You are here

BAFTA Television Craft Sessions: The Making of The Virtues

20 July 2020

Transcript for BAFTA Television Craft Sessions: The Making of The Virtues, Thursday 16th July

Miranda Sawyer: Hello everyone. I’m Miranda Sawyer, welcome, welcome, welcome to The Making of the Virtues, part of the BAFTA Television Sessions, supported by TCL. So thank you to TCL for your support. This virtual series celebrates some of the nominees and nominated programmes from this year’s Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and the British Academy Television Craft Awards. So before we start, I’ve got a little bit of housekeeping, this is what it is. So, these events are part of BAFTA’s learning work, to share expertise from TV, film and games with audiences far and wide, that’s you, audiences out there. Check out and BAFTA’s social channels for more activity and news. You can join the conversation on social if you want to use a hash tag, use BAFTATVSessions. We’re streaming on Zoom and BAFTA’s YouTube channel, and you can also rewatch this afterwards on the YouTube channel and other sessions. If you’ve got a question please use the Q&A function at the bottom of your screen and close captioning is available now which you can turn on at the bottom of your screen.


OK that is the housekeeping, so now I am going to introduce our panellists one by one in a kind of glamorous manner. OK, numero uno we have Mark Herbert, producer of The Virtues, dada.


Mark Herbert: Hello


MS: Hello Mark, switch your video on. We have Nicky Salt, also producer of The Virtues. Hi Nicky.


Nicky Salt: Hi


MS: We have Helen Behan, actor or actress in The Virtues. There she is!


Helen Behan: Hello.


MS: It’s amazing this isn’t it, it’s like we’re popping up from behind a curtain. And we have Jack Thorne, writer of The Virtues. We have Stephen Graham, actor in The Virtues.


Stephen Graham: Yeaaaah.


MS: There we go! And we have Shane Meadows, director and writer of The Virtues. There we all are. We’ll just pause a moment for everyone to check our lovely sitting rooms and book corners, you know how it is. Have a quick look.


So congratulations everybody on all these fantastic nominations for a wonderful miniseries. I’m just going to quickly run through what you’re actually nominated for. Director, Fiction, which is for Shane. The Virtues itself is nominated for the Mini Series, Shane and Jack are nominated for Writer of Drama, Stephen is nominated for Actor, Helen is nominated for Supporting Actress. That is pretty good and I’ll give you a kind of round of applause. There’s only me here but that is your round of applause.


OK so I’m going to start with you Shane, and what I want to know I suppose really is how you came to The Virtues as we see it as an audience because I know it was a long journey that maybe was going to wiggle off somewhere else. But if you could just start with your germ of an idea and how you ended up with the four episodes that we saw.


Shane Meadows: Yeah I’ll try!


MS: I know it’s a hard one. But we have time!


SM: Yeah, so the basic premise was that I had the original germ of the idea, I’m just trying to work the dates out now, but probably about two and a half years ago and I met—I got Jack to come up and see me, and we just met and sat down and I said that I’d got the idea for the basic premise for The Virtues but I needed Jack’s feedback really, because the idea was—sometimes things are so personal and I mean most of my stuff has an autobiographical element to it but this was beyond that for me personally. So I really, you know—Jack was my first port of call as a human being and a writer, to see whether he thought that I was right to try and make something with the idea. That was really the initial thing, Jack coming up and stopping up here for a couple of days and I was starting to flesh out a very rough idea based around the Joseph character. I think at that stage we—I can’t remember whether it was even called The Virtues at that stage, I don’t think we would have known how many episodes, whether it was a film, whether it was a series, but the germ of an idea of somebody who finds something out very late in their life that they’d forgotten had happened to them—obviously people will have seen the show now which is that it’s an incident of sexual abuse—I had the basic framework but like all of my anything that I’ve made, the writing, the improvisation, even on set in the edit, even during the grade we were still editing and it’s always this kind of refining process.


But yes the very germ of it was me meeting Jack and him helping me to believe it was an idea worth telling and probably two and a half years later we’re sat here now and yeah I’m glad that he said he thought it was.


MS: We’re all glad! So there’s two questions I think that come out of that, and the first one is to Jack. I think a lot of people perhaps misunderstand some of the writing in Shane’s work because there’s a sense that actors are improvising so there’s no writing and this is not true. I’d like you to maybe just expand on that because there’s room, isn’t there, in the setup for actors to improvise? But essentially it’s a written project.



JT: Yeah. I mean the way Shane and I work we try and write four perfect scripts and we work really hard on them and we try, we just chisel away and try and make statues that look nice. But then the way his process works is that he trusts the people he works with to bring something else to it. So you know, these scenes and things exist in one form and the actors take them and they go somewhere else with it and they riff off it and respond to it. Actually with The Virtues there was a point where our ep four didn’t work at all anymore because of where the journey had gone so Shane took a break and then we worked on another script to be ep four. It’s a constant evolving process and it’s based on trust and it’s based on Shane’s amazing gut and this ability to know when something feels truthful or not. It’s nuts when you see the things that happen all the time through this you realise quite what a genius he is.


MS: There you go Shane. Erm, at what stage when you’re writing or doing a project like this do you bring in the actors? Do you write for particular actors, was that the case on The Virtues or how did that work?


I suppose I tend to sort of write—if you know an actor—sometimes you’re sort of hunting for somebody. I suppose when we did something like This is England, maybe bar Vicky McClure and Andrew Shim who I knew you were looking for a whole new fleet of actors and I would say that the process was slightly different when you’re doing a series and you can see a character like a Woody or Gadget or Harvey in your head and you’ve already made something with them. There’s this beautiful thing where they almost help you to write their lines because you know who they are, so you kind of sit there reading a magazine and the keyboard kind of taps itself. What was really wonderful about this, and like Jack says in particular episode four was when you know an actor’s gift and you can feel how an actor speaks and responds and how two people kind of work together in a room, you bring them into that writing process. So if you’ve got someone in your mind’s eye, they do in my head anyway, I don’t know if they do in Jack’s. I love hearing, I love knowing who someone is because they help me to inform the script. The actors also play an enormous part in inspiring—it’s like a duality, a dual relationship of we’ll come up with a script then we’ll sit down and workshop with actors and things that did or didn’t work, either stay or get changed and it comes from the actors being honest and open in those improvisation sessions. It’s a two-handed process that works all the way through, and what’s lovely is that no one is too possessive over their own part. For me and Jack sometimes an idea might remain all the way through, sometimes things completely change but it’s not that they’re not written they’re just written in a slightly different environment.


