Tag Archives: Richard Warlow

British writers display their dark side

Today is the last day of BBC Showcase, an annual event that sees around 700 programme buyers from around the world descend on Liverpool in the UK to view and potentially acquire BBC Worldwide (BBCWW)-distributed content.

At this year’s event, BBCWW has had a lot of its success with crime drama, selling around 900 hours of programming to markets including Europe, the Middle East and Japan. It’s a reminder that the Nordic nations aren’t the only ones capable of producing compelling noir.

Paul Dempsey, president of global markets at BBCWW, commented: “British crime drama is hugely popular around the world and accounts for over 40% of our drama revenue.”

The fact that the UK does so well is a testament to the quality of TV crime writing in the country, so this week we’ll take a look at some of the talent driving the international hit machine.

luther-5Luther, which stars Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, was acquired by German public broadcaster ZDF, Star India and also by platforms in South Korea and Africa. The fourth series, which aired in the UK during December 2015, consisted of two feature-length episodes. What it lacked in volume, it made up for in ratings, with the two episodes attracting around 7.5 to eight million viewers. All 16 episodes of Luther have been written by New Zealand-based Neil Cross, who has also written episodes of Doctor Who for the BBC. Cross has also been commissioned by the BBC to write Hard Sun, a six-part apocalyptic crime drama set in contemporary London.

lynleyThe Inspector Lynley Mysteries was also picked up by ZDF for its ZDFneo channel. Originally broadcast from 2001 to 2008, the series (based on the novels by Elizabeth George) has proved a decent performer on the international market. In the US, for example, all 23 episodes have aired on PBS. Several scribes have written episodes, including Pete Jukes, Simon Block, Lizzie Mickery, Valerie Windsor, Kate Wood, Francesca Brill, Valerie Windsor, Ann-marie di Mambro, Kevin Clarke, Simon Booker, Julian Simpson, Mark Grieg and Ed Whitmore. Whitmore also wrote a large number of episodes for fellow long-running BBC crime drama Waking the Dead. His other credits include Silent Witness (which was also picked up by TV4 Sweden at Showcase), Arthur & George and Identity, an ITV production that was subsequently sold as a format to ABC in the US. Whitmore also has a couple of episodes of CSI to his name.

happy-valley-dvdHappy Valley season two, was picked up by French PayTV broadcaster Canal+ (which also acquired the fourth season of Luther). The show’s first run was a strong seller overseas and there’s no reason to suppose the new outing will fare any less well. The show is produced by Red Production Company and written by Sally Wainwright. Wainwright also created Scott & Bailey, another popular female-led crime series that has been airing since 2011 on ITV.

prey-series-2Prey is broadcast by ITV in the UK but is distributed internationally by BBCWW. The first batch of three episodes aired in 2014 and starred John Simm, while a second run of three aired in late 2015 and starred Philip Glenister. The latter has just been sold to broadcasters including NRK Norway, YLE Finland and Canal+. Prey was created by Chris Lunt, who wrote all six episodes. Lunt’s success is a reminder that it’s never too late to break into the TV writing business. After 10 years of knocking on doors and pitching more than 80 projects, Lunt finally got his break at age 43. Media reports suggest he is also working on a modern-day adaptation of The Saint with the aforementioned Ed Whitmore.

sherlockSherlock, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, has sold very well around the world since it debuted in 2010. At the start of this year, Gatiss and Moffat created one-off special The Abominable Bride, in which much of the action took place in the Victorian era (though a scriptwriting sleight of hand meant the story was actually linked back to the contemporary setting of the series). Broadcasters that picked up the special at Showcase include Degeto (Germany), SVT Sweden, Czech Television and Channel One in Russia. A fourth series of Sherlock is on the way in 2017, with stories for a fifth season also sketched out by Gatiss and Moffat. The show is very slow to come to market because of the busy schedules of Gatiss, Moffat and the lead cast members.

maigret_itvMaigret, based on the books by Georges Simenon, is a new ITV series starring Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, Mr Bean). At Showcase it was picked up by Germany’s Degeto, which also acquired Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. The writer on this one is the experienced Stewart Harcourt, whose other credits include Agatha Raisin: The Quiche of Death, Love & Marriage, Treasure Island, Inspector George Gently, Poirot and Marple. So if anyone can handle a book-based period detective story, it’s Harcourt.

