Tag Archives: Bulletproof

Intimate relations

Having worked on series including Sex Education, Gentleman Jack and Normal People, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien explains why television’s approach to sex scenes has to change.

It’s impossible to imagine a sword fight or a battle scene being filmed without actors spending many hours choreographing and rehearsing the action in detail beforehand. Similarly, a dance routine would also be the subject of meticulous planning before being recorded.

Ita O’Brien

So, why is the way sex scenes are filmed only now coming under greater scrutiny? For the past few years, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien (pictured top on set) has spearheaded a shift in the industry and led a new approach to intimacy on screen, one that invites greater communication and transparency during filming, puts in place a structure that allows for agreement and consent between actors and directors and that allows time for intimate scenes to be choreographed clearly.

“In the past, there wasn’t a sense of bringing a professional structure to the intimate work,” she explains, speaking during a keynote session at the Berlinale Series Market in February. “If you had a fight, you certainly wouldn’t just say, ‘Okay, we’ll hand you the swords and then just go for it.’ That wouldn’t be reasonable as you’re in severe danger of an injury happening. So you make sure a stunt coordinator or a fight director is there; they teach techniques and they choreograph the fight content. They will have spoken to the director and made sure they’re serving the director’s vision. If there’s a dance, of course, you’re not going to just talk about it and then throw the people on and say, ‘Right, just do the tango.’ You’re going to have a choreographer, who’s going to listen to the director, hear their vision, choreograph clearly and then make sure you create a scene that serves the storytelling.”

It’s that approach that O’Brien is now bringing to intimate content, having worked on series such as Sex Education, Normal People, Gangs of London, Bulletproof, Pennyworth, Gentleman Jack and Watchmen.

From the moment producers identify an intimate scene, as they might for a fight or a dance, she will speak to the director to hear what they want from that particular moment. The director will speak to the actors about degree of nudity or sexual content, and once that’s happened, she will then speak with the actors to discover if they have any concerns.

O’Brien’s work on Sex Education saw her tackle a particularly tricky scene

“I’m making sure I’m listening to those concerns, sharing that with the production and making sure everything’s put in place to make that actor feel autonomous and powered, and really happy to be serving that director’s vision,” she explains. “I’ll then go and connect with the wardrobe department, speaking to them about what genitalia coverings, modesty garments or other coverings need to be put in place. Then, if I haven’t already worked on set, I’ll speak to the first AD [assistant director], making sure that we’re collaborating and running a closed set with the best practice possible.

“When we come to the day on set, we rehearse the scene really clearly. I’ll have spoken to the second AD, making sure there’s time and space for that rehearsal. And that’s a shift in the industry as well. When I started, my first two programmes were Sex Education and Gentleman Jack. People said to me, ‘Oh, you’ll never have time for rehearsal.’ But of course, you’d never say that about a fight or a dance. So it’s the same now for intimate content; you make time to rehearse.”

Providing time for rehearsals means greater efficiency on set as the scenes then become repeatable and the actors are more comfortable with what they’re doing, which means “they can make a way better sex scene because they’re really happy with what the content is going to be, so they can act their socks off,” O’Brien says, adding that she also ensures actors are happy after filming has taken place, offering several points through the process where they can see their work before the rest of the world does.

The BBC’s adaptation of the novel Normal People

“It’s about creating a scene that honours the director’s vision, honours the writing and allows the actors to be empowered and happy with the work that they have done.”

O’Brien’s work, through her company Intimacy on Set, is now spreading across Europe, having shared her guidelines in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France. And across the board, it’s change that is desperately needed.

Asked whether she has worked with an intimacy coordinator before, Swedish star Sofia Helin (The Bridge, Atlantic Crossing) responds: “Never. I can’t think about it. I can’t deal with it. It’s tense every time you have to cross your own borders in order to satisfy the director’s needs. So I haven’t dealt with it. It has been a part of my job that I don’t like, and with Ita’s technique, it could be a part of my job that I like. But the interesting thing is that when I’ve done scenes with a character who is in charge of her sexuality, then it’s never been horrible. But the other way around, it’s always horrible, and that’s more usual.”