MS: This one changed quite a lot until you were ready to bring in the actors. I’m going to bring in the actors now—hello Stephen, hello Helen. When you were brought into the project obviously there are improvisations that are required, you need to understand the characters. Can you cast your mind back to when you first came in to the project and what you did and where you thought you were going to end up going. I’m going to start with you, Stephen.


SG: It was a strange one for me personally because it kind of already had a life of its own and then that life that it had kind of changed. I can’t remember, I think it was either Mark or Shane, it was a conversation a Friday or something, Friday night about five or six o clock, ‘You busy at the minute?’ and I was like not really no, sort of, why? They were like ‘Can you get to Sheffield?’ and I was like ‘Yeah of course.’ Obviously I’m not calling myself Batman but if Shane phones, you go if you know what I mean. It’s that kind of thing. I think it might have been the next day if I’m honest, I said ‘ok I’ll get there,’ and I got there, and it was like ‘right, we just want to explain this thing to you.’ And I was kind of in a whirlwind if I’m honest, but I was like ‘OK.’ He said have a little look at this, this is what me and Jack have done and I was like ‘OK,’ and we talked and he was like ‘right and by the way, do you fancy doing a little improvisation.’ I was like ‘yeah OK,’ and then it was six o clock and he went ‘that went really well. Do you think you could maybe make it happen next week?’ for me it was a whirlwind and all of a sudden I was on this journey with him and that was how it came about for me personally.


To go back to the process of what it’s like to work as an actor with Jack and Shane’s writing, it’s the most liberating, frightening, exciting, beautiful experience I’ve ever had the pleasure to have. You’re right, it is all written beautifully, there’s beautiful scenes, there’s beautiful stuff within these pages which you absorb and your job as an actor is to learn these lines, but you know that with Shane it doesn’t necessarily have to go that way. What happens is you read them and subconsciously these lines, these words people speak go into your head. It’s what Shane said beautifully it’s that dual process. I’m doing a lot of work in creating a character along with Shane, where Jack and Shane have done a lot of work creating the language of a character which feeds in and there’s a beautiful marriage that happens, you can be in an improvisation and be saying something and go back and look at your script and all of a sudden you’ve said half of that paragraph that was in the script, do you know what I mean, so it’s gone in in some kind of transcendental meditation way.


MS: What we’re all looking for.


SG: That’s kind of how it works. You can’t put your finger on it, it’s just amazing, it really is.


MS: What about you Helen? Your character is, you know, we have the Joseph character with the first part, all in Liverpool, and we come and come and come and really you’re the reveal. Your character comes in—


HB: Tada.


MS: Not all guns blazing, but you are like a huge clue aren’t you and you have this amazing scene with Stephen right in Act Two as your very first episode. That is a big scene.


HB: Yeah. It’s huge and off the back of what everyone has said so far, for me starting off in this job we were at the RTS, I was with Jack and Shane some number of years ago and…. [poor connection] going back five or six years maybe, and I kept it in the back of my mind but like everything with Shane I was waiting to hear more and so I always knew there was a possibility he was writing something with me in mind which is such an honour as an actor and when The Virtues came about he rang me and said ‘We’re going to get the ball rolling with this thing, so if there’s no thing…’ [Poor connection]


MS: Sorry my Internet is going in and out so if I look vacant I’m not being vacant. I’m now going to bring in Mark and Nicky. Because Shane’s process is a long process, I’m always interested in how that is for producers. Because he might come to you and go ‘I’ve got this idea,’ and you’re like ‘great,’ and then it doesn’t really happen for like two years. How do you keep it bubbling? How do you know when to go ‘ok we’re going for this, this is happening?’


MH: I think on this we—because we’d worked with Channel 4 on the This is England series and they had so much trust in the process… I think they came to set maybe three times over the whole course of This is England, which isn’t like most execs, you just kind of have to… You, from every job you learn something to take on to the next job. On This is England—when I think, like what Jack said with Shane on Virtues it’s a bit like a footballer in their prime. The multi-camera shooting on This is England that was amazing, we just kind of knew exactly how to set this one up, so it meant we could absorb delays… We had the most amazing cheap Skywalker ranch ever, it was  a school in Sheffield that had been shut down for two years just round the corner from the office, and it was 400 pounds a month to rent, everything in, so we just got this school where we had the art department, Shane’s office, a little section for rehearsals and workshops, we had the edit, and because you’ve got such low—you’re a cheap thing to feed, it means then that you can allow Shane’s process to evolve. If you suddenly go—when you’re doing a normal shoot the money’s just trickling away every hour of a shoot, where with this we just set it up in a way because of what we learned over the past couple of years to not do that. So we were able to absorb a six-week hiatus, or a two-week hiatus, or not film on a Friday to look at the edit. We had this like little, mad little studio which was an old school with only cold water, you know. It was about four miles from the nearest shop.


MS: Make ‘em suffer!


MH: But it worked. We had it for a year and that was part of it. We just—me and Nicky with Shane just assembled the best crew ever and then you have the best sort of departments and that really, again they’ve worked with Shane in the past so they know how that process works and will embrace the process and love the process rather than reject it because it’s not normal. What do you think Nicky?


NS: We actually reduced it down as well didn’t we. With This is England by the time we got to This is England ’90, we were huge because you’re shooting three cameras as a standard and normally it’s one or two but we were doing three as a standard, so that comes with a lot of crew, just three cameras alone comes with a lot of crew.


When you’re shooting a period drama which This is England was a period drama, Shane couldn’t go ‘I wanna go over there,’ or ‘let’s scrap this and go into that house,’ so what Shane was feeling like by the end of ’90 was he was the head of this really long train of people following him around. With The Virtues we made a conscious decision to strip everyone back. We were actually shooting five cameras as standard on The Virtues, but what we did is shooting with cameras where the operators were pulling their own focus, we didn’t do lighting we did available lights so we didn’t have lighting crew, didn’t have lighting trucks, so we just made a conscious decision to have a very small, very mobile crew so Shane had that freedom if the story’s going in one direction we’re all going in that direction and it’s happening really fast.


MS: Shane, one of the things that gives you then is an intimacy then. You have an intimacy between the actors, there’s a lot of two-handers in this show, a lot of revelations between two people and presumably if you have a smaller crew that’s helping with that intimacy. I’m actually thinking again of the scene with Stephen and Helen in Ireland.


