Tag Archives: Lookout Point

Hold the front page

Journalists from two competing newspapers go head-to-head in Doctor Foster creator Mike Bartlett’s latest BBC1 drama, Press. DQ went on set to speak to the writer, executive producer Faith Penhale and the cast about this examination of the fourth estate.

Unusually for a national tabloid newspaper, the floor of The Post is quiet and still. Computer screens are turned off and chairs sit empty beneath large signs displaying the publication’s bright red masthead.

In the next room, however, dozens of extras are lining up, ready to take their places on the set of Mike Bartlett’s new drama, Press. Set in the fast-paced and challenging environment of the British newspaper industry, the series aims to explore the personal lives and constant professional dilemmas facing journalists as they attempt to balance work and play amid the never-ending pressure of the 24-hour global news cycle and an industry in turmoil.

Mike Bartlett

On one side are the employees of The Post, a traditional tabloid newspaper known for entertainment and scandal, while on the other are those working for The Herald, a left-leaning broadsheet. When The Post moves into new offices directly opposite The Herald, these two groups of journalists and the newspapers they represent are thrown into direct conflict.

The six-part series is produced by Lookout Point, BBC Studios and Deep Indigo for BBC1, and coproduced with PBS strand Masterpiece in the US. BBC Studios is handling international distribution.

Bartlett, best known for BBC1 drama Doctor Foster, says he had wanted to write about newspapers and the press for a long time, describing the newsroom as “the ideal place for a drama.” He reveals he first pitched the idea 10 years ago, but since then the phone-hacking scandal and subsequent Leveson Inquiry in the UK have brought the operations of newspapers and journalists into sharper focus. And in the age of Donald Trump and so-called ‘fake news,’ the press is arguably under greater scrutiny than ever.

It was a meeting four years ago with executive producer Faith Penhale, joint CEO and creative director of Lookout Point, that finally put Press into development.

“What is interesting about that is the show was initially about a quite stable industry but, over the course of researching and writing this, it became a story about an industry that is changing rapidly, and no one knows what is going to happen to it,” Bartlett explains, seated one floor above the set built inside a former office block on a north London industrial estate. “As a dramatist, it’s a wonderful world for drama because you have got new people coming in, new ways of doing things, and you have got older people who have been there a long time and are worried about losing a sense of what it used to be.”

Ben Chaplin plays Duncan Allen, editor of The Post

During his research, Bartlett visited the offices of UK publications The Guardian, The Sun, The Independent and the London Evening Standard, which he says both matched and confounded his expectations. He then sat down to write.

“I got a real sense of vocation from most people I spoke to, even if it was buried underneath a load of having a hard day and being really busy,” he says. “People on all different desks in the newsroom had a real belief in what it was doing, whether it was for entertainment or revolution and political change. So the show, on one hand, is a workplace drama where people sleep together and fall out and make friends and do all the things you would expect, but I also said from the start that the stories have to come from the world of journalism. If could you tell the same story in a world set in a hairdressers then it wasn’t the right story.”

Bartlett and Penhale go to great lengths to stress that Press is an entirely fictional drama, despite the echoes of real-life publications – The Post could easily be The Sun, while  The Herald surely doubles for The Guardian – and say the show doesn’t put their own personal views on the screen, despite Bartlett admitting he’s a “leftie, Guardian-reading writer.”

“We’re telling stories in this world and hopefully showing all the highs and lows and everyday dilemmas and huge, life-changing dilemmas. It’s got everything in there but it’s entirely created,” Penhale says. “We certainly don’t shy away from the emotional drama within the stories and within the characters as they face certain challenges. Emotions run high and things can get quite punchy as a result.”

Ben Chaplin (Apple Tree Yard) plays Duncan Allen, the charismatic editor of The Post. “It was a fun role,” Chaplin says when he’s asked what attracted him to the part. “He’s a little bit amoral, which probably helps in that line of work, if tabloid editors will forgive me. He’s very persistent, he never gives up – like he’s an irresistible force.”

Poirot star David Suchet as newspaper owner George Emmerson

That means Duncan isn’t afraid of employing some “pretty shocking” tactics to get the story he wants. “I don’t think he has a lot of qualms about how you get a story, or any at all actually,” Chaplin says, referring to the ‘dark arts’ used by journalists in search of a scoop.

But to the actor, the vibe of a newsroom is rather like being in a theatre company: “There’s this camaraderie but there’s healthy competition as well. It reminded me a little bit of being shipmates, like you’re on the same ship.”

Duncan also comes under pressure to increase readership – and revenue – from The Post’s owner, George Emmerson, played by Poirot star David Suchet.

