Let’s start from the basics – how did you get involved with Big Finish in the first place?
It was just the most amazing bit of luck. I was working at Visual Imagination editing two magazines – Ultimate DVD and The Works – and I just got an email from Nick Briggs saying, ‘We have a vacancy for a Line Producer and we thought of you. What do you reckon?’ It was one of those life-changing emails. I thought about it overnight, said yes, and then a couple of days later met Nick and Jason Haigh-Ellery in Central London for a cup of coffee and to talk it through. I handed in my notice at VI and started at Big Finish a couple of months later.
I remember that whole first year was terrifying. We’re a small team, and it’s so incredibly busy. There is so much to learn, and the company was going through a period of change at that time – for example, we were just introducing downloads – and I spent those first 12 months convinced I couldn’t do the job. Then one day it clicked. I just thought, ‘Yeah, I get it. I can do this.’
I’ll always be grateful to Nick for having faith in me – and for always being continually supportive and appreciative to this day. I think working for Big Finish has been the making of me.
You’re currently producer on a number of ranges – but let’s talk first about the most recent: Survivors. You’ve said in the extras for disc 1 that it came out of a Counter-Measures recording – but what was the process from there?
Well I’ve really got two jobs. I am Line Producer for Big Finish, which basically means I run the schedule – I plan out the releases for everything we make, and then plan backwards through all the stages of production, working with other producers and script editors, and Jason and Nick as execs. Storyline delivery, script delivery, studio recording, post production, reproduction… keeping on top of where everything we make is at any moment in time. We are talking about hundreds of productions…
My other job is creative producer on several ranges, which means being in charge of the team of writers, directors, sound designers and cover artists, firing off ideas, listening to ideas, commissioning and developing scripts and forming the shape of the production. Currently I’m creative producer on The Fourth Doctor Adventures, Dark Eyes 3 and 4 (and the Paul McGann series beyond that), various Doctor Who box sets, Jago and Litefoot, Counter-Measures, The Avengers and Survivors. And other stuff yet to be announced – there’s a production I’m hugely excited about that’s going to be announced in the next DWM! I have recently finished up on The Lost Stories, Companion Chronicles and Blake’s 7.
In terms of Survivors, I sat down and planned out the first series and wrote briefs for the new characters. I wanted the series to be old and new at the same time, and begin again with the plague from a new perspective. So that’s why I’d planned the first episode as the outbreak, the second as the escape from London, and then had the third and fourth resuming months later, adding Greg and Jenny into the mix.
I tried so hard to contact Carolyn Seymour for this but couldn’t reach her. I’d assumed she was still in the US. And then Andy Priestner put me in touch with her, and we were able to write a couple of cameo roles for Carolyn, and she will join the team proper in Series 2.
What was rather different with Survivors is that I cast the actors and then I created characters for them. I had Louise on board before I had Jackie, John before Daniel, Adrian before Gillison, Chase before Maddie… So I knew, for example, if I gave Lou tragic material she would break my heart, or if we gave Adrian dangerous material he would be terrifying. It was such a fun and different way to approach it, because we never work like that usually.
Script editor Matt Fitton then took away my briefing document, developed it further and we both worked in tandem with the writers on storylines and scripts. I think it helped on Survivors that we knew exactly what it needed to be going in – but then again we had similarly firm ideas on The Avengers, Counter-Measures etc…
Ironically, during the development stage Lucy Fleming said to me, ‘If there was ever any chance of a role in this for Louise Jameson then I’d love to work with her’. It was so nice to be able to say, ‘Actually she’s already one of your co-stars!’
You’ve brought back Greg, Abby and Jenny – are there any other characters from the TV series who might make a reappearance?
I’ve certainly got at least one more in mind for an upcoming box set, which I’m hugely excited by. It will always be driven by story. Of course, some of the actors from the original series are no longer with us. I haven’t yet decided whether we should recast some of them. That’s a difficult one. Although the precedent was set in the TV show I suppose, as Vic was recast during the course of series one.
I didn’t anticipate it being quite so loved as it is, or for a number of people to say it’s the best thing we have ever made. We get excited by everything we make at Big Finish. Sometimes you feel that something is great but it then gets moderate feedback, which can be baffling. And very rarely you feel that despite all the hard work something didn’t quite really make the grade in the end but then people love it (I won’t be drawn on naming those!).
I thought Survivors was brilliant. We all did. But there was a fear that it might be too dark for some tastes. I know when Nick Briggs was working on the music, he had to keep stopping every so often to have a cry. It deeply affected him.
I am, of course, thrilled to bits that everyone seems to love it as much as I do. I guess I hoped they would but you can never rely on that.
As for Series 2 and 3, yes they will be dark. Human nature is dark. Take away the trappings of civilisation, and people will not settle down happily and just grow cabbages. People would kill each other for a scrap of food. The bullies would try and take over the playground. And yet, amid a situation in which we see the worst of human nature, the best of human nature will shine through too. That’s what I see as the essence of Survivors.
We planned out Series 3 in detail last night in Starbucks. I’m really pleased with where it’s going – if it continues to be well received, then we certainly have many stories left to tell.
Well, we’re approaching that a bit differently. Sadly James Hazeldine [who played the main male character, Tom Crane] is no longer with us, so rather than recasting and revisiting the show as it was in the 1970s, we’ve updated it to the year 2014. That’s actually given us a larger canvas to play with, and a really great hook into the stories. Louise is back as Anne Reynolds, and Natasha Gerson is back as Morag, though she will obviously speak this time! There will be new characters too, but I can’t really say much more until the scripts are written and the roles are cast.
But I want it to be SCARY. If Survivors is mature, challenging human drama, then The Omega Factor will be mature, challenging horror. And dramatic too, of course. I want people to be terrified when they listen to it. I watched episode two of the TV show recently and I had to watch it with all the lights on. That’s how I want people to feel when they listen to this.
You’ve stepped up The Avengers to cover the whole of the first season – extant episodes and all; was the reaction to this what you expected particularly bearing in mind that, unlike other Big Finish product, there is no involvement from actors from the original?
The Avengers was an exercise is capturing the tone of the original, while not feeling as though we were working in a creative straitjacket. I think Julian Wadham and Anthony Howell have a lot to do with that – their performances are exactly true to the characters created for the TV show, but they are not trying to impersonate Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendy. I think they are simply brilliant.
Oddly, their casting came to me on a staircase as we were leaving StudioCanal after our first meeting. I just said to Jason and Nick, ‘Julian Wadham and Anthony Howell!’. It was gut instinct, and I think it’s worked perfectly.
It’s a dream to be able to remake that whole first season, which will mean every episode of The Avengers will exist somewhere in some form. It’s such a huge privilege – I pinch myself a lot in this job.
There were two reasons really. I realized, as silly and grand as it sounds, after recording the full cast episodes, that I was heading to a stage where I’d produced more episodes on audio than David Maloney had on telly. And then I realized that all the things I wanted to do, all the ideas I’d had, we had now done. So it seemed fair to the range and fair to me, really, that someone else take over. Cav has a million ideas for Blake’s 7 and I was down to my last handfull! It was time for me to go.
I’ve just been listening to Cav’s first episodes as producer and I know the series is in great hands. I have just really enjoyed sitting back and listening to new Blake’s 7 episodes and not knowing what’s going to happen at all! He’s doing a brilliant job.