TV & Me with Writer/Director Hugo Blick

TV & Me with Writer/Director Hugo Blick

This week, we catch up with 2012 BAFTA Television Craft Awards winner, Hugo Blick, as he discusses past success, Marion & Geoff, how he got his break starring in Batman, and winning that all important BAFTA for Director of BBC 2’s The Shadow Line, proudly sponsored by ProductionBase.

You’re career began as an actor and you famously starred in Tim Burton’s Batman, playing the young Jack Napier, who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents and later became the Joker. How did you’re career as an actor aid you in becoming a successful director?
Marshalling a film crew is quite a military sort of thing but acting in front of a camera and all those people is really quite delicate. If you haven’t experienced that exposure it’s easy to not recognise just how vulnerable an actor can feel.

Was it an easy transition to make, did people take you seriously?
A loaded question there! First thing, I take actors very seriously! But you’re right to the degree that acting and directing are very separate talents and one doesn’t necessitate ability in the other – although Clint Eastward appears to have made a pretty good fist of it!

One of your first writing and directing achievements was Operation Good Guys which was a fusion of sitcom and docu-soap, about a group of undercover policemen. The ‘real life’ way in which it was filmed has been compared to ‘The Office’. How original do you think the show was when it was created in 1997?
The date says it all… But when The Office followed it did it better. I was still finding my mortar range on Operation Good Guys. I think I hit the target with Marion and Geoff, which for one guy in a car made quite an impact. It certainly felt very fresh, so much so I hear a lot of people joined the show thinking it was real.

You co-wrote and produced/directed “Marion & Geoff” with Rob Brydon, which achieved you your first BAFTA nomination for Best Comedy. What do you enjoy most about writing and producing comedy?
Rob Brydon. On set he just has a fabulous nose for truffling out the comedy (I’m not saying he’s a pig…) and he’s always happy to call it an early day – no point hanging around for inspiration when it already hit us a couple of hours ago!

Sensitive Skin and Up In Town starring Joanna Lumley, have been acknowledged as career highlights for the actress, and they marked a change in career for you too. What did you set out to achieve in making both programmes?
I was just so very intrigued to examine the demographic of baby boomers: those beautiful people who first flourished in the late 60s, 70s and then just kept in the race. So what happens to them when they hit 60? They’ve apparently won everything, done it first, still sexy, still beautiful but still with only 20 years left. What are they going to do with it? Sensitive Skin posed the question and Joanna Lumley embodied it beautifully.

As a successful director what do you think your unique selling points are? How does your agent pitch you to clients?
Because I write, direct and produce, it’s all very singular. I don’t really do anything else but the one project I’m engaged in. While I’m writing I might take only a handful of work related meetings in a year. Then when I’m directing, I’m surrounded by a hundred people – an inversion which certainly sharpens up the senses. Once fixed with my fellow producers, I regard the scripts as a blue print to me as a director for how to help everyone else, actors and crew, construct the show. The on-going producer part is making sure I make the day; nothing like the threat of an over spend to help me solve a problem! I guess the unique bit is that there aren’t that many singular writer/director/producers, so the project comes with an angle built into it at every level.

You have just been awarded a BAFTA for Director, Fiction, for the BBC2 thriller, The Shadow Line, which you wrote and directed. Is this your biggest achievement to date?
Of course it is. At this precise moment the emergency delivery of my second son by just me and my wife along with a blood soaked self-help manual simply pales into insignificance!

The Shadow Line is a conspiracy drama. It was praised for its cinematic feel and layering. Where did you draw influences from?
American film noir form the 1940s was an obvious literal influence – like Night and the City and The Big Combo – also, of course Hitchcock with his mastery of suspense. But thematically I was very taken by American thrillers that came out post Nixon, pre Reagan. Pictures like Three Days of The Condor and The Parallax View. Mainstream genre stories with big set pieces but disquieting endings: in Three Days, Redford gets the info but can’t use it and at the end of Parallax View Beatty is shot. Wonderful stuff!

Does writing drama challenge you more than writing comedy, which genre do you prefer?
Different disciplines, different needs. In character led observational comedy like we did with say Rob Brydon you’ve got to leave room for spontaneity on set. I remember a cautionary tale of Blake Edwards’ about Peter Sellers whose first take would have everyone on set laughing but as it came to coverage the more the scene was repeated the less people laughed for obvious reasons. But this would make Sellers lose faith in the scene and he’d start to re-write it in order to reclaim the reaction he first had. The point is Sellers was possibly quite a strange man but somewhere in there there’s also a lesson… about keeping things lose. In a labyrinthine drama, however, you better have all the plot points carefully laid out or your mail bag will be full! And if you appeared to drown a cat, as I did in The Shadow Line, then your mail bag will be quite full enough already!

You are currently working on a new multi-part thriller for the BBC. What will you do differently this time around?
Put a woman in the centre of it.

Thinking about what’s on TV today. As a viewer, which programmes do you most enjoy watching and why?
I watch everything. You want to start out in British television the first thing to do is buy the Radio Times (I’m sure other publications are available) and use it. What’s being watched? How’s it been scheduled? Why? What stories are the channels telling? Where are the gaps? It’s all there for you to study, make a career, when most of the population just do it for fun. And when you spot something ahead of the graph, there’s no better feeling. Apart from winning a BAFTA, of course.

Hugo Blick is a writer, director and producer, and winner of the 2012 BAFTA TV Craft Award for Director (Fiction), proudly sponsored by ProductionBase.