Eleventh Hour Films executive producer and head of talent Eve Gutierrez reveals why one scene from BBC drama New Blood gave her cause to hold her breath.
There’s one on every production – that one scene that embodies the spirit of the entire show. A moment so key that it will often dictate the selection of director and HoDs [heads of departments], and set a precedent for how the whole shoot will be executed. A scene that starts with meticulous planning and preparation, allocated just the right amount of money and time in the production schedule, soon inspires an unexpected determination, a bloody-mindedness and finally a full-blown obsession in the entire cast and crew.
On New Blood, our investigative series for BBC1, the scene in question acted as the climax of the characters’ first case. It sealed the friendship between the two lead characters and (literally) pushed our two relatively inexperienced actors into free fall.
On the page, creator Anthony Horowitz made the scene feel simple: just two characters, a few lines of dialogue – and a jump. As the action played out on the rooftop of a London hotel, it was clear this scene was anything but simple, requiring the characters to jump into the hotel’s swimming pool more than a dozen floors below.
It’s surprising how few outdoor pools there are. Even fewer of which are anywhere that would visually feel like London and fewer still that are next to high-rise buildings. In fact, it turned out there is only one – the pool at the Oasis Sports Centre on Tottenham Court Road. And, luckily for us, they were open to the idea of us shooting in their pool at night.
Obviously we would not be asking stunt performers or actors to actually jump off an incredibly tall building and free-fall in to a pool below, so it was clear from the outset that we would need not one location but two. The pool would provide the landing moment but the rooftop and POV of the pool would need to be achieved somewhere else.
Our production base in Dagenham, at LondonEast Business Park, provided a rooftop of the right height and shape to shoot the dialogue part of the scene against a green screen and for our stunt team, helmed by stunt coordinator Tony Lucken, to cheat an impressive jump over the side of the building onto a mountain of boxes. And with the magic of visual effects from VFX supervisor Sascha Fromeyer, we were well on our way to building an impressive sequence.
All that was left was the need to shoot our two actors plunging into the pool with enough force that it was believable they had jumped from a great height – to achieve the ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ moment that encapsulated the relationship between our characters.
Just two things lay between us and the successful completion of our scene, and neither were elements that we could control or influence. The first was the weather. Rain would most definitely stop play. The folk at the Oasis Sports Centre were very clear about that – and the forecast was for intermittent showers all day and all night.
The second was the fact we would be shooting in a location right next to Waterloo Bridge in the afternoon before moving over to Tottenham Court Road to access the pool after it had closed to the public, on the same evening of the Million Mask March when supporters of hacking collective Anonymous were due to march from Trafalgar Square to Westminster. At the very least, gridlock was predicted, with the media speculating on whether there would be chaos and violence on the streets.
For most of the afternoon, I paced about in the rain, alternating between the weather app on my iPhone and Twitter for news of what was happening on the march.
Finally it was time to move the unit, and it was here that transport captain Andy Blackburn and his team of drivers came into their element. I’m a born-and-bred Londoner, but their pre-planned route of back roads managed to make even me dizzy. It got us clear of the march, across the river and through Soho in 20 minutes – just as the clouds parted and the rain stopped.
Our director, Anthony Philipson, and the camera team headed up by DoP Rasmus Arrildt were prepped and set in record time. The grip department had built a tower for the actors to safely jump from, the underwater camera was in place and we all collectively held our breath as our actors were counted down to jump from what felt like a great height…
There was a big splash but, to our horror, they both immediately floated to the surface. On camera it looked like they had barely broken the line of the water, let alone plunged to the depths that would sell a jump from an impossible height. It turned out that both the wetsuits the actors were wearing under their costumes and the costumes themselves floated.
The actors immediately shed the wetsuits (luckily it was a freakishly mild November night) whilst the costume department hacked into their clothing to try and remove anywhere that pockets of air could gather. And with just moments to spare, we were reset to achieve the all-important shot – and it was miraculously ‘scene complete.’