unforgottenUnforgotten, like Prey, is an ITV series distributed worldwide by BBCWW. Aired in October 2015, the first six-part series focuses on four people whose lives are rocked when the bones belonging to a young man who died 39 years ago are discovered below a demolished house. At Showcase, the drama was picked up by France 3 and YES DBS Satellite in Israel. The show was produced by Mainstreet Pictures and written and created by Chris Lang. Lang started his career on The Bill and has had a successful writing career since, with credits including Amnesia, Torn, A Mother’s Son and Undeniable. The ratings success of Unforgotten convinced ITV to commission a second series. There’s no information yet on the plot but it looks like it will be another cold-case drama, with Lang saying there will be “a new story, where long-buried secrets will once again be slowly brought to light.”

deathinparadiseDeath In Paradise was part of a package of 232 hours of crime drama sold to SVT in Sweden. Produced by Red Planet Pictures, the show has also been given the greenlight for a sixth series this week by Charlotte Moore, controller of BBC1, and Polly Hill, controller of BBC drama commissioning. All told, that will mean there are 48 episodes, which is a good number for the international market. Maybe that explains why it has sold to 237 territories worldwide including China, South Africa, the US and the Caribbean countries close to where the show is set and filmed. Echoing some of the other BBC dramas, Death In Paradise is written by a number of people. But the best-known name is series creator Robert Thorogood, who came to Red Planet’s attention via its scriptwriting competition.

fatherBrownFather Brown is based on the books by GK Chesterton and perfectly fits into the British tradition of eccentric or unusual amateur sleuths. The central character, played by Mark Williams, is a Roman Catholic priest. Unusually for a British drama, the 1950s-set show is already up to 45 episodes after just four series. At Showcase it was picked up by PBC (PTV) in South Korea and ABC Australia. Given the high number of episodes, it’s no surprise Father Brown is an ensemble-written afffair, with credited writers including Tahsin Guner, Rachel Flowerday, Nicola Wilson, Rebecca Wojciechowski, Jude Tindall Dan Muirden, Lol Fletcher, Paul Matthew Thompson, Dominique Moloney, David Semple, Rob Kinsman, Stephen McAteer, Jonathan Neil, Kit Lambert and Al Smith. Particularly prominent has been Guner, who wrote the very first episode and the last one in series four (among others). Repped by David Higham Associates, Guner was selected for the 2009/10 BBC Writers Academy and has written scripts for dramas including Holby, Casualty and New Tricks. He is currently developing original drama series Borders.

ripperstreetRipper Street was licensed this week to Multichoice VoD service Showmax. The show, which was famously saved by a financial injection from Amazon, is a period crime drama set in Victorian England. With four series of Ripper Street already produced and released, Amazon has already committed itself to a fifth season – taking the total number of episodes above 30. Another team effort, the key writer name attached to this is creator Richard Warlow, who tends to deliver about half of the episodes in each series. Warlow’s previous writing credits include Waking the Dead and Mistresses. Other writers on the show have included Toby Finlay (Peaky Blinders) and Rachel Bennette (Lark Rise to Candleford, Lewis and Liberty).

coronerThe Coroner is a daytime drama series about a solicitor who takes over as a coroner in the South Devon coastal town she left as a teenager. At Showcase it sold to AXN Mystery in Japan and Prime in New Zealand. The show was created by Sally Abbott, who also wrote three episodes of the first series. There’s a good blog from Abbott about how she got her break in the business here.

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DQ goes behind the scenes on Amazon’s Ripper Street

Enjoying its second chance at life after being canned by the BBC, Amazon’s Ripper Street has found a new production home in the shape of an unfinished hotel. The cast and crew reveal why they were happy to check in.

Set in sprawling countryside on the outskirts of south Dublin, the Kilternan Hotel stands empty. The partially built and extended complex had been the subject of a €171m (US$186m) redevelopment until the property market collapse brought work to a halt.

But the extensive estate proved to be the perfect stage for Ripper Street, the period crime drama that has made the Irish capital its home.

