Q&A: Euston Films’ Kate Harwood
Euston Films MD Kate Harwood tells DQ why international coproductions are the way forward and suggests broadcasters should take a risk on new talent to avoid a talent drain.
As part of of C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, which begins today, Drama Quarterly asked some of the biggest names in the television drama industry for their thoughts on the business.
Here, Kate Harwood (pictured above), MD of FremantleMedia-owned Euston Films, tells DQ why she’s happy to be back in production and why the talent drain is the biggest problem facing the UK drama industry.
What’s your highlight from the past 12 months?
The biggest highlight of the past 12 months has definitely been getting Neil Cross’s first original drama in the UK since Luther was commissioned. Hard Sun was commissioned by BBC1 and was announced at the International Drama Summit last year.
What new opportunities are you taking advantage of in the industry?
The thing I’ve taken most advantage of is setting up Euston North with my former colleague and future colleague, the very talented and ambitious Hilary Martin. I’m really looking forward to everything we’re going to be doing together.
What is the biggest challenge you currently face?
The talent drain from the UK. Across casting, crews and writers, talent is now spread far more thinly across English-speaking drama, generally going to the prolific and wealthy US. Availability has become an issue due to options and exclusivities. Things have generally become far more restrictive than they were last time I produced when I was at the BBC [as head of drama production for England].
Is the drama boom the new normal or do you see the market contracting?
I don’t see any sign of the market contracting any time soon. The drama boom may shift to become less local and projects will get bigger via more international coproductions. The genie won’t go back in the bottle; we’re not going to end up making a lot of small dramas.
People make their own personal connection with the dramas that they want to watch and love. They want big-scale series, whether they’re watching them on their phones or their high-definition screens at home. Whether in terms of emotional scale or actual budget scale, the new normal for a drama will be ‘big.’ We will find many more opportunities for making drama, away from the anchorage of smaller national channels.
How are you working differently now compared with a year ago?
This year I’m in production; last year I was in development. It’s a huge mind shift and one that I really welcome going back to. I haven’t been in production since I left the BBC, so this is very thrilling, if a little bit nerve-wracking.
What new methods are you using to finance productions?
The most obvious thing is the tax break that’s come in and is the fuel in the UK for high-end drama. I think that’s certainly something that has brought a lot of production to the UK and is allowing us to grow collectively as an industry. Negatively, I think it has been inflationary and costs have definitely gone up. But the benefits should be felt by the whole industry, on and off screen.
What are your international ambitions and how will you achieve them?
Being part of FremantleMedia means international relationships with our sister companies in other countries have been extremely fruitful. We are currently co-developing with both our Danish sister company Miso Film [on Dicte] and with our Italian sister company Wildside [The Young Pope].
What does the drama industry need to address in order to survive and prosper?
We need to work out how to grow new writers. Everybody pays lip service to this, but if we have an industry that is mainly fuelled by our brilliant authored pieces, which are the envy of the world, we also need to work out how to bring on new writers.
When budgets are high and costs are high, it takes a lot of nerve to commission something from someone who has yet to deliver at that scale. But if we don’t find other ways, either by putting writers into teams or actually trying to develop and shoot some smaller-budget dramas, we will find very quickly that other people will give those writers opportunities outside of this country. We’ll be left begging for their time at the end of a very long queue, and that’s the thing that worries me most.
It’s a truism that writers are the lifeblood of television, but very few arrive fully formed. We have to put effort into bringing them on; we have to find ways of backing their creativity, backing their ideas and backing them learning their craft – and you can’t fully learn that craft until you’ve turned words on a page into drama on a screen. The right to fail gets harder and harder when shows get more and more expensive.
I think UK broadcasters also have a responsibility not just to try to make the best shows but also to engage with newer writers early on in their careers and work with them on developing their scripts. It’s a holistic approach, but we have to look for opportunities to engage with and develop newer writers. A failed script can be a huge step to a successful show. It’s not altruism, it’s survival!
How will the industry change in the next 12 months?
There are more streaming services coming down the line, and services that are only in certain territories now may start to move out into new countries and become global forces. That unique relationship between the producer, the story and the audience is finding a whole new platform and it’s going to be very exciting. It will also be exciting to see how the broadcasters respond to that and whether the beginnings that have been made with BBC3 and iPlayer demonstrate ways the BBC can start to engage with a different, global audience. It seems to me the BBC has got one of the best catch-up services in the country and yet there is still not quite enough being made uniquely for it.
What is the biggest threat to the drama business?
Paradoxically, the biggest threat to the industry is the huge appetite for high-end drama. We have to be careful that we don’t go so mainstream – to justify the budgets that we’re spending – that we end up not making the projects that are unique and bespoke enough to reach younger or slightly more niche audiences.
At the moment there’s tremendous variety out there. What’s wonderful is that the hits – this summer’s Stranger Things being the obvious example – seem to come on the wings of passion and excitement, from incredibly creative people who are young and who want to be working in drama. We should just celebrate that.
We have to look for not just novelty but new ideas, new expression and scale. Drama needs scale – emotional scale as well as actual scale. I think that’s out there. Drama is a huge driving force in humanity and in storytelling, so it’s never going to go away.