All posts by DQ

Six of the Best: Aron Levitz

The head of storytelling platform Wattpad Studios opts for a mixture of science-fiction series, a ground-breaking non-English-language thriller and an iconic Mafia drama.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek sparked one of the first true TV fandoms. Long before remakes and reboots became the norm, Star Trek: The Next Generation set the standard for reimagining a franchise in fresh ways. It accomplished what many would have thought an impossible task: satisfying Star Trek’s die-hard fans and remaining true to the visionary show that came before it, while also creating something unique in its own right.
From the first episode, it featured compelling characters and tackled heady topics, travelling to the limits of where human achievement and imagination might one day take us. It was also a refreshingly diverse show, creating complex, powerful and challenging roles for women and people of colour. It was not perfect, but it accomplished more in this area than many shows today can claim.

The Sopranos
This series gave us a familiar subject in new ways. Mafia narratives have been part of American pop culture for decades, but The Sopranos gave us a more complicated vision of villains and heroes; family members and gangsters. The past decade has been defined by antihero narratives, and in many ways The Sopranos set the template for the amazing shows and films that followed. It was also one of the first shows that gave us the water-cooler effect. People tuned into the show every Sunday and then gathered to talk about it the next day.

Superheroes are everywhere and they are always fun. But they rarely take formal and narrative risks to create a unique dramatic TV experience. Legion exists in a superhero world but it’s mostly devoid of them. It remixes the superhero formula, reinventing what people expect of super-beings and superpowers. While superhero films get bigger and bigger, always looking towards the next intergalactic villain or catastrophe, Legion turns inward and shows that the biggest struggles are sometimes inside one’s own mind. It’s a refreshing and unique subject for a TV show to tackle.

The X-Files
From the moment it hit screens, The X-Files felt like something different. Mulder and Scully gave us deeply divergent and conflicting world views that somehow managed to coalesce into a powerful human connection. Chris Carter and his team created a masterclass in straddling the line between one-off narratives and a larger story arc to keep viewers coming back.
The show hinted at big multinational and intergalactic conspiracies across seasons, while also delivering creature-feature episodes that worked on every level. Along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files was also the start of modern online fandom, creating a community of followers dedicated to the show, its characters and the world they lived in.

This Spanish-language drama proved to America’s audiences and entertainment industry what everyone else in the world already knew: that the best entertainment isn’t always in English and doesn’t need to cater to US viewers. The idea that American audiences would sit through 10 hours of largely subtitled storytelling would have seemed impossible a few years ago, but Narcos (also pictured top) proved that’s not the case. This hasn’t been a one-off situation. Narcos’ subsequent seasons, along with shows like 3% and Dark, have shown that incredible stories transcend borders and languages.

Mr Robot
Many shows touch on social issues, but Mr Robot stands out for taking an important issue of our time – the distribution of wealth – as its central idea. Combined with its sensitive and nuanced look at mental health, the show creates incredible drama from two of the most relevant issues facing our world today.

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Start your engines

Director Colm McCarthy breaks down one of the most challenging scenes he had to film for madcap street-race drama Curfew. The series is produced by Tiger Aspect Productions in association with Moonage Pictures for Sky1, and distributed by Sky Vision.

In the near future, there’s been an outbreak of a virus, resulting in creatures that roam the night. They’re incredibly dangerous, so from dusk until dawn there’s a curfew across the world. But once a year, the curfew is defied and a mad road race takes place. And this year, it’s happening in the UK.

Curfew tells the story of the different racers, how they ended up in the race and what they’re racing for. It’s told in the style of a madcap genre mashup with much love given to the likes of John Carpenter, harking back to those amazing action movies of the 70s and 80s. It’s a lot of fun, but the special thing it does is take people you might know in everyday contemporary life and drop them into that sort of world.

Colm McCarthy on the Curfew set

Curfew came to me because Matthew Read, the writer, and Will Gould, one of the exec producers, had both discussed the project at various stages over the years. It’s been a very long development process. Curfew had a number of iterations before Matthew came on board, and he invested all the energy, tone and specificity it has now. I’d worked with those guys on, among other things, Peaky Blinders, and we knew each other. They were flatteringly very keen for me to get involved and talked to me a lot about it, even before they had a script.

I like to think I don’t have a distinctive personal style of directing. One of the things that’s exciting about directing is creating a unique world for the story you’re telling. Everything should serve the story. Matthew and Will had lots of ideas but mostly what they had was the tone, and the job of a good director is to come in and understand that and interpret it into visuals. I got what they wanted and they trusted me to deliver it. The idea is the audience is dropped into the race with the characters, rather than standing back and watching things.

Probably the most complicated thing we had to deal with is a section of story that straddles episodes one and two and then gets flashed back to in episodes nearer the end. This is when all the cars and drivers gather in a bullring at the very start of the race. We had all the cast there at the same time, shooting dusk until dawn. We had 30-odd stunt performers, 31 vehicles – with action drivers for all of those – and 150 extras, and we had that for a week in Manchester in one location.

Curfew debuted on Sky1 in February

Originally in the script, the cars all started in a warehouse. But then we found this huge circular meatpacking plant, like a coliseum, with one exit out that was a concrete tunnel. Myself and Tom Sayer, the production designer, thought that while it was totally different to the script, it would do the job of that opening better because you could have the cars fighting to get out of the hole and smashing into each other. We made our bed and lay in it. It was very difficult and made things extremely complicated because I wanted to shoot using the steadicam for a lot of scenes in that sequence and to move the cameras around a lot in the run-up to the race, which meant we had to have everything there all the time. It’s a lot of moving parts to manage on a set – way bigger than television shows in the UK ever are.

We had the added factor of the ‘Beast from the East’ storm arriving the week before filming. It could have been the most expensive film set in the country at the time and we couldn’t shoot for seven hours because there were blizzards and we had extras helping sweep away the snow. Then we were rushing Sean Bean, Billy Zane and the rest of the cast into the arena to snatch takes when we could.

Then there’s all the health and safety that’s involved in doing these insane stunts in an environment where you’re not going to hurt anyone. We were all very conscious there had recently been tragic circumstances due to stunts on British film sets, and getting it right was really important. There were never more potential failing points than during that week – it had everything going on. It was an intense and quite mad period.

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Perfect performance

In Spanish dramedy Dejate Llevar (Perfect Life), María, Cris and Esther are three very different women looking to find their place in the world. But for them, life has a way of upsetting their plans.

Speaking to DQTV, writer, director and star Leticia Dolera, who plays María, reveals why she wanted to tell this story of three women whose lives don’t always go the way they hoped, and explains how the show explores different aspects of their attempts to reach perfection.

