Tag Archives: Baptiste

Production shutdown

In part two of a focus on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on television drama productions, DQ speaks to three more producers to see how their latest series have been affected and how development has been pushed to the fore.

About 10 days ago, Chris Aird was in the middle of the Australian outback, 200 kilometres north of Adelaide, on a recce to uncover potential locations for upcoming mystery drama The Tourist. Commissioned by the BBC and Oz streamer Stan, the show opens with a British man being run off the road by an enormous tank. When he wakes up in hospital, he has no idea who he is, while his search for answers is hampered by merciless figures set on pursuing him.

But when Aird, head of drama at UK prodco Two Brothers Pictures (Liar, The Missing), heard US president Donald Trump was about to close the countries borders to many EU countries as a result of the emerging coronavirus threat, he faced an uncertain five-and-a-half-hour journey back to the city. Initially intending to postpone some preproduction plans, Aird soon realised he and his partners would have to suspend everything and get home as soon as possible.

The Tourist is just one of hundreds of television series around the world shut down or put on hold over the last fortnight as the industry, like every other, comes to terms with the devastating coronavirus pandemic. Cast and crew face an indeterminate time out of work, with production companies rallying to support those who have been left in limbo by the shutdowns.

Chris Aird

“We’re early enough [in the process] that we’ve only got a core group of HODs and the producer and the director on board,” Aird tells DQ about work so far on The Tourist. “But it has an impact in as much all the people we were planning on bringing on over the coming weeks, with a view to filming in mid-May, they’re not going to be employed now for the foreseeable.”

Another Two Brothers drama, crime thriller Baptiste, was further down the line – eight weeks into a 14-week shoot – when the decision was made to halt production in the Hungarian capital, Budapest. The series continues to follow detective Julien Baptiste, who first featured in two seasons of The Missing before a standalone series launched on the BBC last year.

“It’s been a really challenging process, trying to predict what was going to happen and the international situation and trying to get a sense of the direction of travel, while listening via my colleague John Griffin, the producer, to what was going on on the ground,” Aird explains.

“Because that crew is 80% Hungarian, there was this tipping point around Friday night [March 13] where we went from the crew saying, ‘Look, we want to carry on. These are our jobs,’ to quite quickly, ‘Actually, this is frightening now and we need to get home and be inside.’ It was about being really responsive to that. It’s probably the most challenging management position I’ve ever been in, in terms of fast decisions and really having people’s welfare as much at possible at heart when making those decisions.”

The decision was taken at 09.00 last Monday, with the British crew members back in the air and heading home by Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, sets were left standing, with the art department set to return under safe conditions to pack things up until such time as the production can resume.

“We had a whole production to shut down. In the first instance, that meant walking away from sets,” Aird says. “The office will pack things up. We’ll get all the equipment back. But the first thing to do was to disband the unit as quickly as we could. We’re paying people’s notice and giving people severance pay, but that only lasts so long.”

Baptiste was shooting in Hungary when production had to be shut down

Now working with Griffin for the next couple of months, Aird is focusing on “Baptiste 2.2,” looking at any decisions that need to be made before shooting can resume, they hope, by the end of the year.

“Most of the crew are local Hungarians, so I’d hope we’d be able to put the team back together,” Aird continues. “There’s cast to think about as well and you hope, certainly with your leads, no one’s going to come sweeping in [to take them away]. If we have to change locations or if we didn’t manage to get some cast members back for whatever reasons, we’d make whatever decisions we needed to and rewrite the scripts.”

In Ireland, Dublin-based Element Pictures has been providing production support for The Drowning, an upcoming Channel 5 and Virgin Media drama from Unstoppable Film & Television, while also finishing post-production on Normal People (pictured top), the eagerly awaited adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel that is due to air this spring on UK online channel BBC3 and Hulu in the US. Development is also underway on Conversation with Friends, based on Rooney’s first novel and also commissioned by the BBC, with a virtual writers room now set up with writers in Ireland, the UK and the US.

Normal People follows the relationship between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) from their school days in a small Irish town to university at Dublin’s Trinity College. Working remotely, post-production is continuing apace, with one person in the editing suite at Outer Limits and everyone else who needs to be involved viewing from their own homes.

“It made it complicated but it’s actually doable,” says Andrew Lowe, Element’s joint MD. “It’s interesting that it has been viable to keep it going. Our big fear was the post house itself would close, but they’ve been very responsible and careful about how they do their business and they’ve managed to keep the thing going, which is great.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in Normal People

“We’re also continuing with our development meetings and production meetings. Everyone just dials in remotely so there are lots of people on the screen at the same time, which is a nice thing for everyone. It gives some sense of normality and continuity in what’s an otherwise strange and unsettling time. The positive thing to come from this is it’s enabling us to focus more on development. With fewer other things going on to distract us, we can focus more on opportunities that have been around for a while but we haven’t managed to advance.”