Helin says on shows she has worked on, there has always been a very “concrete and direct” vision about how intimate scenes would be portrayed, leading to the moment where the actors are on set, the clock is ticking and the actor’s voice has been taken away. “What we as actors want to do is to tell the story, and we can almost do anything to tell the story,” she says, “especially when the team is there and the camera is on. You say ‘yes’ to almost anything just to serve the story. So that ‘no’ has to be listened to by someone [like O’Brien] who can step in and say, ‘No, no. We don’t do that.’”

Gentleman Jack was among the first dramas O’Brien was involved in

Likewise, director Soleen Yusef (Skylines, Deutschland 89) has never worked with intimacy guidelines in Germany, having planned her own guidelines up to this point. “I would feel more safe if I could handle it in a way that’s much more professional, because for me, I just improvise,” she says.

“We’re not just talking about intimacy that is very sweet. We’re talking about love and sexuality. I had to do a sexual assault, for example. They weren’t naked. But still, it was very difficult for me to do that. I always meet with the actors before and I ask different questions. How far do you want to go? What do you want to wear? Do you want to be completely naked? You need to be prepared. We also had a completely closed set. You have to just create an atmosphere for everybody who’s doing the scene to feel comfortable. For me as the director, I don’t want to go too far. I don’t want to hurt people.”

O’Brien says her work introduces a process of agreement and consent between actors, directors and others involved in the scene. A key principle is ensuring the actors are present in their mind and body so they can lay down boundaries they feel comfortable with and confident any concerns will be listened to.

“Very often you hear actors go, ‘In order to get through the sex scene I downed a bottle the vodka.’ When I was in Australia and New Zealand, I had several people from different places telling me that another practice is that the production will offer the actors valium in order to get through the sex scene, which is doing the absolute opposite of what we want,” she reveals. “We want them to be ultra present, so they can really be saying yes to what they’re happy with, to be autonomous, to not feel they’re being pushed past their own boundaries.

“That’s a shift in the industry. Before now, an actor who said no might have felt they were going to be considered a troublemaker, a pain in the ass, a diva and possibly wouldn’t get employed again.”

Sky1 action thriller Bulletproof

Often in sex scenes, actors are judged to have no chemistry with each other if the audience can sense a feeling of tension or awkwardness on screen. O’Brien believes audiences are left squirming in their seats when they can feel the actors are uncomfortable with what they are being asked to do. Her work now aims to ensure the actors are happy and in control, meaning audiences will remain engaged with the scene and the storytelling. She refers to an example in season one of Netflix drama Sex Education, where a fight between two male characters ends with them having oral sex and both actors had concerns about being asked to spit on the other person, whether for real or using a substitute substance.

“We’re creative people so it was about, ‘Where are we going to put the camera?’ Very quickly, we had one actor there, a camera there and a substance made up by the make-up department was spat on to a piece of paper by one actor. The other actor was filmed responding to receiving the spit and then you’re away,” she explains. “The director of the first block didn’t even know they hadn’t spat on to each other. So it’s trusting that to know that we can use body parts and we can be creative with where the camera is in order to tell the story while keeping the actors safe.”

Through her company, O’Brien is training up new intimacy coordinators through a series of programmes to ensure preparation for sex scenes is taken as seriously as a fight or a dance sequence. She is also keen to ensure training can be provided by people of all genders, sex and ethnicities.

“My intention is that whoever is acting feels like they’re represented,” she concludes. “If they have a request, I can help to honour that, so the person performing feels as safe and careful as possible.”

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All guns blazing

On the set of Sky1 original drama Bulletproof, stars and co-creators Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters discuss the relationship at the heart of the series and explain how its action-packed stories make it stand out in the crowded crime genre.