She also talks about the decision to turn the story into a series, rather than a film, and the opportunities and challenges that presented.

Perfect Life is produced by broadcaster Movistar+ and distributed internationally by Beta Film. The show won best series and a special performance prize at Canneseries in April.

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Six of the Best: UKTV

UKTV head of scripted Pete Thornton and drama commissioning editor Philippa Collie Cousins reveal their favourite series, including a couple of US classics and one of the biggest British ratings hits of the past decade.

Queer as Folk
Pete Thornton: This makes the list for sheer audacity. At the time of transmission Channel 4 were at the top of their game as the mischief-makers-in-chief of British television and this series announced the arrival of an exciting new prodco, Red Production Company, and a brilliant new writer in Russell T Davies. I loved it because it was properly bold and incredibly fleet of foot, without ever taking itself too seriously. It was totally unlike anything I had seen before and in one fell swoop it made drama – a genre that seemed at the time to be orientated around old duffers – cool. It’s just a shame they couldn’t keep the original title – Queer as F***.

Philippa Collie Cousins: A perfect blend of Shakespeare and Hitchcock, Bodyguard is writer Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) at his artful and witty best. Clever casting from major to minor roles gave this piece an authenticity rarely seen. Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden burned brightly as the leads, but estranged wife Sophie Rundle was the standout performance, which made the final episode more than the sum of its parts. The distinctive eye of French director Thomas Vincent was impressive, and I am sure the camera lenses he used were pretty damn expensive, so well done World Productions for holding their nerve on the creative and delivering. The sound was also extraordinary and beautifully crafted.

Six Feet Under
Thornton: I was hooked from the first frame of the exquisitely beautiful title sequence. A brilliant cast, wonderfully lit and directed as you’d expect, but it was the efficiency of the dialogue that nailed me down. ‘I think if you’re afraid of something, that probably means you should do it’ still rates as one of my favourite lines, and maybe the commissioners at HBO had that ringing in their ears when they greenlit the series. Extraordinarily bold – and darkly funny too – it felt more complete and accomplished than anything I had seen before.

Happy Valley
Collie Cousins: Raw, seamless and truthful, Happy Valley proves television can grab the revered English novel by the scruff of the neck, add some layers to it and better it. The camera was never flashy but was always in the right place, and the performances crackled with authenticity and the painful contradictions of real life. A real step forward for female-led primetime drama. And like The Bridge’s Saga Norén, Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood woke the BBC1 audience up, depicting a convincing middle-aged flawed heroine. Happy Valley blazed a trail.

Hill Street Blues
Thornton: It all seems like a very long time ago now, but in any trawl back through the memory banks it’s hard to step over Steven Bochco’s titanic achievement. Veering from intense social commentary to something not far from a soap at times, this early example of an ensemble drama challenged a lot of what I had come to expect from watching TV. So many dramas have since followed in its footsteps that it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking this was back in 1981. Plus, they saved loads of time and money not bothering with fancy camera work – nor, indeed, with any make-up or wardrobe department it seems.

Stranger Things
Collie Cousins: Family viewing in our house, which hadn’t been seen since Sherlock, Billie Piper and David Tennant’s Doctor Who or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. How precious it is to have shared viewing, uniting the age groups in the dark with gripping viewing. Winona Ryder, my heroine since Heathers, was superb and the iconography of the series drew on Steven Spielberg’s ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, mixed with an indie feel of The Virgin Suicides and Drugstore Cowboy. I’m not sure I bought the later episodes when the secret was revealed, but I loved the urgency to solve the mystery and the sheer horror of a boy trapped in a parallel reality. British actor Millie Bobby Brown gave a standout performance as Eleven and the production design was faultless and elegant.

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Six of the Best: Anthony Horowitz

The screenwriter and author of the Alex Rider spy novels, which are coming to TV via Eleventh Hour Films and Sony Pictures Television, lists his favourite series, including an Israeli thriller, two period dramas and a gritty miniseries set within the drug trade.

You wouldn’t have thought that a violent drama set in modern-day Israel and dealing with the conflict with Hamas would provide fertile ground for popular TV, but this award-winning series works because the characters are so brilliantly drawn – it’s not just ‘us’ against ‘them.’ There are moral failings on both sides. Lior Raz, who plays the lead, and his co-writer Avi Issacharoff drew on their own experience in the Israeli Special Forces, which is probably why it feels so realistic. Filmed in Arabic and Hebrew (Fauda means ‘chaos’),
it’s returning for a third season later this year.

The Good Place
I’m a huge fan of this inane, metaphysical comedy. And even though the third season dipped a bit, I’m still eagerly looking forward to the next. I love it for the chemistry between the five main characters – four of them dead, the fifth the architect of the afterlife. But what makes it unique is the way it endlessly reinvents itself to the extent that you can never be quite sure what you’re watching. Even writing this, I’ve had to be careful not to include spoilers. Frozen yoghurt will never be the same!

The Good Wife
I hate it when I get addicted to a long-running series. I’m just too busy to give up the time it demands. But I didn’t miss a single one of the 156 episodes of this CBS legal/political drama starring Julianna Margulies. Somehow, the stories, which were complete in themselves, always surprised. And the increasingly convoluted character arcs, even after seven seasons, continued to make sense. I loved The Good Wife right up to the last minute of the last episode – and that one minute then spoiled everything. I still wonder why. I enjoy the spin-off, The Good Fight, just as much.

The Crown
I didn’t want to like this Netflix blockbuster. I’m not that interested in the royal family and I was envious of the amount of money they were throwing at the screen. But Peter Morgan’s writing hooked me from the first royal swear word and I was struck by the way the first season grappled with social history. The episode describing Graham Sutherland’s conflict with Winston Churchill (Stephen Dillane and John Lithgow, who are both superb) was a one-hour masterpiece in itself. The second season was a little more soapy but I can’t wait to see Olivia Colman take over in the third.

I, Claudius
This 12-part adaptation of Robert Graves’ novel goes all the way back to 1976, but Jack Pullman’s brilliant writing inspired me to become a TV screenwriter and the show still stands the test of time. Ancient Rome, with its tunics and togas, is almost impossible to recreate in a way that isn’t ludicrous, but this dramatisation managed it without once leaving the studio. In fact, what could have been its greatest weakness is actually its strength. From the moment the snake slithered across the mosaic floor to Wilfred Josephs’ title music, I was hooked.

