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THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2019: Russell Lewis Part I

Cavendish, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Cowley anymore…

THE PROLOGUE

1969: It is a new year; a new era for Oxford’s finest. A new unit base houses the set of the new police station where both old and new characters have been gathering since just before 8am in readiness to shoot scenes for Film 1 of the sixth series of Endeavour. Oh, and of course, Endeavour is sporting a new moustache.

It’s the 21st day of shooting for this film although it’s the 44th in total thus far as Film 2 was shot beforehand. Unlike my previous visit to unit base which was in Beaconsfield last year and its location safe to disclose as it would be used for the final time to make way for the redevelopment of the property, I’d better not reveal where we are this time. However, I can tell you that filming today at the impressive Thames Valley Police Station set are interior scenes in various individual offices as well as CID and the lobby with an equally impressive roll call including Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, Simon Harrison, Richard Riddell and Colin Tierney who plays a character called ACC Bottoms.

Bottoms! Despite various attempts, Anton gets the giggles every time he has to say the name ‘Bottoms’ and after one particular take, Shaun and the rest of the cast and crew are treated to him doing impressions of Frankie Howerd. Now, if you’ve never heard Anton Lesser, the great RADA-trained actor and former associate artist of the RSC, do Frankie Howerd while in costume as Reginald Bright, then you’d better hope and pray that ITV/Mammoth Screen include the outtakes on a DVD release one day as evidence of this most momentous of moments in television history.

Putting such titters aside, in many ways ‘69 is a new beginning for the series and yet, one can’t help but feel -my glass eternally half empty- that this might just be the beginning of the end. Shaun Evans seems to be increasingly interested in directing while Roger Allam is in constant demand across film, television and theatre. Besides which, would Endeavour really be the same show that we have come to know and love if it were set during the seventies?

I can think of no one better to ask than the man who devised the show and has written every one of its 27 episodes, please join me in paying attention to the man behind the curtain – the wonderful wizard of Oxon – Mr. Russell Lewis…

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SLAUGHTERHOUSE

An exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview with Russell Lewis

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2019

DAMIAN: Russ, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Endeavour has millions of worldwide fans who would be absolutely devastated if the show were to end any time soon. However, realistically, how much longer can it go on for?

RUSS:  I don’t think there’s a danger of running out of stories — but for various reasons it’s probably safe to say that we’re closer to the end than the beginning.  There’s a little way to go yet, but, for better or worse, we are starting to say goodbye.

DAMIAN: Could the show still work if set during the seventies?

RUSS:  I don’t see why not.  I’d always thought ‘69 was a natural terminus – but my long term partner in crime Damien Timmer [executive producer and co-managing director of Mammoth Screen] has always felt that we could move into the early 70s quite happily.  He’s usually right about such things. So we shall see. There’s something that appeals to me in leaving things a little ragged at the edges.

DAMIAN: Why was Film 2 shot before Film 1, don’t you usually shoot in chronological order?

RUSS:  Well — it’s no great secret, now – but Shaun Evans directed FILM 2, and that needed to shoot first so he had time to prep the film.  He couldn’t have prepped his film if he was busy shooting FILM 1.

DAMIAN: And why has Endeavour grown a moustache this year?

RUSS:  Mmm. I hope this will become clear in the watching. I’d seen Shaun do Miss Julie/Black Comedy at Chichester a few years ago — he sported a tache and, I think, a little soul patch, goatee number — and that look stuck in my head.  There may also – subconsciously – have been some wish to reflect the change from the lovable mop-tops of the early part of the decade to the altogether hairier gentlemen striding across the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road.

People change hair styles – hair colour – try a beard for a while – all the time. You might keep it a month or two – or a year or so, and then change your mind, and move on to something else.  It didn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that it’s something he might have tried. It seems odd to me that – when it comes to their look — all fictional characters should have to be set in aspic.  That’s their look in Series 1, and that’s what they look like through to Series whatever. Particularly as Endeavour’s always been about a young man becoming an older man. We change – we evolve. So should characters.  It shouldn’t just be confined to the clothes somebody wears. Endeavour’s wardrobe – Thursday’s Wardrobe – Strange, Joan, Dorothea, Win — their clothes are subtly updated as each year rolls by.

