Tag Archives: Tom Shankland

Ones to Watch: Directors

DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 directors to tune in for, from Steve McQueen (Small Axe) to Mira Nair (A Suitable Boy) and Tobias Lindholm (The Investigation).

20. Nanna Kristin Magnúsdóttir
In her native Iceland, Magnúsdóttir is a triple threat, known for her work as an actor, writer and director. With a 20-year career on screen, largely in feature films, she has written on series such as Stella Blómkvist. Last year, Magnúsdóttir wrote, directed and starred in Happily Never After, in which she plays a marriage counsellor who discovers her husband has been unfaithful.
Next up, she is co-directing The Minister, an Icelandic political drama that follows an unconventional politician who rises to become prime minister while hiding a mental health condition that will threaten the stability of his government.

19. Lenny Abrahamson
Nominated for an Oscar for his 2015 feature Room, Abrahamson was a key driving force behind one of the hit series of the year so far, BBC and Hulu drama Normal People (pictured top). Working alongside writer Sally Rooney and the team at Element Pictures, Abrahamson joined the development process from an early stage, helping to translate the sensibility and tone of Rooney’s novel to the screen. The plot follows Marianne and Connell’s relationship from the end of their school days in a small town in the west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Dublin’s Trinity College.
The series was released to no shortage of acclaim, and Abrahamson will be hoping lightning strikes twice when he and Element reunite with Rooney, the BBC and Hulu to bring her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, to television.

18. Claire McCarthy
McCarthy is currently lighting up Sunday nights on BBC1 with The Luminaries, a sumptuous period drama set in 1860s New Zealand at the height of the gold rush. Based on Eleanor Catton’s Booker prize-winning novel, it stars Eva Green, Eve Hewson and Himesh Patel in what is described as an epic story of love, murder and revenge, filmed against New Zealand’s stunning landscapes and a wholly realised frontier town set.
McCarthy’s previous credits include a number of short films, and she is also a writer and producer. Last year it was announced that McCarthy will be the lead director of forthcoming Sky Italia series Domina, which chronicles the power struggles of Ancient Rome from the perspective of women, in particular Livia Drusilla, who went on to become the most powerful woman in the world.

17. Tom Shankland
Shankland’s extensive CV includes such TV shows as Les Misérables, The City & The City, The Punisher, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, House of Cards, The Missing and Ripper Street. He now leads off eight-part BBC and Netflix drama The Serpent, which tells the remarkable story of how murderer Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) was captured.
As the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, Sobhraj repeatedly slipped from the grasp of authorities worldwide to become Interpol’s most wanted man, with arrest warrants on three different continents. Jenna Coleman, Ellie Bamber and Billy Howle also star in the series, which was filmed on location in Thailand.

16. Andrew Haigh
The director of films such as Weekend, the Academy Award-nominated 45 Years and Lean on Pete, Haigh has also directed episodes of TV series including Looking and The OA. The North Water sees him take charge of an adaptation of Ian McGuire’s novel of the same name, which Haigh himself has reimagined for the screen.
The five-part thriller is set in the late 1850s and follows a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up to become the ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. The all-star cast boasts Colin Farrell, Jack O’Connell, Stephen Graham, Tom Courtenay and Peter Mullan.

15. Jorge Dorado
As the director of Spanish drama The Head, Dorado takes viewers inside a claustrophobic, time-hopping horror thriller set deep in the isolated, frozen wilderness of Antarctica. Filmed inside a studio and on an oil rig in Tenerife, as well as on the ice-covered landscapes of Iceland, the series begins as the summer crew of scientific research station Polaris VI depart, leaving 10 people to continue working through the long, dark winter. But six months later, the summer crew return to find seven dead bodies, two people missing and just one survivor – who may be a murderer.

14. Michaela Coel
Having dazzled audiences with her performances in The Aliens, Black Mirror and Black Earth Rising, Bafta winner Coel is also well known as a creative force off screen. She created, wrote and starred in breakout comedy Chewing Gum, and repeats the act in I May Destroy You, which is currently airing on the BBC and HBO.
She also co-directs I May Destroy You with Sam Miller (Rellik, Luther), helping to give the show its fly-on-the-wall style as viewers follow Coel’s character, burgeoning writer Arabella. The series is described as a fearless, frank and provocative series that explores the question of sexual consent in contemporary life and how the distinction between liberation and exploitation is made.

