Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Bye bye Bosch

Michael Connelly, author of the Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer book series, tells DQ about how the dramas based on both have affected by the coronavirus outbreak and his hopes for the final season of Bosch.

As one of Amazon Prime Video’s first original series, detective drama Bosch laid the foundations for the retail giant’s streaming service when it first launched in 2014. Now, six years later, work is underway to bring the show to an end after it was renewed for a seventh and final season.

For Michael Connelly, the author of the book series on which the series is based, it’s a bittersweet moment. Because just as Bosch comes to an end, he is also collaborating on a new series based on another of his book series, The Lincoln Lawyer.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the world, however, both shows are now on hold.

“On Bosch, we had been meeting daily [to discuss season seven]. Just a couple of weeks ago, we reached this point where everyone had to start writing the first set of episodes,” Connelly tells DQ from his home in LA. “Meetings together in the writing room had just started to taper off and we were having one meeting a week when all this came down. Writers were already writing their episodes and separating themselves, so it was quite easy to say, ‘Let’s work from home and communicate electronically,’ mostly by emails.

“So it hasn’t been a huge disruption on Bosch, yet. Our goal was to get the episodes written by the end of May, and that could still happen. Then we’ll have these scripts and not know when we can shoot them. The production wasn’t scheduled until the end of July, so hopefully things work out. But as with anyone in any job anywhere, it’s a waiting game to see what happens.”

Michael Connelly (right) with Bosch exec producer Henrik Bastin

Season seven will continue the story of LA detective Harry Bosch, played by Titus Welliver and drawing on novels The Concrete Blonde and The Burning Room, as Bosch and Jerry Edgar (The Wire’s Jamie Hector) pursue two separate perilous investigations that take them to the highest echelons of white-collar crime and the deadly depths of the street-level drug trade. Season six, once again produced by Fabrik Entertainment and distributed by Red Arrow Studios International, launches on April 17.

Meanwhile, the pilot for legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer had been due to begin shooting on March 16, but was pulled due to safety concerns. Coming nine years after a film adaptation of Connelly’s book of the same name fronted by Matthew McConaughey, the series is about Mickey Haller, an iconoclastic idealist who runs his law practice from the back of his Lincoln Town Car as he takes on cases big and small across LA.

“I’ve been spending most of the start of this year in two writing rooms, going to Bosch in the morning and Lincoln Lawyer in the afternoon, and both are now shut down,” Connelly says. “Hopefully, when the world gets well and we get past this, we’ll start again. Right now, nothing’s happening there. Probably in two or three weeks, we’ll reconstitute that writing room unless things go wrong in the world. But still, it’s a TV show. There are levels of seriousness you have to think about. I’m not sure what will happen, but that’s where it was left.”

Connelly describes LA as a microcosm of the world, with all variety of viewpoints about the pandemic. “Some people think it’s not as bad as it seems to be in the media. Others think we should be doing more and sheltering at home. It’s all over the place and it just adds up to a lot of apprehension about what our world’s going to be like in a week, a month, a year,” he says.

“That makes it tough to even concentrate. We’re writing entertainment. How serious should we be about it? That affects me as a writer. Should we be incorporating what’s going on into the show or into my books? I’m constantly thinking about that. There’s a lot of intrusion of seriousness into this life of fiction.”

Bosch centres on detective Harry Bosch, played by Titus Welliver

Regardless, work is still progressing on the final season of Bosch, with Connelly exchanging scripts and notes with the other writers over email, which means it can be hard to replicate the openness of a writers room where they will be spitballing ideas. “You get excited about some stuff, less so about other things. It’s very hard to boil that down to an email,” he says. “Something is lost, so hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re back working together in person.”

But with the end of Bosch on the horizon, Connelly is relaxed about the show concluding. “Obviously it would be wonderful for it to go on for 25 years, both for creative and financial reasons. At the same time, I’m still writing about Bosch in the books, so I have not brought his story to a conclusion on the page. But I’m excited about the idea of writing a season that has a clear ending to the series,” he says.

“It’s going to be eight episodes that will sit on a streaming platform, hopefully forever, and I like the idea it’s not abruptly cut off. We will have written an ending, shot an ending and it will feel complete. There’s something good about that.”

Despite his recent moves into television, Connelly still considers himself a novelist first, with more than 20 Bosch books and five Haller novels published since 1992, as well as many others featuring different main characters. A new Haller novel is also in the works to coincide with the launch of The Lincoln Lawyer on TV.