But as I say — there’s a deeper reason for it too.

DAMIAN: I thought that last year’s scripts were arguably the best example so far of you structuring the various story and character arcs across the series. Do you think this might be because you knew that all the events had to lead up to the end of Oxford City Police and Cowley station, you had to write out two of the main characters, you had an extra two films to work with than usual, or simply that you’re becoming a more skilled screenwriter?

RUSS: Thanks – that’s very good of you to say – I think.  It was nice to have a larger canvas – so one could let things breathe a bit more.  We always know where we’re going to end up each Series – but the changes at the end of 1968 were perhaps seismic.

DAMIAN: Let’s focus on MUSE, the first episode from series 5 which in addition to the usual abundance of assorted cultural references, showcases an impressive knowledge of art including works by Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Now, I hope we know each other well enough by now that you won’t be offended when I mention that you didn’t receive the best education. Indeed, your days at school were rather sporadic (transcendental apex predators and suchlike) and I don’t think you ever went to college or university. However, it’s immediately obvious to anyone speaking to you in person or reading your scripts that you are undoubtedly an extremely knowledgeable and cultured man. I’m sure the internet has proved invaluable for research but you have to know what to put in the search engine in the first place (for example you wouldn’t just come across Weibermacht/Power of Women or something relevant to the theme of sexual hierarchy by chance) so where does all this knowledge and culture come from?

RUSS:  The only thing of which I’m acutely aware are the vast gaps in that which passes for the things of which I have a rudimentary grasp.  I always read a lot. One book begets another. Something catches one’s interest – and one reads around the subject. But like most con-men, frauds, bluffers and lawyers, I have a nose for knowing how to find things that are useful to my purposes.  And across 5 & 6 I’ve been aided and abetted by Amy Thurgood – who has a very fine story mind, and is very good at chivvying things out that we can press into service.

DAMIAN: You originally wrote a beautifully detailed and wonderfully epic opening for MUSE set in Russia featuring the Romanovs and Bolshevik soldiers. Did you not anticipate that all this information could be more economically conveyed to the audience in a slideshow lecture as it appears in the broadcast version?

RUSS:  Ha! Sometimes things are not realised to quite the degree one would wish.  The lecture was a late additional pick-up. But in intention at least there seemed to be a interesting parallel between 1918/1968 and knowing it would transmit in 2018.  Revolution, political upheaval, extremism of one sort or another in the air. A sense of some sort of history repeating. Prague, &c.

DAMIAN: As most Endeavour films do, MUSE begins with scenes intercut with the opening title cards which often serve to set up the story, its various subplots and characters but I was particularly intrigued with two juxtaposing scenes of the aforementioned lecture on the Fabergé egg (called ‘Innocence’ also known as ‘Nastya’s Egg’) and the demise of Oxford City Police. In addition to the more obvious parallels with the call girls and exotic dancers, was the egg also a deliberate way of symbolising the end of innocence for Endeavour and his colleagues at Cowley or a foreshadowing of new life and rebirth into Thames Valley?

RUSS:  The egg arose from wanting to include the fate of the Romanovs.  I had a dig around some of the missing eggs – and those commissioned and undelivered at the time of the Revolution — and it felt like we had the wriggle room to arrive at something meant for Anastasia.  The parallel between what had happened to her, the issue at the heart of the matter, and Artemisia Gentileschi. All of these things felt complementary – connected in some way. The Me Too Movement. Where we’d left Joan at the end of 1968.  All of that was in my mind. I wanted to do a collect the set serial killer type number — but I didn’t want to add to the long catalogue of dead women as entertainment. I think with the exception of SWAY, where it was germane to what we were about, we’ve always tried to be an equal opportunity slaughterhouse.

DAMIAN: Given that we’ve touched on the subject of James Bond so many times in our previous interviews (indeed, there’s another reference in MUSE with the Maurice Binder style of projected images onto the women at the party), might I be forgiven for thinking of Roger Moore in Octopussy every time the Fabergé egg is mentioned?

RUSS:  Yeh — it was absolutely Maurice Binder, and specifically From Russia With Love I’d had in mind.

But the idea of these images projected onto a woman’s body seemed in keeping with the general theme of the piece.

