspective but are also global facing so we can attract international partnerships on them. With Sky One we’ve got The Smoke and Critical and Strike Back. It’s still thinking about adrenalin fuelled drama with emotion and humour but now we’ve got a fire show and a medical show it’s now about perhaps thinking about crime or sci fi. We’ve got projects in development for family drama. The success of Yonderland coming out of the comedy team means that’s definitely an area we would explore, certainly for Sky One.

Posted 13 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Storyboard: best of the month in vfx, animation and motion graphics

In this month’s round up of the best in animation, motion graphics and vfx, Weave flies close to the sun for the BBC; RSA and MPC tear it up for Sony and Rogue and The Mill swarm to Lexus

Weave vfx
Comet of the Century
Weave VFX created the star of the show for BBC2 Horizon special Comet of the Century that explained what would happen when the five billion year old comet Ison passed by the Sun late last month. Weave used a combination of 3d and compositing to visualise the ball of rock and ice as it went perilously close to the sun. The vfx director was Jason White.

Rogue/The Mill
Rogue’s Sam Brown and The Mill made this spot, Lexus Swarm for CHI & Partners. It was shot in Vancouver at various city locations including the Museum of Anthropology. The bespoke quadrotors created for Swarm took their design cues from Lexus cars and were shot mostly in camera with The Mill adding animation to give the machines more personality.

Lexus - 'Swarm - Amazing in Motion' from Rogue Films on Vimeo.

Lexus 'Swarm' Behind The Scenes from The Mill on Vimeo.

RSA director Rob Blishen, MPC and 180 Amsterdam built this paper universe for Sony PlayStation’s new Vita game Tearaway. The game is set in a 3D world made of paper, so the team made a real-life paper world at 1:12 to scale. A live action hero was dropped into a stop motion animation created on the set along with discreet 3D and 2D work and set extensions.

Second Home
My Motorbike
This is Second Home Studios’ contribution to the CITV Share a Story project in which kids’ stories are animated for the channel. Stop frame short My Motorbike was written by eight year old Alex Holt, a simple tale of a boy who dreams of motorcycle adventures whilst playing on his scooter in his back yard. It was directed and produced by Chris Randall and Waldemar Werbel.

Table Manners
Rebecca Manley’s new short, Table Manners, is her first foray into live action puppets. It was created for C4’s Random Acts.

Table Manners from Rebecca Manley on Vimeo.

Passion Pictures
O2 Sim spot

Passion director  Lobo goes on a journey through India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for VCCP’s O2 international SIM ad.

O2 "Memories" from Lobo on Vimeo.

MTV rebrand

Brand agency DixonBaxi created a new look, positioning and strategy for the Finnish commercial broadcaster MTV.

MTV 3 | Roller Derby from DixonBaxi on Vimeo.

Jump Design
One Show Titles

Lee Jacobs of Jump directed the Christmas special of The One Show logo and titles – a preview of the newly refreshed graphics package. The 3D was built In C4D by Duncan Tune who also composited the titles in After Effects.

The One Show Titles - Christmas from Jump Design on Vimeo.

Posted 11 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Chris Chibnall on The Great Train Robbery

Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall found that despite its iconic status, much of the drama of the Great Train Robbery was still there for the taking. He tells Jon Creamer how he pulled the job off

Chris Chibnall’s The Great Train Robbery (World Productions for BBC2) divides into two separate 90-minute films, A Robbers’ Tale that focuses on mastermind Bruce Reynolds and his team of criminals and A Coppers’ Tale that puts DCS Tommy Butler and The Flying Squad centre stage.

Why did you get interested in this story?
We’d just finished doing United, the film for BBC2 about the Busby Babes. It was the first time I’d done a story based on real events. I loved finding the narrative and finding the characters. Often we’re not very good at dramatising post-war British social history. We don’t mythologise our recent history and especially not stuff that’s maybe a bit working class.

