One of the country’s most acclaimed female film-makers and three-time IFTA nominee, Liz Gill discusses directing two upcoming TV series season premieres, ‘Raw’ and ‘Deception’ to IFTN.
One of the country’s most acclaimed female film-makers and three-time IFTA nominee, Liz Gill is making the turn of 2013 in style with two upcoming TV series season premieres both directed by her. Season 5 of RTE’s Raw kicks off on Sunday night at 9.30pm on RTE 1 with Camden Street’s favourite restaurant still reeling from the death of Pavel in last February’s finale and transitioning to a new chef in charge (played by French-British actor Christian Solimeno). The award-winning show has garnered unanimous acclaim since its start in 2008 and continues to reach impressive viewing figures. Meanwhile, all eyes will be on TV3 come Monday night at 10pm for Deception, the station’s first foray into original drama programming. The series was co-funded by the BAI and shot on location in Galway with an Irish cast and crew, including Leigh Arnold and Conor Mullen. Set in a semi-ghost estate, it promises “jealousy, betrayal, revenge and murder to come together through its occupants”. Gill talks to IFTN about directing these shows, how the locations used for both helped bring believability to their stories and why she’s positive about the state of the Irish TV industry.
Season 5 of Raw features some new faces among the characters we’re already become familiar with, such as former Footballers Wives star- Christian Solimeno and Amy Manson. What do these fresh characters bring to the show?
I think both of them are a huge addition to the cast, because they both come in at the same high level as their cast members, Christian from ‘Footballer Wives’ and Amy was in a BBC series called ‘Desperate Romantics’, and as well as their talent and experience they also bring new accents to the show. Christian’s from London, Amy is Scottish so it’s nice, the producers are always trying to reflect the cosmopolitan sense of Dublin today, the various nationalities that are always coming and going. The characters are both extremely integral to the arc of the whole series, I don’t want to get into trouble by revealing any details but they’re both hugely important to the whole spine of the narrative going across the whole series. The season premiere is a lovely episode, there are some really nice scenes and so I hope people will tune in and I hope they like it, I’m sure they will. And Episode 2 is fab too! So I would hope it would find an audience again and that they like it as much as we do.
Raw is synonymous with shooting on location around the vicinity of Camden Street, where the restaurant is based and in the surrounding areas. What does this bring to the feel of the drama and what are the challenges of shooting on location in this way, as a director?
Well Dublin is almost like another character in the series and the more we can bring in the smells and sounds and tastes of the real Dublin then the stronger the series is, both for people who are familiar with those neighbourhoods but I think more so for people throughout the country who want to get a little glimpse of this milieu of Dublin life. In this particular series we’ve also expanded over to Capel Street, and that’s a very happening place at the moment, and for example we have a scene we shot on Moore Street with a real flower-seller, and so I feel the more authentic all of those elements are the more real it all feels. And it’s very true to the reality of where we are as well, and although shooting on the street has its challenges you get a reality that would be phenomenally expensive were you even to try and create it. Actually, they’re pretty familiar with Raw now on Camden Street so we have a lot of relationships with a lot of the local businesses, and we would of course be very conscious of not interfering in any way with the daily life that has to happen there. You’ve got a really lovely mix of cultures on the street and the amount of traffic and background pedestrians there are a fantastic asset and the locations people are very polite and friendly in ensuring no one’s really being difficult. And we’re promoting the area as well and it’s advertising for lots of those places who people now associate with the show, which is no harm to their business.
Raw is currently on Season 5 with sustained and consistently high viewing figures, why do you think it has been so successful for RTE?
