Tag Archives: Amazon

Crime drama remixed

The world of organised crime plays out against the pulsating backdrop of Berlin’s club scene in Beat, the fifth German original series from Amazon Prime Video. Creator and director Marco Kreuzpaintner reveals how he meshed his love of the city with the real-life issue of organ trafficking.

Right from the beginning of its startling, fractured and kaleidoscopic title sequence and its opening scenes, which include a tracking shot that introduces viewers to the characters that populate Club Sonar, German drama Beat draws you into the Berlin party scene with its hypnotic soundtrack and the charisma of its drug-addled title character.

This might be a crime thriller but, from those initial moments, creator and director Marco Kreuzpaintner sets up a world that is rarely seen on television. Then, through the opening episode, he places it squarely at odds with another subject – the underground industry of illegal organ trafficking.

Beat is the story of Robert Schlag (Jannis Niewöhner, Maximilian & Marie de Bourgogne) – otherwise known as Beat. The club promoter pushes life to the limits as he enjoys all the perks and opportunities of being one of the most popular and well-connected people in Berlin. But all around him, organised crime has a hand in everything that makes money: drugs, humans, weapons and organs.

When they have nothing left to lose, state agencies turn to the unconventional methods for which Beat is best known. No matter what you need or whom you’re searching for, Beat knows the right people to ask. But when he’s brought in to find the string-pullers within a corrupt system, Beat finds his past soon catches up with him.

Beat star Jannis Niewöhner with Karoline Herfurth as Emilia

Beat marks the fifth German original series for Amazon Prime Video, following You Are Wanted, comedies Pastewka and Der Lack ist ab and the recently launched Deutschland 86. It is produced by Hellinger/Doll Filmproduktion, Warner Bros Film Productions Germany and Pantaleon Films in co-operation with Amazon Studios.

Kreuzpaintner had spent 15 years living in Berlin and knew the city’s vibrant nightlife, but was moving back to the Bavarian countryside when Warner Bros approached him about making a new series. Wanting to do something he felt a personal connection with, he drew on the German capital’s club culture – “the best in the world, actually” – and paired it with a story about organ trafficking.

“I was reading an article about a thing that not many people are aware of, that some refugees on their way from Africa and other countries into Europe are disappearing, not only by the danger of the journey but by a calculated, ongoing mafia that is taking advantage of people who are not missed immediately by trading off their organs,” he explains, speaking at Amazon’s Prime Video Presents event in London in October. “I thought that was quite horrendous. I brought two subject matters that are so far away from each other together and I thought they made a great conflict with each other.”

Kreuzpainter says he was naturally drawn to turning the story into a television series because of the variety of topics you can address in an episodic format. Also, “I’m a little bit bored of the classical three-act structure right now,” he says of the movie industry, “so that’s why I feel like making series. You can take detours and dive into characters’ absurd existences. You don’t have to push plots in a certain direction, so that’s what I really like about it. New platforms and series and the competition they have created have given a really big advantage to filmmakers nowadays.”

Marco Kreuzpaintner, the show’s creator and director

Described as a partygoer par excellence, Beat is always awake, always high and simultaneously always broken and traumatised. When he was six, his parents suddenly disappeared and now he can’t remember them and doesn’t even know if they are still alive.

He is recruited by European Secret Service agents Christian Berkel (Richard Diemer) and Emilia (Karoline Herfurth) to help crack Philipp Vossberg (Alexander Fehling)’s organ-trafficking operation, which orchestrates the kidnapping of refugees and sells their organs to the right people with the right bank balances.

Other characters include Jasper (Kostja Ullmann), Beat’s childhood friend, and Paul (Hanno Koffler), the owner of Club Sonar who brings Vossberg in as a new investor. But when Paul’s son needs a new heart, Vossberg has Paul under his control.

Vossberg, a director at a logistics company, is a man who has everything and can do anything he wants but only feels alive when he crosses that last border, destroying existences, owning people and controlling their fate.

“The most interesting thing about this character is that you can’t really grasp him, so it’s very difficult to say who he is,” Fehling says. “I do think he’s some kind of analogy for something that is in us, that has always been in us and always will be. For example, greed and the wish to do anything you want and the urge to expand beyond limits, and his drive for power. But on the other hand, he wants to understand. That’s pretty interesting.”

Berlin’s celebrated club scene forms Beat’s backdrop

The actor says Vossberg is only interested in playing a high-stakes game, one in which the players must face losing everything in order to win. “I was particularly interested to explore this part because everything he says has a deeper truth,” Fehling continues. “He’s a very talkative guy, as opposed to Lina. So I was fascinated by the fact that Vossberg, who’s admittedly one of the cruellest figures in this piece, speaks about so many subject matters that actually make a lot of sense. There’s a strange honesty about him. It’s just a question of perspective, like always, so exploring the part was really finding out about Vossberg’s perspective on things.”

Lina, played by Anna Berderke, is Vossberg’s right-hand woman, taking care of the operative side of the business. She follows her orders with a cool and scrupulous nature, and always without conscience.

“Emotions are not really useful for such a job as Lina has,” Berderke says. “She really tries not letting emotions or personal relationships interfere with what has to be done. So she would also not let people get to know her. She’s more of an observer and a listener. She’s super fun to play.

“I would not describe her as a funny person but it was fun in a way. I had not done anything before like that, so it was pretty interesting because she doesn’t really use a lot of words, but that’s a lot of what you do when you act, right? You have certain actions, so that was interesting.”

Fehling previously starred in season five of Homeland, and despite the different production approaches between the US thriller and Beat, he says choosing a role comes down to the people and the material you work with.

Alexander Fehling as organ trafficker Philipp Vossberg

“When I signed up for this part, I knew the entire script, all of the seven episodes, which wasn’t the case with Homeland, where we would get the script for the next episode every two or three weeks. Plus there was almost always another director for the next episode, so that was really an exercise of letting go of control, even in regard of your own character,” he explains. “There’s always another approach for everything you do, and you need to see it as an opportunity. So I think you can do things without knowing the arc that you can’t while you know the arc. You’ve got to find the richness in the limitation.”

Beat marks Sommersturm director Kreuzpaintner’s first television series, and he admits he was curious about moving into the medium when the opportunity to make the show first arose. Amazon, he says, has given him lots of control over creative choices, and that’s why Kreuzpaintner believes the quality of scripted series is better on streaming platforms.

“People believe in talent and they should believe in talent,” he says of those working at SVoD giants. “There’s a reason why we do our job. I don’t tell marketing people or producers how to do theirs. Please stay away from me and let me do my job.”

The added bonus is that when Beat drops this Friday, it will be instantly available in Amazon markets around the world. “That’s exciting, especially for a local product shot in the German language. It’s such a beautiful language, but obviously not everybody understands it and that’s why our market possibilities are quite limited normally,” the director notes. “Now, knowing that this is going to be available in more than 230 countries and it’s dubbed in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese, you can reach target audiences all over the world – in the US but also in markets like Australia and Japan. It’s great for filmmakers to show there are great local products.”

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Meet The Romanoffs

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s latest project has arrived on Amazon Prime Video, but The Romanoffs swims against the tide of contemporary television drama, as DQ discovers.

It’s often said that people who work in television don’t actually watch much of it. So when Mad Men completed its seven-season run on AMC in 2015, creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner decided to catch up on some of the shows he’d missed.

But after taking part in the modern phenomenon of binge-watching that matured while his 1960s-set period drama was still on air, Weiner decided that for his next series, he would write a show completely at odds with the current demand for serialised storytelling and create something that didn’t require viewers follow a long story through multiple episodes.

Matthew Weiner

As a result, The Romanoffs is a globe-trotting anthology series featuring eight separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family.

Set in seven countries around the world, filming took place on three continents, involving local producers and talent across Europe, the Americas and the Far East. Each feature-length episode is set in a different location with a new cast, and is released weekly in more than 200 countries on Amazon Prime Video. The first two instalments launched on October 12.

Episode one, The Violet Hour, is set in Paris where an ancestral home holds the key to a family’s future. Aaron Eckhart, Marthe Keller, Inès Melab and Louise Bourgoin star.

Other episodes include House of Special Purpose, in which a movie star and a director go head-to-head in a battle over what is real; Bright & High Circle, about a tight-knit community where loyalties are tested; End of the Line, which sees a couple face destruction as they pursue their legacy; and The Royal We (pictured top), about a couple who pursue their temptations after their marriage gets into a rut.

The series is completed by Expectation, told over a single day in New York City when a woman is confronted with every lie she ever told; Panorama, set in Mexico City where an idealistic reporter falls in love with his mysterious subject; and The One that Holds Everything, in which a man tries to escape a family curse.

The ensemble cast includes Christina Hendricks, Isabelle Huppert, Jack Huston, Diane Lane, Ron Livingston, Kathryn Hahn, Corey Still, Kerry Bishé, Janet Montgomery, Noah Wyle, Amanda Peet, John Slattery, Juan Pablo Castañeda, Radha Mitchell, Hugh Skinner and Adèle Anderson.

“Part of it was really about doing a show that’s really set around the world with a connection — is it genetic? Is it cultural? Is it nature? Is it nurture? Who we say we are versus who we really are,” Weiner says of creating the show. “I was lucky enough to come to Amazon and shoot the show in different countries and different languages and really show what people have in common but also to do a different story every week. And we’re lucky enough to go on once a week so people will get a chance to have a conversation about it, hopefully.”

The nine-time Emmy winner,  who is the creator, writer, director and an executive producer on the series, says the Romanoffs, whose ruling members were assassinated by Bolshevik troops in 1918, have always fascinated him. “It’s got this great true-crime factor to it of people who were murdered,” he explains. “Obviously they’re an autocratic family. I don’t have to tell you how people respond to royalty. And then, years later, who are you? You can say what you are and it’s impressive, but who are you?”

In The Violet Hour, Keller plays Anushka, an ageing French doyenne whose nephew Greg (Eckhart) is waiting for her to die so he can inherit her fortune. Bourgoin plays Sophie, Greg’s girlfriend, with Melab as Hajar, an agency carer sent to look after Anushka.

“The reason why I loved the part so much is it’s exactly the opposite of what I did before. She’s so mean. She’s so rascist. She’s so bourgeoise. She’s so French. And she’s so over the top,” Keller says. “When I finished shooting, it was like I had to detox because all the toxins came out and I felt like I wanted to be a good girl again. So it was an adventure for me to do that.”

Ron Livingston and Diane Lane in Bright & High Circle, the fifth episode of The Romanoffs

The actor also praises Weiner’s script: “It’s so well written; it was like music. Everything is about the right thing – of course it’s the directing, the casting. It was like music. It was the pacing, the writing, so then it’s not very difficult to play, even if it’s something far away from who you are. But that’s why we do our job.”

In contrast to Anushka is Hajar, who Melab describes as strong and compassionate. “For me it was just amazing to play this character and work with Matthew, Marthe, Aaron and Louise. I loved playing this character because she’s strong but fragile. I loved this image of a strong woman, and she’s very patient. She’s just doing her job. Even if Marthe’s character is a little bit mean sometimes, she doesn’t see her through what she does.”

Weiner says The Violet Hour is a type of fairytale, likening Hajar to a princess and Marthe to an “evil witch queen.” He continues: “Their relationship, even though it has this tone to it, it’s very realistic, but it’s really about two different legacies and passing on what belongs to you. Right now I don’t know if people want to see stories about money necessarily on TV, but to me it was interesting. It becomes a symbol of what you have and how you try to hold on to it and who’s going to get it. Is it the person who loves you the most? So they’re really two different sides to the same coin to me, where Marthe is forceful and harsh and angry and, as she says, bourgeois and a racist. And Ines is very strong but also very tender and scared inside.”

Their relationship also adheres to the theme of family that runs through the series, with Weiner observing that family is an issue for everyone in society right now. “The world is so divisive and we become more and more isolated and we cling to those aspects of our life that are our identity,” he explains.

The Violet Hour stars Aaron Eckhart and Marthe Keller

Appearing in the final episode, The One that Holds Everything, is Skinner (Harlots, Poldark) as Simon Burrows. The actor describes the episode, which has a non-linear structure, as a family saga that circles the globe, but doesn’t reveal much more, apart from the fact that it was partly filmed in Hong Kong.

“As with Mad Men and stuff, Matthew’s got this extraordinary ability to create a very full world and then the tone of it is very different to anything I’ve ever seen before. [Filming in Hong Kong] was fantastic,” he says.

Weiner, whose credits also include The Sopranos, jokes that he set the story in Hong Kong simply to give him a reason to visit a place he’d never seen before. “Some of this was an excuse to work in exotic places like Toronto and Pasadena but also Hong Kong,” he says. “It’s funny because the story Hugh is in is like a Hitchcock story.”

Viewers will see Skinner’s character at various stages of his life in a story that is told out of order. “The premise of the show basically is two people sit down next to each other on a train and a story is told and you flash back,” Weiner reveals. “Hugh is the star of that story. You see his life but you don’t see it in order, ever. ”

Expectation is told over a single day in New York City

The showrunner says his preference for an anthology format with standalone episodes was about entertaining viewers, while offering them a conclusion at the end of 80 minutes.

“You get a chance from the writing point of view, the directing point of view and from the audience point of view to have a story that commits to a resolution,” he adds. “Even movies today are sort of sequalised, so when you commit to a story, the stakes become higher immediately; you don’t know what’s going to happen. In series television, [Mad Men main character] Don Draper probably won’t actually get fired even if someone comes in and goes up against him, because he needs to be there next week.

“In this storytelling, there is a climax and a resolution and it’s perfect. And because you’re asking actors to come in for one episode instead of six years, look at the people who show up to be in it.”

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Ryan on air

Wendell Pierce and Dina Shihabi, two stars of Amazon Prime Video action drama Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, tell DQ about how the series stands out for its blend of action and characterisation and for its representation of characters from an Arab background.

HBO drama The Wire, which is regularly hailed as one of the best series of all time, was among a handful of shows to air around the millennium that broke new ground by delving deeper into character and placing less focus on procedural storytelling.

Now 16 years after the first of its five seasons launched on the iconic US cable channel, one of the show’s stars can see the similarities between The Wire and his latest project, Amazon Prime Video action thriller Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

“What has changed [since The Wire] is now people see they can do more in-depth work and they don’t have to reduce every episode to a beginning, middle and end. So there are more anthology series on television, which lend themselves to more involved and complex storylines. It challenges you as an actor a little bit more,” admits Wendell Pierce, who starred as Detective William ‘Bunk’ Moreland in The Wire and is now playing CIA boss James Greer in Jack Ryan.

“There’s more interesting work being done on television almost every year because the bar is being set higher and higher. Work that you normally got to do on film, you get to do on television. That’s the change, and I’m very proud to have been a part of the wave that changed television.”

Jack Ryan centres on the titular up-and-coming CIA analyst as he is thrust into a dangerous field assignment for the first time. Pierce’s hot-headed Greer teams up with Ryan (John Krasinski) to identify a potential terrorist described as the next Osama Bin Laden.

In Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Wendell Pierce plays CIA boss James Greer

The series was created by co-showrunners Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, who executive produce with Krasinski, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Lindsey Springer, Mace Neufeld, Vince Calandra, Andrew Bernstein, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross. It is produced by Paramount Television, Genre Arts, Platinum Dunes and Skydance Television.

Pierce says he was drawn to the series by Clancy’s iconic characters – made famous by the author’s books and their numerous film adaptations – plus its great writing and the chance to work alongside Krasinski (The Office, A Quiet Place), Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) and Roland (Prison Break).

“I also got a chance to work with actors from all around the world, and the material itself lends itself to a multitude of possibilities. So I knew it was going to be interesting and eclectic,” he says. “They were trying to do something original and not just a television version of the books. All of that was appealing to me – and then to do that while travelling around the world and acting with people from around the world, it’s very exciting.”

