Moderated by crimewriting Goddess Barbara Machin of ‘Waking the Dead’ fame, writer/creator of ‘The Fall’ Allan Cubitt and his award winning producer Gub Neal came along to speak to us about the cutting edge of crime drama, and how to keep fresh a genre which can become over familiar.
Firstly came the idea that genre can be a friend to screenwriters and not something they need to fight. In fact, Gub says that TV that exists outside genre now, really struggles. With the chance to do a hunted and hunter drama within a writer led company the guys long working relationship rose to the fore to join them in creating something fresh with The Fall. The premise from the start, is more of a ‘why done it’ than a ‘who done it’ and from the very opening scene the subjects of the drama are juxtaposed and we see that they will conflict. The simplicity, says Allan, is what makes it good. Not a huge fan of the drama of revelation he chose to show the killer from the outset. Very often we can spend so much effort and story time concealing the killer, that we don’t have time to spend getting to know the victims, or to understand the reasons people give themselves to do things. He thought it would be interesting to, from the beginning, let the audience see things that the police didn’t know and see if that could maintain the same tension. In fact, The Fall does well on this score as we see the two lines of action side by side as they cross and cross again. All the way through the action reveals small signs of the character’s personalities. Profiling was used to create the characters. Police officers are all about control, male violence toward women is likewise about control, the hunter/hunted duo paralleled in ways as well as being in conflict.
Asked if worried about the level of disturbing crime in the drama the guys said that going into audacious storytelling, with a detached, sexually adventurous police woman and a fetishistic murderer, you have to commit. With the killing Allan says you have to be sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons and not just to ramp up the story. Murder without consideration of the death is not connective to the audience. In addition to characters, crime drama often has a strong sense of place, Belfast in particular had a very interesting and violent history of it’s own, a vibrant place with a dark shadow, so to speak. It proved to be a good setting for this story.
Al works hard on his first drafts to make them close to complete and then from what was shot for ‘The Fall’ the drama was honed in the cutting room rather than on the page. He has a police adviser and suggests that writers hang in there through their redrafts and stick to the integrity of the story they tell. Police handbooks, he says, are great reading for crime research. Other materials he reads to pick up stuff include other crime writings and especially academic books. If you get only one moment or idea that improves your story then it’s worth doing all the reading and research.
Asking for twelve episodes for telling the story, they were commissioned for five, but that was five with the likelihood of a second season. This second season was then confirmed shortly after broadcast began. This meant that though the ending wasn’t to everyone’s full satisfaction (Lord Sugar tweeted ‘only ten minutes till the end and the loony bloke still hasn’t been caught!’) it was because of not getting 12 consecutive episodes that a conclusion needed to be reached that would end the story well enough, without fully ending it.
The Fall being one of my all time favourite TV shows this year, I felt really privileged to be in the room hearing about it’s creation and I got straight away the brave decision it was to step outside the norm and create a very subtle but emotionally brutal show that won audience and critical approval, including my own fervent following of the show. After today’s session at the festival, I felt fervent about this great writer/producer team too, and the exceedingly brave decisions they made to give me this show that I loved.
Leilani Holmes at the London Screenwriters’ Festival
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