Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Matthew Graham & Ashley Pharoah Q & A

Sorry for not posting these last night - I wanted to be fully awake to check them against my very random notes once again.  I hope the following are as accurate as possible, bearing in mind I became far more absorbed in listening to them than note-taking! 

If you were there and spot any major inaccuracies, please do let me know...


Matthew Graham & Ashley Pharoah's Q & A session hosted by Kate Rowland at the Soho Theatre, 14th April 2008.

[KR - Kate Rowland; AP - Ashley Pharoah; MG - Matthew Graham; LoM - Life on Mars; AtA - Ashes to Ashes.]

R - When did you make the decision to take Gene Hunt forward into a new era?
AP - At the end of LoM John Simm - as everyone knows - didn't want to do anymore, but BBC asked us to revisit going forward, by which point Gene Hunt had become a 'legend'.

KR - What concerns did you have with the characters?
AP - We only decided they were a good thing when the series was running.
MG - The universe was created: we had a three year plan, going forward to AtA Series 3; in the bigger plan, the bigger the mystery.

KR - Where do you start building [any] series?
AP - Endless conflict; a basic premise; but it has to have legs.
MG - To write Series 1 Ep 1 is not difficult, but to write Series 3 Ep 6 is very hard.  The stories are a delivery mechanism for the characters which is true for a lot of shows.  It is the character moments people want to re-live.
AP - In 1981 there was so much going on in world policing; the Brixton riots and the Scarman Report; so much happening in the world of music and clothes. 

KR - You transported a group of characters and the public into an era; how difficult was it to plot their changes?
AP - You don't actually know much about the characters, but that doesn't matter - they're in someone's imagination.
MG - Or are they?!?  This series is re-establishing them; we have plans for them.  AtA was written in such a way that you didn't need to be familiar with LoM to understand it.  It can stand alone.

KR - It's very character driven -- 
AP - It's quite unusual as the characters get their voices as POV - it's Sam Tyler's vision
MG - Gene was hard to find the balance as it is tempting to have him crack a joke/sarcastic remark with every line. He's actually a very smart guy, and he doesn't realise. You have to find the reality within the show. [example of 'The Street' given as heightened reality].  Rules change; establish the character; establish the world and world rules.
AP - It's the chance for each writer to tell a story that is important to them about the 80s/era.
MG - The writers take ownership of the show; their voices are added to the tapestry; they tell stories, shape the show.
AP - It's my favourite part - round the table, chucking ideas around.
MG - You come up with ideas again and again - it's like you keep throwing your head on the chopping block to be chopped off.

KR - You are also Exec Producers this time.  How has that affected you as writers?
AP - I try to put my writers hat on.  It's been ok so far but 'Bonekickers' will be the first real test.
MG - It's been a very steep learning curve; learning how to balance producing and writing.

At this point the conversation focuses on 'Bonekickers', due to air on BBC1 in May/June 2008

KR - Perhaps you'd like to explain a bit about 'Bonekickers'
MG - it's about a team of archaeologists based in the West Country.  Each week they are involved in an historical mystery.  The context of the dig is investigated as there is always a modern threat tied into it.  Bit of a cross between CSI and The DaVinci Code.

Then back to Ashes to Ashes.
KR - Did you have fears about changing the protagonist's gender in AtA?
AP - It brought a fresh conflict; she [Alex] already has knowledge of their world. Keeley [Hawes] did a fantastic job with what is actually a very difficult character.

KR - How do you keep the writing fresh?
MG - We thought of AtA as a different show; the music, colour palette etc

Q - Do you have the whole series written when being commissioned?
MG - When being commissioned for a 6 parter, we have 1, maybe 2, episodes written plus the Series Bible.

Q - How many writers do you have in the Team?
MG & AP - We have 8 episodes; we write 2 each and then the other 4 eps are written by other writers.  We have worked with, for example, Mark Greig, Julie Rutterford & Chris Chibnall. They all cut their teeth on previous drama writing.  

Q - How would a new writer break into LoM/AtA etc?
MG - LoM wouldn't be the kind of place to start as a new writer - no slack cut; no time for mistakes.  The pressure is too intense, the egos are too large!  As a new writer you would be far better to apply [for example] to the BBC Drama Writers Academy where you can be developed as you work on Doctors/Eastenders/Casualty/Holby. You are working in a slightly protected environment.  They try to nurture writers - whereas on AtA we don't have the time to nurture people; you could end up having a very bad experience and that could really set you back.
AP - As our company [Monastic] becomes more established we would like to be a writers' company.

Q - Do you share the writing?  How do you work together?
MG & AP - We devise the shows together and then write our own episodes.

A few comments were then made about their past frustrations (not being able to have influence when they wanted) but also that was part of learning the craft.  MG commented on a writer needing to have confidence to write well and recommended writing for ongoing series to build that confidence and hone skills.

Other than the audience being reminded of the closing date for this year's BBC Drama Writers Academy (12th May 2008), Kate Rowland also announced the launch of a *new* opportunity which is aimed at those writers who do not qualify for the Drama Writers Academy.  This will be a residential mentored week during the summer for 8 writers and the info launch date will be 24th April this space, I guess.


  1. bloody hell they are pretty impressive!


  2. Pots, I know you've got jetlag but you were there too - of course MG & AP were impressive; and they have long, long CVs.

    Or do you mean the notes? ;0)


  3. Great notes, Lara; and great to meet you there too.

  4. Elinor - the notes don't really do it justice but it's the best I could remember! Shame you didn't make it hun. Would have good to catch up!

    Mr Perry - And it was lovely to meet you , kind Sir. How was your head the next day, btw?!? ;0)

  5. Thanks for these Lara, my head was feeling too fuzzy to take notes!

  6. Pleasure. Hope you're feeling better now, Lianne. x