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Mark O'Rowe Talks 'Temple' with IFTN
08 Mar 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Mark Strong in 'Temple'
IFTN caught up with writer Mark O'Rowe to find out more about his new Sky series ‘Temple’ starring Mark Strong, the experience of writing for TV and taking on the role of executive producer.

As a seasoned feature film scriptwriter with credits including 'Boy A', 'Intermission', 'Broken' and 'Perrier's Bounty', Mark O’Rowe made his directorial debut in 2018 with his feature film ‘The Delinquent Season’, with an all-star Irish cast of Cillian Murphy ('Peaky Blinder', 'Dunkirk'), Andrew Scott (‘Sherlock’, ‘Handsome Devil’), Eva Birthistle (‘Brooklyn’, ‘The Last Kingdom’), and Catherine Walker (‘A Dark Song’, ‘Patrick’s Day’). 

O’Rowe recently wrapped on the new Sky-commissioned TV drama thriller ‘Temple’, which stars Mark Strong (‘Kingsman’), Carice van Houten (‘Game of Thrones’) and Daniel Mays (‘Line of Duty’).  The show follows Daniel (Strong), a surgeon who is driven by personal tragedy to treat anyone in his underground London clinic who is willing to pay for medical help outside the system. Aided by Lee (Mays), a disgruntled transport employee, and Anna (van Houten), a guilt-ridden medical researcher, they treat a variety of increasingly desperate and highly dangerous patients and Daniel’s morality is tested to the limit.

The eighth-part high-concept series is written by O’Rowe who also features as an executive producer alongside Here Pictures head Liza Marshall (‘Rivera’) who produced the adaptation of the acclaimed Norwegian drama series ‘Valkyrien’.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with O’Rowe to find out more about ‘Temple’ ahead of its release on Sky One and Now TV later this year.

IFTN: I found it hard to believe that this is your first time doing a TV series, is that right?

Mark: “Yes, it is. The trouble is the detail I suppose. It's all the same though; it's just a longer form. You set out your treatments and you say the story across seven hours or eight hours rather than two hours. You start writing but it's the same dynamics except where you've got one long story you're telling, which you've got to shape and give a structure. But it's the same also with movies because they're all pretty similar, writing for a play, TV or film.”

IFTN: Did you enjoy having so much more scope; for plot and character development, etc.?

Mark: “Well we had 15 months to do it from start to finish, and I wrote all the episodes.  It was huge pressure in terms of time.  When you say, did I enjoy having that scope, I'm not sure what I enjoyed to be honest because most of the time I was trying to keep up with my deadlines.  It was very hard under certain circumstances as it to be due on a particular date.”

“But, that creates its own energy as well; you realise that if it's awful or you are nowhere near ready - it's still happening, regardless, and it’s on your shoulders.  On the one hand it's quite stressful but on the other hand, the propulsion of it all has its own forward momentum.”

“In terms of having a longer story…  I want to give you a truthful answer because I've heard people say before that it is great to work within a universe or within a structure with eight hours instead of two hours.’ My answer to that is I don't know. I can't tell you if I did or I didn't.  Maybe in a year's time when I'll have enough perspective, I will say, ‘Oh yes, that was good and this was good.’"

IFTN: Well, let me rephrase. Would you be interested in doing it again?

Mark: “Yes. Well, this was a commission and it was based on a Norwegian show. We deviated after midway through the first episode but we still kept all the same characters, the same initial premise. You're locked into something that wouldn't be your first choice of story to tell.”

“Now having said that, once you commit to something you give it everything you have.  In fact, I wouldn't have taken it on if I didn't see a lot of interests which I wanted to explore in terms of characters, stories and the themes that felt quite important to me, or if I felt suggested by the initial idea. On that level, the answer would be definitely yes.”

IFTN: As you said, it is based on the Norwegian drama, ‘Valkyrien’. As a writer approaching it and seeing as you were confined to a particular storyline,  did you still approach it as an original screenplay or did you approach it as an adapted screenplay?

Mark: “The premise is very, very particular, and there are a lot of balls thrown up in the air right at the beginning. We had that as well. So you’re locked into a certain setup that they've given you. With that, you're very much trying to obey something that's been presented in front of you, but in fact, I think when we initially worked out the plot, we used several plots from the original series.”

“Several episodes are very close to what they were in the original show, but we found that it didn't quite work for us.  I don’t think many of the episodes are now recognizable from the original show other than I suppose episode one and two because they involve the setup of the story.  It's only once you've broken free of the plot and the setup of the first episode which you need to obey, that’s when it starts to feel like it's becoming your own.  Then you can say, ‘these characters belong to me now.  I can do with them what I want.’”

