Five Minutes With: Tony Grisoni
The Red Riding, Southcliffe and The City & The City writer on his latest projects, working with the European Writers Club and why he doesn’t want to waste time.
What are you working on at the moment?
Marlow, about two feuding families, is a project I’m cowriting and coproducing with Simon Maxwell (Deep State). We started developing that way back, two or three years ago now, and we decided to start working it out on spec. It’s tough doing that because you’re trying to earn a living, but it does give you real breathing space. We’ve got his company, (commissioner) BritBox and we’re pushing forward with that. We’re hoping to do a late-spring shoot next year.
I was working on this French initiative called Le Groupe Ouest, a writing workshop in Brittany. I started working with them and met this French-Italian screenwriter called Laura Piani, who is based in Paris. The two of us got together and thought we could write something together, so we started working up this idea about Mary Wollstonecraft, the British radical from the 18th century. She was a Brit who joined the French revolution and then went on this great trip to Scandinavia. We’re working on that together.
Naples 44 is another one, with Andrea Calderwood (The Last King of Scotland) producing. It’s from a book by Norman Lewis, an amazing memoir of the end of the war. That’s the backdrop. There was also a film in the 90s called Croupier and I’m working up a TV show drawn from that.
It’s the life of a writer that you’re always working on projects that won’t ultimately be commissioned…
There are always five. If you have five projects you’re constantly juggling, you’re hoping one of them will come to the surface.
How would you describe the landscape for a writer in the television industry?
It’s tough. I’ve always loved movies but there is an obsession with the ‘writer-director,’ so it’s quite difficult to get to a position where you’re writing a screenplay and someone else is directing it. That’s why so many writers went towards TV, because the opportunities were there. The TV series is the dominant art form of television, it seems, and the trick is there are always things you want to do and things broadcasters feel they want. But I can only do what I want to do. I’d rather do that than be given a shopping list.
You’re also involved in the European Writers Club (EWC). Tell us about that.
It’s early days with that but there’s a genuine attempt to engage with the broadcasters and for there to be some dialogue between broadcasters and writers from an early stage.
Thomas Gammeltoft, whose baby it is, is a Danish producer working on a project called A Family Affair. I’m in love with the project so I worked with Thomas on that and we got to know each other. Then we met up at one or two things and Thomas said, ‘Do you want to be part of the EWC?’ The idea is basically to get established writers together with European producers and broadcasters and to start building ideas together from the bottom up. There’s some notion of it being a push back against the streamers, which you’re seeing now with the appetite for big European coproductions and a look to local streamers. I can only support that.
It’s all change. We’ve had the pandemic, we’ve got war in Ukraine, we’ve got people with less money in their pocket and choosing to cancel subscriptions. Things are changing a little bit. Nothing against the US streamers per se – amazing stuff has come out of them – but I’m quintessentially European so I want to see homegrown stuff. If we’re going to have streamers, I’d rather them be here.
How has your writing process changed?
My writing has gotten leaner. It depends who you’re working with. If you’re writing with a good broadcaster and good executive, the thing improves all the time. If you’re working with a bad broadcaster, what happens is their notes will be very prescriptive and they’ll ask you to explain things with dialogue. If you find yourself there, you’ve really got to leave. If I was just starting out, I’d stay, but I wouldn’t now. You can’t waste time.
The great thing is audiences are so sophisticated. It’s about keeping up with the audience. I’m not into superheroes but I did get into Marvel a little bit because I wanted to understand the Marvel multiverse. I really wanted to know more about it. I realised that it’s brilliant marketing, but I don’t think it’s totally cynical. I think they enjoy writing all those interconnected stories. Now I wonder if you could have a multiverse but not with superheroes; if you could do it with something else.