INTERVIEW: Broadchurch Producer Richard Stokes On The Making Of The Award Winning Drama

The triple BAFTA award-winning Broadchurch, the most celebrated new drama of 2013, will be the centrepiece of ITV Encore’s launch week schedule, airing again for the first time since its original transmission in March/April last year. The eight part drama will air in double bill slots across Monday to Thursday during the opening week of ITV's new subscription channel ITV Encore, which launches on 9th June on Sky Channel 123. 

The new ITV subscription channel will be dedicated to celebrating the best of contemporary British ITV drama, and will be home to some of ITV’s most successful series of recent years.

Ahead of the launch, ITV spoke to Richard Stokes, the producer of Broadchurch about creating the multi-award winning series and about coming back to do it all over again

Q: Broadchurch is an award-winning TV drama phenomenon and a town millions feel they know. How was that brought to the screen?

Broadchurch creator and lead writer Chris Chibnall and I have known each other since we worked together for the first time on Torchwood series one, which was screened in 2006. Chris lives near the Jurassic coastline in Dorset and he would take walks along the cliffs for inspiration. When I joined the project I stayed with him so we could walk the locations he had in his mind for the script.
I then had the town, the people in it, where it was, all of those images in my mind that Chris had used as inspiration to write the first script. That was an incredibly useful 48 hours to spend with him and a fairly unusual thing to do with a writer.That’s a whole additional level of research and knowledge for me going into the project about what the tone and feel of it should be. Those intangible things that actually are very difficult to pin down but clearly a writer has in their mind when they’re writing the story.
You can’t always put those into a line of dialogue or a line of stage direction. But you want the people making the show to be aware of the same sources of inspiration. So to be able to walk the cliffs and the beach, visit the coffee shops, all those places he had in his mind when he was writing that script, was a huge advantage.

Q: Was it always intended that the series would be a fresh take on the TV detective drama?

Chris said from the very start that he wanted to do something different from other detective dramas on television at the time. We were probably all influenced by director David Fincher's movie Seven, plus for years now - and Scandi drama has certainly helped this - gritty detective dramas have been based in urban places and they've been quite dark. If you can get rain that’s really good and a lot happens at night.
What Chris wanted to do was say, ‘This isn't a traditional detective drama.’ He wanted the audience to fall in love with the area as much as he had, to see how beautiful it was and how bright it can feel.
That whole idea that you can have these very powerful, moving, dark stories in bright, beautiful sunshine was something really important to Chris. He wanted that sense of the extraordinary, the tragic and the terrible to happen in a rather beautiful and moving environment.

Q: The beach and cliff scenes were filmed at West Bay in Dorset. Were any other locations considered?

We talked very briefly about whether there was a part of the coast closer to London that we could use, just in terms of the infrastructure of a film and TV unit being pretty large. Very basic things like you don’t want to spend a huge amount on petrol because you don’t want to take that money off screen.
You don’t want to be spending huge amounts of money on hotel rooms in places that don’t have enough hotel rooms for a full crew. So you do tend to look to these large conurbations to try and film, simply because it’s easier for the infrastructure.
We discussed Hastings, Essex, even Weston-super- Mare, cliffs closer to Bristol. But the problem is none of them have that unique look of the Jurassic coast on the Dorset coastline and the quality of the light is slightly different. And Chris was really determined to capture that on screen. Once we witnessed it ourselves we thought, ‘Well, yes, you’re not going to be able to mock that up somewhere else. You need to be there on the location.’
We used Clevedon just outside of Bristol to shoot the main centre of Broadchurch, the domestic houses, the church, the main high street, so we could base ourselves in Bristol and have a larger area to accommodate the big crew. But whenever we wanted to do the big exterior scenes, we would go down to Dorset and shoot on location there.

Q: How do you feel now that the long single shot of Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan) walking down Broadchurch High Street in episode one is now seen as a part of TV history?

