Mark Herbert talks about making the switch from features to television with the follow up to Shane Meadow’s This Is England, which is currently in post and will be aired on the UK’s Channel 4 in the autumn.
What’s the difference between making a TV drama series and a feature film? “Well it’s easier financing it, compared to the last few films I have done. A lot of films have six/seven/eight financers these days,” says producer Mark Herbert, the longtime Shane Meadows’ who is producing the $3.6m (£2.5m) four-part series This Is England 86 for Channel 4 through his Sheffield-based production outfit Warp Films.
“What is great about TV is that you are not selling the rights, you’ve got more control over the rights, so the film-makers benefit,” he adds.
Meadow’s 2006 BAFTA’s winning film centres around a young boy called Sean (played by Thomas Turgoose) growing up in the 1980s who joins a gang of skinheads, and is loosely based on the director’s own experiences. The follow-up TV series, which sees Turgoose reprising his role, picks up the story four years later in 1986. “It has a lot of the same cast with some new additions as well. It’s more about the gang, this time,” says Herbert.
The way the TV project came together was, he says, “an organic process.”
“When we were doing Q&As on the road people would ask ‘what happened to Combo’? ‘what happened to Sean’? Then when it was on TV, it got something like the second highest rating of all time for a film. We were working with Tessa [Ross]at Film4 on a new film, and we came out of a meeting and Shane, half serious, said he’d got some ideas to take the characters on further. Literally within a week everyone was saying we should do it.”
He admits that they approached the project in the same way that they would do a feature. “We said we shouldn’t do it unless it’s going to be something different and better and a step up from the film. So we tackled it with the same work ethic and approach. It’s not a TV film.”
Whilst Meadows has penned the script along with Jack Thorne (who is currently writing the script for a feature version of Channel 4 series Skins) the directing credits have been split between Scouting Book For Boys’ Tom Harper, who will direct the first two episodes and Meadows, who will direct the second two.
“In TV, it is often more about the writers. Shane has written it all and it’s got his stamp. Practically, if he’d done all four it would have been three years of his life. We’ve still got feature films in development and I didn’t want Shane out of films for three years,” says Herbert.
Meadow’s 2006 film received an 18 certificate and it sounds like the new TV series, which is funded by Channel 4 together with Screen Yorkshire, will be packing a few of its own punches. “It’s very bold for TV. But Channel 4 have been really supportive, and the relationship we’ve got with Film 4 and Tessa [Ross] has really helped,” says Herbert.
Herbert says the plan is to cut together the four TV episodes as two feature length films, which will be sold internationally. “People have already asked for it. Initially we will go to the places where the film did well and it’s got a fan base, like Scandinavia.”
“The way we have structured it is that episodes one and two will make a really great film and episode three and four will make a good film. But we are not making it for theatrical. We are respecting what we have to do for TV,” adds Herbert, who says he is hoping to take the feature versions to film festivals towards the end of the year.
Shooting began on Meadows’ block on April 6 in Sheffield and Grimsby, whilst Harper’s section kicked off on May 10. “It’s really good fun, but tiring,” says Herbert, who has several more projects in the pipeline with Meadows, including Beware The Devil, which is based on a true story about a man who became an exorcist.
“You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a few things ready to go. We’ve got film projects in the pipeline. And we want to do another Donk [Le Donk and Scor-zay-zee), because it was such a good laugh,” says Herbert.
But with the possibility of a second This Is England series already being talked about, is there any danger that the pair will turn their back on features in favour of the small screen?
“Some of the best things I’ve seen have been on TV,” says Herbert. “But we wouldn’t turn our back on films. We can just do both.”