I worked for the producer, Brian Eastman (Poirot, Crime Traveller), for many happy years. He had produced this 1989 six-part series about the drug trade before we met, and I think it may be his greatest work. At the time, it was ground-breaking, both for its international setting – Pakistan, Germany and the UK – and for the way it intertwined so many different lives, from the poppy growers to the police to the dealers to the users. Traffik, which aired on Channel 4, was exciting, popular and compelling, but never lost sight of the underlying seriousness of its subject.

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Six of the Best: James Prichard

The chairman and CEO of Agatha Christie Limited and great-grandson of the iconic crime writer reveals his six favourite adaptations of her work, which include some memorable cast members, a big-screen blockbuster and a French remake.

The ITV series of Poirot films with David Suchet has been such a huge part of Agatha Christie Limited’s story. The project lasted 25 years and covered every story that existed. I have chosen Curtain, Poirot’s last case, because it is such a powerful story – Poirot declares to a houseful of guests that one of them is a five-time murderer. Every time I read it, it brings a tear to my eye. I thought this production did it justice and was a fitting end to the series in 2013.

And Then There Were None
How could we follow our long-running series of Miss Marple and Poirot with ITV? The answer was this 2015 BBC miniseries, based on the story about 10 strangers drawn to a remote island before they discover there is a killer among them preparing to murder them one by one. Sarah Phelps brought a fresh eye to adapting Agatha Christie – she had not read any of the books before being asked to do this – and added a darkness and seriousness that is present in the books but had not been expressed on TV before.

The Body in the Library
I grew up very much favouring Poirot over Miss Marple. I have re-evaluated this view over the past few years and feel Marple is due a reboot. Joan Hickson for me is the finest iteration of the character there has been. This is the best episode, in which Marple is called to investigate the discovery of an unknown woman found murdered in a family’s library.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
This 1980 adaptation starring Francesca Annis was really the first of the modern television adaptations of Christie, paving the way for everything that has followed. As a 10-year-old when it first aired, its story of two friends who set out to find a killer terrified me. I had nightmares about it for years afterwards. It is therefore possibly wrong to list it as a favourite – I’m not sure I could watch it even now – but it has stuck with me and demonstrates the potential power of Agatha Christie on TV.

Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie
I don’t know if I could single out an episode, but this French series inspired by Christie’s novels is one of our hidden treasures (except in France, where it is incredibly successful). The series has been going for 10 years now and is a fantastic example of how popular Christie is around the world. It also shows that you can be quite radical in your adaptation, yet still remarkably faithful to both the story and the spirit of Christie.

Murder on the Orient Express
I thought it appropriate to put a bit of Hollywood glamour in here. We had not done a proper movie for a while and I think this 2017 feature reminded people of what can be done. It also illustrated again the extraordinary global reach that my great-grandmother has. The 20th Century Fox film was a massive commercial hit all over the world. The story, in which Poirot (played by Kenneth Branagh) is tasked with finding a murderer aboard the titular train, was retold very faithfully by scriptwriter Michael Green. And Ken’s moustache was clearly the greatest in all England.

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Wonder Wall

Fire Monkey executive producer Roope Lehtinen breaks down forthcoming Scandi drama The White Wall and details the challenges of filming the sci-fi mystery series hundreds of metres below ground in northern Finland.

As a TV producer from Finland, I know Nordic noir is big news internationally. And while I’m delighted to see many of the region’s dark, brooding mysteries get great reviews abroad, at Fire Monkey we like to add our own twist to things. As a result, we tend to tread a less conventional path.

We did this with Black Widows, which added dark humour and more than a touch of soap to a convoluted tale of murder, and now we are breaking out again with The White Wall, an eight-part sci-fi mystery series coproduced with Nice Drama.

Roope Lehtinen

At the centre of the show is the titular huge wall, made of an unexplained material and found deep underground at the mining site of the world’s largest nuclear waste depository, in northern Sweden. The opening of the depository is running behind schedule and waste is piling up, so the project director wants to crack on and keep the wall a secret. However, he soon has to make a decision that may well be the most important in the history of mankind. Should they leave the wall alone? Or should they try to see what’s behind it?

We are using the ‘sci-fi mystery’ label to place the drama somewhere in people’s minds, but it’s not exactly what you might expect from the genre. The story is set in the present day and there are no overtly futuristic, paranormal or alien elements or characters. Instead, there is just a vast wall made from a strange material. Within the production team, we sometimes use the term ‘grounded sci-fi’ instead as it feels more relevant.

This is a very different kind of Nordic series and probably a first for the region. Finnish pubcaster YLE, Sweden’s SVT and distributor DRG got what we were trying to achieve straightaway, and while it wasn’t really like anything they’d seen before, they all saw that the central issues and our finely developed, real characters would resonate with audiences both in Scandinavia and worldwide.

The intriguing idea for The White Wall was brought to us by director Aleksi Salmenperä. He was keen to explore human curiosity – particularly the fact that people struggle with not understanding everything and will rarely leave things alone. But is leaving things alone sometimes the right thing to do?

The White Wall is also a very character-driven series. It’s about people searching for love and understanding in an extraordinary situation and risking their lives when fighting for the things they care about most. The wall also acts as a metaphor in some of our characters’ lives: many have obstacles they must get past to achieve their goals. What will happen when they break through?

Much of The White Wall is filmed 700 metres underground

Our characters exist in a unique world, with a specific set of rules and aesthetics, and the production reflects this. Aleksi’s story is set deep underground in the middle of nowhere, and so are we. There are no plastic rocks or studio mine sets on this series – from November 2018 until April this year, we are on location in the middle of nowhere in northern Finland. The surface is currently covered with a metre of snow, but we are filming more than 700 metres down in an unused part of a much bigger working mine.

We looked at a number of mines before we found the right location in Pyhäjärvi, Finland. It needed to work for our vision for the show, but it also needed to be relatively close to some of the supporting infrastructure we needed, such as hotels and supplies. We also wanted to ensure some of the surface scenes could be filmed in the vicinity.

Filming so far below the surface presents a whole new world of challenges, not least the fact that it takes 30 minutes to get up or down. Security is tight and there are also rigorous health and safety protocols to follow. The air and moisture levels are different too, which can impact on equipment. And, as with cast and crew, just getting large amounts of kit onto set takes time. One small item left in a truck can blow the shooting schedule for that day, so planning and organisation are more important than usual. Filming in the mine gives The White Wall authenticity and a spectacular look and feel, but it’s not an easy task.

Of course, everyone is curious to know what’s behind the wall. Rest assured, we haven’t left this to play out during production and we haven’t changed our minds over the months either. We knew from the outset precisely what would be there at the end. All I can quite confidently say is that our directors, Aleksi and Anna Zackrisson – and the writers, led by Mikko Pöllä – have incredible imaginations, and when it’s delivered in early 2020, it’s unlikely to be what you think…

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Chadha’s vision

Best known for feature films such as Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice and Viceroy’s House, writer and director Gurinder Chadha has now arrived on the small screen with her first longform drama, Beecham House.