On a quiet weekday lunchtime in central London, the world-famous Fabric nightclub is undergoing something of a transformation. Outside, new signs have been installed to rebrand the underground venue as Prometheus, while crew members are carrying equipment and cables between the numerous levels and twisting staircases.

It’s in the basement, beneath the ambient glow of blue and pink neon lights, that scenes from the second season of UK crime drama Bulletproof are being filmed. Series co-creators and stars Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters are in character as detectives Aaron Bishop and Ronnie Pike respectively, sitting on one side of a table and drinking glasses of what appears to be champagne.

Launching in May 2018, the series became Sky1’s biggest drama of that year, with childhood friends Bishop and Pike – the former grew up in foster homes and on the streets, while the latter comes from a high-achieving middle-class family – working together inside the National Crime Agency where they deal with serious organised crime while putting their family and friendships to the test.

Produced by Vertigo Films and distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution, Bulletproof was quickly recommissioned following the conclusion of its first run, and filming on season two began in February last year. When DQ visits the set, it’s day 69, with the shoot having already taken in scenes on location in Amsterdam and Malta, which doubles for Cyprus. Today, two cameras are in play, one focusing on Clarke and the other side on to Walters.

Ashley Walters (let) and Noel Clarke filming in London nightclub Fabric

Season two, expanded from six to eight episodes, aims to have more of an international feel, with the drama also moving away from its episodic format to focus more on one serialised story. Stunts and locations have all been scaled up from season one, and while Bulletproof has never shied away from a bit of action, that greater ambition is particularly evident in car chases filmed through the streets of Amsterdam.

Back in London, as the sounds of a train passing overhead rumble through the foundations, the cameras are re-set on Mikey (Ben Tavassoli). Sitting opposite Bishop and Pike, the character is the nephew of a Cypriot crime family the undercover detectives are attempting to infiltrate.

Throughout its first season, Bulletproof stood out for its buddy-cop humour, high-octane action sequences and the chemistry between its two leads – factors that saw the series picked up by US network The CW.

“What makes the show different is you have a level of action a lot of shows don’t have,” Clarke explains during a break from filming. “That’s one of the things that makes it stand out, as well as the humour and the chemistry we bring to it as the two main characters. For me, whether it’s a day where both of us are having banter with each other or it’s an action-packed day, every day is enjoyable.”

“There isn’t another show like this on UK TV,” says Walters. “From the beginning, we’ve always said this cannot be your standard UK cop drama. We want it on the same scale as Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys. That’s what we’ve always been reaching for. We’re not doing Miss Marple! This is some real stuff. So it’s always been this way for us, it’s what we’ve always wanted. We’re always mindful, when we’re going through scripts or concepts and ideas, that we always keep that element in there. It’s one of the things that sets us aside from everything else.”

Clarke and Walters promise an action-packed season two

Also differentiating the show from its genre peers are Clarke and Walters themselves, with former Doctor Who star Clarke noting: “Once you put both of us in it, immediately there’s a show with two black male leads. You then sit down and think, ‘Should we be proud we did it, or should everyone else be ashamed it hadn’t been done before?’

“Then once we are doing it, there’s things we can say. We can be in the woods together and one of us can say, ‘You know, we always get killed in the woods first.’ It’s funny because, in a lot of films over the years, when there’s a group of friends including a black guy, it became a running joke within the ether that the black man would die first. So when there’s two of us in the woods, we can say stuff like that. If it was a pair of people of different colours, you probably couldn’t say that. You can’t always make those in-jokes, and that’s what sets us apart.”

Having created Bulletproof with Nick Love (The Football Factory), the actors are extensively involved in the development and plotting of the series. While Clarke is a regular writer and director, with films like Kidulthood to his name, Walters also stepped in to co-write an episode this season.

They joke that a lot of their lines are improvised. “We don’t really pay attention to the script, unless we’ve written the episode ourselves,” Clarke says. “We’re in the story room, we storyline and we’re there all the time, so we know the story from A to B. Our script supervisor has a nightmare. She says, ‘Are you going to say this here?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to say, to be honest.’”