Having played a real-life newspaper proprietor before in Maxwell, a 2007 biopic about the late media magnate Robert Maxwell, Suchet was keen to avoid any links to real-life figures this time. “When I was offered the role, I said, ‘I don’t want to play [The Sun owner Rupert] Murdoch, I just want to play the character that is in the script,’ and Mike has trodden a very good line. You are not supposed to link him at all. It doesn’t feel thinly veiled and I was very keen to not put on any accents or anything.”

In the wake of recent movies such as Spotlight and The Post, Suchet believes now is a good time for TV to tackle the newspaper world. “It’s like courtroom drama,” he notes. “There have been great films in Hollywood about the press and journalism; it’s great drama and there are great characters.”

Press also stars Charlotte Riley as a journalist for The Herald

In the hands of Bartlett, that meant Press was a series Suchet couldn’t turn down: “He is the only writer, and Doctor Who [2017 episode Knock Knock, written by Bartlett] was the only programme, I have ever said yes to without reading the script. Mike’s scripts are possibly the finest scripts in media today, whether on television or film.

“When I got this script to do, it was just so good, and the relationship between my character and Duncan is really clever. It’s good dialogue. It’s really zingy. There’s nothing cliched about his writing at all. It’s very good. I think it’s going to be a very classy piece of television.”

On another day, DQ is at Three Mills Studios in east London, home to the set of The Herald, where Charlotte Riley (Peaky Blinders, Close to the Enemy) plays the broadsheet’s deputy news editor Holly Evans. Principled and passionate, she’s dedicated to journalism and it’s through her that viewers will see the personal cost of working in the industry.

“Her career has come at the expense of her personal life. She’s pretty lonely,” Riley says. “She has colleagues that she gets on well with. But the loneliness she experiences is outside the office. She lives to work – being in the office brings her to life. It’s her raison d’être. It’s quite sad that as soon as she walks through those doors, she breathes again. Being on her own she has to deal with her demons.

“What attracted me to the role is that she’s fast-thinking but the cogs turn very slowly emotionally. It’s a very detailed emotional arc for her. That was nice to play – it’s not driven by falling in love.”

Riley previously worked with Bartlett on King Charles III, the writer’s BBC2 adaptation of his successful stage play. “Coming from a theatre background, Mike and I have weekly conversations about the things we’re shooting and what’s coming up,” she admits. “It’s wonderful to have access like that to discuss every character and what’s going on and why.

“Shooting TV these days is so quick; you don’t get to be as immersed as you’d like. For most actors, mainly your training is theatre. We had a two-week rehearsal period, which is unheard of,” Riley adds. “I just really like his work, the way he writes. His characters are great.”

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Fashion show

The cast of Amazon’s latest release, The Collection, open the doors to the fashion house drama.

Actors signing on to appear in a period drama can usually expect to be transported into another world by the costumes they have to wear. But that claim has never been more valid than it is for The Collection, a stylish drama set in a haute couture fashion house in 1940s Paris.

The series stars Richard Coyle, Tom Riley and Mamie Gummer in the story of an illustrious fashion house emerging from the dark days of the Occupation. Brothers Paul and Claude, played by Coyle and Riley respectively, are at the heart of the family saga, which threatens to expose the grit behind the glamour of the business they, their family and employees all work in.

Frances de la Tour, Alix Poisson, Jenna Thiam and Irène Jacob complete the main cast.

“The costumes are amazing,” says Coyle, best known for roles in Covert Affairs and Crossbones. “I had to travel to Paris to be fitted to have suits made – I’ve never had suits made before. Even though the legs were far too wide for my tastes, they were beautiful suits – and Mamie’s worn some incredible things.”

Oliver Goldstick
Oliver Goldstick

Gummer, who plays Paul’s American ex-wife, continues: “Our designer Chattoune is a genius. Her scope and her appreciation for every single element and character is so specific and, for me, a costume fitting is always so informative and I’ve learned so much about my character, Helen, through that process.”

There was more to the appeal of starring in The Collection than just the costumes, however. Created by Oliver Goldstick (Ugly Betty), the series is set in a time when France is recovering from the Second World War – a period that Gummer (Emily Owens MD) says was brought to life immediately in the scripts.

“It was so engaging and I felt really pulled in by it,” she explains. “When I was done reading it, I wanted more. It was so clear from the outset that Oliver was so passionate and so well informed about every aspect of this time and of the characters – he worked on it for nearly a decade. Whenever you sign on to a television project, when you’re only given a couple of scripts to read, it is a bit of a leap of faith but I just sensed that we were in very good hands.”

Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons) picks up: “It was really visceral and there’s an element of it that, despite being a fashion show, felt kind of ugly, which was appealing. The darkness behind it, just beneath the surface, is very appealing as far as a world that seems so shiny but all that glitters is not gold.