Pierce was also enticed by the fact all eight episodes of the show were made available to watch in more than 240 countries around the world on the same day as the premiere in LA. “In one moment in time, everyone can see it. That’s pretty amazing,” he enthuses.

Playing a CIA officer was also a new experience for the actor, whose credits also include Suits, Treme and Ray Donovan. But to prepare for the role, he did a lot of research, meeting current and former CIA officers. “They are multi-dimensional and complex people, but they’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” he says. “I got to understand how that work affects their personal life because you find out things during the course of the show that affect James Greer’s personal life. They were a great resource.”

(L-R) Ali Suliman, Dina Shihabi, John Krazinski and Wendell Pierce at the Jack Ryan premiere

The first season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – season two has already been confirmed – begins with Greer despondent as he faces the end of his career after being bumped down to a desk job. But right at the moment when he thinks his best days are behind him, he’s rejuvenated by Ryan, a young analyst who reminds him of all the reasons he became a CIA officer in the first place.

The opening episode sees Greer and Ryan head to the Middle East to interrogate suspected terrorists, before a massive firefight erupts inside a desert compound. But while there’s plenty of action, Greer says this is finely balanced with quieter moments as the characters and their relationships are explored.

“With the action, it’s not arbitrary sensational acting,” he continues. “Everything is very specific, so the action and thriller part of the investigation are even-handed and you find an element of both in each, so that’s what I like about the way it’s come together.

“I enjoyed the action stuff, being on helicopters and all that. But also doing the research and putting that together, I really enjoyed that part of it too. Then the locations and working with actors from different parts of the world. You don’t realise what we have in common and how expressive and inventive people can be. It puts you on your toes and you appreciate being in the moment because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Among the actors sharing the screen with Pierce is Dina Shihabi, who plays Hanin Suleiman, the wife of the man being hunted by Ryan and Greer. When she first appears, she’s shown with her three kids playing football, before a band of suspicious people turn up at her house. But while not much more is revealed in those initial scenes, it’s clear she will have an integral role in the events that play out during the season.

Dina Shihabi as Hanin Suleiman, the wife of a man being hunted by the CIA

The series marks Shihabi’s first major television role, and the actor says she was thrilled to be playing a “strong, intelligent, brave woman,” particularly one from an Arab background. “She felt like the women I knew and grew up with, and I don’t see that portrayed in Western TV,” she explains. “Usually when you see Arab women on screen, they’re victimised or aren’t given a voice, so they’re an ‘other’ – they look different, dress different and sound different. So I’m especially proud, as an Arab woman, that that’s what I’m putting out into the world, because I think we need more Arab women on screen who are smart and powerful.”

The actor, who grew up in Dubai and now splits her time between New York and LA, believes unfair portrayals of Arabs on screen “rob” viewers in the West of learning about a culture they might be unfamiliar with. “Then for the Arab world, it’s important to see positive portrayals of them in the Western media. If all you’re seeing is a terrorist, that’s how you feel the rest of the world thinks about you.”

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan goes so far as to show the events that motivate Hanin’s husband, Mousa bin Suleiman (Ali Suliman), to wage war against the West. “He believes he’s fighting for his people; he believes he’s protecting his family,” Shihabi says. “Everyone has these deep and strong motivations and they don’t all line up, and that’s a very complex, human, riveting story.”

There is no doubt Mousa bin Suleiman is a bad person, but it’s also important that viewers understand he wasn’t always like that, Shihabi argues. “What this series does is shows you how he becomes that person and it shows you what that person’s family is like. Then you get to spend an extremely intimate amount of time with that person’s wife and you get to know her not just as his wife but as a person in the world. I just find that so powerful, and those are the stories we have to tell.”

The fact Hanin plays a pivotal role in the series was particularly exciting for the actor, who reveals she hardly sleep for two weeks after learning she had won the part. “I was so excited because my character has a complete storyline, I’m a key player in what drives this show,” she adds. “So for a powerful Arab, Muslim woman to be a key player in a huge Amazon TV show called Jack Ryan, that’s badass. That’s so cool, and I hope more characters like this are portrayed on screen. I hope this opens a lot of doors.”

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Vanity project

William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic novel Vanity Fair has been adapted for UK broadcaster ITV and streamer Amazon. DQ speaks to the writer and some of the key creative talent behind the camera to find out how this strikingly contemporary series was made.

Ten years ago, Gwyneth Hughes began writing an adaptation of Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray’s 19th century novel long considered a classic of English literature. Her modern update of the story never made it to screen, however, and her work was left unfinished.

Fast-forward a decade and Hughes (Dark Angel, Remember Me) has penned a new version, this time keeping its period setting, which will premiere in the UK on ITV on September 2 and on Amazon Prime Video in the US later this year.

Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, the story follows Becky Sharp as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English society.

Hughes describes the source material as “an absolute romp” that bounces between extremes, from light comedy to terrible tragedy. She has sought to keep that variation in her adaptation, but says large parts of the second half of the book have been trimmed, when the pace of events becomes decidedly slower. As a result, the Battle of Waterloo, which happens halfway through Thackeray’s tome, takes place in episode five of the seven-part series.

In relation to the story’s heroine, “all the other characters have money, they’ve all got family and middle-class incomes, but she’s alone in the world,” the writer says. “She thinks she deserves better, and her sense of entitlement that drives her all the way through the story is a really modern theme, in bad ways as well as good. In the end, you love her without liking her because she behaves so badly at times – but that also makes her extremely relatable.”

Adapted from the classic novel, Vanity Fair stars Olivia Cooke and Tom Bateman

Despite making some cuts, the production sought to be as faithful to the source material as possible. On set, producer Julia Stannard would carry copies of Thackeray’s novel as well as Hughes’ scripts so the subtext of the author’s work was never lost in adaptation.

“With seven hours of drama, you’re asking people to make a big investment in terms of their time to keep coming back and watching, so you have to care about the characters,” Stannard says. “That is a big challenge for Vanity Fair because it is a world inhabited by flawed characters. So how do you make it emotionally engaging without dumbing it down or changing the original text? Thackeray cared a lot about these characters and I think we’ve created a world in which our audience will care about those characters too.”

After working on several contemporary series such as Broadchurch and Liar, director James Strong found the new challenge he was looking for in Vanity Fair, revealing that he was drawn towards the variety and scale of the story as well as the team he would be working with. The series comes from Mammoth Screen and is distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

“Gwyneth had done an amazing adaptation; she distilled the essence of the book into the story so, for me, it was about finding a visual language that made it feel relevant, exciting and interesting,” Strong says of his approach behind the camera. “Some period dramas can be quite reverential and respectful. This one I wanted to feel very much like it was a period drama shot in a contemporary manner.”

In practice, Strong used zooms, steadicam and handheld cameras to shoot the series, mixed with wide-angle lenses that could convey huge scale. “Then you’re up close with the characters in an intimate and personal way, always with Becky at the heart of it,” he explains. “Her vision, her perspective of the world around her, also dictates the camera pattern and style, so we look at it though her eyes quite literally in many ways.”

Director James Strong says finding the right locations represented a major challenge

Becky is played by up-and-coming actor Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), who heads a cast that also includes Johnny Flynn as Dobbin, Martin Clunes (Sir Pitt Crawley), Frances de La Tour (Miss Matilda Crawley) and Suranne Jones (Miss Pinkerton), while Michael Palin appears as Thackeray himself. The series also features Claudia Jessie as Becky’s confidante, Amelia Sedley, plus Simon Russell Beale and Claire Skinner as Amelia’s parents and David Fynn as her brother, Joss.

By the time Vanity Fair airs, Cooke will be a huge Hollywood star, thanks to her role in Steven Spielberg’s futuristic nostalgia trip Ready Player One. “Our little Olivia is going to be Steven Spielberg’s latest heroine and then she’s going to pop up as Becky Sharp. It’s great,” muses Hughes. “She’s very talented; she’s going to go far. We were very lucky to catch her on the way up.”

Stannard picks up: “We wanted to put together a cast that felt surprising, so Olivia was not a TV name, she’s a movie star. Martin Clunes is in his first big period drama, Frances de La Tour is a national treasure. And our young cast, I can guarantee, will be household names in a couple of years. Johnny Flynn, Charlie Rowe, Tom Bateman, Claudia Jessie, they’re all incredibly talented young actors.”

Shooting began in September 2017 and finished at the beginning of February, with most filming taking place in London. The crew also spent time in Budapest, which doubled for scenes set in Brussels and Pumpernickel, a small Germany principality featured in the novel.

“A lot of them have to be period-correct so it was a big challenge to find the right locations,” Strong says. “A lot of settings [such as characters’ houses] are composites so we do the drawing room and the bedrooms in one place, then you do the exterior in one place and the kitchen or the garden somewhere else.”

All in all, Vanity Fair was shot on 120 sets across 12 weeks. And while the series was filmed entirely on location, visual effects played their part in bringing the sets to life.

The show debuts on ITV on Sunday September 2

“The job has definitely changed over the years and I’m embracing it because we can’t physically do everything,” says production designer Anna Pritchard (Broadchurch, Top Boy). “The time pressure of building streets and covering roads, especially when you go back in time and do 1815, there might be one Georgian building but it’s changed so many times… You could build from scratch but you know you’re spending thousands and thousands of pounds and it doesn’t ever look 100%. So what VFX can do for us is absolutely amazing.

“It was such a beautiful project to work on because it was so varied – we got to build streets and all the characters’ houses. I loved every single one of them. Even going to Budapest was fantastic. We made good use of their period architecture.”

With location logistics and actor availability complicating proceedings, the production schedule was akin to a military exercise – quite literally when it came to filming sequences recreating the Battle of Waterloo, the centrepiece of the show. “We had 300 men playing Napoleonic soldiers living in camp. We had 50 horses, plus armourers, explosions. We had VFX, drones and sometimes two or three shooting crews, costume and make-up,” reveals Strong. “All of that is a massive undertaking and, at the centre of it, you’ve got to keep the vision going and deal with the weather and whatever it throws at you.”

Strong is no stranger to televisual set pieces, having assassinated JFK in Hulu drama 11.22.63 and overseen multiple alien invasions in Doctor Who. But he hadn’t orchestrated a Napoleonic battle before. Likewise, Hughes had previously never written a war scene.

“There’s actually more of it [in the script] than Thackeray wrote in the book,” she says. “And never in my whole writing life have I been asked to write a scene that began ‘Ext – Battlefield – Day.’ You write that and then think, ‘Now what?’ I learned to write a battle, so that was fun.”

The production required a recreation of the Battle of Waterloo, a huge undertaking featuring hundreds of soldiers and dozens of horses

“Day one and, oh my gosh, it’s war – and how are we going to do it?” says Pritchard, recalling the first time she read the script. “It’s all about the cavalry, the horses, the cannons and the weapons, the artillery and the armoury. But the wonderful thing about battles is it’s all set in a field. So for me, it’s not so much about what I’m going to build but the art of war and how we make it look good. A lot of fine detail and research went into that.”

Stannard, however, is well versed in battle scenes, having previously produced War & Peace for the BBC. So when she joined Vanity Fair early in its development, she was quick to call in military adviser Paul Biddiss and horsemasters The Devil’s Horsemen, having worked with both on the Tolstoy adaptation.

“Thackeray doesn’t go into a great amount of detail about the battle but what was important was these are very privileged young men and they have never really faced any challenges in life,” she says. “Suddenly they’re thrown onto a battlefield, young men in their early 20s, and they literally don’t know what’s about to hit them. It’s about the shock and the contrast between their very privileged lives in London and the reality of suddenly becoming soldiers. That felt like a massive journey for those characters and it felt like it would be a cheat if we didn’t show the audience that and let them share that experience.”

Hughes has form when it comes to television adaptations, having penned a version of Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood. She also wrote the biographical Miss Austen Regrets, based on the life of novelist Jane Austen, known for works such as Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility.

“You don’t have to read Vanity Fair. It’s alright, I read it for you,” Hughes says, echoing the words of fellow writer Andrew Davies when he spoke about adapting Tolstoy’s War & Peace in 2016. “So for people who never pick up a book, they can still enjoy this wonderful story. We always come back to these stories because they are the best stories ever written. That’s why they’ve lasted.”

That timelessness is also why Stannard believes classic works of literature continue to be remade for the small screen. “I’m not really interested in making drama that just feels locked in that time,” she says. “What I’m interested in is looking at the key themes of the book and what’s happening for those characters and relating it to the here and now.

“It’s a great challenge to adapt a book that’s been adapted before. The biggest challenge for us was probably making it feel fresh and different. I hope and believe we’ve done that.”

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Out of Office

Tom Clancy’s literary hero Jack Ryan has been seen on screen before, notably in movies, with Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine all having portrayed the character.

Now, Ryan is set for television for the first time – in a 10-part series for Amazon Prime Video.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan sees John Krasinski (The Office, A Quiet Place) step into the title role as a desk-bound CIA analyst who is on the trail of a terrorist network, only to find himself thrown into the field for the first time.

In this DQTV interview, co-showrunners Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel) and Graham Roland (Lost) talk about why the novels lend themselves more to television than cinema and how they brought together several story strands into one 10-part series.

They also talk about casting Krasinski as Ryan and how they strived to bring authenticity to the series.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, which has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its August 31 launch in more than 200 countries, is produced by Paramount Television, Cuse’s Genre Arts, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and David Ellison’s Skydance Television.

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A Blueprint for Scandal

Former EastEnders showrunner Dominic Treadwell-Collins talks to DQ about bringing together Russell T Davies, Stephen Frears, Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw for A Very English Scandal, the first production from Blueprint Television.

If there’s such a thing as an easy commission, A Very English Scandal might be it. Take a previously untold story based on a bestselling book and add writer Russell T Davies (Doctor Who, Cucumber), throw in director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) and add Hugh Grant (Notting Hill, Love Actually) in the lead role and it’s little wonder the BBC quickly commissioned the three-part drama.

The person who pulled the project together is Dominic Treadwell-Collins, best known as a two-time showrunner on EastEnders. Treadwell-Collins left the British soap in 2016 to set up Blueprint Television, the small-screen arm of film producer Blueprint Pictures, which was recently behind Oscar-winning movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

“It’s nice that this is the first thing for me after EastEnders,” Treadwell-Collins says, joking that he was “broken” by the time he left the show. “I just needed to get into a bit of development and pause a bit. Even then, we got this greenlit within nine months. What I set up to do with A Very English Scandal was mix someone like Russell – an amazing TV writer – with Stephen Frears, an amazing film director, because that’s the way a lot of TV is going at the moment. It feels like we’ve achieved that.”

A Very English Scandal, which is coproduced with Amazon Prime Video in the US, tells the shocking true story of the first British politician to stand trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder. In his first television role since the 1990s, Grant plays disgraced MP Jeremy Thorpe, who in 1979 was tried but acquitted of conspiring to murder his ex-lover, Norman Scott (played by Ben Whishaw).

A Very English Scandal stars Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw

The drama begins in the late 1960s when homosexuality had recently been decriminalised. Thorpe, leader of the Liberal party, fears his career is at risk as long as former lover Scott is around. Thorpe schemes and deceives – until he can see only one way to silence Scott for good. Thorpe’s trial changed society forever, illuminating the darkest secrets of the establishment.

Blueprint had picked up the rights to Preston’s novel before Treadwell-Collins joined the company, so he had some reading material to hand during his three-week break between leaving EastEnders and joining the fledgling production company, which is backed by Sony Pictures Television, the distributor of the miniseries. But what he expected be a “dry political scandal” surprised him with its funny and farcical tone, its unbelievable-but-true plotlines and the human relationship at its core.

Working with a public broadcaster, in this case the BBC, meant every detail in the script had to be scrutinised and backed up by three different sources. But that hasn’t stopped the series attracting as many headlines now as the scandal did 40 years ago, with some claiming the show represents certain characters unfairly. Police have also reopened the case of the failed assassination after discovering a key suspect, previously thought to have died, is still alive.