The duo’s confidence in ad-libbing stems from the fact they helped create the characters themselves. “It’s easy for us because we know the characters inside and out,” says Walters, who also stars in Top Boy, the UK crime drama series recently revived by Netflix via a helping hand from hip-hop star Drake. “We created them. Working together as long as we have, we get the timing. We know when the other person is going to speak and when they’re not; we know each other’s facial expressions. So, for us, it’s simple. For the other actors, they’ve been learning their lines and we just throw the pages out of the window.”

The leading duo improvise much of their dialogue

Clarke, himself an avid film and TV viewer, says he was confident Bulletproof would find an audience because it’s the kind of show that was missing from the schedules, yet one no one wanted to make. “It was one of those things where [even though UK viewers] eat up Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, Miami Vice and all those titles, we flick on [detective series] Inspector Morse. Why are we not doing that sort of stuff?

“Years ago, we almost did it in our very British way – The Professionals, The Sweeney. Those shows had a different edge because they were very ‘geezerish.’ But it was always the case I felt people, especially working-class people, needed to see a show that represented them. They come home after a hard day’s work and [want to find something they relate to]. Part of the success of the show and the reason people talk about it is they feel it is theirs, they have ownership of it and can relate to us. We’re tangible. That’s an important thing.”

Discussing his move into writing, Walters says it’s something he had always wanted to do, with the process leading him to start his own production company. “But I’ve always understood how much of your time it takes and how disciplined you have to be, and in season one I didn’t think I was ready to do it,” he adds. “This time around, I took on the responsibility of co-writing one of the episodes, which was fun. I’m enjoying that – I hope I can do it a bit more.”

It was Love’s idea to pursue the undercover storyline in season two, with around 12 people gathering together for an initial two-week writing room that broke down the story. After a fortnight’s break, they reconvened for a further week to finish the outlines. “It’s a process. Some of them are very young, diverse writers coming through who would probably never have got a look-in. But because it’s our show, we’re involved in making sure they’re in the room,” Clarke explains. “You need all the people in the room just to question things, just to interrogate things. That’s how we do it.”

Set a year after season one, Bulletproof returns with a new action-packed story that promises to push Bishop and Pike’s friendship to the extreme. “Bishop really wants to focus on bringing people down and being a real lonesome person. He relies heavily on Pike, probably more than he knows, but of course Pike’s got a family,” Clarke says.

“He has a wife and kids, so he’s being pulled from pillar to post, especially after last season. His daughter was kidnapped at one stage, so his wife is still reeling from all of that stuff. That stress is there. Bishop doesn’t really understand that. So that’s how they’re tested a little bit. Bishop pulls them further and further undercover and Pike’s a little reticent at first.”

It’s the relationship between the two leading characters that Clarke and Walters believe viewers have responded to the most, with both actors saying they are now recognised more for Bulletproof than any of their previous roles.

“You know you’ve created something when people stop mentioning Kidulthood or Doctor Who,” says Clarke. “I really believe in the way people have invested in the characters – and not just us two but the extended team. You could just have an episode where we’re just staking a place out and have that banter and people would buy into it because of the relationship with the two guys. That was the prime thing we wanted [in season two], and we wanted to make sure the action levels stayed up, which they have. Everyone will be really happy with season two.”

“We were quietly confident [about the show’s success], but there’s always a part of you that thinks, ‘Are people going to love it?’” Walters adds. “We both come from huge shows like Doctor Who and Top Boy – stuff people will never forget, it never dies. The first inkling I had that this show was good was that people stopped talking about Top Boy. For five or six years, I’ve just had Top Boy. I have been working on other stuff, but now it’s fully Bulletproof. People just love it and we’re very happy.”

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Aiming high

A walk in the desert marked a turning point for Vertigo Films as it turned its attention to television. DQ hears how the company plans to follow its initial success with historical drama Britannia and buddy cop thriller Bulletproof.

