Building their own
Vicky McClure and Jonny Owen are among the rising number of actors forging a path into series development and production through their own companies. They speak to DQ about establishing BYO Films, backing new voices and why they don’t want an easy ride to a green light.
Wherever an actor might come from, the chances are that before long, they board a plane bound for LA with hopes and dreams of cracking Hollywood. But for Vicky McClure, home has always been where her heart is.
The star rose to prominence working alongside Shane Meadows on the director’s 2006 film This is England and its trilogy of television sequels, before becoming a household name in the UK thanks to her role in Jed Mercurio’s compelling crime drama Line of Duty.
But heading to America has never appealed to the Nottingham-born actor.
“I’ve never been to LA, and people go, ‘What?!’ I’ve never needed to,” she tells DQ. “It’s not my heart’s desire.”
“Why go to LA when you’ve got Nottingham?” says fellow actor and director Jonny Owen (Shameless, Glue).
He’s joking, sort of, because it’s a comment that goes to the heart of the ethos behind BYO Films, the production company led by co-CEOs McClure and Owen that aims to work with and champion local writers and working-class stories, and showcase the creative expertise in and around Nottinghamshire.
The couple, who recently married, launched BYO in 2021 and last year secured backing from global production and distribution group All3Media to help develop, support and grow their scripted and non-scripted shows, with a slate that now stretches to 21 projects. They’ve also put a team in place that includes head of development Natasha Phillips and script editor Danny Moran.
“This last year has been our most exciting year for sure,” says McClure. “We’ve got some new and some well-known writers we’re working with. We’ve got some adaptations of books, we’ve got lots of varied things on our slate and it’s just grown into what we really wanted it to be, which is to give people opportunities and to make projects we’re passionate about, whether that’s for a working-class audience or making sure we’re supporting people who need to be given a shot.”
BYO’s first production, ITV drama Without Sin, debuted in 2022, with McClure starring as a mother still grieving the death of her daughter after several years. It was a coproduction with Left Bank Pictures (The Crown), and that formula has been repeated for Insomnia, a Paramount+ series based on Sarah Pinborough’s novel that is currently in production. McClure again stars, this time as a woman whose dream life turns into a nightmare when she stops sleeping.
The company is now developing further projects with ITV and the BBC, though McClure notes that she’s not attached to star in everything the company hopes to make.
“It’s not a vanity project,” she says of the prodco. “As an actor, you’ll always be cautious that you may never get work again. But the intention was never for me to get work off the back of it. It was always about Jonny’s passion and his experience in this industry and just doing something for others.
“I’ve had lots of people in my life, whether it be Shane Meadows or Jed Mercurio, who have given me a shot. And Jonny’s had people who have given him a shot. Now it’s our opportunity to say, ‘Right, we’ve built something. Now let’s give other people a shot as well.’”
Support from All3Media ensures that BYO – which stands for Build Your Own – is able to pay people to be in development with them, particularly those with no history in the television business. “That was key,” McClure says.
McClure and Owen are across every project, whether it’s a drama, period drama or comedy. “The variation is there, and it’s not to tick boxes,” McClure continues. The founders are also upfront about the fact that while their names might get them an initial meeting or an email address, they’re not guaranteed a green light for every project – nor would they want it that way.
“With our morals and our ethos as a company, that would be a bit shitty, really, if there are all these other great companies that are trying to do similar things,” the actor adds. “I don’t want it to feel like a competition. There’s room for everybody’s ideas and creativity, and everyone’s got to have a fair shot.
“When you’ve built something and you’ve worked for it and you’ve gone through the motions and then you get a green light, it’s so much sweeter than somebody just going, ‘Whatever you want, just make it’ and then you make a piece of crap.”
The decision to launch BYO was instigated by Welshman Owen, who had moved from acting to directing and thought it would be a good idea to set up a company where they could have more control over the types of projects they worked on and how they were produced.
Words of encouragement also came from Henry Normal, who co-founded Baby Cow with actor Steve Coogan and worked with Owen on I Believe in Miracles, a 2015 documentary about Nottingham Forest Football Club.
Their plans then took shape during the Covid pandemic, and when All3Media came on board, they began building their slate.
“We’re very lucky in the sense that certainly Vicky’s name and her reputation as an actor is second to none, and that does get you a long way down the line,” Owen says. “A lot of people form their own companies but, with Vicky, we’ve said the moment we get that first commission that she isn’t starring in, we have really arrived as a company.”
