Transcript from the BAFTA Television Craft Sessions: The Making of Top Boy, Friday 17th July
Matimba Kabalka: Hello, I’m Matimba Kabalka and welcome to The Making of Top Boy which is part of the BAFTA Television Sessions, supported by TCL. Huge thanks to TCL for their 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 just a little housekeeping before we get started. These events are part of BAFTA’s Learning work, to share expertise from TV, film and games with audiences far and wide. Check out BAFTA.org and BAFTA’s social channels, we’re streaming on Zoom and BAFTA’s YouTube channel where you can rewatch this and other sessions. Join the conversation on social using #BAFTATVSessions. If you’ve got a question pop them in the Chat function below. Closed captioning is available now which you can turn on at the bottom of the screen.
Really excited for this. Today we are joined by Anil Karia, who’s a director. Hi Anil.
Anil Karia: Hello
MK: We’re joined by Joe Anderson, DoP
Joe Anderson: Hello everybody
MK: Hello, hi. We’re joined by Jasmine Jobson who’s an actor
Jasmine Jobson: Hi
MK: And we’re joined by Roland Bennett who’s a writer and series creator
Ronan Bennett: Hi, hi.
MK: Congratulations on this year’s nominations. It’s huge, so exciting. Let’s dive right in because I know this is a session lots of people are very excited about. I kind of want to go back to go forward. Ronan, the original series for Top Boy started on Channel 4 and I guess there was a little bit of a break after that and the series kind of came back on Netflix which is really exciting. Can you talk to us a bit about what that was like in terms of having this show that had huge momentum and then the sort of gap and then coming back?
RB: Sure. I think probably most writers and producers will recognise that you know, in this business nothing’s guaranteed and in a way you have to roll with the blows. You get a show, sometimes it’s green lit, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s green lit and then cancelled. In a way you know, you just have to shrug and get on with it but I have to say that when after two successful seasons on Channel 4, when Top Boy was cancelled it was one of those ones I wasn’t able to shrug off. It meant too much. It was an incredible family feeling about the cast and the crew and filmmakers. It was very hard and difficult to understand. When I heard that Drake was interested I didn’t pay it a lot of mind, partly because I didn’t know who he was and also because people were saying Drake’s very excited about this, and in the business saying people are very excited about something means absolutely nothing because everybody’s always very excited. So I didn’t really pay it much mind and then it wasn’t until I met him a bit later that it became clear he was serious and we really had a chance of going forward.
MK: And what was that like, sort of meeting someone who you know, whose excitement was genuine but whose connection to it.. Was that strange, Drake and this show?
RB: It was. It wasn’t until my teenage children said ‘You’re going to see who?!’
That I realised maybe it turns out he’s quite big. We met him in London, myself and my colleagues Charles Steele and Ali Flynn and Jerry Jackson, story consultant from the start on Top Boy. We met him, he was great. And he was you know, very genuine and just really loved it and all he said to us was we just want you to do what you do and all we want to be is the fuel to your fire and to help it get back up again. He didn’t want to control it, he wanted us to do the same thing again.
MK: Did you have any hesitation about doing it again or did it feel like yes?
RB: Oh no I absolutely wanted to dive back in. we’d been preparing the third season when Channel 4 cancelled it, we had ideas. So we dusted them down, they were still exciting and inspiring. Absolutely wanted to dive into it.
MK: Anil from your perspective the roster of directors on this season is incredible. How did you feel coming into this and also you did the last episode so you were kind of coming back into something that was returning and you had the job of doing the taking it up to the finale. How did that feel?
AK: Yeah I mean good, it felt good. I was a huge fan of the original miniseries, you know, genuinely, so it was very exciting to be meeting on that project. I really wanted to work on it. Obviously there was some pressure felt, I was coming into, you know, there’s a certain amount of pressure on finishing off a series that’s come so far like that but you know, it’s a bunch of wonderful people and a very collaborative bunch of people and by the time I was coming on set to start on episode eight it was already feeling like I was part of a family, as trite as that sounds. It does feel like that on that show. It was tough, Jasmine and Joe and everyone started off Top Boy in sun drenched July in London and seven months later it was minus six and I came on board and everyone was knackered and probably slightly fed up and I was coming in like ‘hi guys,’. Everyone was probably fairly brutalised and exhausted and it was definitely tough for everyone. For those guys it was the final slog and for me it was the beginning so that was an interesting one, but you know it was a fantastic experience and in terms of working with the other extremely talented directors it was very effortless, it was a great balance between being very collaborative and communicative between me and I went to visit Ronaldo and Joe on set a couple of times, I was watching rushes, very much across how Joe and Ronaldo were defining the show in its beginnings. I was sharing the production office for a long time with Brady so there was a lot of crossover there. At the same time, Ronan, Charles, Ali, they truly want filmmakers to come with their own approach and ideas to each block so it definitely wasn’t as reductive as ‘hey Ray what are you doing? Let me jot that down and replicate that.’ It’s crucial to have a seamless voice and energy through the series but it definitely wasn’t limiting. Each director was encouraged to do their thing. To be honest, Ronaldo and Joe I thought found a beautiful new kind of language to it that was true to Yann and Ronan’s original ideas but brought a new kind of energy to it which I really found invigorating to watch and it was not a chore to go on from that and try and go from there.