The Thomas Crown Affair
The Thomas Crown Affair

The Male Gaze, etc. We were playing around also with The Thomas Crown Affair.

MUSE
The Thomas Crown Affair
MUSE
The Thomas Crown Affair
MUSE
The Thomas Crown Affair

INT. GYMNASIUM – NIGHT 1

Boxing match. Two AMATEURS knock seven bells out of each other for the entertainment of a roaring crowd. Blood and resin.

RINGSIDE — EDDIE NERO (50s), a small town big cheese who saw too many George Raft movies. Flanked by ICE CREAM BLONDE brasses, and a COHORT of arm-twisters and jaw-breakers, EDDIE seems to live every punch; ducking and weaving in his seat, regretful that he’s not the one in the ring dishing it out.

With his bared teeth, and goading, ‘Have him!’, EDDIE’s relish of the violence borders on the edge of something carnal.

DAMIAN: We’ve often seen rather polite and cultivated villains across Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, so I’m wondering if the creation of a character like Eddie Nero, combined with the following description early in the script for MUSE: ‘The decade has turned. The promise of the Summer of Love withered upon the vine. Comedown faces. Sour. Sallow. Tired.’, is evidence of you attempting to paint a more bleak and gritty portrait of Oxford than we are usually accustomed to?

RUSS:  I think we’ve always tried balance the ivory tower/college side of things – which is Endeavour’s world – with Thursday’s slightly more grounded world of cops and villains.  But, yes – looking at period material – newsreels, cultural material – I certainly picked up on a sense of comedown after ‘67. Hope deferred. Paradise indefinitely postponed. The Garden of Eden become rank with sedge and weeds.  The aspiration was a beautiful thing, though it took one hell of a beating – Vietnam; Doctor King; Bobby Kennedy. For a long time it’s felt as if – to borrow a phrase – ‘John Doe has the upper hand.’ The Man. The Establishment. Lately, the gangster states.  Call it what you will. But the dream endures. The reverses are painful, but temporary. ‘All you fascists bound to lose.’

DAMIAN: Didn’t Emperor Nero also have a gym?

RUSS: Up at the Golden Palace?  I don’t think he used it much.

DAMIAN: Personally, one of the highlights of series 5 were the scenes between Endeavour and Strange sharing a flat together. A beautiful example from this film would be Endeavour trying his best to focus on his Times crossword while Strange is reading a tabloid newspaper and slurping tea from the other side of the breakfast table. All a bit Morecambe and Wise wasn’t it?

RUSS:  We were going for Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (1968) throughout.

DAMIAN: How did you come up with the wonderful idea of Strange playing the trombone?

RUSS:  It seemed his natural instrument.  

DAMIAN: Thursday was shot at the end of the second series and the third picks up months later after all the drama of his recovery and the reaction of his family happens off-screen, similarly and also off-screen, Endeavour discovers Joan is pregnant and asks her to marry him at the end of series 4 but months later, we learn in MUSE that she ‘slipped’. Would it be fair to say that you’re better at creating dramatic and emotional cliffhangers than you are at resolving them in an equally dramatic and emotional way?

RUSS:  Mmm. Well — that would be one way of looking at it.  My feeling is that a lie agreed upon – that Joan ‘slipped’ – says a deal more than a plonky, ‘well – this happened, then that happened.’  There are months of story between series — things to which we’re not privy. I find it more interesting to offer glimpses and clues, and give the audience room to draw their own conclusions.  Back to Thursday’s ‘not every question gets an answer.’ Life more often messy than coming with pat answers and tied up with a bow. Things like that… life experiences are an ongoing thing. Part of us.  There isn’t a moment where a line is drawn. Things fade – but it’s a slow, soft fade. But each to their own.

EXT. LONSDALE/QUAD/CLOISTERS – NIGHT 1

Quiet and still. Nothing stirs. Moonlight over the chimney stacks and towers. A shape takes substance. THE SHADOW.

A FIGURE IN BLACK — night’s dark agent, in balaclava and rope soled shoes, moves with feline stealth across the cloister…

Dr.ROBIN GREY, (40s), crosses the quad with the MASTER. He glances upwards, and reacts to something o.s. [off screen]

ROBIN: Good Lord. Master…

MASTER: Ho, there! You! Up on the roof!