“It all starts from the script and if the script is great, it makes your job a lot easier. It’s like driving a really nice car – it makes it easier to do your thing on top. If you’re polishing a turd, it makes your job a bit harder but thankfully they’re brilliant scripts.”

The actor is also full of praise for director Dearbhla Walsh, who he says shared the same passion for The Collection as Goldstick. “Dearbhla was the perfect backup because she was very excitable and cared very deeply about the project and had strong opinions,” he explains. “Even if you don’t always agree with them, it’s always nice to have someone who clearly knows what they want. You can disagree but at least you can trust someone has a vision for the show. It makes you feel safer about slipping up.”

The Collection is set in post-Occupation Paris
The Collection is set in post-Occupation Paris

The story plays on the traditional upstairs-downstairs dynamics often found in period drama by splitting the fashion house into front-of-house and backstage areas.

“There’s a place where it’s all elegance and then there’s backstage where it’s catty and there’s a lot going on,” Riley reveals. “It’s something I don’t think has been done before; I don’t think anybody’s really opened the doors on a fashion house and said, ‘This is what it’s like.’ It’s an interesting backdrop. It’s like another character, this sense of having just come out of this incredibly shameful period of French history – it’s so fresh. Everyone’s reeling and trying to recover from it.”

Speaking to the trio, it’s clear they have an affinity for each other as well as the show they’re working on – a relationship they say came very naturally and easily to them.

Coyle reveals he first met Riley in a Starbucks just before the first script read-through: “It was a fateful meeting. I feel like we immediately slipped into an easy working relationship.”

Riley continues: “The first scene we shot was very indicative of the brothers’ relationship. I was in the bath, getting completely naked while your brother just sits on the toilet chatting to you. It really said a lot about their relationship very quickly.

Much of the action was shot in Wales
Huge stages were built in Wales to accommodate the elaborate sets

“It showed a great deal of confidence from the producers in our abilities to do that kind of thing on the first day. Similarly, the first couple of days with Mamie were crazy. They gave us our biggest, most fraught emotional scenes. Normally they let you get a feel for it but they were just like, ‘Here you go.’ But we got through it. There was a lot of generosity and goodwill and care. It’s hard when you’re thrown those tough scenes straight off the bat and everybody’s getting used to everybody else. It’s really tricky to pull that stuff on early on.”

Gummer, Meryl Streep’s eldest daughter, adds: “It was really like a sink or swim. It was good because people are essentially trying to survive, they’re trying to make their love endure, they’re trying to keep their families together, they’re trying to stay afloat.”

It’s not just the costumes that help transport the actors to post-war Paris but the sets as well. Although exterior shots were filmed in the French capital, huge stages were built in Wales to accommodate the sets.

Coyle says: “The production is amazing, the sets are brilliant. When you walk into the sets they’re just beautiful. It helps immensely to be able to transport yourself to where you’re meant to be.”

Gummer continues: “It’s like walking through a wardrobe. You see evidence of the ravages of war, contrasted to the stark determination to rebuild and beautify life again.

Produced by Lookout Point, Artis Pictures and MFP, the eight-part series is executive produced by Goldstick, Anne Thomopoulos, Pascal Breton for French production partner Federation Entertainment, and Kate Croft. BBC Worldwide is handling international sales.

The Collection has been picked up by both France Télévisions and Amazon, which is set to launch it on September 2.

“It’s clear they care and they want to make a big splash with it,” Riley says of the SVoD platform. “The one thing that’s very different about streaming services, it seems, is they’re more confident. Despite the fact it’s a coproduction where so many people have an opinion that it ends up being produced by committee, they seem to have a lot more faith in the showrunner, saying, ‘Go and do your thing.’”

Gummer concludes: “It seems they grant a lot more artistic freedom, which is a great vote of confidence and that trickles down – the trust they place in Oliver that he’s then handed down to us. You can feel a real ownership of it, which is great.”

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Le Carré and Les Misérables in le news

John Le Carré's works have proved popular among TV producers
John Le Carré’s works have proved popular among TV producers

UK producers have carved out a strong reputation for sophisticated high-end dramas that travel well internationally – and a number of new scripted projects announced this week should further enhance the industry’s reputation.

Pick of the bunch is The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, a new John Le Carré adaptation from The Ink Factory, the company behind acclaimed BBC1/AMC coproduction The Night Manager – also a Le Carré adaptation.

The new production will be penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) but has yet to be placed with a broadcaster. Stephen Garrett’s new indie Character 7 will assist with financing and production, while Paramount Worldwide Television Licensing and Distribution has already been lined up to handle distribution of the series outside of the UK.

Regarded as one of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold follows a British intelligence operative who seeks revenge on the East German intelligence service deputy director responsible for the death of one of his agents. It was written in 1963 and adapted into an acclaimed film in 1965.