James Richardson

At first glance, there’s little to compare British dramas Britannia (pictured above) and Bulletproof. The first is an anarchic historical drama pitting a Roman army against unruly bands of warriors and druids, while the other is a high-octane, action-filled buddy cop thriller.

Yet both series share the same basic DNA, comprising a bold idea, passionate creators and, in Vertigo Films, a production company that wants to make series that challenge the status quo and break the mould of contemporary storytelling.

“I don’t think we would do traditional British shows,” says Vertigo co-founder James Richardson. “I look at The Crown and I think it’s a masterpiece – absolute dramatic perfection. But I don’t think we’d ever make it. I look at Broadchurch and Line of Duty; they’re brilliant, genius pieces of TV, but I don’t think we’d ever make them.

“What Bulletproof and Britannia share is a slightly rebellious quality. Bulletproof is a cop show with lots of humour and two black leads, which had never been done in Britain, bizarrely, while Britannia is a totally crazy, non-historical historical show, which again has a rebellious spirit built into it.”

Both have also been renewed for second seasons – and it’s easy to see why. Britannia debuted to 1.88 million viewers this January, making it the biggest Sky original production launch on Sky Atlantic since Fortitude in 2015, while Bulletproof became the biggest Sky1 series of the year when its first episode pulled in 1.59 million viewers in May. Both series are distributed by Sky Vision.


It’s been a long road to this point. Vertigo was established in 2002 and the film producer/distributor has backed more than 30 features, including The Football Factory, It’s All Gone Pete Tong and Streetdance 3D. But four years ago, Richardson and fellow co-founder Allan Niblo abruptly cancelled their meetings at an LA film market and drove into the Californian desert, where they picked over the bones of the declining movie business.

Having identified the value of DVD sales to the film business, they similarly recognised the evolution happening in the television industry through the emergence of platforms like Netflix and Amazon, and started discussing how to target the small screen.

Allan Niblo

“Because our success in the beginning was primarily in the DVD market, not the box office, we witnessed the snobbery of something that would have a seismic change years later,” Niblo says. “So when Netflix and Amazon came along and did pick up our films and paid a lot of money, every single filmmaker was snobby about them. But we saw that there was a massive audience there. If people are watching your material, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the cinema or on DVD. We predicted a few years ago this would all change and everybody would be clamouring to get on Netflix.”

Richardson compares the current television landscape to the Wild West. “Our greatest disadvantage is we have no idea how the TV world works, but that’s also our greatest advantage,” he says. “We’re not really interested. What we’re interested in is can we make some exciting, international, cinematic shows? We’re starting to work with some really exciting people, quality filmmakers and writers, and we don’t have any paymasters or anyone telling us what to do, which is an amazing luxury.”

Britannia came from an idea by Richardson, who then took the series to Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow) and Tom Butterworth, with the brothers writing it together. Bulletproof, meanwhile, came to Vertigo from co-stars Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters. They subsequently partnered with Vertigo’s Nick Love (The Football Factory) to develop the series.


“When you’re working with someone like Jez Butterworth, you let them do what they want to do,” Richardson notes. “It’s the same with Noel and Ashley. What show do you want to make? We’ll back that and support it. I like to think we’re quite empowering. We might have ideas from the beginning but Jez, Noel and Ashley then made them their own, which we totally celebrate.”

Vertigo’s 2010 film Monsters is also getting the television treatment, with Ronan Bennett (Top Boy) leading the adaptation, which is in development at Channel 4.

“What’s crucial for us is to make it its own thing,” Richardson says, noting that the series will steer away from Gareth Edwards’ feature film about a photojournalist who must escort his employer’s daughter back to the US through an ‘infected zone’ full of creatures in Mexico. “Ronan wants to make something that’s unique in its own world, but we’re also being respectful of its origins and making sure the stuff we loved about it in terms of atmosphere and tone comes to the TV show. It’s an opportunity to explore a world we felt we only just touched on and to do something unique.”