After filming the first three seasons at Clancy Barracks, which are now being redeveloped, producers Tiger Aspect and Lookout Point were looking for a new location in which to recreate Victorian London – and the Kilternan’s array of rooms fit for filming, as well as doubling as offices, persuaded the production team to make their reservations.

The change of filming location comes at an appropriate point in the life of Ripper Street, which started out on BBC1. In December 2013, after two seasons, the series was cancelled by the pubcaster – only to be resurrected in February 2014 by online retailer Amazon, which commissioned a third season for its then-burgeoning Prime Instant Video service.

Game of Thrones' Jerome Flynn has a leading role in Ripper Street
Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn has a leading role in Ripper Street

The deal was a first for a British show and saw the third run air on Amazon several months before playing on BBC1. Amazon subsequently ordered fourth and fifth seasons, independent of the BBC, with season four available now on Amazon Prime Video.

Set in 1897 – the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and two years after the season three finale – Ripper Street’s latest run sees Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) drawn back to Whitechapel where he is reunited with Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn), now the Head of H Division, and Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg). New cast members include David Threlfall (Shameless) as Abel Croker, who is described as a wharfinger, villain and a keeper of other men’s secrets; and Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter).

Filming for 13 new episodes, which will be split across seasons four and five, began last August, with two episodes filmed at a time over 24 days – and the leading actors say they have enjoyed working on the new set, where everything from the weather to the time of day is under the producers’ control.

“I prefer the new sets,” admits Rothenberg. “It makes you feel very focused. Whenever I work outside in the real world, I can’t help but feel like everything is real except me. But you know here that everything is a set and made to act in front of.”

Flynn adds: “At Clancy, we had to deal with the trains, the planes and the cars we were surrounded by, and the weather. It’s much more conducive here.”

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The production has found a new home in a disused hotel in Ireland

Lewis, who famously portrayed Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter franchise, describes the production design as “second to none.” He continues: “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work on some big-budget stuff and these sets are impeccable. They’re some of the best I’ve worked on and it adds to the whole atmosphere.”

Lewis, who plays PC Drummond, admits it was daunting joining an established series, but says his fellow cast members have been extremely welcoming. “I’ve had a really good time,” he says. “The scripts this year have been so brilliant – the storylines take such a rollercoaster ride that it’s flown by. I’ve never done anything period before so it was a really great opportunity to jump into a bit of history.”

Flynn, meanwhile, acknowledges the part Ripper Street fans played in Amazon’s decision to save the show. “If you look at how Amazon works, it takes people’s responses to shows very seriously and makes programmes based on that,” he says. “There’s no doubt people’s keenness for Ripper Street to come back influenced Amazon.”

The actor, who also has an important role in HBO’s Game of Thrones, was keen to return when the streamer ordered two new seasons: “The quality of the production and the writing, especially the world and character relationships Richard (Warlow, the series creator) has created, made me want to come back.

“They’re part of what makes it so fun. It’s like coming back to a family, and that’s also partly about being in Ireland and the way the crew is created here and the feeling they create for us to come into. It’s a rich, wonderful job. I’ll be lucky if I find one like it again in my career. It’s been very special.”

Shameless star David Threlfall has been added to the cast for the latest season
Shameless star David Threlfall was added to the cast for the latest season

Had Amazon not rescued Ripper Street, the story would have been left at a loose end, says Frith Tiplady, head of drama production at Tiger Aspect. “At the end of season two, we really felt like there was unfinished business. The writers knew what they wanted to do (for season three). What was fantastic for us was the response – it did so well critically and worked well for Amazon. We knew it was the show that drove people to Amazon Prime.

“Toby (Finlay, who writes with Warlow) has also written a lot of episodes and together the writers have created this world and these characters. For me it’s about realising this world they’ve set up. They’ve now got three seasons’ worth of richness and they’ve really enjoyed working on character stories.”

But how has the show changed, if at all, by moving to a streaming service? Producer John Rushton says: “We’ve never been shy about showing the more graphic, seedier side of Whitechapel so when it comes to murdering, finding victims and so on, it’s not gratuitous but we’re confident in making sure the craft departments – make-up, costume, art – should be allowed to do that. And it’s in the writing and the language to capture that.”

