As the second series of Fable Pictures’ Channel 4 sitcom, Hullraisers, hits the screen, exec producer Hannah Farrell and director Ian Fitzgibbon reflect on the production of a successful returner.
HANNAH FARRELL – Executive Producer
The really important thing when we set out to make Hullraisers was that it reflected Britain back at itself – that the audience could recognise the characters in themselves or people they knew. It was crucial to be joyful, and avoid stereotypes – and of course that it was incredibly female-centric and funny. The reception of series 1 was so exciting as it reached such a wide audience, and that it really connected with people. Knowing we had made something female-led, working class, funny, warm (with some outrageous bits) that had really touched people, was a real joy.
Series 2 offered us a fantastic opportunity to explore not just the development of the characters themselves but the development of the characters with each other. We had licence to be a bit bigger and bolder if we wanted to. That felt very important. Having spent six episodes with this family, with these incredible women and with everyone that surrounds them in their community, Series 2 felt like an opportunity to progress them as characters emotionally. We could give them different stories, take what people knew about them from series 1 and really push how far we could take them, while still keeping it very grounded, very funny, and within our world. It felt like we could be a bit wild.
The writers for this series (Caroline Moran and Anne-Marie O’Connor) gave themselves a little bit more freedom to be topical and plug into the zeitgeist even more than series 1 – exploring some big-life issues for our characters. Being able to talk about these issues, and the more personal stuff that each of the characters are going through, whilst still ensuring the comedy is paramount is really hard, but the writers managed to capture this wonderful space where the characters convey both.
Hull is an incredibly important part of the show, and what was particularly important to Lucy (Beaumont, who adapted series 1), was that she always talks about Hull having a very specific spirit. It was key that we captured that spirit, capturing the magical element of the city and celebrating the place and the people and the real sense of uniqueness. Hopefully, we’ve done that justice. That was the real appeal of taking the original show, Little Mom (originally an Israeli comedy), and finding that sense of place to bring the show to the UK. The show really set out to celebrate Hull.
Hullraisers still feels, to me anyway, very unique and a space that we don’t really explore in terms of comedy that often, which feels really exciting. It can be a bit edgy, a bit salty, but it also has bags of heart, so it sits somewhere in that place between. The saltiness of the show is always really important to us. It’s what makes it Channel 4. Hopefully that ensures it has its own place in the comedy world – one that is a female-led working class British experience. Its big heart, its relatability and some big, old belly laughs, for me, is what feels distinct about the show and where it sits in the comedy landscape.
IAN FITZGIBBON – Director
When I start any show, I always start with character. When I read the scripts for Hullraisers and I saw these characters fleshed out, the way they were being developed, for me, it just became about how can I convey and grasp the essence of these characters, the way they relate to each other. I spent a lot of time with the actors exploring the relationships. You build a scene, you start to look at what feels truthful and what feels real, then once you feel you’ve established what’s real and what’s truthful, you find the funniest version of that reality.
When making any show, the main thing is when you get a cast, producers and crew together like that I think there is like a chemical reaction and if all those elements come together and they come together as a cohesive whole, something really amazing can happen. For me, that was the joy of the first series. Additionally the real excitement of that first series was those three women and the energy, the chemistry and the relationship between them was so strong that I think I slightly underestimated the impact that it would have. Comedy stands and falls on performance and character. Forget about all the rest of it, that really is your starting point. In those three women we just have the most amazing base from which to build story. It’s very hard to make something that has an identity of its own, that feels voiced in some way. I feel like we did that.
When starting with series two, the scripts were strong and powerful. It was very satisfying to read the scripts, that instinctively the shape of them felt right in terms of structure. The tempo and all the points you set up pay off, the running jokes, the character traits that recur. It was so strong, even more than in the first series. The other aspects to the scripts was that they dealt with subjects that are trickier, that are difficult, that are possibly contentious in a comedy but they dealt with them with such confidence and empathy and understanding. All those qualities are very important.
There’s some outstanding set pieces like the sexual standoff in episode 3. That strand is so joyous, so funny and so physical. When I get presented with those things I always panic a little bit because I worry, how do I make this real? How do I make the audience believe that in the everyday reality of these people, this sexual standoff has these kind of stakes? That, for me, is exciting because as a director you’re really being pushed to hold on to the overall truth of the series, the reality that you’ve set and the world that you’ve set up. Then within that you can have a storyline like that, that’s just so physical and visual and sexy and outrageous. It’s real testament to the writing but also to the actors, that they were able to touch on those subjects and be so comfortable and safe with each other. There’s such a good environment on that set that we’re able to do those things and they’re joyous.
With the look of this series I wanted to try and have our world look slightly more naturalistic, these layers and subtle differences. The first series we shot in the summer and blue skies and a heatwave. The second series we shot in March/April and the weather was different. The skies were grey, overcast and I didn’t want it to look gloomy but I didn’t want to pretend that this is not the world that we’re in. We would want to ground it in that kind of reality and know that you’ve such confidence in your characters because they’ve proven themselves to your audience. You feel able to take more unusual corners, to try this with her because we’re so secure in her DNA. We know how this character will react to certain things, so let’s put her in places that are unfamiliar or unexpected.
There’s so many different shades and subtle layers but it all starts from people being able to connect with it and I feel like that’s the challenge that I set myself when I started directing it.
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