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Hair to die for

Killing Eve’s hair and make-up designer Lucy Cain provides insights into her role on the award-winning series and the practical challenges she faced along the way.

While Killing Eve has rightly been lauded for its razor-sharp dialogue, iconic costumes and award-winning performances, the contribution of the hair and make-up design to the overall storytelling should not be overlooked.

Lucy Cain

Although it might be more subtle than in a period drama, science-fiction series or blood-filled crime procedural, hair and make-up in a contemporary series can contain significant signposts to a character’s mood or arc through a story.

That was certainly the case for the BBC America series, which has become a global hit thanks to the chemistry between leading actors Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer and the work of its creator and season one head writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who handed over writing duties to Emerald Fennell for season two.

But before the stars had been cast, hair and make-up designer Lucy Cain – who has worked on both seasons – was already formulating ideas and concepts for both MI5 officer Eve Polastri (Oh) and globetrotting assassin Villanelle (Comer).

Eve, she thought, would have a style that suggests she has just rushed out of the door, while make-up wouldn’t be a high priority for the wannabe secret agent.

“Another thing I felt with Eve was even though she’s in a happy marriage, it’s probably a bit safe and easy,” Cain tells DQ. “There’s no effort there. With Eve, I always wanted her to have that look.” But as her relationship with – and fixation on – Villanelle develops through season one, her increasing consideration of her appearance and her experimental approach to trying on make-up or wearing her hair up or down would highlight her changing perception of herself.

Cain decided Sandra Oh should have a ‘just rushed out of the door’ look as Eve

On the other hand, “Villanelle was completely different. She’s a true chameleon,” Cain admits. “She has to blend into any environment or culture she’s placed in. I wanted from the very beginning of season one for the audience to not really know who she was. That’s why in the very opening scene, when we’re in Vienna, she’s got a dark wig on. Then the next time we see her, she’s on the train and she’s in the same clothes but she’s got her real blonde hair.

“That opening scene [pictured top] where she pushes the ice cream into the girl’s lap, smiles and leaves – of course you know it’s Villanelle, that’s our introduction to her. That was a really nice way of kicking off the difference between them.”

Villanelle’s unpredictability gave Cain lots of freedom to play with the character’s appearance, particularly when it came to the disguises she uses when the hired killer is targeting her next victim.

“Whenever you see her in a wig, it suggests to the audience there’s about to be a heinous murder,” she explains. “The wigs really helped in that respect. For me, I wanted all of those looks to be believable. Even if we know she’s wearing a wig, I want you to say she looks great and not that she’s wearing a wig.”

To create the wigs, Cain used ready-made, untouched hairpieces that the designer could then cut into a particular style, while Comer was in the make-up chair wearing them.

“Every wig I cut on her head,” she says. “That way it’s quicker. Sometimes when you’re getting a wig made from scratch, there’s a much longer process. But it was fun to do as well.”

In one scene from episode one, Villanelle kills her mark by stabbing him in the eye with a hairpin. It was an accessory that prompted much debate between Caine, costume designer Phoebe De Gaye, production designer Kristian Milsted, director Harry Bradbeer, executive producers Sally Woodward Gentle and Lee Morris, and producer Colin Wratten.

Was it going to be small, like a hair grip? But then it needed to be a certain size for Comer to hold in her hands. In the end, one pin was made for the kill, with a small tube of ‘poison’ seen to be released once it had been thrust into the victim. A smaller version was also created for when it could be seen in Comer’s hair.

The choice of jacket in this S1 scene prompted Cain to change Comer’s hair style

Another challenge came when Villanelle, pretending to be a waitress, was called upon to kill a businesswoman with some perfume. “She’s just supposed to look like an ordinary girl that nobody would remember, so you try to think about what that would look like,” Cain says. “If you had to describe the girl, did she have brown hair? Did she have blonde hair? Did she have a fringe? There’s nothing about it that was particularly stylish or stood out.”

Unlike working on a genre series, where the hair and make-up styles come with parameters that limit designers to the style of a particular time or theme, a contemporary drama means “everyone has an opinion,” Cain jokes, adding that she always wants her work to enhance everything in the scene.

Working with De Gaye on season one meant the choice of costume would always inform the hair style. One example in episode three is when Villanelle is in Berlin, watching agents Eve and Bill (David Haig) arrive at the scene of her latest murder.

“Villanelle’s got a lovely high-necked top on, so I would chat with Phoebe about what she’s wearing and then say to my assistant that she needs her hair up because we don’t want to be fighting with the collar,” Cain says. “It’s a beautiful costume so we want to see that. When she’s in Bulgaria and she kills a guy in an office, she’s got a bomber jacket on and it’s like she’s gone on a mission, so we’re like, ‘Get the hair back’ and put it in a tight plait.”

Comer’s ‘androgynous’ look again informed her hair style in the Berlin sequence

Villanelle’s appearance in Berlin was also informed by a later action sequence in which she would ultimately kill Bill. “She wore a suit that was really androgynous. It had a really good shoulder structure and we’re in Germany, so we ended up just doing a plait that came right round the side of the head.

“It worked brilliantly with the suit. It had that Germanic feel, but also it worked because I knew later on she was going into a nightclub and there was going to be this frenzied kill with all these people around and we need to see her face. If she’s got her hair down, there’s a good chance when she’s jumping up and down, that hair’s going to cover her face and that could potentially ruin that shot. Maybe Jodie will also start thinking, ‘OK my hair’s going all over my face, maybe I shouldn’t move my head so much.’ So there’s lots of elements that go into a decision when you’re doing a look. That’s an example where it all worked perfectly – she’s in Germany, it’s an androgynous look, she’s wearing a suit, and she’s jumped in and she’s killing someone frenzied in a nightclub. There were ticks all the way down for that.”

Later in the season, Cain also had to turn Comer into a beaten and bruised Villanelle after a vicious bust-up with her handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia), but the nature of the out-of-sequence filming schedule meant she had to have the injuries before the fight took place.

“Phoebe Waller-Bridge really wanted Villanelle to be absolutely battered by the end,” Cain reveals. “So I had to create the look, then show the stunt coordinator what I’d done so they could match the stunts with the look we’d established.

“It’s hard when you do make-up like that because you know it will run for two episodes and sometimes you wonder whether people forget why they’ve got those marks on their faces. Season two also starts 30 seconds after the end of season one, so she starts season two with those marks again!”

Oh and Comer weren’t the only cast members to spend an extensive amount of time in the make-up chair, with Owen McDonnell (playing Eve’s husband Niko) requiring a new moustache to be applied every shooting day. Instead of using a pre-made one, Cain took the decision to lay it on instead, applying glue to his lip and then pushing on a handful of hair, a blend of five different colours. She would then use scissors and tongs to shape the hair correctly.

Cain developed Fiona Shaw’s make-up as her character travelled to Moscow

“Phoebe really wanted Niko to have this big moustache and I think Owen looks brilliant with it. It really suits him,” Cain says. “When he was on set, it would be a super early call. We’d go in and listen to the farming news and be in on our own for about an hour before anyone else arrived. But it was definitely worth it for the overall look. He could just move normally, it never hinders his performance and I don’t have to touch it all day. Then he’d go off and I’d do Sandra and he’d come back in an hour once it’s settled and I’d brush it a bit more. It was a bit of a double process but it worked for us.”

Another character whose make-up tells a story through the series is Carolyn Martens, played by Bafta winner Fiona Shaw. At the start, she didn’t wear much make-up, but that changed when the story took the MI6 boss to Russia and the character started to put more on.

“When I watched the show, I really liked the way she looked at the end of season one, so at the beginning of season two in pre-prep, I’d meet up with all the female characters and we’d do some shopping and look for products and see what worked last year,” Cain reveals. “I was with Fiona and I said we should continue in that vein for season two and she was really receptive to it and it really works. She looks amazing in season two.”