His day job – and his prolific output – means he has been able to come and go from Bosch as he pleases, but says he has been involved as much as he can be. “I really enjoy it on all levels, particularly the creative camaraderie in the writers room,” he says. “We don’t lose many of our writers; most people have been there the whole time, so it’s a family situation and that expands to the crew and the actors. This will make it bittersweet when it’s all over, but it’s also made it a great ride for seven years. I have only good feelings about it and it resulted in some good TV being made.

The Bosch cast also includes The Wire actor Jamie Hector (second from right)

“It’s a really good show; it’s a very good account of that kind of work, what it does to you and what you get out of it. These goals, I had for my books all along. And when I went into TV, I didn’t want to sacrifice those – and I don’t think we have at all. From my point of view, we’ve accomplished exactly what I hope would happen, so it’s a rare experience and I’m very thankful for it.”

The plan to adapt The Lincoln Lawyer came after Connelly heard of acclaimed showrunner David E Kelley (Ally McBeal, Big Little Eyes)’s interest in bringing the character to television, with 2008 novel The Brass Verdict set to form the basis for season one. Ted Humphrey (Wisdom of the Crowd) will showrun the series.

Haller is based on several lawyers Connelly has known since his days as a crime reporter, first in Florida and then for the LA Times. But the fact The Lincoln Lawyer will air on CBS, a broadcast network, rather than a streaming service such as Amazon won’t make any difference to the storytelling, he adds, pointing to CBS’s ambition to create a serialised story as opposed to having Haller solve a new case each week.

“We’re taking the book and doing very much what we do with Bosch – expanding the world over multiple episodes. In that regard, it’s very similar,” he explains. “We were just gearing up in the last month to start shooting, but the studio postponed everything. It’s very nascent in the arc compared to Bosch, so it’s hard to compare, but if you want to compare writing rooms, it’s very similar, with a goal of the accuracy that’s in the books and bringing that to the TV show. That’s a priority in the writing room and the scripts and outlines that have been produced so far.

Matthew McConaughey in the movie version of Connelly book The Lincoln Lawyer

“The books are entertainment but they also tell it like it is – the wobbly justice system they have here that has a lot of cracks. The stories get to those. It’s a very important series to me. On an authorial level, it’s amazing to me that the books have been successful, a successful movie and now, hopefully, we’ll get a successful TV series out of it. I constantly shake my head and think how lucky I am that I sat in a room for a year and wrote this book and all this has come from it.”

With the pilot now on hold amid the global shutdown over the coronavirus pandemic, the start of production on the full series in July also seems likely to be delayed. But with many people now on lockdown in their own homes, the need for new content has never been greater.

“What’s weird is right now, people need content as they’re in self-isolation,” Connelly concludes. “I have friends say all the time, ‘What is there to watch?’ Bosch is about to drop, it’s a great season. It will entertain people and keep their minds off what is going on in the world a little.

“After this is over, there might be the opposite effect because, when we get the all-clear, people will go outside and won’t be watching their TVs. There are a lot of questions, the main one is when we will be able to proceed with normal life again, and there’s no answer to that right now.”

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Writers unite

Lisa Holdsworth, chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, tells DQ about the union’s plans to support writers amid the coronavirus pandemic, while also questioning how future series might represent current events.

In normal circumstances, Lisa Holdsworth would be in Cardiff, where preproduction on the third season of Sky fantasy drama A Discovery of Witches (pictured above) was scheduled to have started. But these are not ordinary times.

The coronavirus pandemic that has swept around the world has brought almost all aspects of daily life to a standstill and affected workers in every industry. The television business has been no exception, with productions brought to a sudden halt, crews disbanded and projects put on hold – at a time when people ordered to stay indoors are likely to be turning to television more than ever, to keep them informed of the latest developments and to find relief and entertainment in the dramas and comedies to be found on numerous linear channels, catch-up services and streaming platforms.

“I should be in Cardiff working on it but we’re now in our various homes working from there,” writer Holdsworth (Call the Midwife, Midsomer Murders) tells DQ from her home in Leeds. “It’s still a bit uncertain what happens if we can’t go into production in September.

“I have elderly parents who I’m keeping an eye on, so I’m self-isolating more than usual because I need to keep healthy to make sure they’re OK. They’re going to be OK, it’s just keeping them sane. They’re both very gregarious so it’s very frustrating. The worst thing is seeing my colleagues and the devastation and unease at the moment [in the industry], so I’m doing a lot of work with the guild.

“Our amazing staff are all at home working from their kitchen tables, trying to encourage the government to think seriously about how they’ll support freelancers. It feels like the message might finally be getting through, but I’m not going to hold my breath.”