Set in India in 1795, the six-part series follows John Beecham (Tom Bateman), a former soldier in the East India Company who arrives in Delhi determined to leave his past behind him and start a new life as an independent trader, taking up residence in the titular mansion. However, the staff soon harbour questions over their secretive new master, who arrives with his infant son August.

In this DQTV interview, Chadha explains how she has been fascinated by different screen representations of the relationship between Britain and India and why she decided to explore that history from her perspective as a British-Indian woman.

She also talks the drama’s contemporary relevance and reveals why she found making the show particularly challenging.

Beecham House is produced by Chadha’s Bend It TV for ITV and distributed by Fremantle.

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Over the Years

From the team behind Queer as Folk, Linda Green, Bob & Rose and Cucumber comes BBC drama Years and Years, in which the complex lives of one family are followed over the next decade and a half as Britain is rocked by unstable political, economic and technological advances.

Rory Kinnear plays Stephen Lyons, a financial advisor and the family’s peacekeeper who is married to Celeste (T’Nia Miller), an ambitious and opinionated accountant.

Russell Tovey is Daniel Lyons, a hard-working housing officer and Stephen’s brother. Their sisters are Edith (Jessica Hynes), radical, dangerous and calculating with a secret life, and Rosie (Ruth Madeley). Anne Reid presides over the family as Muriel, imperial grandmother to the Lyons.

Emma Thompson also stars as Vivienne Rook, an outspoken celebrity turned political figure whose controversial opinions divide the nation.

In this DQTV interview, writer Russell T Davies and executive producer Nicola Shindler look back at the origins of the project explain how they pulled together its “extraordinary” cast.

Davies also describes how he works with actors and why a family saga is a great foundation for television drama, while Shindler outlines the challenges of making the often horrifying future-gazing series that attempts to stay ahead of real-life events.

Years and Years is produced by Red Production Company for BBC1 in the UK, France’s Canal+ and US premium cablenet HBO, and is distributed by StudioCanal.

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Top of their game

Serial showrunners Greg Berlanti and Jed Mercurio talk about the creative processes behind some of their biggest hit series, including You and Bodyguard.

Greg Berlanti is the undisputed king of television producers. With 18 series on air or commissioned in the US in 2019, he is dominating the schedules – and streaming platforms – with shows such as DC Comics adaptations The Flash, Supergirl and Doom Patrol, crime drama Blindspot, stalker hit You (pictured above) and Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Berlanti recently spoke at Israeli television festival INTV, where he shared the stage with British showrunner Jed Mercurio, whose credits include BBC thrillers Bodyguard and Line of Duty, which concluded its fifth season last month.

Here, DQ recaps some of their conversation, which covers topics such as making a hit series, where projects come from, production challenges and surviving in the era of ‘Peak TV.’

Jed Mercurio

You can never tell if a show is going to be a hit
Jed Mercurio: In the first instance when you’re working on a show, all you can do is work on the show. You can’t think about how it’s going to perform because there are so many variables. The best thing you can do is not guess how it’s going to perform. I was obviously thrilled by how the show [Bodyguard] performed, but there are so many variables – what night it goes out, how well it’s been promoted, whether the premise captures the audience’s imagination, and we were incredibly fortunate that a lot of stuff aligned for us. After that, as the show got bigger week on week, it became surreal.
I’m used to that situation sometimes when the ratings come out and the phone doesn’t ring because the ratings are bad and no-one wants to tell me, so when they are good, people want to tell me, so my phone was ringing earlier and earlier in the morning.

Known for his superhero dramas, You marked a different direction for Berlanti
Greg Berlanti: I read the book You three or four years ago and sent it to [showrunner] Sara Gimble. I’d never done a thriller before, but given that this was a romantic story with the point of view of a stalker, I want to do it responsibly, with a female perspective. I couldn’t believe that I was so in this person’s head that I was actually kind of rooting for this relationship, the book was kind of a Rorschach test for our society and how invested we are in the relationships.

Greg Berlanti

We sold the show to Showtime, of all places. They wanted to make something that was slightly different from the book, and once they read the book they were really cool about saying you can take it somewhere else. Lifetime loved the book and the script and then we shot it and because of their launch cycle it sat in the can for a while, so it was two-and-a-half years old when they finally started to release it and it didn’t do very well. Very often in this business, the best thing you can be is an advocate, I just kept saying I really think people will enjoy the story as much as we enjoyed the book.
We were getting some [hype] but not as much as you would hope. You’ve got to be realistic and pragmatic, but at the same time it had been bought by Netflix for international distribution. By the time it had premiered in full on Lifetime, they knew they weren’t going to take it to season two, and Netflix swooped in and assured us they would do a second season. And then I started getting a flood of emails from people who knew the show had been on, and then I felt like people were really discovering the show.
I loved making the show, I love the team we put together. You want all your things to succeed. So many things I’ve done didn’t work, and it was nice that this one made the cut and survived long enough to get another chance at life; it makes me happy. Mostly you want to feel validated because you’ve been saying for so long that you really think this story should connect.

Mercurio viewed the BBC’s Bodyguard as a variation on a cop show

Bodyguard came from Mercurio’s desire to write a political series
Mercurio: Originally the idea was to do something within the political arena. The first conversations I had with the BBC was the fact they hadn’t had a political thriller for a good deal of time. I started to think about a way into that. And because of how much I like dynamic storytelling – I like real jeopardy – I didn’t want to do something about politicians rivalling for power. Once I’d worked on it a little more, I went back with the way into the story, which involved a protection officer. In the UK it’s a division of the Metropolitan Police in London who protect high-ranking politicians and diplomats, so I felt like it was a variant on a cop show, and beyond that it was about constructing the relationships, creating the tension between the bodyguard and the person he’s meant to protect and giving him a back story that potentially makes him unstable enough and vengeful enough to possibly be a threat to her.

But at the start of production, things weren’t quite going to plan
Mercurio: A couple of things happened to us that were actually quite damaging. We were all set to shoot the opening train sequence but at the end of business on the day before the shoot, they revoked the licence. [It was initially intended to be shot on a train leaving London’s Waterloo Station but permission was withrawn, leading the sequence to be shot on the Mid Norfolk Railway.] We ended up having a couple of days shutting down production. We had nothing to shoot, we had to reconceive that sequence. During shooting of the rest of the show I worked with the director on various concepts for how we would approach that when we got a suitable location. The only way we thought we could do it was not using a moving train so the whole sequence had to be rewritten, but the advantage was that we shot it at the end of the shoot. Richard Madden [who plays lead character Richard Budd] had spent months in character and felt great in character, so he wasn’t shooting it cold. We, as a unit, knew the series well, we could make decisions that were confident and well informed, which is essential when you’re up against the clock, and we were very fortunate that that particular bit of misfortune went in our favour.