“That’s always part and parcel of doing factual drama,” Treadwell-Collins notes of the controversy surrounding the way some real-life figures have been portrayed. “That’s always going to happen. The thing we’ve been very firm about from the beginning was it’s A Very English Scandal based on the book by John Preston. That is our primary source material and, because his book has been out there in the public domain, we haven’t deviated from that.”

Director Stephen Frears on set, with producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins (in glasses) behind

But it remains the case that factual drama is riding the crest of a popularity wave on television, with recent hits including American Crime Story’s focus on the OJ Simpson trial and then the assassination of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, British crime drama Little Boy Blue and Netflix documentaries like Making a Murderer and Wild Wild Country.

“There’s something quite nice about having the authenticity and also truth being stranger than fiction,” Treadwell-Collins says. “They just bring you in and there’s a huge appetite for stories but particularly true stories that people don’t know about. That’s what’s exciting.”

Within a large ensemble cast that also features Alex Jennings, Patricia Hodge, Monica Dolan, Adrian Scarborough and Jason Watkins, it is Grant and Whishaw’s partnership that carries the drama through Thorpe and Scott’s relationship, from early infatuation to bitter conclusion, while the tone rises and falls between humour and farce and tender emotional moments.

That balancing act could only have been managed by one writer, says Treadwell-Collins, who immediately took the project to Davies. “He was the first person I went to, the only person I went to, because Russell has that tone of jauntiness and then can punch you in the stomach with emotion, and that’s what it needed,” he explains, adding that the writer initially turned the project down. “He’d heard of the Jeremy Thorpe story but said he was too busy. I sent him the book anyway and he emailed me two days later and I’d got him. He’d read the first few pages and thought, ‘I’ve got to do this. I don’t want anyone else to do this story.’

“Russell got that balance just right and putting him with Stephen, he’s such a human director. He’s added these private moments of Jeremy, such as when he’s looking in the mirror before he goes to face a hoard of journalists, and he really made you feel Norman and Jeremy’s story all the way through. That’s what has chimed with the audience.”

Grant, as MP Jeremy Thorpe, receives direction from Frears

Frears, who would give notes on each script, spent lots of time with Davies talking over the central relationship between Thorpe and Scott, speaking to people whose lives were affected by the story. The production team also met relatives of the characters in an effort to present fully rounded portraits of the characters on screen.

Grant and Whishaw also did their own research and spent time rehearsing with Frears before committing their performances to camera. Grant even learned to play the violin for a scene in episode one in which Thorpe performs for Scott alongside Thorpe’s mother (Hodge) on the piano. The actor shared the view of Treadwell-Collins, Davies and Frears that his performance should not be an imitation of Thorpe, and that he should instead try to embody the real-life politician.

Filming took place around the UK, from Wales and Devon to London and the Home Counties surrounding the capital. The interiors of the Houses of Parliament were recreated at Manchester Town Hall, while a Devon beach doubled for California.

For Treadwell-Collins, making the series was a far cry from his experience on EastEnders. The long-running soap airs four times a week, has a cast of more than 40 actors and employs hundreds of crew, with Treadwell-Collins on call 24/7 in case any problems arose.

“It was insane, I loved it, but you’ve got to love a show like that to run it properly,” he recalls, adding that he is now enjoying building his own slate of dramas. These include “other scandals,” an adaptation of chatshow host Graham Norton’s novel Holding and an adaptation of Israeli drama Fauda, to which Blueprint has secured the remake rights.

Whishaw plays Norman Scott, the former lover Thorpe wanted dead

The producer has also teamed up with Grantchester writer Daisy Coulam for what he describes as “a period female Bond series with a bit of Hollywood sparkle,” while he also plans to reinvent the British period drama for the 21st century.

A Very English Scandal, which is available on BBC iPlayer and launches on Amazon in the US on June 29, could be a tough act to follow, however, both in terms of its A-list creative talent and the five-star reviews it has received. But Treadwell-Collins remains undaunted.

“What’s been nice for our first Blueprint Television production is it’s Russell T Davies, Stephen Frears, Ben Whishaw and Hugh Grant,” he concludes. “We’re putting our flag in and saying this is the mark of quality we will keep to.

“We’re not just going to make something for the sake of making television or just looking at it as the fact we’re making money. Everything we believe in and we love. That’s the way Blueprint make their films and the way we’re making television. It’s a really exciting place to be.”

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Dystopian blues

The television landscape is awash with series set in alternative – and not particularly bright – futures. Stephen Arnell casts his eye over the dystopian series on screen, and also finds sci-fi series with a more optimistic outlook.

All-conquering AI, robots that are more human than human, apps that can mimic any possible experience, egomaniacal billionaires searching for eternal life, a world wreathed in perpetual smog, unstoppable viruses, re-animated corpses, Nazi victors in the Second World War and the knock on the door from black-garbed members of the secret police.

Sound familiar?

One would think that in a world with Donald J Trump as US president, Brexit, North Korea, Russia, global warming, cyber warfare and other woes, viewers would be looking for escapist entertainment. But perhaps counter-intuitively, the vision of an even more dire future provides some comfort in the present.

Dystopian drama has become a major TV trend over recent years, and it’s showing no sign of stopping, although there are some signs of possible fatigue, with lacklustre audiences in the UK for SS-GB (BBC1, 2017), Channel 4’s Electric Dreams (2017-18) and the recent Hard Sun (BBC1, 2018).

All had very different themes. SS-GB envisioned a Nazi occupation of the UK, Electric Dreams is an anthology series based on the work of hard sci-fi author Philip K Dick and Hard Sun was a police thriller set in a pre-apocalypse London.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams didn’t perform as well as Channel 4 would have hoped

In terms of the BBC1 dramas, it could be said that the rather bleak material was better suited to sister channel BBC2, while the hit-and-miss nature of portmanteau series such as Electric Dreams are known to sometimes struggle to find audiences – with the obvious exception of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror (the former C4 show now at home on Netflix).

In the US, Syfy’s Incorporated (2016-17), a Matt Damon/Ben Affleck production set in a US ruled by corporations folded after one season, as did the channel’s exploitation Death Race homage Blood Drive (2017).

Are we approaching ‘peak dystopia?’ Not just yet. In fact, not by a long chalk.

It must be noted that anticipation was high for the second seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) and Westworld (HBO), both of which premiered recently and have been well received. Viewers are now eagerly awaiting season three of The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), while Black Mirror goes from strength to strength, with filming on season five beginning recently. And AMC’s future feudal Samurai-style society drama Into the Badlands returned in April for a third run.

Netflix’s Brazilian sci-fi series 3% deals with a world very much divided into the haves and have-nots; after favourable reactions to 2016’s debut run, the drama returned for season two on April 27.

On cable, dystopian series continue to thrive. The 100 (The CW) returned for a fifth season on April 24, The Colony came back for a third run on May 2 and Van Helsing (Syfy) had a third season order in December 2017.

Netflix’s The Rain focuses on a virus carried by precipitation

Netflix’s Altered Carbon (pictured top) launched to mixed reviews this February – there was high praise for the set design and production values but it was also criticised by some as owing too much to Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982) and for objectifying its female characters.

Weeks after Altered Carbon dropped, Netflix also released two dystopian movies – Duncan Jones’s generally slated Mute (which shared a similar visual palate to Altered Carbon) and Alex Garland (Ex Machina)’s well-reviewed Annihilation – which may have been overkill in such a short space of time.

Data from Parrot Analytics suggests the budget-busting Altered Carbon’s patchy performance could make a sophomore season unlikely.

This year will see new dystopian drama on our screens in addition to returning series. Last week, continuing its interest in the genre, Netflix dropped the Danish thriller The Rain, which is being touted by some as its answer to The Walking Dead, except with a distinct young-adult skew.

The show is set after a brutal virus wipes out most of the population, as two young siblings embark on a perilous search for safety.

The fact the virus is spread through precipitation has led some to draw somewhat unfortunate comparisons to Chubby Rain, the fictional ‘film within a film’ in the Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy comedy Bowfinger.

Netflix Brazilian original 3% recently returned for a second season

ABC’s The Crossing, meanwhile, debuted on April 2. The show centres on an influx of refugees in present-day Oregon, but with the twist that they are from a war-torn USA, 180 years in the future.

Starring Steve Zahn (War for the Planet of the Apes, Treme), The Crossing debuted with a modest 5.5 million viewers, with audiences declining for subsequent episodes.

On May 19, HBO will premiere its feature-length version of Fahrenheit 451, an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic that depicts a totalitarian society where books are outlawed and burned by ‘firemen.’

Fahrenheit 451 takes its title from the autoignition temperature of paper. The book was last adapted for the screen in 1966 by French auteur filmmaker Francois Truffaut and was his only English-language movie. HBO’s version boasts a stellar cast including Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) and Michael B Jordan (Black Panther). Shannon has previously worked with Fahrenheit 451 director Ramin Bahrani on the award-winning foreclosure drama 99 Homes (2014).

On the horizon from Fremantle’s UFA Fiction (Deutschland 83) is Kelvin’s Book, from art-house film writer/director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Hidden). An English-language project, the 10×60′ series tells the story of a group of young people in the not-too-distant future who are “forced to make an emergency landing outside of their home and are confronted with the actual face of their home country for the first time.”

Michael Shannon (left) and Michael B Jordan in Fahrenheit 451

Next year sees the debut of Amazon Prime Video/Liberty Global’s London-set series The Feed, which “centres on the family of the man who invented an omnipresent technology called The Feed. Implanted into nearly everyone’s brain, The Feed enables people to share information, emotions and memories instantly. But when things start to go wrong and users become murderous, they struggle to control the monster they have unleashed.”

Guy Burnet, Nina Toussaint White, David Thewlis and Michelle Fairley will star in the psychological thriller, which will be distributed by All3Media International.

One new project that many spectators now believe may never make it to the screen is HBO’s Confederate, as creators David Benioff and DB Weiss (Game of Thrones) are now on board the Star Wars franchise – and the show’s concept of a continuing Southern slave-owning state has proved highly controversial in the current US political climate.

FX has recently ordered a pilot of Y: The Last Man, set in a world with only one surviving male – with strong production credentials from co-showrunners Michael Green (Logan, Bladerunner 2049, American Gods) and Aida Mashaka Croal (Turn, Luke Cage).

Israeli VoD service/cablenet HOT TV will debut Autonomies this year, which imagines the present-day country divided by a wall into two Jewish states – secular in Tel Aviv and ultra-orthodox in Jerusalem.

And to round off the dystopian shows in development, Amazon recently announced a series based on William Gibson’s The Peripheral, set in a bleak not-too-distant future (and beyond), with the Westworld team of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan as showrunners.

Seth McFarlane’s The Orville serves up more lighthearted sci-fi fare

Syfy’s 2015 miniseries adaptation of Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End must take the prize for one of the most downbeat endings ever – concluding as it does in the total destruction of the Earth, after the planet’s mutated psychic children have been subsumed into an all-powerful alien ‘overmind.’

But lest we fall into total despair, it should be recognised that there are actually a few sci-fi TV dramas that depict a future that isn’t unrelentingly grim.

The Star Trek franchise is notable for showing an optimistic view of the times to come, with mankind becoming a force for good in the galaxy after (with notable exceptions such as Harry Mudd) curbing its greed and war-mongering.

Seth McFarlane’s affectionate Trek tribute The Orville (Fox) also has rosier take on the future, whileNetflix’s Lost in Space reboot has a not-entirely-pessimistic vision of humanity in the 21st century.

Hulu/Ch4’s upcoming Beau Willimon-scripted Martian colony drama The First (starring Sean Penn and Natasha McElhone) appears to promise a relatively upbeat approach, or at least one that’s not tipped totally in the direction of dystopian misery.

The long-running Stargate SG1 and its spin-offs portrayed a universe that was inhabited by at least a few alien species willing to befriend mankind rather than instantly vaporise Earth.

Meanwhile, Doctor Who (BBC1) generally takes a more upbeat road, as befits its family audience. Although end-of-the-world scenarios and alien domination feature frequently, the Doctor usually conveys a positive attitude, occasionally (in some incarnations) to the point of what some may deem mania.

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Countdown to tragedy

Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard and Tahar Rahim star in political thriller The Looming Tower, which puts the spotlight on the rivalry between the CIA and FBI and how it may have led to 9/11. The stars and showrunner Dan Futterman tell DQ about making the 10-part series.

When it comes to dramas based on real events, it’s often not the story that holds any surprise but the previously unknown details, which can help bring a show to life. The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story retells the story of one of the biggest criminal trials in US history, while Waco focuses on the infamous siege at the titular Texan town in 1993. Similarly, royal dramas such as The Crown and Victoria dramatise the lives of some of Britain’s most famous monarchs.

In the case of US drama The Looming Tower, the 10-part drama tells the story of the terrorist attacks that took place in the US on September 11, 2001. But rather than focusing on that single day, it explores the timeline that led up to the attack and, in particular, the role of US intelligence agencies.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower traces the rising threat of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s and how the rivalry between the FBI and CIA during that time may have set a course for tragedy. It is produced and distributed by Legendary Television.

Jeff Daniels plays John O’Neill, the chief of the FBI’s I-48 Squad, who is convinced the US has been targeted by Al-Qaeda. But he and his protégé, Muslim-American FBI agent Ali Soufran (Tahar Rahim), face insufficient cooperation from other government organisations, specifically the CIA, led by Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard). Schmidt and his CIA colleagues subsequently decide to horde information under the notion the CIA is the only government agency equipped to battle potential terror threats from abroad.

The Looming Tower stars Jeff Daniels as John O’Neill of the FBI

Personal and professional rivalries come to a head when Al-Qaeda operatives in the US, known about by the CIA, begin to put their plan into action.

Like many of the viewers who will tune in to watch the series, the show’s leading actors were largely unaware of the events described in Wright’s book. Wright is an executive producer on the series alongside showrunner Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, Craig Zisk and Adam Rapp.

“You read the book and hear about John O’Neill and think, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Daniels says. “So I have a feeling, 17 years removed, a lot of America is as unaware of John and the book as I was and I think that’s a great reason why this will be almost new information, especially for all those people who think they know what 9/11 was about.”

Rahim picks up: “I was totally unaware of what happened before and I was really surprised by this true event. So when I talked to Dan and Alex, I wanted to know more about it. I was surprised to see there were Muslim-American heroes, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

By a matter of chance, Skarsgard read The Looming Tower when it was first published. He believes this is a story people should have known about in 2008, rather than 2018.

Peter Sarsgaard plays CIA boss Martin Schmidt

“The number of people who bought this book was [high] but did everyone really read it? Because I really felt like it should be an important part of the discussion,” says the actor, whose character Schmidt is a composite of real people, unlike the other leading figures. “It took me a while to come around to understanding how to play this guy, understanding how to be in this world. One of the things that really attracted me about this part is I think the fundamental job of being a CIA analyst is being a storyteller – you’re putting together a narrative based on sometimes scant information to try to predict what’s going to happen in the future. And if you look at it that way as an actor, it starts to become appealing.”

Futterman says that while adapting the book, which won the Pulitzer in 2007, it was clear the TV drama – which launches today in the US on Hulu and then worldwide on Amazon on March 1 in English-speaking territories and on March 9 in non-English speaking territories – should be based around O’Neill, who Daniels describes as a complex character.

“That’s one of the great things about Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and all these [types of companies] is that they encourage writers like Dan and Alex to chase complexity, and for actors to get to play that is a great challenge but also a great opportunity,” he says. “I looked at O’Neill and said, ‘I don’t know how to do this but I’d like to figure out how and risk failure.’ That’s what keeps us going, the challenge of it.

“He was a mess personally. Professionally he was brilliant and would go to the mat for the men and women of the FBI, but also for the hunch that Bin Laden was someone we needed to pay more attention to, and he seemed to be screaming into the wind. He started turning over tables and clearing people’s desks and screaming at them. So the way he went about it didn’t work but what he was saying was, in the end, right.”