Lisa Holdsworth

Holdsworth is referring to the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) and her role as chair of the trade union, which represents professional writers in TV, film, theatre, radio, books, comedy, poetry, animation and video games. Established in 1959, it seeks to secure better pay and working condition for its members, working with leading industry bodies and broadcasters, while also celebrating their work at an annual awards ceremony.

Uniquely, in circumstances such as these, writers are largely able to carry on, whether they are writing scripts, participating in virtual writers rooms or developing new material. But Holdsworth says the atmosphere among members is “very fearful” following the shutdown of almost all television production, including long-running British soaps such as EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

“And quite rightly,” she adds. “You can’t have a production where people socially isolate or use social distancing. There’s a feeling if the tide doesn’t turn in 12 weeks as [British prime minister] Boris Johnson promised, what happens then?

“There are so many unknowns; nothing is settled. As an industry, we’re pretty used to short-term contracts and a bit of uncertainty, but there’s a lot more uncertainty than we’re used to.”

The guild’s first response to the crisis was to put a page on its website listing a host of possible resources for its members. A welfare fund is also available for those who have been members for more than two years and find themselves in financial difficulty.

“We have also put up resources for protecting your mental health. That is going to be a very serious matter we have to address over the coming months,” Holdsworth says. “A lot of people will struggle as we isolate. We’re very social animals. There’s a section on campaigning and how to write to your MP asking them to protect freelancers. There’s stuff about how to get involved in your local community if you do have time on your hands and want to get involved in helping other people. We’re updating that daily.”

The WGGB is also in talks with broadcasters, independent production trade body Pact and various theatre agencies about how best to support writers who have suddenly found themselves out of work, with the possibility that life may not return to normal for several months.

“But mainly making sure that, hopefully, when things do get back to normal, we are able to support our members,” she says. “There’s a bit of a lag at the moment in terms of individual casework. We are bolstering ourselves ready for a bit of an onslaught when things become a bit clearer, but we will be there. We take on contract vetting, and at the end of the phone we have regional representatives and craft representatives [for different groups of writers] across the industry, so we are ready when people need us.”

Season two of Gentleman Jack is on hold because of the pandemic

Support that could be necessary in the future includes legal assistance if programmes caught up in the production shutdown end up permanently shelved, or if people are not rehired when business does resume. The WGGB is also preparing to campaign for greater government assistance for the arts to make sure theatres don’t close and that training schemes and opportunities don’t dry up either.

Holdsworth is particularly concerned that the fallout from the pandemic will have a severe effect on diversity and access to the industry for people of underprivileged or underrepresented backgrounds and communities. “We have to make sure that’s not the case, because we were doing good work,” she says. “We were getting progress on that, and my fear is this will mean it evaporates.”

Front of mind for Holdsworth and the WGGB is also supporting freelance workers, whose work may have dried up amid concerns about paying rent and looking after their children. As many as 600,000 staff on temporary or zero-hour contracts have been affected  across Europe, according to the European Producers Club, while the British Film Institute and the Film & TV Charity have partnered to create an emergency relief fund for workers in the UK.

The British government is now looking at ways to support this branch of workers as well as the self-employed, with further announcements promised by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

This is an area the union has addressed “over and over again,” Holdsworth says. “What may be interesting is if there is more government support for freelancers and a better understanding of how many people, across the country, are working in the gig economy and on a freelance basis. Then we can hopefully get some improvement for freelance workers. I feel like we are going to get a response but, good grief, they’re dragging their feet over it and it’s enormously frustrating. I wish they could understand the stress and worry it’s causing freelance workers.”

As conversations with broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and Netflix continue, Holdsworth says union staff will be talking to people to find out how they have been affected and ensuring their advice to members is constantly updated.

The sixth run of Line of Duty has also had to halt production

“But this is an extraordinary time to be the chair of the writers’ guild,” she says. “Thank goodness for our incredible staff, who are doing an enormous amount of fact-finding. We will formulate hopefully some more practical things to do when the shape of what we’re walking into becomes clearer.”

Holdsworth predicts facilities and crew shortages when production does gear up again, with workers such as grips, camera operators and designers suddenly finding themselves in huge demand. Writers may also face a bottleneck, with restarted productions taking priority over new commissions. Line of Duty season six and the second season of Gentleman Jack are just two British series that have been forced into hiatus, as well as the soaps, which usually dominate evening schedules with multiple episodes each week.