Berlanti worked on DC Comics adaptations including Supergirl

Their motivation to work in multiple genres comes from the people they work with and the nature of what they want to watch on television themselves
Mercurio: For me, it’s making something that I would want to watch on TV. It’s that simple. If there’s an idea that I think, ‘I wouldn’t watch that show,’ I wouldn’t do it. Whatever it is that somehow sparks my interest is essential for two reasons. I need to be really excited by the idea, in order to spend the amount of time that I have to on it, and each season is up to two years of my life so you’ve really got to be very committed to the work. The other thing is making the assumption that if you like something, there have got to be people out there who will like it as well, and beyond that it’s trying to get an idea that has critical mass. When you start thinking about what happens at the beginning of the story is there enough of a chain reaction to take in all kinds of directions?
For the audience to connect with the premise in that first episode, they’ve got to sense that mass building, they’ve got to sense that can explode and carry them in any direction. They have to sense that something big is coming.

Berlanti: What’s allowed me to work in different genres is the people I’ve worked with. Most are experienced in different areas, but at the end of the day most of it comes down to character. What are you trying to say about that character? It can be an emotional fight two characters are having, or an action sequence. If that sequence isn’t revealing of character, it’s the first thing you can cut.

Mercurio’s Line of Duty season five came to an end in May

Despite the amount of competition television shows now face, if it’s good enough, people will see it
Berlanti: Having seen so much change since I started in the business in terms of what people think might be popular or sell, it might be naïve of me to think this, but I really believe it is just more and more about execution and how well that story is told. You want to make sure as much as possible that it’s as good as it can be, so that it can survive as the climate gets more competitive.

Mercurio: One of the things that has changed that maybe isn’t talked about so much is the relationship between viewers and the shows. As a nerdy kid who watched every episode of his favourite shows, and knew all the characters and all the actors, that was rare back then. Today, people can re-watch old seasons and it’s now justifying more intensive detail in writing, more layers in writing plots and, more importantly, it’s convinced executives [to be more ambitious]. In the past, they said it would be very episodic and simple, that people have one chance to grab it and if you don’t make it very clear to them you have a problem. Now there are opportunities where people are encouraging you to be ambitious and complex and respect the devotion of the audience.

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Revealing Invisible Heroes

Inspired by true events, Finnish-Chilean drama Invisible Heroes tells the story of Finnish diplomat Tapani Brotherus, who helped to secure asylum in Europe for more than 2,000 Chilean citizens during General Pinochet’s military coup in 1973.

The political thriller stars Pelle Heikkilä as Brotherus, Ilkka Villi as fellow diplomat Ilkka Jaamala and Sophia Heikkilä as Lysa Brotherus, while Mikael Persbrandt plays Swedish ambassador Harald Edelstam.

In this DQTV interview, Heikkilä and Persbrandt discuss the story and the real events on which it was based, reflect on filming in Chilean capital Santiago and share their experience of stepping into a period drama.

They also talk about the growth of television drama around the world and why they think Invisible Heroes is a game-changer for Finnish series.

Invisible Heroes is produced by Kaiho Republic and Parox for YLE and Chilevisión, with Eccho Rights distributing worldwide.

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All Eyes on Mariana

Brazilian actor Mariana Ximenes discusses taking centre stage in Globo limited series Si Cierro Los Ojos Ahora (If I Close My Eyes Now).

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Mariana Ximenes has starred in series such as Cidade Proibida (Forbidden City), Supermax and International Emmy-winning telenovela Joia Rara (Precious Pearl).

The Brazilian actor can now be seen in Globo limited series Si Cierro Los Ojos Ahora (If I Close My Eyes Now), which is inspired by Eden Silvestre’s novel of the same name. Set in the 1960s, the nine-hour coming-of-age story sees two boys, Paulo (João Gabriel D’Aleluia) and Eduardo (Xande Valois) discover a woman’s mutilated body.

After first becoming suspects, they decide to investigate the mystery, leading them to characters including mayor Adriano Marques Torres (Murilo Benício), first lady Isabel (Débora Falabella), and entrepreneur Geraldo Bastos (Gabriel Braga Nunes) and his wife Adalgisa (Ximenes).

The drama is written by Ricardo Linhares, with artistic direction by Carlos Manga Jr. Here, Ximenes tells DQ about the changing nature of Brazilian television and the appeal of starring in a limited series.

Mariana Ximenes as Adalgisa

When you read a script, what do you look for in a character or a series?
I like to help tell a story. When I read a script, I ask myself: why tell this story? Will this character excite the public and excite me? Have I ever done anything with this kind of language or character? Who’s on the team? I like a challenge and always think about doing a story that reels me in at first glance. I follow my gut instinct.

The number of female-led series and strong female protagonists on screen is increasing around the world. Has this included Brazil?
I’ve been keeping up with international productions and I am very happy this movement is underway. Here in Brazil, we do have great female characters in TV but we’re coming up short in movies. Few stories are told from a female perspective, unfortunately. But I sincerely hope this will change very soon. I’ve already seen a greater number of women on film production teams. I starred in a comedy at the end of the year that was written and directed by a woman, produced by another woman, with a team full of women. It’s nice to see a set filled with a female team that’s driven and competent.

What interested you about playing Adalgisa in If I Close My Eyes Now?
Adalgisa is flippant, sarcastic, intense, mysterious, ahead of her time and experiences several underlying conflicts. That’s pretty appealing for an actress. It was also a privilege to be able to rely on such a well-oiled machine of a team. I love some of Adalgisa’s lines – like ‘I wish I had a liver in place of a heart, so I could drink more and feel less.’

If I Close My Eyes Now sees two boys discover a mutilated body

How did you help develop the character?
During dress rehearsals, we discovered some traits of her personality and her relationships with the other characters in the series. I love to rehearse, and I think it’s key. I also like to work with a trainer, who is also a psychoanalyst, because she helps me create the character’s psychological profile. Adalgisa has some support mechanisms for the pain in her soul, such as booze and cigarettes. She’s always smoking and/or drinking in every scene. That alone brings a strong characteristic that influences posture, clothing, the way you talk.