THE SHADOW — spotted, turns and melts into the darkness.

DAMIAN: ‘Night’s dark agent’ and ‘melts into the darkness’. I think the more I do these interviews, the more elusive your intentions and motivations become. Are you being genuine or is there a certain sense of irony when you write stuff like this or simply trying to evoke pulp fiction, spy novels and other genres such as your references to the Pink Panther movies elsewhere in the script?

RUSS:  It’s important to convey to everyone what I’m trying to invoke – an atmosphere; a vibe – to spark their imagination, and to do it with a certain economy.  So – I guess that’s where such things come from. It’s not the job of the writer to fill the screenplay out with Camera Directions or block the scene on the page — and to do so is looked on pretty dimly by those wearing the Von Stroheim pants and hunting boots.  But what one can do is suggest mood and describe the action as elegantly as possible. The golden age of Pulp writers were brilliantly economical, so maybe the pulp thing comes from that. You know, real estate on the page is at a premium. We’re not describing every location or character in minute detail — so we have to present thumbnail sketches of whatever it might be.  And hopefully that gets across to the director what one’s about – and the Heads of Department – and will set their motors running. Then, as we get closer to the first day of principal photography, we get together for a tone meeting or two, and everyone presents what they’ve drawn from the text – costume, design, hair and makeup.

You have to be prepared to be flexible – I’ve probably said it before — a location falls through, or actors’ availability changes due to unforeseen circumstances, or the schedule means you can’t get a scene – so you might have to conflate a couple of things.  What I’m saying is unless it’s specific to the plot, you might not be able to realise everything that’s on the page, but so long as what is substituted is true to the intent and the tone of the original design… Which is why those little florid, mauve passages of stage direction can be useful.

It’s as much To Catch a Thief as anything else – but, yes, the shadow of the Lugash Diamond looms large.  I think something we’ve done across the various series – and something that I find an interesting and enjoyable process – is recasting something conceived elsewhere as light or comedic in intention into something darker.

DAMIAN: It’s interesting that Endeavour mentions Simon Templar in reference to the Shadow. Do you happen to know the title of the book in which Templar made his debut?

RUSS:  Not offhand.  But having googled it, I can see why it would amuse you.

DAMIAN: Small things Russ, small things. In addition to perhaps foreshadowing the relationship between Morse and Lewis, was the creation and one of the primary functions of George Fancy to die and thus set up a chain of events that will be followed up in series 6?

RUSS:  George Fancy served a number of purposes – but you’re correct about an early incarnation of the Morse/Lewis dynamic.  We thought it would be interesting to see how Endeavour took to the role of mentor that came with his slightly more senior rank.  There was also a wish to give Dakota Blue Richards/Trewlove something to play beyond her more familiar role, and a fitting departure. We only got the word that Dakota didn’t want to do any more on the day we wrapped Series 4.  It seemed a shame that Trewlove wouldn’t get to say goodbye properly — so Damien Timmer and self had tea with Dakota and outlined what we had in mind. Thankfully, she was agreeable. Series 5 was very much about saying so long to Shirley.

DAMIAN: I loved the editing in the scene between shots of Endeavour reaching to unveil the bedsheet under which is the decapitated body of Simon Lake and Thursday reaching for the silver platter covering the severed head. Was it a dramatic or financial decision not to show any graphic detail or simply a matter of taste?

RUSS:  A matter of the Watershed.  Though we run from 8pm to 10pm — we are bound by the strictures of Ofcom for the whole running time as we start before 9pm.  The mind of the viewer can always be relied upon to come up with something more horrific than we would be able to present to them on screen.

DAMIAN: Can you describe the reaction at the readthrough to The Berserkers and what they did to the pig’s head centrepiece at the Shiplake Chase Hotel?

RUSS:  There may have been a certain amount of laughter.  Likely of the hollow variety.

DAMIAN: What can you tell us about the first film of series 6, PYLON ?

RUSS:  Things have changed.  The death of one of their number, the end of Cowley, the decade guttering to a close…  it all seems to mark a certain end of innocence. For us, too. ‘68 was the end of the Second Act.  Endeavour was notionally mid-twenties when we began – knocked about a bit, but still with something of the puppy about him.  Eager. Optimistic. Hopeful. For all his protestations to the contrary, the murder of George Fancy affected him deeply. We have, I think, said goodbye to the boy.   