So while the content hasn’t changed, Ripper Street is taking advantage of no longer being tied to the BBC1 broadcast hour. In particular, episodes one and two of season four were released as a feature-length instalment – just one example of the producers’ keenness to take advantage of the lack of a set running time.

Tiplady explains: “We never have to run to length, which means we can make the show that we want to make. In season three we had a longer episode just because that was how the story panned out. The only thing is when we did the cut-downs (for the BBC1 editions), we thought we’d just remove a strand to make it 59 minutes, but that isn’t how it works because everything’s got a pace and timing to it. We need to get better at being clearer if we have taken something out or not.”

prison cell
A new police station forms a key part of Ripper Street’s new set

With the show now in its fourth season, writers Warlow and Finlay “know what we can deliver on a scale that works for the storytelling,” Tiplady adds. “On season one they’d ask how much something was going to cost. We now get scripts that we can produce pretty much on first draft. We’ve not had a conversation about that, it’s just how they write now.”

On set, a brand new police station takes centre stage adjacent to a railway arch, while nearby shops and side streets can be dressed to provide multiple locations. Flexibility is key, says Rushton, adding that horses and carts have also been used during filming.

“We can film day and night, and can create any time of the day or night whenever necessary,” explains production designer Stephen Daly. “That’s been a big change for us because it means we can do a lot more nighttime shoots. There are certain angles where you don’t see the police station and the main street to the archway, so we can redress that so it becomes different streets. It changes all the time. All that is part of the planning process.”

The police station also serves as a live set, a first for Ripper Street, meaning the cameras can go through the doors and straight to the reception desk in one motion, without the need to cut to an interior set built elsewhere.

Inside Ripper Street’s new mortuary, which was previously a shower and toilet area for the nearby swimming pool, everything is clinically white with silver trolleys displaying an array of tools and implements, while one particular wall is home to several fridge units.

The pool itself doubled for scenes featuring the River Thames. Ruston adds: “Because we’re so used to the Whitechapel of Ripper Street, the police station in Leman Street and the Jewish Quarter, Richard wanted to give it a greater sense of place to show its proximity to the water. All our stories this season have a link to the river and everything going on in the British Empire. It’s just so appropriate because it’s set during the Diamond Jubilee.”

With a new life on Amazon and a fifth season already confirmed, that shouldn’t be the only celebration for Ripper Street this season.

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Max power

Maximilian: ''A captivating love story towards the end of the Middle Ages'
Maximilian: ”A captivating love story towards the end of the Middle Ages’

This week filming began on Maximilian, a lavish three-part period drama from MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF, budgeted at €15.5m (US$17.3m). The shoot is expected to take place over four months in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and will involve 60 castles, palaces, church naves and medieval streets, 3000 extras, 550 horses, 800 costumes and 100 suits of armour.

A 100-strong team has worked for months in a 4,000-square-metre hall in Vienna to construct and produce all sorts of set decorations, costumes, wigs, weapons and – for the two battle scenes – fake corpses.

At the heart of all this pomp and circumstance is what the producers call “a captivating love story towards the end of the Middle Ages.”

Amid the power politics of medieval Europe, the narrative focuses on the romance between Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian, the headstrong son of Emperor Frederick III.

Beta Film CEO Jan Mojto said: “The powerful relationship between Maximilian and Mary works its fascination through its contrasts: here the Austrian Middle Ages, there the Flemish Renaissance; here impoverished knights, there bustling commercial centres; here political calculations, there grand, genuine emotions. These are the conflicting poles that must be aligned. And I have no doubt that director Andreas Prochaska and his outstanding roster of Franco-German stars will carry this off splendidly.”

Maximilian writer Martin Ambrosch
Maximilian writer Martin Ambrosch

Not to be overlooked either is Martin Ambrosch, the Austrian screenwriter who was tasked with writing the script for Maximilian. Born in 1964, Ambrosch started his career writing movies such as Frank Novotony’s Nachtfalter, Valentin Hitz’s Kaltfront and Antonin Svoboda’s Spiele Leben.