MK: It’s completely refreshing because you’re right it’s rare that a piece of television feels like you’ve got the distinct voice of different directors but a real cohesion. You can really sense that, and Joe it’s interesting because as Anil pointed out, were up front in the first block. Can you talk a little about how you became involved in the project?
JA: I’m a New Yorker, as you can tell I’m not from the UK from my accent. The director Ray, he and I have a couple ways we’ve crossed paths: We’re former NYU students, we’ve worked as part of Sundance’s Institute, it’s a small world and we’d crossed paths a couple times and never worked together and so when he got the opportunity to go work in London on this amazing show, he thought I might be a good fit so we had a Skype conversation, kind of the way we’re talking now was the way we first met, and him and Yvonne one of the producers as well we spoke and hit it off and exchanged some ideas and a few weeks later I was on an aeroplane.
MK: Wow that’s so exciting. And was it, did you kind of coming into it, did it feel… It’s such a London story, was it easy for you to find a way in or were you, yeah?
JA: There were a couple interesting times where my background didn’t quite prepare me. Actually architecturally it was a bit of a shock. New York we’re used to very small apartments as well but I think some of the blocks we were shooting in were particularly tiny and difficult to get into. There were funny adjustments we were having to make on the surface, but the show itself is so universal that I loved it as soon as I watched the first episode of the first series. I was totally on board wanted to help create this world, so it really didn’t take too much of an adjustment period.
MK: Jasmine, can you tell us about your relationship to this show prior to being cast in it? Love to hear a bit about the process of being cast.
JJ: Well I already had a relationship with Top Boy from the first two seasons, putting that out there. I was one of the kids who used to go into school the next day like ‘Oh my God did you watch Top Boy last night?’ so yeah, definitely.
It’s been a wonderful experience, absolutely wonderful. I’ve learnt so much and couldn’t ask for a better bunch of beautiful creative people to make some magic with honestly.
MK: Can you talk a bit about the casting process? Obviously it’s nominated for the casting category, how was it working with Des and his team?
JJ: Well Des is amazing. I’ve been auditioning with Des right from the beginning of my acting career and he’s always called me back. When he called me in for Top Boy he knew I was going to come down and smash every single audition he put me up for without doubt. Not going to lie it did take a little while. I was auditioning for Des for this job for about two months maybe. I had four auditions in total, three recalls. My fourth and final audition I actually got to meet all the directors, I met Anil, I met Ray, I met everybody it was amazing. I remember Des told me, in this scene my character was supposed to be absolutely nuts and I was like ‘are you sure though?’ I was like if I got that far will I ruin everything? Des was like ‘Jas, go absolutely nuts.’ So I picked up a chair and dashed a chair clean across the room, clean across the room and just missed the window. And then I got a call a week later that I got the job.
MK: When throwing the chair, was there a moment when you were like this is either it or not it?
JJ: Yeah kind of, kind of. I don’t even think I thought about it at all, I just grabbed the chair and dashed it and when it was in the air I was like ‘oh.’ I wouldn’t recommend it, in the future if you have an audition with Des and he asks you to lose your temper, always ask him how far you want to go. Don’t just think ‘oh yeah Jas dashed the chair so I’ll dash a chair.’
MK: There’s lots of people I feel who will be quoting you on that. Ronan, something that the show does really well is its specificity in its depiction in London and Hackney in general. London is notoriously difficult to make feel current and believable. How do you approach that in the writing, and then I’ll follow that train of thought through to everyone else, but with the writing, how do you approach that?
RB: Can I just say something about Jaq’s character before I get into that? Actually what happened was that if you, you know looking back at the original script, the early drafts of this season. Jaq’s character was barely there and once we saw what Jasmine was capable of we thought we’ve got to do more with this character. It’s a pain for the writer because you have to unpick things and rewrite, but when you see someone that good on screen with that energy, you have to be flexible enough to reflect that. Top Boy is that kind of show, I don’t think of it written in stone. You’ve got to come in and be flexible and allow the talent to express itself, which leads me into your original question. How do we make London look real and contemporary and reflect what’s going on in the show?