13. Mikael Marcimain
Swedish director Marcimain’s last TV show, Danish miniseries Liberty, was set in Tanzania in the late 1980s and followed a group of Scandinavian expats as they struggle to adapt to a new culture, exploring what happens when the idealism that brought them to Africa turns to corruption, lies and deceit.
He returns to the period for his next project, Jakten på en mördare (The Hunt for a Killer), a true crime drama focusing on the murder of 10-year-old Helen Nilsson in southern Sweden in March 1989. The series follows the journey of two police officers who lead an investigation into Helen’s death and, against all odds, find her killer.

12. Isabel Coixet
Spain’s Goya Awards are its equivalent of the Oscars, celebrating the best in film. So with seven Goyas to her name, it’s not an overstatement to describe Coixet as one of the country’s leading filmmakers. Now she has turned her attention to television by writing and directing HBO Europe’s eight-part series Foodie Love.
Launching in the US this month following its release across Europe, it follows two 30-somethings after they meet on a foodie mobile dating app and then embark on a gastronomic journey, learning about each other through the mediums of jamón, ramen and fine dining from around the world.

(photo: Assafshuster)

11. Daniel Syrkin
Russian-born Syrkin grew up in Israel, where he has established a directing career with credits including film Out of Sight (earning him the Israeli Academy Award for best director) and TV dramas The Gordin Cell, Mossad 101 and miniseries Stockholm.
His next directing project is Tehran, an Israeli espionage thriller from Fauda writer Moshe Zonder, which tells the story of a a Mossad agent who goes deep undercover on a dangerous mission in Tehran, placing her and everyone around her in jeopardy. The series will air on Israel’s Kan 11 and was recently acquired for worldwide release by Apple TV+.

10. Eduard Cortés
Spanish director Cortes has screen credits stretching back over 30 years, with recent TV work including Merlí, Ángel o demonio and Hay alguoien ahí. He is now helming what is described as the most expensive Spanish series to date, Diem Quien Soy (Tell Me Who I Am).
Taking viewers back through the 20th century and some of its most important historical events, from the country’s civil war and the Second World War to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the show is based on Julia Navarro’s novel. It follows these events through the eyes of Amelia Garayoa (Irene Escolar), a woman trapped by contradictions, who will make mistakes for which she may never quite finish paying. Moved by her ideals, she is able to leave her life behind to fight for freedom. Filming on the Movistar+ drama took place in more than 300 locations and featured over 3,000 extras.

(photo: WME)

9. Karena Evans
As an actor, Canadian Evans has appeared in series such as Mary Kills People. As an award-winning director, she has shot music videos for Drake and Coldplay, while also building a TV slate including Swipe Night and Snowfall. Now, she is the pilot director for upcoming Starz drama P-Valley.
Based on showrunner Katori Hall’s stage play, the story unfolds deep in the Mississippi Delta, home to a little-strip-club-that-could and the big characters who come through its doors – the hopeful, the lost, the broken, the ballers, the beautiful and the damned.

8. Yann Demange
French director Demange has shot episodes of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Dead Set, Criminal Justice and Top Boy. His next project, Lovecraft Country, takes him to the US for a story that blends real-life racism with the terrifying monsters ripped straight from the horror stories created by novelist HP Lovecraft.
Demange directs the first episode of the HBO series, which is based on Matt Ruff’s novel. Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his uncle George (Courtney B Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael K Williams).

7. Eva Husson
Husson directs the first three episodes in the second season of Amazon Prime Video’s returning thriller Hanna. The standout scene from those opening instalments comes in episode two, when Hanna seeks information about a company involved in training young girls as elite killers. Volunteering for a drug trial, Hanna takes a dangerous trip, with memories of her isolated life coming back to haunt her in mesmerising style.
French director and writer Husson has also directed films Girls of the Sun and Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story).

