Tag Archives: Animal Kingdom

UK drama showcases regional beauty

Broadchurch made use of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast

UK television has a long tradition of using quirky or unusual locations as backdrops for drama series. Bergerac (Jersey), Morse (Oxford) and Doc Martin (Cornwall) are just a few examples of the way place can almost become a character.

Historically, one of the logistical limitations on this kind of show has been the lack of production infrastructure available in some of the UK’s less-travelled locations.

But the last few years have seen increased ambition in terms of where producers are willing to base their stories. Broadchurch, for example, is one of the few non-Thomas Hardy dramas to have based itself in Dorset – introducing ITV viewers to the spectacular Jurassic Coast.

With a couple of exceptions (such as Morse), quirky locations used to be employed as the backdrop to gentle comedies (Last of the Summer Wine, Monarch of the Glen, Ballykissangel) or soft-hearted crime series (Hamish Macbean), with the occasional foray into the unknown by period drama that demanded it (anything based on works by Hardy, Lawrence, Eliot, Gaskell, Laurie Lee…).

Broadchurch, however, brought hardcore murder and mayhem to under-exploited locations and reminded us that universal stories can be built around hyperlocal experiences. This idea has subsequently been picked up by other producers.

Aidan Turner as Captain Poldark
Aidan Turner as Captain Poldark

So now we have seen crime stories like Hinterland (set in Aberystwyth, Wales), Happy Valley (Yorkshire), The Fall (Northern Ireland) and Safe House (the Lake District) gracing our screens. Perhaps we can also see the influence of Nordic Noir here, with the notion that location can somehow reflect the inner workings of the soul.

Other shows to have stepped into the (relatively speaking) unknown include Poldark (Cornwall) and Midwinter of the Spirit (Herefordshire), so that now we are at a point where pretty much anywhere in the UK is a possible starting point for a story.

This point is underlined by two new drama developments this week, which will showcase opposite ends of the England-Scotland spectrum. ITV, for example, has commissioned a six-part murder mystery based in the area around Scotland’s Loch Ness. Produced by ITV Studios and supported by Creative Scotland’s Production Growth Fund, the show will focus on the hunt for a serial killer in a setting made famous by the mythical Loch Ness Monster.

Some 750 miles south, meanwhile, All3Media-owned indie producer Studio Lambert has optioned a police officer’s memoir, The Life of a Scilly Sergeant. Based on the experiences of Scilly Islands-based police sergeant Colin Taylor, the aim is for a primetime, returnable series. On paper, it has echoes of Hamish Macbeth.

More good news for the UK’s South West is that the BBC has ordered a third season of Poldark – before the second run hits the air.

Animal Kingdom has secured a renewal
Animal Kingdom has secured a renewal

The first eight-part season centred on 18th century war veteran Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) returning to Cornwall to try to build up his family’s mining business in the face of stiff opposition from entrenched local business interests. The show is based on a series of classic novels by Winston Graham and was previously adapted in the 1970s. The new version, a major hit for the BBC, is written by Debbie Horsfield and produced by Mammoth Screen.

In the US, meanwhile, Turner Broadcasting’s cable channels TNT and TBS have renewed three of their drama series. TNT has renewed Animal Kingdom for a second season while TBS has ordered a second run of Wrecked and a third of Angie Tribeca.

Wrecked, which is billed as a comedy version of ABC’s cult series Lost, is currently halfway through its first season with an audience in the 1.2-1.3 million range. Animal Kingdom attracts a similar-size audience for TNT, which is currently undergoing a bit of a creative overhaul.

TNT shows that are ending or have been cancelled include Rizzoli & Isles, Proof, Falling Skies, Agent X, Public Morals and Legends. The channel’s top performer aside from Rizzoli & Isles is Major Crimes, which has been running for five seasons. There is no indication yet whether it will be renewed or dropped as part of the channel’s wider schedule revamp.