People remember that Steadicam shot as the opening, although it’s actually a couple of minutes into the first episode. I think we did around 11 takes. It’s a great scene. It really sets the mood and tone of the town, and the community, with the actors in it. When you see it in the rushes and then cut into the episode and you say, ‘It absolutely worked.’

Q: Was there a lot of public and press attention during filming?

We did get some. But we moved quite a lot. So by the time people realised we were filming and tried to find us, we’d be on the move to somewhere else. David Tennant was rather wonderfully left very much alone. Of course there were people who wanted autographs, asking him to sign things. But generally we were left alone to carry on and film as we needed to.
There’s this huge affection for both David and Olivia Colman from the work they've done and a lot of people wanted to let them know that. But at the same time they were incredibly respectful of the fact we were in a professional environment, even if we were filming in the middle of the beach when they were having a holiday.

Q: Does Olivia Colman make a good cup of tea?

Often Olivia Colman would come into the production office. She’d be making herself a cup of tea and say, ‘anyone else want a cup of tea?’ And for the first couple of weeks we’d all leap up and go, ‘No, no, no Olivia. We should make you a cup of tea.’ And then it came to a point about two or three weeks into filming when we went, ‘Yes, a cup of tea would be lovely.’ So she’d just make the production team cups of tea and we’d make her a cup of tea. It really genuinely felt like we were all part of the same gang. There was no sense of hierarchy.
In some ways that’s what stands out. The fact that going to work with these people was a genuine joy each day because you always got something extraordinary on screen, and you always filmed something rather amazing from them. And they were lovely to organise, to move from one place to another, to talk to you about scripts and stories and character and all the rest of it. They are the nicest cast I have ever worked with and also phenomenally professional and talented people. Every single one of them.

Q: Was Pauline Quirke’s screen dog really her own?

Yes. Susan Wright’s (Pauline Quirke) dog was originally written as a little terrier. Then Pauline said, ‘I do have my own dog.’ Because she was going to be away from home she needed her dog Bailey, a lovely chocolate labrador, to come with her. So Pauline sent us photos of Bailey and in one of them the dog had a comedy party hat on. Chris Chibnall saw the photos, laughed and thought, ‘That’s absolutely perfect.’ So Bailey was cast as Vince the dog.

Q: Are there any notable deleted scenes, aside from “Danny’s Wake”, which was released shortly after the first series was screened on ITV?

There was one deleted scene in the church between the Reverend Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) and Steve Connelly (Will Mellor) which was rather moving. Steve, who claims he’s a psychic, said to the vicar, ‘What if this is a gift that is never coming back? What if it is a gift from God and I don’t know what to do with it? And what if it’s gone for good?’
It was a lovely, soulful scene and Will was brilliant in it. But the problem was the scene didn't fit in the episode. Chris wrote it, it fitted in the script, we shot it, it was very nicely done and beautifully performed by Will and Arthur. But when it came to putting it in the episode, it felt like we were literally putting a brake on the story. You’re following the momentum of the story and then it was almost like this pause to watch this beautiful scene and then it was back into the story.
That’s sometimes why scenes get deleted. In the rhythm of the episode it just feels like something has gone slightly askew. It just didn't quite fit the pace of the rest of that episode. It felt like we were taking a big pause in the story to watch this beautiful performance and then carry on with the story. And that never quite works in television. You've got to keep the momentum going.

Q: How did you go about keeping the secret of who killed Danny Latimer?

We had the script for that final episode almost ready to show people around the time we were actually filming episode five. We got the cast and crew together and showed them a trailer of what we had done so far, which everyone loved. Then we were going to tell them who the killer was and what had happened.
But that morning a few people had come up to Chris and said, ‘I don’t want to know what happens until I've got the actual script. I want to find out as I'm reading it.’ So at the very last minute we decided not to tell everybody. They were initially quite surprised and frustrated. But then they thought, ‘Actually, that probably is a good thing.’
Chris phoned the person who played the killer 24 hours before the script came out, so they knew what to expect. And then the script went out to everybody else and they all found out as they read it.

Q: Who else knew the secret before the script for the final episode was released?