6. Tobias Lindholm
Lindholm, the Oscar-nominated writer and director of films A Hijacking, A War and The Hunt and TV drama Mindhunter, is behind six-part crime drama The Investigation. The series explores the aftermath of the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, focusing on Copenhagen Police and its head of homicide Jens Møller and how the department’s methodical, unusual and technical work led them to solving the murder.
The series is produced for TV2 Denmark, Sweden’s SVT and Nordic streamer Viaplay, with the BBC also picking it up. Lindholm has also worked on Danish dramas Follow the Money and Borgen.

5. Lucia Puenzo
Writer/director Puenzo made her directing debut with 2007 feature XXY, which she also wrote. She is now lead director and showrunner of Chilean drama La Jauría (The Pack), which is set to become one of Amazon’s first Latin American original series.
The story concerns the disappearance of a young girl who unwittingly becomes the centre of a police investigation. The girl’s disappearance exposes a deadly online game that recruits men to commit acts of aggression toward women, brought to light when a video of her assault goes viral.

4. Anthony Hemingway
Since making his directorial debut with an episode of Justice in 2006, US director Hemingway has helmed episodes of series including Power, Underground, American Crime Story, Treme and The Wire.
His latest challenge was to bring the story of Aretha Franklin to TV in the third season of National Geographic’s scripted anthology series Genius. Set to premiere later this year, the series sees Cynthia Erivo in the title role as the drama chronicles Franklin’s rise from young gospel singer to the Queen of Soul. Hemingway is the producing director on the series, working alongside showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks.

3. Mira Nair
Internationally acclaimed director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) is behind the BBC’s forthcoming adaptation of Vikram Seth novel A Suitable Boy, marking the first time she has directed television.
Across six episodes, the story follows university student Lata (Tanya Maniktala), who is coming of age in North India in 1951 at the same time as the country is carving out its own identity as an independent nation. Lata’s mother is determined to find her a husband – a suitable boy – but Lata, torn between family duty and the excitement of romance, embarks on her own epic journey of love and self-discovery.

2. Stacie Passon
Passon’s credits include Transparent, The Path, Billions, House of Cards and American Gods. For her next project, Passon is directing Sky drama Little Birds. The series transports viewers back to 1950s Tangier, which serves as the bright and bold backdrop to the story of a New York heiress who becomes intoxicated by the vibrancy of this international melting pot. Not your average period drama, Little Birds is based on the erotic vignettes of Anais Nin.

1. Steve McQueen
Best known for his Oscar-winning 2013 feature film 12 Years a Slave, McQueen comes to TV with his forthcoming series Small Axe. An anthology of five films, Small Axe was created and directed by McQueen, with each entry telling a personal story about London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
Described by BBC director of content Charlotte Moore as “an extraordinary and visceral piece of work,” two of the films – Mangrove and Lovers Rock – have been produced as feature-length films and were selected for the 73rd edition of the Cannes Film Festival. McQueen also co-wrote them with Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland, respectively. The three other films are called Alec Wheatle, Education and Red, White & Blue.

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No singing allowed

Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables might be best known for its musical adaptations, but a new small-screen adaptation produced for the BBC and Masterpiece on PBS feels more like a western, as exec producer Bethan Jones and director Tom Shankland explain.

Tom Shankland

When Victor Hugo sat down to write his epic 19th century novel Les Misérables, including in it a searing indictment of the divide between rich and poor and the travails of revolutionary political movements, he was probably considering a more distinguished legacy than an often-derided musical in London’s West End.

For when one thinks about Les Misérables, it is the bathetic tones of I Dreamed a Dream and carefully choreographed dance-acting that spring to mind. And although Anne Hathaway’s rendition of I Dreamed… in the 2012 Hollywood film did give a sense of the pain and despair her character Fantine was supposed to be feeling, the fact remains that this ambitious novel is often reduced to a collection of show tunes and the diminutive appellation ‘Les Mis.’