“We’ve got to make sure people appreciate how long this might take,” she continues. “It’s not going to be a click of the fingers and things go back to normal overnight. There’s going to be a massive period of adjustment.”

Meanwhile, there remains the creative question of how writers will respond to the coronavirus pandemic in their work, and whether viewers can expect to see a rise in the number of dystopian dramas being pitched in the future.

“Any writer worth their salt is thinking, ‘How would I dramatise this?’ We might have had enough of dystopian [dramas] – it all feels a bit Walking Dead anyway,” Holdsworth adds. “It will be interesting to see where the public taste goes. There will always be a section [of the audience] that wants to see the darkest side of this timeline. But I do wonder if there’s a chance for us to examine ourselves a little bit and maybe reflect it in comedy and some lighter drama, about two people trapped in a flat together, self-isolating.

“It is already very strange watching television programmes where people are blithely walking into the pub, shaking hands, snogging and all that kind of thing. It’s really weird. It’s like watching something set in summer at Christmas. It all feels a bit odd and oddly nostalgic, but I’m sure we’ll get back to normal at some point.”

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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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Dramatic downturn

In the first part of a focus on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on television drama productions, DQ speaks to three leading producers and writers to find out how they have been affected as filming around the world is put on hold.

In the grand scheme of things, how soon a new television drama will be aired is of little consequence as the world sits in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. But like most industries, the future of the TV business, as well as those who work in it, is uncertain. With productions around the world shut down, cast and crew have seen their jobs – and incomes – put on hold, without any idea when they might be able to resume work.

“We predict a lot of things coming along to scupper these projects, but none of us saw this one coming,” admits Simon Crawford Collins, MD of Slim Film+Television and the executive producer of a new eight-part adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

The series was three weeks into production on location in South Africa, after which it had been due to move onto Romania and other locations worldwide. And until the end of last week, the crew were confident they would be able to wrap this portion of the schedule before closing down. Then, in the space of 48 hours, everything changed and production halted immediately.

Simon Crawford Collins

“Six weeks ago when I first went to South Africa, they were doing temperature checks of everybody who came into the airport, which is way more than is happening at [London] Heathrow now because nobody checked me when I got back in,” Crawford Collins says. “We were hoping we’d get that part done and it would be one bit in the bag, and then we’d have a bit of a hiatus and push on to the next. But it’s amazing the speed with which things can change.”

The team is now planning to resume production as soon as it is safe to do so, with the majority of the cast luckily having some space in their schedules that should mean filming can continue with all the main players on set.

“We’re also trying to dig in and work out the best ways of storing thousands of costumes, because it’s a big period piece and we’ve got offices all set up [in South Africa],” the producer tells DQ. “It’s like the Marie Celeste when people walk out, but we’re trying to do it in as controlled and careful manner and so that it’s ready to get going again as quickly as possible.”

Conversations are now taking place about rebooking hotel rooms, studios and location owners so that everyone can return later in the year and pick up where they left off.

“Contracts generally don’t really cover this sort of eventuality, it’s not something that people have been prepared for,” Crawford Collins adds. “What we’re trying to do, though, is just talk to people as human beings in desperate circumstances, and to work out the best way of resolving the situations and planning for the next step.”

Around the World in Eighty Days stars Good Omens’ David Tennant as explorer Phileas Fogg, who travels the globe alongside his valet, Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), and aspiring journalist Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch). Federation Entertainment is distributing the series, which will air on European pubcasters France Télévisions, ZDF (Germany), Rai (Italy) and the BBC (UK).

Around the World in Eighty Days stars David Tennant (pictured in Netflix’s Criminal)

Locations in South Africa are doubling for the deserts of Yemen, the hill villages of India, the bustling colonial court of Hong Kong and a desert island in the Pacific, while a set has been constructed to replicate the interior of the Reform Club in London’s prestigious Pall Mall. Sets for India and Hong Kong are now lying dormant, with 16 weeks of shooting still to be completed.

“Because it’s an 1872-set road trip, there are lots of locations within each episode. So there are lots of different sets, and there’s a mix of exterior locations and studio builds and then builds within locations. It’s definitely the most complicated thing I’ve ever done,” Crawford Collins says. “So to throw in a pandemic on top of that, it’s a little cherry on the top of complexity. For all of the people on the crew, it’s presented a whole host of challenges we’ve not had to deal with before, and maybe that’s made us quite resilient. I’m sure we will get through this one.”

Meanwhile, production has also stopped on the second season of BBC crime drama The Mallorca Files, after the Spanish government imposed a lockdown on its residents. International cast and crew were able to leave the Balearic island and have all returned home safely, with six episodes filmed and four to go.