Meanwhile, the BBC, The Weinstein Company and Lookout Point are moving forward with a new TV series based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which until now has been best known to most people as a musical/musical film. Andrew Davies, who worked with the BBC, TWC and Lookout Point on an epic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, will write what is expected to be a six-part miniseries.

The 2012 film version of Les Misérables
The 2012 film version of Les Misérables

Commenting on the project, he said: “Les Misérables is a huge, iconic title. Most of us are familiar with the musical version, which only offers a fragmentary outline of its story. I am thrilled to have the opportunity of doing real justice to Victor Hugo by adapting his masterpiece in a six-hour version for the BBC, with the same team who made War and Peace.”

Also coming out of the UK this week is news of a planned adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ classic mystery story The Moonstone by the BBC. Described by TS Eliot as “the first and greatest of English Detective novels,” The Moonstone sees adventurer Franklin Blake attempting to solve the disappearance of the priceless Moonstone and win back Rachel Verinder, his true love.

The Moonstone will broadcast over five consecutive afternoons on BBC1, and is made in association with BBC Learning as part of the BBC’s #LoveToRead campaign.

It is being adapted for the screen by Rachel Flowerday (Father Brown, EastEnders) and Sasha Hails (Versailles, Casualty) and made by King Bert Productions.

Dan McGolpin, controller of BBC daytime and early peak, said: “The Moonstone spawned a new genre: the detective novel. Its influence endures to the present day, in books and on television. With the help of BBC Learning, we are offering BBC1 viewers the chance to see this gripping story play out across five afternoons. Our viewers are in for a treat.”

The Five writer Harlan Coben is now working on The Four
The Five writer Harlan Coben is now working on The Four

Still in the UK, pay TV channel Sky1 has ordered a second crime drama from author Harlan Coben and Red Production Company.

The new show, The Four, will be an eight-part thriller that tells the story of an idyllic family community irrevocably shattered by secrets, lies, suspicions and misguided trust. It follows on from Coben’s first original story for TV, The Five, which debuted in April on Sky1. As with The Five, the idea for The Four will be provided by Coben but the script will be written by Danny Brocklehurst.

Red CEO and founder Nicola Shindler said: “When Harlan told me about the premise for his latest story, I knew it would be just as addictive viewing as The Five. As with all his work, it is utterly intriguing, totally immersive and completely character-driven.”

Coben added: “I never wanted to make a sequel to The Five – that story has now been told – but rather to start afresh and bring a whole new crime drama to the screen. Working with Nicola and Sky again was essential to ensure that, creatively, The Four is brought to life in the way that we have imagined.”

Meanwhile, in the US, NBC has commissioned a true crime scripted series that will form part of its hugely successful Law & Order franchise. Law & Order: True Crime – The Menendez Murders will follow the real-life case of Lyle and Erik Menendez, the brothers convicted of murdering their parents in 1996.

The Mendendez brothers were convicted of murdering their parents
The Mendendez brothers were convicted of murdering their parents

The show is the first in a planned anthology series that will follow real-life criminal cases in a similar style to FX’s American Crime Story. Rene Balcer, who has played a central role in the development of Law & Order, will write and show the new spin-off, which is expected to consist of eight parts.

As we noted in our last column, the entertainment industry has been busy with San Diego Comic-Con for the last few days. Increasingly the event is viewed by studios an important platform for news about the future for TV shows.

Pay TV channel Syfy, for example, announced that it is bringing back Wynonna Earp for a second season, while Netflix revealed there will be a third season of its Marvel series Daredevil. There were also reports at Comic-Con that Netflix will provide a home for a reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a 1980s/1990s comedy series that has been brought back to life thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Comic-Con also threw up rumours that Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood may return. The show’s star John Barrowman said: “I have a phone conversation on Monday to see how we can get it back on television. The fans know me well enough, I’m only going to say it if I mean it and believe it.”

John Barrowman in Torchwood, which he says could return
John Barrowman in Torchwood, which he says could return

Away from Comic-Con, USA Network is reported to be developing a drama series set centred on a bodybuilding gym with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The show, which has a working title of Muscle Beach, will be based in LA’s Venice Beach during the 1980s. CBS is also reported to be working on a Venice Beach-set bodybuilding drama called Pump with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Konyves.

Finally, in Asia, HBO has started production on a Chinese original series called The Psychic. The show, which has been developed by HBO Asia in partnership with Taiwanese broadcaster Public Television Service (PTS) and Singaporean production company InFocus Asia centres on a teenage girls who can see spirits.