SM: Yeah what happened was there was a big turning point in This is England ’90 where we were doing the reveal scene where Lol sits everyone down at the dinner table and basically tells them she was the one who killed her dad and it wasn’t Combo. What I’d learned over the years with that cast in particular was that very few takes resemble other takes, so if you only had two cameras or three cameras on six people, I think it was maybe five or six people in that scene. Then you went to do close ups and mediums, there’s this whole process of filmmaking that I didn’t really realise until I did that whole scene on This is England ’90 where we’d literally borrowed, stolen and begged a few cameras around that day and we decided this may only happen once, it’s one of those scenes where you sometimes get these guttural responses from people and from actors and sometimes it’s a wonderful bargaining chip. If that actor knows you’re asking them to go somewhere incredibly real and incredibly deep, it’s not just going five per cent and delivering something half arsed, you’re asking them to really go somewhere. There can be some reticence because you could be asking them to go there fifteen times and no human being on earth can go into that place fifteen times in a row. Three of them someone flushes a toilet or a plane goes by, so we decided this needed to be shot like a piece of theatre because if it does happen in one take and we’ve got all of these cameras all higgledy-piggledy set up all over the place, that was this kind of mad experiment that really what you see in the finished thing on This is England ’90 was that we could shoot that entire series like that on this. It transformed what this was because had this been these kind of scenes, and even though it’s really subtle the difference, the difference of a scene being made up of four or five takes all the time, which is fairly standard, you’ve got people who are looking at people in a scene, making eye contact and it’s not the actual moment of eye contact from that moment in time, and it can be done really well and hidden really well but there’s something I saw in that scene in This is England ’90 that made me go ‘that’s the extra five per cent,’ that’s this little magical ingredient. But then how do you manage to get two people sat in a kid’s bedroom and seven cameras on them. It’s quite a technical achievement, but that really inspired the whole of The Virtues and that it needed to be shot so that the actors knew that if we laid something down in one take we’d got a wide, two mids and a closeup as the bare minimum and could go ‘that scene’s done.’ It might take a bit longer to set things up and to set the cameras up but everyone knew when you shouted action that if you had to go somewhere that you were scared to go, you weren’t going to have to do it fifty-eight times afterwards. A massive step forward for me in some ways.


MS: Some of these—there’s some great humour in The Virtues but a lot of intense scenes, obviously. I just wanted to ask you Stephen and you Helen, when you’re doing a scene like that presumably if Shane has said to you ‘OK you can just go for it and we will have whatever you do, you won’t have to do it fifty-eight times, that gives you a kind of freedom to be in that moment.


HB: Yeah. Will I go? I think, sorry about that glitch earlier, I’m in a technical crevasse here, so… For us I remember Stephen I don’t know if you remember when we rehearsed that scene and what you were saying earlier on about having a script and a structure in place. I remember reading that scene from Shane and Jack, it was this, I could say twelve pages I could be wrong, but it was a monstrous history on the page between these two characters and I remember when we sat to rehearse them, as I’ve said many times before Shane’s rehearsal room is like group therapy which is a good thing and a bad thing, but in those rehearsal spaces you really get to the depth of the character because we spent I don’t know how long, three hours, more, long talking. You inevitably talk about your own history and your own, you know, stuff that you have internally and that comes out and informs the character, and we got to somewhere very vulnerable in a moment in that rehearsal space. I remember we were all emotional, I’ll never forget it in fact and Shane is brilliant, I don’t say that lightly and people say it about him a lot, but he knows how to keep it in you as an actor. He said to us ‘stop where you’re going with that. I know what’s coming I can feel it,’ we were both emotionally getting to a place with these characters that he stopped us and said ‘keep that now and store it, wait,’ so when you read that off the page, I mean Jack the two of them, it’s such talented writing and it’s daunting thinking how am I going to do this justice, but the joy of working in the improvisational way is you know that you’ll say those words and sometimes maybe it’s me, maybe it’s whatever, it doesn’t always come out in a believable way. The joy of Shane is he’ll go ‘right that sounds a bit hammy coming out of your mouth, say it a different way or put your own slant on it.’ So maybe there’s just a word changed or a sentiment or a pause, something that’s yours that lends gravity to that moment. Thinking about that twelve scene page and history was very daunting as an actor, but knowing—and I’m sure you’d say the same Stephen—we were absolutely in safe hands with Shane, that it was always up for discussion how it would play out. On the day I remember we all had some stuff going on and it was a cataclysm of events that happened and nearly didn’t transpire on the day but something happened and we decided to go with it and take all the stuff that was happening and everybody from Nicky and Mark, from make up and costume to crew, everyone was aware there was this giant moment. That puts a lot of pressure on but on the back of that you have Shane saying don’t worry if it doesn’t happen this time we’ll go again. You already feel relaxed enough to know if you balls it up you can go again. You’re so relaxed then in that state, you want to do so well because the subject matter is so intense and relatable on so many levels, on loss and pain and guilt. You want to do it justice. Everyone was quiet and peaceful, Stephen was so good to me that morning and was letting me prepare. You don’t always get that as an actor, time to go to that place mentally. We knew there was lots of cameras and no need to keep going and going and going, so when the cameras rolled and Stephen said it to me since, something, without sounding flighty, something kind of transcendental happened and the two of us got completely lost.


MS: It’s the same thing. The transcendental.


HB: It sounds how it sound but that was actually what it was. We got completely enveloped in those characters and that story and that moment.


MS: Stephen I want to bring you in because when I’ve spoken to you before, one of the things that you’ve said about the way Shane works is actually it reminds you of how Scorsese works. I wondered if you wanted to perhaps expand on that as well. How would you say they related other than their extreme talent and immense way with a hat.