This is one of the reasons adaptation supremo Andrew Davies (Bleak House, Pride & Prejudice, Middlemarch) has taken on the project for UK pubcaster the BBC and Masterpiece on PBS in the US, alongside producers Lookout Point and BBC Studios, which is also distributing. When discussing the adaptation a few years back at the Hay Festival, Davies called the musical a “shoddy farrago” of Hugo’s original work, adding that he hoped his take would champion the book for its depth.

“Andrew loves being contentious, that’s his thing,” says Bethan Jones, exec producer on the series for BBC Studios. “For me, you take a big book like this and you adapt it to the form you are servicing. Inevitably, the musical has to have its baddies, its goodies, its romantic interests – it has to follow that journey. It has a certain amount of hours to fill and you have to tell a musical story. A film adaptation will be a very different thing again. What we’ve got in six hours is the opportunity to dig down a little bit more into those characters than potentially shorter adaptations have time to do; to explore the relationships and themes between the characters and their particular journeys.”

David Oyelowo as Javert in Les Misérables, which will air on the BBC this Christmas

Part of this sharper focus on the source material is a strict ‘no singing’ policy, with Davies pointedly declaring at Hay that his cast would not “yell great things like they do in the musical.” Jones diplomatically says the musical and the BBC series – which lands on screens in early 2019 – are “two very different, but equally valid” ways of representing the book.

Pared down, Les Misérables tells the story of prisoner Jean Valjean and his continuous battle with police inspector Javert following his release from prison for stealing bread. After further run-ins with the law, Valjean attempts to change his ways and live life as a decent man. Interspersed with his long road to redemption are stories of family, love, rebellion and commentary on the social and political class system of post-revolutionary France. Its intricate plot has spawned – beyond the aforementioned takes – more than 60 adaptations across film and television, which raises another question about the BBC’s forthcoming production – do we need another?

Bethan Jones

Jones reiterates Davies’ desire to go back to Hugo’s original text and “draw out more of the real stories, themes and characters” and the book’s timelessness as justification. “We also felt it was timely in as much as while there is still poverty, hardship and degradation in the world, books like this will still be relevant. It feels timely to be looking at a classic text that deals with a complicated period and the division of rich and poor but through the eyes of brilliant characters.”

Director Tom Shankland (The City & The City, The Missing, Ripper Street) admits he hadn’t seen a single adaptation of the book before he took the helm, and thus hopes his is a fresh perspective. “For me, it felt like an epic western,” he says. “I’ve always loved westerns. There are all these fantastic characters – the bad sheriff, the wanted man, the hunted fugitive. It was everything I loved about that genre – the adventure and emotion of that.”
Simply being thrilled by the plot isn’t enough to hook a director completely, Shankland points out, but he was snagged “emotionally and thematically” by Valjean’s quest for redemption and a “simple desire to be good in a bad world.”

The BBC has assembled a premium cast for the series, with The Affair star Dominic West taking on Valjean, Selma’s David Oyelowo playing Javert, Lily Collins as destitute young mother Fantine and Adeel Akhtar and Olivia Colman as petty criminals the Thénardiers.
“David absolutely felt there was something around Javert’s role as a bit of a thwarted outsider with frustrations and drive to move up in the world, as well as being this person with a real ideological commitment to the belief that people are either born wicked or good,” Shankland says. “He kept on looking and finding, in extraordinary ways, the humanity – however twisted and bitter – in Javert. By the end, I’m almost in tears for him. In my wildest dreams, I wasn’t sure we’d get to that place with a character like that. David dug so deep.

Dominic West (The Affair) as Jean Valjean

“When I watch what Dominic does to take Valjean to this unbelievably brutalised place, which is almost a wordless, inhuman place, to where he ends, he makes me believe every part of that journey.”

Davies has a knack of turning a classic literary work into a TV drama that resonates cinematically and does not seem anachronistic. In 2016, he received universal acclaim for his BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic historical novel War & Peace, in which he successfully brought chaotic battle scenes, aristocratic opulence and sweeping landscapes of 19th century Russia to the small screen. Furthermore, within that epic scope, Jones says Davies has a rare ability to portray relatable characters that “speak to” a contemporary audience.