For me that wasn’t really that hard. I live in Hackney, I’m originally from Belfast in the north of Ireland. I would say the community grew up in was faced with similar problems that the black community and ethnic minority community in London in the UK is faced with. So there was an immediate, for me an immediate identification there and a kind of something of a shared background. Then it’s just about as a writer keeping your eyes open, keeping your ears open, talking to people. it becomes very easy for creative people to, once you’ve achieved a certain—once you can make a living for yourself not to move from behind your desk, to stay in front of you computer writing. But I really I’m kind of interested in the world around me, I’m interested in my neighbours, I’m interested in the people I pass on the street. Any time any of them find the time or generosity to talk to me and answer any questions that I have I will always take because that’s how you learn. I’m always very happy when people say Top Boy reflects their lives because I’m obviously not from that community but I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about every aspect—not just being on the road, but school, family, expectations, dreams, all of those things—everything, for me everything as a writer everything goes into the mix. All the things that you see and hear and feel, they all go into the mix.
We were talking about flexibility earlier; being flexible about that, being prepared—you might have a good idea early on in the writing process but you have to think well maybe there’s something better than that. Maybe we can use something better. I play chess a lot and one of the things they teach you is once you find a move don’t make it, look for a better one. In a way, when we found a really good move in casting Jasmine as Jaq we thought the script has got to reflect that.
MK: I think that’s such an incredible piece of advice for lots of writers as well. I also think many times people feel the instinct is to dig in once you’ve got the idea. It’s brilliant advice about the flexibility and that thing of going back in and making it feel like the process is alive, not that you’ve locked it off. I love that you talk about it like an organic thing that keeps evolving as different parts come into it.
RB: It’s a pain. It’s a pain for the writer because you can’t deliver and that’s it. I like doing that as much as anybody else but I think being prepared to go back and find that better move—
MK: You know, Anil and Joe, in terms of that, that sort of process and also talking about making London feel really real and current and authentic. How do you go about that technically?
JA: Anil go ahead.
AK: Well technically that’s—I’m not sure in a sense because it’s kind of in the least kind of wanky way possible it’s an instinct thing in many ways. I’ve lived in Hackney for fourteen, fifteen years or something so I have a sense of it. I wasn’t born here but I have a sense of it. In all my work, in a lot of my work, I’ve been really interested in trying to capture—I guess I’m interested in the energy of a heaving, throbbing city like London and fascinated just as a person who exists in that place. When I walk around and London seems to exist as like, there’s nine million people odd but it’s one organism that shifts and warps with different energies depending on a whole host of things and I find that fascinating. Trying to harness that energy is something I’m interested in in a lot of my work. Top Boy, you already have a script that’s authentic on the page and meticulously researched and deeply understood, so it’s a pleasure from the get go. I suppose when you’re trying to nail it, it’s a feeling. Sure there are camera angles that might be more representative of the energy of London or a street or a room and you go with that, but ultimately you’re watching the monitor, working with actors and it’s not a useful way of putting it but you can feel if it’s working and feels true to you or not. I think truth is what I’m looking for, even in a heightened situation you can make it truthful. That’s the—and like Ronan says, Ronan has a very, a wonderful attitude towards it because it’s there on the page but there’s an understanding with this show—not the same with every show—that the actors come to it and it’ll be tweaked and if it’s not perfect how the actor is saying something or coming out, there is room and flexibility and openness to adjust that because all anyone wants is the most truthful version of that scene and it’s a process through the edit and everything. Not sure I’ve answered the question but maybe Joe can elaborate on the technical.
MK: I think you have answered it. I’m really interested if you Joe can touch on what Anil said about the camera language. As we said it feels cohesive and seamless, but from your perspective.
JA: One of the tricky things about this series is giving it this feeling of spontaneity even though everything is highly planned out ahead of time in terms of locations and script points. The thing that I think stands up so much about the show is that the cast is so passionate about it. there were many times where we’d have a plan, come to set, sitting there with coffees and have a plan of what was going to happen and the cast who’s grown up watching this show would say ‘That’s not quite the way I think this character would do that. I think I’d be standing over there.’ It’s always a bit of a give and take to make sure that works for the technical aspects of what we’re trying to do. I think the fact—instead of a camera that’s enormous you can have a camera that’s slightly less enormous and treat it a little bit more like a street photographer can treat a still photo camera. You could really get the camera a lot closer and be really agile with it. We kind of in trying to bring the series back from the original two series, we kind of wanted to blend some of the techniques that were used back then and try to update some of the techniques that are popular now and I think a big way of doing that was with some of the older established characters we actually used longer lenses. That was a little bit of a subtle nod to the older series. With the newer series, particularly with Michael’s character, Jasmine’s character, we had the camera up in their face putting the audience essentially in the group that’s there. That’s kind of one of the ways that we kind of got that.
