Happy Sally

By Andy Fry
May 13, 2015

The Writers Room
Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley
Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley

Congratulations to screenwriter Sally Wainwright, whose crime drama Happy Valley won the Bafta for Best Drama Series this week. The show, made by Red Production Company for the BBC, beat off competition from Line of Duty, The Missing and Peaky Blinders – all of which are also brilliantly crafted scripted series.

Wainwright’s recent work, which includes the acclaimed Last Tango in Halifax, is interesting because it is set so close to where she grew up in Yorkshire. While other writers sweep backwards and forwards through time in search of epic adventures, Wainwright concentrates on what she can see from her window. In fact, she didn’t even need to look that far in the case of Last Tango in Halifax, which is based on her mother’s experiences.

Superficially this hyper-local approach to storytelling might seem like a scheduling risk. But Wainwright’s dramas have rated well across the UK and also proved appealing to international audiences. When Last Tango in Halifax was picked up by PBS in the US, a Los Angeles Times critic called it “the best new show of the fall.” As for Happy Valley, it was snapped up by channels in Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and Scandinavia.

Sally Wainwright
Sally Wainwright

Wainwright came to MipTV in Cannes last month to talk about her work’s ability to cross borders. She explained to an audience of international drama executives that while she writes from local or personal experience, the situations and feelings in her work are universal – and it’s this combination that captures people’s hearts. The good news for fans of Wainwright’s work is that new seasons of Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax are both coming.

The ability to find universal themes in local surroundings is one reason Nordic drama has travelled so well. Danish broadcaster DR’s Borgen, for example, has sold to more than 80 countries.

Borgen writer Adam Price recently set up a production company called SAM with two other leading Nordic lights, Søren Sveistrup and Meta Louise Foldager, and he has now revealed details of his next project, Rides Upon the Storm. Backed by DR and Arte in France, Rides Upon the Storm is about the conflict between two brothers and is being billed as a contemporary drama about faith.

Danish drama Borgen has done well internationally
Danish drama Borgen has done well internationally

“I have always been fascinated by the concept of faith as a catalyst for humans’ actions,” says Price. “In the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen an intensification of the situation between the great world religions, which affects international politics and daily lives.”

A significant shared connection between Red and SAM is that they have both recently become part of StudioCanal’s TV division through the sale of equity stakes. With StudioCanal now in the throes of building a fully fledged distribution division, it means the two production companies – and, by association, their writers – are well and truly plugged into the international drama business. So it will be fascinating to see whether there is any shift in the style of shows coming out of these two talented creative pools.

Adam Price
Adam Price

One of the most talked-about drama series of recent years finally hits US screens this week – M. Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines. Based on a trilogy of books by Blake Crouch, the Fox drama stars Matt Dillon as a Secret Service agent who has a car accident and wakes up in Wayward Pines, a town from which he can’t escape. Pre-launch reviews have described the show as an amalgam of Twin Peaks and The Prisoner, with some of the flavour of Lost.

With its mega-name director and star-studded cast, you might suppose the script is being written by someone with decades of returning series credits to their name. But in fact the show’s writer and executive producer, Chad Hodge, is a rising star who is yet to strike gold. Check out the 38-year-old’s recent series credits and all you will come up with is Runaway, cancelled after three episodes on CW in 2006; and The Playboy Club, also cancelled after three episodes by NBC in 2011.

Clearly, however, Fox see WME-represented Hodge as a talent in the making, because he has also been lined up by the studio as writer for a movie version of The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. Furthermore, he’s working with Blake Crouch on another of his novels, Abandon, for USA Network.

M. Night Shyamalan's Wayward Pines
M. Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines

Hodge himself has just penned a piece for Yahoo, exhorting viewers to check out the show (which premieres on Fox US on tomorrow at 21.00). So, if you want to get a better insight before tuning in, check it out here.

In terms of writers looking for work, this week’s big story is the news that Shoebox TV, the TV division of Shoebox Films, has entered a scripted development and agreed a first-look deal with the recently formed Endemol Shine International.

Shoebox belongs to Paul Webster, Guy Heeley and Joe Wright (whose movie director credits include Atonement, Pan and Pride & Prejudice). The TV division has been set up to produce high-end scripted television and is headed by Ed Clarke. He says: “Shoebox’s move into TV has been an entirely organic process driven by the talent we work with looking to explore longer-form stories better suited to the medium. As a company, we get excited by fantastic writing, great characters and complex drama, and nowhere is that more prevalent these days than on TV.”