Season two, which launched recently on BBC1 in the UK, sees Cain working alongside new costume designer Charlotte Mitchell and production designer Laurence Dorman, as well as writer Fennell. However, many of the challenges facing her remained, such as filming abroad and the logistics of travelling with huge amounts of kit – and hoping it arrives on time.

Cain also had to consider the role of prosthetics in the series, which comes from producer Sid Gentle Films and distributor Endeavor Content. When Eve stabs Villanelle at the climax of season one, the designer had a stab wound made, which she would then stitch up when it was applied to Comer. She also had the foresight to order a scar as well, which could be used as the wound heals.

Owen McDonnell plays Eve’s husband Niko with a hand-built moustache

“It’s not scripted that you see the scar but you have to be prepared, so if costume decide to put Jodie in something that shows it, or if she’s getting dressed,” Cain says. “So I got a scar made just because I thought we’d need it, and we did later on.”

Cain started her career in comedy, working on series such as The Office, The Kumars at No 42, Sensitive Skin and Friday Night Dinner. More recently, she contributed to dramas including The Passing Bells, Grantchester, Snatch and Fortitude.

But while the ambition for a series can often be greater than its budget, Cain notes that her beginnings in comedy taught her to work with fewer resources. “The bigger the drama, obviously the bigger the budget and the easier it is,” she says. “I did a lot of comedy when I was coming up and that’s when you get to make something out of nothing. You have to be very creative, you have to think on your feet and you just get used to working that way. It hones your skills.

“Now, on Killing Eve, if you need something and it’s going to enhance the show, I have never had a problem getting it.”

While Cain has decided not to return to Killing Eve for the already commissioned third season, she is now working on Us, the BBC adaptation of David Nicholl’s novel. The story follows a couple who go on a European tour in the hope of repairing their marriage.

“What’s lovely about Killing Eve is it’s a dream job, because there is a really creative side to it,” she adds. “It’s challenging but also you have some days that are really laid back and calm. There’s just the right balance. On some jobs, there is something to be anxious about every day and it’s not necessarily something creative. With Killing Eve it was the perfect job for all of those reasons.”

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Backstage pass

Killing Eve and Patrick Melrose claimed the major drama prizes at the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2019. DQ was backstage to hear from the winners.

Once the ceremony had concluded and the final prizes of the night had been handed out, the winners of the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2019 – or Baftas, as they are better known – returned to the stage at London’s Royal Festival Hall for a final group photograph.

As they huddled together, each clutching their own gleaming statuette, all eyes were on the two actors standing at the front of the crowd. For Benedict Cumberbatch, his triumph in the Leading Actor category for his role in Patrick Melrose marked his first win in eight Bafta nominations across film and television.

Standing next to him was Jodie Comer, winning at the second opportunity for her standout role as assassin Villanelle in Killing Eve, having seen off competition from co-star Sandra Oh, who was nominated in the same category. Oh won a Golden Globe earlier this year for her performance as Eve Polastri, the intelligence agent simultaneously on the hunt for and infatuated with Villanelle.

Killing Eve proved to be the big winner of the evening, taking home two more awards on top of Comer’s gong: best supporting actress for Fiona Shaw, who plays MI6 bigwig Carolyn Martens, and best drama series, arguably the night’s most prestigious accolade.

Jodie Comer shows off the Bafta she won for her role as Villanelle in Killing Eve

Similarly, Patrick Melrose’s recognition extended beyond its star, with the fiver-parter kicking off the annual ceremony, which recognised programmes that aired in 2018, by claiming best miniseries.

The Sky Atlantic and Showtime drama is based on the semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn that chart upper-class Melrose’s attempts to overcome his addictions and demons, which are rooted in a childhood overshadowed by an abusive father and negligent mother.

“You win when you get to work on a project like this. You win when you get to work with the people you get to work with and the TV family we created. This is just an embarrassment of riches but it’s elating, it’s fantastic,” said Cumberbatch after claiming his award (pictured top).

Describing his time playing Melrose as “a proper experience and one that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” he added: “It’s something that touched on a lot of incredibly powerful themes. It asks a lot of you as an actor. That’s a great thing. But my chiefest joy, as well as the family I made on the project, is the friendship I’ve made with the man who lived it [St Aubyn].

“He’s an incredible man who, under the pressure cooker of trauma, managed to create this jewel of art in these amazing series of novels that are painfully, brilliantly, funnily, wittily, rawly close to his life and look at what damage, self-abuse, abuse and salvation – in the end, because that is what it ends on – can be. He’s a survivor. That’s my greatest reward.”

Benedict Cumberbatch in Patrick Melrose, which won in the miniseries category

The actor went on to describe director Edward Berger (The Terror, Deutschland 83) as “a genius,” noting that everyone on the production team – Cumberbatch was an exec producer – was keen to do justice to St Auybyn’s acclaimed novels. “We thought, ‘We cannot fuck this up. This has to be good.’ You want to do your best.”

After winning the Best Director: Drama award for his work on A Very English Scandal at the Bafta Television Craft Awards a fortnight ago, Stephen Frears was back on stage to collect the award for supporting actor on behalf of Ben Whishaw. In the series, Hugh Grant plays disgraced MP Jeremy Thorpe, who in 1979 was tried but acquitted of conspiring to murder his ex-lover, Norman Scott (Whishaw).

“I’m sorry I’m not Ben,” the director quipped, revealing the actor’s commitments on Broadway prevented him from attending. “He’s a very, very good actor and it was a pleasure and an honour to direct him.”

In a year when Netflix series Black Mirror broke new ground with its interactive episode Bandersnatch, it was the dramatisation of a real-life story that took the Single Drama award. Killed By My Debt, produced by BBC Studios for BBC3, told how 20-year-old motorcycle courier Jerome Rogers took his own life in 2017 when he was unable to pay traffic fines worth £130 (US$167), which spiralled to more than £1,000 with interest. His family have since been campaigning for greater regulation against the bailiff industry in the UK.

Writer Tahsin Guner admitted he found it very difficult to pen the script. “When I first heard what had happened with the news articles, it made me really angry and really upset,” he said. “I knew that was how I wanted the audience to feel. From the feedback I’ve had, it’s a devastating experience to watch, and it was upsetting watching it and making it and writing it.”

Killed By My Debt, based on a true story, won the Single Drama award

Rather than being a complete dramatisation, Killed By My Debt is very much focused on the facts surrounding Jerome’s death. Lines of dialogue were based on his work contract or taken verbatim from a bailiff’s body cam. “You don’t really have to fictionalise anything. Everything you see that happens in the drama happened. Really, nothing is fictionalised,” Guner said. “We had access to phone calls, we had access to all of his payslips. So we really constructed the story from all of those things, from all those factual documentary elements.”

Fiona Shaw, who is best known for her role as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films, was already a familiar face before Killing Eve launched last year. But she revealed her life has dramatically changed since the BBC America spy saga, which airs on BBC1 in the UK, rolled out to critical and popular acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Often people come up to me and talk about Harry Potter or [1990 comedy] Three Men & a Little Lady or something from the theatre,” she said. “But people came to stop bicycles for Killing Eve. Floods of bicycles going to work would just stop. That’s unusual. That’s never happened before.”

Shaw first read the Killing Eve script while in bed one morning with a cup of tea. As she turned each page, “I wasn’t sure if it was something that might be amazing under the radar, and like five people in London would enjoy it, or whether it was really funny. But I was laughing and I couldn’t wait to turn the page. Then I said, ‘I’m not doing this unless I have lunch with [creator and season one head writer] Phoebe Waller-Bridge,’ and I had the most delightful lunch with her. I’d never met her, but of course I knew [writer and star Waller-Bridge’s BBC3 stage play-turned BBC3 comedy] Fleabag. At the end, I was hers for life and still am.”