I think it offers a lot of different things. This season it’s a real breath of fresh air, it’s sunny and it’s cheery at a time of year and in an economic climate that may not be so rosy. So it really offers a lift to anyone watching it but also it’s something that the whole family can watch together so it’s lovely on a Sunday night, everyone can get together and watch it, have a laugh and enjoy the energy of it. I also think that it’s got a really strong script team, going all the way from the Executive Producer Michael Parkes throughout the other producers, script editors and RTE Commissioning Execs of course as well. Everyone works really hard on those scripts, and then you’ve got the really strong cast who are all brilliant actors in their own right and a crew who really now have a shorthand with each other and can make the most out of their resources. So it’s got all the elements in place to make something high quality and that delivers.
How do the directorial challenges compare when shooting an episode of an established drama such as Raw or Eastenders as opposed to a brand new series such as TV3’s new drama Deception?
Well Raw is quite unique in that it’s well-established but it’s got a real flexibility and fluidity which I suppose comes from the ambition of the people making it, that it hasn’t calcified into a situation where it’s like “This is how we do it, and it’s never going to change”. Everyone is always looking to see how it can be improved and evolve and stay current, if not slightly ahead of the curve. So it was a surprisingly warm and welcoming environment and I felt very honoured to be invited to do it, because obviously if you have something that is succeeding and you’re allowing someone to direct it who hasn’t directed it before you’re taking a risk and you’re trusting them that they’re going to enhance it or put a different spin on things. Equally there was a new producer this year doing it for the first time, a guy called Jonathan Curling, both of us had worked seperately on The Clinic before so it feels as if there was a sense that they wanted to put a slightly different spin on it, while maintaining what was working just to make sure that it doesn’t fossilize slightly or become too comfortable or convenient or conventional. Then something like Deception, it was very collaborative. Sometimes when you work as Lead Director you are creating the entire template yourself which is really cool position to be in. In this case, even though I did the first episode the producer and the other director Anna McCabe as well as the lighting team, cameraman and designer, it was very much a collaborative vision, led by Hugh Farley, the producer. So none of the decisions that I was making were unilateral decisions, it was all obviously discussed; big casting choices and location options. And obviously TV3 and Ben Frow had their views as well, and particularly as this was TV3’s first foray into drama it was something that we all spent a lot of time discussing rather than a situation where I was given the script and told that it was my baby. It was a much more collaborative process, which was great and comforting as well.
Deception was shot in a semi-ghost estate in Galway. How advantageous was this location to shoot on?
That was just the Gods smiling really because it was very close to the production offices in Spiddal that we were working out of, and it had the right combination of very ambitious architecture and the real Celtic Tiger thing of genuinely only a few of the houses being inhabited, but yet enough of them so that the roads were still decent and there being enough infrastructure for us to work with. But we were able to use various houses within it, some were already inhabited and beautifully furnished, others where the art department had to fabricate four or five homes from bare walls with nothing in them. And a bit like Dublin would be to Raw, the estate is certainly another character within the series. It’s given advantages, not just from a visual point of view but also because in a small estate if something suspicious is going on people tend to know each others business more than if they were in the city or spread out in the country, so particularly if there were a retired couple which there are in this particular series they may be quite aware of comings and goings and they would naturally notice anything unusual.
And how do you think this new drama will touch a chord among Irish viewers with the extremely relevant subject matter, touching upon both the social & economical events of the last few years and including the downturn of the Celtic Tiger?
I think all of these themes are the subtext and the context on which the drama is operating, obviously financial conditions contribute to something particular like the committing of a crime by one character, the economy itself doesn’t form the story but it certainly underlies the lives of the characters within it. The overt emphasis is more on the family structure and relationships and how people are behaving under pressure. That pressure can come from the economy as well as their own idiosyncrasies. The episode that I like best, of my own episodes, will be Episode 3, which again relates or reflects the economic climate but is all about a family and its difficulties within that context, and I think it’s more dramatic because of it. An actor called Danny McColgan features strongly in that episode and he gives quite a tour-de-force performance that I think will get him quite some attention. He’s someone who I think will certainly go on to be a big star. And then we also have our great ensemble cast, people like Leigh Arnold, Connor Mullen, Jim Norton, Vinny Murphy and Nora Jane Noone who’s a fantastic actress. People who we might not be as familiar with yet as we should be.
