Nicola Shindler founded Red Production Company in 1998, going on to produce hits such as Queer as Folk and Clocking Off. In 2014, the company has already scored big hits with the ITV thriller Prey and the critically acclaimed Happy Valley for the BBC.
In this exclusive video interview with K7 Media, Nicola explains her production philosophy, her method for balancing creative instinct with industry marketability, and how Red’s 2013 acquisition by StudioCanal benefits the company in an era of international formats and co-production deals.
K7: Do you base your development slate on trends, or do you believe that good drama finds an audience regardless of what everyone else is doing?
NS: In an ideal world, I’d like to hope that good drama finds an audience, because that’s what you set out to do. You set out to entertain people and give them a satisfying hour of good quality drama. I think you need to be slightly aware of what audiences want, and certainly what channels want otherwise you won’t get anything made, but I don’t think that should be at the forefront of your mind. Once it’s at the forefront of your mind, then you’ll be making drama for the wrong reasons. You’ll be making it because you think that’s what people want, rather than you believing in it. I think, ultimately, you need to believe in it.
K7: You might miss interesting projects that would change the trends?
NS: Yes. If something’s really brilliant, even if it seems to be against every single trend going, every bit of fashion, I’d stick with it. We’ve made projects that have been rejected seven years earlier. We’ve ended up making them and they’ve been successes. You just have to keep going with things you believe in. Both Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey were rejected numerous times, by numerous broadcasters. Things go in a cycle, demands are in fashion and channel controllers change. There were lots of reasons, but they were both rejected.
K7: Do good ideas ever run out of time?
NS: They don’t run out of time. Some good ideas don’t get made, but they’re rare. I think most of the really good ones, if you keep looking at them, keep putting them in people’s faces, they’ll get made.
K7: Happy Valley has been a huge hit for you, but it also became part of the cultural conversations. Can you tell which shows have that break-out quality?
NS: You can never predict an audience’s reaction. If you could, you’d know exactly what to do all the time. We all make it up. We’re all guessing. I believe that every drama we make is absolutely brilliant and everyone should watch it, but what lifts it above “everyone should watch it” and into something completely special, it’s a magic thing that happens. It’s at the right time, there’s no other dramas like it, it’s casting is right, the right director, it’s so many different elements. It’s an absolutely indefinable magic. You just do your job as well as you can. I know when something’s really good. I can tell, during the production process, when the scripts are getting better and better. Then we’ve got to make them as well as they are on the page, and that’s always scary because that’s where I come in much more than the writers. There are so many things that can go wrong at that stage. Then it has to be sold right by the channel, it has to be on at the right time, it just has to hit that note that an audience wants or needs.
K7: Many of Red’s shows are set in and around the North of England. Do you see them as regional or international dramas?
NS: I don’t think we make regional shows. I think we make shows about human beings, and the themes and ideas behind them are universal. So because they’re very firmly set in Manchester or Hebden Bridge or wherever it is around here, doesn’t mean they won’t appeal to someone living in the south of Japan. As long as you get emotions right, as long as the people are real and the settings are real, then I do think it translates. I know there’s a whole wave of “international dramas” which do make a lot of money, and I’m not averse to doing those if the right one comes along, but they’re about brands in advance and great big subject matters. That’s great, if something can work like that, but I find it very hard to start with that as an idea.
K7: Do you take remake potential into consideration when looking at scripts?
NS: I have to be aware of how things sell. The license fees you get from broadcasters no longer cover your budget. Already you’re down, as soon as you start. You have to have sold things. What we haven’t done yet is sold things in advance as co-productions. That’s what we’ll do next, as we need the money to the make the programmes, just like everyone else.
K7: How does becoming part of the StudioCanal family benefit Red in that regard?
The best thing about our deal with StudioCanal is that we can still carry on making the drama that we make but they are an international company, so they immediately bring contacts that we haven’t had before to make things as co-productions. They have a distribution company that works with co-productions, and they will be working on all our productions from now on. And they have a brilliant library of old material which comes with a brand, and so much of it is fantastic. We’ll be searching through that. But how we make things, and work hands on with the writers, doesn’t have to change us as a production company. It’s ideal for us.