SG: Yeah baby. For me personally it’s the kind of attention to detail and conversations you have about the character. Then what they both do is create this playground, this place, where you feel one million per cent comfortable. It’s like—I suppose like playing for Jurgen Klopp, do you know what I mean. He’s so gregarious, he’s so enthusiastic, his passion and I’m speaking about the three of them, no disrespect I’m sorry if I offend anyone with my football analogy. It’s that, you know, it makes you want to—they filled me with confidence beyond your wildest dreams for me. they’re so knowledgeable about film and everything, and about the story we’re telling. We’re immersed in the story we’re telling and they know it inside out and back to front. That’s where the similarities are so great from the two of them, they fill you with this confidence  and this belief that no matter what you do it won’t be wrong. There may be another way of doing it but it won’t be wrong. When someone’s saying it’s alright, as human beings we can be quite self conscious anyway and we get nervous and you know, all those little things, but if someone’s going to you ‘it’s alright don’t worry about it,’ it kind of really puts you at ease and you’re allowed to play. Just to go back to that scene in particular, that was an entire take from start to finish. I don’t know how it may sound and I’m not one of those kind of people, that was the purest moment on a film set and as an actor that I’ve ever experienced in my life. That was simply because time stood still, something happened, there was an energy and a presence inside that room due to the fact of what had happened to people individually, what people were going through. We came together as a collective family here, so people were having issues with families or issues with friends or whatever that were really, really deep and affecting them personally, and we kind of put all that aside and got our hands round each other and said it’s alright, let’s just give this a shot and see what happens. It was the most beautiful moment I’ve personally ever… Something happened in that room, we captured something, and that was down to the universe. I’m not one of them, I don’t mean to talk like that, but something magical. I believe in that kind of stuff, something spiritual and magical happened in that room and it’s down to the process of how h works, you experience those moments that are spiritual, really spiritual and moving.


MS: Yeah and that transfers. It completely transfers through the screen as well. I wanted to talk to you actually Shane and all of you really about the end of The Virtues because I know that it changed, didn’t it? It was filmed and then it was altered. Do you want to explain about that, to talk about it. sorry I’m just going to waffle a bit longer. Episode four there’s a kind of a mirroring going on all the way through between Diana and Joseph; they’re coming together, they’re moving apart, it’s a parallel revelation isn’t it. it’s a parallel ending, they’re moving towards something and there was a different ending, wasn’t there, for these characters?


SM: Yes there was a dual ending for each character and three versions of each from Stephen’s perspective. Mark and Nicky are maybe best equipped to have the memory of exactly… For me personally the Dina character I was invested in as a filmmaker whereas Joseph I was invested in his story in a different way because how he kind of handled the situation with that man I was contemplating from my own perspective, it was a safe arena for me to do something that I didn’t dare do in real life because I thought it would go very wrong. It kind of had to be left open because I personally outside of being a writer and outside a director involved in this, writing with Jack I kind of was quite scared of that thing because I didn’t… you don’t know how it’s going to be until you get there. It’s not the same and not remotely the same as facing the real person, but in some ways I think that for me Dina and the mum I didn’t know what way it would go from a director’s point of view—do we need this or this to balance this and this so let’s shoot both, whereas with Joseph for the first time in my life it had a different meaning, a very personal meaning, and because I experienced something similar to what his character experienced a part of me wanted to go in and wanted Joseph to go in on my behalf and give him a real walloping. There was a part of me that wanted him to go in and forgive him. What was lovely was we kind of didn’t choose who Joseph was; that bit wasn’t written, it was Stephen and him, him being ill in bed wasn’t decided until possibly that day. In the script Joseph walks in and has a hatchet, a small axe in his coat, still got the label on from B&Q… None of these things transpired because on the day, as normal, it’s always a bit we’re going to go this way but there was just a little bit more from my point of view. And Stephen in particular had a lot of really intense conversations with friends as well as colleagues. Mark and Nicky might remember the 800 variations, as will Jack, but I can’t remember.


NS: Just to go into that scene between Stephen and Liam, we had a stunt coordinator standing by, we weren’t sure which direction this scene was going to go in. It was so incredibly personal and I can’t imagine any other set on the planet running that way because me and Shane were sitting in the next room with two tiny monitors with headphones on and at one point I actually cried out—I don’t know if you remember this Shane?


SM: I do, yeah.


NS: At the monitor. Shane took his headphones off and went ‘what what what?’ and I went ‘nothing.’ For that moment, because this didn’t exist this scene until these two people came together, and just the power and the courage of these two actors in this situation, I was at home, on my sofa, watching it on the telly. I was so in that moment with them. It was absolutely incredible. Just incredible.


We shot the murder first, we shot Dina killing her mum first, and then we kind of came away and looked at it and it was a case of ‘yeah this might not look right, this might not sit right, might not feel right,’ so we went back in and shot her not killing her mother. We had a different ending for Mark and Craigy. I think you decided on the day you wanted to hang Craigy, on the day you decided.


MS: That’s a bit mean!


NS: It was like ‘no!’ that’s a great idea. Then the first time me and Mark actually saw Shane, he cut that final sequence together, it’s again one of the most powerful feelings I’ve had ever watching that sequence and seeing endings that he had chosen. It was exactly what it needed to be, exactly what it should have been. It was perfect.


SM: Can I just really briefly say and obviously I’ll let other people talk but I just keep forgetting to mention the crew in this regard because when normally a crew, like anybody working on a job, if they’re kept outside a house and it’s raining or it’s snowing or freezing or red hot and you’re kept outside a house for three hours or four hours or sometimes a day while three people inside with feather boas on are going ‘maybe we should try this,’ it takes an enormous amount of faith for people to sit and wait for you to find something and an enormous amount of belief. Then to pussyfoot, sometimes the actors might stay in the room because you don’t want to lose a moment, and the crew will walk in really meekly and set up the cameras around the actors and wouldn’t speak… I’ve never worked with a bad crew but I’ve worked with crews who got frustrated with how I wanted to work. Whereas the crew on this I honestly don’t think we could have got those intimate performances without the way that they were. It was unbelievable.


MH: I think from the start I was going to say the same, the crew were incredible. Because we’ve got people who have worked with Shane in the past, we even had people who worked on Dead Man’s Shoes, you know that things will change and you know you have to be on your toes and know that you may go, like at the end of Dead Man’s Shoes when Shane goes ‘this isn’t right,’ and you know when Shane says that that it’s real and he’s just searching for a truth and an honesty. Even though it’s the most complicated thing to arrange what will be right, everyone goes along because they know the result will be great. You have this crew that believe, and it might be that their morning is hellish because they’ve got to sort a new location or change this or they’ve prepped a stunt and we’re not using a stunt or they’ve prepped a prop and we’re not using it, but they all embrace it and if it wasn’t for them and their openness to working in that process, we’d be screwed. They’re incredible, they just go ‘you know what we’re going to have to move. This isn’t working, what we said we were going to do we’re now going to change it completely. Everyone go home and we’ll come back tomorrow with something else see if magic happens.’ And they go ‘yeah ok great,’ there’s no grumbling. I think that’s testament…


MS: How do you manage that? That’s amazing. All crews grumble! ‘This is outrageous.’