How was your experience filming the show?
I loved filming in the small town of Catas Altas, in the state of Minas Gerais. Another thing that happens is complicity between the cast and team members, because we start to live intensely both on and off set. This creates a harmony that helps at work. There’s also the possibility to see beautiful places like all the waterfalls and the Serra do Caraça mountain. I’ll never forget those landscapes.

The series is set in the 1960s. Do you enjoy filming period dramas? How do the setting and design inform your acting performance?
I love period plots. You have a historical distance that gives you more clarity to build the character and understand their context within the story. When you enter the dressing room and put on the costume, the transformation has already begun. Then there’s hair, makeup, scenery – everything complements the actor’s work, creating an ambiance to build on and contribute to our creation. Everything influences behaviour: social class, rules, society’s codes, customs, music, politics.

Why do you think If I Close My Eyes Now will appeal to international audiences?
Because it’s an intriguing story packed with suspense and sprinkled with humour. The narrative is well built, and the show has beautiful Brazilian landscapes, an amazing soundtrack and impeccable photography with a Brazilian touch.

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Making Les Misérables

Chris Carey’s producer credits include BBC miniseries River and Apple Tree Yard, but neither compare to the scale of the challenge of bringing Victor Hugo’s 19th century masterpiece Les Misérables to the screen.

Andrew Davies’ six-part adaptation of the classic novel retold the story of the cat-and-mouse relationship between Jean Valjean (Dominic West) and Javert (David Oyelowo), set against the backdrop of France at a time of civil unrest.

In this DQTV interview, Carey discusses the challenge of turning a 1,500-page novel into a six-hour series that spans 25 years and introduces multiple characters, all while keeping an eye on historical accuracy.

He also talks about the role of the producer on a series such as Les Misérables and explains why he thinks the drama will have a lasting legacy.

Les Misérables is produced by Lookout Point for BBC1 and Masterpiece on PBS in the US, and distributed by BBC Studios.

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Game over

After eight seasons and 73 episodes, HBO’s epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones has come to an end.

The series debuted in April 2011 and aired in 207 territories. Over the course of its run, it filmed in 10 countries, including Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Morocco, Malta, Spain, Croatia, Iceland, the US, Canada and Scotland.

Northern Ireland was home to 49 locations alone, with Titanic Studios used for the interior sets of Winterfell, Castle Black, the High Hall of the Eyrie, the Sky Cells in the Eyrie, the Hall of Faces, the House of Black and White, the Great Sept of Baelor, and the throne rooms in both the Great Pyramid of Meereen and King’s Landing.

The series used 12,986 extras in the country and 2,000 Northern Ireland crew members across the series’ eight seasons. Overall, the show totalled 105,846 days of work for extras across all seasons and countries.

In this DQTV interview, executive producer Frank Doelger looks back on his “extraordinary experience” making the series, which he says has broken the mould for cinematic storytelling while also successfully combining elements of fantasy and reality to create a cohesive drama.

He also praised the team behind the scenes that put the show together, often with three or four units filming on different continents at the same time, and reveals his surprise at learning how the series would end.

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The royal treatment

Emma Frost, co-showrunner of Starz drama The Spanish Princess, discusses finding the balance between historical truth and dramatic storytelling in a key scene from the series, which is produced by New Pictures and Playground and distributed by Lionsgate.

The Spanish Princess is the third instalment in the English historical series I’ve been doing for Starz, following The White Queen and The White Princess. It’s loosely based on two Philippa Gregory books, The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, and is about Catherine of Aragon, who arrives from Spain to marry Prince Arthur.

Emma Frost

There’s a scene in the third episode that we probably discussed more than any other in the whole show. It deals with the death and funeral of Arthur. As dramatists and producers, we know that anyone with a passing interest in history knows Arthur dies. So how do we write it? How do we produce it? How do we bring something fresh to it?

In terms of the filming, the scene is hugely ambitious in scale. We filmed it in Wells Cathedral in south-west England. Our wonderful director, Daina Reid, was very ambitious and had so many great ideas for this scene, but we had one day to film this huge funeral procession. It was a real military operation. The practical production challenges were immense.

There is a lot of historical record of Arthur’s funeral. When you have historical facts for any story, it presents unique challenges. You need historical advisors, but it’s one of the peculiarities of this show that we endlessly have to fight back against the truth, because our show is so much about power play and politics.

We can’t have a scene where characters are saying treasonous things within earshot of guards or clergymen who would be loyal to the king and would go off and immediately tell him. So one of the things we had to really police is well-meaning historical advisors who tell you to make all these people stand in one place because that’s where they were on the day, while Matthew [Graham, co-showrunner] and I endlessly have to go, ‘No, all those people out.’ It undermines the scene and the storytelling because this is a scene that cannot have eavesdroppers.

Spectacle isn’t story. It’s really easy to fall into a trap where you stop telling the story, forget about characters and suddenly just design a wedding or a funeral and spend a ton of money on it. There’s an endless challenge for us about how to combine spectacle with narrative and make sure every unfolding scene or sequence is driving deeply into character and story so it’s really earning it’s place either emotionally or narratively, and it isn’t the equivalent of a song and dance number where the story stops.

Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon

One of the things we discovered was that Sir Richard Pole, a nobleman who brought up Arthur for most of his childhood in Wales, rode a huge horse through the church, snapping Arthur’s staff across his knee and laying it on the coffin. When you read that, you think it’s amazing. But then we discovered Catherine rode to the cathedral on a donkey. This was about her own sense of humility. She wanted to be a woman of the people; she wanted to be on their level.

In the first version of that sequence, we had Catherine on a donkey and then the horse in the cathedral. But the horse is simply spectacle, whereas Catherine riding the donkey is all about character and story. So the decision was made to lose the horse. It would have been great but we all felt it was gilding the lily and would have been one of those things where historical truth gets in the way.

We also wanted to find the emotional centre of the scene. Everybody is grieving but we tell the story through the female characters, so the three women for whom this is most significant emotionally are Catherine, whose husband has just died and whose fate has been thrown into uncertainty; Lizzie, Arthur’s mother; and Margaret Beaufort, who is the political player and is now wondering what is to be done with Catherine – as Arthur’s death means Lizzie’s second son is now in line to sit on the throne as Henry VIII.

Our story is about Catherine and her entourage coming in and bringing their own culture with them. There’s a practice called keening – crying out to express grief – that cuts through many different faiths and cultures, and it’s so un-English and beautiful. So we focus the scene on the elements that felt pertinent to our characters so they weren’t just historical realities recreated.

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Seeing is believing

As visual effects become a more prominent – and expensive – part of television, DQ hears about how writers and producers are aiming to meet cinematic standards in high-end dramas and how VFX can enhance storytelling.