After 15 years writing Foyle’s War, Anthony Horowitz is back on television with crime thriller New Blood. He tells DQ why there’s nothing like it on television.
Investigative drama New Blood broke new ground last week when it became the first primetime drama to launch on the BBC’s on-demand service iPlayer before its linear broadcast.
And with streaming platforms perhaps now representing the best way to reach new and younger viewers who no longer adhere to traditional television schedules, series creator Anthony Horowitz was more than happy to push the show online ahead of its BBC1 debut tonight.
“I want to write for young people rather than their parents,” says Horowitz, who wrote ITV drama Foyle’s War for 15 years until it ended last January. “Foyle’s War has been a fantastic ride – I’ve loved every minute of doing it. But it did occur to me that a great chunk of viewers weren’t seeing my work. Also, having written the Alex Rider spy novels, I’m meeting people who read my work as kids and are now in their 20s and 30s, and I want to write for them again.
“When I write, I don’t think, ‘This is for young people’ and then write in a certain way. What’s happened with this show is because it has two 25-year-olds in the lead – everything has come from that.”
New Blood executive producer Jill Green, MD of Eleventh Hour Films and Horowitz’s wife, agrees: “It’s great for us because (there’s a lack of) shows that appeal to younger viewers. It’s edited in a very different way, the music is very different too.”
The seven-part series shows London through the eyes of two outsiders, Stefan and Rash, junior investigators for the Serious Fraud Office and the police respectively, who are brought together by two seemingly unrelated cases.
Young men frustrated with life and trying to find their feet in their professional and personal lives, they team up to become a formidable crime-solving duo as they take on the uber rich and powerful.
And central to the series are Mark Strepan and Ben Tavassoli, who play Polish Stefan and British-Iranian Rash respectively. “Mark has Polish ancestry and Ben is half-Iranian so they fit their characters to a T,” Horowitz says. “Every actor I’ve ever worked with has, to a certain extent, made the character their own. They found them and created them. When I started writing this show I was never sure, if I wrote a line, which character should say it. But now I know exactly who’s going to say what – and that’s partly down to them.
“Working on Foyle’s War, I loved working with Michael Kitchen but if he walked out of the car to the office, that was classed as an action sequence. Now we’ve got people running across London, jumping off buildings, getting punched and getting tied up and put into a car that spins eight times.”
Green continues: “In one scene, they argue about jumping off a hotel roof into a swimming pool and eventually say, ‘Fine, we’ll do it.’ They’re in their 20s, why not? They literally dive off into a swimming pool. These guys are physical. The amount of things (Horowitz) puts them through has been extraordinary and they love it.”
Casting for the leads wasn’t straightforward, however, with several actors in the running for both parts until Strepan and Tavassoli found instant chemistry during the auditions.
“We saw an enormous number of people,” admits Horowitz. “It was always a question of whether we were going to cheat. Could we really cast British-Iranian and British-Polish? Or would we get a British guy who could do a Polish accent? We then found these two guys but what clinched it wasn’t the individual auditions, it was when we put them together.”
Green explains: “At the last moment we had four Rash’s and four Stefan’s so we interchanged them together, looking for the right combination, and it was about that chemistry. It was very real.”
It’s that chemistry that will also make the difference between New Blood being a success or a failure. But Horowitz says he hopes the show has managed to tell serious stories in a serious world with two light-hearted characters at the centre.
“I’m thrilled by their performance,” he adds. “I’ve been around for a long time but these two guys, they’re at the beginning of their careers and I’m so excited to see whether it goes well for them. They’re very likeable.”
From the opening scenes of the first episode, it’s clear Stefan and Rash aren’t the only characters central to New Blood. From Stefan’s bike ride to work into the City to the quick cuts between shots of the capital’s iconic landmarks, the backdrop of London looms large over the series.
“Jill hasn’t forgiven me for setting it in London,” Horowitz quips when asked of the production challenges of filming in the city. “But when you see the show, London is the third character. It’s a really attractive view of London. We tried to find something that isn’t tourist London, isn’t Disney London. It’s real London and it’s energised London. The number of cranes and building sites and traffic jams and roadworks – that’s the London we live in.”