The TV space allows Vertigo to experiment with more “tweener” ideas – their word to describe projects that sit in-between genres – which are always the most difficult to get away but often have the most interesting results. So for a show like Monsters, “we’re going to have some [monsters] and the fanboys and girls will see the show they’re excited to see,” Richardson explains. “In the same breath, we want to undercut it and do something a bit different. It’s the same with history like Britannia, and Bulletproof also played with genre. We get excited about that because it’s an area where perhaps some viewers feel they aren’t being catered to. There’s not enough things like that coming out of the UK.”

Vertigo will certainly be looking to scale further up the TV industry, with Richardson and Niblo admitting their focus going forward will remain firmly on the small screen. “Because we’ve done 35 movies, we feel we’ve done a lot of the 90-minute format, and this is a whole new world,” Richardson concludes. “None of us are feeling excited about doing a film, because we’ve got an opportunity to explore this brave new world.”

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Brothers in arms

Sky1 drama Bulletproof stars Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters as Bishop and Pike, two cops who are best friends and emotionally bonded by their moral code, despite their different backgrounds.

Set in London, the series takes viewers on an action-packed ride across the city as Bishop and Pike chase down the bad guys in their own uncompromising style.

In this DQTV interview, Clarke and Walters reveal the desire to work together that led to them creating Bulletproof with Nick Love (The Football Factory) and why they wanted to change the way the police are perceived in the UK – particularly within the black community.

They also discuss how the television industry has changed for black actors and praise Sky for “putting their money where their mouth is” and backing them to make the series.

Created by Clarke, Walters and Love, Bulletproof is produced by Vertigo Films (Britannia) and distributed by Sky Vision.

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On the right track

As the battle for the best projects becomes ever more fierce, leading drama commissioners and producers open up about their own development processes and reveal how they work to bring new series to air. 

For television drama commissioners, the development process must feel a lot like spending their working hours at the races, looking for the right horse on which to bet and willing it to cross the line in first place.

The financial power of SVoD platforms has changed the game for those picking up series for their networks, with the battle for projects now increasingly fierce as partners come together earlier in the process than ever.

Meanwhile, producers are reaping the benefits of an increasing number of buyers looking for original, brand-defining shows. But how is the development process changing at both broadcaster and producer level, and what challenges do they face in the new television landscape?

Sky Atlantic’s epic Roman drama Britannia

Anna Croneman, SVT’s newly installed head of drama, admits very few of the Swedish broadcaster’s scripted series are developed in-house. Instead, writers or writer-producer teams will pitch her ideas and SVT will then board a project from the start. But Croneman says her development slate has been slimmed down to ensure viable projects are singled out early on.

“Last year we cut the development slate significantly, which means we can spend more time on things we really believe are right for us,” she explains. “We lose some projects to the international players, but there is really no other broadcaster doing what we do in Sweden, in the Swedish language. But once again, getting the right talent is an even greater challenge now.”

That challenge is amplified by the competition from Netflix and HBO Nordic, which is starting to commission local original series. “I see companies trying to tie down writers by employing them, or doing first-look deals on ideas,” Croneman adds.

HBO Europe pursues projects from both single authors (such as Štěpán Hulík’s Pustina) and those that use writers rooms (Aranyelet). “In some cases we go through quite a lot of storylining processes; other developments go to first script very quickly,” explains Steve Matthews, VP and executive producer of drama development at the firm. “Sometimes we will polish a pilot through a number of drafts, sometimes we will commission a number of first drafts. It all depends. There is no set system; every project grows organically – we are proudly writer-led in our developments and do our best in each case to find the best support we can bring to the process.”

The company seeks to join projects as soon as possible, and Matthews says there are no rules about what materials it needs to consider a pitch. “We like to be involved early so that we can offer support in that crucial inception,” he says. “That’s when we can help the team understand our needs as a broadcaster and, crucially, for us to understand what the writer is trying to do or say and so support them in that process. A shared vision early in the development fosters a sense of joint ownership and collective focus on the core idea.”