The Warriors movie
The Warriors movie

Still in the US, video streaming platform Hulu is continuing its ambitious push into drama with The Warriors, an adaptation of Sol Yurick’s novel that was previously turned into a cult movie in 1979. The story follows a period in history when New York was being torn apart by gang warfare.

It will be adapted by the Russo Brothers, who have found fame with their recent work on Marvel franchises like Captain America. They will work with writer Frank Baldwin on the series, with Paramount TV as producer.

The project is the latest in a long line of movie reboots, though projects in the US cable and SVoD space seem to be faring better than those relaunched for US network TV. The latest network reboot to get the axe is ABC’s Uncle Buck, after just one season. Surely the big four must be getting the picture by now.

On the acquisitions front, shows making their mark this week include Beta Film’s three-part German-language drama NSU German History X, which has been picked up by Netflix for use in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Netflix has also unveiled a multi-year agreement with The CW to stream all past seasons of the US network’s shows in the US. Titles include Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, The Vampire Diaries, The 100, iZombie, The Originals and Reign.

Red Tent
Red Tent has been picked up by UKTV

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief creative officer, said: “This is a great step forward with a valued network partner to give fans exactly what they want, when and how they want it.”

Elsewhere, UK multi-channel operator UKTV has picked up Sony Pictures Television miniseries The Red Tent, which originally aired on cable channel Lifetime in the US. A four-parter based on the novel by Anita Diamant, The Red Tent tells the tale of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, from the Old Testament book of Genesis in the Bible.

Alexandra Finlay, UKTV’s head of acquisitions and coproductions, said: “The Red Tent is a perfect addition to (UKTV channel) Drama’s growing slate of shows, featuring an epic story with a fantastic ensemble cast.”

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Setting the tone

The makers of  TNT crime drama Animal Kingdom and creative director and designer Erin Sarofsky discuss the creation of the show’s title sequence and reflect on the importance of such openings to drama series.

When it comes to the style and tone of a television drama, one element can set the scene before a word of dialogue is spoken or a character walks into shot.

Erin Sarofsky
Erin Sarofsky

From Breaking Bad and Mad Men to Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black, the opening credits of a series can become as iconic as the shows they precede. But what is the creative process behind bringing these title sequences to life?

Erin Sarofsky, director of Chicago-based design production studio Sarofsky, designed the credits for Showtime series Shameless in 2011 – a 30-second film that introduces lead character Frank Gallagher (William H Macy), passed out on the floor, and the members of his family via a static camera placed in a corner of a bathroom.

So when John Wells and Jonathan Lisco, the executive producers of US cablenet TNT’s drama Animal Kingdom, and Jinny Howe, head of television at John Wells Productions, set out to choose a designer for the main titles of this daring family crime drama, they knew exactly what they were getting.

Wells had also executive produced Shameless, and five years later he sought to rekindle his relationship with a designer whose studio has worked on four Marvel blockbusters – Captain America: Civil War, Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom’s title sequence incorporates the inking of a real tattoo

“The Shameless main title couldn’t be more different than what we were attempting with Sarofsky for the Animal Kingdom main titles,” Wells says. “Shameless is playful; and it tells a very specific story about all the individual characters, while warning viewers that they’re in for a raucous and ribald hour. In contrast, through images, the Animal Kingdom main title prepares the audience for the violent, amoral and virile world they will encounter in this show.”

Animal Kingdom is described as a family crime drama that centres on 17-year-old Joshua Cody, who moves in with his relatives in their Southern California beach town after his mother dies from a heroin overdose. It isn’t long before he’s pulled into their life of excess and indulgence, before realising it’s being funded by crime.

The series is based on the 2010 Australian film of the same name stars Ellen Barkin, Scott Speedman, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Robson, Jake Weary, Daniella Alonso and Molly Gordon, with Finn Cole as Cody.

Sarofsky explains: “John and Jonathan really understand the root of what makes their series special. They emphasised that it’s more than just a complicated family drama, describing how the humour, the Oedipal complex underlying their relationships, the complexity of each individual character and the tension, love and co-dependency they all share impacts all aspects of their lives.”