It was a difference experience for Green. “If you’re not doing a US movie on a Tom Cruise budget, don’t try to film in London,” she says. “It’s not a city that’s interested in filmmaking because it’s got terrorism, security and other bigger issues. It was really hard. And because we were 95% location and we had to do some really difficult action sequences, most people didn’t want us around and sometimes they wouldn’t play ball. City Airport shut us down because pilots complained they could see lights from an explosion we were filming in a wasteland that was quite near the airport.
“It’s hard and expensive. The sequence where the guys jump off the roof was shot over three days in three different places. That’s expensive. When you’re doing big action, which has got to have a high production value, you can’t skimp on that. But when you’re doing it in London as well, that’s tough. But it does look and feel like London.”
Horowitz and Green first met when they both were working in advertising. They later took different paths into television and it was only after a decade that Horowitz’s writing started to be developed for the screen by Greenlit Productions and now Eleventh Hour Films – both established by Green, the latter in 2010.
“Why should Jill produce shows for other people and I write shows for other people when we can do it together and control and own the shows?” argues Horowitz. “We’ve done that now for Foyle’s War, Injustice, Collision, Menace and New Blood.”
“We’re very privileged to get Ant’s work and it makes us work 300% harder because the responsibility is huge,” explains Green, whose other credits include ITV thriller Safe House. “There’s no deal (with him) but I know if we don’t take Anthony’s ideas – and we don’t always agree – then somebody else might. But the scripts are wonderful, which is always the best place to start.
“We can be quite rigorous with each other but there’s a fantastic shorthand between us and I do think we work very well together. I think the best work we’ve done has been together, rather than apart. We can problem solve together as well, which you have to do.”
New Blood could be the pair’s best collaboration yet. With music from Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge and a new visual take on London, Horowitz claims “there’s nothing on British television like it – in terms of tone, look, editing, the youth of the two lead actors – it’s really different. It’s very American in some ways in the pacing and ambition of it, and I hope people simply enjoy it.
“It’s not about naked dead women being found tied up in alleyways, it’s not about that sort of brutality and darkness, which I’m not knocking, but I think we’ve now had enough of that. Here is a show that’s got a bit more of a smile. It’s serious when it needs to be, it’s dangerous when it needs to be but isn’t rubbing your face in the underbelly of life. It’s got murder and death but what it hasn’t got is that grubbiness.”
Acclaimed author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz tells Michael Pickard British drama should be more ambitious as he discusses his television career and his forthcoming BBC series New Blood.
Anthony Horowitz (pictured above) is a busy man. Not only does the author and screenwriter have a new BBC drama on the horizon, he’s also deep in development on the US version of his 2009 miniseries Collision.
But when DQ tracks him down at his London office, he’s in the middle of a sword fight. Despite his TV commitments, he’s also resurrecting Alex Rider, the hero of some of his young-adult spy novels (and 2006 film Stormbreaker), whose fate will be decided by the aforementioned battle.
It’s a suitably demanding schedule for a man who admits he has two distinct careers – on page and on screen. “Now I’m waiting for some of those books to come onto television,” he muses. “Maybe one of the Sherlocks or Alex Rider, or my latest book Magpie Murders. There are discussions happening – watch this space. But for me at the moment it’s two quite separate worlds.”
On television, Horowitz is arguably best known for Foyle’s War, the crime drama set during the Second World War that ran for 15 years on UK commercial broadcaster ITV. Now, more than a year after that series’ last episode aired, he’s preparing to return with a new seven-part drama for BBC1.
New Blood aims to show a new side of London through the eyes of two outsiders – Stefan (Mark Strepan) and Rash (Ben Tavassoli), a pair of junior investigators who are brought together by two seemingly unrelated cases and come up against corporations, governments and a new breed of criminals who hide behind legitimate facades and a wall of lawyers. Produced by Eleventh Hour Films and directed by Anthony Philipson, it is distributed by BBC Worldwide.