HBO Europe’s Aranyelet is adapted from Finland’s Helppo Elämä

When its original-programming operation was in its infancy, HBO Europe’s attention centred on adaptable formats. But Matthews says the network group wanted the same thing then as it does now – shows that feel fresh and relevant in the territories for which they are made, whatever their origins.

“The results include shows that are based on formats, like Aranyelet [Finland’s Helppo Elämä] and Umbre [Australia’s Small Time Gangster], but that push ahead into new stories that are entirely authored by our local teams,” he explains. “Furthermore, adapting formats has proven an excellent training ground. Our brilliant teams in the territories have nurtured stables of writers who have learned their craft on series like our various versions of In Treatment and are now showrunners passing on their knowledge to the next groups of talent we bring in. So we feel we have the experience and confidence to no longer rely on formats. For our new slate in Adria, for instance, we decided at the start we would only develop original ideas from local talent.”

UK broadcaster Channel 4 is known for its eclectic drama output, from topical miniseries The State and National Treasure to shows that take an alternative approach to familiar genres, like Humans (sci-fi) and No Offence (crime).

“We have regular conversations with producers and writers and have a realistic development slate,” explains head of drama Beth Willis. “We don’t want to flirt unnecessarily with projects we don’t love – it’s a waste of time for the producer and the writer. So we will be clear from the off about whether we think it’s for us. And if we do say we think it’s for us, we really mean it.”

As a commissioner, Willis says she will offer her thoughts on early drafts and throughout production, and that the increased competition for scripted projects means her team is now more conscious of the defining characteristics of a C4 drama. However, like Croneman, she notes that “the biggest competition is in securing talent for projects rather than specific projects themselves.”

Producer Playground Entertainment adapted Little Women

“We receive hundreds of pitches a year from independent production companies,” says Rachel Nelson, director of original content at Canada’s Corus Entertainment. Her team read and review each piece and have bi-weekly meetings where they determine what might be suitable for Corus’s suite of networks, which includes Global and Showcase.

“We work mostly with producers, rather than with a writer only. We are open to ideas and will accept any creative, from scratches on a napkin to full scripts,” she says, adding that Corus’s focus now falls on projects within targeted genres. “We’ve also learned how important it can be to take risks and not be afraid of doing that when we feel strongly about specific projects. We experienced this first-hand with Mary Kills People. We received the script, read it right away and were so impressed that we moved to an immediate greenlight on this show by an unknown writer, pairing her with an extremely experienced team.”

Fellow Canadian broadcaster Bell Media – home of CTV and Space – is also open to developing projects that arrive in any form, though a producer should be attached fairly early in the process, says director of drama Tom Hastings. That said, its development process hasn’t radically changed in recent years, even as the company moves with programming shifts such as the trend for shorter serialised dramas.

“We take a ‘steady ship during stormy weather’ approach,” Hastings says. “As our channels have strong brands and identifiable audiences, we remain committed to developing drama programmes that best fit those brands and work for those specific viewers.  We remain very selective about what we develop and we take our time, demanding the best of everyone, including, most especially, ourselves.”

Arguably the biggest battleground in the world of development is the race to secure IP, with producers scrambling to pick up rights to films, stage shows and, in particular, books – often before they have even been published.

James Richardson

Transatlantic producer Playground Entertainment is behind new adaptations of Howards End and Little Women, and has previously brought Wolf Hall, The White Queen and The White Princess to the small screen. But adaptations, like every development project, are not a “one-size-fits-all process,” says Playground UK creative director Sophie Gardiner. “Sometimes we will commission a script before going to a broadcaster – maybe because nailing the tone is crucial to the pitch and you can’t do that in a treatment – but more often we prefer to work with a partner in the initial development.

