All Gone

All Gone

By Michael Pickard
August 8, 2023

In production

Executive producers Katie Holly and Yvonne Donohoe look back on the making of Irish-New Zealand crime drama The Gone and discuss creating authentic coproductions and upending character stereotypes.

As the global television industry faces crises on multiple fronts, from a commissioning slowdown and rising costs to writers’ and actors’ strikes in the US, international coproductions appear to be back in fashion.

Of course, they have never really gone away, but as focus turns to pooling resources, global team-ups are back on the rise. One upcoming example is The Seed, a Norwegian-German series that sets a crime mystery against the backdrop of a political conspiracy.

Producers eyeing up potential partners for their next international project could also look to the example set by the makers of The Gone, an Irish-New Zealand coproduction that, just to add to the usual logistical concerns, was developed and produced in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The series stars Irish actor Richard Flood as Theo Richter, a detective who teams up with Kiwi cop Diana Huia (Acushla-Tara Kupe) to find a young Irish couple who have vanished from a rural town on New Zealand’s North Island. In a race against time, the pair must contend with a community’s growing disquiet that the disappearances are linked to a series of historical murders.

Michelle Fairley, Carolyn Bracken, Liam Carney and Aaron Monaghan star alongside Wayne Hapi, Manu Bennett, Vanessa Rare and Scott Wills in a series that was shot on location in Auckland and Te Aroha, in New Zealand, with further filming in Ireland capital Dublin.

The Gone stars Acushla-Tara Kupe and Richard Flood as a Kiwi cop and Irish detective respectively

Kingfisher Films and Keeper Films (formerly Blinder Pictures) produce the series in association with Southern Light Films, with Ireland’s RTÉ and New Zealand’s TVNZ on board as broadcast partners. Red Arrow Studios International is the distributor.

The project wasn’t always designed as an New Zealand-Ireland copro. Kingfisher executive producer Karl Zohrab had originally envisioned The Gone as a collaboration between NZ and Germany, with the story focusing on a missing German couple.

But when he spoke to Yvonne Donohoe, Keeper’s head of creative, he wondered whether Ireland might be a better fit. Donohoe agreed, and the project was re-engineered before it was taken to RTÉ, which backed further development in partnership with Screen Ireland.

A writers room was then assembled in Dublin in October 2019, with New Zealander Michael Bennett and Irish writer Anna McPartlin linking up to pen the series.

“We expected them to write some episodes, but actually they hit it off so well that they vowed to write the whole thing together,” Donohoe tells DQ. “We had an amazing week. And we were like, ‘We’re going to be making this next year.’ And then Covid arrived.”

A global pandemic would have been enough to stop any series in its tracks. Indeed, many productions were shut down and others faced lengthy filming delays waiting for the world to reopen after a number of lockdowns. But in the case of The Gone, Covid actually helped to build the show’s budget. The production was able to win support from New Zealand’s Premium Productions for International Audiences Fund, which was set up in the wake of the pandemic to support NZ stories for global audiences.

“That was what basically got us over the line,” Donohoe says.

Liam Carney and Michelle Fairley are also among the cast of the RTÉ and TVNZ drama

Katie Holly, MD of Keeper Pictures, picks up: “They really wanted international-facing shows but that were very much New Zealand content filming there. But it meant we had to have a distribution partner on board and also line up partners in terms of both broadcasters. So when we were going into that fund, we had to have a really solid package so they knew, ‘OK, if we back this, it’s something that’s likely to go.’ That was incredibly helpful in focusing everyone. It was a big carrot in terms of a very substantial investment from them, and that helped us get it moving at a certain point.”

Pairing Theo and Diana together on screen, the producers were keen to avoid creating a show that would feature too many well-worn crime drama tropes. “It was not going to be a dead girl in the woods,” Donohoe says. “We didn’t want a show that was two cops at odds with each other, or jumping into bed. We also wanted to avoid the ‘cop with a drinking problem’ and the ‘angry female cop.’”