The series focuses on the lack of cooperation between the FBI and CIA ahead of 9/11

Sarsgaard notes that his character values an American life more than a foreign one, so he goes all out to protect Americans at any cost. “You can look back and say there should have been more sharing of information but, ultimately, what took their eye off the ball was not the lack of cooperation between FBI and CIA, but that American people were chasing other things – Monica Lewinsky and all of that. When I first moved to New York, it was the year of the first World Trade Center bombing [in 1997] and then the embassy attacks [in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998]. It never really became something we fixated on until 9/11 and, of course, then with a vengeance. But I think this is something we all participated in. We all, in some way, claim some responsibility as a culture, and we can prevent it from happening again.”

Futterman (Capote, Foxcatcher) says there were two things he wanted the show to accomplish in the scripts. First, through Rahim’s character Ali Soufran, he wanted to show a Muslim-American immigrant from Lebanon as a deeply patriotic American who also understands Islam, as he is in real life.

“When Ali talks about ‘my country did this, my country will do that,’ he’s talking about America, not Lebanon,” the showrunner says. “We wanted to show this guy knows what Islam is about, this guy knows was patriotism is about. The other thing was we wanted to try to provoke was some answers. The 9/11 families and friends of the victims have been asking questions for 17 years now and have got very few answers, so we try to answer some of those questions. And when we didn’t know the answers, we tried to ask those questions again and again and louder than before.”

Like his FBI mentor, Soufran is a hugely complex character, caught between two cultures, though it is the seriousness with how he treats Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda that makes O’Neill sit up and take notice.

Tahar Rahim as Muslim-American FBI agent Ali Soufran

“What motivates the character are his values – freedom and respect for life and people,” says Rahim, a French actor who also starred in The Last Panthers. “I don’t think he can bear that these people are hijacking his religion. I got to meet him just to know more about him and it was great to meet an agent like him. There are two ways to portray someone who exists – you can just be like him and imitate him, but people don’t know how he walks and talks so my point was to know him as a soul, a man in his private life and the relationship he had with John O’Neill.”

Will Soufran’s role in the story have any effect beyond the series? “I don’t know what it will be but I hope it’s going to make people understand more about what Islam is and the difference between what is a real Muslim and a terrorist,” the actor adds. “It’s important to tell that piece of history about what happened because it’s not only American history, it’s world history.”

Daniels, last seen on television in Netflix miniseries Godless and before that in HBO’s The Newsroom, says he’s curious to know whether the FBI and CIA are now working together. “You’d like to think with the circus that’s going on inside the White House, the intelligence community is at least sharing intelligence and communicating better,” he says.

Sarsgaard agrees that “daily distractions” mean the country appears to be chasing its tail somewhat. “You see breaking news on television and you know it’s not going to have anything to do with anything that is really about personal threats or about the possibility for bettering the country,” he adds.

Behind the scenes, Futterman says he made the decision to allow each episode to have a different tone of voice – utilising fellow writers Bathsheba Doran, Adam Rapp, Ali Selim and Shannon Houston – rather than rewriting each script “so it sounds like it’s coming out of the same typewriter.” He continues: “People approach the job differently. It also made for less work for me that I didn’t have to rewrite the scripts. The biggest job as a showrunner is are you hiring the right people and these guys I hired, with the DOPs, the directors and the rest of the cast… it becomes an easier job if you get the right people.”

Futterman says television seemed like the right medium rather than condensing this huge story into a two-hour feature film, a point with which Daniels agrees. “We’re shooting a novel. In our head, it’s a 10-hour movie,” Daniels concludes. “There are more details and more colours, it’s really great.”

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Roman invasion

Set in 43AD, anarchic drama Britannia follows the Roman army as they return to crush the Celtic heart of Britannia, a mysterious land led by warrior women and powerful Druids who claim to channel the forces of the underworld.

David Morrissey stars as Roman general Aulus, alongside Kelly Reilly, Zoe Wanamaker, Ian McDiarmid and Mackenzie Crook.

In this DQTV interview, Morrissey reveals what drew him to the unusual role and how he was captivated by the show’s stunning set design.

The actor and executive producer James Richardson also discuss working with co-creator Jez Butterworth, the acclaimed playwright behind Jerusalem and The Ferryman, and explain why this isn’t just another historical drama.

Britannia is produced by Vertigo Films and Neal Street Productions for Sky Atlantic and Amazon Prime Video in the US. Sky Vision is the distributor.

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Tribes and tribulations

Hair, make-up and prosthetics designer Davina Lamont discusses her work on epic Sky and Amazon historical drama Britannia, in which a Roman army faces up to Druids and Celts in 43AD.

When Davina Lamont received a last-minute call asking her if she wanted to come and work on a “nice little Roman job,” there’s little chance she realised the scale of what was to come.

In fact, the hair, make-up and prosthetics designer could not have joined a more ambitious and visually striking series than Britannia, the Roman Empire-set drama coming to Sky Atlantic and Amazon.

But having worked on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and series such as Sons of Liberty, Legends and two seasons of National Geographic’s Genius, she had the experience needed to bring to life the three vastly different tribes that feature in the story.

“They told me for Genius season one that they had this little project and it’s going to be a nice little script – and then it turned into a monster,” Lamont recalls. “Britannia was the same. I got called in at the last minute and was told, ‘It’ll be really cool.’ Then it just went crazy. But I’m happy for those jobs.

Britannia stars David Morrissey as Aulus

“Producers are starting to like the fact they have one designer who does all three, instead of splitting up the team and having a hair designer, prosthetic designer and make-up designer. They like the fact, budget-wise, they pay one person to do all three, and I enjoy it too. I love the fact I can go from one job to the next and it’s really different – and creatively different. I do prefer to take on those sorts of jobs – the big and difficult ones.”

In television, they don’t come much bigger than Britannia, which is set in 43AD and follows the Roman army as it sets out to crush the Celtic heart of the mysterious titular land, one led by warrior women and powerful Druids who claim to channel the forces of the underworld.

The nine-part historical drama stars Kelly Reilly as fearless Celtic princess Kerra, David Morrissey as Aulus, the head of the invading Roman army, Nikolaj Lie Kaas as rogue Druid Divis and Zoë Wanamaker as Celtic queen Antedia.

All episodes of the series, produced by Vertigo Films in association with Neal Street Productions and distributed by Sky Vision, are available to view from Thursday on Sky Atlantic and Now TV.

With just five weeks of pre-production to put her ideas together, Lamont worked with costume designer Ann Maskrey and production designer Tom Burton to create this unknown world and decide how they would represent the different tribes.

It took over three hours to complete Mackenzie Crook’s look, which included hooks in his nails

“Then from that point, we all went into this exploratory period,” Lamont says. “Five weeks was all we had to put it together. It was tough to try to figure out what the Druids were going to look like. I know they wanted a lot of tattoos and wanted some Vikings-cum-Game of Thrones elements involved. We just had to work it out and work out how it transcends into each and every tribe.”

That exploration process included plenty of trial and error. Lamont says she even questioned whether they should be putting tattoos on the Celtic king (Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid, as Pellenor) and queen.

“It looked ridiculous,” she jokes. “There were times when I thought, “Oh my God, this is my last job.’ But then you put everybody else into the same world on the same set and you go, ‘Actually it looks phenomenal.’ It was scary to start with, especially with Veran.”

Veran is the leader of the Druids, a character feared and respected in equal measure and who claims to speak directly from the Gods. Portraying him on screen is Mackenzie Crook, known for turns in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise and TV series such as The Office and Detectorists. In Britannia, however, the star is unrecognisable, sporting a shaved head and  several layers of prosthetics and make-up that give him a skeletal appearance, with dark sunken eyes and numerous facial tattoos and scars.

“Basically I woke up one morning and wanted to change him completely,” Lamont says of creating Crook’s appearance. “That’s how he came about. I designed the look and then I sent it off to the producers and told them to sit down because this was what I wanted to do with him. But they loved it and said go for it.

“When I rang up Mackenzie for the first time and we chatted over the phone, he said it was brilliant and was exactly what he wanted to have. So it was great, it worked out perfectly. He was brilliant, and then I said I had to shave his head – he was all for it.”

At that point, however, the scripts were still being pulled together by lead writers Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth and Richard McBrien so it was unclear how many days Crook would be required to get into costume. But thanks to Crook’s startling look and impressive performances, his screen time grew and grew.

“I don’t remember how many prosthetics we did on him in the end, it was massive,” Lamont says. “We made it to three to three-and-a-half hours for him [to get ready]. It’s a long time.”

Crook also came in with his own ideas for Veran’s image, in particular the little round hooks we see on the end of his finger nails.

“On the very first day we did his make-up, he came in with these hooks and started drilling into his nails,” Lamont remembers. “I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’ve got something to show you – I really want to do this.’ He drilled into his own nails with a drill and put these rings on. It was brilliant. So he’s fantastic to work with, he’s down for anything. He’s a brilliant actor.”

The show debuts on Sky Atlantic this Thursday

Speaking about his transformation, Crook says: “I found it brilliant. I loved every minute of it. From the design to going and having a cast made, and the daily ritual of putting it on, we started off at five hours and then they got it down to three-and-a-half – it was a brilliant process. Watching the skill of the make-up team and seeing myself slowly transformed in front of the mirror helped me get into and form the character.”

Another actor who spent plenty of time in make-up was Gershwyn Eustache Jr, who plays Vitus. Also a Druid and part of Veran’s gang, he needed to have a similar look, calling for more tattoos and scarification on his face. Lamont continues: “We also had Divis (Lie Kaas). We really didn’t know what we were going to do with him. At one point he was also going to have a shaved head, and then the producers really loved the fact we etched runes into his forehead and made them like scarification. Everybody had tattoos, prosthetics, contact lenses, big battle wounds. Every single character had something.”

With the amount of money washing through television drama these days, you might expect the design teams get to play with a bigger budget, especially on a show such as Britannia. Yet Lamont says the figures she has worked with over the last few years haven’t seen the same upward trend as overall series budgets.

“They like to start off by giving me a budget that’s really small,” she explains. “But then the scripts don’t portray the budget I have. Nearly every job over the last 10 years, especially in TV now, I get a budget and it’s nowhere near close enough to what [we need for what] we have to do. My budgets do end up getting a lot bigger. Especially on Britannia, the scripts were still being developed as we were going along so we really didn’t know what would come up in the mix or all the new characters coming through. It was a big guessing game.

“When you don’t know what’s coming up, it gets really expensive because you have to have a number of wigs on hire or made and prosthetics that have to come with it. That’s what happened with Veran’s lot. We didn’t know there were going to be three other actors involved so they became big elements for us. It’s definitely changed from what TV used to be, even 10 years ago, when you could pretty much picture the budget. Now we’re basically doing five feature films in one TV show.”

Unsurprisingly, bigger budgets are demanded by dramas at the fantasy end of the spectrum, as opposed real-world stories on which Lamont has worked on like Top of the Lake. The designer admits she doesn’t know why she continues to be drawn back to genre shows, but says part of the fun is getting to create new worlds for each job.

“I feel like I’m probably meant to be in the fantasy world but I love the fact I can go from a job like Britannia and then go and do a job like Genius,” she adds. “They’re hugely different. With Genius, I have to make people look like they were from the 1900s, like Picasso [season two] and Einstein [season one] – actual people from the past. I love recreating people in that way. I’ve never really been into fantasy but I always get pushed into that genre, so I’ll run with it for now.”

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Back to the 1980s

As a host of scripted series find inspiration in the 1980s, DQ speaks to the creatives behind these shows to find out how they recreated the era – and why it remains so popular almost 30 years after the decade ended.

It’s hard to believe shoulder pads and neon clothing were once fashionable. But take a look at any number of television shows on air today and you might think time has stood still since the 1980s, such is the number of scripted series now set during the decade.

Spy thriller The Americans, tech series Halt & Catch Fire, various instalments of Shane Meadows miniseries This is England, Argentine gangster drama Historia de un Clan, British series Brief Encounters and Black Mirror’s Emmy-winning season three episode San Junipero (pictured above) have all fuelled this trend, in which series largely use the period as the backdrop for stories centring on historical, political or cultural events that took place during the decade. For others, such as short-lived Sex & the City prequel The Carrie Diaries, it suits the age and sensibilities of its fashion-conscious characters.

The show that has arguably done more than any to inspire nostalgic recollections of the 1980s is Netflix’s Stranger Things, in which co-creators Ross and Matt Duffer turned a paranormal murder mystery into a love letter to their childhood. Inspired by the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, the show, which returns for a second season this autumn, is loved as much for the use of walkie-talkies and Dungeons & Dragons as it is for introducing viewers to a parallel dimension known as the Upside Down.

Netflix hit Stranger Things has been at the forefront of the 80s trend

“Fortunately it’s not the 1780s,” remarks production designer Chris Trujillo, who was tasked with creating and dressing the fictional Indiana town of Hawkins, both at a studio lot and on location in and around Atlanta. “A lot of this stuff is very collectible and very available, so with a thorough internet search we were always able to find super-specific stuff. The challenge is being true to the 80s and making sure everything’s authentic, as opposed to just going to a prop house and renting a bunch of furniture that’s been on half-a-dozen shows. The more challenging items were the fantasy stuff, where you’re making it up for the Upside Down.”

But while Ghostbusters figures and He-Man bedsheets might be collectibles now, the fashion of the period was much more disposable, as costume designer Beth Morgan discovered when she joined another 1980s-set Netflix series, female wresting drama GLOW.

“It is a challenging period because it was a time when people didn’t save their clothes,” she says. “In the 50s, 60s and 70s, people didn’t have as many clothes. People took really good care of them, they saved stuff. The 80s was a lot more casual. A lot of T-shirts and jeans got ruined and were thrown out. There wasn’t as much care. So there’s a lot of stock out there but not good-quality stock.”

As well as its resurgence on television, 1980s style is also enjoying a renaissance in real life, and Morgan found unlikely competition for thrift-store garments in the guise of LA hipsters looking for authentic items to add to their own wardrobes. “If there are any other shows in town that are set in the 80s too, you’re racing to the costume houses to get the stuff you want,” she continues. “But we were always able to find the perfect piece for each actor for each scene. There’s a blouse for Ruth [played by Alison Brie] that’s my favourite thing, which we found on the floor of a rag house.

Female wrestling drama GLOW is also on Netflix

“The hard part for us was the Jazzercise class. We have so many workout looks in our show. The key was those 80s elastic belts that perfectly match the leotards – finding those was a real challenge. Finding the right clasp for a belt was really hard because there’s not a ton of them around. So it was a challenge but a fun one, and now we have so much stuff. Next season will be even more fun.”

In contrast, when Cold War family saga Weissensee launched in 2010, costume designer Monika Hinz was tasked with finding considerably less glamorous clothing. “In the beginning, it was very important for me to get away from the sepia look that is often used to create a historic atmosphere,” she says of the German drama, which airs locally on Das Erste. “The script dived into all kinds of classes – artists, military officers and generals – so my costumes served all of those different people. It was my concept to use lots of colours as it was the fashion in the late 70s to wear green, orange, brown and yellow. This helped a character like Julia Hausmann, played by Hannah Herzsprung, to look young, cheerful and sexy, ready to jump into life.”

Hinz’s biggest challenge, however, was finding the right material to dress prisoners depicted in the series. “The original clothes were a striking neon-blue synthetic material. They were given to the prisoners in purposely non-fitting sizes to make them feel bad because they had to hold their pants to stop them falling down. So I had to find cloth that was as authentic as possible. It’s a terrible colour for the camera, but the DOP and the director thought it was very important to do it that way. And I got them all tailored in a non-fitting size.”

When production designer Frank Godt joined the team behind Weissensee, which was created by writer Annette Hess and is distributed by Global Screen, his task was to recreate East Germany (DDR) right down to the smallest details. “We searched for furniture, wallpaper, props, cars, lorries, buildings, surfaces, shields and so on,” he recalls.