How important do you think the support of homegrown Irish drama should be, both from Irish broadcasters/funders and viewers?
I think the viewing figures for homegrown Irish drama tell their own story, they’re phenomenal. I know Love/Hate is a fantastic series but those figures are huge, as big as we’ve ever had. And with Raw equally, obviously there has to be good storytelling and good programmes but the reaction of Irish audiences show that there is a real desire to see our own stories on television. I mean equally if you go back to The Clinic or Pure Mule it’s consistent, that Irish people want and deserve to see their stories on screen. And it’s critical that it continues to be funded. Miriam O’Callaghan’s TV50 documentary ‘What’s Happening to Television?’ made that very clear that people are more than happy to pay their licence fee if they are getting the homegrown drama, it’s as important as sports which are the other aspect of the scale. And one of the facts coming from the States which I find really encouraging is that the shows for which people pay their cable licence are the ones like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Homeland. Those are why people pay their equivalent of the licence fees, for that stuff, and as much as we may think reality TV has taken over audiences are very loyal to home-produced stuff. And we have very good talent here, I know the financial situation isn’t ideal but I would like to think Irish audiences will prove their interest in indigenous drama and hopefully we’ll produce more of it in future.
Having worked with broadcasters both from Ireland (Deception, Hardy Bucks) and the UK (Camelot, Loving Miss Hatto), and having directed productions both here and in the UK, how do you see the Irish TV industry as it stands now?
I think in some senses it’s very healthy in terms of the quality of programming that’s been made. Love/Hate , Raw, Trivia and other RTE programmes are all made to a very high standard , so obviously the talent is here. What I suppose I’d like to see is more however. I think it’s great that we have a BAI and that they are getting together with TV3 to make more drama because the more that’s made the better for everyone. And it would be great if through the BAI the broadcasters can develop more of that. I know that if the money was there all they would do more drama, I think it’s just a case of accessing the funding. But TV is so important, not just for the audiences, obviously that’s the primary concern but also because of the talent it develops. If you look at the UK, most of the best feature film directors learned their craft in television, and it’s not that it’s just a stepping stone because what impressed me about TV is that for me, one episode of Eastenders reached 8 million people which was a thousand times more than the amount that saw my films. And that was the amazing thing about Hardy Bucks as well is that people were tweeting as they watched so finally it was like being in a cinema with an audience, you could see people reacting in real time, so that’s a whole other dimension to working in TV now as the audience becomes more interactive and hopefully more encouraging.
I think the amount of outside production coming into the country is fantastic. First of all the skill level of the crews here thanks to all the enormous films that came through to then The Tudors, Camelot and now Vikings, the skill set of the technicians and the crews is second to none. People come here from all over the world and they’re so impressed by the level of workmanship that is still bringing them back even though sometimes it’s cheaper to shoot elsewhere. So you get that development of talent and skill without having to leave the country to work on similar scale projects. I mean, shows like Ripper Street, people are amazed that it was shot here in Dublin, just due to the range of styles and locations and the amazing design by Mark Geraghty but these things bring so much practice and skill as well as economic benefit. I think they work perfectly in tandem with home-produced stuff, it’s not like they’re siphoning off people that would be going elsewhere, what they’re really doing is developing the talent pool, and those skills can then be transferred onto home-produced stuff. A lot of the crew of Raw went onto Quirke, so it’s a great cross-pollination.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently on a writing gig, we’ve been working on it for a while now but we’ve just been given some money to develop it. A project with Noel Pearson, based on the life of Louise Brooks [American dancer and actress, know figuratively as the Original ‘It Girl’ of the 1920’s] called ‘Lou Lou’, it’s a thriller set in Berlin in the 20’s, so that’s quite fun to research and write. It was an amazing time because it’s so like now in terms of the economic collapse and the rise of fascism, the parallels are all there so it’s a fun one.