NS: We choose very carefully. And that’s why Shane’s really loyal and likes to return to the same people, because when you sign on you sign on for Shane, you sign on for that process. So every single person that’s signing on to one of his projects knows they’re never going to have an experience like it again, unless they sign on to his next one.


MS: There you go! I wanted to also ask about other scenes as well which are very different to that. The obvious, and there are two aspects to think about that I’d like to pull out, the one that I watched The Virtues again and yet again I had to walk out the room during this scene and it is the pub scene in the first episode. The tension is just mad. It’s completely mad and it’s just a pub scene, a normal pub scene. Every time I’ve watched it, and I’ve watched it a few times, I’ve walked out of the room, come back, paused, walked out the room, come back, paused. That I know was filmed later than was meant to happen, so quite a lot of people were more drunk than they were expected to be. Who wants to talk me through that process?


SM: That’s maybe a producer question.


MS: No, no, no. That’s you Shane. I’m going to say Shane, talk me through that.


SM: So what happened was we’d had a number of issues. We had about three false starts, Stephen came on and we were shooting a week later. We started shooting and we did these beautiful scenes, we did it all chronologically which is not easy to do for many many reasons, but I think we lost one of our main cameramen off the job, we had loads of footage that corrupted on these cards, we had to keep going back to the house, back to the house, and every time I kept shooting things with Stephen’s kid and his ex and you know, his ex’s new partner, going ‘thank god,’ because normally you can’t go back and capture things. I think on this day with the pub, I think Mark will obviously fill in the details, I think he put a bit of money in to make sure they all had a bit of food, bit of drink and what have you, and we were meant to get there at six and everyone in that pub was local to that pub rather than you know, pulling in a load of people that were on set all day moaning about the food. They were all in there all day. Anyway, they were going to be there when we got there, and we turned up and two things happened, we lost our main cameraman and we had this guy Nick who came to DoP the rest of the show, who was with us. We said—it was one of those times Miranda we’ll walk away and we’ll come back tomorrow, but we’d already, they’d already blown the budget down there and they wanted more budget and drinks, so we said let’s just take Nick down, he had this little Sony camera, you can buy them in Currys, but they’re amazing in low light. Very cinematic, you wouldn’t shoot everything on it, but we sort of said ‘Nick, would you like to do an audition to be head cameraman now we’ve lost this guy through unfortunate circumstances. Let’s treat it like an audition.’


MS: This is Nick Gillespie.


SM: Nick Gillespie. Let’s just do it on one camera, Stephen I didn’t know how Stephen—we’d had this conversation about drunk acting, which is one of those things that very, very few people could do. And Stephen was just kind of going ‘can I try on the day?’ so I didn’t know if I was going to get Harold Lloyd or Dudley Moore. So I was just thinking we’ve got to try because it’s going to go wrong. We’ve got one little camera, almost an audition to step up from being a camera operator to doing the whole thing, and we went down and they were a little over inebriated, not so drunk they didn’t recognise Stephen, and it honestly happened—I say one take but there was one pause because these cameras being more like a consumer model we had to pause for a few minutes to swap a card in this camera. But everything you saw in that pub happened in one take. People were getting into that mode and into that spirit but it all started, and I have to have my hat off to Stephen because I wasn’t directing him, telling him to really gradually change his personality, go from this meek wounded man that hasn’t drunk for years… He did that, he and Nick found their way around that scene. I had a little monitor that was being beamed to and I was like the cat that got the cream, I was like ‘this is unbelievable.’ There was a girl in there that genuinely fancied Stephen and didn’t know he was an actor, there was all kids of boundaries and lines blurred. I think that was as close to a documentary for ninety per cent of people in the room, as it can get I think.


MH: There was one guy that just got out of prison that day as one of the extras. We wanted people that were local, and he was celebrating being free after seven years. We were trying to stop them, because we were three hours late turning up to this pub, and we were saying ‘keep them sober, keep them sober,’ but they’re all in the pub and we got there and they weren’t as sober as we hoped but in a weird way, remember Stephen, Nick’s first bit of being a DoP—it’s not a very big pub either and we had Tom Davis who played the barman for one day. It was like let’s just give it a go, pressure’s off, we’ve got an hour before we have to wrap. Let’s just see if we can do it and if not we’ll come back tomorrow. In a weird way, that just liberates everybody and Nick. He was just incredible, just instinctively like Shane said was like a documentary filmmaker, just followed what Stephen  did. Me and Shane were sat under this dartboard trying to hide so we weren’t going to be in shot and just hiding and looking and being like it was just like watching the best documentary ever, just sitting there thinking, one Nick’s going to be an amazing DoP, two we’ve got a great scene, and three, oh my God, are we going to get out of here alive?


MS: There’s always that element, right? Given you’ve said you shot it chronologically, Stephen I’m going to go back to you in a little bit about how much walking you had to do, just so you know. But I’d like to go to Jack. So essentially before filming’s started the script is done, you know what’s going on, and yet there’s such a fluid process that’s going on is there a pressure to rewrite as you go along?


JT: Shane’s the writer. So we got the script to the position Shane was incredibly happy with, and as it altered Shane is altering the story in his head. We’re never going madly away until that fourth episode, and in that fourth episode there was this break and it was like we need to work this out again.


The fourth episode had been a bug bear all the way through the writing process because it was Shane meeting someone, it was Shane doing the thing that he wanted to do. I tell you, when watching that thing, watching that moment between the two of them and what Stephen did with Shane’s story and watching that forgiveness and thinking about it in relation to Dead Man’s Shoes which is all about a violence—


MS: Revenge


JT: And this sort of really loving, do you know what I mean? It felt really loving that moment, full of anger, full of everything else but just peaceful and loving. It just was the most extraordinary thing, this whole process was the most extraordinary thing. We were trusted, I’ve said this before, with Shane’s heart on this project. This was something that was his battle and we were all trusted to be part of the telling of that story and it really was like the greatest responsibility, but the most beautiful responsibility to be given the chance to tell his story. So yes, no there’s a constant evolution and on the others there’s been times where it’s been like we need to redo this, redo that, there’s been a couple of times where we’ve scrapped the whole episode. But that thing of just going ‘this isn’t right,’ and then it still wasn’t right and it wasn’t right until the day. That’s amazing.