Shaw went on to make a cameo in season two of Fleabag, playing a therapist, although she initially rejected the opportunity. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’ve got time, I’m doing so much Killing Eve.’ But [filming on] Fleabag ran on a bit later than they thought and Phoebe asked me to play this psychotherapist,” the actor recalls. “So we just did it one morning and she was spinning plates in that she was rewriting it, I was relearning it; she was just changing things and acting in it. It was an astonishing morning for this tiny sequence.”

Fiona Shaw as MI6 honcho Carolyn Martens in Killing Eve

As the event headed towards its conclusion, Cumberbatch was back on stage to accept the leading actor award for Patrick Melrose, before stating backstage that he had never been prouder of a piece of work for which he had been nominated. “To win for this really means the most. It’s a dream come true. I’m very happy,” he said, admitting that he thought Hugh Grant would win for his A Very English Scandal performance.

To play a drug addict, Cumberbatch sought advice from people who were familiar with the substances that appear in the show about how to accurately portray their physical and mental impact. “So whether it was depression in the aftermath or getting high on shooting cocaine or being doped on quaaludes or just being a little bit drunk, I sought out the expert help of people who educate people within institutions, within the entertainment industry, within all forms and walks of life about the perils of drug abuse and the powers of addiction, what addiction really is and that anyone can be an addict. They were very helpful and gave me a lot of thumbs ups and also corrected me. That’s how I got there.”

Melrose’s journey across the miniseries runs from drug addict to sobriety and midlife crisis to a confrontation with his mother about the abuse he suffered during his childhood. Cumberbatch said there was constant support on set from director Berger and director of photography James Friend. David Nicholls, he noted, wasn’t precious about his award-winning scripts either.

“It was an amazing experience to work with them,” Cumberbatch continued. “They were great friends and easy and fun, and it had to be fun because of how dark it got and how demanding. Best of all was Edward St Aubyn coming on set and seeing me in some spiral of madness after injecting cocaine. He was incredibly generous and sincere about what I needed to consider to get there and about sharing the truth of his life. I couldn’t think of better people to work with.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge on set for Killing Eve’s first season

The final award of the night went to a tearful Comer, coming after Killing Eve had also bee named best drama series.

“It’s the best,” the actor said of the series’ impact. “You can’t anticipate how something’s going to go down with an audience, and to see it grow and grow each week and for us to be able to bask in it and celebrate it has been really special. I’ve never had this before, definitely, so it’s been really wonderful.”

Waller-Bridge revealed the anxiousness of writers at the outset of a project when she spoke of asking people to join her on the series when it was still in its infancy. “When you start with something, it always feels like such a big deal to ask people to come on board something that isn’t in existence yet. There’s so much trust and risk and to get this amazing team together; it just feels like the biggest journey. I’m so proud of everyone. I feel so, so lucky.”

The Fleabag star stepped away from writing duties on Killing Eve’s second season, with Emerald Fennell, who stars as Camilla Parker Bowles in Netflix period drama The Crown, taking over as lead writer. And Waller-Bridge believes the change has been “a wonderful thing.”

“Emerald is such a bad ass,” she laughed. “It was painful and hard because I’m moving away from a family and a project, but I’m still there and around [as an exec producer], and seeing Emerald take it and run with it was cool. It’s cool to hand things on and have other people’s input. It can only make things grow.

“I have [watched it]. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s so brilliant because Emerald’s voice is so unique. There was no sense in getting her to do what we’d done before. There was a real sense, from the whole company, of ‘come and bring your talent to it.’ It really does have her voice, which is very evident in it and does give it this amazing energy, and then [the cast] bring the same kind of glory as they did before.”

With a third season of Killing Eve already confirmed, Waller-Bridge also teased a potential cameo, having not yet appeared on screen in the series. “I would loved to be murdered by Jodie,” she added.

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Creative sparks

A Very English Scandal, Patrick Melrose and Killing Eve were among the shows that won at the British Academy Television Craft Awards 2019. DQ went backstage to speak to some of the winners in the drama categories.

As the celebration of skill and creativity in television began, British Academy chair Dame Pippa Harris told the seated guests: “Your work made such an impact on viewers in 2018 and proved that, at its very best, television has the power to change the way people think, feel or behave.”

Those words set the tone for Bafta’s Television Craft Awards 2019, which, within the intimate surroundings of central London’s The Brewery, proved to be an evening full of camaraderie and solidarity as winners, nominees and others from the industry paid tribute to some of the extraordinary work produced last year.

Following an introductory film featuring actor and host Stephen Mangan in a parody of Killing Eve (see below), complete with pink tulle dress, the awards were duly presented. In the drama categories, Pia Di Ciaula won best editing for BBC political drama A Very English Scandal; Adam McInnes, John Smith and Kevin Horsewood claimed the honours for special, visual and graphic effects for their work on Troy: Fall of a City; and Suzanne Cave picked up another award for A Very English Scandal for costume design.

Big cheers from across the room greeted Cave’s win, proving the non-partisan credentials of an event filled with people who had previously worked with one another – or are likely to in the future. Cave, whose credits also include The Hour, London Spy and the Strike series, praised her “fairy godmother” Ruth Kenley-Letts (The Hour, Strike, Mrs Wilson) for getting her into the industry.

Backstage, where rows of glistening Bafta statuettes stood in line on a side table, waiting to be handed out during the evening, David Nicholls was visibly struck at the significance of being named best drama writer for penning Sky Atlantic’s Patrick Melrose.

Suzanne Cave

The five-part series, based on the books by Edward St Aubyn and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character, skewered upper-class circles as it followed Melrose’s journey from traumatic childhood to adult substance abuse and recovery.

Speaking to DQ moments after stepping away from the stage, award in hand, Nicholls recalled: “I read the first book in 1992 before I’d even thought about becoming a writer. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I might one day adapt them. I loved them and it was always my dream project. It was always the one I wanted to do and I lived with them for five or six years, reading them over and over again, trying to work out a way to dramatise them.

“It’s been my dream job, an absolute highlight. It was incredibly hard work – frustrating at times, constantly rewriting this thing and trying to get it right. But I’m very proud of the work.”

Embracing the books, rather than seeing them as an obstacle or hindrance to overcome, proved to be the key to unlocking the adaptation. “You had to be truthful, make the changes that were necessary but try to convey what is wonderful and powerful about the books on screen. That was the intention,” Nicholls said.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky to collaborate with such a brilliant production team, designers and extraordinary and incredibly committed actors. I’m a novelist as well, so I spend a lot of time by myself, and sometimes when you go for a meeting, it’s tough. You have to thrash things out, you have to argue over them to find the best way to do something. But if you’re with great people who are committed to the show, it’s an incredible experience.”

David Nicholls

In other categories, Vanity Fair’s Vickie Lang won for make-up and hair design; Woo Hyung Kim picked up the prize for photography and lighting: John Le Carré adaptation The Little Drummer Girl took the fiction prize; Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper repeated last year’s success for comedy writing; and Killing Eve won the sound category for fiction.

Patrick Melrose produced another winner in the shape of Tom Burton, who triumphed in the production design section. “When I got asked about it originally, we had the scripts and I thought they were the best scripts I’d ever read,” Burton said, noting that he signed on to the production before director Edward Berger. “We had five episodes and five very different looks. The first one was really gritty, with Patrick smacked out of his head in his hotel room, and then the second was back to his childhood,  set at this lyrical, very beautiful French chateau. Then it carries on.

“The overarching ideas were to start dark and heavy and as he gradually comes out of his fog; to go from darkness into more clarity and simpler sets. Me and Ed and James Fleet, the DOP, just worked at it constantly, trying to create really strong, different looks for each episode and choosing colours and camera lenses so we had a really strong plan. Instead of having a look that runs through the whole show, we wanted to make five quite different-looking episodes.”