It was a very small number of people. In the very first script meeting there was me, executive producer Jane Featherstone, Chris and Chris’s script executive Sam Hoyle, who helped Chris as a sounding board and editor in terms of plotting through everything. There were the four of us in the room.
Sam and Chris obviously knew the ending and Jane said, ‘So who did do it?’ And Chris looked at both of us, smiled and told us. And we went, ‘Oh my God, that’s brilliant. Of course, when you think about it, that’s who it must be.’ Then we absolutely kept it to a minimum. None of the actors knew. Even when they were being cast, we didn't tell them.
And ITV were brilliant. Laura Mackie (Former ITV Director of Drama) and Sally Haynes (Former ITV Controller of Drama Commissioning), who commissioned it, said ‘Don’t tell us. We don’t want to know.’ So they didn't know at that stage who it was and how it ended.
What they then agreed between themselves, which was rather brilliant, was that Laura would read the scripts, so she knew in advance, but Sally would only know what happened when she watched the edit of the episode. So each of them came to it with a fresh set of eyes. Sally could give really good edit notes and Laura could give really good script notes. They were seeing it and reading it as an audience. Which was incredibly useful for us.
But it was also rather nerve-wracking. It did mean that Sally Haynes and, in fact, Peter Fincham (ITV’s Director of Television) didn’t know the ending of the story until we delivered episode eight to them.

Q: Is it true the cast and crew held a sweepstake?

The cast and crew had all sorts of discussions about who it could be. Quite a few people guessed it but in some ways the fun then was not necessarily whether or not you were right, it was how it was going to be revealed.

Q: Broadchurch has quite a few famous fans...

There was some lovely stuff on Twitter. Ant and Dec seemed to be big fans and Alan Carr was tweeting as well during the show. So that was really nice to get their support. Broadchurch also got a really good response when it played out on BBC America. U.S. Senator John McCain, who went up for the Presidency against Barack Obama in 2008, tweeted that he was a big fan. It also made a Top 10 Dramas of the Year list from American critics. Which in the year of Breaking Bad was fantastic. For something on BBC America to get noticed like that was pretty good news.

Q: What can you tell us about the US re-make called Gracepoint, also starring David Tennant?

I'm not involved but James Strong is directing the opening episodes while also working on preparation for the start of filming on Broadchurch series two. So I get stories from him and also from Chris Chibnall and Jane Featherstone who are executive producers.

Q: How does it feel that Broadchurch captured the imagination of the nation?

It’s certainly one of the things I'm most proud of. I have always worked on shows that I want to go home and watch, so for all the shows I've done I've got a huge sense of pride for different reasons. But in terms of every little piece of the jigsaw falling into place it’s got to rank up there as one of the best things I've done.
The casting was crucial and went so well. You do lists of actors for each part, see lots of people and hope you get the right person. The fact they all worked wonderfully is one of the many ingredients that really helped the show become such a big success. Because you don’t know if it’s going to work out that well when you start... and it did. So that was an absolute delight. Also the way in which it connected with the audience, that was fantastic.

Q: Is there anything you can say about Broadchurch series two?

Of course we understand that because series one was such a success, and because people really liked it and fell in love with those characters, they desperately want to know stuff about series two. The one thing I would say is, ‘Try and think back to what was one of the most enjoyable things about series one.’ Which was the fact you had no idea what was going to happen next.
What I would say about series two is, ‘If you really want to enjoy it, don’t ask the question.’ Simply because that thrill of seeing something on telly that is a genuine surprise is so rare these days.
So don’t ask what happens in series two. You’ll enjoy it much more as a result. And in the meantime you can watch series one again on ITV Encore - or discover it for the first time.

ITV Encore launches at midday on Monday 9th June exclusively on Sky Channel 123. Broadchurch will air at 9pm and 10pm on the first four evenings. Other highlights from the opening weeks will include The Ice Cream Girls, Mrs. Biggs, Poirot, Lucan  and Whitechapel.

Source: ITV Press Centre