MS: I am going to go quickly to Stephen before I bring in the audience who are very kindly giving us quite a few questions. There are two questions I’d like to ask you. One, everybody’s been talking about the responsibility and trust Shane has given them in order to tell the story of what might have been and what Shane could have done in his life, confronted somebody that had abused him when he was younger. But the responsibility is really on you to represent that. How did that—did that weigh on you? How did you find it?


SG: It didn’t really weigh on me at all if I’m honest. Shane’s a very, very dear friend and I love him with all my heart. Throughout the process we became even closer, even closer than what we already have been. Through circumstances in both our lives we became even closer. I spent a lot of time with Shane’s dad as well so I was getting to know a lot about Shane as a child unbeknownst to Shane. I was getting all this lovely, beautiful information about this wonderful young boy who was just the light and soul of the party, mystified by the beauty of the world, so innocent, so lovely, so gorgeous and so loving. That’s what I was feeding from. Every morning I’d be with Artie in the car, every evening I’d sit down and have my dinner with Artie, but it wasn’t as if I was manipulating the situation, but through that process I became really close with Artie. Don’t mean to be a dickhead, but I was sucking the fucking manna of the life out of Artie about Shane as a kid but also me and Shane would have these beautiful conversations that we’re both men going through a lot of changes and developing as human beings through our own spiritual journeys, do you know what I mean, and I looked Shane in the eyes at one point and we had these conversations. For me the injustice of it, of what happened, and the research I’d done as well through my own stuff where I’d looked at alcoholics and a programme that they did, and about forgiveness and looking at your past and how in order to move on we have to grow and cleanse the past. We can’t carry that in life, can’t keep those resentments and that anger, because that just leads to darkness and pain and for Joseph in many aspects that would lead to him relapsing and going back into that horrible place he’d been in for years before we met him in this story. I did look at Shane and kind of asked if he were to confront him what would it be like and how would it feel? And it’s a huge thing. The man who Shane is, the man who makes us these films, films that have a heart, soul, hope, so much passion in them, but ultimately are someone trapped somewhere and trying to be free, that inner soul, that’s what I tried to bring into it without even knowing it. Jack very nicely said, thank you for those words, but I didn’t know what was going to happen in that moment, I didn’t even know that he was going to be in a fight. Me as Stephen had to leave it all outside. Nicky was right we had a stuntman there because that might’ve grabbed him, but it was just that feeling of like, karma’s done it for me I don’t need to do it now, and I don’t need to take my soul or my spirit with what I could do to you, the way you’ve been tainted by what you did to me. Ultimately he gave him the opportunity to give forgiveness to himself, but Joseph left that room transformed.


MS: Yes.


SG: He cleansed his own soul by forgiving himself, but also forgiving that fella. It wasn’t Joseph’s fault, this was a sick predator, but I forgive him in order to move forward. Sorry that was a bit profound wasn’t it?


MS: It was good, we like it. In the end it’s more Christian than the Catholic church. So well done. So, I have here some questions from our fabulous audience. OK. We have quite a lot so I’m just going to go through.


This is a question for Jane, Helen and Stephen from Nick Stevens. Do you think the industry is starting to open up to working class actors? We could talk about this for an hour but let’s not. Let’s talk about it for a little moment. How are we feeling about that?


HB: I was just speaking to someone about this the other day. Before I lost you earlier, my route’s been very unorthodox into this. I grew up in a very small village where we had a parochial hall and youth club and there wasn’t an outlet for show offs like me. I did a play at school and I loved it and I’m from part of a large family and the money went to keeping that family going. There wasn’t extra to travel to those kind of places where there was drama. I had a very comfortable childhood but there just wasn’t that facility but I think across the board a lot of kids have missed out because of where they’re from for whatever reason. I do think it’s getting slightly better but honestly I think if you didn’t pick me up out the gutter in that pub Shane I might never be here.


MS: I would just like to, could we just tell that story really quickly of how you two met? Shane I know you were on holiday weren’t you?


SM: Yeah I went on holiday with my wife and first son, my second lad wasn’t even born yet. we were having a week in this beautiful beachside cottage thing in—was it Bettys town?


HB: Bettys town, yes.


SM: So saw this pub, go into this local boozer, lovely lovely pub. Reminded me of a place in Utoxa, my favourite pub I’d go there with my dad.


HB: It’s a great pub


SM: Helen came over, one of those places you get embraced and get in with people. I spoke with this guy behind the bar and I think the Southbank show had been replayed or on recently but this guy recognised me from that and was saying ‘are you the guy from This is England?’ and ‘how long are you staying because there’s a woman coming in I think you should meet.’ Whenever anyone says that to me I just imagine Bonnie Langford.


HB: I need to do my ringlets up.


SM: But then everywhere I went in this pub, listening to music or whatever, everyone mentioned Helen. ‘You’ve got to meet Helen,’ and I was kind of like ‘who is this Helen?’ She came in, and it was a mental night because there was a guy shoplifting who pinched about fifteen ladies’ purses in this pub and was hiding them all in the cistern. It was a night for the ages. Among all that profound stuff happening and the guy being taken outside and slapped, Helen finally came in and I met her at the bar, and I was like ‘your reputation precedes you madam,’ and we had a great chat and her husband was massive, I’m going ‘I’m here with my wife please don’t kill me.’ She gave me her number and I said ‘look if ever I’m doing anything and I’ll try and think on, I sometimes forget but I’ll put your number in my wallet’ and I think I’d just finished This Is England ’86, but whatever I’d done it was going to be a while before I did anything else. Long story short me and Jack sat down writing a scene of ’88 very early stages, maybe a year later, I don’t know exactly, maybe eighteen months, and I thought what if Lol goes to see a nurse, a district nurse in this place to talk about how unwell she’s feeling. And I thought God I feel like I know a nurse who’s an actress. Helen had told me obviously because she is a nurse, I’d got it the wrong way round that it was a nurse who wanted to be an actress, but that was good enough for me. I got the team, when we were writing they rang Helen and said you know, she got a phone call. I think you were at your mum and dad’s?