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2018: Producers Neil Duncan & John Phillips

Exclusive ENDEAVOUR Interview

Producers Neil Duncan & John Phillips

~~~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018

~

DAMIAN: I think readers will have a pretty good idea of what most of the key creative team do on Endeavour such as the writer or director, but what exactly does the role of a producer entail?

NEIL: The producer primarily works alongside the director (and the heads of each department), working together to bring the writer’s vision to the screen. You often have to work within the limitations of the budget creatively, so the show maintains its production value without too much compromise. As producer you’re ultimately responsible for the day-to-day management of the whole process, from casting right through to the final mix and delivery of the episode.

JOHN: Yes, Neil has summed it up well. Essentially we’re responsible for the show coming in on budget and schedule and to a creative standard everyone expects.

Just checking the walls, dear. Neil during a FILM 6 recce (location scouting) ©Neil Duncan

DAMIAN: Neil, you worked on EastEnders for two years as script editor and then became one of the producers by 2007. What were you doing prior to this and how did it lead to Albert Square?

NEIL: EastEnders was my second script editing job – before that I worked on River City, where I started as trainee script editor. Prior to that I worked as a researcher for factual programmes, and before that I was an archivist at the BBC.

DAMIAN: Between 2007 and 2012, you also worked as script editor on The Bill, New Tricks and script editor, script executive and later producer on Skins. What did you learn from those early experiences in television?

NEIL: Too many to mention! Soaps (and continuing dramas) are fantastic training grounds. Script editors on these shows learn to develop scripts quickly, it really sharpens your instinct for story and how to fix problems within individual scenes or across the overall structure of the script. Skins was a very collaborative and creative show to work on, so I was able to get involved in other areas of production, such as the edit and the sound mixes. I also got to work with actors for the first time, which I love doing. After that experience I was hooked. The main things I learned were – trust your instincts, and have fun.

DAMIAN: And you worked as series story producer on the second series of Fortitude – what the hell was that show all about because I’m still scratching my head?

NEIL: Well stay tuned because a third and final series is in the pipeline!

DAMIAN: In comparison to a regular producer, what is a series story producer?

NEIL: A story producer works with a writers room, developing the stories across larger volume series, e.g. Fortitude had ten episodes with a larger ensemble of characters compared to the usual six part series. Larger volume shows with bigger budgets often use several writers, working together in the room, and the story producer tries to corral all the ideas together while honouring the lead writer’s vision.

©John Phillips

DAMIAN: And John, you started in the industry by making short films from 2010 to 2013, served as production associate on Lip Service, and then like Neil, worked on various TV shows as script editor such as M.I. High (development script editor), Doctor Who (assistant script editor and later script editor), Midsomer Murders (script editor), Our Zoo (script editor) and The Job Lot (script editor/script executive). Again, this is potentially confusing to the layman so could you explain what a script editor does and clear up the differences between this and development script editor and script executive?

JOHN: I actually started in the industry before that. I was a runner first and then kind of fell into production at Kudos, who, at the time, produced great shows like Ashes to Ashes, Spooks and Hustle. My heart was always in scripts though! But to answer your question a script editor works closely with the writers and execs to help develop the stories. From helping to develop storylines and character arcs to giving notes and getting involved in logistical planning, it actually varies a fair bit from job to job. Every writer works differently and you have to adapt to their needs and ways of working.

DAMIAN: What was it like working on something as huge as Doctor Who which I think was during Matt Smith’s time in the TARDIS?

JOHN: It was a wonderful experience and I was very lucky. I worked with fantastic writers like Steven Moffat (obviously), Mark Gatiss, Neil Cross, Neil Gaiman, Steve Thompson. Some of the best screenwriters out there! Plus I think it was an exciting period in Doctor Who history.

DAMIAN: Then you must have worked very closely with Moffat who, in addition to Doctor Who, was also showrunner, writer and executive producer of Sherlock. How on earth do you think he managed to juggle both projects for so long?