MK: Jasmine just to pick up from that on your perspective. It’s interesting hearing how that truthfulness comes from page to screen. I’d love to hear a bit about that process that Joe mentioned there, did you feel that you were free to kind of feed in?
JJ: Definitely. Right from the beginning they made it very clear that if there was anything we felt didn’t go or my character wouldn’t say something like that, we had the freedom of being able to approach somebody and talk about it, run our ideas by them and Michael and I would end up trying both versions and having a play about with it. I loved the freedom, it was proper.
MK: I mean I guess a question for everyone. This show addresses so much, whether it’s gentrification, gang tension—
JJ: Real themes
MK: Exactly. It’s so representative of our times and political climate. How did that feel for you creatively?
JJ: It was definitely exciting. With Top Boy and this is something I’ve loved about Top Boy from the beginning. It’s so true, so raw, so edgy it’s undeniable things are going to be in your face. It’s been like that from the very first season. Ronan’s been very good at not sweeping anything under the carpet and outlining some of the things that need to be said. To now be part of a show that’s talking about so many situations that either people don’t want to talk about because it’s too soon or too scary or something like that, to be a part of a group of people that's no longer scared about what anybody out there thinks and we’re going to show the nitty gritty of what goes on out there, and we’re going to bring people with raw natural experiences with the street casting as well, but also experienced actors who know that life style as well. Either way, everything working with Top Boy is so raw, edgy, natural. I love them.
MK: And I think it’s amazing to hear you say that because that sort of energy really is what comes off on screen and it’s what made it feel as relevant today as the first series, which is such a sort of no mean feat. Ronan, to that point, we’ve talked about it being a deeply London show but it has garnered such a universal following. Why do you think that is? When people talk about something being specific, I guess some people think it gives limitations, but it feels like the opposite with this show.
RB: You want it to be real, authentic, specific. You want it to be in a world. But the best shows always transcend the limitations of their own world. People recognise the universal truths in it and what we’re seeing here, we always say about Top Boy that family is its beating heart. Quite often I hesitate to make special claims for our show, but often you’ll see gangster shows for example, where the gangsters don’t seem rooted in any community or family. They just exist… The Sopranos placed Tony Soprano very firmly in a community and firmly within a family. I think people recognise that. It means you can still enjoy all the excitement, tension and danger that you have in the show but the thing that makes it exportable, the reason people who aren’t from London love this show, is because they can recognise the dilemmas our characters face. They recognise enough from the world in their own experience to identify with the show.
MK: Does anyone else want to jump in on that point in terms of the universality of the show?
AK: I suppose you know, like Ronan said, ultimately they’re human stories that transcend the specifics of that particular situation. You were talking about telling stories that feel relevant. There’s escapism television that takes you elsewhere and away from the heaviness of the planet right now and then there’s something at the other end of the scale that speaks to exactly what this world is becoming, what it is for better or worse… it feels like productions take such a long time and big part of your life there’s a finite number of things to work on, I think the most exciting opportunities are saying something about what is a hugely problematic system that we all live in. So yes, I think it was a privilege to be able to work on something so relevant with such a voice.
I touched on it, but a lot of people, far too many people, know what struggle feels like. That struggle, daily, relentless struggle feels like. It might not look like Dushane’s or Jaq’s but they feel the same. Struggle is pretty universal, I suppose. I’m not surprised it has that kind of global appeal.
RB: Sorry to jump in. there are specific characters and storylines people relate to. Part of—just picking up on the flexibility thing that I mentioned earlier. While I was writing the show the Windrush deportations started to hit the headlines. I thought we’ve got to get this in, we’ve got to get that in. People understand it’s not just England that people come to, that immigrants come to. People understand that experience and the injustice of someone that’s made a life here then being denied that life and being told to go back to somewhere they barely know.
Then coming to Jasmine’s character Jaq. The way originally envisaged, Jaq was a lesser character. We saw Jasmine and decided to make it bigger, and it also coincided with somebody who was on the fringes of the production—she was a gay woman—who said have you ever written a gay character on Top Boy? I said no, I’m really struggling here anyway, that would be a bit… But we kind of went that route, and I think, we’re talking about LGBT youth in the show and it’s something we want to develop for the next season. These are things people can, you don’t have to be living in London to connect to these issues. They are universal.
MK: I want to pivot a bit and talk about the production a bit more. I’ll jump in Joe with the first question for you. What were some of the visual, tonal references you had when you were approaching shooting? I know you’ve talked about how you were updating and blending some of the old and the new, but did you have any specific things you were looking at?