In a rapidly evolving situation, Lowe says the Element team will continue to work from home, while the production hiatus will offer him and partner Ed Guiney the chance to carry out some company housekeeping.

“Our attitude is very much, ‘Let’s hunker down for the coming weeks and months and, if this ends up being a very prolonged period, we have more than enough to be getting on with developing new material and cleaning up older stuff,’” he adds.

Aidan Turner

“As founders and directors, Ed and I often struggle to strike a balance between operational time running the business and actually standing back from it and spending a bit more time strategic planning, so this period will give us a chance to take a bit of a breather and complete some work we’ve been doing for a while in terms of strategic planning for the growth of the business. We just have to focus on the more positive aspects, because it’s obviously a grim and serious situation otherwise.”

Elsewhere, production has also stopped on Leonardo, a series based on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Created by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) and Steve Thompson (Vienna Blood), the show is produced by Lux Vide in collaboration with Rai Fiction and Spotnitz’s Big Light Productions, in association with Sony Pictures Television. Poldark star Aidan Turner will play the seminal artist and inventor, with filming underway since December.

“We are in the same situation as everyone else in Europe, where all production has stopped, as much of the world has as well. With Leonardo, we’re looking to manage the situation and get back as soon as we can,” says Emily Feller, creative director at Big Light (The Man in the High Castle).

“With regard to everything else, we are so fortunate and lucky that we have jobs where we can work from home. But what we’re aware of is a lot of team members won’t have been based from home on a very regular basis. We put together a pack of etiquette and expectations of working from home, just as a support, really, and also being quite aware of mental health and a sense of isolation in your home if you live by yourself. We’ve really wanted to be careful and proactive in thinking about the team as a whole.”

Big Light is also involved in a virtual writers room for an as-yet-unannounced series, working through stories, narratives and characters, while Feller says the move online has had no effect on the openness and creativity of the collaboration process.

Emily Feller

“Last week we were working on two episodes in particular and we’re screen-sharing so, instead of having cards on the wall, we’re using bullet points [on screen]. It’s working fantastically so far,” she says. “I don’t think anyone can plan for this. You can plan to work six or nine months a year, whatever your preferences are or needs are, but I don’t think anyone can plan for this. It’s such an incredibly unique situation for us all.”

The company will have a second writers room opening this summer, while progress is also being made on its proposed live-action Warhammer 40,000 series, in partnership with Games Workshop.

“It’s about maintaining our drive to be pushing forward the high-quality storytelling we’re lucky enough to be able to do and working with the writer we’re still working with,” Feller adds. “That side of things doesn’t change. What these next few months will allow us to do is get into a fantastic place to then go once production is up and running again.”

Read part one of this article here.

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The Missing link

The Missing star Tchéky Karyo returns as French detective Julien Baptiste in a spin-off from the hit BBC drama. DQ spends a day at the seaside to see the actor on set and find out about the making of eight-part drama Baptiste.

When DQ was first invited to spend a day at the seaside and visit the set of BBC1 drama Baptiste, it briefly conjured optimistic images of enjoying a refreshing ice-cream in the warm autumnal sunshine. As it turns out, that could not have been further from what transpired on a late October day in Kent on England’s south coast.

As a furious sea battered the stony shore, thick, gloomy clouds loomed on the horizon while the wind-worn crew battled on against the unforgiving elements. That this was the penultimate day of shooting after more than three months in production brought little comfort as stars Tchéky Karyo (pictured above), with his arm in a sling, and Tom Hollander repeatedly strolled along the beach in what was the last scene of the series, each time moving further inland to stay clear of the encroaching tide.

Earlier on, a brief respite from the weather saw director Jan Matthys take the opportunity to send up a drone and film the scene overhead, capturing the iconic White Cliffs of Dover in the background – a fortuitous decision considering the wind and rain that came shortly after the craft made its final landing.

Created and written by Harry and Jack Williams, Baptiste is a spin-off from the brothers’ BBC drama The Missing, this time putting stubborn but insightful investigator Julien Baptiste (Karyo) front and centre. When Baptiste and his wife Celia are on a visit to Amsterdam, the chief of police – who also happens to be one of Baptiste’s old girlfriends – seeks out his help due to his renowned and methodical crime-solving skills. He is then rapidly embroiled in a case that looks beyond the beautiful streets, canals and houses of Amsterdam to the seamy underworld beneath.