Weissensee, which highlights a less colourful side of the decade than many other series

“Compared with the Western countries, the DDR was very conservative and simple – because of communism and socialism, of course – and that was also the case in the 1980s. Trabbies [East German Trabant cars], food, furniture and all other consumer goods were like this. The DDR was an isolated and closed country, totally cut off from the outside Western world. The wall looked like a bastion – it demonstrated fear and a prison feeling to the inhabitants every day and one felt scared all time.”

It’s for this reason that the show stands out from the more vibrant 80s-set dramas, adds Godt. “Life seemed colourless, grey and sad. Western people were constantly looking over to the DDR people and felt sorry for them. But the people behind the wall created their own colourful world and made the best of it. To visualise this incomprehensible contrast between the grey DDR and the colourful and cosmopolitan life in the West was the biggest challenge for the production design team.”

Fellow German drama Deutschland 83, meanwhile, demanded splashes of colour in every scene. As such, set designer Lars Lange sought to create a visual language for the show to avoid it looking like a documentary or “museum piece.”

“It was quite a challenge and an exciting task to grapple with the history of Germany during this very special time in the Cold War,” he explains. “It was also a challenge to interpret this through our sets and images for an audience that, in part, is acquainted with that time from personal experience, and, at the same time, for those who had nothing to do with it.”

To create the look of the show – whose sequel, Deutschland 86, is now in production for RTL and Amazon – Lange used historical research, eyewitness accounts and memories from his own youth. “Apart from the wall, soldiers, punks and shoulder pads, there were, alongside the half-crumbling backyards on both sides, also architectural highlights from the 50s, 60s and 70s, which shaped the cityscape.”

LA crack cocaine drama Snowfall

That visual language was strengthened by the costumes designed by Katrin Unterberger, who wanted the FremantleMedia International-distributed series to be “colourful and cool.”

“The creative heads had agreed a look to visually distinguish between East Germany and West Germany,” she recalls. “The East had to be in pastel colours, with floral patterns and hand-crafted stitching. The West, on the other hand, was fast-paced, so characters needed clear lines and bright colours without patterns. But in reality the styles were not as black and white.”

With 1980s fashion still popular, Unterberger was able to source original items in second-hand shops, though the large cast meant she had to find specific styles for lots of different people. That meant high heels, big hairstyles and colourful make-up.

One discovery particularly stood out: “I found a very nice patchwork T-shirt in the West, and in an East shop I found an almost identical piece,” she says. “[The latter] was made from different-coloured bed sheets, self-sewn and then decorated. This was a moving moment for me that spoke volumes politically. In the West, people could buy what they wanted but in the East, they had to use their imagination.”

US drama Snowfall, which airs on FX, has a vibrant and colourful style. The series, recently renewed for a second season, recreates LA in 1983 to follow the rise of the city’s crack cocaine epidemic.

“We did want to embrace the world as much as possible,” says showrunner Dave Andron, although he adds that he was keen to ensure the period in which the series is set did not overshadow the story. “For me, a lot of it was doing it in a way that felt authentic and organic and not distracting. And with costumes, it was always a fine line where you want it to feel 1980s but you don’t want there to be neon shoulder pads to the point where all you’re looking at is the clothes. It’s got to feel completely of the piece, with the world you’ve created, but not distracting all at once.”

So why is the trend for 1980s-set series so prevalent? One theory is that the commissioners and screenwriters now working in television grew up during that period and are dramatising their own experiences. However, Stranger Things’ Trujillo believes there’s a “general exhaustion” with technology, apps and selfies that means viewers are keen to return to a period where such trappings belonged in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

“There’s something really fun about these kids on an adventure,” he says. “No one’s going to call them on a cell phone. It harks back to a time when I was a kid and you could go out in the neighbourhood and have a real adventure. I feel like somehow that’s a bit lost and the idea of adventure is now virtual adventures. But when I was a kid, you imagined having a Stand By Me adventure instead of doing something weird on the internet. It’s a bit of a relief.”

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Keep dreaming

The creative team behind Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams discuss the origins of the ambitious sci-fi anthology series and reveal how they brought together a host of A-list actors, writers and directors for the show.

To say Philip K Dick adaptations are a fixture on screen at the moment is akin to saying the sky is blue. The late sci-fi writer’s work is hot property.

The Hood Maker, the first episode in the series, featured Noma Dumezweni and Richard Madden

The trend was set two years ago with global giant Amazon launching original series The Man in the High Castle. Based on Dick’s novel of the same name, a third season of the show was greenlit earlier this year. Looming large on the horizon too is Blade Runner 2049, the much-anticipated follow-up to the revered 1982 movie Blade Runner, also based on a Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

And now Channel 4 has jumped on the bandwagon with Electric Dreams, a sci-fi anthology series of 10 hour-long episodes, drawn from a selection from the 120-plus short stories the author penned during his life.

The genesis of the Sony Pictures Television coproduction came five years ago when Michael Dinner, writer and series executive producer, was approached by US prodco Anonymous Content and Dick’s daughter Isa Dick Hackett with the idea of doing a series based on one of the short stories. Two weeks later, at a screening of episodes The Hood Maker and Crazy Diamond, Dinner recalls: “I had the nerve to call and say, ‘How about all of them?’”

The Hood Maker, the season premiere, debuted on September 17 to broadly positive reviews. In the pantheon of stars on board the show, Holliday Grainger (who also stars in BBC1’s Strike, the adaptation of JK Rowling’s three crime novels written under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym) is not perhaps the biggest name; but her turn as telepath Honor is balanced and full of range for a character essentially supposed to be a dispassionate drone. Her rapport with co-star Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) is full of feeling and has depth, which is impressive since the episode unfolds at 100 miles per hour.

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston (right) stars in Human Is

The acting line-ups for the nine other episodes are star-studded. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Timothy Spall (Mr Turner), Anna Paquin (True Blood), Terrence Howard (Empire), and Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) are but a few of the recognisable faces on screen.

Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, Borgen), who stars alongside Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) in Crazy Diamond, says the adaptability of the sci-fi genre allowed the actors to bring individuality to their roles and not feel restricted by the character in the original script.

“It’s a strange read, the script; I couldn’t explain it, but I liked it,” she says. “The whole thing is very odd – we’re odd, and the style is odd, but it’s exceptionally playful.

“What this genre allows is that nobody can come and say, ‘That’s not really believable,’ because what is believable? You can always insist on things being the way they are – this is the way we choose to interact and have emotions.”

Noma Dumezweni (Harry Potter & the Cursed Child), who features in The Hood Maker, says the stellar casts caught her eye, and that this unique quality, along with the individuality of each episode, is the series’ strength.

“Just watching these two episodes, I can’t wait to see the others because they’re so fucking individual,” she says. “For me, there is no meaning; Electric Dreams is the thing that’s holding this all together. I want to see what each director’s done with their vision.”

Steve Buscemi alongside Julia Davis in Crazy Diamond

It’s not just in front of the camera where there is variety. Electric Dreams is made up of five UK and five US productions, has 10 different writers, 10 different directors and multiple executive producers. It is unsurprising, then, that Dinner calls the episodes “little movies.”

“I had this crazy notion of doing an anthology show, but one that encompassed 10 different unique points of view, not done like traditional American television,” he says. “So, then I solicited friends [to help].”

Dinner turned to veteran sci-fi producer and screenwriter Ronald D Moore – the “resident sci-fi geek” at Sony’s studio lot – before bringing on board Cranston, who happened to be moving into an office below Dinner’s, and who too is an avid Dick fan.

“We went after writers whose work we really liked. Some of them brought with them the stories that were favourites of theirs, and we also curated stories and sent them to writers. We put this all-star team together,” says Dinner.

“[We had a vision that] each show would have a diversity of viewpoint and we’d really give artists who came and joined us the opportunity to bring their own vision and interpretation to it,” Moore adds.

Along with Moore and Dinner, Maril Davis (Tall Ship Productions) exec produces. Cranston, who stars in episode Human Is, is also exec producing on behalf of Moon Shot Entertainment, along with James Degus. Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan and Christopher Tricarico of Electric Shepherd Productions and Anonymous Content’s David Kanter and Matt DeRoss also have executive producer credits.

Impossible Planet deals with space tourism

So was having so many bodies on each show – literally thousands of miles apart from each other at any given stage – a challenge for the producers? Though he is satisfied with the outcomes of each individual project, Dinner says it was tricky at times.

“We were crazy because we were shooting on two continents, almost simultaneously,” he says. “We started shooting in Great Britain about five weeks earlier than the US. There were a lot of producers, so people would come and go to [and from] Great Britain.”

Moore jokes that they undertook such an extravagant project “because we’re insane,” but concedes the complexity of the series was tough.

“It’s a lot of ground to cover and I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is to produce a show like this,” he says. “Every episode is a new cast, new locations, new costumes, new sets, everything. It’s hard to produce. It’s unique, I’ve never done anything like it. I suspect none of us have.”

It seems like a bit of a departure for C4 too. Electric Dreams was commissioned by outgoing chief creative officer Jay Hunt, Piers Wenger (who is now at the BBC) and Simon Maxwell, head of international drama. Earlier this year, Maxwell said the budget for Electric Dreams was “significant” and that the show would have been unaffordable without forming a coproduction. Amazon Prime has the US rights.

It is not solely monetary success C4 needs. There is perhaps some pride to salvage owing to the big hole in the channel’s scheduling left by fellow sci-fi show Black Mirror, which moved to streaming giant Netflix last year. However, there is confidence among Dinner and Moore their show can emulate the dramatic success of its predecessor. Indeed, the former believes they have brought a cinematic experience to linear television.

“With each one as we finish it up, it’s thrilling. I’m as excited about the other directors’, the other writers’ [episodes] as I am about the one I did,” he says. “It’s fun to work with the talent and work with people we really admire, [bringing together] directors with writers and writers with directors.

“We get to make 10 movies in a season. The ability to 10 stories and do 10 movies is awesome.”

Given the series is only a 12th of Dick’s short story output, do the producers have hopes they could be future Electric Dreams series?

“Five years ago, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to invite people to play in our sandbox?,’” Dinner adds. “We wondered if people would come and they did. If it’s a success, more people will come to the sandbox.”

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Star turn

Twists and turns abound in Tin Star, Sky Atlantic’s Rocky Mountains-set drama that sees Tim Roth play a small-town police chief attempting to escape his demons. DQ hears from the star and writer/director Rowan Joffé about pushing the limits in this 10-part series.

Tim Roth isn’t exactly known for playing the quiet type.

Perhaps most famous for appearing in several Quentin Tarantino movies – including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight – the actor has a knack for portraying menacing characters with a simmering intensity, with other memorable villainous turns in 2001’s Planet of the Apes and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.

So when the early stages of Tin Star, his new series for Sky Atlantic, see Roth as a level-headed family man and police chief in the peaceful surroundings of rural Canada, it’s safe for viewers to assume that things are going to go south – and fast.

Rowan Joffé

The 10-part drama, which launches in the UK on September 7, stars Roth as former London copper Jim Worth, who has upped sticks along with his family to escape a troubled past by beginning a new life in the Rocky Mountains.

All seems to be going swimmingly at first, with the new police chief – a former alcoholic – spending more time catching fish than criminals in the sleepy fictional town of Little Big Bear. But things soon take a dark twist as the arrival of a shady oil company coincides with a past that refuses to fade away, and an attack on his family turns Jim into a one-man wrecking ball on a quest for revenge.

Coproduced by Endemol Shine-owned firm Kudos Film and Television alongside Amazon Prime Video in the US, Tin Star is distributed by Sky Vision.

The show marks Roth’s first lead TV role since his only other major venture into the medium, Lie to Me, came to an end in 2011 after three seasons on US network Fox.

However, the actor reveals the decision to return to the small screen was not premeditated. “I wasn’t looking for a TV show,” he explains. “I put my feet up in the kitchen and I read a couple of [Tin Star] scripts, and I thought they were bonkers.

Tin Star’s cast is led by Tim Roth as troubled police chief Jim Worth

“That immediately gets my attention, and then the next question is, ‘Where the fuck does this go?’ And then I found out, and it’s interesting. So I thought, ‘I fancy this.’ Then you call [the producers] and tell them that, and they pay you shit-loads of money!” he jokes.

Roth says he was captivated by the “very, very anarchic story,” adding: “The minute I thought I knew what was going on, it was something different – we always got it wrong.”

Filmed on location in and around Calgary, Alberta, Tin Star makes full use of the region’s natural beauty, with sweeping shots of mountain ranges and rivers providing stark contrast to the ugliness that unfolds between the characters on screen.

Yet while one might think filming in such a place sounds like an actor’s dream, Roth offers a different view. “Having worked in Calgary, I have to say I wasn’t keen to go back,” he admits. “It’s nothing against Canada, but you’re talking about ‘Trumpland’ in Canada. It’s all flourishing – the oil and the corporations, the invasions of the local culture. It’s just there.”

The show centres on Jim and his family’s attempt to start a new life in the Rocky Mountains

It’s a view echoed by Rowan Joffé, who wrote and directed every episode of the series. “Canada looks like this wonderful, impeccable, clean place – and it is, until you look at what they’re doing with the tar sands out there,” he says, referencing the controversial oil extraction that has been gathering pace in the country. “It’s pretty horrific in many ways.”

Best known for writing 2007 horror sequel 28 Weeks Later and for penning and directing 2014 feature Before I Go to Sleep, Joffé became the latest in an growing band of contemporary movie directors to try their hand at TV drama when he signed up for Tin Star, his first major TV project.

The chance to take charge of what he describes as a “10-hour movie” proved irresistible to Joffé, who says: “Sky were always true to their word, which was, ‘You can author the show.’ And so we just ran with it.

“We thought there was absolutely no point in doing this unless we felt like we were taking risks. The opportunity to write what I wanted to write and to be able to collaborate with actors who I really admire, and for no one to tell me no at any point… It’s just been amazing.”

The show also features Mad Men star Christina Hendricks

Joffé’s affinity for his cast – which also includes Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks as oil rep Elizabeth Bradshaw and Genevieve O’Reilly as Jim’s wife Angela – is clear, with the director revealing that they played an important role in shaping the plot.

“The story began to change and morph around the actors,” he says. “Without doubt, many of the best moments on screen – particularly in Tim’s case – were ad-libbed. Tim brought a level of wit and comedy to it that was way beyond my ability as a screenwriter.”

Joffé was “free with us and let us be free at the same time,” adds Roth, who particularly relished the chance to really get under the skin of a character across 10 hours.

He describes the experience as “much more satisfying” than working on network television’s standalone episodes – such as in Lie to Me – which he calls a “much harder job.”

“Theatre is where actors really exist, as opposed to film, which is the director’s world. But [television now] is very similar to the stage experience, especially now that there are so many good writers and so much rich talent involved.

Genevieve O’Reilly as Jim’s wife Angela

“For us as actors, it’s incredible. We get to play more with television now – to invent, change, metamorphose, have fun and be challenged.”

Playing Jim was made more difficult by the increasing presence throughout the series of his dangerous alter ego, Jack, who Jim has learnt to keep at bay – as long as he remains sober.

Indeed, as the show progresses, Jack increasingly comes to the fore, simultaneously ratcheting up the violence and taking the show to “dark, shocking places,” according to Joffé.

“We went far; I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if we didn’t. It was just anarchy on the page,” says Roth, who credits Joffé for creating a character that tests audience sympathies.

“We take you to a very dark place, but the audience is supposed to be my ‘mate’ – they’re part of the fun too. On the one hand you enjoy the journey with this guy, and on the other you hate him.”

As for the suggestion of a second season, it seems Roth would jump at the chance. “In a hypothetical world, if we got to do another 10-hour movie, I’d be happy with that. I’d like to chip back at and fuck with this character again.”

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Creative arms race

As Netflix and Amazon continue to flex their financial muscles, battle lines are being drawn between network, cable and digital channels in the fight for top writing talent.

Call it what you will – peak TV, the new golden age or even the first platinum era of television – there are few signs that the number of scripted dramas being produced around the world, and particularly in the US, is on the wane.