JA: We did. I think one of the most important things as a creative person is just to listen and look. I think sometimes we feel we have to come out and have all these ideas. For me it was that the first couple weeks of any production is taking as much in as you can and that leads to things you see in person, seeing the location where you’re working, but also try to find other kind of things, movies, books. A big reference for us, and maybe everyone knows about this, Don’t Call Me Urban, the Simon Wheatley book. The costume designer Charlotte handed that to me and I was blown away by it. there are shots I think Yann and Pat in series one were blown away by it because you can see shots that are almost directly inspired by it. if anyone has that book it’s very valuable I don’t think it’s in print anymore. Hold on to it.
Other movies we felt were in similar worlds but maybe not in London. La Haine was one, a French film, which is I think pretty influential on what we did. A Prophet is one of the big references I think people my age are influenced by. Just to say there are people who have been with the series all the way through and one of them is the colourist Thomas Irby who has literally worked on every single shot of every episode, and he is another amazing reference that I could ask questions about how things were done previously and we could throw ideas at each other. He’s had a big influence on the series as well.
MK: Jasmine just to touch on something Ronan talked about with your character. She’s such a unique character, she’s negotiating her personal life in this otherwise quite masculine space. How did you prepare to embody your character? Can you talk a bit about—I know you’ve touched about it but I’d love to hear more about coming on to a show with established characters.
JJ: With Jaq there was a few little personality traits Jaq had that came from myself. With every role that I take on I have to embody that character. I have to take a few traits from myself and add to the character, a few from the character and add to myself. Do you know what I mean? Then it automatically kind of meshes together. I would definitely say that’s my process for getting into Jaq. Taking a few character traits and meshing them together, especially when it comes to the end of a day and wrapping a shoot. One of my things was how am I going to be able to separate myself from my character because it’s one thing becoming my character, but you don’t want to bring that person home with you. How do you separate yourself from that character as well? I noticed I’d be in my trailer and every day getting out my costume every layer of clothing I took off was a little piece of Jaq I was putting back. Every piece of clothing that was my own was a little piece of myself I was getting back to go back home with. That is my process.
Working alongside some of these people. God. It’s unreal, literally unreal. All I can say is it’s not often people get to live their dreams, it’s really not often, so to be a minor and I remember every day saying to my mum and dad I’m going to be a superstar one day, all over TV one day. To finally be in a position where I’m doing what I dreamt of doing, I’m working with some seriously, seriously talented people who have been in the game a long time, who have a certain reputation, how they carry themselves, how they perform. To be working alongside those people it’s like oh I’m on that standard too, OK. Everything I touch will turn to gold if I believe it I just need to stick to what I know. Working with people like Ashley Walters and Kano—Ashley is one of the biggest inspirations I’ve ever had. To have him as a mentor, big brother, even still now, I couldn’t have asked for better. We’ve just got a big family that’s building and some magic to make.
MK: And Anil can you talk a little bit about how you—there’s lots of things to merge and manage as a director. You’ve got, I guess a lot of synergy to try and bring. You’ve got actors, street cast, musicians, how do you kind of balance it all?
AK: I think looking back that was one of my very most favourite things about the whole experience, the diversity of actors in the sense of how they came to it. Trained actors, actors who didn’t have training but in the game a long time, musicians who were acting for the first time, street cast people. That mix brought such a unique energy to the whole production and I loved working with a cast who came to their roles with such varied approaches and understandings and things like that. Clearly it’s not as simplistic as ‘oh OK this person had formal training I’m going to have this kind of dialogue, this person’s a musician so I’ll talk to them in this terms,’ but it’s a personal journey with each actor. Inevitably in the beginning that’s a bit slower and when you get into it you learn what Jasmine or Ashley or Kano responds to. Everyone has a different approach. Ashley is a machine he fires it and can give you twelve different versions like that. With Kano it’s about in depth conversation about backstory and the nuances of that situation right now. With Jasmine it’s a whole other approach. Everyone is a total individual and learning about how you best work with each person is the magical part of the journey. I suppose again, to talk about something completely abstract, there is a rhythm to every scene and I think feeling that rhythm and feeling whether that’s off and trusting—that’s something when you’re reading, shooting editing, there’s a rhythm and if it feels right it feels right and if it doesn’t you have to correct it. This show more than anything there was a deep understanding of that and it just seemed to kind of work in that sense. Everyone knew when it was flowing well and I guess there must be some link there to the amount, the fact so many people were involved in music as well as acting there, I can’t help but think that brought something really special to the understanding and flow of scenes and things like that.
MK: I’ve got a couple more questions and then we’re going to come to everyone else’s questions because I know there are a lot of them. Anil, was this the first or second thing you’d done in TV? Had you done Pure before.
AK: It was the third. I’d previously done Pure the Channel 4 series.
MK: One of the things people always ask about because you’ve got a breadth of directing experience, because people wonder about having done shorts and wanting to work in TV. What would you say if you were giving someone advice on that? What would it be?