“Now I say that as if I sit down on my own and wrote all the episodes myself.  It's very collaborative. You've got your script editors and your producer and everyone else has a say in where it's going to go. But in the end, it's you at the core of that, following your instincts, which is a sense of making it your own as best as you can. It was nice of the producers to let me follow those instincts.”

IFTN: You're also credited as an executive producer on the show. Can you tell me what additional roles or responsibilities came with that title during production?

Mark: “Well, the final decisions are made by your main executive producer, which was Liza Marshall, who was the creator of the show really more than anyone. Then your day-to-day hands-on producer. Then you've got Sky as well. You've got those people, but what it gives you as the writer is you have as much power as the rest of them. You're not a hired hand; you're somebody with a stake in it, so your voice is listened to much more.

“That goes from the beginning.  Apart from the actual responsibility to come up with a story. You have a say in casting and the benefits outweigh the pressures.  Then, of course, you have to become a noter on the edits when the edits are happening as well. You're in that group of people who are sent cuts of the edits and give notes, which is great because it’s a change from taking notes all the time when you're writing the scripts. It also goes across from the start to the end. For example, I remember trying to finish writing seven and eight while giving notes on the edits of episode one and two, which is an odd position to be in. It's weird because executive producer is quite a nebulous title. I've never quite understood it. I think it depends on the show as well or the movie or whatever it is you're doing. I learned that people who get the executive producer credit for putting their name on something because they're famous and doing actually nothing. That would be nice!”

IFTN: Absolutely, it's a bit of an elusive tag all right.

Mark: “Yes, it is. For me, it just makes you feel that your voice is being heard, that there is not a bunch of these people in charge who hired you just to write. You have a say in what the show is and you can argue if somebody wants to put something in that you feel isn't consistent with the tone of the show. You can argue that and your voice will be heard.”

“It's lovely to be executive producer actually because I've been in the position where you write something and as soon as you have fulfilled your last note or rewrite, you never heard from anybody again. It's like, ‘We got what we need from you, goodbye’, Whereas being Exec Producer keeps you connected to the show. You have a say in things that you never really have a say in otherwise like edits and sound design, consultation or marketing. They use you the same.”

IFTN: As an exec producer on Temple, did that give you an opportunity to actually visit the production set? Which I know wouldn't necessarily be the case for a writer.

Mark: “I'll tell you. It's a good question. My only regret is that I was writing 8 hours of content when I only had a very short amount of time. I was welcome to set at any time and I was asked a lot to come over and I didn’t. Because I didn't have time throughout the most part of the writing process. I was at home in front of my laptop 12 hours a day. So I had to keep up with the script. While theoretically it gives you the opportunity to do that, and I was incredibly welcome to do that, it would have been like taking a holiday. The other slight difficulty on it was that I didn’t stay near there. I live in Dublin, and that was shot in London. So if you're spending the day traveling, you're not spending it working. Unfortunately, it’s not that I didn’t have interest but it’s that I couldn’t afford to give that time. It will be very pressurized.”

IFTN: Your last project ‘Delinquent Season’ saw you make your directorial debut. Is that an area that we might see more of you in the future?

Mark: “Yes, I think it's interesting because, with something like Temple, it's a heightened over-the-top offbeat world. Very action packed, very high concept. If you ask me would I want to direct an episode of that, I wouldn't be too interested because it would just mainly be the mechanics of, the practicalities of directing.”

“What I did very much enjoy, is trying to come up with something that was very, very personal or very delicate. In order to direct, it would have to be utterly the right story. The next original script I write I will write and direct myself. I suppose with commissions, you take on a job that is the seed of someone else's desire, whereas if I was to write a script. I don't think I would write a script like ‘Temple’ or an action film. I would write something personal, something that is too delicate to give to anyone else to take care of. I also enjoyed directing very much. I think the idea of directing is exciting. So, yes, definitely would love to do it.”

IFTN: Then finally can I ask you Mark, what's next on the horizon? What do you next have your teeth sunk into?

Mark: “I don't know honestly. It was good to get the show because I could finance a little bit of time where I'm doing something not just for the money. I have a new play coming in there so it'd be nice to spend a bit of time doing that. I think, having put over a year into something that's so high concept, it will be nice to take something really self-contained and low-key and just about the actors and not having to fulfil the remit of keeping the story going with more and more plots and more action, which is what TV demands a lot of the time.

I've only just finished on Temple, so the play is only bubbling there at the moment.”

‘Temple’ airs on Sky One and NOW TV later this year.




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