So as the transfer window for football leagues across Europe enters its final days, television is doing its best to keep up, with rival players fighting to sign up some of the small screen’s biggest talents in the hope of continuing to attract viewers.

If former Barcelona superstar Neymar is worth a world-record transfer fee of £200m (US$258m) to Paris Saint-Germain, how valuable is showrunner extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes (pictured above) to Netflix?

However much Rhimes will earn, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos would doubtless say she is worth every cent after the showrunner agreed to bring her Shondaland production company to the US streaming giant in a multi-year deal that will see her create new series for the platform. Indeed, Sarandos described Rhimes as “one of the greatest storytellers in the history of television” after securing her signature.

Shondaland’s ABC series include long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy

And who is in any doubt over the credibility of that statement? This is, after all, a writer and producer who has her own night on US network ABC, with Shondaland series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder bringing in primetime audiences every Thursday.

But while becoming synonymous with ABC, which also previously aired Shondaland dramas The Catch and Still Star-Crossed, among others, Rhimes has slowly built up a relationship with Netflix. The streamer has global rights outside of the US to How To Get Away With Murder and also airs Grey’s and Scandal in many other territories.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that despite a long and successful partnership with the network, she has jumped ship with the promise of untold production budgets and the opportunity to tell any story she likes without having to jump through the hoops laid out by a broadcast network’s standards and practices department.

Robert Kirkman

“Her work is gripping, inventive, pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, taboo-breaking television at its best,” Sarandos continued, with all the hyperbole of a football club chairman announcing his club’s latest star signing, lacking only a Netflix T-shirt with Rhimes’ name across the back. “I’ve gotten the chance to know Shonda and she’s a true Netflixer at heart – she loves TV and films, she cares passionately about her work and she delivers for her audience.”

Rhimes hinted at the potential to break away from the more stringent rules at ABC when she said: “Ted provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He understood what I was looking for – the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix’s singular sense of innovation. The future of Shondaland at Netflix has limitless possibilities.”

While Grey’s, now entering its 14th season, and its ABC stablemates will not be moving with Rhimes, one wonders what new projects Shondaland will be pitching to the streamer.

In the case of The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, the dark content that comprises his comic book back catalogue and the output of his Skybound Entertainment prodco provides a clue of what is likely to come now that he too has agreed an online deal, with Amazon being the beneficiary in this case.

The Walking Dead is one of the biggest shows in the world, giving cable network AMC the kinds of ratings that broadcast networks would once have considered unremarkable. Kirkman is also behind Cinemax’s Outcast and is developing pre-apocalyptic drama Five Year, which is being prepared for multiple territories including Germany, India, Brazil and Italy.

“Robert is a gifted storyteller who shares our passion for elevated genre storytelling that pushes boundaries,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, head of event series at Amazon Studios, which is ramping up its focus on science-fiction, fantasy and horror series. “Robert and the team at Skybound are some of the most innovative and fearless creatives in the business. Together, we plan to explore immersive worlds and bold ideas for Prime Video.”

Kirkman is best known as the creator of AMC’s The Walking Dead

The digital tractor beam has also managed to pull in major movie talent, with Netflix revealing it had tapped the sought-after Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men) to produce western anthology series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – a six-parter starring Tim Blake Nelson that will feature six different frontier tales featuring the eponymous character.

“We are streaming, motherfuckers,” said Joel and Ethan Coen, understatedly, in what was another coup for Netflix in the wake of Disney’s revelation that it would be pulling its movie titles from the SVoD player in 2019.

It’s a stark reality that the some of the biggest names in TV and film will head to Netflix and Amazon due to the promise of being given the freedom to let their creative juices flow. But what is left for the networks they leave behind? AMC will have to make do without the next series from Kirkman, while Matthew Weiner, who spent eight years at the channel with Mad Men, has also set up his next show – The Romanoffs – at Amazon. Cable rival FX, meanwhile, has been tying down its biggest creative assets, among them Noah Hawley (Fargo, Legion) and Donald Glover (Atlanta), for fear of them also moving on.

Noah Hawley

But it is broadcast networks that will face the biggest challenge. Already trailing in the wake of their subscription-based competitors and unable to place the same bets on niche dramas as their cable and streaming rivals, the onus is on them to unearth new gems each year to keep their advertisers happy.

ABC Studios has been doing some transfer business of its own, reuniting with veteran showrunner Carlton Cuse (Jack Ryan, Bates Motel) who oversaw six seasons of Lost for the Alphanet Network. The hope will be that he can steer some new shows in its direction.

But like smaller football clubs facing off against their bigger rivals, television now has a new ecosystem, and it’s likely networks will have to get used to seeing their best and brightest talents picked off.

The demanding nature of network dramas means they should continue to be the biggest training ground for up-and-coming writing talent as writers rooms grapple with the demands of 22-episode seasons. That’s where the next great storytellers will emerge to take the places of Rhimes et al.

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Great Scott

Showrunners Billy Ray and Christopher Keyser take DQ back to 1930s Hollywood as they discuss Amazon’s The Last Tycoon, their adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel.

With screenplays including The Hunger Games, Captain Philips and State of Play to his name, writer Billy Ray has worked on some of the biggest Hollywood movies of the last decade.

So it’s notable when he describes making Amazon Prime drama The Last Tycoon as the most fun he’s ever had. “I’ve never had a working experience that was better than this from the start,” he says of the streamer’s adaptation of celebrated American author F Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel.

“I so love the book, I so love its voice and tone and I had such a strong feeling that the conversations people have on movie studios today are the exact same conversations that were being had in Fitzgerald’s book, and it seemed like the perfect vehicle to talk about the dynamics in Hollywood. Then on a character level you have all these dynamics, and the idea just seemed inexhaustible because the people are so compelling. It’s literally been my favourite job I’ve ever had.”

The Last Tycoon stars Kelsey Grammer (right) and Matt Bomer

After writing a bible for the series but having no prior experience of working in TV, film veteran Ray partnered with seasoned TV exec Christopher Keyser (Party of Five, Sisters) to bring The Last Tycoon to the small screen together as co-showrunners. Three years later, in June 2016, Amazon launched a pilot, allowing viewers the chance to view and rate the show ahead of a possible series commission.

The streamer was suitably impressed with the feedback, greenlighting a full nine-episode first season a month after the pilot launch.

Recreating the glitz and glamour of 1930s Hollywood, the series follows rising star Monroe Stahr, played by Matt Bomer (White Collar), as he battles father figure and boss Pat Brady (Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer) for the soul of their movie studio. Lily Collins also stars as Celia Brady, Pat’s daughter.

It follows the lead of Fitzgerald’s novel, itself inspired by the life of legendary film mogul Irving Thalberg who helped create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and produced more than 400 films at the studio. The book was previously adapted in 1976 as a movie starring Robert De Niro and Robert Mitchum as Stahr and Brady respectively.

Lily Collins also stars as Celia Brady

“It’s about the dream of Hollywood and the reality of Hollywood,” Ray explains. “We’re writing about a period in which that dream became captured on film and became immortalised. That filmic fantasy of America really began to be sold in the 1930s and, in some way, the world still believes in that vision of America. That’s the power of the movies.”

Keyser continues: “The question of what we thought of ourselves [at that time] and whether we were telling ourselves a lie, or whether it was true or a necessary lie – that’s really interesting and it’s still really interesting, unfortunately, in 2017.”

Speaking about the cast, the showrunners claim Bomer is “the perfect Monroe,” while Grammer brings physicality, gruffness and humour to the role of studio boss Brady, adding that the pair were the only actors to whom the parts were offered.

The same was true of Collins’ (The Blind Side) casting. “Lily was the only person we offered the part of Celia to,” says Ray. “You could see she was a rocket ship about to take off, which is now happening [with films such as Okja and To the Bone]. She was so utterly charming and beautiful. Then Rosemarie DeWitt [La La Land] had a tiny part as Rose Brady in the pilot; she was only in two scenes so Chris and I had to do some serious lobbying to get her to take the part – and with her we developed Rose into a fully fleshed out character, who it turns out is absolutely vital to the show and, for some, one of the most intriguing parts of the show. She was also our first choice – it was just one of those parties people wanted to be a part of.”

Billy Ray directs Nicole Kidman in Secrets in Their Eyes

Still, Keyser notes that unearthing new talent is part of the fun of television, and he believes The Last Tycoon, which rolls out in more than 200 territories and countries tomorrow, features several actors on the path to stardom.

“Take a look at Mark O’Brien, who plays Max Miner, Enzo Cilenti, who plays Aubrey Hackett, or Dominique McElligott (as Kathleen Moore), who’s been in a number of series but we didn’t know her until we did this. She’ll be well known to people because of House of Cards and Hell on Wheels. There are names you haven’t really heard of who I think are going to show something special, and that’s one of the great things about TV. You don’t have to have stars; it makes stars. Wait until you see [Flashdance star] Jennifer Beals as the reigning queen of the 1930s cinema, Margo Taft.”

Ray and Keyser hadn’t worked together before pairing up for The Last Tycoon, knowing each other only through their association with the Writers Guild of America. That meant they had figure out how they would partner on the show, though they reveal there are no boundaries between what they each do or don’t do.

But while Ray writes and also directs multiple episodes, he admits he leaves a lot of the behind-the-scenes work to his partner: “There’s another part of it that the public doesn’t see, which has to do with maintaining the relationship with the studio [TriStar TV] and the network, and making sure their voices are heard while ensuring the sensibility of the show doesn’t change in over-response to notes. Chris is very good at navigating all of that stuff.”

The showrunners are also quick to praise others who worked on The Last Tycoon, from director of photography Daniel Moder (The Normal Heart) and production designer Patricia von Brandenstein (Amadeus) to costume designer Janie Bryant (Mad Men), producer Pavlina Hatoupis and directing producer Scott Hornbacher.

“We did have some really amazing other people who were working with us,” Keyser says. “In the long run, being a showrunner is, in the large part, finding great people and more or less trusting them to do their jobs.”

After the pilot launched on Prime Video, Amazon shared some of the feedback with Ray and Keyser – something many producers say generally doesn’t happen at Amazon or similar platforms like Netflix, where key metrics such as viewing figures aren’t released, even to the programme makers.

But Keyser notes that the Amazon system of seeking feedback from a pilot isn’t that much different from other, more traditional networks – only in this scenario, it’s the viewers who get to give their opinions.

The series is based on the final novel by F Scott Fitzgerald

“One of the big differences in this world is not so much the way we make this stuff but the fact that the way we deliver it actually affects the stories we tell,” he explains, pointing to the way television dramas have evolved from strict episodic procedurals to a much more fluid, serialised format. The Last Tycoon, in fact, adopts a hybrid form, with individual episodes telling standalone stories but also tying into the themes of the whole season.

“Television storytelling has become more or less anything it wants for an audience that can watch it at its own pace – they can turn to the next chapter whenever they feel like it. That’s improved TV storytelling. We are the beneficiary and it allows us to take a novel and turn it into an even longer story.”

The drawback to this, Ray concedes, is that writers can be keener to finish each episode on a cliffhanger, encouraging viewers to watch the next one immediately.

“You definitely are conscious of wanting to put something at the very end of an episode that will be intriguing, titillating or terrifying enough that someone will click and stay with it,” he says. “On our show, that represents challenges and opportunities, but we were always mindful of it.”

The showrunners put together a writers room, led by Keyser, though they both agreed that Ray would write most of the first half of the season to lay down a clear and consistent voice that could then be carried through the remaining episodes.

“But they were all stories Chris and I had worked out together for over a year by that point,” Ray says. “Then you empower the people in the room to write their own episodes and, happily, we had hired really well and they did some beautiful work. Everybody was always steering in the same direction. That made the process run very smoothly.”

In fact, the production process on The Last Tycoon is one of the things Ray points to when asked about why he enjoyed making the show so much. “It’s magic. I don’t mean that in a flippant way – it’s absolute magic when I think about what our crew is able to construct and reconstruct and flat-out make up [when recreating 1930s Hollywood]. We had magicians working for us on our crew.

“That meant every prop, costume and hairstyle was completely thrilling for the actors,” Ray adds. “Every time they walked onto the set, they loved the way they looked. Everything helped ground those performances, which is why I think they’re as much fun to watch as they are.”

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Eclectic dreams

The work of renowned author Philip K Dick has inspired a new anthology series heading to Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon. Michael Pickard takes a look at the 10 imaginative stories that make up Electric Dreams.

Since Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams was first announced in May last year, it seems not a week has passed without a new A-list actor, star writer or acclaimed director joining the anthology series.

Comprising 10 single films, each inspired by one of author Dick’s renowned short stories, a roster of leading British and American writers and directors have taken up the challenge to adapt the works for television.

Each story is set in a different and unique world, with some at the far reaches of the universe and others much closer to home. But while on the surface they may seem poles apart, they all focus on the importance and significance of humanity.

From Sony Pictures Television, Electric Dreams is executive produced by Michael Dinner of Rooney McP Productions alongside Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan and Christopher Tricarico of Electric Shepherd Productions, David Kanter and Matt DeRoss of Anonymous Content, Ronald D. Moore and Maril Davis of Tall Ship Productions, Bryan Cranston and James Degus of Moonshot Entertainment, Lila Rawlings and Marigo Kehoe of Left Bank Pictures, plus Don Kurt and Kate DiMento. Sony is also handling international distribution.

Here, DQ takes a look at the details of all 10 episodes, which are due to air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon in the US later this year.

Crazy Diamond
Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi plays Ed Morris in what is described as “the ultimate Philip K Dick comic film-noir nightmare.” Inspired by the story of the same name, the story follows average man Ed, who is approached by a gorgeous synthetic woman with an illegal plan that could change his life completely. He agrees to help – and then his world begins to crumble.
Starring alongside Buscemi are Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, Borgen), Julia Davis (Gavin & Stacy) and Joanna Scanlan (No Offence). The episode (pictured top) is written by Tony Grisoni and directed by Marc Munden.

Timothy Spall, pictured in The Enfield Haunting, stars in The Commuter

The Commuter
The morning commute is turned on its head in this mysterious tale from Bafta-winning writer Jack Thorne (National Treasure, This is England). Timothy Spall (The Enfield Haunting) stars as Ed Jacobson, an unassuming employee at a train station who is alarmed to discover that a number of daily commuters are taking the train to a town that shouldn’t exist. This one is directed by Tom Harper (War & Peace).

Impossible Planet
In an episode that promises two be out of this world, Jack Reynor (Free Fire) and Benedict Wong (Marco Polo) play two disillusioned, disenchanted and indifferent space tourism employees who agree to an elderly woman’s (Geraldine Chaplin, A Monster Calls) request for a trip back to Earth – the existence of which is a long-debunked myth. She appears easily confused, plus she’s rich – so, for the right payment, what’s the harm in indulging her fantasies? As the journey unfolds, however, their scam begins to eat away at them and they ultimately find themselves dealt a bittersweet surprise. Impossible Planet is written and directed by David Farr (The Night Manager) and based on the short story of the same name.

Human Is
Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) stars as a woman suffering in a loveless marriage who finds that her emotionally abusive husband (played by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston) appears to be a different man upon his return from battle – in more ways than one. With a cast that also includes Liam Cunningham and Ruth Bradley, this episode is written by Jessica Mecklenburg and directed by Francesca Gregorini.

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston (left) takes the lead in Human Is

Father Thing
The world is under attack in Father Thing as aliens quietly invade our homes. Charlie, played by Jack Gore (Billions), must make the most difficult decisions imaginable as he tries to protect his mother (Mireille Enos, The Catch) and the human race as he is among the first to realise that humans are being replaced by dangerous monsters. Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets) also stars in this instalment by writer and director Michael Dinner (Sneaky Pete).