AK: That’s probably the most difficult question because I don’t feel qualified to say ‘you should do this,’ I’m wary of telling people ‘this is how you should go about it.’ it’s a different process and struggle for everyone. It certainly wasn’t swift for me, but I think it is important, I’m going to bring up this word again, to trust your instinct and not get too intellectual about what you think you should make. Particularly in short filmmaking it can become tempting to think this is what a successful short film is like, good short films have a twist, are issue led etc. etc. I’d say, personally, you shouldn’t necessarily trust this, but it’s healthy to set aside some of this should and shouldn’t and make a film that is really born from yourself and that you feel epitomises your voice and comes from your soul in the least pretentious way possible. I think that’s going to serve you better than any kind of academic approach towards ‘I should be making this kind of film’ or ‘I should be making this’ all people want to see is who you are as a filmmaker and I think it’s going to be a better film for it. on the flip side, I remember when I was making short films, the first was a film called Beat, it came from here, it’s slightly nuts, barely got any dialogue, and to an extent I realised ‘ok I’m probably going to need to show an understanding of more conventional storytelling for people to give me the kind of jobs I’m trying to get.’
MK :What’s incredible is in the DNA of Beat you can see in your episode. What you’re saying is it’s important to focus on your voice and it will carry over.
AK: Exactly. And when I made later shorts, for example the film I made with Film 4 called Work, I was being a little bit more, I guess scientific about a more conventional narrative and dialogue scenes, this is going to showcase a multitude hopefully or not of things, but still the most important thing is to infuse it with my voice and trust those instincts. In reality there is a small kind of academic element there, but yeah trust your instinct and tell the story you want to tell and not the story you think you should be telling I suppose.
MK: Ronan, I guess once production is going, what’s your role? How involved are you from that point onwards?
RB: I’m an executive producer so I’m involved across the show. As a writer we’re very much still writing and making changes and adapting things. In any production there are issues that come up you have to address, a location falls through or something like that and you need to adjust and be quick on your feet. I’ll see the rushes every day, look at first cuts, all of that. So yeah, all the way through.
MK: That’s really great for writers who are aspiring exec producers to know that you are on it the whole time, you don’t ever sort of tap out.
RB: No I don’t.
MK: OK so we are going to go to some questions now. OK. Some one’s commented on Joe’s background says that’s amazing.
MK: Someone asks how moving over to Netflix changed the making of the show from the Channel 4 original series. How challenging was it for the creative team to maintain such a high standard and consistency across ten episodes? Who wants to answer that?
RB: I, for a long time, for more than ten years, I’ve been trying to get broadcasters I’ve been working with to commission me to do eight, ten episode shows. Our traditional two part, three part, four part series, limited series or returning series they impose limitations on the filmmakers and what I was desperate was to write something that had the feel of a Victorian novel. That you could populate it, could run different storylines, many storylines, but also the thing I felt was frustrating with three four partners as a writer was you have to hit the beats. Here’s the story, you’ve got to hit those beats and the great thing for a writer than a ten part season does is slow everything down in terms of character development. You can still, I mean I insist on pace and all the storytelling tools that we have in our toolbox, but you can explore the characters much, much more. I was up for it, for me it didn’t seem like a challenge. The production side of things, that was something, but we were supported by a great team of Yvonne, Tina who physically produced the show. They didn’t seem to bat an eyelid, they got on with it. there’s probably lots I didn’t hear about. But from a creative point of view I was desperate. I was raring to go.
MK: So we’ve got a question for Jasmine. How do you embody a character, how do you get in character quickly on set? This question is probably about if there’s anything you have to adjust how you do that onset?
JJ: It’s almost like a light switch. You just ‘click’ and you’re on. There’s no in between. Where I’ve been Jaq for so long now, it would be easy for me to [claps] ‘wagwan, what you saying fam, give me my piece.’ It’s very easy to switch straight into that now, but at the start if they were like ‘OK Jas we need you on set now,’ I’d be like ‘OK cool,’ and as I’m walking I’m like turning into a hood bitch turning into a hood rat. You psyche yourself out really quickly. It’s all in your head.
MK: A question for Anil. What do you look for when casting new actors?
AK: God that’s tricky. Same thing as when I do casting old actors. Are you believing this scene? Are you gripped, are you—do you want to watch this person, I suppose. That sounds brutal, but I suppose that’s it. do I want to see more of this, and there’s an element of working with them to see if there’s that understanding of how to adjust and work with this team. It’s a tricky one because again it’s a feeling thing, but I suppose it’s like do I want to watch several scenes of this person or am I instinctively intrigued.
MK: Ronan a question for you. How did you start writing? What was your first success? Do you have any advice for young people hoping to write film and TV?
