Haunting six-part detective mystery set in remote part of southern New Zealand due to hit screens later this year and early 2013.
Oscar-winning director Jane Campion was at MIPCOM on Tuesday to discuss the making of her upcoming six-part detective drama Top Of The Lake, her first foray into television in more than two decades.
“I had been dreaming about making a mystery detective story set in an area I know in New Zealand for some time,” said Campion, who was joined by co-writer and co-creator Gerard Lee.
Elisabeth Moss stars as detective Robin Griffin who returns to her childhood home in a remote lakeside community in southern New Zealand to investigate the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl who is five months pregnant.
“The case draws her back into the wounds and history of her own her life,” said Campion. “The story is designed to bring her to her knees.”
The cast also features Peter Mullan as a rough-edged but sensitive local drugs lord and Holly Hunter as the spiritual guru and founder of a women’s retreat on the shores of the lake.
“Peter’s character is very tender, very sensitive but demonic as well. Peter knows how to do a character like that. He’s very sensitive but he grew up amongst Alpha males who were aggressive and cruel and he knows what that is,” said Campion.
“The selection of Elisabeth Moss as the detective was also a very long and arduous process,” added Lee.
“We saw about 80 people but then we heard Elisabeth Moss was interested and wanted to audition… I thought it seemed an unlikely choice but then said why not,” continued Campion.
A See-Saw Films Production in association Screen Australia, Screen NSWM and Fulcrum Media Finance for BBC, UKTV, The Sundance Channel and BBC Worldwide, the series is due to be delivered at the end of this year.
Lee said they had been keen to stay away from the police procedural format of other popular detective series such as CSI and NCIS.
“We were trying to go against the aesthetic where a perfect female detective turns up with a torch and finds hair and sperm everywhere,” said Lee.
Campion said she had found working on a television show rather than a feature film a liberating experience.
“Feature film can be quite conservative,” she said. “You have to get audiences out and it can be quite a difficult thing to do. We were lucky enough to meet up with Ben Stephenson of BBC 2 and get the support of See-Saw Films, which has a reputation for wanting to explore difficult content.”
“It was also a luxury to be able to work on a long-form story,” she added. “I love novels and I like to have a long relationship with characters and I love the idea that viewers will live this story for a while too.”
On the downside, Campion found the shooting schedule arduous. “You shoot so fast for television… that was daunting at first.”
But overall the shift to television had not made a huge difference to the creative process, Campion concluded.
“When I made Angel At My Table I thought I was making it for television but it ended up being screened as a feature. What I am trying to do is good work and I don’t really know the difference,” she said.
“To me everything ends up on television, even if you make a movie. The Piano ended up on television. A lot of the colleagues who worked with me on Top Of The Lake have a background in film and we strained to give it a really strong visual signature and to bring all our talents together.”