During the production, the cast and crew spent nine weeks shooting in the south of France, while Glasgow doubled for 1980s New York. “It worked incredibly well. We could never afford to shoot in New York, but the fact Glasgow has very straight streets means you can look down them and you get the idea of New York avenues. Then at Wimbledon Studios, there was [Patrick’s] hotel room and the really scuzzy drug den he goes to, so those were two sets we built for the first episode. We turned Senate House into the hotel lobby and then we built the corridor, lift and the hotel suite. No hotel is going to let somebody trash a room, which is what he does. So it made sense to build it as a set.”

Vickie Lang

While television dramas have become more ambitious in scope and scale, Burton said the demands of his job haven’t changed too much, but noted that VFX supervisors are becoming increasingly key collaborators. “I do get employed earlier than I used to,” he said. “The dynamics of television are changing – if you’ve got a big show, finding a production designer to start it off is almost what producers begin with, in conjunction with finding directors. Production designers have longer run-ups to the show. What’s happening now, as shows get bigger, is you get more time.”

Killing Eve scooped its second award of the night for original music, with David Holmes and Keefus Ciancia (pictured left and right respectively at the top of this page) collecting the gong. With the pair full of smiles, it was no surprise to hear Holmes say that on every project, “we just have a laugh.”

“We’re all going die one day and we try to work on projects we like,” he said. “We do it with a great sense of honour, integrity and love of what we do. It’s actually that simple. I have no aspirations other than to do my best. The best award you can get is just being busy, and that’s what we try to do.”

The show’s producers, Sid Gentle Films, gave the composers “a blank canvas” and they got to work after reading the scripts and speaking to season one showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the team.

“When you go into these shows, you should never try to create something that’s been done before,” Holmes continued. “You have to focus on what the show is, and what we tried to do from the beginning was create the soundtrack of Killing Eve. It was meant to be. The stars aligned.”

Stephen Frears

Ciancia added: “Most of the humour and drama was already there [in the script], so our work is either enhancement or thematic music, or sounds that are coming from the characters’ heads. And because it was set in different countries and different settings, that allowed us to use a range of instruments . It’s more about the spirit, and that’s unique to this show.”

Meanwhile, A Very English Scandal proved to be the big winner of the night with three awards overall – the third being Stephen Frears’ win in the fiction director category.

“It was very, very good fun. It was an easy job. It was very well written, with very good actors,” Frears said when asked what he most fondly remembered about the project.

A Very English Scandal scribe Russell T Davies lost out to Nicholls in the drama writer category, but Frears was full of praise for his collaborator: “He’s a wonderful writer, very funny, and he’s very cheeky and naughty and moving. It was great, terrific.”

The award becomes Frears’ fifth Bafta in a collection that celebrates his five decades as a director. His advice for any newcomers? “Courage – and hope you’re as lucky as I am and get good material.”

The biggest applause of the night was reserved for script supervisor Emma Thomas, who received the event’s Special Award in recognition of the impact of her 30-year career on the industry and her contribution to more than 50 films and television series. With credits on titles such as Guerrilla, Luther, Critical, Benidorm and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Thomas is also a board member of Women in Film and Television and actively mentors young women in industry.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with a number of talented professionals, to work on a huge variety of programmes and films throughout my career, and I’ve been at the forefront of this ever-changing industry,” Thomas said. “It’s a privilege to have been awarded the prestigious British Academy Television Craft Special Award in a year where so many women have been recognised by Bafta both in front of and behind the screen.”

The award and the room’s recognition of Thomas summed up the supportive atmosphere of the event, where the biggest dramas of 2018 all received plaudits. Next up, the teams behind A Very English Scandal, Killing Eve and Patrick Melrose will be hoping for success at sister event the Bafta Television Awards on May 12.

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Craft masters

For one night a year, the cream of the behind-the-scenes talent working in the British television industry is recognised at a star-studded celebration. DQ hears from the winners at the Bafta Television Craft Awards 2018.

The courtyard of central London’s The Brewery is abuzz with guests donned in black ties and ballgowns. Episodes and Green Wing star Stephen Mangan stands at the entrance, greeting new arrivals as guests pose for photos beside a giant golden mask.

The mask, of course, is the instantly recognisable symbol of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts – better known as Bafta – and Mangan, soon to appear in BBC1 drama The Split, is working the door in his role as the host of the 2018 Television Craft Awards, where 20 golden mask trophies will be given out to those who work behind the scenes on scripted and factual productions.

Prizes are handed out for costume design, directing, editing, make-up and hair design, sound, writing, photography and music, with nominees in the fiction categories coming from series such as Peaky Blinders, The Crown, Taboo, Game of Thrones, Three Girls (pictured above), Line of Duty, The Miniaturist, Black Mirror and more.

After a champagne reception, the nominees, award presenters and other guests file into the ceremony room to take their seats at the dozens of tables set out in front of the grand stage.

Then, as the awards get underway – after a VT introduction introducing Mangan in Handmaid’s Tale cloak and bonnet – DQ speaks to the winners in the scripted categories about their work and the shows that earned them a prized Bafta award.

Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper collect their award

Breakthrough Talent: Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper, writers, This Country (BBC Studios, BBC3)
Charlie Cooper: It’s been six years since we first started writing something and it’s been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs. We did a pilot a few years ago for ITV, which went disastrously wrong. Shane [Allen, BBC controller of comedy commissioning] had seen our stuff a few years ago and just commissioned a series straightaway, which is unbelievable.
Daisy May Cooper: I ended up emailing Shane and said, ‘I didn’t know who to go to. I will literally stand outside your office dressed as the Karate Kid, because you’re my Mr Miyagi, until you come down and talk to me.’ He said don’t do that, just come in for a meeting. We went in and he just said everything was going to be alright. He is absolutely the most amazing man to young fresh talent. He’s like God to us. When you’ve got people like Shane backing you, you just feel so looked-after. The BBC, I have to say, have been absolutely amazing and there are so many amazing comedies coming through the BBC and they’re discovering fresh young writers. The BBC is the place to be and they’re the ones to watch when it comes to breakthrough talent.

Úna Ní Dhonghaíle on stage

Editing: Fiction: Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, Three Girls (BBC Studios Drama, Studio Lambert, BBC1)
I was actually very lucky because I have historically done feature documentaries and Phillipa [Lowthorpe, director] wanted to shoot this show in that type of manner with the roving camera, not using the normal establishing shots. So I embraced it and she shot it so beautifully that it was a joy to edit. We had challenges in trying to keep the veracity and integrity of the girls’ story [with the show being based on a true case of widespread sexual abuse in the UK town of Rochdale] and we couldn’t manipulate the truth, but that was a good challenge because it makes sure you do the right thing. These people live and exist in the world today and they were going to watch it and make sure they were happy with it, so it was a good challenge.
Whenever they were shooting the series, I was editing and assembling from home so I didn’t see anyone during that period, which is a grace period for editors because then we can get to know the material and try things out. Once the final cut began, I was with Philippa in [email protected] in Bristol and after about three weeks, Nicole [Taylor, writer] started to come in, so it was very collaborative. All of us wanted to tell this story in the best way we could for an audience at home to understand on-street grooming and how those girls found themselves in that situation. That was our guide. The real people came to meet us, so that also helped us keep our finger on the pulse of the truth.

