Set in London, BBC Three’s new series of short films, Five by Five, from new writers has been put together by Idris Elba, here he tells all about the project.
How did five by five come about for you and your production company (Green Door Pictures)?
I’ve worked with BBC Studios many times before on Luther and I’m always thinking about how to give new talent a leg-up. So Green Door and BBC Drama sat down together and decided that with our forces joined we could create an exciting and impactful initiative for new and diverse talent.
Was there anything you specifically set out to achieve with the series?
We wanted to include emerging writers, director and actors – working with and supported by established talent. I liked the idea of a writer’s room because I took inspiration for the project from repertory theatre, where creatives work together to make really innovative material that evolves through collaboration. The experience of being in a writer’s room isn’t often available here in the UK so it seemed like a valuable thing for any writer to be part of.
From rep theatre we also took away this idea of a character bridging multiple episodes, in different scenarios, and that was part of the framework for the writing team to work to, which they were able to build together in the room before going away to write their own episode.
The project was developed with the intention of giving writers the space to be creative, to play, to be super imaginative and collaborate together. Actually, for everyone to do that – the whole team. We wanted the content to be built with as few restrictions as possible.
You spent some time in the writing room with the five writers as they devised the stories for five by five. What was that like?
It was great to be able to join the process for a little while. The energy and ideas in that room were really exciting. I went in there and gave some feedback, threw in a few alternative thoughts and was able to offer an outside perspective because I wasn’t in there the whole time. Having a diverse bunch of writers meant everyone had their own experiences and insights to offer, never just one point of view. There was a healthy amount of debate going on, which I always like to see.
How did you find the writers?
Cat Jones was a great choice for lead writer as we’d all worked with her before and she’s a talent. I’m a big fan of her work. Green Door and BBC Drama both had a bunch of new writers on our radars who we were each interested in working with. And five by five was a great opportunity to do that. We went through a shortlisting process and then held an initial workshop from which our writers emerged.
Can you tell us about the casting process for five by five, and why you wanted to pair new on-screen talent with established on-screen talent?
When I started out I didn’t have the opportunities I wanted for myself – I’ll never forget that… so it’s a great thing to be able to give newer actors a space in which to work with those with a bit more experience, to watch and learn from them or even just to chat and be inspired to think, that could be me! – especially in terms of diverse talent. Young people need to see others like them who are doing it to be encouraged. Not just in front of the camera but across the board in the industry in general.
What are the key themes of five by five, and why did you want to explore these?
A lot of it is about identity – how a person views themselves in a certain situation, with different people, or depending on what’s happened to them that day. And then there’s the perception of others to that individual – how they present themselves versus how they are viewed.
How can this be affected day to day?
I love the idea of needing to be aware of what’s happened to someone five minutes previous to be able to understand them properly. So much snap judgement is made, especially on the streets of London, or any big city!
People’s interactions with each other in London was a key thing we wanted to explore, and how a chance meeting can alter the course of your day. What happens when people are forced to connect with each other?
Were there any funny or especially memorable moments on set?
When I walked on set to shoot my scenes and saw this young and diverse crew all mixed with the more experienced team members, all working together in a supportive and nurturing environment, I was proud. It was a moment for me and my production company.
I was very impressed with the director, Kate Herron; she was great at working with actors. Bringing on a talented up-and-coming director was important for the project, and it was a challenging ask – to helm a series made up of five very different episodes, using multiple actors and locations. But her energy, passion and ambition – and that of everybody else involved in five by five – has paid off.
Has working with new talent (on or off-screen) on five by five taught you anything?
It’s reinforced for me that there’s so much talent out there that need to be given opportunities! We have to bolster the next generation.
Can you tell us about the wider BBC Three curation week?* What will it include and what attracts you to programming for a younger audience?
I wanted to showcase the work of some of the best new and emerging talents in all fields and tackling issues that are relevant to young audiences today.
The week-long collaboration will cover topics from comedy, drama, music and documentary and will air on BBC Three from 27 March.