Over the past week more than a million viewers have been flicking to BBC1 every afternoon at 3.15 local time to watch the first series of the crime drama, The Mallorca Files which is now into its second and final week.
Filming of series two has already begun and this week, one of the Executive Producers of Cosmopolitan Pictures/Clerkenwell Films, Ben Donald who, with fellow executive producer Murray Ferguson have co-produced the series for the BBC, was on the island for one of his regular visits to the set. He also attended the Bulletin’s special premiere of the first episode and answered a host of questions from the enthralled audience after the screening. He was accompanied by two of the script writers Sarah-Lou Hawkins, and Dan Muirden and the script editor Benny Boyd.
Ben was BBC Worldwide’s Executive Producer for International Drama prior to going it alone with Cosmopolitan Pictures and with regards to The Mallorca Files said that he wanted to bring some fun back into TV drama.
“Right from the beginning I’ve wanted to make a series like the cop shows I grew up with and loved, with a pair of lovable characters people are drawn back to and want to hang out with; a show that is unashamedly entertaining and, quite honestly, a fun antidote to the pretty bleak world out there. In its funding, this series represents the very best of what co-productions can do to add value for the UK audience and licence fee payer. I’ve always wanted to find a way to bring the Anglo-German relationship on television out of sketch comedy and into the 21st century.”
Apart from his production skills, which earned him the reputation of “drama guru” while working for the BBC, he is also a keen linguist which has been a strong feature of his career and helped him break new TV ground by co-producing series with numerous foreign production companies and TV channels.
At the BBC, for example, Ben brokered co-production agreements for BBC Worldwide and the BBC such as Death in Paradise (with France Television), Parade’s End (with HBO and ARTE France), The Spies of Warsaw (with TV Poland and ARTE France), and ‘Zen’ (with RTI, ZDF and WGBH) and he’s now working in cooperation with Germany’s ZDFneo and France 2 on The Mallorca Files.
This week, Ben told the Bulletin that they saw a gap in the global market for a fun crime drama when perhaps some viewers feel they are not getting full value for money from the BBC.
“Yes, I agree. From a producer’s point of view, you start with an idea, but it takes a very long time to get these things together in terms of writers, pitching the plot, selling it and getting the resources together to realise that idea on screen budget wise and I guess a producer’s life is one of a lot of rejection because not a lot of the ideas get though. So, you have to be very convinced and passionate about what you are doing, or want to do and I became more and more convinced by the idea for The Mallorca Files because there was a gap, an opportunity, in the market place if you like, for a drama of this kind. It was not the driving force, but I guess yes, it was at the back of my mind."
“That said. I think the BBC does have a wide range of tones and genres on the airwaves. I think any generation’s drama reflects what’s going on in the world, for example, you’ve got War of the Worlds on at the moment and at times it does feel pretty ugly out there, but I generally believe that in a TV landscape with a very fragmented audience which can flick through so much choice, you’ve got to cut through somehow or be different, and above all, be entertaining and I think there is a big difference between the art of the small screen verses the big screen."
“I am well aware that with streaming a lot of TV thinks that it’s gone big screen with its ambitions yet those great procedural shows from America were designed for a very different audience and what I think the international partners who have helped fund this show have bought into this, is that some of those shows from America can kind of come to an end. There’s no more Castle or Grey’s Anatomy, for example, and there was always and huge international audience for those shows,” Ben said, while going on to admit that we may be seeing a slight swing in the market.
“One of the big distinctions we make in the world of production is working on a more serialised drama which doesn’t just develop over one season but multiple seasons. On one end you’ve got Breaking Bad, for example, which ran over some seven series or an episodic story which, as a viewer, you can be in and out of each episode - join in at any time and pick up on the thread of the story very easily and not be disorientated."
“These are still two styles of viewing. One requires a huge run up if you like; I love a show like Breaking Bad but I can’t watch another show immediately after, I need time to step back and kind of compute what I’ve just watched before I move on to the next instalment.
Whereas a show like The Mallorca Files, is something people can binge on in a different way."
“You’ll know that within the space of 45 minutes you’ve got a resolved story and you’re left with that great feeling so you want to watch another one. You’re not left with a heavy feeling that you’ve got to now watch the remaining ten or whatever episodes in order to get to the end of the story."
“So, yes I think there has been a pendulum swing to serialised drama. It’s never going to be a complete one, but it’s definitely happening. What one also has to take into account, is that lots of money (Netflix, Amazon etc.) does not always make good shows."
“There has also been an emphasis on star vehicles as well, especially in the United States, but I think what’s so great about British television is that it’s always been very good at putting the writer first as opposed to a big name actor."
“It’s writer driven, it’s about the written word on the page and then anything on top of that comes with however much money you choose to throw at it."
“I think we have a modest budget with The Mallorca Files in comparison with modern digital streaming, but we’ve got a big enough train-set to work and have fun with and we’ve got the drive and ambition to make this work.And, we’re not laden down with big name casting.
“It’s the first show as the leads for both Elen and Julian and they are brilliant. I think we’re very lucky to have them and I hope they stay with us as long as we keep making more series."
“We haven’t at any point of the casting process gone out of our way to get a star because that would skew the balance of the show. I think there is a time proven process that it isn’t all about the money, it’s about the writing and good acting and I hope, as Julian and Elen grow together in their roles, the audience will enjoy watching their chemistry develop and grow with them.”