Until recently, visual effects (VFX) in television series were a luxury rather than the norm. But the advent of epic shows such as HBO’s dragons- and magic-infused fantasy Game of Thrones has changed the paradigm in terms of what programmes can offer and, perhaps more importantly, what audiences now want from their high-end dramas.

Game of Thrones (pictured above), which came to an end this week, has employed numerous high-profile VFX firms over the years, including Primetime Creative Arts Emmy-winning teams at German firms Pixomondo and Mackevision. With this stamp of quality comes an obligation for VFX outfits to continuously improve the quality of their work. “It doesn’t matter if they’re playing Call of Duty, in the cinema or watching Netflix on their phone, audiences expect it to be of the highest quality,” says Richard Scott, CEO and co-founder of UK-based Axis Studios.

It’s a point picked up by Louise Hussey, executive producer at the UK arm of Lucasfilm-owned VFX outfit Industrial Light & Magic, who says VFX, a “longstanding part of film,” are fast becoming integral to TV. Hussey joined the company in 2018 to set up ILM TV, the company’s new London-headquartered television branch, having previously done the same for fellow VFX firm Double Negative (DNEG).

“We still don’t have the budgets that feature films have, but the fact we can harness a lot of the technology and development that’s been going on within film and bring that to bear in TV VFX is really key. That’s why we’re driving forward on all of those fronts, with creative and tech at the minute,” she says.

The War of the Worlds’ big effects sequences were figured out early on in development

While conceding that the US is more advanced than the UK in this space, Hussey believes the shift from cinema to TV – in terms of both consumer habits and the migration of talent – is being felt domestically and globally. While projects she had been looking at during her tenure at DNEG had been “very much constrained by the budgets that were available,” the upswing in the popularity of series, fuelled by premium drama on streamers like Netflix and traditional broadcasters like the BBC, has helped open the coffers for VFX. And off-screen talent has benefited as much as viewers.

“What’s incredible is the ambition of the storytellers and the ability writers now have to put things down on paper – that actually there is a chance [their ideas] can happen. Instead of writing themselves into a budgetary corner, they’re able to have a vision,” Hussey continues.

The forthcoming BBC adaptation of HG Wells’ classic sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds is a case in point. The miniseries, coproduced by ITV Studios-owned Mammoth Screen and Creasun Media in association with Red Square, uses VFX to complement the drama. Peter Harness, who penned the adaptation, says that although writers are “hard-wired into [thinking about] what things cost,” and therefore manage expectations on the page, he still prepares a first draft unfettered by budgetary constraints because it galvanises VFX teams to consider his vision from the outset.

“You are making a statement about the scale you are aiming for, even if you can’t afford all of it,” he says. “It’s quite helpful for people to get that and be a bit terrified by it and start thinking about how these things can be achieved.”

Harness reveals he already had an image of The War of the Worlds’ “iconic” Martians in mind, adding that conversations with director Craig Viveiros, designers and effects producers early in the process helped achieve the spectacle he was going for, removing the threat of eating into the budget with false starts.

Netflix and the BBC’s recently reimagined Watership Down was made by 42

“One of the biggest wastes of money is not having enough time or doing things on the fly. With The War of the Worlds, the one thing that didn’t change from script to script was the big effects sequences,” he explains. “We said, ‘We’re locking these so people can start building effects, storyboarding, looking at locations.’”

However, Harness admits the production did end up having to go without one effects sequence it had storyboarded, meaning he had to think up a scene with “the same impact for no money at all.” It became two people walking down a smoky road and hearing a baby crying in an abandoned house.

“I actually think it’s the most horrifying sequence in the [drama], and we basically got it for the cost of a smoke machine and a sound effect,” he says. “Budget constraints force you to be more creative.”

Rory Aitken, co-founder of management and production company 42, which is behind the recent BBC/Netflix animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ seminal novel Watership Down, says there was a “huge focus on getting the script right,” and notes the tensions between TV drama and captivating visuals. Given the steep costs of producing animation, Aitken says the whole process of making the series was turned on its head.

“You realise, when you’re shooting live action, what you get for free with a camera and actors is huge. You get the sun for free, you get houses for free if you’re filming on the street; someone’s figured out the drainage, someone’s figured out the actor’s haircut,” he says.

“With animation, you edit first and shoot later because it’s so expensive. Any second of animation you have on the cutting room floor is just a massive waste of money. We’ve delivered a four-part, 50-minute show and there’s not one second on the cutting room floor. The actual animation is the very last bit. You’re kind of flying blind up to that point.”

Kiss Me First combines live action with CGI sequences set in a virtual world

Dan May, co-founder of UK design studio Painting Practice alongside Joel Collins, says art departments and VFX teams often enhance a series that is renowned for its writing. Painting Practice was the driving force behind the look and effects of the first 13 episodes of Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology drama Black Mirror, on which May served as VFX art designer. The series had initially apportioned very little for visuals but as its popularity grew and it became a Netflix show with higher budgets, VFX progressed as a key part of its fabric and USP.

“Often, Joel and I will work from the very beginning to get the visuals to go with the writing and the script, to get the project greenlit,” May says. “Then we’ll do a lot of concept art to get people excited. We’ll feed those concepts to the writers, and some of that will go into the scripts, some of it won’t. Then you go into production but you’ve got a lot of that pre-planning done.”

UK pubcaster Channel 4’s recent cyber-thriller Kiss Me First required constant interaction between VFX teams and producers from the start. The series, produced by UK prodcos Balloon Entertainment and Kindle Entertainment, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who is addicted to a fictional online gaming site, and combines live action with computer-generated sequences set in a virtual world. Axis Studios was brought on board at pilot script stage because of its previous work with the gaming industry.

“We essentially fed our animation process into the writing process; the scripts were being developed at the same time we were boring out sequences,” Scott says. “Some of the sequences were established as being animation, and we could start working on those while the rest of the script was evolving.

“We were working on the animated sequences, designing the world, the costumes, and they hadn’t shot a single frame of live action. We did motion capture with all the actors and it was the first time they’d ever acted together. It was an upside-down production from that perspective.”

Clearly, VFX has transitioned from its perennial associations with fantasy and the big screen and is now being implemented as a tool in numerous premium dramas. As budgets continue to fuel its uptake in television, the migration of audiences from the cinema to the living room is likely to speed up.

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Knockout locations

Kenton Oxley, CEO of Knockout Production Services, reveals how locations were sought for the seventh season of Sky and Cinemax action drama Strike Back, which was filmed in Malaysia.

Kenton Oxley

The process of finding the perfect locations for any drama production is a fantastic experience, but when producer Left Bank Pictures approached us with a view to filming Strike Back season seven in Malaysia, we found the sheer number of locations needed for the script exploded, just like the drama itself.