Real Life
This future-set episode sees Anna Paquin (True Bloood) play Sarah, a police officer who shares ‘headspace’ with George (Terrence Howard, Empire), a brilliant game designer, with each pursuing violent killers whose plans could have shattering consequences. In a race against time, and sharing a bond that no one else can see, they learn that the very thing that connects them could also destroy them. Additional cast members include Rachelle Lefevre (Under the Dome), Lara Pulver (Sherlock), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage), Sam Witwer (Once Upon A Time) and Guy Burnet (Hand of God). The episode is written by Ronald D Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) and directed by Jeffrey Reiner (The Affair).

The Hood Maker
Set in a world without advanced technology, mutant telepaths have become humanity’s only mechanism for long-distance communication. But their powers have unintended implications, and when the public begin to embrace mysterious, telepath-blocking hoods, two detectives with an entangled past are brought in to investigate. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Holliday Grainger (The Finest Hours) and Anneika Rose (Line of Fire) star in The Hood Maker, which is written by Matthew Graham (Life on Mars) and directed by Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane).

True Blood’s Anna Paquin plays a police officer in Real Life

Kill All Others
A man hangs dead from a lamppost, apparently murdered and inexplicably ignored by passers-by, after a politician (Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel) makes a shocking statement encouraging violence. But when one man, the extraordinarily average Philbert Noyce (Mel Rodriguez, The Last Man on Earth), dares to question the situation, he becomes an instant target. Written and directed by Dee Rees (Bessie), this episode also stars Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Glenn Morshower (Aftermath) and Sarah Brown (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation).

Autofac
Set in a world where society has collapsed, a massive, automatic product-manufacturing factory continues to operate according to the principles of consumerism – humans consume products to be happy and, in order to consume continuously, they must be denied freedom of choice and free will. When a small band of rebels decide to shut down the factory, they discover they may actually be the perfect consumers after all. Juno Temple (Vinyl) stars as Emily, one of the rebels, alongside Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) as Alexis, an Autofac representative. Jay Paulson and David Lyons also appear in the episode, which is written by Travis Beacham and directed by Peter Horton.

Safe and Sound
Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic) stars as a small-town girl, already gripped with social anxiety, who moves to a big futuristic city with her mother, played by Maura Tierney (The Affair). Exposed for the first time to urban society’s emphasis on security and terrorist prevention, it isn’t long before her schooldays are consumed by fear and paranoia. However, soon finds guidance and companionship in the most unexpected of places. Safe and Sound is written by Kalen Egan and Travis Sentell and directed by Alan Taylor.

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Bringing Bosch to life

As Amazon’s original crime drama Bosch heads into its third season, award-winning author Michael Connnelly tells DQ how his literary creation has been brought to life on the small screen – and why he thinks the series can run and run.

Since his first appearance some 25 years ago, LA homicide detective Harry Bosch has featured in more than 20 novels written by Michael Connelly.

But for the third season of Bosch, Amazon Prime Video’s flagship crime drama, which launches on April 21, the character is going back to the beginning.

Bosch’s literary debut came in 1992 thriller The Black Echo, and that book forms part of the main narrative of the forthcoming third instalment of the TV series, alongside Darkness More than Night and some remaining strands of The Last Coyote, which also featured in season two.

Adapting his stories for the screen with Amazon has been a fulfilling journey for Connelly, who splits his time between his home in Florida and Bosch’s LA set, where he admits he spends most of his time during production.

“You can’t ever imagine an adaptation happening, you just have to keep your head down and write the best book you can and hope for these kind of things,” he tells DQ during a break in production for the season three finale in November 2016. “It’s not like I never thought about it! In January it was 25 years since the first book came out about Harry Bosch, and that book is the subject of this season – so to have this happen all these years later, it’s really fulfilling beyond words.

“It’s hard to explain how cool that is. And I’m involved in the show – I’m on the set almost every day. It really is amazing. It’s a big city of people, almost 150 people all working on the show and they’re all there because 25 years ago I was in a room by myself and wrote about this guy named Harry Bosch. That kind of journey is amazing and very fulfilling.”

Developed by former showrunner Eric Overmyer (who stepped down in January to run Amazon stablemate The Man in the High Castle) and Fabrik Entertainment for Amazon Studios, Bosch was among the drama pilots launched in early 2014 by the then-nascent streamer, which allowed viewers to leave feedback that would be used to determine whether a full season would be ordered.

The show, distributed internationally by Red Arrow International, was an instant hit and season one – based on Connelly’s novels City of Bones, Echo Park and The Concrete Blonde – launched in February 2015. Season two, which drew storylines from Trunk Music, The Drop and The Last Coyote, launched in March 2016.

Season three was ordered shortly afterwards, in April 2016, before Amazon took the unusual step of picking up a fourth season in October that same year – before season three had aired.

It’s a rare but treasured position to be in for Bosch’s cast and crew, who can now plan to take the series towards its 40th episode.

Michael Connelly alongside actor Amy Aquino during filming

“The main thing [about having season four] is all the writers on the show know that at the end of the third season, they don’t have to worry about where they’ll work next!” Connelly jokes. “That also entered into our discussions about what we tie up, don’t tie up or set up for season four. It’s been extremely helpful. Here we are wrapping up episode 10 and last year we didn’t know if we had any future, even though we left some things open. This year we know there’s a future so we’re planting bigger seeds, bigger stuff to carry forward. There is much more of an open-ended feeling to the finale this season.”

Which books will form the basis of season four, which is likely to air in spring 2018, comes down to Connelly and new showrunner Daniel Pyne, who will meet early in the pre-production phase of the new season to discuss the best way to develop Bosch’s character on screen.

“That’s why we didn’t start at the beginning [of the books], we started with City of Bones where it was a case we thought would provide an emotional connection for Bosch and things would come out of that,” the author explains, adding that, after two seasons, the creative duo are now preparing to take the detective into murky moral conundrums.

“Darkness More than Night has always been one of my favourite books and really examines ideas about justice, vengeance and the differences between them,” Connelly continues. “It’s not the greatest portrait of Harry as a hero, but we felt in the third season we could explore that. And now that we have a fourth season, we’re even happier about that because, no matter how low you go, if you know there’s another story, there is always redemption in the next season.

“That’s how I approached it in the books. Harry reaches a personal low point in Darkness More than Night but when I was writing that I knew there would be a book afterwards so that I could bring him out of the abyss. That’s what has happened now with the TV show – we know there’s a fourth season and it’s like a light at the end of the tunnel that’s going to draw Harry out.”

Titus Welliver gets ready to shoot a scene Harry Bosch

Connelly has written five episodes of the TV series so far, including the third season finale, and it’s clear he is relishing seeing the character he created being brought to life on television. Admitting he’s “very much involved” in the writing process, the author reveals that he works alongside Bosch’s six writers to produce scripts, sometimes rewriting episodes or individual scenes.

“That’s where I’m most involved and can give the most,” he continues. “Then eventually you get into production and I love that because all these people are endeavouring to make a show about a character I created a long time ago. It’s very cool. But I have to say, that’s where my skill set drops off tremendously! I don’t know much about camera angles and production co-ordination, so I’m really there almost as a cheerleader to encourage people, especially the actors and the director, and give the thumbs up when needed.”

It’s a big contrast to the solitary life of a novelist, but Connelly says being in a writers room reminds him of his early career as a crime journalist, first in Florida and then at the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s quite different writing,” he adds. “When I’m writing books, I’m constantly inside Harry Bosch’s head and I know what he’s thinking. You never have any of that in the scripts, so it’s a good challenge for me at this point in my life to think in terms of delineating Harry’s character by what he says and what he does and not on the much easier component of interior thought.

“He’s very much the same character [on TV as in the books], he’s just on a different timeline. The guy in the books, I’ve aged him in real time so he’s mid-60s. Titus [Welliver, who plays Bosch on screen] is 55 and that’s a big difference. I’m 60 years old and I feel quite old compared to the Harry Bosch in the TV show. So in a way, they’re different animals – Titus is fantastic as Harry Bosch, he’s perfect, but he’s not the same guy I’m writing about these days when I sit down to write books.”

Alongside Bosch, the other central character in the Amazon drama is LA itself, echoing the presence of the city in the works of Connelly’s literary hero, Raymond Chandler. It was his job at the LA Times that first brought the writer to the City of Angels, which he argues is as complex as the detective at the centre of his novels.

“It’s just a very difficult place to get your arms around, to understand, so it’s like an ongoing, ever-revolving mystery – the kind of place where you feel compelled to look over your shoulder – and that makes it a great place to build fiction around,” he explains. “We carry that over into the show. We have a certain realism and gritty tone to what we’re filming and it’s an attractive way to portray the city. We want to have a lot of scenes that show the vastness of it. There are millions and millions of dreams here and, somewhere, something really bad has happened.

“For whatever reason, LA has a fascination for people around the world. I know I’ve benefited from that as a book writer, and it’s the same when it comes to television. It always comes down to LA as a mystery. It’s a real hard place to understand. I first visited in 1987 and would be the first to say I don’t really know this place as well as I know the town I grew up in.”

As an early adopter of SVoD platforms, watching television on his laptop, Connelly says Amazon was a natural home for a show based on his books, which have a pace to them that also benefits from the opportunity to binge entire seasons in a short space of time.

And when the show first went into development, the author had ambitions to reach 60 episodes. With 40 now guaranteed with Bosch’s fourth season commission, Connelly now sees no reason why it should stop after season six.

“It would be fantastic if it ran and ran, but we’ll see,” he says, adding a note of caution. “There are plenty more plots, it’s just more about whether we have said all we need to say about Harry Bosch. That goes for the books as well, where there’s more of a finite constriction because he ages in real time – he’s a private eye in the latest book and that can last at least a few more years.

“If I do ever reach a ceiling of forward progression with him, I can always go back and write about him in the 80s, 70s or even the 60s, so it’s really about what inspires me,” Connelly adds. “But I don’t think there’s any limit on Bosch as a literary figure or a television figure.”

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Patriot games

Michael Dorman and Terry O’Quinn lead the line in Patriot, Amazon’s latest original drama, which centres on the complicated life of a US intelligence officer. They tell DQ about their father-son relationship on screen and the unique style of showrunner Steve Conrad.

Since November 2015, visitors to Amazon Video have been able to tune into the pilot episode of a spy thriller called Patriot. That enough of them watched it and, more importantly, liked it means that 15 months later, nine more episodes are now available to subscribers to complete the 10-part first season.

The opening episode introduces viewers to the complicated life of intelligence officer John Tavner, whose latest mission is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. To do so, he must go deep undercover as an employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm.

However, a bout of PTSD, the federal government’s incompetence and the challenge of keeping his day job lead to an ever-increasing number of fiascos that threaten the entire operation.

Patriot stars Michael Dorman as John Tavner

Focusing on the less glamorous aspects of spying, Patriot sees Tavner struggle with situations that force him to choose between bad alternatives and his efforts to conceal his plan, often leading to matters unravelling further.

Australian newcomer Michael Dorman stars as Tavner, with Terry O’Quinn (Lost) as his father and State Department director of intelligence Tom Tavner and Michael Chernus (Orange is the New Black) as his brother, Texas congressman Edward Tavner.

Kathleen Munroe plays John’s wife, Alice; Aliette Opheim is Agathe, a brilliant young homicide detective from Luxembourg hot on John’s trail; and Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show) is Mr Claret, John’s ‘boss’ at the piping firm.

With the pilot shot in Montreal and most of the series set in Chicago, in addition to visits to Prague to film the European-based exterior scenes, joining Patriot was a chance for Dorman to venture outside Australia for the first time. The actor began his career in the theatre before moving into TV and film down under.

“This one was a whole new playground for me,” he tells DQ at the Berlin International Film Festival, where Patriot received its world premiere. “I’d never worked in the new way of delivering content and, even though it’s a TV show, the way the creative team approached it was that it is more like a film. I guess we look at it like it’s a 10-hour film we’ve shot in a really small amount of time.”

The actor admits he enjoyed the pilot script so much, he knew immediately that he wanted to be a part of it.

Kathleen Munroe as Alice alongside Michael Chernus as Edward

“[Writer/director] Steve Conrad’s writing is unique compared with any other writing,” the actor continues. “He’s got his own style and it’s got a real rhythm to me, and that’s what excited me. Also, it was the fact I was laughing out loud. You read so many scripts and, with some of them, you’re pushing yourself through it. This one I couldn’t put down.

“I remember reading it in bed, which is something I don’t normally do, and emailing my team as soon as I finished, saying I had to be part of it. I was just reading it and for me it was more about the process of how we could make it happen.”

Dorman describes his character as having an “amazing ability to remain composed when the world around him is falling apart; he’ll make whatever decision he has to take at the very last moment, whether he likes it or not.”

The show goes on to explore the consequences of those decisions, which usually lead Tavner into increasingly sticky situations, while also analysing his job affects his character. Music subsequently becomes an outlet for Tavner to reveal his inner-most thoughts, and scenes in the opening episodes show him playing some of his own songs to a crowded bar, much to the exasperation of his brother Edward, who is cajoled by their father to keep an eye on him.

“He’s the perfect intelligence officer in the sense that, no matter how he falls, he’ll get back up,” Dorman says. “And he’s someone who can think on his feet and decide the best way forward when every way is a bad way. So he goes with the least bad way, but he’ll still do it. The conventional style is someone who can fight off every threat.”

The series delves into the difficult decisions faced by a spy deep undercover

The series can be shocking, not least in the opening sequence when Tavner goes to great lengths to win a job at the piping firm by pushing a rival jobseeker under a truck. But it’s also laced with black humour that goes hand in hand with the sense of doom enveloping the spy’s mission. This is evident in one fight scene when Tavner must escape from the grasp of five Brazilian brothers who suffocate him with jiu-jitsu holds.

“We worked a lot and we worked hard,” Dorman says. “I was completely invested, my heart was in it the whole way. It never felt like a burden, it always felt like a gift. And to be working alongside people who have been telling stories a lot longer than me, to grow from them and learn from Steve about the craft in storytelling, it was pretty inspiring for me.”

It was music that helped Dorman connect with his on-screen father, actor Terry O’Quinn, a hugely experienced character actor best known for starring in Lost.

“When I first met Terry in the pilot, we had to do a duet of an old song by Townes Van Zandt called If I Needed You,” Dorman reveals. “That was a great way to meet him and enjoy spending time with him – and then it became something that we just always did. We always had our guitars on set or if we were off set we would just play music together and you see it on the show. It was the best of both worlds.

For O’Quinn, writing is the crucial factor whenever he’s looking for a new project. “It’s the script, then it’s who we’re doing it with and where we’re doing it, then what we’re going to eat and what hotel I’m staying at,” he jokes. So what was it about Patriot that encouraged him to sign on for 10 episodes?

“I just loved the story,” he explains. “Steve Conrad’s dialogue was very particular. He’s one of those guys who, when he writes a period after a word, he obviously wants you to pause in all those places. He’s somebody who’s very meticulous. I’d also seen his work before [The Pursuit of Happyness, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty], so that recommended him to me.”

O’Quinn also believes Patriot goes beyond just being a spy thriller, also fulfilling the role of a family drama in which the central characters are always helping each other out of trouble.

Terry O’Quinn (right) as John Locke in Lost

“When I describe it to people, I say there’s some international intrigue, some politics; it’s sort of spy thing, sort of dark comedy,” he admits. “It’s hard to describe!”

O’Quinn adds that working with Amazon has been “terrific,” not only because of the democratic way the streamer uses viewer feedback as part of its commissioning strategy.

“I don’t know why the networks don’t do that now,” he says. “All the networks should show a pilot one night and say, ‘Call us up if you like it and we’ll make some more.’ It makes perfectly good sense.

“Amazon gave Steve a lot of freedom to do what he wanted to do and shoot what he wanted to shoot. Steve and Jimmy [Whitaker], our cinematographer, were so prepared and so precise in what they wanted to shoot. They didn’t waste a lot of time, they didn’t shoot a lot of stuff they didn’t need. It was very clean and that sets the actors free. But Steve is so precise and particular. He could say things like, ‘Could you not blink in that line?’ and you’re like, ‘OK.’ I love it. I like working with someone who knows what they want.”