Was the idea always to have two discrete films?
Always. My initial thought was it’s not a two-part drama, it’s two films that are connected. I didn’t want to be intercutting the police and the robbers. I wanted to follow the characters’ journeys in each film.

Were you worried it’s too well known a story already?
As soon as I started reading in detail, a lot of the things you think you know aren’t true and there’s a lot more detail that places it in context. It’s become myth. On the robbers’ side the post robbery narrative has taken over – the escape from prison, the journey to Rio, can the police get them back? But the event, the planning and the night itself are in the background a bit.

How did you research the films?
There’s a lot of information on the robbers’ side but there was next to nothing on the police side. On the robbers’ side there were dozens of books and accounts that would often contradict each other because you’re dealing with people who don’t want to tell the truth. When it came to the police, Tommy Butler never gave an interview. We found three minutes of him on a Scotland Yard archive film. We went to the national archives, we raided all the news archives for footage. A really great research historian called Andrew Cook had unlocked a lot of the case files from the robbery. A lot of new information in that second film is based on first hand memos from Tommy Butler to his superiors. We talked to the surviving members of the gang like Steve Moore. Peter Jones worked under Tommy Butler and Ted Bentley worked for the finger print department at Scotland Yard. They had a lot of great stories about Butler. What was really exciting for me was there was a character here who is pivotal in this major historical event and he’s never appeared in a drama before

What other references did you bring in?
In a facile way, at pitch level I’d always said if the first film is Ocean’s Eleven the second film is Zodiac. But actually we weren’t really talking about many filmic references because the stories were so clear and unique. What you’re trying to do is evoke the time rather than that theme park sensibility.

Was the period itself important to you?
Everything changes in 1963 as Larkin said. You’ve got Profumo, The Beatles, Wilson in the wings. It’s the point when modern Britain erupts out of post war austerity. The first film is the new generation coming to take society by storm, the second is about the old order trying to hold on.

Did you have to add much to aid the drama? 
Not much. One big thing I fictionalised is a scene in a cafe right at the end between Butler and Bruce, which owes a lot to Heat. But it’s not what you add but what you leave out that is the big decision. You can’t show the hunt for all the robbers as that would be 14 arrests. In the first film it’s the nine months before the robbery, the lead up to the robbery, the robbery itself and then two or three days after it. The big decision is what period of time you focus on and that helps define the story. There are a lot of very compelling characters who are left on the sidelines – Buster Edwards and Ronnie Biggs are in the background. You always know you’re on to a good thing having to leave stuff out that’s good.

You always exec produce as well as write, why?
I think I can help curate the script to the screen. It’s about being a filmmaker from start to finish so your voice is there throughout. You have to work with very secure producers. Insecure producers want to muscle the writer out but brilliant people are always happy to collaborate in my experience. Anybody who doesn’t do it like that is losing a resource. Why would you not try to include the person who had the idea in the first place. It’s one of the reasons I don’t work in film. I’m lucky that people like Paul Abbot and Russell T Davies kicked that door down for people like me to walk through. It’s my responsibility to make sure the door is still open for the next bunch of people coming through.                                       

Broadchurch writer and exec producer Chris Chibnall’s latest is two complementary films, “not a two parter” on the Great Train Robbery of 1963. The first film tells the story of the gang who planned and carried out the heist, the second tells the story of the police team assembled to catch them
Broadcaster BBC1
Production A World Production for the BBC in association with Screen Yorkshire, Lip Sync Productions and Content Media Corporation
Stars Luke Evans, Jim Broadbent
Writer Chris Chibnall
Exec producer (World) Roderick Seligman
Producer Julia Stannard

A Robber’s Tale

Julian Jarrold
DoP George Richmond
Editor Mark Eckersley

A Copper’s Tale

Director James Strong
DoP Gary Shaw
Editor Billy Sneddon

Posted 10 December 2013 by Jon Creamer
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