HB: I was in the kitchen washing dishes that night and my friend, you’re quite right, said ‘that is Shane Meadows at the bar.’ It’s a tiny little pub, my sister had her wallet robbed, the place had been fleeced. I thought I’m going to kick the shit out of this fellow and then Shane just said ‘this is great I feel like I’m at home here,’ it’s like there was bullet holes in the wall. It was a mental night but it’s such a small village from my point, and it’s a great seaside village but superstar directors don’t often walk in the door of your local, so I saw a chance and I took it and I think with anyone else I don’t know—it was the kind of person Shane is, we were having a great night, and I just thought you’re never going to be here again I have to ask, do that think you’re not supposed to be, give us a job? I kind of watched you carefully fold my number and thought maybe that means something, and every time the phone rang with a UK number I’d leap out my skin and it was always a bloody cold caller. When eventually they did call I was washing the dishes in the kitchen and I was leaping up and down and screaming then coming back and going ‘yes, that sounds very nice.’ Overjoyed. I know and I keep saying to Shane if it wasn’t for you—he did say ‘I got you in here but you have to keep yourself there,’ but really I mean, it’s you dude. I appreciate the opportunity and because of people like Shane some working class people will have a shot because you’re seen and you’re heard by people like him. I think if it’s your vision and your dream there’s somebody out there; those Shanes are few and far between but there are slowly becoming more opportunities. But Jesus that was the turning point in my life and I’m so glad that you took a chance on me and I hope I didn’t let you down.


MS: You definitely did not. I’d just like to say also that Matthew Blaney has said ‘P.S. Helen, thank you for your frontline service, you’re a legend.’


SM: BAFTA are now running schemes and I’ve done some online workshops over lockdown. Nicky will—I can’t remember the name of the one we did that was for working class actors—what was that?


NS: Elevate. BAFTA Elevate.


SM: And what was the one that I did with you Nick that was—


NS: Oh, Actors Awareness. I think we have some people on here from Actors Awareness.


SM: Yes, there’s things springing up all the time. Obviously you need people who are in mine, Mark’s and Nicky’s position, Jack’s position, Stephen and Helen, who want to promote new talent and underrepresented talent. But just by the nature of being in lockdown I’ve worked with a few groups and BAFTA Elevate most recently and it blew my mind how much talent is out there from places people don’t normally associate it coming from. Whether it be that they might not have a classical education or that they’re just from a background that’s severely underrepresented, they just never really get that chance. Things are definitely, definitely looking brighter on that front.


MS: So the advice would be join BAFTA Elevate and if you see someone you like go up to them and give them your number and say ‘I want to work with you.’ Maybe buy them a drink.


I’ve got a question for you Stephen and there’s a quote in it, I’m quite impressed that it says ‘This is a review of The Virtues and it says “no man working in Britain today can drink a pint with more pathos than Stephen Graham.” You don’t shy away from playing characters in incredibly intense and difficult periods. What is it that draws you to those sorts of characters?’


SG: I’m never going to be Mr Darcy, do you know what I mean. For me it’s just trying to play those parts and be a part of the stories that I used to watch as a kid that made me want to be an actor in the first place. Alan Clark’s things, all those great dramas I was brought up watching on telly. It’s one thing to be a part of telling those great stories and fortunately enough the stuff I choose—should I say me or should I say Hannah and Jane—that they choose for me is very kind of, it’s very social, has a message, the stuff I truly adore doing, and it’s kind of political. But for me it’s always been about the truth of the story and the humanity of the character. I find them really interesting to play. Going back to what you were saying about working class and stuff, working class stories need to be told, so we need to find the writers that can tell these stories. The likes of Jack and Shane and Nicky and Mark trying to help those people get those opportunities, because primarily it’s about those opportunities. For me there’s so much truth and so much… What I love about Shane and Jack’s writing is there’s so much humour as well. Because we’re not all miserable bastards, you know what I mean?... My life was full of stuff like making go karts, we made our own go karts, flat wheels, bits of trolleys, bits of wood, do you know what I mean? It was amazing, in the fields til six or seven o clock, it’s that sort of thing and telling those stories is what’s fascinating.


MS: Look, we haven’t got very much time so I’m going to ask you all to think about this question before I think of another one which is I’m going to ask you at the end what your favourite moment was when making the programme from Luke Sedge, who says, to Shane, how large—I like the idea of large—did your idea have to be for you to decide that this was the idea worth using and not to try and think of other ideas. I imagine you’ve got other ideas all the time. How do you know which one to go for?


SM: It’s a mixture. Sometimes they do kind of pick you and they just, for instance, when you get a direct call from Ian Brown going ‘The Stone Roses are getting back together do you fancy making a documentary about it?’ You go everything that I was thinking about all now has to leave the building. I rang my wife and asked if it was at all humanly possible, even though we had children, that I could go on tour for a little bit to live my dreams of being on a rock tour. Sometimes the moment picks you and The Virtues was something like that even if not as joyous a subject, but needed to be made.


A lot of the other ones, you’re right Miranda, I’ve had a number of stories that were around for a number of years, and then certain things transpired, the stars, the universe aligned and suddenly projects that wouldn’t be funded suddenly people will look at that subject matter in a different way or an actor you wanted becomes available. Sometimes you can try and try and try to get something going, there’s a story about a man in the town I grew up in, an incredible man called Bartley Gorman, a bare knuckle fighter converted to Catholicism in his later life, the most unbelievable story, and myself and Paddy Considine have tried to write as a feature film, tried to write as a series, but I’ve never quite found the box to fit it in but I know one day it’s going to happen because it’s one of those stories that’s in me. I know I need to kind of tell and I’m waiting for the right moment, so sometimes  you get the odd one like the Roses where you’re like Dick Whittington, just get me some cheese and a knapsack, I’m off, and there’s other ones that’s just about how the universe works out the deck of cards.


MS: I like the cheese and a knapsack and lots of cameras also. That tends to be kind of useful. We are coming towards the end to just have a think. Can you tell me what your favourite moment was when making this programme, because obviously it was an intense experience, but intense experiences are the best, aren’t they? So I’m going to ask you Nicky first. What was your favourite moment?


NS: It’s going to be quite a general one I’m so sorry because I know you want specifics, but this is my first job producing for Shane, so it’s that basically. It’s the fact I actually got to produce The Virtues, I mean holy shit.


MS: Big tick.


NS: Yeah, it’s not going to get better than that, so that one.


MS: OK. What about you Mark?


