Tag Archives: Moonage Pictures

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.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , ,

Start your engines

Director Colm McCarthy breaks down one of the most challenging scenes he had to film for madcap street-race drama Curfew. The series is produced by Tiger Aspect Productions in association with Moonage Pictures for Sky1, and distributed by Sky Vision.

In the near future, there’s been an outbreak of a virus, resulting in creatures that roam the night. They’re incredibly dangerous, so from dusk until dawn there’s a curfew across the world. But once a year, the curfew is defied and a mad road race takes place. And this year, it’s happening in the UK.

Curfew tells the story of the different racers, how they ended up in the race and what they’re racing for. It’s told in the style of a madcap genre mashup with much love given to the likes of John Carpenter, harking back to those amazing action movies of the 70s and 80s. It’s a lot of fun, but the special thing it does is take people you might know in everyday contemporary life and drop them into that sort of world.

Colm McCarthy on the Curfew set

Curfew came to me because Matthew Read, the writer, and Will Gould, one of the exec producers, had both discussed the project at various stages over the years. It’s been a very long development process. Curfew had a number of iterations before Matthew came on board, and he invested all the energy, tone and specificity it has now. I’d worked with those guys on, among other things, Peaky Blinders, and we knew each other. They were flatteringly very keen for me to get involved and talked to me a lot about it, even before they had a script.

I like to think I don’t have a distinctive personal style of directing. One of the things that’s exciting about directing is creating a unique world for the story you’re telling. Everything should serve the story. Matthew and Will had lots of ideas but mostly what they had was the tone, and the job of a good director is to come in and understand that and interpret it into visuals. I got what they wanted and they trusted me to deliver it. The idea is the audience is dropped into the race with the characters, rather than standing back and watching things.

Probably the most complicated thing we had to deal with is a section of story that straddles episodes one and two and then gets flashed back to in episodes nearer the end. This is when all the cars and drivers gather in a bullring at the very start of the race. We had all the cast there at the same time, shooting dusk until dawn. We had 30-odd stunt performers, 31 vehicles – with action drivers for all of those – and 150 extras, and we had that for a week in Manchester in one location.

Curfew debuted on Sky1 in February

Originally in the script, the cars all started in a warehouse. But then we found this huge circular meatpacking plant, like a coliseum, with one exit out that was a concrete tunnel. Myself and Tom Sayer, the production designer, thought that while it was totally different to the script, it would do the job of that opening better because you could have the cars fighting to get out of the hole and smashing into each other. We made our bed and lay in it. It was very difficult and made things extremely complicated because I wanted to shoot using the steadicam for a lot of scenes in that sequence and to move the cameras around a lot in the run-up to the race, which meant we had to have everything there all the time. It’s a lot of moving parts to manage on a set – way bigger than television shows in the UK ever are.

We had the added factor of the ‘Beast from the East’ storm arriving the week before filming. It could have been the most expensive film set in the country at the time and we couldn’t shoot for seven hours because there were blizzards and we had extras helping sweep away the snow. Then we were rushing Sean Bean, Billy Zane and the rest of the cast into the arena to snatch takes when we could.

Then there’s all the health and safety that’s involved in doing these insane stunts in an environment where you’re not going to hurt anyone. We were all very conscious there had recently been tragic circumstances due to stunts on British film sets, and getting it right was really important. There were never more potential failing points than during that week – it had everything going on. It was an intense and quite mad period.

tagged in: , , , ,

Start your engines

Billy Zane and Sean Bean lead an ensemble cast in Curfew, which follows the story of ordinary people and extraordinary characters competing in the world’s fastest, most furious illegal nighttime street race.

In this DQTV interview, the stars introduce the series, which is described as a mix of Death Race, 28 Days Later and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, with some added Wacky Races and a hint of The Fast & The Furious.

Bean talks about how Curfew combines the danger and excitement of the race with the stories of the very ordinary people taking part, and introduces his “charming, dangerous” character.

Zane describes how his character provides some comic relief to proceedings, with stunts and antics designed to build his social media following.

Executive producers Will Gould and Frith Tiplady also discuss how action feature films from the 1980s inspired the series, which Tiplady says is “unashamedly fun.” In addition, they detail the challenges of producing Curfew, including near-constant night shoots, maintaining dozens of vehicles, and numerous stunts.

The eight-part show is produced by Tiger Aspect Productions in association with Moonage Pictures for Sky1 in the UK. Sky Vision is handling international distribution.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,