“IT feels a lot harder now than when I started,” said writer John Fay.
“There’s definitely more writers and actors out of work. There’s less getting done.
“And I do think that comes down to money. If people aren’t investing in it, then it’s not getting made, is it?’”
Fortunately for those who love TV drama (and who doesn’t?), there are people like Colin McKeown around with the talent, know-how and sheer force of will to produce series like Moving On.
My feature on the second series of Moving On is in today’s (Tue Oct 26) MEN.
You can read it below, plus a few extras from those involved in the 45-minute BBC1 Daytime films.
Followed by a quick rundown of the 10 new episodes and some of the leading cast members in each one.
HARRY Potter actor Jason Isaacs wants to be in the next series. “I’ll write, direct and make the sandwiches. All for one price,” he promises.
Linda Green and Doctor Who star Daniel Ryan points out that it’s not always about the money: “You’d get an actor crawling over broken glass to do a good script.”
They are both talking about Moving On (BBC1, Monday, 2:15pm), which returns for a second series of 10 stand alone films screened over consecutive weekdays during the next fortnight.
Created by award-winning writer Jimmy McGovern, the acclaimed series is essentially Play For Today transported into the afternoons, with a primetime repeat slot promised for a later date. If you can’t watch them live, set your TV recorder of choice now.
This year there are double the number of stories and a cast list including John Simm, Gerard Kearns, Jenny Agutter, Jack Deam, Naomi Radcliffe, Richard Fleeshman, Claire Skinner, Hugo Speer, Lorraine Ashbourne, Robert Glenister, Lisa Faulkner and Kieran O’Brien.
The Wire’s Dominic West makes his UK directing debut in Malaise, shown a week on Thursday, featuring Life On Mars star Simm as Moose, an armed robber released from jail after an eight-year sentence. Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner plays the man now living with his ex, the mother of Moose’s daughter.
Producer Colin McKeown was 19 when he joined Granada in Manchester and spent the next 10 years learning every aspect of television broadcasting. Now an industry veteran, he founded Liverpool-based LA Productions in 2000 and is not a man who takes no for an answer.
He recalls how he found himself next to Dominic in the toilets at BAFTA. “I’d watched five seasons of The Wire. I looked to my right and there he was. He was a captive audience, he couldn’t move, as you can imagine. So I hassled and hustled him and by the time we got out of that loo, I’d convinced him he should come to Liverpool and direct and episode of Moving On.”
The first film – Sauce For The Goose – features Susannah Harker as divorcee Anne, forced to put her life on hold for mother Bella (Anna Massey), who has Alzheimer’s. Then in walks computer repairman John, played by Daniel Ryan.
“My wife died of dementia and I lived through every second of that film,” says Colin. “I knew how real it was. But also glad that the writer John Fay punctuated it with a bit of lightness.”
Pride and Prejudice actress Susannah points out: “My grandmother had Parkinson’s. So I witnessed her deterioration. It’s about the heart and the humanity in the scripts. That’s why actors are able to connect so easily with it. It’s a good script. That’s rare. You’ll get people to do it. There’s no money!”
Budgets are tight. But Colin aims to ensure that the cash goes towards making the best production he can. “We would be honest to people and say, ‘We ain’t got the bread.’ If you want to do this, you do it for the right reasons.’
“Every single actor is paid exactly the same, Anna Massey onwards. The first episode we ever did was with Sheila Hancock and she got paid exactly the same as everybody else. Nobody is doing this for the money. But there are benefits. We can take risks and give people chances.”
The second week of films includes The Test, starring Hannah Gordon and Corin Redgrave in his last role before he died in April at the age of 70. He plays “silver fox trumpet player” Gabe in a love story now dedicated to his memory.
Corin, brother of Vanessa and father of Jemma, was already very ill when he filmed the production just over three months before his death. “It was so emotional. We all knew he wasn’t going to last long,” says Colin.
“All the cast and crew said, ‘Let’s go for it and get him through this.’ Sometimes it was line by line. But he was such a trouper. He knew. He went, ‘I’m being a bore to you, aren’t I?’ And I went, ‘No, you’re not. You’re OK.’ Then he’d do the scene. It was a patchwork quilt, a lot of it.”
Leading actors in expensive TV dramas have to be insured in case something happens which stops them from completing the job, leaving the production company with a choice of either scrapping their film or re-shooting all over again with a replacement.
But in Corin’s case, no company would take the risk on what Colin describes as “a dying man”. He reveals: “They didn’t insure him. I took the hit. I just said, ‘Well, if we don’t make it, we don’t make it and that’s the end of it. I’d write off the money if I had to.’ Nobody is going to insure somebody as ill as that. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Well OK.’
“It was six days’ filming overall. He said, ‘Colin, I want you to get a trumpeter. I want to be able to do the fingerwork, chords and all that.’ And he did. He was stunning. I can’t watch that without tears. I couldn’t tell you how proud we were of him.
“I can’t wait for people to see his performance because it’s absolutely brilliant. He put his heart and soul into it.”