DirectorJan Matthys pauses for thought during filming on the beach

While both seasons of The Missing centred on a British family in crisis over a missing child, the idea behind Baptiste is to free the story from those restraints, producer John Griffin explains as filming continues on the beach at Walmer. Hence the decision to focus this spin-off, produced by Two Brothers Pictures for BBC1 in association with distributor All3Media International, on the investigator at the heart of both of those stories.

“In the first episode of this series, you meet Edward Stratton [Hollander] and it looks like a classic version of The Missing,” Griffin says. “Here’s a man desperately looking for his niece, who has gone missing. She had turned to drugs and prostitution in Amsterdam and then vanished, and he’s trying to save her. What happens at the end of the first episode is that Julien Baptiste finds her – which is the most unexpected thing you can imagine happening in a show associated with The Missing.”

The discovery leads to two big reveals at the end of the first hour, including a “massive plot twist” and a character revelation that means one person isn’t who they seem. The second episode then sees Baptiste come to the full realisation of what he has become entangled in as viewers learn this isn’t just a missing person case but a story involving people-trafficking and Romanian gangs.

“By the end of the second episode, the whole thing twists again and to some extent vindicates Baptiste’s confusion but opens up a whole other can of stuff,” Griffin continues, adding that Call the Midwife star Jessica Raine appears in episode three as an investigator from European Union law enforcement agency Europol. “She turns up and says, ‘Everybody stop. You’ve just walked all over my case that I’ve been doing very quietly for a long time. And you, sir [Baptiste], get out of my way.’ Then the whole plot spirals out of control because they’ve uncovered a hornets’ nest.

“It’s a fabulous ride. The second episode is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. It starts on such a high note and it doesn’t stop, and then you hit another high note at the end and you go, ‘Wow, if anybody’s going to turn off now, they’re insane.’”

That the story is set almost entirely in Amsterdam, Griffin explains, is because the Williams brothers wanted to talk about the sex industry in a way viewers might easily recognise and understand. Filming, which began last July, took place in the city for three weeks, particularly around De Wallen’s red-light district where the majority of the “hero exteriors” were shot. The characteristics of the Dutch capital – narrow streets and lots of bicycles – plus the high cost of shooting there made it a tricky location for filming, prompting the majority of production to take place in Antwerp, across the Belgian border.

Tom Hollander as Edward Stratton

“It’s a nightmare. I crossed the road after lunch and caused a bicycle pile-up because I didn’t notice the bike lane,” Griffin admits. “So it’s set in Amsterdam, an expensive place to film, but a little bit of the story is set in Antwerp. There’s a great tax break in Belgium and a lot of Antwerp looks like the back streets of the old town of Amsterdam, so we rebuilt De Wallen there.

“We shot in De Wallen for real but we rebuilt the street in Antwerp so we had full control over it and could do some amazing stuff. We also went to [Belgian port city] Ghent quite a bit, which has canals.”

The decision to give Baptiste a series of his own came down to the fact that audiences “completely responded to him as a character,” Griffin says, describing him as the French version of Columbo, the iconic trenchcoat-wearing detective portrayed by Peter Falk in the long-running US TV series of the same name.

“The thing I love about the way [the Williams brothers] write for Baptiste is they use English idioms but they change them slightly, so he’ll say something like, ‘Don’t put the wrong step forward.’ It’s the wrong foot forward – he’s used the wrong word but it means the same thing, and I love that they write him like that,” Griffin adds. “He has this ability to get people off their guard and find out pieces of information they don’t think are relevant but that actually are terribly relevant, and that’s how he gets them. That’s what Columbo used to do. Julien does a similar trick on people, and he’s very human and a little bit frail.”

Behind the camera, wrapped up against the grim conditions, is director Jan Matthys, who takes charge of the second block, covering episodes four, five and six. A fan of The Missing, he had told his agent he wasn’t interested in any police shows a few months before the production team called to see if he was available for Baptiste.

“She called me and said, ‘I think you have to make an exception for this one,’” he recalls. “When I read it, it was immediately clear it’s not a procedural or classical police show but a human story. I’m very much into humanism and telling those stories, so I immediately wanted to be part of it. I’ve worked with [executive producer] Chris Aird before on [BBC crime drama] Shetland so I knew he was involved and how he takes care of his crews and directors, so that was an important thing as well.”

Taking over from Borkur Sigthorsson, Matthys was able to watch the earlier rushes and get a sense of the material shot for the first three episodes. What he noticed straight away was that Sigthorsson used a more experimental approach than his own, shooting lots of reflections and looking through windows and open doors. “So for me it was a challenge to stay close to my own way of telling stories, but it felt a bit more freeing to develop a new style and get some more stimuli,” the director says. “It took me a bit out of my comfort zone, but in a good way.”