Titles & Graphic Identity: William Bartlett, SS-GB (Sid Gentle Films, BBC1)
I’d read the book before and then I read the scripts, and I liked the idea of the main character, Archer, not knowing who was on his side and the shadowy nature of it. The visual aesthetic, I’d had ages ago. I’ve got a number of ideas for title sequences in the back of my mind, and I thought I had a seed of a visual idea that was right for this. So I did a few tests and it fit with the narrative of the book and the ideas within the programme. It evolved out of the story.
I love title sequences for a couple of reasons. From a creative point of view, it’s an area that has really limitless possibility. You can come up with something that’s unique and interesting and you’ve got real scope to do what you want. I think of them like an overture from an opera where you’re trying to set the scene and plant little ideas and visual references of what’s going to come later. Because of that, it’s interesting how it’s constrained by the narrative, the story and the drama, but it’s really free as well. It’s unique in terms of what you have to do visually. Title sequences, generally, are going through a real heyday at the moment. There are tonnes of really great title sequences being done all over the world. With more TV being done, title sequences have come into their own as well. People are prepared to invest in them a little bit.

Maxine Peake in Black Mirror’s Metalhead episode

Special Visual & Graphic Effects: DNEG TV, Jean-Clement Soret, Russell McLean, Joel Collins for Black Mirror episode Metalhead (House of Tomorrow, Netflix)
Michael Bell, visual effects supervisor: Filming the episode in black and white was the idea of David Slade, the director. It was strange for us because you don’t see much VFX in black and white. Ultimately, it made it unique, made it really stand out and we’re really proud of the finished thing.
It took months and months just for the modelling of the creature itself [a relentless robotic killing machine], the inner workings and all the details. There were basically two characters in this episode – Maxine Peake’s character and this creature – so you had to see how it was thinking; it had to be believable and it was quite a difficult challenge. Sometimes it could be comical but it had to be scary and I think we pulled it off.

Michelle Clapton clasps her trophy

Costume Design: Michelle Clapton, Game of Thrones (HBO, Bighead, Littlehead, Television 360, Startling Television, Sky Atlantic)
My ideas are always informed by the story. We get the outlines two months before we get the scripts, and they usually give me two weeks to think and draw. I speak to David and Dan [Benioff and Weiss, showrunners] so it’s all story-led, which is why it’s so exciting. I work quite closely with them and I’ll develop something to a stage where I think they’ll understand it. Sometimes they don’t like it and say, ‘What we’re trying to say about this character is this…’ So then we’ll have a discussion. Most of the time it’s fine but it’s interesting when it’s not, because you learn something.
It was nice to step out of Game of Thrones and do something like The Crown [in 2016] because in some ways it gave me a break from the show and I could return and feel enthused again about it. Period shows are really interesting but you have a period you’re looking at, so you design within that period but there’s still references. On something like Game of Thrones, you have no references, which is what I find so exciting. It’s been one of a kind and I doubt we’ll see a show like that again to such an extent. It’s been such a huge show and I’ve grown with it.

Claire Foy in The Crown, which was recognised for its photography and lighting

Photography & Lighting: Fiction: Adriano Goldman, The Crown (Left Bank Pictures, Netflix)
I was invited to come on board the first season by [lead director] Stephen Daldry, but the first two episodes we shot, three and five, were not directed by Stephen. So I had a very practical challenge just to get to know this director who I was just being introduced to, Philip Martin. Of course, we got along really well but you have to build the whole thing from scratch with a director who is not a person you can read right away. Prepping was super intense and long. [We spent a lot of time] just reading scripts and going back to locations and trying to envision something that especially the British audience knows so well, the story of the Queen, and wondering what could be fresh about our approach.
The main discussion was the ‘less is more’ philosophy. The classic but also fresh approach was a challenge in itself. How do we deliver a story that everybody more or less knows but with a fresh visual style or rhythm?

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton in Inside No 9

Writer: Comedy: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, Inside No 9 (BBC Studios Comedy, BBC2)
Reece Shearsmith: Comedy’s such a funny thing because it’s all about taste – what you find funny, I might not and vice versa. But comedy drama is a difficult one because there is comedy in the most bleak situations. I’ve had a career mining very dark themes and I think the release of something that’s quite dark is cathartic. With the No 9s, we enjoy telling stories. They’re little black jokes and it’s been lovely to resurrect the anthology series because that’s a great lost genre that you don’t really do anymore. People like the longform, big, strong boxsets but these are one-off little hits that you can watch in any order. There’s appeal for that these days.
Steve and I have a little office and we write there. We talk a lot before we even begin thinking about the writing of a story. We try to get the mechanics of where it’s going. Sometimes we’ll have an idea of where it will go and, during our conversation, we’ll think it’s too obvious and we need to change the ending if we’re thinking of a twist where we want to surprise people. Then we try to tell the story in the most judicious number of scenes possible. Sometimes the story itself never even leaves a room, so it’s even harder to tell the story without ever leaving and time passing. We think about taking the very mundane and taking it to an extraordinary conclusion. It gets harder and harder for us because we’ve done so many different stories and different worlds, and each week you start again. It’s like a pilot each week. That’s the challenge, but that’s the fun thing because you can do extremes, because they’re disposable. Next week you have a completely clean slate. You can kill them all off. You can reach heights you might not be able to if you had to go back to a default position if it was a sitcom. They’re thrilling to write and, as long as we can keep coming up with the ideas, we’ll go on forever.

Nicole Taylor accepts her prize

Writer: Drama: Nicole Taylor, Three Girls (BBC Studios Drama, Studio Lambert, BBC1)
Factual drama is always what I’ve loved watching, and Britain has an amazing tradition of that type of social-realist drama going back to Cathy Come Home and The Spongers. If people are watching it now, it must be because of the fractured moment we’re in, Brexit…  we’re strangers to each other. No wonder we’re trying to watch things about ourselves to understand the state we’re in.
Three Girls was brought to me by Sue Hogg, the executive producer who I worked with on The C Word. I was initially very afraid to take it on and I said no a fair few times. I just think I didn’t have the bottle. Like everyone else, this was a story I didn’t want to be true and it’s a story that everyone wants to look away from. I came up with my own reasons why I was going to turn it down and then I discussed it with my partner, who’s a journalist, who called me out on it and said I was doing what everyone did, turning away. I thought, ‘That’s right. Let’s go.’ It took me years and years to dissolve into it because it was so complex Once I got started, it felt like something was going that spoke to the state we’re in more broadly, and [I wanted] to do the best job I could of getting people who want to turn away to be glued to the story.
Philippa [Lowthorpe, director] did a lot more than just direct this magnificently. First off, she has a documentary background so she did a lot of the research with me. She gave me so much confidence in how you go into people’s homes and have them feel comfortable with you. She’s brilliant on scripts, she’s amazing with writers so I feel so stretched just in pure nerdy craft terms. She was just a joy, such a collaborator and, uniquely, she wanted me on set whenever I wanted to go. I was in rehearsals. That collaboration was so tight and I can’t wait to work with her again. She’s a phenomenal talent and such an inspiration for me as a woman working in this industry.

The Crown also won for its sound

Sounds: Fiction: Sound Team, The Crown (Left Bank Pictures, Netflix)
Chris Ashworth, production sound mixer: My biggest challenge is managing the scale of the show. It’s an enormous shoot. It goes on for 30 weeks, so it’s a huge management thing from my point of view on the floor, managing three crews and making sure everyone’s working together. Then on the huge set pieces we do, we have to keep a variety of directors happy.
Lee Walpole, supervising sound editor: In post production, we’re trying to take Chris’s clean recordings on location and add a complexity, scale and richness, bringing it to life and pinning it to the period it comes from. Sound recording is only becoming more complex, and that brings its own challenges. We have five days to final-mix an episode and you’re expected to produce a film soundtrack in that time.
Andy Kennedy, sound designer: The line between cinema and television is very blurred. We’re not dealing with stereo, we’re dealing with multi-channel formats and it also has a different presentation because The Crown is shown as a streaming piece, so sound is evolving and it’s very close to what a cinema produces, but it’s slightly smaller scale.