Liam Keelan, Controller of BBC Daytime:
Moving On was one of his first commissions when he took the job over two years ago: “It’s one of the ones I feel most proud of because it felt like a real departure for Daytime. Something that handles tough subjects with real intelligence and verve.”
“One of the best things to happen to BBC Daytime was losing Neighbours, even though it was the highest rating show, because it freed up so much airtime and so much money to do projects like this.”
The reduction in long-running TV drama, from Brookside to The Bill: “It’s hard out there. There are a lot of really talented people who want to work. From my point of view it feels like a no-brainer to do more of these (Daytime drama commissions) because we’re the only broadcaster producing originated drama in daytime. It’s a key point of differentiation. I’d like to do a lot more of that stuff. Obviously the financial restraints are there but I’ll certainly be looking to do more.”
Writing for a pre-watershed daytime audience? “By and large, there aren’t any edicts that say, ‘You must write in a certain way for daytime. I wouldn’t want to go down that road at all. If you look at the slot that it plays in, in the mid-afternoon, there’s a greater proportion of an adult, older, audience than there is, say, watching EastEnders at eight ‘o clock where you’ve got more kids around.”
Colin McKeown, producer:
“Like a lot of things in life, there are moments when the bull**** stops, the talking stops and, metaphorically, you stand centre stage, the curtain rises and you face the consequences of your actions. In our case, the consequences are the second series of Moving On. And our promise to Liam from all of the team was that we would move the bar up. There’s absolutely no point in staying the same or just trying to achieve the same. We set our aspirations a lot higher than series one. And I believe fundamentally that we’ve achieved it.”
“It’s not just opportunities for the writers. If you were to take the first series, the first three episodes was a first time director. The second series we’ve got a number of firsts. We took risks right across the board.”
“We had a phenomenal cast, drawn to it by the quality of the script – if good work is offered, they would do it. Not enough people ask. I will always ask. I will knock on people’s doors if need by and say, ‘Well, what’s the problem with you? Why don’t you want to do it? It’s a really good script.’ They want to do it for the right reasons.”
“Jimmy’s (McGovern) technique that he’d used on The Street and Accused (coming to BBC1 next month) and so forth was one of story, story, story. It wasn’t to choose the writer in the first place. The brief in general was, ‘Write about a character or characters that have reached a crosspoint in their life and move on.’ You write about what you want to write. From our perspective, it was what moved us, touched us.”
“Jimmy’s got a great nose and if we were making wine, he would sniff the grape and say, ‘That’s the one.’ We’d do all the hard work after that!”
Jimmy McGovern, creator of the series:
“We use a lot of up and coming writers as well as established ones. It means work in Liverpool. After Brookside went, there were an awful lot of writers with no opportunities at all. So this provides that opportunity. I did very little.”
“The standard of acting throughout the series is absolutely outstanding.”
“I watched the first series as a viewer and taking my dinner when it was on. What was striking to me, because I’ve got young kids, is when you went to pick your kids up at school afterwards on that week, everyone in the school was talking about it. I think that’s fantastic. Parents were watching a bit of drama and then going to pick their kids up.”
Daniel Ryan, who plays John:
“My ex-father-in-law was in a home with Alzheimer’s and I watched my ex-wife having to balance the love for her dad with having to deal with a complete stranger. He wasn’t the person that she’d grown up with. He’d turned into somebody else. And watching her go through the pain of that was something that attracted me to the story. A love story in many different ways. And a human story. That’s always the thing that certainly I want to watch when I switch on the telly.”
John Fay, writer of the first film:
“Old age is something that’s coming for all of us and there’s no getting away from it. It’s a universal theme.”
“It’s Play For Today. That’s the beauty of this whole thing. Ten writers given carte blanche to write what they want to write. Long may that continue.”
The 2010 Moving On films with some of the leading cast members:
Mon Nov 1: Sauce For The Goose – Anna Massey, Susannah Harker, Daniel Ryan and Pooky Quesnel. (Written by John Fay)
Tue Nov 2: Skies Of Glass – Claire Skinner and Shaun Dooley. (Written by Nick Leather)
Wed Nov 3: Skin Deep – Jenny Agutter, Robert Glenister, Lisa Faulkner and Nicola Stephenson. (Written by Lyn Papadopoulos)
Thu Nov 4: Malaise – John Simm, Ewen Bremner and Susan Lynch. (Written by Dale Overton)
Fri Nov 5: Letting Go – Naomi Radcliffe and Jack Deam. (Written by Karen Brown)
Mon Nov 8: Trust – Roy Marsden, Gerard Kearns and Kieran O’Brien. (Written by Arthur Ellison)
Tue Nov 9: The Test – Hannah Gordon, Maggie Steed and Corin Redgrave. (Written by Alice Nutter)
Wed Nov 10: Losing My Religion – Hugo Speer, Ruth Gemmell and Nico Mirallegro. (Written by Shaun Duggan)
Thu Nov 11: Rules Of The Game – Alfie Allen, Richard Fleeshman, Olivia Halinan and Paula Wilcox. (Written by Sarah Deane)
Fri Nov 12: I Am Darleen Fyles – Donna Lavin, Lorraine Ashbourne and Anne Reid. (Written by Esther Wilson)