As a viewer, O’Quinn reveals he’s a fan of Game of Thrones – “My girlfriend got me hooked” – and British period drama Peaky Blinders. But there’s one show from his own CV that is still a talking point almost seven years since it finished.

“Lost was one of those ultimate experiences,” he says of the ABC drama that has proven to be one of the most talked-about series of the last decade. “It’s a one-off. There was nothing like it and I’ve never had an experience like it. I’m forever grateful for having been in it and I enjoyed it immensely.

“We were shooting in Hawaii, we all got along great and the set was a happy place. So after that, for a while, I’ve compared everything to it and it’s a pretty hard thing to come up to. But this [Patriot] comes pretty close. If we’re able to do this for a while longer, it would be akin to that.”

With hints of a cliffhanger ending at the conclusion of season one, it seems Conrad’s intention is to return for a second season – something Dorman would also be keen to see.

“I wouldn’t turn away from this one [for a second season],” he adds. “The character was great but it was more about the project as a whole and the people working on it that I found were rare gems. Steve Conrad, Jimmy Whitaker, [camera operator)] Jody Miller and all the producers who were onboard were all like-minded. I didn’t feel like there were too many chefs in the kitchen. Everyone was on the same page. That’s the element I would love to be a part of again.”

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Rewriting history

James Bond screenwriters Robert Wade and Neal Purvis imagine a world in which the Nazis occupy Britain in the BBC’s adaptation of Len Deighton’s alternative-history novel SS-GB. DQ visits the set.

At first glance, the set of the 1940s-era London police station looks unassuming and inconspicuous. A map of the River Thames hangs on one wall, beside a board displaying the details of ongoing murder investigations. A telephone switchboard stands in another part of the office, while adjacent tables are laden with an assortment of maps, newspaper cuttings, mugshots and used ashtrays.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade

‘Wanted’ posters show the faces and details of eight people sought for a train robbery, while a steam train calendar displays the dates of November 1941.

Yet look a little closer and unusual details start to emerge – notepaper headed with the word ‘Metropolitanpolizei’ sticks out from the top of a typewriter sitting on one desk, next to notebooks embossed with Nazi insignia.

Stepping outside the office belonging to Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, ‘Metropolitanpolizei’ appears again, this time on a sign hanging over the doorway, while Nazi banners hang in the stairwell of a nearby spiral staircase. The scene is jarred further by the sight of soldiers standing in khaki SS uniforms.

This is the setting for SS-GB, the forthcoming BBC1 drama based on Len Deighton’s 1976 alternative-history novel that imagines the Nazis won the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Set in Nazi-occupied London, the story follows DS Archer (Sam Riley) who is working under the brutal SS regime. But while investigating what appears to be a simple black market murder, he is dragged into a much darker and treacherous world where the stakes are as high as they were during the war.

US actress Kate Bosworth stars alongside Riley as American journalist Barbara Barga, who becomes inextricably linked with the murder case Archer is investigating. The cast also includes Jason Flemyng, James Cosmo, Aneurin Barnard, Maeve Dermody and Rainer Bock.

The five-part series, produced by Sid Gentle Films, has been adapted from Deighton’s novel by Bafta-winning writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – most famous for writing five James Bond features, including Spectre, Skyfall and Casino Royale.

The drama received its world premiere this week at the Berlin Film Festival, ahead of its UK debut on Sunday February 19. Distributor BBC Worldwide has also sold the series to broadcasters in Germany (RTL), Croatia (Pickbox), Sweden (SVT), Greece (Cosmote), Israel (HOT/Cellcom), Iceland (RUV) and Poland (Showmax), while it will also air on BBC First channels in Africa, Australia, Benelux and the Middle East, as well as UKTV in New Zealand.

It is directed by German director Philipp Kadelbach, whose credits include Naked Among Wolves and Generation War. Sally Woodward Gentle, Lee Morris, Purvis, Wade and Lucy Richer are executive producers. The series is produced by Patrick Schweitzer.

As fans of Deighton, Purvis and Wade were instantly drawn to the series, which marks their first move into television, when they were approached about the project by Woodward Gentle.

Maeve Dermody plays a girl caught up in the British Resistance

“It’s a pretty faithful adaptation,” says Purvis of the screen version. “The biggest challenge was [in the book] we were following Archer from his point of view. The fact he can’t trust people means it’s very difficult to talk to other people about what he’s thinking, so it was all about making it comprehensible because it’s quite a complex plot and nothing’s straightforward. The Resistance has got in-fighting and the German army and SS are opposed to each other, so it’s just finding a way to navigate through the story in an intriguing but understandable way.”

Wade picks up: “I think I understand it now – but we had to simplify it. Since Len wrote the book, there’s a bit more now known about what was going on in Britain to prepare for an invasion, so we were able to access those sources and that gave us background for the British Resistance and the real mechanisms that were set up in event of an invasion. But really our main job was to make the most of the drama within the story and, for that reason, we made a few changes that kept certain characters alive longer than they were in the book.”

Already an established genre in the world of fiction, alternative history is becoming a hot topic in television, with SS-GB following hot on the heels of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, which plays out in a world where the Axis powers won the Second World War and America has been split between Japanese and Nazi rule, with a buffer zone separating the two.

SS-GB premiered this week at the Berlin Film Festival

Wade draws a distinction between the two series, in particular describing the Amazon drama as closer to science-fiction because the events it portrays weren’t ever close to happening. SS-GB, however, was within the realms of possibility.

“With The Man in the High Castle, which is set in 1962, you’re talking about the consequences [of the Second World War]. But in this you are actually living through the Occupation and the game isn’t necessarily over. It’s not a historical result, history is alive.”

Wade and Purvis co-wrote films Let Him Have It (1991) and Plunkett & Macleane (1999) before being asked to write Bond movies The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and the super-spy’s four most recent outings starring Daniel Craig. Other credits include 2003’s Johnny English, a spoof of the espionage genre starring Rowan Atkinson.

“We’ve written together for a very long time,” Purvis says. “We do that because we enjoy it. There’s more to it than just writing; you’ve got to go abroad and it can be quite pressured. So having two people has always been good because when things are going well, you can always go down the pub together – and when things are going badly, you can go down the pub together! It gets the job done well to be able to discuss things.”

With scripts approved by Deighton, the writers say they haven’t felt the need to be on set every day, but have kept in touch by watching the daily rushes. They were also consulted during casting and say they were very pleased by the decision to put Riley in the lead role. “We wanted someone who was a film actor – this is his first television job so it’s just that thing of trying to keep it like a big movie,” Purvis notes. “It gave it a bit more oomph to have someone like Sam.”

If Riley’s DS Archer is akin to Sam Spade, the protagonist of Dashiell Hammett’s noir thriller The Maltese Falcon, then US actress Kate Bosworth is firmly in the femme fatale role.

“She’s an American journalist who has just arrived on the inaugural New York-London Lufthansa flight, which is one of Len’s nice touches,” Wade offers. “She’s a femme fatale. She might be working for the Resistance, she might be a spy for the Germans, she might be an agent for the Americans – you don’t know. She’s someone who’s attractive to Archer and attracted by Archer. So it’s a dance. He’s trying to figure out whether she’s involved in this murder and she’s trying to figure out what she can get out of this guy.

“We balance her with Maeve Dermody, who plays a girl caught up in the Resistance and who is quite messed up. She’s an English girl and her parents were killed during the invasion. But she’s actually spying on Archer.”

But how did their experience on SS-GB compare to scripting a Bond movie? “It’s easier in the sense that there’s a book and you don’t have massive expectations,” Wade admits. “We’re very proud of this but we were able to write it in a free way. Hopefully there are some real surprises in this.

“With a Bond film, people are expecting certain things. The other aspect for us, as it’s our first TV series, was that having that large canvas to be able to tell a story with twists and turns over five hours is great fun, and you get the freedom you don’t have in an hour-and-a-half movie.”

Purvis adds: “We have been approached by TV a lot but we’ve always said no to everything. This was the first time we said yes. It’s a genre one can feel comfortable with. Len’s a great writer. It just seemed to be appealing and something we could do.”

For locations manager Antonia Grant, the toughest part of her job on SS-GB was finding appropriate exteriors around London for the show’s wartime setting. “It’s always a challenge for a locations department to remove the modern world,” she says. “We rely on the art department as well to help us so it’s very much a combined effort.

“There will be some things that are quite obvious [locations] as per the script that you have to go and look for. But then otherwise it’s coming up with different options to put to the director and designer and it’s a lot of driving around, photographing different places, chatting to people, persuading people to let us film.

“It’s always lovely looking for new locations but, on period dramas, there’s a limited amount because more things are changing and being modernised. I’ve shot on several new locations in this. Also, the nature of SS-GB, being alternative history, means you’re looking for quite different locations compared with those used for The Hour and certainly Call the Midwife [both also period dramas on which Grant has worked].”

After piecing together a 300-page script and bringing Deighton’s story to the screen, Wade and Purvis have one eye on their next big-screen feature – but tease that this might not be the end of the story for SS-GB.

“History is still in play, it’s not ended,” adds Wade. “Some characters have died, some have grown. I’m very pleased with the way it ends and there could be more.”

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Japanese and Polish dramas make headlines

Operation Love is heading for web platform Tencent
Operation Love is heading for web platform Tencent

Declining ad revenues mean Japanese broadcasters are increasingly looking to the international market to make money. And one of the areas they are keen to build on is drama exports.

One example of this is NHK’s fantasy adventure Moribito, created with the international market in mind, while Nippon TV’s recent sale of format Mother to Turkey – a first for Japanese drama – is another. Also significant is Fuji TV’s entry into the China market via a scripted content partnership with Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

Under the terms of the latter partnership, SMG is adapting a total of five Fuji dramas for the Chinese market. The second of these, Operation Love, began filming in Guangzhou this month with a view to airing on online platform Tencent from Spring 2017.

A light-hearted love story, Operation Love first aired in Japan in 2007 and has also been remade in South Korea as Operation Proposal. It follows an earlier remake of Dating: What’s it Like to be in Love?, which will air on SMG’s channels in 2017.

Another interesting drama story this week is the news that HBO Europe has commissioned a six-part Warsaw-set drama about a cocaine dealer planning a holiday in Argentina. Antony Root, exec VP of original programming and production at HBO Europe, said of the show: “We believe Blinded by the Lights, a story set in Warsaw’s demi-monde and showing off the city in a wholly new way, will not only appeal to Polish audiences but also to our subscribers all around the HBO Europe region. We are confident it will equally excite audiences internationally.”

Wataha (The Pack)
Wataha (The Pack) has been given a second series on HBO Europe

The show is part of a growing slate of original HBO Europe series that kicked off a few years ago with Burning Bush and was followed by Pustina. In addition to Blinded by the Lights, HBO Europe also announced a second series of Wataha (The Pack). This show tells the story of a border guard unit based in the remote Bieszczady Mountains on Poland’s border with Ukraine. “The Pack/Wataha proved its appeal to viewers having achieved huge ratings in Poland for its first season,” Root said. “It also played extremely successfully in the other HBO Europe territories and has sold in foreign markets. We are very excited by this new chapter and the way the writers explore the challenges now faced on Europe’s longest border.”

Also this week, Modern Times Group-owned distributor DRG announced it had renewed its first-look deal with indie producer Three River Fiction for a further two years. Three River has 15 to 20 projects in active development, including several adaptations. Its largest acquisition to date is a 15-book estate of Golden Age crime fiction, written in the 1930s by John Bude. Colin Bateman (Murphy’s Law, The Journey) is attached and has written a pilot script based on the crime franchise.

Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence
Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence

According to DRG, there are two further projects in development, including a dark re-imagining of the Robin Hood story. With Mark Skeet and Matthew Faulk (Titanic: Blood and Steel, Vanity Fair) attached to write, the series will be “a vibrant, venal and complex post-watershed saga set in a bloodstained 12th century England,” said the distributor. The other is a sci-fi series, created and written by Richard Smith (Trauma,) exploring how an isolated community is torn apart by secrets and lies following the crash landing of a UFO.

On the distribution front, Netflix has acquired rights to Renaissance period drama Medici: Masters of Florence for a select number of territories. The Rai-backed drama, which is distributed by Wild Bunch TV, will air on Netflix in the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada and India from December 9. It has already been picked up by broadcasters and streamers in France, Germany, Australia and Japan. The fact Netflix has done a deal for a limited number of territories is interesting, because it suggests the international drama market may be moving away from a model where Netflix attempts to secure the rights to series on a worldwide basis.

Also this week, Deadline is reporting that Amazon has struck an exclusive SVoD deal for USA Network’s new supernatural thriller Falling Water. The show, which tells the story of three unrelated people who discover they are dreaming separate parts of a single common dream, hasn’t rated that well on USA. But Amazon’s involvement will make it easier for the network to back a second series – an increasingly common scenario in the US TV business.

Falling Water looks to be on its way to Amazon
Falling Water looks to be on its way to Amazon

This week has also seen some interesting strategic insights from Eurodata TV Worldwide as part of its Scripted Series Report 2016. Based on feedback from 103 channels, Eurodata found that networks, on average, devoted 32% of primetime to series.

Within this total, local series are the biggest hits. “They represent no less than 84% of the primetime top 15,” said Eurodata. “Imports, and consequently international hits, appear less often in rankings of the top programmes. Despite this, broadcasting these imports remains a winning strategy for smaller channels. As an example, The X-Files succeeded in placing among the top shows for M6 (France), Pro7 (Germany), TV3 (Sweden) and Channel 5 (the UK). US imports are challenged by series imported from countries geographically closer to the channel. The latter occupy a minor place in schedules: 15% of the channels studied broadcast a significant amount of these imports in primetime. Most of all, they are an alternative for small markets and smaller channels.”

There is also a trend towards greater exposure, Eurodata added. “In addition to longer availability thanks to catch-up opportunities, a series is now more available over various platforms in a single country. Traditional players and OTT platforms play with the various windows possible for their content. The multiplatform strategy is often a winning one. For example, Zwarte Tulp (NL Film), a new show in the 2015-16 season for RTL4, is a hit in the Netherlands. Five months before its launch on the RTL Group’s first channel, the series had been streamed on Videoland, the group’s SVoD platform. The series Black Widows (DRG) was broadcast simultaneously on the TV3 channels of the MTG group in Sweden and Denmark, and also on the group’s SVoD platform. It is among the channel’s top three shows in both countries.”

Black Widows
Black Widows, distributed by DRG, is a top show in both Sweden and Denmark

According to Eurodata, examples of collaboration between TV and SVoD services are on the rise. “Whether to reduce production costs, grow a viewer base or [increase] international visibility for their content, or fill their schedules and catalogues, players from the various groups are working together in production and distribution. One example, the series Narcos, was recently broadcast on Univision in the US after its distribution on Netflix. In the future, El Chapo will be coproduced by Netflix and Univision and Britannia (Sky Vision) will be a Sky/Amazon coproduction.”

Other trends include a shift towards short formats and adaptations. Eurodata explained: “Short formats have proven popular. They are often conducive to quality series, as they encourage participation by well-known actors, screenwriters and directors. The Night Manager (WME/IMG, The Ink Factory), adapted from John Le Carré’s eponymous novel, immediately earned fourth among series in the UK and fifth in Denmark. Adaptations, meanwhile, allow inspiring characters and stories to reverberate further. Many of the season’s hits are adaptations of series that exist in other countries. Among the European countries covered in the report, the proportion of local adaptations launched has doubled with respect to those in the 2014-15 season. Some channels particularly count on these to appeal to their viewers. This is the case with the Dutch channel SBS6, whose top three series are exclusively local adaptations of foreign formats.”

Avril Blondelot, international research manager at Eurodata TV Worldwide, said: “True international hits are appearing less and less in the national top rankings.”

However, the international stage is playing a growing role in the development of local series. “More and more new series have been adapted from foreign formats,” commented Eurodata media consultant Léa Besson.

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