Tom Hardy in a photo presumably taken on a Monday

Make Up & Hair Design: Jan Archibald, Erika Ökvist and Audrey Doyle, Taboo (Scott Free London, Hardy Son & Baker, BBC1)
Audrey Doyle: Tom Hardy and his dad, Chips, developed the whole storyline seven years ago, he said, in his kitchen. They approached Steven Knight to write the scripts and it developed from there. We all did research of the period and the looks and started there. Tom is covered in his own tattoos so we had to develop a whole new tribal make-up for him. We had ‘Naked Mondays’ – every Monday, for some reason, we always seemed to film his tribal scenes, so we had to do his full tattoo cover, full tribal make-up and scars and everything. But he did wear a loin cloth. It took two-and-a-half hours each time.

Game of Thrones production designers Deborah Riley and Rob Cameron

Production Design: Deborah Riley and Rob Cameron, Game of Thrones (HBO, Bighead, Littlehead, Television 360, Startling Television, Sky Atlantic)
Deborah Riley: My process begins right at the start in LA with the writers when they issue an outline, which tells us exactly what is going to be in every episode of the whole season. The scripts don’t come until a bit later. Then we’ll start the approval process. We have concept artists that draw everything for us, and everything gets approved before it gets made. It’s an amazing team of people. We’ve got great producers. David and Dan know exactly what they want, they’re very clear with their vision. Time is the challenge, because there’s just too much to do in too short an amount of time, as we’re trying to produce film finishes on a television schedule. We just really work hard, and David and Dan’s biggest talent is they collected a whole lot of workaholic perfectionists in one place.
Visual effects are always led through production design. We create the worlds and then we need visual effects to help us when we can’t build it all or see it all, but it’s very much a collaboration; we don’t work in isolation. The whole show is very cohesive in its vision and what it’s trying to achieve. It’s a very special thing. I’m most proud of just surviving.

King Charles III won a Bafta for its original music

Original Music: Jocelyn Pook, King Charles III (Drama Republic, BBC2)
In a lot of films, less is more. Music is so overdone quite often and it’s nice when people use it more carefully and more thoughtfully. On this particular project, it was really inspiring because of all the settings. It had been a theatre play, but hardly any of the music I had written for the theatre worked for film so I had to do a whole new score.
Because of the history of the monarchy, there’s a sense of the ancient and modern combined, and definitely elements of the contemporary because it’s set in the present day. That was lovely, musically, to mine, particularly English choral music that I’m naturally inspired by. There’s also an Englishness, whatever that is.

Three Girls told the true story of a sexual abuse scandal

Director: Fiction: Philippa Lowthorpe, Three Girls (BBC Studios Drama, Studio Lambert, BBC1)
I was really lucky because I was involved in the research right from the beginning of Three Girls and that, to me as a director, is very valuable. I got to meet all the real people very early on and, with our wonderful writer Nicole Taylor, I was able to be part of the research along with our producer Simon Hughes. That really informed how I saw it and how to direct the actors, because I’d met the real people. I don’t think I could have done it without having met them and spending a a lot of time with them.
I went for a real feel, but it wasn’t pure documentary either. I used lots of very long takes because I wanted the actors to feel absolutely free to move where they wanted to move. Sometimes in drama you put the light somewhere and they have to hit a mark. I banned marks and we did very long takes where we would capture a bit of the scene and then do back and do it again. It was a challenge for some of the younger actors at first because they’d never done it like that before, but it was brilliant and it gave the actors so much freedom to absolutely inhabit their parts.
We had a lot of rehearsal and a lot of discussion with the actors, and that was so valuable. Maxine Peake and Lesley Sharp were the leaders of the cast. The British Pakistani actors who were so brave to play the perpetrators in the piece were also very involved in the rehearsal, so their voices became part of the fabric of the rehearsal and we learned a lot from them.
The most important thing in the filming was to capture the truthfulness of the story and help the actors achieve that real authenticity in their performances, which they did. I’m very proud of the young people who played the girls. All three of them – Molly Windsor, Ria Zmitrowicz and Liv Hill – are amazing.
There have been some amazing factual dramas recently and that’s hats off to Charlotte Moore at the BBC, who has really given a platform to real stories.

Game of Thrones actors Hannah Murray and John Bradley on stage

Special Award: Game of Thrones
John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly: When I did my first day’s work on Game of Thrones, I knew nothing of how TV production worked. I remember getting my first call sheet the day before I shot my very first scene and not knowing what I was looking at. I read the scene, which was two pages long, and I thought, ‘Well, how long can that possibly take?’ I was always under the impression they just had the set and 20 or 30 hidden cameras in little nooks and crannies around the set, they kicked the actors into the set, we did it a couple of times and then we went home. In fact, what I thought when I first saw that it was going to be two pages long was, ‘What on Earth am I going to do with my afternoon?’ After all these years, I look back on that first day and I’m struck by how lucky I am that I was given such an incredible learning experience – the best learning experience in the world, working alongside some of the very best craftspeople at work anywhere. We as actors will forever owe a huge debt of gratitude for inspiring us every single time we walk onto the set and every single time we see the finished product on the screen, every day learning something new from them and learning new things to admire them for.
Hannah Murray, who plays Gilly: When you see so many phenomenally talented people in so many departments working at the very top of their game and getting breathtaking results time after time, it really forces you to bring your very best efforts to the table, if only to make sure you don’t look inadequate by comparison. Every year, they’re given scripts that on paper seem totally unfilmable, and every time they put it on the screen to mind-blowing effect. We as actors are so lucky to get to step into the world they create and we are as in awe of their work as the fans of the show all over the world. The show is a global phenomenon and what makes us proudest is that the work of so many British and Irish talents are being recognised on such a grand scale. We know our showrunners David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] are grateful to be working with this incredible team of people.

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Writers’ rising stock

Bret Easton Ellis (photo by Mark Coggins)
Bret Easton Ellis (photo by Mark Coggins)

There is an inexorability about the way the TV drama business is heading. From the viewer’s perspective, the emergence of large-screen HD/4K TVs, combined with high subscription fees, creates an expectation that broadcasters and platforms will deliver great shows.

For those broadcasters and platforms, this puts a stronger emphasis than ever on the pursuit of high-profile and high-quality writing, acting and producing talent. But securing that kind of talent costs a lot of money, which means subscription fees need to rise.

And so the creative arms race escalates, with the companies in charge of content delivery forced to make bolder and bolder decisions. In a way, it’s similar to what has happened with sports rights.

While the big draw with any drama is its cast, it’s noticeable that the track record of writers is also becoming more important – not just in satisfying commissioning editors, but also as a way of appealing to audiences.

This is why novelists like Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly and Jo Nesbø have become such a focal point. While most TV writers don’t have a public profile (because of the collaborative nature of the TV process), novelists are often respected brands – with loyal fans who follow their every move.

The movie version of American Psycho, Ellis's best-known work
Christian Bale in the movie version of American Psycho, Ellis’s best-known work

Against that backdrop, this week saw AT&T-backed SVoD platform Fullscreen unveil a raft of new content including a show directed and written by Bret Easton Ellis – the enfant terrible of contemporary fiction, known for cult novels like Less Than Zero, Rules of Attraction and, most famously, American Psycho.

The new show, called The Deleted, focuses on the disappearance of three seemingly unconnected people from LA. The occurrence triggers a collective paranoia among a group of young people, all of whom escaped from a cult ‎several years previously.

The project is a new departure for Ellis. Although he has tried his hand at screenwriting movies, such as The Canyons and The Informers, this is his first gig as a director. “It’s going push some boundaries and it’s definitely going to be the darkest of our original shows,” said Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos.

“We created a new kind of entertainment experience which merges the things we love about premium content and social media. We’re building it for an audience we know and love – a social-first, mobile-first generation. The future of media is going to look more like what we’re doing than what we’ve seen over the past several decades.”

