Tag Archives: The Mallorca Files

Dramatic downturn

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

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

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

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

Simon Crawford Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Sefton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frith Tiplady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Winter sun

The Mallorca Files aims to be the bright and breezy antidote to the trend for dark, melancholic crime dramas. DQ visited the set on the Balearic isle.

If you heard the word ‘Mallorca,’ your immediate reaction might well be to imagine Magaluf (or its ruder nickname) echoing to the sound of wall-to-wall British stag dos dressed in matching Viking helmets and singing ‘ere we go!’

What you might not think of is breathtaking scenery, marvellous architecture, picturesque town squares, delightful restaurants, historic churches, gorgeous coastlines and mighty mountains.

Ben Donald

But that’s exactly what you get in The Mallorca Files, BBC1’s sunny 10-part daytime detective drama. Created by Dan Sefton (The Good Karma Hospital, Trust Me, Delicious), the series offers less of the lager louts and more of the luscious landscapes.

A variation on the theme of the buddy cop movie, The Mallorca Files centres on a mismatched pair of detectives, Miranda (Elen Rhys) from the UK and the German Max (Julian Looman). They reluctantly team up to investigate crimes on the otherwise idyllic Spanish island.

In this series, which is produced by Clerkenwell Films and Cosmopolitan Pictures and distributed by BBC Studios, the twist is that Miranda and Max overturn the national stereotypes: Miranda is uptight and efficient, while Max is charming and easy-going.

Ben Donald, the executive producer, is sitting on a bench in the capital city of Palma, outside the splendiferous Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria. Known locally as La Seu, this stunning edifice commands a spectacular view of the glistening blue sea.

It is a stone’s throw away from the Port Authority building that is doubling as the exterior of the police station in The Mallorca Files. Over more decades in this job than I care to remember, this may well be the most glamorous location for a fictional police station that I have ever visited. It certainly beats an industrial estate on the outskirts of a gloomy London suburb.

Donald, who has previously exec produced such BBC hits as Wolf Hall, Death in Paradise, Parade’s End and Spies of Warsaw, begins by outlining what he hopes to achieve with The Mallorca Files, which starts on BBC1 on Monday. “Mallorca is not all Kiss Me Quick hats and lobster-red, sunburnt Brits on the lash. It’s a beautiful island.

Elen Rhys as Miranda Blake and Julian Looman as Max Winter in The Mallorca Files

“When Miranda is posted here, she starts off very buttoned up. But quickly we begin to explore every aspect of the island through her eyes, and she soon grows to love it. She is very happy to stay because it’s so gorgeous and there are so many different facets to it. She sees that it’s a great place to be, and we want viewers to feel the same thing. When they see the show, I want everyone to go, ‘Wow! I would love to be Miranda and Max!'”

Like many feel-good dramas filmed in sunlit foreign locations – Death in Paradise, The Good Karma Hospital or Wild at Heart – The Mallorca Files is cannily scheduled in the bleak British midwinter. “Winter is often a depressing time of year. They call the last Monday in January ‘Blue Monday,’” Donald notes. “We hope that The Mallorca Files will cheer people up in the way that Death in Paradise does. It’s the time of year when series like this do well and when holiday companies start to advertise. People think, ‘Ooh, I wish I was there and on holiday.'”

The Mallorca Files certainly makes the most of the island’s ravishing scenery, also a draw for the makers of upmarket commercials and series as diverse as The Night Manager, Mad Dogs and, of course, reality series Love Island. “We thought about filming this on the Isle of Sheppey,” jokes Dominic Barlow, the show’s producer. “Mallorca is a unique island. It’s got so much going for it. I’m always surprised by what you see around the next corner in Mallorca. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Dan Sefton

Donald is keen to emphasise that The Mallorca Files – which is also heading to BritBox in the US and Canada and Germany’s ZDFneo – could not have been filmed anywhere else. “We are not in generic Spain. The stories in this series are very much connected to this place and embedded in the local culture. Mallorca has got a very proud history and a strong cultural sense of its own identity, which is reflected in the cuisine and the dialect.

“The Mallorca Files is not a parallel universe of expats. What you get is a very strong sense of this particular island, as opposed anywhere else in the Mediterranean. It’s not an invented island.”

The production has shot everywhere from the airport, a vineyard and an oligarch’s yacht to a nightclub, a bike race, a bullfighting arena and a judge’s house in a TV talent show.

Bryn Higgins, who directs the opening and closing blocks of The Mallorca Files, has found the island an eye-catching and extremely versatile backdrop for the drama, 95% of which is shot on location.

“Mallorca is the third character in the drama after Miranda and Max,” he observes. “It’s an island of great variety and history, and it allows you to go into so many different worlds. In 20 minutes, you can move from the ancient history of the old town to the modernity of the marina. It offers a huge range of locations. The island is a giant film lot.”

Higgins, who has also directed Black Mirror, Garrow’s Law, Casualty 1909, Inspector George Gently and Silent Witness, says what distinguishes this series is its cinematic feel. “In my very early conversations with Dan, most of our references were to American movies of the 1970s. There is a retro movie feel to it. It has pace, style and energy, and each episode draws on a different genre.

“The first episode is a chase movie like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The second is a western set in the world of bullfighting, which borrows from Sergio Leone. Then we did an episode about drugs in the clubs using handheld cameras, which has an element of The French Connection. We also did a wonderful satire of The X Factor. It’s wild, funny, intense and has references to Dog Day Afternoon, Network and The King of Comedy.”

The show has a ‘bright and breezy’ tone, according to its producers

The producers go on to underline that, in contrast to many fashionably dark cop dramas at the moment, the tone of The Mallorca Files is bright and breezy.”Sometimes police dramas can be very serious, gritty and depressing. But this is fun and has a lot of energy. It’s like Moonlighting or Dempsey & Makepeace,” Barlow says.

“The police station is not important in The Mallorca Files. It’s not a procedural show. Miranda and Max solve cases in cafés and sitting on the seawalls. We try to keep the island in view all the time. It’s like The Holiday Programme, where you just love looking at the locations. This is Dempsey & Makepeace mashed up with The Holiday Programme.”

Sefton chips in: “The tone is very clear. When we created the show, we said there is going to be no sex crime or missing children – just good, wholesome murder!

“It’s full of interesting themes – drugs, death and bullfighting. It’s not anodyne, but we haven’t gone to the places other cop shows go to – that’s just not my thing.”

One blot on the landscape is the memory of BBC1’s last drama set in Spain: the late and very unlamented El Dorado. Unsurprisingly, the producers of The Mallorca Files think there is no comparison between the two series. “The only similarity is they’re both set in Spain,” asserts Higgins.

“That was a soap. This has genuine cinematic ambition and style. It’s a beautifully written piece, and every film is very distinctive. Yes, it’s a detective series, but it doesn’t settle into familiar detective tropes.”

Before we go, there is one character trait of Miranda’s that we have so far neglected to mention: her piano playing. Might we see more of that in the second season of The Mallorca Files, which the BBC has just announced? “Why not?” laughs Rhys. “We could have The Mallorca Files: The Musical. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?”

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