JOHN: Ha. God knows, you’ll have to ask him! He’s an incredible writer and brain though who can deliver an amazing first draft of something and he just has this incredible capability of juggling so much.

DAMIAN: John and Neil, since you’ve both worked as script editors and gone on to produce, would you say that script editing is a good way of getting into producing and was this part of your cunning plan all along?

JOHN: Yes definitely. Traditionally there’s probably two classic ways of moving into producing and that’s either going the script editing route or up through either production managing or assistant directing.

NEIL: Yes, absolutely. It’s very much a traditional path in the UK television industry. Some producers come from a production background, but most of the producers I’ve worked with are ex-script editors.

DAMIAN: When I’ve done interviews with actors, writers, directors or composers etc. in the past, I’ve always asked them which artists in their particular field inspired them but I don’t imagine it’s quite the same with producing is it?

JOHN: Probably not as I don’t think you can call us producers artists and at the end of the day it is artists that inspire! I definitely moved into TV because of writers and directors I admired as a kid. The likes of Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbott in TV to directors like David Lynch.

NEIL: Not quite. For me, the joy of this job is getting the chance to work closely with those same writers, directors and actors whose work you’ve admired, and helping create the conditions that allow them to do their best work.

Behind the scenes shot from FILM 2: CARTOUCHE ©Neil Duncan

DAMIAN: How did you both get the job of producing such a prestigious project as Endeavour?

NEIL: I’d worked with Tom Mullens (Exec Producer) on EastEnders, so we already knew one another from back then. I had a couple of meetings with him and Damien Timmer (Exec and CEO at Mammoth Screen), and that was that.

JOHN: It was thanks to Damien Timmer who I had a general meeting with and we just hit it off. He then introduced me to Tom (Exec) and Russ (writer) who took a punt on me.

DAMIAN: Endeavour has become not only a well-oiled machine but also something of a family. Indeed, often collectively referred to as Team Endeavour, many of the cast and crew have been around since the beginning. With this in mind, was it difficult or nerve wracking when you joined and can you describe your first day on the job?

JOHN: I felt it had a healthy mix of people who had done it from the beginning and new blood that Neil and I brought in. Having talented HODs (Heads of Department) already attached, terrific people like Helga Dowie (line-producer) who has done it since series 1, was a real blessing too.

NEIL: I was a little apprehensive, but everyone was very nice and welcoming from the start. I think my first day involved being driven to various art deco cinemas by location manager Alex Cox, who is very much part of the Endeavour family, and whose patience and generosity helped me find my feet.

DAMIAN: Were you previously fans of Endeavour and were either of you familiar with Inspector Morse or Lewis?

NEIL: Yes, absolutely. I didn’t watch Lewis but remember watching Inspector Morse with my family and have loved Endeavour from the pilot onwards.

JOHN: My family loved Morse and I remember it as a kid although I wasn’t an avid fan. However I thought Endeavour was so charming and elegant, always beautifully written and well crafted. I felt very lucky to be offered the opportunity to work on it.

DAMIAN: It seems quite a unique situation here and one that I haven’t come across before; John, you produced films 1, 3 and 5, while you Neil, produced films 2, 4 and 6. Why split the films between two producers and how was it decided who would produce which films?

JOHN: Endeavour is a challenging show and the ambition is to make features on a TV budget and schedule! And this series they were making six rather than the usual four so I think the execs felt it would be too much for one producer. I was hired before Neil so it was through default really why I produced the opener.

NEIL: Endeavour is a tough show to produce, in that it requires a lot of involvement in getting the details right. If one producer was working across six films, they wouldn’t be able to give each one the attention it deserves. John started on the job before me, so the order of our films was due to circumstance more than anything.

DAMIAN: Retrospectively, do either of you wish you’d have been able to swap any of the films you worked on?

NEIL: I always loved film 3 from the first draft onwards, and thought Jim Field Smith was an inspired choice of director for the show. But I’m immensely proud of each of the three films I worked on and the people who helped make them possible.

DAMIAN: But isn’t the last film of each series always the most dramatic and exciting for example?

JOHN: I loved the finale script as your series arcs all come to a natural conclusion and I just thought there were some beautiful, memorable moments in there (I won’t give you any spoilers, sorry!).