“Andrew’s scripts made these characters feel modern. That was nothing to do with having them speak in a very modern way or changing their behaviour, he just found the humanity and earthiness of it,” Shankland says, recalling a scene in which Fantine and her companions urinate in a Paris park. “I thought, ‘Oh god, they’re going to pee in Les Misérables, that’s exciting.’ It was these little things that Andrew did to make these people feel real and have an immediate presence that made me think that it wouldn’t be like doing a conventional, polite period piece. We’d be doing something that had a real connection with today.”

Broadchurch star Olivia Colman also features in the period drama

Filming has taken the production to far-flung areas of the French-speaking parts of Europe, from southern Belgium to Sedan in the Ardennes region of north-eastern France. In Sedan, Shankland says, they found back streets acutely reminiscent of the period Hugo was writing about. Jones and Shankland both note that the filming of key scenes, such as the political uprising, where students revolt and erect barricades in the narrow streets of Paris, were inspired by contemporary riots such as those that took place in London in 2011 and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in the 1960s.

“I wanted the images to resonate with the audience, so they’d be thinking, ‘Oh hang about, that doesn’t feel like [post-revolutionary France] even if they might have guns that are somewhat 19th century,’” Shankland says. “Actually, what happened in a street battle – the energy, fear and chaos of that – is very modern. I tried to let modern events into the imagery. In some ways, we never thought of it as a period piece.”

“It does speak to that modern world. It’s not the French revolution; it’s a small, failed skirmish. That’s the tragedy of it. It’s a group of people desperately trying to assert themselves in a situation where the state is so much bigger than them. That’s still very relevant,” Jones adds.

Considering Les Misérables’ hard-hitting topics, one might expect the series to comprise six hours of unremitting tension and misery. But Shankland is quick to reassure this isn’t the case. “For all that the story is full of these epic, intense themes, there’s so much humour in it, and not in a way that I felt was ever crowbarred in. However dark times are, there’s always room for lightness and romance. It’s just a beautifully textured piece.”
And all without a songbook in sight.

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City life

The City & The City sees David Morrissey play Inspector Tyador Borlú, who is tasked with investigating the murder of a foreign student whose body is discovered in the streets of the down-at-heel city of Besźel.

He soon uncovers evidence that the murdered girl came from Ul Qoma, a city that shares a dangerous and volatile relationship with Besźel, with the case set to challenge everything Borlú holds dear.

The four-part miniseries is written by Tony Grisoni (Electric Dreams, Red Riding Trilogy), based on China Miéville’s mind-bending novel, and directed by Tom Shankland (House of Cards).

In this DQTV interview, Morrissey, Grisoni, Shankland and executive producer Preethi Mavahalli discuss making the show and the challenges of translating Miéville’s novel to the screen.

The City & The City is produced by Mammoth Screen for BBC2 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

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Punishing work

Tom Shankland has directed shows including Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, The Missing, Ripper Street and House of Cards.

Speaking to DQ, he reveals his approach to directing, how he picks new projects and how the process differs between the UK and US.

He also discusses his work on Marvel series Luke Cage, Iron Fist and forthcoming The Punisher, as well as new BBC drama The City & The City, based on the book by China Miéville.

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Cinematic TV

With the popularity of TV drama showing no sign of waning, the role of the television drama director is rapidly evolving. Three of the industry’s finest give their perspective on the changing nature of their work.

Film directors? You could name a few: Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola just for starters. The motion picture has long been a medium that belongs to the director, with audiences finding it more difficult to reel off the names of their television counterparts. Viewers may be drawn to their favourite actor or broadcaster, but small-screen directors rarely get the same credit.

But now the lines are blurring. TV dramas worldwide – not just from the UK or US – increasingly have production values comparable to motion pictures, while talent is now regularly hopping from film to TV. And TV directors are feeling the change.

“The world is changing under our feet,” says Anand Tucker (Red Riding), the director behind Channel 4 (C4) epic period saga Indian Summers.

Indian Summers
Indian Summers

“The movies I’ve made for the most part, the ones I enjoyed, have been in the indie sector. It feels like these stories are now migrating from the cinema and into TV. I would say television is now the new indie movie.”