“Not only does this mean you are on their radar and they are invested in it from the get-go, but they can often be genuinely helpful. However, there’s no doubt the SVoD firms are looking for material to be pretty well developed, and more packaged [compared with what traditional broadcasters want].”

The Ink Factory burst onto the television scene with award-winning John Le Carré adaptation The Night Manager in 2016 and is following up that miniseries by adapting two more Le Carré novels – The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Little Drummer Girl. Both are  again with Night Manager partners AMC and the BBC.

“Relationships with broadcasters are vital, and it is via those connections that we get to know each other and forge a sense of where our taste synthesises – and, from there, opportunities evolve,” explains Ink Factory head of development Emma Broughton. “Sometimes we will work on the seed of an idea and build it ground-up with a broadcaster. Some of our projects have broadcaster attachments before they have a writer or director. On other occasions, we will develop an idea ourselves to one or two shaped scripts and take those – with a series bible and, potentially, a director and cast attachments – to a broadcaster.”

Broughton says the development process has become “more innovative and collaborative,” thanks to opportunities to build stories not confined to the UK. But increasing competition means The Ink Factory must be more distinctive, original and bold in its ambitions, she adds.

Author Štěpán Hulík’s Pustina for HBO Europe

“It’s a terrific challenge,” the exec continues, “from bringing passion and vision when pitching in a highly competitive situation to secure a book, or developing projects that attract the most exciting and creative on- and off-screen talent. It’s all about the excellence of the work, being collaborative and honouring authorship.”

A “fairly traditional” approach to development is employed at Komixx Entertainment, which follows the tried-and-tested method of sourcing existing IP with a built-in audience and using recognised writers and producers. Keeping the original author of the IP closely involved is also seen as an important step to stay true to the material, in an effort to remove as much risk to broadcasters as possible.

What is different about Komixx, says Andrew Cole-Bulgin, group creative officer and head of film and TV, is where the company sources its IP, using both recognised authors such as Robert Muchamore (the Cherub series of novels) and new content from non-traditional publishers, such as self-publishing community Wattpad.

“As a young-adult producer, it’s crucial to consider that Generation Z is an audience made up of digital natives, so the best content comes from within their digital roots,” Cole-Bulgin argues. “Transitioning and retaining this audience from one digital platform, like Wattpad, to another, such as Netflix, is easier and more successful than pursuing a linear broadcasting approach.”

Komixx now has a raft of projects in development simultaneously, instead of focusing on a select few. Cole-Bulgin also believes the increasing power of SVoD platforms has transformed the production landscape, providing huge opportunities for producers. “As they look to quickly expand their libraries of content, we have to adapt our development method to fit their needs,” he notes.

Feature producer Vertigo Films has built its reputation on the back of Football Factory, Monsters and Bronson but is now breaking into TV with Sky Atlantic series Britannia. The epic Roman-era drama is set to debut in the UK early in 2018. Co-founder James Richardson says the firm is regularly “idea led,” often by the talent involved. “But every show needs to be somehow off-kilter – commercial but never straight,” he adds. “And we like projects that we feel we haven’t seen before, or that are tackling a subject we have seen before in a completely different way. Britannia, for example, subverts the historical genre.”

Vertigo has also had Sky pick up Bulletproof, a crime drama starring Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke and showrun by Nick Love. “Going from film to TV has been such an exciting transition creatively and I am in awe of execs in the TV world for creating shows over such a long space of time, since we have just had to make 90-minute films for most of Vertigo’s lifetime,” Richardson adds. “The process – and why we want to make a project – is the same, but there’s just more story, much more story.”

Looking forward, Richardson believes the development process for television drama, which can already take several years, will take even longer. “Getting projects to a place where they are ready before shooting – the film model – will become the norm for many shows. It makes a big, big difference.”

Komixx’s Cole-Bulgin concludes: “With companies like Facebook launching into the broadcast market, it will be fascinating to see how producers deal with the increasing demand for shortform scripted content for the audiences who are consuming their content via mobile platforms.”

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