RB: I started writing, I never thought about being a writer and my background my mother was one of ten in Ireland and they were working class people. There was always a lot of books in the house. The first thing I started to write was pieces of memory and things that were important to me and I felt, a bit like Anil was saying, I was scribbling stuff down, not writing in a way that I thought ‘this is what a book should be,’ or ‘this is what people want to read,’ I just wanted to write what was important to me. Eventually that was turned into a novel and that novel was published and I was contacted by an exec producer at the BBC who had read the book called Robert Cooper and Robert asked if I’d like to write a film and I said sure! I had an idea for one and the film was made, directed by Michael Winterbottom. Mark Rylance was in the lead, it was a hit, a television ninety minute film and did OK, did well, and that was it. One of the things I think you find in that business is one successful show can really help you—you can… People will be interested in you if you do something… That was it really for me.
MK: So a question for Joe. Was this your first shoot in the UK and how did you feel kicking things off?
JA: It’s not, I’ve shot a bit there before. One of the cool things about this job is you get to travel and see different places in the world. There are a couple of different things and names for things, but one aspect that I quite respect about the way productions are run over there is the hours area little bit less than we have in the States, and you know, we’ve got a lot going on in the world at the moment and I think there’s conversations being had and people over here are pointing to the way productions are done more around ten hour days in the UK that we really look up to. I think that’s hopefully something we can help change and now is a good time to be pushing for those kinds of changes. That’s one of the aspects of working there that I quite appreciate.
RB: I’m sorry to—Joe I think it’s going to go the other way.
JA: You think so?
RB: I think so, from what I’ve seen. Working days here will reflect more process in the US rather than the other way.
JA: We can talk about this all day. I hope that you know, this pause in our lives has given us an opportunity to kind of reflect on our values and I hope a lot of people are having some difficult conversations and asking questions about what we appreciate, want to do with our lives. I think it’s important we can contribute and make great productions and really make really good connections with the world but still have families and get to enjoy our own lives. I think that’s something I’m going to keep pushing for myself.
MK: Someone has asked a great question here, Ronan did you set out to explore the non-obvious layers of Sully’s character in season three? A lot of people I’ve spoken to about the show love the human element of his character ,will we see more of this in season four?
RB: Thank you for the question and I’m glad Sully’s character had depth. Certainly we wanted to, you know, during the research for season three I came across talking to police, social workers, and community leaders, who told me an appalling and moving story of somebody who had killed and killed the wrong person and was afflicted with incredible guilt about it and unable to talk about It because if they did they’d be liable to charges. I thought that was—what they described was someone suffering from PTSD and I thought that would be an interesting thing to explore in Sully. I remember being at the keyboard working, after the fire in season three after which Sully barely escapes with his life and his friend is killed, and I was typing away and put my hand to my face in the way we’re told not to do in these COVID times and I remember smelling charcoal on my fingers and thinking of that and going with that idea of what if Sully, as a sign for him, and it’s in his head this smell, as Dushayne says to him if you can smell it when you’re asleep it’s not real. It may not be real to Dushayne but it’s real to Sully. That helped us get beyond the idea of someone who in seasons one and two was quick tempered, quick to use his fist—
JJ: Shows his vulnerability.
RB: And certainly we’re taking that a step further in the new season.
MK: There’s a question for Jasmine. How do you find getting into the industry. What is your advice for young actors?
JJ: OK so for me, not everyone’s experience has been like this but my way in has been pretty fast and smooth my transition. But I would always say this industry is a very difficult industry. Once you’ve had the door opened to you, just be willing to mentally prep that you win some, lose some and you’re not always guaranteed to get a job. Taking it on the chin and keep on pushing and one day your time will come. It sounds weird saying that but I was saying that for five years and landed a big role and then it’s been onwards and upwards, the sky isn’t even the limit anymore. Be prepared not everything is going to be perfect, it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to take a while. There might be times things happen a lot faster than you’d expect, but it’s also something I think Dave said, Santandave, you can get your career really fast, where you need to be really, really fast but you can lose it just as faster—just as fast—just as faster, I can’t speak. You can lose it just as fast so be prepared and on your toes at all times.
MK: A great answer.
JJ: One last thing and make this your mantra because it’s stuck with me: Everything you touch will turn to gold if you believe it. The sky isn’t even the limit. We’ve got people touching the moon, mars. You want Pluto and all these other planets to know who you are. Reach for it.
MK: I love that. One of the last questions. Anil you directed the last two episodes of the series. What influenced—the last three actually—the way they were shot, as so much took place in those epidosdes. How much work did you get to do with the actors prior to shooting.