Russell T Davies (photo by Tony Hassall)
Russell T Davies (photo by Tony Hassall)

Writers celebrating this week include Russell T Davies, who has just won the Bafta TV Craft Drama Writer Award for his 2015 drama serial Cucumber. Davies edged out a formidable line-up of rivals to secure the award, including Mike Bartlett (Doctor Foster), Peter Straughan (Wolf Hall) and Neil Cross (Luther).

Cucumber was part of a trilogy of dramas for Channel 4 that also included Tofu and Banana. Loosely described as a sequel to Davies’ iconic 1999 series Queer as Folk, it focused on a middle-aged gay man (Henry) who has to adapt to sudden change after a disastrous date night with his boyfriend of nine years.

Although the emphasis of the story was on the social and emotional challenges faced by gay men, critic Mark Lawson, writing in the Guardian, said the show had a more universal theme: “The broader genre of respectability meltdown, as Henry (the central character) is accelerated from smug dullness to scenes featuring police intervention, furious colleagues and social humiliation.”

Other Bafta winners included Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan for their hit comedy Catastrophe (Channel 4). There was also a breakthrough award for actor/writer Michaela Coel, creator of fellow Channel 4 sitcom Chewing Gum. All in all, that made it a good night for Channel 4 in terms of its writing credentials.

Other writers in the news include Scott Shepherd, who has been signed up by Televisa US to pen a 10-part sci-fi thriller. The Seventh Day is the Mexican media group’s second foray into English-language content after Duality, starring Dougray Scott.

Davies' award-winning Channel 4 drama Cucumber
Davies’ award-winning Channel 4 drama Cucumber

The series is based on Shepherd’s serialised novel of the same name. Treading a well-worn furrow, it centres on one of the few people left unharmed when most of humanity is wiped out.

Shepherd, who is actually a writer/producer, has a shopping list of writing credits that date back to Murder She Wrote and Miami Vice in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, he executive produced Haven and The Dead Zone – while also contributing to the writing efforts.

For The Seventh Day, he will share writing and showrunning duties with Cindy McCreery, who also wrote on Haven. Commenting on the new project, which will be shot in Mexico, Televisa USA head of production and distribution Chris Philip said: “Scott and Cindy are once again weaving gripping stories into compelling TV. Their masterful tales fit perfectly with the wide array of sets and terrain that Televisa has to offer in Mexico, where we plan to shoot all of the series we greenlight with our pioneering production and distribution venture.”

As the expansion of Televisa illustrates, one of the most exciting developments in the international drama business is the formation of new alliances. Another interesting example of this is the Russian drama Mata Hari, based on the life of the famous female spy/courtesan. The show has been produced by Star Media in Russia and will be distributed internationally by Red Arrow International, starting at Mipcom in October.

Mata Hari
Mata Hari will debut at Mipcom in October

Red Arrow International MD Henrik Pabst said: “The scale and quality of this ambitious new drama is truly impressive and marks a real step change in the international ambitions of the Russian production sector.”

Red Arrow will distribute an English-language version of the show, which stars the likes of Christopher Lambert (Highlander), John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Rade Serbedzija (X-Men: First Class) and Rutger Hauer (Batman Begins, Blade Runner), plus French actress Vahina Giocante (The Libertine) in the title role.

The series, which is directed by Dennis Berry (Highlander, Stargate SG-1) and Julius Berg, recently completed filming in Lisbon and St Petersburg, and will air on Russian state network Channel One and Ukraine’s Inter later this year.

It has been written by Igor Ter-Karapetov and Oleg Kirillov. Of the two, Ter-Karapetov appears to have the more established track record, having penned numerous series and miniseries over the last few years. Credits include spy thriller Smert shpionam, Udarnaya volna and Ubit Stalina, a Second World War drama about a plot by the Germans to kill Joseph Stalin. The latter also contains a spy component, which suggest Ter-Karapetov is the perfect writer to tackle another period espionage story.

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DQ talks casting with Game of Thrones’ Nina Gold

Award-winning casting director Nina Gold tells Michael Pickard about discovering the stars of Game of Thrones and the importance of trusting your instincts.

Their decisions can make or break a series – but this isn’t the writer or director we’re talking about.

Imagine House of Cards without Kevin Spacey, The Bridge without Sofia Helin or Mad Men without Jon Hamm. That these stars have become so synonymous with the characters they play and the series in which they appear is down to the casting director, who faces the unenviable task of finding the right group of actors to turn a script into a smash hit.

While casting directors are absent from most award ceremonies, one is set to be honoured for a career that has included credits for TV series such as Game of Thrones, Wolf Hall, London Spy, The Fall and forthcoming Tom Hardy drama Taboo. She has also worked on films including The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

On Sunday, Nina Gold (pictured top) will become the first casting director to be recognised by Bafta’s Special Award at the British Academy Television Craft Awards.

Krishnendu Majumdar, chairman of Bafta’s television committee, said: “Nina has a superb eye for talent and a genuine commitment to her craft, which has been borne out by the success of so many of the productions she’s worked on. Nina’s impressive portfolio highlights an incredible contribution to television, so I’m delighted she will be receiving this year’s Special Award.”

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones
Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones

Gold began her career in casting with the films Twin Town and The Borrowers in 1997, and has cast every Mike Leigh film since they first paired up for Topsy-Turvy in 1999.

She won two Emmy awards for her work on HBO miniseries John Adams in 2008 and the premium cable channel’s smash hit Game of Thrones in 2015, with many more nominations for the latter.

Speaking to DQ about her Bafta award, Gold says: “It’s marvellous. I’m incredibly flattered and honoured. But it’s not just for me. Casting directors in general really deserve an award. I’m incredibly grateful I’m getting this one but we do feel a bit left out that we’re the only ones deemed unworthy of getting any awards.”

She describes the casting business as “make or break” and quotes acclaimed director Martin Scorsese’s assertion that more than 90% of directing is the right casting.

“If you get the casting wrong, you’re stuffed,” she says. “Sometimes you read the script and meet the writer and director and talk about your ideas together. I’ll have my ideas and they’ll have some thoughts. But to have a good working relationship, you have to be roughly coming from the same angle or sensibility. Sometimes you’ll do a movie and the star name will already be attached; other times, you do it all. The process varies from project to project.”

Gold says casting is most often a targeted exercise, identifying actors for particular parts rather than holding open or invitational auditions.

Mark Rylance's award-winning turn as Oliver Cromwell in Wolf Hall
Mark Rylance’s award-winning turn as Oliver Cromwell in Wolf Hall

“All of us are constantly building up knowledge of actors and what they’ve been in, what they’re good at and their general qualities,” she explains. “There’s a constant accumulation of knowledge and you’re drawing on that all the time and applying it to each individual circumstance.

“But on Star Wars we did open auditions and literally saw thousands and thousands of people. It was quite time-consuming and a lot of people’s hopes were being dashed. That’s the bad part of the job – crushing people’s dreams left, right and centre. But if you’re going to be an actor, you’ve got to get used to being rejected because otherwise you couldn’t take it.”

Though her credits are undoubtedly dominated by big-screen features, Gold says there’s often more freedom in casting on television, which gives her the opportunity to find new people and create new stars – an element of the job she particularly enjoys.

One series for which that was a particular requirement was Game of Thrones (GoT), not least because of the sheer volume of actors required to play the multitude of characters and the number of young actors needed.

“I loved working on Game of Thrones and the opportunity to find all those new, young people,” she says. “That was a great voyage of discovery. I also loved working on Wolf Hall (BBC) with all that incredible talent. I’ve just been casting The Crown (for Netflix), which has also been really great. It’s been great to work on these shows but not having to cast stars, just casting people who seem really right for the roles.”

Of course, when casting works, the awards follow. Mark Rylance scooped a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Oliver Cromwell in Wolf Hall earlier this year, while Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke are just some of the GoT cast members to have won awards while appearing on the show.

