26 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
‘An Bronntanas’ creator Tom Collins talks show-running and the future of Irish TV
24 Apr 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Tom Collins with Shawn Ryan, show-runner of ‘The Shield’
Tom Collins has just spent ten days in sunny LA doing a course of exchange and training work-shops with some of America's leading show-runners. Amongst those participating were producers of ‘Hemlock Grove’ (Netflix), ‘Major Crimes’ (TNT), ‘Criminal Minds’ (CBS), ‘Pretty Little Liars’ (ABC Family), ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (Fox) ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Mad Dogs’ (Sony Studios for Amazon).

Tom is a three-time IFTA nominated writer/director/producer (‘Kings’) whose recent television creation ‘An Bronntanas’ played to positive reviews and audience figures when it premiered on TG4 in late 2014 and has since been acquired by French distributor Lagardère Entertainment (LE) Rights for worldwide distribution.

IFTN: Show-running is the norm nowadays in the US – giving one person complete creative control over a television series even outranking the director – but not at all practiced in Ireland. What prompted you to take this course?

Tom Collins: ‘Well, people seem to get their one feature then they go back to the end of the queue, especially in Ireland. So it looks like TV is where you can get things made and discuss anything and get an audience, in a number of formats, so I'm attracted to the longer form TV, where characters can breathe. I find I'm watching more and more stuff on streaming so a lot of the stuff I watch is made by the very people I got to meet in LA.’

Do you think the concept of show-running could work in Ireland? The US has massive shows (‘Mad Men’, ‘Better Call Saul’, ‘House of Cards’) with huge teams of writers whereas ‘Love/Hate’, ‘The Fall’ and your own show ‘An Bronntanas’ are much smaller affairs with just one writer operating on some of them?

‘We don't really have the major 12 to 20 week runs that USA shows have but within five years I suspect TV will follow the film route and be co-productions and short form indigenous TV wont exist. Budgets are getting tighter and so is competition. They'll still probably have specifically English TV drama in Britain as they like to regurgitate ‘Poldark’ and heritage TV. But the rest of us will be watching TV with Polish, Swedish and Irish characters, just like the people we meet in shops and on the street. It's no surprise why we really like ‘The Killing’ etc because we are multi-racial in our tastes. So our shows will be natural co-productions and will because of the economies of scale be 12 episodes and longer. We are a nation of immigrants too, so we know far off parts of the world better than most.’

‘I think soaps are on their last legs, not many countries even make them anymore, so we will replace those with longer form TV.’

When we interviewed Beau Willimon (‘House of Cards’ showrunner) – he spoke about how meticulous and demanding the job of a showrunner is. First in, last out - in the writers room, on the set and in the editing suite – do you think that explains the enduring high quality of some US shows having one person wielding the creative control and axe like that?

‘In a funny way show-runners don't have full creative control, at the end of the day the guys who put the money into the project have the control - If it's not going right, then you end up canned. In the states most TV doesn't get past pilot stage, but agreed it is with guys like Beau that responsibility rests, if the show is wandering or going off message then you get the boot. That said, I'd be surprised if Beau hadn't got other producers, directors and editors in there working long after he goes to bed...Creative control is a buzz word but you know really, actors, producers, directors, DoP's, are all part of the creative process and work hard too.’

Can you think of anything that you learned at the ShowRunner Xchange that you think would help in an Irish context?

'Certainly for me, developing the whole notion of “The Writer's Room” is important. How it works, how people play to their strengths, building a writing team that can bring things no matter how crazy out into discussions - I feel we might be relying on an out-dated concept of the lone writer putting his vision down, you give them some euros and they come back in three months with a work of art - It does seem for TV, not theatre and maybe features, but with multiple episodes writers need to be brought together - I know that I couldn't write many episodes on my own, never mind 12. So any future work that I do TV wise, I'm going to be pushing to build a writer's room. It's hard though blending agendas and also there's not much money about to experiment.’

Learning from some showrunner heavyweights such as Shawn Ryan (‘The Shield’) what did you get out of this course?

‘I suppose I learned that America is a massive market that there are many places to go with your work. A guy like Shawn brings so much energy to a project... he can write, direct and someone trusts him enough to give him millions of dollars. When I was out in LA with ‘Kings’ I got on the set of The Shield but didn't meet Shawn, so it was great for me, this time, to hear how he went about stuff...when to cut in, when to let others get on with it...he'll freely admit that not all his shows were a success but I liked the moral ambiguity of ‘The Shield’ - a sort of dirty cop with a conscious. We are living in an age where our moral compass is askew and he hit that nail on the head with his lead Vic Mackey in ‘The Shield’.

What TV are you watching at the moment...?

‘I've enjoyed Vikings - the photography is brilliant. I've binged three shows lately ‘Gomorrah’, ‘Romanzo Criminale’, both Italian and I've just watched ‘Underbelly’...It's Australian. It's like friggin' ‘Neighbours’ with uglier characters, having a lot of sex and who carry guns - It's great!’

With the ongoing success of ‘An Bronntanas’, will you put the skills garnered from this course to use in a new series of the Celtic Noir, or to a whole new drama entirely?

‘If someone tosses me a show runner or director bone I'll give it a gnaw! I'm delighted for all the team that Lagardere have bought ‘An Bronntanas’ and it's getting a great response at MIPTV - it means that Irish material can travel but I knew that already as ‘Kings’ travelled yet who knows what's around the corner…I hear the biggest crime family in London are Irish maybe there's a story there!’

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