The Mill director James Hawes

The Mill director James Hawes

At a recent industry event, television director James Hawes (The Mill, Mad Dogs) discussed how the small screen is getting more ambitious – something his latest TV film, The Challenger, would seem to demonstrate. Here are some of the highlights of his talk…

The times when static headshots were common practice for television series seem to have gone. The Fall, Broadchurch, The Tunnel, The Mill – everything looks like it could easily be screened in cinemas. The cinematography is more daring and of a higher quality, and instead of television directors being driven by the ambition to do big screen productions, feature film directors are now looking for a way in to direct TV.

“As a director you look for adjectives when trying to explain your vision, and when you used to say ‘filmic’ eyes lit up around the room,” Hawes says. “Now, in 2013, filmic has been replaced by cinematic but despite a shift in ideas budgets are getting tighter.”

British-born Hawes, who has directed shows such as The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Merlin and recently Channel 4’s The Mill, says he saw a shift occur around 2004 when he was directing the first series of Doctor Who.

The episodes, featuring flying space ships, explosions and a damaged Big Ben, might look a bit outdated now (today it’s mainly CGI) but it is clear this was bigger and more ambitious than most other TV programmes on at the time.

Hawes recently finished the factual drama The Challenger which shot in Johannesburg and Washington with William Hurt in the lead. The director says he is very pleased with the result which according to him is down to production vision; a careful combination of streaming thoughts and ideas of both production and direction.

Aside from delivering a great result in terms of looks, this also ensured that the production was very budget friendly. Everything was organised in advance with 10 weeks prep, 23 days shooting in Johannesburg, one day shooting in Washington and six weeks post.

Here it was also a case of bringing the team together at the right time. “If you bring a director in too early then the writer can’t really cast his vision on the project but if you bring the writer in too late then the director can’t really work with the script,” Hawes says. “You need to create a common vision and – the tough thing is – you need to carry that through.”

The second series of The Mill is currently in pre-production and is aiming to shoot in January. More information on this production and others mentioned in this article can be found on Production Intelligence.


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