26 October 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
08 Dec 2014 : Paul Byrne
Paul Byrne visits the set of TV3’s upcoming ‘Red Rock’ and talks to GARETH PHILIPS, the series producer – editorial behind the series.

The first thing you notice about the sets for TV3’s first ever original soap, ‘Red Rock’, is just how big they are. Having taken over Dublin’s old John Player factory - an abandoned, sprawling industrial yard now known as Players Square - the producers of ‘Red Rock’ have created a just-about-functioning Garda station, with the streets outside and the neighbouring buildings all dressed-up to make you believe that you’re standing in the middle of a living, breathing north Dublin seaside town.

The drama centres on Red Rock’s busy Dublin Garda station, the daily grind for our boys in blue upping a few gears when a long-dormant bitter feud between two local families - the wealthy Hennessys, who own half the town, and petty crime pin-ups the Kielys - is brutally reignited.

Amongst the cast are such well-known Irish actors as Paul Roe (‘Adam & Paul’, ‘The Cassidys’, ‘Standby’) and Cathy Belton (‘The Clinic’, ‘Philomena’, ‘My Name Is Emily’), who join newcomers and veterans such as Denise McCormack, Adam Weafer, Richard Flood, Pandora McCormack and Boyko Krastanov.

The series plans to hit the ground running when it debuts on TV3 in early January with the very first episode having, we’re promised, ‘repercussions for the rest of the soap’. With 80 episodes being shot initially (the writers were on episode no. 60 when I visited the set in early October), the show will run for two years with a budget of €7m.

I caught up with the series producer-editorial, Gareth Philips (‘Coronation Street’, ‘Bachelor’s Walk’, ‘Fair City’) to take down Red Rock’s particulars.

PAUL BYRNE: So, how does it feel, to be writing episode no.60 whilst shooting episode no.3, and ‘Red Rock’ hasn’t even aired yet?
Believe it or not, we’ve actually got stories written and mapped out which will not be on screen until two years from now! It is indeed a bit strange when the show hasn’t even aired yet to be so far ahead, but it’s vital we have such strong foundations. I’ve joined other soaps in the past where they literally didn’t know what they were going to be playing next month, and that lack of planning showed on screen.

The TV soap is a staple of popular culture, but for every ‘Eastenders’, there’s a bucketload of ‘Eldorado’s - what makes ‘Red Rock’ special?
I’d say our ambition to look and feel like a contemporary drama, and not a traditional soap, is what will set ‘Red Rock’ apart. That and the fact that at heart we are a police procedural show. Most of the other soaps all follow a similar model – everyone lives and works on the same street/square/village. Most of our action will revolve around Red Rock Garda station, which means we’re able to tell very different kinds of stories in fresh and innovative ways.

Entertainment is the name of the game, but soaps have traditionally been a platform for dealing with social ills and family issues. Is it important to you that ‘Red Rock’ has a socio-political role to play?
We want ‘Red Rock’ to feel relevant and it should reflect the vibrancy and diversity of contemporary Irish life. We have no ambition to be political per se, but police procedural storytelling does lend itself to telling grittier and more relevant stories which can touch upon social ills. However, we don’t have an agenda to highlight political or social issues – we’re here to entertain first and foremost.

Ireland has managed to produce a handful of long-running soaps in its time, from ‘The Riordans’ to ‘Glenroe’ and, more recently, ‘Fair City’. Would there be particularly Irish traits when it comes to soaps, traits you wouldn’t really find abroad? We’re special, right?
Irish audiences like grittier, more realistic, down-to-earth stories. Just look at the incredible ratings ‘Love/Hate’ achieves. There’s a balance to be had, of course, on a pre-watershed drama like ‘Red Rock’, but we’re going to be telling some tough and ballsy stories which you probably wouldn’t see on other soaps.

Can you remember how that TV3 pitch in August 2013 went? What was your main selling point?
I actually joined the project after it had been commissioned, so I wasn’t part of the original pitch. But what attracted me to the show was exactly the same things that attracted TV3 to it. Firstly, the fact that Element Pictures and Company Pictures were behind it. You want to work with the most talented people in the industry, and Element and Company are at the top of their game. Secondly, Peter McKenna’s scripts were just incredible – so tight and exciting, and full of ambition. Thirdly, the prospect of being part of the launch team of a brand new continuing drama was too good an opportunity to resist.

Big cast, big production, big commitment from TV3 - a figure like €7m certainly shows ambition.
Our ambitions are indeed big – we don’t want the show to look or feel like a typical soap. That said, we are making the show on a typical soap budget. What we’re doing that’s different is employing contemporary production techniques in order to achieve a show which hopefully looks and feels much more relevant to contemporary Irish audiences.

There are some fine actors in the mix, including Paul Roe, Cathy Belton and Denise McCormack. How long did the casting process take? These people have to be good, but they also have to commit, potentially for quite a few years.
We are blessed with a magnificent cast, and that is ultimately down to the incredible Louise Kiely, our casting director, and her team. Louise is the best in the business, and she is able to attract the very best talent. The casting process is actually still ongoing – we began in the summer with the search for our core cast, but each week we feature guest casts, so we’re still in the thick of it. I think the strength of our script and our stories is another key reason why we’ve been able to attract such a strong ensemble. Long may it continue!

Thanks to the wonderful world of the interweb, TV is increasingly interactive, with fans expecting a glimpse behind the curtain on a regular basis. Has that changed the way TV is made today - the need to be social media savvy, and to create a universe outside the actual show?
It’s vital these days to have a strong online presence. If you’re not using social media, and don’t have a presence on Twitter or Facebook, then you’re just not relevant to most of your audience. Of course, the most important thing is to have a strong show: great scripts and great stories must come before anything else. But investment in social media is essential if you want to keep up with your viewers.

What sort of viewing figures would you hope expect for that opening episode in early January? And is there an average per-episode viewing figure you’re aiming for?
We’re honestly not thinking about the numbers at this stage. All of us are entirely focused on making the best show we can possibly make. Of course, we want the show to be a huge success, but the most important thing is to make a show you love and are proud to be part of.

Finally, what’s your favourite TV fix right now?
I think we’re in a golden age in terms of TV drama at the moment. Like the rest of Ireland, I’ve been hooked by ‘Love/Hate’. Other series which have blown me away this year include ‘Line of Duty’, ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘The Leftovers’. And, of course, my Saturday nights would not be the same without my ‘Doctor Who’ fix!

‘Red Rock’ debuts on TV3 in early January. Probably the 7th, we reckon.

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