Gold returns to GoT when asked about the best new talent she has uncovered: “Maybe the young people in Game of Thrones, who started with very little experience and have grown enormously as actors and are now stars. Emilia, who was just out of drama school and was clearly a really good actress, has taken the role of Daenerys and made her real. And Kit Harington had done a year in (theatre production) War Horse but Game of Thrones was his first screen role. Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner (who play sisters Arya and Sansa Stark respectively) were just children when we started but now they are adults and have really grown as actors too.”

The trouble with casting, however, is that there is no exact science behind which actor will best play a role.

Jim Broadbent (left) and Ben Whishaw in London Spy
Jim Broadbent (left) and Ben Whishaw in London Spy

“The nature of the job is you never know the definitely perfect answer,” Gold admits. “No one’s got a formula of how to get it right, otherwise all films and TV shows would be perfect all the time. It’s about trusting your instinct and feeling like it’s the right thing to do.

“But while the pressure is on the big parts to carry the show, the really small parts – if you don’t get them right – can really mess things up as well. Getting really good people in the small parts almost slips by unnoticed. But if they weren’t really great, boy would you notice it. They’re part of a very delicate fabric you have to put together and every little bit counts.”

And if the pressure of finding the right name to headline a series wasn’t challenging enough, there are other aspects of the job that prove tricky to negotiate. Gold continues: “In my experience – and this happens perhaps more in film than TV – sometimes producers want to make casting decisions for what I believe to be the wrong reason. They might want to cast the biggest, spangliest name, rather than the person who is best for the part. That can sometimes turn into a long and challenging wrangle.”

To be a good casting director, Gold says you have to be interested in people and the business. “Otherwise, it’s just hard work for nothing,” she adds. “But if you’re genuinely interested in them and find it fascinating, it’s really great. It took me quite a long time to trust my instincts and not to worry about it all the time – and, remember, they’re hiring you to have an opinion, so it’s alright to have one.”

Looking back on her career so far, Gold picks out one highlight as the close collaborations she has built with “amazing creative people – like my long association with Mike Leigh, which has been an incredible learning experience and also very entertaining. Or maybe working with Jane Campion, who is a total inspiration to me.

“Or maybe when The King’s Speech won the Oscar,” she adds of the film’s 2014 best film victory. “That was definitely fun!”

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Morgan and Thorne doing it write

Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan

The UK’s Royal Television Society (RTS) held its annual Programme Awards last week. Winning scripted shows included The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (which took Best Drama Serial), No Offence (drama series), Catastrophe (scripted comedy), Coalition (single drama) and Emmerdale (soap/continuing drama).

There were also writer awards for Peter Morgan (The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies) and Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, who write and star in Catastrophe.

Morgan overcame competition from Russell T Davies (Cucumber) and Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne (This is England ’90), with judges describing his writing as “skilful and poignant… absolutely first rate.” They called the drama “compelling and tender… it took the viewer on a deeply moving emotional journey.”

Morgan, 53 next month, is not new to TV. But until now he has been best known for a series of idiosyncratic feature films.

Having written the romcom Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence in 1998 and TV series The Jury in 2002, his career took a decisive step forward in 2003 with a TV movie called The Deal, which told the story of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s power-sharing deal. In 2006, he wrote a superb film-length follow-up called The Queen, which explored the reaction of the political and royal establishment to the death of Princess Diana. This earned him an Academy Award nomination and a deserved Golden Globe.

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies centres on the true story on a man wrongly implicated in a murder case
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies centres on the true story of a man wrongly implicated in a murder case

More acclaim followed with productions including The Last King of Scotland (adapted for the screen with Jeremy Brock); Frost/Nixon (play and screenplay); The Other Boleyn Girl, The Damned United, Rush and The Aftermath (the third in Morgan’s so-called Blair trilogy). And then came the RTS Award-winning Christopher Jefferies miniseries, written for UK broadcaster ITV.

Morgan, who has a brilliant knack of making the political seem personal, isn’t finished with TV. He’s currently working with Left Bank Pictures on The Crown, an epic US$100m drama for Netflix.

Based on a play by Morgan called The Audience, it tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s early reign. Anyone familiar with Morgan’s previous writing on the themes of power, establishment and intrigue will appreciate that he is perfectly suited to such a project – though it will be interesting to see how he copes with the much larger creative canvas offered by a 10-part TV series.

When the project was announced, he said: “The Crown is not only about the royal family but about an empire in decline, a world in disarray and the dawn of a new era. I am beyond thrilled to be reunited with partners from film, theatre and TV (director Stephen Daldry and producer Andy Harries) for this epic project and delighted to be working for the first time with Netflix.”

This Is England '90 is the final part of Jack Thorne's franchise
This Is England ’90 is likely the final part of Jack Thorne and Shane Meadows’ franchise

To date, Netflix has only ordered a first season. But it’s highly likely there will be future series of the show covering more recent stages in the Queen’s reign. So it might be a while before we see another movie or miniseries from Morgan.

As an interesting side note, Bafta has just announced its own TV awards nominations and there is no place there for Morgan’s Jefferies drama. Titles shortlisted for this event include Humans, The Last Panthers, No Offence and Wolf Hall (for Best Drama Series); Doctor Foster, The Enfield Haunting, London Spy, This Is England ’90 (miniseries); The Good Wife, Narcos, Spiral and Transparent (International Series); and The C-Word, Cyberbully, Don’t Take My Baby and The Go-Between (single drama).

In the context of the Baftas, the big winner is Thorne, who is attached to The Last Panthers, This Is England ’90 and Don’t Take My Baby.

In other news this week, Sky1 has commissioned a second season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which is produced by Carnival Films in collaboration with Lee’s POW! Entertainment. As the name suggests, Lucky Man is based on an idea by superhero icon Stan Lee. But it’s another example of the trend towards greenlighting dramas with high-profile names and then getting other people to do the actual writing job.

The third season of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror will debut on Netflix
The third season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror will debut on Netflix

In this case, for example, the show was written by Neil Biswas, Ben Schiffer, Rachel Anthony, James Allen, Stephen Gallagher and Alan Westaway. Biswas, who is credited on all 10 episodes of Lucky Man season one, was already known to Sky, having written an episode of Sinbad a few years ago. His other credits include The Take, Bradford Riots and In a Land of Plenty.

Elsewhere, there was further evidence this week of the superstar status now afforded to leading TV writers, with Channel 4 losing out to Netflix on the UK first-window rights to season three of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

Channel 4 was the first company to back Brooker’s project but a huge financial deal saw Netflix take control of an expanded version of the project for season three. Channel 4 thought it would still be given the opportunity to premiere the show in the UK, but Black Mirror producer Endemol Shine has licensed first-run rights to Netflix. This isn’t hugely surprising but C4 is not happy.

11.22.63 stars James Franco (left)
11.22.63 stars James Franco (left)

In a statement, Channel 4 chief creative officer Jay Hunt said: “Black Mirror couldn’t be a more Channel 4 show. We grew it from a dangerous idea to a brand that resonated globally. Of course, it’s disappointing that the first broadcast window in the UK is then sold to the highest bidder, ignoring the risk a publicly owned channel like 4 took backing it.”

Other projects in the news this week include Hulu series 11.22.63. Based on a book of the same name by Stephen King, the series centres on Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher from Maine (played by James Franco) who travels back in time and has an opportunity to prevent the assassination of US president John F Kennedy (though things don’t quite go as planned). The show is executive produced by JJ Abrams, Stephen King and Bridget Carpenter, who has also taken a lead role in its writing.

This week, 11.22.63 was picked up by Canal+ in France, having previously been licensed for use by Fox Networks Europe. The show currently has an 8.8 rating on IMDb, which marks it out as a strong performer.

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