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Borderline Entertainment: Interview with ‘Stop Search Seize’ producer Dara Tallon
09 Sep 2015 : Paul Byrne
With ‘Stop Search Seize’, Irish producer Dara Tallon makes the move from TV3 to Sky1, and primetime. Paul Byrne puts him under the spotlight.

Paul Byrne: This particular brand of reality television, following lawmakers going after lawbreakers, has been a staple of TV ever since the late 1980s classic ‘Cops’. If it ain’t broke, stick with the formula - or were you keen to bring something new to the genre?

Dara Tallon: ‘I think there is a significant difference between Observational Documentaries and the Reality genre and Stop Search Seize definitely falls into the Ob Doc category. “Customs based” Ob Docs have been massively successful across the globe and we felt it was Ireland’s time to shine. What we bring to this genre that is new, is Ireland. We are uniquely positioned between Europe and America so the role and duties of the Irish Customs Service are also unique. The challenge for both myself, and our Series Editor Aileen McCracken, was to capture this. The heroes of this series not only represent the Irish Customs service and the agencies that work with them, they represent Ireland to both a UK and global audience. The fact that Sky commissioned 20 one hour shows is not only a sign of confidence by them in the idea but a true vindication of their faith in Crackit Productions to deliver a show of this size.’

Where and when - and how - did ‘Stop, Search, Seize’ spring from...?

‘Within the international TV market, there seems to be a massive interest right now in all things Irish. I think this project was a meeting of minds of both Crackit Productions and Sky seeing Ireland as a great source of content and creativity for a global audience. Crackit have had massive success as a production company in the UK under the leadership of Elaine Hackett and the driving force of Irishman Fintan Maguire. Sky have had huge success internationally with Irish-based projects such as 50 Ways, Moone Boy, Wild Things with Jason Byrne and After Hours with Adal O’Hanlon. Once Sky and Crackit had agreed on the basics, Fintan approached both myself and Aileen to run the show. Most of the shows I have made, both here and in America, have been sold to international broadcasters so I think Fintan felt I had a good grasp of making TV, in Ireland, for a global audience. Having previously produced a number of series with him, I loved the idea of getting my teeth into something of this size and topic, and I was delighted to get to work with him again. Aileen McCracken, our Series Editor, is the queen of what we call “the blues and twos” which are the uniform-based Ob Doc shows. She has had massive success producing series of similar volume and size, within the UK which made her the perfect fit for a project of this size.’

‘Our first task was twofold, go out and meet the Customs teams around Ireland and, at the same time, crew up this massive production. On both counts we were blessed with the incredible people we managed to bring onto this project. We cast a very wide net across Ireland to capture all aspects of the Irish Customs Service. The level of cooperation and professionalism from the Customs was unprecedented, from the bosses in Dublin Castle to the guys on the ground, across the country. Add to this the involvement of An Garda Siochana, The Department of Agriculture, HPRA, The Irish Navy, etc, all working in conjunction with the Irish Customs teams on the ground. Our experiences of each agency was very positive and it was great to see how well these groups work together at a grass roots level. This became something I really wanted to show to our international audience. We hit the ground running and spent the first month traveling the country meeting both customs teams and potential locations, answering questions and explaining what we hoped to achieve. I think this human touch and face to face contact was vital given the logistics involved and I would highly recommend this approach to anyone taking on a project of this size.’

‘When it came to crewing we both knew, all too well, the challenges we would face at every stage of this gig, so hiring the right people was vital. I have made TV shows of all shapes and sizes around the world, but I still say the best production teams I have ever worked with are Irish. The credits list for this show proves this point 100% - from the production office, to location crews, to post, the dedication, creativity and diligence of our team continues to impress us both. Once we had our characters and crews it was time to get out there and make some great telly. This meant coordinating filming dates with four shooter teams over three months across Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Rosslare, the Midlands, the West of Ireland and the border counties. It was a testament to the customs teams and our staff that every aspect of the filming went so smoothly.’

‘Taking three months of footage from four teams and making it into twenty shows was the next challenge. To deliver a show of this size, within our deadlines, we opted for five off line edits running at the same time, with an edit producer assigned to each room. When we added to this the massive amount of grading, sound mixing, blurring, etc. Windmill Lane Pictures became the logical choice for our post.’

Were you surprised by the footage you got - surprise airport marriage proposals, coffins being imported, an undeclared Ferrari...?

‘We were extremely lucky in many of the moments we captured. Coffins in a van from Poland, swords, knives and pistols in suitcases, people trying to fool x-ray scanners by wrapping their ciggies in tinfoil (no it doesn’t work) were just some of the incidents we captured. For me, however, the real gold comes from the look of “you have to be kidding” that the above perpetrators receive from the ever professional customs official manning that particular airport channel, port entry point or check point.’

The exciting clips are going to be crooks being caught, giving the viewer that voyeuristic Weegee kick - getting a good look at the misfortune of others. Tough to get people’s permission to be on TV when they’ve been busted...?

‘For me this show is as much, if not more so, about the characters as it is about the finds. I think the audience will come for the finds and the action but will stay for the characters, in the form of both the customs service and the members of the public they interact with. Obviously getting permission from the people that customs interact within their daily duties is not always possible so a level of blurring is needed, but I feel the characters we have on the show are so strong that the blurring is rendered incidental.’

Just as with customs officers, you have to play the waiting game here to get your footage - how long does an average episode take to shoot?

‘With Ob Doc shows you don’t know what you will get. You can plan all you want but at the end of the day it’s always a case of hurry up and wait. The big advantage in this project was the fact that it is just as interesting to see the process involved in the daily work of the customs teams as it is to see the finds. Whilst it’s fascinating to see the lengths people will go to smuggle contraband into Ireland, it’s just as fascinating to see the lengths our customs service go to prevent this from happening. So, even on a day spent in a cold dock or port where no contraband was discovered, we still managed to capture the diligence and hard work of the customs teams protecting Ireland’s borders.’

What sort of budget are we dealing with here, and how many episodes are confirmed? British TV is a little less cutthroat than the American pilot system...

‘We are producing twenty one hour episodes for Sky1 prime time and for Sky Vision. To work on a project of this size I would normally have to go to the UK or America, so to get to do what I love, at this scale in Ireland, was a true pleasure. This was my first full project for BSkyB and for Crackit and both have been brilliant to work with. Each group have provided us with every level of support and back up through every stage production.’

Where to next? You’ve got an increasingly busy CV, with three productions last year, and now two already this year.

‘I have been extremely lucky and love the fact that telly has taken me around the world, put food on my table and nappies on my child. After five years of making American telly moving back to Ireland from Los Angeles was a little daunting but, looking back, it proved to be the right decision. I am booked solidly well into 2016 and like everyone else I’m happy to make hay while the sun shines. Long term, I would love to work between here and America but for the moment Ireland and the UK are keeping me busy and I am very happy to continue to make shows here for an international market. I think the TV industry here is in good shape and I think Irish productions of all shapes and sizes will continue to shine on both a domestic and internationally stage.’

‘Stop, Search, Seize’ screens on Sky 1 Tuesday nights at 10pm.

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