McClure admits it had never been in her thoughts to move into production. But it was when she starred in ITV bomb-disposal unit drama Trigger Point – which comes from Mercurio’s HTM Television – that she started to become more involved behind the camera. She then became an executive producer on Trigger Point S2, which wrapped production earlier this year, while Meadows, Hat Trick Productions MD Jimmy Mulville and Left Bank CEO Andy Harries have also been on hand to offer advice.
“It’s been a massive learning curve. It’s been like a bit of a crash course,” says the actor.
But how have their screen careers informed the way they want to manage BYO Films? McClure says how they “run the floor” is their priority, with the hope of fostering a creative, collaborative and inclusive set on all their projects.
“It’s such stressful, long hours. Anything can go wrong. You’re constantly getting [script] amends and everybody’s head’s a bit scrambled,” she says. “For me, what makes the job easier and better for everyone is the atmosphere and the environment you put down, and it’s really important for that to start at the very top, because jobs can be really tricky when they don’t need to be. Putting on a bit of music on set, buying everyone a coffee… little things can go a very long way when it’s a gruelling shoot.”
“Somebody said, ‘Never be shy of hiring people who are more talented than you,’” says Owen, “and people like Natasha and Danny are fantastic. They’re much better at me at dissecting the script, so you try to employ people who are really talented. That’s one of the main principles of the company for me, to try to work with the best people.”
Producing Without Sin was “a no-brainer,” McClure says. It was written by Nottingham native Frances Poletti, and the BYO team were insistent that it also be shot in the Midlands city, giving a platform to the local filming infrastructure.
“Nothing gets shot here so it was like, ‘We have to make it happen,’” McClure says. “And we did and it was brilliant and it worked. It brought money to the city, it opened up the city visually to lots of different parts of the country, and the accent and feeling of community was strong.
“Then with Insomnia, it’s a very different story. We’re filming in London, it’s set in London and it’s a Paramount+ show, so it does open up our slate to the streaming side of things as well, which is great.”
Notably, Insomnia came to McClure as an acting job, but she said BYO needed to be involved if she was to take the role.
“Andy [Harries] can see what we’re doing and he can appreciate that I can’t just take three or four months out of what I’m doing in development and not be working on the company,” she says. “[BYO] is my priority now. Whenever things come up, we’ll always discuss stuff with All3Media and make sure they’re happy and know what we’re doing. We’re very respectful of the agreement we’ve got and the fact we have to make it work.”
Looking ahead, BYO’s five-year-plan includes securing some returning dramas and “world domination,” Owen remarks.
“What will be really exciting is if we got quite a few things greenlit that I’m not acting in and it’s off the basis of great writers and the development that everybody’s put in,” adds McClure, who is also heavily involved in charity work through the dementia choir she has established. “Just getting stuff made, putting it out there and seeing our logo on its own would be pretty special.”
For those looking to break into the business, McClure also offers this advice: “To anybody who feels like it’s not something that’s available to them because of a lack of education or lack of experience in that field, I left school without any GCSEs. I don’t have that kind of business mind. But I’m very interested and I’m very involved in this industry. And if they are as well, that’s OK. As long as you’ve got good people backing you and you’ve got people who want to work alongside you with the same mentality, do it.”
ACTORS IN CHARGE
A familiar face on British television since the 1970s, comedian, presenter, actor and writer Henry’s recent screen credits include The Witcher: Blood Origin and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (pictured). He also recently penned and appeared in Three Little Birds, an ITV drama produced by his company Douglas Road, which he has now moved away from to launch Esmerelda Productions, which will develop comedy and drama with underrepresented writers, cast and crew.
The Australian star, best known for roles in A Place to Call Home, Janet King and Jack Irish, is behind Tasmania-based Archipelago Productions, which seeks to tell distinctly Australian stories for a global audience. Its first series, Bay of Fires (pictured), debuted this year.
Luther and Hijack (pictured) star Elba founded Green Door Pictures in 2013 with a mission to champion diversity in front of and behind the camera. Its credits include In the Long Run, Turn Up Charlie and Mandela, My Dad & Me.
The Legally Blonde, Big Little Lies and The Morning Show (pictured) actor has turned her Hello Sunshine production company into a creative empire, championing women storytellers through television, film, Reese’s Book Club and other initiatives.
Israeli prodco Faraway Road was founded by Raz and journalist Avi Issacharoff, who together co-created and write action drama Fauda (pictured), in which Raz also stars. The company has also produced Netflix original Hit & Run and Showtime’s Ghosts of Beirut.
Stephen Graham and Hannah Walters
The husband-and-wife acting team have turned producers through their label Matriarch Productions, championing diversity and inclusivity through BBC series Boiling Point (pictured) and Disney’s A Thousand Blows.