Tchéky Karyo (far right) as Baptiste in The Missing

As the tension builds up towards the story’s resolution, the scripts also ramped up the action. Block two DOP John Lee picks up: “We carried on the style of block one, which was very long lenses, POV shots and a Scandi noir feel to it. But then we had some bigger set pieces. We had a big driving stunt scene and Tom [Hollander] climbing across rooftops, so we’ve had a lot of fun on our block. The car chase was a big challenge because we had Jessica and Tchéky in the car so we had to have three cars, including a stunt car that crashes, so we had to have multiple versions of that. It was quite complicated to work out.”

Lee is also an advocate for filming with drones, but only when they serve a purpose. “It’s a bit odd because you should do a drone shot when it’s a drone shot and you should do a helicopter shot when it’s a helicopter shot – they’re not really interchangeable,” he explains. “But on this, we couldn’t have got a helicopter as close to the actors as we wanted, so it was a drone shot. They’re so temperamental when it comes to the weather – you always worry. A bit of rain, a bit of wind and it won’t fly. But it’s amazing that we can now do a shot like that on a TV drama. We wouldn’t have been able to do it 10 years ago.”

From a producer’s point of view, Griffin says drones are “amazing” because they’re relatively quick to use and inexpensive compared with a helicopter. “The only thing I have to watch is not letting directors have a drone just because they want one,” he says, echoing Lee’s argument. “I see so much television where I think, ‘Why the drone shot?’ Make it mean something, make it worth it.”

Griffin notes that, as well as filming in Amsterdam, one of the other challenges on the series has been the need to cast a high number of international actors, owing to the fact that nearly all of the story takes place outside the UK. The production also required some underwater shooting, which first took place in Amsterdam and then continued in a tank near Brussels.

“We’ve got somebody going into the water and going under. What we couldn’t do was control safety underwater for very long, so we got a tank and did a whole sequence of somebody getting caught up with a rope around their foot and not being able to free themselves, so we had this whole thing of major jeopardy and whether they will survive,” Griffin reveals. “You’ll have to watch to find out what happens.”

Griffin hadn’t previously worked on The Missing, so had no relationship with that world or its characters before joining Baptiste, something he says has been key to helping the show find its own identity.

“That’s been a really brilliant challenge but with a character I absolutely love, who is funny, smart, unusual,” he notes. “New series are always a challenge. For me, the strongest thing that makes it feel like The Missing is what we’re doing with it musically. It has that same feel in the music and that’s having an extraordinary effect on the edit.”

That Baptiste survives the events of this season is apparent by his appearance here on the beach. And as filming concludes, you might think the character would be keen to settle for a quieter life. It’s hard to imagine, however, he would not rise to the challenge should another case – and the BBC – demand his expertise.

Checking in with Tchéky
The title of the series is his character’s name, but Tchéky Karyo is typically sincere when he says Baptiste isn’t just his show. “In the choir, I’m a lead voice but it’s a real ensemble,” he tells DQ inside a minibus that is doubling up as shelter from the unpleasant weather outside.

This drama, he explains, is a story “with great characters going through a very special journey. Baptiste is a link between them and he tries to unthread the twisted and cracked mysteries and stories and explore the dark sides of people. The brothers [writers Harry and Jack Williams] said they still have some skeletons in the closet.”

Baptiste opens six months after the conclusion of The Missing’s second season, with the former detective having undergone surgery for a brain tumour. “He’s alive and happy,” Karyo says, before adding ominously: “When we start, he’s very happy. He’s in Amsterdam with [his wife] Celia to help their daughter and son-in-law to look after their grandchild.” It’s fair to say his mood probably begins to sour when he’s called by an ex-girlfriend, Martha, who wants his help with a new case.

“She knows he’s good at this kind of mission,” the actor says. “He’s reluctant; he doesn’t really want to go back to his old life but Celia knows that it’s going to be good for him and he needs it, so she pushes him out into that investigation. It’s quite complicated. He will also have to deal with the fact his family will be in danger. He wasn’t waiting for this and it becomes really tough.”

The DNA of The Missing is there in the nature of the investigation, with Tom Hollander’s character, Edward, searching for his niece, even though there is a new story and setting. Karyo adds about Edward: “He’s a character with a lot of shadows that Baptiste feels empathy for but at the same time, he doesn’t really understand where he’s coming from, so Baptiste will have to understand what’s at stake for him.”

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