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Friday, October 23, 2020

‘His Dark Materials’ Producer Jane Tranter Warns U.K. Indie Companies Are ‘Genuinely Under Threat’ Without Pandemic Support

Jane Tranter, the British super-producer behind the likes of “His Dark Materials,” “The Night Of,” “Succession” and “A Discovery of Witches,” has said the “diversity of voices” in the U.K. production sector is “genuinely under threat” as a result of the global pandemic and delayed insurance coverage for fledgling production outfits.

Speaking to Variety as part of the BFI London Film Festival’s “Spotlight” session, the founder of Wales-based production powerhouse Bad Wolf said season 3 filming on the Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer-starring “A Discovery of Witches” had to be temporarily shut down last week for one day after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis on set. But while companies like Bad Wolf are able to take the financial hit, smaller outfits may not withstand the blow.

“In the normal way of filming, when you stop filming for a day, it’s an absolute bloody disaster. The production company is basically liable for the overage of losing your filming, unless you can pick it off from insurance, which at the moment, there’s a lot of talk about, but it’s not happening,” said Tranter, referencing the government’s insurance scheme, which has yet to secure the European Union approval required to go live.

In order to get “A Discovery of Witches” on its feet, Access Entertainment-backed Bad Wolf and broadcast partner Sky “have committed quite a large amount of money to cover the equivalent of what an insurance payout will be for COVID costs.”

“When something like this happens, we’ve got the money to pick ourselves up and keep going,” explained Tranter. “But you have to be buoyant as a company in order to do that…Bad Wolf wouldn’t have been able to do it if it was season 1 of ‘A Discovery of Witches’; we would have gone out of business.”

The former BBC drama boss explained that independent companies whose output is critical but not necessarily overtly commercial, or those going through a rough patch, “will really, really struggle” to come back from the pandemic.

“They struggle anyway in an industry where the super indies are coming and buying up all of these clusters of indies. It’s hard to be independent, and it’s almost impossible to remain so now,” said Tranter.

To avoid a scenario in which big super indies buy up all the remaining independent production companies, Tranter encouraged the industry to “continue to pressurize the government to do what they said they were going to do” in operating the $648 million fund.

Bad Wolf wrapped filming on Sky drama “I Hate Suzie,” HBO’s “Industry” and Sky’s “A Discovery of Witches” season 2 before lockdown. The one casualty was a standalone episode of “His Dark Materials” season 2 featuring James McAvoy’s Lord Asriel, which had to be cut from the eight-episode order.

“James arrived like he always does like a hot knife through butter — like a comet blazing through the sky — and Asriel was back,” Tranter said of the first day of shooting the episode. “He had shaved his head for his [National Theatre performance of] Cyrano de Bergerac and his wig was on and he was going for it, and then someone coughed and we got closed down.”

Although production shut down early on March 16, the U.K. industry was effectively closed just days later. “We might have gotten three more days, but there was just no way it was going to happen,” said Tranter.

Tranter, whose shows have so far landed with broadcasters such as the BBC, Sky and HBO, said she has “grown up” with the latter U.S. cabler, with whom she has a first-look deal for development stateside. However, Tranter said, “I would love to make a big show with one of the streamers. It’s not an ideological kind of strategy that we’re not doing that.”

Prior to forming Bad Wolf, Tranter served as executive vice president of programming and production at BBC Worldwide, based out of Los Angeles, and prior to that, she was head of fiction at the BBC.

Tranter suggested she was disturbed by heightened scrutiny of the public broadcaster in recent years, noting that the discourse is moving beyond “a slightly sparked, affectionate picking over of the BBC” to “[people saying], ‘You know what, we are going to pick the flesh off the bones of the BBC until there is a small crumbling skeleton that is turning to dust left in its place.’”

Tranter said that, rather than pronouncing the BBC’s death knell, she’s “going to be one of those who fiercely advocates that the BBC has a central place in our culture and our arts community in 2020.”

“Without it, a lot of the streamers wouldn’t have a lot of the programming that they are windowing. And that is because the BBC continues to take risks, and it continues to make a different type of programming,” said Tranter.

“I would just really encourage us all to think about what the BBC provides us, rather than kicking it in the shin the whole time.”

Given her experience at the distribution arm of the public broadcaster, Tranter knows former BBC Studios boss and now BBC director general Tim Davie — who took over for Tony Hall last month — better than most in the industry. Asked about Davie’s leadership style and what his commercial bona fides will bring to the role, the executive said a Davie-led BBC “will be very different.”

“Tim has a swagger to him, and I mean that in a good way. I like my drama to have swagger to it. But he has a very different tonality to him. He has come from business, and more than that, he’s come from commercial business — Pepsi Cola,” said Tranter.

Nonetheless, Davie “will fight for the public service,” she continued. “But at the same time, he will definitely be strict with it and expect it to pay its way as far as it can, alongside the license fee. I think he’ll be very ambitious for it.”


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