Tom Shankland, director of the BBC’s 2014 thriller The Missing (pictured top), starring Cold Feet actor James Nesbitt, echoes this view. Shankland, who also directed Ripper Street, maintains the TV director now has more influence over the shape of a programme than ever before.

“The director’s role is becoming increasingly important as the challenge to be more creative increases,” he says. “There’s so much good TV out there at the moment. Audiences still like to tune in to the actors they love, but if directors add their own style to a show, particularly in the world of drama, they are going to break new ground.”

But television dramas’ flavour-of-the-month status doesn’t guarantee a smash hit. The craft has moved on, and it’s credit to TV directors experimenting with new forms, narrative arcs, fresh editing styles, small-screen cinematography and much more that scripted series are now a more exciting prospect for global audiences.

Simon Kaijser
Simon Kaijser

Describing his TV work in terms that would be unthinkable a few decades ago, Scandinavian director Simon Kaijser, currently working on forthcoming BBC period drama Life in Squares, says he “likes to be subjective.”

“I hate the camera having what I call a ‘sixth sense,’” he adds. “If the camera arrives at a specific position at the perfect time, I feel like the camera knows it’s going to happen and that’s wrong.

“When doing a scene, I try to focus on something that’s going on somewhere else. You don’t always remember the person talking, so why not focus on the person on the other side of the street getting dressed?

“I always like to do a lot of pans to give a sense of stuff that’s played out in front of you – it gives an unrehearsed feel. But it’s funny how rehearsed it can actually be to give it this look.”

Tucker’s period drama Indian Summers, set in the final years of British colonial rule in India, was commissioned by C4 in 2013. Produced by New Pictures – the company’s first pick-up from C4 – it is a coproduction with US pubcaster PBS, and will air in 2015 as part of its Masterpiece strand. Paul Rutman (Vera) is the writer, with Rebecca Eaton executive producing for PBS-owned WGBH in the US, along with Charlie Pattinson and Simon Curtis.

The project is not typical for C4, with period pieces in the UK usually featuring on the BBC or ITV. And with this in mind, Tucker was determined not to make another version of iconic 1980s ITV drama The Jewel in the Crown (1984), which also chronicled the final days of the British Raj in India. If that wasn’t pressure enough, The Jewel in the Crown is often regarded as one of the greatest TV series to grace the UK’s small screen.

Tears Without Gloves
Tears Without Gloves

“Indian Summers is political and personal, and frankly the idea of doing something of this scale on television was really exciting,” Tucker says. “I remember watching Jewel In The Crown and thinking it was one of the best things ever. It felt that if we could get this right it could be something on that scale; something that’s fun to watch on a really wet and miserable night in February.

“But you can’t just go and do The Jewel in the Crown II. It’s 2014 and everything’s changed, so the challenge is how you reinvent a period drama while still being true to all the things that make period drama great; like beautiful young people in gorgeous flowing dresses, and tea at four o’clock.”

Tucker achieves his vision by bringing a modernity to his shooting style. For several scenes, he used a MoviCAM, the steadicam that allows filmmakers to move around with dignity. “It allows you to achieve those lyrical, elegant flowing shots you’d expect to see in a costume drama,” he explains.

Indian Summers was shot in Malaysia, a burgeoning production territory that recently saw the opening of the Pinewood Iskander Malaysia Studios. The studio is where Netflix shot its epic period drama Marco Polo – touted as one of the most expensive TV shows ever made – and Tucker, who himself was brought up in South East Asia, now believes the country has a lot to offer TV drama producers.

“Malaysia is trying to become the South Africa of the Far East, as it’s instigated a very aggressive tax credit,” he says. “We had to recreate 1930s India and the Raj in the country. It was challenging, but in Penang we had the essence of English colonial rule.

Anand Tucker
Anand Tucker

“My job in setting up the show was also about creating the infrastructure. The most any local crews had done were a couple of movies or commercials, so it was also about training them to manage a 160 or 170-day shoot. The tricky thing was how to balance bringing a British crew over while also empowering the Asian operation.”

