Q: Have you been pleased with the reception of The Mallorca Files so far?
A: “I’ve been absolutely delighted with the reaction. We set off with a very clear intention to make a joyful sunny, funny, exciting family show, and I think people have responded to it in exactly that spirit. A lot of people have come up to me and told me it’s their favourite show or a breath of fresh air and that it felt different.
As a writer to achieve your intention is the first goal; you don’t want people to be confused, so I think it’s really great that people have got what we’re trying to do and have really enjoyed it. I’m always delighted when that happens to one of my shows.”
Q: How has the island responded to seeing itself reflected in the show?
A: “They’ve really enjoyed it. The local press have been huge fans and incredibly supportive. I think that’s because lots of stuff is made on the island, but ours is the only show that says ‘this is filmed in Mallorca’.
And that’s really important. The creative industries there need a successful returning show that can give the local teams work and experience at the same time as entertaining people.
It’s a big ecosystem, and it’s nice to be part of it.”
Q: When you come to do a second season, is it easier or is it harder to do?
A: “Actually, it’s much easier to do a show like ours because you’re not searching for plot. What you’re able to do is double-down on what you’ve identified has worked well in the first season. If I could go back I would have rewritten the first couple of episodes of the first season or done it differently because I now know more about the skills and the abilities of the cast and the various things that come out of shooting. But you only learn that once the rushes come through and it all starts to come together.
What’s great about getting a second season is that you can play with in-jokes that have arisen, little turns of phrase the actors have that are very natural to them, and you can build that in. That is a joy. I feel that we’ve been able to achieve that with a second season.
It also helps that the same writing team came back almost exclusively. We had all learned something and had new ideas - there certainly wasn’t a shortage of new stories. In fact, we’ve got loads of them. And for a show like ours, which has a story of the week format, that’s crucial.”
Q: How do you map out the second season?
A: “For this show we got the writing team together early. We discussed ideas for stories that had been kicking around when the guys were out on the island; new locations that we had discovered; things we’d learned about Mallorca - particularly around the cast of characters we found in the first season: the cast of Spanish and German actors gave so much to the show that we wanted to do more of that.
From the things that had worked we thought: ‘oh, we could do this, or we could do that’ and then it was simply a case of asking everybody what they wanted to do. They all came back with more than one brilliant idea and so it was a case of picking out which ones fitted together the best. We then talked about how Max and Miranda’s relationship would develop and how we could keep that fresh without losing the ‘will they, won’t they’ dynamic, which is at the heart of the series.”
Q: How do you keep the ‘will they, won’t they element, given the story and the characters have evolved?
A: “I probably shouldn’t say this, but part of the trick is probably not to do too much! We’re hoping that this show will run and run, so we don’t want to tell all the stories in the first couple of seasons. We want to keep it going. The danger is always that you try and move it too fast, because I think the audience actually like the tease.
And when the actors know what they’re doing and what their relationship is, then the smallest hints – a little look, a little facial expression, a little smile – communicates so much on screen. The audience really picks up on that, so you don’t need to lay it on with a trowel; you can be quite subtle. I usually say, less is more: we’ll just have a couple of significant moments where they get closer and then circumstances will push them away again. It’s a case of playing a long game.
Besides, audiences are really smart. They know exactly what we’re doing. It’s a deal, isn’t it? You pitch a show, you put it out there and tell people: look, it’s this kind of show. If people want to watch it, they’ll get in with the deal.
The trick is to stay one step ahead of the audience, which is increasingly difficult because people are so used to TV.”
Q: So with Max and Miranda, what’s changed in season two?
A: “In season one Miranda was discovering the island and thinking that it wasn’t for her. But we all discussed this and thought it just wasn’t credible that she was going to continue to hate the island because Majorca is so beautiful and such a lovely place to live. No normal person would do that. It’s much more about her fitting in and making a new home on the island and changing as a personality type.
She started as quite a brittle, edgy person, and while she’s not changed a hundred per cent, there’s a certain loosening of her inhibitions. I think that’s part of making the show – although complete fantasy – feel psychologically real. She’s not going to be complaining about having sand on the beach for the next twenty years, she’s going to have other challenges such as can she relax a bit more? Can she be a little more like Max?
And similarly, can Max be a little more rigorous in how he lives his life and a little more mature in his relationships? Julian brings a natural comedy to the character, but in later episodes of the first season it really worked to show him having a more serious side and to see him taking the lead.
In season two we tried to keep that balance so that he’s not always the Captain Hastings stooge who’s way behind the clever detective. It’s more balanced than that. We always said that his emotional intelligence was pretty high - he always manages to get on with people - and that was something Miranda always struggled with. Max has good instincts, but sometimes he follows those instincts to the wrong places.”
Q: Some of the storylines for this season are incredibly profound and thought-provoking. What inspired them?
A: “I remember very clearly that Maestro - the opening episode about the opera - was a combination of me being inspired by the opera house in Palma and thinking would be a brilliant filming location; Ben Donald, our exec producer, wanting to do something on music because he’s very interested in the subject; and me wanting to do a very kind of traditional whodunnit as an opening episode. We bounced around ideas in the writers room and came away from that meeting with our agreed ending (based on an iconic classic movie) and with everybody room thinking: ‘oh, I think that’s going to work really well because it’s going to be so unexpected’.
