Catching the eye

Catching the eye

April 9, 2024


Kowalski Films’ Simon Howley, executive producer of South African true crime drama Catch Me a Killer, recalls the origins of the series and outlines one memorable interrogation scene involving the show’s protagonist, serial killer profiler Micki Pistorius.

Simon Howley

I am a huge fan of crime series and, as a producer, I know there’s an undeniable appetite for crime drama, especially in the realm of true crime. When I came across a true crime story set in South Africa that hadn’t been told, I was instantly interested, and this led to our first crime drama – Catch Me a Killer.

The show is based around the pioneering work of the first criminal profiler in South Africa, Micki Pistorius. When the series is set, in the mid-to-late 90s, there were more serial killers per head of population in South Africa than anywhere else in the world. Across 10 episodes and eight serial killer investigations, our series follows Micki’s transformation from a university lecturer in Pretoria to one of the best profilers in the world. Needless to say, the ‘body count’ in Catch Me a Killer is high.

We optioned Micki’s book of the same name several years ago and began developing the series with South African writer Amy Jephta. Amy was the perfect writer to take on the pilot episode; not only is she a very experienced television writer but she also grew up in the area where Micki’s first case, the Station Strangler, unfolded – Mitchell’s Plain. Amy’s parents were also police officers in the area, so she already had an understanding of the world in which the series is set.

Micki Pistorius, the focal point of our series, is not only an exceptional profiler but also an extraordinary individual with a captivating persona. Catch Me a Killer isn’t your typical crime series; it’s a rollercoaster ride through Micki’s personal and professional lives, packed with unexpected twists and turns. Coming from an academic rather than a police background, Micki brings a unique perspective to her work, and we delve deep into the profound impact these cases have on her psyche. Despite her prowess as a profiler, the relentless pursuit of justice across South Africa eventually leads Micki to a breaking point, highlighting the harrowing reality of the toll her profession takes on her life.

Charlotte Hope plays real-life serial killer profiler Micki Pistorius in Catch Me a Killer

In our series, Micki, who is played by the wonderful Charlotte Hope, makes an extraordinary sacrifice by dedicating five years of her life to catching serial killers. Her invaluable contributions have undoubtedly saved countless lives, as her pioneering efforts filled a critical void in policing. Her trailblazing work not only led to the apprehension of numerous killers but also paved the way for the integration of profilers into the police.

While developing the series alongside our creative director, Aimee Rowling, I received an email from South African broadcaster MNet, which had initially contacted Micki herself because they also saw the huge potential in dramatising her story and hoped to option her book. Fortuitously for us, we already had the TV rights and, after several conversations with MNet, we went into development with them on the series.

In October 2020, we ran a remote writers room with Amy in South Africa and three exceptionally talented UK writers: Oliver Frampton, Sarah Hooper and Jessica Ruston. Alongside producer Brett Wilson, we spent three weeks building the series, structuring the episodes, choosing which cases to include and developing Micki’s arc for the show, before the writers went away to write the scripts.

MNet has been an extraordinary partner from the very beginning. Allan Sperling, Nicola van Niekerk and Wikus du Toit have been incredibly supportive, providing invaluable insights and guidance. Their willingness to invest in an emerging production company from the North of England speaks volumes about their vision and commitment. I’m proud of the series we’ve delivered and I hope it’s a testament to the trust they placed in us.

While the creative development of the series was relatively straightforward, there were other obstacles we had to contend with. Along with Greig Buckle, our South African production partner, we raised the finance to produce the series via a tax credit from the South African Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, MNet and its streaming platform Showmax, and our distributor Abacus Media Rights, which secured a minimum guarantee from Germany’s Night Train Media. We also had investment from Northern Ireland Screen, as post-production was handled by Kaboom in Belfast.

We had three directors across the series – British director Tracey Larcombe and two South African directors, Brett Michael Innes and Rene Van Rooyen. All three brought something unique to the series while also sharing our creative vision for it.

The series is distributed by Abacus Media Rights

Due to scheduling, the first episode we shot was episode six – The Cape Town Prostitute Killer. This was Rene’s first episode on the series (she did three more), and as her other work has mainly been in Afrikaans, this was her first English-language series. She brought an amazing energy, enthusiasm and intelligence to the whole shoot, and I still joke with MNet and Rene that she was the best thing that’s ever been foisted upon me.

There are so many great scenes in the series, but one in particular always stands out. In episode six, prime suspect William Truter is brought to the station to be interrogated by Micki. Rene always works closely with actors, and in this instance she briefed Charlotte on what she wanted her to do in English, and then briefed Carel Nel, who plays William, in Afrikaans, so Charlotte didn’t know what they were talking about or what was going to happen. The result was an electric scene, with Charlotte completely caught off guard when William leans in and suddenly pulls her towards him.

To make our budget work, the production team had to be creative when building sets – our production offices in Cape Town were used in several episodes to create different police stations, prison cells and interrogation rooms. With meticulous attention to detail, our production designer Warren Gray and set decorator Anneke Botha created truly authentic sets that Kurt Oliver, our ex-police officer consultant, said bore an uncanny resemblance to the police stations of the 90s.

Our DOP Dino Benedetti’s camerawork, editor Claire Pringle’s superb cutting and Justin Lockey’s haunting score for the series were the final pieces of the puzzle in bringing Catch Me a Killer to life.

I am so proud of everyone who worked on this series. We had a fantastic team and we can’t wait to share Catch Me a Killer with viewers across the world.

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