Thursday, 3 September 2009

Tony Jordan on Crash

An interesting article by Tony Jordan from Broadcast

Executive producer Tony Jordan wanted a fresh approach to the medical genre, and nurtured local Welsh talent to help him realise his vision.

Fact File

Production company
Red Planet Pictures for BBC Cymru Wales
Commissioned by Clare Hudson, Piers Wenger
Executive producers Tony Jordan, Claire Phillips, Rob Gittins
Executive producer for BBC Cymru Wales Bethan Jones
Directors Ashley Way, Gareth Bryn, Dave Evans, Daf Palfrey
TX Wednesday, 9 September, BBC1 Wales
Programme summary A drama about the lives and pressures faced by a group of young doctors

My first thought when receiving the green light by BBC Cymru Wales to make Crash was that just finding a fresh and vibrant new way to approach the medical genre wasn’t tough enough. We should also do it on a shoestring budget, with a producer, line producer and team of writers all new to their respective roles. Hell, let’s shoot it in HD too.

Yes, of course we could make life easier by finding a studio and building sets, or even using an old hospital building, but where’s the fun in that? So we found ourselves an old abandoned school in Caerphilly and in the best tradition of the old MGM musicals decided to “make the show right here”.

Stage one was to brief the writers about the vision, the characters and the kind of stories we wanted to tell, commissioning all 12 episodes at once. It’s not rocket science - if you have the scripts in good shape long enough before the shoot starts, it allows you to plan properly, to address expensive scenes/set-ups and work out clever ways to adapt them to achieve the same outcome, but cheaper. It also means that your guest cast can be booked early and efficiently, booking them for the days they’re actually needed.

We weren’t the first show to have a recognised showrunner working with new writers, but unlike most of those others, I decided early on that I would not overwrite any of the scripts. Instead, I would do something radical. I would actually sit down with the writers, spend time with them, use my experience to teach them what I could and help them find their own way to a shooting script. The result is that every episode of Crash is actually written by the writer who’s credited.

Harder work in the short term, but it makes fantastic sense in the long term. By investing that time to help them grow as writers and to retain their own voice, we’ve built of team of writers ready to go if the show is recommissioned.

Design decisions

Stage two was design - something that was crucial to making the whole thing work. We had to find a way of making one space look like a dozen different sets. Our art department came up with a genius idea using colours and fl ats to re-dress one space to make it look like 12 different ones within a single episode.

Stage three was our crew and as this was a production for BBC Wales, we concentrated on finding people who lived in South Wales, so that they could go home to their family at the end of a day’s shoot. We found some real stars and managed to recruit 85% of our crew locally. We also made use of trainees where we could with an eye to the long term and building relationships for Red Planet in Wales.

We were honest and upfront with people about the rates and the budgets we had to work to, even making it clear before they came to the interview. That way, we didn’t waste either their time or ours.

Once in production we continued to look at finding creative solutions to budgetary restraints, we combined the locations from Blocks 1 and 2 to shoot across the same week, so recurring locations were only dressed once.

The end result is probably the best atmosphere on a shoot I can remember. Everyone parked their egos at the door and did whatever it took to make Crash as good as we could make it. When our sound assistant was off sick, the gaffer was holding the second boom. We have cast and crew barbecues, drinks on a Friday night and despite the tough schedule, everyone feels part of the Crash family.

Red Planet Pictures is completely independent - we have no über masters looking over our shoulder, no higher authority to answer to - but by forging relationships with Caerphilly council to make use of our abandoned school, with BBC Wales to buy into our vision and by allowing the creative people we’ve hired to be creative, we are making a show we’re all incredibly proud of and having a ball in the process.

And if what we do isn’t about exactly that, then what is it about?

My tricks of the trade

■ Look after your writers
■ Allow your creative people to be creative - if you only want things done the way you would do them, leave TV and devise a one-man stage show
■ Choose your caterers carefully, an army marches on its stomach
■ Surround yourself by clever people - in the long run they’ll make you look better than you are
■ Drink Bacardi
■ If your head’s up your arse, it makes it difficult to see what’s going on around you


This to me sounds like the true beginning of Tony's vision for Red Planet. Dunno why it's only on BBC Wales though just cos it's set in Wales!

And although I'm sure the irony is lost on Broadcast, isn't it interesting how Tony's top tip of the trade is to look after your writers, and Broadcast can't even be bothered to list them in their fact file. The directors get a mention though. And here's me thinking TV was a writers medium. I do know that Joanna Leigh, the inaugural Red Planet Prize winner has written an episode, and I will hunting out ways to watch the show. Good luck to everyone involved.


gemmagreen17 said...

What old abandoned school in caerphilly did you use.. was it St Ilans? x

Jez Freedman said...

sorry to disappoint gemma, but sadly i had nothing to do with this show - if i get the chance i will ask tony for you!

Anonymous said...

Living in Cardiff, Jez, I'll be checking the show out.

My only concern is why they couldn't come up with a title other than "Crash" -- it's been used like umpteen times.

Jez Freedman said...

yeah bit of a weird choice - look forward to reading your blow by blow account a la 24 then! (should be plenty of people being bumped off in a medical drama.)