“I’d spent 13 years writing 28 two-hour episodes of Foyle’s War,” Horowitz says. “I loved it from start to finish but I sort of felt like I’d run out of stories. I had nothing more to do and it was time to move on anyway. I wanted to leave the war behind me and move into a slightly more heightened world, certainly a more modern world. I wanted to write about 21st century London and I was also interested to see whether I could actually take crime drama and move it forward and push the envelope. So I came up with the idea of New Blood.
“I can certainly say there’s nothing on British television like it. I’ve seen several episodes and the energy, the speed, the editing, the music, the lighting, and particularly the way it presents London, is very modern and exciting to see on the screen. And having two stars in their 20s makes a huge difference. I can’t think of another show on mainstream television that has two unknown actors in their mid-20s. It’s a massive gamble on the part of the BBC to allow us to do that.”
Horowitz admits it was a “wrench” to leave Foyle’s War, which aired for the last time in January 2015. “I loved working with the characters and the whole world I created was very rich,” he says. “But if you’re going to be a writer like me – with television and books and everything else – you’ve got to keep moving forward. You can’t keep doing the same thing.
“Foyle’s War had got to 1947 and there was plenty more to do with the characters, but what I loved about that show was the number of stories that could be told about the war and the pre-war years. After doing six episodes set during the Cold War, I’d explored the territory enough and it was time to make a change.”
Already an established novelist, Horowitz got his TV break in 1985 when he joined the writing staff of ITV drama Robin of Sherwood, which starred Michael Praed and later Jason Connery as incarnations of the infamous outlaw. A shortage of scripts meant the series needed a new writer and Horowitz, just 30 at the time, was given the opportunity to suggest a storyline.
“The producer, Paul Knight, took a huge punt on giving me the job. I had no experience at all,” he recalls. “So I went from nothing to writing for the top show in one step – it was a fantastic start. I knew nothing about television really. I remember walking onto the set for my first episode and I couldn’t believe they’d found the exact building I’d described in my script – a ruined church in the middle of a field. Of course, it was only when I walked up and tapped it that I realised the whole thing was made out of fibreglass. That’s how little I knew.”
Besides Robin of Sherwood and Foyle’s War, Horowitz’s small-screen credits include Poirot, Murder in Mind and Injustice. And then there’s Midsomer Murders.
“If I’ve given two words to the English language, it’s Midsomer Murders,” says the writer, who penned the first ever episode of the long-running crime drama, which debuted on ITV in March 1997. “It was called Barnaby (after the lead detective) when it landed on my desk.”
After his Robin of Sherwood experience, Horowitz was invited by then-Carnival Films producer Brian Eastman to write episodes of Poirot, introducing him to murder mysteries for the first time. He was then hired alongside director Jeremy Silberton to create Midsomer, which is based on Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby novels.
But after writing a handful of episodes over the first three seasons, Horowitz wanted to create a new spin on the traditional whodunnit formula – and Foyle’s War was the result.
“I love the mechanics of a murder mystery,” he says. “I love plotting, I love the structure of a show. I spend longer plotting and working out a show than I do writing it. Getting it to work, getting all the characters in the right place, getting the red herrings, the clues, the action – that was the fun of it. But with Foyle, the aim was to do more. What fascinated me about the world of Foyle were the true stories we were telling about the war – that extraordinary period from 1940 to 1947 when so much happened in this country.
“In a way, while the murders were carefully constructed and satisfying, they were almost an excuse to write what I really wanted to write about, which was the war.”
But of all the shows Horowitz has created or worked on, one stands out as the most challenging. Crime Traveller, which ran for one eight-episode season on BBC1 in 1997, saw policeman Michael French and science officer Chloë Annett team up to solve crimes using a time machine built by her late father.
“Crime Traveller was a show that fell between the stools of two directors at the BBC,” Horowitz recalls. “There was a hiatus after one left and another arrived and we fell into that abyss. It was a show that would have gone from strength to strength if I’d been able to develop it.