Jonathan Spink, CEO of HBO Asia, said: “Asia’s rich diversity offers inspiration for countless of stories waiting to be told and local talents to be discovered. Through collaborating with PTS and remarkable talents in Taiwan to increase our production of local-language content, HBO Asia is perfectly placed to bring our creative spin to The Psychic for regional audiences.” The series will be shot in Taiwan and aired by HBO Asia in 23 territories.

Jessie Shih, director of international at PTS, added: “I am very happy to announce PTS’s first collaboration with HBO Asia on their first Chinese original series, also their first Taiwan series, working with a young and upcoming local team, bridging the gap between television and film with the talented mix of crew and actors. Cultivating local young talents and helping them to connect with the international industry is PTS’s top priority. I believe this HBO/PTS collaboration, in partnership with IFA, will lead the local Taiwanese industry to greater heights.”

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The Collection: style and substance come together in new drama

Post-war fashion drama The Collection is setting up shop at Amazon and France 3. DQ hears from the creative team about their designs for this UK-France coproduction.

Period drama will dress up in high-end fashion for a new series set in post-war Paris in the aftermath of the Occupation. The Collection follows two brothers who run a haute couture business in the French capital in 1947, with storylines exposing internal rivalries, betrayals and the grit and treachery behind the glamour.

The cast is headed by Richard Coyle and Tom Riley as brothers Paul and Claude Sabine, with Frances de la Tour as their mother Yvette, Mamie Gummer as Paul’s American wife Helen and Jenna Thiam, who plays Nina, the working-class daughter of the chief seamstress who becomes the iconic face of the fashion label.

But behind the scenes, the show could also become a template for the way international coproductions are made in the future.

Oliver Goldstick
Oliver Goldstick

Showrunner Oliver Goldstick (Ugly Betty) says The Collection was born when he visited a museum exhibition about the golden age of couture during a trip to London.

“It was delicious and visually arresting on so many levels but I also knew there was something more to uncover,” he explains. “So I set out to write a story about a fictitious fashion house. I particularly imagined a saga about a family that’s bound not only by blood. Some of them are linked by sheer trauma from the war and all are bonded by their passion for couture and national pride. It occurred to me this was not a show so much about fashion but about transformation and reinvention and revival.”

Goldstick says post-war Paris was chosen specifically as the show’s setting as he was fascinated by the impact and aftermath of the Second World War on the city.

“It’s a crucible of a lot of potential drama. Our show centres upon a thorny relationship between two brothers – one who undresses women with his eyes and the other who dresses them in something much better.

“Here was a world where it’s not so much what they’re wearing but what they’re covering up. Everybody’s got a secret. Everybody’s got a life that no one else knows about. We are putting together a very special show. It’s the most exciting project I’ve ever been involved with.”

Goldstick partnered with executive producer Kate Croft’s Artis Pictures and War and Peace producer Lookout Point to help develop the project, with backing from distributor BBC Worldwide.

The Collection
The Collection: ‘It’s fast-paced, witty and it’s got an edge to it’

Lookout Point CEO Simon Vaughan says he was keen to attack a big period drama with a very modern voice. “It’s fast-paced, witty and it’s got an edge to it,” he says of The Collection. “The marriage of that and big period drama felt fresh and interesting. And the idea of something set in Paris, shot in English but for a global audience just felt like the kind of thing Lookout Point would be good at putting together.”

The Collection boasts a creative team that notably includes celebrated costume designers Chattoune & Fab, director Dearbhla Walsh (Penny Dreadful), producer Selwyn Roberts (Parade’s End) and production designer Alison Dominitz.

Bringing to the project her experience on series including Versailles, Borgia and Camelot is exec producer Anne Thomopoulos, who also oversaw shows such as Rome and Generation Kill when she was an executive at HBO.

“I love period drama, and the post-war period is really interesting to me, having worked on Band of Brothers, so the aftermath – being able to do something from a ground’s eye view of the common man in Paris in post-war – is fascinating,” she says. “Fashion also has a tendency to be perceived as very frivolous. People have tried multiple times to develop and produce fashion projects and that frivolity always seems to come through. Oliver and Kate really found a way to tell the story where there’s a human face to everything and there’s an overlay of fashion.”

Simon Vaughan
Simon Vaughan

If there were any fears that The Collection would put style before story, Croft insists that the fashion setting is only ever a vehicle through which to tell “human stories.”

“We have this wonderful crucible of drama with the family,” she says. “Then you get that incredible layering in the very particular detail of how the costumes are put together, how that couture was made, how that atelier is put together. So hopefully there’s joy in those moments of detail, but it’s not just about the button being sewn on.”

Behind the camera, the series has been put together with as much precision as a Dior dress. Building on Goldstick and Croft’s vision, Lookout Point partnered with French production company Federation Entertainment to produce the series, which has been picked up by Amazon and France 3. It will be coproduced by France Télévisions production arm MFP.