Only time will tell whether Indian Summers will receive the same critical acclaim as The Jewel in the Crown, but the extraordinary amount of work poured in to the project is not being understated.

Another drama pushing the genre forward is BBC1’s The Missing, which ended its eight-episode run in December to rave reviews in the UK. Unsurprisingly, writers Jack and Harry Williams are already in talks for a second season.

One of director Tom Shankland’s biggest challenges was to direct the entire thriller, after producers opted not to follow the norm of choosing different directors to work on individual episodes. “Initially, it started as this practical challenge because the scripts were split 50/50 between 2006 and 2014,” he says. “One half of the drama was set in winter, while the other was in summer during the Football World Cup. We were lucky to have a great schedule where we could film summer in summer and winter in winter and then go to the cutting room.

“So it was suggested that I’d do all of the episodes. As we were quite ahead of the game with strong scripts, and readings had been done ahead of the initial preparations, it was great for a director to get in early on all of that. I was a bit wary doing a 101-day shoot, although because it was one long linear story broken into different time zones, it was a fantastic opportunity to do what was essentially an incredibly long film.”

Shankland’s vision for The Missing was always a naturalistic one, exemplified by the fact he didn’t want to make the cuts between 2006 and 2014 too obvious.

“I wanted to make the audience pay a little bit of attention to when these transitions were happening on-screen. So we tried to make the switches as authentic as possible,” he explains. “We played a tiny little game with the camera where we used slightly older lenses for the past to give a little bit more warmth and softness, but nothing too extreme. Then it was just a case of waiting for good weather in June and shit weather in January while Jimmy Nesbitt got soaked, and hoping that he could stand a lot of rain and water, which he did.”

Tom Shankland
Tom Shankland

For Simon Kaijser, who filmed three-part BBC drama Life in Squares on location in London and east Sussex, the role of the global TV director has now changed as audiences start to embrace dramas from other territories.

“The success of Scandinavian drama has given Scandi producers, directors and writers more confidence to do bolder stuff,” he says. Kaiser previously directed Swedish broadcaster SVT’s three-part drama Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves. “The Scandinavian industry has more confidence than it did 10 years ago; it started with the Danes, but now Sweden is catching up on longer runs.”

Wherever a drama is made, the challenges remain the same, whether this is dealing with a tight shooting schedule, small budgets or bad weather to put them behind schedule. But isn’t that all part of the fun?

Shankland thinks so, and highlights a particular car chase scene (normally a big-budget proposition even in a feature film) as an example of how to literally cut corners in TV drama direction. “I felt very happy that we took a classic genre and did something a bit special without having to do a low-budget-level Hollywood car chase, which is always doomed to failure,” he says.

“When you have the challenge of creating a compelling action scene in TV, as I know from Ripper Street, you can think ‘oh God, how am I going to fit this in a 101-day schedule for the whole series?’ We decided we just couldn’t do the Fast and the Furious version. And we could barely do the first 10 seconds of the French Connection version.”

Instead, Shankland’s team had a eureka moment when they decided “not to take the chase outside of the car.”

“Because we were more of a character-based thriller, we decided to be subjective and just stay in the car, seeking a tiny bit of help from our friends in post production,” he explains.

“We managed to get this very expensive bit of kit – a giant pod you put the actor in. We took over a tiny village in Belgium and divided it up into sections. On the rest of the set we filmed the crash, and then we put the scenes together.

“We ended up with something we were happy with. It put a lot of pressure on the sound guys. The mixer, for instance, wasn’t quite happy with the we track laid so he went off and filmed himself thrashing around in a car – it was fantastic. We then built up the layers of sound.”

Overcoming these kinds of challenges is part and parcel of a TV director’s daily job. Pieced together, they can make an extremely convincing bit of work. As Tucker says, the “world is changing” and it now seems there’s far more flexibility both in method and style.

The small-screen director is no longer working in the shadow of his silver-screen counterpart. Soon it might be the other way around. It’s definitely the case that many directors now see the opportunity to make a film in eight one-hour episodes as very appealing.

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