The story follows a British police officer who joins forces with a wise-cracking German detective to fight crime on the picturesque island.

Dan Sefton

“Mallorca was nearly all location so, from a practical point of view, it just stops,” writer Dan Sefton says of the shutdown. “This has been a global problem so no one has been immune, literally. It makes no difference. Every domestic [UK] show has closed down as well. But as quickly as this has all shut down, and it’s been quite a shock for everybody, we have to be prepared that, as soon as it’s safe, it will start up again as quickly as is practical. That’s what people should be making plans for.”

Sefton is also in development on a third season of The Mallorca Files, while also preparing a potential fourth season of ITV’s India-set medical drama The Good Karma Hospital, which recently returned for its third run. All that work is continuing as normal, he says, though there are more video meetings and conference calls over Skype and Zoom than there would have been otherwise.

While broadcasters are looking at their schedules and deciding their own plans, Sefton says writers should be using their time to come up with new series that could shape the television landscape in the next couple of years.

“Writers spend a lot of time working on stuff that’s been commissioned. Having that freedom to work on something completely on spec is quite liberating, as long as you’ve got money coming in, which is another consideration for people,” he explains. “That’s the only silver lining I can think of. Writers can have fun writing things they’ve always wanted to write and then, hopefully, in two years’ time we might get some really interesting shows coming out of it.”

However, the former doctor is also preparing to put those plans on hold should his medical skills be required to help the fight against the pandemic. “I have volunteered to go back but I haven’t heard anything. Because I live in [English county] Somerset, we haven’t been badly affected yet, but I have volunteered to help when I can. I might be working while everyone else is writing.”

The Mallorca Files was filming on the titular island before it went into lockdown

Another show to close following a six-month shoot, leaving it just 12 days away from wrapping production, is Sky drama Intergalactic. The action sci-fi drama, set in the 23rd century, follows a crew of fierce female convicts who break free and go on in the run in space. It is written by Julie Gearey (Prisoners’ Wives).

The series closed down on Wednesday, halfway through the final filming block. Despite precautions being taken up to that point, it quickly became clear they weren’t going to finish as scheduled.

“People started to get anxious and needed to get home. You can’t really stage a scene with loads of extras in it if the government says you need to keep away from people,” says executive producer Frith Tiplady, co-founder of producer Moonage Pictures, which was also behind Sky’s dystopian street-race series Curfew. “It’s been really tough making the decision. We’ve gone on hiatus and we’re still deciding how long that hiatus needs to be.

“Weirdly, you’re left in a strange world where your cast is covered [by insurance] if they have got it [the virus], but they haven’t got it, yet the right thing to do is to shut down. That leaves huge financial exposure. The broadcasters are being amazing and very supportive about each decision but it’s a bit strange, really, and I really feel for all the freelancers. Suddenly they’re in this situation. It’s horrendous.”

Frith Tiplady

The decision to shut down was made on Monday, when production was out on location. Sets stopped being built and the de-rigging of existing sets began quicker than originally planned. The challenge now is deciding when to come back, while trying to ensure there is enough crew available if, as expected, many part-finished and new productions kick back into gear at the same time.

Moonage is also in pre-production on BBC miniseries The Pursuit of Love, starring Lily James in Emily Mortimer’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s novel trilogy set between the two world wars. Development work continues apace with weekly meetings held online, but Tiplady wonders whether broadcasters and other elements of the industry will continue to engage during this uncertain period, with planning only able to progress so far before key decisions need to be made.

“We can keep developing, it’s just [about] how much business can carry forward,” she says. “I think it can. It will slow down a little bit because people don’t know how much money they’ve got to spend and when they can produce things. Maybe that will become clear in the next few months.

“In post production, we’re editing remotely, everyone’s gone home and has got their computers and we’re still editing. That process is really working. But then can we grade remotely? Can we do ADR remotely? To a certain extent, yes, but undoubtedly it’s going to slow the process. Intergalactic’s got a lot of CG. It might change work/life patterns in a good way going forward, you never know.”

What’s not in doubt is that cast and crew who have lost their jobs overnight have been hit hard by the fallout from the ongoing pandemic, while questions of insurance, financing and when productions might hope to restart are still up in the air – and perhaps some time from being answered.

“Their salaries have stopped overnight so that’s the biggest casualty. As an industry, how we can support them?” Tiplady asks of the hundreds of people who collaborate to bring television dramas to the screen. “That’s the biggest concern. Crew and cast are the lifeblood.”

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