For Vaughan, The Collection represents an increasingly common way of bringing series to air – rather than winning a broadcaster commission, the show is greenlit by the studio before channels, in this case Amazon and France 3, licence it. He describes the partnership as a tapestry between a global SVoD player, a distributor and broadcaster. “Instead of thinking SVoD is taking the show off the table, we’re asking what rights does Amazon need and working out on a country-by-country level how we maximise the value of the show so broadcasters and other platforms can co-exist with Amazon.

“It’s about looking at each market in an intricate way and being intelligent about how you fit those platforms together. That’s at the heart of this deal and that’s at the heart of this business story in terms of the future of dynamically financed drama and it’s bloody complicated.”

Following in the footsteps of series such as The Tunnel and The Last Panthers (both for Sky Atlantic and Canal+), The Collection is part of a new wave of “miracle” UK-France coproductions, says Federation founder Pascal Breton: “The Collection is even more of a miracle because it’s British producers bringing to the world a French topic. It’s good for the industry in France, of course. It’s really exciting because we are learning together to build this new model of international coproductions. It’s not easy, but it’s really great when we manage it.”

The Collection
The series is set in post-war Paris and focuses on the high-end fashion industry

Amazon UK film and TV strategy director Chris Bird says he was drawn to The Collection by the quality of the writing and the ambition behind the project: “It’s a prestigious, dramatic, glamorous television show and when it was first presented to us, it was very clear that Simon could have made this show with anybody, any major broadcaster in the UK or around the world, and that if we wanted to participate we had to move quickly.

“We were able to create a new structure for our involvement that allowed us to come on board at a very early stage. We have tremendously high hopes for it. It’s going to be big. Everything from the costume design – the couture – to the set design and cinematography is going to be of an extremely high standard and, from our customers’ perspective, it’s another example of very high-quality drama we’ll be bringing them this year.”

Filming for The Collection began at the end of January 2016, with Parisian streets created on an expansive studio backlot in Wales to complement exteriors filmed on location.

“We’re doing a very ambitious studio build to create our atelier, both downstairs and up, because that doesn’t exist,” says Croft. “The vision from Dearbhla and Alison was very specific so we thought we had to create that world. Practically, that affords us all sorts of advantages.

“One of the great strengths of working with Oliver is he’s used to working in that studio system way with a big backlot and studio build, and with an enormous amount of research. We’re all used to seeing that period in black and white photographs, but when you find the colour images, it’s incredibly vivid and lush. It’s really exciting because we’ve all seen a lot of dramas set during the Second World War and the 1950s, but that post-war period hasn’t been tackled in this way. It’s a feast for the eyes.”

Vaughan adds: “Dearbhla as a director has exquisite taste, judgement and craft. She turns down nine out of 10 things she gets offered and is extremely picky. If you look at her body of work – Esio Trot, Penny Dreadful, The Tudors – she’s the controlling force from a vision standpoint alongside Oliver and the team. And it feels like everything fits together in a very modern way.”

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Making Peace

Writer Andrew Davies has slimmed down Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace into a new six-part drama for the BBC. DQ hears from the creative team behind this lavish production.

For anyone who’s always wanted to read War and Peace but never found the time, Andrew Davies might just have the answer.

The acclaimed writer has previously adapted Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, among others.

Andrew Davies had never read War and Peace before he was asked to adapt it
Andrew Davies had never read War and Peace before he was asked to adapt it

But now he has turned his attention to Tolstoy’s weighty tome, condensing it into a lavish six-part drama for BBC1 that will premier on January 3.

“I’d never read War and Peace; I’d been saving it up for my old age,” he jokes. “So I was pleased when Faith (Penhale, then head of BBC Wales Drama but set to become joint CEO of Lookout Point in February) invited me to read it with a view to adapting it. I took it on holiday and read it on a beach in Antigua and came back very enthusiastic about the book and very positive. It’s a little bit difficult to get into at the beginning but I’ve sorted it out.

“You have to remember the names of three families, that’s all it is. Nobody need bother reading it now because I’ve got all the best bits out of it! I didn’t find it too daunting. You have to be very arrogant to take on these jobs with these great works of literature and not be frightened of them. I give my own interpretation, take the bits that I love and express them as well as I can.”

Described as “a thrilling, funny and heartbreaking story of love, war and family life,” War and Peace features an ensemble cast headed by Lily James, James Norton and Paul Dano. It also stars Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson, Rebecca Front, Aneurin Barnard, Tuppence Middleton and Stephen Rea.

It’s produced by BBC Cymru Wales Drama, in partnership with The Weinstein Company, BBC Worldwide and Lookout Point, while Tom Harper is on directing duties.