“It was the most difficult series I ever had to write, with all those time paradoxes – the knots I had to untangle were always incredibly complicated. It had a lot of promise and I often think it would be great if it came back, but there’s no chance of that.”
As a writer, Horowitz believes his job is done the day he hands over the finished script. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in the ensuing production, only that he isn’t one to interfere with the director’s vision.
“It’s not my place to give a director notes, ever,” he says. “My notes are my scripts; they have character notes, they have a few key notes about what’s important, but I never tell a director what to do. But I’m not laid back either. It’s important to get everything right and I watch the rushes from New Blood every day and have occasionally picked up the phone when something’s bothered me.
“Trying to keep control of a programme is counter-productive and unhelpful. I have to trust both my talent and the directors to get it right. Of course, it helps being married to the producer (his wife is Jill Green, who runs Eleventh Hour Films and is also the executive producer on the show).”
With New Blood being lined up for its BBC1 debut, Horowitz’s attention has returned to the US adaptation of Collision. Airing over five consecutive nights on ITV in 2009, the original miniseries told the story of a group of strangers whose lives are changed forever following a major car crash.
Eleventh Hour Films is developing the US version for NBC alongside TriStar Television and Carol Mendelsohn Productions.
“Collision was seen by Quinn Taylor (now the executive VP of movies, miniseries and international coproductions for NBC Entertainment) and since he first saw it, he has wanted to do it,” Horowitz says. “I’ve been meeting with him off and on for years championing it and now we’ve managed to get it together.”
The US adaptation expands the series to 10 episodes, while the action moves from Suffolk to Seattle. Horowitz has written the first script as well as outlining episode two and completing character arcs for the entire season.
“The idea of the series remains the same. It’s about fate, how every car journey is a story in itself and how we never know how that story is going to work out,” he explains. “Moving it to America has been quite an inspiring piece of work. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing. In the world of television now, we’re so steeped in American series that actually taking the steps to go from British to American television is not quite such a major undertaking as it used to be. It is less difficult than it might have been 20 years ago.”
Having worked in the business for 30 years, Horowitz is well placed to judge the current state of television – an industry he says has never been better or more exciting.
“I’ve always enjoyed working in television, it’s a wonderful medium to be in and the people I work with are so lovely. And compared with writing novels, it’s so much more collaborative. The one great thing about this moment is there’s a real excitement and buzz about television, which of course is largely inherited from cinema.
“Cinema has become tired, empty and predictable and I go to the cinema these days almost with a heavy heart. Whereas you now look forward to getting a new box set – something from Vince Gilligan (Better Call Saul) or starring Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley) – with the excitement that you once looked forward to watching films.”
However, Horowitz is less confident about the state of the UK industry compared with the business stateside. “We have to be more ambitious in Britain,” he says bluntly. “The real problem is the biggest shows in America are beyond us at the moment. Anything from Breaking Bad to The Walking Dead, even The Good Wife – the six-parters we do here and the occasional 10-parter cannot compete in terms of scale, scope and ambition.
“It would be nice if this country could produce that sort of drama. If you add to that the way Netflix, Amazon and other companies are moving in on television, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 begin to look old-fashioned. I’m not saying we’re not doing great drama over here, we’re doing fantastic drama at the moment. I’m absolutely immersed in Happy Valley; War & Peace was wonderfully written and directed. There are some fantastic pieces of television being made. It’s only in terms of quantity, scope, size and ambition that to do a 10-parter like Collision, I’m almost sorry I have to go to America.”
With New Blood, Horowitz hopes to have crafted his latest television hit. But does he think there’s enough new blood getting the same opportunity he once did to get into the industry?
“There are young people coming through and television is open to new talent. It would be a disaster if it wasn’t,” he says. “We do need new young writers and one wonders where the schooling is for young writers to come through, but they will. I was influenced by Utopia, which is what I would call a young production in terms of casting and its feel. So there is new blood coming through.”