NEIL: You do get to bring serial storylines to a climax in the final episode, but this means you get less time to spend with the story of the week, so it’s give and take.

Behind the scenes shot from FILM 2: CARTOUCHE ©Neil Duncan

DAMIAN: I’ve discussed this in great detail with Russ and what should be a fairly simple process (writer writes script, actors learn their lines and director points the camera in the right direction) usually ends up becoming unimaginably complicated to anyone outside of the television industry. For example, in preparation for this interview, I asked Russ the very simple question do the cast see the script prior to a read-through, and are the scripts hand delivered or simply emailed to the actors. His response, as always, was typically detailed and, indeed complex, but I hope readers will find it quite illuminating:

“Shaun and Roger get scripts at early draft stages. Readthrough/Shooting Drafts usually go out electronically, and then in hard-copy, as we’re usually very close to the wire. Scene Nos., are locked before the read — and usually Pages are locked too — so that further revisions (colour coded – starting with Pink; Blue etc.) can be slotted in without having a knock on to the rest of the script. Sometimes Shaun and Roger will feed back early — but it’s more just a case of them having something early. More recently, they haven’t looked at it until just before the Read.

So — if there’s time — we’ll do a 1st Draft (circulated to Production – so they can start location hunting/casting etc..); and then a Tech Recce Draft, which will be a 1st Revision, with early notes actioned as best as possible. Sometimes with ‘place holder’ fixes, until the right solution is hit upon.

Tech Recce — Director visiting locations with Heads of Department to work through technical challenges, requirements — usually occupies, TUES/WEDS/THURSDAY in the final week before shooting. I attend the post-Tech Recce on THURSDAY afternoon, and we spend a couple of hours working through the proposed shooting schedule; ironing out any areas of difficulty, identifying anything we can fix on the page to make the shooting go more smoothly.  Anything we can drop to ease shooting etc.

That Friday/Saturday/Sunday, I will be working on the ReadThrough Draft for delivery Monday.

After the Read — there’s a lengthy post mortem/Notes session, often at Mammoth [Screen] Towers, with Network representatives; Shaun & Rog; Damien Timmer [Executive Producer and Joint Managing-Director of production company Mammoth Screen], Tom Mullens [Executive Producer], script editor – this series Amy Thurgood; self; producer(s) attending — where ‘notes’ are given. Everybody pitching in – and offering thoughts on how it can be improved. Changes requested. Any production issues that need to be addressed – unavailability of locations/props/‘heavy days’ where more is scheduled at a location than can possibly be realised in a working day. Can the scenes be relocated elsewhere? Can they be cut? Amalgamated elsewhere?

The time available before turning over on Day 1 is 12/24 hours, usually the former.  We have been starting shooting Thursday/Friday this time around. So, if you can make sure the first 2/3 days stand up (don’t require changes), and get any notes affecting scenes shooting across these days out by around lunchtime on the day before shooting, then you buy yourself the weekend to address anything outstanding, or requiring more thought – often ‘story’ things.

So – the week we start shooting usually looks like this…

MONDAY – Deliver & issue Readthrough Draft.

TUESDAY – Readthrough 10:30 through to around 12:30 — apres ski at the Black Lodge 13:00 to whenever.

WEDNESDAY – Deliver any changes affecting DAY 1, 2, 3 – ish.  (This will usually require working through the night TUES, and getting it in by early doors/mid-morning for issue to All Departments & Cast.)

THURSDAY – DAY 1 shoot — Script Dept (self & editor on phone for any crunchy bits) will be continuing with revisions arising from the apres ski.

FRIDAY – DAY 2 shoot — Script Dept — as above.

SATURDAY — Script Dept — more of the same…

SUNDAY — Script Dept — more of the same…  Often, late Sunday evening, further thoughts from cast will come in.

MONDAY – DAY 3 shoot — deliver ‘Shooting Draft’.

It is standard that the script will be further revised during production – for many reasons. Usually we try to get as much of this out of the way in the first week as possible — but circumstances beyond our control, often mean further changes right through the shooting schedule. Weather – across S5 – has been a swine; meaning we haven’t always ‘made the schedule’ – achieved all the ’strips’ on the callsheet for the day. Rescheduling the scenes we were unable to shoot = robbing Peter to pay Paul. So other scenes will be dropped, amalgamated etc. across production.”

Wow, really quite astonishing. Can you describe at what point you began work on series five and take us through the process, difficulties and challenges outlined above by Russ from your own perspectives as producers?