With approximately 100 unique locations used – within an intense schedule – we ensured the cast and crew filmed in the most beautiful, grimy, secluded and dense locations in Malaysia.

Filming revolved around Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and the surrounding jungle. With the intense heat (40°C in the shade) and 90% humidity, filming was a challenge, but worth it when you watch the series. Malaysia delivered in spades.

We provided a detailed analysis of Strike Back’s infrastructure needs, based on the powerful and action-packed script. We have a great team on the ground in Malaysia, alongside 17 other global locations, so we were spoiled for location choice. Along with the rustic street locations, various dark and secluded warehouses where shootouts would take place and jungle territory, there were many settings that had to stand out and make a particular impact.

One of these was for the entrance of Colonel Coltrane, played by Jamie Bamber. The scene was shot on the rooftop of Menara KH’s Heli Bar, with the beautifully imposing Petronas Towers in the background. The location became the backdrop for the official Strike Back 7 press photography (pictured top) and Colonel Coltrane enjoyed an introduction like no other – from a venue on top of the world.

Filming locations included the jungle, where the crew encountered an enormous snake

Another location with gravitas is the missile warehouse, packed with technology and power. The location chosen was in Port Klang, approximately 350 kilometres from Johor. The humid and varied jungle scenes were shot in Hulu Langat and the street scenes were set in Armenian Street, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Penang.

The variety of locations needed proved intense, but our Malaysian location manager, Shan Iman, and our local line producer, Zurina Ramli, have extensive experience and knowledge as well as a database of locations. To add to this, we worked with the film commission in Johor and engaged local scouts, providing thousands of pictures of potential sites.

Working from the script, we sent back a potential locations document and awaited the director and producers’ choices. It was then over to us to secure permission from the location, government and local authorities to get releases and, finally, contract the location.

Sometimes this is straightforward. In developing markets, people embrace the idea, but dealing with individuals, big and small corporations, government bodies, local councils and associations while also educating proprietors and owners about the process and contractual commitment for filming is time-consuming.

The production also involved shooting in urban environments

With locations secured, we looked to logistics. For example, when we shot in a densely populated block of flats, we obtained permission from the flat owner, their neighbours and their neighbourhood association. Following this, we informed the local council about road closures. And because Strike Back involved firearms, chase scenes and explosions, we needed to inform the Royal Malaysia Police too.

As well as getting through all this red tape, we hired security to help with road diversions, while health and safety support was required in extremely remote locations in addition to basic amenities like power, water and waste management. We had to ensure complete independence and self-sufficiency. It was hugely satisfying to achieve.

Accomplishing this is challenging when local wildlife can be lethal. Ensuring medical kits include anti-venom for all local snake species, among other life-saving medication, is crucial. Every eventuality is covered, from medical emergencies through to evacuation procedures. Other than coming face-to-face with a huge boa constrictor on location in the jungle (humanely caught by our on-set snake handler), I’m pleased to say the drama was left to the script.

Our most challenging location was a recently closed shopping mall. Simply powering up the air conditioning was a massive task. Complexities of property ownership added complications, but the location was needed and it was just another day at the office for us.

The Strike Back cast ready to take to the skies in a helicopter

In contrast, a favourite filming location loved by all was Penang. It is a stunning city; a very welcoming environment that delivers as an amazing shooting location.

Left Bank Pictures executive producer Sharon Hughff agrees that the locations delivered: “When Left Bank Pictures embarked upon filming Strike Back in Malaysia, the creative challenges were immense. Not only were we looking to stage ambitious, complicated action set pieces, but Malaysia had to double for Goa, Indonesia and Hong Kong

“The beauty of the landscape, from the jungles around Johor Bahru to the neon futuristic cityscape of Kuala Lumpur all made for an incredible backdrop that exceeded our expectations and made for an epic on-screen production value.”

One of our aims at Knockout is for the locations to stay in the viewer’s mind after they watch the series. Certainly, one of the most jaw-dropping sequences I enjoyed seeing develop was at Sg Pendas, Johor, featuring a seaplane take fire as it flies over the immense lake. It is a stunning sequence with a stunning backdrop. For me, that’s what pre-production is all about – ensuring the great script and cast is supported by the best crew, infrastructure and locations in the world.

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Inquest into Coroner

After starring in HBO’s Ballers and Marvel series Inhumane for US network ABC, Canadian actor Serinda Swan returned home for her latest television project.

She takes the lead in Canuck pubcaster the CBC’s Coroner, in which she plays Jenny Cooper, a coroner tasked with investigating suspicious deaths while struggling to come to terms with her husband’s passing.

In this DQTV interview, Swan reveals why she was drawn to play the character in a show that blends procedural and serialised storytelling.

She also talks about the opportunity to tell a “very Canadian story,” backed by a crew that is sought-after by US productions, and why she wants to challenge a system that says you need to move to Hollywood to be successful.

Based on the books by MR Hall, Coroner is produced by Cineflix Studios, Muse Entertainment and Back Alley Films for CBC and is distributed internationally by Cineflix Rights. The series launched in Canada in January this year, with a second season due in 2020.

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Back to the Studio

Set in 1993, Flemish series Studio Tarara goes behind the scenes of a fictional comedy sketch show of the same name, whose actors gradually lose themselves in a spiral of self-destruction.

Following a suicide, the scandalous secrets of the entire studio threaten to be exposed by the ensuing investigation.

In this DQTV interview, actor Tim Van Den Begin and co-writer and director Tim Van Aelst introduce the Flemish-language tragicomedy, in which Van Den Begin plays Jean, “a joyful character with a very dark side.”

They talk about making a comedy series that aims to cross international borders and discuss the support they received from broadcaster VTM, which itself features in the series.

Studio Tarara received its international premiere last month at Canneseries following its launch in Belgium in February.

The eight-part series is produced by Shelter for VTM and distributed by Be Entertainment.

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Making Magnus

Norwegian series Magnus follows an idiotic yet genius detective as he attempts to solve a murder rooted in Norse mythology. Teaming up with a suicidal partner and a scrawny neighbourhood boy, he embarks on an increasingly strange adventure.

In this DQTV interview, creator and co-writer Vidar Magnussen and director Geir Henning Hopland talk about how they brought together a myriad of genres for the series, which they describe as a “supernatural comedy drama thriller.”

They also reveal how the movies of Peter Sellers influenced the show, while Hopland discusses his directing process.

Magnus is produced by Viafilm for NRK and distributed by Hat Trick International. The series had its international premiere at Canneseries last month.

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