From 2001 to 2011 he was a writer, and later head writer, of crime drama SOKO Kitzbühel, for which he wrote more than 35 episodes. More recently, he wrote the pilot and eight episodes of ARD’s Das Glück Dieser Erde and a series of coproduced TV movies for ZDF/ORF under the Spuren des Bösen (Anatomy of Evil) banner.

The Spuren des Bösen films were directed by Prochaska (referenced above as director of Maximilian). The same writer/director duo then worked together on Sarajevo, an Austrian feature about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, an event that is generally regarded as having triggered World War One.

The film received good reviews, including a broadly positive analysis by The Hollywood Reporter.

Maximilian is arguably Ambrosch and Prochaska’s biggest challenge to date, but they have certainly proved themselves capable of handling epic content. It will be interesting to see if the end result is able to travel as well internationally as other recent German-backed successes such as Generation War and Deutschland 83.

Ripper Street's fourth season is in production
Ripper Street’s fourth season is in production

Production has also begun on season four of Victorian-era detective drama Ripper Street. The show was axed after two seasons on the BBC in the UK, but was subsequently revived by Amazon, which has also committed to a fifth season.

Ripper Street was created by Richard Warlow, who is also the lead writer on the series. Explaining the project’s appeal, he told the show’s US broadcaster BBC America: “It was all to do with trying to create a different kind of period show in a different kind of period London, where we could tell thriller stories instead of a drama. I hope we’re still a drama, but we’re essentially a police thriller in a world where I hope people haven’t seen a police thriller before.”

Represented by Curtis Brown, Warlow worked as a development executive at Pathe and DNA Films before getting his first break as a screenwriter with the original screenplay Three Mile Horizon, optioned to Paramount Pictures.

His other TV credits include writing on all three seasons of Mistresses, as well as showrunning its second and third series . In terms of upcoming projects, he is currently working on a new series for TXTV Ltd entitled The Boiling House and is adapting Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety for Fox/DNA.

Ripper Street creator Richard Warlow is adapting Hilary Mantel's novel A Place of Greater Safety
Ripper Street creator Richard Warlow is adapting Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety

The latter, which tells the story of The French Revolution, is being developed for the BBC, which is presumably hoping for the same sort of success it has seen with fellow Mantel adaptation Wolf Hall.

Amazon, meanwhile, has confirmed that the second season of its transgender comedy Transparent will be streamed from December 4. The show is the creation of Jill Soloway, whose previous credits include Six Feet Under. One interesting fact about the new run is that there is a transgender female writer, classical pianist Our Lady J, on the team.

Although the first season of the show was widely acclaimed by both mainstream critics and the transgender community, Soloway had previously made it clear she wanted a transgender female writer on board to help with the show’s authenticity.

Speaking at a New York Festival last year, she said: “No matter what we did, we were always going to be ‘otherising’ Maura (the central character) in some way. And in the same way where I wouldn’t want a man to say, ‘I can have a writers room full of men and we can write women just fine,’ I can’t say that I can create a show about a trans woman and not have a trans woman writing for me.”

With a marked absence of transgender writers in the business, Our Lady J was selected at the end of 2014 from a number of writers who submitted short stories to the Transparent team.

Transparent now has a transgender writer on its writing team
Transparent now has a transgender writer on its writing team

Describing herself as a “post-religious” gospel singer, Our Lady J announced her involvement in the show via social media: “I’ll be taking the next year off from touring to dedicate my life to the Pfefferman’s as staff writer for season two of #transparenttv. Thank you for having faith in me, @jillsoloway. The world is beginning to see us as we have seen ourselves.”

Meanwhile, it was reported this week that there is going to be a nine-day mid-production shutdown on Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down so that additional work can be done on scripts. The production, from Sony Pictures, is currently four episodes through what will be a 13-hour series.

Set in 1970s New York, the show was created by Lurhmann and Shawn Ryan and includes Jaden Smith in its cast. While Lurhmann is an example of film talent shifting to TV, Ryan is a veteran of the small screen. He was creator and showrunner of The Shield and The Chicago Code and co-creator of Last Resort. He is also used to working with marquee talent, having partnered David Mamet on covert-ops action series The Unit.

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