“It’s the weight of it – everyone looks at it and goes ‘Oh, no!’ People don’t even want to start it,” producer Bethan Jones says of Tolstoy’s 1,300-page book. “How many of us have it on our shelves and have never read it? But we were looking for a piece that hadn’t been done for a long time, something we thought was due, that we needed to make, something we felt had a contemporary feel.

“It’s all about young people – their lives, their loves and the mistakes they make; the things they go through and the process of growing up, emotionally as well as physically.”

Stephen Rea in War and Peace alongside Gillian Anderson
Stephen Rea in War and Peace alongside Gillian Anderson

Rea, who plays Prince Vassily Kuragi, adds: “Sometimes the translations of War and Peace are very poor or heavy-handed, but the first thing I saw with Andrew’s script was how easy it would be to play. The language was light and easy. It’s an incredible piece of work.”

Davies focused the story around three characters in particular. Pierre, Natascha and Andrei are at the heart of the story, with their families and their relationships built into the wider narrative.

The writer’s preference for focusing on youth was shared by Harper. Jones says: “Tom’s brilliant. He’s very young and he brings youth to the piece so it feels very contemporary – not through any wobbly camera style but through the real, young heart he’s brought to the show. Tom also works so well with the actors and draws out interesting, fresh performances.”

Filming for the production took place across six months in Russia, Latvia and Lithuania as the production team quickly decided that 19th century Russia couldn’t be replicated on the backlots at studios such as Pinewood.

“It felt important for the creative direction of the show that it should feel very authentic,” says Penhale. “If we were building, we would have had to build five Russian palaces, which, given the budget, wouldn’t have been feasible. But it also mattered to us that we shot in St Petersburg, that we went to some of the locations where some of these events would have taken place. It adds to the sense of truth and naturalism to the production. I hope viewers get a sense of Russia as a character in the piece.”

Faith Penhale
Faith Penhale is set to join War and Peace coproducer Lookout Point early next year as joint CEO

The seven-year timespan during which the story takes place also meant the crew was always on the move to film scenes at each location in both summer and winter.

“We started in January in winter in St Petersburg and moved to Lithuania, and we did some in Latvia as well,” explains Jones. “As the seasons wore on, in the beginning of the summer we went back to St Petersburg, so it was a very well-thought-out shoot. The crew were brilliant.”

Overseeing such a huge production did have its challenges, of course, and none so big as the language barrier. “We’d be doing a big scene with lots of extras, either military or a huge dance scene, and we’d have English, Lithuanian, Russian and Latvian speakers,” Jones recalls. “If we had any huge challenge, we couldn’t move as swiftly because we were having to tell everybody in their own language what to do. It was fascinating, though, I really enjoyed it. A couple of us are also Welsh speakers, so we threw that into the mix and really freaked them out!”

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein might be best known for award-winning films such as The Artist and The King’s Speech, but within 24 hours of BBC1 announcing its plans to adapt War and Peace, he was on the phone to Penhale to help bring his “passion project” to life.

“Harvey tracked me down to my office in Cardiff and was ringing repeatedly on the hour,” Penhale says. “We had a great phone call where he said, ‘If you’re doing War and Peace, I want to do it. This is my favourite book of all time,’ and it went from there. It’s really born out of his passion for it.”

Hollywood actor Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave) is among the big names in the ensemble cast
Hollywood actor Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave) is among the big names in the ensemble cast

Negeen Yazdi, president of international production at The Weinstein Company, says of the coproduction process: “The project matches the ambition, scale and material we want to be working on. With the BBC, we discovered very quickly our tastes were aligned, our ambitions for the project were aligned and that we’re not that different in the way we work. We’re all committed to the show and, above all, the show comes first. Like any working family relationship, there were disagreements and discussions but all in a very healthy way.”

Once The Weinstein Co was onboard, War and Peace was subsequently picked up in the US by A+E Networks-owned Lifetime, A&E and History, which will all simulcast the series from January 18 next year.

“The BBC and Weinstein marriage has been a surprisingly effective and powerful thing, in terms of both attracting talent and cast and making a statement to the industry that this is a big deal and you’d better pay attention,” says Simon Vaughan, CEO of Lookout Point. “That’s what it takes to get heard in a marketplace where thousands of new hours of TV are being produced each year.”

Vaughan adds that while coproductions of this magnitude can be tricky to navigate, all parties united behind Penhale’s leadership to bring the series to air.

“It’s about leadership – who’s the boss?” he says. “Faith was the boss and we all work for Faith. That is how it was from the beginning. As difficult as some moments were, when a call needed to be made, it got made. Somebody has to drive the train and if you don’t have that, run a mile. I’ve been around the block and done difficult coproductions and if there isn’t one clear leader, forget it. Don’t make it.”

