It's been a challenge, to say the least, for the audiovisual industry in the UK, and only now are some TV productions starting to return to normal, such as key soaps, documentaries and panel shows. The production of these can be carefully controlled and carried out within the various Covid protocols, Ben Donald, the co-producer of the hit police series The Mallorca Files, told the Bulletin last week.
“I think the musical and theatre industry has been hit harder than the TV sector, but it’s been extremely tough and it still is. None of us can really plan for the future because no one knows what’s going to happen from one day to the next.
“But the government in the UK has come to our aid to a certain extent, and we’re slowly starting to return to some form of normality. But it’s going to take a long time until we ever get back to where we were when the pandemic hit, and when we do, I think the industry will operate in a whole new way. Domestic productions in the UK are receiving government help, but UK productions filming overseas, which is the case with The Mallorca Files, have no protection. Getting insurance, or example, which is extremely important, is impossible right now.
“On any set, everyone has to be kept in their bubbles etc. and there are restrictions on working group sizes along with social distancing and all that, so it’s very complicated at the moment. There's also the fact we have such an international cast and crew. We can’t take a gamble because countries are taking their own measures, so for the time being we would not really be able to begin filming again, because we would no doubt have to keep stopping and starting; and that’s extremely costly.
“As soon as the cameras start rolling, time is money. But I know a lot of writers have been busy, as have producers with a number of projects in development, but not much else has been going on for the past six months to be honest.
“For me, I think the hardest thing was when we had to break up the cast and crew of The Mallorca Files. We had, and expect to have again, an excellent and highly skilled and professional multinational team in front of and behind the cameras, and it was really tough having to call the wrap because of the pandemic.
“However, that said, we have been the first production company to have presented the BBC with a completed new series since the pandemic hit. Only last week we completed post-production of the second series of The Mallorca Files and it is now in the hands of the BBC.
“The first ten-part series is still being screened and purchased around the world. It enjoyed very strong viewing figures in Europe, the United States, South Africa and Australia, for example, and has recently been bought by channels in Latin America and Asia. So there is still a great deal of interest in the first series, which is great news, and now we are waiting to see when the BBC decides to screen series two.
“We were lucky to a certain extent because we had six of the ten episodes of the second series in the can when the pandemic hit, so the second series will be the six episodes. We’re now already preparing for a third, so we’re ready to go if and when we get the commission.
“We’ve been in talks with the BBC, Britbox, ZDF (Germany) and other investors. So should the BBC, due to pending funding cuts and licence fee reviews and the like, withdraw their funding, we’ve still got the backers to go ahead, and I hope we can.
“The good thing for The Mallorca Files is that it is an episodical series. Each one is distinct from the other, so unlike serial dramas which follow on, we don’t. Viewers can dip in and out. That said, we want to continue with the format we have. We don’t want to get dragged into being a police precinct drama. The beauty of the series is that it’s shot outside in the amazing Majorcan countryside and breathtaking locations, and we want to stick to that.
“It’s full of action and car chases and we don’t want to lose that banter between the lead characters. Millions of viewers around the world have enjoyed the first series, they’ve got the idea and those who have seen it have enjoyed the ride. For those who have yet to watch it, we hope they will get into the whole rhythm and momentum of the series.
“Right from the beginning I 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 and I think we’ve delivered a quality product which people of all cultures and nationalities can enjoy.
“How the BBC place it, we shall see. But with so few new productions coming forward right now, we could get a prime time spot. Our ratings warrant it and I personally would like to see it go out mid-January when everyone in the UK is usually thinking about the next summer holiday.
“It depends on how this pandemic pans out. We should hopefully have a vaccine in the New Year and things might be looking up, so we hope that the viewers will be able to get back into The Mallorca Files, which will serve as the perfect reminder of what they missed in Majorca this year and what they can look forward to enjoying in 2021.
“That has always been one of our objectives, to show Majorca at is best, hence why we’ve used all of the best locations. It is just the most inspiring live, natural set to film in, but it involves a lot of moving around between locations, so should protocols still remain in place, that could pose a problem. But at least we’ve got series two done and dusted and ready to be broadcast around the world and international TV stations have already expressed a great deal of interest in picking up the rights for the second series, so I guess there is some sort of silver lining for us.
“Should we be able to return, I would imagine the spring will be relatively quiet as things begin to gradually get back to normal, so we may decide to do as much of the filming as possible early on. But that depends on so many variables - from the pandemic to the writers, etc. But we’re all desperate to get back to Majorca. And the exposure we’ve given Majorca has not gone unnoticed. The Majorca Film Commission is creating a shooting map which will feature all of the locations which we used around the island for the benefit of the general public and the film and audiovisual industry as a whole.”