Those stereotypes and clichés are often a shortcut to creating drama, conflict and tension in a series, but The Gone strived to be more nuanced than that. As the series opens, Theo has mysteriously handed in his notice, but no one knows why, the detective having worked his way up from modest roots.

On the other side of the world, Diana is proud and tough, a married woman who has struggled with her identity and turned her back on her family for reasons that will emerge across six episodes. Now, at the start of her career as a police detective, she has been fast-tracked through the department as part of a diversity scheme. Landing the first big case of her career, Diana faces a return to the place where she grew up and the prospect of confronting her difficult family dynamics.

“They’re very different, but not in a way that their personalities are hugely different. It’s more that they have completely opposite things going on in their worlds,” Donohoe says of the two main characters. “There are moments where he might step over the line or do something that she doesn’t like or vice versa. But from the first moment they meet, she’s happy. There’s no ego or power-tripping on either side. It’s very much practical. And that poses its own challenges in the way that everyone expects to read this and go, ‘Where’s the conflict?’ But it was really important to us to not create that from within them, going, ‘Oh, well, he’s really particular and she’s just crazy.’”

The wider mystery Theo and Diana are called to investigate involves the disappearance of an Irish couple who have been living and working in New Zealand. The woman is the daughter of a special criminal court judge in Ireland who has just presided over the sentencing of a major Dublin drug cartel leader, creating a reason for them to disappear, voluntarily or otherwise.

The plot revolves around the search for an Irish couple who have gone missing in NZ

Through the local town and Diana’s own background, the series then explores elements of Maori culture, with Donohoe drawing parallels between Maoris and the Irish – one of the reasons she thought The Gone would be better served as an Irish-NZ copro.

“There are amazing intersections as two colonised peoples, small islands, big neighbours; there are so many interesting things,” she notes. “Even our mythologies are very similar. You can find so many intersections in the way they think about personifying places. Maori culture is very much tied to land and history, and that just feels like it resonates so much with Irish culture.

“You want to do scares, you want twists and turns and guys coming down waterfalls dead. We’ve got those, and dead goats and serial killers. But the joy for me is these moments where they find connection points. For us as a company, what we want to put in the world is stuff that’s generally positive about the human condition, and that can be hard when you’re making a crime show.”

The writers room conceived a story that featured three different cultures – Irish, New Zealand and Maori – which meant the production team were constantly aware of authentically representing the different perspectives and voices in the series.

Bennett, first-block director Peter Burger and producer Reikura Kahi brought Maori authenticity to the series, while the producers also sought as many Maori heads of department as possible. “Because of the story matter, where it was set and because a lot of our characters were played by Maori actors as well, we wanted to make sure we had really strong heads of department from the community,” Holly says.

Irish director Hannah Quinn then stepped in to helm the second block of filming, becoming one of a few team members who made the journey from Ireland, where post-production and visual effects were completed.

While international coproductions of the past might simply have involved casting an actor from a certain country in order to access additional funding, The Gone has sought to tell a story that doesn’t leave viewers questioning why an Irish detective is turning up in New Zealand.

“From an Irish perspective, the reality is that to make anything of scale, you will have to coproduce,” Donohoe says. “But this show feels utterly organic to the story in that you don’t ever question why an Irish person was there, or what are they doing there.

“I don’t think we’d be in the business of going, ‘And there’s a German character, and there’s a Swedish character.’ Something like this that has an organic feel is more important to us.”

Of course, there were challenges making The Gone, not least the time difference between Ireland and New Zealand, which made it tricky for the executives to keep up with filming without staying awake all night. There were also logistical learning curves relating to finding locations within reasonable distances of each other in NZ so as not to upset the production schedule.

With a second season already in the works, “the other big thing I learned is that despite all the brilliant technology we have at our disposal to communicate with each other and replace some unnecessary travel, there is no compensating for working closely with people,” Donohoe adds. “It really is about getting some face time together and getting into stuff with each other. There’s just no replacing that human contact. Being down there made all the difference.”

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