Son of a Pig - the episode about the Spanish Civil War - was conceived by Damian (Wayling). He had a very specific tone for the story, which we really liked, and we all agreed that if we were going to make this, then we needed to do it with integrity. Everyone spent a lot of time and effort making this the best story it could be.
Ironically, for shows like The Mallorca Files it’s a bit of a rabbit punch for people when they’re not expecting these deeper stories. You bring them in at the right time and they can be more effective than, say, an earnest drama about the Spanish Civil War, which you might slog through. It’s probably more affecting just to hear about it in a context you’re not expecting to.
That’s what I like about it and is one of the challenges of making the show that I find most rewarding. You need the balance: you want the fun elements, but you want the moments of seriousness to go in there too.”
Q: Most of the writers from season one are back along with some new faces. How do you choose who joins the writing room?
A: “We had a bit of a problem, to be honest, because everyone wanted to come back! That just isn’t normal and as a result, we had only limited spaces. We brought in people of various ages, various levels of experience, all of whom had very strong ideas, really liked the show, and got what we were trying to do. They seemed to be natural team players who enjoyed the process.
We tried to keep the writers involved all the way through and make it a fun and satisfying show to work on, so that they’re proud of not just their own episodes, but the whole show.”
Q: Tell us more about that process because it’s quite different from what happens on other shows?
A: “It doesn’t sound very revolutionary when you talk about it, but it’s simply that we wanted to make sure that the writers were involved in all the creative decisions around their episode and the rest of the series to a certain extent. That involves simple things like getting casting tapes of the characters they’ve written; having a voice in who they think is the best fit for their character; talking to the directors early and explaining to them face-to-face what the intentions were for their episode; and then going on recces on location so they could see what was available and what’s practical. I remember one of the writers we pitched the process to said: ‘this is all words; you say we’ll be listened to, but it’ll never happen’. Four or five months later he came back to me and said: ‘you did make it happen, and I really enjoyed it’.
The whole point of screenwriting is that you’re making up something in your head, but you have to actually make it happen in detailed reality - and that’ can be extremely difficult. Often writers are excluded from the second half of that process and just told ‘this isn’t going to work, you’re going to have to change that’, which leads to miscommunication and frustration. What we tried to do was to make sure that everybody was across what was happening and across the decision-making, so they understood why decisions were being made and they had a voice (although not a veto) on those outcomes.
It’s not that they’re in control, it’s just that we’re discussing it and trying to come to a consensus about the best way forward. That was the main thing. A writer’s work can be really changed by who’s cast, how the scenes are shot and how they’re edited. So, the idea that a writer should be consulted like a Showrunner is in America seems to be very natural.
The writers don’t have to do it. If they just want to deliver a script and see the finished product that’s absolutely fine. But if they want to get a sense of how a show goes from a script to a final edited piece, then they are welcome to be across that whole process.
Hopefully, that way they will get some experience so that if - and when - they get their own show to run they’ll have a head start on how to do it. Because it can be very daunting.
Ultimately, you want to get to the point where everyone feels that they’re contributing to – and own - the whole show. More than anything else, it’s a good way of attracting great writers to your project.”
Q: So as a showrunner what is your job?
A: “I see my main role in pre-production, to make sure that all the episodes and stories work as best they can; that all the scripts line up; and to help get the writing team to that point where we just give the scripts to the production team and they can do their thing brilliantly. I also make sure the lines of communication are open throughout the filming process, so that I can come in with a solution if there are any problems or points of doubt. I want to create a set that’s full of harmony rather than confrontation.”
Q: Filming on S2 was cut short by the pandemic. Is there anything you wish you could have filmed before the hiatus?
A: “We’ve still got four great episodes on the page, so I’m disappointed that we haven’t been able to make them…yet. We were about to start filming the episode of one of our new young writers and also had a great finale planned that was going to be really high energy and exciting. I’m hopeful, though, that if this series goes down well, we’ll still get a chance to have them produced.
We’re in the lucky position of having developed a lot of stories for season three already, so we’re not short of material and there’s a lot of life left in the show if the audience agrees.”
Q: Do you have a favourite episode from those that were shot?
A: “It’s a toss-up between Son of a Pig, which writer Damian Wayling has done a great job on and has the fantastic Phil Daniels as a guest star, and Sarah-Lou Hawkins A Dish Served Cold, which has lots of lovely Masterchef-style visuals.
All the episodes have something wonderful about them, whether by design or happy accident. In Dan Muirden’s Beautiful Game, for example, we stopped a real-live Real Mallorca football match so that Max (Julian Looman) could take a fantasy penalty kick.
The island has been so helpful to the show and so supportive of its. It’s a great showcase for Mallorca, and I hope that by the time this series is broadcast people will be able to go there again, or at least be looking forward to booking a holiday.
I think Mallorca deserves a big bounce back in 2021. It’s a lovely place to go.”
Q: What’s next for the show?
A: Well, four amazing episodes that were about to go into production, including my own version of The Sting! There’s lots of great stuff.
You know sometimes you write a show and you realise you’re struggling to create more material for it, but with The Mallorca Files, it feels like people come in with more ideas and the possibilities are expanding within the context of the format. I think The Mallorca Files is one of those shows that if the audience like it, we could produce lots of new stories that keep moving the series forward.
More of the same…but in a good way.”