As with any adaptation, plot points and character details have been chopped and changed, but Jones says Davies’ War and Peace is “very true” to Tolstoy’s original text.

“Inevitably there are some changes and characters that aren’t there – otherwise we’d be doing a 95-part series,” she says.

On the back of Doctor Who and Sherlock, BBC Wales has built up an impressive drama slate, and War and Peace is set to be the most ambitious yet.

“It is a great place to work,” Jones adds. “It started some time ago with the regeneration of Doctor Who. We’re quite bold. It’s very small but tight and hardworking team. We like to push ourselves.”

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Starz shines in Golden Globe nominations

Outlander
Outlander is based on novels by Diana Gabaldon

It’s very much in vogue to talk about the quality of scripted series coming out of HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX, Netflix and Amazon. But this week let’s raise a glass to Starz, which has picked up Golden Globe nominations for two dramas: Outlander and Flesh and Bone.

When Starz made its first meaningful move into original production with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, it didn’t look like it would be a contender for industry gongs. But under the leadership of Chris Albrecht and Carmi Zlotnik, the US channel has really raised its game – delivering shows like Power, Black Sails and, coming in 2016, The Girlfriend Experience – as well as the above-mentioned series.

Outlander, based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, is produced by Sony Pictures Television and Left Bank Pictures and was developed for TV by Ronald D Moore. Moore also heads a writing team that, in season one, included five credited writers (Moore, Toni Graphia, Ira Steven Behr, Anne Kenney and Matthew B Roberts).

Moore, who wrote the opening two episodes of season one, is still just 51. But his extensive writing credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica and Syfy series Helix. He was also reported to be working on a TV reboot of movie A Knight’s Tale for ABC.

Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama
Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama written by Moira Walley-Beckett

Flesh and Bone, meanwhile, is an eight-part miniseries about the dysfunctional but glamorous world of ballet. Created by Moira Walley-Beckett, it started airing on Starz on November 8 and is currently five episodes through its one and only season. Walley-Beckett’s career to date has seen her win a Primetime Emmy for her work as a writer on AMC’s Breaking Bad. She was also a writer-producer on ABC’s short-lived period series Pan Am.

Elsewhere, fans of Fox thriller 24 will be delighted to hear that the show’s star Kiefer Sutherland is to headline a new ABC series entitled Designated Survivor. The drama, which has been ordered straight-to-series, focuses on a junior US cabinet member who is unexpectedly appointed president after a huge attack kills everyone above him in the line of succession. The production company behind the show is Mark Gordon Co Studios (Quantico) and the writer will be David Guggenheim.

Guggenheim’s major credits to date are movies – most notably the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. He is also working on a sequel to Safe House and a new instalment in the cult Bad Boys franchise. The drama is ABC’s first new scripted series for the 2016/17 and follows on from a decent showing for Quantico.

Kiefer Sutherland as 24's Jack Bauer
Kiefer Sutherland as 24’s Jack Bauer

If this is the golden age of TV drama, then one has to ask why so many old movies and TV series are being revived. Still, it’s good news for writers. The latest beneficiary is Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a former Lost writer (seasons one and two) who was been signed up to write a reboot of NBC’s cult series Xena: Warrior Princess.

The chances of Xena getting into production seem pretty good for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because of the current trend towards action-adventure shows with female leads. Secondly, because the show is popular internationally, suggesting a successful reboot could be a money-spinner for NBC’s distribution division.

Another show to secure a nomination at this year’s Golden Globes is Fox’s ratings hit Empire. Unsurprisingly, Fox has asked the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels to come up with a follow-up series. Daniels, who is currently casting the pilot, is co-writing the new series with Tom Donaghy.

Although the programme doesn’t yet have a title, it will follow the fortunes of a girl group hoping to make it in the music business. Donaghy started his career as a playwright but, like many of his peers, is now active in TV. Credits before now include The Whole Truth, Without a Trace and The Mentalist.

Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?
Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?

Another project in the news this month is Lookout Point’s Parisian fashion drama The Collection. Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, the eight-hour show has been picked up by Amazon and will be written by Oliver Goldstick. Goldstick’s credits include Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and, notably, Pretty Little Liars (PLL), for which he has written 30 episodes. He also co-created the short-lived PLL spin-off Ravenswood with I Marlene King and Joseph Dougherty.

One project in search of a writer is AMC’s new adaptation of Joe Hill horror novel NOS4A2. The story centres a young woman with an uncanny talent for finding lost things – a gift that is gradually destroying her mind. She encounters Charlie Manx, who abducts children in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith and sucks their souls to keep himself young. The licence plate on the Rolls (NOS4A2) gives you a clue as to what kind of character he is.

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