NEIL: When I started on the series, Russell had delivered a first draft of film 2 and shooting was just about to begin on film 1. Some of the challenges as producer include – getting the guest cast booked in time for the start of the shoot (as characters can be added or cut as the drafts develop) or getting locations in place before the tech recce (locations can be added or cut and are often very specific). All of which is standard stuff – the job is easy compared to the heavy lifting Russell has to do on each film. You just have to be flexible in your thinking.

DAMIAN: It must be extremely stressful. First of all, how do you cope on something as big as Endeavour and, secondly, since you’re both relatively new to producing, did either of you ever have any doubts you were up to it?

NEIL: We had the support of our crew, our exec producers and most importantly our line producer Helga Dowie. So it never felt overwhelming to me as it was a team effort.

JOHN: When you work with terrific people it makes your life easier and there are some great minds on Endeavour. Producing is a tough gig though, no doubt about it, and you make personal sacrifices to be a success, but at the end of the day we work in a brilliant industry and are lucky to do what we do.

DAMIAN: Series 5 was a long shoot. Do you know exactly how many days you worked and how many (completely uninterrupted) days you had off to relax during this time?

NEIL: I honestly can’t remember, it’s all a bit of a blur!

JOHN: I have no idea now but it was long! I had a couple of days off in the middle because I got married but that was it really. I’m lucky my wife is incredibly supportive and understanding!

DAMIAN: Did you ever look to each other for support or simply a sympathetic ear when things got tough?

JOHN: Definitely. Producing can be quite lonely and it was brill to have Neil there to ask advice or just have a general moan to.

NEIL: Yes, it was definitely useful having another producer to lean on every now and then.

DAMIAN: What makes a good producer?

NEIL: I think in the long term it’s about adaptability – every show is different, and every production company is different. As a producer you have to be able to move between jobs and find a way to get the best out of people while working within the rules or expectations of your employers (i.e. the production company and the channel).

JOHN: Neil’s hit on a very good point. You have to be adaptable in this game as he’s absolutely right, every show is different. I think you also have to be a people person; as a producer you’re managing a lot of different people and personalities.

DAMIAN: What makes you a good producer?

JOHN: Ha, I don’t know if I am! You’ll have to ask the people I’ve worked with!

NEIL: I don’t think I’m there quite yet.

DAMIAN: Do you have a favourite film from this series and which was the most difficult to work on?

JOHN: I genuinely like all of them for different reasons! That’s part of the success of Endeavour, each film is creatively quite different and there’s elements to each one I really love. The most difficult to work on was definitely the opener as there’s a lot of expectation and pressure on making it right. Plus I was new to the show, fairly inexperienced too, and personally I felt I grew stronger as a producer after each film so for me, looking back, I found that one the most challenging.

NEIL: I think film 3 is excellent. Film 4 was a real challenge – we had to split the army base over 4 different military locations and the weather was very unkind to us.

DAMIAN: What was the single most difficult aspect to producing Endeavour or producing in general?

NEIL: The travelling was difficult. Endeavour is filmed across quite a large geographical area. Because locations are so important to the show, we had to do lots of driving on recce’s and during the shoot itself. I spent a lot of time stuck in motorway traffic jams.

JOHN: Making everyone happy, perhaps. You can’t always do it! Filmmaking is an art, an art that happens to have been turned into a successful business but it’s still subjective. What one person likes another might not and sometimes as a producer it’s tricky to navigate through that when you have a writer, director, exec etc preferring different things. Luckily 9 times out of 10 we were all in agreement though!

DAMIAN: Do you think you’ll stick to producing now or are there also other areas you’d like to explore?

JOHN: I love producing, so definitely. I also love development and I’m working on a few of my own ideas which, when they are ready to take to market, I’d love to attach a writer and follow through to delivery. That would be the dream.

NEIL: I’m happy producing – it’s a good time to be doing this job as there’s lots of opportunity and growth in TV drama at the moment.

DAMIAN: John and Neil, thank you both very much indeed.

JOHN: Thanks. All the best.

NEIL: Thank you Damian.

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