AK: What was challenging and somewhat unique and satisfying in many ways about the last few episodes was the fact that they combined intense action and sort of very dynamic kind of scenes with the more kind of quiet moving emotional resolutions that had been working their way towards my episodes for several episodes. I think that was what was such a luxury about those last three episodes, they had everything. Weaving those to, not that they were two different energies, there was a spectrum of energies happening, if you think about the raid in the café and the tower blocks simultaneously to something at the other end of the spectrum, a conversation about Atz’s mum and teacher about the realities of what was happening there. Or one of my favourite scenes when Sully comes to collect Dris from his door—they’re equally devastating moments but one is spectacularly hectic and pacey and the other is quiet and you need to take your time with it. you had to kind of find the right camera language for both those things, and I’m smiling because I’m going to talk about feeling it again and going with your instinct, which seems to be all I can say.
Or one of my other favourite scenes which was Jasmine’s scene with Saffron who plays Lauren in the bedroom, that was a scene that went from zero to chaos. Zero to there. We ended up playing it almost entirely in one pretty much static shot because that was what, of course we shot other stuff, but that was what worked. I remember shooting that wide, wide-ish, miniscule flat so you couldn’t say wide. I remember shooting that and thinking OK let’s start here because this is going to be a difficult one for Jasmine and Saffron to work up to. It’s hugely emotional and complex stuff at play. Then let’s move in and get this, that and the other. While you’re there you start to realise there’s something really powerful and beautiful about being still and seeing it unfold in this one frame and maybe actually we bought the—you come to everything with a shotlist in mind, maybe some things have been storyboarded some haven’t, but you come with some semblance of the shots you want to do. but it has to always be a fluid document if you’re going to go into a scene and rigidly go through every scene and tick off the shotlist you’re not going to be reacting emotionally to the reality of what’s unfolding. That’s an example of a scene where we sacked off footage and thought let’s stay here, outside the room, both of them in the frame, and just work on it and get there in this frame because there’s something really special about it. What that rambling point is saying is that you have to react to the scene because the reality is there isn’t an infinite amount of time to spend with the actors, not masses of rehearsal time because they’re too busy shooting the previous block or in some cases on tour or previous productions or something like that, so the time you are getting really to work on it before you start turning over the camera is that kind of slim window of whatever it is, forty minutes on set where things are being lit and getting sorted and whatnot. You don’t have an infinite amount of time so it can’t help but be about instinct and feeling to an extent because you have to react what’s happening.
It’s going to sound trite but with this kind of cast and the HODs we were lucky to have on board, and with Ronan’s script, generally what was happening was pretty special anyway, so as a director it made life easy and was just about adjusting to what was happening moment to moment. So yeah, instinct, feeling, the usual.
MK: This is, I’m going to pick out a question for each of you, a quick-fire round in the last minute we have. OK Joe I’ll start with you. How does it feel to be nominated for this piece of work?
JA: It’s extremely fulfilling. In this business as Jasmine said there’s ups and downs and a lot of lonely moments wishing you were out there working on something so moments like this give you some oxygen to keep going. It feels great, thank you.
MK: Jasmine, what was your favourite moment making the programme or on set?
JJ: I don’t think I have a favourite. The whole thing, from the audition process to being on set working with everybody, watching the final piece. The whole process, the whole process.
MK: Ronan, finally. The last few months have shown us all how important TV is for people and how it can create cultural conversation. With that in mind, big question, but what would you see if you were looking ahead, the creative future of TV?
RB: That’s a big question. I’ve always thought that drama, film, TV, theatre can sometimes… Well can often take an audience and make them think about things without preaching or being patronising. There’s something about that process that the audience can see a question or a world from another point of view. I always use the example of the Guilford Four case, four young Irish people who were wrongfully convicted in the days of hysteria about bombings. They were convicted and went to prison for fifteen years. The thing that had most impact, and if anybody who’s watching this remembers is, it might well be because Jim Sheridan made a movie with Daniel Day-Lewis called In the Name of the Father in which the dramatization of those events, those events were dramatized and the movie had an impact all over the world and affected people who kind of knew something about the case. Drama allows people to enter, not just look at another world or hear about another world but enter another world. With everything that’s happened and who knows where all this is going to end up, that becomes even more important. Entertainment, of course that’s important, but making us think about our world and what we’re doing to it and how we’re living in it. personal priorities, family priorities, all those things, television and film have an important part to play in that conversation in the future.
MK: That’s a brilliant answer and a great place to end it. So thank you Anil, Joe, Jasmine, Ronan. Congrats again on the nominations. Thank you again to our partner TCL for supporting this series. This concludes the first week of the sessions, but tune in next week for The Making Of The End of the F
- **ing World, Leading Actress nominees and this year’s nominated docs. Really hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion as much as we have, join the conversation on BAFTA’s social channels and stay tuned on details for how to watch the Television Craft Awards and the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards. Thank you guys so much.