Boat Story’s Jack & Harry Williams Break Down The New BBC One Series



Boat Story's Jack & Harry Williams Break Down The New BBC One Series

An interview with Jack & Harry Williams, the Writers and Directors of Boat Story which premieres soon on BBC One.

Where did the idea for Boat Story come from?

Harry Williams (HW): The idea for Boat Story came from having seen articles about similar things involving large amounts of drugs washing up on shores somewhere. Most of the shows we come up with are through a series of conversations that we have with each other. This one, was what would we do if we had stumbled across a boatload of washed-up drugs? We probably wouldn’t do what the characters did, which is try and sell them, but that would make for a less interesting series. Instead, we imagined what would happen should we have done such a thing.

Jack Williams (JW): A lot of our shows come from situations where we think ‘what would you do if…’ and they start at relatable places. As Harry said, it doesn’t end up in the most familiar place and I don’t think most people would do what our lead characters do. Boat Story is a contemporary morality tale and the challenge we wanted to set ourselves was to say, how do you tell this story in a way that is going to feel fresh, original, and different? What we landed upon, was to make it a show about stories themselves, and why people tell stories and why people watch and enjoy them. There’s a meta layer to the whole show as well.

What is your writing process when creating a show like this?

JW: When it comes to rewriting each other, we are quite aware that at some point, it’s going to come out on TV and hopefully millions of people watch it. At which point, they’re all going to have opinions and have a lot to say. If you can’t be a bit robust with each other, then what’s the point? We don’t ever really argue about writing or what goes in, it’s the best idea wins…which is usually mine. There’s no point just chipping off all the edges and making it something really bland.

HW: You get enough notes from everyone during the process anyway. So, the notes we give each other are almost the most important ones really.

How do you balance the thrilling and brutal elements of the story with the humour. How important is the humorous element to you?

HW: The humour and the violence were one of the first things we decided upon when we set the tone for the series. Our last show, The Tourist, had a similar thing where there was humour, violence, and emotion. We’re trying to blend all these different genres into the same show, which is not something we do in the UK, it’s more common in the US and it’s always a balancing act. We wanted Boat Story to push it even more, make the jokes sillier, the violence harder, the darkness darker and the lights to be lighter. It was always marrying those things up and pulling up and down the faders as and when you wanted it, to gel it all together. That was one of the things we were most conscious of when writing it and making it.

JW: We’ve talked about it being a Tarantino in the north, which is a lofty touchstone but sometimes it helps to talk about those things, and I believe it’s a good example. Tarantino or Martin McDonagh have tones in their shows which are wildly all over the shop and you can be violent, dangerous, emotional, and then very funny. That, for us, always feels interesting. We tried to push it as far as we could and find a bunch of different tones, sometimes within the same scene, or sometimes the music is doing something very different to what the performance is doing. You’re being pulled in all directions, trying to see where it lands while also presenting a version of the world which is hopefully real and with characters that you can understand and relate to.

What does Daisy Haggard bring to the role of Janet?

HW: Ten years ago, we first did an animation with Daisy, and we’ve since produced her show Back to Life and another pilot with her. We have worked with her for a long time and know her very well. Because of the nature of the show, which is humorous at times, and very dark, we wanted somebody who could pull off those things and could give that part a levity and gravitas at the same time. We knew she could do both because we have seen her do it. She’s a bit newer in the drama space, so it was more exciting from our point of view to have someone like that in this role. The moment we thought of her for it, we couldn’t think of anyone else.

JW: We often write scripts with people in mind, and it doesn’t always work out, you have schedules and timetables to consider. In this case, we wrote nearly every part with someone in mind and moved the schedule around to make sure they could do it and we’re lucky enough for them all to have said yes.

JW: Daisy had thoughts on scripts and cuts, she’s very collaborative and very creative because she’s a writer herself. She’s a wonderful person to have on board.

What does Paterson bring to the role of Samuel?

HW: Paterson was also in another show of ours called Rellik. Oddly, pretty much everyone in this show has been in other shows of ours; it’s almost a greatest hits of Two Brothers Pictures!

Paterson was very good in it and had the best scene, so it had stuck in our minds as we were writing the part. The image of his manic intensity paired with Daisy’s levity with her sense of humour felt really funny and arresting to us, so we’ve almost written it for him as well.