MH: I was thinking about this when you said the thing that summed it up the best is when you said you need to trust Shane’s instincts, and we were going to do all the past stuff in the care home and he rang up and said ‘we need to do it on VHS it can’t be like a plug in,’ and it was like I love eBay, Shane loves eBay—


MS: You are my people.


MH: I just remember going on eBay and finding this amazing VHS camera in Sheffield with no battery and then picking it up and it didn’t have a battery so we found we could use these plugin things for charging a car that you get from B&Q. So coming back from Chesterfield, coming down Queens Road on the way to school, buying this battery pack that you can plug a camera in and just going ‘there you go,’ and the day after they shoot this amazing VHS sequence. So that just kind of summed up the whole process for me, that was probably my thing.


MS: OK, Helen, what about you?


HB: My answer’s a little bit like Nicky’s and I’m a terrible one for talking so I’ll try to keep this short, but to go from being a nurse and getting a chance to suddenly move on to a project like The Virtues, to be given a chance by somebody you so admire and respect and to be able to flourish within that. I think down to a moment and a visceral moment because for me the most exquisite thing about this project and I still get messages from people on a daily basis I should send on to you Shane, how people feel about this project, it’s his examination of the human condition and pain in particular which we all experience. I’m going to go around it but it’s really important, I feel like nobody sits with pain as much as Joseph does, as much as Shane does with Joseph, examines that pain. Pain demands to be felt, but watching that as an audience and it’s difficult when you’re in something because you’re always looking at yourself, but I finally got to a place where I could watch this for what it is. And it’s that examination of the human condition that looking at pain, sitting with it, contorting with the character, being guilty with them and upset with them and finally and ultimately being hopeful with them, watching them kind of get this catharsis, go through this huge pain which we all have or will have in our lives. That’s why people connect with it, that’s why it’s so important, that’s why it’s such an amazing programme, and to be part of that is my favourite thing. To be part of that and be in that moment with Steve and know that we were creating this history that was visceral and would make people feel and being aware of it just directly afterwards, like wow feeling that special moment. I love working but nothing will come close to that job, it’s been amazing. And from a comedy point of view, bollocking me and Steve for smooching on the couch that was quite the moment, enjoyed that as well, enjoyed all of it. It’s a happy day at work, it’s a sad day, you’re crunched up you’re laughing you’re crying and it’s been one of the best of my life.


MS: Very beautiful though, thank you Helen. OK, Jack.


JT: Just to say, the reason why it’s set in Ireland is because of Helen. Shane said right at the beginning that this story, Helen’s part of the story needed to be in Ireland so that’s why it’s there.


SM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I spoke to Helen and you know Helen’s own family and the stories we shared in there—it wasn’t just, probably from the basis of what we’ve said in this session it sounds like it was only my personal stuff that was in there, but everybody involved in this, cast and members of the crew, shared things about themselves that made this… No one story is ever enough and there’s things we shared that bonded together for life. That was one of those decisions we made early from early conversations with Helen.


MS: OK going to go to Steven. Oh no Jack, give me a moment.


JT: Sorry, sorry, I just started talking about Helen instead. It was that first meeting and it was the most extraordinary meeting of my life. There was some illness stuff going on, all sorts of stuff going on, then Shane told me what happened to him and said I think we need to make this into a story and that was—I’ll never have anything like that happen to me again.


MS: Thank you. OK, I’m going to go to Stephen now and then Shane you have to give us one too.


SG: It’s far too hard.


MS: Sorry, it’s a test.


SG: I can double bluff you. I can just say and get away with this because this is my truth. I believe in living in the moment and I loved every moment because I lived through that experience. And I gained so much knowledge about myself, the beautiful people around me, myself as an actor and just about life. So the whole process for me was a beautiful experience. Like they’ve said every single one of us—look at Nicky, she went from being first AD to our producer, do you know what I mean, that in itself is fucking massive. That’s more than one moment it’s massive and now she’s flying. The whole thing, the collection of everything, I can say moments are specific but I believe in living in the moments and the whole thing… I got away with that.


MS: You have got away with it. Shane, give me a moment. A moment. One moment.


SM: OK one moment, flipping heck. The part I enjoyed the most that was most special for me was the part I love on everything I do where I’ve just finished writing with Jack, I’ve just sort of got Mark and Nicky to find us a home for the actors and I’ve just sat in a room for the first time with the actors, those first rehearsals are just… I live for that. If you took the earth away and I could just have a little room with those tables and chairs you get in an Alan Bennett play, I could survive very happily. Obviously meeting and having PJ Harvey agree to do the music, Jack helping me believe there’s a story there—it’s really hard on a job like this in terms of asking him to pick one thing besides the fact it was this really small cast and crew so there was no them and us it was just us. It’s that bit where I’m running out the rehearsal rooms to go and talk to Mark and Nicky or costume or location and go ‘shit forget that Jack what do you think of this?’ where everyone gets plugged in, and what we found, that home, that crazy little school that cost less than renting a little tiny student room, the entire Skywalker ranch, I’m sorry we’ve all been expansive in our answers.


MS: It’s because none of you like to talk, right?


OK well look, I would like to say thank you so much for joining us. It’s been really absolutely brilliant to talk to you. It’s a completely special piece of work that as we’ve learned is special to all of you but is special to anybody who’s watched it. It’s a very moving piece of work, so I’d like to say thank you so much for joining us and congratulations on your nominations.


All: Thank you.


MS: I’d also like to say if anyone has been feeling upset by any of the stuff we’ve been talking about if you go to the chat here there’s a resource list from Channel 4 to help support survivors of abuse, and also for those working in the industry every year the Film and TV Charity team at BAFTA helps thousands of people to overcome personal and professional obstacles. So if this session has brought up anything for you and you want to talk to somebody, there’s a support line on there.


So I’d like to say thank you again to all of you, thank you again to our supporting partner of the sessions, TCL, thank you for being here audience, we hope you enjoyed it. There’s more sessions coming up from BAFTA which include The Making of Top Boy tomorrow which I imagine is going to be amazing, and The Making of the End of the F

  • **ing World, also brilliant. We really hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion. Stay tuned on BAFTA’s social channels and stay tuned for details on where to watch both the British Academy Television Craft Awards and the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and see if this lot win.


Thank you so much everybody, love to you all. Stay in the moment. Goodbye.


SM: Goodbye everyone


NS: Thanks so much Miranda, Thank you.


SG: See you later.