Channel 5 drama, Finders Keepers, is the story of keen detectorist Martin (Neil Morrissey) and his wheeler dealer soon to be son-in-law Ashley (James Buckley) who discover a hoard of buried Saxon treasure worth millions. Legally, they should declare it, but if they sell it on the black market, they could be set for life.

The show is a Seven Seas Films production for Channel 5 in association with Quay Street Productions & ITV Studios.

Creator and writer, Dan Sefton, explains how the team put the drama together in the face of tight budgets and even tighter deadlines.

Channel 5 were offering Seven Seas Films their first network drama commission, but both the delivery date and the money were teetering on the edge of what was achievable. But this was an original project – The Hoard aka Finders Keepers – which we were desperate to make. Thanks to extra funding from ITV Studios and Great Point Media we had a workable budget. We just had less than nine months to go from conception to delivery.

It helped that I was writing it. Knowing that we’d have to schedule immediately meant pushing through all the episodes one after another to ensure that our stalwart line producer Barry Read could see exactly what was needed to create four hours of prime-time drama. Our co-execs – Paul Testar at Channel 5 and Davina Earl at Quay Street productions – understood that we only had one shot to get the scripts right. Minds were quickly focused.

As production loomed, we knew we needed a team that could work quickly, but still to the highest standards. Existing creative relationships were key. I had worked with both leading actor Neil Morrissey and director Philip John on ‘The Good Karma Hospital’. The fact that we already knew how to play together nicely increased the pace of the whole process. Add to that Phil’s instinctive and decisive style and we had a fighting chance of squeezing what should have been an eight week shoot into six.

Seven Seas Films co-founder Simon Lupton was pulled from retirement as a producer for ‘one last job’ and he managed to put together a crack team – often bringing in pros from scripted comedy who were used to squeezing a few extra pages into a day.

Although we were trying to make this show for well under tax break money, we did have some principles. Everyone was going to get paid their going rate and quality was not going to be compromised. It meant everybody on the team working both smart and hard.

After a recce in rural Somerset, Barry found locations close to London that could double for our fictional location but were close enough to the capital to save on overnights. Production accountant Nigel Wood kept a close eye on every penny. As the writer it was my job to be flexible and rewrite scenes for the locations close by without sacrificing the needs of the story.

We cut back the traditional drama ‘read through’ and held a smaller scale creative meeting that also doubled as a chance for costume to do some rapid fittings on the key cast. The other key was identifying early where cutting back would be a false economy. Our hero prop – the Saxon hoard itself – had to look amazing on screen but would need time to create. Predicting that meant the precious ‘treasure’ was ready when it was needed.

Our final shoot days in Somerset had to be meticulously planned. We could only afford two days in and around Glastonbury itself which meant grabbing the best locations when we could get them. A passing wizard was even co-opted and release formed up to allow a little extra magic to happen. Production wrapped with some second unit drone work – getting lucky with the weather meant that we were able to get the glory of the Glastonbury Tor on screen as a hero shot that ended up working almost as hard as our crew.

By the time wrap came along we were miraculously both on schedule and in budget, but every good drama needs a twist. The BECTU 10+1+1 rule came into effect between the final budget and the shoot, taking us marginally over, even with contingency. Our amazing crew deserved every penny and more, but it was a lesson in how easy it is to come unstuck due to factors outside your control.

If there’s a takeaway from the experience, I’d say it was honesty. Everyone involved in the production knew how tight things were and they all pulled together to make it happen. We owe them all. Sometimes the real treasure is right under your nose…

Dan Sefton is represented by Casarotto Ramsay and Associates

Finders Keepers finale airs Wednesday 7th February, 9pm on Channel 5. Or stream the full series on My5 now.

Jon Creamer

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