What does Tchéky Karyo bring to the role of The Tailor?

HW: We did a show with Tchéky called Baptiste which we finished a couple of years ago, and The Missing before that and he had been the hero in both. He was a 90’s villain in Bad Boys and The Patriot, so we thought it’d be great to have him as the villain in this series. In the spirit of getting everyone that we had worked with together, he felt like the right choice.

The character of The Tailor is menacing, but also shows a softer side. Why did you write him like this, and why was Tchéky the man for the role?

JW: One of the things we wanted in this show was that everyone had a lot of facets and surprises to their character, in the spirit of trying to make the show more interesting and multilayered as possible. We wanted to make sure we’d spent time with our villains in the moments they’re not being villainous. It’s quite common in TV and movies when you see a villain, they have one thing in mind and that’s being a villain. It felt interesting to us to think about what happened in the moments when this very well-to-do debonair Frenchman turns up in a fictitious but strange, isolated northern town and finds himself with a bit of spare time. What does he do there and what does his life look like. Rather than walking around and being villainous and turning his nose up at everything, he falls in love with the place. It felt interesting, because no one is bad all the time – there’s a whole other side to him that the other characters haven’t seen.

What does Joanna Scanlan bring to the role of Pat Tooh?

HW: Pat is the most innocent character in the whole show. We were so amazed that Joanna agreed to do it, because she was initially only in a couple of scenes but becomes a much bigger part and is a really important pivotal role. Joanna gives so much in her performances; she’s such an amazing actor.

What does Craig Fairbrass bring to the role of Guy?

JW: Craig Fairbrass plays Guy, the character who is the henchmen of The Tailor; he starts out very two dimensional, a tall beefy man who is there to provide the muscle. Then as the series develops, you realise he has a yearning to do something else, and has a softer, more emotional side. Craig, who lots of people know from bigger action films, has a recent history of doing sort of smaller indie projects in which he’s shown what a great actor he is. This is another opportunity if you haven’t seen how good an actor Craig is, to observe him in action because he’s absolutely phenomenal.

The series is set in Yorkshire, why did you decide to set the story there?

JW: We had pictures in our mind of where it took place. We wanted somewhere by the coast, but it wasn’t going to be the depiction of a traditional British TV coastal detective drama. We started to consider how to get a touch of that, but also somewhere urban that can also be rural, and we looked at a lot of different places. We started from the coast and began working back and as we looked around Yorkshire and particularly Leeds and York, we found it offered a massive variety of locations to stitch together. We wanted something that felt interesting and a little different to what we’ve seen before. There is no town in England that offered absolutely everything that you see in this show. But it’s a slightly storybook version of it, which again, felt on point thematically with what we’re trying to do.

How do you want audiences to feel when they watch Boat Story?

HW: When people watch Boat Story, I’d like them to be entertained and to feel like they’re watching something they haven’t seen a lot of before and that it’s different. There’s a lot on TV, and we’d love it to stand out and be something that catches people’s attention.

Why should audiences watch Boat Story?

HW: It’s full of surprises and it ends up in a place I don’t think anyone would ever really guess where this show ends. It’s so weird, in a brilliant way. I love all the shows we do, but this is weird and so out there, that it really holds a special place. People should be surprised and hopefully not have seen anything like it.

JW: There are moments watching it where I think to myself that I can’t quite believe that they’re letting us get away with this. Keep watching because whatever your expectations are, we’re fairly sure you won’t quite know what’s happening next.

What is the appeal to pushing boundaries?

JW: For anyone in any field, there comes a point where you want to try and do something different and try and make more noise. It feels more interesting to try and do something that will stand out, because if you’re trying to do something that’s been done a million times before, you’ll just kind of join the masses.

HW: It’s not a very safe thing to do because we’ve done a lot of detective shows which we’ve loved doing. However, just like with anything, if you do it a bit too much, you get a bit bored and want a new challenge; there’s a lot more risk involved. Certainly, when you’re trying to layer the comedy on top of it, you’re always at risk of it tipping over into a comedy or people not investing in it and that’s part of the challenge and why we’re doing it. It’s keeping us interested and invested in, seeing how far you can push it and still make it work.

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