By way of a brief, Sarofsky and her team were given 60 seconds to set up these relationships, interspersing slow-motion shots of a tattoo being inked with images of surfing, skateboarding, skydiving, bodybuilding and fighting – against the backdrop of a pulsating soundtrack by Atticus Ross.

The surfing footage was provided by the show, leaving a 30-strong crew to collect the rest of the imagery from shoots in Chicago, Miami and LA across seven days of production.

“For every show, the main title serves a different purpose,” Sarofsky says. “The show creator is usually the driving force behind the title sequence and can use it in a variety of different ways. Some use them for very specific reasons, like to help establish characters or firmly set the series in a specific place. Others prefer to use them to set the tone of the series.

Animal Kingdom
The family crime drama is based on an Australian film from 2010

“I like it when a main title dives a little deeper and acts as a metaphor for what you’re about to see. It’s much more big-picture and doesn’t get into specific plot – it just puts the viewer in the right headspace.”

The tattoo sequence was shot at Chicago’s Brown Brothers Tattoo, where owner Marshall Brown showcased his work on camera using an extra who agreed to get inked after replying to a Craigslist advert.

“The prop list was also the most bizarre thing of beauty you ever saw,” Sarofsky notes. “Fishing hook, meat grinder, handcuffs, road flares, crib with round bars, red popsicles, Ducati and so on.”

Speaking about filming the tattoo sequence, director of photography Mike Bove adds: “Shooting high speed is always fun, no matter the subject, but it was particularly intense to see the needle going in and out of the skin and the ripples it produced. It all fit very well with the creative tone we were going for.”

It was then down to editor Josh Bodnar to bring 20 hours of original footage down to just 60 seconds. ”Some of my favourite sections are where Erin and her team affected the footage with a grainy, ‘stumble’ effect,” he says. “This combination of techniques really aids in transitioning from the tattoo world to the future and the past. The texture of the footage really helps convey feelings of danger and life in menacing ways.”

Sarofsky – whose TV work also includes title sequences for Necessary Roughness (USA Network), The Playboy Club (NBC) and The Killing (AMC) – believes it is important that she feels a connection to the show she is working on.

To determine this connection, she asks herself four questions: “Do I like it? Do I want to see more? Am I interested in the characters? Am I compelled to become immersed in this space/place/time? If the answer to all of those is yes, I dig deeper into the details of what interests me specifically about the show.

“There is quite a bit of overlap between shows these days, so it is really important to figure out what makes the series unique. Then you build concepts from there. The actual visual look usually comes shortly after the concept is solidified.

“We work very closely with the creators and producers. It’s our job to make sure they are getting something that represents their series. They are the ones who created, wrote, cast, built and produced the show, so it’s really important that they are happy with the final piece.”

Title sequences are changing, however. Where Game of Thrones spends several minutes taking viewers around a shifting 3D map of Westeros, many other dramas now prefer to use a simple five-second title card before picking up the action.

“The title cards have been a reaction not to a creative aesthetic, but to a business imperative,” notes Wells, whose credits include ER, The West Wing and Southland. “As viewership becomes increasingly splintered, ad-supported television has responded – mistakenly, in my opinion – by increasing the number of commercials. With more commercials, the pressure has been on reducing the length of shows and the main titles came to be seen as expendable, to the detriment of the programmes that follow.”

He adds: “TNT and (network president) Kevin Reilly have committed to reducing the commercial time and allowing us almost eight minutes of additional airtime. I believe main titles serve an important purpose in setting the proper tone in the viewer’s mind for the show that follows. You’ll notice that non-advertising-supported distribution systems all continue to utilise full-length main titles in some form. It is not coincidental that these non-advertising supported shows are considered to be the highest-quality programming on television.

“Advertising supported networks need to follow TNT’s lead in understanding that viewers are demanding more story and less commercial time, because the ever-growing number of commercials and ever-shrinking portion of narrative, including the main titles, on many networks has made the storytelling experience far less enjoyable for audiences.”

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